Armistice

AS THE day dims an owl gives an unnerving howl from the forsaken two-legged creature monastery on Ghosts Island. Another owl hoots, making an eerie answering. Two ravens craw as they fly behind the ruined round tower.

Gliding from her Dazzle Island across the Long Lake to Ghosts Island, Lovedot fears nothing. The white-tailed sea eagle flies ahead of her mate-for-life, Fresh, and her newly fledged chicks Totwing and Freshson.

Lovedot takes her natural place: leading her family. She is not only a sensual feathered female but also a heavily built bird of prey and a more powerful flying machine than Fresh. She is a dynamic hunter, who is better at grappling bigger quarry than the smaller male; indeed, Lovedot is an indomitable feminine leader.

She has often visited Ghosts Island to explore the ancient ruins, perching on the round-arched gateway, for it’s the only two-legged creature habitat where Lovedot feels at ease, maybe because the creatures no longer live here.

Also perhaps, because those old walls, once home to sacred volumes of divine wisdom, seem to still contain salutary knowledge, as if those dried-out stones have themselves listened to the spiritual lessons that were taught here about matters concerning the soul.

Lovedot does not fear the ghosts; in fact, she enjoys a benign feeling from the island, as if a dormant pious energy still lingers to relieve the wants of the poor, the infirm, and all the languishments of the mind. Lovedot thinks that the old place has a healing effect on her, especially on her melancholy.

She lands in the centre of the enclosure opposite Smartcraw, her arch-enemy and the leader of the hooded crows. Smartcraw is surrounded by crows, gulls, magpies and rooks.

All the ruins are packed with aerials, all kinds of feathers.

The ravens are above on the round tower. They have roosted on Ghosts Island for centuries, and local creatures have learned to tell the weather by their behavior. Ravens in the wild have a life expectancy of twelve years, but those on Ghosts Island usually live past their twenty-fifth birthday, with some reaching over forty.

The ruins are jammed with different birds perched on every ledge, alcove and hole in the walls, tittering away, but every aerial goes silent, and the owls remain totally motionless, when the eagles land on this calm September evening.

The raptors close their giant wings, and stand so tall. Lovedot, Fresh, Totwing and Freshson are surrounded by hundreds of smaller birds, who now begin tee-heeing under their breaths.

“Which is the male?”

“Surely the big one is the male?”

“No, he’s the smallest one.”

“Smallest! He’s eight, nine, ten times taller than me.”

“Hoodie crows make an eagle’s life irritable,” says a great crested grebe.

“Order! Order! Order!” whistles Whisper the wren.

Fresh throws his eyes heavenwards from the pain in his hearing because the little wren’s voice is so loud.

“Order! Order!” demands Whisper. “Order for the king! Here comes the king.”

Lovedot follows the turning heads towards the sky and sees a white bird being escorted by four dark ravens, descending delicately from the round tower.

The old raven flies the longest flight he has taken in yonks, thanks to his great-grandchicks helping him down to this community council of war. The king flies gracefully for one so elderly, yet lands dramatically like a youngling, before perching down with the deliberate movements of a big spirit in an aged and heavy body.

His plumage is mostly white with grey patches on his wings, and he slowly lifts up his aged face to look around, and modestly accepts the touching smiles all the birds render to welcome their fragile king.

White Raven nods to Smartcraw before lifting up his head, and tilting it backwards so much that he nearly falls rearwards as he begins to address the eagles. Two granddaughters lean in, stopping him from falling, supporting White Raven as he reclines to look up at the raptors.

“I was sleeping,” whispers White Raven in a frail and hushed tone, and the wrens re-whistle his words to the birds at the back and for those hard-of-hearing. “I was dreaming Hardcraw’s vision: the Long Lake rose up to the hills, water everywhere with melting ice from the bottom of the world, little life left anywhere. Frightening.”

“With all due respect, White Raven,” says Smartcraw in an I-know-everything voice. “That ice melting, that’s a phoney scare. Hardcraw was only psyching up the crows to battle the eagles.”

