The Caladrius’ Rescue
Baxter’s foot slipped off the rock and heard it join others as they clattered down to the scrub and dirt below him. Heart pounding, he waited until the fall stopped before continuing his climb.
He cursed that the king’s precept had sent him on this mission. From his wrist dangled the jesses that would allow him to transport the king’s bird he was sent to fetch.
Baxter looked up into the peaks where nothing but rocks and mountain goats were visible. This mountain was the first in a range that stretched as far as the eye could see. There many other white birds in this world and he had no way to know if he would find the right one. He was no knight to go on a quest. He was doomed. Grimly he started off again, heading upward.
“How goes it?”
Baxter whirled, nearly dropping his bundle of precious supplies.
“I…” He stared at the newcomer above him, seeming perfectly at home on the steep grade. The speaker was a slender girl about his age. Her thinness had the air of sickness rather than hunger. It showed in the pallor of her skin and the dryness around her nose and mouth.
“I am Myra,” she said and curtsied with a small movement. She looked at him with an air of expectation. On second look she was pretty, with a gamine look that suited her tiny frame. She didn’t look much bigger than a child, but she had the hint of curves that showed she was, if not quite a woman, then on her way there.
“I’m Baxter,” he said. “Where did you come from?”
She smiled, and her cheeks dimpled. She had a sparkle, despite her pallor.
She pointed up to the forbidding peaks and rocks.
“On the mountain.”
He followed her finger but could see nothing but mountainside. The only reason to come here was to hunt the sheep and goats that called it home.
She might not be in a sane mind. Baxter tried to give her a winning smile just in case.
“Do you see the birds up there?”
She nodded. “And others. The birds are our friends. The sheep give us wool and meat. The goats give us milk when we can catch them.”
“I see,” he said, turning over the words in his mind.
“Why are you on our mountain? We don’t get visitors besides hunters and you don’t look like that kind. You have no bow, for one thing.” She glanced at his pack and then at the jesses that trailed from the sack. “What are those?”
“I was sent by our king. I have to find a very special bird, and bring it back to the king. Can you help me?”
She chewed on her lip for a moment. “The birds are not so easy to catch.”
“Of course,” he replied, trying not to sound eager. There was something fragile about her as if the slightest thing would spook her and send her back to wherever she came from. If she vanished he doubted he could find her again. Baxter widened his smile and to his relief saw her shoulders go down.
“What bird do you want?”
He recalled the picture the artisan had drawn, trying to recall the details to relay them to Myra.
“It is as white as the snow,” he began. He could hear birds in the mountaintop but the echoes of the wildlife in the woods were still audible. “It has a yellow beak and feet, with long claws and white feathers. It is about the size of a hawk when it is in flight. This is the description I have been given.”
For a moment it was as though he knew this bird.
She bobbed her head, a bright smile touching her lips. “I know the one you are talking about. He arrived a few days ago and lives above us. This is the one who belongs to your king?”
He nodded, his expression grave. “My king is yours as well.”
“Well I don’t know your king I guess I’d better help you. I know where he is. I will take you to him.”
It had been so easy. If Myra hadn’t come out of nowhere then he didn’t know what he would have done. It was rare that something went his way.
Myra went from rock to rock with the ease of a goat. A hush seemed to descend over their area. It did not smell of snow, which was a blessing. The weather was unpredictable this time of year and what was rain on the ground might be snow in the mountain. If he hadn’t been so preoccupied he would have been impressed with her skill. Few could match his ability.
“How much farther do we have?” he asked and looked up, shading his eyes against the glare of the mountain.
Before she could answer he felt a few drops of rain and then without warning a squall dumped water on them.
“The bird is a distance but my home is nearby. We will take shelter and then continue on once the storm has passed.”
He followed Myra to the mouth of a small cave and then inside. The remnant of a fire was off toward the side near the front and Myra had a pallet with some furs and provisions. There was another pallet but it was empty. He gestured toward the other cot.
“Where is the other person?”
“There is nobody else,” she said and a strange look crossed her face. “Our town has been plagued by sickness. I came to this cave hoping to escape it.” She said it with a hollow tone, as if she dare not allow herself to dwell on it.
Baxter cleared his throat, a peculiar emotion swelling in his chest. “Did you, my lady?”
She shot him a look and stirred the fire, digging for buried embers until it surged to life, glowing red.
“I am no lady. I fear I made my escape too late.”
He thought about his own mother, dead these many years, and the father he had never known. “And your parents?”
She looked away, poking at the fire. “I am on my own.” After a moment she rose and brought a kettle to set in the flames.
“We should eat something. We have a ways to go yet on the mountain.”
