Dark Stag Ch. 03
Everyone was so surprised that I was the first one out on the balcony this morning. In all honesty, I don’t know what brought me here. Upon a second thought, burying my head in the pillows of bed seemed like a better idea but I couldn’t leave now. The family was starting to arrive. Mother sat directly in front of me, at a loss for words. My sister and brother came and sat beside me, too mistified by my presence. This didn’t feel very welcoming at all.
“Where’s Kijus?” Brija asked. My stomach jarred at the thought of him.
“He left last night.” Richard said. My jaw dropped.
“Left, what do you mean left?” I asked.
“He was furious for whatever reason, I begged him to stay but he was spent on leaving,” Richard said, “So I gave him maps.”
“MAPS???” I yelled.
“Yeah, he was seriously spent. If he didn’t want to stay here any longer I was not one to force him to stay…so I did what was only right.” Richard responded.
“He seriously left?” I asked myself, surprised. There was a building void developing in my chest.
“I saw him walk off. I stayed out here mostly all night. I didn’t see him come back so I guess he’s gone.” Richard said.
“Why’d he leave… and why were you out here all night?” Mother asked. The amount of confusion and disappointment on her face was slicing layers off of me. I messed up bad. Richard shook his head, obviously not wanting to talk about it. Something else had to happen that night, and Richard was holding it in.
“Roi,” Brija called out, “Did you do…anything that made Kijus angry?” I looked at her glaringly.
“No!!!!” I hissed. Richard then leaned back, staring at the biscuits on the table. He was really deep in thought.
“Well, you better fix it because he was training your raptor!” Mother demanded.
“Ma.” I sighed.
“Your father will not be pleased if he finds out that Kijus left… You better do something.” She continued. Rolling my eyes, I got up and left the table. I went back into the palace, heading up the stairs to his room. He was not there. I then left, heading back down to the balcony, shaking my head.
“He’s not up stairs.” I sighed. Faced with my mother’s scolding eyes, I made my way down across the field and to the stables. On a workbench, four map parcels lay. I then searched the entire stable for him. Surprisingly, Rejon was still here. Would Kijus leave Rejon behind?
“He left his stag.” A voice said from behind. I turned surprise to see it was Richard.
“Why are you here?” I hissed.
“Mother was hammering me with too many damn questions. I decided to come and help.” Richard said.
“Why don’t you tell me,” I began, “what you and Kijus discussed last night? Knowing you, you probably wanted to steal him from right up under me.”
“No!” Richard pleaded, “It’s not like that! I begged him not to leave. I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting him! He was barely willing to talk last night. He’s…He’s in a league of his own.” The statement came across as odd.
“Oh…” I said.
“I heard what happened last night…” Richard said, arms folded, looking on with his typical condescending glare.
“Do I look like I want to be ridiculed right about now?” I asked.
“I’m not. That’s done with. You just should have read a bit on his beliefs before you tried to dive on him. I did and decided not to even try it. Yesterday, what I heard epitomized my fears.”
“He’s a virgin, Roi. He plans on remaining a virgin until he’s wed. What you did was not only offensive but it violated his entire religious purpose. There’s no telling what he would have done if that situation would have took a turn for the worse.” He explained. I seldom felt guilty but this did it to me.
“He had my dagger,” I said, “at his own throat. I just thought…”
“You messed up, Roi. We got to find him and hope he’ll listen. You better have an apology ready.” Richard interrupted, clenching his head.
We went to the aviary expecting to see him there in one of the pins. He was nowhere to be seen. We looked in Silver’s enclosure and Silver was gone. This all was so crushing to me.
“He took Silver!” I cried.
“We don’t know that yet!” Richard said, trying to keep a level head. He patted me on the back, urging me to continue. For hours, we searched any and everywhere within the upper ring. We couldn’t find him.
“This is hopeless…” I said.
“No.” Richard said, deep in thought, “There is something we haven’t tried.”
“What?” I asked.
“Rejon.” He said.
We ran back to the stable where Rejon was chewing on cud.
“This thing tracked him down over hundreds of miles. Surely it can find him within the city.” Richard said, untying the giant stag from the post. He then opened the gate, letting him free.
