Merlin | Teen Ink


April 8, 2013
By Barnowl14 BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
More by this author
Barnowl14 BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
3 articles 1 photo 30 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook"- Julia Child

The author's comments:
I just found this prolouge I had written by hand, not on the computer. Sorry I didn't post this with the first few chapters.

A Red-tailed Hawk paced inside a room in a wood manor, his cloak billowing around him. As he paced, he snapped orders at the maids to bring him wine, a plump mouse, and a pitcher of water.
He hopped onto a perch, a piece a birch with fine blood-red silk covering it.
"What am I to do?" He growled, as the quivering Gyrfalcon maid passed him the goblet full of a fine white wine.
"The king and queen's eggs have hatched. All males! Even if one dies, there will still be another to take it's place as the king."
He brought the goblet to his beak and tipped the wine down his throat, swallowing it in one large gulp.
"Bring me some of that pine nut mead." He snapped at the maid, tearing messily into the mouse. Flinching, the maid fled.
"I am no longer the heir to the throne! I will no longer be king when the the king and queen die. What must I do?"
He threw the bloody remains of the mouse across the room.
As he growled, an idea hit him. Poison! The stupid King Sharp-Eyes would never think that loyal Lord Hawthorne would lay a talon against him.
Hawthorne laughed, grabbing the mead from the returning maid and gulping it down in three quick swallows.
He knew what else he needed to become king.
"Leave my room, you vile little falcon, and tell the cook to prepare a feast. Send an invite to that pretty Red-tail, Scarlett Brown-Wing, telling her Lord Hawthorne invites her to a dinner."
The Gyrfalcon nodded and left, swooping out of the room. If Hawthorne was to be king, he must have a mate.
As he swooped drunkenly around the room, he laughed to himself. One day he would be the ruler of the Island.
"King Hawthorne." He whispered.
Then, tipping his head back, he roared. "All hail King Hawthorne!"

The author's comments:
This book is about half way writen, so the next few chapters should be posted very close together.

“Happy Flight-Day!” My mother, father, auntie, uncle, and Grandmother chorused. I ruffled my feathers, embarrassed and pleased. Mother came forward with a berry cake, a single candle flickering on top. “Make a wish, dear.” Grandmother said, her jewel-bright eyes twinkling. I thought a minute, and then blew out the tiny flame. Everyone cheered and Mother went to cut the cake. See, today is the day I can finally do my first flight. Raptors celebrate two different dates of a bird’s life, their hatching day, and their flight-day. A hatching day is celebrated once a year, with a cake and a candle for each year, and gifts of all kinds. It’s often followed by the adult’s drinking berry wines and the juvenile’s and hatchling’s playing games. But Flight-day is only once in a raptor’s life and it starts with a simple berry cake, and a single candle, symbolizing being one with the sky. It is then followed by first-flight, then a first-hunt. Any prey that is caught is taken back to the hollow and shared. The Flight-Day bird is then given his or her first cup of berry wine (Knowing Mother, it will most likely be very watered down), and is declared a juvenile, not a hatchling anymore. Today, I would become a juvenile! I could have done it the moon before, but my older brother died on his first-flight because it turned out that some of his flight-feathers had come in late. Mother and Father made me wait a moon to make sure it didn’t happen with me. Mother came back and passed me a slice of the moist, springy cake. I tried to eat it slowly, but I was so excited! Father chuckled when he saw my empty plate. Auntie said, “I think we should do it soon. We don’t want to be caught out after dark!” Uncle nodded, and Grandmother said, “Yes, quite, quite. Go on, dear.” Father took a deep breath and stepped up to me. He said loudly in the language of Merlin’s, “Amber, hatchling of me, Crispin High-Hunter, and Marta Sweet-Leaf, today is the day you are to do your first flight, your first hunt, your first kill. There is nothing like feeling the wind under your wings, the flesh of prey in your talons, the taste of fresh meat. Today you will no longer be a hatchling! Today, you will earn your true name. Go! Fly!” Then he pushed me out of the hole. With some raptors, you would step to the edge and drop, opening your wings right before your crash, soaring upward. Not with Merlin’s. You get pushed out the hole backwards. I knew a split second of terror, before I somehow flipped over and opened my wings. I pumped them, and I arched into the sky. Everyone cheered, and I landed on the branch of the tree next to ours. I then took off again, soaring into the forest. I saw a bird in a tree above me, and instinctively I knew what to do. The bird saw me and hastily tried to get away, calling an alarm. Birds took flight everywhere, but I was interested in only one. I turned sharply then arched up, turned again and raced down, my talons extended. I grabbed the bird, and it was killed from my talons digging into its neck. I flew back to the hollow with the bird clutched in my talons, landed and placed the bird at Father’s talons. No one spoke for a while. Then Grandmother said, “Well, doesn’t that beat all! Prey on her first try! Why, she brought it back faster than you did, Crispin!” Uncle cleared his throat, and Father snapped back. “Yes, um…….” He switched back into Merlin. “Amber, you have proven yourself today. You have taken flight for the first time, and killed your first prey.” He produced a small string, and took a single feather from the wing of the sparrow at his talons. He threaded it and lifted the string, the feather dangling from it. He tied it around my neck. “I, Crispin High-Hunter, give you, Amber Hatchling, your true name. From this day forward, you will be known as Amber Swift-Wing. You are no longer a hatchling.” Everyone cheered, and then went out to hunt. I stayed on the branch outside the hollow, watching. Once, I saw Auntie explode above the tree-tops, grab a small dark shape, then turn and dive back down. It was dusk when everyone came back, laden down with prey. Mother laid everything out on the table, and I hopped onto my perch. I was passed a wooden plate heaped with meat and wooden cup filled with a purple liquid. I took a sip. It tasted a bit like blackberries, but a bit sharper. Uncle said cheerfully, “I brought the best Blackberry Wine I had, like your Mother requested.” I rolled my eyes. Of course. Blackberry wine is one of the lightest wines, because it doesn’t ferment long. I began to eat, sampling meat from sparrows, thrushes, finches, and other small birds. Then I found a bit of meat that was different. It looked different, had a different texture. I held it up. “What kind of bird is this from?” I asked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Auntie glanced up. She looked at it in distaste. “It’s from a mouse. Your grandmother spotted one and grabbed it. Prey is prey, after all.” I looked at the bit of meat, interested. I’d never had mouse before. It’s always been bugs and birds. Mother always said that the highest kind of meat there is comes from birds, and Merlins are born to eat birds. We eat other meats if we have to, but birds should always be our main diet. Father agrees. He says that rodents are for the lesser species, and we shouldn’t bother with them. I hesitated for a split second, and then took a small bite. It sang with hearty, forest-y flavors, and was richer than bird. Mother saw me take a bite and said, “Oh, Amber! Spit that out! You don’t have to eat it! Mouse has an awful flavor!” She glared at my Grandmother like it was her fault. “Mother, why did you catch that mouse?” Grandmother huffed. “I thought that Amber should have a taste of mouse, just so she knew if she liked it!” Mother said, “No respectable Merlin likes the taste of mouse!” She had switched to Merlin, and soon they were screaming in Merlin at each other.I flinched at some of the things they said, so I took it to mean it was time for me to go to my nest. I got up, put my plate and cup by the washbasin, and opened a trapdoor in the floor. I climbed down the ten stairs and ended up in my small room. All it had was my nest and a small table with a candle on it, but it also had a mossy floor and a knot hole that I had sanded down and turned into a window. An ivy leaf grew over it, which I moved aside. Then sun was setting, turned the sky orange and pink. I settled down in my nest watching it set. Soon, I was asleep.

The next morning I woke up and climbed up the stairs. Mother smiled when she saw me, though she was still glaring at Grandmother. “Good Morning, dear!” She said cheerfully. “I thought you might want to catch your first breakfast as a Juvenile!” I nodded. “Yes, please!” Father chuckled. “Come on, Amber.” He lifted off and flew out of the hollow. I followed him, winging my way into the morning sunlight. I dove down low, flying close to the ground, under the trees. I heard birds calling above me, and I twisted my head to look up. I spotted a flock of European Starlings in a tree. I closed my eyes and rocketed upward. The Starlings squawked and scattered, a few pecking at my wings and scratching with their talons. I dove down again, then flew up, racking with my talons. Feathers flew. I looked and saw I hadn’t touched the Starling, just ripped some feathers from its stomach. They were braver now, chasing and pecking me. I closed my eyes and dove. I dove so close to the grass I could feel my wing-tips touching the ground. I spiraled up and reached out……and flew down with a dead starling clutched in my talons. I flew back to the hollow and landed. Mother took it from me. “Good job, Amber!” She grinned and took it from me. “Can I go catch another?” I asked, but Grandmother and Father flew in, Grandmother had a sparrow, and Father a robin. Mother took them and plucked them, remembering to put all the feathers in a small box so they wouldn’t go anywhere. She began to cut meat off, and Father said, “We’ll have a nice bird roast around Sun-High, Amber.” Grandmother fluttered over. “That is a very nice starling, Amber. Plump and juicy. I want to just eat it right now.” Mother smiled. She had placed a flat rock in the fire and was waiting for it to heat up. She tested it, and then placed a thin strip of robin on the rock. Soon the hollow was filled with the wonderful smell of roasting robin. When it was done, Mother plucked it from the rock and placed them on plates. I gulped mine down, than washed it down with a bit of berry juice. I hopped off my perch. “I’m going to go flying.” I launched out of the hollow and flew over the forest, my eyes peeled. I spotted a Peregrine Falcon and followed it. It flew confidently over the forest, calling, “Rehk! Rehk!” Another Peregrine flew up to join it and they continued to fly straight. Then the trees stopped and we were flying over a marsh. My eyes widened. Wading birds were everywhere. Then a bird let out a carrying alarm call. The Peregrines gave up, flying away. But I dove. A speckled gray bird was just about to take off but I grabbed it, sinking my talons into its neck. It fell limp, and I flew back toward the trees. I landed, and was just about to start eating when crows started to dive down. I shrieked and raked at them with my talons, but they kept diving. They wanted my prey. I ripped off the head and flung it as far from me as I could. They flew after it, attracted by the scent of blood. I jumped off the perch and flew close to the ground, pumping my wings. A few crows flew above me, but they didn’t attack me. I was about to eat when a voice said, “Excuse me, but might you move?” I turned to see a female Northern Harrier behind me. She ruffled her feathers, looking a bit embarrassed. “I just don’t want the crows to come back and…well……” She gestured behind her. I could just make out a nest made of grasses and in it four white eggs. “Ma put me in charge so she could go hunting with Da. I don’t want to…you know…lose any of the eggs to crows.” She didn’t meet my gaze. I nodded. “Yeah, I’ll go.” I was just about to lift off when she said, “I’m Grass Flower.” I turned and said, “I’m Amber.” Then took off. I flew over the wet marshlands until I was sure no raptor would bother me. I had my meal (Now a bit tough, but still good), and did short, leaping flights from rock to rock until I was in the middle where the water was deepest. I took a long drink. The water was clear at the top, though it was a bit muddy deeper. I washed the blood off my beak. I sat there, watching the dragonflies for a while, and then I felt something like icy cold water cascading down my spine. I turned. I saw a pair of amber eyes and a flash of red, then whatever it was took off. I shivered then took off, flying back to the hollow. This is how I spent most days for the next moon. Father, Grandmother, and sometimes Mother hunting, leaving me in the hollow, me eating what they caught, then going out to do some hunting of my own. Sometimes I went to the lake, sometimes to the forest, and sometimes I went the opposite direction to hunt in the meadows for swallows. I visited my friends, Grass Flower the Northern Harrier (I kept visiting her), and Mica, who was also a Merlin. My wings got stronger, and soon I could fly anywhere it felt like. I wanted to see more and more of the island. Then, one day, I got a chance.

The author's comments:
Niko will appeared as a bigger character in the next few chapters. Just a little tidbit about him- He's an actor/trader.

I woke up, blinking my eyes. Pale green light was filling my room. The sunlight was streaming through the ivy leaf, and when I pushed it aside to look out, it hit me full in the face. Mother was knocking on my trapdoor. “Amber, your Father has something to tell you!” I hopped up the stairs and opened the trapdoor. Father was at the table, drinking something hot and eating a bit of meat. He looked up. “Amber, get washed up and grab your cloak! I’m going to the Market, and you’re coming with me!” I made a small sound and raced over to the other side of the room where I pushed aside a curtain. Grandmother chuckled, and said, “I remember my first trip to the Market.” A washtub and basin was in the room, as well as a feather-brush, talon-file, and a small raggedy cloth. I built a fire and raced out again, grabbing a bucket as I flew fast. I leaped out the hole, and then raced over the tree-tops. I had seen a creek a few days ago, and I dived down, filling the bucket with water. I flew back to the hollow. Mother was waiting for me and took the bucket and headed into the wash-room. I grabbed a slice of nut-bread and ate it while I waited for the water to get warm. When it finally was, I poured it into the wash-basin and took the cloth. I washed my eye, beak, wings, breast, and talons. I hung the cloth back up and carefully filed my talons, then bushed my feathers. I stepped out, to find my father waiting. He handed my cloak, a soft thing of the purest, softest amber. I pulled it on, while Mother gave Father Bag with food in it and a small pouch. I stepped outside and waited, and heard Mother whispering, “Crispin, do make sure no Kestrels try anything, she can’t defend herself yet!” I didn’t hear what Father said, but then Mother said, “And Crispin, do be careful! The red-tailed Hawks are acting odd, and your sister said the Merlin’s the nest over had family that was attacked and had their nest raided by Kestrels!” Father said something, and then stepped out. “Ready to go?” He asked. I nodded, and he took off, and I followed him. We flew west, over the trees. Once he pointed out a tree with a nest that he said housed a family of Mississippi Kites, and a marsh that had a nest of another Northern Harrier. Soon, however, my wings began to ache, and I was gasping for breath. Father landed in a pine tree and pulled a wooden canteen from the lunch-bag. He passed it to me, and I drank a few gulps then gave it to him. He tucked it back in the bag. “We’re more than half-way there, Amber. We’ll be there before Sun-High.” Raptors tell time by where the sun or moon is. Sunrise is, well, Sunrise. Sun-up is midway between Sunrise and Sun-High. Sun-High is when the sun is at its highest point. Sun-Down is midway between Sun-High and Sunset, and Sunset is when, well, the sun sets. It’s the same for the moon. But anyways, it was a little past Sun-Up when we lifted off again, and my wings were feeling better. We had left the leafy, rounder trees and were now flying over the tall, pointed pines and furs. Father called back to me, “The Market is just up ahead. See those two pine trees, the ones that are taller than the others? Those are the Entrance to the King’s Castle!” We flew a bit faster, and soon, other Raptors were passing us. Then we flew around a tree, and there was the Market! A wooden archway was the entrance, and it was painted in a deep emerald green, with a golden crown above it. It proclaimed this was the King’s Market, and had a wooden carving of a falcon with its wings spread wide, as if welcoming everyone, over it. Father and I landed below the arch, and Father glanced up. It was almost Sun-High. He handed me a small pouch. “Here, Amber. This is yours. Use it however you like. We’ll meet at the King’s Crown a little after Sun-High, okay?” I nodded. He flew off, and I opened the pouch. Some coins glinted up at me. Raptors use copper, bronze, silver, and gold coins. Its 20 coppers to a bronze, 10 bronze to silver, 5 silvers to gold. It’s simple, really. I was holding more money than I had ever even seen in my life. I tucked the pouch under my cloak and headed into the Market. So many wonderful things! As I headed up one street and down another, I couldn’t believe everything! I saw blacksmiths, cloth-workers, and toy-makers. I headed up one street and watched as bakers pulled cookies and bread, cakes and pies out of stone ovens. I sampled some honey almond candy from a sweet-maker, than bought a small bag. I flew past cafés, hotels, and small stores. And all the raptors! I saw more in a minute then I had my entire life! I was examining a painting of a sunset when I heard someone call, “Miss, Miss, would you like to buy a pet?” I turned and saw a young rough-legged hawk pushing his way through the crowd toward me. He brandished a small cage in my face, and I saw a white mouse inside. My mouth watered, remembering the mouse-meat from the night before. The rough-legged hawk said cheerfully, “This mouse not is for eating, oh no! It can do tricks! Or…” He brandished another cage; this one had a small, tailless thing in it, with a fluffy golden coat. “This is called a Hamster, again, not for eating! It runs on a round wheel, and will play with this ball!” He held up a small red ball. I backed off. “No, I don’t want a mouse or a Ham-Stir. I…..” I looked up at the sky. “I have to go meet my Father! Do you know where the King’s Crown is?” The hawk looked slightly disappointed, but he nodded. “Go up this street, than turn right. Go down until you see a wooden statue of a bald eagle, and the King’s Crown will be right behind it. And, if you change your mind about my pets……Come find me at the Pet-Store, it’s next to the Store that sells Wooden Carvings.” He waved cheerfully and was off, trying to talk a Gray Hawk into buying the Ham-Stir.

The author's comments:
Kestrels and Merlins have a long history together, which won't be explained in this book, but I'm considering writing a short story about it.

I saw Father outside the King’s Crown and flew over, and he said, “You’re a bit late.” I shrugged. “A Rough-Legged Hawk was trying to talk me into buying a white mouse or something called a Ham-Stir.” Father sighed. “Ah, yes. He came to me, too. Just after I left you. And I think it’s called a Hamster, not a Ham-Stir.” We were in front of a tall tree, with lots of windows and nests in the branches. There was a hole on the ground in front of us, and Father waved me inside. A square piece of wood was at the back of the room, were a Broad-Winged Hawk perched behind it. Father stepped up and said, “Two inside rooms, please.” The Broad-Winged Hawk looked up. “Ah, yes, Sir.” He gave Father two keys. Father placed some coins on the wood and opened a trapdoor in the wall. We climbed up and up and up the stairs, until Father said, “This is your room. Mine is the next one up.” He handed me a key and kept going up. I opened the door. The room was a bit larger than mine at home, but it didn’t have the mossy floor that I loved. There was a nest, a table with a bowl and pitcher filled with fresh water, a wardrobe, a table with drawers and a mirror, and a large window with cloth curtains. The nest had a frame made of twigs, and it was filled with soft moss and had a blanket of woven grass. Oh, if I was tired, I would get into the nest and sleep the rest of the moon! It was so soft! But instead I took off my cloak and hung it in the wardrobe, and stepped out. I nearly collided with a Kestrel coming up the stairs. It was a juvenile, and a female. I stepped backward. “Sorry!” She said, ruffling her feathers, embarrassed. “No, No, I should have been watching were I was going.” Just then, a male Kestrel came up and Father came down. Father pushed me down the stairs. “Did that Kestrel run into you?” “Yes, Father, but I….” Father glared at the young female and the male. “No-good rodent-eaters!” Meanwhile I heard the male Kestrel say, “Darling, you shouldn’t apologize to that bird-catcher! It should have been watching where it was going!” Soon we were in what Father called the lobby. He marched up to what he called the front desk and said, “I refuse to be in the same tree as a Kestrel!” Just as the Kestrels came down. The male marched over and snapped, “And I will not be in the same tree as a Merlin!” Soon Father and the Kestrel were screaming at each other. I stepped over to the hawk. “Tell my Father that I will meet him back here tonight.” The young Kestrel stepped forward also. “Tell my Father too, please.” We stepped out into the sunlight. I turned to the Kestrel. “Sorry about my Father.” The young Kestrel shrugged. “Me, too. I don’t know what’s gotten into my family.” We stood in silence until I said, “Want to get something to eat?” She nodded. “Sure. I’m Feya, by the way.” I nodded. “I’m Amber.” We touched wing-tips then began walking down the street. Feya said, “I know a little Restaurant that sells both rodents and birds. Want to go there?” I nodded. “Sure.” I said, hoping she wouldn’t think it was odd if I ordered mouse-meat. We reached the restaurant and headed over to the counter were we were handed menus. We walked over to a table and hopped up onto the perches. I looked at Feya. We had talked a lot on the way over, and she was very nice. I hesitated before saying, “Feya, would you think it odd if I……..ordered mouse?” She looked at me. “A little bit, because Merlin’s almost never eat mice.” I nodded miserably. “Both my mother and father say a Merlin who enjoys mice is a disgrace to the species. But I want to try as much stuff as I can.” Feya cocked her head, her eyes glittering. “I have an idea.” She called the waiter over. It was a sharp-shinned hawk. “We’d like to split the #17, please.” The hawk looked surprised but wrote it down. “Anything to drink?” Feya nodded for me to go first. “I’d like a mint cream, please.” I’d never had it, but it sounded good. Feya said, “I’ll have a Siskin. Cold.” The waiter wrote that down and flew away. Siskins are said to be invented by Pine Siskins, you know, the little bird? It’s when you put lots of pine needles into a pot, and put fresh water in it. You bring it to a boil and let it boil for ten wing-beats, then take it off the fire and let it cool. If you want it cold, you strain out the pine needles when cool and serve it. If you want it hot, you still let it cool and strain the needles out, but then you add fresh ones and bring it to a boil again. When it’s still very hot, you strain out the needles again and serve it. But anyway, I looked at Feya. “What’s the #17?” I asked. Feya just cocked her head and smiled (we smile by narrowing our eyes up in a certain way. Much better than the weird thing you do with your odd flat beak). “You’ll see.” Our drinks arrived, and I took a sip of my mint cream. It was palest green, and thick. It tasted like fresh mint. Then the #17 came. Two Sharp-Shinned Hawks carried it. It was heaped with meat. My eyes widened. Even Feya looked a bit stunned. The hawks placed it on the table, bowed, and then headed back. Feya said, “It has mouse-meat, vole-meat, shrew-meat, chipmunk-meat, and two different kinds of squirrel meat. Both cooked and raw.” I took a small piece of each kind and began to eat. Each bite, there was a different flavor. Each bite I liked. Feya bit into a piece of cooked mouse-meat and glanced at me. “What do you think?” “I’m thrilled!” I said. “Even the squirrels taste a lot different! The gray squirrel taste is earthier, and the red squirrel has a nuttier, hearty taste.” Feya cocked her head and popped in a piece of raw shrew meat. Then her eyes widened. She grabbed my plate and cup and placed them on the next table. “My Father is right over there! Hide!” I grabbed my plate and cup, stashed them under a fern then flew up into a tree. I watched as Feya’s Father said, “Ug! I cannot stand Merlins! Did you know that the juvenile had only had her first flight a moon ago? She’s a moon younger than you and he took her to the market!” He hopped up on my perch then took in the platter of food. “Wow, Feya! This is a lot of food!” He took some raw mouse-meat and popped it into his mouth. Feya looked sheepish. “Well, Father, I was very hungry, and I thought this would come with less food.” Her father took it all in. “I really don’t understand why you got the one with cooked meat.” He reached for another piece of food. I was still sooooo hungry, and very irritated. I remembered that Father said he used to do this to the raptors he and his friends didn’t like……. I dived, grabbed at the plate and soared up into the trees. I circled back, landing on the same branch I was on and examining the food in my talons. Raw and cooked vole meat. I popped a piece of the cooked in my beak and watched while Feya’s father looked stunned and she was trying not to laugh. He finally said “Did……Did you see what did that?” She shook her head. “No, Father.” He snarled. “I’m going to talk to the Guard’s about this!” He flew off. I winged my way down and landed. Feya grinned. “That was awesome!” We then ate the rest of the food.

