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Old 01-27-2003, 08:49 PM   #41
The Barrow-Wight
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Sting

The great Isengard crow horde of Akaaw flew westward like a great stormcloud, climbing ever higher as the mountains below rose to touch the endless sky. The dark trees of Fangorn were now nothing more than a dark smudge in the distance behind them, and every crow pushed forward without a backwards glance. Every crow but Akaaw and, when he thought no one would notice, Mitakaw. A revered creban had been left behind, and his presence was missed very much by everyone, especially those he had been closest to.

Pip’kha floated silently back to Akaaw and waited until the older crow acknowledged him with a throaty croak.

“Mitakaw is too proud to admit the pain of his father’s loss,” said the young bird, “and too proud to fall behind to look for him.”

“Too, true,” hissed Akaaw. “The sparrow is a victim of his own ambition and unwilling to risk his position.”

He gave Pip’kha a long, piercing glance, and asked, “Are you afraid of risk?”

“Craaakaa, no!” answered the bird, forcefully. “Chief, you know I value the murder over feather and beak.”

He waited, but Akaaw remained silent. There was an obvious command in the question, and Pip’kha decided it needed to be out in the open.

“Shall I rescue the honor of the horde, and perhaps the father of the foolish son?”

“Yes,” whispered Akaaw, nodding approval. “I was not able to confirm that Sparrowbane was dead, and I had no chance to return to him. A terrible situation. Please, take a few of your birds back and find him, alive or not. I will slow the murder’s progress and halt early this day.”

He motioned to the west. “ Do you see the gleaming lake far ahead of us?”

Many leagues away, nestled among the high western foothills of the Misty Mountains, lay a long finger of dark water.

“That is where we will be. “Find us there at nightfall.”

“We’ll be there,” said Pip’kha.

[ January 27, 2003: Message edited by: The Barrow-Wight ]
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Old 01-28-2003, 03:37 PM   #42
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Pipe

Straggling, he flew leaden, lower and lower. Blood and earth were in his eyes and his wings were crooked. He could no longer bear to flap them; he settled for gliding, knowing in his heart that he had not the speed or the height to get near to the battle-field again and his last feast. Somewhere in his breast beat a hurt; a pain that no-one of his sons, not one of his proteges, not even the leader had come for him, or had sent birds for him. Perhaps...they had...

He blinked awake in pain and confusion, branches slapping him on his face and wings, sending pain shooting through his tired old body. Grasping hold of himself, he grasped and swung, making a startlingly graceful landing on a branch, jagged and oddly scarred as if by fire, that struck out from the canopy of the small copse beneath. He shook his head irritably and felt a sudden fierce surge of vicious joy at the blood upon his face. The coppery scent invigorated him. The sun struck him then, carving between the mountain peaks, slicing warmth upon his tattered feathers. He shook again, almost instinctively, clearing his head. Clarity was descending upon him, but it was an unusual one for him, not the muffled clarity of sight in battle, nor the exultance of young flight, nor even the delight of the first flight of the morning, but a calmness, a serenity that pervaded his very living spirit.

He breathed in deeply, opening his cracked and damaged beak. The air was cool, crisp and delightful. He felt a massive thirst then, so strong it nearly toppled him from his awkward perch. This was shunted hastily back in his mind as he scanned the sky. Unmistakably, he saw three birds flying. Yet he could see their movement across the sky. They were not coming directly towards him. He felt a keening sadness within him, for he had just become greatly desirous of clinging to his fragile life.

He tried to focus on the black specks, but they were twisting, spinning past his eyes...all went black again.

Fingot Sparrowbane fell, noiselessly impacting on branch and leaf, coming to a stop, more softly than expected, on the damp leaves of the ground.

[ January 31, 2003: Message edited by: Rimbaud ]
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Old 02-01-2003, 06:35 AM   #43
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Boots

Pip'kha quickly flew up to his cousin, coasting a bit as he held his position.

"Iodoc, you must take our company north with Akaaw and the murder. Remember to watch for Mitikaw's maneuvres. What he intends I don't know, but just be wary. Winka and Dakaw will help you. I am taking Rik'ki'kew and Kawdor with me. We are returning to the Forest."

Iadoc slowed his wing speed and looked incredulously at Pip'kha.

"You are doing what?"

"Fingot Sparrowbane is not among us and we have need of his knowledge, experience, wisdom. No one saw him die. And it is not the manner of crows to abandon our kind. I am to find him, dead or alive."

Iadoc eyed his cousin. "That forest is dangerous. It is wrong for us to go there. You won't be safe." Here, Iadoc nodded his head curtly, three times, as if in ritual to ward off danger for Pip'kha. "What's the point of searching for one who is lost?"

Pip'kha looked long and hard at his less thoughtful cousin. "Sometimes, Iodoc, you are a silly grub. You fear soaring? Or diving deeply? The forest is dark, deep, and indeed dangerous but lovely too. But my purpose is to find one who might need help."

So saying, Pip'kha banked left and circled to seek out Rik'ki'kew and Kawdor. The three crebain wheeled around and flew into the higher stream of air, where the windspeed brought them quickly back to the forest. They spread out to caw range of each other, hovering low over the forest floor and began a search pattern, weaving in and out of the tree trunks. They did not risk calling to the elder crow for fear of arousing the anger of the trees.

Pip'kha's nerves were on edge, a welter of clear-headed determination and unsettled anxiety and there was a tense tremour in his body as he flew over the pine needles, fallen leaves, dead and rotting matter of the floor. Finally, he risked a short, quick, tremulous caw, then another. To his left he caught a weak reply and peering down he spied the small dark body of Fingot Sparrowbane, nestled on the matted forest floor.

"Crahka, crahka," whispered the younger bird, as he landed at the side of the elder crow.

"Are you injured, hurt, in pain?" asked Pip'kha as he quickly began preening Sparrowbane's wings and body, his beak moving back and forth among the ruffled, crushed down and disheveled feathers, returning them to some semblance of smooth normality and relaxing the stiff muscles of the elderly crow.

"Thirst, thirst, mainly," Fingot managed to reply, his cracked beak hampering his words.

