It was still dark when the dour Elf woman gathered up the skirt of her leine and stepped into the wet big bluestem grass. “Would someone tell me why we have to be out in theStrah before the crack of dawn?” she said. “Isn’t this when the shawkyn spooghey begin their daily hunts?”
“You volunteered with the rest of us, Brede,” said Vorona, as she waded through the grass behind her, “so it’s our turn first. And as for the chosen hour, I’m sorry to say, but the strike falcons determine that. Olloo says that the only time both birds leave the nest is right at sunrise. One of them goes out to hunt and the other one comes back right away to sit on the eggs all morning.”
Brede fell silent and made a childish face which was ugly even in the dark, but filed into the tall grass with everyone else.
“The wild strike falcons make grass nests a foot and a half across in the middle of big mounds of grass and sticks, maybe three feet high by about ten feet across,” said Olloo as he walked, looking from side to side at Vorona, Roseen, Kieran, Oisin and Doona, Brede, Nessa, Markus, Donachan and Martyn to see if everyone was hearing him. “They place these in loose colonies, ten to twenty rods away from each other in all directions. I’ve been watching an especially large colony not quite a league north of here, so that’s where we’re going. I just hope we’re not too late getting started.”
“So what do we do when we get there?” said Oisin as he held Doona’s hand and tramped along beside him.
“I want to leave everyone in a group,” said Olloo, “armed and ready and out of sight of the colony while I scout about the nests to see if the birds are away. If they are, I’ll gather eggs and fetch them out, two or three at a time.”
They fell silent right away as they struggled through the grass, trying to keep up with him, since he was quite afraid that they were late. Just before the sun peeped over the Eternal Mountains, he made them kneel in the grass back to back with their bows ready and then he disappeared into the waving grass. A redwing blackbird circled overhead, scolding. He was back in short order with four eggs, which he handed to Vorona, Roseen, Nessie and Markus before vanishing once more. Right away he returned, catching his breath as he handed out eggs to Brede (who beamed with delight in spite of herself), Donachan and Martyn.
“Hey!” whispered out Kieran as he pointed away through the grass. “Isn’t that a nest, yonder?”
“That’s dangerous!” whispered Olloo, suddenly wide-eyed. “We’re not outside the colony at all.”
Kieran jogged over to the nest at once, held up an egg and dashed back with it. “I hope it’s alive. You think so?” he said, handing it to Olloo.
“It’s warm and dry. I’ll bet it is.” he said, as Nessie and Markus trotted out of sight.
Suddenly, there was a shrill screeching. Olloo sprinted through the grass to find Nessie and Markus at the edge of a nearby nest with two baby strike falcons shrieking with all their might as they stood in their shell fragments. “They’re going to get us killed if I don’t do them in…” he said, grabbing for his knife.
“No!” cried Nessie as she lunged at the babies and scooped them into her shawl,quietingthem at once.
“They stopped screaming, all right,” said Olloo, but they might not bond with you if you take them. Either way, they’ve already made their noise, so we’d better get out of here, now.”
“My egg’s in the nest, Markus. Would you get it for me?”
“We have to go, or the parents will kill us,” said Olloo. “Come on!”
“I’m calling her Cronney. I want to give my egg to…”
“We can figure it out at home. Let’s beat it, kids!”