Chapter Ten: Black feathers and red blood..
The tree dangled it’s large branches above their heads, nearly barren with the last remnants of fall leaves. It’s huge trunk was expressive and led to a large cascade of roots, heaved up and slithered into the earth like giant snakes. They were strong roots, deeply anchored to the shale rock and earth below.
That is where they had gathered, sitting and hanging from root and branch. All waiting for the Tree-witch to show. Even the young ones hid close by watching the gathering with wide eyes and fevered giggles.
But as time passed and the evening hung with a huge full moon; no witch came.
As they waited and the wind howled – patience started to grow thin. None more so then the Queen herself. She was obvious among the grouping of scattered fae folk. Among the pixies, brownies, will-o-whisps and various intermixed faeries – she was the shining light among them all. Great Queen of the Seelie courts.
She stood leaning against a large thick root of tree with her sparkling fae lace dress cascading over her nearly naked form. She was regal and proud, and standing behind her were only the bravest of her council and a circle of royal guard which scared the others back.
“Queen Aibell, there is no sign of approach. She isn’t coming.” The tall, almost human looking male brushed his red hair from his eyes and glared at the nearby path to the road. His voice was even and cold. “This isn’t going to work.”
“Hush Kallen.” the woman hissed and straightened her spine further, as if mustering her pride. Her dress matched the ethereal elegance of a translucent set of long and delicate wings. The moonlight made them sparkly with dew glow like the crystals on her dress. Looks were everything, and she resolved herself to keep perfect posture for the moment their guest arrived. One of her wings twitched in agitation. “Do you think she has much choice? She seals her own fate if she refuses. You know that.”
He shrugged and leaned back against he roots as the moonlight glowed. His outfit was proud and elegant but pulled at him uncomfortably. He loosened the lacing on his black and silver tunic and grunted. “How long do we wait?”
“Knock knock!” shouted a harsh crass voice from a nearby aspen which edged the clearing of the great tree. Knives were drawn by royal guards as a large black raven swept from the forest path and landed in the furthest of the tree’s large branches. It’s silver talons clicked against the hard wood of the tree as it’s beaded eyes glimmered while it peered down at the gathering. It’s head bobbed low as it’s wings spread wide and tilted down at the Queen in a somewhat formal bow. “Salutations!”
“Who goes there?” snapped Kallen as royal guard arrows slid into place on either side of them. Dozing faeries and jittery pixies stood to sudden attention. The whole glen woke up and various lights and luminescence seemed to come alive along the tree from various forms of wee folk and unseen creatures.
“Caww! I am but a messenger, I am! Important words I must speak.”
With a steady hand Aibell motioned for the arrows to lower. With practised restraint and embellished manners she lowered her head to a formal nod. It was stiff and annoyed, but a formality none-the-less. Her guards stood down and the many eyes of the gathering watched with renewed interest.
“Then… please speak feathered one. What are your ‘important words’? You interrupt important matters.. so for your own sake I do hope you have a good reason to be here.”
The bird hopped closer towards the royal party, dropping down one branch with fluttering wings and shoeing a few small and skittish will-o-whisps from the tree. They glowed like fireflies.
“The Tree-witch is unable to attend. I come to say that she must not be harmed or hunted. Leave her alone! Caww!” He fluttered his wings and adjusted himself proudly. His icy eyes stared at her even when the guards shifted and others laughed. A choir of remarks, taunts and laughter edged the circle.
“You would demand such? You would take such liberty?” The very air around the Queen grew cold, her expression shifted from annoyance to anger. “Your words mean nothing here! You are nothing to us.”
The guards rose their aim again, but the large bird did not falter. Instead it made a strange sound and bobbed it’s head in an unnerving display of laughter, for as much as a raven could laugh. It came out in short bursts of caws and chuckled clicks.
“Not I, sweet Queen!” His eyes glinted in the moonlight, and began to glow on their own accord. Two small lanterns of midnight blue among the night. More and more of the crowd scurried to either a better vantage point – or a safer hiding spot from the unfolding drama.
“Then who?” snarled Kallen. “You bloody gnat, who’s orders do you come by? Do you speak for the witch herself?”
For a moment the blue glow of the birds eyes seemed to intensify and the bird neither moved nor spoke. It stared at them for an uncomfortable moment in time before the man broke it’s glaze by shouting once more.
“You betray yourselves, I see now! I see what others miss, I see your hollow nests and empty spaces.. cawww..” it’s voice creaked out like cemetery gates. The accusation in his words now growled out of his sharp beak even if the words seemed like nonsense. It flustered his feathers and puffed them up in defiance. “I see! I see behind your eyes!”
He dodged the first arrow as it flew and hit the branch under it’s left talons, it embedded deep into the wood and cut the very air between them. Quickly the raven flurried his wings up to gust a few stray leaves as he lifted off and dove in a wide circle around them.
Kallen grabbed the bow from the guard closest to him.
“Dangerous games!” the bird screamed with chuckles of laughter as it swooped around the girth of the mighty tree, dodging low towards branches and scattering onlookers here and there with it’s cries. “You can not have her! Here me! I speak for another, you may not have that one! The Tree-witch is his!”
As he swung down for another closer dive near the tree an arrow plunged deep into his right wing and through to the branch closest. It pinned him with a sickening thud as he hung bloodied by the joints of crunching wing bones. A second later and his left one was struck, again plunging deep and through his wing into the solid branch behind him.
His feet and talons kicked and flailed wildly as he desperately tried to free himself. Black feathers ripped from their sheaths fell like the blackest of snow. They twirled damaged in the air with the rush of faeries running from the assault. They mingled with the last falling leaves from the large tree. Blood seeped down and dripped freely below.
“Got him.” Kallen sneered and sent the guards to clear the area from prying eyes as he and Aibell approached the sputtering animal. The bird was hissing and gasping, it’s large midnight blue eyes glow was now pulsing with it’s heartbeat. A quick and steady pace as it’s blood seeped down it’s twitching body. It was as if they were flashing.
“Who sent you?” snarled Aibell, the aire of formality leaving her quickly as more and more eyes were no longer watching.
“…Mad…” it wheezed and twitched hard, it’s body convulsing. It seemed as if it struggled to maintain it’s elegant use of speech. It’s animal instincts were taking over it’s frantic mind.
“Of course I am mad!” snarled Aibell.
The raven, once more managed it’s crass and deep chuckling with what little breath had remained in it’s lungs. It’s eyes came back to itself and the midnight blue burned like torchlight.
“Mad King… of the.. Daoine Sidhe” The strange bird convulsed one final time then stilled. It’s whole body seemed to simply cave in on itself and it’s feathers simply dropped all at once around them. Two arrows remained, but flesh and bird had strangely disappeared.
“The bird was bloody mad. Magicked into being a desperate trick, that’s all. She probably enchanted it herself, the fool. The Daoine Sidhe have no King!” snarled Kallen as he brushed black feathers from his clothing. It left the faintest smears of blood.
“They used to..” whispered Aibell. Her expression had paled and her temper extinguished. It was replaced with a foreboding aire of dread. “We need to speak to the Goblin King. Immediately.”