Corvus Rising – Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Catching The Wind

 

Husband!” Rika shrieked as she dropped to the tree house deck. “JoEd’s flown off again! I just don’t know what to do with him! He won’t mind, he won’t listen.” She paced back and forth, flapping her wings. “Every single time I turn my back, he’s gone. I cannot keep my eyes upon him every second! He’s not the only fledgling I have to look after!”

He’s a chip off the old block, my love,” Charlie said, following her around the deck. “My mother pulled her feathers out over me, too. The nest has gotten too small for him, I reckon. But let me take him off your wings for the rest of the day. I’ll show him a bit of the outside world.”

Charlie flew off looking for his errant son and found him on the riverbank. Though a plethora of dead fish and other delectables littered the river’s edge, JoEd was not interested. His eyes were upon the city across the river. Charlie knew that look; he’d had it himself. Our JoEd will be leaving us soon. I must prepare Rika.

Zazu!” JoEd cried when he saw Charlie. “I wanted to see what was beyond the nest, and I flapped my wings one or two times, and here I am! Look at that!” He pointed a wing toward Downtown. “Someday I want to go there, Zazu!”

Charlie grinned at little JoEd and said, “And someday you will. But today, let’s fly all the way around Cadeña-l’jadia.”

As father and son flew off together, Charlie remembered how his curiosity had nibbled away at his common sense when he was JoEd’s age. Thank the Orb his mother sent him to Starfire when she did. JoEd should begin his training soon; no use letting all that energy go to waste.

This is Cadeña-l’jadia,” Charlie told JoEd as they rose above the treetops of the island. “Your homeland and your heritage.”

They flew around the southern tip of the island and headed upriver toward the bird sanctuary, a very popular place for not only migratory birds, but island and city birds as well. Charlie and JoEd landed in a tree and watched the panorama in front of them.

Shorebirds of all sizes littered the shallow quiet water; waders, fishers, skimmers, and a dozen or so white pelicans fished from the bank. Rowdy groups of crows and magpies flew in and out of the trees that lined the banks, swooping down from time to time to catch a mouthful of fish the pelicans inadvertently let fall out of their beaks. A group of loons played a noisy game of splash-tag, beating the placid water into a tempest as they belted out insults to each other in melancholy voices. Waves fanned out in all directions and struck the shorelines with a slurping sound.

Nice job Jayzu did, eh, JoEd?” Charlie said to his son.

What did he do, Zazu?” JoEd asked.

Well, he and his friends moved some boulders around a bit so that this large pool would form, and all these birds would have a place to feed and hang out.”

Why did they do that, Zazu?”

Jayzu loves birds,” Charlie said. “He is Patua’, like Bruthamax was. He knows this island belongs to birds.”

Father and son flapped their way to the edge of the pool, where they both found more than enough morsels of fish to fill their stomachs. “Shall we?” Charlie said, gesturing toward the sky with his head.

Let’s!” JoEd jumped into flight, following Charlie as he flapped up to the limestone cliffs. Vertical and horizontal fractures split the cliff face, creating rectangular patterns of rock and shadows. They came to a landing on a ledge near a great fissure in the cliff wall. “I can feel air coming out!” he said, his beak turned toward the dark cleft in the rock.

There are many caves in these cliffs, JoEd,” Charlie said. “They go way back underneath the island—and some are joined together by tunnels. Bruthamax lived in these caves during the cold time of year. But he used them year-round to travel back and forth between his tree house and his other house on the other end of the island.”

They watched a raven glide into an upside-down V-shaped crack in the cliff. “Is there a nest in there?” JoEd asked.

Probably not this time of year,” Charlie said. “Though the ravens roost in these cliffs year-round. But don’t go looking for them! They like their privacy and won’t take kindly to a young crow sticking his beak where it doesn’t belong.”

Charlie leaped off the cliff flapping his wings, and JoEd followed. As they flew out over the river, the sight of Downtown in the morning sunlight captured JoEd’s attention, and he could not take his eyes off it.

That is where your mother hatched, fledged, and lived until I brought her to Cadeña-l’jadia,” Charlie said, dipping a wing toward Downtown. “See those green trees over there, next to that really tall building? That’s where your weebs and I met.”

He remembered how Rika had knocked him beak-over-feathers the first time he had ever laid eyes on her. She was a beauty. Fredrika Eliza Katarzyna Antonina Stump was her given name, but she was known to everyone simply as Rika. It was love at first sight. When Rika called his tune, he came dancing.

JoEd could hardly take his eyes off the sparkling jewel across the water as they continued their journey upriver. On and on, flying close to the sheer limestone cliffs that rose right up out of water. Father and son played in the gentle, capricious winds that blew constantly downriver from the north.

Watch me, Zazu!” JoEd said as he caught an updraft.

Charlie shouted, “No! JoEd! No!” But it was too late.

Whooooaaaaa!” JoEd cried out as he shot upward like a rock from a slingshot.

JoEd!” Charlie shouted, looking all around for his wayward son. “JoEd!”

But there was no sign of the young crow.

 

JoEd struggled for consciousness. A large black figure hovered over him, but he just couldn’t focus on it. That’s one big raven. Struggling to his feet, still woozy from having the wind knocked out of him, JoEd realized this was no raven, but a human all dressed in black, except for the streak of white hair on his head. He must have some corvid in him. He looks like Starfire.

He cast a blue eye upward at the beakless black bird above him. JoEd’s head cleared, and he leaped to his feet as he cried out, “Jayzu! It’s me, JoEd!” He put out a wing in greeting.

JoEd!” Jayzu said as he brushed his hand across JoEd’s feathers. “Grawky! You are a long way from the Treehouse.”

I am!” JoEd said, puffing up his chest. “My zazu and I flew all the way here!” He stopped for a moment and shook his head. “Wait a minute! Where’s my zazu? We were just looking at the raven cliffs! Where did he go? How did I get here?”

Well, I do not know, JoEd,” Jayzu said. “You just fell out of the sky.”

JoEd looked confused for a few moments. “Ohhh,” he said, nodding his head. “I remember now. I was riding a jaloosie. Which way are the cliffs, Jayzu? I need to find my zazu!”

That way,” Jayzu pointed. “It is not far.”

JoEd flew up over the trees. The river shimmered blue and white in the afternoon sun and in the distance, he saw a single black speck flying back and forth. “Zazu!” he shouted and flapped his wings as hard as he could.

Zazu!” he called out as he flew until Charlie was close enough to hear him.

 

JoEd!” Charlie said angrily as they met in the sky. He smacked his son with a wing, nearly knocking him out of the sky. “You scared the beezle out of me! Where in the Orb have you been?”

I’m sorry, Zazu,” JoEd said. “The jaloosie flung me all the way to Jayzu’s house!”

Jaloosies can turn you into jelly,” Charlie said sternly. “Especially the ones along the raven cliffs—they’re killers, and you should stay away from them. Let me show you a couple of tricks, but let’s get away from the cliffs.”

JoEd and Charlie continued flying upriver, following the riverbank. They cut across the little inlet and rounded it. “The jaloosies here are not as wild,” Charlie said as he caught one and whooshed upward. He flipped himself out of the thermal and returned to JoEd’s side.

Now you try it,” Charlie said. “Jump in like normal, but don’t let the jaloosie grab you! Get right back out. Like this!” He jumped into another jaloosie and somersaulted out of it in a mass of feather and beak that somehow righted itself into JoEd’s otherwise unruffleable zazu.

Try it!” Charlie said.

JoEd leaped into the jaloosie and felt it tumble him backward, but he did not let it take hold of him. He darted sideways, shrieking as he tumbled tail over beak.

After you practice awhile,” Charlie said, “you can do more than one flip-out. Watch this!” He rolled into the jaloosie, which spun him around like a top before releasing him.

I want to do that!” JoEd cried out. He jumped in the way Charlie had and laughed all the way through four revolutions. “Wow! Zazu!”

Hey there, Flyboy,” Charlie called out after a few more spins in the jaloosies. “Let’s go home! Your mother is probably imagining us both dead somewhere.”

Okay, Zazu,” JoEd said. The young crow looked down at the island as they winged homeward. “Look! There’s the Treehouse, Zazu! It is so small!”

 

Catching the Wind opened with eighteen of Jade Matthews’ paintings at Jena McCray’s eclectic gallery in Downtown Ledford. Jena’s place attracted a broad range of buying clientele. The reception she put together was incredible—simple and elegant, with enough wine to get people talking and loosen their checkbooks, but not so much as to promote accidental drunkenness.

Russ was enormously handsome in his tux, and Jade was touched that he was so willing to put on the dog for her night. Nibbling nervously on one of the exquisite canapés Jena had provided, she could hardly catch her breath. So many people wanted to talk to her, tell her how much they loved her work, how it spoke to them in ways that art never had before. And here I thought this would be my final, solitary journey into the bourgeois.

Jade, dahling, it’s so mah-velous to see you. Mwa. Mwa.” A woman with penciled-in eyebrows and flaming red hair had appeared, kissing the air in front of each of Jade’s ears.

Hello, Twyla,” Jade said, smiling as cordially as she could. Twyla Spitzwater was the art critic for the Sentinel, well known for her scathingly sarcastic articles.

She likes being known as eccentric,” Jena had told her before the reception, “without actually being so. In her youth, she was very attractive, but alas, Twyla is a woman who cannot bear to age gracefully. She’s going kicking and screaming.”

Speaking of bourgeois,” Russ said into his wine glass. Jade jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

I’m so glad you could make it to my opening,” Jade said.

She tried not to stare at Twyla’s outlandish appearance. Her overly dyed hair had taken on the texture of a bird’s nest, and a layer of powdery makeup caked heavily on her cheeks only called more attention to her undulating wrinkles. Impossibly thick false eyelashes looked like caterpillars above her eyelids. Her lips were painted a brick-red color, outlined in black.

Tell me about Catching the Wind,” Twyla said as she sipped her wine and looked at Jane over tinted glasses shaped like cat’s eyes. “Why that title?”

I took a hiatus from painting for several years,” Jade said. “Most of the paintings in this show are the first gust, so to speak, since I’ve returned to painting. The wind that used to drive me still blows. I’m trying to catch it.”

Interesting,” Twyla said. She pinched a morsel off her plate between long, spiky fingernails painted to match her lips and plopped it quickly into her mouth. “Would you hold this a moment, dear?” She handed Jade her canapé plate and wine glass as she scribbled a few notes in a small pad. She looked back up at Jade over her glasses. “And why had you stopped painting?”

Jade felt like she was being probed for a soft spot, a sign of weakness. She didn’t want to tell Twyla that she had been in a state most of the world would call temporary insanity. Or that she had quit eating and sleeping, and had wandered nomadically through foggy memories and dreams.

I stopped hearing the wind.” Jade hoped that would be enough. Twyla nodded and scribbled some more in her pad.

And why did you stop hearing the wind?”

Isn’t Jade the most exciting artist we’ve seen in a long time?” Jena said as she put her face in between Jade and Twyla. “It is so unusual,” she continued, “to sell half the show at the artist’s reception. Especially a new artist on the scene. Don’t you agree, Twyla?”

Indeed,” Twyla said as if she thought the opposite. “I always love to introduce new talent to the community.”

That was the purpose of having her show at my gallery,” Jena said sweetly. “I hope you’ll give Jade a nice write-up in your column on Sunday. Meanwhile, forgive me for interrupting, but several of my customers want to meet Jade. I am afraid, Twyla, that I must steal her from you.”

Jade handed the wine glass and canapé plate back to Twyla, and Jena whisked her away. “You are a smash hit, my dear!” Jena said as they left Twyla scowling. “She likes your work, I can tell that. And you too. It’ll be interesting to see what she writes in her column on Sunday. But promise me you will not take anything negative she might have to say personally, okay? She’ll throw some darts at me, but I don’t care what she thinks. It’s my gallery. And I’m ecstatic.”

Jade nodded, wondering why anyone would not like Jena. Her gallery was fabulous, and she was very successful.

A wealthy client of Jena’s, a woman in her fifties, stood before Catching the Wind, the title painting of the show. “Gabrielle, let me introduce Jade Matthews, the artist,” Jena said.