Pip'kha nodded and scratched through the dirt, hunting for worms. Finding one, he crushed it in his beak, masticating it into a fine pulp, which he then slipped into Fingot's beak in small amounts. Pip'kha then flew to the shrubs, searching for the juiciest of black serviceberries. He collected as many as he could in his claws and beak and returned to Fingot, repeating the actions again and again of crushing the berries lightly and then letting their juice drip into the old crow's mouth as Fingot held his beak up to catch the sweet liquor. Finally Fingot rested his head on his wing, savouring the strength and relief that was flowing into his body.

"Let me find the others," said Pip'kha, as he circled into the air at mid-hight among the trees. He cawed briefly, two short spurts which Rik'ki'kew and Kawdor quickly answered, coming to him. The three young crows then returned to Sparrowbane, nestling on the bedded needles beside him and waiting for him to gain strength for the flight back to the murder.
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Old 02-01-2003, 08:55 PM   #44
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Sting

The still water of the dark mountain lake lay nestled tightly in the grasp of a narrow mountain valley. Like a league-long spearhead, it neatly divided the landscape as if by the stab of a mighty giant. So deep had that ancient spearman plunged his weapon, that the land rose up in walls so steep and thickly forested walls that no road or path could ever have scaled them. With no sign of past or present habitation by man, elf, or orc, it appeared the perfect refuge for the murder.

Still, Akaaw sent scouts forward to investigate the trees. Often the most obvious sanctuary proved less hospitable than first impressions would suggest, and the memory of the eaves of Fangorn had left him more nervous than he would ever admit. Though the treacherous forest lay on the other side of the massive heights of the Misty Mountains, he would not feel comfortable until this valley had been thoroughly investigated. Soon the scouts returned to report that all was well, and they had even found great stands of blackberry bushes near the eastern end of the lake. After a curt nod of approval from Akaaw, the weary crebain flock dove down to fill their hungry bellies.

The blackberries were soon gone, and the crows of Isengard slowly settled into the trees and restlestly waited for the sun to set. They were all grateful for the rest, but Akkaw had called for the halt early in the afternoon, and the sun was still two crows from setting. A few were eager to continue their journey until dark, but most were satisfied with the comfort of the trees. A cool breeze was blowing across the water and up through the trees, relaxing fingers massaging tired muscles.

Akaaw flew to the easternmost brink of the valley and perched himself on the tallest tree, looking ever eastward for sign of Pip’kha.

[ February 01, 2003: Message edited by: The Barrow-Wight ]
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Old 02-01-2003, 10:42 PM   #45
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White-Hand

The day had been cold, nearly as cold as the night. All the down on Kadwyr's body did not suffice to protect him from the wind, which was as insistent as Pip'kha had been that morning, and not nearly as friendly. Korag had flown next to him, muttering irritably.

"Winter in the mountains," he said. "Worse luck ours. Do you suppose tonight will be colder still? If you ask me--"
Kadwyr hadn't, and hadn't meant to. He was quite cold enough on his own account. "Have you been in the mountains before?" he interrupted.

"Me, in the mountains? Certainly, of course. Dozens of times. Enough, anyway, to tell you that storms on mountains are--what are you laughing at, Eschkor?"

"Dozens indeed, you're younger than I am!" answered Eschkor, but several more naive crebain were already clamoring for details, and Kadwyr was glad to hear Korag's grumbled complaints subside into his usual outrageous gossip.

Their attention was so easily drawn off, he reflected. Just as in the battle, it was a question of minding small affairs or greater ones. For instance, Pip'kha's departure had gone unnoticed as far as they were concerned. But Kadwyr had noticed it. He noted the direction of the bird's flight, and stored the bit of information away, imagining the rumors that would arise once the others noticed Pip'kha's absence. He would keep it to himself, he decided; the gossip would be well worth hearing.

The ground beneath them was wild and uninviting. Kadwyr watched it carefully for signs of movement, but of course no ground-crawling creature would travel in such a place by choice. He wondered what it would be like for someone without wings moving slowly from tree to tree, perhaps glad of their shelter but still exposed to the constant injury of the hard, rocky ground that led up to the mountains, driven no doubt by some form of desperate need. Why woiuld anyone want to travel over such a land?

Indeed, why did they want to travel over such a land? There was nobody to spy on here, and Akaaw had been less than forthcoming, as was his way. But surely they were searching for something, and surely they needed to know what it was. As Akaaw brought them down toward the lake, Kadwyr was already considering the best way to pry information out of his chief.
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Old 02-03-2003, 10:04 AM   #46
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Pipe

Leaving the forest floor proved a difficult task for the aged Fingot Sparrowbane, despite the encouragement from Pip'kha, who seemed increasingly exasperated. Although the part of the forest they were under was dense, and allowed only a filtered green lighting, the young crow could sense night fast approaching. He did not want to be here on the forest floor when darkness fell, he was terrified enough already.

Despite this he was full of admiration and pride for the venerated advisor. The injured, exhausted crow was bruised and torn and seemed hardly likely to make the trip back in one go, but within him Pip'kha sensed a rekindling of an indefatigable spirit. The beak was broken but the eyes flashed with fire and sight.

He wondered if they would ever return to the murder. Nightfall approached. The forest light drifted away like unravelling whispers of dream, the darkling menace surounding them.

* * * * * * * * *

The moon vied with the last red rays of the descending sun-orb by the time they cleared the canopy of leaves. They flew low and awkwardly; Pip'kha sent Rik'ki'kew and Kawdor to scan in front of them in the failing light. He himself strayed no further than a wing's length from Fingot, who said nothing, but gasped audibly with each beat.

Fingot himself was barely thinking of the flight, pushing the pain away. He struggled to rememeber the things he had to speak of to Akaaw. In the Chief's eagerness to push the murder forwards he had neglected in part of his mission. He had ideas...by the last of all ravens, this hurts...

They flew on slowly, the two younger birds circling them impatiently, Pip'kha urging and cajoling, Fingot careful and deliberate.

In the end, to Pip'kha's surprise, they made it in one trip and the problem was not Fingot's condition when they neared their destination, but in discerning it at all. Finally, after some abortive flights across the area of the forest, Pip'kha caught a brief glimpse of moonlight playing on still water. He dipped his wings and called to the others. It was nearly midnight.

