Magpie’s Nest

Last week, David shared a story he’d written, the prompt it was based on, and the contest that he won with it (well done, David!).  I read his story and the runner-up, but not before taking a look at the prompt and coming up with my own explanation for it.  It’s been too long since I’ve written stories (so please advise if it doesn’t make any sense), and it’s clearly too late for the contest, but I thought I’d share a little bit of flash fiction around.

~~~~~~

“Tell me again what we’re looking for.  And none of that ‘you’ll know it when you see it’ rubbish, please.  Remember I’m just the ride – there’s no way I’ll know it.”

“You will, though.  It’s a magpie – do they ever collect stuff that’s easy to miss?”

McNally shook his head, more in disbelief than disagreement, nearly tripping over the jutting roots of a corded elm.  “Remind me when the Prince told you all about his precious signaling magpie?  I suppose a service magnate’s son thanks the lowly spiders when he remembers who keeps his empire together, eh?”

Danny grinned ruefully; laying cable wasn’t the most glamorous job, but it’d made him privy to confidential discussions more than once.  Even in the castle – just last week he’d silently witnessed a tête-à-tête between Princess Annette and Corino, the vaguely princelike fellow from the odd country two quadrants over.  While he strung the replacement for Annette’s chewed-up wiring, she’d shown Corino the rabbits responsible and wrinkled her nose at his defense of bird ownership.  “I don’t care if it’s royal tradition,” she pouted, “they’re noisy and smelly and always try to bite me.”

“It’s not royal tradition in my quadrant; we’d never turn your rabbits away,” he’d smiled, sympathetic and condescending at once.  “But we are rather fond of birds and birdlore, and I imagine they’ll always be a status symbol of sorts.  We’re very careful how we pick them, as the choice is terribly significant.   Suggests what direction a man’ll go.”

What direction a man’ll go.  What direction will he go when he’s not quite of age, throwing off his official tech to test his homemade devices more thoroughly?  The green shadows of the Reserve, obviously, the same place he’d find and raise and train his secret pet to do curious things with technology.  The same place he’d hide from the power and the responsibility soon to weigh him down…the same place that…

Danny stopped short.  McNally carried on a full dozen yards before noticing he was gone, and swung around to see his friend staring at a mass of colorful cords, curious metal brackets, and mysterious sockets scattered in the brush.  Danny’s eyes stayed fixed on the debris, as though to avoid the cracked egg and the single bloody wing a few feet away in the undergrowth.

“Dan?  Danny, hey, talk to me.”  McNally grabbed at his shoulder, but Danny remained frozen as he tried to discern what it meant.

He knew the prince was concerned about his new position come the Service Lord’s abdication to return to his workshop: those whispers had gone around for weeks.  More sinister voices whispered that such a young magnate would be an easy target for packet thieves and pirates, and less shadowy foes besides.  He’d seen that the prince was obsessed with his flying hotspot of a bird, loved it enough that he’d do something truly stupid before letting it suffer harm.  Said hotspot and its bizarre nest of wires had been ripped in pieces.

And the broken egg beside it looked to be none other than a cuckoo’s.

We are rather fond of birdlore…

Danny cursed the qualms that had kept him from more effective eavesdropping.  Not that Corino would have boasted of choosing a brooding parasite as his status symbol, especially to the girl who could prove a vehicle to pushing her brother out the proverbial nest.

McNally’s eyebrows flew up as Danny bent to pick up the bloodied wing.  “Cuckoo attack,” Danny murmured.  “The magpie could tell that wasn’t her egg, and the adult cuckoos – they – well, you see what they did when she rejected it.”

…the choice is terribly significant.

“Let’s go,” Danny said dully, turning to go.  “We’ll have to tell the Lady.”

“Tell her what?”

“To be careful what she says to Corino if she doesn’t want her webs to go the way of the magpie’s nest.”

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