The Bone Nest

by Alex Bernstein

Farel, the eight-year-old wolfboy, squat upon the banquet table unceremoniously devouring what was left of a large pheasant, much to the Queen’s distress.  The Grand Hall was an utter mess:  chairs and tables were overturned, the buffet had been routed, and all decorations lay mangled.  The Queen’s horrified guests had left hours ago, and now she stood, fists clenched, staring violently at Farel.

“He should be with the dogs!” she snapped.  “I’ve half a mind to put him there myself!”

“Darling,” started the King, trying to keep a calm demeanor.  “We need to be patient.  We must give him time.”

Zanon – the boy’s elderly instructor – hid behind the King, trembling fearfully. 

“We’ve given him time!” she wailed.  “He’s ruined three parties!  I’ve hardly any friends left!”

“We need to give more,” said the King.

“Why?!”

“You know very well why,” he said.  “Because he is family.”

Your family.  Not mine,” she said.  “He’s barely human!”

The King’s brow furrowed. 

“Hold your tongue!” he snapped.  “The boy is blood and he will be treated as such!”

Farel ate quietly, regarding the bickering couple with bored curiosity.    Zanon stared at him, begging with his eyes for some sort of recognition.  But Farel simply chewed and uttered a high-pitched yowl.

I am blood,” said the Queen, jutting her prominent nose at the King.  “And I’ll be damned if I let this animal ruin one more of my gatherings.”

“This is on you,” she shrieked, turning savagely on Zanon.  “You’re the one charged with making him presentable!

“I – I have tried,” stammered Zanon.  “For months!”

“Well now, you have days,” she said.  “If he’s not fixed within three days he goes to the dogs!    And your entrails will feed them!”

She stormed out of the hallway.  Zanon wobbled, gasping for breath.  The King looked at him, sternly.

“Get hold of yourself,” he said.

“Y-yes, sire,” bowed Zanon, weakly.

The King approached Farel, and leaned down to look at him.  The boy turned away, shyly.

“He’s so much like my brother,” said the King.  “He has his eyes.  But his inability to embrace even a smattering of our customs, our language makes no sense.  He is royal blood!  I don’t care that my brother married a Lupine – or whatever her people were.  I met them!  You met them!  They spoke the language of the kingdom!”

“They did, your highness.”

The King reached out, helplessly, to the old instructor.

“Then why can’t I reach him?”

“I’ve – I’ve employed all my skills, sire – ”

“And what haven’t you tried?!” he asked, knowing full well what the answer was.

Zanon hesitated and then finally said what they’d both been thinking. 

“Magic.”

The ascent to the aerie was treacherous.  Farel and Zanon had climbing since dawn, all the while dodging the terrible winds.  Farel was a poor climber, while Zanon was weighed down by the enormous pack on his back.  Worse still, by noon they’d watched their three-man consort fall to their deaths over the rocky ledges.  But finally they’d reached the summit, The Bone Nest

The Bone Nest was the home of the creature known as the Demon Roc.  The nest itself was an enormous structure built entirely of jagged, bleached white bones:  human, elven, animal, animal hybrid, trollish, and so on.  The Demon Roc was not particular about what breed or nation filled its nest.  And its home was sovereign.

The origins of the Roc were that of myth.  A popular version was that eons ago the Roc had been a wizard or witch transformed into the leviathan shape for a great battle that had ended badly, leaving it eternally in the form of the monster bird.  Now, the Roc regularly soared the countryside terrorizing villages, and capturing travelers and treasures to decorate its nest.  Any adventurer mad enough to trespass the nest, would suffer a quick and horrific demise.

The bones that were the walls climbed ten feet high to the nest’s peak.  Over time, the winds and rain had polished them to a glistening white.  Farel and his instructor descended into its bowels, and Zanon was relieved to find the Roc absent. 

The interior of the nest was putrid and filled with half-eaten forms piled upon one another, not yet picked clean.  Hidden among the corporeal wreckage was the bird’s loot.  Much was purely ornamental – torn bright cloths, lost shields and banners, and gold-plated furniture, all nestled among thousands of coins, jewels, and gems.  And in the far northeast corner of the nest lay three colossal eggs.

Farel squinted at the sky, feeling the fierce wind whip through his fur, while Zanon dug furiously through the detritus, wondering if he’d even find the item he was looking for.  And if he did find it, would he even know what to do with it?  His knowledge of magic was limited.  What he knew from legend was that they could take nothing with them, for to do so meant the bird could find them anywhere.  Any object they found, they’d have to use there, in the nest.  And they’d have precious little time to do so.

Zanon found weapons, jewels – and then, finally, what they’d come so far for: items of power.  He found what must surely have been a Serum of Transformation.  But would it improve Farel’s appearance – or make it worse?  And even if it did make him more presentable, wouldn’t he still retain his difficult, lupine nature?  It was too great a risk.  Zannon discarded it and then found a Cloak of Snow that might hide them.  But it was cumbersome and he knew it would only momentarily fool the bird.  A Transportation Compass he uncovered was likely useful, but he couldn’t quite grasp how to work it and left it among bones.  And then he found exactly what he was looking for: The Crystal Horn

The Crystal Horn was an enchanted ram’s horn formed from a single piece of translucent quartz.   One needed only to blow it loudly enough, and any listener within earshot would gain instant knowledge and complete use of the horn-blower’s primary language. 

