When Tric Manu and Hepalonia get downstairs to the main room, they find it much busier than it was earlier. Diners fill many tables, and other customers stand at the bar. Some of the side booths with curtains have a sash across them marking that they are occupied. Alric is tending the bar, pouring drinks and exchanging friendly words with the clientele. A woman they have not seen before carries a large tray, setting food on tables as she circulates through the room. She is dressed in functional leathers and has long straight white hair that is borderline blue. A brown kerchief holds the hair back out of an olive-skinned face unlined by age. Heppa estimates her to be in her teens or early twenties, but hair color like that on such a young person seems incongruous after all the other humans Heppa has observed today.
The magpie, meanwhile, has found a perch on a candelabra hanging from the ceiling. His posture is alert and his head darts around evaluating the snacks on the tables below. At least he’s not stealing our food anymore, Tric consoles himself. Although I guess we did let in a little terror.
Heppa encourages Tric Manu to step up to the bar so they can tell Alric that one of his birds has gotten loose. When the barkeep notices them, he comes over, asking if they are ready for their dinner order. “Sure, we’ll take whatever the main meal is tonight. Ah, quick question, though. That bird popped into our room…” Tric points up at the magpie. “Is that one of yours? ‘Cause that’s not a falcon…”
“Oh!” The friendly demeanor melts into concern and chagrin. “I thought I left the windows closed up there. I’m sorry—”
“Well, I wanted some fresh air,” Tric hastily says, trying to protect his own reputation. The bird did trick him into opening the window, after all.
The corner of Alric’s mouth quirks up, but he does not call Tric out over the lie. This is not the first person to be so tricked. “That’s not one of mine, but he is pretty clever. Sometimes he manages to get food away from the falcons.”
“That’s kind of bold. Wouldn’t the falcons tear him to pieces? Or are these falcons trained not to strike out?”
“My falcons are well-disciplined. While they will protect their food, they do not engage in needless violence.”
Tric nods in appreciation. “And this bird causes just less than enough trouble to not get murdered…”
Alric shrugs. “Everyone’s welcome here.”
“So are all of these birds so friendly?” Heppa asks.
“Friendly is not the word I would attribute to this bird,” Tric mutters, looking up at the magpie.
“All of which birds?” Alric asks. “Are there more birds up in your room?” Heppa clarifies that she means magpies in general, and Alric tells her that not many live in the city. “I have seen this one before, because I have encountered him while feeding the falcons, but they are not generally city birds. I don’t know why this one hangs around in town.”
“Presumably the good eating,” Tric suggests.
“That’s likely. But I’m not much of a naturalist myself. Falcons are the birds I know.”
“Well, they are not in our forest,” Heppa says.
“No, of course not!” Tric begins lecturing, pulling from what he has heard from Breda and scouts. “They are more plains-dwelling creatures. This is a city in a plain, so that probably explains why you get a few. They can annoy farmers quite a bit, swooping at them. But they don’t pick at crops, so they are not a significant menace, as far as I know.” He knows that they eat a mixed diet, but what he says is, “They will eat garbage. I mean, they even eat here.” He says this with a smile, and Alric takes it in the spirit it was intended, laughing. “Just kidding, of course!”
“Why don’t you take a seat at one of the empty tables, and Heledd will bring you out your garbage.”
Heppa chuckles as well. “What sort of garbage are we eating today?”
“You don’t want to know,” Tric says.
“Do you want to put in a drink order or shall I pick something for you?” Alric asks. “To complement the garbage.”
“I would love it if you picked something, Alric,” Heppa replies. With a smile, the barkeep turns to the shelves to select something.
The two elves pick a table and make themselves comfortable. Tric keeps an eye on the magpie and finds that the bird is keeping an eye on him.
“So he’s just a wild bird?” Heppa asks, incredulous.
“You say ‘a wild bird.’ He’s a plains bird in the city, snacking as much as he can.” The bats are the only wild creatures that Heppa has experienced being so forward. Tric points out that the magpie knows enough not to attack directly. Although he swooped Tric, he did not actually touch him. “Just the flap of the wings in one’s face is enough.”
“You think he was trying to get in?”
“He did get in.” They discuss the craftiness involved. The bird tapped on the window to get someone to open it so that he could come inside, all to get access to food that he saw. “His whole world revolves around food,” Tric mutters.
“Clever, clever,” Heppa says with admiration. “I wonder how many other animals are clever like that… I mean, I guess humans are clever. Some of them. I don’t know about saurians, but we only met one.”
