Can't Catch Me
by etcetera-cat
Disclaimer:  All concepts relating to the world of Velgarth, and the Tayledras people, are the sole property of the author Mercedes Lackey.  The plot inconsistencies, narrative style and any speeling mistakes are the fault of etcetera-cat.
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Chapter 2- Falling Sideways.
I’m being as quiet as I can.
I much prefer taking the tree road to walking on the ground, and Reeka approves too.  He finds it much more preferable when there’s plenty of chances for him to perch ahead of me and watch and wait.  Speaking of which, he’s looking imperiously at me right now.
:Hunt?:  The question inserts itself into my head and the sun-tail hawk looks hopefully at me, his Bondmate.
I’m Tayledras, one of the ‘legendary Hawkbrothers’, if you hadn’t already guessed.  My name is Shadowstar k’Treva and I’m a scout, hence why I’m out wandering the tree roads of the Pelagirs Forest.  I’ve been a scout pretty much since I Bonded with Reeka, four or so summers ago, I’m eighteen summers in age.  Yes, I Bonded quite late, apparently my Bondbird wasn’t too eager to leave the egg.
I don’t see why we shouldn’t hunt a bit, I’m almost at the end of my scouting sortie, and there is not as much as a whisper of trouble in this area.  That makes a nice change.  :Yes, let’s hunt.:  I reply to Reeka, who replies with a flood of approval.  What he doesn’t do, however, is take to the air.  :I thought you wanted to hunt?:  I send to him as I draw level with the branch that he is currently perched on.
Reeka blinks and looks at me.  :You hunt, I eat.:  He informs me with a rumbling sound of satisfaction.  Great, I’m nowt but a food gatherer for my Bondbird.  Well, I could do with something to eat myself, and it’s not like I’m in any rush to get back to the Vale.
I unhook my bow and nock the string on it as Reeka watches me with interest.  :Go on then, silly bird.:  I tell him with a smile.
:Help me look for something to shoot so that we can eat.:  I’m honestly not sure if Reeka is deliberately misunderstanding me, or if he really doesn’t understand.  Well, now he’s taken wing and has vanished below the canopy ahead.  
I may as well wait here until featherbrain finds something.  I think to myself and shift my weight slightly so that I am comfortably resting my weight up against the trunk of the huge tree I am in.
I barely have time to get settled before I catch a hot flush of excitement from Reeka and he sends me the image of a tree-hare on the ground, as seen from above.
:Alright, I’m coming.:  I walk softly along the thick branches, heading towards my hawk, who has taken to the trees just above our prospective dinner.  In no time at all, I’m in a tree above the animal.  The tree-hare is grazing on a small patch of grass on the edge of a high stream bank, so it should be an easy shot.  I set an arrow to my bowstring as quietly as I can and draw back the string as Reeka hops from foot to foot on the branch near to me, his eyes fixed on the prey.
I slowly aim at the back of the tree-hare’s head, as it raises its head and sniffs warily at the air.  The arrow leaves my bow with a thunk, just as the tree-hare skitters slightly to the left, and my arrow buries itself deeply in the soft loam near the edge of the cliff.  The tree-hare stares in blank astonishment at it for a split second, before thumping it’s hind legs down and diving back into the safety of the tangled undergrowth at the base of the trees lining the exposed clearing.
I curse silently as Reeka caws with derision.  :It’s called bad luck, bird.:  I inform him patiently.
A mental snort is my reply, along with a muttered.  :Bad hunter.  Bad Shadowstar, humans not able to hunt.:
I sigh under my breath.  Well, I suppose I’d better go get that arrow back, Cilli will have my head if I come back short.  Cilli isn’t my hertasi, well, not exactly.  You see, I’m one of the few scouts that don’t live in the Vale itself.  I have an ekele about a quarter-mark slow walk from the east side of k’Treva Vale, but I do use the amenities of the Vale.  After all, I’m not sun-touched.  When I’m in the Vale, my things and needs are usually appropriated by a female hertasi called Cilli; she’s also the one who makes sure that the scout’s supplies of weapons such as arrows and climbing sticks are adequate.  
Unlike some of the other hertasi, she can be very…insistent… about how well we care for our equipment.  Vocal, too.  I think it’s because she’s not really a Vale hertasi, she came up from Silver Gryphon, the Kaled’a’in city to the far south and west.  According to Garna Esdrakae, the head of the Silver Gryphons that now share our Vale, she was equally, ahem, ‘bossy’ back there as well.
Since the mage storms of several years ago, the ones which changed magic so drastically, and set back our task of cleansing the Unclean Lands of the Pelagirs so much, members of the Clan k’Leshya, the last ones who can truly call themselves Kaled’a’in, have joined near all of the Tayledras Vales.  The only ones who really object to this are crotchety old stick-in-the-muds who will never change their mindset.
In my opinion, having a fully-grown gryphon, particularly one as imposing as Garna, at your back whilst facing down a pack of wyrsa is a definite advantage.  Plus, it is plain fascinating as they are so like us, but at the same time, startlingly different. 
