Chapter 30: Negotiations

In the morning, two knights came to fetch the Ferals and bring them before the Imperial council.

"If you misbehave I will personally throw you off of the balcony," Katari hissed to Shanku.

"I be good," Shanku squeaked as she hunched up her shoulders sheepishly.

The knights took them to a structure with four floors built into the largest tree in the grove. Deep inside was the chamber where the council conducted their business.

"What brings you here?" asked the eldest who sat at the center of the table.

"Threats of war from the Arctic, Plains, and humans," Hilael stated. "They complain of raids by the Imperials. The Ferals have no interst in conquest and expansion, much less any kind of war. Could a compromise not be sought? Perhaps not antagonize surrounding people and we in turn not complain when you leave the forest?"

"Our people have fallen from the grandeur they once held," the eldest said indignantly as he flicked his ears back. "Can you not see that, cub?"

"Trapped in our forests. Harassed and killed by minocentaur and humans," snarled one with a goatee.

"It's not the way it was meant to be," another said flatly.

"Things must return to what they once were," the eldest said firmly. "With the Sylvans the ruling force of the land. Few minocentaurs and fewer humans."

Shanku and Katari exchanged nervous glances while Hilael just looked at the floor.

"Humans aren't that bad. It's not hard to reason with them," Shanku added gently, her ears laid down as she rubbed her left arm. "They can be flightly little things, but that's easy to work around."

"And what experience would a lowly Feral have with humans?" the eldest asked skeptically with a raised eyebrow.

"I spent a lot of time travelling around. I've lived with them for a spell. They're really not all that different from us," Shanku replied. She tucked her arms behind her back and gave a friendly smile.

"Worse than a backwards Feral is a Feral who has sympathies with those flightless heatherns," growled the one with the goatee.

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"Out with all of you!" the Imperial council growled. Three guards surrounded the nervous Ferals and escorted them back to their chambers.

"I behaved! I ain't goin' over a balcony!" Shanku fretted. "No defenestration!" Katari simply slumped down onto a bench and propped his elbows on his knees with his chin in his hands.

"I thought the Ferals were supposed to be the really intolerant ones?" Katari mumbled.

"No. No, the Ferals actually tolerate other species quite well and can be somewhat flexible. We simply prefer to keep to ourselves, excluding those with Wanderlust. Imperials, however, only tolerate those who conform to their demands," Piram replied.

"And they're still considered better than us?" Shanku asked skeptically.

"Can't fix stupid," Hilael said quietly as he gazed out the window. Innugati chirped at him.

Shanku suppressed a giggle. "So, what now? Go home?"

"Might as well. Others have tried for months to get through to them. I never expected us to do much better. Let's just hope we survive what they get us in to," Piram said grimly.

With resignation, they began to ready themselves for departure.

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The Ferals began to gather their belongings and prepared to leave. As they finished a last meal before going on the road again, a knock came at their door. Shanku answered it to find an bluish-winged fellow at the door.

"Hullo! Ryan Chase Stormer. Here to escort you home," he said cheerfully.

"We have an escort, and his name is Piram," Shanku sais shortly.

"Beggin' your pardon, miss, but I insist," he grinned.

"Let him tag along, Shanku," Hilael nodded. Shanku looked at her brother curiously.

"Thank you!" Ryan nodded in return.

"A nusiance joins your party," Shanku muttered under her breath.

"Maybe he won't be so bad," Katari suggested.

"What does an irritating Imperial Knight like you want anyway?" She demanded.

"What better way to start a rebellion than with those fiesty Ferals?" Ryan responded slyly with his voice low.

Shanku looked him over once and glanced back at her brother, one ear laid back. Does Hilael have some kind of sixth sense or something? She wondered and let Ryan enter their quarters. She shut the door behind him as the others gathered nearby to satisfy their own curiosity.

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"Rebellion? What?" Shanku asked.

"Contrary to popular belief, we don't all agree that meddling with other species is a good idea. Especially in the way we're currently doing," Ryan stated.

"Just how many of the Imperials feel this way?" Piram asked curiously.

"Enough to populate the pubs, not enough to form a proper coalition," Ryan replied. "But, between the Prairie, the Arctic, the humans, and now pressure from the Sylvans, well, surely they'll have to buckle at some point," Ryan explained.

"Tyranny to control tyranny?" Hilael asked dubiously.

"Think of it as an investment into protecting future lives," Ryan said uneasily.

"That is the basis of any proper justice," Piram nodded. "And at times, you must be firm about it."

"So what are you looking for? Sneaking correspondance to the Ferals and working the Imperials from inside and out?" Katari asked.

"I can think of no other way. The far north Imperials outnumber the Arctic and can easily hold them off. The humans and Prairie are not as allied as the Arctic or Sylvans, and thus have no armies to call upon. Sylvans must handle wayward Sylvans," Ryan nodded.

"We just may have a way out then," Shanku grinned mischievously.

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"So, were you assigned to us or did you weasel yourself over here?" Shanku asked.