I yawned, peering blearily out of the window. It was a little before sunrise. I was about to snuggle back down when I heard a tapping on my door. I sighed. I called, “One minute!” and climbed out of my nest. I hurried over to the washbasin. I filled it with water and washed my beak, eyes, and talons. I then smoothed my feathers as best I could. I opened the door, and there was Feya, looking a bit sheepish. “I was wondering if you might to come and look around the Market.” I nodded, stepping outside and locking my door. Feya flew down the stairway but I climbed up, knocking on Father’s door. He opened it. He was wearing a fine black cloak trimmed in red, was freshly washed and smelled of pine. He looked at me. “I have an appointment with the captain of the guards.” I sighed. “Is it about the Kestrels?” He shook his head. “Unfortunately, no. The red-tailed hawks have been attacking traveling raptors lately and…..” He looked at me. “They have kidnapped my brother, his mate and two hatchlings.” I gasped, and then said, “Why didn’t you tell……?” He stopped me. “Your mother sent a message last night. But it means we’ll be at the market for two more days.” I nodded. He told me to go wander around, and shut the door. I grabbed my money-pouch and raced down to meet Feya. She smiled. “What do you want to eat?” I thought. “I don’t care; let’s just see what’s around.” Feya agreed, and we flew down the street. I saw a Café, and we stopped. I ordered some bread with a berry spread and some rosemary tea, Feya ordered something called a ‘Stuffer’ and mint tea. We went over to a large rock with a flat top and moss-lined perches. I hopped up on one. “What’s a ‘Stuffer’? I asked, settling on the perch.” Feya ruffled her feathers, embarrassed. “It’s a meat-stuffed pastry. I love it, but only have it on my Hatching-Day or Flight-Day.” I nodded. Our teas arrived, in wooden cups with handles. I picked mine up and took a sip. Hot, very hot, but sweet and tasting strongly of rosemary. Feya chugged half her mint tea in three big gulps then glanced to the side. “Does that red-tailed hawk seem to be staring at us?” She whispered. I glanced over. “Yeah. Just ignore him.” The red-tailed hawk’s eyes narrowed. It got up and looked like it was about to come over when a waiter came and talked to him. The hawk bristled up, and snapped something. The waiter looked terrified, but said something else. The hawk snorted and tossed a few coins at the waiter then flew off. Feya and I looked at each other. “It….it looked like the hawk didn’t want to pay!” She whispered. I nodded. We sipped our tea in silence, and then our food came. I bit into my meal, enjoying the moist, savory bread and the sweet spread. Feya made a small sound and picked up what looked like…….a really thick piece of bread. She took a big bite. I wiped the spread off my beak and asked, “Is that……bread?” Feya turned it to show me where she bit it. The bread was stuffed with raw mouse-meat, herbs, and was drenched in some sort of sauce. She took another large bite. I ate the rest of my bread, savoring each bite. We were almost finished when Feya groaned. “My father is over there.” I shoved the last bite of bread in my mouth and picked up my plate and cup. I set them in a bin for dirty dishes, and then ducked behind two chatting Peregrine Falcons. Feya’s father had seen her, and came over. Then he noticed what she was eating. “Feya!” He protested, reaching for the last bit. “This is too rich for you!” Feya sighed. “But Father, I only have it once or twice a year!” Feya’s father dumped the rest onto a neighboring table. Feya tossed some coins on the table and mouthed ‘Sorry’ at me. She was led away by her father. I tossed a few more coins at the table as a passed. I spent the rest of the morning flying around the Market. Around Sun-High I was in a wood-carvers shop examining a tiny wooden merlin when a cheerful voice said, “Hello, Miss!” I spun around. The pet-seller was at the doorway. He flashed a cocky grin. “Care to come into the pet-shop?” I sighed and put the merlin down. “Fine.” I followed him outside and into the next hollow tree. “Wow.” I breathed, looking around. Cages were everywhere, I heard birds chirping in the back, saw stacks of cages containing mice and rats and those funny Ham-Stirs (Oh, oops, I mean Hamsters). I headed over to a row of hollowed out stumps and peered in. Tiny silver fish filled them. I headed to the back and caught my breath, Rows of cages with every sort of bird possible. I saw snowy white doves, midnight black crows that were bigger than me, and, best of all, brightly colored hummingbirds. I gazed at them. They were so beautiful! I reached out a talon to read a card attached to a cage, and the hawk said proudly, “Only a single gold coin, miss! Trained to fly along beside you and perch or hover next to you.” I stepped back. “Oh, no. I can’t afford one.” I hurried out of the store, glancing over my shoulder at the wonderful little birds. I took my mind off them by going to the cloth-weavers stalls. I found a small bag woven out of a pale green cloth, which was too expensive, but I would have bought if I could. I bought a painted wooden merlin with its wings extended to hang from the ceiling of my room from a toy-maker, and a black cloak of the softest cloth. I had only a few coins left, and was considering buying a book from a book-dealer when a now-familiar voice said, “Hello again, miss!” I sighed and turned around, taking the book and handing a coin to the dealer. “Really, are you following me?” The rough-legged hawk’s broad grin dimmed a bit. “Ah, miss. I knew I had to tell you sometime. My boss wishes to talk to you.” I stared back at him; intimidating my mother’s frosty look she gives raptors that annoy her. “What if I don’t want to talk to your boss?” The hawk’s smile vanished. “Then I’m sorry, miss.” He grabbed my talons and began dragging me through the Market! “Help!” I screeched. “Help!” The rough-legged hawk whispered, “Sorry about this, miss.” Then he yelled, “You’ll never get free, little merlin! You’ll make a nice tasty snack for my pet!” Raptors started to gather, a few cheered. My heart sank. They thought this was a performance. Then an idea started to form. “Oh, hawk! What is your horrible pet?” The rough-legged hawk looked confused for a split second, than called, “Oh, puny merlin! It is a fox! You will be no match for it!” I let out a shrill ‘Klee-Klee-Klee!’ then said, “I might not be a match for your fox, but I might be for you!” I gave the hawk a few heavy wing-slaps on his head, than reached up with my talons he wasn’t grasping and grabbed his right wing. I yanked it hard enough to send jolts of pain up and down his wings but not to permanently hurt him. He yelped and let go, and I burst into the air. The rough-legged hawk let out a rasping squeal and pumped his wings, following me. He reached out, almost grasping my tail-feathers but I dove. He followed me. Just before hitting the ground, I spiraled into the air. I heard the rough-legged hawk panting. Merlins were built for tight movements; rough-legged hawks are built for hovering. I don’t know how I suddenly knew how to angle my wings just right to hit the gust or dive so straight. I heard cheering below, and I spread my wings wide, diving so I could swoop just over their heads. I heard a gasp, than the loudest cheer yet. The hawk was now above me, and I rocked up, grabbing one of the hawk’s talons and one of his wings. His eye’s widened in surprise. He began to fall. I beat my wings hard and managed to slow us down enough that the rough-legged hawk only got his breath knocked out of him. I let go of his talon and grasped his other wing. “I have overcome you, evil hawk!” I proclaimed. “Do not touch me ever again.” I beat my wings and lifted him up by his wings and set him down on his talons. The crowd cheered. I bowed, and so did the hawk. The crowd started to disperse. The rough-legged hawk held out his wing-tip. I touched it with my own. “Niko Wide-Wing.” He said. He was younger than I thought, he had no title yet. I dipped my head. “Amber Swift-Wing.” Niko bowed. “Now, I’m sorry miss…..I mean, Amber. But I still need to take you to my boss.” “There’s no need.” A cool, calm voice said. A large red-tailed stepped up to us. He touched wing-tips with me. I dipped my head. “Amber Swift-Wing.” He simply stared coolly at me. “Charmed. I am Midnight Strong-Talon, Merchant.” He looked me up and down. “When did you have you first flight? A two moons ago?” I shook my head. “A moon ago, though I could have done it two moons ago.” Midnight’s cold eyes glittered, but that was his only expression. “And yet you bested a hawk twice your size.” He stared pointedly at Niko. “Either you are a very talented flyer and fighter, or I have an incompetent…erm, employee.” Why did I have the feeling he meant servant? Niko’s head lowered. Midnight’s cold eyes rested on him for a moment, then turned back to me. “Have you been trained?” I shook my head. “Have you read flight-books?” I shook my head again. “All Merlins know how to do these.” Midnight’s eyes light up for the briefest of seconds. “All Merlins know…….those moves? And more?” His voice remained calm, but his eyes started glittering cruelty. I nodded, worried by the cruel light that danced in his eyes. “Now, if you will excuse me, I must go.” I heard him snarl something to Niko and heard Niko say, “So sorry, sir.” I heard the Hawk say, “You swore your allegiance to Lord Hawthorne. Do not disappoint him.” I saw him fly off. I left in a hurry and hid behind a tree. My heart was pounding and I was shivering. Midnight had scared me badly for I reason I didn’t know. I wandered around the Market the rest of the day, and whenever I saw a red-tailed hawk, I flew up into a tree, ducked behind a crowd, or hid my face. At Sun-Down, I went back to the King’s Crown, told Father I wasn’t feeling well. I locked my door and stumbled over to my nest. I climbed in and tucked my head under my wing. Before I knew it, I was asleep.

I woke up around Moon-High. I peered out the window. I shivered, remembering my experience with Midnight. I cast my mind about, hoping to forget. Then I remembered. Yesterday I had found a book filled with diagrams and pictures on how to do flight-tricks. No one was around so late at night…….I grabbed my new black cloak and fastened it. I snatched my new book and stepped over to the window. I wiggled out (Thank goodness I was small!) and popped into the cool night air. I nearly fell from the air but I pumped my wings and caught a draft. I soared toward Four Pines Castle but turned and flew into the trees before the guards could see me. I stopped in a clearing, examining it. A small pond filled half of it, with stones dotting the surface and along the edge. The rest of the clearing was bathed in moonlight, and a few toadstools were grouped under the trees. I unclasped my cloak and draped it over a branch, and opened my book. I decided to try a simple move, one called ‘The Merlin’s Wings’. I guessed I should be a natural. I examined the drawing and diagram, than lifted off. First, you had to angle your primaries just right…….. I tried to do the move like it was supposed to be done, a tight roll going straight up then you flip over and speed toward the ground, where you open your wings and land lightly. I messed it up. I tried that move many times, until it was almost Moon-Down. I threw the book down in frustration. It wasn’t working! I landed beside it. I stood fuming for a few minutes, then decided to try the move, but not follow the directions. I launched into the air, then……… I was doing it! I spun upwards, flipped and dived. I landed next to the book, excited. I picked it up and flipped through it. I found a move called ‘The Hunter’s Catch’. Basically, you get really high into the air with a rock wrapped in moss and drop the rock. You dive after it, catch it, and then throw it up, catch it, making each throws more difficult until you miss the rock and it falls. I flew up until the pond looked like a large puddle, and dropped the rock. I dove after it, caught it, threw it to the side, flew under it, flipped over and caught it. Each catch I got more excited, each catch I thought I possibly couldn’t catch the rock, but I always did. One catch I caught it seconds before it touched the ground when someone cheered. I was flying up and I froze, my wings locking as I plummeted toward the ground. I heard a curse then felt myself be caught by my wings. Jittery pain arched up and down them, and I gasped. I was set gently on the ground and a voice said, “Sorry about that, I didn’t mean to startle you.” I turned around and caught my breath. A handsome young male merlin stood behind me. But that’s not what made me gasp. I looked down. “No…..No harm done, Your Highness.” (Oh, did I forget to mention that the current royal family are Merlins? Silly me.) Prince Wind-Rider sighed. “No need to call me Your Highness. Call me Pine.” “Oh course, your…….Pine” I squeaked. Prince Wind-Rider (I mean Pine) dipped his head to me. “Go on flying.” I nodded and lifted into the air, beating my wings awkwardly. I tried a new trick, called ‘Sky’s Spiral’. I tried it three times and didn’t manage to do it. I landed, flustered. Prince Pine (I’ll call him that. Seems a bit more respectful then just Pine) said, “It’s been lovely to meet you……?” I bowed again. “Amber Swift-Wing.” Prince Pine dipped his head. “Amber. I must go.” He turned and flew away. I sighed, and then launched into the air. Now that the prince was gone, and not watching, I could fly better. I mastered trick after trick, heading back to the King’s Crown just after Sun-Rise. I climbed into my nest. I heard someone knocking but I drifted into an exhausted sleep. I woke up at Sun-High. I climbed out of the nest and headed over to the wash-basin. I washed my beak and eyes, and stepped out. I didn’t bring my money-pouch. I headed down the stairs and out into the sunshine, where I was met by Niko. He followed me. “Amber, want to do another performance?” I nodded, knowing he didn’t want to talk about the day before. We headed out into the middle of the square, where he grabbed both my talons. “Trust me.” He whispered, and launched into the air. I called, “Twi-Twi-Twi!” Then yelled, “Let me go, you evil rough-legged hawk!” He cackled, than yelled back, “No way, puny merlin! You must be delivered to my master!” I saw a crowd gathering under us, and cried fearfully, “Who is your master, oh powerful hawk?” Niko grinned but yelled, “The biggest, meanest hawk ever! He will enjoy your nice, juicy plumpness!” I whispered, “Follow my lead.” Then pumped my wings and pulled myself up so I could lightly nip his left talon. He let go and screeched in (imaginary) pain. I now hung by one talon. We were hovering, and I was starting to worry his strength would fail. I raised my talon he wasn’t clutching and grabbed his right one. I yanked. He let go of my other talon and I was falling. I flipped and dived, landing in a clearing. Niko landed in the same clearing. He gave an evil cackle, and yelled, “Say good-bye, puny merlin!” I shot up and he followed me, breathing heavily. I ducked, dodged, and dived, every once-and-a-while lightly raking him with my talons or whacking him with a wing. I then tucked in my wings and dived. Niko went to follow me, but I flipped and grabbed his talon. He stared at me, and I winked. I then used his momentum. I let go and pumped my wings, climbing furiously. By the time Niko flipped and stopped falling, I had vanished into a pine tree. Niko landed and I heard cheering. I winged my way down and landed beside him, bowing. Raptors crowed around us, complementing us and touching wing-tips. I grinned and waved. Niko was laughing with a few other rough-legged hawks, and then waved shyly at a pretty female. I chuckled and headed away, thirsty, hot, and hungry. A few raptors stopped me, asking my name, and I told them, and then pushed through. When I looked back, a saw a few of the younger hawks copying our moves. When they flew over me I lifted gently off, flying along beside them. A young Cooper’s hawk saw me and gasped, then shyly asked, “Can you do to me that move you did? Then one were you grabbed Niko’s talons?” I smiled, as the two other raptors came over (an Osprey and a Northern Harrier) “Sure.” I asked them their names (Crackle, Streak, and Grace), then said, “Right, Crackle, fly to about the top of that lower pine tree, Streak, Grace, stay to the side.” I circled below Crackle. I saw him hover for a second, then dive. I dove with him; almost letting him grasp my tail-feathers then flipped and grabbed his talons. I pumped my wings and flipped him, letting him go. He flipped and landed, laughing. “That was awesome! Do that again!” I did it again, and then did it to Streak. Streak was a bitter harder since he was much bigger, but that also meant he fell harder. Grace took some convincing, but she did it. I left them laughing and talking and flew off toward a stand selling dandelion-wren soup. I had ordered and was sipping some icy cold water when I felt talons grab me. I jumped, and Feya’s voice hissed, “I just got away from my Father!” I spun around. Feya looked miserable. “My Father and I are leaving. I just wanted to tell you where I live. We live in Golden Grass Valley, in the tree at the very top of Wildflower hill.” I nodded. “I live in The Emerald Forest, in the tallest tree.” Feya nodded. “Maybe we could visit each other.” I had an idea. “I will try to see you next. Mother will expect me to be out of the hollow all day, looking for a place to build a nest.” Feya nodded. We touched wing-tips then Feya flew away. I ate my soup in silence, and then headed back to the hotel. Father met me. He said, “I just met with a Lord Hawthorne Strong-Catcher, whose captain of the guards. He’s a red-tailed hawk. I disapproved at first, but He told me that the red-tails have been attacking families of Merlins that harass the red-tailed juveniles. He said he disapproved, and would do everything he could to get your aunt and uncle back.” Father put a wing around my shoulders and led me back upstairs. We stopped outside my door and he said, “We’ve leaving first thing tomorrow morning.” He headed up to his room. I unlocked my door but before I could go inside a voice said, “Oh, good, I caught you.” I turned around. A Mississippi Kite stood there, ruffling her feathers. She handed me a note. I took it and opened it. A small stone tumbled out. I picked it up. It was a piece if amber the shape of a tear-drop, and had a hole in it at the top. I opened the note.
Dear Amber,
I am so sorry I haven’t sent this sooner, but Father has insisted on teaching me sword-play. I find it very boring, and wish he was teaching me something useful, such as flying maneuvers. That brings me to why I’m writing. I was wondering whether or not tonight you could meet me in the moon-lit clearing and teach me some of your moves? I have been remembering your elegance and grace. I was watching your performance today out the window while Father rambled on about the proper angle of your sword and different types of defenses and attacks. I think you are a wonderful flier and hope you will accept. Send your reply with Julie.
Prince Pine Wind-Rider the 3rd
P.S. I thought this piece of amber would go very nicely on your necklace.

I looked at the note then up at the kite. “You’re Julie?” I asked. She nodded. “Julie Snow-Feather, Messenger. Do you wish to send a reply?” I nodded, and she handed me a piece of parchment and a quill. I took it and wrote,

Dear Prince Pine Wind-Rider the 3rd,
I would love to show you how to do some of my flying tricks. I will meet you at Moon-High in the clearing.
Amber Swift-Wing
P.S, the amber is lovely.

I handed the note to Julie and she folded it and stuck it in an envelope. She stamped it with a wax seal which I saw was a quill and piece of parchment, crossed, and then flew down the stairway. I strung the amber bead onto my necklace then opened my door. It wasn’t even sun-set yet, but I got in my nest and fell asleep.

