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CUCKOO felt vast relief when he knew EAGLE was safe. In truth, he had seen the whole flight from the time EAGLE had left his eyrie; though how he was ever going to explain that was an interesting question. But it was clear he was going to have to; and probably sooner rather than later.
He had been faced with a dilemma right from the beginning. His task was to prepare EAGLE for a very special mission, yet to do so in such a way, it all seemed a natural progression. But, the more EAGLE was prepared for his vital role, the better equipped he was to notice that CUCKOO wasn’t your average CUCKOO. And there lay the risk and the potential tragedy it all. The simple fact was that that there were some things that one couldn’t explain too quickly.
CUCKOO had learned that over a millennium and a half. There were good reasons why he was slow to confide. Many couldn’t take it unless they were properly prepared; and that took a great deal of time. Years as a minimum; decades for preference. It was scarcely surprising. What was required of them was, after all – though different in detail in every case - fairly extraordinary. The average creature, human, eagle, or otherwise, was really only equipped to deal with what he or she knew. To step beyond that was inconceivable; yet it had to be done. And it would be done. But it was demanding work; and it was stressful. Yet experience helped, and CUCKOO was nothing if not experienced.
When EAGLE returned, the first thing CUCKOO noticed was that he was covered in vulture blood. He laughed with some embarrassment when CUCKOO pointed out this fact, and took off for the waterfall where he normally showered. He looked a great deal better when he returned. He cracked open a bottle of wine and perched across from CUCKOO.
He raised his glass. “CUCKOO,” he said. “I believe I owe you my life.”
CUCKOO made a dismissive gesture. “I’m just glad you survived.”
“I had the sense throughout the whole affair that someone – some force – was watching over us,” EAGLE said. “Something prompted me to circle back and see my attackers,” he declared. “Some force ensured that our communications were perfect, which has never been the case in the past. And some friendly soul overrode my orders and assembled my entire Air Commando to come to our rescue. They should have been scattered snake hunting but mysteriously received direct orders to assemble and high-tail it across to me. And conveniently they can’t remember who issued the orders – but they thought it was me. Which it wasn’t.”
“You are a remarkably fine aviator,” said CUCKOO with some feeling. His heart had been in his mouth while he had watched the fight. There were matters he could influence, and things he could not. EAGLE’S victories in the direct fight had been his alone.
“Yes I am,” said EAGLE, “but I know there was more at work today than my ability to get on an opponent’s tail in less than forty seconds. Don’t ask me how I know. I just know. And I know you, CUCKOO, are behind it.”
CUCKOO drank his wine. “Oh dear,” he said eventually.
“Thank you,” said EAGLE, “but if you don’t tell what’s going on, I am liable to get testy. And you never want to mess with a testy eagle.”
CUCKOO grinned. “I might surprise you,” he said. “I am of a certain age (something of an understatement) but I am not helpless.”
EAGLE laughed. “Dragon’s breath, it’s good to be alive. Nothing raises the spirits more than to be nearly killed. And now tell me who is trying to kill me – and why.”
So CUCKOO did.
EAGLE went as pale as an eagle can (which is not very). “So that’s why I’m learning eagleomics,” he said. “Good grief. This thing is huge.”
You don’t know the half of it, thought CUCKOO, or close; but he stayed silent. EAGLE had been through enough, and had learned enough, for one day. He was progressing extraordinarily well.
EAGLE was lost in thought. Up to know, all his combat had been physical. Now he was going to have to battle intellectually and psychologically as well. The cause was worthy, but was he up to it? He longed to be carefree, where winning the physical fight was really all that counted. Instead he was facing up to a vastly more complex world than he had ever had to deal with before. Was he up to the task? He truly did not know. Was he willing to give it his all? He rather thought he was. Eagles were nothing if not purposeful.
He was aware of CUCKOO looking at him intently with great concern, and more than a little compassion. Then a great feeling of peace and contentment swept over him; and soon he slept.
High in the sky, his bodyguards circled, maneuvered and watched. They changed altitude and direction and were as unpredictable as could be. This was for real. There would be another attack; and they would be ready.
Beside him, CUCKOO enjoyed his wine; and thought deep thoughts in a relaxed kind of way until he, too, was asleep.
Nearly three thousand miles away, the WARLOCK replayed the events of the day, and raged. Surely a miserable eagle could not be defying him? Or were there other factors at work?