Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Episode Four

A triangle formation swooped low over their perch. Tr’lia twisted her neck and arched back to examine the players. Not one of them had a shiny green head.
Beside her, Lili crunched a trio of jeweled crickets. Her bill snapped as she pulled each bug from the stick they’d been roasted on, and her eyes flicked between bites down to their table ring where the remainder of their weaving shimmered in the setting sunlight.
The festival only had two days left.
“Do you want this one?” Lili offered the stick and the last cricket, but Tr’lia shook her head.
“Go ahead. I’m still full of mushroom.” They’d eaten more fungus this week than she usually had in a month. “Who won today?”
“Northern Gulls.”
“The falcon squad from South Aerie almost had them, but one of their point’s was disqualified.”
“Oh.” Tr’lia shifted her weight to the other foot and tucked the tired one up into her downy belly. “did you see--.”
“No. Not today.” Lili rolled her eyes and downed the last bug. “Nor yesterday either. He wasn’t that cute Tr’lia.”
But he was. Not that she expected Lili to understand. Since that first meeting, Tr’lia hadn’t been able to think of anything but the milker. She considered it a bit disloyal that Lili could be so rude about it, but her friend’s patience had never exactly overflowed.
“Well, we’re almost sold out.”
“You can take tomorrow off if you want,” Lili tried. “Go wander around and see if you can find him.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not?’
“Because.” She sighed and fluffed her chest feathers. Her wings flapped a little with her mood. “It would look too desperate, Lili. If he wanted to see me again, he would have come by.”
“Stupid.” Lili hopped down from the perch, shaking the wood enough she had to put down both feet to cling to it. “He probably is working too.”
“Well he could have found a way.”
“Maybe.” Lili scuffed behind the booth, stirring up dust that they’d have to brush off the sashes later. “I don’t get why it’s so important. You don’t even know him. If you want to see him again, go find him.”
“Ha!” Tr’lia dropped down and went to work cleaning up Lili’s mess. The more she wiped, however, the more her friend’s pacing erased her efforts. “Stop fidgeting, Lili! You’re getting it all filthy.”
“And you’re being grouchy. Maybe they left already, Tr’lia. He’s a milker anyway. He was probably just messing with you, and you’re spoiling the festival for nothing!”
“What? Spoiling the—what?” She spun to face her little blue friend, and sent an even bigger cloud of dust across their wares. “I’m spoiling the festival?”
“Yes.” Lili held her ground. She puffed up, even though she stood only chest high, and stared up at Tr’lia without flinching. “We’ve been waiting for this forever, Tr’lia, and you’ve been pouting the whole time!”
“But. I.” Tr’lia felt her gullet tighten. She felt tears pooling, and ground her beak together to stall them. “You don’t understand.”
“I do too.” Lili deflated. Her feathers settled, though she didn’t exactly back down. “I do. But I don’t know how to make him come back, Tr’lia. And I want to enjoy this!” She swept one wing in an arc, over the table and smack into a black breast.
“Ooof.” It’s owner grunted and staggered back.
“Ooops.” Lili chirped.
The milker recovered and brushed at his vest. He had white bars on his wings, the grass vest, and the attitude, but his head was black and crestless. Tr’lia dropped her beak and brushed at the bags and sashes.
“Where’s your friend?” Lili blurted.
“Lili!” Tr’lia’s cheeks blossomed.
“He’s working.” The milker said. “We’ve been swamped, couldn’t get away even for a second. P’rao tried, but it’s been crazy.” He reached into his vest and pulled out a scroll. “He hired me to send you this.”
“Why didn’t he just bring it himself?” Lili fluffed up again.
“Hush, Lili.” Tr’lia stared at the scroll and imagined what it said.
“One of us had to keep delivering, and he couldn’t hire himself.” He waved the roll of skin. “Don’t you want it?”
She nodded, but her wings wouldn’t work. In the end, Lili snatched it for her, glowering at P’rao’s friend until he took a step back.
“Thank you.” Tr’lia found her voice. She snagged the scroll from Lili before she could do any more damage. “Tell him thank you.”
“Just show up,” the milker said. He spread his wings and twisted his head to one side. “He’s driving me crazy.”
They watched him launch. His down stroke caked their wares in dust again, but Tr’lia hardly cared. She held the scroll between her wingtips and followed the milker’s flight until he dropped down between the booths and out of sight. P’rao. Her feathers trembled, nearly dropped the message.
Lili wasn’t having any of it. “Well,” she said.
“Well what?”
“Aren’t you going to read it?”
“What do you think it says?”
“I don’t know.” Lili shrugged and leaned against the counter. “But it better be good or I’m going to find that stupid milker and pluck him.”
“Lili!” Tr’lia laughed despite her nerves. The scroll felt heavy. It made everything suddenly very real and scary, but Lili wouldn’t wait much longer. She took a deep breath and pried the thing open.

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