“Smartcraw, learn from birdlore; the Earth washed away the low lands before crows flew.”

The old king refers to the Eocene epoch, forty million years ago, when the ice melted. Increased global temperatures left little ice on the planet. The poles and equator had similar temperatures until Earth slowly cooled as carbon dioxide from the air became locked inside seafloor sediments.

Two-legged creatures are now increasing global temperatures, and melting the Earth’s five million cubic miles of ice by continuing to burn coal, gas, oil, poisoning the sky, but they do not know that they approach a trigger point, after which the creatures will not be able to reverse rapid melting as their coastal megacities around the world sink.

If all the ice melts again, sea levels would rise to engulf America’s entire Atlantic seaboard, including Florida and the Gulf Coast. San Francisco’s hills would become islands, California’s Central Valley a big bay, while Los Angels, New York and many cities would be submerged. London, Venice, Holland and Denmark also lost under water; Bangladesh, China and India inundated. Alexandria and Cairo drowned, and the rising heat would make much of Africa uninhabitable.

Australians could lose the coastal strip where eighty per cent of them live. The Amazon Basin would become an Atlantic inlet, swamping Buenos Aires, coastal Uruguay and some of Paraguay.

“Frightening,” sighs White Raven.

“Kill the creatures,” craws Newcraw.

“Shush! Not while I am king,” orders White Raven, and all the birds listen, respecting his command. “I awoke from Hardcraw’s vision, wondering what life is about?”

“What?” asks Lovedot, so humbly that White Raven smiles back his reply.

“Life is about learning to live with oneself, amongst others. You must forgive their madness or they’ll drive you mad. Do you understand?”

“Understand; we want to be left alone to live in peace,” answers Fresh, half spreading his wings, and clawing the ground, but shotgun pellets in his back pains him yet he does not wince, however, Lovedot is staring sympathetically at her Fresh.

“Is peace to you, death to us?” questions White Raven.

“Killing us!” hollers a senior drake.

“Killing us!” the ducks begin quacking in an almighty cacophony of anger. “Killing us! Killing us! Kill …”

“Kill the eagles,” cries Newcraw, and the hooded crows begin crawing.

“Yeah, kill the eagles,” agrees a magpie, and the magpies chortle along.

Ravens and magpies are on real friendly terms until a wading bird chirps in.

“Ravens kill young magpies,” says Mature Curlew, adopting a frosty demeanor towards the crows.

“What do you know?” sneers Smartcraw.

“That creatures ate too many curlews,” says Mature Curlew, wagging his long down-curved bill to emphasis his point.

“We’re not here to discuss curlew recipes,” snaps Smartcraw.

“Gentlemen, if you please,” says White Raven in a voice that seems far stronger than his aged bones.

All the birds settle down. White Raven waits until there is silence before lifting his head to address Lovedot.

“This is a pleasing backwater where blow-ins like to retire, and seem to live longer, but before death some realize that we are born in the prison of a mind controlled by instincts, fears, greeds, but there is a higher way where spirit and nature live connected.”

“Where is this land? I want to fly there. Please tell me,” requests Lovedot, who surprises both White Raven and Smartcraw with her unassuming nature, not at all like the self-asserting eagle they had expected.

“It is here, ready and waiting, or, we birds can go to war,” answers White Raven.

“War,” cries Smartcraw.

“War!” shout his crow compatriots.

“War!” scream the rooks.

“War!” squeal the gulls and magpies.

Some birds flutter up, others join the war chorus, but most of the songbirds watch what the native birds do, and the natives do not bother with this baloney. The native birds mostly defer decisions to their respected Mature Curlew, who waits, like everyone else for silence, and for White Raven to lift his head again.

“Who do you think you are?” asks White Raven. “Where do you come from?”

“From, from …” stammers Fresh.

“Who is your father?” asks Smartcraw, joining the questioning as White Raven’s old head lowers again to rest. “Who is your grandfather, your great grandfather, your great great grandfather?”

