Butterflies In The Garden
Raised voices crashed against the council chamber walls in expressions of outrage and fear. Such volume and pandemonium was cruelty to the ears. Even the softening acoustics of the crowded room could not dampen the volume.
Ibris and Liandan stood in the back, huddled in a corner. They could only catch glimpses of the council through the press of bodies in front of them. It was safer in the back. Invisible.
Sarawn’s face held the same hard anger it did earlier when they ran into him and Shanawn. Both knight and younger brother to King Tuathal, he sat next to the king at the table facing the village. Other knights of the Glenn stood behind him, his son Brassal, barely old enough to be knighted, and Farrell, the grey barely creeping into his hair.
Sarawn alone of the knights held a seat at the council table this night. The king’s own sons, both knighted, stood behind their father.
King Tuathal sat center table with Queen Brionna on his other side. Two of the four village elders flanked them on one side, the other two elder seats vacant.
Ibris caught a glimpse of them. She could not tell if the elder Cian’s wrinkled face held a frown that was deeper than his usual dour expression.
Shanawn stood where he should have sat, looking around the room in frustration, one arm raised seeking silence. His thin wavering aged voice was no match for the noise.
With a grunt, King Tuathal stood, glowering at the crowd.
That was all it took. The volume lowered, shouts and frightened complaints wavering off to sniffles and a low whimper.
He motioned to Shanawn to continue and took his seat.
Shanawn nodded thanks and addressed the room.
“As I was saying, the rumors are true.”
The crowd almost erupted again, but a stern look from King Tuathal kept them in check.
“Craven’s ugly cry has been heard,” Shanawn said. “His black shadow has been cast across our village again.”
Whispers and murmurs passed through the crowd, but they kept mostly quiet, fixed on the old man.
“Precautions will be taken,” he continued. “The skies will be patrolled. Gathering is to be done only when we have eyes on the ugly black-hearted beast and know he is well away from the village. Above all,” he paused to catch the eye of as many villagers as he could, “take caution Craven does not learn the location of the village. He knows it is in the area, but not yet where. It must stay that way.”
He went on, but Ibris lost interest staring at the backs of her neighbors crowded too closely together. The stuffiness off the room was building and with it her impatience to escape it.
King Tuathal’s voice rose above the crowd and she realized the elder stopped talking.
“We will reinstate the Crow Council,” he said. “Craven may be just a bird, but he is wicked and smart far above the usual crow. We drove him out before and we will drive him away again.”
Murmurs filled the room, silencing quickly.
“Craven isn’t so smart,” Liandan muttered. “He’s just a bird that sees us as food. Everything is food to a crow.”
“Or a shiny bauble,” Ibris said.
Liandan looked at her and they both had to cover their mouths with their hands to stifle a giggle. People nearby gave them irritated looks.
Still, Ibris could not shake the sick chill feeling that clung to her since the large bird nearly ate her.
“Come on,” Liandan nudged her. “We heard this all the last time. Let’s go.”
With an uneasy glance towards the head table that could not pass through the crowd, Ibris followed. Liandan pulled the door open just enough to squeeze through and they slipped out of the council chamber.
The night air was refreshingly cool after the heated stuffiness of too many bodies crammed in a small room.
The council chamber was built in the cradle of a thick tree branch where multiple branches sprouted off, creating paths in different directions. They took one of these paths. The voices muffled behind the chamber walls softened as the distance behind them grew.
“Crow Council,” Liandan muttered. “They have to create a council for everything, don’t they? It is just a bird, no different than the other birds big enough to see anything smaller than them as food.”
“They just need to live too,” Ibris said. “And they don’t eat everything smaller than them. But they do eat insects.”
“And that’s all they see us as,” Liandan said, her voice pouty. “Brainless insects. They do eat anything. I bet they would eat their own kind too. They may not be able to kill everything they eat, but if it is animal, insect, or plant, they’ll eat it if they get the chance. They are just big ugly dumb eating machines with wings.”
Ibris could not help the image that came to her. Craven looming large and close, his ebony feathers gleaming dully, seemingly absorbing the daylight into his black mass. His unblinking eye bright with intelligence fixed on her.
She shuddered, trying to push the frightful image away. It will haunt her for weeks to come.
Liandan caught the pale waxy look as Ibris’s face drained of color and the frightened ill expression she tried to hide.
“It’s going to be okay,” Liandan said. She draped an arm over Ibris’s shoulders. “We just need to find a way to get the message to that butterfly brain of yours to stay out of the open where the crows and other birds can eat you.”
“You aren’t making me feel any better,” Ibris muttered.
They both laughed, but hers rang hollow in her ears.
A chill crossed Ibris’s shoulders, like a shadow passing over her. She looked up. The sky twinkled with stars in a deep blue-black that felt like it went into forever. The moon was out of sight beyond the trees, it’s mellow shadow still beneath the canopy of leaves above. A breeze picked up. It lifted and played with the leaves, the moon’s shadow dancing beneath them.
Still, the cold shadow of doom wrapped itself around Ibris and would not let go.