The bladehawk drifted on a breeze high above the expanse of Omer Forest, its ruby-colored eyes scanning the settlements below for the boy its master had sent it to find. The images impressed upon its tiny mind flashed constantly through its vision, urging and guiding it forward. When it spotted the clearing it was searching for, it circled in for a closer look. Midnight feathers flashing, it landed in a tree on the edge of the forest and tilted its head toward the area below.
A two-story red-brick home stood at the east end of the clearing, nestled against the trees of the forest. Large windows faced the yard, curtains drawn wide to let the sunlight into every room. On a second-story balcony, the glass doors stood open, allowing the drapes to ripple softly as a breeze moved through the upper rooms. A dozen clay pots lined the balcony railing, the flowers in them already weeks ahead of season. Beneath the balcony stretched a wide porch, its columned expanse arranged with chairs and a bench swing suspended on silver chains.
A wagon's width of dirt lay in front of the porch, and beyond that a lawn of neatly trimmed grass graced the center of the clearing like a lush, green carpet. Two apple trees, budding pink and white, centered the lawn. Two yellow dogs, warming their bellies in the sunshine, sprawled nearby.
South of the lawn and its bordering lane stood a barn and a squat chicken coop. Chickens pecked the ground. A short distance away, thin wisps of hickory smoke scented the air above a smokehouse.
A fenced pasture lay to the north of the yard. In it, two horses nibbled new shoots of spring grass. A large garden bordered the pasture on the east, and a row of fruit trees stood to the west. The surrounding forest, a gnarled wall of limbs just starting to come alive with budding green, had been cleared enough to allow the garden and fruit trees room to grow.
The bladehawk took all this in with a glance, then studied the green and brown mottled cloaks of three warders hidden among the trees before focusing on the young man toiling in the garden. Tall and well-muscled, he worked the plow horse with ease as he tilled the dark brown earth into plantable rows. He glanced over momentarily, his grey eyes intense, then turned back to survey the garden.
Its quarry found, the bird settled in to wait. A short time later a tingling washed through its mind, and it knew its master had joined to watch.
When the chickens scuttled for the coop in a flurry of feathers and cackled alarms, Jase Fairimor turned to find a bladehawk sitting in a tree at the opposite end of the yard. Filthy bird, he thought, wishing his bow were handy. Not really hawks at all, but a carrion bird related to crows and ravens, the bladehawk's likeness to predatory birds enabled it to frighten competitors away from a carcass, or, in this case, to terrorize chickens. They weren't particularly aggressive birds, but they had been known to kill small animals when hungry. The three-inch razor-sharp spurs for which they were named could be a formidable weapon.
He watched the bird for a moment to make sure it didn't pose a threat to the chickens, then unhooked himself from the harness and turned to survey the newly turned earth of his mother's garden. The thought of how soon she would turn it into a lush garden made him smile. Every year it was the envy of Kindel's Grove. By midsummer their neighbors would be stopping by daily to admire her work and to ask what Brysia was doing that they weren't.
Jase chuckled as he turned to unhitch Rusty. His mother never gave the same answer twice as she offered little bits of advice for this plant or that. It was good advice, and truthful, too, just not the truth. People couldn't handle the truth, he knew. They were afraid of it.
And the truth was, his mother was Gifted - Dalae in the Old Tongue - and she wasn't afraid to use the Power given her. Of the Seven Gifts of Ta'shaen, she had received Earth. It meant she had control over soil, rocks, plants - everything made up of Earth. She could loosen packed soil with the touch of a finger, change sand into loam, rocks to dirt, and so on. Pretty amazing skills, to be sure, but nothing compared to her real talent, the one she quietly referred to as her 'green thumb.'