It was a lazy day. The sun was bright in the sky, casting patterned shadows across the forest from the fluffy clouds that drifted high overhead. The trees swayed in the gentle breeze, a quiet wind that barely rustled the newly budded spring leaves. It was within one of those trees that Sam Winchester and his adopted brother, Bowman Leafwing, were enjoying a break from their patrol. Bowman was stretched out across the wide branch he and Sam were perched on, his bright green wings spread out to soak in the sunlight coming through the tree canopy.
Since Sam lacked photosynthesis-capable wings, he was sticking to getting his energy the old-fashioned way. Currently, he was snacking on some pastries that Bowman’s aunt, Candara, had sent along with them. He nibbled on one of the minty pastries as he checked the straps on his glider, making sure it was ready for the rest of the patrol. Sam would have to force Bowman up soon. Despite he himself wanting to join his little brother in lounging around, they had a job to finish.
A rustle drew his attention from the glider. On one of the branches near Sam and Bowman, a crow had landed and was watching them. Sam immediately stiffened, his hand flying to the handle of his rapier and pulling the blade from its sheath.
“Bowman!” he hissed, trying to get the sprite’s attention. Bowman swore under his breath at having his sunbathing interrupted, but looked up to see what the fuss was all about. His eyes widened comically when he spotted the bird and he scrambled to his feet, flaring out his wings in a defensive position.
Sam leveled the sword at the bird, but made no move to attack. Crows were notorious bullies, known to chase patrolsprites in the air and once or twice a year would sometimes even invade the edges of the village, stealing supplies and generally harassing the populace. What made it even worse was that they were extremely intelligent, and normal methods of deterring wildlife did not always work on them. They were not known to have ever killed a sprite, but Sam was not taking any chances.
The bird cocked its head at them and warbled, a garbled, rasping sound. But it made no move to approach them, which was…odd. Now that Sam was looking closer, he realized that the bird did not look like a normal crow. For one thing, it was smaller. Granted it was still over three times his and Bowman’s size, making it a danger, but was not on the same scale as the other crows that Sam had come across. Also, its feathers were noticeably rumpled, as if it were full-bodied molting. He caught a glimpse of white on the edges of its wings.
The bird chirp-garbled again, and Sam noticed that it wasn’t looking at him and Bowman, but rather the half-eaten pastry that he had dropped when the crow showed up.
“Bowman, I think it’s just a chick,” Sam said, he started to lower his sword when the bird still showed no signs of attacking.
“What are you doing, Sam?!” Bowman hissed, his wings still flared out aggressively. “So what if it’s a chick, it’s still a blasted scavenger!”
“I don’t think it wants to hurt us,” Sam continued, slowly making his way over to the pastry as the bird followed his movements with curious eyes. “I think it’s just interested in the food.”
He picked up the pastry, still holding his rapier in one hand, but having it angled towards the ground, and turned to the bird. It chirped at him, cocking its head.
“Is this what you want?” Sam asked, tossing the pastry to the crow. It snapped it out of the air, gobbling it up in an instant. The crow warbled contently, its feathers floofing out for a moment. Sam smiled at the creature and went to his bag to grab the last pastry.
“Blast it, Sam! Stop feeding the stupid thing!”
“It’s just one more. Besides, I probably won’t eat it anyway,” he replied. Candara always sent more food with Sam than he could eat. She had to be under the impression that since he didn’t have wings, he needed to eat constantly or end up starving.
Sam pulled out the last pastry and tossed it to the crow. It devoured it just as quickly as the first and looked at Sam expectantly.
“Sorry, buddy,” Sam said, raising his hands and his bag to show they were empty. “That was the last one.”
The bird seemed to understand because it gave a sad chirp before turning and flying off. Sam blinked in surprise at its sudden departure, but was happy that the encounter had not turned south.
Bowman lowered his wings and scowled at Sam.
“If sprites start complaining about crows bugging them for food, it’s your fault,” he said with a finger jab.
Sam simply grabbed his glider and worked on securing the harness.
“Come on, let’s just finish this patrol.”
