Even Ulran’s height was dwarfed by the bird’s wingspan. With bristling carmine red feathers, yellow irises and darting black slit-pupils, the Red Tellar appeared a formidable bird, predatory in mien, an aspect completed with lethal talons and huge curved beak. And yet not one living soul, Ulran included, had once reported seeing a Red Tellar eat. To compound the enigma surrounding them, they were rarely observed landing anywhere. And apart from the muted whisper of their wings, they created no sound at all – unlike the local avians that infested most eaves, lofts and trees in the city.
Ulran burst out onto the inn’s flat roof as a shadow darkened the area.
A solitary Red Tellar broke formation and dived down from the main body. Ulran instinctively glanced back at Aeleg and Ranell; but Scalrin’s sharp eyes had spotted them and he veered over to the opposite side of the roof.
A slight crack of mighty wings, then the bird was down, talons gripping the low wall by a shrine to Opasor, lesslord of birds.
Ulran motioned for the others to stay where they were.
Aeleg and Ranell stared, as if thunderstruck that a Red Tellar should land on their roof.
Recognition flickered in Scalrin’s eyes as Ulran knelt before the bird’s great feathered chest. Without hesitation the innman reached out, gently stroked the upper ridge of the bird’s beak and smoothed the silken soft crest.
In answer, Scalrin’s ear feathers ruffled and he settled, pulling his greater wing coverts well into his body.
The innman exhaled through his nose, then relaxed, steadying his breathing till it was shallow. Ulran closed his eyes and slowly outstretched his hand again, palm flat upon Scalrin’s breast. A rapid heartbeat pulsed under his palpating hand and transmitted sympathetic vibrations through his own frame.
Their rapport created a bridge and across this span came primitive communication, sense-impressions. Ulran gathered that something was seriously amiss in Arion.
Something terrible, something concerning Scalrin.
Ulran opened his eyes, surprised to discover moisture brimmed his lids for the first time since his wife Ellorn’s death.
Then Scalrin was gone, powerful primaries lifting him up to the vast multitude of his brethren. As far as the horizon they still flocked.
But what did it portend?
Ulran did not show the surprise he felt at this disclosure.
The wiry stranger was evidently chagrined at the innman’s negative response but, poise quickly regained, explained, soft spoken, “I walk with Osasor.” An offered hand.
Ulran’s enfolded it completely: a gentle, yielding handshake. Not the usual type who would follow the white lord of fire, the innman thought.
“Cobrora Fhord,” the stranger made the introduction, dressed sombrely in a grey cloak, charcoal tunic and trousers, colourless face angular and thin. “I can enlighten you a little on the behaviour of the Red Tellars. And I would like to join you on your journey to Arion.”
Ranell appraised the stranger with quickened interest; Aeleg stared at Cobrora shrewdly.
Ulran, unblinking, said, “But I haven’t mentioned that I’d go – though I was considering it.”
Cobrora nervously stroked long lank black hair. Ulran noticed the glint of some kind of amulet beneath Cobrora’s grey cloak. Big brown eyes suddenly evasive, Cobrora Fhord murmured, “My – er, properties might prove useful – should you decide to go.”
In preference, Ulran always travelled alone, in this way being responsible for himself and nobody else. But, this Cobrora presented a conundrum. The roumers regularly and swiftly carried messages along their established routes complete with staging posts, unmolested by villains and Devastator hordes, but even they could not have carried news of Arion’s dire affairs in such a short time. And, as conclusive proof of this psychic’s ability, Cobrora knew of Ulran’s intentions to travel to Arion. It was just possible that the strange powers of Cobrora’s spirit-lord could be of some use on the long trek.
“All right,” said Ulran decisively. “But first we must arrange equipment.” And, looking at Cobrora’s thin city clothes, he added, “We must dress you properly for the long journey ahead. It may be summer – but the nights are harsh and the mountains will prove inhospitable.”