As the shadows were growing long, Ocker buried his marble before flying to the whispering branches of a tall spruce to study a green haired man picking up sticks on the ground below. Titmice and chickadees called nearby, hidden by the boughs. Ocker shook himself and sorted through the feathers of each wing while he kept an eye on the man. “That’s Greenwood, all right,” he thought.
Without warning, Meri Greenwood stood up and looked straight at him. “Hoy, Ocker!” he hollered. “Ain’t eighteen rod a pretty far piece for to visit?”
Ocker was so startled by this that he had to flap his way into the air to hide his having lost his grip on his perch. “Damn him!” he rattled as he swooped down to a tree much closer.
“Do you not trust me?” said Meri.
“Not much,” said Ocker. “Do you trust me?”
“I trust you to be the shrewdest thing I know of with feathers, but if you want to do business, you are going to have to come down here with me,” said Meri as he squatted at once and patted the ground.
“Business hit is,” said Ocker, landing on the carpet of needles before him, “but your flattery won’t lessen my price. I have information dear to you.”
“Celeste!” cried Meri. “Where is she? She my whole life do be.”
“Then she’s worth my price…”
“Well what is hit?”
“I’ve had some especially valuable tidings to sell, lately,” said Ocker as he ran his beak down a flight feather with a silky zip. “And one of my customers came to consider my services so indispensable that she gave me the powers of a hedge wizard and taught me a traveling spell to get me quickly to her castle to keep her up on matters of keen interest to her…”
Ocker stopped short, quite wide eyed at this. “How could you possibly figure that out?”
“Two and two make Demonica. But now, I interrupted your tale.”
Ocker felt very exposed. “Well, the traveling spell only takes me to her keep and back,” he said, bristling up like a pine cone and sleeking down. “And hit took me all day to fly here…”
“I can not never her spell for to change, nor can I change the magic of any Elf or Human,” said Meri, falling silent to eye him with his keen emerald eyes for so long that Ocker nearly sprang into the air in a panic. Suddenly Greenwood rose and went to his knapsack, pulling out a small polished stick. “But I this here do have…”
“A stick?” cried Ocker. “You must not think me as shrewd as you were saying.”
“Some of my trees the magic fire from any one can to store,” said Meri, holding out the stick. “This be one of Longbark’s twigs. She be the eldest being in the Forest Ancient and has magic and she very wise do be. This here twig a good deal of fire does store. Maybe you can yourself a way to change Demonica’s spell to divine, if you first a quantity of your magic fire in the twig to store. So will you take the twig?”
This was not nearly certain enough to suit Ocker, but there was an unmistakable desperation in Meri’s tone that made him snatch away the twig at once and stand on it.
“Celeste and her sisters and that swyving rat brother of theirs are seeking sanctuary with the Elves in the Jutwoods,” he said with a snap of first one wing and then the other. “They were camped about ten league south-east of my nest two days ago.”
“Yea? Well he is now. Somebody got him good. He’s all rat except for his face, and he’s counting on the Elves undoing his curse, though the three quientes… I mean three ladies, hope they don’t manage.”
“How could you possibly know something like unto that?”
“I listen from the treetops,” said Ocker as he took a couple of careful pecks at his new stick. “I heard them say hit, that’s how. Say. How about the hindquarters off one of those squirrels you have draped across that log?”
“They are both yours,” said Meri, grabbing up his bag. He set off at once into the timber and ran through the deepening shadows until he reached a mossy glade. Across the glade he came to a large ring of mushrooms. As a whip-poor-will gave its first call of the evening, he stepped into the ring and disappeared up to his knees in the moss before
jogging down out of sight, vanishing altogether.
Ch. 9, Good Sister, Bad Sister
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps