Lukus Strangles on a Choke Oak Fruit

Rowan

Lukus bounced in his saddle and renewed his interest in their surroundings. There were ironwood and gnarled muscled hornbeam trees all over the flat of the creek bottom near 2004_1024chapel0005the banks, but as he looked, he saw that there imagesbwasn’t a single tree of any kind, not even a sapling, that was not bent and twisted into some horribly unnatural pose. “I’ll declare,” he thought. “How could trees give me the creeps?” He kept seeing ordinary looking leaves on the ground, much like the white oak leaves in Niarg. When he looked overhead to find where they came from, he saw that they weren’t sorbus-decora-fruitoaks at all, but bore brilliantly colored succulent fruits in bunches, each bunch a different bright color. “Fresh fruit and lots of it, just hanging there for the taking. And I think I will,” he said as he steeredSORBUSJOSEPHROCKv2 Starfire toward the nearest tree. Directly he had a handful of the irresistible smelling treats. “Hey Rose!” he hollered. “Come back here and try some of this fruit! They’re better than your old figs! And they’re all different colors!”

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Rose turned Mystique about at the word fruit and came galloping back for his first bite.

sorbus-maderensis-fruit“Wow Rose! This is good,” he said, champing away. “Strange, but real good. It’s got milky white juice which is real bitter but really, really sweet at the same time.” He popped11684990965_4bd7dfdd98_b another one into his mouth and savored his prize. Suddenly his eyes bulged open with strained urgency. He turned frighteningly red as his veins stood out. He wheezed in a gasping panic as though he might explode. And now he was gagging convulsively.

Rose fought down her horror. She sprang from Mystique and mounted Starfire behind TR0000004742_card_lgLukus, who by this time was bent over, turning purple and nearly unconscious. She wrapped her arms around him, mxsa7ep4GuMMZ6APQ6Beb-Agrabbed her fist and yanked, making him cough out chewed fruit all down his front. He slid to the ground and sat there gasping and coughing as tears streamed down his face. Rose knelt beside him, and saw that the inside of his mouth and throat were still swelling. Once she had rinsed out his mouth, he croaked a hoarse thanks for saving him.

1279287337-53793900“Needles! It felt like needles,” he said as he mounted Starfire. “I don’t understand what happened. Those berries weren’t even big enough to get stuck in my throat like that, not to mention fill up my mouth the way they did. My throat hurts.”

“Lukus,” said Rose, “I just remembered something that Grandfather once told me. Sorry I didn’t think of this before now, but I reckon I’d no reason to. He said the berries here were all the different colors of the rainbow. I think the pits can be roasted, but anyone who eats the fruit strangles to death while his windpipe swellsThe_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindle shut. That’s why they’re called chokeberries and this place is called the Chokewood Forest. Those trees are called choke trees or choke oaks, though they aren’t true oaks at all. I guess they grow all over here.”

Ch. 8, The Collector Witch

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Ugleeuh Loves her Bloated Hubba Hubba

Lukus swelled up with a rejoinder, but dropped it at the sight of ol’ Ma’am returning with an Scan10067armload of blankets. On her shoulder perched a huge smug crow. “What a conceited fowl,” he thought.

“Here’s my dearest,” she said grandly. “His name is Hubba Hubba and he is such a darling, but I’m afraid he enjoys eating more than he does flying. He’s just a bit too plump to get off the ground these days…”

Ch. 10, The Collector Witch 

***

“Yea,” said Hubba Hubba with pompous arrogance. “Time to eat.” 

Rose bolted upright, wide eyed. “It talks!” she said, flinging back her covers. “I thought only parrots could do that, and not even all of them.”

Ugleeuh and Hubba Hubba turned to glare at her with one icy accord, reminding her so much of a pair of glaciers, that without thinking she pulled her blankets back over her legs.

“My name is Hubba Hubba,” he said with a flash of his eyes, as he straightened his heft beneath his bristling mantle of feathers. “I am not a thing. Do not refer to me as ‘It!’” 

Ugleeuh swelled up with a hiss through her nose to glower down at Rose.

Rose shrank back into her bed roll.

“I don’t like parrots,” she snarled. “I would never have one, and I prefer not to discuss the vile creatures. Crows, particularly this one, have far greater command of language than any parrot. And from now on, if either of you talks about or speaks to my dearest, you’ll call him Hubba Hubba. Is that perfectly clear?”

Ch. 10, The Collector Witch

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“So,” said Hubba Hubba with a rasp like a rusty hinge as he leveled a derisive squint. “Just how much of the time which you just spent outside was actually taken up by deciding if your unicorns were indeed gone? At this rate, I’ll be lucky to get into the air before Ugleeuh gets back. Why, she might not even see me up there and crash into me. Chaos and mayhem. I’d be dead and you two would be to blame. She’d never get over it. She’d never forgive you. Never let you go if she even let you live.”

