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

October 15, 2007

86. River East

"You're too heavy," Karmerruk gasped. "I'm going to put you down."

"They'll kill me!"

"Stay in the metal cave. You'll be safe there."

"The what? No, not the water!" Patch exclaimed as they reached the wide, churning river that divided the island of the Center Kingdom from the Hidden Kingdom. He knew this water was cold and violent, and he could easily envision crows perching on his back and pecking his eyes out as he tried to swim...

"Not the water," Karmerruk agreed. The fastest crows were almost upon them.

The hawk stooped into a southward dive, heading towards one of the huge bridges that spanned the river. For a moment Patch thought he would be dropped like a rock on the bridge's metal arch. Then he saw, parallel to just north of the bridge, a metal-and-glass cage the size of a large automobile, suspended from a massive wire by what looked like two giant metal feet. This cage was actually somehow crawling through the sky. Karmerruk pulled up just above it, and in the instant of least motion, his talons released, and Patch fell with a gentle thump to the cage's metal roof.

By the time he rolled back to his feet and took stock of his surroundings the crows were almost upon them. He dashed beneath the metal feet that held up the cage. This space was like a low and narrow cave of metal, as Karmerruk had said. Any crows who followed him would be easy to kill, unable to fly, unable to gang up on Patch.

But this safety was a moot point. For when Karmerruk had slowed to release Patch safely, he had made himself vulnerable. All the crows hurled themselves at the hawk; for a moment the Prince of the Air was invisible, somewhere inside a whirling, tearing knot of crows; then the knot began to plummet downwards, towards the cold river. Patch stared aghast, thinking that Karmerruk had sacrificed himself to save him.

Then the cloud of crows exploded outwards, and a gray streak erupted from it, leaving a shower of black and gray feathers in its wake, and two lifeless crows who kept falling until they hit water. Karmerruk dived faster than his pursuers could follow, pulled up at the last moment, skidded a hair's-breadth over the water, and then began to climb steadily into the sky. The crows strained to follow him, but they could not match his power. Patch thought the hawk had escaped.

But escape was not his intention. Karmerruk suddenly turned in a dizzyingly tight circle and dived back down, straight into the pursuing crows. There was a frenzy of slashing as he passed through them. Three more crows toppled from the sky and splashed into the river; two more tried to fly to safety, but their wings were torn, and they scudded in ragged descending spirals until they too fell into the water and disappeared beneath its waves. Karmerruk was already climbing again. When he reached the apogee of his flight, he screamed, a noise so terrible that the mob of crows wavered; and then he dived through them again, rending and tearing with beak and claws, and six more of his enemies fell into the water and died.

The cloud of crows dissipated and fled singly back towards the Center Kingdom. Patch stared in awe at the Prince of the Air as he landed neatly atop the still-moving cage. His feathers were ragged in patches, and the side of his head was bleeding, but Karmerruk seemed not to notice. The hawk's eyes were alight with triumph and delight.

"They dared think they could match me in the open sky," he said, and his laugh made Patch shudder. "Let all of them come, here where there are no trees to hide in. Let every crow in the world come and I'll kill every one of them, I'll turn them into a sea of blood and feathers, I'll stop this river with their bodies. Oh, that was good hunting, little squirrel, the finest I've had in years. I'm glad you brought me here. It's such joy to have prey who don't run away right away. I only wish they had stayed longer."

Patch didn't dare meet Karmerruk's gaze. He looked up and saw Toro and Daffa, circling high above. They did not seem inclined to come any lower. Patch couldn't blame them. He had grown so accustomed to the hawk's presence, he had almost forgotten how deadly a killer he was; and he had never known until now the joy and exultation that Karmerruk took in killing.

"You can come out," Karmerruk said, amused. "It's safe."

Patch made himself waddle out into the open air. The hawk snatched him up and carried him east, following Daffa and Toro up a smaller, perpendicular river, to a metal bridge, and then to one of a series of low, enormous buildings. Karmerruk deposited Patch on the roof, then settled down himself.

"I'd best return, lest they follow me here," he said. "But I must confess to a certain curiosity. What exactly is your plan?"

"You wouldn't believe me," Patch said honestly.

Karmerruk nodded, unoffended. "Perhaps later I will see for myself. Good luck, Patch son of Silver. I salute you. You have the heart of a hawk."

He flew off. Toro and Daffa breathed mutual sighs of relief and hopped over to stand close to Patch.

"What is your idea?" Toro asked. "What's here?"

Patch said, smiling grimly, "You better come inside with me. You won't believe me until you see him for yourself."


Anonymous briangc said...

Man, that aerial battle was stirring! Karmeruk is a hawk stud. :-)

Can't wait to find out how Patch gets his "help" back to the Center Kingdom...!

October 16, 2007 at 7:43 AM  
Blogger perlhaqr said...

Awesome. Hawk vs: Crows. Not much of a fight, really. :D Kind of like me tangling with a knot of 5 year olds.

October 16, 2007 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger perlhaqr said...

BTW: I'm dying over here waiting to finish the story. Just thought you should know.

October 16, 2007 at 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Rakie said...

perlhaqr: you'd be surprised, 5 year olds are more vicious than they seem. :D

eeeee, awesome chapter!! almost had a heart attack when Karmerruk got attacked. Hee. He is indeed a hardcore hawk, that was so cool. :D and OMG i'm so looking forward to seeing what patch is planning on doing. I'm winding up a happy dance already. *giggles* There can't be many more chapters to go, how are we going to tie this all up in just a few chapters??

October 16, 2007 at 10:40 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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