WAITING FOR NISOS
Raicho and Lorcan would have argued that they possessed the patience of emperor penguins — that is, if they had been acquainted with those respected birds. But when neither Nisos nor Himlos had shown up by the end of their second day of waiting, the birds’ initial eagerness gave way to boredom and frustration.
Himlos had asked for extra time to fetch Air Marshal Nisos to meet with them, with the caveat that if he hadn’t returned by the third night, the rendezvous would not be happening. Naturally the peregrine falcon and the northern harrier would wait, but by the third day it was with reluctance and waning expectations.
The spring weather at the remote mountaintop outpost had been perfect, the clear blue skies and gentle breezes auguring well for the week to come. During their enforced rest, the two birds amused themselves as best they could, flying huge circles high overhead or swooping, diving and feasting on the local rodents. At least in that respect the delay made for a rare respite from the ongoing conflict.
Still, more often than not, the pair fretted about what might be going on back in Heimborn, mainly stewing over the possibility that, if Himlos was not successful in convincing the Air Marshal to meet with them, they were wasting valuable time.
“After coming all this way and hanging about all this time,” Lorcan ranted as the afternoon turned into evening, “the thought of returning without even seeing Nisos tears at my craw!”
“You know we had no choice, cousin,” the falcon countered. “We had to take the chance.”
Ignoring his comrade, the harrier simply stared off into the distance as he watched the sun descend.
“At least we got to speak to Himlos,” Raicho went on. “I trust my old squadron leader. We made our points and he’ll pass them on to the others. Of that I’m certain.” He spread his wings in a consoling gesture. “Hopefully our words will have some effect — ”
“They must,” Lorcan interjected, turning back to his companion.
“But if they fail to change minds right away,” Raicho went on, “possibly something will come of them later.” He sighed. “Whatever the case, there’s nothing more we can do. Not now, anyway.”
Lorcan, hardly consoled by Raicho’s attempt to comfort him, went back to his grim watch. The falcon gave up and followed suit.
After a few moments the harrier broke the silence. “We knew Himlos has no authority in this matter,” he said. “He’s just our means to get to Nisos.”
“So I’m wondering whether we should put off our departure.”
“Himlos knows we won’t linger here, not in some vain hope that they might still show up. By tomorrow he’ll assume we’ve left for Heimborn.”
“Still — ” countered the harrier.
“Even if Himlos manages to sway Nisos with our arguments, they won’t bother coming back here after tonight. So what would be the point?”
Lorcan again lapsed into silence.
“If that’s how things turn out, cousin, you’ll simply have to admit defeat,” Raicho went on. “It’s hard to accept, I know, but I say again, what more can we do?”
The harrier opened his beak to respond, but the falcon kept on talking, gesturing with one wing toward the east, where their enemies were gathering at that very moment. “Don’t think I take failure lightly,” he said. “I want to avert a war among the warrior birds as much as you do — even more. Bringing about peace among our kind is how I’ll get my revenge for the killing of Aeron-Urd. I act in his name, cousin. My debt to our late Air Marshal is that great.”
Lorcan's reply amounted to a scowl and a glance over the ledge into the valley.
“We’ve tried our best,” Raicho added, his tone more soothing. “If we’ve nothing to show for it, so be it. I say it’s time we left for Ethanead. Something tells me we’re needed back there. If we leave now — ”
Lorcan had heard the story of the falcon’s rescue. “Did Fridis abandon you when you lay lost and injured?” he asked. “Did she give up searching for you when, day after day, nothing turned up? No! She and Himlos kept at it. Until you were found — and saved.”
“This isn’t the same.”
“Maybe. But the point is, cousin, you owe Himlos a great deal. And we owe ourselves that much. Let’s not admit defeat until we have to.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” the falcon agreed, shamefaced. “It’s true — we’ve not been beaten until we admit defeat.”
“Exactly. We must stay until time has run out. Till the very last moment.”
“Perhaps Nisos intended to come,” suggested Raicho, “but was overtaken by other demands. Who knows what’s going on out there?” The falcon gestured toward the presumed battleground. “Being stuck here, we’ve no idea. It’s — ”
“If we were needed,” the harrier interrupted, “Corvus would have found a way to communicate with us.”
“Corvus might not know what’s going on, or be too busy to send word.”
“He would not forget us.”
“True, but he’s unlikely to have any idea what’s going on in the enemy camp.”
“I accept that.”
Lorcan had no answer. The birds remained silent for several long moments as they took turns scanning the darkening skies.
“I wonder ... ” the harrier mused.
“You wonder what?”
“Perhaps we should go and find Nisos. Fly to their headquarters.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“They wouldn’t expect it.”
“For good reason. It’d be suicide, like flying into the world’s angriest hornets’ nest. Can you imagine how long we’d survive?” After much argument, Lorcan was forced to admit that the risk likely outweighed the potential gains, but only just.
In the end, the two birds remained at their post until the very last minute. And when that last minute came, they agreed not to leave until the following sunrise, just in case Nisos and Himlos had been delayed and were at that very moment winging their way toward them. They would depart at dawn.