He looked up to the cave wall as if he could see beyond. “Do you think the bird will still be there if we tarry?”
She shook her head. “I went up to see it yesterday. It did not fly away then. I doubt it will do so now. It is wondrous bright. You say it is your king’s bird?”
Baxter took the earthen cup she offered and shook his head. “That is what I was told but the truth is that I do not know. I do not know much about the affairs of kings.”
“You say that this king is my king too. I have never heard of him, but we live away from others.”
His mind filled with wonder at someone who was ignorant of their sovereign. “He is king of all we survey. This village is not his home—he has another—but he came here to rest away from the weariness of his castle. He is not well. The bird will heal him.”
“It will?” Myra coughed. Baxter couldn’t tell if it was due to her illness or because she was mocking him. He couldn’t quite see her eyes in the cave, even with the fire burning.
“I have two days to deliver the bird or I will be punished.” Baxter’s voice trailed off. He’d seen men who disobeyed royalty. It was hard to get work with missing hands and eyes.
“Well then,” she said standing and wiping her hands on her skirt. “We can’t have that. It’s getting dark. By tomorrow the rain will have stopped and we will go. Tonight we rest. I will take you to the bird in the morning. You’ll be back before your king that same day, if you are quick about it.”
Tomorrow? He daren’t hope it would be that fast. Baxter’s heart beat faster. Maybe he could get out of this after all.
After a night’s rest and some provisions they set off. The squall had passed but the rocks were slick and the ground damp. Baxter placed his feet carefully, following Myra’s lead.
“You are good at climbing?” Myra asked, as they began their ascent.
“Yes. I’m the best in the area,” he replied, flushing when he looked at the woman who went from rock to rock as nimbly as a goat.
He felt a flutter inside him when his gaze landed on Myra. He had admired lasses, sure he did, but he was too busy trying to survive to court anyone. The women he knew were either matrons or maids who didn’t have time for him.
Above them the skies began to clear until all that was left was puffy clouds. It was still early and the sun was blocked by the peaks. Once it cleared the rock the day would become warmer. Down in their flatlands the day’s chores were beginning. Up here it was still cool, the moisture chilling them. He was glad they’d had a place to go or it would have been a miserable night indeed. How fortunate he was that Myra turned up.
Although Baxter was wiry he was soon puffing with every step. His climbing consisted of getting in and out of buildings and trees and he wasn’t used to this type of exercise.
A hawk soared overhead its caw echoed off the rocks, a distant cry. Then he heard a closer cry of a different kind as if in answer. He glanced at Myra.
“That’s your bird,” she said from above him. “Come. We can be there in an hour if we hurry.”
He followed her, marveling at her sure steps. She never seemed to falter and always knew where to place her feet. If he were ever to be in the mountains he would want her to guide him.
They reached a flat top clearing of rock that stuck out from the surrounding mountain. He flopped down on it and gazed up at the sun. It was higher in the sky, although he hadn’t felt the passage of time.
Myra stood, her arms stretched upward as if in contemplation. Baxter looked up at her and as he did so he saw a bird soaring toward them. At first he thought it was the hawk and leaped to his feet to defend her. When it landed Baxter realized his mistake.
After all that the Caladrius had been easy to find. It was pure white, except for the yellow at its beak and claws. It circled them and looked at Myra and then Baxter with what he could only deem a quizzical expression. He held out the arm wrapped in the jesses and motioned to the creature.
“Um, Caladrius, we have to go back to the king. If you’d just hop on we’ll go.”
It sounded ridiculous even to his ears and Baxter wasn’t surprised when the Caladrius swiveled its head in what Baxter assumed was bird speak for “no.” It turned to
Myra and stared at her. Then she coughed and it moved back a step. The jesses dangled from his wrist.
The Caladrius opened its beak and let out a sound that was part sweet melody and part something like a question. As he watched the bird continued warbling and hopped closer to Myra. She gazed at it, and then extended her arm.
“Its claws will rip you up. You can’t let it near you.”
She gave him a calm smile. “He would never hurt me.” The Caladrius flapped its wings and soared into the air to circle down and land on Myra’s arm. He winced and averted his gaze.
Myra made a cooing sound and Baxter slid his attention back to the tableau. The bird glowed brighter until Baxter couldn’t look at it anymore. He threw up his hand against the glare. The clench in his stomach doubled as he realized what must be happening.
“No, Myra, the bird’s power is not for you.”
She laughed and the sound was the same the Caladrius’ vocalizing. Myra also glowed, her skin seeming lit from within. Both shone until he had to shield his eyes a second time. Together they lifted off the ground.
Then the light faded and they touched down on the rock.
