The Scarlets in the Forest


Donovan beat the thin air beneath his owl wings.

He mused two weeks before he might have beat his wings past the dusty seers' temple dissolving on their mountainside and Berengar might now be closer the crown. Music rising from a trilling pipe had drawn the owl closer. Seers dancing rings 'round their red-dirt yard was a most unexpected sight. Known to be a dour lot, seers also were long known to meddle in politics. When the impertinent little priestess swung her fist skyward at him, she had answered his suspicions, sending him on over the bleakness, high, in a likely direction. Quickly enough, he had found Berengar's inconvenient royal father and brother, and their odd pack of companions: little creatures below scrabbling among boulders over a dip in Cwen's shoulder that might have seemed to them a less strenuous climb to wherever they were going.

That was two weeks ago.

Morning sun had still to burn the mists from the grey crags Donovan flew. Snow smeared and pocked stony slopes below which never saw the summer sun. He beat and beat his broad snowy wings, lifting and lifting himself through the cooling air. Every wing beat carried him a satisfying little farther from his exasperating friend: inevitably, of course, the owl would have to return to the Prince's seemingly permanent encampment before the mountain.

Berengar had received the news of the quarry's proximity with his usual practiced disinterest, then took it into his head that his army of palace Scarlets, and the others, all wanted day upon day of advancing about and barking dangerously, and standing at open ranks for inspection under his discerning eye before dinner. His Majesty wished to impress his father and brother when he did capture them.

The situation only became more unpromising just yesterday when nearly all the company tasked to the town suddenly arrived — and its blinking captain, riding the nag, proclaiming they had come to rescue His Majesty from the clutches of the wicked witch Donovan guessed already held safe her precious kiddies and the town.

Berengar would not hear of turning the company around — would not have them re-take town and that vexing school — or burn it all. Instead, His Majesty added them, six-score more toy soldiers, added to his war game under Cwen's looming gaze. He had two companies barking and flanking each other until dinner.

"DEAREST NYSSA! — IF ONLY I COULD UNDO THE YEARS!" shrieked the owl, swooping through the mist.

Perhaps the functional thin blade Papa gifted him for his seventh birthday, mused Donovan. Just the pretty thing for sharing with the royal tutor — and Alastor's whore. Pinned through so vulnerable a soft heart for the kiddies!

If not the Vagari blade, perhaps then just enough of the candied apple Donovan had in the end left for obstructing Papa with his bedtime wine.

Memory and murderous intent stormed throughout mind and body. Pulsed behind Donovan's blurring eyes. Tingled him to the tips of his lifting wings. Warning that his anxious state was undoing his shape holding.

Berengar. He returned his focus to the more placid challenge that was his broken royal friend. As simply as that, owl eyes saw again the bleak crags, the grey snow below, in the half-light before dawn. He felt the chilling air rushing past the tips of his wings.

Lifting and lifting himself through a tongue of cloud gloomy as sackcloth, Donovan found the dazzling sun. He swung his feathered head and owl eyes away from the morning. A shadow flitted over a puff of golden cloud beside him. He registered the shadow for his own. But then, his heart tripping in warning, he felt it most odd. He nearly clapped together under him both broad wings, swung himself around, faced the hurting hard dawn, blinking his burning owl eyes.

From out of the blinding sun, the shadow struck his eye.

Instinctively folding his wings, Donovan tipped on his back. He plunged. Beating its rush'rushing black leathern wings, It blotted out the sky just there, where he had been. A yawning beak snapped at his hammering heart. The blood-red eye, big as a soup bowl, swept past. And the rest of this monster from out of the nightmarish kiddie tales dearest Nyssa once delighted in repeating. Winged eater of foolish adventurers — of careless villager and fierce bear — eater of any little thing it wanted!

The lizard head on its long neck fixed him falling below. It dipped one great wing, twisted its black body after it. It stooped for him.

Stark terror broke his focus — his shape hold. There wasn't silver enough in the world. The change rocked him. No longer the owl, and flailing his useless limbs, Donovan the man fell voiceless from the sun.

The End

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