I woke up a little before moon-high and pulled on my black cloak then wiggled out the window. I left the book behind. I flew toward the clearing and landed in the same tree. I took my cloak off and draped it over the branch. I waited until Moon-High, and then flew down to land on a rock in the clearing. As soon as I landed a heard a sound and the prince landed lightly beside me. He was wearing a black cloak with silver trim and fastenings. “Hello, Amber.” He said warmly. “Hello, P-P-P-Prince.” I stammered. He dipped his head. “I was wondering whether or not you could show me how to do that trick where you…….” I showed him several tricks, and at moon-down we stopped for a break. He flew over the pond then swooped down, knocking over a rock and grabbing something that wiggled. He landed and killed it then flew over and dropped it. A long, limp snake lay at my talons. He dipped his head. “Have you ever tasted snake before?” I shook my head. He tore a piece of meat off and passed it to me. I put it in my beak and swallowed. It was kind of tough and stringy, and tasted a bit like a mixture of sparrow and shrew. Prince Pine pulled another piece off and ate it. He then produced a dagger from under his cloak, cut the head off and the body into two pieces. He handed me a piece and I took it. I started eating, felling a bit awkward. Prince Pine finished a piece then said, “So, Amber. Tell me about yourself, do you have any brothers or sisters? Pets? Where do you live? In a hollow? In a hut?” (No, my only brother died, I had no pets but liked hummingbirds, and I lived in a hollow in Emerald forest) Then Pine (unknowingly I had started calling him that) told me about him. He was the oldest of three brothers, one died from a sickness that also killed one of the lords, and the other was an apprentice to a Healer. He had no pets, but his mother bred Mountain Bluebirds and Vermilion Flycatchers. He, (of course) lived in the Castle. The he said, “We’re having a Feast tomorrow to celebrate the first day of fall. It’s called the Harvest Festival. I was wondering, um, whether or not you would like to…..” He trailed off, ruffling his feathers in an embarrassed sort of way. “Whether or not you would like to come with me?” I gaped at him. He looked away. “It’s okay if you don’t, but…..” I cut him off. “No, no, I want to come! It’s just I’m supposed to leave tomorrow morning. But I’ll talk to my Father.” Pine brightened. “It begins tomorrow at Sun-High. Meet me here. Wear a cloak and your necklace, but nothing else.” I nodded. He turned to go, and then turned back to me. “I’m…..I’m glad I met you, Amber.” He said, and then flew away. I followed him, heading back to the hotel.

The next morning I was woken up by someone knocking on the door. I opened it and it turned out to be Julie. She handed me two envelopes, one stamped with the royal seal (A crown above a feather and sword, crossed), and Pine’s personal seal (A single feather) I opened Pine’s first. It read,
Good Morning, Amber!
So sorry to send Julie so early, but I had an idea. After you read this, send Julie up to your Father’s room. I have one of the royal scribes write it. In the note it says that he is welcome to send Julie with a note for your mother, so do not worry about that.
See you soon,

I stopped reading. “Father’s room is the next on up.” Julie nodded, than headed up the tight stairway. I heard her knock on Father’s door. I closed mine and then a heard a loud, “Holy Raptors! Amber, come up here!” I opened my door and tried my best to look sleepy. “What is it, Father?” He handed me the note and I read it.

Dear Crispin High-Hunter, Nester, Father to Amber Swift-Wing and Mate to Marta Sweet-Leaf,
Please except Prince Pine Wind-Rider’s invitation for Amber Swift-Wing. He wishes to invite her to the Harvest Festival today at Sun-High. She needs to only wear a cloak.
We hope that we will see her, and wish you a good day.
Benson Gray-Wing,
Royal Scribe

I looked up, trying to look shocked. “The prince is inviting me?” Father nodded, still looking stunned said, “It also said that I can use the messenger to send a message to your Mother. Go get ready.” I flew down the stairs and into my room. I filled the washbasin as full as I could and washed my beak, eyes, breast, belly, and, erm, my end. I took the comb and combed my feathers until they shown. I put on my amber-colored cloak. I smoothed out the winkles and arranged my necklace so the amber bead stood out. I stepped out of my room and found Father waiting for me. “You look lovely!” He then shifted my necklace so that the feather was showing. “It’s Sun-Up. Go, fly!” I flew down the stairway and out into the Market. Birds were bustling everywhere, and I gratefully took to the air when I could. It was only a little easier, but I flew higher until I was above everyone and headed toward the clearing. I landed on a rock in the middle of a pond, sending ducks into the sky. I heard a frog plop into the pond and I sighed. I was very hungry. Then I saw the dragonflies. I lifted up and grabbed a red one. I popped it in my mouth. I then reached out again and grabbed a blue one. I flew around the pond, grabbing as many dragonflies as I could. I landed on the bank where I had a small pile and picked up a nice big one and…….. “You look lovely, Amber.” I spun around. Pine was wearing a dark brown vest the color of rich, wet dirt. To complement it, he was also wearing a tie the exact color of my cloak. His black eyes twinkled and he held a yellow rose. He tucked it into the clasp of my clock. “My Lady, our ride waits.” I followed him, mystified. Then I saw it. “Oh, no.” I said. “No, no, no. I’m not going to be riding through the crowds on that.” Two perches waited at the end of a path. They were simple, straight, and smooth. But connected to them were two long woven ropes which had handles. Four Peregrine Falcons waited. Pine smiled and stepped onto his. “There’s nothing to it. They won’t drop you.” He waved and was lifted into the air. I took a deep breath and stepped onto mine. I was lifted into the air and flow through the forest quickly but smoothly. Then the Peregrines flew just behind two other perches. I nearly gagged in shock. King Douglass Sharp-eyes and Queen Rose Gentle-Breeze perched in front of me. I could have reached out a wing and brushed the back of the queen’s cloak! I nearly fell off my perch. King Sharp-eyes simply lifted a wing, but the Queen turned and smiled warmly. I smiled back, feeling better. More Peregrines flew up and lined up behind us. Two perches side-by-side, the male on the left, female on the right. First it was the King and Queen, then Pine and I, then the eight lords and ladies. Each lord had a manor on one part of the island. In the north, south, east, or west, where he watched over the raptors in that area. I didn’t know their names. Pine leaned over and whispered, “We’ll be flown around the Market then back to the Castle for the feast.” I smiled at him then gasped as we started to move. We followed the path until we burst through and into the sunlight. Raptors cheered, beat their wings and clapped their talons. We flew above the crowd, and guards flew out of the castle. Two in front, one next to the king, one next to the queen, one next to Pine, one next to me, one next to each lady and each lord. As we circled the market, the king sat regale and tall on his perch, but the queen waved and smiled. I waved every-once -and-a-while. I saw Crackle once, and I waved. I heard him yell, “That merlin, that merlin with the prince! I know her!” I also saw Niko, and I laughed at the astonished look on his face. He was next to a pretty female, who leaned over and whispered something. He smiled at her than waved at me, calling, “Hello, Amber!” But not everyone was friendly. I saw a female merlin maybe a little older than me glare at me and mouth ‘I’ll get you for this’. Pine sighed and muttered something that sounded like “Great Winds, is she still mad?” Just before we reached the castle the perches started going ever so slightly higher. We stopped a little below the tops of the trees. The king and queen stepped off their perches at exactly the same time and dove straight down. Just as their talons left the perches the falcons flew straight up, taking the perches away. The king and queen leveled out just before they hit the ground and landed lightly. They both bowed. Pine grinned at me. “Ready?” I nodded. Pine whispered, “One…two….three!” We dove. We started to get a little further apart, and then we both opened our wings at the exact same time. We soared forward and landed a little behind the king and queen. The lords and ladies did the same. The King stepped forward and called, “Hello, raptors of the market, visitors, and everyone in between! I would like to welcome you to the 52nd Harvest Festival!” He paused, then said, “When my Grandfather suggested this day 52 years ago, my father thought he was crazy. ‘Another Festival!’ He said, “we already have three others, the raptors will never agree!’ Yet here we are today. Who would have thought? My Father currently didn’t! But I am glad my Grandfather insisted on doing it! I have more fun today then I do half of the year! So let us eat, drink, dance, and thank my Grandfather!” Raptors cheered. Servants started setting up tables in front of the Castle, and the king, queen, Pine, me, and the lords and ladies flew up to a platform in one of the trees. The king took his place at one end of the table, the queen the other. Pine smiled, than hopped on the perch on the left of his father. He motioned for me to perch across from him. I did, smoothing my cloak. The perches were straight, and had soft, dark green moss growing on them. The plates, bowls, utensils, and goblets were metal, not wooden. Each plate had a wrapped candy in the center. Pine picked his candy up and put it in his beak. The king and queen had already eaten theirs. I was wondering if I should eat it or not, when someone hopped up next to me. I turned. It was a pretty red-tailed hawk, maybe a year older than me. She smiled. “You can eat the candy.” Her voice was soft, gentle, not the deep, rasping tones I often heard from red-tailed hawks. She held out her wing. I touched it with mine. “Lady Scarlett Brown-Wing.” I dipped my head. “Amber Swift-Wing.” She smiled. “Prince Wind-Rider’s…….uh…..” I helped her out. “Escort, I think.” She nodded. I picked up my candy and took off the wrapping, then popped it in my beak. It was smooth, and creamy, and sweet. Across the table, Pine laughed. “It’s called butterscotch. We buy it from the owls when they visit.” I nodded, wishing I had a hundred more of them. Then the first course came. Soups of all sorts, more than I had ever seen. I helped myself to a light sunflower soup. It was great! Then the second course came. Seafood, to my disappointment. I got a small sliver of raw trout and another small sliver of smoked salmon. I didn’t love the trout, but the smoked salmon was okay. After that was the main course. I piled my plate with cooked mouse-meat, roasted sparrow, and steamed vegetables. Then the salad course came. I tried a few different kinds. Then dessert came. I tried lemon tarts and berry pies. Moist, springy white cakes, and rich, dense almond ones. Lady Scarlett and Pine kept cheerfully telling me to try this or that, and soon I was so full I felt like I was going to pop. Then, the final course came. Sweets and wine. A waiter poured a tiny bit of wine into my goblet. I simply looked at her. Lady Scarlett leaned over and said, “Taste it, and tell the waiter if you like it. If you don’t, you can sample another.” I tasted it. It tasted sharp, but had a hint of summer sweetness. I nodded. “This one’s fine.” The waiter poured more wine into the goblet, bowed, then moved on to Lady Scarlett. Another Waiter came over and asked, “Ma’am, would you like hard candies, fruit candies, soft candies, candied nuts and fruits, or a little of each?” Lady Scarlett leaned over and whispered, “Take a little of each. You want to try everything!” So I did. Five small bowls were placed in front of me. I saw a butterscotch candy and popped it in my beak. Yum. Pine laughed. “Don’t only eat the butterscotch! I’m sure you’ll find something you like even more! Everyone does!” So I picked up a candied blueberry. Sugar-sweet and blueberry-tart at the same time. I began to sample candies from each bowl. A hard candy in the shape of a rose. A small, purple, soft candy. A fruit candy shaped like a slice of watermelon. The list went on and on. And I did find a candy I liked more than butterscotch, a fruit candy in the shape of a strawberry. It tasted exactly like the plumpest, reddest strawberry ever. I loved it. Soon raptors stopped eating and just perched, talking and sipping wine. I was perching, taking tiny sips of what a waiter told me was wine made from the purple grapes that grew in the Queen’s Garden, when much to my surprise, the king said, “Hello, my dear. I don’t think we’ve met yet.” I nearly coughed. I swallowed my wine and said, “No, your Highness.” His eyes twinkled kindly. “Well, then….I’m King Douglass Sharp-Eyes, the 1st.” He smiled a bit when he said that. I bowed as best I could on my perch. “And I’m Amber………Amber Swift-Wing.” He smiled. “My son has told me about you. I was looking forward to meeting you.” I was so surprised I just stared at him. He chuckled. “I hope you know how to dance.” He winked, and then picked up his goblet. Dance? Was I supposed to know how to dance? I’ve never danced in my life! I just perched there, stunned. Then a Royal Announcer called, “Raptors of all ages! Now is the time you are waiting for! Please head toward The Circle of Pines! It is time for the dances to begin!” Everyone got up and flew toward the back end of the Castle. I flew next to Pine and hissed, “I don’t know how to dance!” Pine whispered back, “It’s easy, I’ll show you!” We landed in a large clearing in a circle of pine trees. The ground was dirt, and scattered along the edges were perches, tables with food and drinks, and, on one side, the band waited with interments. All the birds scattered to the edge of the clearing. The King and the Queen went out to the middle of the clearing, and the band started playing a slow, steady song. The King bowed to the queen, and offered her his left wing. The queen touched it with her right wing. Then they started to dance. They dipped and twirled, mirroring each other’s movements exactly. They never left the ground, and it was amazing they could be so graceful out of the air. Then Pine led me out onto the floor. He bowed and offered his wing, and I touched it with mine. “Just follow my lead.” He whispered. He stepped back and raised his right wing, and I did too. Then we were off, spinning, dipping, and raising our wings. It was easy, like Pine said. Soon more couples came out onto the dance floor. The song seemed to go on forever, and I loved it. I spun and dipped right along with Pine, and then the song stopped. I laughed and Pine joined me. Then another song started. This one was faster, and sounded……happy. Pine lit up. “Oh, yes! Come on, we have to dance this one!” He soared into the air. He grasped my talons. “This is an easy dance. A simple, five beat song. Like this:” He moved his wings and I copied him. “That’s it! Ready?” I nodded. “Just follow his beat: One two dah dah dah. Three four, dah dah dah.” Soon we were dancing with other raptors. Once, we spun past Niko and his partner. He grinned at me, and I grinned back. Pine and I danced song after song after song, and soon, it was Moon-up. We stopped for a break, heading over to a table with treats. I picked up a berry tart, and someone thrust a goblet into my talons. I hesitated then took a sip. Strong, bitter, and disgusting. I gagged, and Pine took the goblet from me. He smelled it, and then poured whatever was in it into the bushes. “That’s pine-nut mead. Very strong, and you get tipsy really fast.” He nodded toward a pair of Northern Goshawks clutching goblets. As I watched, they, sure enough, tipped over and lay there, giggling and laughing. I turned back to him. “Oh.” He handed me another goblet. I took a tiny, hesitant sip. Sweet, tart, and refreshing. He laughed at the look on my face. “Lemonade, a juice made from lemons. The owls bring them over.” He took another goblet. “Cheers!” We clinked goblets and gulped down the wonderful lemonade. The rest of the night, we danced, ate, talked and laughed with other raptors, then danced again. When the sun came up, I was exhausted, but elated. He smiled, and bowed. “I had a lovely night with you, My Lady.” I bowed to him. “The pleasure was mine, your highness.” He smiled and waved, then flew back to the Castle. I headed back to the hotel, and was met by father, holding our bags of stuff. I groaned. “Father…….I’m so tired. Can’t we leave……?” Dad sighed. “Amber…….. We would have left last night, only you can’t say no to a member of the royal family.” I grumbled but followed him into the air. I saw Niko leaving and I waved. He waved back, then we rounded the trees and the Market was out of sight. My wings ached, and I wanted nothing more than to fall asleep. I was soon panting, and thirsty. Father stopped in a fur tree and handed me a canteen of water. I gulped down half then handed it back to him. He tucked it in one of the bags then took off again. We kept flying, and around sun-up, Father called “Are you hungry, Amber?” “Ye-ye-yes!” I gasped. Father landed in a tree and handed the three bags to me. I took off my cloak and stuffed it in my bag, and I slung my bag over my shoulder. Father took off and winged his way down into the trees. I gulped more water, and I heard a loud alarm call cut short. Father came back and landed on the branch, passing me a small bird. I gulped it down, leaving a tiny bit for Father, than took off again. We reached our hollow a little after sun-high. Mother flew out to meet us. She looked us over and said, “Crispin, go perch at the table, and I’ll get you something to eat. Amber, go wash up, and I’ll get you some food, too.” I flew into the washroom and filled the washtub with cool, clean water. I stepped in and used a cloth to wash the dirt of my feathers. Once I was clean, I stepped out and ruffled my feathers, sending droplets of water onto the floor. I then tipped the water from the washtub down a hole in the floor that sends the water down a short fall then out the side of the tree. I used the feather-comb to smooth my feathers then stepped out. I hopped up to my place at the table and Mother immediately shoved a cup full of water into my talons and slid a plate full of meat in front of me. I ate meekly, while Mother chattered about how this family was moving, and that one had a new clutch of eggs, and Grandmother muttered about how Mother couldn’t keep her mouth shut. I ate as fast as I could and then bolted for my room. I shut the trapdoor and climbed down the stairs and crawled into my nest. Father had put my stuff there, and I promised myself I would put everything away when I woke up. Just as I was about to fall asleep, I heard Mother and Father talking.
Mother: “Did you meet the Prince?”
Father: “No. Amber seemed very happy when she got back, though.”
Mother: “I just don’t know. What if he’s horrible? Should I tell her not to see him?”
Grandmother: “Really, Marta! That’s very Osprey of you!” (Merlin’s don’t introduce any of their courters until they become mates. If they don’t, the parents might meet one the day after and never know. When they do choose a mate, there’s a big party with friends and family. However, I’ve heard Osprey’s choose their hatchling’s mate, sometimes before they’re even hatched)
Father: “Marta, honestly.”
Mother: Says something I can’t hear, and I then fall asleep.

