THE KAINOI STANZAS
Strofa Due: Le Bufere
(Stanza Two: The Storms)
Book Six: CANICULE’S MANIA
Anjing looked up.
After ruffling his off-white feathers and shifting his wings, he dropped his net into the river’s shallows and, while peering through the rainfall descending his rice hat, perceived the picks and flings of a nearing ruan. He stepped back. By tilting his orange stork’s bill and squinting his yellow eyes, he pinpointed a canoe one hundred yards out. The ruan persisted, and Anjing inched onto land. A voice sounded—though nigh-muted by the rainfall against the trees, the shore, and the river, it rose high and then slid low, moving with the ruan’s tones and echoing from the canoe’s bowl.
“[Flower of jasmine, so fair]”, the spotted, yellow monitor lizard sang while lying in the canoe’s bowl, his legs overlapped and his green- and yellow tail coiled at his feet. “[Flower of jasmine, so fair]”, he repeated, his throat trembling and his tan fedora jostling on his brow. “[Budding and blooming here and there]”, he sang, his chest thrusting and shifting his tan long coat. “[Pure and fragrant all do declare…]” He turned his head. “[Let me pick you_]” The boat quavered. The monitor lizard reared up and looked out.
Though branches and leaves slid by in the waterway’s currents, the monitor’s canoe sat in place. He raised his fedora and scratched his angular visage, but tensed at a splash, lowered his ruan with a second, and, after a third, turned to a figure striding from the southern shore and atop the river’s surface.
“Saya mengintip ular yang”, uttered a blue-spotted, dull-green monitor, elderly but muscular, whose blue-striped black shirt and pants and lit cigar, though surrounded by the aerial torrent, remained untouched, “ditangkap di dalam sungai.”
“Grand master”—the hatted monitor crossed his arms behind his back, stood, and bowed.
“High master.” The elderly monitor puffed from his cigar and let the smoke hover before his blue eyes. “What would the Serpents have with my Guild?”
“I am solely here for cordiality’s sake”, the hatted monitor replied. “We, the Reptilian Guilds, are strongest unified.” The grand master snickered, and the hatted monitor glanced up. “Something amuses you, grand master?”
“Many things, Huang.” The grand master tapped the canoe with his foot, causing the river water to turn it to the northern shore. He stepped beside the canoe, while Huang looked to the forested shoreline. The grand master, after extinguishing his cigar with the rainfall and pocketing it, raised his left. “Hold on, legged serpent.” He pointed down.
The surface tension gave below both the canoe and the grand master, and the two, with a vacuous gape underfoot, plunged fifty feet to the river’s muddy bed. Huang, while holding his ruan, looked ahead. The grand master then fisted his left to shape the surrounding water into a gyrating globule. He pointed, and the globule beamed along the river bed, coming to the shore’s bedrock and descending to a cavern. The globule moved through a craggier way, jolting past stalactites while schools of trout hovered by. After a moment of dimming motion, the globule ascended and, after one hundred feet, it breached and ejected the canoe and the grand master.
They landed along a rock-hewn harbor. As the grand master, still dry, stepped from the shoreline, Huang looked to the subterranean lake spanning that three hundred-yard dome, and then to the light-stones growing from its ceiling and providing a midmorning glow. He then stood at the clamor of nearing paces and looked to the wall along the shoreline, where appeared, within dozens of connecting bores, reptiles and amphibians in blue shirts and black capris. At once, all of them bowed, while one resounded:
“Grand Master Liam has returned!”
“Selamat Datang Kembali!” was the choral reply.
The grand master walked, and Huang, after gathering his ruan, followed. Entering a hallway along which a stream crept, they moved past intersections—some with rusted signs that read ‘Barracks A Through D’ and others with inscriptions in two, three, or four languages around their doors. They then passed through an expansive bore, where eighty stood within a foot of water and were faced by a muscular alligator in black-striped blue shorts.
The alligator called. The eighty jabbed, with the water below them riling. The alligator called. The eighty side-kicked, with the water welling before their feet. The alligator called. The eighty slashed, with the water shaping into linear constructs and slashing underfoot.
