Deep in a dream, Siddo’s body twitched and writhed. Through the dark folds of the night sky, he fell.
Siddo felt no fear for his own self, thought not of the ground rearing up to smash his tiny body to pieces. His thoughts only turned to something far above. “Please,” he found himself raising a tiny, featherless wing to the red moon.
The moon only watched on, silent to his wails. “Will you not hear my pleas? Will you do nothing? Why will you not stop them?”
It said nothing. Its scornful silence told all.
Helpless, abandoned, Siddo was forced to watch as the female weakened under his father’s attacks. Great droplets of blood fell upon the isle far below, flooding the tan beaches. Shrieking, the mother toppled towards the earth. Still atop her, his father followed her descent mercilessly, striking flesh with his beak.
Siddo, still far above in the air, gazed in horror as the final act of the epic unfolded. The island cracked with the impact of the two giant gulls, the entire land mass sinking under their weight. Rushing in, the sea tore across the sinking island.
Siddo watched as the accident, his mistake, came to fruition. Above the roar of the breaking rock, the pounding of the ocean, the continuing cries as father and mother continued to fight to the bottom of the sea, there rose a wail. “Forgive me!”
Then the apocalypse below turned to black in a single moment. The stars were snuffed out, one by one, until only the moon remained. Its white face grew until it dominated all.
A prophecy, a voice whispered.
Siddo jerked awake, chest heaving. “Forgive me,” he stammered, scrabbling his way over the border of the nest and onto the rock beyond.
“Forgive me,” he whispered, eyes drawn to the moon as it emerged from the clouds. The sea before him was colored silver and black in the light, breathtaking, the distant lights of the humans radiating from far off shores across the bay. He found a moment of peace in the scene before him.
The scene behind him, he did not need to gaze at to know. It would be anything but peace, with his mother’s concerned gaze and his brother’s ruffled feathers, and if he were even luckier, his father’s cold eyes. He had seen it too many times already. This time, however, he did not manage to slip away before questions could be asked.
“Siddo, my dear, my love,” his mother’s tang-tinged scent met his nostrils. She always insisted on scrubbing her wings with seaweed, believed it helped keep her feathers healthy and clean. Now those same black wings shone in the moonlight as she laid one upon his back.
“What is it you were dreaming of that caused you pain?” Her yellow eyes looked worriedly upon him, her pure concern making Siddo feel even more guilty as he averted his gaze.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just a dream.”
“Dreams do not make young gulls shriek for forgiveness. Dreams do not make them afraid to sleep at night.”
Siddo could not help but voice his shock,“How did you-”
“Oh, please,” she shook her head. “I am your mother, I am connected to each and every one of my chicks. I can see your apprehension, plain as high tide upon the shore. I can feel your fear when the sunset comes, as you imagine what is coming.”
“I suppose I’m just having some rough sleeps, nothing more.”
His mother sighed as he continued to avoid her eyes. “This goes beyond sleep.” She drew him in close, her down warm and soft. Perhaps the seaweed did have its merits. “I knew a young chick who would have been thrilled to see his wings and body growing strong, to leave the nest for the first time. And, oh, to be able to hunt your own food? He would have given his own life just to see that moment. What is troubling you, my love? You can tell me anything.”
Her scent was strong and lulling, her words and her warmth striking at his defenses. Siddo longed to confide in her, to return to that long ago time they both remembered where life had been full of adventure instead of hidden fear and silent suffering. She preened his feathers, small still, but fledging more and more each day. The young gull sighed as she groomed him.
“I’m scared, Mother,” he said slowly. When she only looked at him silently, he found the rest spilling from his chest, fighting not to weep. “I’m scared of what I did. I’m scared of what Father did. I’m scared of what we did.”
“Oh,” the deep, calm voice came from behind him. Siddo felt his heart leap from his chest as he spun around, finding his father before him. If he’d had but a moment more, Siddo would have admitted the true heart of it; I’m afraid of my own father. “Then perhaps you and I should discuss it one on one, eh?”
Siddo tried to burrow deeper into his mother’s protective down, but she pushed him forward with a gentle movement of her wing. “Go on,” she said with a smile.
Feeling his wings trembling against his sides, Siddo took a deep breath, fighting down the adrenaline that surged every time he looked upon his father’s imposing black and white figure. Be brave. They were the words his mother often used as her chicks explored more and more of what life held for them.
Who else had been brave, he thought, searching his mind for the answer. Dorbez the Explorer! Siddo recalled the tales of the adventuring swashbuckler who had flown farther than any gull before her, or since. Braving the perils of the crows, she had flown across forests and plains, had come across great snow-peaked mountains that rose high into the sky. She had faced down a huge eagle that had been awoken by her flying through these jagged beaks of land and even managed to befriend the falcons of the land beyond.