“Grandfather!” squawks Fresh, who half raises his wings again in a show of annoyance, because truthfully the flummoxed eagle hasn’t a clue how to answer Smartcraw’s questions, or indeed what he’s talking about.

“Please?” asks Lovedot, “what are you leading to?”

“Our linage stretches back into history,” explains Mature Curlew, and all the native birds nod their beaks in agreement. “We honor our heritage. Our history wisdom has been winged down to us, generation after generation.”

“If you come from here,” craws Smartcraw, “then your grandfather and my grandfather must not have got on well enough in their lives, because if they had learned to live together, we would not be enemies today.”

“Enemies today; I don’t understand a word you say,” squawks Fresh with his wings by his side, and his head cocked in wonder at what this crow is crawing.

“So he doesn’t come from here,” says Mature Curlew. “We all know that.”

“Your species are long gone from here,” continues Smartcraw. “Rich creatures hunted you to extinction for sport over a hundred years ago. Now the sympathetic creatures bring you back.”

“How do you know all this?” asks Lovedot, who has so often wondered about her own personal history.

“We are not dumb,” says Mature Curlew. “Creatures cannot hide from birds. We see their every move, and whistle everything, every morning, and every evening.”

The birds on the wall twitter praise of themselves.

“But remembering is a bird’s biggest problem,” continues Mature Curlew. “As chicks you were taken from nests in far northern islands, and released here. Creatures watch you, track your movements, when you sleep, what you eat, your mating.”

“What!” squawks a staggered Lovedot.

“Everything,” continues Mature Curlew. “The creatures know what you hunt, where you go.”

“I can’t believe it,” squawks Fresh, in barely more than a whisper.

“They even know your Mating Tree.”

“I can’t believe it,” Fresh squawks a little louder.

“Look at your left wings,” orders Mature Curlew. “Why have you a green tag and the male a red one? Something to do with gender, eh? You think you have free will, but you are inside an experiment.”

“I can’t believe it,” squawks Fresh. “My conspiracy theory is true.”

“Thank you for telling us,” Lovedot says to Mature Curlew. “But what are we to do?”

Again her humility surprises the natives, because Lovedot is not at all like the eagles that Smartcraw has described.

Eagles were the first major fauna-loss, and they are still extinct in many other lands where they were also shot for sport or poisoned from ingesting fragments of lead-shot in dead animals.

Today eagles face annihilation from traffic, wind turbines, egg thieves and electrocution by power lines. While their population continues to recover due to formal protection and the banning of DDT, eagles are still a vulnerable species.

White Raven lifts his head, and all the aerials fall respectfully silent as he speaks, “Since the creatures built their empire, life for us birds is now about learning how to live around them. Eagles, you will have to learn this too.”

“With all due respect, White Raven, eagles won’t change,” craws Smartcraw.

“Soon, Smartcraw, all life will change,” snaps White Raven, pulling power from his aged roots. “The vision of your deceased hero, Hardcraw, is now night-visiting many birds. When the waters rise up to the hills only birds that change will survive.”

“With all due respect, White Raven,” says Smartcraw. “You are asking us to change our nature. We crows, and our allies, cannot deny our nature. It’s in our very genes: a deep hatred of raptors.”

“They are my neighbors,” says a chaffinch who has flown from Dazzle Island.

“I know this female is kind,” whistles Whisper so loudly that every bird, even the hard-of-hearing can hear the wren. Many respect her wisdom and her charity work for young widowed mums.

“Lovedot is a lovely female …” says Missus Crow, but she is cut short by Smartcraw.

“These are the largest predators,” says Smartcraw, “and now, White Raven, you are asking us to accept these dangerous carnivore beasts.”

Smartcraw points his right wing around in a circle at all the birds, “You, you, and you are eagle fodder. The only way is all-out war to drive the invaders away.”

“No, no, no, mister smart crow,” peels out Mature Curlew.

“No? And my name is Smartcraw.”

