Chapter Five

SWIFT AND ELSU

"I wonder how Hala is," Elsu said worriedly to Swift, looking out of their roost entrance. "Surely she should be here by now."

"Oh, she's young, so maybe it's just taking her longer to fly this far a distance," Swift said doubtfully.

"I know what the problem is. It's that Achmed! She shouldn't have gone by herself to get him. He's dangerous, and mean, too…"

"Elsu, it's all right. Hala's probably fine; she's just lost or something."

"But still, lost with Achmed." Elsu shivered. "I wouldn't want to be alone with him!"

Swift shook his head, saying, "Neither would I, but I think Hala's capable of looking after herself."

Elsu let out her breath sharply. "I sure hope so."

She went to the entrance to the roost to look out, but she jerked her head back in when a large beak was thrust in and the rest of a large head. A body followed, one that dwarfed the falcons. After thinking a moment, Elsu recognized this as an eagle.

"So, this is the roost?" the eagle asked as he came the rest of the way in.

"Yes," panted Hala, coming in right behind him.

Swift and Elsu forgot all about the eagle. "Hala!" said Swift delightedly. "You've come!"

"Well, I promised I would, didn't I?" said Hala, smiling.

Elsu studied the eagle. "So this must be Achmed," she said, awed.

"I've heard about you, you know," said Swift. "I've heard about your escapes from the zoo and all the amazing things you've done."

"Oh, stop trying to butter up to me; I can see what you're doing," snapped Achmed.

"Achmed, that's not nice," Hala scolded sharply.

"Well, neither is what they're trying to do."

Hala looked at her foster parents helplessly. "So now you've been introduced to Achmed."

Swift nodded his head. "Yeah."

"Hey, don't take it personally," Hala whispered to the falcons. "Achmed is like that with most everybody."

"So you actually dove in front of humans?" asked Swift, amazed. "On purpose?"

Hala nodded her head. "Yes. Shia was in trouble, and he was so young, and I just wanted to help him. And without Achmed's help, Shia would probably have been taken to the humans."

"I'm not sure if I would be brave enough to attack humans," admitted Swift, impressed.

"I know I wouldn't be," agreed Elsu.

There was silence as they all thought their own thoughts. Achmed had gone out hunting, and it was twilight, so he should be returning shortly. Swift had warned Achmed that there was a force of birds watching the surrounding area, and if Achmed were to try to escape, they would catch him. There really were no such birds, but they served their purpose well, for Achmed had so far not tried to fly away. Anyway, he was happy staying and hunting here, by a lake, because there were fish in the lake, and he was glad he could eat fish and not the mice he had been eating for the past few days. After all, Achmed was a fish eagle, not a mouse eagle.

Achmed's return was announced by the sound of his wings flapping outside the roost entrance. He squeezed himself through the entrance and said, "Anything happen while I was gone?"

"No, but I was kind of wondering what happened to you," said Hala. "It's kind of late for you to be out hunting."

The big eagle shrugged his shoulders. "Is there any reason I should be back early?"

"Well, we're leaving tomorrow," declared Hala.

"All right!" exclaimed Achmed happily. "We'll go save those owls, and then it will all be over soon, right?" Then he frowned. "But I suppose I'll have to eat those mice again, won't I?"

"Who knows?" said Swift. "Maybe near the human place is a lake or something. You might get lucky."

"Well, I hope so," Achmed said fervently, and he said it with such gusto that Hala, Swift, and Elsu laughed.

"Hey, what's so funny?" demanded the African fish eagle.

"Oh…nothing…nothing at all…" said Elsu as she continued to laugh.

"Wait, are you laughing at me?" said Achmed angrily. "Because I don't like to be laughed at."

"Oh…we're not…laughing at you…" said Swift.

"Then what's the big deal?" asked Achmed, frustrated.

"It's…" began Hala, who had recovered from laughing. "It's just the way you said you wished to eat fish instead of mice. And we weren't laughing at you, we were laughing with you."

"But I wasn't laughing," Achmed replied, confused and annoyed at the same time.

"Never mind," Hala said, shaking her head.

"Well, you all had better get a good night's sleep tonight, then, if you're leaving tomorrow," said Elsu.

"Quite right," said Swift, nodding.

Out of the blue Hala felt tiredness take over her body. It seeped into her wings, making it almost impossible to move them. "O.K.," she said as she yawned.

"Good," Elsu said, "believe me, you'll need sleep for tomorrow."

As Hala's eyes closed, she thought, "Yes. Tomorrow. When our real adventure will begin."