“Your numbers have held strong”, Huang remarked as they entered a second corridor.
“Few reptiles or amphibians want to become doctors or recluses; fewer still can tolerate the haughtiness of the dolphins; therefore, they come to my Guild. Surely you must know as such from the last Census.”
They next walked into a vertical chasm, within the center of which stood an elderly newt in a tan and blue-striped dress who raised her hands and caused blobs of watercolor to rise from bowls at her feet. She hummed and swayed, directing the globs to disperse, combine, and extend into streams, to press onto the chasm’s wall, and to form reptilian figures with blades and chains dueling amidst rapids. Passing into another hall with a leaking ceiling, Huang tilted his head and covered his ruan while Liam stravaged undeterred, the water hovering over his head before descending in his wake.
They entered a third corridor holding a three-level foyer intersected by streams and, across from them, an open vault door leading to a study. As the grand master walked to the study, another stepped from an adjoining hall—a young adult monitor of lighter-green shade and blue spots topped by short frill-hairs and who, in a blue sleeveless shirt and black-striped, blue capris, clasped his hands and knelt.
“My grandson, Master Li”, the grand master spoke to Huang.
“I have heard many good things”, Huang spoke with a bow. “Soon to be high master?” he inquired, while Li stood.
“Sooner or later.” The grand master entered the study, and Huang followed to a two-story room outlined by a bookcase of thousands of books; a wall of photographs and paintings of various styles, species, and subjects; and with a small fire pit in its center. “Li, pintu.”
Li, entering after them, turned to the vault door and raised his hands, manipulating the water within. He swayed his left, and the door screeched shut. He rolled his right, and the vault’s handle swiveled to lock. He fisted his left, and the locks shoved into their jambs. Li then pivoted to the fire pit, dropped to his knees, and placed his hands on thighs, while his longsword, hanging on his left, was jostled by his wide tail.
“Once more, I ask”, Liam continued as he slid his cigar over the fire. “What do the light-benders want with my Guild?”
“Grand master, I must protest”, Huang replied as he sauntered along the bookcase and scanned myriad tomes in dozens of languages. “I am here to promote civility and continued_” Huang silenced as Liam scoffed.
“I am no fool, Huang.” Liam sat before the fire pit. “The Serpents do nothing if it has no purpose—honorable or not. It is by you and your subordinate Guild that infamy is garnered for the rest of the old alliance.”
“How much more negative could a Bloodletter’s reputation become, grand master?” Huang reasoned while stopping in front of the portraits.
“After forty years, I thought I had discovered the depths of disgrace that we mask with the Covenant of Mysteries.” Liam stared into the fire. “But time and again, your Guild proves me wrong.” Liam inhaled from his cigar and exhaled smoke. “Rumors have come with greater occurrence of the Serpents performing heinous deeds.” Huang, though facing the portraits, squinted. “Of doing work outside of the continent, embroiling yourselves in human affairs and picking sides in their petty conflicts as mere hit-beasts.”
“I am…aghast at such accusations”, Huang replied. “But I cannot verify those things since I am only one high master of seven within the Serpents’ Guild.” Liam scoffed. “Yet…whatever actions we may do in secret…or in public…we do to adapt.” He looked back as Liam squinted at him. “The world—within the continent and beyond it—has known only rapid change since the start of our epoch. Too long have the Sixteen held fast to old customs and antiquated means. If the Serpents’ Guild were to perform such sickening deeds, we would do so to secure ourselves in the near and distant future.”
“Adaption and flourishing by any means necessary”, Liam humphed. “That is the thinking that will undo Guotin-daishi as it undid his father, Zhihao.”
Huang’s squeezed his ruan, but though he grimaced, he closed his eyes. While inhaling, he eased. “I must speak my offense. Grand Master Zhihao treated this low-class beast as one of his own sons. His passing was…unfortunate…” Huang looked down and aside. “Like with your own son and daughter-in-law.” He looked to Master Li as the young monitor squeezed his knees.
