Beneath the rising hills


Eagle left a small trail of dust as she ran down the dirt road that lead to her parents’ house. It was a warm early summer’s day and the sun shone non-to tenderly from up above and the air was filled with the sounds of framing and the smell of pastures.
“Hey Eagle, what’s happened?” the deep base of Eagles oldest brother Falconer shouted from one of the village pastures. Falconer vaulted the stone wall of the pasture and ran the last part to meet her. Eagle veered towards Falconer and he saw that her cheeks was shining from tears as he got close to the scrawny girl.

“What’s happened Eagle?” He said again tenderly as he sat back on his hunches in front of her, “Did you fight with Hawker again?”
“No,” Eagle managed to say between sobs, “I was playing with Grey and he ran off into the rising hills! And he didn’t come back when I shouted for him to!”
“Oh, Little Eaglet, Grey will come back, he’s a good dog, he probably just found a squirrel.”
“But I waited for so long and I shouted his name and I… ” she scrunched up her face again and started sobbing “What If he’s been taken by the people of the hills?”

Falconer smiled and took out his blue and white handkerchief and dabbed at her cheeks, “Tell you what, why don’t you go home and tell mum and dad that Grey ran off into the hills and that I’ve gone there to see if I can get him to come back? Sounds good?”
Eagle’s breathing became calmer as she slowly hiccuped out of her sobs nodding. Falconer rose up and smiled down on his youngest sister.
“Grey will come back, you’ll see,” he said with a smile and started walking the way Engle had come, “Oh, and could you ask dad to put on some tea for me?”
Eagle walked the rest of the way home and waited with her parents. The evening came and Falconer didn’t return.

Squirrel was struggled terribly with her pregnancy. Grey, loving and playful as he was, had terrorized the scurry for a few generations by this point. Squirrel was anxious but determined to raise her child in a peaceful environment; to offer him a better life than her own.

Driven by both fear and love, she set out to her distant cousin’s clan, Mischief. Usually squirrels would avoid rats, shameful that they were even remotely related but she was desperate and once when Rat visited, he told her of how his uncle had saved turtles from near death and raised them as his own. She never wanted to believe the story as a young kitten but listening to the the rat’s tale, blind, it was engraved in her mind.

He listened obediently and promised to resolve Squirrel’s problem if she would help him find a squirrel wife. Squirrel did not know any other squirrel that would marry a rat but said whatever she needed to say to protect her unborn son.

With the contract in place, Rat set off at great speed and absolute excitement.

Rat happened to be the best looking rat in the mischief. He was a shade of auburn and had even learnt to eat acorns standing comfortably like a squirrel. He didn’t struggle to find many possible life partners but he longed to live among the squirrels ever since he visited the Oak tree as a pup.

He galloped to his safe house where he had hidden the boa of feathers and fur he had found and sown himself and attached it to his tail, performing dance numbers to the mirror. With the tail secured he left to find Grey, taking one last glance at himself as he left.

Falconer smiled as he walked off to find Grey. Ten years older than Eagle, he had always been protective and fond of her. She was very much like Grey, he thought, always wandering off, curious about pebbles, trees, dirt, almost everything around her. Her hands and pockets constantly seemed full of stones and twigs that she picked up on walks through the countryside. A mound of dirt was always ‘treasure!’, she would squeal, and would proceed to dig into it with any object lying around, that she could use as a shovel. On many occasions it would be her bare hands.

He laughed out loud when he remembered taking her out to play with him and his friends when she was just a toddler, four years old. She had been as usual walking with her eyes towards the ground, stooping at intervals to part the grass on the fields, in search of who knows what. Engrossed on a game of conkers with his friends, he hadn’t noticed her stroll further away. When he did realize that she was missing, he had spent two hours searching for her. It was growing dark by the time he returned home. He was on the verge of tears, terrified that he had indeed lost her forever and simultaneously terrified of his parents’ reaction.
“I lost my sister. I lost my sister!” he had sobbed when he walked into the kitchen where his mother was preparing dinner and his father assisting her with the vegetables.
Eagle walked into the kitchen munching on a peanut butter sandwich, before his parents had had time to respond.
“Alconer! You find me!” she had cried arms wide open to hug him and kiss him as he stooped down, with a mouth and hands sticky and smeared with peanut butter.
For once, he didn’t cringe at the mess.
His parents laughed.
Eagle had returned home, having had a bout of hunger attack her little stomach out on the pastures. When Falconer passed by the house looking for her, his parents caught sight of him and had told her to be quiet.
‘We are going to play hide and seek with brother,’ they had said to her.
All for games, she had hidden herself. Poor Falconer, finding no sign of her, had gone off into the village in search of her.
His relief, when she walked into the kitchen that day, had been so memorable that since then, he had maintained a soldier-like vigilance on her.
He started a slow jog across the pasture towards the woods where he thought Grey might have followed a squirrel.

After having hiked through some of the shortcuts an adolescence spent in and around these valleys had brought taught him, Falconer had made it to the base of Blossom hill, the closest of the rising hills and the one which bordered the Féfolc woods as they stretched on southward from the valley. Emerging on to the road again he saw clearly where his sister had stood. She had, once again, dropped her handkerchief on the ground close to the forest edge.

