Flash Fiction: Records (905 words)

For exactly eight minutes, the first Clan Lords entertained a man’s proposal to train fish to carry messages between sailing ships. During those first foundering founding days, the five of them were only gathered into one petition room once every three months, and eight minutes was the most one man was allowed to hold their ear. In those eight minutes, Clan Lord Eoin only made sixteen jokes about the fleeting memories of fish, Clan Lord Samsin was distracted by the arrival of lunch, and the long-suffering Clan Lord Callix spoke only once to thank the man for leaving.

The scribe noted in the margins that the attending records keeper may have marked it wrongly, and Callix may have thanked the man for his time. Ryden, reading the dry records at an age when he would have rathered spend his time tying bells to the cat’s tail, snickered and preferred to believe that the First Clan Lord, the eldest of five magnificent brothers, heroes, and Lords, was just the sort of man to make the correct thank you.

There was no further mention in the records on the subject of training fish.

Within a year, a different man came forward with a string of three hawks on his arm. The largest of them, a great golden bird perched on his shoulder, swiveled her beak over his head to peer around the room. Ryden thought that day’s record keeper might have fallen in love with the bird, since she described the animal’s dark eyes as glittering like a young man’s under starlight. Then she fell out of love, because she said it screamed like an attack baboon from hell.

The hawks mated in threes, the man said: one female who laid two nests, and two males who sat them. He said the female, the great golden thing, would check them both by turns all through the nesting. He posited that the two males could be put on two ships and the female would carry messages between them. He demonstrated with a dozen happy flights across the long rom.

The Clan Lords sent him away with instructions to see how great a distance the female would cross. A month later, he returned to Clan Lord Eoin and explained that the female had become bored with their games and left him. Eoin’s response was marked down as unintelligible. Ryden, after reading a dozen volumes of Clan Lord Eoin’s early years, understood that meant Eoin had laughed. Very loudly. For too long.

The Golden Hawk had a cousin. The first time Ryden saw one, he thought it looked like it had stolen all of its feathers from the discards of other birds. The Clan Lords’ records generously called them mottled, though its name was written as The Rag Man Hawk.

They were small, barely as tall as a man’s forearm from tip to tail. They made almost no noise, except a mumble and a scream that sounded like two attacks baboons. But they mated in threes. And the female was very patient with her wandering men. If she grew bored, she showed it only in wanderings of her own, stopping at every ship between her and her mate.

The Clan Lords hired a breeder and issued them to their ships immediately with careful instructions to attach private messages intended for her mate’s ship to the right leg and news that could be passed to any ship in the area to the left leg. A month later, Clan Lord Callix test his new system by tying the left leg with the simple message: Sorry they scream so much. No, you may not use them for target practice. (Tesni’s crew excluded, because they need it.)

The Rag Man stayed.

Ryden saw them fail only twice. The first time, aboard his father’s ship, he never blamed the bird. It was too admirable for that high flyer, that his father lovingly called the banshee, to refuse to leave after she saw the mangled wing of her mate. A month later, it was too funny to watch her mate chase her off to prove that he could in fact fly again, and she should continue her business. He liked them both better for it.

The second time, Ryden stepped out of the Captain’s cabin, surprised at the lady hawk’s cry echoing over the deck. He ran down to the rail, watching as she wheeled on the points of her wings.

“What wrong?” he asked his First Mate.

Ehren shrugged helplessly. “She won’t leave.”

“Is Tevy sick?” Ryden asked. He couldn’t remember seeing anything out of sorts with the other hawk.

‘Tevy’s fine,” Ehren said. “She’s just misbehaving.”

Ryden nodded, then winced when she screamed again. “What is she upset about?” He said it aloud, with no real belief that he would receive an answer.

Smiling, Ehren shrugged. “Some of the men tried throwing old tack at her to get her to move on. I’d scream too.” He looked at Ryden, mouth curling into something sharper.He raised his eyebrows. “She caught a piece. Dropped it on Danic’s head.”

Ryden blinked. Deliberately, he turned away from the rail.

“Mark it in the logs, please,” he said. Ehren nodded dutifully, even as Ryden continued. “Out of contact. Bird misbehaving. Ryden hesitated. “Mark this exactly: Bird charged with insubordination and contempt for officers.” He tried not to laugh, imagining it read between the the parched lines of other events.

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