“Speak not of my son before me”, Liam grunted while standing.
“Of course, but then you must know…” Huang turned to the portraits.
“Out with it”, Liam growled.
“Your brother, Urban…” Huang looked to a portrait of a younger Liam with his arm around another lizard nigh-identical but with scales and garb of greener hue. “He was killed while performing his ARK duties.”
“I have been made aware”, Liam replied.
“Of course, but did you know…?” Huang pivoted about, while Liam cocked his head. “Our Guild has recovered added information. Urban was cut down by a grand master of SPRING.” As Huang looked to the grand master’s firm gaze, Master Li gasped. “By the machinations of one of SPRING’s ARK agents.”
“I heard enough details”, Liam replied. “My brother was a fool. I cannot comprehend what he had to have done or said to have incited the wrath of she who is ‘Theresa’s Shadow’, but I know he received his just reward.”
“But grand master_”
“Urban was as serpentine as any serpent”, Liam huffed. “That is why he took so easily to your Guild’s practices, despite being an ARK-beast.”
“I must take offense, grand master”, Huang spoke with a bow. “And you”, he looked up. “It would be pleasing to you, grand master, to demand reparations from SPRING. If not monetary, then of blood_” Liam chuckled as Huang reared up, and Liam turned and puffed from his cigar as Huang glanced to Li. “I spoke not in jest_”
“This is Guotin’s ploy now?” Liam looked over his shoulder. “Searching for an excuse to mobilize in order to regain the title and authority of SPRING?”
“Surely not, grand master”, Huang replied.
“I will have no more of this warmongering”, Liam replied. “I am an old beast and must watch my blood pressure. Master Li, escort our guest.”
“Grand master”—Liam turned to his grandson, then bowing with hands prostrated—“I think we should consider his words.” As Liam cocked his head, Li looked up. “Look at us here—exiled to the West, fearful of repercussions from the birds even when visiting our brother Guilds, and now…” Li stood and glanced to Huang looking away. “Paman Urban was your remaining family after my mother and father died. I watched you mourn him for days_”
“Cukup!” Liam growled, prompting Li to kneel. “You will do wise to both remember your place and deal with serpents…”—He turned to Huang lowering his head—“cautiously. I mourned my brother’s idiocy and my lack of patience in trying to sway him; nothing more. I will speak no longer of this subject. Escort our guest to his canoe, Master Li.”
“Kata anda adalah mutlak”, Li spoke. He stood, and Huang nodded.
“Thank you for this audience, grand master”, Huang spoke, while Li turned to the door, and while Liam looked to the fire.
Huang looked to the water as Li pushed his canoe to the shoreline. He slid his ruan under his arm as Li bowed to him. Huang looked to the canoe. “How well did you know your uncle?”
Li looked up. “He visited often when I was a child. I was never sure of how sincere he was, but he would try talking me into joining ARK. As the years passed and he rose in rank, I saw him less. Once my parents passed in the airship crash, little at all.”
“Urban was a wise and calming beast.” Huang loaded his ruan into the canoe. “He proudly evinced the ethics that ARK so adheres to. And yet…that even a peacekeeper could fall to SPRING’s heinous wrath, and one of your uncle’s rank and reputation.” He looked to Li as Li balled his fists. “Perhaps it is better that Old Spring resides on the western coast, far from the birds’ reach.” He turned to the canoe.
“It’s not right.” While facing the water, Huang smirked, but he straightened his gaze to look to the 5'10" Li, his equal in height. “If we had done the same, SPRING would have rained down vengeance upon us, and yet they…!” Li flashed his teeth, the raindrops around him hammering into the earth. After a moment, he eased, slighting the downpour. “And…as if mocked by life itself…he was led to his demise by an agent of SPRING masquerading as an ARK-beast.”
“They say to this day that the spy stands unhindered within ARK, even gaining notoriety for his false-good deeds”, Huang added, “standing upon the dishonor wrought from your uncle’s demise.”