The woman turned and gushed enthusiastically as she took Jade’s hand. “I’m so pleased to meet you! I just love your paintings, Ms. Matthews. The colors and the richness! I can just feel the crisp air in this one.” She gestured toward Catching the Wind. “I can almost hear the wind blowing those leaves along the pavement! I don’t know how you do it!”

Thank you,” Jade said. “I heard it too—the wind. I’m glad to know it comes through.”

Oh,” Gabrielle said, “it does. I’ve never experienced anything like it from a painting. You are uniquely talented, Ms. Matthews.”

Perhaps you should hang it next to this one,” Jena said, directing the woman’s attention to Leave Me. “The two together would be lovely, don’t you think?”

Leave Me, a playful celebration of leaves falling from trees, leaves blowing around, and leaves collecting on doorsteps, captured the vivid reds and yellows of the summer sun. Leaves fell from their trees, playfully riding the winds of fall, oblivious to the coming winter’s death.

But that means I must buy two!” the woman said.

Exactly!” Jena said, and both women laughed.

Jade laughed too, though nervously.

Well,” Gabrielle said, “they do look lovely together. All right! You talked me into it, Jena! I was going to buy another one anyway—that sweet little one of the crows dancing around the birdbath—but my husband absolutely loathes crows, and I’m afraid I would never get it into the house. How much do I owe you?”

 

Alfredo walked from the docks at the Waterfront where the Captain had left him to Jena’s gallery on Pomegranate Street. When he arrived, several dozen people chatted while helping themselves to the food and drink. He walked in and stopped dead in his tracks, chilled to the bone by the face in the painting across the room.

It is Charlotte …

The eyes dragged him forward until he stood before her, enthralled and astonished. Painted with the palest hues of pink, blue, and green, those eyes pulled him into the patterns and promises of another world on the other side. He wanted to get closer and closer, dive into them, bask in days of warm sunshine and nights of star-sprinkled heaven.

He looked at the title of the painting. Ave, Madre.

Hail, Mother. Jade’s mother, Charlotte. Of course. Though she doesn’t look anything like her. He turned and scanned the crowd, trying to find Jade.

Father Manzi!” Jena cried out, waving as she approached with Jade. “What a pleasure to see you!” She gave the priest a quick hug and said, “Please let me introduce the artist, Jade Matthews.”

Alfredo!” Jade said and took his hand. “I’m so happy that you came! Russ is here somewhere, as are Sam and Kate.”

Here I am!” Sam said. “And here’s Kate!” Jade greeted Kate with a hug and Sam with a playful punch to the shoulder.

Alfredo said, “My pleasure, Jade.”

I see you all know each other,” Jena said.

Yes, I know Sam from way back,” Jade said. “But Alfredo and I have only recently met. He’s a colleague of my husband’s in the biology department at the university. But I had no idea he’s an art collector!”

And I had no idea Charlotte is your mother. Alfredo felt suddenly lightheaded and inhaled slowly, trying to keep his thoughts from running away. And you are Patua’, of course! The crow spoke to you in the chapel garden, not in English, but Patua’!

One of my gallery’s best clients!” Jena said.

When St. Sophia’s was remodeled,” Alfredo said, “they needed new paintings of the Stations of the Cross. Jena helped me find interested artists. I simply recommended them to the monsignor.”

Oh, you’re too modest!” Jena said, giving Alfredo a gentle shove. “That was quite the largesse for a number of our local artists. But aren’t Jade’s paintings just fabulous?” She turned and gazed at Ave, Madre. “I feel like I’m gazing into my own mother’s eyes.”

Alfredo looked again at Ave, Madre and then back at Jade. Her blonde, curly hair and green eyes did not remind him in the least of Charlotte’s pale gray eyes and long, straight black hair. But there was something about her face that did.

This one’s my favorite,” Sam said, gesturing toward the painting next to Ave, Madre. “Winter Wonderland. You got amazing depth in just two dimensions, Jade. Incredible.”

A sunbeam coming through a window illuminated the particulate matter floating in the air. The rich, exquisite surface of many brush strokes pulled the viewer into the warm light, where images of flowers and dragonflies floated on warm, lazy breezes.

That’s what the world outside my studio looked like one day last winter,” Jade said. “There was this amazing sunbeam. The contrast was exquisite—the sparkling clear landscape covered with snow outside, and a mosaic of color in the dust particles of the sunbeam inside. I couldn’t resist.”

Truly superb, Jade,” Alfredo said. “I feel like I am gently falling through stardust. You manage to evoke many senses beyond the visual.”

Willow B,” Kate said, pointing across the gallery to the painting of a gray cat. “That’s my fave. It’s like you can almost walk into it; the mounds of fur seem like trees. Oh! And the little critters running around everywhere. I just love them!”

Jena excused herself to attend to a refreshment issue. Sam and Kate wandered off toward Willow B, leaving Alfredo and Jade alone.

You truly have a gift,” Alfredo said to Jade. “Your paintings are simply magnificent.” He turned toward Ave, Madre. “She is your mother?”

I don’t know who my mother was,” Jade said with a shrug, facing her painting. “This woman is from my imagination. Or perhaps one of my dreams. I was an orphan, and you know what they say about us—always looking for our quote-unquote real parents.”

I am sorry, Jade. Losing your mother must have been difficult,” Alfredo said. “We all long for the Holy Mother who nurtures us all. Perhaps orphans feel her presence more acutely than the mothered.”

Jade shrugged again. “I never knew her. I was a foundling, as they say. She’s my fantasy mother.” She pointed at her painting. “My real mother left me in the woods in a basket with nothing but a blanket. And that strange medallion like the one you have.” She smiled without joy. “To haunt me.”

Alfredo touched her arm sympathetically. Yes, Jade, your mother had one of the orbs. And she is Patua’. As you are.

Fortunately, there was a happy ending,” Jade said with a smile as she patted his hand on her arm. “I was raised by foster parents whose love and nurturing are one reason I’m here today in this gallery full of my paintings. And Russ is the other.”

Other what?” Russ said, suddenly appearing by Jade’s side.

My other husband,” Jade said with a wicked smile. “I was just confessing my bigamy to Father Alfredo.”

Alfredo laughed and said, “Jade was telling me how grateful she was to have such a supportive and nurturing husband.”

Jena McCrae strode toward them and pulled Jade away. Without apology, she said over her shoulder, “Sorry, gents. Another sale on the horizon!”

 

Russ wandered off toward the refreshment tables, leaving Alfredo to stroll alone through the gallery, admiring Jade’s paintings and mentally arranging his finances in consideration of purchasing Ave, Madre. He spotted Kate by herself in front of a large painting and walked over to her.

Jade’s so talented,” Kate said as they stood together in front of Falling Backward. “She said this came from a dream she had about falling from the sky into a pool of water.”

Yes, she is,” Alfredo agreed. “She is gifted with a sight most of us do not have.”

Thank God for artists, eh?” Kate said.

Indeed.” He looked over his shoulder, making sure no one approached. “Kate, I need some lawyerly advice. How would one go about getting someone released from Rosencranz?”

The mental hospital?” Kate asked, raising her eyebrows.

Yes.”

Okay,” she said slowly. “And who may I ask wants whom released?”

I do,” Alfredo said. “She is a friend of mine.”

And why do you want her released?”

Because she is not crazy.”

Then why is she there?” Kate asked.

As far as I can tell,” Alfredo said, hesitating before replying, “it is just a language issue. She cannot speak English.”

Kate looked at him intently. “Can we go outside and chat, Padre? I’m in sudden need of fresh air.”

Alfredo followed her out the door and onto the sidewalk. “Truth time, Padre,” she said. “What exactly is this language issue?” When he didn’t answer, she bit her lower lip and nodded slowly. “I see. It’s the language of the crows, isn’t it?”

He stared at her in shock. Did Majewski show her Bruthamax’s letter? Did Sam tell her?

For God’s sake,” Kate said, “I’m not an idiot. Do you think I can’t put two and two together? ‘The corvid have an extensive vocabulary’—your own words, no?”

Several people came out the door of the gallery. Kate started walking down the street, pulling on Alfredo’s sleeve. “Padre,” she said. “I know. I know about you. I know about Sam. And I know about the Captain. So, drop this charade, okay?”

B-but, how?”

I suspected as much,” she said. “But Sam told me.”

Sam told you?” Alfredo felt deflated, his façade breached.

Yes,” she said. “I forced it out of him. First I tricked him into telling me about you.” She laughed at Alfredo’s shocked expression. “Oh, stop! I’m a lawyer; that’s what we do!”

Kate took his arm, and they walked slowly back to the gallery. “And then he let it slip that he’d been to the island once before you hired him.”

Alfredo nodded. “He mentioned that to me too, but he did not seem to want to talk about it.”

They stopped at a traffic light and waited for the pedestrian light. A paper cup flew out of a passing car, striking a vehicle parked next to the curb. “Got one!” a voice yelled as the brown liquid dripped off the hood.

People!” Kate said shaking her head. “No freaking manners.”

The light turned, and they stepped into the street.

Sam brought his twin sister’s boyfriend Andy, whom we know as the Captain, to the island a few years ago,” she said after they had crossed. “Sam’s father had beat him nearly to death before throwing him in the river to drown.”

Alfredo stopped and stared at Kate. “Oh, dear Lord!” he gasped. “The captain? But why?”

Kate nodded. “Sam’s sister was pregnant with his child. She hung herself, thinking Andy was dead.”

Alfredo gritted his teeth against the surge of anger in his chest, and his eyes burned with hot, stinging tears he would not let fall. He cried out in anguish, “God Almighty, can there be no end to the suffering of your innocent children?”

I know,” Kate said as she looked up at him. She took his hand and led him to a bench on the sidewalk. They sat side by side in silence while Alfredo struggled to compose himself. His heart ached for Sam, for the Captain, for Sam’s sister, and her neverborn child.

He saw Charlotte wandering alone within the silent stone walls of Rosencranz. Dear Lord, please look after her until I can.

I want to help you, Alfredo,” Kate said. Her voice brought him back to the Downtown sidewalk. “And I want to help your friend. But you have to trust me. Does she speak the language of the crows? And is that really why she’s in a mental institution?”

Yes,” Alfredo said, without hesitation. There was nothing to hide. Kate knew it all, apparently. He stood up and offered Kate his hand, and they resumed walking back to the gallery.

Apparently about twenty five years ago,” he said as they walked, “she lost the ability to understand human language. She is otherwise a very intelligent, lucid woman who has endured years of confinement and the abandonment by her family with amazing grace.”

They stopped outside the gallery. “I have to get her out of there, Kate. It is unbearable for her.” And me.

They sat down on a planter next to the door. Kate looked at him intently and said, “As your attorney, I must ask you this: are you in love with her?”

Alfredo frowned. “I do not know what that means, exactly. I feel great affection and attachment for her. I admire her and worry about her. I want her life to be better. I enjoy her company. Is that what ‘in’ love means?”

If we’re lucky,” Kate said, smiling. “But what about romance? Have you two kissed or anything?”

Alfredo laughed. “No. The thought has never occurred to me. Nor to her, that I can tell.”

Like you would know,” Kate said with a grin.

Alfredo frowned again. “I do not think I have romantic thoughts.”

He had thought he was in love once, before seminary school. She was another graduate student in the department. Beth. But when she discovered his so-called gift, she freaked out and broke up with him. He had been crushed, though grateful she never told anyone about his crow-speech. But he had vowed never to let anyone know again. He buried himself in his dissertation, and after he was awarded a PhD, he immediately entered the priesthood.

Friendship can be very romantic,” Kate said. “But I had to check, you know, if anything else was going on. People do crazy things for sex.”

A car drove by slowly. Music boomed out its open windows; a female voice screamed out the lyrics, something about love and pain.

I have never participated in the sex act,” Alfredo said, stiffly, feeling his face redden.

Kate cracked up laughing and hugged him. “Oh, Padre! That is what we hoped to hear from all our priests! But seriously, sex is wonderful! It’s like a glue that holds two unrelated people together.”

The door to the gallery opened, and several people walked out, discussing where to go for a drink. “How about the Saddle?” a man said. “No!” the woman on his arm said. “No sports bars!”