The crow chick did not show up the next day, or the day after that, despite Bowman’s paranoia of it returning to attack them for Candara’s pastries (they were delicious, who could blame it?). But the chick never showed and on the third day since the encounter, Sam was certain he wouldn’t be seeing it again.
It was late afternoon and Sam and Bowman had finished their route and were flying back to the village before it started to get dark. The sky was overcast with the promise of rain later that evening, blocking out the sun and muting the shadows. Which was probably why Sam didn’t see the attack when it came.
The only warning he got was the barest of flutters, barely a whisper in even his sensitive ears. He turned to see the source of the noise and his blood turned to ice.
A massive owl, talons outstretched with claws each half as long as he was tall, was bearing down on him. Owls normally hunted at the night, but it was not unheard of one hunting during the day. What made them so much more worrisome than other birds of prey was that their softer feathers made them impossibly silent when on the hunt. More than one sprite had fallen victim to their deadly attacks. Sam had no chance.
He cried a warning to Bowman and banked hard to the left, but there was no room, not enough distance to escape. He braced for the pain of claws in his back…
A flurry of black swooped past Sam and into the path of the owl. The bird of prey veered off with a shriek, allowing Sam to execute a sharp turn that brought him quickly to the shelter of the trees. He stumbled a landing onto the wide branch of an elm, deep enough into the tree that the large owl would struggle to breach the protected space. Chest heaving, he glanced behind him in time to see the owl being assaulted by several smaller black shapes. There were maybe five or six of them, and they were swooping around the bird, aiming at its face with angry calls. Crows! He realized. A murder of crows had come to his rescue (and wasn’t that a perfect term?). The black birds converged on the owl, cawing fiercely and dive-bombing the larger bird. At first the owl fought back, using its larger size against the smaller creatures, but its size worked against it, as it was not as agile and could not avoid the attacks. It was not long before the owl decided its prey was not worth the trouble and it fled with an angry screech. The crows circled before perching in the surrounding trees, cawing at the retreating threat until it had completely cleared the area.
Breathing deeply, Sam turned just in time to see Bowman practically crash into him in his haste to get to Sam.
“Sam! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m f-fine,” Sam stuttered, shaking from the close call. His body was still flooded with adrenaline and he willed himself to calm his racing heart.
“But I don’t understand…why did the crows…”
A flutter of black had both Bowman and Sam jumping back, Sam’s hand flying to the hilt of his rapier, now that he was out of the sky and able to access it. They looked up to see a massive crow perched on a branch some three feet above them, its keen eyes considering them, and next to the crow…
Was the chick from the other day.
Its feathers were a fluffy mess compared to the sleek shine of the adult and this close Sam could clearly tell the size difference between the two. It warbled a greeting towards Sam before reluctantly surrendering to a quick preening and once over by the now obvious parent crow. And Sam suddenly could understand the strange behavior of the birds.
Crows were intelligent, of this Sam had no doubt. But he did not realize just how far that intelligence went. Sam had shown kindness to the chick the day before, and the crows had recognized this, and were simply paying him back, by saving his life. A strange exchange, some pastries for his life, but Sam was grateful all the same.
“Thank you,” he said, staring up at the adult, hoping that it understood his gratitude. It bobbed its head and cawed once, as if to say ‘You’re welcome’, before spreading its wings and taking to the air with several powerful flaps. The chick chirped once more at Sam before following its mom/dad, the other crows not far behind.
Sam watched them go with a smile, before turning to Bowman. His adopted brother stood there, looking on in disbelief.
“What in Spirit’s name…did you just become friends with a crow?!”
Sam just shrugged and laughed at the look on Bowman’s face.
Wellwood stopped having problems with crows after that day. The patrolsprites were left alone on their flights, despite several sightings of the black birds. Bowman still could not stand them, though Sam had gained a newfound respect for the creatures. He started taking extra food with him on patrols when he could, and if a certain rumpled chick (who may or may not have grown up to be a less rumpled adult) stopped by to say hello, Sam would share what he had with his feathered friend.
Bowman did not approve.