Li looked up. “Who is he?”
Huang cocked his head. “You would strike down an ARK-beast?”
“I would cut down a spy for SPRING to purify that organization!” Li proclaimed while beating his chest, “in my uncle’s name; to even bring honor to my family!”
Huang pulled a touchscreen from his coat pocket, waved over it, and generated a hologram for Li. “I can transfer the information to your down and aid you in locating him.” Li stepped back to bow, but Huang shook his head. “You work not as a master under a high master, but as my equal.” He outstretched his right and Li outstretched in retort. They stepped, but Huang recoiled as a blade of water lashed the ground between them.
“[How easily the hatchling falls into the serpent’s coil]”, Grand Master Liam snarled as he stomped onto the beach, the rainfall strengthening with each pace.
“Grand master!” Li howled as he stepped in front of Huang and bowed. “I meant no disrespect or insubordination_”
“You meant to bring war to our doorstep_!”
“[I meant to correct your weakness!]” Li roared as he reared up. Liam raised his right, and Li stepped back but stood tall. “Honor is the foundation of the Guilds! SPRING has taken that honor from us by cutting down your only brother! We have the means to regain it!” Li shook his head, while Liam lowered his fist.
“Blood is the foundation of the Guilds”, Liam retorted. “It will be demanded of you and anyone else who comes to your aid if you perform this task.”
“I am willing to take that risk”, Li proclaimed.
Liam closed his eyes. “If you fail and bring war to our doorstep, I will disown you.” He opened his eyes. “There will be no solace for you when you meet tragedy.”
“Faham”, Li replied.
Liam snatched the touchscreen from Huang. “Then make your leave!” Liam scanned the touchscreen. “Perform this heinous task and hunt down this…”
Anjing dropped his nets and spun to those figures along the opposite shoreline…
“Grand master”, Huang uttered, “surely there could be spies nearby.”
“You speak nonsense”, Liam humphed. “And you have overstayed your ‘cordial’ welcome, high master.” Liam shoved the touchscreen to Li’s chest.
“Of course.” Huang stepped into the canoe, and Liam kicked, causing the water to propel it back to the river’s center. Liam then scoffed at his grandson, while Huang, his canoe drifting downstream, scanned the opposite shoreline and then the fishing net devoid of its avian wielder. He grabbed his ruan.
Anjing dove past the tree line and stumbled through a garden of still-budding vegetables. While sidestepping waterlogged rows, he ran to his small cottage’s door, threw off his rice hat, and, after kicking open the entrance, closed and locked it. Turning into the den of his candle-lit cottage, he scoured the adjacent wall and pinpointed a tapestry depicting a cloaked reptile with a longsword and a face concealed by a rice hat. Anjing pulled the tapestry from the wall, overturned its backside, squeezed, and pulled at its top. He then closed his eyes, opened them, and called:
“Danger: Coltachd—Ard: An dùil ionnsaigh—Targaid: Gun Itean; Marsantan is Nathraichean. Tha mi a radh a-rithist...”
“Marsantan is Nathraichean…”
While holding the tapestry in his den, the brown- and black-feathered lyrebird whispered the relayed words as they were repeated. He then hopped back, turned to a juvenile of lesser plumage, and reproduced Anjing’s message with identical intonation. The juvenile, while nodding, recited the message, and the father waved. The juvenile then darted out of the cottage and across grassy plains while opening his wings.
He flapped, soaring easterly for tens of miles, passing sporadic forests and wide glades, while the scent of fresh water permeated the horizon; yet, he was diverted to a monolith jabbing skyward. He descended to a field of frail grasses atop dry clay and landed within the silhouette of a slate-gray monticule ten stories high. Spinous by a dozen ramps jabbing in varied directions, the monticule stood amidst a bed of stone and was partitioned by a latitudinal fence vanishing along the plains.