“Don’t you dare threaten us with that old sow witch of yours, Lard Ball!” shouted Lukus, lunging at him with a stamp. “What I want to know is what the old bat’s done with our unicorns. She has no right to take them! She could hang for it, don’t you know. Where are they? She has no…”

“Careful there snot,” he said as he leant forward, following Lukus’s movements minutely. “You’re repeating yourself. And I’d also advise you to be cautious about how you speak to me and how you treat me, because Ugleeuh will hear of it. In fact, she’s told me to give her a complete report of your entire behavior upon her return, and I must say that it’s not very favorable, so far.”

Ch. 11, The Collector Witch

 

 ***

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“Good,” she said. “Then I suppose we have no choice for our next step but to hitch up the sparrows.” She shuddered as she looked about and found them, shackled to their iron balls, pecking at crumbs on the floor. “So then, Hubba Hubba, just how does one wrangle venomous little birds into harnesses and make them do your bidding without getting poisoned in the process?”

He made no reply, but Rose’s comment stopped all three sparrows at once. They gazed up at her, keenly absorbed in what she was up to. He leant forward, clacked his beak and leered at them, but the grumpy gesture caused them to break out in a titter. He ruffled up with a heavy shake and hoisted himself into an aloof posture.                   

Rose turned to Lukus. He shrugged, making it quite clear that he knew no more about the matter than she.

“Well,” said Hubba Hubba from under a half opened eye, “they might not be quite as deadly as Ugleeuh led you to believe.”

“Just how much risk is there to handling them?” said Rose.

“Practically none,” he said, almost meekly.

“Practically!” yelped Lukus. “What does that mean? Either the birds are dangerous or they aren’t, Tubbo!”

“Name calling is very childish and rude,” said Hubba Hubba as he drew himself up on his perch, obviously stung by Lukus’s taunts about his corpulence. “It was not I, dear impetuous one, who told you that tale about the slaves, you know.”

“No, but you’re the one who’s refused to be clear about it, yet.”

“Lukus! None of this is getting us anywhere,” said Rose. “Hubba Hubba, are the sparrows poisonous or not?” 

“Not in the least,” he sighed. “Chirp, Tweet and Squeak merely have small minds.”

Ch. 11, The Collector WitchThe_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindle

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Minuet Tells Rose to Let Her Heart Decide

Rose and Lukus had been home less than a week, when a page knocked on her door and announced the arrival of Prince James. Rose’s heart fell at this. “I shall meet him directly, in the second drawing room off the dining hall,” she said with a quiver to her voice that she didn’t expect.

“Very good, Your Highness,” said the page. “I shall convey this at once.”

Just as she was about to go out the door, Minuet arrived with an encouraging smile. “Rose, your Father and I have discussed your marriage at length since your return. We’ve decided that if you still find James objectionable after you’ve seen him, we’ll make some sort of reparation to King Edmond and cancel the wedding.”

“But…you said that such an action might start a war.”

“Anything’s possible, but we think that war is very unlikely for the time being. King Edmond would fare very badly in a war and frankly, a tidy windfall might be exceedingly beneficial to him.”

“Why Mother, what’s happened in Loxmere?”

“It’s a right lengthy tale, I’m afraid,” said Minuet as she put her arm around Rose and walked her out the door and down the stairs. “There’s no time now. James awaits. Go to him, and let your heart and nothing else decide, Rose.”

Rose hugged her and hurried through the dining hall to the drawing room, relieved to be able to make short work of her childhood nightmare. She entered softly. There was James, standing with his back to her, warming his hands at the fireplace. She studied him
for a moment. “He’s certainly not the short, pudgy thing he used to be,” she thought. “James?” she said.

Ch. 30, The Collector Witch    

“O-ooh! That arrogant, dimwitted pig boy!” said Rose between breaths, at the top of the spiraled staircase. “How could I ever have believed he’d changed?”

“Rose?” said King Hebraun softly, making her gasp and jump.

She’d not seen Minuet and him following her all the way up. She turned to face them and panicked. What could she say to them? She began at once in trembling dismay, telling them everything as they carefully listened.

“…And so,” she said with a tremulous heave, “I told him I’d not marry him now, or ever.” She looked at their faces with tears filling her eyes and added a squeaky: “I’m so sorry!”

“Rose,” said Hebraun. “it sounds to me as though you handled the situation in the only responsible and sensible way possible. Your Mother and I stand behind your decision completely. The timing might be a bit awkward, considering the large numbers of guests who’ve already arrived…”

“Hebraun!” said Minuet, as Rose’s tears brimmed over and ran down her cheeks.

Hebraun went wide eyed and quickly gave Rose a shoulder to cry on.

“Hey!” cried Lukus, charging to the top of the stairs, full of dash from having just been with Soraya. “How come you all are up here? Oh!” He saw Rose’s reddened eyes. “So what’s going on?”

