Butterflies In The Garden
After the Council
The members of the council table watched the crowded room empty. King Tuathal’s scowl was the deepest. He glared ahead towards the door, making those who dared look behind them as they exited cringe and wonder if his anger was directed at them. They remained cautiously quiet until they breached the freedom of the night, the volume of anxious voices outside growing with the crowd moving swiftly away from the council chamber.
The council chamber doors were closed on the last of them, muffling the voices outside. Hands still on the doors, Sarawn turned towards the council table and his king’s hard glare.
Queen Brionna put a steadying hand on her husband’s large fist. Her touch failed to lighten the hard knot of tense muscles clenching it as though he could punch someone and make this better.
Their sons behind them stepped forward the moment the council chamber doors were closed. They looked around with tense postures as though searching for an enemy in their midst.
Elder Cian’s age-wrinkled face crumpled into even deeper wrinkles with the scowl of distaste. He pounded his bony fist on the table.
“Why is that beady-eyed black-beaked menace back?” he demanded, his voice thin and wavering with the weakness of a great many years behind him and few remaining ahead.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Elder Shanawn said. He waved his own age-withered hand in a dismissive gesture.
Cian glared at him.
“How can you be so dismissive about this?” Alyil, one of the princes behind them, complained, anger putting a venomous edge on his voice. He strode around the table to face them head on, his brother Rioghan following steps behind.
King Tuathal stared stonily ahead, lost in his own thoughts.
“Shanawn is correct,” Queen Brionna said. Her face remained carefully passive, her voice measured and calm.
The others looked at her, except King Tuathal, who seemed oblivious she spoke, and Cian, who’s unwavering glare still bore into Shanawn as though to spike him dead with his eyes.
”There is little randomness to the world,” Queen Brionna said. “It is rare for a thing to happen without some design behind it. I have confidence you will figure out what it is.”
She rose and moved around the table.
“Morning’s light will return soon. I am tired. I’m retiring to my garden. You should follow soon or you will not have time to make it before the sun rises.”
She started toward the door.
Sarawn reached for the doors again to open them for her.
“Escort your mother,” King Tuathal said.
The princes looked as though they would protest being sent away, but quickly checked themselves.
More measured in their reactions young Brassal and greying Farrell came from behind the council table to await orders.
Cian rose now, looking exhausted.
“I will take my leave too. It takes these old bones longer to travel these days.”
King Tuathal addressed the knights.
“Alyil and Rioghan, you will see your mother safely home and stay there yourselves. Farrell, accompany them.”
Farrell nodded acceptance, but the princes tried to hide their scowls. It was no secret the king did not fully trust the young princes to be capable on their own with protecting the queen.
“Brassal, escort Cian home,” King Tuathal said. Perhaps your youthful vigor will inspire his old bones to quicker movement.”
Cian scowled again and Brassal turned his face away to hide his amusement as he nodded understanding.
The three knights followed the queen out into the night. Brassal walked with patiently restrained steps to keep with Cian’s shuffled movement.
“Brother, your shoulders are heavy with the news of Craven’s return,” he said.
“That creature caused a great deal of trouble before we routed him,” Tuathal said gravely. “I thought we had seen the last of that ugly bird. He barely escaped with his wretched life. Why would he return to torment us? Revenge?”
“They are creatures of habit, returning to the same places to roost and nest at certain times of the year. Perhaps that is all it is.”
Tuathal shook his head slowly.
“If only. Crows have a long memory. Craven will not have forgotten. I doubt he would have returned to that same roost.”
“But it is likely he would return to his old territory.”
“Even a crow will not return to territory lost. We drove him out.” Tuathal exhaled a slow breath heavily weighted with worry. “Find out where he roosts. I will know everything that is inside his mind. Where he sleeps, hunts, scavenges. I will know why the creature returned. In the meantime we must keep the Glenn safe. He must not learn our location. The lives of everyone must be coordinated to provide safety as they go about their business.”
“Some will rebel against their every movement being controlled,” Sarawn warned. “Some will simply fail to see the danger.”
“If we must lock them inside in the daylight and guard them at night when they go about their business for their own good, we will do that. They do not all have the memories of what it took to survive that blight on our people, Craven. Many were blissfully unaware of what was happening beyond their tiny world. We were lucky Craven was alone, unmated and not a part of a community roost.”