[ February 03, 2003: Message edited by: Rimbaud ]
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Old 02-23-2003, 08:00 PM   #47
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Sting

Once again, Akaaw woke before the rest of the murder, stirred by some internal mechanism that refused to let him get the rest he deserved. The early morning sky was still as black as the feathers of his tail, and a blanket of dark clouds hid the stars. The temperature had dropped below freezing, and a thin, icy frost clung to the trees and coated the flock of still-sleeping crows. Old Fingot, huddled miserably beside him, shivered violently and moaned at the nightmares that haunted him.

Akaaw left the wounded crow to sleep a while longer, and flew to where Pip’kha roosted. He nudged the bird gently to wake him and then waited a moment until he was fully aware. Pip’kha rose slowy and shook the ice from his wings, then whispered a ‘good morning’ to his leader.

“You have honored yourself and this murder, Pip’kha,” said Akaaw quietly. “Sparrowbane is a great crow, and his loss would have been a terrible loss to us all. One such as he should never have been left behind, and I regret having done so. I was sure he must be dead, until I had more time to ponder it. I thank you for the risk you took to secure his safe return. It is time that you know exactly what we crebain are doing in Dunland so far away from our roosts in the confines of Isengard.”

The younger bird nodded but remained silent.

“The master has given us a great duty that we are privileged to be a part of. It is our task to find something for the White Wizard. Someone, actually.” He motioned with his wing to the rest of the horde. “Pass the word to my captains that we will be scouring the land, searching for any group of Men, Elves, or Dwarves. The lands we will be flying over are almost completely empty of settlements, and the further north we fly, the less often we will encounter any two-legs. But we are not looking for villagers or those stray hunters that linger in the woods. We are looking specifically for a band of adventurers, particularly one with children.”

Pip’kha looked at Akaaw in amazement, “Hatchlings? What kind of beings would bring their young into such a wasteland as we are flying to?”

Akaaw grunted and answered, “Barbarians, no doubt. The kind intent on the ruin of the White Hand. Go now and wake the captains. We must be on our way by sunrise.”
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Old 02-27-2003, 04:29 PM   #48
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Sting

The early morning sun had just begun to rise but could not yet penetrate the heavy clouds blanketing the pre-dawn sky. Consequently, it was cold and dark still when Pip’kha woke Brak from his deep slumber.

“The captains must gather for a brief meeting,” called Pip’kha while already winging away to undoubtedly disturb others’ sleep.

Brak merely grunted in reply, not being fully awake, but did manage to comprehend that his presence had been requested. After a few moments of attempted wakefulness and a ruffling of feathers, he took off from his nighttime perch and headed in the direction Pip’kha had taken.

It did not take long to locate Pip’kha and the other captains. At lakeside grew a sparsely leaved tree that made a good meeting area for the birds. Most of the captains had already settled onto various branches, so Brak quickly alighted upon one of the upper limbs not yet taken by others of the crebain.

The captains had only to wait a brief period for all to arrive and Pip’kha wasted no time to explain the recent, more clearly defined mission of the murder. The captains generally nodded in comprehension and approval and the meeting appeared to headed towards a quick close. However, it was Brak who decided that it was not yet time for this gathering to disperse.

He was not sure whether it was the loss the Krikaw and the others or just the unpleasant, unexpected awakening that morning, but a fire was burning inside of Brak that would not easily be smothered.

“Caw! Wait just a minute!” cried Brak. The other surprised captains cut their chatter immediately and settled back down on the branches. “Is that all we are about?” continued Brak fervently, “finding a few of the two-legged? We are heading into treacherous mountains that will surely claim at least a few lives from the murder, and we have already lost too many crows as it is, and for what? We owe nothing to the wizard and we care nothing for these other land based creatures. Why should we risk our feathers for those who have no effect on us? Am I the only one who finds this to be utterly ridiculous?”

As Brak finished he was greeted with only stares and silence. He could hear himself breathing heavily from his animated diatribe but he refused to appear flustered, so he slowed his breathing and stared back defiantly, waiting for a response.
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Old 03-06-2003, 10:08 AM   #49
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Pipe

The Murder’s Balance

Fingot Sparrowbane had slept fitfully. His wings hurt, the rain plastered his feathers to him and he should have been thoroughly miserable. This was not the case. The oldest living crow missed little and had pushed his physical tortures to that place at the rear of his mind, as he concentrated on reading the balance of the murder. He felt Mitakaw’s eye upon him but ignored it for the time being. The younger crow was stationed high above him, in an adjacent tree. The younglings always took the high branches. Instead, Fingot, by the merest motion of his head, summoned the hulking Hardclaw, another of his sons, and his staunchest ally. Hardclaw was massive, and somewhat ponderous in flight. His mind was not agile, but he knew loyalty and he knew the will of Fingot was rarely surprised. His fealty, as with his father’s was to the murder, not to any faction. Fingot used him shamelessly for his dirty work.

Yet by the time that Hardclaw had shuffled beside him, head bowed to catch his orders, Fingot had moved ahead mentally again. The original plan had been simply to take Brak down to the ground, and for Hardclaw to make then obeisance to Akaaw. Such plans, however, were only effective when the Chief held a majority tone. The number of crows hanging on Brak’s polemic was disconcerting.

Sparrowbane could feel Akaaw watching him, judging what to do, waiting for his advisor’s sign. He made up his mind. He spoke briefly and quietly to Hardclaw, who departed his side silently.

Barely clacking his beak, imperceptibly moving, he had their attention. The relay crows instantly took their positions, the message moving back through the throng as he spoke, softly, his voice worn away, and hushed by the rain upon the broad leaves. The murder re-organized itself, in the subtle but familiar ways. With a surge of pride, Fingot saw that Mitakaw had learned and understood. His crows stood close to Akaaw, almost directly behind him, an unflinching sign of support. Some of these younglings snapped at those in Brak’s coterie – there had been some fluidity between these two groups, but no longer. Lines were being drawn. The murder was on a wing-tip. Suspense mounted.

In his mind, Fingot saw Mitakaw, older and wiser, leading a great murder south…south to the lands of sun and plenty; away from the affairs of two-legged fire-holders. Yet that was so far away…

“Crows of Akaaw, Crows of Isengard,” he began. The relay crows chattered. Those on Brak’s group shifted uncomfortably, and those that had listened ardently before, shifted slightly away from the large dissenter. Most of the crows gathered could not remember the last time Fingot had addressed the murder. “I have returned from a forest floor of seeping death!” There were some caws at this and Mitakaw’s coterie clacked their beaks. “I return to find good crows questioning the Leader of the Murder! Questioning he who has strengthened the crebain of Isengard to a fearsome body. He who speaks directly with the fire-wielder of the Dead Black Tree.”

