[Mister Saint]: 79.Short Stories.Cat's Copse
Sheets of amber sand fencing in a sky the color of kings. That is just how Cat would have described a sunset over these arid foothills - were she compelled to write about them. She wasn't. They had long since confiscated her pens, anyway.
She watched them scamper from tree to tree like half-naked guerillas. The men of this tribe moved on silent feet, sleek and agile, dashing for cover, vanishing into foliage - hunters, to the core. She could see their shifting glances conveying mute signals to one another. A distinct military crispness dictated their every breath, and she admired them for it.
Far overhead, the circle of eagles dipped. Cat's vantage point provided a fantastic view of the princely raptors and their human predators, and she allowed herself to succumb to the blood lust of the moment..
The eagles dove.
Bowstrings snapped in quick succession. It was like watching rain fall in reverse. Eagles whirled out of control, their ranks in disarray, numbers down by three. Survivors winged away in groups of two, wing to wing in sharp regiments. The wounded spiraled to a merciful end on the ground below.
Cat let out her breath. As the men gathered their feathered spoils, pairs of pitifully dressed women skittered out to collect any feathers and fallen fruit remaining on the battle field. Wild-eyed, their dark hair stiff with filth, their bearing struck a perfect contrast to the precise order of their sons and husbands. Cat tolerated them. As long as they delighted in manual labor, she could afford not to.
Two by two, the women returned to the tired caravan. Glass shards of sweat dripped down Cat's forehead – just watching them carry those fat fruits exhausted her. None of the returning men paid her any mind - too intent on dragging eagles to their tents and chattering to one another – and that suited her just fine. A few of the women offered her close-lipped smiles, some showing off their beautiful blue bounty, others hoarding it jealously against their skin.
"That fruit is the key to everything," someone nearby bragged to her. Cat chanced a look away from the grim hunting procession to stare into the somber eyes of the nomads' chieftain. Briefly, she entertained the notion of ignoring him. After all, a man who dressed in nearly nothing and still had the gall to adorn himself with feathers obviously lacked the good sense to carry on a useful conversation; even so, she knew better than to afford him the silent treatment again.
"I know about the fruit,” she demanded, impudent as usual. “Why do I have to keep watching this?” The chieftan - Cat had taken to calling him Vex to honor the way he so often made her feel - tilted his graying head to one side. Considering her, or so it seemed. He could just as well have been looking over her shoulder.
"The trees rise every morning," he continued, rasping like a lifetime of whiskey, "and fall every night. And their fruit falls at noon."
"I know all about --"
"And the fruit draws our game." Vex went on as if she'd never spoken a breath. "Don't you want to help us gather? You can't remain an outsider forever. If you ever want to get well-" "Shut up," it was Cat's turn to interrupt, "just shut up. I've heard the speech already." She caught herself glaring at him, eviscerating him with her eyes. “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?”
His wordless smirk told Cat everything she needed to know.
Within hours of the sunset melee, the trees toppled to the ground. No matter how many times Cat viewed the unearthly phenomenon it never seemed as real as it looked. Mercifully, Vex never stayed with her when the dust gray bark cracked open. He would retreat to the safety of his tent like all the other superstitious savages, leaving her to wonder what could prompt a copse of trees to fall at night and rise again in the morning.