So, where will you take her,” Kate asked, after the group had passed, “assuming you can get her out of there?”

I have not yet decided,” Alfredo said. “But before I imagine myself and her at a bridge we may never cross, I want to find out if I can get her out of there at all. If so, I will find her a safe place where she will be happy. But not at my cottage, if that is what you are thinking.”

I was,” said Kate. “What is her name, by the way?”

Charlotte,” Alfredo said. “Charlotte Steele.”

 

After the last guest left the gallery, Jade and Russ stayed to help Jena tidy up while Sam, Kate, and Alfredo drove to the Double Elbow, a popular Downtown pub known for good beer, buffalo wings, and whose relatively quiet atmosphere made conversation possible. A few tables against the windows surrounded an interior dominated by two L-shaped bars with stools.

By the time Russ and Jade arrived, the others were already seated in a booth in the far corner. Sam poured them a beer from the pitcher on the table.

I need man food,” Russ said after he slid into place. “I must’ve eaten a hundred of those delicate little tea cakes or whatever the hell they served at the reception. Like eating air. A man needs meat.”

Sam laughed and clapped his hands. Alfredo regarded Sam with a new sense of tenderness. He has endured much suffering. Grant him happiness now, Lord, with this loving woman, Kate.

I hear ya,” Kate said, giggling, “but we’ve ordered wings. Do real men eat chicken?”

Whenever possible,” Russ said with absolutely no expression on his face.

That seemed hilariously funny to everyone, except Alfredo. He smiled anyway, though he could not fathom what the joke was. His conversation with Kate had illuminated his alienation from his fellow humans, and he was envious of his friends’ banter and easy enjoyment of each other.

The wings arrived, and for a few moments, everyone had their mouths full and their fingers covered in reddish-orange spicy sauce. “Ya know,” Jade said between bites, waving a wing bone at her companions. “I only realized last year why they call these buffalo wings. I wondered for a long time how buffalos and wings could wind up being the same food. I just thought it was one of those things frat boys come up with, you know, for their keg parties—because it’s more manly to eat buffalo than chicken.”

Everyone chuckled, shaking their heads. Alfredo furrowed his brow and said, “I always thought they were wings of chickens from upstate New York. And I wondered what was so special about that. And how would we ever know if they did not come from Buffalo?”

Thanks, Padre,” Jade said as the rest of the group erupted in laughter. “I’m glad to know I’m not such a black sheep, that others think like I do.”

Not very damn many,” Russ said with an affectionate nudge.

Your husband speaks the truth, Jade,” Alfredo said. “But in the end, we are all just strangers in a strange land, are we not?” We are Patua’ in a strange land, you and I.

Hear! Hear!” Kate said with mock sternness. “Let’s not have such lonesome talk when there are friends all around. How about a tribute to Jade for a fantastic art show!”

They toasted Jade and each painting that sold. Alfredo had arranged with Jena to purchase Ave, Madre, but he did not tell Jade. She will see it hanging in my cottage. Or the chapel.

The waitperson brought a new pitcher of beer, and Alfredo filled everyone’s glass. “Speaking of art and artists,” he said when he finished, “I have been seeing flyers up around Downtown. Seems the Friends of Wilder Island are having an arts and crafts fair and art auction next weekend at the Waterfront.”

That’s right!” Jade said. “Sam and I put a proposal in to Parks and Rec, and we got the permit that same day! The city loves people to come Downtown on the weekends—that’s what they told us. They’re trying to promote the Waterfront too. Sam and I are both contributing work to the art auction, and we have at least half of the artists saying they’ll put stuff in too!”

Alfredo observed Jade intently as she spoke. Her eyes sparkled with excitement, and every once in a while he thought he caught a glimpse of her mother. He squinted his eyes and listened to the lilting quality in Jade’s voice, so like Charlotte’s.

Perfect timing!” Kate said. “The city’s going to announce their decision to condemn Wilder Island on Thursday.”

How do you know that?” Jade asked, tilting her head to one side and wrinkling her brow.

Alfredo almost laughed out loud. I have seen that exact expression on Charlotte!

My vast network of spies,” Kate said with a wink. “Seriously, there are no secrets among lawyers and politicians.” She turned to Russ. “But we gotta be ready. You have things set up with KMUS, Russ?”

Yes,” he said. “The students at the university radio station are ready to roll on Friday night. They’ll broadcast us live from the Waterfront. After we explain the issues—condemnation, eminent domain, and why we might want to keep the island the way it is—there’ll be time for people to call in and comment or ask questions.”

Their server came by the table and dropped off another pitcher of beer. He picked up the empty plates and napkins and left the check and several individually wrapped hand wipes.

Hey,” Sam said as he cleaned the red hot sauce from his fingers. “As long as we’re on KMUS, how about we put on a beg-a-thon? Like they do on public radio, you know? I mean, we need to raise some bucks, don’t we? We’ve made some money selling booths for the fair, and we’ll make a little more from the silent auction. But we could rake in some serious money if we put on a beg-a-thon.”

What the devil is a beg-a-thon?” Alfredo asked.

Henry Braun applied for a parade permit, not coincidentally, for the same weekend as the Friends of Wilder Island Art Fair. Just as Kate Herron had her network of informants, so did Henry. He too knew exactly when the Mayor’s announcement to condemn Wilder Island would occur. He planned to fire up the River Queen and start parading her past the city boat docks on both sides of the river for the entire weekend. There would be free food and drink for the crowds he hoped would gather on the docks to ogle his beautiful River Queen.

You can’t have the docks at the Waterfront,” the city clerk said. “On account of the art fair. You can have the city boat landing on the other side, though.”

What art fair?” Henry growled.

I just stamped their permit,” the clerk said, rifling through the previous day’s paperwork. “An outfit called the Friends of Wilder Island.”

Who the bloody hell are the Friends of Wilder Island? They’d better not get in my way!

Oh? Whose name is on the permit?” Henry said magnanimously as he pushed a five-dollar bill across the counter at the clerk.

Let’s see,” he said, looking through the bottom half of his bifocals at the permit. He carefully ignored the bill on the counter. “Here it is. There were two applicants, Jade Matthews and Sam Howard.” He scribbled the names on a scrap of paper and pushed it and the money toward Henry. “There is no charge for this information, Mr. Braun.” The clerk looked over his shoulder and smiled at the video cameras behind him.

Thank you,” Henry said cordially as he pocketed the bill.

He walked out of City Hall and stepped through the open door of his Bentley and into the backseat. Jules Sackman sat waiting for Henry, sipping a latte and reading the newspaper.

Who the hell are these people?” Henry Braun growled to Jules as the car pulled away from the curb. “Friends of Wilder Island?”

Everything is named after the island in this city, Henry,” Jules said, sipping his latte. “Don’t let that make you paranoid. Probably just a band of dilettantes and their gigolos.”

I don’t want probably, Jules. I want facts. I want answers,” Henry growled. “Who the hell are Jade Matthews and Sam Howard? And who’s behind them? A bunch of bleeding-heart, liberal tree-huggers, I bet.”

Alfredo spent the night at St. Sophia’s, as it was too dark to return to the island after he left his friends at the Double Elbow. He tossed and turned, unable to find sleep. He missed the sounds of the night on the island, and the evening’s revelation kept his mind running. Charlotte is Jade’s mother! The knowledge filled him with a strange mixture of dread and excitement.

How old is Jade? Early twenties, I would guess. Was Charlotte pregnant when she was taken away? Did she give birth at Rosencranz? Dora Lyn had not been able to find Charlotte’s file at his last visit, which he thought would tell him everything he needed to know about Charlotte’s arrival, treatment, and residence at Rosencranz.

The headlights from a passing car infiltrated the gap between the curtains, sending a geometrical pattern of light and shadow darting across the ceiling.

Charlotte never mentioned a daughter. He frowned in the darkness. Maybe she’s not Jade’s mother after all. He turned over in bed again, his back to the window.

He slept fitfully, disturbed by vague dreams of a blindfolded Charlotte with arms tied behind her back, and a baby in a basket crying faintly. He woke up feeling as if he had not slept at all.

He left the rectory at St. Sophia’s as soon as the sun came up and found the Captain and Sugarbabe docked at the Waterfront. Funny how they always know when to pick me up.

It ain’t rocket science,” Sugarbabe squawked. “We left you here yest’aday. You didn’t g’home last night. Where else would y’be at this hour, than here wantin’ for a ride?”

The Captain chuckled and gave his crow a treat from his shirt pocket. He pushed the boat out into the river. Alfredo wondered again how old the Captain was; his craggy and sun-wrinkled face somehow defied age. How many years ago was he left for dead in the river? Sam was in his mid-thirties, he knew. But the Captain seemed far older. “How long have you been running the river, Captain?”

The Captain looked up at the sky for a moment and then at Alfredo. “Many years. I forget.” His face seemed to cloud over, and he turned his eyes back to the river.

Alfredo left the Captain in peace and inhaled the cool, clear morning, reviving his sleep-deprived body. The river’s flat and calm surface reflected the forest and sacred chapel of Cadeña-l’jadia like a mirror.

Ah, Bruthamax’s Roost,” Sugarbabe said. “’Tis always a beautiful sight.”

Alfredo nodded. “That it is.”

He bid farewell to the Captain and Sugarbabe, and entered the thick forest. He smiled up at the birds flying through the branches of the trees and walked the path to his cottage. It was good to be home. He opened the doors and windows to the fresh air and then left to find Charlie.

He walked past the chapel and down to the point where Charlie pecked at his lunch from the cracks and crannies of rocks and driftwood.

Grawky, Jayzu!” Charlie said. He cleaned his beak in the sand and hopped up onto the driftwood log where Alfredo had seated himself.

Charlie, I have reason to believe Charlotte has a daughter!”

The crow shook his head. “How do you know this?”

Alfredo told him about Jade’s painting of her unknown mother that bore an uncanny resemblance to Charlotte. “And she has that orb.”

Charlie paced back and forth across the log. “Well, I guess it’s possible. In the half a year before they took her away, I was in Keeper training then and couldn’t visit her.” He stopped and looked at Alfredo. “But Charlotte has never mentioned a child?”

No, but she seems to have forgotten a great deal of her life.” Alfredo gazed across the river for a few moments. “I wonder … could the stress of a difficult childbirth have caused her to forget her native human language?”

I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I have an archive session with Starfire tomorrow. Perhaps he will know the answer to that. He has known of a few Patua’ who faded into the Graying. At the very least, he will be very interested in adding a new Patua’ to the database. And that she has one of the orbs.”

Charlie flew off, leaving Alfredo alone on the log. He watched a few crows flipping themselves through the jaloosies out over the river. Sometimes I wish I were one of them. So free of the madnesses we humans have created.

ww.amazon.com/Corvus-Rising-Book-Patua-Heresy/dp/0991224515

Corvus Rising – Chapter 10

Chapter Ten

The Keeper’s Trance

 

The fermented mildornia berries tasted bitter in his beak, and Charlie felt his stomach rebel, but he had long since learned to control the impulse to puke it all back up. All around him and the other Keepers, the Shanshus chanted the Starting Verse, the Calling of the Trance.

Shim shu vig zhi gimki cot
Za zho glik fa vesh ni bu
Och o mishka sen say vox
Min goy mob y fin ga sook

The words meant nothing in any language to anyone save the Archivists of the corvid databases. Carefully constructed of sounds in sequence, each tone and space conveyed a command, involuntarily understood by the specially trained Keepers.

Za zho glik fa vesh ni bu
Och o mishka sen say vox
Min goy mob y fin ga sook

Charlie felt his legs stiffen as the mildornia berries took effect. His vision blurred and his beak locked. Though he could blink his eyes, paralysis settled in his wings and feet. His awareness diffused, and he couldn’t distinguish himself from his surroundings. He was one with the rest of the Keepers, one with the Shanshus, one with the Archivists, and one with the great tree in which the Encoding Ritual took place.

As Charlie sank deeper into the trance, an image arose from his own memory lattice. He saw his younger self stumbling over his own feet, meeting Starfire for the first time. Regal and elegant, the old raven called out, “Grawky!” and flapped his wings in greeting. “Blue eyes?” he had said. “You are not yet old enough to be a Keeper.”

