The morning fog kissed the surface of the creek. The sound of birds awakening to the first light almost drowned the sound of the quietly babbling brook in front of us and the sound of our horse’s hooves as we moved through the dew-soaked leaves that lay upon the forest floor.
Couer-nuit, the black falcon that I had given to my husband on his birthday, sat hooded and calm upon his fist. My own Gyrfalcon, Minerva, was also hooded, but seemed more agitated than her mew mate. She bobbed her head and cocked it, as if straining to hear that which the hood prevented her from seeing.
I had opted to follow him through the forest this day following the disastrous mission into the Seelie Kingdom. No doubt that Sebastien knew that he had indeed earned my ire. But his observance of my subtle snubs and long silences seemed not to faze him in the least. My husband pulled up short near the creek and held up his free hand. His black gloved fingers flexed giving the signal for all quiet. All of us stood stock still. Even our horses seemed to not make another step nor sound. Something was amiss.
Slowly Sebastien brought his hand down and across his body. With the skill of a master falconer, he unhooded and unleashed Couer-nuit, while keeping her jesses securely wrapped through his gloved fingers. The falcon’s eyes blazed and she raised her wings but she did not bate on her master’s fist. Instead she watched and sensed what he was sensing. Man and falcon and both become attuned to each other, and with justification, she had quickly become Sebastien’s pride within the mews.
I followed suit and unhooded my own hawk who was looking a bit more dazed and confused. I stroked the Gyrfalcon’s breast to reassure her, never taking my eyes off of my husband. Without warning, he sharply lifted his arm, and Couer-nuit took off, bolting close to a large oak then veering sharply to the right, shooting straight up like an arrow loosed from a bow, she made her ascent to the top of the treeline. She circled broadly in the open sky, only to dive down moments later into her stoop, wings folded back to increase her speed. The black falcon streaked over our heads, her trajectory fixed on something she had spotted from high above. It was as if the entire forest grew completely still until we heard the killing blow. From behind a tree we could see a shower of pheasant feathers strewn in all directions. Couer-nuit had made her first kill.
I was about to dismount myself when a second sound of something whizzing past moved past my shoulder and struck my Gyrfalcon. The crossbow arrow hit her squarely in the breast, killing her instantly. Minerva fell onto my horse’s shoulder, lifeless. My eyes flew to where the arrow had come to see one of the Seelie scout taking aim again. This time it was aimed directly at me.
“My lady!” one of our falconers shouted, then turned to Sebastien, “My lord! Ambush!”
Before I could rein my horse and move directly at the attacker he fired off his shot, this one hit me squarely in the shoulder, knocking me from my saddle. The barb burned as it cut thorugh my flesh. I hit the ground hard only to glance up to see Sebastien taking off on foot with nearly all of the guards in attendance except two after our attacker, leaving the Master Falconer, Monsieur Le Boeff, to see to Couer-nuit.
Henri, one of the guards left behind, his weapon drawn stood over me looking about to see that there were no others that might come to do me further harm.
“Majesty, are you badly hurt?” He glanced down at me, then quickly back to the forest around us.
I shook my head, then looked down at the dead Gyrfalcon still tethered to my glove, “Nay, “ I wanted to touch Minerva with my free hand but the biting pain in my shoulder would not let me move, “The death of one good servant for another,” I murmured, “See to the others, make sure that there was no one else harmed.”
“I cannot do that, Your Grace,” Henri said simply, “You are in my charge.”
And care for me he did. Henri managed to cut off the arrow and force it the rest of the way through. Afterward, he cleaned and bound my wounds. It was some time before Sebastien returned with the other guards that had followed him. All of them looked irritated and annoyed that they had no one in custody that they could heap their vengeance upon. Sebastien’s face was tight with worry as he tried desperately to mask knelt down beside me.
“Are you well enough to sit your own horse, mon Enchantreusse?” he asked pushing a lock of hair that had shaken loose from my forehead, “if not, I would take you on mine. Monsieur and his apprentice can take our remaining hawks after us.”
There was a tenderness within him, even in the face of a crisis. No doubt he wanted to tear the attacker limb from limb, but I knew well enough it had been payment for the earlier incident in the Seelie Kingdoms.
“If I were to say ‘yes’, you would only insist that I ride with you anyway, my Lord and husband,” I gave him a weak smile, “far be it from me to deprive us both of the pleasure of having to share your saddle.”
“The insolent bastard escaped,” Sebastien grumbled ignoring my humour, “but I assure you I will find – “
“You will let it go, my Lord,” I said, “It was a message of a tit for a tat. We slew one of their Queen’s servants and they in turn slew one of mine, even if it was a falcon and they didn’t manage to eat her.” I gave him a hardened gaze,”I hope that this will be the end of it.”
Even though he inclined his head as if he acquiesced, I knew that it was not the end of it. There would be blows traded from our camp to theirs and from theirs to ours. Such was the way of things between the Fae Kingdoms. My only hope, as we continued the ride back home, is that it would not escalate further, especially given my husband’s penchant for raising the stakes.
Muse: Fanny Fae / Faelyn
Fandom: Original Character
Word Count: 1048