“I told James I’m not going to marry him, Lukus,” she said over her handkerchief. “The wedding’s off.”

“No! It’s…no! Rose, you’re making this up, right?” he said. Of course he could see that she was not. “Whoa! So what happened? Is James the same old pea-slinging gwrtaith he always was, Rose?”

“Lukus!” cried Minuet. “Walls have ears.”

Hebraun jerked his finger to his lips.

Rose nodded. “Lukus is right!”

“I am? You mean to say he actually shot peas at you? If he did, do you want me to…?”

“Lukus! If you’re not teasing, don’t be so dim. If you are, I’ve just been through too much. You’re about to become betrothed yourself, so I’d think that you’d…”

“That’s it!” cried Hebraun, giving Minuet a jubilant nod of resolution. “Where did anyone last see King Neron?”

“I left Soraya at his chamber, just now,” said Lukus. “I think they might be taking a stroll out by the big fountain.”

Ch. 31, The Collector Witch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Fuzz Reveals Himself

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Fuzz the Bear reveals himself to Rose and Lukus in The Collector Witch

“Hello there my friends!” he called out as they approached. “Looks like rotten old Ugleeuh was right!”   

Rose and Lukus were astonished at the sight of him. He had an apt name all right, for his skin was indeed covered with a thin nearly velveteen chestnut fuzz, but that fact didn’t prepare them for the shock of his looks. He was scrawny, long necked and huge headed, with stubby limbs and a ponderous melon for a paunch that scarcely cleared the ground when he stood.   (Ch 16)

 They had been back in Fuzz’s den for some time before he limped in, bedraggled and winded. Still with his full pails of precious booty, he stumbled onto the floor at Rose and Lukus’s feet without spilling a bit.

 “Oh my!” said Rose as she fell to her knees beside him. “You’ve been stung from head to toe! You must be in terrible pain.” “Actually no,” he said, managing a feeble grin. “Woozy to beat the band. Dizzy, dizzy! Pain didn’t last long, though. Never does, but a bear with no hair does get nailed a lot. Makes me wonder if I’m even really fuzzy. No need for a fuss. I’m used to dealing with those old bees. I’ll be fine once I catch my breath.”

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“Well,” said Rose, “you certainly don’t look fine. You’re soaked to the bone and covered with stingers.” She turned to Lukus. “I think you should get a fire started so we can get him dried out.”

Lukus set to work at once, impressing Rose with a nice crackling fire in short order. (Ch 17)

 ****

“Fuzz,” said Rose, giving him a squint, “you certainly know a lot about Gastro, Ugleeuh and Niarg. Why is that?”

Fuzz was quiet for so long that she was not certain if he had heard her, or if she had hurt his feelings in some way, but at last he met her eyes and cleared his throat.

“Yes, I do know a good deal about those things,” he said, as he slowly rubbed the scar on his face. “You see I was, or am, perhaps Gastro’s best friend. I was there when all of this happened. Now I see by the looks of both of you, that you have dozens of questions, and before you start in with all of that, let me say that it is getting quite late and we need to get up very early to start on our journey in the morning. Perhaps you could grant an old bear a bit of a reprieve until tomorrow? We can then take up this tale once more as we travel, if it pleases the two of you to do so. And I will indeed answer anything you ask.”

“We’d love it,” said Lukus. “Just one teensy short little question and then we will fly straight to bed.” 

Fuzz nodded with a sigh.

“You aren’t really a bear, are you?”

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“No I’m not, Lukus. Gastro and I grew up together in Niarg and we’ve been close friends for as long as I can remember. When he vanished, I surmised that Ugleeuh’d had something to do with it and set out to discover just what. Eventually I came here in search of answers and found him, a sea monster. By then however, Ugleeuh had been banished here too, and she had no intention of letting me leave to tell the tale.” He drew a deep breath as a bristly shudder swept through him. “It amused her mightily to turn me into…this. And so, I remain a bear to this day, and probably for all the rest of my days, as well. Now please, no more questions until we are underway tomorrow.”

Rose and Lukus each quietly hugged poor old Fuzz and went straightaway to bed as their heads reeled with a veritable avalanche of questions.   (Ch 17)

 ****

“They arrested her and called for me, and I sent for Razzmorten while she still held the incriminating vial in her hand…”

“You?” said Rose. “Just who were you, anyway? Gastro’s friend, sure, but you know so much. What was your connection with Niarg Castle?”

images (1)“Captain of the Royal Guard, if you must. Sir Karlton Strong. And I remember the very day you were born, Rose.”

“So when did you come?”

