Chapter 3: kiss the Sky
All the fledglings had gathered on this one special day, which happens only once per season. They had come together to hear from the supreme Elder. He was a grand old bird with proud features and a silvery crest which rose and fell as he spoke. His loud screech could be heard from one end of the nesting site to the other when he called out to announce the special day had come.
The fledglings assembled before him, their proud parents eager for their offspring to hear what he had to say. There was a murmur of excitement as fledglings jostled for best position before the great bird. Jos was standing next to Sora. He leant towards her and with a feather to his mouth.
“Your grandfather is quite intimidating.”
“Oh, you have no idea.” she retorted.
“From the time of the first call of the very first birds, each and every season, we have been charged with the responsibility of making sure our colony flourishes. It is written in the caves that every season, we should gather in this special place and witness with great joy this tremendous event. When you were all conceived late in the cold days, you were but a thought. Then with the passing of time you were born from the eggs of your parents. In due time you grew, with much caring from your fit and right parents until you could stand on your own feet and then you learnt to fly. Now one thing remains, the time the whole world has waited for. This is your birth right, your passage to the heavens. My little ones, the time has come to leave the safety of your nests and the protection of your parents. The time has come… to kiss the sky.”
With that pronouncement, the colony erupted in screeches. The fledglings were encouraged towards the edge of the cliff by the adults who were moving forwards around them. With nowhere else to go, they launched from the cliff, first one, then a few then many. They circled and climbed and dodged and weaved, calling with great excitement. There was only one left standing, her legs shaking, her feathers ruffled, her wings clumsily outstretched. Eadle was positioned at the edge of the cliff. She looked back at her mother who tried to be as proud as she knew how. Her grandfather stood up and turned his head sideways, unsure the little thing even had the energy, let alone strength enough to fly. Her mother called to her with an encouraging squawk.
Eadle took a deep breath. Somehow in the endless days she had first tried, she had managed to learn to fly, but she had neither the strength, nor the ability to match it with the others. Jos, who had seen her from way up high, suddenly took pity on her and tucking his wings in close, went into a dive, just as Eadle leapt, eyes closed from the edge of the cliff. But instead of flying, she plummeted down the face of the cliff to a loud gasp from the crowd, her little wings madly flapping about as if she were stuck in a pool of mud. Sora saw what Jos was doing and immediately followed him. But just as they reached Eadle something happened that nobody had expected, she had regained control and with her wings spread as wide as she could, she levelled off and, using the updraft, started climbing, circling as she did. When she came up over the edge of the cliff, her mother breathed a sigh of relief and the throng erupted into excited screeching once more.
Her grandfather, who was still having to defend his granddaughter every time questions were asked of her ability, also breathed. When the adults looked at him he smiled and nodded, relieved that he did not have to suffer the embarrassment of one of his own children’s offspring not managing to leave the nest. Jos banked hard around on the right wing of Eadle, who was smiling madly as she turned and waved a wing at the crowd. Sora joined her sister on her right.
“You know how to give us a scare.”
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” said Eadle, trying to look unfazed. She grinned again and just to prove a point she went into a dive, skimming the water below with the tips of her wings, before lifting high into the sky again. Sora rolled her eyes and Jos winked at her and shrugged. They followed Eadle high up into the sky to join the others, who were circling above. The flock continued upwards until they were so high the colony almost lost sight of them, then, one by one, with Sora leading, they reached for the very heights where the air is so thin and cold that it’s almost impossible to breath and where icicles start forming on the feathers. But only when Sora was satisfied, she let out a mighty screech as she pointed her beak upwards, before tucking in her wings and falling through the middle of the spiralling flock. Each took turns are repeating what she did, following her through the centre, beak on tail as one continuous line of birds. As they approached the colony, Sora spread her wings and levelled out and the others did likewise. After a while Jos pulled up alongside her.
“You see Proud Crest, that’s how you kiss the sky,” she said proudly.
Jos said nothing, instead he followed her off into the distance, matching her turn for turn, diving when she did, swooping and banking and lifting and rolling. The flock settled into a rhythm, gliding, flapping their tremendous wings as they fell into position behind the leading pair. But a way off behind them, panting hard, struggling to keep up, Eadle was once again left last. And as she watched the last of them disappear ahead of her, she wondered if they had forgotten about her completely.
As the day grew long and old and she found herself alone in the air, Eadle was determined to keep going. She knew where to go, they all did. She just had to keep at it, conserving her energy where she could, allowing the updraft to carry her and flapping her wings only when necessary. Occasionally, she peered down over the calm waters of a seemingly endless sea. To her right the suns were settling over the distant horizon. She looked behind and could no longer see land. To the left thick clouds were gathering. Bolts of light could be seen amongst the clouds and a distant rumbling was heard over the wind as it whistled past her shivering body.
As the suns disappeared over the horizon, Eadle heard a sound like the call of a great male sea lion, only longer and louder. It seemed to go right through her body, vibrating as it did. She searched beneath her for the source of the sound. Below her the same strange large floating rock her sister had told about in her dreams was pushing back through the water in the direction from where she came. She heard other sounds too. A rhythmic thumping, short, sharp sounds like barking from a sea lion pup. Then another sound filled the air. She felt something hit her in the side and her wings collapsed involuntarily as she started spinning out of control. There was a sharp pain in her side and something warm was oozing from a wound below her ribs. As she continued to fall, she felt helplessly dizzy. Eadle felt cold, the noises from the floating rock grew louder and louder. She landed with a smack on something hard and then the world she knew began to darken. And as she slipped away, her thoughts were for her mother back home and she was overcome with a mixture of grief and at the same time a strange sense of relief.