“She was nice. She was a fair trader.”
“I don’t know about trolls… And the boar did not seem clever. But, I don’t know; you were the one hunting the boar.”
“Oh, I set up a pretty slick trap. It would’ve had to have been a really smart boar to evade or escape from that. So I don’t think it’s really fair to the boar to judge it on that.”
“I guess I just don’t have that much experience with wild animals,” Heppa reflects. The animals in the forest do not really wander into the elves’ homes, and up until now, she has not had much interest in them. But now some of them can talk, take messages, and recognize people. She has met two very intelligent birds today, so who knows how many more are out there.
“It’s true that animals in the forest don’t go into your home… unless you’re Fenowin,” Tric observes. “And then they might live in your hair.”
There are a few animals in Heppa’s household. “I guess our horses are kind of clever.” Butterbell, the white pony with black spots, is such a sweetheart. The brown horse, Petunia, has entirely different moods.
“Okay, yeah, that makes sense. A horse can have personality and be clever,” Tric agrees. But as for this bird, he is out of place and causing trouble. “He’s probably going to snatch somebody’s food,” Tric murmurs, looking back up at the magpie. “I should do everyone a service and get that bird out of here. After all, I let him in; I should take care of it.”
Hepalonia is happy to allow Tric Manu to deal with the situation, but she would never tell him it was his responsibility. That sounds like something Mother would say. The bird does not seem to be hurting anyone right now, but he might be a carrier of disease like rats are.
Tric pulls out a short length of blue and gold ribbon and then mimics the magpie’s song, doing a credible impersonation of the happy yodel. The bird takes notice and flies down onto the table. He struts about a bit, tilting his head to look inquisitively at Tric, then sings back the song. Tric inches the ribbon forward, and the magpie shows no interest in stopping whatever he has planned. He focuses intently on what he is doing, slowly and carefully tying the ribbon around the bird’s leg, making sure to avoid any sudden movements that might startle the creature. When the knot is finished, Tric sits back, satisfied. He sees that Heppa is suppressing a giggle, and at that point, he notices that the magpie has taken the other end of the ribbon and loosely tied it around Tric’s own wrist. “So that’s how it’s going to be then, mate.”
“Stupid, stupid, mate,” the magpie replies. They seem to have reached an understanding.
Heppa and Tric examine Mate’s work. It is not a knot that will stand up to any stress at all, but it is still very impressive. Clearly, the bird saw that Tric was twisting and looping the ribbon, and he emulated that to the best of his ability. Surprised again by the magpie’s cleverness, Tric admonishes him, “No, look, you’re doing it wrong. I was doing the fisher’s knot…” Tric himself has tied this knot incorrectly so many times in his life that he reflexively channels his dad, adopting a patient voice to explain all the steps of the knot to the magpie.
Although Heppa enjoys people watching, humans are going to be around all night and the next few days, whereas when will she next have a chance to watch a bird learn to tie a fisher knot? She watches her cousin and the magpie, fascinated. The bird is paying close attention, and Tric Manu notes that is way more than he ever paid during his own lessons. Heppa sees that her cousin is also focused very closely on the bird; maybe the bird enjoys being the center of attention. The magpie does not seem to be listening to Tric Manu so much as intently watching the ribbon and fingers. Sometimes his eyes and beak are close in on all the movements, but the magpie also flap-hops around to get different perspectives, sometimes from the table or her cousin’s arm or his head.
“All right, see? See? Now I’m going to undo it and then you do it,” Tric tells the magpie. The bird takes the ribbon off to the side of the table and begins playing around with it, passing it between beak and claw, trying to loop it and so forth. Mate does not produce the fisher knot, but the activity keeps him occupied. “Practice that,” Tric says encouragingly, “and we’ll try again tomorrow. You can’t expect to get it in one night.” He looks up at his cousin and says sotto voce, “It took me five years to learn that knot… And I have thumbs!”
Hepalonia wonders whether her cousin started the bird on too hard of a knot. She had never realized before now that there were different types of knots, and so she peppers her cousin with questions about them. He tells her about the double-sided display board his father has full of example knots. Tric Manu explains that just like there are different clothes for different occasions, there are different knots for different purposes. Tying a boat to a pier is different from tying twine to a fishing rod. Joining two pieces of rope requires yet another type of knot. Some knots need to come apart easily under certain conditions, while others are intended to hold forever.