Well, enough pondering on the social evolution of my cousins, I’ve made the ground and am walking across the small band of bear leaf-litter and grass that delineates between the sharp fall of the high bank and the forest that I am emerging from.
I can still hear Reeka, grumbling both vocally and mentally about my inabilities as a hunter but the ground here, this bank, is a lot more unsteady than it looked from the canopy, so I can’t afford to let the mutterings of my Bondbird distract me.
I slowly place one foot in front of the other as I near the edge of the bank—just my luck that the arrow would land right near the edge—trying to gauge if the soil beneath me is likely to shift and topple me over.  Falling onto my rear would only give Reeka more things to tattle to the other birds.  As it is, I know for a fact that the other scouts are going to know about my inability to bag a tree-hare within moments of us arriving back at the Vale.
I make it to the wayward arrow without any mishaps and I bend down to pluck it out of the sharp smelling soil, noting as I do, that the stream that this outcrop type feature forms one bank of is actually a fair distance down.
Fatal last observations.
As I straighten up, the ground crumbles beneath my feet and I stumble forwards, heading towards the edge of the bank.  Arms wind milling, I try to back-paddle, but only succeed in aiding the disintegration of the shaky loam beneath my feet.
I pitch forwards in an almost fluid stream of soil and small rocks and topple over the edge of the bank.
Oh sketi!
Reeka’s low grade muttering breaks off into a shriek of panic as I vanish over the bank.  I tumble head over heels, and I seriously think that some imp of perversity is deliberately arranging this so that my head makes contact with every rock in this damned landslide with me.  I’m still clinging onto consciousness, though—at least I am until I make acquaintance with the ground with a stunning thud that whips the breath out of my body and causes red spots to dance behind my eyes.
I notice that I’m lying on my back, with my light travel-pack and quiver mating awkwardly with my spine and shoulders, and that my lower body feels cold and wet, before a rolling wave of blackness crests over the flashing red lights and carries me off to oblivion.
I can vaguely hear…something… right on the very edge of my awareness.  I think it’s Reeka, but I honestly can’t focus on the niggling sensations that are just out of the reach of my awareness.
My body feels strangely numb, but I get the distinct feeling that this set of non-sensations is only going to last until the assorted parts of my body can agree on exactly how much to kick me in the proverbials with pain messages and complaints.
Which’d be right… about… n…ow! then.  
Well, I can establish straight off that I’m going to be sporting a full set of multi-coloured bruises for the next several weeks, luckily I don’t seem to have broken anything though.  Unless you count my pride as I got into this mess after missing an easy pot shot on a tree-hare.
With this returning of sensation, comes the realisation that I am still lying approximately on my back, with my lower body obviously in the stream.  I can also now hear Reeka making soft keening sounds of distress.
Right, come on silly Hawkbrother!  I scold myself.  Get your tail in gear and show your poor Bondbird that you’re not dead!  I’m going to move, any moment now I’m going to—
Something is scratching around my neck, and it isn’t Reeka.  
Now I’m being dragged slowly backwards—definitely not Reeka then.
What in the Havens?  Whatever it is has dropped it’s hold on the back of my scout’s tunic, but not until it has pulled me clear of the stream.  I suppose it could be another scout playing rescuer, but I haven’t heard anything like a voice, and I’d expect them to at least be saying ‘Oi, you!  Are you alive?’
I think I’d better open my eyes and have a look at my personal helpful saviour.  The sun seems un-naturally bright after being accustomed to the blackness of unconsciousness, but I can make out a shape—person?—above me, looking down at me.  I blink to try to focus my stubborn eyes and can feel my forehead creasing with confusion.
Whoever, whatever, it is lets out a gasp and disappears from my line of sight.  I manage to roll over and lever myself up onto my knees as Reeka lets out a cry of delight.
:Not dead!  Told her not dead!  Bondmate hurt?:
:I’m fine Reeka.:  I send soothingly to my excited sun-tail hawk as I blink and focus on my rescuer—
Oh.  Blessed.  Lady.
I think ‘whatever’ is most definitely more apt, as my rescuer isn’t anything approaching human.  It—she?—is, however a Changling…not even a Changechild, but a Changecat of some description.  It—no, there’s definitely something that suggests female about her—looks kind of like a Plain’s grass-cat, but…different somehow, and not just the fact that she has splotchy black and silver-brown tabby markings all over her shaggy fur.
She also has green eyes.  Eyes that are wide with absolute and overwhelming fear, a feeling so strong that I can almost taste it at the back of my throat.  She is also crouched as low to the ground as she can get and is frantically scrambling backwards, trying to get away from me.
I manage to lurch to my feet, operating more on instinct than conscious thought and, as I tower over her, the Changling flinches back and winces, emitting a low whimper of pain.  What?!  What did I do?!  I think irrationally, before noticing the spreading stain of red running down her right hind leg and pooling in the leaf litter around her paw.  Sketi…maybe if I try to speak to her…?