“Here? Well, I was Fuzz the Bear well before Lukus came along, I should think. But as I was saying, Ugleeuh still had the vial in her hand when we got there. The dishes were set on the floor before two good hounds which fell dead, gobbling them up.” By now Fuzz had found a rock to sit on beside the path. He shook his head as if to clear away the memories. “That’s the main reason for Ugleeuh’s exile,” he said as he clapped his forepaws onto both knees at once, launching himself onto his feet. “We’ve got to move. It’s a long, dangerous way, yet.”   (Ch 19)

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Who is Fuzz?

 

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images (1)Fuzz is Sir Karlton Strong, captain of the Niarg Royal Guard, when the future queen of Niarg

Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_KindleMinuet Dewin, is still a young lady at home at Peach Knob Manor in Good Sister, Bad Sister. When his lifelong friend Gastro vanishes, Captain Strong goes in search of him and finds that he has been turned into a sea serpent by Ugleeuh and left to patrol the waters off the coast of the Chokewood Forest for the rest of his days. Ugleeuh is not about to allow Strong to return to Niarg with the news of this, so she casts a spell on him, turning him into a bear with no hair, hopelessly addicted to sukere and confined to her part of the Chokewoods.

 

Minuet marries Hebraun, the future king of Niarg. When their daughter, Princess Rose, is sixteen,Fuzz Small The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleshe sets out with her brother, Prince Lukus, in The Collector Witch to find Ugleeuh in order to discover what her true relationship to the House of Niarg happens to be. Ugleeuh holds them captive in her cottage all summer. At last they escape and end up in Fuzz’s den as they flee. Fuzz sets out on a harrowing trek to the sea with them to find Gastro in hopes that he would take them to safety.

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Five years later, Rose and Lukus return to the Chokewoods to find Fuzz freshly released from Stone_Heart_Cover_for_KindleThe_Burgeoning_Cover_for_KindleUgleeuh’s spell, a handsome young man in his prime who falls in love with Rose in Stone Heart and marries her. Instead of having a honeymoon, they sail to the Dark Continent on an urgent mission and are lost at sea in The Burgeoning.

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Who is Rose?

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Princess (Tywysoges) Rose of the House of Niarg is the eldest child of King Hebraun and Queen Minuet of Niarg and the sister of Prince Lukus. Her grandfather, Queen Minuet’s

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father is the powerful Razzmorten Dewin of Peach Knob Manor, Wizard to the Crown of Niarg.

Rose merely appears as a precocious three year old in Good Sister, Bad Sister, but is the main protagonist in The Collector Witch, which opens on her sixteenth birthday, when it is to be announced that she is to marry Prince James of Loxmere. At her party, a rumor is circulated that she is not the Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_Kindledaughter of Hebraun and Minuet, but merely their niece, and that her real mother, the queen’s sister, was banished from the kingdom for something vile, immediately after giving birth. Upon a visit to the family grave yard, where she finds the stone of an “Infant Rose,” she goes to her parents for an explanation. When they give her an The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleunsatisfactory answer, she saddles her unicorn in the in the middle of the night, hoping to find her mother’s sister in the Chokewood Forest to get and some real answers. Before she gets out of the stable, Lukus forces her to take him along.

The sister turns out to be Ugleeuh, a dangerous sorceress (witch, if you must), eccentric and Scan10028bitter from her solitary exile. Rose and Lukus become convinced that she is indeed Rose’s mother and end up being her prisoners for the entire summer. At last, they find out that Ugleeuh is not Rose’s mother at all, and that she gave birth to Princess Spitemorta of Goll. At this discovery, Ugleeuh tries to use them as ransom, hoping to extort her release from the Chokewoods. Rose and Lukus see their moment to escape, and with the help of Fuzz the bear, flee to the coast. Rose and Lukus safely return home to Niarg.

Years later, in Stone Heart, Rose, Lukus and their Stone_Heart_Cover_for_KindleGrandfather Razzmorten return to the Chokewoods to see what had become of Ugleeuh’s part of the forest to find to their horror that Spitemorta and her grandmother Demonica not only have managed to get their hands on the fearsome Great Staff of Power, but they also have the Heart of the Staff, an even more dangerously powerful artifact, and are determined to use them to take over the world. They cross paths with Fuzz, who has just been accidentally restored to human form by stumbling through a magical ward left by Demonica, and is out making a frantic attempt to recover the Heart. They join forces and soon find themselves being pursued  through the wilderness by Spitemorta and Demonica. Rose and Fuzz fall in love along the way, and when they finally return to Niarg with dire warnings for all of civilization, Fuzz asks Hebraun and Minuet for Rose’s hand in marriage.

image_fadeThey are married at once, but instead of a nice honeymoon, they find themselves sailing The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindleacross the Orin Ocean, in The Burgeoning, to the Dark Empire in hopes of getting help with a strategy to undo Demonica. On the way back, their ship goes down and Rose finds herself alone, washed ashore in a strange land. What happens to her can be discovered in book five: The Reaper Witch.