Akaaw said nothing, but watched all, his eyes beady and cunning. Fingot’s voice was failing.

“Some question Akaaw’s wisdom in bringing us so far into this land. Dare you counter his judgment?”

With a sickening thud, Hardclaw sliced from a great height directly into the chest of Brak, sending him tumbling down, out of sight amongst the lower branches. Hardclaw recovered himself and steadily climbed to sit beside Fingot, who continued unruffled.

“Such questioning is not permitted. You wish for man-flesh? Horse-meat?” The crows cheered up visibly. This was more like it. “Akaaw brings you these things!” There was much nodding and wise agreement. The reign of Akaaw at Isengard had brought a fairly steady stream of death in the surrounding forests.

Fingot stopped, and flicked a wing-tip at Pip’kha, who in turn nodded to Akaaw, who gathered himself.

The Chief began, his voice sounding clear, strong and loud compared to Fingot’s rasping caw. The relay crows were not needed. “We fly north. You fly where I say. We feast on our enemies! We are the black glove of the White Hand! To the skies, crebain!”

Now Fingot acknowledged his son Mitakaw’s gaze and gestured swiftly. Mitakaw rose up, sending his birds spiralling up into the sky, the rest of the murder straining to catch up. Akaaw gestured to his own lieutenants who landed flapping and cawing in the midst of Brak’s diminishing revenue, scattering them, with much snapping and a little bloodshed.

Hardclaw shook his head to Fingot. Brak was not dead.

Yet it was the time to fly. Pip’kha and Hardclaw aided Fingot into the skies, and they flapped slowly, watching as Akaaw rose up steadily, carving to the front of the murder, barely acknowledging Mitakaw and his new-found fealty, as was correct.

Orders started spinning back from Fingot and the Chief. Groups of crows were created and cast off from the murder, swinging low over the forest, scanning, searching.

[ March 06, 2003: Message edited by: Rimbaud ]
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Old 03-15-2003, 02:58 PM   #50
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Sting

The uncounted crows of Saruman’s North Isengard murder (for who could ever tally such a whirling mass of fluttering feathers) flew for days and days. So many days, in fact, that the land beneath it began to seem as one endless blur to the individual birds who bothered to look down anymore. Most crows were lost in the painful pushing and pulling of wings in an infinite cycle of weariness, and the effort of looking downward only added to their misery. Occasionally, as the leagues of green and brown slid away beneath them, a crebain would fall earthward, unable to go on.

“There goes another,” croaked Fingot. “That’s more than a dozen today.”

Akaaw nodded agreement. “I know. I, too, am counting our losses and am amazed at the lack of commitment in the youth of today.”

“Aye,” coughed the ancient crow, “Grown accustomed to the comforts of the Ring or too young to have ever left it until now. They complain endlessly of the effort they must put forward and act as if the words duty and honor have never been uttered in their presence.”

“Mitikaw has remembered your lessons, Sparrowbane. Duty and honor have been apparent in all of his actions since Fangorn.”

Fingot bristled with pride at his Chief’s words of praise for his son, the first positive thing Akaaw had said since this journey had begun. Finally, his impetuous son was listening to the common sense of his father and no longer hearing the hollow support of the ignorant youngsters that urged him on to premature action.

“Yes, Chief,” he answered. “Thank you for mentioning his improved performance. He may yet prove to be worthy of succeeding me.”

“Perhaps. He is no quitter, and I thank you for that. Those around him are still with us, and that shows leadership qualities. I will keep a closer eye on him as we continue our trek.”

He motioned ahead to a dark line on the northern horizon.

“That is the river I seek. Somewhere ahead it is joined by another stream, and at that intersection we will find the ruins of an ancient city. I do not know what it was once called, but I suspect we may find what our Master seeks among its broken towers and walls.”

“I also do not know its name,” muttered Fingot, “but I do know that it was once a great city of Elves, destroyed by the Eye more than an Age ago. It is undoubtedly haunted, and I don’t think we should go near it.”

“Feather and bone, Sparrowbane! Are you afraid of the ghosts of dead Elves?”

“Indeed,” grinned the old bird, “for ghosts do not feed the hungry bellies of tired crebain. But you mistake my meaning. It is not the spirits of the fallen that I fear. It is the unknown terrors that often house themselves in such ancient places. Horrors as deadly as the terrible trees can be found beyond the eaves of Fangorn. If we go to the Elvish city, be on your guard!”

“I will, Fingot. I will.”
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Old 03-16-2003, 09:44 PM   #51
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Boots

Many recent events had made Pip'kha uncharacteristically quiet, even sombre, and he was often lost in his own reflections as his wing beats carried him over a sterile, unnatural terrain.

Brak's sudden loss of heart had bothered him; he would not have expected it of the younger bird and he felt keenly the distruption of the murder's solidarity, as if a friend had taken a path that would eventually sunder the friendship. Iodoc at first would not make eye contact with him, as if his cousin, too, were uncomfortable with events. It was with not a little relief that he had observed Sparrowbane's actions to restore balance and unity to the flock.

Pip'kha found himself spending more and more time doing his reconnaisance flights with the companies of Rik'ki'kew and Kawdor. He didn't understand why, simply that they seemed to share an extra sense. Strange how an experience could determine matters that were far distant from it. Something about the forest and about their return for Fingot Sparrowbane had stayed with the three birds. Every time they were able to stop--a rare occurrence in this desperate-seeming flight--and sip on crushed elderberries, they seemed to relive that sense of a tiny miracle of relief amid the forboding. Pip'kha even took to holding a sprig of the berries in his claws as they flew, a subtle reassurance of something he could not quite understand.

The ground below was variable, some grassland that harboured little of interest, sparse woodland sometimes, other areas rocky, with large outcrops of black-streaked rock and even stranger sights, rotted relics of old mines, the mouths caved in but the scars remaining on the earth. The land was desolate, worked over, as if emptied of all that had been useful and now abandoned. A stillness haunted it.