Yes, sir. Blue eyes, sir,” Charlie had stammered as he grazed wingtips with Starfire. “I’m three years old, sir. My family lives on Cadeña-l’jadia. We’ve all got the Hozey-blue eyes.”

He had been proud the day Starfire probed and measured his memory capacity, and chanted his archival lattice into place, even though he had a headache that lasted for several days afterward. It was worth it; he could hold an exceptionally large lattice, and that made him an especially valuable Keeper.

Charlie remembered well those early days of his training as a Keeper, where he learned all the verses to all the chants. He had spent months with the Shanshus, learning how to sing the verses that put the Keepers into a semiconscious paralysis. Soon my JoEd will report for his training.

The Shanshus’ chanting grew louder, more insistent, and irresistible:

Zhan gink voor man ink fan zhee
Klee zhor mel toc vix kin go klan
Vak jist rax vor gonz chi vang
Slix yor wa dot szi zho bak

The intonations shrank Charlie’s awareness of himself, collapsing his personal memories into a temporarily repressed state, so as not to bleed into the Keeper data he was about to receive. He lost all sensation in his body. He could not move, other than to blink his eyes.

The Shanshus’ verses cajoled Charlie into the Keeper’s Trance where he lost all awareness of past, present, and future. Time ceased; all that existed was the Shanshus’ chanting. Devoid of senses and memory, his awareness knew no bounds and began an expansion that if left unchecked would become indistinguishable from the universe. The crow who knew himself as Charlie would dissolve into the vast emptiness. The Shanshus chanted a boundary that surrounded his awareness and kept his own self—his memories and attachments—intact beneath the trance.

He could hear nothing but the Shanshus, see nothing but a vast darkness as they chanted the Opening Verse of the Emplacement Ritual.

Blik blak glok mok shoo
Zik zak clok bok voo sim coo

Charlie sensed a broadening of space, as if the universe had become instantaneously larger. The chanting slowed and faded into a low hum. The Archivist stepped forward and leaned over him, uttering the Unfolding Verse, a somewhat melodious conglomerate of syncopated sounds that awakened the archival lattice embedded in Charlie’s memory.

All other Keepers and Archivists had receded beyond Charlie’s consciousness; he was aware only of his own lattice unfolding and Starfire’s voice floating somewhere above it. The old raven chanted the Unfolding Verse until the lattice completely expanded into the void space.

Quo fol hozhu gak flo ming
Zinj vox von mi aoh zam
Plak egh zhi gum nond qua yi

The lattice filled Charlie’s awareness with a tree-like structure, comprising a trunk, several main limbs, hundreds of secondary branches with thousands of auxiliary branches that ended in fan-shaped arrays of twigs. Thousands of nodes, located on every branch and twig, were programmed to receive specific data packets.

Starfire intoned a cadenced phrase that opened a node on one of the branches, which glowed with a pale blue light. After a few moments, he chanted another sequence of alliterative verse that encoded genealogical data upon a ribbon that glowed with colored light.

Charlie watched the rainbow-colored ribbon vibrate as Starfire harmonically encoded it with data. The ribbon drifted through the branches of the lattice, seeking the unique node that would open as soon as it felt the specific vibrations intoned by Starfire’s chanting. A node opened, capturing the ribbon, then it closed, and its color changed to yellow. Charlie blinked twice, paused, and blinked two more times, signaling Starfire the data ribbon had been emplaced.

Starfire began another refrain, encoded another data ribbon, and again Charlie watched it laze through his lattice until the unique blue node opened, received, and turned yellow. Over and over again, Starfire repeated the sequence. All day and far into the night, he emplaced data into Charlie’s archival lattice. Finally, as the night sky gave way to a pale gray dawn, Starfire chanted the Resting Verse:

Coo shul ay maas vay wu oh
Bu ee ray shon boy on wee

Majewski awakened to the songs of birds. Nothing else—no train whistles, no car horns, no screeching tires, no sirens. Just birds, a great many of them all chattering at once. This island is a paradise. So far from Washington. Heaven should be this wonderful.

The gray sky spoke of the coming dawn. He sat up and stretched. He could hear Alfredo outside talking to the birds. A strange, guttural squawking sound. The language of the crows. He pushed Stella back into a corner of his memory and rose from his bed and dressed.

Good morning, Thomas,” Alfredo said, as he came through the door. “How did you sleep?”

Like a baby,” Majewski said. “I have not slept that well in weeks, if not years.” He sat down at the table and eyed the strange carved fob hanging from the lamp.

I am glad to hear that,” Alfredo said with a smile. “I was worried about you last night. I thought you had gone into some sort of trance.”

Just some jet lag,” Majewski said, waving his hand. “I felt a little dizzy, that’s all. Don’t give it another thought.”

He watched a hummingbird through the open window as it hovered above a honeysuckle vine and plunged its long beak into a flower. Such a simple life. Majewski was envious.

He took the cup of coffee Alfredo handed him and said, “You know, Alfredo, after teaching for three decades, I took a desk job at Jesuit headquarters in Washington. I thought I could make a difference.”

He watched the hummingbird outside the window poke its beak into another flower.

Got all the way to the inner sanctum, to the office of the North American operation. But what a hellhole it is, headquarters. You have no idea, Alfredo. The place where you’d think brotherhood and Christ-love reigned, you have to watch your back more than perhaps anywhere else on Earth.”

Unlike the shark-infested pools of academia,” Alfredo said. He put a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast in front of Majewski.

But academia does not pretend to be about brotherly love,” Majewski said. He picked up a piece of bacon and bit the end off.

I have been to Washington DC a few times,” Alfredo said. He sat down at the table with his plate. “I found the city itself to be loud and ugly. I have never had any use for such a place, and the political intrigues of the Jesuits, or academia for that matter, never interested me. I just want to be away from all that noise, free to discover the sacred secrets of creation.”

Majewski took a drink of coffee and leaned back, looking out the window. I never want to leave this place. “It’s noisy,” he said, nodding. “Constantly. It’s all a distraction. But I’d like to leave this Earth knowing I accomplished something, Alfredo. My oath as a Jesuit is the furthering of the human spirit in the glory of God. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything of the sort.”

He thought of the stack of letters on his desk, from attorneys suing the Order. And his job was to somehow turn them back, deny or at least delay.

I’m not furthering anyone’s spirit,” he said. “Or glorifying God at all. I don’t even say Mass anymore. I fear I’m nothing but a therapist with a lot of power, a large budget, and the thankless job of managing hundreds of insecure, arrogant, ambitious, ego-driven, so-called holy men with graduate degrees.”

Alfredo laughed and said, “That about nails us, does it not?”

Majewski waved his toast at Alfredo. “Present company excepted, of course. You are most humble and don’t seem to be arrogant or ego-driven. You are the icon of all I ever wanted to be, Alfredo. No, seriously.” He held a hand up and turned his head away as if not listening to any protests. “Your scholarship is excellent. Do not discount your contribution. Your postgraduate work on corvid behavior is still the authority on the subject. And I am envious of your freedom, your life here.”

Majewski watched a robin swoop down to the ground and hop around for a few seconds before pulling a fat worm out of the ground. The Law of the Food Chain. So simple. So easy to understand.

Have you thought about retiring, Thomas?” Alfredo said. He sipped his coffee. “You have served the Order for your whole life. Perhaps it is time to step off the merry-go-around and do something that replenishes your spirit.”

I’d love to retire,” Majewski said. “But what would I do? Come to Wilder Island and build myself a cabin? Watch birds all day?”

Research!” Alfredo said. “May I interest you, as a linguist, in the first study of the corvid-human dialect?”

A magpie flew to the windowsill and walked back and forth scolding, it seemed to Majewski.

Cre–ak cre–ak, sca–reee!” The long, blue-black tail whipped up and down, punctuating whatever it was saying.

Do you understand the speech of magpies also?” Majewski asked. “I know they are corvids, but that didn’t sound much like crow-speech.”

Very astute observation, Thomas,” Alfredo said, smiling. “The magpies and jays have thick accents—for lack of a better word. Just as we have many different speech patterns within our country—the Southern vernacular is different from the New England accent, yet both are American English and readily understood by English-speaking folks. But to answer your question, I can speak with all corvids, though crows and ravens are generally more interested in talking to me.”

The magpie pecked on the windowsill, screeching. “Ka-rawk! Ka-chek! Ska-wee!”

What did this magpie say?” Majewski asked.

She said, ‘More bacon next time, if you please!’”

All that?” Majewski said. “I only heard about three or four different sounds, less than ten syllables.” He mopped up the last of his eggs with a piece of toast, wondering if he should save it for the magpie.

Yes, Alfredo said. “I did hear all that. I hear more nuances within the corvid speech than you and most other humans do.” The magpie pecked impatiently on the windowsill, and he tossed her a bit of toast. “I think the same must be true for composers. They hear more in the music than we average folks do. They understand and can speak its language more fluently than the rest of us. I cannot help but wonder if this ability, whether in hearing music or the language of the corvid, may be inherited.”

The magpie turned her attention back to Majewski, croaking at him earnestly, her tail whipping up and down as she paced back and forth on the windowsill. “As in a Patua’ gene?” Majewski said, somewhat aghast. He put a corner of his toast on the windowsill, and she snapped it up. “While I want to say that’s preposterous, it’s certainly a scientific approach.”

The magpie pecked on the windowsill. “Cree-ak-ak-ak!”

What a little piggy you are!” Majewski said with a smile. He put a larger piece of toast on the windowsill.

The bird looked down at the bread, then at Majewski. “Cree-ak-ak-ak!” she said, and pecked the windowsill.

We’ve cracked the human genome,” he said, wondering what the magpie wanted, “this is true. But identifying a particular gene that causes a certain trait is not very straightforward, Alfredo. Frequently there is a pair or set of traits that occur together. Or a protein that switches a gene on or off. It’s quite complicated.”

I know that,” Alfredo replied. He put a bit of bacon on the windowsill; the magpie beaked it and flew away. “But there is some evidence that the trait runs in families, a bit more rare than twins, but we do see some continuity that does not appear random.”

Majewski frowned. “We? You’ve been talking about this corvid-human language with others?” Only yesterday he felt almost indignant disbelief at the very idea. And now he was intrigued, in spite of his doubts. And jealous.

Alfredo left the table and came back with a coffee carafe. He filled their cups and said, “We means me and the Great Corvid Council. Over the eons, they have constructed a huge database of genealogical information, such as all Patua’ births, deaths, marriages, etc., of all crows and ravens, since the beginning.”

Majewski’s mouth dropped open, and he shook his head in astonishment. He reached for the sugar bowl. “The Great Corvid Council? A governing body keeping track of the Patua’? And I thought merely talking to these creatures was incredible!” He stirred a teaspoon of sugar into his tea, watching the mini-maelstrom he created.

Indeed,” Alfredo said. “I am embarrassed at times at my own ego-centrism. The corvids have quite humbled me, yet I still sometimes catch myself being amazed. At what? That another species has evolved a highly sophisticated oral tradition that is excruciatingly detailed yet completely organized, accessible, and is thousands of years old? How dare I?”

Alfredo stood up and cleared the table. He filled the small sink, adding the leftover warm water from the teakettle. “The Captain will be here in an hour or so to take you to the mainland. What would you like to do in the meantime?”

Let me help you, Alfredo,” Majewski said. He grabbed a towel and dried as Alfredo washed their breakfast dishes. “I’d like to visit the chapel again before I leave,” Majewski said.

 

Charlie remained incapacitated even after the data ribbons of Patua’ births, deaths, and marriages had responded to Starfire’s Sorting Chant and had disappeared into the storage nodes. Though he had no ability to respond or even feel surprise, he heard Starfire chant a strange verse he had never heard before:

Aka-kaka-gak-a-zhak
Eeka-keeka-geeka-zheek
Uku-kuku-guku-zhuk

 

Charlie watched a single node suddenly glow purple and eject a small white fireball that flashed and glittered in the dim interior of the lattice. It was not a data packet; it did not unroll into the typical ribbon, but bounced through the lattice like a shiny rubber ball.