“No, Mister Smartcraw,” says Mature Curlew. “No good will come of feathers fighting feathers, or pitched bird-battles, because next we’ll have the creatures butting in.”

“No! Oh no! Oh no!” sings a lark from above. “The last thing we need is the creatures butting in.”

“No, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh, oh, oh,” go many birds twittering to each other.

“Oh, creatures poison eagles too,” says Fresh.

“That’s in sheep country,” answers Mature Curlew. “Around here are cattle lands, but the creatures will go to war over a calf. Don’t take a calf!”

“A calf, no, never, oh no, oh no,” answers Fresh.

“Some creatures are sympathetic,” says White Raven. “Some are septic. All are spiteful when angry. Don’t take a calf!”

“A calf, no, oh no, oh no never,” replies Fresh, but White Raven has lowered his head again, and seems to be sleeping.

“We will not live in a constant war with invading eagles,” says Smartcraw.

“No, maybe you should not,” says Lovedot.

“Are you leaving?” asks Smartcraw.

“Never!” Fresh stomps his claws, opening his wings to their almighty span, and declares from the depths of his soul to every bird around, “We are Dazzle Eagles.”

After a silence, as the birds gape at Fresh’s wingspan, Smartcraw speaks.

“So it is war!”

“No,” squawks Lovedot.

“We,” says White Raven, lifting his head, “know it’s in your eagle nature to hunt birds. We know the young crow’s nature is to badger eagles. We cannot change reality. It will continue no matter what we decide today. But we can stop a war that could kill many birds, and so stop the creatures from poisoning us again.”

“With all due respect, White Raven,” interrupts Smartcraw, “what are you talking about?”

“An armistice.”

“A what?”

“Armistice.”

“What’s that?”

“A truce, an agreement to stop feather fighting feather,” answers White Raven, and his head falls down again.

“But they are predators who kill other feathers in order to live,” craws Smartcraw.

“Big birds kill small birds and small birds kill insects,” answers Lovedot.

“Creatures kill everything,” sternly states Fresh.

“How can we judge creatures by our own moral standards?” asks Mature Curlew. “Highly inappropriate.”

“Some creatures are bird-respecters,” says Goodluck, the beautiful common jay with a flash of blue on her wings.

“I am just as guilty of imposing feather morals and emotions on the creatures,” says Mature Curley as if he has heard her deeply. “Goodluck, you are the same as any one of us; we cannot help caring about creatures.”

“This eagle energy is the rawest on the Long Lake,” states Smartcraw.

“Vibrant energy,” replies Mature Curlew. “These lands, these creatures, need new energy.”

“Don’t be daft!” shouts Smartcraw. “Are you all deaf? Are your bird brains dead? Don’t you get it? These are the heaviest birds of prey.”

“Yes,” answers Mature Curlew. “But there is an attraction to this energy, the lure of real-life raptor rawness draws other kinds of life to this eagle energy now sourcing out of this backwater bay.”

“Who? Where? What are you talking about?” asks Smartcraw.

“The creatures want the eagles here so they can make money from tourism,” explains Mature Curlew. “Many big chief creatures are involved. If we war on the eagles then the creatures will war on us.”

“Curlew is right,” says Tall Raven, the day-to-day leader of the ravens. “There won’t be a duck flying. There won’t be a sparrow, but in a trap. War with the creatures will be very bad for all of us.”

“These lands know the blood flow of invasions,” says White Raven, raising his head, titling it up with the help of his granddaughters, so he can look at the eagles. “The northern lands from where you came, those creatures vikinged here on long-logs thirteen thousand moons ago, and caused a lot of trouble. They plundered Ghosts Island, and ravished the ancient wisdoms. Now their descendants send you eagles as a gift to apologize for their ancestors’ abuse.”

“Okay, okay, enough history,” chatters Missus Smartcraw. “Eagles will be eagles, crows will be crows, but we must never go to war.”