“Hey,”  I try to make my voice as soft and non-threatening as I can and extend one hand, “I guess you must of helped me, thank you.  Are you alright?”
Stupid idiot, like she’s going to understand Tayledras!  My cynical inner voice accuses me, and it seems to be right as she keeps backing away from me, unfocused eyes fixed on me.
I try a step forwards and, without warning, the Changling writhes around and attempts to leap away from me.  Her muscles seem to spasm and her right leg, which has a large, heavily bleeding gash on it, collapses under her, simultaneously slipping in the mix of blood and loam under her paws, sending her skewing sideways.
A heart-rending mewl of pure fear echoes around her mouth before her head connects solidly with the same dead log that Reeka is perched on and she crumples senseless to the ground.
Dammit.  I feel an obscure stab of guilt as I approach the now-unconscious form of the Changling.  What in the Lady’s name do I do now?
Before I can think of a course of action Reeka crow-hops along the log until he’s above the Changling, mantling his wings at the same time.  :Not hurt!:  He insists and gapes his beak to hiss at me.  Have I stepped into a parallel world here?  My Bondbird is threatening me?!
“Reeka, what are you going on about?”  I ask him with exasperation as I rub the back of my aching head with one hand.  I’m going to have a prize-winning lump on the back of my head very soon, I’m lucky I didn’t crack my head right open.  Speaking of cracked heads—
I step towards the downed Changling, she looks far too small and fragile, as if life hasn’t been treating her well.  Well, of course it wouldn’t you idiot!  I berate myself.
Reeka clenches and unclenches his feet, drawing splinters from the decaying wood.  :Cat help Shadowstar.  Reeka say Shadowstar not hurt cat.  Cat good.:  I get the impression that, if he could, Reeka would be sniffing in disdain at my lack of understanding.
“Well, of course I’m not going to hurt her!”  I exclaim with a sigh.  “What do you think I am, silly bird?”
Reeka blinks and krrs quietly to himself before replying.  :Bondmate.:  He says finally, and then adds, :Hawkbrother.  ‘Shoot first, then ask questions.’:
I’m stunned.  But—the Changling looks in danger of losing a dangerous amount of blood so I’d better see to that first.  I kneel next to the prone form and groan slightly as my shoulders protest at me shrugging off my scout-pack.  I rummage around in it and my fingers close on a roll of bandage, which I pull out, before also producing my water-bottle.
I use the half full container to wash some of the dirt out of the wound, which has an odd look about it…it has some slight ragged edges, but the initial shape of the cut looks like it’s been made with a blade of some kind.  I consider the log in front of me momentarily before plucking some moss and rinsing it in water and using the roll of bandage to hold my make-shift dressing in place.
I rock back slightly to survey my handiwork.  Well, it looks as if that’s going to stop the bleeding.  I’d better check her head as well, she hit Reeka’s perch at a fair pace.  It looks like we’re going to have matching lumps on our skulls.  I observe wryly.  However, I don’t think I’m going to have the attractive cut to accessorize.  I wonder what happened to her?  I think there’s also bruising under her fur, but the fact that there is fur is making it hard to ascertain.
Impromptu first aid session over, and I think it’s time for a talk with my hawk.  “Reeka, why did you say that to me?”
I sigh and switch to Mindspeak.  :’Shoot first, then ask questions’, who told you that?:
:?:  Reeka twists his head onto one side to look at me.  :No-one told.  I hear.:
:Well, where did you hear that then?:  Patience…I will be calm and patient…
:What cat thinking.:  Oh.  My.  Lady.  :Was thinking when up there-: impression of the top of the bank :-not going to help.  Scared.  Thinking that.:
I…can’t actually think of anything to say.  I can’t leave her here, I guess I’ll have to take her back to my ekele, luckily it’s not far from where I am now, about a third of a mark’s walk north, I think.
Reeka chirrs in contentment.  :Take cat to home?  Reeka like cat.:
“Yes Reeka,”  I reply and awkwardly re-shoulder my pack and lurch to my feet, “not the Vale though.”  I crouch down and try to pick up the Changling.  She weighs a lot less than I expect, and her bones are sharply prominent through her fur.
“I don’t suppose you know if she has a name?”  I ask Reeka as I begin to head back to my ekele.
:?:  Reeka launches himself into the air and circles over my head.  :Cat?:
Is that a no or a name?  I wonder to myself briefly, before another thought supersedes it.  I’m going to have to tell at least some of the Vale Council about this…
:Not stupid like eyas old Bondmates.:  Reeka insists from ahead and above me.  I think he has a point.  I’m going to have to tell someone, several someones, however…
First off, one of my best friends—and not incidentally a Healer—and then I think I’ll see who she recommends, Dawnfrost is a much better people person than I am.
No pun intended, but I think she’s going to have kittens when I tell her about this particular development…
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