“That is odd, though. Crows pair off to mate, but remain part of their community. What would cause one of them to be cast out?”
King Tuathal snorted.
“It is Craven. Perhaps he was a blight even to his own.”
“Perhaps,” Sarawn agreed thoughtfully.
“We must go,” King Tuathal said. He stood to leave, “before the queen chastises me for being too late.”
They walked out of the council chamber together, closing the doors behind them.
“By tomorrow as the moon rises we will have a plan allowing essential jobs to be performed,” King Tuathal said.
“They are all essential to the people,” Sarawn said.
“So they are. But there are levels even to what is truly essential.”
They walked away along one of the branches angled off from the low building.
The council chamber was like all their buildings, each separately built in the cradle of a tree branch where multiple branches sprout off, creating paths in different directions. It gave the community a sense of being spread out, each building squatting in peaceful solitude that was belied by the activity that swarmed around on a warm night.
The air hung heavy and still so that even sound felt muffled. There was no breeze tonight, nothing to make the branches and leaves dance. Almost as though they waited with held breath, motionless lest they bring the unwanted attention of the crow upon them.
Ibris sat on the stem of a leaf, hidden by the cool green blade against the back wall outside the council chamber.
She had made her excuses to Liandan, claiming exhaustion, so she could sneak back and listen in on the council meeting.
The crowd was leaving as she arrived and she had slipped through them nimbly. No one paid attention. They were concerned with their own thoughts. It was not the public meeting she wanted to hear.
When the door opened and closed again, Ibris started to slip from her hiding spot, but she had paused. She watched Queen Brionna and her escort leave, followed by the elder Cian and his sole guard. As she watched them go the council door thudded closed.
She was about to go when she heard voices and instead pulled back, pressed herself against the rough wall, and listened. Her breath came heavier and she had to hold it to not drown out the muffled words coming through the wall. Her eyes widened with the talk of locking them in and a sickness sank into the pit of her stomach.
They could not, would not, do that. Would they? It was against the very nature of their beings to be so confined. They would shrivel inside and die.
When they left, Ibris moved to hurry home. She was just about to step from her hiding spot when she heard their footsteps approach and threw herself back behind the leaf.
That is how she came to be here now, heart thudding so loud in her chest they must hear it. Ibris sat on the stem of a leaf, hidden by the cool green blade against the back wall outside the council chamber.
King Tuathal and Sarawn had not gone the same direction as the rest of the council.
Panic surged as they approached. It was a tight fist that held her breath. It increased her panic. She could not breathe. Suddenly she needed to, desperately. She had to gulp in great gasps of air or she would die. Ibris knew she was caught. She would be punished severely for spying on the king.
Dizzying weakness gripped her as they were upon her. She clenched her teeth against crying out. She gripped the stem as hard as she could against the blackness that threatened to close in on her vision and against slipping to fall limply below. She was on the verge of fainting with fear.
They walked past, unaware of her presence, and Ibris could only helplessly watch. Each step on they took, talking casually, brought home the realization they did not know she was there.
Once they were gone, Ibris stood shakily and leaned against the wall. She brought up a trembling hand to push a strand of hair from her face and struggled to force herself to breathe again.
After a moment to collect herself, Ibris stepped into the darkness of shadows from leaves above blocking the moon’s pale light.
“Why are you spying on the council?”
The aged voice startled Ibris. She stumbled and turned to face the elder. She never would have seen Shanawn there if he had not spoken.
“I-I,” Ibris stammered weakly. A hot flush rose in her cheeks and a sweat broke out on her skin. The sudden dampness chilled her.
She looked down, face red with shame and terrified.
“I just wanted to know we would be safe from the crow,” she mumbled, her voice shaking as much as her shivering body trembled.
“A little reassurance, huh?”
She nodded miserably, afraid to look at him. What might her face reveal? Her eyes?
“Just do as they say. Follow the safety precautions and do not venture beyond the Glenn during the daylight hours, and you will be fine. Off with you. The morning light is not far off now.”
Ibris almost choked. She nodded too quickly and scampered off, eager to escape.
He watched her go until she was out of sight before he started making his own way home.