Chapter Four

ACHMED

As Gill drifted back into consciousness, he heard his mother's voice, and he listened to what she was saying.

"Achmed's on the warpath again."

Gill's father said quickly, "Achmed? He…escaped?"

"Yes," Dri said, her voice fearful, "and not only that, he's looking for the one who defeated him in the first place. And that means…"

"I know what that means, Dri." Roe's words were grim, and Gill peeked one eye open to find his father's face was also without joy.

Dri spoke again. "He'll be after all of us, but mostly you."

"You're right, but what do you want me to do? And what about Gill?"

When Dri spoke again, it was with determination. "Don't worry about Gill, he'll be fine with me. As for you, Roe, you need to leave here and flee."

Gill felt as if he were back in the ocean, his body drenched in icy water. He shivered, at both the cold and the thought of his father leaving. How could Roe leave Gill and his mother? And why did he have to leave, who was Achmed, where had he escaped from…there were so many questions Gill wanted to ask.

Dimly, Gill was aware of a feeling of relief at the back of his mind, relief that they seemed to have forgotten his crime of eating human food earlier. Then it occurred to him that was not the most pressing thing to think about at the moment.

"Where should I go?" Roe asked slowly.

"To the bats."

Bats? This kept getting stranger and stranger. What did his parents have to do with bats?

"Yes…to the bats. That's a good idea." Roe said.

"You should get going. Right this minute," Dri said sternly.

"What about Gill? How are you going to break this to him?" asked Roe.

"Shh, don't wake him, he's sleeping."

"I'm not sleeping, Mom," Gill said, though he wanted to sleep, to forget all of what he had heard.

Both of his parents were startled to hear him talking.

"How much did you hear?" Roe asked quickly.

"Enough to know that you're going away and someone named Achmed is on the loose and a threat to us," Gill answered truthfully.

"Oh…yes, I'm afraid it's unavoidable, my leaving," said Roe apologetically.

"Who's Achmed?" asked Gill curiously.

His parents looked at each other. "Achmed is an African fish eagle," his mother began. "He used to live very far to the south. But then one day, for some reason, he decided that he wanted to take over the world. So he came north, acting peaceful, like he was going to help us. We were having a bad year with catching fish and other things — disease, for one. So, Achmed helping us seemed like a very good thing."

"But a few of us figured out his evil intentions," said Roe, "and we confronted him with it. He told us to keep our mouths shut or else he would harm us. Well, then we knew he needed to go. So we lured him near a zoo — "

"What's a zoo?" Gill wondered.

"A place where humans keep animals so they can observe them," said Dri.

"Weird," said Gill.

"Anyway," Roe said, "the zoo people captured Achmed, I guess because they wanted a fish eagle in the zoo or something, I don't know. So Achmed remained in the zoo, no longer a threat to us."

"But now he's escaped," Gill concluded.

"Right. He's cunning, and it wouldn't surprise me if he'll try the same thing as last time, only in a different place," said Dri.

"Why does Dad have to leave?" asked Gill. "I mean, Achmed will just try to deceive others; he wouldn't try it again here, would he?"

"It's not just that," said Roe quietly. "I was the one in charge of the group of us who helped put Achmed in the zoo." He chuckled. "I'm sure I'm not his favorite right now."

"But Achmed doesn't know where we live, does he?" Gill said.

Dri shook her head. "No, he never actually came here. But he can figure out where your father is. And that's why he needs to flee."

"Yes," Gill said in a small voice, not wanting to believe it was true.

"Look, Gill, I'll be fine," said Roe. "The bats will take good care of me. Before you know it, I'll be back. I'll just wait until Achmed is gone again."

Gill began to have an idea. A reckless idea, but an idea nonetheless. "If Achmed were gone," he said cautiously, "you wouldn't be in danger, right?"

Roe nodded, and Gill took a deep breath. He knew what he had to do.

"Gill," Dri said, "you took quite a swim today. Maybe you should rest some more."

Gill suddenly remembered. "How's Toru?" he asked.

"Toru will be fine. No lasting harm has been done."

"Good," Gill said.

"Now, you have to go," Dri said, looking at Roe.

"I'll see you soon, Gill," Roe said to his son, "don't worry."

"Bye, Dad," Gill said.

"Be safe, Roe," Dri said.

"No promises," said Roe with a wry grin. "But you two, promise me you'll be careful."

"I will," Gill said, and felt bad about lying: the thing he was planning was far from safe.

With one last reassuring smile, Roe took off from the cliff. Dri and Gill watched until he had faded from sight. Then Dri spoke to her son.

"You should go back to sleep."

Gill snorted. As if he could go to sleep after all he had just listened to! "I don't want to," he protested. And before his mother could stop him, he took off into the air.

For the first time in his life, flying failed to reassure Gill. His worries were like a rain cloud over his head, and he couldn't stop thinking about them. To keep his mind off his father, Gill went to Toru's ledge. He saw his friend still unconscious, lying on his back.

"Will he be all right?" he asked Toru's mother.

She nodded, and said, "He could have died out there. And you could have too. I heard you tried to rescue him, Gill. Thank you."

"It was my fault," thought Gill, but he didn't say it. Instead he smiled and commented, "Well, I couldn't let my friend drown, could I?"

He excused himself, and flew down so low he was almost skimming the water, and then he flew back up over the white cliffs that were the gulls' home. Gill forced himself to think about his plan. Much as he hated to leave home, it was the only way to save his family.

Leave, find Achmed, and defeat him somehow: that was Gill's plan.

Gill knew he was unlikely to succeed. But he also knew he had to try. He began to fly south, and when he passed over his home, he did not stop, because he knew his mother would never allow him to do such a reckless thing.

"I'll find the zoo, ask some birds which way Achmed was going, and then I'll defeat him, and Dad will be able to come back home. It's not so hard," Gill thought nervously.

Gill didn't look back as his home grew smaller and smaller and he flew farther and farther away.