Illustration by no_colour_for_us
On the other side of the tunnel, Quincy was astonished to find the lower trails mostly unchanged. Down in the village, however, Maselyn, the Tribunal, and most of the tribe had gathered on the fringe to watch their Spire come down. The last dregs of rolling snow blew over their shoes. The only thing more stunning was the battered boy who dragged himself in, minutes behind.
"Is that..." Mabel squinted over the walls of the holding hut. When their guards wandered to the avalanche runoff, she and Corman followed.
"Our lad marked the mountain instead," Corman laughed through his headache. Maselyn rushed to the head of Quincy's reception.
"What happened, boy?" When his dry lips shook in attempt to speak, he only reopened the wounds on his face. "Did you reach the peak before you brought the damn thing down?" A little chirp perked the ears of the Chief. Quincy was hardly lucid when he opened his coat to comfort the only other survivor of the Spire massacre. Maselyn's eyes widened around the bloody little bundle of feathers.
"Quincy Redwing!" an awed cry sliced the bewildered silence. The crowd toyed with the phrase in whispers until the whole village raised the chant,
"Quincy Redwing! Quincy Redwing!" Maselyn's mouth followed the pattern, but she seemed as stunned as the Tribunal newborn himself. "Quincy Redwing!"
"I suppose... we leave in the morning. I hope you're ready for Bragg." Maselyn flattened Quincy's washed, mended cloak collar. In her flame-lit eyes, he found both fondness and suspicion.
"Not even close," he admitted, "You're the first on a long list of people I need to convince before I even begin to be ready." She lifted the jeweled crown of the Tribunal, fringed with vivid downs, to his head. She stepped back from the thin, decorated boy from the land above her metal sky.
"I'll vouch for your gumption, at least. You're reckless, if not one brave sonofabitch, Redwing," said Maselyn.
"Just need your vote is all," Quincy chuckled nervously, "Thanks, Owlfeather."
"Sounds less impressive somehow," Maselyn leaned over to look in Quincy's cooing hood. "Owls are a symbol of wisdom. Some of the more superstitious Tribunal members would say there's significance in the death of so many, only for one to come to you. Do not waste this gift." Gift. For a second, Quincy was back on the icy summit, surrounded by the hungry pack. Then he noticed Maselyn's smoldering stare. There was a certain wistful note in them that Quincy couldn't place. But then, when she looked at him, she wasn't really seeing him.
"Getting sentimental on me, Chief?" Quincy shifted under the weight of the wrinkles on her young face,
"Everyone's sentimental about something," Maselyn brooded. She reached idly for Quincy's collar and worked out a kink with surprising tenderness. "I... thought I'd be having this conversation with someone else one day, is all."
"But you got me," Quincy shrugged. A chuckle chased the melancholy from Maselyn's face.
"You say that like it's some sort of curse. We're lucky to have met one another, Quincy. You'd do well to treat yourself like it," she chided.Then Maselyn spun him around and pushed him through a mossy curtain to the Tribunal stage.
"Now presenting Quincy Redwing of the Avalon Tribunal!" As he understood, he didn't need to say much, though he had to wait for the Tribe's cheers to rumble down, the unbound Mabel and Corman included. In those seconds, all of his nerves unraveled. His brain emptied. It was the first time he'd been applauded. The first time he'd been celebrated at all. When the commotion died, his lips just moved.
"First we'll take back Islaire. Then we'll get your medicine, and get you well." As per instruction, he hoisted the little owlet from his hood and held her carefully aloft. She hardly cracked her tired eyes at the cry of,
Corman was quick to forgive Quincy's thievery when he handed him the remainder of the scotch he'd used for fire. He even took a swig himself, beneath the torch-lit, straw canopy of a woodland ballroom. When not pulled into the festivities themselves, Quincy and Corman enjoyed watching the tribal dancers twirl and leap to the beat of hide-stretched kettledrums. They laughed at the suggestion Corman could charm one of them over, when Mabel startled Quincy sober with,
"Mind if I borrow your underage drinking partner before you ruin him completely?" Corman waved her off. Quincy stood, then remembered he had a feathery little responsibility in his hood.
"Leave yer chick with me," Corman said. Quincy was hesitant to trust him with so fragile a burden, until he recalled the walls of tanks hidden in the Lake Lady. The little owl seemed content to snooze in Corman's lap anyway. Quincy followed Mabel into the forest.
"There's someone I want you to meet," Mabel said in the light-fringed brush. A chill slid across the back of Quincy's neck when heavy steps crunched through the darkness.
"B-big someone," Quincy shuffled away from the shadow, a head taller and twice as wide as him. It walked on humanoid feet and the knuckles of two tremendous forearms.
"Don't let her hear you say that," Mabel chuckled, "She won't hurt you." Quincy planted both shaking legs while the massive frame paced cautiously past Mabel.
"Sh-she's a gorilla?"
"She's an old friend," Mabel smiled, "I've been studying her and her family since I left Almagreighn fifteen years ago. I had my suspicions about Bragg when I noticed some of her little ones were getting sick, like the tribes. It's probably why the wolves were up so high in the mountains- fewer fish in the lake. Everything is out of sorts, and it all comes back to the water."
"So you turned on him," Quincy surmised, finding kindness in the round, simian face over him, "Are all the biologists against him?"
"The ones that've been in the field... that have beautiful friends like Alma," Mabel motioned to the tower of muscle looking down on Quincy. "Bragg... wasn't always like this. Something in him, something that was cracked... they just drove the spike in further, deeper, until he broke." Alma surprised Quincy by seizing his hand. She pulled it to her nose for a deep whiff. Mabel laughed. "I wanted you to understand. The tribes, Alma and her family, the people in Islaire. Even Phinneas Bragg himself... This Summit stands for so much more than just us." Quincy read those beautiful, knowing primate eyes, until Alma jerked away. She smelled a stranger.
"So is it Blackstar or Redwing now?" his voice was the first sign of their lurking stalker, "Or should I just call you Quincy?" said Nether Ranger Raines.
YOU ARE READING
Strand: the Silver RadioScience Fiction
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