Episode 2 (Butterflies in the Garden): Crow Council by Vivian Munnoch

Episode 2:

Butterflies In The Garden

Crow Council

Photo by Valentin Petkov on Unsplash

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.

Episode 1 (Butterflies in the Garden): Danger Above by Vivian Munnoch

Episode 1:

Butterflies In The Garden

Danger Above

Photo by Jessa Crisp on Unsplash (edited by Vivian Munnoch)

The dully gleaming ebony feathers of the crow seemed to absorb the daylight into its black mass. The motionless bird stared unblinkingly at the motion below from its perch in a tree, looking more like its deceased and stuffed counterpart than a living creature.

Below him the little butterfly flitted weightlessly, bobbing on its wings over the flowers in the garden, oblivious to the danger above.

The crow blinked just once, the thin membrane moving across its cold emotionless eye a heartbeat behind the eyelid in a slightly of double motion. The bird tilted his head.

Spindly legs reaching, the little butterfly landed on a flower. Its wings moved slowly to some soundless rhythm. It tasted the air with its antennae, picking up only the sweet pollen of the flowers.

Feeling safe, the butterfly stilled its wings, letting them soak in the delightful warmth of the sun.

With slow languid motion, the crow spread his wings and took flight, his shadow passing on the ground below.

The fleeting shade was a cooling pulse across the insect’s back, the warmth returned as quickly. Only its antennae moved in response.

Landing soundlessly on a wooden post closer to the flowers, the crow ruffled his feathers and settled to watch the little butterfly.

The insect lifted one spindly front leg and froze. It sensed danger. Its antennae twitched, feeling for the source. Nothing moved except the barest dance of the flowers in the soft breeze. The butterfly relaxed again.

He bided his time, watching the butterfly groom its head with its front legs.

The crow half spread his wings and tilted his head, coldly eying the morsel below. His wings came up and his head down, wings spreading to their full span. He pushed off the post, bringing his wings down against the air, pushing his feet out ahead of him. He dove down at the garden.

Danger trembled in the little butterfly’s antennae. Its legs quivered and wings twitched as it sought the source. The shadow came down, growing, and covered it. It realized the danger too late, flapping its wings and bobbing and dodging on the air.

Faster, the crow dove straight for it, closing the gap quickly.

The insect felt the displaced air before it could flit across two flowers. Desperate to live, it tried to weave in the air. It could not move fast enough, its bumbling flight too weightless for speed.

The crow’s beak clapped closed a wing’s hair from catching and crushing the little butterfly just as it dropped below the flower heads. Twisting mid flight, the bird reached for it with its talons, catching only the velvety softness of flower. Its claws dug into the blossom, tearing the stigma from style, anther from filament, and ruined petals free in a single violent moment that left the spoiled flower trembling with motion in its wake.

Swooping up to land on the post, the bird shook its foot to knock off the petal impaled on one claw. The torn petal fluttered to the ground. The crow ruffled his feathers in irritation at missing the snack.

The quivering butterfly clung to the bottom of a flower head beneath the watchful stare of the hungry bird above. Hours passed and neither moved. The sun crossed the sky, its light getting old and tired, and finally turned to the gloom of dusk as it hung lower in the sky.

Lifting his beak to stare balefully at the weakening light, the crow finally gave up and took flight across the yard and over the trees towards his night roost. His ugly caws carried back on the wind.

The little butterfly was still afraid to move. It clung there in the growing darkness. The sun on the horizon made the sky burn with the colors of sunset as it slipped behind the skyline, plunging the world into night.

Rising waxy and pale, the moon cast its dull light into the night.

Moonlight reached down through the flowers and touched the wings of the little butterfly. Its wings quivered and rippled, shriveling into themselves. It trembled, its body twisting in grotesque reaction to the trauma. It fell into the full light of the moon. Its antennae withered and shriveled, its body convulsed in wretched spasms and twitched as it morphed. The lower part of its body split and pulled apart into two as its legs pulled into the body. The front legs thickened instead of withering like the rest and it shook its head in agony, splaying at the ends to become hands with fingers.

When at last it lay still, gasping raggedly from the pain ravaging it with the transformation, it was no longer a butterfly.

Clutching at and shaking her head, she moaned and pushed herself into a sitting position. She groaned hollowly and looked around.

She is still the size of the butterfly, but has shed all insectile appearances for human-like. Hair cut in a short bob framed her tiny face. Her appearance was almost elven, slender and diminutively angled.

