The entertainment went on like this for nearly an hour. Sometimes only one Vrr’ak’l would be performing, sometimes as many as ten were leaping and flipping in the air in a mad flutter of feathers and claws. It was probably one of the most amazing things I had ever seen.
I found myself nuzzling into K’eel’s feathers as the evening’s chill set in. She was clucking softly, and grooming W’oo’woo who was snuggled in on her other side. I shuddered from the cold, drawing K’eel’s attention.
“You are cold?” she said quietly.
“I guess so,” I replied, feeling a little embarrassed. I held out my arm to show her the goose bumps covering it. “This doesn’t do much to keep me warm, I guess.”
W’oo’woo trilled softly. “We have a bed for you. It should keep you warmer.”
“OK,” I said. “Thanks.”
“This is almost over. Have you eaten enough?” said K’eel.
I looked at the platter in front of me. I had managed to eat quite a bit of it. All of the nuts and fruits were gone. I had chewed on some of the leaves, but found them too bitter to eat. W’oo’woo had, thankfully, taken care of all the bugs. Though I still had an appetite – I really wanted a cheeseburger – I wasn’t starving. I had worried that my stomach would get upset, but it seemed pretty solid for the moment. I couldn’t complain.
“I’ve eaten enough, thanks,” I said. Maybe I’ll lose some weight, I thought.
The stage had been quiet for a while. The other Vrr’ak’l were chatting among themselves. Excited trills announced the arrival of the next performer.
A tiny Vrr’ak’l walked into the middle of the stage. He was much smaller than the others. Maybe he was a child. After paying his respects to T’r’bl and the rest of the audience, he opened his wings and held them aloft. His flight feathers had been painted red, as well as his arms, which hung at his sides.
Silence filled the forest.
The Vrr’ak’l opened his beak and raised the crest on his head. A most haunting sound spilled from his mouth. I gasped.
He sang for around ten minutes, producing sounds that I cannot possibly describe. Sometimes he sounded like water spilling over rocks. Other times he made noises I thought only a computer could make. The pace would be fast for a moment, then slowed to a crawl. Everyone was engrossed, swaying side to side as the Vrr’ak’l danced in time to his singing. I shut my eyes and moved with it the sound.
Then he was done. The sound stopped and I opened my eyes. He was gone.
“Wow,” I breathed.
Everyone was silent.
K’eel turned to me. “You enjoy that?”
“That was amazing.”
“Not often does T’kkt perform. This is a great honor.”
“Ticked?” I said, mispronouncing his name, like I mispronounced everyone’s.
“Yes. T’kkt seldom comes here. He prefers solitude.” K’eel raised her crest slightly. “He may want to speak to you.”
“Is that good?”
K’eel trilled lightly. “Yes.”
The other Vrr’ak’l were getting up and fluttering off into the darkness, some walking and hopping into the shadows, others flying up into unseen nests in the trees.
“It is time for us to rest,” said W’oo’woo.
“Yes. Let us show you to your bed,” added K’eel.
I looked upward. “Am I going to have to climb into a tree?”
K’eel fluffed. “We have already constructed a ladder for you.”
“Oh. OK.” I got to my feet after a momentary struggle. My legs had stiffened from the unexpected long walk, followed by sitting for so long.
We didn’t have to walk far before we reached the bottom of the ladder. It looked sturdy, much moreso than the ladder I had used earlier in the day. It reached up into the shadows and disappeared. “How far?” I muttered.
W’oo’woo leapt up and flew into the darkness. I heard him land in the branches above. “It is not far,” he called. “You will be safe and warm here.”
“Oh dear,” I whispered, eying K’eel. She raised the feathers on her head and nodded. “Here we go,” I sighed as I began the long climb up. I could hear W’oo’woo above me, hopping around and moving things, trilling and singing softly to himself. I focused on his sounds as the darkness enveloped me. My muscles ached with each step up the ladder, but the promise of a warm bed kept me moving forward.
“There you are!” W’oo’woo’s voice was directly in front of me. I could vaguely make him out in front of me and a platform at hip level to my left. One more rung and I was able to step off the ladder onto the platform.
“I can’t see very well,” I said.
W’oo’woo took my hand. “Just step forward. You are here.”
The platform was solid wooden planks. Two steps forward and I nearly fell as the ground gave way into a soft mat of fluffy feathers. W’oo’woo caught me when I lost my balance. He trilled. “It is soft, see?”
The beating of wings announced the arrival of K’eel. “This will do, huh?”
“Well, I can’t see very well, but it seems nice.”
K’eel hopped forward and lit in front of me. “Here,” she said. She and W’oo’woo guided me a short way across the padded surface. “Lie here,” K’eel said.
I sat down upon a woven mat that sat on top of the soft floor.
“There is a pillow here, for your head,” said W’oo’woo, patting something off to my right.
“And this should keep you warm,” said K’eel handing me a strangely stiff, but thick blanket. Both pillow and blanket were made of course woven fibers filled with, I assumed, their own downy feathers.
I laid down and K’eel arranged the blanket over me. “Rest, then,” she whispered.
“Thank you,” I said. It wasn’t the most comfortable bed in the world, but it was warm. “Thank you.”
K’eel and W’oo’woo moved off, talking to each other in their native tongue. I listened for a while. Sleep overtook me.
Read Chapter 10.
Go back to the beginning.