Chapter 4 Episode 3 | The Machine God | The Drifting Isle Chronicles

The owls finished their approach and took up perches in the branches of the willow overlooking the pond, each a careful distance from the other two. Adewole followed Major Berger to stand before them. The owls' feathers ranged from tawny to chestnut; black framed their large amber eyes, and a fringe of white feathers surrounded their faces. If Adewole hadn't known they were there, they might have blended into the tree bark entirely. The largest one blinked solemnly, while the two smaller ones swiveled their heads from side to side, scrutinizing the Eisenstadters. "Greetings, owls. We come from the land below and would meet the humans of this place," said the Major.

The two swiveling heads stopped abruptly. All three birds stared at him, then swiveled their heads in unison to stare at Adewole. "Perhaps they cannot speak?" murmured Adewole.

"We speak fine," rasped the largest owl. "Here you shall find t'is you that speak bad. We understand one another, but you mayn't understand t'unfeathered 'uns hereabouts, nor they you. Not easy, any road."

The owl spoke in a strange, rough lilt, heavily inflected in a way reminding Adewole of Middle Rhendalian; the words were more or less modern despite the pronunciation, though sprinkled with anachronisms. "Why would that be?" he asked, shifting his speech more toward theirs.

"The geese speak your way. Do they need rest, they stop over and give us news. They on'y speak with feathered folk. Unfeathered 'uns eat 'em. Some geese that land here don't speak. They gabble--make no sense. Times are allus hard. Best not ask, and feed your nestlings when you can. So think t'unfeathered 'uns, and I can't say they're wrong. Geese are stupid even when they can speak." The owl blinked its huge amber eyes. "You're a high learned 'un. Owls like such. Do you need help, ask any feathered 'un for me."

"Whom do I ask for?"

"Volekiller! Volekiller Daughter of Mouseterror!" screeched the owl. The other two let out screeches supporting their leader's reputation as a mighty killer of voles.

Adewole suppressed a wild giggle. "Volekiller, can you tell me where to find the leaders of--t'unfeathered 'uns here?"

Volekiller swiveled her head behind her. "Unfeathered 'uns come now. Ask 'em."

Adewole and the Major peered past the willow toward the barn. Four figures approached. The excitable man led the group, a spear in his hand. Behind him came a middle-aged woman and two spear-carrying younger men. All wore stained and somewhat threadbare linen tunics and simple trousers, the legs gartered down the calves; the woman wore a large apron encasing her like a dress.

"Thank you, Volekiller," said Adewole. Uncertain of bird etiquette, he sketched a bow before he and the Major walked toward the natives. "Sir, I thought you were to do the talking?"

"That was some accent. I caught every third word," he answered. "What did it say?" Adewole recounted the conversation, and he smiled. "Volekiller, I caught the name. Portis's owl name is Shrikehunter. They all have names like that, and they're impossible to say with a straight face. If you continue to work with her, you'll need to give her a human name. They don't mind as long as it's an honored one. I named Portis after my mother. Now, this time I really will do the talking, and you shall interpret."

The two groups stopped ten yards from one another. Adewole eyed the spears. Two had tiny metal points apparently salvaged from something else; the third came to a fire-hardened point, wicked nonetheless. He dared a glance back at the expedition; Captain Lentzen and the other soldiers had all drawn their coilguns, keeping them pointed at the ground. While provocation worried him, he wished the soldiers were closer.

"Greetings, gentlemen and lady," began Major Berger. The Inselmonders blinked at him and looked at one another. "Professor?" he murmured.

"What cheer, gentles," said Adewole in what he hoped was the correct dialect. "Can you understand me?"

"Aye, well enow," said the woman. "Though just enow. What are you called, and what d'you want in our turnip field?"

"I am called Professor Oladel Adewole. This gentleman is called Major Florenz Berger. We come to your people from Eisenstadt."

"Speak slow," growled the youngest spearman, though the Inselmonders themselves spoke at a fast enough clip.

Adewole repeated himself at half speed, trying to match the islanders' inflections. "Eye-sen-stat? Never hear of it," said the woman. "Nor see we a man of your looks. Dark as a shadow, you are."

Adewole held up his hand and translated what she'd said to the Major. "We are from the world below," Berger answered.

Adewole translated again, and the woman frowned. "That cannot be. None but feathered 'uns go from that to here, and then on'y geese and such."

"We came on flying machines," said the Major through Adewole. "See behind us."

The group looked past the two Eisenstadters past the soldiers to the autogyros. All let out gasps and cries; the three spears came up, and the older man jumped up and down. "I told you!" he shrieked. "Oathbreakers! Magic and metal! Oathbreakers!"


MeiLin's picture

Most High

Volekiller and her kin are short-eared owls. I had a lot of help with their details from bird biologist Dr. Graham Wellstead, a member of the Gunroom, which it's the Patrick O'Brian List of the World and the smartest people I know. The list as a whole helped me iron out the substantial kinks and errors in the delegation sent to Inselmond.

What have looked like editing errors to some people in the Inselmonders' dialogue is intentional; it's their speech pattern, or at least that of the common folk.

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