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Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

 

Who is Spark?

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 Spark is a fireless, featherless and flightless dragon, the husband of Lipperella and the father of Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_KindleLaora. Spark and Lipperella were rendered featherless by the wizard Razzorbauch and the sorceress Demonica when they rounded up most of the dragons in the Mammvro of the Dark Continent and hauled them across the sea to harvest sukere on Razzorbauch’s vast plantation on the Northern Continent in Good Sister, Bad Sister.

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Spark’s firelessness was considered contemptible by the other dragons for a time and he was exiled to the Peppermint Forest prior to The Collector Witch. After the death of Razzorbauch, he returned and marriedStone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindle the dragon clan’s Truth Teller, Lipperella. By a fortunate accident, neither Spark nor Lipperella were rendered sterile when they lost their feathers, as were the rest of the dragons, so they were able to produce the only offspring possible for the entire clan, in Stone Heart. And without Razzorbauch’s terrible spells, these offspring had feathers and could fly.

The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_KindleSpark and Lipperella became instrumental in coaxing the dragons to give up hating humans and to become important allies of the The Reaper Witch 01 copyKingdom of Niarg and formidable foes of Queen Spitemorta in The BurgeoningThe Reaper Witch and in Doomthe final book of the Heart of the Staff series.

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Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Waylaid by Elves

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The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_KindleAfter a nice supper in the Suds and Steer in The Collector Witch, Rose and Lukus find themselves on a dark road in the woods…

Before them lay the border of Loxmere, beyond which lay the Jut of Niarg, a southern arm of their own country, filled with a dense forest known as the Jutwoods. They crossed the border in the broad moonlight by leaving the road in order to avoid the guard houses. When they had found their way back onto the road, they were nearly three leagues beyond Loxmere in very dense woods. Suddenly Rose halted Mystique so abruptly that Lukus ran his knee into the skirt of her saddle. “Hey! Rose, call your shot next time.”

“Hush!” she said. “We’re being watched.”

“How do you know?”

“I swear I saw movement.”

“It must be the robbers from the inn. I told you they were up to no good.”

“Can you see them, Lukus?”

180291 “It’s ‘way too dark. I can’t see anything. They could hide anywhere. They could be right there in the rocks along the cliff, for all I can tell. I think they’re rocks. Maybe they’re pacing us through the woods, just off the road.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Run or hide. We’d better choose one right quick, ’cause I just heard something. We can make out the road by the gap in the trees.”

“Then let’s ride like the wind. They’ll not have mounts even close to ours.”

At once three figures stepped into the roadway. 

“Lukus!” she cried, wheeling square about and frantically digging her heels into Mystique’s flanks 4ud2to charge back the way they’d come. Lukus tried to follow, but Starfire reared and bolted off the road and through the brush to throw him sprawling in the briars. Two hooded figures rushed out of nowhere and grabbed Starfire’s reins. Lukus scrambled to his feet and fell in time to be pounced on and rolled up in a blanket.

Rose was too far away by now to hear him over Mystique’s pounding hooves, but she looked over her shoulder to see if he was behind her. “Lukus!” she cried. The moment she turned about, three hooded figures stepped into her way, spooking Mystique off the road to go crashing through a thicket while she hung onto her neck for dear life. As they raced under the limb of an oak, somebody dropped onto Mystique’s back to grab her as she lost her grip. She gave out a throat shredding scream.

“Hush!” cried the somebody, clapping his hand over her mouth. “You’ll scare lean air out of Lukus, and cac too, Princess!”

Directly, she was helped off Mystique by the one who had caught her and by two other hooded men who set to work at once, unwrapping Lukus. “Good for you!” she shouted. “You have us! Now what are you going to do to us? And just how did you know  Lukus’s name?”

The three calmed the unicorns and stood quietly before them, faceless as wraiths.

“You’re not from the inn,” she said as they pushed back their hoods.    

The middle one smiled at her. 

“You’re Elves!” she gasped at their pointed ears. “But you don’t exist. You must be an enchantment.”

“Nope,” said the middle one with a bow. “We’re as real as you are. And enchantment would be beyond you, I’m afraid. I’m Danneth and these are my brothers, Strom and Jarund, and we most certainly mean you no harm in the least. In fact, we’re here at your service.”

“Yea?” said Lukus. “And how is stamping on us and rolling us in the blackberry briars the same as serving us?”

“Yes, that was awkward,” said Danneth. “You have lots of energy. It took quite a bit to get you to hold still.”

“Just how many of you are there? Nine? Twelve?” said Rose. 

“We are three only,” said Danneth.

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“Now you’re playing us for fools,” she said.

“Not at all,” said Jerund. “We merely move quickly when we must.”

“Rose, they don’t have to let us find out. It’s pointless,” said Lukus, turning to Danneth. “Though it would only be fair if you all at least told us what you stopped us for and just what you are.”

