The Giant Birds of Briona
The Ornithy, the giant birds, they flew over the valley every year. They flew south from their nesting rookeries. The giant versions of their northern cousins: Golden Eagle, Red-Tailed Hawk, Great Blue Heron, Cardinal, and the legendary Thunderbird cast shadows over the small villages. Everyone looked up and held their collective breaths. The young of these birds occasionally chose companions, and not necessarily human ones at that. Mrs. Sanders', the village seamstress, cat down the street rode a Cardinal. The big red bird, Cam'bre, tossed his head upwards looking at the flight.
Down the street two Herons and another Cardinal called out to their companions. They always wished to join the flight and they were never denied. Maya, the mayor's daughter, watched with amusement as orange fur dashed out of the window. Both Cam'bre and Healey gave Mrs. Sanders barely enough time to harness up the bird and cat before they leaped for the sky. Everyone sighed in envy, maybe this year there would be some chosen.
Maya reentered her home. The home she shared with her three sisters and two brothers. Maya was considered quite attractive with dark brown hair and green eyes, she stood out among her siblings who were blonde. She most closely resembled her father while they took after their mother. None of them could be considered ugly. Maya entered the room she shared with her older sister Sira and grinned, "Their back. Do you think you'll be chosen this year?"
Sira grinned back, cupping the bottom of hair and bouncing it with her hand, "Of course, why else would a Thunderbird be landing in the village?" They laughed as they prepared to set out for school, it was still morning, and the village was lucky enough to afford a small school for all their youngsters, no matter the income of the family.
The mayor didn't lack for money, he owned several farms. He insisted that the family live in the village in a modest house. They lived no better than any middle class working family. The six children shared three rooms, and they all had chores. Maya helped her Mother cook the meals. She even made the meals when her mother, the village midwife, was out helping a new mother. Sira was the eldest at fifteen, Thomas, the youngest was five. Thomas and Eileen were not making the long trip to school just yet.
The oldest four met up at the bottom of the steps only to hear a faint scratching at the front door. They all froze looking in disbelief at each other. That either meant the cat wanted in, or one of them had been chosen as a companion. Herold, their cat, shot up the steps. Their Mother, Singya, walked in from the kitchen, having heard the scratching herself, and smiled, "Relax, one of you is about to have their dreams come true. The rest of you will have the day off as this means a holiday." All of them grinned at each other, looking forward to the feast to come, and put their books down. The scratching became more insistent.
They lined up at the door from oldest to youngest: Sira, Maya, Corey, and Dawn as they waited for their mother to open the door. Singya grinned as she opened the door to reveal a Golden Eagle. She was a beautiful bird who hopped from foot to foot impatiently. They heard cheers in the distance as another companion was chosen. All four children exited the house. They looked around and saw their neighbors, holding their breaths, watched this scene. The young hawk lowered her head to view each of the children standing before her. She swung her head back to Maya and gently nudged her. Even that gentle nudge made her fall backwards into the hedges. "Maybe we shouldn't have stayed so close to the house!" she heard Sira proclaim. She helped her sister up as the others congratulated her.
"Look! He's here! Sugrave is here!" came the call. They all looked up as the giant Thunderbird, Bur'she came in for a landing. He was the local trainer.
"Come on, Kan'de, let's go," Maya murmured. They left the yard only to find another bird, this time a Thunderbird, anxiously make his way into the yard. Maya stifled a laugh as the impatient bird picked Sira up with one talon, deposited her on his back, and followed Kan'de and Maya. Kan'de eyed Maya, "No, I think it's better we walk. We won't be tempted to take flight, and I have nothing to hang onto."
"Cil'se has no such qualms!" Sira called, hanging on for dear life. "Good thing Dad bought that land adjacent to the house last year!"
As they assembled in the village square Sira and Maya counted. One Thunderbird, one Red-Tailed Hawk, Maya's best friend, Jack, had his hand on the Hawk, one more Heron, and two more Cardinals. The long-standing companions in the village landed behind him. Apparently being satisfied with their flight, they welcomed the youngsters. Herold leaped down from his companion, no one knew the bird's name, no one spoke cat.
Surgrave waited until the excited chatter settled down, "It is a privilege and an honor to be chosen. Each of you will be trained to be responsible companions. You will also learn certain skills that will help you enable you friends to settle down to this new life. They are all young." Nervous laughter greeted this statement. "Do not attempt to ride them until harnesses are completed. This is for your safety as well as your friends. Your lives will be greatly extended," this was an understatement. Herold, a cat that normally lived ten years at most, was well past fifty.
"Your first lessons will be in harness making and Rook building. Your new friends need homes, even if it's not actually up in a tree or a cliff face," Sugrave grinned. "This includes animal husbandry, you will clean up after them. Flying will be slow, they must get used to having you on their back and build wing strength. After that you will be introduced to the flocks. This will make you known to the birds that don't have companions. This has been known to come in handy! Especially if your companion becomes injured! Finally, we take the dive off the mountain top, that will mean you are full-fledged companions. After that, you will train to whatever occupation you choose, you'll understand when we get there. That's still a couple of years away. Now, go, enjoy the feast. I'll see you in the morning. Those of you still in school, I'll meet you after school."
Maya and Sira returned home, they ended up putting Cil'se and Kan'de on the land behind their home, Cil'se was just too big, and Kan'de, while no means a small bird, wouldn't leave him. Thomas and Eileen jumped up and down, wanting to meet the birds. Maya and Sira laughed, that would happen soon enough. Their Father finally came home to join the family, congratulating his daughters. Maya and Singya entered the kitchen to prepare food for the feast. Sira settled down to iron and primp the dresses and tunics and pants that would comprise their finery for the night. Dawn helped while keeping track of Thomas and Eileen.
Around mid-day several of the older companions flew down to show the new birds to the hunting grounds. This was done the first time without their friends to spare them. The cows that were held in waiting for the meat eating Ornithy were maintained by several farmers so that their own herds would be spared from both the wild and companion Ornithy. The forest and streams fed the other Ornithy.
That night, the family made their way to village square. They looked up at the steeply angled roofs, designed to keep them from collapsing during the long winters. Snows piled up during the winter, sledding was a popular sport, as was cross-country skiing. This was spring. There was a bite still in the air, but the planting would soon begin. Long tables were set up as families brought food together as a festive atmosphere ensued. Each new companion was congratulated by each of their neighbors. The torchlight reflected off the windows and the excited faces of everyone, especially the children as they raced around and through the other villagers, making their elders smile.
Sira and Maya ran into Jack midway through the night. He was just as excited as the rest of them. Nothing could prepare them for the years ahead, the trouble that would be brought when one of the great birds of the south would flounder its way north, desperately seeking help. When asked years later if she ever regretted being picked out by Kan'de, Maya would say no. Through all the sorrow and joys that would come, that bond would never fade.