“Find Kijus!” I said to the thing. The big lumbering beast simply walked leisurely out into the pasture. It laid eyes on a horse and grew tense. I ran up to it quickly, grabbing its reins.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said, hoping to calm the giant antelope down. Ankara bayan escort Rejon snorted then turned. He yanked his reins out of my hands and began walking away from the horses. We followed him for hours. He’d stop periodically to feed.
“This is so not working…” I said frustratingly.
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Richard said, as Rejon began sniffing the air, his head held high. The stag began walking once again. Hopelessly, we followed him to the northern hills.
Indeed, the stag had led us to Kijus who was sitting in the pasture, tickling Bazahra. Rejon gave a short bugle, drawing Kijus’s attention. He was not pleased to see us.
“We thought you left.” Richard said, full of relief.
“You honestly thought I’d leave Rejon?” He asked, turning back to pet the bird. She had leaned into it intensely, full of ecstasy at the boy’s touch. I longed for him to touch me that way. I looked on in misery that this bird was getting more affection from him then I ever would. Why was I so hot for him? Why couldn’t these feelings go away!
“Well, why didn’t you leave?” Richard asked.
“You knew what your ass was doing with those maps. They were utterly confusing. I then sat down and thought about something and decided that, if I somehow managed to get into the lower rings, I’d have to survive in the desert.” He said dryly.
“So, you’re staying?” Richard continued.
“Yeah, I thought about what you said and decided to stay for this guy right here.” Kijus smiled. It confused me.
“What?” Richard asked.
“Silver!!!” He clarified, turning to look at Richard. Both of our jaws fell.
“That’s Silver?” Richard said.
“Yeah, I put him on a spool so he couldn’t get away from me and took him on a walk. The only thing he likes are these rub downs. So far he hasn’t tried to fly, just wanting nothing but for his feathers to be picked at.” He explained.
“You do have a way with raptors.” Richard chuckled.
“This bird was so lonely. He would see all of those other raptors around him so privileged and he got really beside himself. He truly had no one and this right here is all he’s ever wanted…someone to bond with who’d never hurt him. I feel so bad for him… After all these years, he’s finally getting love.” Kijus said. The words were heavy on me. They not only applied to poor little silver, but me as well. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time. The difference between Silver and I though is that Silver got this longed for affection. I still didn’t know if mine would ever come. Tears began to well in my eyes as standing here became hard. I had to leave.
Just as I was making my silent getaway, Richard grabbed my arm. He pulled me back, knowing precisely why these tears ran down my cheeks.
“Um…Kijus.” Richard said. Kijus was facing Silver, oblivious to what was happening behind him.
“Yes?” He asked.
“To bury the hatchet,” Richard said, struggling against me, “Can you say you forgive Roi?” Hearing his choppy breathing, Kijus turned to view us. We both froze, caught off guard by the awkwardness of the situation.
“I just want to tell you something,” He said to me, “I see the kind of person you are, your lack of respect for anything other than yourself… I can’t even blame you for being this way. It’s how you were raised! With that being said, I will ask this. Are you going to sit about and mope in your misery or learn something new and grow as a person? I don’t get your tears or know what’s going on in your life, but I want respect and if you can’t give me that then my point of being here is null…”
“Understood.” I said, sniffling.
“Now get over here and show your bird some love.” He demanded.
I got on my knees and the bird’s alert eyes locked onto me. I was definitely terrified, knowing this bird can do some incredible damage. It then made its way over to me.
“Stroke the underside of its breast.” He said. Cautiously reaching for the bird, I tickled its skin under its feathers. The bird quickly got into it, ruffling its feathers and chattering wildly, eyes closed completely in comfort.
Kijus looked up to the sky for some reason.
“These things are super social…Most raptors would slice you open for petting them but these things love it…so strange…” He said still looking up at the sky.
“What you looking at?” I asked.
“Bazahra, she is hauling all kinds of ass up there for no damn reason.” He said.
“I have no idea.” He laughed.
“Is Silver aware of her?” I asked.
“I haven’t introduced them yet. She’s seen him though but I’m not sure if he’s seen her. I’m a bit scared…he may not be well socialized enough. I’d want to see how he treats smaller raptors first then move on to a great black eagle to see how he handles being around a raptor closer to his size.”
“I seriously thought this bird would have nailed you by now.” Richard teased.