“But Rose saw at once that we are Elves,” said Danneth.

Danneth looked like his brothers to Rose, but where his hair was silvery, Strom’s was metallic golden and Jarund’s was iridescent and black as pitch, far blacker than any black hair she had seen in her life. “They have to be what they claim, Lukus,” she said, turning to the Elves. “I’m convinced that you’re Elves, but telling us that you’re at our service is no explanation at all for your waylaying us.”

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

 

 

The Real Hubba Hubba

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The nest in this tree is the very raven nest in this story.

 

Several years ago, when we were teaching on the Navajo Nation and living in a trailer on the Twin Lakes (Ext - Back BEST)campus of Twin Lakes ElementaryTwin Lakes (Int - Hallway2-5) School, a violent thunderstorm blew down a nest of baby ravens from the top of a hackberry tree. Carol grabbed up two of them, walking home from school. The neighbor’s dog killed the other two.

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Carol put them in an open box on the davenport and named the big one Hubba-Hubba, after our character in The Collector Witch, and named the little one Quoth. They were young enough that they were only about three fourths feathered out and Carol had to feed them baby parrot porridge with a teaspoon. And as it was when we raised our Amazon parrot, Carol’s background in psychology and mine in ethology made us careful not to read human motivation into their behavior. However we were interested in their inclination toward language, so we began at once treating them as though they harbored the same sort of undeveloped intelligence as a baby human.

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We made no attempt to teach them to talk. That is, we did not endlessly repeat phrases over and over to them nor drill them in any sort of way. What Carol has done every single evening since, before switching off the lights for the night, is spend some time scratching their heads and talking to them.

ravenL0405_468x312It was soon impossible to keep them in the box, so we transferred them to a large plastic P12307407pet carrier with a welded wire door. We kept them on the kitchen table. We handled them frequently and talked to them, but outside of squawks and groans, we heard nothing out of them for better than two months. Soon they began picking out large pieces of their cedar bedding, trimming them and using them as wedges and levers to force open the door of their carrier. Just as we were recovering from the shock of their doing this, one of them declared, “Fuck you!” as they scratched about in their new bed of cedar chips. The other one replied, “Ass hole! Ass hole!”

This certainly stunned us. We had not once heard a single word nor any single attempted word out of either of them prior to this. And neither one of us had ever used language like ravens1this around them. What they could have heard on an isolated occasion or two was one of us telling the other about our day at school, including (we assume) the foul speech of our students. In a few days we were astounded once more when we heard Hubba Hubba say, “Help me get this door open.”

This was not at all like parrots. Not only was there no endless practice leading up to the utterance of this sentence, it was as perfectly enunciated as if it were spoken by some human. We began keeping them in a chicken wire pen outside in the daytime. The next time I heard “Help me get this door open,” I rushed to the window to find Quoth watching  Hubba Hubba as he pecked in the dirt under the wire gate.

One day I was very upset, tramping about the trailer, raving. As I was calming down, Quothe said, “Tom! What’s wrong?”

196570606_fd127bc7eaOver the next very few months, they developed nearly all of the words and sentences given below. However, during the last couple of years we were out west, we seldom heard anything new out of them. During our first year in Kentucky, we discovered Hubba Hubba 15327478giving deliveries where he not only spoke in his own voice, but also talked in Quoth’s voice to make replies. Had Quoth quit talking? We were trying to find out when she vanished for good from their pen outside.

Since then, Hubba Hubba takes spells in the late afternoon saying over and over, “Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello…” or, “What’s your problem? What’s your problem? What’s your problem…?” which he articulates as well as ever. He has begun using our names, but they are very difficult to understand, with “Carol” coming out as “Coah” or “Hoh,” and “Tom” sounding like “Hom,” though “Quoth,” which he has said from the beginning, comes out quite well. He asks for food by saying, “Want some,” and when we ask him what he wants, he may occasionally reply, “Want some food,” or “Want some water.”

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Perhaps ravens are best at learning to articulate during some period of readiness, late in their development and any later verbal learning is not something that they’re genetically programmed to do as easily. Who’s to say? We only have the one bird, and there is very little written on the subject, since any hint that some non-human could possibly have any degree of natural use of true language is still largely regarded as heretical.

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Here are the words Hub uses. They are not listed in nice columns because of the contrary behavior of this website: a, all, am, are, ass, awk (spoken), boy, Carol (very poorly pronounced), door, food, fuck, get, go, going, good, hello, help, here, hmmm, hole, how, Hub, I, is, matter, me, open, out, problem, Quoth, right, some, that, the, this, to, Tom (very poorly pronounced), want, water, what, you, your.

