The Raven-Spies

Everyone in the Cosmos knows that birds are magical creatures, although there is some debate about whether eagles, owls, or ravens are the most enchanted. Avifauna are magical because only they can freely travel between the Domains of Land and Sky without need of a talisman or sorcerer’s spell. Eagles are brave and strong and can soar to the highest heights of the Lower Reaches. Owls are wise and trustworthy and are frequently employed to carry messages between mages. 

Ravens are the most sharp-eyed, observant, and cunning, while being the most likely to keep their own counsel. On the other hand, ravens can be nefarious and are the most willing to barter with necromancers and dark mages to trade what they have seen and heard in exchange for what they covet most: bright white pearls; shiny gold nuggets; and dead men’s eyes. For that reason, necromancers, brigands, and conspirators favor employing ravens as spies. Therefore it was, that every hour of the day or night, a shift of vigilant ravens making neither caw nor cackle, roosted out of sight on the ledge of the uppermost window overlooking the storeroom where Kevin Galwynn was trying to make sense of the wreckage surrounding him.

Needless to say, the ravens took notes.

Lt. Nimbus leaned back contentedly in his chair and patted his belly. “The kitchen in Castle Castellanus is wonderful,” he said with a smile, as he continued chewing a particularly pleasing pork sausage stuffed into a soft muffin. Aaron’s voice was muffled by the muffin as he said, “What do you think, Peter?”

Peter, the shepherd (he not being wealthy or singular enough to own a surname), was scrupulously picking over the core of a piece of fruit he was eating, when Aaron asked his question. Peter looked up, exuberantly nodded his agreement and added, humbly, “The meal is most excellent, sir.” Then he turned to his host, Kevin Galwynn, and said, “Most excellent, m’lord. I am very grateful. However, would I be too bold if I asked, are there any more of…these?” 

Smiling warmly, Kevin said, “Of course,” then he pulled a bright red apple from a voluminous pocket of his tunic, and handed the sweet, juicy, scarlet fruit to Peter. The shepherd accepted it diffidently, then glanced confusedly back and forth at Kevin’s tunic pocket and the pile of apple cores that the three companions had already made. It seemed to Peter, that Master Kevin Galwynn must have an entire apple orchard hidden inside his tunic pocket. 

Finally recovering his composure and remembering his manners, Peter said, “Thank you, m’lord.” Peter took a bite and said, “Mmm, no fruit in Sky compares to apples from Land. I haven’t had a treat like this in years.” 

“‘In years’?” Aaron asked curiously, as he lounged like a contented cat after eating his breakfast. “What know you of Land?”

“I am an old man,” Peter said proudly, “and I have had many jobs in my life. Always humble work, sir, but honest and respectable. I grew up on a farm, you know, and in my boyhood I was a shepherd. Later, in my youth, I got the wanderlust and managed to get a job as a waggoner for a merchant who traded goods between the Domains of Sky, Fire, Sea, and Land. I learned a lot about the ways of different folks, back then. And I got to know the ways of Landfolk pretty well. That’s when,” he said with a knowing smile, “I developed a taste for sweet, juicy apples.”

Aaron chuckled, and then asked, “What did you do after that?” 

“Later in life I persuaded a blacksmith to take me on as an apprentice. I worked in that trade for many years until my old bones eventually ached too much to do heavy work. Time had taken away my youthful strength, but given me little need for much salary or much sleep. I still retained my wits, strength of will, and patience, so it was no burden at all for me to return to my boyhood trade and tend flocks of cloud-sheep all night long. It’s peaceful work and satisfying, provided you don’t make the mistake of counting the cloud-sheep one by one, which is sure to make you fall asleep on the job.”

Time was flying and Kevin needed to return to his mission. “I see the physicians have tended to your wounds well,” he said. 

Peter’s kidnappers had struck his head hard with a cudgel. The physicians had bandaged his wound and watched over him attentively as he slept peacefully through the night. Now the sole aftermath of Peter’s ordeal was a thick white bandage wrapped around his head like a turban. Peter replied with an ornery smile, “Those yobbos didn’t know how hardheaded an old scoundrel I am.”

Now it was Kevin’s turn to chuckle. Peter was good company, and in good spirits. “Are you feeling well enough to answer some questions?” Kevin asked.

“I’m thinking you two sirs saved m’life last night. I wouldn’t be here talking and eating fancy food if not for you,” said Peter. “I’ll try to help in any way I can.” 

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