"Volunteered and then assigned," Ryan grinned. "Are you ready to leave?"

"I suppose we have officially worn out our welcome?" Piram sighed.

"Indeed," Ryan nodded. "But at least you have somebody asking you politely and offering to run interference from disgruntled Imperials. Knights hold a bit of clout."

"We're still packed and ready to go," Katari shrugged. "Why not?"

The Ferals gathered up their packs and followed their knight escort out.

"How far are you coming with us?" Piram asked him.

"To the border, at least," Ryan said thoughtfully. "I should like to go further, but that will have to come later."

"Indeed," Piram nodded.

The journey to the border was blissfully uneventful, as were the nights. Ryan was never allowed to take night watch alone, but did not prove himseful unfaithful. Occasional scouts could be heard but were ever out of sight.

When the markers indicated they had reached the end of Fernwick territory and near Weolcen, Ryan stopped them.

"I have a night patrol along this part of our border every fortnight," he said lowly. "If a pair of passive Weolcen camp here, they will be undisturbed. I will be in touch."

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The Ferals bid farewell to the Imperial knight and a quiet day's travel passed before the Scissortails made camp again. Shanku and Katari managed to capture a pair of rabbits and Hilael was able to gather a few roots and herbs to compliment them.

"So, want to drop by the Weolcen before going home?" Shanku asked curiously.

"Those were not my orders," Piram said reluctantly.

"We must pass right through their territory anyway," Shanku grinned mischievously. "What's one little detour? Not even that much of a detour!"

"Indeed," Piram said. He turned the rabbits roasting over the campfire.

"And I'm sure they didn't expect us to get kicked out that quickly, even with my bad luck!" Shanku continued.

"No, your reputation precedes you quite well," Piram said flatly. "I just hope it doesn't spread like a fungus."

"Or a poison ivy rash," Katari teased.

"Or like kudzu," Hilael added thoughtfully.

"Are you lot quite finished?" Shanku grumbled.

"Kriiiiii! Kri kri kri," Innugatti chirped.

"Nobody asked you," Shanku hrmphed and poked the rabbits to see how finished they were.

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"The Weolcen will need to be informed. A pair of gatherers are generally ignored and would be good informants," Hilael said.

"Indeed," Piram said quietly with a raised eyebrow.

"I prefer the method of badgering others to death," Shanku teased. "Hilael and I can make a good team that way."

"Yes, you can be the irritating little distraction while your brother slips behind the backs of others and commits untold crimes," Piram shook his head.

"Well, when you put it that way," Shanku grinned mischievously. "But which would you really be more concerned to take your eyes off of? The good, quiet one, or the little troublesome delinquent?"

"Right now, I'm more concerned about some supper, some sleep, and getting this over with so I can get back to a proper nest to rest in at night," Katari said and picked a rabbit off the campfire. Without another word, they shared another supper and another night of sleeping in the trees to avoid ground predators.

Within a few days, they were intercepted by one of the Weolcen scouts. Piram requested to see their Elders and the scout obliged.

"Do you think they've had dwarves spruce up their den a bit too?" Shanku asked excitedly.

"Again, we're not on this trip for pleasure!" Piram said exasperatingly.

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To the Scissortails' surprise, the Weolcen held an informal lunch at their reception on an above ground patio. The Weolcen found their mention of the rogue knight very interesting and agreed to pick a few gatherers and hunters to be conveniently located near the border for the first meeting. A few dicussed amongst themselves ways to bring the knight in further for other visits so as not to endanger the gatherers for longer than necessary.

After lunch, the Scissortails enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the Weolcen gardens as the Elders talked amongst themselves and at times asked the Scissortails further questions.

"You handle this much better than we expected, given how the Fernwick reacted," Katari mused.

"The Imperials are sorely misguided. And a rebellion might help right some very old wrongs," Chartek replied thoughtfully.

"Like what?" Katari asked.

"One thing the Imperial hypocrites will never admit to these days," Chartek said coldly as he fixed his gaze on Katari. "Is that we Ferals only wished to limit our dependence on shifting forms to achieve what we needed. It was the Imperials who said it must be abolished entirely, regardless of the consequences. They made us the scapegoats of that war with the humans, and forced us to stop shifting prematurely."

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"Wait, I thought it was the Ferals who foolishly banished that because of the war?" Katari asked.

"Oh, no. In fact, we would have won, and the two tribes would still be on good terms if they hadn't turned on us. We might even have better relations with neighboring species. But, the Imperials have always loved to meddle, make extreme decisions for others to follow, and then find a way to exclude themselves from those rules, the whole time parading as the superior party," Chartek shook his head. "But, the rebellion is hopeful. We will do our best to encourage it, and bring honour back to the Sylvan name once again. And somehow, right old wrongs with other species too."

I learned a few more interesting things from the Weolcen while we were with them. It was the Imperials who abolished magic and shifting, and not the Ferals? And caused such chaos with that old war?

Complicated. Everything is so complicated! One big, muddled mess. Although, some little part of me is curious if things are finally about to mend...

~ Shanku Ravenwing