Myra’s skin was no longer pale. As he watched redness came into her cheeks and she straightened. She had taken the restorative meant for the king.
They were doomed.
“I understand now,” she said, the bird still on her arm.
He looked around, up to the sky and down to the rocks and scrub of the kingdom far below them. They were on the mountain. Perhaps they could climb over it and go…he didn’t know where.
“We need to flee the country,” Baxter said.
“Nonsense. Take me to the king.”
He gave Myra an incredulous look. “He will slay you where you stand for taking what was his. We have to run.”
“We will not.” A satisfied look settled over Myra’s face. Color returned to her skin with every breath. “We shall go to the king.”
“You are mad.”
“Quickly. Time is of the essence.”
Myra started down and he scrambled after her. Where she had been sweating before now she showed no signs of tiring. When they reached the bottom the bird flew ahead, as if it was guiding them. Maybe bringing the Caladrius back would be enough. He could give the precept what he asked for and make his escape.
They ran all day until they were at the edge of the village. The sun was beginning its descent behind the horizon when they got inside the walls.
The bird made its way to the manor and the duo followed. Baxter was weary from two days hard labor but Myra was unaffected. When they arrived at the back side of the manor Myra paused and looked at Baxter.
“We must get inside, but not be seen.”
Heart pounding, Baxter looked around.
“I can get us into the manor, but I cannot get us out again. Myra if we leave now we might be able to make it to…” He stuttered to a halt. If he fled the king’s men would come after him. He could not hope to stay ahead of hunters if there was a bounty on his head. The price for failing a king would be great indeed.
She looked up at the manor and then to a trellis nearby. “Is the king in that lit room on the second story? We will climb.” With that she set her foot on the brick by the trellis. She began climbing as before, as sure footed as she had been on the mountain.
“Myra,” he hissed, his hand also on the vines. “We need to go.” With every passing second their risk of discovery grew. It was almost too late.
“Baxter, you are being silly. Come. There is no time.”
Knowing he was sealing his own death warrant, but for some reason unable to leave her, Baxter began to climb.
They reached the second story. The window near their vine was unlatched and unguarded. Myra slid it open and the Caladrius flew inside and hovered.
The noise his feet made on the floor when Baxter landed seemed loud and he tensed, waiting for guards to come charging around the corner. When none came he blew out a breath.
“Come,” Myra said, pointing to the bird that was now heading down the hallway. “We must follow.”
Reluctance in every step, Baxter trailed after Myra.
The guard was dressed in leather and looked almost as young as Baxter. He held a sword on the duo. Baxter cursed. In his preoccupation he had not heard the man.
“Halt or I will run you through. How came you into this manor?”
“We have urgent business with the king,” Baxter managed to choke out, his gaze fixed on the weapon.
“He would not take an audience with the likes of you.”
“Take us to the king at once.” Myra gestured to the bird. “We have his bird.”
The guard hesitated and cocked his head. “I heard something about a bird. You lie. Honest folk come through the front door properly announced.”
“You will be sorry if you do not take us there now.”
She was smaller than both of them but Myra’s imperious look and her straight back made her seem taller.
“I…do not know,” the guard said. They heard footsteps and to Baxter’s chagrin the precept came around the corner with another two guards. His brow went up in surprise and then furrowed when he saw the trio.
“Peasant!” he exclaimed. “What treachery is this?”
Myra’s gaze was fixed on the precept as the bird flapped its wings and rose toward the ceiling.
“I…” Baxter croaked through a mouth gone dry. “We brought the king’s healing bird.”
The precept made a disgusted sound. “You were supposed to bring it to me, fool.”
The guard stepped forward. “This is the bird, though, your grace, is that not so?”
There was something in the precept’s gaze that made Baxter shiver.
“Aye it is.” His gaze went to Myra and lingered. Baxter’s impulse was to shield her, but he stayed motionless. “Who might this be?”
The bird began heading down the hall in the direction the precept had come from.
“Guards take these two to the prison. I will secure the bird.”
At that the Caladrius flew in front of Myra and Baxter, creating a gust that drove the others back. It pecked toward the closest guard, who looked torn between wanting to use his sword on the creature and obeying the precept’s orders.
“He wishes to see the king at once. Take us or it will not go well for you,” Myra said and Baxter gaped at her.
“Do not threaten me, girl.” He seemed to notice the scrutiny of the guards and the precept straightened. “Nonetheless, this is why I sent this lout. I am amazed he completed the task.” Without saying anything further he turned, his robes sweeping behind him. Baxter knew his life was forfeit but there was nothing to be done about it. He had made his choice when he followed Myra up the vine.