Then Pip'kha had overheard Akkaw and Fingot speaking of this ruined town they were heading to. An ancient elven town. What were the elves that crebain should fear the ruins of their city? Pip-kha had never seen an elf, although he had caught whispered talk about them.

He left his company and flew back to Akaaw and Sparrowbane.

"What made the city great, Fingot Sparrowbane? You have the wisdom of the old days tucked away with your own years. Share it with us. And why was it worthy of the doom of the Eye?"
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Old 03-20-2003, 09:49 AM   #52
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Fingot flew on seemingly heedless for a time. Pip’kha was just rephrasing his question, when the veteran began a recital, in a low and breathy monotone, as if from some deep memory.

“We pass knowledge down through tales and so I pass this on to you. One of my daughters holds most of my knowledge also, now, for I am not foolhardy in my age.

“You talk of times so far past that crows should not remember. Yet despite the passage of nearly five thousand winters we do, for such is the power of the tale I tell. The city is called by the evil manipulating Elves, Ost-in-Edhil and once it was a revolting affront to the Powers that cradle us, young Pip’kha. White spires and pale stone buildings thrust from the Master’s Earth like a dagger through its heart.

“It was built upon the doings of two of the Enemy’s foulest minions, by their language Galadriel and Celeborn.” He clacked a reasonable approximation of the syllabic impetus of the words, more for effect than any didactic reason. He went on, ignoring the pain in his wings and in his heart.

“At this time, all those winters and moons ago, the Elves were companionable with the cave-dwelling pit diggers of the mountains. They between them constructed things out of the earth, and pretty baubles.” He and Pip’kha shook their head together at the folly of land grubbing creatures. “But after a time, our Master decided that the time to rid the land of such monstrosities was come, and through his cunning tongue and awesome power, he destroyed Ost-in-Edhil and sacked its futile towers. He turned the Elves against their own masters!” His eyes glittered with vicarious joy. “'Twas in this city that many things were made, and lost and found and broken and remade. It was in this city where our great Master leveled a blow of might upon our Enemies. The buildings of the land-shapers and earth-toilers were flattened.”

He paused for a time, and the murder strained forward around them.

“Ghosts remain. And other things. I hope we do not settle there for any time.”

No more could the younger crow get from him. He fluttered back some way in the mass, his mind racing.
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Old 03-22-2003, 06:09 PM   #53
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White-Hand

The conversation between Fingot and Pip'kha was not, in reality, a private one, and it was not Kadwyr alone who listened unobtrusively from above, though what the others heard and what they thought of it, Kadwyr neither knew nor cared. He was occupied with thoughts of his own.

Speech or no, Sparrowbane is afraid.

Kadwyr shuddered. The old crow's wisdom and fearlessness had been among the founding principles he had been taught from nest and shell. The sky was wide, the dead were theirs, what was secret must be discovered, who had power must be obeyed, fire was fearsome, and Fingot was right. And if Fingot was afraid, then Brak had been right as well.

Kadwyr had kept silent during the tense moments before Brak's expulsion. He was no such upstart crow himself, and knew well what would happen to Brak's followers before he saw it. He was far more afraid of Akaaw than of any manner of ghost or elf, but Fingot's worry gave him pause.

But Fingot was old, he reflected, and Kadwyr himself was a crow of action and of sight. Worries were not for him. With a slight, calculating glance at Akaaw, he veered off, searching and spying. It was Kadwyr's sharp eyes that caught the city first. Its stones were hidden under trees and under brambles, and it was somewhat to the east of where they had been searching, still and silent, and even Eschkor at first did not see it.

"That pile of stone?" he said quietly, when Kadwyr had finally succeeded in showing him where it was. "We seek men there? Living ones? I can't imagine anything more than old treasures and bugs between the stones."

"Those, and thorns to pierce our feet, and hungry owls in the tower," answered Kadwyr, moodily. "And whatever it is that Fingot fears." He ignored the startled sound the Eschkor made deep in his throat, scanning the ground with care. "We will see, no?"

Eschkor nodded, and he and Kadwyr dove toward the city of secrets, leaving the others to circle it carefully, looking for whatever they might find. If there were old treasures, they were not for the whole of his company. Indeed, he would not have brought Eschkor toward the city if it were not for the deep misgivings in the back of his mind.

And he still hadn't seen anything move when the first rock hit him, hard, and he was thrown off his balance. With a cry of pain and anger, he veered around, searching for Eschkor, trying to regain his bearings, seeing nothing. A voice spoke nearby, words he did not know, and as he flew toward it in his panic and his anger, he suddenly felt himself caught and pulled to the ground.

Kadwyr, you fool, he thought in disgust, held prisoner by hands he could not see. He looked to the sky, hoping to see Eschkor, and was startled to see a ragged band of crows, flying low and slowly toward him. Brak.

To warn him would be to be a traitor, and Kadwyr was in no mood for generosity in any case. He gave up watching their approach (very near, by now), and concentrated on his ineffective struggles against whatever it was the held him, a thing that seemed to care little for claw or beak.

[ March 22, 2003: Message edited by: Belin ]
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Old 04-05-2003, 02:17 PM   #54
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Sting

Brak and his small band of insurgent crebain had been warily tracking the murder since their expulsion. The forced secrecy had taken its toll on the group though, and Brak and the others were weary and in low spirits when they spotted the remains of the Elven city. It seemed a safe place to take shelter for a time while they rested and foraged for food.

It was here that Brak first caught a glimpse of Kadwyr. He appeared to be struggling in the shadows just inside the ruins. While Brak immediately recognized his friend, he could not see why the other crow was so fiercely struggling. As he flew closer, it seemed that Kadwyr was fighting against nothing more than shadows. Nevertheless, Brak approached cautiously.

As Brak swooped in from above, he saw with dismay the true reason for Kadwyr’s struggles. A black mist, very much like a shadow and somewhat in the shape of a man, had wrapped itself around much of the crow’s body. Brak cawed loudly and dove towards the mist, not really knowing what he could do against such an opponent. His first instinct was to use his claws and beak, as if the darkness was an enemy made of flesh. Though his attacks seemed to pass unhindered through the mist, Brak was relieved to see that the grip on Kadwyr was loosening. After only a moment, Kadwyr was able to maneuver himself out of his imprisonment and flew off, cawing loudly for Brak to follow. As Brak shot away from the ruins, he seemed to hear fell voices screaming after him. He quickly left the voices behind him and caught up to Kadwyr.

