We found the campsite in disarray, as if abandoned in a hurry. Gear was left lying around haphazardly, and the coals of the fire were still warm. A well trod trail extended downhill to a creek, and another uphill to a dense copse. Both made sense if the site had been occupied for a while. The obvious hurried footprints, broken branches, and a piece of cord caught on a bush seemed to indicate which direction the camp’s owner had gone in a rush.
The odd thing was the stack of firewood beside the fire. It was all evenly cut to length and stacked neatly, with larger logs split and ready to add to the fire. There was at least two full day’s supply remaining. This was not the campsite of someone who thought they were on the run, no matter how quickly they had fled.
Or perhaps it was someone clever.
Searching more carefully turned up nothing else out of the ordinary. Except a new matchbox that was empty, but for a single match, and that match was broken in half.
That match was a sign for those who knew how to see.
We were on the right trail after all, and were expected to act as if we believed the story being told by the disarray and footprints.
The match signaled that the obvious story was a lie designed to throw any pursuit off in the wrong direction.
The match was bent nearly double at the center. Not really a common manufacturing fault, or something that happens by accident.
No, it was a signal to make a fuss about the trail, then quietly double back and wait.
Slowly the Eye came into focus, on one of many bowers made of twigs that we had examined so far today.
We were in luck this time.
Finally, we had one that was occupied. Sunlight filtered in through the lightly leafed canopy, dappling the shiny black feathers with dots of light.
Light that was not quite right. The eclipse was only partial there, and the gaps in the leaves were forming many pinhole cameras projecting the sliver of the sun’s disk onto any surface that would stand still. The effect was that some edges were blurred, and some were extremely sharp.
The bird saw none of this, of course. Or if it did, it wasn’t paying attention to celestial events.
As the Eye came into focus, the bird’s attention did turn to stare directly into the Eye’s point of view. Almost as if the bird could do the impossible, and see the effect of the Eye presence in its bower. An Eye that was hundreds of miles away.
Ravens, are smarter than most realize. This Raven certainly knew something was up. Perhaps it had noticed the eclipse and was on the lookout for additional weirdness. Or perhaps it was just guessing.
Court is not a place for the thin-skinned. While the insults and slights are less likely to be stated bluntly, loud, and clear, they are there beneath the surface as every courtier jockeys for position and favor. To an outsider, this makes court seem like a pointless waste of time and resources. To an insider it is their lifeblood.
He was atypical for a courtier. Whip-thin, tall, and nimble. They called him Stick, but not usually to his face. He was sharp in more ways than one, and was more willing than most to follow up on threats with a visit to a back alley.
Today, Stick was holding court of his own, facing down the leading lawyer over a few beers. Their respective circles of sycophants were keeping the combatants well supplied while the debate ranged freely.
Stick was adamant that free will was behind everything that could be seen happening. Even things that would normally be ascribed to fate. His sparring partner was far more receptive to a fatalistic view. He held that free will was merely an illusion used by men to assuage their egos when choices went badly. That the criminals that made his living for him were fated to break laws, and what little free will they possessed was only good for choosing which laws they would break.
The discussion lasted until closing, and then spilled over into the streets.
And call it fate. Call it free will. Or call it narrative necessity as you will. But Stick had had enough of the snide remarks by this point, and he and his retinue neatly cut the lawyer free of the crowd and herded him into the alley. Where they thrashed him to within an inch of his life.