The Eagle's Gift: A Fairy Tale
Chapter 1 (part 1)
From the realm of the clouds, the Eagle King looked past his great, curved beak to the face of the earth. He observed the familiar patches of blue, green and brown below with the greatest of interest. From where he was, circling high above and cradled by warm currents of pristine air, the world should appear peaceful, calm. But this was not so. Terryl blinked, pained at what he did see. The land was ragged, haggard, abused. In places, the earth had been torn up, exposing its bowels of rock, tree roots and dirt for all to see. In other places, entire lakes had been turned green or brown from filth, their surfaces lined with stinking scum. No fish or other aquatic creatures lived there any longer and all the surrounding grasses had withered away or turned to swamp. Laying over it all was a thin layer of shadow, making the world appear dusky, like twilight.
More like the skulking form of a spectre.
Men had done this. Fuelled by hatred and fear of their neighbours, they had scorched the earth with pollution and war machines, heaping insult and injury on the land as well as on their enemies. As he flew above, Terryl could sense the spirit of the earth writhing, and he was struck by an unshakable impression that time was running out. After all, how much more could it endure before humans strangled its essence from existence?
Having reached the end of his tour of the outlying lands, Terryl turned and began to fly back to Eagle’s Perch. The wind turned cold now that he was heading north, and it grazed against him, as cold as tempered metal. Above him, the sun shone, but even its golden rays could not fully penetrate the strange darkness that seemed to pervade the land. Worse, the shadow seemed to be darkening.
At last, the green, fertile lands of his domain, one of the few to remain untouched by the growing chaos, came into view. With a twinge of guilt, Terryl sighed with contentment. He circled around the Perch a few times, allowing the watchmen to take note of his arrival, and once satisfied that all appeared in order in the kingdom, he turned towards his aerie, also known as the Throne Aerie. It was a large but simple affair, made up of twisted, interlocking tree branches with leaves and mud tucked into the spaces, and it was perched in the crook of Eagle Land’s highest mountain, near its peak. Below, dotting the rest of the rocky ranges that jutted out from the earth, were found the many aeries which comprised the city of Eagle’s Perch. Cool spring air buffeted them relentlessly as it tore through the mountainous peaks, while dark thunder clouds threatened to unleash their cold, wet burden. Terryl looked up in surprise. He hadn’t noticed the clouds gathering for a storm.
When he landed in the Throne Aerie, he had only enough time to dip his head to tuck in a few stray feathers on his breast with his beak before Lorin, his chief adviser, suddenly dropped into the nest.
“My lord, a few words, if you will?” He was breathing hard from exertion. A group of lesser advisors and a few scouts soon also arrived at the aerie after Lorin, and they also waited at its edges until they were bidden to approach.
“I have only just returned, Lorin. Can it not wait until I have refreshed myself? In fact, you also appear to be in need of some refreshing. What has caused you to behave with such hastiness?” Terryl gestured beside him at a hollowed out section of a tree stump where water from that morning’s dew had gathered. “Please, take some.”
“Forgive me, my lord,” Lorin said, shaking his head in refusal while backing up a pace. He ducked his beak towards his chest and averted his eyes. “I hope you do not think me impetuous, only I have only been anticipating your return for some time now.”
Terryl sighed. For Lorin to have behaved in such an uncharacteristic fashion, he knew that whatever troubled him must be important. He also felt compassion for him, understanding that Lorin’s pride of discretion and temperance must have made this an embarrassing scene for him. Terryl gestured with his wing, indicating that Lorin should enter the presence of his king. The advisor obeyed, and was followed by the small group of lesser advisors and scouts. They bowed before Terryl and then took their places at a respectful distance behind Lorin. King Terryl greeted the new arrivals with a nod.
“Master Lorin, you do not need to fear speaking your mind with me. I am your king, but I am also your friend of many, many years. Have we not earned these old, fraying feathers together?“
Lorin looked up, his eyes wide with horror. “Do not say such a thing, my lord! It is unthinkable that my king should suffer old and frayed feathers! Your groomsman should be ashamed to allow it!”
Terryl laughed. “Ah, Lorin. You never did have much of a sense of humour. You always see things clearly, as they truly are whether for the good or for the bad. I suppose that is what makes you an excellent advisor. I am ready now, old friend. Speak your mind.”
Lorin took a moment to settle himself after his outburst. “The world of humankind is dying, my lord,” he stated at last in a grave voice. “If the humans expire--”
“I know,” Terryl said, interrupting. “It is true my weekly tour of our lands and of those neighbouring ours took longer than expected. However, the ravages to the earth grow increasingly extensive, requiring that I fly farther out each time. Today, I saw that the damage has almost reached the land of Nardin. I have always expected this to happen, only not this soon. It is quite troubling. Not only that, but something even more unsettling is transpiring, something I have never before seen. Have you noticed the haze?”