The young lyrebird stepped for the fence, his wings trembling against his sides with each pace. He stopped at a gate with a wooden sign gashed by a musical quarter note. He reached for the fence, but stopped at a landing stomp. He looked past the fence to a dull-gray, goggled emu first kneeling from her leap but then rising to a lanky, six-foot form draped in a short, black cloak. She opened her cloak.
As the lyrebird stepped back and peered groundward, the emu outstretched her short wings and hoisted her goggles from her forehead. The lyrebird, engulfed in the emu’s silhouette, looked up as the emu, with stern gaze, nudged her beak.
The lyrebird spoke. As he reproduced Anjing’s words with identical sequence and intonation, the emu gaped. She spun to the monolith, where, along its many points, reared up and stood flightless and long-legged fowl, some cloaked and some goggled, all peering to that youth and all, in unison, looking to the monolith’s apex, where a cassowary in a wide-brimmed, tan hat sat up and pulled his pipe from his beak. He turned to the emu, while passing breezes sloshed his dense feathers, and the emu bowed and reproduced Anjing’s message.
The cassowary nodded and nudged his beak eastward, and the emu turned to the lyrebird, who inched back and bowed. The emu nodded, spun away, and darted. With long and double-quick steps, she bolted around the outcropping and then over the fence’s eastern half. Over tens of minutes, she rushed across cooling plains, and, as crashing waves sounded, she looked to a sign with ‘THE GREAT LAKE’ and, past it, a precipitous shoreline and a roadway of pillars rising from lacustrine depths.
Reaching the shore, she inhaled, beat her wings, and lunged, with an eruptive pulse catapulting her over the deep-blue. Landing along the first pillar, she ran and once more lunged. Over score plateaus and hundreds of yards, she bounded along the tempest, while waves crashed below her and legacy-fowl swirled through the skies.
She slowed. Before her appeared a stone islet, upon which stood a bulbous tower with a whole note carved into its southern face and which branched skyward by four peaks. She stopped within the tower’s tetrad shade and upon the second to last pillar and looked to the grassy tor at the tower’s base, where stood birds of prey. The raptors—save for a white owl facing the opposite direction—turned to her, their feathers ruffling in pelagic breezes. As she stepped back, a dimmer silhouette formed before her. As she looked up, a 6'7" black and white gyrfalcon landed before her, slammed his wings against his white, buttoned shirt and stravaged towards her.
Though enshrouded, the emu stood firm and repeated Anjing’s words memoriter. The gyrfalcon groaned, rolled his eyes, looked to the tower, and flailed. The birds of prey on the tower’s base, save for the owl, shrugged and then looked to the highest of the four peaks, where a window was opened, and where a middle-aged, denim-blue peregrine falcon raised his reading glasses and protruded his curved beak. The gyrfalcon repeated the emu’s words, while the emu looked away. The peregrine falcon shrugged and nudged his beak easterly before closing his window.
The gyrfalcon looked to the other birds of prey as they flashed their tongues, and, after flailing towards the emu—to which she flared her brow and turned westerly—he outspread his wings. The gyrfalcon lunged, with a whirlwind engulfing and propelling him. He skyrocketed, zooming at triple-digit speeds and, with wings partly spread, bolting easterly. Five knots, and he rose to thirty thousand feet. Twenty knots, and he sliced through tumultuous ether, glancing northerly to fulgurations and fulgurated shapes arcing above an island with two mountains. Eighty knots, and he dispersed his whirlwind and glided towards an island half of a mile in diameter and centered by a slate-gray tower marked on its northern face by a musical half-note, rising four hundred feet from a water-bottomed cavern, and surrounded by a cross-shaped fortress.
The gyrfalcon descended, but recoiled as he was enshrouded by a diving formation. He groaned as a dozen cloaked fowl curved past him, reordered into an arrow, and aimed towards the fortress’s southernmost prong. He then dove for that prong, reared up as two fowl stepped from a cavernous doorway, and clapped his wings to loose his body of water and spray it upon the attending birds.
