Where you were or when you reached the frontier

POSTED: Mon Sep 15, 2014 9:10 pm

Vesper and Conrad work with some young ravens.

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Ravens were intelligent creatures -- but disorganized, and lacking in motivation. Food provided the latter, as Vesper snuck away treats of berries and bits of meat and gristle, and the former was a work in progress, every day.

The older ravens understood, had picked up on the pact and their role on their own and with some instruction from the Centurion. The juveniles, some with only a month's experience of flying under wing, were a little more chaotic in the mix of eagerness to work. They flapped eagerly to Vesper with cries of "wolf" when a coyote went walking within the territory, leading to a few scares and a literal reconstruction of an old shepherd's parable. She treated each case seriously, but grew tired.

It became easier, until they learned the telltale signs of wolves and danger, to teach them who strangers were. It seemed to go well enough as they patrolled Inferni on their own, though sometimes they went squawking about a more secluded coyote's appearance -- and harassed newcomers, if gently and with more noise than anger.

Such a squabble rose up at the edge of Ravenswrest now, and Vesper investigated it with a quick lope and a caw for attention. More angry crowing shouted back at her, including a couple voices she did not recognize. She yapped, and a low bark responded to her, piquing her interest until she parted the bushes and spotted a small, dark coyote half-hunched while two big ravens squabbled with the young ones.

They yours? Vesper asked, ear swiveling, and the younger coyote nodded. Conrad, right? Another nod. You wanna help me? A third nod -- and a small twitch of a smile to mirror hers, as the coyote stood at attention and called his own two birds back to him with a heavily accented crowing. The birds landed near him and fixed intelligent eyes on Vesper -- eyes intelligent enough for her to suppose they served the sort of purpose she wanted.

Vesper led the group back to the loud grove, decorated now with baubles -- feathers, hanging spines, splashes of red (the paint had been damn near impossible to get out of her fur, and involved some amount of oil and shedding), even birdhouses that seemed tentatively occupied. She spoke with him a little more, and while he was quiet, he answered all her questions simply. She discovered, after a few minutes of few-line stories of shifting and soldiers, that she liked him very much.

All right. I want to teach this bunch how to be proper scouts. You'll be our suspicious friend at the borders -- Eliseo and Eloisa help the fledglings. The birds cawed at her, and offered a small smattering of words (one with a sharp, crisp "Yeah, understand" and the other a squawked "El help"). She glanced at her own birds, and offered instructions in their own dialect. Conrad's ears swiveled to catch each phrase, while his birds carried some phrases and translated them more properly. Vesper got her point across in a clumsy fashion while Conrad set off into the woods toward the border, stealthy, and then the corvids took wing.

Vesper listened closely to their calls as she wandered the hollow, able to hear Eliseo and Eloisa giving crisp orders. They were not, perhaps, as experienced as she intially hoped they would be -- and so must have been only young under Ithiel's care. She remembered his great turkey vulture, though, and trusted in the falconry. Her own birds would better understand through their guidance that one must be quiet, unseen -- a part of the landscape, as many wolves regarded the birds. Only scavengers, watching -- not hopping in excitement or making a loud, alarming noise.

A small bird zipped through the bushes toward her, suddenly, and perched on a branch. Border! Con! Rad! it crowed, and Vesper asked it where, and it ruffled its wings and hesitated. Luckily, a second landed next to it -- almost on top of it, clawing and pecking briefly -- and trilled a report that Conrad was near a big tree with a broken branch. Vesper grinned and promised it food -- and the other, too, when it seemed to consider the report of the first.

Show me, she said -- in High Speech and about the same in Low -- and returned to Conrad -- seeing, also, more of the juvenile birds perched in the trees. She grinned and cawed at them, and they said they were keeping an eye on him -- because maybe he was gonna do something more than prowl around the same stake, Eliseo added.

Conrad, he pretend good, the bird said.

Food, said a youngster.

Conrad grinned and leaned his shoulder against a tree. I reckon they deserve a bite'r'two, he said. I noticed them, but I knew they was there. He paused, burnt orange eyes bright despite a calm face. Now, when we stopped -- bit s'picous for all of 'em t'kinda just sit there like that, he added. Maybe a wolf'd think he was lunch.

Fooooood, the youngster repeated, pointedly.

Vesper knew most of the ravens liked that idea -- and so asked Conrad to hunt with her to find some, as she'd neglected to bring any in her Lupus form. They loped from Ravenswrest with the birds trailing after them, swapping tales and mocking each other in the playful way of teenagers and friends, and together managed to bring down a few rabbits in the prairie. Most were tossed toward the birds, who wolfed down what was torn for them, while Conrad finally plopped down with one between his paws and gnawed hungrily at its back.

T'be honest, the ravens was a big reason I came here, the coyote said. This was a surprise for Vesper, who refereed a pair of squabbling, greedy siblings and did not expect the quiet coyote to speak a word. She glanced at him, and he continued without looking at her, between gnaws at the rabbit bones. Better 'n' Scintilla. Maybe safer. These bones like t' rest much as they like t' work. He offered this with a glimpse at her, eyes lingering on her scars. Ain't like I expect t' rest forever, but. This place ain't mean like that place.

Vesper nodded, settling on her haunches and shaking her shoulders free of feather and debris. She let the conversation die there -- thinking of luck and birth, and more of opportunity and coincidence. Then she thought of ravens, because one had decided to pull her tail, and so spun after it with sharp barks. Conrad ate in his usual comfortable silence, almost glad that she had not answered -- and hoping more than anything that he had impressed.

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tatter-winged phoenix
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