The Parliament of Owls

This short was written based on a first sentence prompt. A friend and I got to talking once about counters for things. We learned that a group of owls was called a parliament and I guess that’s what inspired him to send me this prompt. Fun fact: a group of manticores is called a destruction.

The Parliament of Owls

The Parliament of Owls had gathered for an emergency session to discuss the terrible threat facing the Forest Kingdom. The summons had gone out earlier that night, and now all the Members sat on the branches of the Grand Tree, under the full moon.

The clerks and scribes perched on the lowest branches of the ancient elm, for they were the youngest and most numerous, and their eyes were bright while their wits were not. The middle belonged to the ministers on one side, and the guildmasters on the other, and as neither group loved the other, they were separated by the elites of the Silent Watch. Above them sat the senators, the generals, and the aristocrats, and though some of them shared bad blood, these honourable owls knew better than to squabble here, particularly with the whole Kingdom imperiled.

And underneath the tree, there was the rabble. A congress of squirrels and fieldmice, of badgers and rabbits, of ferrets and beavers. All these animals owed their fealty to the owls, for it was well known that the owl was the wisest of all the beasts, and under the governance of the owls they prospered. While the owls in the tree all chattered at once, their loyal subjects below looked on in awe and silence.

Then a terrible screech pierced the air, and even the owls grew silent when the eagle landed near the top of the tree. He was the Herald, and all eyes fell to him.

“All rise,” called the Herald, “for the King arrives!”

A murmur went through the tree, and then four praetorians–covered in ash and dark as the night–landed near the Herald. Then the King himself landed at the top of the tree, and the beasts below it cheered.

But not the owls, for they were wise. The King was old now, and he rarely ruled directly. If he was here, the owls knew the situation was dire indeed.

The Herald screamed again, and some of the smallest of the rabble ran into the bushes, for their fear of eagles was greater than even their loyalty. All fell silent again.

The Herald spoke. “King Wider-eyes, fifteenth of his line, whose blood has ruled us for four hundred moons, now sits the throne.”

“All hail the King,” the owls replied in chorus.

“Countrybirds, gentleowls, I hail thee,” said the King, the words he had said a thousand times before pouring out of his mouth automatically. “I trust the topic of this Parliament is the rebellion, and that the news is good.”

“Yes, your grace!” the generals harrumphed.

“All news is good!” the senators clamoured.

“We will win! We have won!” shouted the ministers.

Only a single one of the clerks spoke up, and his voice was drowned out by the elder owls. The only reason the King even knew he spoke was because the ministers above him hissed “Silence!” at him. “Silence! Be quiet, fool!”

The King turned his fat neck and glared at the Herald with one rheumy eye. The Herald nodded, and then he screamed again, louder than ever before. The owls squawked in surprise and then fell silent, and a couple of guildmasters even flew away. The owls were wise, and although the King had tamed an eagle, it was still an eagle.

“Who speaks?” the Herald called at the lowest branches. “Who down there speaks?”

The owls of the lowest branches scattered, some to another part of the elm, some to another tree altogether. Only a single owl remained standing. His head sunk into his shoulders and he gazed with wide eyes at the eagle above him, and at his monstrous talons.

“Was it you?” the Herald called. “Speak again now, for you have the King’s ear. Pray that what you have to say is worthwhile.”

The clerk gulped and nodded. He looked to the King.

“Your Grace,” he began, “all I meant to say is, there is no rebellion. Or rather, your Grace, that it is no longer a rebellion, but now a war.”

The owls started chattering again, shaking their heads and shouting at the lone clerk. The King himself leaned forward so far that two of the praetorians had to grab him, lest his fat body fell. Once more, the Herald silenced everyone.

“A war?” the King asked then. “I was told the rebellion had been all but put down. What do you mean there is a war?”

“Your Grace,” said a general, “the child is confused.”

“He’s a liar!” shouted another.

“It’s just mice!” said a third.

The King growled, and the Herald ruffled his feathers. The generals fell silent.

“I will hear him,” the King said. “You, clerk. Have the mice truly declared a war? What does this mean? What threat can the slaves possibly pose us?”

“It is indeed the mice,” the clerk said.

“Have they written more poems about freedom then?” a minister shouted, and the others laughed.

“Your Grace,” the lone clerk continued, ignoring the jibes, “it is indeed their leader, Greywhiskers, behind this. But he has not written a new poem.”

“What then?” the King asked.

“He has taken Redtail as an ally.”

The Parliament exploded and all the owls talked at once. The Herald’s first scream was ignored, so he descended on an aristocrat and chased him from the tree, screaming again. An uneasy silence came upon the Parliament.

“A mouse,” said the King, each word slow and deliberate, “has allied with a fox?”

“Yes, your Grace,” said the clerk. “I know how it sounds, but it is true, and I stake my name and nest on it.”

“Indeed you do,” said the King. “How came this to pass?”

“Redtail came to Greywhiskers with a lettuce in his mouth.”

“A gift?” asked a general.

“A bribe!” said a senator.

“No,” said the clerk, “worse. Redtail shared the lettuce. They both ate it together, and Redtail convinced Greywhiskers that he–that his whole band–now only eat lettuce. They said they were moved by the mouse poetry, and would love to help them in their quest for freedom.

“Redtail said he wanted to guide the mice once they had won, and he said, ‘for all know the fox is truly the wisest of beasts.'”

“Outrageous!” shouted a minister.

“Foxes are cunning!” cried a general. “They are sly!”

“Lies!” shouted a judge. “Lies and liars!”

“Yes, honourable owls,” the clerk said. “We know the foxes are the slyest of all. But mice are simple things, and they believed Redtail and took his gifts of lettuce.”

“But how can even a silly mouse believe such a lie?” the King asked. “Do they not know that foxes eat mice?”

“Do we not also?” the clerk asked. The King and the Parliament were stunned into silence. They all looked down to the base of the tree, where all the subjects of the forest sat. The fieldmice there were simple creatures, but they had followed enough of the conversation to know something was wrong. They bolted, scattering into the underbrush, and the ferrets soon followed.

“Treason!” shouted a general.

“Cowards!” roared an aristocrat. “Do they forget all we have given them?”

“All things Redtail has promised them too, I am sure,” said the clerk.

The King harrumphed. “This is dire news, dire news indeed.”

“It gets worse, your Grace,” said the clerk. Now the King and all the owls leaned in closer to hear him speak. “Redtail… he has trained the mice to climb trees, and to find our nests.”

The tree exploded with noise. The Herald screamed and screamed again, but nobody would listen. Soon some of the aristocrats took to wing, suddenly fearful of their home. The guildmasters and ministers followed, and even some of the generals flew off. The rest of the rabble scattered too.

The King could feel his heart racing. He saw the Herald bring down one owl, and then another, flinging them back to the tree. He could still hear the clerk shouting to him, could hear a great many owls shouting, but it was all just noise. All he could think about was his wives back at the nest, and the eggs they guarded.

The King lurched into the air, leaving the disarrayed Parliament to sort itself out. This was indeed war. This was war, and he was too old for it.