The three spotted falcon was a rare bird, not only in the sense of limited numbers but due to the fact that it was seldom seen, having been sighted only a handful of times outside the Eld Forest. In that dense pocket of foliage, the birds flew and mated without intrusion. No one hunted in the Eld Forest as it had been declared a sikenta, or sacred to the old god, Elyon.
One morning while out riding with his nobles, William the Rash flushed one out when his horse stumbled into a thicket. The falcon froze on a low limb, then spiraled upwards, giving off a high, piercing shriek. It all took place in a matter of seconds, but William had time to observe the peculiar pattern on the bird’s wing. It was like none other in his mews.
“What sort of bird is that?” He demanded of Garrion, his falconer, who rode a stout dapple on his left. “Why is it not in my aviary?”
“What bird?” Garrion focused on the pommel of his saddle, rubbing at a spot.
“That bird yonder!” the King roared, and Garrion looked up.
“It’s a small species of falcon peculiar to the Eld Forest,” replied the falconer with a shrug. “It is of little account. The merest chick in your aviary is far superior.”
William the Rash lifted red-rimmed eyes and followed the bird’s quick, purposeful flight. The image blurred, then sharpened into a perfect V held in stasis before it disappeared from sight.
“I must have it,” declared William.
His noble companions looked at each other uneasily. Lord Dinnisee’s bay abruptly threw back its head and showered them with snorts.
“Pray consider,” began Anjhest, a red-bearded drinking companion. In the taverns, he was known as a brawler, but now his voice was wheedling and soft. “It is a small bird and the distance to the Eld Forest is great.”
“How far, falconer?” William asked, casting a sharp glance to his left.
“Two days, three at the most. I’m guessing, but it’s a fair guess.” Garrion paused before adding. “One doesn’t travel to the sacred forest. I myself have only skirted around it and then as a lad.”
“I see.” The King seemed satisfied, then turned to Anjhest with a dangerous glare. “And what if it were ten days or twenty? Are there no swift horses in the royal stables?”
“No, Majesty, that was not my inference. I meant–“
“What Anjhest is trying to tell you, Mi’lord, is that you can’t go there.” Creath, fair as the sun and blood cousin to the King, slapped his reins lightly against his palm. “The Eld Forest is sikestra. No one may enter.”
“There are other amusements,” put in Gerlatch, quickly. “Like a giant bear. Or a ruby scaled dragon. I know there is one by Glynnis Fen. It rose out of the swamp and has been devouring children at will. We could find no greater sport.”
“Dragons are worms. I find them sad,” said William, forcing a yawn. “I have a yen for the bird.”
“Saar’s bones, Cousin!” burst out Creath. “The Eld Forest belong to the Elyon. We can’t go there!”
“The Elyon! The Elyon!” William bellowed back. “All my life, I’ve heard stories of the old god, yet we have never met. He has never come to court. As for this notion of sikestra? Bah! I am the law of the land. This very day, we begin for the Eld Forest. If the Elyon is there when we arrive, I’ll be glad to meet him. If not, we hunt.”
“We don’t want to go,” said Creath, bluntly. His bullish expression matched the King’s own.
“Which of you would defy your King?” demanded William.
One by one, their eyes shifted and dropped to the ground.