The Ones You Belong To

Title: The Ones You Belong To
Time Period: October, 134 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

  • Forge (jackdaw and goshawk)
  • Hush (arctic fox)
  • Keeps-to-the-Shade (magpie)

Summary: Three familiars meet in the forest outside Eilean Donan.

A shadow weaves through the trees on the edge of the loch. Small paws carry it under a barbed-wire fence, leaving behind a clump of dark brown hair mixed with silver, and float it over a fallen log covered in moss. Although it isn't raining now, moisture still clings to the leaves in fat droplets from the last time it did, and glitters bead-like in the spider webs strung between the ferns.

The fox pauses where the trees begin to thin and lifts its whiskered nose, breathing in the wet smell of the woodland and a distant whiff of gunpowder that warns it not to stray in that direction. A partridge hangs limp from its jaws, feathers all bloodied and askew, short legs gone stiff all the way through to its pointed toes — not a bad catch for an animal the fox's size.

Something glints in the tempered sunlight.

Not everything that glitters is gold. In this case, it's possibly steel, silver if the magpie were lucky or cared much about financial gain. Tangled in one grey set of talons and tangling a little where she has it pinned, the silver chain with the saint-pendant clings to the branch like spiderweb, fine and delicate and probably broken by the time it gets back to the miserable side show of robbed gypsies somewhere further from the castle she pilfered from. But hey, she can't do everything herself.

The magpie is also preening, raking beak through feathers of black, white and blue, but then stops at the sound and peripheral sight of a predator, going still after folding wing back into place.

The fox settles among the gnarled roots of alder tree once struck by lightning, its trunk split right down the middle and branches spread open like a giant's hands splaying long, crooked fingers with pale leaves so thin the light shines right through them. One paw curls in. The other pins the partridge to the damp earth so the fox can begin the process of ripping out the bird's feathers in clumps and depositing them in a pile off to the side.

Fascination in watching the other familiar— because she could tell that much— held the magpie's attention for a few more moments, but she didn't invite attention. Not when it was gnawing into something no so dissimilar to her own shape. It was a useful thing to note, of course, and she would bring it back along with the silver trinket.

She takes off from the branch.

The chain slithers off around her claws, off the branch, to land soundlessly in damp ground. With an indignant twitter, she redirects her own momentum to wing back around in a flare of black and white, chasing after her dropped prize with much less stealth than she had initially counted upon.

The fox's ears prick up and it raises its head with a mouthful of partridge feathers. If the beating of the magpie's wings didn't give her away, then her cry almost certainly does. Hello, he says, because it is a he. Either not wanting to alarm the bird more than she already is, or seeing no immediate need to climb to his feet, he remains under the tree, his jaw stuffed with feathers that ruffle in the breeze. When he spits them out, the wind takes the lightest, fluffiest of the bunch and sends them drifting like dandelion heads across the clearing.

I've not seen you around before.

She lands atop her prize, prepared to dig her claws into it and the soft earth it rests on and try to beat her back into the sky on dead air, but, the voice of the other causes her to still. There's no use in pretending she's anything other than what she is, so she hops enough to face him, one beady eye angled in regard. Can you blame me? she queries, slyly, a twitch look off towards the bloodied mass of feathers in the fox's paws and otherwise drifting away.

A tick of movement in leafy shadow marks chain's glittery progress groundwards and magpie all aflutter after it, blunt dagger beak and unblinking button eye focused with mechanical precision. There is a jackdaw poised overhead against bark as black as its own dull sheen, quiet and unremarkable. And watching.

I don't think it's polite to eat things that can talk, says the fox with a glance at the jackdaw. Or to steal. The remark is sincere and lacking reproach; he probably means that he won't take from the magpie, not that the magpie shouldn't take from other people. Are you hungry? I wouldn't mind sharing.

It is possible the magpie remains oblivious to the presence of a third at first, beak parted as if tasting the air. I've had my fill. Insects beneath the bark and in between the blades of grass. A hop and flap follows, repositioning, but isn't yet leaving. I'm sure there are those who would. Eat talkers. And then, she twitches her head to survey what the fox is seeing, and she goes still again. No one here is a friend of hers that she's aware of, offers of food or not.

Made, then, the jackdaw resettles its insubstantial weight between bony talons, slants an jasper-glazed look between them and

is a goshawk so abruptly that it nearly fails to register that he hasn't been one the entire time. More considerable mass hooked into a subtle sink at his branch, the brute shifts his wings as if shirking off a coat seven sizes too small and blinks nicitating membranes by way of stony greeting.

As far as deciphering hidden pictures go, his revelation makes for a bleakly uncomfortable prize.

The fox takes his paw off the partridge, extending the invitation he'd given the magpie to the goshawk. We don't see very many of our kind here, he says. You should warn your people to be careful. Not everyone is welcoming of newcomers, especially those who are touched, but my lady— she'll speak for you.

She speaks for anyone. Dew rolls off the fox's whiskers as he licks the blood from his muzzle. Are they very far? The ones you belong to?

He assumes the birds are together.

Appearance of a larger bird, suddenly, has the magpie taking flight. Not far and not high, nor with any panic beyond the usual franticness that comes from this kind of take off. The silver chain snags in the air beneath fanning tail feathers and she lands dainty off the ground and upon a branch. The next move would be to plunge off it and continue through the dense trees in agile angles dips and weaving, but she remains where she is for now. Better here than on the ground.

