Chapter 1 (SPARROW)
The sunrise began to peak over the rolling hills, casting a long shadow on the valley below. Time to get up. Getting to my hooves, I shook the morning dew off my coat. As I made my way down from my resting place to the herd below, walking quietly to not disturb those still sleeping. Seeing the herd members relaxed in the open was something that we all have grown to appreciate, since the Vampiric raids have calmed down thanks to the sun setting later and later. My best friends were sleeping next to one another, usually I woke them up but after the long night we had, I nuzzled their withers lightly and continued to the river to get a fresh drink of water. As I approached, I caught the scent of my father, he usually was out patrolling.
“Good morning father,” I dipped my head.
He turned around and the few sun rays that peaked through the trees caught on his curved horns and golden tipped wings; Rayven, King of Kings and blessed by the All-Father Huron. His eyes softened when he realized it was me. “Morning to you as well my beautiful daughter.” He walked a few steps toward me and pulled me toward his chest for a hug. “Up early again I see.”
I snorted softly. “Of course, some skull has to make sure the sentinels are doing their jobs.”
“Yes, yes of course.” He chuckled low for only a moment before he became serious. “Speaking of the sentinels, I’d like to know what happened last night.”
A statement, not a question. I sidestepped him and lowered my head to get a drink of water. My throat was dry. I oversaw the sentinels that patrolled the herd daily, last night was supposed to be a routine patrol but it was everything but that.
“Honey wandered usually it isn’t a big deal but she found something.” My back was to my father but my ears were turned in his direction. Honey was born with a weak hind end and must wear hind leg supports to help her move, so having her wander was something that alarmed every skull.
“She found something?”
“Yes,” I turned back around. “It would be easier to show you.”
He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Lead the way.”
We walked in silence following the river south to the thicket that guarded the hidden entrance to the herd, the only sound was my father’s heavy steps next to me. I came to a stop before the thicket, my father was confused and rightly so.
“You need to illuminate the ground, right where my front hooves are.” I said quietly as I watched his horns glow. The ground at my hooves slowly started to glow with the light. The light grew to illuminate a single hoof print in the ground.
Instantly my father’s expression hardened. “Vampiric? Honey was this close?”
I shook my head quickly. “No, you know she likes to wander to the border. She had the ground lightened like you and she came to get me.”
“Was it still around?”
“No. It was long gone; the girls and I patrolled the rest of the thicket but that was the only hoof print.” I understood his worry. For decades, my father made it a mission to keep the Vampirics out of Red Meadow.
“How long did you patrol?”
I knew this question was going to come, I had gone over multiple answers in my head but blurted out. “Until the moon cast a shadow on my resting place.”
“Do not lie to me Sparrow.” Not only were his horns glowing but now his eyes were with the gift given to him by Huron...True Sight. Let’s just say lying is absolutely pointless.
“The girls joined me till then, then I told them to sleep...”
“I will not ask again.”
Oooh...he’s mad. “I sort of did not.”
“You know how I feel about you patrolling alone.”
“Since I can’t use magic.” I immediately lowered my head and flattened my ears to my head; I couldn’t help it. Being born without magic in a land where every skull can use magic made me sour.
I felt something soft under my chin and raised my eyes. My father had my chin resting on the tips of his primary feathers.
“You know better than that. That is something a little skull would say, not the Commander of my Sentinels.” He stated. “I won’t hear you speak of it again, am I heard.”
“Yes, father.” Despite how freely I spoke to him, he is always my father first.
“I would truly like you to rest.” He drew back his wing. “Your brothers should be on their way back from meeting with the other kings.”
I raised and tilted my head. “So that’s what they couldn’t tell me about. They were being a pain in the hind end.”
“Good. I told them to tell no one.”
“Not even the Outriders?”
He shook his head. “Tempest is on another message delivery for me now. They should be back around mid-day, it’s been many moons since we’ve seen them.”
I nodded. “Mother will be so happy.”
“That she will be. Why don’t you rest please? Your brothers are coming home, and the sentinels know of their arrival.”
“Is that why you are up so early?” I questioned.
His soft expression returned. “You wake up when I do little skull.” Nuzzling my cheek. “Remember that, go back and sleep. I am sure the girls are still sleeping; I’ll have your mother wake you when your brothers arrive. A tired skull makes costly mistakes.”
With that my father took a few steps backward before opening his massive wings, rearing up he brought his wings down in one swift motion and was airborne above the trees. He hovered a moment before flying off. Leaving me with the wide lazy river, the Vampiric print and my own thoughts. Thanks...for telling me nothing!
I sighed again, shook my head and neck before turning around to start the walk back. Once my brothers returned I planned on marching up to them and asking what they were up to. As I walked my eyes caught all the beauty that made Red Meadow the most desirable territory. With the rising sun the morning dew was shining through the light woods as I made my way like I had hundreds of times. The blood grass shone a deep red, almost looking like tiny gems. Morning blood grass was delightful, it was high in iron and made up most of what we eat. As I cleared the woods one of my sentinels greeted me.
“Commander.” He stated.
“Machete, hope you slept well.” I answered.
He nodded once. “Honey and Tari are still asleep, his majesty told us not to wake them. The rest of the herd is just starting to wake and the sentinels are in their places.”
“Thank you, is B on patrol as well?”
Machete and B were brothers that were their father’s pit fighters. He was an awful stallion that my father took down two years ago, freeing them. All they knew was fighting and asked if there was a place for them at Red Meadow, of course my father agreed and now they are the most trustworthy sentinels we have. Being natural fighters I didn’t have to waste time training them.
“Yes. We were going to go beyond the thicket to see if we can pick up a trail, odd there was a single print.”
“Agreed, my father would like me to rest. I just-“
“With all due respect commander, you should.”
I went to open my jaw when he shook his head to stop me.
“I know you were up all night, I sleep at the base of the rear of your hill. You paced until a few minutes before the sun rose. The girls are still sleeping and you sent them to bed hours before you went to sleep.”
I just looked at him. Machete was quiet, if anything this was the most he had spoken to me in the entire two years I have known him. I was stunned into silence and nodded my head before bumping his shoulder and walking past him.
“Rest easy commander.”
“You’re a good sentinel.” I whispered.
I got a snort in response that made me open my jaw in a small smile. After all it is hard to ‘smile’ when your head is skull filled with canines in the front and grinding teeth in the back, the stallions had all canines and hunted the local Carbon Stags in hunting grounds outside of the valley’s borders every other day. Some mares were skittish to the sight of blood so out of respect my father made one of his rules that the stallions feed and hunt only at the feeding grounds.
It didn’t take me long to walk up the hill, the sun was shining bright but the tree I slept under cast a dark shadow. I kneeled, looking around at the herd below. Machete was right, Honey and Tari were fast asleep still, pretty much in the same position I found them in earlier. A yawn escaped and my eyes felt heavy, as much as I hated to admit it but my father was right. A tired skull made mistakes; I was so used to be constantly working that I hadn’t realized how tired I truly was. My chin at some point ended up on the grass and soon darkness took me over. This was one of the best parts about Red Meadow, being able to sleep without a care in the world.