Rigby’s rush through the corridor into the Great Hall slowed almost without him noticing as he realised he could hear echoes of his crutches hitting the stone beneath his paw. All the harried rustling whispers of raised and worried voices that he’d followed out of the kitchen had faded until they were left only in his mind, making him shrink into his shoulders as he took in the frozen tableau of surprised stiff woodlanders. Both doors were crowded, one heavy table hoisted halfway through the entrance to the courtyard where a few of the Dibbuns were caught under bushes unable to scurry into the cloister before the bird had stooped. A good number were gathered by the windows, however, the abbey beasts wanting to see for themselves what was going on outside.
It was an impressive image, adding weight to a moment already heavy with dread. The panic had vanished and been replaced by shock, confusion, horror, and, in some cases, grim determination. But no matter their differing emotions, every one of them were looking in the same direction. Gathered at door and windows, staring out, ears pricked towards the unexpected pronouncement.
Arriving late, Rigby didn’t hear all of it, but he caught the tail end.
"All I seek is the blade, hand it over and you may resume your festivities without fear."
At first, he wasn’t sure who was speaking, or really what they were asking for, being behind the crowd and rather unable to see beyond. But his confused search for answers stopped at a flash of red above fading colours and a proud figure standing beneath a gleaming sword. Breath catching in his throat as he glanced between the now silent open doors and the sword on the wall, Rigby’s paws clenched around the handles supporting his weight. That blade…? Was it the bird talking? Was it… threatening them?
A flash of dark motion reflected in the metal had him turning towards the courtyard door, seeing the table settled back on the ground and two mice rushing out with an otter and shrew covering them to sweep the Dibbuns up in their arms without pausing until they were under the roof on the other side. Out of danger then… And there was his mother hurrying around the cloister to join them with some bandages, just in case, he hoped. And his grandfather was at the door… He couldn’t see his father or grandmother, but he didn’t think they’d be in any danger. Oh, he found Zaris in the next instant guarding the courtyard as well, but where was Abbot Murty? He was glancing over a few of the round, dark-furred mole heads he’d already spotted to see if any of them was the old abbot when another thought chilled him further. Was Brother Jethro still up on the wall?
That thought sent him scrambling to the nearest window as the rest of the abbey dwellers shook themselves out of their confused startlement and exchanged shocked, affronted stares amongst themselves, more than one beginning to protest the absurd demand and proclamation. What new Lord? What promised wealth? What utter codswallop! What army? A few muttered more quietly. Coming from where? Coming here?
But Rigby, still mostly ignorant of the bird’s goal, squeezed his way to the forefront of the small group blocking his view and froze much as they all had when he saw the silhouette perched so imperiously above the gate. His breath came in a gasp of awe and no small amount of fear. It was not small. He was far more accustomed to the sight of wrens and robins, though he’d seen a few sketches of raptors before, they didn’t quite do justice to the heft and curve of the beak, even so far away as they were… “But where is-AH! Brother Jethro! Good. He’s safe…” For the moment, anyway. The vole was tucked up in the corner where the gatehouse joined the wall, clutching his quarterstave and glaring fiercely upwards. “Can he even see it from that angle?” Okay, maybe not the most productive question… But his only other thought was, “Now what?”
It seemed he wasn’t the only one uncertain as to how to proceed. Of course, no one wanted to just hand over the symbol of one of their founders, the pride and security of their Abbey, but… it was worth far less than anyone’s life. Maybe the bird would give up if they offered it some extremely tasty trifle.
Only then did he hear a few muttered questions and brief shushing as those nearer the doors shushed the others and pricked their ears, listening hard as another voice, one far more familiar and welcome, sounded out a cheery verse.
“Is that Ellis?
Does anyone else hear that?
Wasn’t he in the cellar still?
Doesn’t he see the bird?
Are you daft?! Of course, he’s seen it, have to be blind not to!”
A quiet cough startled the conversationalists into meek silence when they saw Tybalt next to them, just as well, really, now everyone could make out the hedgehog’s voice as he sang a song most of them enjoyed. A lively little tale about close calls and mischief, usually, but the new context rather changed its tone significantly. They were all frowning anew as they watched the old cellarhog stand in the gateway and stare up at the ominous shadow above him with seemingly no fear. Even if no one else was impressed, Rigby certainly was. He couldn’t take his eyes off the pair, not even to question his nearest neighbour on what he’d missed. “What prince fella? Is the bird a prince?”