Together they went to the king’s bedchamber.
The bird circled overhead, its beak opening and closing. After a few spirals it landed on the bed. With mincing steps the Caladrius made its way to the king and cocked its head. Baxter cast a nervous glance at Myra and the precept, who stood between him and the guarded door.
The bird hopped onto the king’s chest and peered into his eyes. The precept took out a cloth and wiped his forehead. His hand was shaking. When he saw Baxter looking he scowled and tucked the cloth away.
“Heal our king,” the precept said in sonorous tones.
The Caladrius cawed and unfurled its wings until each feather stood out in individual relief. The bird fluttered to Myra’s arm. She closed her eyes. The only sound in the room was the king’s wheezing and the whoosh of air from the bird’s wings. Myra opened her eyes.
“He cannot heal you.”
“You impudent woman, how dare you?” The precept emphasized his point with a bang of his staff.
Myra pointed to the king. Baxter measured the distance between him and the door. More fool he to come with her when he could have escaped in the excitement. Now he was a dead man.
“He cannot heal the king,” she repeated.
“Guard, remove these peasants at once. They have polluted the Caladrius. They will pay for this crime.”
Myra raised her hand and to his astonishment the guard stopped. More beads of sweat dropped down the precept’s forehead and the side of his face.
“He cannot heal him because it is not sickness that ails him.”
The precept jerked up as if he had been on a string. “Look at the man. He is ill. You are daft.”
The bird rose from her forearm.
“What are you saying, young woman?” The king’s voice was querulous, like that of an old man’s. His clothing was too big for him. “My precept has had my Caladrius returned to me. It is a royal healing bird—that is its purpose.”
The Caladrius tilted its head to the king. The precept’s gaze shifted, going between the bed and the door.
Myra’s attention seemed very far away. The bird let out a shriek. Baxter wanted to cover his ears but stayed frozen in place.
“King,” she said and met the king’s eyes. Baxter quailed but the king waved for Myra to continue. “I do not know you as my king but Baxter has told me that this is so.
This bird came to our mountain a few days ago. When I was told the situation, we fetched it, as instructed.”
The king’s gaze landed on Baxter.
“Then I have you to thank for the bird’s safe return?”
Baxter opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
“It was no favor, majesty. They have done something to corrupt your bird. They will be punished.” The precept waved to the man at the door but the king held up his hand.
“I would hear the lad.”
Baxter cleared his throat, conscious of his scruffy attire and dirty face.
“We were sent to fetch the Caladrius and we did so. The healing was the bird’s doing.”
The precept gave an angry snort. “You dare?”
She continued as if the precept hadn’t spoken. “I had the mountain ailment that plagued our village. When we found the bird it took away my sickness.”
“She stole your bequest. Guard!”
“The Caladrius’s gift is not miserly, with the king or his subjects.” She cleared her throat. “Oh Baxter you need not be afraid.”
He flushed, unable to take his eyes off her.
“What is your name?” the king asked, raising himself on his elbows and looking at her. Something in Baxter’s gut twisted.
“Myra. I am the bird’s voice.”
“This is a wondrous bird indeed, full of great gifts. But it is a healing bird. It is true you are ill. But it cannot heal you so it flew away to contemplate.”
“I am ailing,” the king said with a frown. “I have been sick these nigh weeks. My sister sent her bird to cure me. Why can it not?”
“It cannot because you are not sick, majesty. You are being poisoned.”
The precept’s face drained of blood until he was as pale as parchment.
“What?” The king roared. “Who would dare do such a thing?”
The Caladrius moved to the precept and hovered over him. The wind from its wings stirred the man’s hair.
The precept took a step backwards and looked around the room. His pale face stood out against his greying hair and more beads of sweat trailed down his face.
“Your majesty, this is but a woman. You cannot believe her. They stole the bird’s healing power, and now are trying to cover it up.”
The king’s eyes narrowed. “Does she lie?”
Without warning the precept ran to the door, yanked it open and dashed into the hallway.
Baxter burst into action. Passing the guard before he could even turn to follow, Baxter ran after the man.
“Halt,” he cried. The precept was halfway down the short hall. Baxter sped up, and with a desperate leap caught the precept’s robe and jerked the man off his feet. Heavy footsteps pounded behind them. He tugged, gripping more of the robe until he had his arms around the precept’s thighs. Despite the other man’s efforts, Baxter held on with grim determination.
“Help help,” the precept called. “This ruffian is assaulting me.”
Baxter was grabbed by his scruff and hauled up. The other guard kept a grip on the precept’s arm. More footsteps rang through the hall.
Release me,” the man demanded but the guard didn’t relax his grip.
