Echoes of Invasion: Closing Time | Scene 4

Alric leads the elves up one flight of stairs to the second floor of the inn, where Tric Manu hosted his private family dinner. The next set of steps brings them to the third floor, where Hepalonia and her cousin share a room. On this level, Alric heads to the end of the hallway and pulls a cord to unfold from the ceiling a staircase so steep that it is practically a ladder. Before they even get all the way up into the attic for her to see for herself, Heppa asks Alric how many falcons he has, and if that is the only type of bird.

“Well, now there are six,” he replies. “I only keep falcons.”

The attic is brighter than she expected because sections of the roof are propped up, allowing in light and air, as well as enabling access for the falcons. The room has a lot of what one would expect in an attic: dusty boxes, extra furniture, and so forth. But it also has a few posts with perches, and a crate with falconry equipment. A large brown falcon with a sandy body rests on one of the perches. Alric whistles to him, and the bird sleepily cracks its eyes open, then slowly flies over to land on his guarded left arm. Alric holds the bird out to each of the elves, introducing them to Arkut. He is the oldest of the birds at twenty-one years, really pushing it for a falcon. He is unlikely to bear messages on their behalf, as he is mostly retired now.

“Did you inherit the falcons?” Heppa asks.

“I don’t feel comfortable saying I’ve inherited them yet. With Damal still alive that feels a little weird.” Heppa had assumed Alric got the birds from his mother, but he clarifies that his uncle was responsible for the falcons before he took over their care. The exception to this is Aderyn, the only falcon here who comes from the clutch that his mother had. “The other falcons, like Arkut here, were either with Damal or have been born since I came.” Alric steps up next to the perch so that the old bird can hop back over to it.

“What is the proper greeting for them?” Heppa asks. Pleased at her interest, Alric models a descending whistle. To the elves, it sounds quite similar to whistles they have heard from him before, but neither one of them is quite able to emulate it. “What does that actually mean? Is it hello? Nice to meet you?”

Alric considers how to describe this. “It’s not language the way that humans and elves have language. It’s more… recognition of…” He thinks a bit more. “It’s more just acknowledging the other.”

“Like nodding to someone,” Tric suggests. He feels a shift on his back and turns his head to see the low light glinting off Mate’s red eyes. “You better stay down if you want to keep those eyes. Those guys eat eyes for midnight snack!” he warns the magpie, remembering the torn-up Rat at the base of the tree last night. “And your eyes aren’t very big, so they’re going to take both of them.” Mate sticks his head out farther in curiosity, and Tric invites him to try his luck at replicating the falcon greeting. The small bird succeeds where the elves have failed. Arkut takes notice though, head swiveling to deliver a piercing glare at the magpie. Mate swiftly ducks back down into the backpack, whence he issues a call of stupid, stupid to taunt the falcon.

Alric intercedes at this point. “Either let him out of the bag or keep him hidden. He needs to have at least a chance to flee if the falcons decide they don’t want him messing around.”

Tric nods. “I’ll be taking him out of your hair when we leave here, since he’s been causing so much trouble for your falcons.”

“They know him,” Alric points out. “He’s been around here a while.”

“If they could, they would probably tear him to pieces,” Tric speculates.

“They would at least chase him,” Alric allows. “And he can’t really run well when he’s half in your bag. So, if you want him to have a fighting chance…”

Tric calls over his shoulder, “So, Mate, do you want to hop out of there?” The magpie huddles farther down, settling that matter. The smaller bird will stay hidden.

“All right, well, be careful now because we’re going out onto the roof so you can meet the new ones,” Alric says.

“You have babies?” Heppa asks.

“Well, they’re not my babies,” he replies with a chuckle as he directs the elves over to one of the openings in the attic ceiling.

“I think that would be biologically difficult,” Heppa reflects, “but I don’t know if it’s impossible. Seems like it should be…”