Death, if a fool

flashquake, Volume 9, Issue 3, Spring 2010

Old Eagle kicked off from the aerie and carried himself over This River with two flaps.  The air was crisp, clean, steady, clear.  He stared downriver and saw fish, upriver and saw the same, the sleek fools thinking they were hidden and safe beneath the water’s surface.  They were wrong.  They were his.  He wheeled and scanned the land and the skies and but once had to scream his presence to run off the little cousins trespassing his range.  Only then did he call a challenge down to his daughter.

She was first-hatched of two.  Larger than her brother--stronger winged, sharper eyed--she’d killed him in the nest when he’d tried to claim a portion of her food. 

Old Eagle gave her room as she leapt from the aerie and cut her own path through the wind, circling higher on updrafts of warmer air until she soared above This River’s flow.  He watched her scan the skies, the land, the water just as he’d done, and then take a perch in a tall tree above a river bend.  And with that, for the first time, she was hunting.

Old Eagle had displayed for her four lessons on the day she fledged:  _The sky is yours to soar.  The water is yours to hunt.  Your eyes are unmatched.  If a fool, you’ll die._He had never displayed for her anything else.  He would never display anything again.  Whether she saw was her burden; the consequences were hers too.  That was the way Life chose to be.

His daughter leapt from her perch.  The movement was smooth, silent, her wings swept back in proper grace--enough for speed, not too much that she lost control.  Her eyes were sharp indeed, for only then did Old Eagle spy the small red-mouth fish floating belly-up nearby.  A dead meal, small, but good for her first attempt.  His daughter, though, wanted none of it.  She angled until she was falling for the water like a stone, her sharp eyes fixed not on the dead red-mouth, but on the enormous tapered silver-blue gliding beneath the ripples with muscular strokes of its tail.

Old Eagle wanted to scream, wanted to display the lessons once more despite himself.  It was a thing the little cousins might have done, or the cripple-creatures that scurried and mewled in the shadows on the land.  But this was her hunt.  The water was hers.  The consequences too.

Old Eagle held his peace.

She snapped open her wings, slashed the water with her talons, the spray shining whitely in the slanted beams of sun, and grasped the silver-blue’s back with a near-perfect grip.  Her wings beat proudly as she fought to lift her prize skyward, fiercely as her prize fought back, desperately as the silver-blue showed her its strength and dragged her down into the hard icy rush.

Old Eagle saw her surface time and again, further down the river with each terrible labor, but though the water was hers to hunt, it brutally denied her any room to soar.

When he had no doubt his daughter had drowned, Old Eagle beat his wings along a warm updraft and climbed until the land sloped away and This River was a thin line cutting crazily across the skin of the world.  And after he could climb no more, after all that drew breath was beneath his gaze, he screamed once in mourning, sending his cry down to shiver them all, to pierce the soft-fleshed with the knowledge of the terrible majesty that might have been. 

The cry sped off into the distance, echoing more thinly with every instant, until all that remained was the cool empty silence in its wake.  Old Eagle knew then his mourning time was through.  He wheeled to find his mate, for they would need to move on soon, to hunt their own hunts in different waters in different lands.  For they could see the seasons were changing.  And they were not fools.


Art: River Fish Glass Painting by Jude Tarrant