The following day, CUCKOO had to catch up with his CUCKOO-LAND responsibilities, so EAGLE left him with his iPad, and took off to do some serious thinking at Thinking Rock.
This was a trapezoid affair – with the long side open - that overlooked a waterfall-fed lake that was the visual climax of a long, lush, box canyon. On sunny days, the unusual rock formation, which faced south, would warm up and radiate a pleasant heat towards whoever was fortunate enough to be perched inside. EAGLE thought of it as his wing chair, and was very proprietorial about it.
In addition, the drinking water was nicely chilled – it came from the snow pack – and the fishing was excellent.
Add in a flock of mountain goats and plenty of other game, and it all added up to a pretty good place to hang out in.
Mountain goats were either nuts or fearless, and would climb to the most inaccessible places, but somehow hadn’t yet worked out that flying beat climbing every time.
At the right time of year, he would swoop, and there would be fresh kid for supper. Flying that close to a rocky surface that could snap a wing, or otherwise maim him, was not a trivial task, but flying with consummate skill was what eagles did.
Normally EAGLE was punctilious about checking to see that his Thinking Rock was free of intruders, but this time he was so preoccupied with mighty thoughts that he failed to see the intruder until he was already on his normal perch.
Disconcertingly, the voice came from his rear where there was a vee-shaped fissure in the rock, low down behind where he perched. It was only inched high but quite deep. It constituted a miniature cave.
The voice was sibilant.
“Hello EAGLE. You’re not normally so careless. Thought I’d tell you that it might be a good idea not to move. I can strike you, well before you can turn.”
“Not exactly the friendliest greeting I’ve ever had, SNAKE,” said EAGLE. “But, just so you know, I’d kill you anyway; even if I was dying.”
“Don’t think so,” said SNAKE. “The last eagle I killed was about your size and he was paralyzed in a flash. Took him some time to die though. Very painful. Bird had a scar over his eye.”
Snakes didn’t kill eagles very often. EAGLE knew exactly who he was talking about. The victim had been his uncle. He felt a rush of rage; and as suddenly suppressed it. One should fight calmly. One should accept death calmly. It was the natural order of things. Only the timing was uncertain. Emotion was a distraction.
“Normally, we could negotiate,” said SNAKE, “but this is a contract, you see, and I have my reputation to think of. Besides, I’ve never liked you, EAGLE. You’re too big for your claws.”
EAGLE had learned to eat first, fly second, and fight third. Walking had taken a little longer. As soon as he had learned to read he had studied the art of combat. The Japanese approach to sword fighting had influenced him profoundly. It was spiritual, elegant, extremely fast, and extraordinarily lethal.
Iaido had been derived from iaijutsu. It was a very different set of skills than were required for the battlefield. It was essentially defensive, and factored in that one might be unarmored, and at rest, when attacked – albeit with katana to hand. One’s katana was always to hand.
EAGLE didn’t have a katana, but his talons were as lethal.
“Who ordered my death?” asked EAGLE politely.
“Can’t tell you,” said SNAKE. “Wouldn’t be professional. But you’re up against forces you cannot resist. They’re too rich, too powerful, too strong. And there are are plenty of killers like me to back them up. We’d like to be rich too – and we will be. Love of country is dead. The rich can, and do, live anywhere. Bye bye U.S.A. This country’s great days are behind it. Bye Bye EAGLE.”
SNAKE was enjoying himself. His bite was fully loaded with venom, and he knew EAGLE’S position was hopeless. It was a matter of physics. EAGLE was immensely fit and strong, but it was impossible for him to swivel and attack in time. SNAKE had planned well.
SNAKE attacked with astonishing speed and utter confidence. EAGLE’S death was certain.
Without looking, or even consciously thinking, EAGLE implemented a variation of the Ushiro Nuki-Uchi (Rearward nuki-uchi cut) with his left talon, and a claw flashed up into SNAKE’S throat and pierced his brain. He died instantly.
EAGLE turned and faced the would-be assassin. “A friend of mine who worked in Congress in Washington DC for many years once gave me a piece of advice I have never forgotten,” he said quietly. “He said, ‘Never threaten. Act.’”
SNAKE didn’t seem to be in a conversational mood. Eagle took his body to a patch of bog, far from the serenity of his box canyon, and dropped it in from a height. It sank without trace.
EAGLE then flew back to continue his conversation with CUCKOO.