I woke up around Moon-Down, silvery light casting shadows around my room. I climb out of my nest and begin to put the stuff I bought at the Market away. First, the cloaks go on a hook, the wooden Merlin I hang from the ceiling. The book goes on the table, and my almond candy tucked in among the moss of my nest. When I’m finished, I climb the stairs and opened the trapdoor. The fire’s out, but I start it. I head to the entrance to the hollow and fly out, hoping to see some bats that haven’t returned to the caves for winter. I don’t see anything. I’m just about to go back to the hollow, when I see a cave. There’s a waterfall that splashes into the river that empties into the lake that the creek comes from, and there’s a little cave in the cliff above the waterfall. I go in. It’s small, only big enough for a few things, but something about it……… I flew out and circle above the cliff that houses the cave. A small hill is just above the cave, and a tree is in the middle of it. I land in the tree and examine it. There. In the exact center of the tree, four branches snake up, and in the middle is the perfect spot for a nest. I glide down and land in the spot. Perfect. By now the sun is coming up, and birds are starting to come out. I fly out and easily grab an unsuspecting flycatcher it lets out an alarm call, but I sink my talons into its throat. It twitches, and then lies still. I race back to the hollow, pumping my wings, enjoying the chilly breeze that pushes at my feathers. I land and startle Mother and Grandmother, who are making hickory coffee. I place the flycatcher on the table, and say, “I think I found the perfect place to build a nest! It even has a cave below it to store food…..” Mother picks up the flycatcher and began to pluck it, looking interested. “Where is it, Amber?” “Above Whitewater Falls……..” I started to say, and then Father flew in. Blood caked his right wing, his and the right side of his face. Mother gasped and raced forward, while Grandmother just stood there in shock. “Crispin! What happened?” Grandmother demanded. “I was ambushed by a group of three Red-Tailed hawks. Two adults and a juvenile.” Mother snapped, “That’s not important! Amber, go get moss and fresh water!” I grabbed two buckets and launched out of the entrance. I swiftly flew over the forest until I was flying over the creek. I spiraled down and landed on the bank. I began plucking moss and putting it in the bucket as fast as I could. When it was three quarters of a way full, I grabbed the other bucket and filled it with water. I flew the one filled with water up to the hollow first, and then went back down for the moss. When I got back, Father was protesting it wasn’t as bad as it looked, Mother was franticly washing his face and wing, and Grandmother was calmly making breakfast. Mother stared at her, snatching the bucket with moss from me and starting to soak the moss bundles in the water. “Mother! Crispin is bleeding all over the hollow and you’re making breakfast?” Grandmother looked up calmly. “Marta, if you really looked carefully, you would see that the slashes on his face are very shallow, and he doesn’t have a cut on his wing. Mother looked and I looked. Sure enough, he didn’t have a cut on his wing. “How….?” Mother started to say, but Father cut her off. “The Red-Tail raked me with his talons and I flipped over and slashed him across his chest. His blood dripped down onto my wing.” Mother calmed down a bit. “Oh.” Father picked up a piece of the soaked moss and began to wipe the blood off his wings. I flew over to Grandmother. “How did you know he wasn’t hurt on is wing?” I asked. Grandmother chuckled. “See how the blood is on his feathers, and dried?” I nodded. “It would still be a bit wet if that much blood came from a wound on his wing, and the feathers would be soaked with blood, not just splattered.” “Oh.” I said. I was very confused, but I just said, “Makes sense.” Grandmother laughed. “Now, dearie, if you could just give the meal a stir……….” I did. See, you humans make oatmeal. We raptors make something like that, only not using oats. Today, Grandmother was using edible bark, leaves, and herbs. It was thick, gloppy, and dark brown. It smelled horrible. My stomach roiled and I nearly gagged. I gave it another stir then backed away. Grandmother had placed some flycatcher meat on the flat stone in the fireplace. She was humming. She flipped one of the pieces over and I saw it was blackened. I quickly said, “Uh, Grandmother, I just remembered I told Mica I was going to visit this morning.” Father hopped over, the slashes on his face clean and bandaged. He took one look at the meal and the meat and grumbled, “I wish I could use that excuse.” Louder, he said, “Be careful, Amber. Fly close to the ground.” I nodded and fled. I did fly close to the ground, skimming the grass as I headed toward Mica’s. Along the way I snagged a lazy thrush so I would have something to share. But right as I got there, Mica was flying out. I waved and called, and she spiraled down to meet me. “Hi, Amber!” She said. “Nice thrush!” I smiled. “Thanks.” I heard Mica’s Mother call, “Darling, have you left yet?” Mica called back up, “I’m leaving right now, Mother.” She turned to me. “I’m going to the marshes. Want to come?” “Sure!” I answered. Mica grabbed two buckets, and I took one. We flew over the forest and talked. I told Mica about my trip to the Market, Feya, and the Prince. She only seemed to listen to the meeting the prince part. She said couldn’t wait to meet the Prince. I protested she wouldn’t meet him unless we became mates, and I didn’t think that would happen. She just laughed. She said that her sister, Agate, now had chosen her mate, and they’re going to meet him tonight. “Mother’s going crazy. She wants everything to be perfect. She even got mad at me for growing ivy down the walls of my room!” Mica huffed and dropped a bit, then pumped her wings so she was flying level with me. “I told her that if she pulled it out, I’d make it grow on my ceiling, too!” I laughed. We kept chattering until we landed by the marsh. Mica said, “Mother wants as many dragonflies as we could catch some birds, and anything we could use to decorate the hollow. I pointed to a pretty purple flower sticking out of the lily pads. “Like that?” She nodded and plucked it. Soon she was trying to find as many flowers as possible, and I was flying around snagging dragonflies. A plump red one zipped in front of my face and I grabbed it. It was so…..perfect. I laid it gently on the top, wishing I could eat it. Mica flew over, her bucket overflowing with flowers. We flew back up to Mica’s hollow and her Mother took the buckets from us. “Hello, Amber.” She said. She looked…..oh, I don’t know. Frazzled. “Oh, nice dragonflies!” She said, “And lovely flowers. Now, do you think you girls could see about birds?” We nodded and left. “While we’re out here,” I said. “Do you want me to show you where I’m going to build my nest?” “Oh, Yes!” Mica said. I turned north and started flying toward Whitewater falls. We flew over the falls and Mica said, “Oh, in that tree?” I nodded. I showed her where the nest would go and the cave beside the waterfall. Mica sighed. “Oh, it’s perfect!” She we flew over the tree away from the waterfall. “And look!” I looked. A river snaked lazily through the trees, and there where birds everywhere. Mica and I grinned at each other, and then raced each other down. I saw a flock of starlings and I winced, remembered the last time I tried for a starling. But Mica breathed, “Oh….look how fat they are!” I sighed, but plunged. I flew under and a little in front of the flock, then flew straight up, grabbing one of the birds before the others could even call. Mica copied me, and soon, as well as the two starlings, we had three thrushes, a junco, and we teamed up together to get a crow. We went back to Mica’s hollow, and her Mother had us chop herbs and vegetables, pluck the feathers from the starlings and cut meat from them, and put everything in a pot of boiling water. She handed Mika and wooden spoon and told her to stir and me a knife and told me to cut strips of the crow to bake in the coals. As I was doing that, she froze. “Oh, Amber! I forgot to invite your parents!” She raced away, coming back with a hummingbird clutched in her talons. She wrote a note and sent the hummingbird away. “There.” She said, and went back to her own little whirlwind. The smell of roasting thrush, starling stew, and the sight of all those plump dragonflies on a platter made me so hungry. I hadn’t eaten the thrush I brought over! I had accidently left it at the marsh. I stared longingly at the Junco as I cut strip after strip after strip of crow. Finally Mica’s Mother came back and took the crow. She put it in a long, thin pot and put that in the fire, and then she shoveled coals over it. She tasted the stew and said, “Girls, you can split that junco, then go catch more food!” Mica and I looked at each other, then she grabbed the junco and we fled. We ate the junco under a tree beside Mica’s hollow. Soon there was nothing but bones and the leftovers. Mica scrapped those into small hole she dug and buried them. I yawned, and then said, “I know of a place to get birds. Want to go there?” Mica shrugged and took off, circling over the trees. “Sure.” We flew over the creek until we reached the lake. Mica’s eyes lit up. “Look! Killdeers! And look, sandpiper things! And look……!” I laughed. “Just look out. Some of these birds are like little watch-birds.” I spotted a Virginia rail and circled above it, then dived, talons extended. It didn’t stand a chance. It was almost the same size as me. Mica had snagged a killdeer. She looked thrilled. “Mother has to be content with this!” She crowed, landing on the bank. She cocked her head. “Ooh, look! A snake!” I perked up. “Snake?” Mica pointed, than looked disappointed. “It must have heard me. It’s gone.” I grumbled a bit, for I was still hungry. Mica sighed. “Ah, well. Snake’s most likely disgusting, anyway. Let’s get this back to Mother.” We flew back, and Mica’s mother snatched them. She cleaned the killdeer and stuffed it with herbs, then cleaned the rail and rubbed some kind of sauce into the meat and brushed it with spices. She lashed it to the spit. Mica edged around her mother, toward the steaming pot of stew. She stealthily snagged a wooden spoon and dipped it into the pot. Her mother turned and she started to stir. Her mother didn’t even notice. “Darling, please stir the soup, Amber, would you mind candying some dragonflies?” She handed me a pot of sugar then vanished behind a curtain. I heard water splashing, and the muffled thud of a bucket being placed on the floor. Mica hurriedly dipped the spoon into the stew and tasted it. She then continued to stir, but stealthily passed me a bit of meat. I popped it in my beak. I started brushing the dragonflies with water. Once they were lightly coated, I placed them in the sugar bowl and gently shook until they were coated. I then took them out and placed them on the table. Mica peeked out the door and called, “Mother! Father and the boys are back! And…someone’s bleeding!” Her mother was out of the hollow in an instant. “Oh, Chris!” They landed in the hollow. Mica’s father and her two brothers were bleeding from gashes on their wings and back. An uneasy feeling spread in the pit of my stomach. “Did……did red-tailed hawks do this?” I whispered. Mica’s father nodded. “We were attacked by six of them. Raiders. They had on bark armor and carried swords and daggers. We barely got away.” Mica’s mother was cleaning and bandaging the worst of the wounds, and said, “None of these are really deep, thank the stars.” She wrapped moss around Mica’s youngest brother’s talon, which was scratched and bleeding. Then, a young male and female Merlin landed in the hollow. “Father!” Agate gasped. “What happened?”

Pine perched, looking out the window in his nest-room. He was waiting for his sun-set meal. As he waited, he clasped his sword, Silver Moon. Something didn’t feel right, he couldn’t place a talon on it, but there was a little tickle in the back of his mind he’d felt for days. They’d been getting word that red-tailed hawks had been attacking travelers. That wasn’t like them. Every once and a while they would threaten and chase raptors away from what they considered their territory, but they never hurt any raptor worse than a few shallow scratches. This…….raptors coming to the castle healers with deep cuts on the back, wings, and face, a few missing eyes or talons. Lord Hawthorne had been dealing with it, but that didn’t feel right ether. The just that morning he had seen Lord Hawthorne talking to one of the hawks accused of attacking raptors very viciously. Lord Hawthorne had been scratching something in the dirt, than he had looked up and said something. The hawk had dipped its head, and then flew away. Lord Hawthorne had glanced around, and then took off, as if he didn’t want anyone to see what he’d been doing. Pine sighed, and then jumped when a smart knock echoed around the chamber. “You may enter.” He called, but he grasped his sword tighter. A servant came in and placed a plate with some raw sparrow meat and two little bowls filled with salt and pepper, a cup of water, and a goblet of wine. The servant bowed and left the room. He picked up the wine, thinking. He took a small sip. As the familiar, sharp yet sweet taste slid down his throat, he detected something…..bitter. He frowned at the goblet, and shrugged. Maybe they added an herb. He drank half in one gulp, and ate some sparrow meat. He was about to take another sip when a burning pain overtook him. He gasped and dropped the goblet, the red wine spilling around the wooden floor. He gasped for breath, and realized what had happened. Poison. He grasped for the water cup, and dumped the whole bowl of salt into the cup. His mind fuzzy with the pain, his tipped the whole cup of water and salt down his throat. He had remembered doing this as a hatchling to see what it had tasted like, and he hoped the same thing would happen now…… and it did. He vomited all over the floor. The pain dulled into a low throb. He gasped for air and closed his eyes. Lord Hawthorne must have poisoned him. Before Pine hatched, Lord Hawthorne was next in line for the throne, as the highest ranking lord. He must have been furious that Pine had hatched. He wanted king-ship. Pine leaped up. His parents! To be king, Hawthorne must first kill the current king and queen! He grasped his sword and flew as fast as he could out of his room. He flew down the stone hallway and up a flight of stairs. He flung opened the door to his parents room. A sob welled up in his throat. His mother was already dead, lying on the floor, her eyes closed and her wing flopping over her body. She could have been sleeping, if not for that awkward position. He also thought it father was dead, but then the king lifted his head and feebly said, “Pine….” Pine flew over. “Yes, Father?” The king said, “Fly……to…..the forest…….find……help.” The king raised a trembling talon and pressed something into Pine’s claws. “Be……brave.” Then he let out a deep sigh, fell back, and closed his eyes. The king was dead. Pine looked at what the king had pressed into his talons. A silver raptor with its wings raised and wearing a golden crown. The mark of the King. Pine tucked it into a pouch at his side and whispered, “I will make everything right.” Then he wiggled out the window and flew into the darkening sky.

The author's comments:
Do you see how I wrote 'Grandmother must have read my look. “Go, Amber.” She said in merlin. “Find him.”'? Normally it would have bee 'Twi-Twi Klee or whatever, but I'm not doing it this time.

That was a crazy night. At Mica’s hollow, Raptors, mostly Merlins, came from all over, and a few bore the scratches of red-tail's talons. Mother, Father, and Grandmother came, Father wearing a strip of fabric where the scratches were. Agate’s mate, Gregory Brown-Feathers, was very nice. He looked like he couldn’t believe his luck that Agate had chosen him to be her mate. Raptors milled around, eating the food and drinking wine and mead. Soon everyone was a bit tipsy. Around Moon-High, raptors started leaving. They thanked Mica’s mother and father, and wished Agate and Gregory good nesting. Just before we left, Mica flew over.
“I’ll meet you tomorrow at sun-high at Grass-Flower’s nest.”
I nodded. “See you then.”
I waved and flew after my family. About halfway back to the hollow, a heard a rustling in the trees above us. I caught a flash of red.
I slowed my flight and called, “Father? Did you see that?”
Father, Mother, and Grandmother turned and flew back. Then I heard a whistling sound. Mother cried out and began to fall. Just before she hit the ground, Father caught her. She was grasping something lodged in her wing. She pulled a small arrow out. Suddenly raptors were everywhere. Above us, around us. They were wearing red-bark armor and red-bark helmets. Most carried long, leaf-shaped swords, though some had bows and arrows, and a few had spears. The leader stepped forward. He looked down his beak at Father.
“We are under orders to take all raptors in this forest to the new king.”
“The new King?” Grandmother demanded. “What happened to King Sharp-Eyes?”
“Dead. Poisoned. The queen, too. The prince is possibly still alive, for we couldn’t find his body. However, he hasn’t come back to claim king-ship. So for now, King Hawthorne Strong-Catcher is on the throne, with his queen, Scarlett Brown-Wing. Now, fly!”
We didn’t have a choice. We lifted off. Blood was trickling down Mother’s wing, but she seemed to be able to fly fine. Grandmother looked shocked, and a bit sad. Father had a stony look on his face. Me…..well my mind was whirling. Lord Hawthorne must have poisoned the king, queen, and Pine. Pine might still be alive. If I could find him……I studied the hawks on either side. A hawk in front, and in back. Four on each side. They were flying in a diamond formation, us in the middle. Grandmother must have read my look.
“Go, Amber.” She said in merlin. “Find him.”
A hawk poked her with his spear. “What are you saying, falcon?”
I answered for her. “She is complaining her wings are aching. She says she’s not up to long flights anymore.”
The hawk peered at Grandmother, who was flying erratically, sometimes falling a bit, and sometimes beating a wing two times instead of one. The hawk snorted and looked back forward. That was his mistake. We were flying over dense forest, but I recognized it. I knew were we were. Sure enough, here came Whitewater Falls. Just as we flew over it, I tucked in my wings and dived. I heard angry screeches, and Grandmother yelling,
“Amber, go! Tell everyone Kli-Klee-Klee!” (In case you don’t remember, Kli-Klee-Klee means ‘danger’)
Two hawks broke off from the formation and flew after me. I shot down right in front of the falls, feeling the droplets of water hit my back, chest and wings. I heard the water hitting the river below. I closed my eyes and concentrated. I heard the panicked calls of the hawks as they franticly tried to stop falling. Just before I hit the water, I opened my wings. I skimmed the water, my talons and wingtips hitting the surface. The hawks were still pursing. They were strong, had weapons and armor, and there were two of them. But I had three things. I was built for speed. The armor weighted them down. And I knew this forest like the back of my wing. I flew between trees, dodging plants. I was heading for one place. It was crazy. I wasn’t sure if it would work or not. But I circled around and headed back toward the waterfall. I had talked to a traveling osprey about a moon back, and it had told me there was a cave behind the waterfall. Doing what I was planning to do could kill me. But I pumped my wings as fast as I could, gaining speed. The Hawks tore after me, but they couldn’t keep up. I reached the river and tore along above it. Soon, I saw the waterfall. I put my head down and closed my eyes and tucked in my wings….. And shot through the waterfall. I almost can’t describe what it felt like. For one, single, panicked second, the waterfall was pushing me down, threating to plunge me into the river and drown me. I panicked, opening my wings and pumping them, and it felt like they were going to be torn off. The power……the power was so incredible, it was amazing I made it through. But just barely. On the other side I fell toward the water, and I could barely pump my wings to reach the muddy bank. I landed, sinking talon-deep into the thick mud. I pulled myself out of it and onto smooth, damp stone. I nearly collapsed, but I turned and watched the thundering falls. The red-tails tried to make it through, but their armor and weapons weighted them down. They fell into the river, screaming in terror and fury. I walked two more steps up the stone, and then crumbled, falling into a welcome blackness.

I clutched the spear and flew low, barely above the ground. It was almost sun-high, and I was hoping Mica got away. I found Grass Flower’s family’s nests, but they were empty. I sighed, about to leave, but suddenly I heard,
I spun around, my spear pointing directly at…..Grass Flower. She backed up fast. I lowered my spear.
“Thank goodness! How did you get away?”
She sighed. “I was off hunting. I came back and saw the red-tails taking my family away. They even took the two unhatched eggs!”
She looked away.
“I hid.” She confessed. “In the tall grasses until they were out of sight.”
I nodded. “We were on our way back from Mica’s. I think the hawks were after the Cooper’s hawk family that lives near Rabbit Meadow. They got us instead. I managed to get away.”
Grass Flower sighed. “Oh.”
She looked at my spear. “I wish I had one of those. I don’t have anything but my Da’s old bow and arrows.”
Her eyes widened. “My Da’s old bow and arrows!”
She turned and disappeared. She came back a few second later. She had the quiver slung over her back, filled with arrows. She clutched the bow tightly in her talons.
“Can you shoot?” I asked.
She nocked an arrow and shot it. I heard a thunk and turned to see the arrow quivering, stuck in a knot hole of a tree.
Grass Flower grinned. “Da taught me how to use bows and arrows. I used to practice for hours until I felt like I could hit anything.”
I grinned back, but the smile slipped from my face. I heard a rustling in the grasses. In less than five seconds Grass Flower had another arrow nocked and I had my spear leveled at the sound.
“Who’s there?” I demanded, and a voice called, “Amber! Grass Flower! It’s me!”
Mica stumbled out of the grasses. Her chest was scratched and bleeding, but she was clutching a dagger, and one of the bags that the red tailed hawks had carried, like the one that was slung over my shoulder. She had a larger, bulging bag slung across her shoulder. She dumped it to the ground. It opened and food of all kinds spilled out, along with a few canteens.
Grass Flower gasped. “Where did you get all this?”
Mica shrugged. “I found it. It was in a hollow with some weapons. I took the dagger and this bag.”
I reached out and grabbed a junco. I examined it, turning it over in my talons.
“Do you think it’s poisoned?” I asked studying it closely.
Mica shrugged again. “I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m eating it.”
Grass Flower and I needed no other word. We were soon gorging ourselves on birds, small rodents, and bugs. There were four canteens; three were filled with wine, one with pine-nut mead. We dumped the canteens out and filled them with fresh water. Mica told us that her mother, father and brothers were taken; she got away by diving out of the formation like I did, though she lost them by flying into a thicket of brambles, not through the waterfall. When we had eaten all we could, we stuffed what was left into our small bags, and took off. Grass Flower stared sadly as her nest disappeared into the trees.
“Where do we go? We can’t stay here.”
“I have an idea.” I admitted. I looked sheepishly at Mica. “I met a kestrel while I was at the market. She’s very nice, and she told me where she lives.”
Mica’s eyes widened. “You… met a kestrel?! Are you crazy?!”
I flinched at the furious look on her face.
“She’s nice. She knows the island really well. She might know places where Pine might hide.”
I swear Mica’s feathers were turning red.
“Kestrels raided my family’s hollow while you were at the Market! They took all our food! Do you hear me Amber? Every. Single. Bite. It took Father and the boys a moon to regather all the food, and even then, some they didn’t!”
I sighed. “She’s okay, alright? Do you want help or not?”
Grass Flower piped up, “Kestrels are fine. Just because you guys are at each other’s throats, doesn’t mean we couldn’t use the help. Amber, you’re right. This kestrel could help. What’s her name?”
“Feya.” I answered.
Grass Flower looked at me. “Why do kestrels and Merlins fight?”
I answered. "I have never known.”
We flew in silence for a while. We reached Golden Grass Valley just before sun-set.
“Feya lives on Wildflower hill!” I called, hovering above the valley.
“There!” Mica called.
I saw a hill in the middle of the valley, covered in blue, yellow and red wildflowers. A tree grew at the very top of the hill.
Grass Flower winged her way over. “I’ll get her. You go wait…..somewhere.”
Mica and I eyed each other. It made sense. I spotted some tall grasses where we could easily hide. “There!”
Grass Flower nodded. She flew toward the tree, while Mica and I spiraled down toward the grasses.

Mica was still grumbling about getting help from a kestrel. Meanwhile, I spotted some grasshoppers and crickets. It was still warm for the middle of fall; it still felt like the end of summer, so all the bugs were still out. Soon I had a small pile of bugs, and was eating. I offered Mica a nice fat grasshopper.
“Want some?” I offered, munching on a couple of crickets.
She hesitated, torn between being frustrated at me and hungry for what might be the last good bugs of the season. She took the grasshopper. We were soon munching through my pile. Around just before sun-set, Grass Flower and Feya landed.
I grinned. “Feya!”
We touched wingtips.
Feya smiled happily. “Grass Flower told me about the problem while we flew over. I’m flattered that you thought to ask me. I have a few ideas about where the prince might be.”
Mica was glowering at Feya. “You do, do you?”
Feya’s warm smile faded, and her eyes flashed. “I know you! Your family raided my family’s nest!”
Mica glared right back. “Only after your family stole my family’s food!”
Grass Flower pushed in between them. “Mica, be quiet! We need Feya’s help!”
She turned to Feya. “Have the red-tailed hawks come through here?”
Feya shook her head. “I’m not sure that they will; only a few families live here.”
“Still,” I said. “We should probably get moving.”
“Wait.” Feya said. “I haven’t said I’ll come yet. What exactly are you doing? Grass Flower only gave me the part about Pine.” I told her everything.
She nodded. “I’ll come.”
I was shocked. “Really?”
Feya nodded. “Why not? My parents have been expecting me to leave any day now to find a nest. They won’t worry. Besides, it sounds like this Hawthorne is bad news.”
I nodded, and Mica said, “Then let’s go. Kestrel.”
She said the word Kestrel like it was the worst word she could think of. Feya ignored that.
Feya shouldered a small bad, and said, “The first place I can think of is Sky Cliffs, in the caves. Merlin’s like caves, right?”
“Not caves.” I answered, “But cliffs are great places to nest.”
Feya pointed south. “This way!”
I glanced at the sky. “The sun’s almost completely set. Do you want to travel through the night?”
Mica said, “The moon will be almost full. We’ll be able to see.”
Grass Flower agreed. I packed up the leftover bugs, and took off. We flew in silence, but I noticed Mica was clutching her dagger, and Grass Flower was clutching her bow in one talon and an arrow in the other. I nervously shifted my spear in my talons. Feya also seemed nervous. She kept glancing over her shoulder, and shifting her wings to fly a bit higher or lower.
“Do you feel like we’re being watched?” I asked under my breath.
Mica nodded. “I do.”
Suddenly, Grass Flower yelled, “Dive!”
We dove. Arrows whistled over our heads. Grass Flower flipped and shot an arrow back at the group of five red-tailed hawks.
One of them yelped, and their leader screamed, “Get them!”
My heartbeat quickened. Adrenaline coursed through my body, and I stopped diving and turned to face them. The leader dived at me, slashing with his sword. I stopped the blade with my spear, and thrust it clumsily. The leader laughed and slashed again, and I stopped the blade again.
“You are not a spear fighter, little Merlin. Submit now, and you won’t be hurt.”
“Never!” I shrieked, and called him a few names in Merlin that I’m sure if he knew what I was saying, he would have killed me then and there. He swung the sword at my talon holding my spear. The flat of the blade smacked my talons, and I yelped, letting the spear go. It fell toward the forest floor. I dove after it, but opening my wings when I realized it was useless.
The leader yelled in delight and threw his sword, aiming for my open wings. I banked, and shot out my talons. I caught the sword before it fell past me. The sword had a large, leaf-shaped blade that was very sharp. The handle was made of heavy, dark wood. It was heavy, but perfectly balanced. It felt a bit awkward in my talons, but better than the spear.
I laughed, and turned to the leader. He gasped, and his wings locked. He fell a little bit, franticly flapping them to gain altitude. He grabbed a spear from a passing hawk’s pack. We circled each other, our wings at times nearly touching. The leader thrust with his spear. I blocked it faster than I thought possible, and lunged forward. I cut the spear head from the shaft, neatly spun around and whacked the side of the leader’s head with the flat of my blade. The leader screeched in pain and started to fall, letting go of the spear shaft. The other hawks swarmed around him, clutching at him and carrying him away.
Grass Flower, Mica, and Feya flew up. Mica and Feya were covered in scratches, and Grass Flower was missing a clumped of feathers. Feya held a new sword and Mica also had a spear. Mica’s eyes widened as she took in my sword.
“Wow! How did you get that?”
I told her, and asked. “How’d you get your spear?”
Mica looked embarrassed. “Grass Flower hit a hawk in the wing with an arrow. It started to fall, and Feya and I chased after it and grabbed its weapons.”
I noticed that she and Feya seemed to be getting along fine. We were all very tired, but decided to fly a bit farther to find a place to sleep. We found a nice, tall pine tree with lots of thick branches. I found an abandoned crow’s nest, which I claimed, Mica decided to sleep without a nest, in a small cavity between two branches, Feya also slept without nest in a hollow. Grass Flower made a nest out of grasses under the tree. Soon, we were all asleep.
I woke up at sunrise to the cries of red-tailed hawks. I hastily got out of the crow’s nest, grabbing my sword and glided down to where Mica had slept. She was awake, clutching her dagger. Our eyes met, and we came to a silent agreement. I flew up to wake up Feya, and Mica soared down to wake up Grass Flower. When they were both awake, we flew silently two trees over and peered through the branches.
Mica whispered, “This must be a battle camp!”
I nodded, silently agreeing. We were looking into a large clearing, which was filled with raptors. Not just red-tailed hawks, but other kinds of hawks and falcons. No vultures, eagles, ospreys, or Merlins. Vultures are solitary, they are never around. Eagles and Osprey’s tend to chase raptors off rather than talk to them. Merlins would be furious that Hawthorne became king, and they weren’t looking for the prince.
But anyways, three tents where set up and raptors were building nests everywhere. All most all the red-tailed hawks had on red chest-plates and helmets, and what I guessed where juvenile red-tails had on red chest-plates with black helmets, but everyone else had on non-painted chest-plates and helmets. About two thirds of the raptors had both a sword and spear, and the other third had bows and quivers full to bursting with arrows. But that’s not what drew my eye. In one corner, there was a hawk. Its feathers were so dirty; I could barely even tell what color they were. It was scratched and bleeding, missing feathers in patches. A rope was tied to its left leg, which was tied to a tree. It looked up and saw me, meeting my eyes. I gasped. It was Niko.