I don't know about that one. Mine is not any of your lady's business. We take care of ourselves.

Slate grey back and barred breast stay smooth at questioning and abrupt takeoff alike; the goshawk's only twitch is to follow the latter with the rusty scrape of his stare from start to finish. Focus spared the fox is more considering. He is slow to answer, anyway: the range of expression sooty mask and blazing orange eyes allow for is starkly limited. Near enough.

If there's anything I can do to help— The fox pauses, reconsidering his approach as he remembers the magpie's words. She and her mage take care of themselves. If there's anything I can do, he says instead, I would be glad to. You must at least have questions? I don't mean to brag, but I think I'm quite good about questions.

'Why are you being friendly' seems like a legit question, but the magpie keeps this one to herself. She dips her body to peer down at the fox, her wings folded neat. Hop to the left, hop the right, the dangle of of thin chain almost inaudible - but not to their ears.

Who is your lady?

Questions, questions. Static as a boulder to the magpie's rattle and hop, the goshawk drops nearer the little bird with a heavy hinge of polished talons and a push of one wing. Not threatening. Necessarily.

'Overtly,' may be the better word.

He does not pose any questions of his own just yet, content to listen, hooked beak upright in line with the fox, as if he expects this span of tree branch just happens to be better situated for the purpose of polite conversation.

Oh, my lady is fair as a winter's moon, the fox answers. When she was made, they gave her a dove's voice and filled her eyes with the clearest, bluest water they could find. Her heart is glass, you know, and it breaks at everything.

It takes him a moment to realize that this isn't necessarily what the magpie is asking. Maybe he isn't quite so good about questions after all. Her name is Aislinn, he adds, an almost sheepish edge creeping into his voice. She's the horse lord's wife, and a very fine healer. Do either of you have a lady?

Flinch, goes the magpie, a small quiver rattling through her feathers as the goshawk lands nearer than it was, but she has her eyes set down on the fox, beak parting again at the litany that comes out of it. Twitch. And then there's a question to be answered, and she gives her much shorter response;

Sometimes.

Well, that's not very nice, Shade.

Sssss, go the leaves unsettled by the goshawk's impact, dappled shadows swaying over his new post. The blade of his beak turns down after dew scattered across the back of one wing and then pauses — somewhere around 'winter's moon.'

He looks up again once she's gotten to the eyes (his own like glowing coals, utterly blank in his skull) and then slowly (subtly) over to the magpie with a queerly earnest kind of bafflement. Looking for a clue as to how he should react.

What he gets instead leads him into an inscrutibly silent stretch punctuated by a simple, No.

The fox cocks his head to one side, then the other. He isn't sure how the magpie can have a lady sometimes, but he also gets the feeling that it might be as impolite to ask as it is to eat other things that can talk. Your people must be very fine people as well, he settles on, trying for tact, whether they are ladies or not. Do you mind my asking what brings you here?

To where? To this very location? To the territory? To the castle?

Her voice, or what passes for it, has a needling quality to it, heard more now than before. She thinks the fox is stupid, is the unfortunate thing. I lost my necklace, so I came to collect it. It looks pretty on me, doesn't it.

Grey hide shows thin and bare in a line across the goshawk's neck when he turns his head further still to zero in more directly upon the magpie he is sharing space with. Just passing through, he answers.

Distracted.

A shade reproachful, perhaps, in a deliberate shuffle of tail feather over feather and a lingering, not-quite-hackled lift about his crest. A moment's flat thought later, he hunches, hunkers and takes flight without warning or farewell, melting into the canopy under power of his initial launch and little more.

The fox does not need to be as intuitive as his mage to realize that the magpie's tone is less-than-kind, and seeing that neither she nor the goshawk are taking any real interest in his half-plucked kill, he picks it back up by the neck and rises from his seat among the alder roots. He gives a brisk shake, loosening the dead leaves and brambles from his fur, which is in the still undergoing the transformation from dark brown to silver-white in preparation for winter.

You are a jewel, he assures the magpie with complete seriousness, because his nature doesn't allow him to tell her opposite. It brings out the— green in your feathers. Why, I'd wear you atop my ears like a crown—

The goshawk's departure has him craning his neck to track his flight path through the trees, and spares him the invention of more compliments. Good bye! he calls after him. God be with you!

Then, to the magpie: And you. I really should be going.

The smaller bird stays perfectly still as larger bird takes off, distracted in watching his departure and measuring which direction she need take so as not to run into him again. She fluffs her feathers and looks back down at the fox. Well, she can't object to all of what's being said.

I think I like you, she trills. Stupid animals can be liked! Don't choke on any bones before we meet again.

And with a jangle of thin jewelry, she hops to turn her back on the other familiar, and dart into the air, shooting like an arrow capable of directional change between the thick woodland trunks.

When both birds are gone, the fox gives a little snort, expelling steam through his nostrils. A look twisted over one shoulder at the sun's position in the sky informs him roughly how much time he has to make it back to the castle before nightfall, and it isn't much.

He can rest assured that he wasn't lying when he told the magpie he needed to move on.

And then he too is off.