A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

September 3, 2007

46. A Prince of the Air

"Have you come to break your oath?" Patch asked.

"No. Nor will I prey on either of your friends."

Toro relaxed slightly.

"It's all right," Patch said to White. "This is Karmerruk. He's … an acquaintance."

White's pink eyes were very wide as she stared at Patch, and then the hawk, and back at Patch again.

"Then what do you want?" Patch asked, switching back to Bird. "Have you come to carry me back to the Kingdom of Madness again?"

"No, Patch son of Silver. On the contrary, I was very glad when I looked down at this elm and saw you had returned to the Center Kingdom. I never thought you would be able to return over so great a distance. I salute your strength and courage. As I said before, you have the heart of a hawk. But that is not why I have come. I have come to ask you a favour."

"A favour?" Patch asked, bewildered. "What can I possibly do for you?"

"You are a mammal who speaks Bird better than some birds I know. It is a rare talent, Patch, and a valuable one. I wish to communicate with your king."

"Which king?"

"The true king. King Thorn."

"But you work –" Patch stopped himself, remembering their last conversation. "But you are associated with Snout."

"No longer. On the contrary. I swear to you by the blood of my nestlings that I seek the death of that rat lord. I have ever since I began to learn some worrisome truths and terrible rumours. Ever since I saved your life."

Patch thought that 'saved your life' was an extremely skewed description of their previous encounter, but supposed there was no gain to be had from arguing. "What truths?"

"The truths I would communicate to your king."

"You may as well tell them to me. You're going to have to anyways."

Karmerruk paused. "I suppose that's true. I'm sure you know already that the rats have conspired with the rebel squirrels against King Thorn. What you may not know is that the rats are also killing any mice they find, and chipmunks too. Not for food. Killing them and leaving their carcasses to rot."

"Why would they do that?" Patch asked, surprised.

"I don't know. But I do know that I do not like having my food slaughtered by anyone but me. I know I do not like the terrible rumours I have begun to hear in the wind, that the King Beneath is real, and the Queen of All Cats has arisen. I know I do not like the monstrous flock of crows that has occupied so much of this kingdom. I do not yet know what lies at the heart of all this, but I know that I would speak with your King Thorn. I need you to be my translator."

"Can't you find someone else?"

"Someone else?" Karmerruk was offended. "I give you the opportunity to be a voice that speaks for hawks and royalty, and you ask me to find someone else? There is no one else, Patch. I have looked."

Patch sighed. "All right."

"Excellent. Then I shall take you to the Ramble –"

"No!" Patch exclaimed. "I'm sick. I've been poisoned. I won't have you carrying me around like a mouse you're about to eat. I'll walk to the Ramble when I'm ready."

"When you're ready? And when will that be?"

Patch considered. "Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day."

"Maybe tomorrow? The decisive battle could come today! We dare not wait!"

"Then go find someone else."

"I told you," Karmerruk said darkly, "there is no one else. I will not have your stubborn selfishness stand in my way!"

"If you take me there now I'll be no use. I nearly died of the blackblood disease. I have no strength."

Karmerruk looked at him. At length he said, "One day, Patch son of Silver. I will give you one day. You will go tomorrow or I will carry you there myself."

Patch sighed. "All right."

Karmerruk frowned. Then he beat his great wings and soared into the air. The backwash knocked Toro off the elm tree, and the bluejay had to dive down, circle around, and fly back up to the branch.

"What happened?" White asked.

Patch translated.

"Oh, no," White said. "You can't. You see what King Thorn's soldiers did to me. They're awful, awful! And besides, you're much too weak to travel!"

"I'm much better," Patch said, but although what he said was true, he had gotten stronger even since waking up, he had to admit that he was still weak enough that the prospect of travelling all the way to the Ramble was quite daunting.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's good to have the hawk back, he's such a fun character. :D Man, this is turning into some truly epic fantasy stuff, i love the idea of a massive battle between all the different types of animals, that's fantastic. Weee, can't wait to read more!! :D

September 4, 2007 at 1:31 AM  

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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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