Charlie felt vaguely puzzled by the fireball ricocheting through his lattice. It seemed to be severing connections between the nodes, which gave up a puff of white light just before they went dark. He had no capacity to react, but he understood that something was terribly wrong, and he blinked rapidly until he heard Starfire reciting the Rescue Verse.

Zhoomoo weemwoo oomee moo
Oomoo weemoo shoomee woo

Moments before he lost consciousness, a cool breeze flowed through Charlie’s lattice, as it suddenly shut down.

 

Starfire chanted the new verse, designed to access the Keeper’s own lattice. “We are missing Patua’,” he had told Hookbeak. “I think I can locate them in the Keeper’s memories.”

Though Hookbeak had vehemently forbidden him to even think about it, Starfire nonetheless pursued his hypothesis. He had wandered through the lattices of several Keepers and had found nothing. “I know they are there,” he had insisted to Hookbeak. Charlie had volunteered for this search, having understood the importance of finding the missing Patua’.

When the strange fireball ejected from Charlie’s lattice, he made a quick copy of it and transferred it to his personal lattice for later analysis. Of course it would be like studying a snapshot of a multidimensional object, but it was the best he could do. If only I could dive down the node that ejected it; I could at least find where it came from.

Foamy spittle appeared on Charlie’s beak, and he began to shake. Starfire recited the Rescue Verse and watched Charlie’s eyes continue to blink rapidly. His breathing was labored. Great Orb! I cannot lose another one!

He chanted until he was hoarse, then exhaled in great relief when Charlie’s blinking finally slowed, then stopped. The crow’s chest rose and fell with the rhythm of a deep healing sleep. Starfire posted a novice to watch over him while he slept and wrapped himself in his own thoughts, contemplating the fireball in Charlie’s lattice.

Never had he seen such a phenomenon. Clearly it had come through the Archival Lattice into Charlie’s personal memory. That was not supposed to happen, and he wondered if the sphere was a sign that the lattice had suffered some structural damage during the ritual. Perhaps I need to run a diagnostic on the Archival Lattice.

Starfire glanced at Charlie, who remained deep in a near-comatose state. He was grateful the crow had volunteered for a personal lattice search. Jayzu’s sudden appearance had invigorated Starfire’s cherished hypothesis of a secret underground into which the Patua’ had disappeared centuries ago. The idea had enchanted the raven for years; he was an historian after all. He had spent much time searching the archival lattice for clues to their whereabouts, and then Jayzu suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

We didn’t know about him,” Starfire had told Hookbeak. “Jayzu is not in our database.”

When Starfire heard the rumor that Floyd and Willy had found a genuine Patua’, he summoned them both for questioning, releasing them several hours later, wrung dry of every piece of information they knew about the new Patua’.

He recalled the day the two brothers told him how they liked to perch in the tree at the edge of the duck pond on the campus of the university in Ledford. It was a popular place for students, occasional faculty, ducks, geese, and crows to eat lunch.

A man strolled by,” Floyd said, “a man with a white streak in his hair.”

And when he threw chunks of bread into the water for the ducks, I said to Floyd, ‘I like a man who feeds the animals. It shows true character and compassion.’”

And then he sat down on the bench below us,” Floyd said, “and took out his lunch.”

A ham sandwich from the look of it,” Willy said. The two brothers nodded at each other, remembering.

And potato chips,” Floyd said. “He had potato chips.”

So I said I loved potato chips,” Willy said. “And he looked up and saw us.”

And then,” Floyd said, “he put two potato chips on the bench next to him, and he said in a loud voice, ‘I like a crow who joins me in conversation befitting an educated mind.’”

Floyd and Willy cracked up and high-fived each other. Starfire rebuked them and said, “And then what happened?

We, uh,” Willy said, “dropped down and introduced ourselves.” He turned to Floyd and reenacted the scene for Starfire. “Grawky, Mr., uh—”

Grawky, fellas,” Floyd said, taking the man’s part. “I am Father Alfredomanzi.”

Father? I asked him,” Willy said, his head cocked to one side. “Father of whom?”

And he said, ‘Father of no one,’ Floyd said. “And then he told us he is a Jayzooit priest.” He turned to his brother. “Isn’t that right, Willy?”

Yah!” Willy said, nodding. “A Jayzooit priest and a perfessor.”

Starfire had presumed that all Patua’, living or dead, resided in the vast, interconnected corvid database. Ever since Bruthamax, who had provided a huge repertoire of names, dates, and locations of the descendants of the lost tribes of the Patua’ living in America, they had kept track. The question continued to haunt him. “Why was Jayzu not in our database?”

 

Charlie awoke at dawn; the effects of the mildornia berries had not completely worn off. Generally the Keepers needed three full days to recover, and he had had but one night, after undergoing a particularly rigorous ritual. He perched dizzily on his branch and watched ghost images of memory nodes opening, while colorful ribbons of memories leaped forth for a few moments before diving back into the closing node.

Forgive me, Charlie,” Starfire rumbled, as he struggled to pay attention, “for putting you through such a lengthy ritual. We had an enormous volume of data to emplace. I hope you are not too fatigued.”

No problem,” Charlie said, trying to discern the raven amid the memory streams. “I could use a bite to eat, though. And some water.”

A strange thing happened during our, uh, experiment,” Starfire said. “Something ejected from your lattice, something I have never seen before. At that moment in your trance, you began blinking quite rapidly, signaling that something was amiss. That is why I brought you out.” He looked intently at Charlie.

Charlie swayed a bit on his branch, and Starfire put out a wing to steady him. “Forgive me. I should not burden you so soon after your ritual.”

The other Keepers were already awake and devouring a carp that the novices had brought to the tree. The raven motioned them to bring some food to Charlie. Famished yet stiff from the effects of the mildornia berries, Charlie gulped down all he could eat within minutes. “I feel almost corvid again,” he said, picking a bit of fish gut from his breast feathers.

There is more,” Starfire said, “on yonder branch where the rest of the Keepers are feeding.”

Charlie managed to half walk, half fly the short distance to the group of Keepers. There was still plenty of fish.

Nice that we get fed so well,” a fellow Keeper said to Charlie, “doncha think? Right after we wake up and all? That is true civilization at its finest, if you ask me. I’d go through the Keeper’s Trance every day if I could eat like this the next.”

Several Keepers flapped their wings and croaked their agreement. “It really rocks not to have to find your own food in the morning,” one of them said.

Unfortunately,” another said, “the mildornia berries can only be eaten once every full moon. Eat the berries too often, and they’re poison. You’d keel over dead by morning.”

They say if you stay in trance too long,” someone else said, “you’ll never come out of it. And then you spend your whole life being a zombie Keeper. You’re just a data repository. No flying, no mating, no anything but mildornia berries and carp. ‘Course they have to force feed you ’cause you can’t do anything for yourself, being in permanent trance and all.”

Charlie wondered if that was how the world seemed to Charlotte, those years she spent in the Graying. How different was that from the trance? Where the surrounding world fades and all that remains are one’s oldest memories in the darkness?

 

Alfredo and Majewski walked toward the chapel with the morning in full swing. Majewski saw more birds of all kinds than he ever imagined—crows, blue jays, mockingbirds, sparrows, finches, orioles—in the trees, on the ground, flying, on the chapel roof. And they seemed to be all talking at once.

Thomas,” Alfredo said as they walked, “are we safe from Henry Braun? I had assumed that was the purpose of your visit, to talk about how to fight him off.”

The purpose of my visit,” Majewski said as they arrived, “was to see for myself this wondrous place. And to hear from you that our Brother Maxmillian was insane because he talked to crows, and they didn’t talk back.”

Alfredo laughed. “Sorry I could not deliver, Thomas!”

Oh, you delivered all right. Have no fear!”

They entered the chapel. Majewski went to the kneeler and said a silent morning prayer. When he finished, they left the chapel, and Alfredo indicated they should turn down the path toward the rocky point. “I like to sit down here watching the river flow. It is quite a lovely view,” he said as they walked.

To answer your question, Alfredo,” Majewski said as he followed Alfredo, “I do not intend to allow Henry Braun to get his greedy little hands on this island, if for no other reason than he’s an unctuous, self-serving slime-ball. Forgive me, Father.” He blessed himself as he looked upward.

What if someone in the Order hears about it?” Alfredo asked. “I mean, can you just turn down five million dollars like that? The chapel is not exactly the Notre Dame Cathedral, however sacred and charming you and I find it to be.”

He stopped and pointed to a log. “The view is pretty fabulous from here.”

The riverfront down in MacKenzie isn’t this nice,” Majewski said. “There’s a lot of activity out there! Barges, boats, water skiers.”

A barge blew its horn, warning a couple of speedboats that had crossed right in front of it. Majewski turned toward Alfredo and said, “The matter of whether we sell the island is completely up to me. But, we are going to be proactive and turn this island into a conservation easement, which is a legal instrument that is frequently used to preserve and protect a wetland or a wildlife area from development, both of which we have here.” He gestured all around them.

I see,” Alfredo said. “What would that look like? Who would own the island? What about the chapel? Would it be torn down?”

I wouldn’t think so,” Majewski said. “I envision that the trust will own the island, thanks to a generous donation from the Jesuits. The chapel will remain Jesuit property, and you will continue on as its pastor. The Order can take a tax write-off, you remain on the payroll. No one will bat an eye.”

Excellent, Thomas!” Alfredo said, laughing. “That is excellent. Very poetic.”

I thought so,” Majewski said with a twinkle in his eye. “I got the idea when you told me you wanted to build the bird sanctuary. I’ve got an attorney working on conservation easement documents as we speak. I’ll have her call you. Kate Herron is her name. She probated Brother Maxmillian’s estate for us. And she lives in Ledford, so she has some knowledge of the island. Get together with Kate and figure out how to set it up. I’ll pay her fees and will back whatever you come up with.”

Several crows flew over their heads and landed at the river’s edge where they plucked a meal from the rocks. “Tell me, Alfredo,” Majewski said as he watched, “did you know there was something special about the island before you came?”

I had heard of the island,” Alfredo answered, “when I was a graduate student. I came across some strange stories of talking crows on Wilder Island, and the name sat in my memory all these years. Then one day, I had gotten tired of promising little old ladies that Jesus will receive them in heaven if they would only hand me a check, and I made my way here.”

People need spiritual guidance, and we need to eat,” Majewski said. “I don’t care for the money-grubbing we have to do either. But it is necessary.”

A necessary evil it seems,” Alfredo said with a sigh.

Evil?” Majewski said, almost angrily. “Evil is the sex-abuse the church has been kicking under the rug for centuries.” He sighed wearily. “I’m sorry, Alfredo. I’m just so tired of it all.”

He picked a small yellow flower growing out from under the rock he was sitting on and sniffed it. He twirled the stem between his thumb and forefinger and watched the petals blur into one.

The Jesuits do much that is good, Alfredo,” he said. “Our universities and schools all over the world have helped lift the veil of ignorance from the human race for more than five hundred years.”

A bell sounded from the direction of the dock. “That is the Captain telling us he is here to take you to the mainland,” Alfredo said as he stood up. “We will go by my cottage on the way, and you can grab your suitcase.”

I envy you this life you have made for yourself,” Majewski said as they walked. “You could have a department chair somewhere, but you choose instead to live here among the crows. You are a brave soul, my friend. I envy you. May God bless you.”

 

Tell me, Alfredo,” Majewski asked after they left the cottage for the inlet, “do you think that at one time all humans could speak to the corvids?” He could hardly hear himself with the racket in the forest. There must be hundreds of birds up there, all chattering at once. “That would certainly have been a helpful trait.”

True,” Alfredo said loudly. “I suppose the entire race could at one time, but one must wonder then, why would such a useful trait die out? It seems more likely the Patua’ were a race of humans, with genes similar enough to interbreed with the other races. In any case, according to the corvid histories, there were many more Patua’ in times past than now, before the Protestant Reformation and counter-reformation.”

Those were volatile times in Christendom,” Majewski said, wrinkling his brow. “Our Order had just been born. Surely if the Patua’ were of sufficient numbers to be persecuted, the Jesuits must have known of them, wouldn’t you think?”

He followed Alfredo across the small stream that gurgled softly through its rocky course. “Fare thee well!” it seemed to whisper. Majewski stopped and picked a yellow flower growing along the water’s edge. He pulled a small bible out of his briefcase and carefully put the flower between its pages.

I would think the Patua’ must have been known to the Order,” Alfredo said as they started to walk again. “The botanical lore of the Patua’ is said to have been vast. That alone would have been highly appreciated.”

They arrived at the inlet where the Captain was waiting. A crow perched on the rail, seemingly chatting away, Majewski noticed. But there were no other crows around. Is it talking to the Captain? Is he Patua’ too?

The two priests embraced. “You have given me much to think about,” Majewski said, “and I am deeply grateful. My life in Washington DC has isolated me from the grand mysteries of the universe, both scientific and spiritual. I have missed both.”

You are welcome here any time, Thomas,” Alfredo said. “And I hope you will consider a Patua’ research project.”

Oh, I am interested,” Majewski said, a broad grin streaking across his face. “You can count on that. I just don’t know how long it will take me to divest myself of my duties.”

He sailed away on the Captain’s boat, looking back at Alfredo waving to him from the banks. He imagined Stella living on Wilder Island, happily gabbing with the crows. He shook his head at his own fantasy. If she even lives.

He took one last look at the island. Dear Lord, grant me this kind of peace someday.

 

 

www.amazon.com/Corvus-Rising-Book-Patua-Heresy/dp/0991224515

Corvus Rising – Chapter 9

Chapter Nine

What is This Madness!

 

Father Provincial Thomas Majewski took a taxi from the Ledford airport and met Alfredo at the city boat landing. More than fifteen years had passed since he had last seen him. A few gray hairs made that white streak he had even as a young man a bit less noticeable, but he otherwise had not changed much. The same intense almost black eyes that seemed to see straight into your soul. And he had not lost the warm compassion that had made everyone want to turn him into a priest.

Greetings, Father!” Alfredo said as he and the older priest embraced. “I trust you had a pleasant trip?”

Alfredo, please,” Majewski said. “Call me Thomas. We are old friends, and I want to take a break from being the Father. I hope that is all right?”

But of course, Thomas,” Alfredo said.

They embraced again and after a few comments about their age and well-preserved appearances, the Captain ferried the two Jesuits across the river in what seemed to Majewski more like a floating chunk of forest than a boat. A crow swooped in under the canopy and found a perch on the railing next to the Captain, brushing his outstretched hand with a wing.

A secret handshake among crows and humans? Majewski frowned and immediately banished the thought. “I grew up not too far from here,” he said as he looked downriver. “As the crow flies, probably fifty miles. A little town called MacKenzie.”

I have been there!” Alfredo said. “Are you planning to visit your family while you are here?”

Oh, no,” Majewski replied, shaking his head. “There’s no one to see. My parents are both gone. They sold the house after I moved to Washington, about twenty years ago. None of the rest of the family lives in MacKenzie anymore either.”

There is the old chapel,” Alfredo said, pointing toward the island. “Or at least the roof, though it looks more like a tangle of dead branches from here.”

That’s the miraculous chapel you told me about?” Majewski asked dubiously.

Wait until you are standing inside,” Alfredo said with a smile.

The Captain steered the boat into the inlet and ground to a halt on the sandy bank. The two priests jumped out, and after saying good-bye to the Captain, Majewski followed Alfredo up a sketchy path into the forest. He breathed deeply, inhaling the odors of a living landscape. Big city life had deprived him of the luxurious scent of soil and decaying plant matter and the natural cycles of birth, death, and regeneration.

He looked up at the forest canopy and was astonished at the sheer number of black birds perched on branches and flying through the trees. He felt as if they were looking down upon him, making snide comments to one another, ridiculing him with their raspy caws.

For God’s sake, get a grip, Thomas! They’re crows! They probably don’t even notice I’m here. He stopped to catch his breath.

My cottage is just ahead,” Alfredo said. He waited while Majewski wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.

The cottage blended in well with its natural surroundings; they were nearly to the front door before Majewski realized it was there. He looked up at the forest canopy and was astonished at the sheer number of black birds perched on branches and flying through the trees. He felt as if they were looking down upon him, making snide comments to one another, ridiculing him with their raspy caws.

My humble abode,” Alfredo said. “You can put your bags inside, and then we will go on to the chapel.”

Incredible!” Majewski said. “Like it’s part of the forest. I didn’t even see it!”

I wanted only the faintest human footprint here,” Alfredo said with a smile.

Inside, Majewski looked up at the roof, constructed of interwoven driftwood branches. “It really does look like a bird’s nest! Reminds me of the pictures of the chapel and Brother Wilder’s tree house. You didn’t build this all yourself, did you?”

Heavens no!” Alfredo said. “I had a lot of help, from a local artisan as a matter of fact, Sam Howard. He helped me to restore the chapel as well.”

He took Majewski’s bags from him and set them in a corner next to a futon. “It doubles as my couch and your bed tonight.”

Very nice!” Majewski said, looking all around. “So cozy—I’m envious! A one-room cabin, perfect for one, but not two. Don’t let me put you out, Alfredo. I can get a hotel in the city.”

Nonsense!” Alfredo said. “You will sleep here tonight. You are not putting me out.” He raised a hand against Majewski’s objections. “I will sleep where I normally do in the summer—in a hammock outside.” He gestured toward the door. “Shall we go on to the chapel?”

Majewski felt the cares of his job in Washington DC recede as they walked through what seemed to him a primeval forest, unsullied by the artificial gods of commerce and greed, and the big business of religion. The utter joy of life abounded, in every leaf and stem, every feather and beak, every whisker and tail hidden in the bushes.

He stood in awed silence outside the little chapel for many moments. “It’s like a living entity, as if it just grew here, right out of the forest floor.”

Much of it did!” Alfredo said. “Living trees hold up the roof, and several varieties of vine plants fill in the spaces between. Brother Maxmillian did a great job building it. All I had to do to restore it was clean it up and trim some of the vines. It was the inspiration for my cottage.”

I can see that,” Majewski said as Alfredo pulled the door open.

They stepped inside. Sunlight infiltrated through the many open spaces in the roof, making a checkerboard pattern on the floor, giving the otherwise dark interior an almost cheery look.

Reminds me of the basilica at our chapel in Rome,” Majewski said, looking up into the upside-down-bird’s-nest roof.

De la Torre’s sister wrote about the Madonna della Strada! Coincidence, or—? He dismissed the thought. Brother Maxmillian was a Jesuit. Why wouldn’t he pattern his chapel after the Jesuit Mother chapel in Rome?

I thought so also,” Alfredo said. “I like to think this chapel is the little sister to the Madonna della Strada. I am thinking of naming it the Madonna del Rio.”

Oh, that’s lovely!” Majewski said. “The Lady of the River. Perfect!”

It will never stick, I am afraid,” Alfredo said. “The locals all call it the hermit’s chapel.”

That works also,” Majewski said, nodding.

The little chapel seemed to vibrate with the very essence of the Holy Spirit, and the old priest felt as if he suddenly weighed less. Even the act of breathing seemed easier. His burdens of guilt and anxiety floated away like balloons. For the first time in his life, Father Provincial Majewski felt the blessings of the Almighty raining down upon him. He felt a sense of peaceful acceptance enfold him, and he reveled in the luxury of the moment.

A ray of sunlight illuminated the kneeler in the middle of the chapel, attracting Majewski’s attention. He ran his hand along the smooth armrest. “Brother Maxmillian prayed here,” he said in awed reverence.

I found a journal under here,” Alfredo said and lifted the top of the armrest. “Brother Maxmillian’s first year on the island.”

Really?” Majewski said, peering into the dark interior. “His own journal? Where is it now?”

In my desk at the university. I found it before my cottage was finished, so I took it there to read and to keep it safe and dry. I looked at it under a microscope. Evidently Brother Max made his own paper and ink!”

Fascinating!” Majewski said. “I’d love to read it sometime.”

I scanned it all into my computer at the university. I will e-mail it to you.”

They made their way outside and down toward the rocky point. They stopped beside the hermit’s grave and Majewski prayed, “Lord Almighty, look with mercy upon your good son, Maxmillian, and keep his soul in the peace and comfort of your most heavenly arms forever.”

At that moment, a flock of crows burst from the trees and sailed overhead. Majewski was startled but not frightened by the intrusion—an unruly cacophony of raucous sounds from a noisy group of crows. “Strange coincidence,” he said. “Those crows, I mean. Flying over just now. Like they were putting their two cents in.” I wonder if Alfredo knows what they said.

Many of them know me,” Alfredo said with a casual smile. “Crows are extremely intelligent, Thomas, and very observant. It is rather well known that crows can pick a human face out of a crowd. Some of them watched me bury Brother Maxmillian’s bones, and here we are standing on that very spot.”

Majewski studied Alfredo’s face for a sign. Does he know about Maxmillian’s sentient crows? Does he speak to crows himself? Majewski was almost sure that he did, though he felt foolish for thinking so.

Come!” Alfredo said, extending his hand. “Let us go back this way.” He led Majewski back toward the chapel. He stopped and pointed to a pile of limestone blocks, bags of sand and a few tools. “Ultimately this will be a garden, but all I have complete is the pool.”

Majewski heard water dripping, and he turned his head toward it.

A narrow rivulet poured over a stack of limestone blocks into a small pool surrounded by wildflowers and grass. “The water comes from a spring right out of these rocks. Sam and I moved a few to catch it. Such springs are everywhere on the island. My water supply depends on one of them.”

Majewski cupped some water in his hands and drank. “Wonderful!” he said. “Nothing like water from a freshwater spring.”

Let us sit down,” Alfredo said as he gestured toward a large gray slab of limestone. “This is a pleasant place to sit and contemplate the mysteries of the universe!”

Indeed it is!” Majewski agreed, grateful for the opportunity to rest. “The pond is exquisite!”

Several crows materialized in the trees above the pond and looked down at the two men. Each time Majewski happened to catch the eye of one of them, it turned away. Are they spying on me?

Alfredo,” he started to speak. I was just wondering, do you talk to crows? He was dying to ask but immediately felt foolish for even thinking such a thought. Imagine, the Father Provincial of the North American Chapter of the Society of Jesus asking if a human could talk to a crow!

Brother Maxmillian’s letter seemed to shout from the interior of Majewski’s jacket pocket, “De la Torre knew that some of us can!”

Majewski took Brother Maxmillian’s letter out of his pocket and handed it to Alfredo. “Coincidentally,” he said, “I found this letter, quite by accident, the same day I received Henry Braun’s offer to buy the island. It was written in 1852, by Brother Wilder to his uncle, the Father Provincial at the time, Antoni de la Torre.”

Really?” Alfredo said. “The Antoni de la Torre? Brother Wilder was his nephew?”

Majewski nodded and said, “You’ll be more amazed when you read it.”

Alfredo read the letter, feeling Majewski’s eyes boring into him. Does the Order know about the Patua’? Does Majewski? Is that why he’s here? He tried to keep his face expressionless as he flipped the page over and read it again. God Almighty!

This is incredible,” he said, handing the letter back.

What do you make of it?” Majewski asked. “This claim of Brother Maxmillian’s that he talked to the crows here? Is it not just the heretical babblings of a madman?”

Majewski has never heard of the Patua’ then. Will he think I am a madman?

Well,” Alfredo said, “It could be that he was a madman and his uncle, the Father Provincial tried to hide his nephew’s whereabouts during his life.”

But why?” Majewski asked. “Why would he do that? It’s almost as if he wanted someone to eventually discover the island, and his nephew. What did de la Torre find so special about this island? Other than a place to stash his nutcase nephew.”

Alfredo shrugged. “I do not know. There is really nothing here but trees and crows.” Did de la Torre know about the Patua’? “Maxmillian would be a freak even in our time. A good question, though—why the great Father Provincial Antoni de la Torre would want him remembered.” I should ask Charlie if there were Patua’ here before Bruthamax.

Five crows dropped out of the sky and landed on the rocks at the edge of the pond. After dipping their beaks in the water, two of them jumped in and splashed water up over their back with their wings.