Here are his phrases: All right.   Awk! Awk! (spoken, as humans would 24OBOX1-articleLargepronounce it)   Carol! (very poorly pronounced)   Hello.   Hello how are you? Hello Quoth.   Help me get this door open.   Here’s one.  Where are you?  Hey Quoth.   Hmmm?   How are you?   How’r’you how are you? (run together)   Hub.   I’m a good boy. Hmmm?   I’m going to go out the door.   That’s a good boy. Hmmm?   Tom. (very poorly pronounced)   Want some.   Want some?   Want some food!   Want some water.   What’s the matter?   What’s your problem?

Our character Hubba Hubba in Good Sister, Bad Sister, The Collector Witch, Stone Heart and The Burgeoning is no raven at all, but a double yellow head Amazon parrot with enchanted interludes as a crow, not a raven.

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to keep a raven or a crow, we’d love to hear about it.

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Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Wizard Razzmorten sets out to Ease Hubba Hubba’s Mind

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Razzmorten drew back the tall heavy curtain and tied it before stepping off the stool with a bound. Hubba Hubba winced at the sudden light. Razzmorten drug the screeching stool across the stone floor to the far side of the window before lunging onto it with one leg to grab for the other drape and tie it back. Hubba Hubba ruffled and shook off some of his stupor to glare resentfully at Razzmorten’s cheery endeavors. He vastly preferred his wonderful dream about Pebbles to this blinding sunlight. “Thank you, old fart,” he thought, settling his beak into his breast feathers with a shake of his head.

“What a beautiful day,” declared Razzmorten as he peered out the window and took a deep breath.

“Yea. It will be when you close the drapes again,” thought Hubba Hubba, as he wiggled his beak further into his breast feathers to close his eyes.

“What would you like for breakfast, fruit or vegetables?” said Razmorten. “Maybe some whole grain porridge?”

“I’m not hungry,” rattled Hubba Hubba from beneath his ruffled crown feathers.

“I see. Are you not feeling well? Perhaps if you tell me just how it is that you feel poorly, I could mix up something for you.”

By this time all the sparrows had come closer to listen. Hubba Hubba shook his feathers, flinging dander into the sunlight. Suddenly he sleeked down, pointing himself at them. “Now there are six nosey pests, rather than three. Do I need this? Well, I’ll tell ye: no, I do not. And if you want to know what I do want, I’d just like to be left alone for a change. Peace and quiet. Is that too much? Go build your nests. Beat it!”

“Wrong side of his perch this morning, wouldn’t you say?” said Razzmorten, sharing wide eyes with the sparrows. “I doubt that he’ll be very proud of his outburst after he’s had two shakes to consider things. Let’s just leave him to himself for a bit.” The sparrows flitted back to what they had been doing at their nests, while Razzmorten went to his bedroom to read, leaving Hubba Hubba to mumble by himself.

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“Lot o’ ‘preciation he has,” he rattled from the very most guttural reaches of his crop. “Here I make my sacrifices, bringing messages about his grandchildren. And respect. I mean, what kind of respect is it to blind me with light and sadistic cheer, and six bouncy
goody-goody little slaves to rub it in? Six instead of three. I’m not getting twice as much
respect and service, here.” With a huff and an especially thorough shake of feathers, he
turned his back on the brilliant morning and closed his eyes in search of his dream about
Pebbles.

“This isn’t working,” he thought. “Why don’t those bean brained sparrows shut up? ‘Tweety, tweety, tweet…!’ Great boundless Joy! The local twitterpates are jabbering all over outside. This is not working.” He turned back to point himself at the window. “I’ll go tell them!” He paused, straightening up to shuffle from side to side. “Whoa! Too far to the sill.” But now he was making lunging thrusts at the window at each end of his perch, and he was starting to flap his wings. Now he was flapping furiously. At the fleeting thought of Razzmorten’s suggestion of exercise, he let go. Before he could quite appreciate that he was truly aloft, his feet were planting themselves upon the warm stone window sill. He’d made it, and he wasn’t even breathing hard. He forgot all about sleep. He looked to see if the sparrows had seen. They had. Six heads, each gawking broadside, had stopped in astonishment to take in his unexpected feat. They ducked out of sight into their nests at once.

“Hey! You ones!” he called out. “It’s all right! I’m not upset. In fact, I’m sorry about the things I said earlier. Really. Aw come on! Can’t a fellow have a bad mood once in a while?”

Head by head they reappeared in shocked wonder. “That’s the first time that you’ve ever apologized for your nasty tongue,” chirped Tweet.

“Yea? Maybe so. Think there’s some hope for me after all?”

“May be,” tweeted Squeak, “but you still have a huge way to go.”

“Maybe you’re right, but old habits die hard, don’t you know. Give me some slack. I’m working on it.”

“Hey, the master’s developing humility,” squeaked Chirp. “And by the way, nice flight.”