“What was that?” asked the shaken but still healthy Kadwyr.

“Not sure, but I recommend we avoid any further forays into the ruins,” replied Brak. “Are you okay?” he asked concerned.

“Fine now,” said Kadwyr, “though I am glad you showed up when you did. Looks like that old Sparrowbane was right after all about ghosts.”

“I would not dwell on it overly much,” said Brak. “On the other hand, I have a proposal for you that I would like you to consider seriously. I did not get a chance to confer with you before my expulsion from the murder. It all happened so quickly. Nevertheless, there are serious problems with this flock, as you must surely know. I ask you to join with me. We know the mission, we no longer need the others.”

“But why?” asked Kadwyr, “I like my place in the murder.”

“What about Krikaw?” fired Brak, “Do you remember him? He died needlessly! Must this continue? We can get ahead of the murder with a small group and cover ground more quickly. Traveling with such numbers is cumbersome and will lead to only more wasted lives when the bad weather hits. We can find these land creatures and report back to Saruman ourselves. It will be us then in his favor. No longer will we have to deal with Akaaw and his obtuse leadership!”

Kadwyr was not sure. He could see the fire in Brak’s eyes and it excited him. Nevertheless, this was no small decision. He did not know which way to turn.

[ June 02, 2003: Message edited by: Anglachel ]
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Old 06-04-2003, 12:21 AM   #55
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White-Hand

Oh, yes, he remembered Krikaw. His fault, not Akaaw’s, but there was no reason to make an issue of that. Brak had a point; Akaaw had brought them there, and seemed to care little what became of those who followed. Indeed, Akaaw and Fingot together had spoken ill of those who had died of exhaustion, blaming the laziness and the weakness of these friends of his, staunch birds whose blind zeal had amazed Kadwyr for most of his short life. Oh yes, he remembered. But he also remembered Brak’s terrible fall through the trees, and the cries of crows convinced, his own voice among them. And if Krikaw had died needlessly, Kadwyr saw no need to follow suit. He had always considered himself a sensible crow, a crow that understood the workings of the murder and the ways of the world. Who had power must be obeyed, ran the maxim. And those who questioned maxims were fools…or leaders. He eyed Brak with uncertainty.

"And Hardclaw, and Mitakaw?" he asked experimentally. "Do you remember that?"

"Craaawk," sighed Brak disgustedly. "His skull’s as hard as his claws, and you know it. Without Fingot and Akaaw, he’d be nothing. If it’s Fingot you’re afraid of, say so. But if fear and not loyalty is holding the murder together, perhaps it should be dissolved. And where is their loyalty to you? Did they save you from danger? Did they—"

"Look," broke in Kadwyr tensely. Brak looked. It was small, hidden, and barely perceptible, but there was a faint hint of red at a distance on the ground below them.

"Is that...fire?"

Kadwyr chuckled, deep in his throat. "Fire," he said. He had a sudden desire to land so that he could preen. Fire. His mind was full of thoughts of himself, himself as the discoverer of their quarry, himself as the hero of the mission, himself as a favorite of the wizard, no longer overlooked in favor of the snobbish children of that decrepit crow, no longer sneered at for his youth, taking the glory that was rightfully his and that Akaaw would never accord to him.

"It is the wizard, of course, who wished us to find them," said Kadwyr, "and it is he who wants the news. The wizard is stronger than either of them. And who has power must be obeyed." He chuckled again.

Brak was watching him closely. "I can count on you then?"

Kadwyr made a sound like one he had heard the strawheads make, riding out. "Kadwyr Sharpeyes," he said, giving himself a title, as nobody had bothered to give him one before, "is in service of your cause." The other crow nodded slowly and with some satisfaction.

Kadwyr glanced back briefly over his shoulder. He did not know what had become of Eschkor. He must have returned to the murder, if he had in fact escaped. His friend, Kadwyr reflected sadly, was a very sensible crow, and a great follower of the maxims.

**********************

The sun was rising as they headed north. The eyes of Kadwyr and Brak were fixed upon the speck of fire they had discerned among the prickles and brambles beneath them. Around them, the crows of Brak’s company had spread out and were circling back and forth, searching carefully. Kadwyr peered back for a moment, trying to see whether the rest of the murder was visible in the still-dim sky, but found his view blocked, this time, by the many black-feathered bodies around him. He had already forgotten how much difference it made to be able to fly slightly above the others or to the front of them. He clacked his beak in irritation and wondered whether they would be visible from the ground. His own change of tactics really made for much better spying, he thought—had Akaaw really intended to fly over their quarry unobtrusively with the entire murder behind him? Foolishness.

All the same, he missed his own company, even Korag, who would doubtless claim to have been there the whole time, and he was keenly aware that all the real power here was Brak’s. He wondered how many of them would join him when they returned. All, he thought, if the plan worked the way that they hoped it would. But he would have liked to have Eschkor with him now.

They were nearing the place where they had seen the fire, and, small and low as it now was, a flash of red was still visible among the bushes. They circled lower, searching. “There!” croaked one of Brak’s crows, gesturing toward the ground near the area he was searching. Two men, one of them with the look of a leader and one no more than a child, cowered under a holly bush, as if they hoped not to be seen. Near them slept several others, Men, children, and an Elf and a Dwarf. The crows stared at them silently as they swept overhead, still moving to the north with the winds. The mission was complete. They would turn east again shortly.

Kadwyr strained for altitude, until he thought he could see the great murder, still moving westward. But between them and the others was another group of three or four, calling back and forth to each other in confusion and flying approximately northeast. One of them circled back occasionally, using a trick of balance that Kadwyr had only ever seen in one bird. Eschkor?

Cautiously, he dropped behind the others for a moment to see.

[ June 11, 2003: Message edited by: Belin ]
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Old 06-29-2003, 03:09 PM   #56
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Sting

The unmistakable, intense feeling of excitement washed through Brak as he, Kadwyr, and the others circled away from their quarry. Their group, the few that they were, was able to accomplish what the entire murder could not. He could almost hear Saruman's praise on the wind as they sped away from the lumbering mass of crebain.

"Fools!" mumbled Brak to himself, "there are still some good crows left in the murder. It is shame that they are so inclined to follow such blind leadership!"

There was still a measure of guilt that Brak felt for abandoning many of the only crows he had ever known. Chief among his thoughts was Pip'kha, who he had always held in high regard. Brak looked wistfully behind him, thinking perhaps Pip'kha just might be following close behind, but there was only his small group of companions. At least Kadwyr was still with him, thought Brak with some amount of solace.

Brak let these thoughts fade to the back of his mind so he could contemplate the most direct route home. He was just beginning to turn his focus on the terrain in front of him when he caught a glimpse of some movement in his periphery. He quickly determined that a small group of crows was headed in their general direction. After a moment, he recognized one of the birds as Kadwyr's colleague, Eschkor. Turning back, Brak saw Kadwyr drop behind the others and knew that he too recognized his former companion.

Brak rapidly considered the rebel group's options. Eschkor may be friendly to their cause, but he also could be spying for the murder, or perhaps he could have just inadvertently stumbled upon them. Nevertheless, there was little time to waste determining the truth. Brak spurred the small group into action. He called loudly to the others and immediately cut hard to his left. The rest followed suit and soon they had closed in on Eschkor and his followers. Brak quickly led the team into a circular path that kept their target hemmed in.

After completing two full circuits around the small group, Brak broke away from the others and approached Eschkor. He noticed that Kadwyr had followed him to the center, but the others continued their orbital flight.

"We do not have time to be diplomatic Eschkor," said Brak, "so you must tell me now: are you going to join us, or must we put an end to you here?"
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Old 07-04-2003, 01:44 PM   #57
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Sting

The murder spent most of the cold late autumn morning flying over the ancient ruins of the elvish city, but no bird could be persuaded to drop down among the broken walls and towers. Even with the sun shining brightly, shadows black as midnight still lurked in gaping windows and doorways and beneath fallen arches. A frosty wind rustled long-dead leaves in a constant whisper that left even the bravest crow wishing to leave the haunted place.

“There is no one here,” a young messenger reported to Akaaw, darting up to where the great bird hovered. “This place is absolutely deserted, so much so that we have not seen any living thing in all of our searches.”

“And what of our missing captain?” asked the creban chief. “Has Pip’kha discerned his wherabouts yet?”

“No sir,” answered the bird nervously.

Akaaw turned and asked his ancient advisor, “How can he have nothing to report on the loss of one of our brightest young leaders? Surely someone has seen him today.”

He turned back to the messenger with the intent of conveying a message his master, but he saw Pip’kha himself winging toward him from the north.

“Akaaw!” he cried. “We have word of the missing bird, and it is not good. A straggler caught up with the murder this morning and stated that he had seen several dozen birds arrowing south earlier today. Brak was at their lead.”

“I would expect him to be flying home now,” Akaaw smiled, “though he will find it is no longer his home once we return.”

Pip’kha cleared his throat and muttered, “Kadwyr was also among them.”

“What?” croaked Akaaw. “Kadwyr with Brak? Is this treachery? And at what purpose?”

Fingot croaked for attention. “There can be only one answer to the riddle of Kadwyr’s current course. He has found what you seek, Akaaw, and has defected to Brak’s group in order to bring the news to the White Hand before you do.”

Akaaw’s face at first grew grim, and for a while he said nothing. But after a while an anger began to build in his eyes, and the crebain around him backed away. Soon he grew livid with rage and began shouting orders to his messengers to gather all of his captains to him. Without waiting for a response, he beat his great wings and turned southwards, gaining speed so quickly that he reached the fringe of the murder that still circled over Ost-in-Edhel, pulling them as he passed like a great magnet into a dark arrow pointing southward.
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Old 07-28-2003, 02:31 PM   #58
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Sting

The same seething anger that fueled Akaaw's singleminded purpose lent strength and speed to his wings even as it drove caution and reason from his mind. He thought only of overtaking the traitorous fragment of the murder ahead and meting out vengeance and judgement on them. Was he not strong? Was he not still leader of the murder? Did they not vastly outnumber the upstart hatchlings? Would they not swoop down upon them and destroy them all? As such thoughts ran through Akaaw's mind, his wings pumped faster, harder, until he was outdistancing the murder, heedless of landmarks or signs in the rocks and trees below, or the cries of the rest of the murder who could not keep up. Only Pip'kha and Hardclaw were close enough to speak, and Pip'kha was quickly tiring -- Hardclaw's mindless strength kept him at Akaaw's right wing.

"Akaaw! Slow down! Consider what you are doing!" gasped Pip'kha. "You cannot allow personal vengeance to outweigh the good of the murder! What you are doing is not right!" Akaaw's only response was a screaming croak as he savagely attempted to peck and bite at his would-be counselor.

Pip'kha fell back to the main murder, exhausted, seeing his efforts were vain. As he rejoined the others, he shook his beak, saying only, "we must remain loyal to the murder and its leader, but Akaaw is driven by rage. Beware his actions."

============================

Eglaedhel was a ranger abroad alone, on no particular mission but reconaissance and watchfulness, seeking anything unusual. Not many weeks before he had run into a search party from Imladris, seeking news of the Nine Riders of Sauron. His blood had run cold at the news that they had attempted to assault Rivendell itself, and he breathed a great sigh of relief when he had been told of their defeat.

He had had no news to offer them. He was left with an urgent request that news any activity of the servants of Sauron should be sent to Rivendell with all speed. Now he drew his bark-hued cloak around him and gave thought to hunting for his next meal. It was not an area good for deer, for the ground was rocky in places, and though there were clumps of trees here and there, there was not much grazing foliage.

Eglaedhel laid aside his bow and unpacked his sling, and the rounded fowler's net he carried. When rolled properly so as not to tangle, he could use the sling to hurl the weighted net high into the air, where it would unfurl and hopefully catch a tasty bird or two in its web before it plummeted to the ground again.

He was almost prepared to cast when a small murder of a few dozen crows passed almost overhead. A missed opportunity, but perhaps there would be more.

==============================

Akaaw, with Hardclaw at this side, now flew nearly a half-mile out in front of the fastest part of the main murder, showing no sign of slacking. His adrenaline had redoubled upon sighting Brak and the other traitors, and he paid no concern to the fact that he did not have the rest around him. He would catch that miserable Kadwyr by the throat in his talons and squeeze it until his last croak gave him the location of the men and their hatchling companions...