And Zanon felt compelled suddenly to conceal the horn in his cloak and find some quick, easy way to escape the nest.  Such a device had surely been in no other hands for decades – perhaps centuries.  And with it he might become the world’s greatest translator.  With this magnificent tool, he could acquire wealth, bring men of any nation together, even end wars.  And then he looked over at his forlorn, shivering wolf-boy, and wondered how he could ever contemplate ending wars, if he couldn’t even help one little Lupine. 

Zanon took the horn and made his way to Farel.  The boy was hunched over watching something.  Zanen knelt down and saw it was the cracked remnant of a scrying mirror.  In the mirror appeared the ravages of a recent war.  Trees were burned and charred, woods demolished, fields decimated.  A thick smoke filled the landscape and everywhere – as far as the eye could see – lay the bodies of dead wolf people.

“Home,” Farel uttered in a low, pained, whispery growl.  It was the first words of the King’s language he’d spoken aloud. 

Zanon leaned close.

“It’s all gone,” said Zanon.  “But – but with this – you’ll have a wonderful new gift – ”

He lifted The Crystal Horn close to Farel’s ear.  But the boy turned on him, suddenly.

“No!” he snarled with a ferociousness that knocked Zanon backwards.  The horn tumbled from Zanon’s hands and shattered instantly against a large, jutting bone.  Zanon’s eyes went wide with panic.  And he reached uselessly for the shards.

“Oh no – no – ” he wailed.  “What have you done?!”

But Farel had returned, morosely, to his mirror.

“Home,” he repeated.

“There is no home, you miscreant!” Zanon shouted.  He took the boy by the shoulders and shook him.  “Don’t you understand?!  We’re all that’s left for you!  We are your home!  And now – ”

But his words were drowned by the deafening roar of murderous, gargantuan wings.  The Demon Roc appeared in the sky, and began to bear down on them. 

“Gods!” gurgled Zanon.

His head darted, searching for any kind of usable cover.  Farel, with naïve spunk, stood on tiny haunches, grit his fangs, and howled at the ominous bird.  Zanon grabbed Farel under one arm and lumbered across the nest, while the boy continued to mew and spit.  A broken half-limb tripped Zanon, and he and Farel fell.  Calcified fragments and spurs stabbed into Zanon’s arms and legs, wounding him, and he lay crumpled and bleeding as the Roc plunged towards them.  Climbing atop Zanon, Farel barked and growled, and the bird swooped back into a high arc, shrieking the shriek of a predator teasing its prey.

Zanon, lurching in pain, got to his feet, grabbed Farel, and carried him quickly to the top edge of the bony wall.  The bird came down.  With his remaining strength, Zanon removed the bulk weighing down his pack: a large, fresh boar’s carcass.  With all his might, he heaved the meat over the side of the nest.  Overcome by its insatiable hunger, the Roc dove after the carcass engulfing it in a single bite, then flapped its wings to regain altitude.  But a strange thing happened.  Instead of flying, the bird suddenly lost all strength, and with a look of terror, plummeted to the earth below.

Zanon and Farel watched, gasping, as the mammoth bird fell.  Farel looked at Zanon, perplexed. 

“And that’s what a pig filled to the brim with shot will do to you,” said Zanon.  ”But Gods know whether or not he’s finished, so we’d best get clear of here.”

They camped deep in the woods that night, miles from the aerie and half a day’s walk back to the castle.  They sat near a large fire, the boy quietly chewing on the remains of a hare.  The old teacher stared into the flame, nursing his wounds and miserably contemplating the reaction of the King and Queen to their failure.

And then, suddenly, he noticed the boy nuzzling up next to him, as if seeking warmth, and comfort.  He turned and the boy looked deeply, solemnly into his eyes.

“Home?” said the boy, simply.

“It’s gone,” said Zanon.  “I’m so sorry.  I wish I could bring you back to them.  But I can’t.”

“Home,” said Farel again.  And he butted gently against Zanon, and made the closest thing he could to a fanged smiled.

Zanon looked at him and understood.

“I – learn,” growled Farel, quietly.

And Zanon took him under his arm.

“Yes,” he said, comfortingly.  “Yes, you will.”

And they slept peacefully in the warmth of the fire.

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4 Responses to “The Bone Nest”

  1. the bone nest | Prom on Mars Says:

    […] short story The Bone Nest is up at Defenestrationism.net.  Here’s a brief […]

  2. Marissa Neff Says:

    WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait ..

  3. Keva Hoefflin Says:

    Hi! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  4. eatstuf Says:

    Was your room-mate a wolf-child or a demon? Thnx for comment– the defenestrationism.net team

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