The author's comments:
I can't remember if I mentioned it before, but Niko's a Rough-Legged Hawk. Look it up on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“We have to help him!” I gasped.
Grass Flower looked confused. “The prisoner? It would just get us caught!”
“But that’s Niko!” I protested. “I know him!”
Feya’s eyes widened. “That’s Niko? He used to travel through the valley every moon!”
I turned to Mica, my eyes pleading.
She sighed. “He’s not guarded, so we might be able to cut him free without being noticed.”
That was all I needed. I flew around the edge of the clearing, landing behind the tree where Niko was tied.
“Niko!” I hissed. “If you can hear me, give two tugs on the rope!”
He gave two tugs.
“Tug once for no and twice for yes! Are you hurt?”
A pause, then one tug, another pause, then two tugs. I guessed that to mean he was hurt a little bit, but not badly.
“Can you fly?”
Two tugs.
“Is anyone watching you?”
One tug.
“If I cut you free, do you think you could sneak away?”
A pause, then two tugs. Niko backed up until he was slumped against the tree. He made it look like he was so tired that he couldn’t stand up anymore. I tried to cut the rope with my sword, but that didn’t work. I was so worried I would cut Niko instead.
Mica landed beside me, and passed me her dagger. That worked better. Soon the rope fell away. A bit of rope still trailed from his talon, but he was free. He turned and slipped behind the tree. I carefully cut the rest of the rope away.
“Let’s go!” I whispered, and we took off.
We flew as fast as we could away from the camp. Grass Flower and Feya flew up to us. We flew low to the ground, just skimming the undergrowth. We didn’t hear anything from the camp. We just kept flying toward Sky Cliffs.
We reached them around Sun-High. We flew over them, and I gasped. The sea spread out before us.
“Wow.” I whispered.
Mica nodded, her eyes shining.
Then Grass Flower said, “We need to find a cave.”
That snapped me back to reality. We quickly found a cave, and we collapsed.
Niko spoke for the first time. “Do you have water?”
His voice was rough, like he hadn’t used it in a while. I passed him a canteen. He drank until it was empty.
Grass Flower studied him. “What happened to you?”
Niko shuddered. “I was flying my trade route, when a group of hawks ambushed me. They demanded I give them my all my goods for a gold coin. I might get ten gold coins on a bad route! But they heard I had worked for Midnight, and they demanded I give them everything.”
“And you still refused.” I guessed.
Niko nodded. “They took me as a prisoner. I’ve haven’t eaten a thing for two days, and only drank the tiniest bit.”
Mica passed him some shrew meat, some of the last from the food that she found. It was tough, bloodless, and looked awful, but Niko gobbled it down, as well as a whole mouse we didn’t get around to starting. He sighed, and took the water and moss Feya passed him to wash his scratches.
I peeked out the entrance, then said, “I’m going to see if Pine’s in any of the other caves.”
I flew out into the sunlight and winged my way along the edge of the cliff. I looked in cave after cave, but couldn’t find Pine. I had almost given up when I looked into the last cave. At first, it looked like it was empty. Then my eyes adjusted and I saw that really, the cave turned sharply east. I walked in farther, my talons clicking against the stone floor. I peeked around the corner. A small fire blazed toward the back, surrounded by stones. A nest made of moss was in the corner, and a bag was against the wall. I stepped in farther.
“Pine?” I called hesitantly, knowing it could also be someone else’s cave. I stepped forward again, calling, “Anyone here?”
Then I felt something sharp dig into my back, between my wings.
“Don’t move.” A familiar voice said.
I spun around; surprising him so much he dropped his sword with a clatter.
“Amber!” He gasped, his eyes wide with shock.
I wrapped my wings around him in a hug.
“How did you get away from the hawks?” He asked.
I stepped away and smiled. “I’ll tell you later. But first, I’m here with some friends. Feya, Grass Flower, Mica, and Niko.”
He picked up his sword. “Oh.” He said coolly. “You told me about the first three, but who’s Niko?”
“A rough-legged hawk I met at the market.” I answered.
Pine’s frosty look melted somewhat.
“Oh, okay. Just let me put out the fire……”
He headed farther in, grabbing a bucket of water from beside the door. He dumped it on the fire then scooped up his bag.
“”K. Let’s go.”
We flew out into the evening sunlight, Pine flying silently beside me. I landed on the ledge outside the cave, and Pine hesitated.
“Are you sure…..?”
But I grabbed him and dragged him inside. Niko and Feya were in there, Feya building a fire and Niko sharpening a long stick to make into a spit. Feya looked up. She smiled, then her eyes bugged. She bowed hurriedly.
“Your……Your Highness.” She squeaked.
Pine looked uncomfortable. “Just call me Pine.”
Feya nodded, her feathers bushing up in embarrassment.
Niko looked up. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Pine.”
He and Pine touched wing-tips.
I cleared my throat, then said, “Feya, where’s Grass Flower and Mica?”
Feya looked relived that she had something to say. “They’re out looking for fresh water and food.”
I nodded, and we stood uncomfortably for a second, then I heard the flutter of wings and turned around. Grass Flower landed with Mica right behind here. Mica dropped a sparrow, and Grass Flower a field mouse. They looked disappointed.
Grass Flower said, “Hardly any prey other than fish, and we both tried to catch one but we couldn’t.”
Mica, however, noticed Pine. She dipped her head. “Pine.”
Pine looked relived that someone had said his real name.
“I’m guessing you’re Mica?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
Grass Flower bowed to Pine. “Pine. It’s lovely to meet you. I am Grass Flower-Sway, but everyone calls me Grass Flower.”
Pine looked a bit surprised, but he dipped his head back. I was studying Mica. Normally she would have been star struck about Pine, but she turned to me.
“We flew all over the place. One little sparrow and field mouse was all we found. One! Not even a fresh-water stream!”
She had her dagger clutched in her talons. She slashed with it in anger and got it stuck in a root growing from the wall. She tugged it free.
“I can’t stand it!”
Pine stepped forward. “Where did you look?”
Mica spun on him. “We looked everywhere. If you know a better place, feel free to tell me!”
She glared at him, drawing her spear as well. “Oh, of course. I forgot! There’s only one of you! You don’t eat as much food!”
Pine backed up. Niko flew over and tugged the spear from Mica.
“Mica, it’s okay. Now that I think about it, I know an Osprey that lives around here.”
Mica whirled on him. “Where?”
Niko hesitated. “To the east. But we should probably wait until morning….”
Mica was already gone.
Grass Flower ruffled her feathers nervously. “We should go after her.”
But Pine stepped forward and stopped her. “Hawthorne’s Warriors fly by here about this time. They might ignore one raptor flying low, but five? They’ll be on us in a flash.”
“Who said five were going?” I answered, pulling on my black cloak.
Pine looked like he wanted to protest, but I tucked my sword under my cloak. Mica had left her spear on the floor, and I tossed it to Niko.
“In case they poke their beaks in here.”
I headed to the opening and flew out. The sun was setting, and I guessed I had a tiny bit of time before it set completely. I soared closer to the ground until the grass waved with the wind from my wings. I kept my eyes peeled for Mica. I spotted her flying up higher then she normally would, soaring, hardly batting a wing. I doubled my speed. Soon I was flying below her.
I noticed she was gliding down ever so slightly. Just enough that she was going down, but not enough for anyone to notice she was. She glanced down and saw me. She started to fly back up again but I tossed back my hood. She saw it was me and continued to glide down. I strained to listen for something that could be making her do this. Doing what she was doing was one of the Merlin’s favorite maneuvers. You glide slowly lower, so that when you reach someplace you can hide or get away from your follower, you can do a short dive and get away.
I listened harder. Then I heard it. Heavy wing beats. I listened even harder. They were coming closer. Soon I could hear heavy breathing, and the gentle clinks of metal against metal. Hawthorne’s warriors. I gasped, pumping my wings. Mica must have heard them, too. She stopped gliding and started flying down. I flew up, until I was side-by-side with Mica. She looked at me franticly. I unsheathed my sword, and she grasped her dagger. We whirled around to face the coming warriors.
My wings nearly locked with fear. Eight heavily armored red-tailed hawks.
The one in the led screamed, “Get them!”
He opened his beak, and gave the rasping, bone-chilling scream of an angry red-tailed hawk. The first two warriors crashed into us. The rest hung back, laughing. My vision went red. They though that they could beat us because they were much bigger than us? Think again! I slashed with my sword, cutting the hawk’s talons. It dropped its sword in pain, but drew its spear. It thrust it at me, and I blocked the tip, swiftly ducked under and cut the spear shaft in half. The warrior retreated, and another took its place.
This one thrust and slashed with incredible speed, and I parried franticly. It laughed, a cruel glimmer in its eyes. This hawk out-matched me with sword skills, and it knew it. It slashed its sword across my chest, and I gasped in pain as blood trickled from the wound. It wasn’t deep, thank the stars. I blocked a blow to my left wing, and got slashed across my shoulder. I nearly fell, the pain screaming up and down my wing and shoulder. I nearly threw up.
I knew the hawk was only playing with me, like a Hatchling might play with a grasshopper. I franticly jabbed with my sword, but my clumsy thrust was blocked easily. But, suddenly, I heard a whistling sound and the hawk cursed. He turned and I saw an arrow lodged in his shoulder. I looked past him to see Grass Flower, another arrow nocked and pointed at his chest. Niko, Feya and Pine were behind her. Niko looked grim as he held his spear level, pointing at the warriors. Pine and Feya held their swords up in a defensive stance, their blades crossed.
Grass Flower said fiercely, “Make one more move and you’ll get an arrow in your chest as well as your shoulder!”
The leader stuttered in fury for a moment, and bellowed, “Attack them!”
Suddenly hawks were everywhere. I blocked a swipe at my head and, in return, cut a gash in the attacker’s chest. Blood spattered against my feathers. Grass Flower shot until she was out of arrows, and then used her bow to knock an un-helmeted warrior on the head. Pine slashed and weaved, and I heard a few warriors curse or yelp, and fly away with bloodied feathers. Feya was quick, weaving in and out of the warriors, giving a quick stab or slash, and dart away, disappearing. Niko used his spear to jab. It didn’t cause much damage; because it had a blunt end, but I’m sure it still hurt because I heard plenty of yelps. I slashed at the leader, blocking a blow to my talons, when Mica was suddenly beside me, her dagger coated in blood. She looked scared and shocked, but she thrust her dagger. The leader backed off, his left wing bloody.
Mica spun to me. “I’m going to get help from the Osprey’s. I can see their watch-tree.”
She took off without waiting for me to say anything. My heart sank as I noticed they got reinforcements. The eight injured ones backed off to nurse their wounds, and eight new, uninjured, fresh, and completely armed hawks took their place. However, I noticed a few of the hawks were smaller, and wore un-painted breast-plates and helmets, or red chest-plates and black helmets. Juveniles and non-red-tails. Niko, Pine, Feya, and Grass Flower lined up next to me. Grass Flower had stolen a full quiver of arrows from a hawk, and had one nocked and ready. Her talons were bleeding, but she held her bow steady. Niko had a bloody streak across his back, but he looked better than I had ever seen him. Feya held her sword with confidence, though it drooped a bit because it was so heavy. Pine had not a scratch on him, but when he met my gaze it was clouded. He shared my fears. We would not be able to do this much longer. My wounds were still oozing blood, and my shoulder hurt so badly I could barely fly. But I lifted my sword.
The hawks crashed into us. I whirled and slashed, not going one-to-one. It was no longer a matter of not being captured or hurt; it was a matter of survival.
I faintly heard the leader yell, “No killing! You may wound them, but no killing! The King wants them alive!”
That comforted me a bit, knowing I wasn’t going to get killed, but terror still coursed through me. I blocked a blow to my wing and nearly yelled in pain when my talons were slashed. I let my sword fall. The hawk raised his sword and……was hit in the eye with a stone. I turned. Mica was there, six Ospreys behind her. Five of them held long, sharp swords and the leader had a sling-shot, with another stone ready and waiting. I nearly cried with relief. I flew over, my friends behind me. The Ospreys quickly chased off the rest of the hawks. The leader came forward. He looked us over, his eyes settling on Pine.
His eyes widened. “We need to get you to Fisher. Now.”

The author's comments:
Fisher's staff is carved with pictures of Osprey's flying, catching fish, building nests, and stuff like that. Everything that's importuned to an Osprey.

I barely made it to the hollow of one of the Osprey’s trees before my wing gave out. The cut was throbbing so badly I could barely move it.
The leader looked us over. “I’ll get Fisher. You wait here.”
He flew off.
Feya fidgeted with her sword. “Should we fly away?”
Niko shrugged. “I guess Fisher is the new Clan-Leader. I haven’t met him, but the old leader wouldn’t have chosen a mean Clan-Leader.”
Pine was looking at me, concerned. “Besides, I don’t think that Amber will be able to fly any time soon, and we’re safe here.”
Mica and Feya nodded.
Grass Flower said, “But, once we can go, what to do we do? Just fly around the island and hope not to get attacked?”
Pine quieted. His gaze met mine. I dipped my head.
He lifted his head. “We find other birds that managed not to get captured. We can’t be the only ones. We get enough to fight, and we train them. We must find a way to get Hawthorne off the throne. Kidnapping….. Well, I have a feeling this is only the beginning.”
Everyone nodded grimly. A voice said, “Well put, Lad.”
We turned. An Osprey was leaning against the entrance to the hollow. He held a carved staff in his talons, and had a bag slung across his shoulders. His yellow eyes glittering kindly. He stepped into the hollow.
“Fisher Deep-Diver, Clan Leader.” He gave a short bow.
Pine stepped forward. “Prince Pine Wind-Rider the 3rd.”
He went around introducing all of us. As he finished with “……And Niko Wide-Wing.”
Fisher nodded. “Well, Lad, I must say this is a surprise. Everyone thought you were dead.”
Pine nodded. “I almost was.”
Fisher straightened up. “However, we must talk. You want to launch an attack on Hawthorne?”
Pine nodded, “Yes, sir.”
Fisher dipped his head. “We will talk this over later. Why don’t we get you younglings to the healer and to some nests?”
Two Ospreys flew in and Mica, Pine, and Feya were led one way, Grass Flower, Niko and I the other. We landed on the ground beside a twig hut. The Osprey pushed the curtain aside, and we walked in. It was about the size of a large hollow, with baskets arranged neatly around the walls. A fire with a pot over it burning in the middle of the room. A female Osprey turned. A single feather on her head had been dyed green, the symbol of a healer.
She looked us over. “Right. You, step forward.”
Grass Flower stepped forward and held out her bloody talons. The healer cleaned the dried blood from her talons then washed the cuts. She spread a paste on them, and bandaged them tightly. After Grass Flower flew out, Niko stepped up. The cut on his back was washed so thoroughly he was wincing, the paste spread, and bandaged. When he left, I stepped forward. The healer took in my blood-splattered feathers, and drooping left wing.
Her eyes narrowed. “Come into the light, young-one.”
I stepped closer to the fire. The healer took a wet cloth and cleaned my feathers and cut. Her eyes narrowed even farther when she got to the cut on my left shoulder.
She spread some weird-looking paste on my shoulder, bandaged everything, and then said, “No flying for at least seven days. And after that, don’t fly really far or it will open back up. Then it might get infected.”
She shooed me out and said, “Really, don’t even fly up to get food!” She pulled back the curtain.
It took a moment for my eyes to get used to the night, but I set off walking. As I looked around, I saw that there were latters everywhere. The Ospreys knew how to climb up and down them, and there were also candles lighting pathways. As I walked down the path, I noticed Ospreys were flying or walking toward a platform between four tall trees. As I got closer, I noticed a latter led up to it. I watched a few hatchlings climb it, and when they got to the top, grasped the bottom rung. I pulled myself up and nearly tipped off. I grasped another rung with my beak and hauled myself up that way.
When I pulled myself on to the platform, I saw it was a long table filled with food. Ospreys filled plates and perched around the edge, laughing and talking. I peered around, looking for my friends. I spotted Mica and headed over.
She grinned at me. “Isn’t this place awesome? It’s like a mini-market!”
“You got that right, Lass.” I turned. Fisher was behind us.
“Fill up a plate, younglings. I understand if you don’t want raw minnows, but we have pickled seaweed, sea urchin soup, boiled crab, smoked salmon……..”
I took the plate he offered me. I went down the table, looking at all the food. There were plates stacked with whitish meat, bowls full of pale broth, and platters lined with fish. About midway down, I bumped into Niko, and it turned out he knew what was what. Soon my plate was filled with smoked salmon, spicy kelp, and pickled seaweed. I was also given a goblet of water.
Fisher soon appeared waved us over to some perches. I hopped up next to Mica and tried my food. The salmon was okay, and the pickled seaweed was salty and sharp. The kelp was super spicy and very good.
Mica tried her food and declared that it “wasn’t as good as sparrow, but was still good.”
Fisher chuckled and took a sip from a goblet. I raised my goblet to my beak and took a sip. I was about to say something when someone gave a small cough.
Fisher turned. “Ah, Aqua, my dear! Come meet our guests!”
Aqua dipped her head and ruffled her feathers. “Actually, I can’t. I just came to tell you that the meeting hollow is ready.” She bowed, opened her wings and flew away.
Fisher turned to us. “My beautiful mate, Aqua Golden-Eyes.”
He got up. “Now, we have a lot to talk about, and it’s almost moon-up. Let’s go talk, shall we?”
He led us on the platform past the food tables, then up a ramp that wound around a tree. At the very top, there was a sea-green curtain hanging in front of a hollow. Fisher pushed it aside and gestured for us to go in. Niko ducked in first, followed by Grass Flower, Mica, Feya, and Pine. I stepped in last. The hollow was small, with a few perches and a table in the middle of the room. A few candles burned on flat pieces of bark scattered around the room, so the whole hollow was bathed in flickering yellow light.
Fisher stepped in and let the curtain fall. “Choose a perch.”
He hopped up on the one nearest the table, and rested his staff against the wall. I hopped up on one, and Pine chose the one beside me. Mica and Niko were across from me, and Feya and Grass Flower were next to Fisher. There were still three empty perches. Fisher waited until the curtain was pushed aside. Aqua and two other Ospreys walked in. They chose perches.
Fisher said, “You already know my mate, Aqua, but this is my daughter, Pearl Creamy-Feathers…..”
He gestured to a beautiful young female with dark, chocolaty feathers on her back, wings, and stripes on her face, and lovely creamy white feathers on her chest and head.
Fisher smiled, and said, “And Pearl’s mate, Luke Wind-Master.”
He gestured to a huge male Osprey. Luke dipped his head, and Pearl lifted a wing.
Fisher turned to me. “Now, Lass, tell me your story.” I told him everything. By the time I had finished, it was Moon-High. Fisher looked thoughtful, Aqua and Pearl were nodding their heads, and Luke was gazing at me with narrowed eyes.
I said, “Please, sir, we must get Hawthorne off the throne.”
Fisher straightened on his perch and turned to Pine. “So, Lad, what you are saying is that you want to fight Hawthorne?”
Pine nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Fisher said, “But the only thing he has done wrong is poison you and the king and queen. That’s bad, but you must know it’s not uncommon to try. Taking raptors in, also, you must know that many kings have done that.”
Pine nodded. “Yes, sir, but you don’t know Hawthorne like I do. When I was a Hatchling, my parents instructed me to follow him around, learn some things about how the castle worked. But he didn’t. Instead, he would treat me like a servant, and if I did something wrong, I would often get wacked with his wing or pinched by his talons. He would terrify the servants, maids, and cooks, often slashing at them with his talons if they got in the way. He also told me that if I told my parents about any of it, he’d throw me in the dungeon. He’s cruel, vicious, and uncaring. If he is king, there is no telling what he would do.”
Aqua turned to Fisher. “Can you argue with that?”
He shook his head. “No, my dear, I can’t.”
He turned back to Pine. “I’ll tell you what, Lad. I will gather some of my Ospreys and we will help you form a battle camp. Do you have any place in mind?”
Pine nodded. “I will draw you a map, showing you where to go.”
Aqua stood up. “Fisher, it’s getting late. Why don’t I take these younglings to a hollow and you can talk in the morning?”
Fisher glanced outside. “Oh, yes. Pine, why don’t we talk in the morning?”
Pine nodded, “Yes, sir.”
Fisher dipped his head, picked up his staff and flew out of the hollow. Luke and Pearl also left.
Aqua bowed and said, “Follow me.”
She walked down the ramp that led to the hollow and onto the now empty meal platform. From that platform she stepped onto a bridge and walked across it. The bridge was made of long, woven strips of bark and was held up by ropes. Niko stepped on last and his eyes widened when it bounced a bit. He broke into a wide grin. He opened his wings and lifted into the air. Knowing what he was about to do, I hurriedly stepped off the bridge. Niko landed hard on the bridge. It gave a huge bounce. Feya dug in her talons at just the right time, so she only wobbled a bit, but Grass Flower lurched to the side and nearly tumbled off. Mica did tumble off. She nearly hit the ground before she managed to stop falling. She flew back up and wacked Niko with her wing.
“Idiot!” She shrieked, as well as a few insults in Merlin. Pine, who had gotten off the bridge before Niko landed, was laughing.
Aqua served this through narrowed eyes. “Younglings…..” She muttered, than continued walking down the other bridge.
We followed her. She stopped outside a hollow with a green curtain hanging in front of it. She gestured to Niko and Pine. “Your hollow.”
They went inside, and she led us to another hollow. “You three can stay in here.” She said, gesturing at me, Feya, and Mica.
She turned to Grass Flower. “You can too, if you wish. Or we can find you a place on the ground.”
Grass Flower decided to go see if there was anything on the ground. Mica, Feya and I stepped into the hollow. Candles filled it with a soft, flickery glow. Three nests were in the hollow. Feya climbed into one, and feel asleep. Mica climbed into another and soon she was also asleep. I climbed into the last one, but it didn’t feel comfortable. I twisted and turned. I couldn’t get comfortable. I hopped out. I flew around the room, blowing out the candles, when I noticed a single candle was in a small alcove. I clawed my way up, using vines growing down the walls as talon-holds. The candle was at the very edge, but behind it there was just enough room for me. I blew out the candle and set it on the floor. I climbed back up, and before I knew it, I was asleep. I woke up at sunrise and scrambled down to wake up Mica and Feya. They both groaned but got up and began smoothing their feathers. I smoothed mine as best I could, and then brushed some dirt off my bandages.
Feya yawned and said, “I hope we’re not doing much today, I’m so tired.”
Mica agreed. I, however, was feeling fine. I wanted to fly. But I couldn’t until I got these bandages off. I experimentally fluttered my wings.
“Ow!” I yelped, and stopped. My shoulder ached with pain.
Feya turned. “You can’t fly?”
I shook my head. “The healer said I can’t.”
Mica fluttered over. “That’s too bad.” She then pushed aside the curtain and nearly ran into Niko.
He stepped back. “Sorry, Mica.”
Mica glanced for him to the prey he held in his talons. He passed her a junco. She tore into it, and I came over to get some, too. Feya got a shrew. When we were finished,
Niko said, “Fisher says to meet him in hut 1-4. He says it will help us.”
I stepped forward, “Hut 1-4? Where is that?”
Niko shrugged. “Fisher says it means hut number 4 on the ground. He says the Healer’s hut is hut 1-7. Do you remember where that is?” I nodded.
Niko stepped back. “Lead the way.”
As I stepped out, I noticed Grass Flower and Pine waiting. I led them down the walk, across the platform that had held the food the night before, and managed to climb down the latter without breaking anything. I led them down the path until we were in front of the Healer’s Hut.
Pine pointed to a small stake with 1-7 painted on. “I’m guessing we just follow the sign posts.”
We walked down the path until we found 1-4. Fisher, Luke, and Pearl were waiting. Fisher leaned on his staff, Luke had a bag slung over his shoulder, and Pearl had a on a sea-green chest-plate and a matching helmet on the ground in front of her.
Fisher straightened up when he saw us. “Younglings. Welcome to Hut 1-4. Come inside.”
He pushed open the curtain and we stepped inside. It was filled floor-to-ceiling with weapons. Swords, daggers, spears, bows, quivers full of arrows, knives, and small darts.
Fisher said, “Mica, Pine, and Grass Flower, you are the only ones that have weapons that really work for you, though Grass Flower, you might want some new arrows. The rest of you, fly around, see what you can find.”
Grass Flower almost immediately found a quiver full of arrows that didn’t have the stone heads. She looked at Fisher.
“Why don’t these have heads?” She asked. He came over and examined them.
“We don’t us stone heads. They take too long to sharpen. However, sharping wood is very easy. They’re still quiet sharp.”
Grass Flower nodded and took the quiver. She slung it over her back. Feya was examining swords. Soon she found one that looked like it was made for her. It was short, and in Niko’s claws it would have looked like a dagger. Niko was examining everything. He grabbed a spear and jabbed with it, then brought it up in a defense position. He didn't look happy, though. Fisher came over and gently took it, and handed Niko another one.
Niko grinned. “This feels better.”
I was looking at the swords. I tried short ones, long ones, heavy ones, light ones. None seemed to be right for me. Finally, I found one. The blade was almost exactly the length of one of my wings, and it was slender, the shape of a blade of grass. The hilt was made of pale brown wood, and wrapped in green fabric. I raised it. It was lighter than I expected, and perfectly balanced.
Fisher flew over. “That sword fits you.”
I smiled, and raised the sword. Then I winced. I had had to flap my wings to keep my balance, and pain had coursed through my shoulder. Fisher narrowed his eyes, but didn’t say anything. When everyone had found a weapon they liked, Fisher pulled something out of a box. He opened it. In it where knives in several different sizes, though all were small.
“This are battle knives. I want you to learn how to us these. In a battle, if you’re disarmed, these could save your life.” He put the box back. He then turned to me.
“Let’s fit you with armor.” We wandered over and Fisher pulled out un-painted helmets and chest-plates.
He turned to me. “Hold out your wings.”
I did, wincing. His eyes were drawn to my shoulder. Blood was seeping through the bandages.
“I forgot to tell you, Amber, but I talked to the Healer and she said she would be willing to do something to your shoulder to make it heal faster.”
I perked up. “Really?”
He nodded. “Come with me.”
He led me out of the hut and toward the Healer’s. He pushed aside the curtain and called, “Seaweed!”
The healer stepped out. She saw me, and looked at Fisher. He said something in Osprey. She shook her head and responded. He fluffed up with feathers menacingly, and twitched his staff, snapped something.
She sighed, and turned to me. “Come over here, and hop onto this perch.”
I did as I was told. She started her fire and brought water to a bowl, pouring it into the pot over the fire. She walked over to a shelf and brought a bottle down.
She passed it to me. “Drink it up, every last drop.”
I looked at it. It was the sleeping potion. I sighed as I smelled its disgusting scent. But I brought it up to my beak and gulped the potion down. Soon I was feeling light-headed and I nearly toppled off the perch. The blackness washed over me. The healer fluttered over and caught me seconds before I hit the ground.
The last thing I remember hearing was her saying, “Fisher, tell me before you want me to do this.” Then I was blissfully asleep.

The author's comments:
I'd thought I mention this, but I made Amber smaller than a normal female Merlin. She's about 9'5 inches, and most female Merlins are around 11 inches. Pine is about an inch taller.

I woke up to sunlight streaming through a curtain hanging over a door, turning the light pale green. I was lying on my back, my right wing tucked against me, my injured left wing stretched out. I struggled to get up, noticing that my wing didn’t hurt as much. I got to my talons, noticing that the bandages across my chest and talons were gone. I turned my head to see my shoulder. It was bandaged with fresh strips of cloth, and no blood was soaking through. I felt a bit weak, but I started walking in circles around the hollow, stretching my legs. Soon, I was feeling pretty much normal.
I walked over to the door and peeked out. Sun hit my face, but there was a cold wind blowing. It was Sun-Up, and I was up in a tree facing toward the forest. A bark bridge led to a platform in another tree, which had a latter going to the ground. I walked down the bridge and onto the platform. I was about to climb down the latter when a voice said, “Oh, good! You’re awake!”
I turned. Pearl was landing on to platform. She smiled. “You’ve been asleep for, oh, five days now.”
I was shocked. “Really?”
She smiled. “Every time it looked like you were about to wake up, Seaweed poured more of that potion down your throat. She said if you stayed still you would heal faster. Sometimes she would also force some prey down your throat.”
I was still a bit shocked, but I said, “Oh.”
Pearl laughed softly and started to climb down the latter. “Come on, your friends have already started training.”
As I followed her, I realized I had never heard her speak before. Her voice was soft, almost musical. Not the deep, rich voice of other Ospreys. I stepped onto the ground and followed Pearl down the path, heading toward the water. We stopped when we reached a tall stack of black rocks. Pearl easily climbed up, and I followed, finding talon-holds. When we reached the top, I saw a sandy beach, with Fisher, Luke, Grass Flower, Mica, and Niko. I didn’t see Feya or Pine, until Pearl gestured up. I looked up.
Feya and Pine was sword fighting high above. As I watched, Feya lunged, making a wide sweep with her sword which Pine blocked. But something about the swords didn’t look right. Pearl answered that question before I even said anything. “They’re fighting with wooden swords so they don’t hurt each other.”
I nodded. As I watched, Fisher bellowed, “Feya, concentrate! You could have easily knocked his sword aside when you swiped at him! Pine, don’t let her get beneath you! Block her way with your sword!”
Pearl smiled at me, and then soared down to land beside her mate and father. I picked my way down the rocks and walked over.
Fisher turned. “Ah, Amber! How do you feel, lass?”
“Pretty good.” I admitted.
Fisher studied me. “Flap your wings.”
I flapped them. I winced a bit, because my injured one was sore and stiff, but flapping it didn’t send the jittery pain up and down it like it had before.
Fisher nodded. “She stitched you up nicely, then.”
“She……stitched me up? Like a feather pillow?” I asked.
Luke laughed. “Amber, healers can stitch up a large wound to make it heal faster. That’s what our healer, Seaweed, did to you.”
I was still a bit shocked, so I just nodded. Just then, Niko, Mica, and Grass Flower wandered over.
Mica threw her wings around me in a hug. “I’m glad to see you’re awake!” She stepped back, grinning.
Grass Flower nodded. “We haven’t seen you since Fisher took you to the healer’s.”
Niko, however, simply nodded at me, then turned to Fisher. “Permission to intervene, sir!”
Fisher nodded, “Permission granted. Mica, Grass Flower, you help Feya.”
They nodded and took off, flying into the sky. Fisher turned to me.
“We are training. Pine and I have talked, and we have decided to set up a battle camp. You six will recruit as many birds as you can. I will take some Ospreys and start building the camp. Since you are awake, you will begin training this afternoon, after Seaweed as looked at you.” He turned to Luke. “Find Seaweed.”
Luke saluted. “Yes, Sir!” He flew off.
Fisher turned to Pearl. “Lass, go get some food.”
Pearl nodded.
“Of course, Father.” She left, too. It was then when I realized how hungry I was. I looked around for something to eat, but didn’t see anything. I just stood there.
Fisher was watching the fake battle, his eyes fixed on them as he said, “A spy broke into the Castle. We think he found your parents and Grandmother.”
I was shocked. “Really? Are you….are you sure?” My talons came up and I clutched the feather hanging from my necklace as guilt washed over me. I hadn’t really thought about my parents since they were taken away.
His eyes still on the sky, Fisher nodded. “A small female, a bit bigger then you. A male with scars going over his eye on the right side of his face. An elderly female with short wings and long tail, with eyes like yours, more dark brown than black.”
I nodded franticly, desperately trying to speak. Finally, I choked out words. “That’s….that’s them. How….did the spy say if they were okay?”
Fisher sighed and turned to me. “Lass, he said that they were in the dungeon, with other Merlins and raptors who defied Hawthorne. He said they were underfed, thin, and their feathers were dull, but otherwise they seemed healthy.”
I sighed in relief. “Sir….are we going to rescue them?”
Fisher stared back at the sky. “Hopefully, Lass. Hopefully.”
Just then, Pearl landed with a bulging bag. As she landed, it tipped over. Fish spilled out. I looked at Fisher. I remembered I was hungry.
“Permission to eat, sir?” I asked, copying what everyone but Pearl was saying.
Fisher smiled faintly. “Lass, you don’t have to call me sir until you start training. And eat up.”
I pulled a small fish out and ripped it open with my talons. I leaned down and took a bite. The meat was soft, almost mushy, and salty. I started coughing on a scale. Pearl pulled a canteen out of the bag and tossed it to me. I caught it and gulped some water down.
Pearl smiled as I coughed, spitting out the offending scale. “Any type of new prey takes some getting used to, Amber. I’m sure if you handed me a bird, I would be coughing on feathers and choking down flavorless meat.”
I nodded, and steeled myself to take another bite. Pearl and Fisher each chose a fish. Pearl also pulled a small bag of salt out and sprinkled it over her fish. She passed it to Fisher, and he sprinkled even more salt.
I watched with wide eyes. “How can you eat so much salt?” I asked.
Fisher actually laughed. “An Osprey is hatched loving salt, lass. Their first breath is salty air; their first food is salty fish, their first catch is in salty water. I can’t think of any Osprey who does not love salt.”
I nodded, gulping down another bite of fish. Then I heard from above, “Permission to come and eat, sir!”
Fisher looked up and called, “Permission granted!”
They spiraled down and landed. Feya and Pine saw me and rushed over.
“You’re awake!” Feya said, and reached to give me a hug, but Pine beat her to it. He crushed me in a hug, and said, “I’m so glad you’re okay.” Really softly. Then he noticed everyone staring.
He stepped back, his feathers ruffled in embarrassment. I’m sure mine were, too. Fisher was leaning on his staff, his eyes narrowed a bit, and Pearl had a small smile on her face, but when I looked at her, her smile vanished. Soon everyone was done eating, and Luke had arrived with Seaweed. When she landed,
Fisher called, “Everyone, get back to the battle!” So everyone but me took off.
I walked over to Seaweed. She unwrapped my bandage and examined the spot where I was cut. I looked, too. A row of neat, even stitches were on my shoulder, and Seaweed examined them. She then bandaged me up again. “You can start flying very short distances, but don’t work too hard. It’s healing faster than I expected, so I should be able to take the stitches out in two or three days.”
I nodded. Seaweed looked around, then turned back to me. “Stretch out your wings.”
I did as I was told. Pain tingled at my shoulder, but it wasn’t bad. It was more like it was sore from being in on place for two long. Seaweed looked my wings over. “Go climb onto those rocks and soar down.” Until Sun-Down, Seaweed had me do stuff such as go into low hovers, fly short distances, and come out of a low dive. When she was satisfied, and had flown away, Fisher came over and passed me a wooden sword.
“I’m going to show you how to block attacks from the air. You never know when your wings might get injured.” He showed me how to hold the sword to block an attack, and how to duck and dodge. He also showed me how to stay balanced without moving my injured wing.
“Hold the weapon in the talon on the same side as the injured wing. Use your other wing to keep your balance.” He looked up. “Niko! Come and attack Amber!”
Niko soared down and hovered about a Bald Eagle’s wingspan above us. “But what if I hurt her?” He asked. “Sir.” He added.
Fisher stared at him levelly. “Then she gets sent back to the Healer’s. If you were Hawthorne’s warrior, you wouldn’t be worrying about that! Attack her!”
Niko pumped his wings and flew up higher. He dived and slashed with his sword. I brought mine up and there was a loud “THONK!” of wood against wood. Niko slashed again, and I blocked, and Fisher said, “Lass, use his height to your advantage! In the sky, you always want to be above your opponent, but you’re on the ground!”
I knew what he meant. I dodged another slash and stabbed my sword upward, jabbing Niko in the stomach. Niko let out a wheezing sound and sank toward the ground, gasping for air. Pearl was laughing so hard she could also barely breathe. Niko pulled himself up and managed a small smile.
Fisher also had a small smile on his face. “Lovely, Amber. Niko, get in the air again.”
Niko beat his wings and hovered above me.
Fisher said, “Lass, do that move again. Niko, when she stabs upward, bring your sword down sideways and hit her hilt hard.” Fisher stepped back.
I brought my sword upward and stabbed, and Niko swung down to hit my hilt. He aimed wrong, though, and hit my blade. My sword scraped across Niko’s chest feathers. Niko’s wing-beats faltered for just a second, but that gave me enough time to slash at his talons holding his sword. He dropped it.
Fisher stepped forward. “Lad, concentrate. Aim for the hilt. Don’t be afraid of hitting her talons! Do it again!”
We did it again. And again. We did it until Fisher was satisfied that I could dodge on the ground as easily as in the air, and Niko could block attacks coming from the ground. Then we switched positions. Once we were done with that, Fisher called everyone down. Niko and I fluttered over, and everyone else landed. Pearl passed out cups of water and slivers of raw fish while Fisher said,
“Now that Amber is training, we will also start with more lessons. Not just battle training. You six are going to be the leaders of this camp, and you are not yet in your second year! So, you need to learn.”
Feya protested, “Sir, how can we lead a battle camp? Why can’t you?”
Fisher leaned on his staff. “Because lass, you six have fought more times in the last few days than most raptors have in their lives! And I’m an Osprey. We keep to our own land. Most raptors will not listen to me. Pine was the prince, the rest of you are skilled fighters. You will earn respect.”
Pearl stepped forward. “We will still be with you, and we will fight with you. But you have a better chance of earning the loyalty of warriors than we do.”
Fisher nodded to his daughter. He turned to us. “We will bring weapons, and armor. Also our best blacksmith, carver, and healer, as well as the fighters.”
Pine dipped his head. “I don’t know how to thank you, sir.” Fisher nodded, than beckoned to Luke.
Luke stepped forward. “You will have lessons in battle strategy, battlefield healing, talon-to-talon fighting, weapon work, as well as other things. Right now, we’re going to be doing weapon work.” He passed out helmets and chest-plates.
I slipped mine on as Luke said, “First, you should get used to flying with armor on. I guarantee you’ll be wearing it a lot.”
We lifted into the air. Immediately I was buffeted by the cold winds, tugging at my feathers. I caught an updraft and spiraled into the sky, laughing with delight. The armor was heavy, and as I tried banking turns and tight spirals and rolls, I found I couldn’t move as easily as I would have liked, but I could fly. For the first time since my shoulder got injured, I could really fly. I landed.
Luke said, “Let’s try battle knives, shall we Fisher?”
Fisher nodded. “Wooden, first. We don’t need to give Healer more work.”
Luke produced some tiny wooden knives, and gave two to me and two to Pine. “These are battle knives. You use them in close range, stabbing, not slashing like you would a sword. For most raptors, these are a last resort. You use them if your normal weapon has been knocked away.”
Fisher stepped forward. “We will train with real battle knives later. First, we use wooden ones. Take to the air, you two.”
Pine and I lifted off, hovering about a Red-tailed hawk’s wingspan above them.
Luke stepped forward. “These knives are for mostly offense, not defense. However, if both raptors are fighting with battle knives, you have used them for defense. They are often given to small, quick-flying raptors- like Merlins -that can slip under a larger opponent’s sword and stab them. Pine, you ready?”
“Ready, sir.” Pine answered, bringing his knives up into a defensive position.
“Amber? Are you ready?” Luke asked. I nodded. “Ready and waiting, Sir!”
Luke stepped back. “Begin.”
I swooped at Pine, and he brought both his knives up to block my attack. He ducked and swooped under me, coming up behind. I spun around in time to block a blow to my wing as I stabbed at him, my blade making a clunk sound when it hit his armor. He backed up, ducking my blows. A few slammed into his armor.
I faintly heard Luke yelled, “Offense! Offense, Pine! Don’t just back up and block her!”
Pine must have heard because he lunged forward, both knives aimed to strike at my chest. I brought my knives up and locked our blades together. Pine tugged, but couldn’t get free. I got my blades free and before Pine could even blink, one of my knives was at his throat, the other at his chest, pressed against the wooden armor.
Luke called, “That was wonderful, Amber! Come on down, you two!”
I spiraled down, Pine following me. I landed in front of Pine, skidding a bit on the smooth pebbles. Fisher fixed Pine with a level, yellow gaze. “What did you get wrong, lad?”
Pine straightened. “I treated the knives like they were meant for protection, not attacking. I only blocked Amber’s blows, and I only attacked Amber once or twice, while she only blocked me when she had to.”
Fisher nodded, and said, “Right. Meet me here tomorrow at Sun-Rise. Bring your weapons.” He pressed the sword from the armory into my talons, winked, and then flew away.

The author's comments:
I know this is it a mini-chapter. It's going to be the first of a few chapters that are from Lady Scarlett's point of view.

A large, red-tailed hawk perched on the King’s throne, a scarlet red clock arranged on his shoulders and a crown rested on his head. Beside him perched a pretty female, her cloak a lighter red, her crown slightly smaller. The male, who was Hawthorne, rested his talons on the hilt of a large sword as he watched out a window, seeing the warriors, his warriors training.
He turned to the female. “The ones we’ve brought from the forest are training well. The only ones we’re having trouble with are the Merlins, but that’s to be expected.”
The female, Scarlett, shifted uneasily on her perch and smoothed a wrinkle on the edge of her cloak.
“My king, surely we don’t have to keep the ones that are resisting you in the dungeon? Perhaps we keep them as servants, or cooks…..”
Hawthorne snorted. “And give them a chance to poison me? I think not! They believe I was the one who poisoned the king and queen! I didn’t!”
Scarlett wanted to believe him, but she noticed the cruel light that danced in his eyes. It seemed like it was always there, except when he was looking at her. He seemed to notice her unease, because he reached over and patted her on the talons.
“Don’t worry, my dear. I’ll make sure the ones in the dungeon are treated well, even though they’re prisoners.”
Scarlett still felt uneasy, but she nodded.
She took a deep breath, “My king, who do you think poisoned the king and queen?”
Hawthorne looked at her. His eyes met hers. Everything said honesty. “The prince. When I looked after him when he was just a hatchling, he was power-hungry. He must have poisoned the king and queen, and then fled.”
Again, Scarlett wanted to believe him, but his eyes gave him away. They had shown with the cruel, power-hungry light.

The author's comments:
I though I should clear this up, because I might forgot! Each type of raptor speaks in its own language, or 'tongue', but they also speak a language know by most raptors on the island that is called 'Common Speak', 'Common Tongue', or 'Commons'.

We’ve been with the Ospreys for almost a moon, now, and it seems like we’ve learned everything. How to fight with swords, battle knives, daggers, spears, staffs, and talon-to-talon combat. We’ve learned how to shoot arrows, throw darts, and use sling shots. We’ve learned how to heal simple wounds and sicknesses, how to fly and fight with armor, and how to set and avoid traps. I often went with Pine to talk to Fisher, to strategize, and I often thought about my parents. Soon, whenever I was upset, I would rub the feather on the cord around my neck.
Then, one day, Fisher called us up to his nest. Aqua was there, as well as Pearl and Luke.
We perched around the edge, and Fisher said, “It is time for you to go. I will meet you at the battle camp at the next full moon.”
Pine dipped his head. “We thank you for teaching us, sir.”
We turned to go, but Fisher stopped us. “Lads, lasses, wait. There is one more thing to teach you.”
We turned around, slightly surprised. Fisher’s eyes met ours, one at a time.
“You do not need to kill to win a battle. A true warrior knows when he or she beaten. And there is no true victory from an enemy if you stab them in the back. It is cowardly. You are saying you aren’t brave enough to fight them face-to-face. Remember that, never forget.” He turned. “You may go.”
Pine and I glanced at each other, and then lifted off, flying away from the Osprey’s camp. We soared on the gentle currents, hardly batting a wing. Each of us had our main weapon (Swords for me, Pine, and Feya, a spear for Niko, bow and arrows for Grass Flower, and a dagger for Mica), as well as a small battle knife slipped in a concealed hole in the side of our bags where we could reach it easily. Our bags had canteens with water, a bit of fish wrapped in dry seaweed, and Pine had a letter to give to the eagles from Fisher. Feya flew up so she was beside and a little under me.
“Look, is that an eagle?” She hissed.
I waggled a wing to show I heard, than spiraled upward on an updraft over the ocean. Sense I was a bit higher, I could see a tall tree where a large eagle perched, waiting.
I soared down and said, “Yep. It didn’t take as long as I thought.”
We reached the tree. The eagle looked down its large, bright yellow beak at us.
“How may I be of service?” It said, as though it was bored.
But I noticed its talons rested on a branch that was too smooth to be natural. I guessed it was a sword hilt, or at least a sharp spear.
Pine stepped forward and gave a short bow. “We are here to see your clan-leader.”
The eagle looked him over distastefully. “I see. What do you wish to see her about?”
Pine took the letter from Fisher from his bag. “Fisher…..uh, Sir Deep-Diver wishes your leader to read this note.”
The eagle took it, and examined the wax seal, and ran his talons along the edge. He placed it in a space where two branches split. “All looks to be in order.”
He lifted his head and let out a shriek. An answering shriek returned, and the eagle turned back to us. “One of my colleagues will take this note to our leader.”
Pine dug in his bag and produced a few copper coins. He handed them to the eagle. “Thank you, sir.” He bowed again, and then lifted off, the rest of us following him.
Grass Flower was confused. “Why didn’t we see the leader, Pine?”
Pine banked steeply so we were flying over the ocean. “The Bald Eagles ….are a suspicious brunch. Even more than Vultures. Fisher said it has taken years for them to even trust him.” Grass Flower still looked a bit confused, but nodded. “I see.”
Niko flew up so he was flying over us. “Fisher said to also seek out a Golden Eagle named Coin that lives around here.” Pine nodded. “He said follow the ocean until we’re flying Crab Point, and then turn steeply inland until we reach a meadow in the shape of a wing.”
Niko banked until he was flying below us. “It should take about a day and a half. I’ve flown this route before. We should get about three-quarters of the way there by sun-set. There’s a village at crab point, you know…..where traders live when they’re not doing their route.”
Pine nodded, and we flew in silence.
It was sun-set by the time we stopped to rest. Feya was scouting ahead, and I heard a shrill, “Kli-kli-kli!” (She translated it for me. There’s no word for it in this langue, but basically, it means ‘Ahead!’ In Kestrel)
Pine and I glanced at each other, and then sped up. Feya was circling high above, her eyes fixed on the ground. A small hut was on the ground, and smoke was spiraling up from a stone chimney. Pine and I grasped our swords and dived. Everyone followed us. I unsheathed my sword and Grass Flower nocked and arrow, which she pointed at the door. Pine knocked, and the door swung open. A Turkey Vulture stood in the doorway. She was stooped with age, and had a ragged, rough-looking cloth cloak around her shoulders.
She looked Pine over. “Hello, dearie. What can I do for you? You have a cough you can’t cure? An infected scratch that won’t get better? A sore wing that makes it hard to fly?”
Pine looked a bit bemused, but he gestured for me to sheathe my sword, and Grass Flower lowered her bow. “No, Ma’am, we simply need a place to rest for the night.”
Suddenly Niko pushed forward. “I know who you are! You’re The Healer!”
The vulture came forward and stared with squinted eyes at Niko. She muttered to herself and put on a pair of spectacles. “Ah! The young trader who gave me these!” She tapped her spectacles. “Come on in!”
She shuffled inside. We followed. The hut was warm, heated by a fire in a stone hearth. The walls were covered with shelves, which were stacked with leaves, stems, berries, roots, and bottles and jars. The Healer grasped a knobby stick which she used to gesture at a few perches on one side of the hut.
“Please. Choose a perch, dearies.”
There were three perches, and Pine, Niko, and Feya each got one. Mica, Grass Flower and I were fine on the floor. The Healer peered at us through her spectacles, her eyes narrowing.
“Now, I know the young trader, there, such a nice and polite hawk. Nothing like those red-tails who’ve been pounding on my door.” She snorted, and peered at us with renewed interest. “Who are the rest of you?”
I stepped forward. “I’m Amber Swift-Wing, Ma’am, and these are my friends, Mica Black-Eyes, Grass Flower-Sway, though we call her Grass Flower...Feya Shiny-Feather, and Pine Wind-Rider.”
The Healer examined each of us closely, than leaned on her stick. “I see. Well, dearies, you look worn out. I’m afraid the only food I have would not be appetizing for you, but you often see small water-birds down by the shore, and there might be a few mice sheltering from the rain under my porch.”
Mica stood up. “I’ll go.” She offered, and left.
The Healer turned to Niko. “Dearie, would you mind adding a log to the fire? I’m feeling a chilly breeze.” She turned to me. “Your wing seemed a bit stiff. I might have a salve that will help.”
She began bustling around, cheerfully calling instructions to Niko. Finally she came up to me with a paste. She parted my feathers and examined my scar. “Got stiches have you?” she asked. “Neat, even row….small scar….but still a bit stiff.”
She spread the paste on my shoulder. It was cool and smooth, like wet mud. “This should help the stiffness, dearie.” She stepped back and leaned on her staff, looking me over.
Niko came over, trying to brush bits of coal dust off his wings. “Ma’am, you’ve got a fire started.”
She turned to him. “Good, good. Maybe I could warm these bones up a bit.” She hobbled over to the fire.
Pine cleared his throat. “Ma’am, do you know a place we could spend the night?”
The Healer stared at him. “Why, of course! I’ve got a few blankets to make into nests, and I understand Merlins and Kestrels are fine without them.”
Pine dipped his head. “Thank you, Ma’am.”
Just then, Mica appeared, and dropped a bird on the floor. She ripped a few pieces of flesh off and offered them to The Healer.
The Healer shook her head. “No, no, dearie. To me, there’s nothing appetizing about something that’s been dead for only a few minutes. Perhaps I can find a carcass tomorrow.”
Mica looked slightly sick, but she passed out a few bites of bird flesh to everyone. When we were done,
Mica turned to The Healer. “Do you have a waste pit?”
The Healer nodded. “Of course.” She hobbled over to a flat, round stone about the size of an Eagle’s talons, next to the fireplace. “Can you help me move this?”
Niko and Pine went over and heaved it up. Mica went over and dropped the bones of the prey in it, then hurriedly backed away. Pine and Niko set the rock back down. Oh the smell! It was awful!
The Healer, however, said, “I had a Burrowing Owl that came over with the owl traders a few years ago dig that. He was such a gentleowl! Didn’t even ask for a cent!”
She pulled out some worn blankets and handed them to us.
“What about you, Ma’am?” Feya asked, taking the smallest blanket.
The Healer patted Feya’s head with a slightly ragged black wing. “Oh, that’s sweet! Don’t worry about me, dearie, I’ll be fine.”
So we made a nesting-place anywhere we could fit. The Healer stashed herself in a nick in the wall I hadn’t noticed. I yawned. I was exhausted. Before I knew it, I was asleep.
I woke up in the middle of the night, with The Healer standing over me, and whispering, “Wake up, Amber! Dearie, you must wake up!”
I opened my eyes and stared at her. She was clutching a candle in her claws, which sent a flicking glow around her featherless face.
“A few warriors are outside, come, come.”
I followed her as she set the candle down and headed soundlessly across the dirt floor. She pushed aside a boulder, which, to my surprise, had a hole under it; my friends, our weapons and packs were already in there. Pine gestured for me to come in. I hopped in, and the healer moved the boulder over the hole. A small crack at one corner let sound in.
I heard The Healer open the door and say, “My, my, what are you two doing out so late at night?”
I heard one of them laugh, and say coolly, “None of your concern, Vulture. We demand food and a place to rest until we get our breath back.”
The voice sounded……familiar.
“You demand a place to rest and demand food to eat?” The Healer asked, and I imagined her pushing her spectacles up and peering at them.
Another, deeper, rougher voice said, “Yeah. Are ya goin’ ta oblige, or should we….persuade ya?”
The other voice snapped, “Hush! Sheathe your weapon.” then it said, “Vulture, you must listen and obey. We are two of King Hawthorne’s warriors.”
I heard The Healer mutter something, tap her stick against the floor, and let them in.
I heard something clatter, and one of the warriors snap, “Watch where you’re going, vulture!” and a smacking sound.
I heard Grass Flower suck in her breath, and Mica unsheathe her dagger.
Pine whispered, “Stay down!” and I hissed, “Be quiet!”
I listened harder.
The Healer was bustling around, and I heard her say, “Here’s something to eat. I’m sure you’ve worked up a mighty big appetite. I don’t have anything newly killed, but this is my freshest meat.”
The warrior with the rougher voice said, “Thi’ is disgustin’!”
I heard something shatter against a wall, and The Healer say, “Oh, is that really necessary? Dearie.”
She said the last word like it was an insult.
The warrior snarled. “Wha’ are ya anyways? Half raptor an’ half furless rat?”
The Healer’s voice got cool. “I’m a Turkey Vulture, if you please. Now, if you insist on being rude to me, I must ask you to leave.”
I heard the warrior snarl and unsheathe a sword.
However, the other warrior said, “Lower your weapon.”
“Bu’ Mi’night….” The other whined.
I caught my breath. Midnight. I heard something shatter.
The Healer’s voice was tight with anger, and she snapped, “This is my hut, youngling, so sheathe your sword and be quiet!”
Suddenly sound erupted all around upstairs. I heard the angry shrieks of red-tails, clashing and shattering of glass, and The Healer saying, “Stop! Stop!”
I felt around the dirt floor, and my talons wrapped around the now-familiar hilt of my sword. I unsheathed it in a smooth motion, and crouched down, ready to shove the boulder aside. But Niko grabbed one wing and Pine the other. I tried to twist away, but nearly yelped when I did. It felt like I was pulling my wings off.
Pine leaned over and hissed, “You’ll get killed! You’ll get The Healer killed!”
Suddenly, Mica, Grass Flower, and Feya were behind me. “Not if we help her.” Mica vowed as her voice became tight with anger as the hawks crashed around above us.
I broke free, and Feya and I shoved the boulder aside. We exploded into the room, our weapons raised. Midnight had a battle-knife pressed against The Healer’s throat, his eyes glittering and his face cold. Grass Flower shot an arrow which lodged in Midnight’s talon. He shrieked. A battle-scarred Red-Tail spun around the room, knocking jars from the shelves. I lunged forward and blocked him from knocking down a shelf.
He stared at me, then narrowed his eyes. “Ya wanna fight me, younglin’? Ya don’ look older than half a moon!” He taunted, swung his sword, and I blocked it.
The warrior was strong, and I struggled to keep my grip.
The hawk’s eyes narrowed. “Ya wanna play, do ya?”
He yanked his sword away and aimed a blow at my head. I parried it and slashed at his left wing. He leaped back, then stabbed at me. That’s how the fight went. Swing, block. Stab, block. Slash, block.
Then the hawk made a mistake. He flew at me, his wings wide. Instinctively, I brought my sword up. The hawk let out an ear-splitting screech and backed franticly away, rasping in pain. I watched in terrified awe as blood ran down his feathers. I glanced down. The tip of my sword was covered in blood and feathers. I backed away, horrified. The hawk reached up and grabbed his shoulder, and blood seeped through his talons.
The hawk sneered. “Ya may have won this one, but ya won’t win the war!”
He swung his sword and knocked down a row of burning candles. I gasped, but couldn’t stop him in time.
Then I heard Pine’s voice. “Amber!”
I spun around. Midnight was gone. But I gasped and rushed over. Feya was clutching bloodied talons.
The Healer was free. She had a bag slung over her shoulder. “The Hut’s burning, dearies. Let’s get Feya out of here.”
We got outside just before the roof collapsed. Flames licked at the sky, as the hut burned. I watched for a second, and then turned to Feya.
The Healer was examining Feya’s talons, she make a clucking sound and said, “It’s a deep cut, and will need to be stitched. “ She dug around in the bag. She handed Feya a clear bottle, with a little less than a mouthful of clear liquid inside. “Drink that.”
Feya tipped it down her throat, shuddering at the taste. I guessed it was a sleeping potion, because soon she started to sway. Pine and I lunged forward and caught her, a split second before she hit her head on a rock. We set her down and The Healer came over, leaning on her staff.
She turned to Niko. “There’s a stream a bit inland, dearie. Would you mind getting this cloth wet? And filling that bucket?”
She handed them to Niko, and with two strong flaps of his broad wings, Niko took off. He hovered above our heads for a moment, then flew away.
The Healer examined Feya’s talons. “She’s lucky she didn’t lose any talons. Battle Knives are dreadfully sharp. Deep cut, but clean, not ragged. No broken bones.”
Niko came back and landed next to The Healer, dropping his stuff. The Healer pulled a small bar of soap from her bag and washed her talons, then took the cloth and began cleaning the blood from Feya’s talons. I wandered away, to where the hut was still burning.
I let the heat wash over me, savoring the warmth. A cold wind had started to blow off the water, and it chilled me to my skin. I reached up and grasped the feather in my talons, rubbing it thoughtfully. Pine soon joined me.
He looked at me. “You look cold.”
I ruffled my feathers up and nodded.
He pressed against me, saying, “I am, too.”
For the first time, I noticed Pine was bigger than me, the top of my head came up to the bottom of his. I didn’t care.
We stayed like that until I heard Niko say, “Feya’s waking up!”
I fluttered over. Feya had a bandage around her talons, and she still looked a bit groggy.
The Healer looked pleased with herself. “Keep that that on for at least half a moon, dearie. And be very careful not to reopen the wound.” Feya nodded, and with the help and Grass Flower, pulled herself to her talons. She winced, gingerly stepping forward.
Pine dipped his head to The Healer. “We owe you thanks, Ma’am.”
He pulled a silver coin out of his bag, but The Healer waved it away. “It’s fine, dearie. I’m happy to do it.” She glanced at the sky. “I must be going. I’ll meet you at the camp in a quarter-moon.”
She took off, heading away from the water. I glanced at Pine.
He nodded. “Yep, she agreed to join us. Apparently she hasn’t been treated well by the Warriors stopping in.”
Niko grunted. “We’d better get going if we want to reach Coin by sun-high.”
Pine nodded, and slung his bag over his shoulder. “Does everyone still have their stuff?”
We all nodded, and Grass Flower muttered, “Well, most of it. Some of my arrows burned.”
Pine took off with two flaps of his wings, then spiraled into the sky. I followed him, enjoying the warm updrafts the fires sent into the sky. I soared up higher, flying after Pine.

The author's comments:
I was going to call Coin pyrite, but I thought Coin might be better because he's not a fool, and his gold patch is more pale brown then golden.

Pine landed in an oak tree, studying the surroundings. “Coin should live right around here. There’s the meadow, I see a platform in a tree…..He’s just not here right now.”
Niko shrugged. “Then can we hunt? I’m starving!”
Grass Flower shook her head. “Golden Eagles are very……uh….picky about who hunts in their territory. We might even be chased off, just being here right now.”
Pine nodded. “There are four simple rules that you have to follow if you want to get along: Take any food you are offered, even if you’re not hungry. If they are full-grown, address them by their true name, unless they tell you otherwise. Don’t mention they aren’t golden. And, most importantly, don’t ask about their family. Golden Eagles pride themselves on being loners, or pairs.”
Mica nodded, and Feya murmured something.
Niko took off, and hovered above us. “I see someone!” He called down. “It’s carrying some large…..maybe a marmot.”
I heard the challenging scream of the Golden Eagle, and an answering whistle from Niko. I saw the eagle land in a clearing, and drop something large and brown, then turn and study the trees where we were perched.
“I won’t hurt you.” He called in a deep, smooth voice. “You can come down.”
We fluttered down, landing in front of who I guessed was Coin. Pine gave a short bow, and then introduced all of us.
Coin dipped his head. “I am Coin Large-Wing, thank you, Prince. Nice to meet you at last.” He tore off a bit of meat and offered it to Pine. “Care for something to eat? A nice, fat hare. Caught it just moments ago, so it’s still a bit warm.”
Pine took the meat. “Thank you, Large-Wing.”
Coin turned to us. “Go and hunt. It’s fine, Prince and I have some talking to do.”
Niko needed no other word. He took off, and disappeared into the trees.
Feya followed him, glancing over her shoulder at us. “Are you coming?”
Mica took off, circling around the clearing. “Come on, Amber! It’s been a long time since I’ve had a nice plump sparrow!”
I hesitated, glancing at Pine. He waved a wing. “Go on, it’s fine.”
Coin nodded. “I won’t harm him, Swift-Wing. You may go.”
I took off, following Mica and Feya.
Feya heading toward another meadow, where she circled slowly above it, her eyes peeled. I heard her muttering something, flying lower to the ground. Suddenly, she tucked in her wings and plunged into a short, steep dive. She came up with a mouse clutched in her talons.
She landed on a branch of a tree, and offered it to me. “There’s plenty more. The field’s full of them.”
I shook my head. “You eat it. I’m craving some forest bird. I’ve been living on sea birds, and they’re too bitter. Maybe’s it’s the salty air. Anyways, there’s nothing like a juicy sparrow or a plump starling.”
Feya shrugged and tore off a bit of meat, gulping it down. Mica took off, heading toward denser forest, but I flew higher, looking for high-flying birds. I only saw a duck. I didn’t like duck. The meat was too tough and had a slightly bitter taste to me. As I soared, I watched Niko flying after a squirrel, weaving through the trees, and I saw Mica grab a finch. My stomach growled, and I wondered if I should take Feya up on that offer of a mouse after all. Then I saw it. A pigeon was in a tree.
I’d never caught a pigeon before; they were bigger than me, about the size of Pine. I turned away, but, as if my wings had a mind of their own (controlled by my stomach), I suddenly turned and plunged. The startled pigeon took to the air, and I shot after it, zooming around trees and over undergrowth that got in my way. I gained on the pigeon, shooting right under the branch were startled Mica gasped, leaped into the air and joined me. Soon I could reach out and grasp the pigeon’s tail-feathers. Mice flew in front of it, and it franticly spun around….and flew right into my talons.
I landed, and called, “Ki-ki-ki kee-kee! Ki-ki-ki kee-kee!” (Caught prey! Caught prey!’ Or, if defending freshly caught prey, ‘Prey mine! Prey mine!’ In Merlin)
Mica joined me on the ground, her eyes wide as she took in the fat bird. “Wow! Well-spotted, Amber!”
I was about to dig in, when I hesitated. “Coin shared his meal with us. Should we share our meal with him? I mean, we did catch it on his territory.”
Mica shrugged. “You caught it. You would have even if I hadn’t helped you. Besides, I’m not done with my sparrow. You can take it.”
She waved a wing cheerfully and took off. I headed back to the clearing, where Pine and Coin were finishing up the rabbit. I landed beside them, placing the pigeon on the ground.
Coin turned, giving the pigeon a quick once-over. “Swift-Wing, hello. Care for a bit of rabbit?”
I took the piece of rabbit he offered, and tore a piece off of the pigeon, passing it to him.
He dipped his head. “I thank you, Swift-Wing.”
We both ate our pieces of prey. Pine joined me in eating the pigeon.
As we shared, he said, “Strong-Wing has agreed to help us.”
Coin nodded. “They have been bothering me to join them. When I refused, they began to torment me! One even grabbed a talon-full of my feathers!” He huffed, turning to show us where a patch of rich brown feathers had been torn from his tail.
“Makes ruddering a chore. But I would be glad to help.” He glanced at the sky, bowed to Pine, and said, “Prince, right now would be the best time to travel. If you will wait while I pack a bag, I will be ready.”
Pine dipped his head. “We will be waiting, Strong-Wing.”
After Coin left, Pine raised his head and called, “Twi-Twi Mica! Kli Klee!” (Calling Mica! Come! In Merlin)
I listened and I heard, “Twi-Kli! Kli-Kee-Kli!” (Others Coming.)
Pine turned to me. “Do you want more pigeon?”
I shook my head. “I’m stuffed. Maybe Niko will want some.”
Just then, Feya landed in front of us. “Nice pigeon! Can I have a taste?”
I nodded and pushed it toward her. Using her talons to hold it to the ground, she ripped off a wing. She began to eat.
“Do you want more?” I asked. “There isn’t much meat on the wing.”
Feya shook her head. “I’m good. I’ve just never tried Pigeon before, and I’m still a bit hungry.”
Niko landed just then. “Hey, pigeon! I haven’t had some of that meat in a long time.” He ripped the other wing off and started eating. I wrapped the rest of the meat up in a couple leaves and stuck it in my bag. Mica landed last. She tossed something to Pine. He caught it, and turned it over in his talons. A tiny silver charm in the shape of a sword.
Pine looked at it. “Hawthorne used to wear a charm exactly like this, except golden. I bet he’s giving these silver ones to his warriors.”
Coin landed in front of me and next to Pine. “Yep. Every single one I’ve seen has one of these.” He took it from Pine. “This is what I do with the ones I find.” He threw it as hard as he could.
Mica cheered, and Feya clapped.
Coin gave a small smile and said, “I will accompany you to the camp.”

The author's comments:
I've been wanting to do a bird with a very strong accent for a while, now. I decided on a Red-Shouldered Hawk because I felt like they should have something that made them stand apart from Red-Tails. Also, young hawks are normally called 'eyases', but Hawklets is easier to remember.

Wind buffeted all around me, threatening to blow me off course. Freezing rain pounded my wings and back, reminding me of the day I flew through the waterfall. I narrowed my eyes, catching a glimpse of the tawny feathers at the back of Coin’s neck.
I heard a loud “Kaaaar!” from Niko, somewhere above me, and an answering yelp from Coin.
Suddenly Mica was beside me, battling her way through the wind. “First storm of fall has to be a rain and windstorm.” I heard her gasp.
I answered a questioning call from Pine, replying that I was fine, and then said, “At least the red-tailed warriors won’t be able to see us.”
Mica sped ahead.
I shrieked “Coin!” and he fell back.
Before we left, he had giving us permission to use his first name. Anyways, he came back until he was beside me. “In this wind, we wouldn’t know if we were passing over the camp until it’s too late! I’m going to see if I can reach the ground and get a bearing.”
Coin nodded, and with a few pumps of his strong wings, he vanished. I heard him calling out to Pine and Feya, who were in front. I tucked my wings and dove. Suddenly the tree-tops were visible, and I pulled up sharply, landing in a big old oak tree. I huddled against the trunk, for the tree had lost its leaves. I wiggled into a crevice between two branches, where it was only damp, not soaking wet. My feathers were drenched almost to the point of not being able to fly, and I was exhausted.
Glancing at the sky, I saw everyone else slowly flying down, being pushed by the wind. Mica was the first to land, two trees over. I called her, and she flew over. She sank her talons into the wet bark, squishing herself into the small space beside me.
“What I wouldn’t give for a nice roasted starling.” She murmured, watching as Pine, Feya, and Niko squished themselves into a hollow.
I sighed. “A moss blanket.” I said dreamily. “A cup of mint tea and a thick slice of berry-nut bread.”
Grass Flower landed with an “Oomph.” On the branch in front of us, and Coin the one above.
“What are you trying to do?” She asked cheerfully. “Make me hungry?”
Coin’s voice rumbled from above. “Too late. I’m already starving.”
I heard Pine call, “We’re about a half-day’s slow flight from the camp. Do you think we can make it?”
I heard Niko say, “If it means I can get dry, I’d fly to the moon.”
Coin laughed. “Well said, Niko!” He took off again. “Lead the way, Prince. To food and a dry nest we a-go!”
I sighed but wiggled out and dove off the branch, skimming the dirt. It was less windy down here, but still wet. I heard Mica, Pine, Niko, and Grass Flower behind me. Feya flew a bit higher, while Coin raced above the tree-tops, protecting Feya from the worst of the rain with his broad wings.

We reached the camp around what I guessed was sun-down, because we couldn’t see the sun. It was encircled by tall birch and oak trees, and a creek lined with grass and reeds flowed through the middle. Three tents stood there, with emerald green flags waving wildly in the wind. A half-build stone hut stood out of the camp a little ways, and I saw flashes of white as maybe four Ospreys continued to work on it. I spotted a familiar flash of creamy feathers, and I spiraled down, landing in front of Pearl.
She dropped the bag of stones she had been carrying. “Amber!” She glanced around, and spotted everyone else. “You’re soaked!” She turned and called, “Beta! Come take this stones, I’m going to take this guys to my father!”
Another female scooped up the bag, and Pearl led us back into the camp and to one of the tents. Inside she shook the water off her wings and turned to us. “Sorry one of us couldn’t come and meet you, but everyone’s working. Most are out looking for recruits, and Father has the rest of us working to build the forge.”
She used her beak to quickly brush off the rest of the water, and headed deeper into the tent. “I’ll give you the grand tour later, but this is the Mess Tent, and where Father and Mother are working.”
At the end of the tent, I saw Fisher and Aqua. Fisher looked up and smiled when he saw us. “Hello, Younglings. Nice to see you. And Large-Wing, it’s been too long.”
Coin smiled, touching wing-tips with Fisher. “It has indeed, Deep-Diver.”
Fisher chuckled. “Found a mate, yet?” Coin rolled his eyes.
Pearl leaned over and whispered, “Father trained Coin, pretty much adopted him as a son.”
Fisher turned to us. “Pine, stay and talk with me, please. We have much to discuss, lad. You too, Large-Wing. Pearl will give the rest of you younglings the tour.”
Pine nodded, and stepped forward. Pearl smiled warmly at us, and led us back out into the rain. With a few quick flaps of her strong wings, she took off, circling above us. I sighed, but followed, Mica and Feya close behind me. Grass Flower was already up and circling slightly below Pearl.
Niko hesitated, and then called, “I’ll wait here. I’ve gotten wet enough already.”
I heard Feya mutter something about lazy males, and chuckled.
Pearl called, “You know this tent is the mess tent….the small one next to it and a little behind it is the armory.” She banked sharply so she was flying above the other tent. “This is what our healer, Seaweed, is calling the infermerary.”
I called, “Has The Healer arrived yet?”
Pearl glanced back. “The Turkey Vulture? Yeah, she got here this morning, just before the storm blew in. Care to say hello?”
We nodded, so Pearl landed in front of the tent and pulled the flap aside. I stepped in, ruffling my feathers. The tent was warm and dry, with a fire burning in a ring of stones in the middle. Boxes were in a neat row on the left side of the tent, and on the other, a row of nests and perches. Seaweed was busy at one of the perches, where a male Osprey perched uncomfortably, holding up one of his feet. And there was The Healer, using a stone to crush herbs into a pulp.
She turned and saw me. Bustling over, she threw her wings around me and said, “How are you dearie? Are you hurt in any way? How’s that injured Kestrel, Feya?”
I stepped back, and answered, “Feya’s doing fine, the wounds looking good. I….”
I broke off as The Healer started examining where I had gotten the cut a moon and a half or so ago.
“It’s not stiff anymore, is it, dearie? That’s good. Feathers are covering the scar, too.” She pushed her spectacles up higher and peered at it, cocking her head slightly. “Lovely, lovely.”
Seaweed fluttered over. “Ma’am, do you know how to stich….” She never finished. A loud, wavering shriek was heard even over the rain on the tent.
Pearl, who had come in to talk to the injured Osprey, jerked up. “Intruders!”
I hadn’t seen it, but hidden under her feathers was a small, thin battle-knife. She had it in her talon in a second and dashed into the rain. I followed her, unsheathing my sword. Outside a heavy wind had started, whipping around me, threating to slam me into the tree as I flew after Pearl. I heard Feya, Grass Flower and Mica follow him, also unsheathing their weapons.
I found Pearl, her knife at the throat of a female Red-Shouldered Hawk, who was talking franticly.
“Honestly, Ma’am, I mean yea no harm! Me and me mate was chased out of our nest by them Red-tailed Hawks. I have three Hatchlings, an’ no place to go!”
Pearl pressed the knife a bit closer. “How do I know you’re not working for the Red-Tails?”
The hawk shrank back even father. “I have scars I can show yea, really, I do! Please don’t kill me or me mate or me hatchlings…….” The Hawk started talking really fast. “IpromiseyeaIwon’tdoanythin’tohurtyeaoryeacampjustletmegoandyou’llneverseemeormemateormehatchlingsagain.”
Pearl stepped back, her knife disappearing. She gestured for me to sheathe my sword, so I did. “Find your mate and your hatchlings. You can stay here.”
The hawk nearly collapsed in relief. “Thank yea, Ma’am. I promise yea, I’ll be back.”
Just before the Hawk took off, Pearl said, “My name is Pearl. What’s yours?”
The hawk paused, her wings open. “Me name be Sitka.” She finally said, and took off.
Pearl sighed. “You never know who’s an enemy and who’s not, at least these days.”
I nodded. “She seemed honest enough.”
Mica and Feya nodded.
Feya asked, “I’ve never seen a Red-shouldered Hawk before.”
I nodded. “I haven’t, either.”
Mica was quiet. “I have, once. When you were gone at the Market, Amber. Father said they were farmers, grew their own wheat, vegetables, fruits, stuff like that. Maybe that’s why the Red-Tails took a nest over?”
Pearl blinked. “You know, you may be right. I’ll go talk to Father. Mica, come with me.”
Feya glanced at her. “Can I come too? I’m tired of being wet.”
Pearl glanced at me. “Amber?”
“I’ll wait here.”
Pearl nodded, and the tree took off. I took off also, landing on a branch of a pine tree. Just after I landed, I heard a gentle
“Kee Klee Kli-Kli Klee-Kee?” (May I perch here?)
I turned and saw Pine.
I nodded, and answered, “Kli Kee-Kli Kee.” (Yes, you may.)
Pine landed, his talons wrapping around the perch. “Pearl told me about the Red-shouldered Hawk.”
He said, still in Merlin.
I nodded. “Her name is Sitka. She said she was kicked out of her nest by Red-Tails.”
Pine shuddered. “Pearl told me she said she had a mate and hatchlings. That would be horrible to be kicked out with hawklets.”
I shrugged. “Horrible even if you’re alone. I wonder if they were farmers?”
“Red-shoulders normally are.” Pine replied. He shuffled closer to me on the branch.
“You look cold.”
“I am a bit. I’ve never been this wet in my entire life!”
Pine hesitated, then reached out and put a wing around me. I smiled at him, a warm feeling spreading in my chest. Pine looked like he was about to say something else, but I heard,
“Ma’am? Are yea here?”
I cast an apologetic glance at Pine and swooped down, landing in front of them. Sitka gasped, shoving a fluffy hatchling behind her.
Then she relaxed. “Oh, it’s yea. You were with Ma’am…..I mean, uh.... Pearlie?”
“Pearl.” I corrected. “I’m Amber Swift-Wing.”
Sitka nodded. “I be Sitka Red-Feathers. This be me youngest, Apple Hatchling.”
The hatchling peered at me, its black eyes wide.
Sitka nudged it. “Remember yea’s manners, Apple.”
Apple piped up. “Hello, Ma’am.”
Sitka glanced at me, and then turned to Apple. “She be a Miss, Apple.”
Apple nodded solemnly. Pine, meanwhile, landed beside me and introduced himself.
Sitka bowed. “It be lovely to meet yea, Highness.”
Pine smiled. “Call me Pine.”
Sitka looked troubled. “Um, it be not polite to address a member of the royal family without a title, Highness.” Pine looked confused, and then something dawned on his face. “Ah, yes, Red-shoulders are….uh….fond of manners.”
Sitka nodded. “We do not want to raise a rude hatchling.”
As she was talking, another Red-shoulder landed, a hatchling carried gently in each talon. He put each down and said, “Hello, I’m Ragweed Fast-Dive.”
I was thrown off for a moment, I expected him to have the same accent as Sitka. “Err….hi, I’m Amber Swift-Wing, and this is Pine Wind-Rider the 3rd.”
Ragweed bowed low, sweeping his wing out grandly.
Pine looked uncomfortable. “You don’t have to do that. I’m the ex-prince, really.”
Ragweed straitened. “Anyways, this is Ember Hatchling…”
“Very nice to meet you.” Another hawklet peeped.
“…and our only male, and our eldest, Jasper Hatchling.”
The hatchling stared at me, saying. “It-is-lovely-to-meet-you-sir-or-miss-or-ma’am.”
I stifled a laugh, then said, “Fisher will want to talk to you. Please, follow me.”
Sitka gently picked up Apple, while Ragweed lofted himself into a low hover and grabbed Jasper.
As he reached for Ember, I said, “Oh, I’ll carry her.” I gently picked her up.
Sitka and Pine were up at the front talking, and I was flying beside Ragweed.
I hesitated, wanting to ask something but knowing it might be seen as rude….Finally, I asked carefully, “Where you and Sitka……uh…..born somewhere……different? You……..don’t have the same…..uh…”
Ragweed laughed. “You mean her accent?”
I kind of gave an awkward shrug. “Yeah.”
“She wasn’t taught any language other than Red-shoulder until just after our wedding. That’s why she has an accent and I don’t.”
I nodded, embarrassed. Ragweed laughed again, though not meanly, and landed beside his mate. I gently set Ember down and landed. Pine held open the flap of the mess tent, and we shuffled in to the tent.
Inside, Sitka shivered. “I be cold. This weather be too wet for me tastes.”
The hawklets nodded. A female Osprey hurried over and passed out towels. We all thanked her, and she smiled, hurrying away again. I quickly dried, then helped the Hawklets towel their downy feathers. When everyone was dry, I led them to Fisher. Aqua and Pearl weren’t there, but Luke was.
Fisher turned and smiled. “Ah, there you are, lad and lass. And just in time for supper.”
He nodded to Sitka and Ragweed. “Hello, I am Fisher Deep-Diver, Clan-Leader of the Ospreys.”
After Sitka and Ragweed introduced themselves, Fisher turned to me and Pine. “Take the hawklets to get something to eat. Cook shall be bringing out of the food any moment. I will talk to their parents.”

I perched at a table, Pine on my left, the Hawklets on my right. A plate of food sat in front of me. A piece of roast duck (yuck), a whole dried minnow, a bowl of dandelion and mouse soup, and a slice of bread. Everything but the duck was great, but the Hawklets only picked at their food.
“Do you have any apple sauce? Momma just made apple sauce before those rude hawks kicked us out.” Ember said.
Apple nodded. “And fresh bread, which Dad toasts for me and I spread it with acorn-butter.” She sighed, and poked gloomily at her minnow.
Jasper also sighed. “Sometimes Mom would make soup.” He said dreamily. “With carrots and ‘tatoes and onions and rice and lots of fresh meat.”
All three Hawklets sighed at the same time. An Osprey I vaguely recognized had been listening.
He chuckled. “I’m not sure about the apple sauce and the acorn butter, but I’d bet Cook would make you soup if you asked nicely.”
The Hawklets perked up.
“Really? Oh, that would be wonderful!” Apple sighed.
The Osprey held out a wing. “I’m Streak Fast-Flier.”
I gasped. “Streak!”
Streak glanced at me, looked back at the Hawklets, then his head snapped back up and he looked back at me. “Oh, you’re the Merlin who did the fake-fight with Niko and taught us that move! Your name is Amber?”
I nodded. He grinned, touching wing-tips with me. “I thought I’d never see you again, once you left the Market, and who are you?”
He was staring at Pine. I suddenly realized that Pine was full-grown, so he looked different. Streak wouldn’t have known him.
Pine held out a wing. “Pine.”
Streak grinned. “Like the prince!”
Pine nodded, looking uncomfortable. “Uh, yeah, like the prince.”
Streak hopped off the perch, saying. “I have to go. Bye!”
He placed his piece of duck on Jasper’s plate and flew off, weaving between chattering Ospreys.
Apple stared at Pine, saying quietly, “Momma told us you are the prince, and the way to talk to a prince is to always call him ‘highness’ or ‘my prince’. “
Pine sighed, staring at his soup, watching a piece of dandelion floating at the top. “I’m not a prince anymore, Apple.” He said quietly. “I’m just a Merlin now.”

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This book has 6 comments.

on Jul. 5 2013 at 7:23 pm
Barnowl14 BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
3 articles 1 photo 30 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook"- Julia Child

Going to post the next chapter within the week!

on May. 12 2013 at 9:01 pm
Barnowl14 BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
3 articles 1 photo 30 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook"- Julia Child

I need character names! I can't keep writing because I'm out of names. Any ideas?

on Apr. 16 2013 at 7:31 pm
Barnowl14 BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
3 articles 1 photo 30 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook"- Julia Child

Thanks! I'll be posting more chapters within the next few weeks

AuntSarah said...
on Apr. 13 2013 at 2:41 pm
This is AWESOME!!! Can't wait to

on Apr. 12 2013 at 8:11 pm
Barnowl14 BRONZE, Seattle, Washington
3 articles 1 photo 30 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook"- Julia Child

Thanks! I'll check it out.

JazzyJay said...
on Apr. 12 2013 at 3:35 pm
JazzyJay, Silver Spring, Maryland
0 articles 0 photos 9 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It doesn't matter how young you are you always have the chance to pursue your dream." but the one I always use is "Give me a minute!"

I love it so far. It realy is coming together very smothly. I'm Jasmine H aka Jazzy Jay maybe you could read my book and rate it or even post a comment. I'd love to see what you think about my book.