The fowl—ducks with serrated bills and black and white feathers of scale-like guise—stepped to the gyrfalcon. The raptor murmured Anjing’s words in paraphrasis. The older duck, a wider, 5'10" wight with a longbow on his back and a balding scalp, first crossed his wings while glaring, raised his bill while grunting, and gasped. The gyrfalcon shrugged and stepped back, saluted, and flapped westerly. The elder then turned to the younger—a young adult of identical height but slimmer countenance and a head and visage draped in black, feather-hairs—and spun him to the fortress’s doorway.
The younger duck rushed. First sprinting through the fortress walls, he sidestepped two cloaked birds and then bolted across a courtyard where three dozen swung wooden swords in opposing pairs. Opening his wings, he then glided across the wooden bridge to the central tower, pierced through the southern doorway, rushed through a widening corridor, and descended to a brighter and louder space. He slowed as howls and claps sounded before him, stopped at a doorway, and looked to a circular table projecting a hologram of North America and around which dozens stood, while several circled it, and while one tapped its northernmost point.
“AUTUMN’s patrols are inching towards our border!” howled a lady duck with a serrated, dull-pink bill and light-brown plumage, her hairs tied into a ponytail and her goggles on her forehead. “At the current rate, they will be upon our doorstep by year’s end, and by the time we have reacted, it will be too late to ensure a tactical victory.”
“They are provoking us, High Master Natalia”, groaned a middle-aged white swan of seven-foot prominence and chartreuse eyes. “AUTUMN knows that eyes are on us. If we make a move, they will summon SUMMER and ARK to fine us.”
“For how long have we sworn fealty to ARK, Master Cicero?” growled a middle-aged yellow-eyed duck with a serrated bill, a hood of charcoal-gray feathers hanging behind his head, and goggles around his neck. “Let alone SUMMER?”
“Neither to ARK, nor to SUMMER, Master Eomer”, noted a short pelican in a black and gray-striped cloak who looked with cross-eyed gaze. “The Covenant of Mysteries is binding_”
“And has been stretched and abused by the likes of both SUMMER and AUTUMN, High Master Deaton”, Eomer retorted while tapping the map. “We have already retaken Sponsa and Loxia_”
“And we lost lives in those conflicts, we did!” bellowed a red-headed duck. “We wait now for AUTUMN to retaliate! We cannot return to these warmongering tendencies, commander, and certainly the Mergus Clan knows of what happens when we resort to them!”
“We monger not for wars, Master Cormac”, interjected a 6'4" frigate bird with a red blotch on his chest, a peaked hat shifted above his goggles, and a pipe along the side of his scarred, black bill. “We monger for security and for the right of our continued existence”, he blared. “We fight to sustain our borders and our interests, and we must prove our sovereignty by going against biased orders from the likes of SUMMER, even ARK.” He outstretched his broad, black wings and tapped the map along SPRING’s northern border. “Retaking the bases stolen from us by fiendish bargains is just the beginning. We will firm our hold over them, strengthen our existing bases, and clear out forest for new fortresses along the neutral zone.”
“Our claim along the neutral zone is tenuous at best, Master Eisenhower”, Cicero proclaimed. “If we are not careful, we risk legitimate opposition to the northern reach of SPRING’s Domain. Then, we will find ourselves fighting over Ogoki again!” Cicero pointed to the map, and Eisenhower retorted, then Cormac to Eisenhower, then Eomer to Cormac, Deaton to Eomer, and then Natalia to Deaton. As they clamored, flailing, squawking, and driving that audience of sound-birds to simultaneously wince and cheer in support of one or both sides, the younger fowl stood along the back attempting to speak with each pause and attempting to signal one of the birds at the table, then one of the birds in attendance, then to an eight-foot black swan standing along the wall and sipping a cup of tea.
Notice remained absent. The young fowl, with wings tapping, looked to the table’s head, where sat a golden hand bell. He sidestepped as a raucous cheer thundered around him. He skittered as Eisenhower’s verbal bombardment echoed against the walls. He lunged as Eomer swatted the table, grabbed the bell with Eomer’s strike, raised it as some eyes spun to him, and flailed. A clang pealed from the bell, barreling, battering, and tensing the group. With paling gazes, the audience turned to the young duck, while he lowered the bell and stepped back.
