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alone taking prey. She had to be literally shaken off the fist and each
time she grumbled along for no more than thirty yards before plumping
down abruptly to huff out her feathers and talk to herself. The Lady
Criseyde finally picked her up, telling Frederik, "I'll try her again
last, after Micaela. Some of us are just spoiled beyond belief." Over
her shoulder Farrell saw three figures coming across the field.
Nicholas Bonner was carrying a bird, brandishing it like a torch
on a block perch almost as long as himself. Farrell took it at first
for a hawk, _damn big hawk too, even this far away_. Then Julie made a
sound, and Farrell let himself register the round, concave face, round
eyes as big and hard and shadowless as military brass buttons, and the
twin tufts that resembled wild, theatrically slanted eyebrows more than
horns or ears. It sat motionless, never once hooting or spreading its
wings; but on Duke Frederik's glove, Micaela the gyrfalcon suddenly
screamed like a bent nail tearing out of a board.
Looking left and right, Farrell saw that every hawk was being
hastily hooded by its owner to keep it calm in the presence of the owl.
Micaela herself was the only exception. Duke Frederik held her gently
against his chest, murmuring her silent, watching Aiffe, Nicholas, and
Garth de Montfaucon approach. Somebody complained, "You can't _fly_ one
of those things. I never heard of anybody flying one of those." Julie
closed her sketch pad and came to stand beside Farrell. The back of her
hand brushed his, as shockingly cold as the hawks' feet were hot.
Aiffe almost danced the last dozen yards, skipping ahead of her
companions to pounce into a deep curtsy before Duke Frederik and the
Lady Criseyde. "Pardon, pardon, pardon," she cried in her sweet,
twangling whine. "The tardiness was most shameful, yet truly no fault
of ours. The great wooddevils are none so easy to come by, search as a
poor witch will." She was dressed heavily for the summer day in
burgundy velvet that hung like a sandwich sign on her thin frame. Yet
she moved with graceful assurance in it, standing up swiftly to fling
one arm wide, gesturing toward the horned owl sitting so still on
Nicholas Bonner's perch. She said, "My lord, gentles all, will you not
now welcome me into your most noble fellowship? I mean, do I have a
bird here or do I have a bird?" Behind her, Nicholas Bonner smiled at
Farrell like an old friend.
Micaela screamed at the owl again, and Frederik drew his cloak
partly around her. "Lady Aiffe, this is more than a marvel." The only
change that Farrell could hear in his even voice was a lowering in
pitch and an early-morning roughness in the tone. "To hold such a
creature as this--"
"Without jesses," Aiffe interrupted loudly. "Take note, everyone,
nothing commands my wood-devil, nothing keeps him out in fullest
daylight among his enemies, nothing but our agreement." The genuine
dignity informing her own voice kept being sabotaged by spiteful
delight, shredding into laughter like a torn sail in a storm. Yet when
she said, "Now we will go hunting with you," there was the slightest
questioning tilt to the words, the smallest temblor of vulnerability,
touching Farrell by surprise. _She wants in so terribly_.
Duke Frederik said, "We are the Falconers' Guild. Even if your
bird might by arts magical be trained to fly from the fist, for there's
no owl born could ever learn to wait on--"
"Either one," she challenged him joyously. "Either way. If I bid
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him circle over my head all the day, at a mile's height or a
handbreadth, then circle he shall until I cry _stoop and take_. What
would you have him do, my masters? We are at your orders, he and I."
In the silence that followed, the horned owl hooted for the first
time, still not moving except to close its eyes. The breeze shifted in
the same moment, bringing Farrell the owl's cold indoor smell, _rooms
where you put things you don't want to think about_. The Lady Criseyde
began to say, "By every form and law of our fraternity--"
But Garth de Montfaucon's voice raked across hers like a slash of
brambles. "The law? I founded this wretched guild, and you would read
me its regulations? There is nothing in the law forbidding my
daughter's bird to hunt with your own, and right well you know it, my
lord Duke." He had stepped in front of Aiffe and was glaring at
Frederik, his gaunt, tight face twisting like a drill bit. He said,
"All that is required, _all_, is that the bird be of age and condition
to take prey. There is not a single word concerning species. She could
fly a duck if she so chose, and if its disposition were suitable, and
none to bar her. You know this."
Nicholas Bonner touched Aiffe's shoulder, and she turned to him.
Farrell could not hear what they were saying, but Nicholas was nodding
at the owl, grinning his branding-iron grin, while Aiffe kept edging
irritably away from him. Duke Frederik repeated, his voice increasingly
hoarse and slow, "We are the Falconers' Guild. The rule is implicit in
the name, as it always was."
Someone bumped Farrell from behind, and he turned to realize that
the entire company were gradually drawing together, none looking at the
next, cradling their hawks against themselves like maimed limbs. Even
Hamid had moved close enough that Farrell could see the sharp brown
cord jumping in his throat. Nicholas Bonner raised the horned owl's
perch slightly higher, and the bird hooted again, spreading wings as [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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