Hubba Hubba made an aloof about-face hop on the window sill, but he was beaming at the compliment. He fluffed up and preened here and there and then gave himself a thorough 5238538447_ef45b254a9shake. When he smoothed down his plumage, he discovered that his black feathers had already gotten quite warm in the sun. He basked, letting his mind wander to pleasant images of Pebbles. After a good long spell in the mesmerizing warmth, he even fancied he saw her in a nearby apple tree. It was almost as though he heard her say: “I love you. C’mere.” It was so real that he found himself out the window, winging towards the apple tree. “My!” he said, coming to his wits. “I guess there’s nothing for it but to see if I can actually make it to that tree.” It was nearly a furlong away, but it was a downhill glide from Razzmorten’s tower, and he dutifully flapped his wings the whole distance. The next thing he knew, he was landing on a broad limb right beside the very love of his life. This was no daydream at all.

Pebbles however, was not charmed by his arrival. She fluffed up as huge as possible and shrank her pupils to pinholes, making her eyes fiery red. “Bad boy! Bad boy!” she called out, madly wheeling and strutting back and forth. “Minuet! Minuet! Please get rid of this bad boy!”

“Hubba Hubba!” cried Minuet, as she looked up from her chair in the shade. “You can fly again. Wonderful! Come down here and see me. Pay no mind to Pebbles. She’s just being a brat.”

Just then, he looked beyond Minuet into the courtyard and saw a personage who made him go apoplectically faint. She was sitting calmly with two strangers and King Hebraun. “What are you doing here, Ugleeuh?” he croaked, as his heart pounded in his chest. By now everyone was looking right at him, and he shrank back into the leaves.

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“Is this filthy bird yours?” cried Ugleeuh, spitting with scorn as she sprang to her feet. “And how dare he call me ugly! You should have him destroyed this minute.” The two strangers rushed to her at once, attempting to soothe her.

This was too much for Hubba Hubba. “Help! Help! Help!” he cawed as he leaped into the air, flapping madly for Razzmorten’s tower. He had no problem making straight for the window, but loft was a poser. He thought his heart and lungs were both going to burst before he got far enough up to fly in. He banged his keel painfully on the sill, sending him inside in a tumble of feathers to smack into his perch, knocking it over with a crash before skittering to a sliding halt on the tabletop. Razzmorten burst into the room, quite wide eyed.

“Sorry for the mess, Wiz,” croaked Hubba Hubba, as he heaved and gasped for wind. “But Ugleeuh’s down there in the garden with the king and queen and a couple of strangers. There’s no telling what she came here for, but you know it ain’t good. And now
that she’s seen me, she wants me destroyed. That’s what chased me back in through the
window. Man! My keel bone hurts. Can’t you get her with some kind of wizard fire from
the window here ‘fore she does something terrible?”

Razzmorten scratched his head thoughtfully, then ambled over to the window and gazed out for long enough to exasperate Hubba Hubba. When he turned around, he was smiling. Hubba Hubba felt a scald of fear rush through this chest, convinced for the moment that Razzmorten had been smitten with a bewitchment by his evil daughter. As the urge seized him to fly back out the window and escape into the countryside, a meaty thump from Fifi’s tail on the floor beside the table completely shattered his resolve. He looked from dog to window and back again, utterly befuddled. At the sight of Razzmorten mildly taking a seat at the table to patiently wait for the arrival of his composure, he opened up his feathers completely, hesitated, then shook himself resolutely and sleeked down. “All right, all right, Wiz!” he said. “I’m ready. End my confusion. Hey! This is real anxiety I’m suffering from, don’t you know.”

“The young woman out there does indeed look like the very picture of Ugleeuh, years ago,” said Razzmorten, not smiling at Hubba Hubba’s consternation. “She looks enough like Ugleeuh to be her twin, removed in time. Even her behavior, they act alike. In fact, I was so taken by this that I went to great pains to determine if she wasn’t under some divination, some spell to condemn her to a life as Ugleeuh’s echo, but I found no such spell. She truly seems to be one of those once in a millennium coincidences. She’s Princess Spitemorta of Goll. She’s come here with her parents in hopes of making an alliance marriage with Lukus to unite Niarg and their realm. You’ve no reason to fear anything.”

“Maybe we have another coincidence here, Wiz. This girl said she wanted me destroyed, remember? Why would some total stranger do that? Hey, I’m a bird! Threats to my life leave a lasting impression, and her impression feels just like Ugleeuh. That’s my reason.”

“You don’t deserve to be so upset. Why don’t I just go down there and see what’s going on? Would that ease your mind?”The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindle

Hubba Hubba looked very doubtful, but Razzmorten was already on his way out the door. “Wiz!” he cawed out. “Be careful! And hey, take Miss Toothyface, here, why don’t you?”

“I’m sure I can handle it myself,” said Razzmorten, tossing back a wide-eyed smile as the door went closed.

Ch. 23, The Collector Witch

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps