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

October 12, 2007

83. A Murder of Crows

"It's the crows," Toro said. "They're attacking every mammal in the kingdom. Cats, dogs, even horses, I've seen them go after humans. But most of all they attack squirrels. Flocks of a hundred, sometimes more, the biggest flocks I've ever seen, they look like swarms of big black bees. They leave other birds alone. But anything with fur that walks or crawls is a victim."

"They just started attacking? Out of nowhere?" Patch asked, aghast.

"No. They started a few days ago." Toro hesitated. "After the coming of the King Beneath."

The three squirrels stared at the bluejay. Daffa covered his face with a wing.

"It's true!" Toro insisted. "He's not a myth, he's real, I've seen him! I saw him last night, in the Northern Sea. He's bigger than a horse, and he's covered with scales like a lizard, and he's all white, and he's got fangs like you've never seen. He comes out at night and devours everything he comes near. He's so fast. Last night I saw him kill and eat a sleeping human! He's real, Patch, I saw him!"

"You don't have to convince us," Patch said quietly. "We've seen him too."

"Oh. Good. Well, not good, but...He's risen from the underworld. He's the reason the crows are attacking. He's made an alliance with them. I've heard they're moon-sworn to him. And between them they're killing every mammal in the Center Kingdom."

As Patch relayed this awful news to White and Silver, he thought of what Lord Snout said to him. I hope you don't think you've won the war ... All creatures of darkness serve the King Beneath. And when he comes, all will flock to his command.

"So many crows," Silver breathed. "There were hundreds of them, no, thousands, remembered how they covered the trees, how they clouded the sun? We can't stand against them. Nothing can. They'll drive us from the trees."

"And then the rats and the King Beneath will take us," White said. She smiled darkly as something occurred to her. "It's funny, I never thought of the Center Kingdom as 'us' until now. Now that it's too late."

"It isn't too late," Patch said hollowly, but it felt like a lie, and both White and Silver only smiled sadly at him.

"I'm sorry," Toro said.

"Oh, I am too," Daffa agreed, sounding even more heartsick than the bluejay. "I know what it's like to lose your home, Patch. It's like a hole in your heart that will never heal."

"It can't be lost!" Patch exclaimed. "There has to be something we can do!" It wasn't right, not after what they had been through and survived in the Kingdom Beneath, that they finally emerged into the world only to discover that they had become homeless refugees of a doomed and faraway land.

"It would take us days just to get there, Patch," Silver said quietly. "If we were very lucky. And even if we succeeded, what could we do? Three squirrels against a caiman monster and thousands of crows?"

"The crows must be moon-sworn to him, they must owe him some kind of debt, or they wouldn't be flying at night and attacking squirrels," Patch argued. "If we could just deal with the King Beneath -"

"Is that all?" White's laugh held no mirth in it. "You've seen him, Patch. Every squirrel in the Center Kingdom could go after the King Beneath, and I doubt between us we could so much as scratch one of his scales before he killed us all. Your friend Zelina can't help, he'd do the same to cats."

"I'm sorry, but she's right," Silver said. "There's nothing we could do. Survival is our victory. Nothing more."

Patch paced angrily along the dirt path, as the two squirrels and two birds watched him with concern. They were right. Of course they were right. Of course there was nothing a little squirrel like him could do to defeat the King Beneath. Patch turned, ready to admit defeat.

He caught a momentary whiff of a rich, feral scent.

Patch stopped in his tracks and looked around. There was nothing moving, no other creature in sight. But there was something gleaming by the side of the path. He walked over and discovered a small glass ball, half-buried in the dirt, with a strange patterned and multicoloured double helix trapped within.

Patch had discovered such things before, in the Center Kingdom. Human children played with them, and sometimes lost them. It was nothing of consequence. But it sparked a memory.

Patch stood and stared at that glass ball. Thoughts and ideas churned in his mind for what felt like a long time but was probably no more than a few heartbeats. Then he turned and raced back up the path.

"Toro! Daffa!" he said.

The birds looked at him quizzically.

"Bring Karmerruk here." Both birds flinched at the mention of the hawk's name, but Patch carried on. "Both of you. I need all three of you."

Toro peered at Patch carefully. "Are you mad? Do you rave?"


"What in the good sky do you need Karmerruk for?"

Patch said, "I need him to carry me to the Hidden Kingdom."


Blogger perlhaqr said...

He caught a momentary whiff of a rich, feral scent. [...] He walked over and discovered a small glass ball, half-buried in the dirt, with a strange patterned and multicoloured double helix trapped within.

Oh, hohohohohohohohahaha.


I caught the import of this even as I was reading it, I got chills and scalp crawlies (though, the good kind, like the kind I get when John MacLean is about to do something absolutely insane, but you know it's going to work.) and actually chortled out loud.

The sort of feeling you get when you're facing down a gang of thugs and you're back is up against the wall and you suddenly remember "Oh, that's right! I'd totally forgotten about this 40 gigawatt phased plasma rifle in my back pocket!"

October 14, 2007 at 6:46 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Heh. I am very, very, very pleased to hear that; it's exactly the kind of reaction this chapter was supposed to elicit.

October 14, 2007 at 7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would that have been a "catseye" marble that Patch was looking into, by chance? :-)

October 16, 2007 at 7:28 AM  
Blogger Phayona said...

I think I know what happens... The ball goes to the kabooti man, the tiger is freed, kabooti man makes all the crows go around in a circle like the pigeons and patch somehow kills the king beneath.. ta da!!

November 3, 2009 at 4:28 PM  

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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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