Just for the heck of it, Meara tried to spell to detect evil.
Similarly, Gannon extended his own senses to see if he could detect magical forces.
Conner tried one to see if we were being watched.
For a moment, Conner saw the ravens form a black skull with one eye. "Yeah, they're still watching us. I'm pretty certain about that."
"How many torches did you see in there?" I asked now that we seemed to be (unfortunately) safe.
"It's not like people were carrying them, they had been lined up to mark the gate to the keep," Conner explained.
"Or the path out of the keep," Meara speculated.
"And they were green?" I checked.
Conner nodded. "Yeah, same color green as was behind the crow's eyes."
"So, once upon a time," the priestess told us as we made our way back through the swamp, "when I was nine years old I don't remember most of this, I've only gotten it through my father, I couldn't tell you what I actually said, but for one reason for another I got drawn to this wounded raven. I decided to collect the bird and take it to my mother, 'cause my mother would know what to do with a wounded raven. So I'm hopping around trying to catch this thing, and it's doing its damnedest to peck my eyes out my eye in particular, this one in particular," she touched the scar, "and we get back to my parents' house. My dad tells me it's the damnedest thing he's ever seen, absolutely totally hysterical. There's my mom's entire group of battle ravens looking like they've seen a ghost, the raven's sitting there croaking something about 'the eye, the red eye!' while I go off into a full-fledged oracle. One of the reasons they gave me to Brigid. Can't remember the oracle, though."
"Well, that's a fascinating story, Meara," Conner remarked.
"I can tell you that the oracle did start out with 'Woe to the house of Rhys.'"
I shrugged. "Not another one...." Proclamations of woe to the house of Rhys are a Powian cottage industry; we can't pay attention to all of them. "Obviously, then, we need to investigate this fully and take care of whatever the problem is." For one thing, Dad would be pleased if we managed it without bothering him. "What?" I added in response to a look I was getting from Meara.
"I actually agree that we need to investigate this fully, however, I do also think that certain people really need to be told about this."
"It's three months trip back down there."
"I know. I need to go into meditation."
"Why don't we get back inside?" Conner suggested with a nervous look back at the darkness.
"I'm fairly certain they're going to come for us tonight," Meara added.
"It'll save us the trouble, then," I shrugged confidently.
"I know, but I'm fairly certain they're going to come for us tonight, so I think maybe we might want to consider..."
"Not being in the village? That would be very polite of us."
"Let's find a nice spot...."
"How 'bout the top of one of the towers?" Conner suggested.
"That does work," Llweder agreed.
I nodded. "We can camp at the base, keep a watch up top. Guess who gets the deep night watch?" I glanced at Conner.
"I'm kind of fond of the first one we found," Meara said.
"Then they'd have to come through the town," Conner pointed out.
"No, they'd just come along the road at the top of the ridge."
"No, no, no, let's not make them come all that way," I objected.
"That was your worry? That it would take them too long to get to us?!" He stared at me.
"I say we pick the closest tower," I held firm.
"Why don't we go one further away?" he offered as a compromise.
"Yeah. Just for shits and giggles," Gannon supported.
"Gannon, watch your language!" Conner warned.
"I actually would like to have some advance warning that they're coming for us," Meara agreed.
"He'll see them." I nodded at Conner. With the green fire and all, it didn't seem as if they'd be hard to spot.
"Your faith is touching," the mage muttered.
"All right. To reassure these Nervous Nellies, we'll go for the second watchtower, instead of the closest one," I agreed.
"I'm going to high-tail it into the village and see if I can collect some wood from them, maybe some of Artos' oil, and get Buttercup." She set out to collect some supplies and our animals, and to let the villagers know that their visitors had stirred something up and wouldn't be in town for a bit.
"Let us know if we can do anything to help," Artos told her.
"How do you manage to keep them from attacking you at night?"
"Usually they don't. Other than that, beat them back with large heavy objects."
At the tower, "So why did the evil shred the exchequer?" Llweder wondered. No one had any useful suggestions. We set up a little camp within the square walls and posted a watch at the platform. The sun was low over the sea.
"Llweder, how do the animals feel about what's coming?" Conner asked.
There were no animals nearby other than our horse and donkey, which were nervous.
"Apparently the animals know they're coming, too."
"That's of course assuming that they're coming, and this is not just some big tease," Meara said. "We'll let them stay up for an entire night, get really really tired, then we'll hit 'em the next night."
"There's five of us, we can keep relatively short watches." I shrugged.
"I don't know about you, but I'm going to sleep the rest of the day away and sleep a bit of tomorrow, assuming we live that long." She had a bad feeling.
I sighed. All this defeatism was depressing. Night fell rapidly, accompanied by a swiftly moving mass of clouds. A number of green bonfires sprang up around the castle, on the towers, in the yard, around the walls.
Meara set out some watered wine, just in case.
We could hear the flapping even at this distance, from crows the size of ponies.
"Llweder?" Conner said. "So the frogs, the giant frogs, they were normal, right, just big?"
"And the giant gar, that was normal, just big?"
"So if I take a crow and increase its size twenty times, would that be normal?"
"Not around here," he cheerfully dashed Conner's hopes. "You have to really use context here. Hypothetically, maybe, yes, but not here."
"I'm just checking." There were things riding on the backs of the crows, goblin-sized. They were met by a flight of bat-winged skeletons coming up from the castle. As battle was joined, Conner was very sorry he could see all of it. "Looks like the people coming out of the castle might be I don't want to stretch it and say they're on our side, but they do seem to be attacking the giant ravens."
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al