And they quieted even further as if suddenly realizing the good luck that our own tree had been spared, and silently they watched Keeyaw, turning their heads, pecking at their perch, while the beastman walked in and out of the Giants arms, carrying cracked sticks and heavy fans of cedar leaf. So. What did you bring us?" Our Many finally asked with a quiet sweetness. "From far off, from far off." Open your beak, and I will show you."
My father gave a gentle tilt to his horn and shook the offering down into the sweet food pouch of her throat.
Then he flared up and leaned into the wind. Meet me in the sky," he said, which was a common enough farewell among lovers but was especially gallant in the falling woods.
Instead of flying away, though, he perched just above the downed Giant and began yelling again at the beastman.
And the wild-haired Keeyaw stopped what he was doing long enough to poke his head out from underneath the heavy weeping of the tree as my father grew even more menacing with pride. But Keeyaw showed no fear and only blinked and squinted with a look of vague curiosity, as if he had bad eyes, or my fathers attack was baffling him. My father continued harassing him with his hackles extended and his brow fierce. Keeyaw was about to creep back into the injured Giant when he stood back away from it. He walked up and down the entire sprawling length of the trunk and moaned, flummoxed by what hed done, as if the whole thing would not release him from its enormous burden. And he took his frustration out on his beard, pulling at the bits of bark and leaf stuck there. When Keeyaw looked up again at my fathers territorial bickering, the white-haired creature had a sinking expression, even in his beard. Was it understanding? Had Keeyaw had a change of mind, or whatever it was that drove him at the woods, bent on destruction?
With defeated shoulders, he took the reins of his mule and walked off, dragging the animal away with him into the woods.
My father swooped over him, assured of his prowess. Over and over again, he mobbed the man, and Our Manys eyes followed them, piercing into the unknown beyond the limbs of our spiny tree, where my father called from even farther off, from beyond the beyond, until his echo could no longer be heard.
In Keeyaws absence, the woods remembered their silence.
It was the hot, brooding silence of insects, and the silence of small songbirds high in the branches of the sweltering heat. They remained hidden from sight as if the treetops themselves chirped vacuously back and forth. And a strange inner weather began to affect Our Manys eyes, the spell of an old mother crow, which was what she was. Later in life, I would find the large winter roosts filled with elder siblings of mine, crows from all ends of the wind, all of them singing out variations of her song. Our mother had lived long enough and had enough nests to be known as a mother of many, a great-grandmother over and over again, and though I have yet to meet another mother of many, Ive heard of others. Every crows song includes at least one. Our stout, imperious mother had outlived two mates. Our father was her third. And like gurgling water from a waterfall, Our Many came down to us, and my brother and Iwe opened our beaks to the sky, and waited.
When all the food was gone, she sang.
The bristles around her beak were thin with age and her eyes milky with cataracts. But when she opened her ancient horn, out came the call of fledges from innumerable nest times, from the seasons beyond counting, with a random whirl to the call, or the way she got stuck on one. Over and over again she cried out, "Sable "
In a muted, dreamy voice, since she was just over the nest. Where are you?"
Excerpted from Song of the Crow, © 2006 Layne Maheu. Reprinted by permission of Unbridled Books. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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