Alfredo recognized them all. Cousins–Charlie’s nephew and nieces, Speedy, Blanche, and Zelda.

Speedy looked over at Majewski and said to his siblings, “That other one, he don’t speak the Patua’.”

Nope. He’s just regular,” said Zelda. She and her sister Blanche flapped their wings over the water, splashing Speedy, perched on the edges of pond.

Playful little fellows,” Majewski said as the crows flew up to the trees above the garden. He followed them with his eyes, until they blended in with the shadows among the leaves. But he could almost feel them staring down at him.

They make me laugh every day with their silliness,” Alfredo said.

Geronimo!” Speedy yelled as he tumbled out of the tree, beak-over-feathers into the pond. He disappeared for a couple of seconds before leaping out of the water and onto a rock above the pool. He shook himself soundly, flinging water drops all the way to the priests.

So, do you think that Brother Maxmillian was insane?” Majewski asked. He turned his probing eyes on Alfredo

I cannot know that,” he said slowly, his face expressionless. Well disciplined, like a corpse. Even before his training as a Jesuit priest, he had developed the ability to hide his feelings and thoughts behind an impassive face. “But communicating with the beasts is not necessarily a mark of insanity. Look at St. Francis of Assisi. People no doubt thought he was insane in his time, yet now he is the revered patron saint of animals. Perhaps that was de la Torre’s hope.”

That his nephew would be given sainthood someday?” Majewski asked incredulously. “That is insane. Do you actually believe that Brother Maxmillian talked to crows?”

Fear crawled up out of Alfredo’s gut and into his mouth. His inner voices argued: Does Majewski know about me? Is that why he is here? Tricking me into admitting I am a freak? Why not just tell him? The truth shall set you free! Or imprison me. He could have me defrocked, banished, and tossed to the dogs. But why would he do that? Tell him!

The truth pushed against his teeth, and Alfredo locked his jaws, choking back words that could unleash an uncontrollable deluge in which he might drown. Betraying nothing of his inner turmoil, he stared back at Majewski and said, “The truth is, Thomas, I have never had the choice not to believe.”

The whole truth is …

I have found,” Alfredo continued, hoping his voice did not betray the fear he felt, “that corvids and certain humans—Brother Maxmillian, for one—are able to understand and speak a sort of dialect that harmonically overlaps the language of both species.”

Why can I not just tell him! He already knows about Brother Maxmillian. What if he already knows about me?

But that’s preposterous!” Majewski said, wiping beads of sweat from his forehead. “Communication between the species! Impossible!”

The three crows stood at the edge of the pond facing the two priests. “Wonder what they’re arguing about,” Speedy said.

He’s got cookies in his pocket,” Zelda said. “I can smell them from here.”

Oh?” Speedy looked sharply at Alfredo. “Suppose he’ll give us some?”

I’ll die of boredom waiting till they stop yakking,” said Blanche and took off for the sky.

Is it?” Alfredo asked, raising his eyebrows as he watched Blanche fly away. “You did not think so at my PhD defense, Thomas, where you defended me against those very charges. And that was fifteen years ago!”

He stood up and walked over to the pond and reached absent-mindedly into his pocket. The two crows on the rocks looked first at his hand in his pocket, then up at him expectantly.

Thomas,” he said, as he tossed a chunk of chocolate chip cookie into the air. Speedy snagged the tidbit before it had achieved its zenith. “There is no reason, scientific or otherwise, why we humans cannot communicate better with other species—especially with the corvids, intelligent as they are.”

Zelda waited patiently for her treat, but as soon as Alfredo lobbed it to her, Blanche flew in low and snapped it right out of her beak.

I’m sorry, Alfredo,” Majewski said, shaking his head. “I remember your PhD, your fascinating experiments testing for corvid sentience with mirrors and complex pathways to food that required planning and tool making. And, you reported on some rudimentary sounds and correlated them to some pretty simple phrases. But it’s utterly preposterous to claim that is a language.” He shook his head in dismay. “How can you believe that and still call yourself a scientist?”

He will find out sooner or later. The longer I hold back the truth, the more it makes me look like a liar. Tell him!

Alfredo tossed a chunk of cookie to Zelda, who caught it deftly. “Thank you, Jayzu,” she said and flew after her brother and sister.

My dilemma is whether or not I can still call myself a priest,” Alfredo said, quietly surrendering. “Thomas, I have this ability too. Preposterous or not, I, like Brother Wilder, understand and can speak the language of the corvid, fluently. I have had this ability as long as I can remember.”

What is this madness?” Majewski cried out, shaking his head in bewilderment. “I came here prepared for Dr. Alfredo Manzi to debunk Maxmillian Wilder’s claim, to remind me that the Almighty made but one sentient creature, mankind.” He shut his eyes and his mind to the image of Stella, her hands reaching out to him, pleading. “Forgive me for being flabbergasted, but this is just too incredible.”

I am sorry, Thomas,” Alfredo said. “I wish I could relieve your distress. But you are a man of science yourself. Can the highly respected linguist Dr. Thomas Majewski see not madness and heresy, but the miracle of a complex language and culture of another sentient species that has been here on Earth longer than we have? Can you not behold this wonder of creation and rejoice?”

Silenced by his internal confusion, Majewski did not reply for several minutes. All around him, the visible and invisible natural world contradicted any need for such turmoil. The trickle of water into the pond seemed to repeat its cadence over and over again, “Why can’t you just be?”

At last he took a deep breath and said, “I’ve seen a lot in my time, Alfredo. I’ve been sore amazed more times than I can count at the wonders wrought by the Almighty. But discovering this letter and the hidden talent of our Brother Maxmillian several weeks ago—quite frankly, it’s kept me awake at night ever since. It’s not so much that I think speaking the language of the animals is so preposterous. It’s that, well, you see, my sister, Stella—”

Majewski squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and forefinger, suddenly overcome with emotion. For a wild moment, he thought Alfredo might have known Stella, and he wished he could unburden himself of her tragedy. And his guilt. But the words would not come to his lips. From the well of his memory, the last image of Stella’s face emerged. The shock and betrayal on her face broke his heart. Her big brother sold her out. That’s what she thought. I never got to tell her the truth.

Your sister?” Alfredo said. “Was she like me?”

Yes,” Majewski said, trying to compose himself. The water dripping into the pond grew suddenly louder, crying out with watery voices, “Just like me, just let it be!” He focused on the sound of the tiny stream spiraling down to the pool in a continuous song that had no beginning, no end. No choice, no questions asked. Or answered.

Stella’s face in his memory was unbearable, but he could not banish her. “They thought she was handicapped when she was younger, because she didn’t speak to any of us until she was almost five. Before that, she’d babble away all day long. But only with crows.”

He paused, remembering Stella and her pet crow. What was his name? “And when she grew up, she walked and talked more among the crows than she did with humans, until finally she only talked to crows. That’s when they said she was insane. I helped them capture her and haul her off to the asylum.”

A tiny bird flew down to the pond and sipped a few beakfuls of water before taking off again. The stream continued to fall over the edges of the rocks and into the pool, oblivious of the bird, of Majewski’s sister or his guilt. It wore on him, this guilt, eroding his sense of worthiness, relentlessly pursuing him like a bloodhound. Ever since he had read that letter.

I understand why people think we are insane,” Alfredo said. “The Patua’ does not resemble any human language, and it frightens people. I have managed to lead a relatively normal life—if you call the priesthood a normal life–in a safe place where I could speak in this tongue without persecution. I know others have ended up in insane asylums, just like your sister. Some take their own lives.”

Suicide? Oh dear Lord!” Majewski said, horrified. His hand went to his breast.

Forgive me, Thomas,” Alfredo said. “I intended to offer you some comfort; instead, I burdened you. I am very sorry.”

Majewski nodded wearily and said, “I know that, Alfredo. It’s not like I haven’t had that thought myself. But until recently, I have kept her safely stuffed in some dark corner of my past. And then I found the letter. Since then I have had almost no peace. Stella’s face invades my thoughts during the day and haunts my dreams at night.”

But why, Thomas?” Alfredo said. He reached out and put his hand on the older man’s knee. “What happened? Where is Stella now?”

Majewski watched the ripples that emanated from the water falling into the pond, large bubble floated outward, endlessly created, and endlessly destroyed against the rocks around the edges. Such was his torment. His shoulders sagged, and he hung his head, raking his hands through his hair. “For a long time,I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to know. But when Father died—he’d been paying the bills, I found out. Rosencranz Asylum. For the last 25 years—and in all that time, and I rarely gave her a thought. Now, I can’t get it out of my mind.”

Thomas,” Alfredo said, reaching over and putting his hand on top of Majewski’s. “Forgive yourself. You did not know.”

Majewski nodded. The two men sat in silence for a several minutes. A lone cricket in the garden chirped out the late afternoon temperature. Water fell relentlessly into the dark pond, at the mercy of gravity and other forces far beyond its ability to avoid or control, in a continuous downward journey to merge at last with the sea. As we run down our own pathways to death …

Guilt and shame kept Majewski from telling Alfredo that after his parents’ deaths, he had hired an attorney to write the checks to the mental institution where Stella was. He didn’t want anything to do with Stella, didn’t even want to know where she was. There was plenty of money; she’d be taken care of for the rest of her life. He had relegated it all to a dim corner of his memory. Until that accursed letter.

A barge on the river blasted its horn, disturbing the peace in the garden and jolting Majewski out of his dark thoughts.

I see the shadows are now long, Thomas,” Alfredo said. He stood up and offered a hand to Majewski. “The sun will set in a half hour or so. Let us go to my cottage, and I will fix us some tea.”

Majewski tore his eyes from the little waterfall and said, “Wonderful!” He took Alfredo’s hand and stood up. As they walked the short distance to the cottage, it seemed to Majewski that the entire forest had suddenly come alive with motion and sound. A few small animals scurried through the undergrowth, and hundreds of birds all called out at once. Crickets chirped in the grass, and buzzing insects flew past his face.

Majewski forgot Stella and his burdens of guilt in the wonder all around him, his senses sharpened. The forest seemed more colorful than living things ought to be. He felt lightheaded from the many fragrances of life and death co-mingling in his nose.

Once again, they were almost at the doorstep to the cottage before Majewski realized it. “Sit down, make yourself comfortable,” Alfredo said after he opened the door.

Majewski sat down at the table in the corner, and Alfredo filled the kettle and put it on a small cast-iron stove. He tossed a few lengths of small branches into the stove and within a few moments, he had a small fire going.

That was fast,” Majewski said. “I’d still be down there, blowing and praying.”

Alfredo laughed, pushing a small piece of wood into the stove. He closed the door and stood up. “I have gotten very good at building fires, living here. I otherwise would have starved by now. Or learned to love raw food.”

Majewski pulled the cord on the lamp over the table, and the light came on. “What’s this?” he said, looking down at the black fob in his palm. “Did you carve it?”

No,” Alfredo said. He walked over to the table, wiping soot from the stove off his hands. “I found it beneath Brother Maxmillian’s bones in the chapel. I also found pieces of cord and a crucifix, which I buried with the rest of him.”

I see a hand maybe,” Majewski said, looking through the bottom of his glasses. He squinted, leaning closer to the light. “Or is it a wing?”

I thought I could see both,” Alfredo said. “A wing and a hand.”

Interesting.” Majewski let go of the fob and watched it swing back and forth on its cord. He felt lightheaded and wanted to tear his eyes away, but could not. Back and forth, back and forth. Alfredo was talking, but he couldn’t hear him as the room dissolved into a shadowy twilight. Nothing remained but the aura of light from the lamp and the black orb swinging back and forth in front of his face.

His head swam in confusion. Where was Alfredo? He saw a withered old man kneeling at the prayer bench in the hermit’s chapel, his long white hair illuminated by a single shaft of sunlight. His lips were moving, but Majewski couldn’t understand what the man was saying. Was he praying? Suddenly the old man turned, and Stella’s face stared at him.

Thomas?”

Disoriented, Majewski called out, “Alfredo! Where are you?” He squinted into the light. “Stella?”

I am right here, Thomas,” a familiar voice said. His right arm was shaking involuntarily.