“At least she didn’t go past the way-stones this time.” Falconer thought as he picked up the hankie and put it in his pocket. The way-stones were a number of unassuming blocks of black weathered granite that marked, supposedly, where the domain of the valley folk ended and the kingdom of the forest began. The older folk in the valley rarely ventured into the woods and while the Norfun forest to the north was a day travel they always went there instead of into the Féfolc for timber. If they needed to go though the Blooming pass they always took wards and tributes on the wagons as they travelled down the forest road.

But Falconer had grown up in the valleys and had spent many afternoons exploring the woods. Sometimes he and his friends could have sworn that they saw the forest folk in the distance but every time it had just been an oddly shaped tree or a illusion of branches. He continued into the forest on the road and called out for grey. After a while he heard distant sounds coming from the woods, that might have been Grey barking but far away and distorted. Wondering whether the great lumbering dog had gotten trapped or hurt somehow Falconer went of the path and started to jog down the path that went down into the general direction of the sounds.

Falconer ran deeper and deeper into the Féfolc. At times he thought he saw someone running some paces ahead of him but like before it seemed a trick of the light. After he had continued towards the sounds for what felt like an hour he started to fear that he had lost his direction but came upon the clearing in the middle of which the "Old man Oak "stood as a grey barked commander with a squad of aged apple trees guarding the mossy glade’s perimeter. There had once been several houses in the clearing and the ruins of them, now no more than slightly raised mounds of moss now, where still visible.

Falconer hadn’t realised how deep into the woods he had managed to run but knew that this clearing was way past where it was safe to be when night covered the land. He knew that supposedly this glade was a safe spot, but his grandma had always insisted that the safety were only if you stayed under the oak.

“I just have to find the dog fast” Falconer thought as he sat down to catch his breath in Old man Oak’s shade. The sounds were closer now but it was harder to pinpoint where they were coming from.

But, now that he sat down he could make out that the sounds were from two sources. One was the bark from what Falconer hoped to the gods was Grey and the other was something else, it almost sounded like a voice.

Breath caught he rose up steadying himself on trunk of Old man Oak. He shouted his calling for Grey again and heard the barking part of the sounds intensify. He faced the general direction of the sounds and started off again.

The falcon cannot hear the falconer, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, the falcon cannot hear the falconer. Falconer repeated these words in his heart as he raced through the pathless woods of Féfolc, nearing the bark to which he grew accustomed all his life. His father, let alone his entire family, was not particularly fond of poetry, yet this one line his father reiterated time and again as a cautionary word to the wise. Falconer ignored the branches of wild trees bruising the softness of his face and the sharp-edged rocks poking from the soft ground underneath. Falconer fiddled with the air with all his senses; Grey was close.

Like an explorer following a compass that could not afford inaccuracy, Falconer followed Grey’s call, which dwindled to a whimper the closer he got. “Grey! I’m here! Grey! Grey!” he shouted, hoping bawling would eventually loosen the knots of anxiety that had been forming in the pit of his stomach. “Grey!” he shouted again as he subsequently gave a sharp whistling sound made of three notes.

It was not long before the succession of a ruffle, a sound, a screech, a howl, and a crack made Falconer run headlong into a clearing wherein a scene was suspended. Indeed, it was as if they had been waiting for him: Falconer, the spectator. There was Grey in the middle of a small clearing, emitting low grunts, his head hunched and his ears turned back. Facing Grey were two wolf-like creatures, a rabbit, a squirrel, and a rat. They all seemed to be huddled together. Something about Grey had apparently pushed them back.

Falconer walked steadily towards Grey. “Here, boy,” Falconer said, his voice failing him. He realized he sounded like his ten-year-old self – an odd thing to think about. Grey did not turn. He stood his ground and yapped, standing on his hind legs. “Grey!” Falconer cried, surprised and fearful at the same time. “What’s happening, boy? Come here.”

But as he tried to lay a hand on Grey’s collar to yank him back, Grey turned his head and said, “Go back, Falconer. This matter does not concern humans.” Falconer immediately removed his hand as if he’d just touched a smoldering surface. He was struck with astonishment.

Grey could talk.

On hunt the bird its prey did spot so near
Trapped, the prey runs around in fear

The falcon catches it in the end
Eats in leisure, not ready to ascend

The falcon thinks it is in the clear

The falcon cannot hear the falconer

“How…?” Falconer asked and then followed it up with a, “What?”.

Grey sighed wearily and turned his head back towards the gathering of forest animals opposite of him.
“As I said, you should go back Falconer.” Then in a kinder voice Grey added “I’ll be fine Falconer.”
Falconer stepped backwards a few steps but then remained. The wolf-like creatures, they were smaller than the actual wolves, looked from him to Grey and back.
“Don’t even think about it.” Grey growled.
“Oh, but we are.” One of them said in an icy voice that sent chills running down Falconer’s spine.
“Yes, I’d guess we could even go so far as to say that we are strongly considering it.” The other one said, it’s voice deeper but just as venomous.
“Falconer, can you fins your way to the Old Man Oak?” Grey growled.
“I think so.”
“Then GO!”