“Do you mean the layer of darkness that is spreading across the lands? Yes, this is what I was hastening to tell you. There are reports it is coming from Lozera.“ Those who had not known the news broke out in a flurry of exclamations.
“Lozera did you say?” Terryl’s voiced voice rose over the chattering.
“Yes, my lord. It was confirmed by the scouts.”
“This is not good news, Lorin.”
Everyone was silenced by Terryl's statement. One by one, Terryl called on the scouts to share their reports concerning the troubles affecting the lands. Each report brought new depths of concern to the listeners. Eagle heads bobbed up and down with excitement, and squeaks and squawks could be heard punctuating the sound of the wind as it blew around the peaks of the Perch. Through it all, Terryl could sense their eyes on him, each of them eager to know how their king would respond. Would he finally act to save mankind in their time of need? But Terryl was not easily swayed by the expectations of others, and he dismissed the questions he knew they were asking from his mind. With an air of detachment he did not truly feel, he held his peace while carefully considering all the reports presented by the advisors and scouts. When he was satisfied, he indicated that Lorin should speak.
The adviser obliged. “As you know, Lystra is slowly wasting away from drought, and Orleans is nearly destroyed by civil war. Aside from Nardin, these are the only two realms populated by humans, and they are closest to us. There is little doubt that their troubles will soon breach our borders. Not to mention that the haze as you call it, sire, has been gathering for some time. I am afraid that if it is not stopped soon, it will consume us all.”
“I have only just seen it for the first time.”
“That is because it seems to have originated in Lozera.”
Lorin’s gaze met Terryl’s. “I see,” said the king. He did not add that he hadn’t known about the haze’s origins for the simple reason that he never went near that city, a fact they were both aware of. But the unspoken fact hung in the air between them.
Terryl returned his attention to the subject at hand. Both Lystra and Orleans were heavily populated, and at one time, wealthy Western kingdoms. The former had been rich in farming, while the latter had been a commercial centre, providing the neighbouring kingdoms with grain, textiles and lumber. He knew the world of men would be devastated by the losses of these important cities.
Terryl turned aside, away from the watching eyes of those gathered to allow him the privacy to think. Evil was spreading from nation to nation like a plague, weakening even the strongest kingdoms. Only a very few noble cities still stood against its onslaught, but for how much longer?
Evil. Humans could not know of its true origin, but he did. In fact, he knew the enemy’s face very well, for they had vied against each other many times in the past until his foe had finally prevailed. It was because Terryl had faltered that evil now ran rampant across the earth. It was his fault, yet he was bound against doing anything to cure it. He could only endure the consequences of his failure. He was an impotent king.
No, not entirely impotent. A bold, new idea had been germinating for some time, and in response to the fingers of despair which had begun to creep into his thoughts, it broke through to the forefront of his mind. Inspired, Terryl turned to face the eagles. “Friends, what the world needs now is hope. We have observed these unlucky events unfold long enough. The time for watching and waiting past; it is time to act. If someone could be found who can restore hope to humankind, perhaps then, the world could endure.”
Lorin looked off into the distance while he considered the statement. Eagle’s Land was still relatively unmarred by the darkness. From the Throne Aerie, the whole of it was displayed, from the roiling green sea in the east, to the red, sandy beach abutting it, to the wild, green plains that seemed to stretch on forever to the north. He seemed to find particular pleasure in observing the rolling beauty of the valleys in the west, stained green with lush vegetation, and the aged forests which on sunny days rang with the songs of birds. He sighed softly, but to Terryl who knew his friend well, the expelled breath seemed a manifestation of his growing fatigue. When the adviser spoke, the hollowness of his voice confirmed the impression. “But who could this person be? Why has he not already shown himself?”
Concerned, Terryl observed Lorin, finally deciding that the two must meet privately. He trusted and relied on his chief adviser implicitly, and it was unthinkable that he should fall into despair. More than that, the possibility that the fingers of hopelessness should finally reach his own people was unnerving.
“It is likely he is not even aware of his potential. He must be found and he must be convinced.”
The adviser nodded slowly, obviously still evaluating the proposed plan. “I perceive you have some idea as to where this person might be found.” His tone made the statement sound like a question.
“Nardin,” Terryl answered without hesitation. Lorin looked at him, surprise evident in his eyes. Terryl explained, “It was once one of the world's most beautiful realms, and though it is on the brink of destruction, the world still looks to it as a beacon of hope. As long as it stands, hope remains.”
“To Nardin then.” Lorin nodded again, slowly, as though trying to convince himself that this was the most logical plan of action. He glanced at his king, whose massive figure was strong, immovable, and suddenly the adviser’s eyes regained their usual lustre. He turned briskly to the scouts and said, “Go and learn what you can of how the kingdom fares. Be wary and be wise. The fate of the world may depend on what news you bring back to your king.”
The team of five bowed, then took to the air and was gone. Terryl took Lorin aside to a quiet corner of the aerie where they talked together for a long time.
D. Forde (2011, revised 2013)