Thomas!”

Majewski blinked. The vision evaporated, and Alfredo stood next to him shaking his arm. “Thomas! What is the matter? Are you all right? Thomas?”

 

Charlie flew over the river toward Ledford searching for his nephews, Floyd and Willy. After chatting with a few local crows, he found the two young brothers playing games in the park next to Ledford City Hospital. He landed on a bench and called out to them, “Over here, fellas. I’ve got a job for you two. Espionage.”

Floyd and Willy loved intrigue; they had watched many spy movies as fledges, from their nest at the drive-in movie theater.

Oh, yeah!” Willy said and landed on the bench next to Charlie.

Who, what, when, where, why?” Floyd asked, a second behind his brother.

Follow me,” Charlie said as he took to the air. “This way.”

The three crows flew across the park and into the neighborhood beyond. The landscape below gradually changed from neat little rows of houses with adjoining yards to larger and larger estates behind huge stone walls and wrought-iron gates.

At 10 Woodland Drive, Charlie, Floyd, and Willy swooped down to the wall surrounding a sprawling mansion with many gables and chimneys and a satellite dish. The three crows looked down at the gray stone walls nearly covered with ivy and Virginia creeper. Huge windows in white frames stared out toward the horizon.

Charlie gestured with his beak toward the mansion and said, “The man of the house, Henry Braun, is among the richest in Ledford.”

Pretty fancy digs,” Willy said approvingly. “We’ll be puttin’ on the ritz!”

I just love big old houses,” Floyd said. “One day I want to live in a house with white curtains flapping in the breeze, and pies cooling on the windowsills.

It’s a spy caper, boys,” Charlie said sternly. “Your primary job is to spy on Henry Braun. No looking for sparklys, and no stealing. You got that, Floyd? Willy?”

Gotcha, Boss,” Willy said.

You can count on us,” Floyd said.

Do not let Henry Braun leave your sight,” Charlie said. “Perch on his windowsill and observe his every move. You’re going to need to pay a lot of attention, boys. I’m counting on you two.”

Charlie drilled them with his intense blue eyes. “Don’t let him notice you. He hates crows. He may even hate all birds, for all I know. But he particularly hates crows. A word to the wise, fellas.”

Hates crows,” Floyd said. “Perhaps we should be incognito, eh?”

Willy smacked his brother with a wing.

Now get to it,” Charlie said. “Let me know if you hear anything about Cadeña-l’jadia. I have a session with the Archivist the rest of today and tomorrow, but I’ll check on you the day after.”

Willy and Floyd nodded solemnly. “We’ll keep our ears and eyes open,” Willy said. “No worries, Boss.”

 

Floyd and Willy knew Ledford like the backs of each other’s wings. They’d flown virtually everywhere in the city since the day they fell off the roof of the projection booth at the Raven Wind drive-in theater, one of the last of its kind in the state.

They had spent little time in the rich folks’ neighborhoods, however. What was the point? Those humans never even left a covered trash can outside. They built special houses for their rubbish that were locked and emptied by authorized personnel once a week. Even their landscapes were kept impeccably free of everything edible. Not even a blade of grass was out of place, let alone a misplaced or lost sparkly.

Before they fledged, the two brothers, kreegans of Charlie’s sister, Eliza, watched a different movie every night from the nest at the drive-in theater. They loved to act out different scenes from their favorite movies. Floyd was fascinated with manners and food and loved movies that featured exotic, faraway places. Willy loved Westerns and science fiction. And they both loved movies about clandestine operations and spying.

Floyd and Willy liked to hang out in the blocks surrounding the university campus, on the windowsills and in the trees surrounding the student apartments. Much to their delight, every apartment had its own television–miniature movie theaters as Floyd called them. Every night they found a windowsill to perch on while they watched their favorite shows.

The two crows never went to roost hungry, thanks to the many dining establishments and fast-food joints located near the campus. Every night for weeks, they selected a new restaurant, raiding the trash containers in the alley after hours. Both crows cultivated a taste for international food.

Willy loved it all, spicy, not spicy, raw or cooked. Except for calamari. “Like trying to eat rubber bands,” he said.

Floyd embraced any flavor or dish, as long as it was presented with tasteful elegance. He was especially partial, however, to the English Tea Gardens, where ladies sat in elegant finery, sipping brown liquid from delicate white cups painted with exquisite artistry.

The two young crows stayed hidden way up in the big tree in Henry’s backyard, watching. Waiting to watch mostly, until Henry was in his office. They watched him smoke cigars, shout on the phone, and yell that he needed more coffee, or lunch, or his suit, or tie.

Henry’s little choo-choo train that went around and around a miniature island with a big boat moored at a little dock fascinated them. It was very beautiful; hundreds of little lights sparkled like diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. At least once a day, Henry turned them all on, ran the choo-choo around its tracks, and sailed the boat out into the miniature river.

The first time they saw the little train blow its whistle, a small puff of steam issued from its smokestack, the crows were amazed. “Is that cool or what?” Floyd said to his brother. Willy nodded and replied, “Man, I’d love to have one of those. I’d ride that little train around all day long!”

And I would preside over the lovely paddleboat,” Floyd said. One of his favorite movies featured a romance on a big riverboat, and he was dying to fall in love with a young lady crow on one. “I would serve exotic coffee and tea and delectable pastries on the deck every morning, and champagne with wild mushroom perogi in the evening!”

Perogi?” Willy looked at Floyd in shock. “Are you nuts? No one serves champagne with perogi! Cognac, perhaps. But champagne? Ish!”

Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” Floyd said with an air of superiority. “It’s quite scrumptious, actually. I wouldn’t serve cabbage perogi with champagne, however. Now, that would be disgusting.”

They watched from the windowsill: Henry sitting down in his armchair; Henry turning on the television; Henry flitting through the channels. He settled upon a conversation between several people sitting around a table. Within minutes, his head dropped to his chest.

Gad!” Willy said after a few minutes. “How dreadfully dull! I’m falling asleep too. What say you, brother, that we flee to yonder tree whilst the object of our spying naps in front of the tellie?”

Capital idea!” Floyd said. “It is half past time for tea, anyhoo.”

The two crows flapped to a different tree and perched on a branch where they could still see Henry, or at least his bald spot sticking up over the back of the armchair. “I say, old chap,” Willy said after Floyd passed him an imaginary cup of English Breakfast tea and a blueberry pastry, “I cannot fathom how you can sip a cup of tea, hold a crumpet, and keep purchase on this branch at the same time.”

Floyd looked at his brother with an air of superiority and said, “That is because I have the lithe soul of a dancer, my dear brother. While you, I fear, inherited the corpulent spirit of the bovine.”

A sliding door opened below the two crows, and a thin, petite woman with dark hair tied up in a bun stepped outside. She set a covered tray down softly and called out, “Grawky! Did I hear someone say it is tea time already?”

I say, old chap,” Floyd leaned over to Willy, forgetting about the imaginary crumpet, which fell to the ground below. “What the bloody hell was that?”

Why, I daresay someone is speaking in the Patua’,” Willy remarked. “Perhaps it is Henry Braun’s maid, or his spouse. Perhaps she wishes to attract our attention.”

Willy raised a claw up to his eye and peered down at the woman on the patio through an imaginary monocle. “Really! Another Patua’! What a lovely coincidence! Perhaps we should see if she knows anything important about Henry Braun,” Floyd said as he took one last sip of tea from an imaginary fine English bone china cup—white, upon which delicate pink flowers were painted.

I say! ’Tis a capital plan, old boy!” Willy replied. “Let us fly down and greet her good morning.”

Bloody grand idea, old chap!” Floyd put his teacup down carefully on the branch. Wiping his beak delicately with an imaginary polished cotton napkin, embroidered with pink flowers to match the teacup, he turned to his companion and said, “Shall we?”

The two crows flew down to the patio, landing at the woman’s feet. Willy bowed low and said, “Grawky, Madame! It is an honor and a pleasure to make morning salutations!” He could be very eloquent.

Indeed, fair lady,” said Floyd, not to be outdone. He bowed so low his beak scraped the concrete. “My colleague and I beg for the occasion, nay, privilege, to make the acquaintance of such a lovely and gracious lady.”

Well, for heaven’s sakes!” The woman blushed. “My darling kitty has maligned you! He told me there were, how did he say it, ‘crows masquerading as dandies drinking tea in the trees.’ Dandies indeed! Finely mannered gentlemen is more like it!”

She motioned for the crows to seat themselves and they nodded approvingly to each other. “Miss Fair Lady, ma’am,” Floyd said, as he surveyed the contents of the tray on the table. “I daresay you’ve exhausted yourself on our behalf this morning! And we have yet to be formally introduced. I am Floyd of the Drive-In, at your service, fair lady!”

Minnie bent over and giggled as she brushed her hand across Floyd’s outstretched wing. “My pleasure, I am sure!”

Likewise,” Willy said, bowing and stretching out a wing. “I am Willy of the Drive-In.”

My name is Minerva,” she said, brushing her hand through Willy’s feathers.

Minerva,” Willy said, nodding approvingly. “A lovely nom de plume, wouldn’t you say, my brother?”

Who could think otherwise?” Floyd said with a low bow. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Minerva.”

Oh, please!” Minnie said, blushing. “No one calls me that except my husband. Call me Minnie.”

But of course,” Willy said, “Miss Minnie.”

Thank you,” she said. “Now, let’s have some tea and crumpets, shall we?”

She sat down on a chair, uncovered the tray and put three cups and three plates on the table. Two apple fritters peeked out from beneath a cloth napkin in a small basket. She took one, cut it in half, and put the pieces on the crows’ plates.

With unimpeachable manners, Floyd and Willy dipped their beaks into their tea and nibbled delectable pastry with Minnie Braun. After he finished his last crumb, Floyd wiped his beak on his napkin and said, “To what do such humble fellows as my brother and I owe this marvelous repast?”

Oh, pshaw!” Minnie said, waving her hand at Floyd. “It’s just tea and some baked goods from the grocery store.”

Nay,” Willy said, shaking his head. “No two crows were ever so less deserving of sweeter confections than the exquisite products of your culinary art, as well as and not less than, the delight of the company of a maid so fair.”

Minnie looked confused for a moment, then smiled and said, “As easily I could say, to what do I owe the occasion of such a delightful visit from two handsome, well-mannered, and dare I say, well-spoken crows?”

The crows looked at each other for a moment, and Floyd said nonchalantly, “Why, nothing other than our hope to share tea with a beautiful lady!”

Oh, fiddle-dee-dee!” Minnie laughed, waving the hand at the two crows. “Enough of the honey-beaked speech! What are you fellows up to, really? Are you spying?”

The two crows looked at each other again, abashed. “She knows,” Floyd hissed through his beak.

Well, Miss Minnie,” Willy said, “we did hope to acquire news or developments thereof that interest the master of the house, that is, about possible future plans he may or may not have concerning Cadeña-l’jadia, that is, Wilder Island to you folks.”

I see,” Minnie said. She glanced over her shoulder and leaned toward the crows. Floyd and Willy leaned in toward her.

He’s just crazy to get that island,” she whispered. “He keeps saying the same thing over and over again. ‘Condemnation for the priest, eminent domain for Henry Braun.’ I have no idea what that means. He’s not the least religious, so I don’t think he’s talking about heaven or hell. He just keeps repeating it, over and over again. ‘Condemnation for the priest, eminent domain for Henry Braun.’ And then he laughs.” She sat back and wrapped herself in her arms. “It is a not a happy sound.”

Eminent domain,” Floyd said. “Izzat so?”

A door slammed in the house, and Minnie looked anxiously over her shoulder again. “Minerva!” a male voice boomed out the windows.

Ta-ta for now, fellas!” Minnie said. She quickly put the cups and plates back on the tray and darted into the house, leaving the fritters on the table.

What is eminent domain?” Willy asked, beaking a chunk of fritter and flying up to the tree.

Beats me, old chap,” Floyd said, grabbing the other fritter and following his brother. “But isn’t Miss Minnie just the bomb?”

 

www.amazon.com/Corvus-Rising-Book-Patua-Heresy/dp/0991224515