Grace Tenderstitch stood in the late afternoon at the edge of the steep slope to the Loch. She looked down at the water and the wind blew cold and at times brought tears to her eyes, stinging. There was a carpet of brown curled debris around her, dissolving into the forest floor. She could see below where there were a number of tiny rafts, mostly made from tree bark, floating in the oily olive water, harnessed to the rocks. Without thinking she began to count their numbers, and realized when she got to 54 that there was an equal amount left to be counted. Murray stood at her side, his shoulder resting lightly against her thigh, her hand warmed in the fur on his back. No one spoke.
There was a distant cry of a bird over their heads. It sounded faraway, and was barely acknowledged by the threesome that stood at the edge of this incline, so much was their preoccupation with the scene, They patiently waited for Mrs. Tenderstitch to speak and act. Another cry, louder and closer, had Maybell looking upward, searching the sky for her impossible love, Windslow the Osprey. He was circling closer, and within moments, grasp a tree branch above them with powerful talons. AS His head turned sideways, he looked at them with an eye that seemed made of glass, set below a jet black eyestripe. His presence was majestic, like being being visited by a member of royalty.
"Windslow," Maybell cried.
"My greetings, Maybell," he replied. "Greetings to you Grace Tenderstitch. And to you." he said to Murray.
He continued as the greetings were exchanged. "There is need for haste, Grace Tenderstitch. Above your head there is amassed a small army of trapeezing Pie-rats intent on stealing something from your Home. I do not like the look of them. They are bold, and fierce, and laugh in the Face of Danger."
There was no time for Grace to wonder at Windslow's appearance, his neck feathers wrapped with a knitted lilac muffler that Maybell had gifted him. There was no time to wonder at the strangeness of the day, no time to consider the ingenuity of a group of rats. They had strung a web of ropes to travel upon, as if the forest trees were the masts of many ships.
Indecision is not the friend of any Leader. It would not do to straddle a fence in this situation. Grace struggled with this as a first foe in the conflict, and tried to Decide what to do. It was her basic nature to consider all sides and to try to have a peaceful resolution to conflict.
As if to punctuate the the finality of her decision, the sun sank below the western end of the Loch. "Gather what friends of Prey you have Windslow. If there are eagles, let them fly to the Baggaraggs, if there are falcons, or other rat eating birds of Prey, let them come. I will wake the Owls from their slumber, they will help us."
"I will wake them," spoke Winslow. "I will gather the Birds of Prey, and spread the word of warning and war amongst our kind."
"I will go with you," Maybell offered, and began to scamble down from her perch on the shoulder of Grace Tenderstitch. Before she had reached the ground, Windslow had silently swoped forward and waited for her to chamber up his massive wing. She secured herself to the Lilac Muffler and they were gone, lifted high up into the currents, high above the trees.
As the shadows grew amongst the trees, Grace and Murray hurried back into the woods, looking up to try to catch a glimpse of the network of ropes that were woven above their heads. They did not know that the Pie-rats had reached the border of the Baggaraggs, and were spying out its peoples from the tops of the naked maples.
Peg-Leg the Pie-rat watched as the residents of the Baggaraggs made ready for war, and she was not laughing at the Danger she perceived.