All the birds look towards her with sympathy, knowing her family has suffered four deaths in this war with the eagles since they glided onto the Long Lake last winter.

Smartcraw stares at his wife, Missus Smartcraw, with shock.

She eyes him, and thinks he looks so handsome. She admires his determination even if he is a little too aggressive at times. She feels proud to be a crow, and Smartcraw could be king. White Raven looks like he may endcraw at any moment.

But is her mate’s kingship worth the price? War against the eagles, and their allies the creatures, seems far too high a price to pay, and Missus Smartcraw has already paid enough, so she declares in her most determined tone, “No more war!”

She stuns Smartcraw into silence.

“Yes, yes, Missus Smartcraw, you are right,” replies Mature Curlew, as all the birds’ heads turn in unison to listen to him. “No more war. Missus Smartcraw, now I know why they call you the purple feather behind the crown, sorry, I mean crow. We have to create a safety nest that no bird can fall through, so the Hardcraws of this world don’t rise up and warp our young with radicalism and ruffianism.”

“We can’t take a quack without the threat of talons,” says a senior red-chested grebe, the spokesbird for the ducks, who puffs up his orange and red chest. “We want bird solidarity to mean no more ducks murdered here.”

“Our actions,” squawks Lovedot, “our thoughtless actions are indefinable.”

“Don’t you understand simple duck speak,” quacks a red-breasted merganser, bobbing his orange-red breast and grayish buff body to make an effect. “Stop killing ducks!”

“Or geese!” snaps a Greenland white-fronted goose, about half of their world population spends the winter here and this year he has stayed behind.

They all hear the distinct whistling made by a goldeneye’s wings in flight. The diving duck, with a rounded green gloss head, lands in the assembly. Goldeneyes are winter visitors, they tend to be quite aloof and they’ve normally migrated by now, but the solitary male goldeneye speaks.

“My colleagues are fearful of returning to the Long Lake if eagles are going to eat them.”

“There they go again, eagles wrecking the local economy,” says Smartcraw.

“It’s no problem to change our diet from duck to rabbit,” answers Lovedot.

“And leave us alone too,” shouts a long-legged heron from his harpoon-like bill, while extending and retracting his neck.

“No problem to change from heron to hare,” replies Lovedot. “My challenge is to stop eating meat altogether.”

“Waaaa?” go the birds.

“Yes,” squawk-whispers Lovedot. “There must be a better way than killing each other. I will spend my life searching for it. If I could, I would not kill for a living.”

“Waaaa?” go the birds.

“Ah, she’s cracked,” states a white-throated dipper.

“She had a nervous breakdown,” gossips a long-tailed tit.

“Ah, poor thing is mentally ill,” says a yellowhammer.

“These eagles are mad. Love eagles, ha, ha, ha,” goes Smartcraw, and the hoodies, gulls, magpies and rooks chuckle along with him.

Goodluck imitates their chuckling, and Totwing, and many younglings begin giggling at her. A blackbird puts a song to the beat, and his cousin songbirds begin to join in.

“No singing!” hollers Smartcraw.

All the birds miss a breath with shock, and go silent.

“If,” says Mature Curlew, and all the birds quickly turn to him. “If we all cooperate with White Raven’s armistice we might all survive to old age. If we stop this promotion of the individual and learn to labor together, we will find the communal strength needed to overcome life’s pitfalls.”

“That is the call of cooperation,” pronounces White Raven.

“The call of cooperation,” chirp the goldfinches.

“Mum, cooperate,” squawks Freshson.

“Dad, please cooperate,” Nonotches appeals to his parent, Tall Raven.

“Cooperate, Dad!” demands Jester of his father, Smartcraw.

“Please, Pops, please cooperate,” implores Totwing the eaglet.

“I, I, I have never co-o-perated before,” stammers Fresh.

“Yes you have,” states Lovedot. “In the nest.”

“But that is different …”

“No it’s not. You partnered me in Totwing’s and Freshson’s conception, birth and fledging. If that is not cooperation then I don’t know what cooperation is.”