...WHACK!!...

One of the edge-weights of Eglaedhel's net caught Akaaw square in the beak, stunning him momentarily and tangling both him and Hardclaw in the intricately woven netting. "NO!!" he screamed as he tried in vain to beat his wings against the strong cords and prevent him from falling to the earth. Hardclaw also ripped with his beak at the netting, to no effect. They hit the ground with a sickening thud which stunned them. Eglaedhel rushed over to the fallen net and quickly slit their heads from their bodies with his knife, so that they would not suffer long. Before the main murder flew overhead Eglaedhel had resumed his covered and disguised position in the rocks, but he did not strike his fire until they had all passed. Hardclaw he found plenty meaty, but Akaaw was tough and stringy, though he never knew their names...
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Old 07-29-2003, 03:22 PM   #59
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In unbelief Pip'kha saw Akaaw and Harclaw felled by the awful net and with fear he screeched out a warning to the murder to fly faster, higher, harder, to avoid a similar fate. In the tumult and chaos many crows flew into each other, breaking wing and stride, and more were lost to the ground.

Rik'ki'kew and Kawdor found their way over to Pip'kha, who called to them to look for Fingot Sparrowbane. Circling higher, the three finally found him, engaged in a furious argument with none other than Mitikaw.

"You fool, old crow! Look where Akaaw has led us. And himself to his own doom."

"Patience yet, young one. Have you so soon forgotten your lesson?" snapped Sparrowbane, his beak cracking further and his heart nearly giving way.

"Patience my feather tails! If you had supported me we would not have fallen apart."

"Mitikaw, you allow your headstrong nature to rule now when our heads must be cool." With these words, Fingot Sparrowbane sought to knock some sense into his son with a swipe of his talon to one of his son's wings. The action enraged the young crow who spun around and slashed back at his father. The act caught the old crow in mid neck and a large gush of blood spurted out, drenching Mitikaw and draining Fingot of his life source. His limp body spiralled down while Mitikaw struggled to remain aloft, the blood matting his feathers and making flight impossible. He, too, plummeted to the ground.

With sickening despair, Pip'kha watched the two fall, and the murder fall apart, disoriented. In the distance he saw his cousin Iodoc careen off and called to him, but the distance was too great for his weak caw to travel. Iodoc disappeared into the horizon. The tumultuous noise of the discord echoed away as Pip'kha held himself stationary above the bleak landscape where the pit diggers and elves had violated the land, unable in their folly to imagine things not of their own creation.

The unknown terrors had won, it seemed.

Pip'kha wept a silent moan of despair and grief for his lost comrades and the forsaken murder. Then, calling to Rik'ki'kew and Kawdor, who had faced the hostile forest with him when they sought to save Sparrowbane, Pip'kha flew on, sadly winging with a hollow sorrow and a new somber maturity. Pip'kha sought out Orthanc, not to return to the White Hand, but to find Fingot Sparrowbane's daughter, to add this sad fate to her knowledge of the tales of the crows.
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Old 07-29-2003, 03:56 PM   #60
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White-Hand

Kadwyr croaked loudly in surprise and distress. “Put an end to Eschkor? I tell you, traitor, if you kill my lieutenant…”

“Traitor yourself,” answered Brak coolly. “We can’t afford to have him reporting back, now, can we? You know that as well as I do.” He turned to Eschkor. “Well?”

Eschkor glanced quickly from one to the other, making small uncertain sounds deep in his throat. “You… what are you….”

But another, more urgent voice broke in from behind. One of Brak’s crows, unfamiliar to Kadwyr, had sighted the murder behind them, and was crying out in absolute panic. Eschkor wheeled around and was instantly at the very edges of their group, looking back and balancing on the wind as if he could guide himself off at any moment. “Kadwyr!…” he cried. “Look… no… our company… the murder… Kadwyr, do you see?”

Ignoring Brak’s furious glare, Kadwyr joined the small contingent of the group that had stopped moving forward altogether, that was darting back and forth in circles trying to get a good look at what had happened. Crows and feathers were scattered around the landscape, some flying away, some flying in utterly confused zigzags, some fighting with others for reasons not obvious to anyone in their small contingent of crows. Voices were all around him. “What happened?” “Are they all right?” “Where is Akaaw?” “Where is Fingot?”

“The murder is gone,” said Eschkor quietly. “Only this is left.”

“Precisely,” snapped Brak. “Come along, you sparrows, gaping won’t do any good. The murder is gone. We are what’s left. We were right—it couldn’t survive. Come on, now.” With an efficiency born of painstaking training, he gathered his crows into something almost similar to the neat little group they had been. “You two as well,” he added to Kadwyr and Eschkor almost as an afterthought, but as they silently took their places they were suddenly aware of the number of crows loyal to Brak, of by just how much they would be outnumbered if they were to change their minds. Brak continued the respect he’d shown to Kadwyr earlier, treating him as a fellow captain and a near equal, but all the pleasure in his new status had left Kadwyr. A deep distrust had replaced it. Still, he winged on toward Orthanc with the rest, perhaps unusually silent, but seemingly unchanged. Brak seemed satisfied, even if his bright yellow eyes did move toward Kadwyr with alarming frequency.

*******************************************

Saruman’s dark eyes rested on the crow before him. “Alas, so few of you have returned. Was the journey so arduous?”

Brak nodded and croaked solemnly. The wizard gazed out the window to where what was left of the former murder dozed. “And they have begun to abandon me here. Your worth shows all the more brightly, my beautiful servant. Tell the others of my words, and tell them they may rest, with my gratitude.” His voice was rich and slightly sad, as if the thought of all the strong young crows, both those lost in the mission and the descendants of Fingot who had fled soon after the return of Brak and Kadwyr, pained him deeply. Brak bobbed his head again and left the window, flying back toward the old tree. Kadwyr, perched silently in a nearby window, watched him go for a minute or two before taking off after him. He would need his advisor, the crow thought, with the echo of bitterness he was already learning to suppress. The fact that this advisor knew everything beforehand on his own accound was, of course, beside the point.

They had completed their mission. They had been rewarded. But the murder was full of an unease Kadwyr had never noticed before.

[ July 30, 2003: Message edited by: Belin ]
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