“Forgive my intrusion, high masters…commanders, but I…” He looked around. “I needed to…It’s an emergency…!”
“Brock”, Eomer murmured while looking to Natalia. “Do you know what you’ve done?” He turned to the room’s far end, where commenced, atop a staircase, a dim corridor where continued the bell’s clang.
Though, after one hundred feet, the tinnitus had weakened, it moved strong enough to tense him and, in his tense, to thrust his calligraphy brush across his parchment. As he snarled at his ruined character, his feathers and feather-hairs riled. He then pulverized his brush, hammered its remains onto his waist-high desk, and slapped his bowl of ink. With snarl maintained, he stood, looked past the thick curtain which partitioned his room, glared down the lane succeeding it, and focused on the commotion’s source. He stomped.
He swatted past the heavy curtain and strode past a small nook. Within the nook rose a duck like him not cloaked, but goggled, of two decades’ lesser age, of lesser musculature, and, at 5'9", with five inches of lesser height. As the taller duck stravaged, the following fowl glanced about, his left clasping a longsword on his hip. Fifty feet from the hall’s cessation, they accelerated. Twenty feet, and the clamor from the connected room withered to a murmur. Ten feet, and the clamor was consumed by silence. They reached the threshold.
The Knights bowed.
While bowing, the birds at the table backed away. Brock, removing his wing from the bell, puckered at the sight of an elderly, 6'2" duck with orange-, green-, and white-striped feather-hairs draped behind his head, a short, salmon-pink bill, and dull-golden feathers in dull-black attire. The striped duck descended with pensive stomps, his form, the most muscular within that room, teetering but fluidic. His wrinkled gaze sliced along the table, to the masters and high masters looking away; focused on the bell still whispering vibrations; and then focused on Brock removing his shaking grip from it. The white-striped duck stomped onto the table, his paces trembling those in attendance. He stopped in the table’s center, and the following fowl, a dark-green duck with a serrated, scarlet bill and rearward spiked feather-hairs, stepped after him, stood within his silhouette, and, while clasping his sword, knelt away from him.
The white-striped duck, then with chest trembling by snarling breaths, nudged his bill. “Was it you what rang the bell?”
“Aye, grand master”, Brock murmured, his wings trembling.
“Brock”, the grand master snarled, “son of Urgon, son of Elmer, son of Ezekiel of the Clan Mergus”—he cocked his head—“you are neither of high master nor commander’s rank—correct?”
“Aye”, Brock muttered.
“Grand master”, Cormac murmured as he stepped to Brock, “he knew not_” Cormac seized, and those around him wrenched as the grand master opened and aimed his left wing towards Cormac.
“I…did not…bid you speak, Master Cormac”, the grand master growled. Cormac backed away and bowed his head. “Rise”, the grand master barked. Brock stepped onto the table. “For what reason did you ring that bell?”
“Grand master, from the Falcons, from the Striders, we received an urgent…an urgent message…” Brock outstretched his right wing. The grand master snatched it and, with motion blinding and coil swift, twisted it outward. Brock shrieked and knelt as the joints of his wings neared dislocation, and the grand master stood firm.
“Urgent enough to warrant the loss of this wing?” the grand master inquired, while tightening his grip.
“Yes!” Brock wailed, his legs trembling and tears sliding from his eyes.
“Speak it”, the grand master ordered. “If it is unworthy of my alarm, you will carry your right wing out with your left. Aye?”
The grand master leaned. Brock, then wheezing, inched to his knees, stammered, and coughed the gyrfalcon’s paraphrase. The grand master released. First stomping back as Brock teetered, he snatched the young fowl’s bruised wing, pulled and swatted it four times. Brock coughed and looked to his wing, finding it reset to proper alignment. He then looked to the grand master, but the grand master shoved him from the table. As Brock was caught and lowered, the grand master inhaled.
“Eomer, where is Featherless?”