“So that’s what it means,” squawks Fresh, beginning to smile.

“I think so,” answers Lovedot.

“I’m into cooperation,” Fresh’s smile widens, and Lovedot smiles.

Totwing looks at her parents whose eyes are glued to each other; lost for a moment as if no other bird exists on this planet. But all the birds are gazing in silence at the two adult eagles just staring into each other’s eyes.

Neither natives nor blow-in birds have seen such solid romance like this before. The wood-pigeons bow their heads, the collared-doves blink and the stunningly beautiful egrets smile at Lovedot and Fresh fondly eyeing each other.

“Eh, emmmmm, eh emmmmm,” Mature Curlew breaks the spell. “Every one of us, the big and the small, can have a chance of enjoying a better life with cooperation.”

“Cooperation means you stop killing the ducks!” demands the red-chested glebe of Fresh.

“Cooperation, armistice, no duck, okay. I like rabbit, healthier,” answers Fresh.

“And you, Smartcraw?” asks White Raven. “Do you agree to the call of cooperation?”

“He agrees,” says Missus Smartcraw.

“However!” states Smartcraw. “No one will stop young crows having a go at an eagle. It’s nature. But White Raven’s armistice, this call of cooperation, well, I could call off the army, but you don’t go killing crows just because a young hoodie annoys you.”

“Okay, okay, cooperation, I agree,” squawk-replies Fresh.

“I agree, with White Raven’s armistice,” adds Lovedot.

“I agree, I agree,” Totwing high-wings with her best friend Goodluck.

“I agree,” hollers Jester and Nonotches.

“I agree,” whistles Whisper the wren.

“We agree,” states Mature Curlew, speaking for the native birds, who cannot believe that they have finally made a decision, and nod to each other with a sense of achievement beaming across their faces.

“But! But! But! But!” hollers Smartcraw, and he silences the avian assembly.

All eyes turn to him. Every bird listens. Smartcraw has everyone’s attention, even the timeworn church walls seem to lean forward and contemplate the new knowledge they might be about to hear; these old stones will store it amongst all the ancient wisdoms hidden on this holy island.

“But!” craws Smartcraw, laying out his perfidious ploy, for he believes the eagles will attack first, especially since he has secretly recruited a band of churlish hoodie-cousins from the mountains to mob the female eagle.

“But, we keep the war council in session. We give the eagles one more chance,” announces Smartcraw, as he sweeps his right wing slowly around at the assembly, frowning at the perchers; some feel his eyes burning into their souls. “But if! If any bird breaks White Raven’s armistice by killing another bird, then all of us birds, I mean all of us birds, will be ready in five minutes, and I mean five minutes, to wage all-out war on the eagles, I mean the culprits, and kill them. Agreed?”

Hundreds of birds announce with an assortment of buzzes, chimps, rattles, trills and whistles, “Agreed!”

“We will,” whistles Whisper the wren, “forever celebrate this day, White Raven’s Day, with a community singsong.”

The blackbirds start the first tune. Robins go, “tuk, tuk”. The willow warbler peels out his descending whistle, and the sunny evening is enlivened with full-on birdsong.

Even Fresh sing-squawks, and enjoys the happiest moment of his life when he produces unexpectedly hip sounds from his bony cavity, and all the eagles follow his deep rasping boom, interweaving their squawks into a birdsong masterpiece.

Ducks quack, pheasants hoot, sparrows trill along in steady voices, and the finches join the simple harmonies that hide deep meaning. The swifts, singing on the wing, proclaim their goodwill repertoire. All the feathers are streaming out their best buzzes, chimps, clicks, rattles and whistles.

The doves coo as a melody plucks at their heartstrings, but when the greatest singers of them all, when the nightingales sing, Lovedot cries.

Thousands of birds fill the airwaves with an aural anarchy that sounds like chaos until they hit that moment of cooperation, and release an eternal harmony, a whistling bliss that almost touches on celestial joy.

(More in Dazzle Eagles)

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