(This story was an entry for Clue #10 in the 2013 Treasure Hunt -- see the collection for related stories and images! )
Flutterby tugged and folded until its scrap of silk was snugly in place, wrapped securely around its bright green head with one end of it falling in a loose drape down past its neck and shoulders. The silk was some of Swan’s finest, a dusky violet with shimmering sapphire tones, yet airy enough that it fluttered in the least breeze from Flutterby’s wings. Flutterby kept the headpiece fluttering, delighted by the sway and swing. “Is so pretty!” Flutterby cooed. “Is so bea-uuuuu-ti-ful!”
Mushroom looked over from the nearby branch it sat on, and watched its companion’s preening.
“Is gonna tangle with silly-thing’s wings; silly-thing be slow when stalking-legs-sharp-bill comes hunting.”
Flutterby ignored the voice of doom. It patted at its new headpiece, fussing with the drapery until it had managed to spread the silky fall a little farther across its left shoulder. Flutterby swung its head back and forth, purring in pleasure at the swing of silk against its back, and began to fuss with the right side of the drapery in turn.
“Is so beautiful. It is head-silk. Long flowing head-silks!” Flutterby crooned to itself. “Beautiful, beautiful head-silk!” The drapery on the right side fell even farther, spilling across its shoulder and across its chest. Flutterby gave a sharp trill of triumph, then practiced tossing its head and flicking with a hand, so that the drapery tossed back like a swirl of hair. “Is so bea-uuuuu-ti-fuuuul!”
Mushroom just sighed heavily and watched its companion mournfully. “Is silly-thing,” it muttered under its breath.
“Is most beautiful head-silk ever!” Flutterby insisted. It turned on its perch and reached behind its head to gather up the drapery as if it were a ponytail of hair. It practiced the swing of hair at the nape of its neck, then higher up at the back of its head. “Is most bea-uuuu-ti-fuuuul!”
The Preserver’s singing had attracted more than just Mushroom’s attention. Bright eyes fixed on the singer, then turned this way, then that. There was a rustle of dark wings, and then a black shape arrowed straight onto Flutterby’s perch. The Preserver screamed and fell back, away from the assault, but not before a blade-sharp beak had fastened onto the dangling violet flow of silk. The Preserver fled one way, the crow went the other, and for a moment, a shimmering purple-blue stream of silk streamed between then. Then Flutterby’s screams turned into shriller shrieks of horror as the headpiece was yanked off its head, and the crow was gone, its stolen treasure flying like a banner behind it.
“Help! Help!!” Flutterby howled as if there had been foul murder. Its screams echoed through the Holt. “Help-help-help!! Wolf-bird steals it! Nasty terrible wolf-bird! Thieving wolf-bird! Help!!”
Dewdrop was the first to arrive; Berryflop and Gurgleflap were next. Muckabout came hurrying up next, carrying a beetle; it dropped its armful belatedly as it landed on the branch between Dewdrop and Gurgleflap. Foamspray was last to join them, and the whole time, Flutterby continued to wail in alarm. “Thieving wolf-bird! Thief! Help-help-help!”
Only when Foamspray’s blue wings had joined them did Mushroom gather itself up. “Is only bits of White-Finger Highthing’s leftovers. Is more of that be found.”
“Most bea-uuuuuu-tiful headsilk! Most beautiful EVER!” Flutterby cried, frenzied now. “Must get back!”
“Get?” asked Dewdrop.
“Get!” agreed Gurgleflap and Berryflop in unison.
The swarm had gathered; the swarm was launched. Flutterby took the lead, leading its swarm to the hunt. Even Mushroom fell in at the back of that flurry of rainbow wings.
The swarm knew every bird nest and squirrel hollow within a day’s flight of the Dentrees. Flutterby took them arrowing past the Craft-trees, then upstream along the Den’s Creek, toward the closest crow’s nest to the Holt. “Bad thieving wolf-birds! Bad!” Flutterby wailed as they flew; the others took up the chant as well in a chorus of angry voices. “Bad thieving wolf-birds! Bad bad bad!”
They swept up the Den’s Creek toward the cedar where the crows nested, their war chant preceding them as they crossed the faint shadow of Home Ridge. The forest grew dense for a time, then thinned as the slope began to rise. “Bad thieving wolf-birds! Bad bad bad!” Flutterby was still in the lead as they reached the shadow of the tall, bristling red cedar. “Bad thieving wolf-birds! Bad bad baaaad!”
Something dark fluttered in the cedar’s branches. There was a single answering “caw!”, and then suddenly there was a flutter of dark wings on seemingly every branch of the towering cedar. The thieving crow was not alone... it had called in a murder of its own to protect its nest.
“Bad thieving wolf-birds! Bad bad bad...” Too late, Flutterby realized it was chanting the words alone. Its voice trembled and faded in the ominous silence.
“Caw...” muttered one of the crows.
“Ta-caw!” came the answer in a hundred other voices. The old cedar shook — and then there was an explosion of black feathers as the murder of crows erupted into flight.
The resulting battle was short, fierce, and painfully lopsided. The Preserver swarm broke and fled for the Dentrees, while the mass of crows gave mocking chase. The inglorious retreat only ended when the Dentrees were in view — along with curious elves who reached for stones and rabbit-sticks in belated defense of their ragged rainbow of friends.
The defeated gathered on the branch-perches they had previously launched their assault from.
“No fair!” panted Berryflop.
“Too manys,” mourned Gurgleflap.
“Sharp beaks!” moaned Dewdrop. “Ow ow ow!”
“Silly-thing find other head-silk,” Mushroom muttered. “Let thieving wolf-birds have most beautiful. Let thieves keep it.”
“Let wolf-birds have it,” agreed Foamspray, tending a bitten wing. “Wolf-birds earn it.”
“What just happened?” asked Crest, watching from a window-shelf in the Mother Tree above the bedraggled swarm of Preservers.
“Crows just stole Flutterby’s latest hat, and then trounced our goo-bugs when they went to get it back!” Foxsly rolled off her branch and caught after the climbing rope, descending in a red-gold blur of speed.
**Where are you going?** Crest sent after his lovemate.
**Going to get Flutterby some more head-scraps!** she blazed in response. **Because a brawl between the crows and the Preservers? That’s just never gonna get boring!**