The Parting Glass’s private accommodations are better than the common bunkrooms of the Swamp Hen. The small room that Tric and Heppa share has two beds and a door with a lock, which Tric considers fancy. Heppa says that her own bedroom back home is nicer, but she lives in a noble house, not her father’s root cellar like Tric does. He gives his cousin first pick of the beds, and Heppa picks the one by a window that looks out onto the street in front of the establishment.
As they set down their backpacks and get settled in, they hear a noise at the window. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. From where she is sitting on her bed, Heppa sees nothing of interest. Tric, on the bed closer to the door, has a different angle though, and he notices a flash of white and black feathers. “Ugh, we can’t have tapping going on all night.” He figures it is a woodpecker and goes over to try to startle it away. He opens the window. The smells of the city come in, but he no longer hears the tapping.
“What is it?” Heppa asks.
Tric leans out a bit to get a better view. A bundle of black and white feathers, a bird he has never seen before, swoops right at his head. The motion is accompanied by a strange yodeling call. Tric gets a good look at the gray beak’s hooked black tip coming right at him. The bird does not land an actual blow, though, as Tric jerks his head back inside. Arms flailing protectively above him, he cries out, “Waaa!” Then he begins rambling, making up random things about the bird. “It’s a pixie dragon! A quarter of the size, four times the danger! Rarest of all! Oh why did I cross that saurian? I’ve been cursed; she said her augur can hex people.”
As Tric stumbles backward, the bird lands on the windowsill. It yodels again and then the words, “Pixie dragon,” come from it, the intonation and cadence matching Tric’s.
“That bird is mocking me! All right, bird, that’s a fight I can handle.” He just needs to figure out a way to get it to say something dumb about itself.
“The… the bird is talking!” Heppa gasps in amazement.
“That’s not important,” Tric says, his dander up. “The bird is mocking.”
“No, it’s mimicking you,” Heppa advises him. She has heard of birds copying birdsong of other species, but not elvish speech. This is fascinating. She figures the bird must be pretty smart given that falcons live right above and it has not gotten snacked on by them.
Tric adopts a higher-pitched voice and takes a step toward the bird, hands on hips. “Look at me: I’m a stupid bird,” he squeaks.
“Stupid bird. Stupid bird,” it repeats as it flaps past Tric into the room. It settles on his backpack and dips its head into the compartment Tric was opening when this whole farce began. Its beak emerges with a piece of trail ration. The bird tosses its head back and swallows the snack. Then it resumes its happy yodeling song again.
Tric grimaces and grumbles, while Heppa continues to analyze the situation. “Do you think it’s trained? Maybe it’s one of Alric’s birds.”
That had not occurred to Tric at all, but it does make a lot of sense. Aderyn did not have any tags on her, just strings for affixing the messages, so there is nothing for Tric to check. He watches the bird closely, and it changes its song to the distinctive skirl of bagpipes. The tune is even one Tric recognizes, a song that a certain dwarfish bard played multiple times during their time together. “Glammur strikes again, I see,” Tric mutters. “Will we get no rest from their bagpipes?”
“Do you think he does other tricks?” Heppa asks.
“If we can get him to do a trick that does not involve bagpipes, that would be great.”
“Or she? Can you tell? What sort of bird is it?”
Tric snatches up the bird to get a good look at the feathers and beak and concludes that it is a male magpie. The bird struggles to get loose and pokes at Tric a bit. “Yeah, yeah, calm down,” he says, but he lets go so the bird can return to pilfering rations. “Enjoy your snack.” Heppa is not familiar with magpies since they do not live in the forest. “They are sort of like ravens,” Tric says. “Except that forest ravens are majestic, reclusive, and wise.” The bird echoes the word majestic. “Forest ravens and elves, here,” Tric says, right arm up high. “Magpies and some humans, here,” he concludes, left arm low.
“Majestic,” the bird says again.
“Stupid!” Tric counters, and the bird yodels at him. Tric sticks his tongue out and makes silly yodeling noises back.
“Well, we know he eats field rations.” Heppa observes, still wondering if the bird is wild. Tric Manu tells her there are no obvious markings of ownership. However, the bird came right inside, which birds would not normally do unless desperate. This bird does not look starved at all, though.
“Are they clever, these magpies?” The bird tilts its head at Heppa, staring at her with its red eyes.
“In the way that a fox is, stealing a farmer’s chickens.”
“Then maybe Alric doesn’t know he’s out of his cage.”
“Maybe. Or maybe this bird just hangs out around the aviary because that is where all the food is, and the falcons are tied up and can’t get at him.” Tric is not convinced that the magpie is Alric’s. He continues thinking aloud, “Aderyn did just fly down when called, so maybe the falcons are all free-flying. But it would be a bold magpie to risk the attic if it was not already friends with all the falcons.“
Just in case the magpie is an escapee, Hepalonia closes the window so that he cannot get out again. “Ha, ha! You’re trapped now,” Tric Manu crows at the bird.
“If he belongs to Alric, maybe we should return him,” Heppa suggests.
Tric pulls out another ration and holds it temptingly out towards the magpie. “All right, we’re going to go talk to Alric,” he begins, voice taking on the cadence he uses with young children. He waits a moment, but the bird does not respond to the barkeep’s name. The magpie tips his head, looks at the ration in Tric’s hand, then looks back at Tric. He hops a little bit closer. Tric takes a step back, and the magpie mirrors the action, taking a step away.
“He knows how to talk and dance!?” Heppa is absolutely fascinated by this creature.
When the magpie retreats, Tric starts to put the snack away. The bird runs forward quickly and tries to snatch the treat, but Tric is faster. He gets the food into the bag before the magpie can grab it away. The bird goes suddenly still and looks up at Tric with huge, sad eyes, tilting his head. Leaning in, he sounds a quiet, plaintive yodel. Tric holds his ground, not releasing that treat, but from a different pocket, he pulls forth a strip of wild boar jerky. “Have you ever tried some of this, mate?”
The bird instantly drops his act and snatches up the new food. Once he has swallowed it all, he cries, “Stupid, stupid,” and flies up to perch on a shelf out of reach. Heppa laughs at the show.
“Well played,” Tric congratulates his opponent. “But there’s no other food in here for you. If you want more food—” He opens the door. “—we’ve got to go down to the bar.” The magpie flies through the doorway and down the stairs. “Who’s stupid now, stupid bird?” Tric mutters. He turns to his cousin. “Well, did you want dinner, Heppa?”
“Yes! I hope Alric’s down there. I’d like to ask him all about this magpie.”
“What a stupid bird,” Tric reiterates, convinced the creature has flown off to just get into more trouble.
“Actually,” Heppa counters, “I think he is quite entertaining.”