“No, but when he first seen outside, he nearly yanked my arm out my socket a hand full of times…I had to put up with it until he got Escort bayan Ankara tired which took about ten minutes…he’s a fat little thing. If he and Bazahra were to meet, she could get away from him fairly quickly.” He said continuing to laugh.
“How long does Bazahra last in full tilt?” Richard asked.
“The longest I’ve seen her fly at top speed was when she tortured a gazelle for forty damn minutes before she finally killed it…”
“Forty minutes?” My brother and I said, astounded.
“Yeah but after that, she was done for about a day. I had to let her eat the gazelle.” He laughed.
“I just can’t believe you use raptors for hunting.” Richard said. Kijus turned to him.
“And I can’t believe you use raptors for sport… At least my birds do what they do in the wild…” He said defensively.
“You should watch our teams compete today.” Richard smiled.
“Ok.” Kijus responded with more interest than I would have figured. I walked away, unsure what just happened.
Several hours had elapsed. The bleachers were filled as the jockeys stood on the field with their raptors sitting high on the perches on their back. Many of the spectators were from a neighboring kingdom called the Caspian Ziggurat. This was because the game about to take place was between us, the Southern Ziggurat and the Caspian Ziggurat! The Caspian riders had many of the royal family as members of the team. They were known as the Sarushians, a very regal but bold group of people, known for their fair, but sporty ways. Only one member of our family stood on the southern team and that was Richard.
The game was not only a ridiculously complicated even, requiring physical strength, endurance and conning! It was an intricate game of silent war between us, the Bourgions, and the Sarushians. Conflict over fertile lands, slave trading and debts have lead to hundreds of years of conflict between our families. However, for the past century or two, this game has been played in an effort to remember peace and the long twisted legal articles the kings have to sign each growing season. My father played, his father played and so did his before that. It was tradition.
Now it was my brother’s turn. For many years, he had trained and trained for these games. They were intense, requiring not only uncanny skill, but talent… a talent I lacked. I wasn’t terrible at this game but, the game had one major thing that I couldn’t adjust to. It had to be played with long wings, and training long wings is a very tedious, painstaking and life-long process that I didn’t want to commit to. That was what separated Richard and I. He has patience, and understanding, something I longed for but never truly grasped. His patience was evident by the long wait for the game to commence.
After forty minutes of waiting, an official riding on the back of a zebra, stood between the two teams. Each team member was in specific locations, taking on specific roles in this complex game. The official slowly reached into his bag. He pulled out the lure and sling aiming high in the sky. Tensions were high as the tossup began. The falcons and kites bobbed their heads calculating flight distance and anticipation for the sling release. The elastic sling was pulled back to its maximum load out.
The official whistled then released, sending the sling high into the air. All the raptors took off in a steep vertical climb. Each had a specific color ribbon on to discern which team and which roll the bird played. The kites had much lower wing loading than the falcons so they excelled in vertical climbs. However, they weren’t as muscular. What they lacked in physique, they made up for in unparalleled agility. The falcons were robust, stout and relatively short tailed except a handful. Their wings differed from the kites by being a bit broader at the base, narrower near the primaries and more pointed wingtips, rather than tapered.
That wasn’t the case for all though. My brother’s red-breasted falcon was very kite-like in shape but had relatively higher wing loading. It was the most remarkable raptor in the vertical ascent; it’s relatively broad and crooked wings pumped after the sling. The tapered wingtips had phalangeal feathers which gave the bird even more lift. As it ascended on wings flapping four times a second, it almost looked like a large buteo, maybe even an eagle. None the less, it and the kites took the lead.
You had to be a hell of a bird to catch a vertically ascending lure launched from a sling but my brother’s falcon managed to do so. As soon as it did, it broke into a breathtaking dive. My brother held out his, hand perch for the bird to land on with the lure. As he did, many of competing team’s jocks charged with their horses, ready to strike my brother with their canes. It was all in an effort to keep his bird from perching. Before they could come close, many of his team members stood to meet the imposing jocks, blocking with their canes.
At the same time, all the raptors were in a dive, all spiraling out the sky. The red-breast struggled to outpace some Bayan escort Ankara of the heavier bodied falcons. What the bird lacked in sheer diving prowess, it met with extreme agility at high speed. He was able to outpace the impending kites in his dive and out maneuver the plumper falcons in the intense spiral.
