"The owl is watching to take one of us," said a flock leader. With the nod of his head, he indicated the large, grey predator as it waited in a neighboring tree. "We have strength in numbers. If we're going to rest here, we need to drive it off."
The ravens had landed in the largest willow-oak in the grove, a tree capable of providing shelter, easy communication, and the best vantage point in the area. The willow-oak lay between a farm and a strip of forest, both good supplies of food. But the edge of the forest was also the ideal location for owls. This one had flown in as soon as it spotted incoming ravens. It had taken up a spot on a nearby fir tree to study them.
Despite the obvious threat, barely a handful of volunteers stepped forward to answer the call. They were not the largest or the strongest birds but they were able-bodied.
"This is not enough to take on an animal that preys on grown birds," said the leader. He called for more volunteers. Two more crept forward. He knew it still wasn't enough. Soon the instigator was fluttering from branch to branch on the willow-oak to convince individual friends. The first one of these, he pressed into service. The second refused.
"You usually do good deeds for others, Too-Tall," he said to the young female. "Why won't you help us with this owl?"
"I'm making tools for this grandmother so she can eat," she said. Too-Tall was a jet-black raven with a grey spot at the top of her head. She indicated the mottled, smaller bird next to her. "She's more important than the owl. She's over twenty years old. She has trouble seeing."
"That grandmother is at least a great-grandmother. She's the one who couldn't keep up today," complained the leader. Nevertheless, there was no time to waste in an argument. He moved on to recruit others. The next in line, another young, large female like Too-Tall, agreed to go.
The leader and the other ravens flew out to harass the owl. They managed to force it out of the nearest tree. But the attackers didn't have the numbers to drive it off entirely. The owl settled in a different tree not much farther away and refused to leave. It had nearly grabbed the leader by the back of his neck during their attempt. No one wanted to risk that again. The volunteers returned to their perches on the willow-oak.
The owl attacked at dusk. It swooped in and killed a young raven on the edge of a long branch. Near dawn, it came back and grabbed a full grown, strong female. The loss of their loved ones made for a miserable morning. Everyone was in a bad mood.
"You should have helped," said a raven to Too-Tall after the sun had risen. Too-Tall recognized her as a female who had gone on the attempt to drive off the owl. "Others would have come if you had come. Two innocents died last night because we didn't have enough."
"I had other work," said Too-Tall. She had made stick-hooks to pry caterpillars out of their crevices in the tree. The grandmother she had helped with those hooks was grateful for it. "What can be more important than helping those in immediate need?"
"You give comfort to ravens that get drunk on old berries or rotted pumpkins," the other pointed out. "You support the out-of-luck thieves among us. You help the sick. You save the children, the infirm, and the poor. But you don't give anything other ravens who are doing good things. You never do."
"I help unfortunate birds. They're not effective members of the flock, sometimes, but they're good."
"And those effective ones, the ones that help others? Can't you help them?"
"Someone else can do that."
"Who will support those who help if they do not help one another? Don't turn up your nose at assisting the strong. They are the ones who the most with what you give them."
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