Ibris stood weakly on unsteady legs, wavering a little. A gossamer gown hung off her, limp and tired. Putting an arm out, she stumbled over and leaned on the flower stalk for support as she gathered herself.

“That was close.” Her voice was rough and high with anxiety. She blinked; looking dazed, and tried to clear her thoughts.

“Craven the Crow is back. This is not good. He has killed too many of us. I should alert the village.”

Still weak from the transformation, Ibris shuddered and her gown shifted. Part of it lifted on each side, splitting apart to reveal wings so delicate they seemed they would tear on the barest breath of a breeze.

She looked up anxiously, expecting to see the ugly crow suddenly appear. She could not fly yet, so she started walking, climbing between flower stalks and blades of grass. Everything towered massively above her.

When her wings have dried, she took flight, moving more quickly. Ibris flew recklessly through the flowers, rising above them and speeding up, darting across the garden. She crossed the yard to the woods beyond and vanished into the shadows of the trees.

The village was alive with activity when Ibris reaches it. The dwellings were little cottages of twigs and dry grass faded to sandy browns like logs and flat boards of wood. Tiny flowers decorated gardens, their heads hanging large and heavily.

Her legs were already pumping before she landed, her stride gong easily from flight to a swift walk as her feet touch ground. She dodged through the village determinedly.

Ibris stopped at a building that was larger than the small cottage homes. The House of Counsel. She looked at the closed door uncertainly, reached a hand out to knock, and froze. Her hand fell uselessly to her side.

“I’m going to be in trouble for going to the flowers without permission.”

She turned unhappily, retreating.

“Ibris, where have you been?” The voice is soft, but with an edge of irritation, lightly scolding.

Ibris stopped and looked. Her eyes flashed warily as one caught doing something wrong might look. Liandan, the weaver of spider-silk cloth was staring at her, waiting for an explanation.

Liandan was taller than Ibris, her arms lean and strong from hard work. She was older, but still young enough to be just starting her journey through the adult life.

Ibris took quick steps to her. She lowered her voice to whisper.

“I know I should not have, but my butterfly brain does not always think.” She looked down guiltily. “I went to the flowers.”

“Without permission,” Liandan guessed. “You are lucky you did not get caught, or in danger.”

Ibris’s cheeks reddened.

“What happened?” Liandan asked.

“Craven.” Ibris’s voice trembled with the memory.

Liandan blanched and her face turned a sickly shade of pale. She reached for Ibris, needed to touch her and make sure her friend was safe. She felt Ibris trembling beneath her hand.

“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”

Ibris shook her head. “It was close. Very close. I was sure I felt his ugly beak snapping me in half when I heard it clap closed on the air where I just was.”

She shuddered with the thought.

“But you are okay now. Promise me you won’t go back out there.”

Ibris gave Liandan a pained look.

“I didn’t mean to go,” she pleaded. “I was in the other form. My mind did not think. It has been safe for so long, I guess I forgot.”

Liandan was staring off thoughtfully.

“So, Craven has returned.” She looked at Ibris. “We have to tell the village. Craven is relentless. Ibris, we have to tell the elders.”

“No.” Ibris reached to put a restraining hand on her arm. She stared into her eyes pleadingly. “I will be punished.”

“If we don’t, someone will fall prey to him sooner or later.”

Ibris hung her head in shame.

“All right,” she said quietly.

“We don’t have to tell them everything,” Liandan said. She looked thoughtful. “Did you hear his call?”

“Yes. Ugly and loud.”

“Did you see or feel his shadow cross you?”

“Both.” Ibris shuddered and hugged herself.

Liandan nodded. “We have it then. We will tell them that and leave out where you were.”

“But that would be a lie by omission.”

“It’s only a small lie.”

“It’s a big one and they will ask where.”

“All right. We will have to tell the whole truth. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Come, we have to tell someone.”

Ibris followed her unhappily back through the village.

“We are not going to the House of Counsel?”

“No,” Liandan said. “We will find one of the grandmothers who have retired from the council. They will know best what to do.”

They came around a cottage to see a group of ahead. Sarawn, one of the knights of the Glenn and member of the council was there, looking serious and angry. Shanawn, the elderly historian was looking at him gravely. There were others too, all talking in loud anxious voices and looking concerned.

Liandan grabbed Ibris’s hand so she could not back out and dragged her along towards them.

“What’s going on?” Liandan asked when they reached the group.

Shanawn turned to look at them.

“Craven’s ugly cry has been heard,” he said, his voice thin and wavering with age. “His black shadow has been cast across our village again.”

Liandan and Ibris looked at each other. Ibris’s secret was safe, for now.