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After running a covert diplomacy ring for millennia, Shekeira Eagle-Head was not one who startled easily. Parting company with Ventrishika and his son was something he did not want to do, but there was so much to think about now that Swalecain had aired his challenge. Stepping out into the cool spring dusk, Shekeira was surprised to see that a small group of minor clan leaders had gathered on the ledge. Ythé halted by his side, her wan grey eyes narrowing at the sight; upon her back, the mortal human female twisted to see what the fuss was about.

**Ythé – take our guest to my lair. Wait for me there.**

To her credit, the golden Vahazaya did not question her grandfather’s sudden order. She readied her charge and swooped off into the night, silent in reply to the calls that were hurled in her direction. Alone, Shekeira squared his broad-winged shoulders and deftly hooked his wingclaws over his chest. They were up to something, and his ageless bones did not like it one bit.

“My friends,” he began genially, in case there were evil ears about. “Why do you tarry?”

They looked at each other for a moment, as if deciding who should speak. At last, Cavalcade Hawk-Head stepped forward with a hesitant hitch in his gait. “Shekeira. Hear us –”

Turquoise and white Shekeira Eagle-Head chewed his lower jaw, crest twitching as it inched closer to his skull. “I hear,” he replied, gaze flickering back and forth to the mouth of the Council Chamber and out among the plane. “But Cavalcade, surely this is not the place to discuss –”

“No one is listening, Shekeira,” the blue-green and rose Hawk-Head assured him, gaining confidence by the second.

I do doubt that, the Eagle-Headed patriarch mused sourly, knowing fully well Vagan Falcon-Head’s penchant for dropping in where he was not wanted, or Swalecain’s pack of lackeys. “Still …”

“Shekeira,” Cavalcade insisted, spreading his iridescent wings pleadingly, “there is no time to debate counter-intelligence. Listen. We want to know if you would become our champion should King fall.”

Disbelief wound around the ivory-fueled heart of the patriarch. Disbelief and shock that they would suggest such a notion – again! He’d already refused them in King’s absence, and he did so once more: “I told you when we lost sight of Lord Arex’fay. Are your memories so short, or are you blinded by your dire need for a hero that you press this matter again?”

“But Shekeira,” red-and-green Kheelaleh protested, “you saw Swalecain! He is mad!”

“And you believe I would fare better when pitted against his bulk?” he retorted, incensed by their folly.

Cavalcade let loose an exasperated sigh. “Shekeira! Would King fare better if he were your size? The point of the matter is that we’re scared. Champion us, Patriarch Shekeira. We all know that you would make a better Lord than King or Swalecain.”

Shekeira stepped back, overcome. He bit his lower jaw, forked tongue flicking around inside his beak. He had never seen more serious miens, or heard such passionate cries. Would they want him if he told them his true feelings about the matter? That he was no leader of people? He could lead a family, but not a world! He was no mage, as was Solarius and Larath – as was King. He was no fighter. A leader must have diplomatic skills, but there were so many other things, too. Shekeira simply did not have the time or the will to be the person in that position.


Shekeira. Shekeira. She-keir-a!

They murmured his name over and over again in their minds; he could feel it from here, though he possessed no empathy. It was that potent. It pulled him, tried to sway him with its power.

He shook his head, snorted, to break its spell. A small sliver of fire jetted from his slate-colored nares, alarming the crowd.


More strongly: “No. I cannot. I will not!”

“Shekeira!” they cried, as if appealing to Vaha.

That great turquoise head with all its millennia of knowledge beat from side to side, emphatically. “Give your strength to the Chosen of Larath! I will not break the will of a dead Lord!” Thrusting them aside, he shoved off into the waxing night, wings beating out their plaintive cries: What if Larath Chose wrongly?

Copyright Melissa A. Hartman 7-6-06
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