It looked like a big aerial melee but truthfully, it was one of the most coordinated sights one could ever see. Half of the raptors diving after the red-breast seemed as though they were pursuing the lure, but actually were attempting to wedge themselves between it and other chasing raptors. Why? Because these raptors were able to identify the red-breast as a team member! It was a feat of vigorous training for these birds.
Behavior between the raptors would become more violent as the ground neared. My brother watched, his horse galloping at full tilt! He still had his hand perch up. The red-breasts’ spirals became wider as it came lower to the ground. Some of the plumper falcons were not keen on flying so fast near the trampling feet of the horses. The red-breast disappeared under the gait of one horse only to swoop up and land on the hand perch of my brother.
It was now the game could really take off. My brother’s horse made a mad dash to the goal. This was where the kites came into play. The smaller bodied kites could keep the heavy bodied falcons at bay by flying circles around them. Birds dueled in the sky, slamming into one another at fifty and sixty miles an hour, hovering in bouts, too nervous to come into contact with one another. The kites and falcons of my brother’s team were keeping the kites and falcons of the competing team away from the red-breast with the lure.
On the ground, it was pretty much the same thing. The only way a goal could be made was when a raptor and a rider entered the neted ring together. It was a perilous effort to score, though. A jock could use his hand perch to trick a raptor with a lure to come to his side and change the tide of the game. Each team had smaller, more nimble jockeys and horses that didn’t score… No, they simply were speedy defense and quick offense. Many a time, a jockey would have one eye on his bird circling above and another on the field before him. He’d whistle commands to his fast reacting bird, the two behaving like one!
The raptors were imprinted on their handler’s voice, knowing precisely when they were prompted. As my brother neared the goal, a speedy offensive jockey slipped past defense gearing to steal my brother’s raptor. With no choice left a defending team member called onto his white-winged kite to mob the offensive jockey.
The fierce bird, having seven and a half feet of high profile wings which shimmered in the dimming light, startled the horse as it swooped inches by its face. The horse came to a sudden halt, nearly throwing the jockey. The kite hovered inches in front of the horse, ready to cut it off at every turn. The kite was doing it’s job, using those massive wings shimmering wings to startle the horse. There was no passing the kite, the Jockey on his last leg!
With no choice left, the jockey called onto his falcon with a loud triplet of whistles. Suddenly the kite accelerated rapidly, coursing at speeds nearing fifty miles an hour. Like a missile, a sooty falcon, one of the fastest birds in the world, came screeching after the kite! The kite continued to hug the ground as the darting falcon streaked towards it. With ease, the kite inverted with talons outstretched causing the falcon to abort its attack. The kite did this breathtaking maneuver at extremely high speed with only three feet of space separating it from the ground. The momentum from the inversion brought up it’s altitude.
It banked hard, its wings pumping it to nearly sixty miles an hour. The kite came back for the jockey, ready to startle his skittish horse again. The sooty falcon came back for another pass, wings tucked, screeching at speeds surpassing one hundred fifty miles an hour. The kite barely was able to dodge the dive bomb. Its beak was kicked by the falcon, causing the bird to nearly spiral out of control. Such a mishap would have been catastrophic for such a light weight bird.
The fight was now on! As soon as the kite’s high pitched whistle glissando into a blood curdling screech could be heard, we all knew there was about to be an aerial battle… And truth be told, it was a more than even match! Despite the sooty falcon being a third smaller than the kite, both weighed four and a half pounds, had short stubby legs with long powerful talons and very high flight speeds.
Several Jockey’s caught sight of the ill move and began to call for the official. However, it was too late… During the confusion, my brother and his red-breast scored the first goal. It did little to stop two raptors from squabbling in the air. The white-winged kite was a much more intelligent bird than the sooty falcon. It knew the falcon had an advantage in diving, due to its slick streamlining. However, the kite had the advantage as long as it stayed over the falcons head. The falcon tried to ascend to get to an altitude where it could dive but the kite headed it off. The falcon had to make a sudden bank to avoid angry talons. Overwhelmed by a bird that appeared much larger than it, the falcon let out loud whooping whelps for help.