(My girls have been teaching me about “Flash Fiction” or stories of extreme brevity, usually 1000 words or less. Here we go.)
In another life, Louisa had been a falconer. Now, as leader of the village, falconry was a collaborative effort, left largely to the young and energetic. Still, from time to time, Louisa would canter out to the village green with Desmond, her favorite peregrine on her leather glove. Desmond was an unusually good hunter, and the pair would often return with several rabbits in her game bag.
Today was a beautiful day for a hunt. Louisa rubbed her hand over her neck and cheek, feeling the ropy scars of past battles. No matter, pretty faces were for silly women, she thought as she cantered off.
Louise loved the feel of the wind in her dreadlocks, and the creak of the leather saddle as her horse picked up speed. Desmond took wing, and Louisa could look up and see him keeping pace above. They cantered through the forest and toward the field, and suddenly, Desmond streaked to the ground.
“A catch? So soon? Let’s see! ” Louisa brought a tidbit of dried meat out of her bag and whistled. Desmond rose from the deep grass, dragging a meaty rabbit in his angular claws. Louisa stopped to appreciate the spare beauty of the bird. He had broken the rabbit’s neck cleanly and quickly.
“Brilliant! “Louisa whooped. Desmond dropped the rabbit and Louisa nabbed it mid air. Desmond’s black head glistened in the morning sun as he settled on her glove.
“Desmond, my love, let’s see what else the King of Heaven has in store for us today.” The pair continued the trot to the grassy glen.
Lists, lists, things to do, people to look out for, children to lead, mouths to feed. Louisa’s head slowly began to clear of all of these things as she concentrated on the moment at hand. She and Desmond made their way over to a fallen tree, and dismounted into a patch of fragrant greenery.
“Aha! Wild mint! The ladies and old men will thank me for this remedy.” She smiled inwardly. Louisa had no desire for more childbearing, but the younger women looked to her for guidance, and wild mint soothed female problems of all sorts. Good for the stomachs of cranky old men, too. She began to gather.
Desmond sidestepped up to her shoulder, and clung to her dreadlocks with one brightly colored claw. He was large for a male, most hunters of his breed were smaller than the females.But Desmond was nearly as large as his female counterpart.
The hissing was upon them almost before Louisa knew it. A whoosh, a sudden chill in the air, and a violent churning around them. Desmond squawked and flapped, both claws digging into Louisa’s scarred neck. She dropped to the ground instinctually. She cast her arms into the air, in a ‘Fly’ gesture that Desmond usually responded to. They rolled on the ground together, Desmond narrowly taking wing before Louisa accidentally crushed him.
What in the name of the King of Heaven was going on? Louisa rolled onto her back and looked skyward. An enormous black bird, the likes of which she had never seen, was pursuing her falcon. Desmond was an excellent climber and flew higher, higher to get away from his pursuer. The foreign bird was black with an enormous wingspan, so black that he looked like a moving hole in the sky, a tear in the fabric of the beautiful blue sky day.
Louisa bounded to her feet, frantic. What to do? She reached into her boot and withdrew her favorite dagger and turned to throw. A quick judgement told her that they were too far away, so she rummaged in her saddle bags for a throwing star. Quickly, she pulled out two of the deadly rounded pieces of metal and sent them into the air. One of them missed the black bird narrowly, and the other disappeared, as if swallowed into nothingness.
Suddenly another voice started speaking nearby. Louisa couldn’t understand the words, but somehow she felt as though she should know them. Familiar, somehow.
A powerful male voice uttered the words sotto voce, over and over. Louisa kept her eyes on the birds, it was easy to lose a falcon.
“Rex caeli! Rex caeli! Indulgentia! Auferte malum! Auferte malum! The voice took on a pleading note. The birds drew closer, suddenly another, larger falcon came to the aid of Desmond. First one, then another, then a third. They swarmed the black bird, streaking, diving, clawing. Desmond folded his wings and made a straight dive to the earth, pulling up at the last possible moment, and winged his way to Louisa. She heaved a sigh, and turned toward the voice.
“What did you say? What happened?” she demanded. She looked in the sky again, the three beautiful falcons had disappeared, and the huge black bird was a spot in the distance.
The owner of the voice was a graying, muscular man with an erect bearing. He stood his ground, and looked at Louisa straight on, undeterred by her battle scarred face.
“King of heaven, show mercy. Banish the evil one. ” He turned away, and walked toward his own mount, tethered not far away.
“Wait!” Louisa whispered. The Evil one?
“Wait!” Her voice rose. “Are you a servant of the Most High too?” Her voice rose again.
The man turned. A peregrine of identical size landed and settled on his own glove.
“Yes. I am. They call me Hawk.”