“He poisoned the king,” Baxter gasped out.
“He is a lying peasant. Release me.”
“Do not release him.”
It was Myra’s voice, but had an air of authority. Baxter looked up to see the guards bowing. He turned to address Myra but the words died when he spied her.
The king was on her arm, but it was so skillfully done that it looked like he was supporting her. The bird rested on the king’s shoulder, its wings spread.
“Guards, take that man into custody.”
The men started to haul Baxter away but the king held up his hand.
“Not him. My precept. This boy is trying to help, you fools.”
“Sire this is all a misunderstanding,” the precept said. “You’ve known me for years. I am loyal.”
The bird cawed and rose above them. A hush fell over the hall.
“The Caladrius is a gift from my sister. Do you mean to tell me that my sister has been false? That the words this woman speaks from the bird are lies?”
“I am your precept and she is but a girl.”
The king turned to the guards.
“Truss him hand and foot. Make sure he does not escape a second time.”
As the screaming precept was hauled away the Caladrius started to glow as it had on the mountain, its feathers shining. The king grunted and looked at the bird while the others shielded their eyes. He put his hand on Baxter’s shoulder and lowered himself to his knees, his arms outstretched. Myra went to her knees as well. The hall filled with light.
King, this is not the only enemy who would seek to fell you. You will soon be restored to good health. Be wise. Do not always look for counselors inside your court. There are many things you must do in the future.
As the brightness filled the room Baxter felt an old injury on his shoulder disappear. The king lifted his hands to his face. Small green beads of sweat formed on the king’s body.
The bird came down to the ground in front of the trio. The guardsmen reared back but Baxter stood firm. He was done with cowardice.
The king hauled himself to his feet and bowed to the creature.
“Thank you, Caladrius.”
Baxter was led to a grand room and given food and a bath. His ragged clothes had been taken away and replaced by a fine cloth tunic, breeches, and soft leather boots.
“The king would speak with you.” The new precept stepped into the room without knocking.
“I am at his command,” Baxter said. His palms were damp and he wanted to rub them on his clothing. His clean hair refused to lie down. He fell into step behind the man until they reached the king’s chambers.
Myra was sitting on a stool by the king’s bedside. The king was propped up on pillows, wan, but more alert than before.
“Come closer,” the king said, thumping his hand on the nearby table.
Baxter swallowed but did as he was bade. After bowing he stood there, hands clasped behind his back.
The king gestured toward the open window. “The Caladrius has gone, but it left these.” He pointed to the nightstand where gleaming white three tail feathers lay. “Myra tells us these will summon the bird.”
Baxter nodded, but said nothing.
“That brings me to you two. I am not always well counseled. The last man tried to step into the throne from behind. It will not happen again.”
His glance at Baxter told him an answer was expected. “That is wise.”
“I have need of more councilors. Myra tells me that neither of you have kin.”
Baxter wanted to clench his hands to stop them from shivering but stayed motionless.
“Baxter, I would have you and Myra join my retinue.”
Baxter’s mouth fell open as the king’s meaning sunk into him. “Sire you want to…put us in your court?”
“You will need to learn to read and write, and fight. Myra will become a lady. There are many things you can do, Baxter, if you are clever.”
Baxter paused. His old life was harsh, but familiar. This new one was an unknown.
When he hesitated the king gave him a sharp look. “Would you decline my invitation?”
“No, your majesty. I am honored.”
The king relaxed onto the pillows. “Good. I have to consider what a suitable role in my entourage is.”
“Perhaps a squire, my lord?” the new precept suggested.
“No, not a squire. A messenger may suit. Do you have anything to fetch, Baxter? We leave anon.”
“I do not, your majesty, but if Myra has items of value I would help her retrieve them.” Baxter tried not to look at Myra but it was like trying to avoid the sun’s rays.
“There is nothing,” Myra said. “I took everything I cared about when we came with the Caladrius. All I need is here.”
Myra lowered her eyes. Her long lashes framed her face so prettily it was like she was a painting. Baxter’s breath caught as he fought not to stare at the vision.
It would be foolish to think that he had anything to offer this wondrous woman, but he had hope. As Baxter walked with the new precept toward his future, he smiled. He had much to live for.
Claire Davon has written on and off most of her life, starting with fan fiction when she was young. She writes across a wide range of genres. If a story calls to her, she writes it. With a love for all things creative, Claire works in the film industry. Although she’s not a movie mogul (yet) she loves her job and spends her free time writing, doing animal rescue, reading, and going to movies. She has a particular fondness for Marvel superhero movies. She loves to hear from fans, so feel free to drop her a line.
Claire’s website: www.clairedavon.com