She told of another glittering ocean far to the west past the mountains, of islands full of strange birds and fish in that warm green-blue sea. Dorbez had flown farther south than any before, leaving this land for another one covered with massive trees that rose leagues in height. Indeed, the stranger had almost been eaten by the native birds before she had won them over with her toughness and great knowledge, both of which made her revered in every land she had discovered over her years.
Siddo channeled Dorbez’s spirit as he walked forward, though it had flown beyond the glittering horizon ages ago. No shaking, no hesitation, he prided himself as he looked up towards his father. She would have been proud.
“Let’s take a walk, son,” his father said, gesturing towards the moonlit strip of sand that stretched away from the rock on which they stood.
His father took with a short flap of his wings, gliding down to the beach in a few short movements. He waited patiently as Siddo hopped his way down from the rocky outcropping along the path that both he and Skrill had used dozens of times.
“Now,” his father said as his son joined him, still paces taller than the growing chick. “Let’s talk about what you remember of that night, and what happened after.”
The gull didn’t even remember to be surprised by his father’s guess. Siddo told him of how he had found himself on the rock, how he had nearly drowned in the merciless tide. Then, when he had finally managed to crawl from the surf to safety, he was attacked by the mother. “And then you came, and the rest…”
“The rest we both know,” his father finished with a nod. “I am sorry, Siddo. I had meant to ask before, but I feared what bringing it up again would do.”
“Not memories, dreams, father,” Siddo said, shuddering. “They’re getting worse each night, it’s like I’m being punished for what happened. Did we do something wrong?”
His father sighed, his eyes weary. “Would you rather that I have not fought the mother and let her do as she wished with you?”
“No, of course not, but this isn’t-”
“This isn’t about that?” The male black-backed shook his head. “Life isn’t about right or wrong, Siddo. These are important things, yes, but what is most important is being able to live with the decisions you make. I chose to intervene and protect you, yes?”
Siddo nodded, recalling the flash of black and white as the gull had swooped in on the mother vividly. He shuddered. It had only been half a moon at most.
“My choice ended up claiming a life, this we both remember to this day. But my choice kept my son alive and safe. My choice allowed him to be standing here today, growing into a fine gull. I could not have lived with myself if anything had happened to you. That’s how I know that my choice was right.”
A moment of silence fell between them as Siddo considered his father’s words. The ripples lapped upon the shore, quiet and rhythmic in the calm of low tide. Elsewhere, the moon had called the waves to war against the land on some far off shore, but here in the Great Bay, all was calm. His father’s words made sense. Still, there was something else.
“The real question is,” his father spoke again. “Can you live with your choice?”
Siddo bowed his head for a moment, shrieks both remembered and dreamed heavy upon his mind. “That’s where I run into trouble,” he said. His father cocked his head. “I don’t remember ever walking out onto that rock, only waking up on it.”
“So you don’t know if you even decided to venture out that night?”
“It sounds silly, I know,” Siddo said, looking up towards the full moon. “But I just can’t shake the feeling that something else happened. Something I didn’t choose.”
“I suppose we’ll never know for certain,” his father sighed, placing a wingtip upon his son’s speckled head. It was the first sign of affection he’d ever shown. “But the past is the past. Regardless of our rights, regardless of our wrongs, we must learn to live with it. Try and live a little, son. If nothing else then to make your mother stop worrying so much. Providence knows I hear about it enough.”
Providence. The word stuck out to Siddo, and his sharp mind was quick to make the connection. Tales!
“Tell me the about the Rise of Providence again, Father,” Siddo said, not caring how desperate his plea sounded. There was nothing the young gull loved more than a good tale. He knew all of Dorbez’s numerous exploits by heart. He could recite the epic of Manfred the Valiant’s vast victory against the vile villains, the crows. That one in particular was exceptionally difficult to tell.
His father’s wings drooped, but still he attempted to argue. “Siddo, it’s late. We should both be asleep right now. And beyond that, this isn’t the right place or time. You’re too young to understand, but this is a sacred tale. It’s only meant for certain times.”
The look of disappointment in his son’s eyes tested his resolve, but Jeriko knew there were larger forces at work than mere words. Still, the boy’s upset pained him in a way that years of cold discipline and logic couldn’t explain, never mind combat.
“Tell you what,” Jeriko said. The words were so warm he could barely believe they came from his own beak. “The next time the moon vanishes from the sky, I shall tell you and all the family the legend once more.”
“Now chin up, son,” he said, placing a wingtip under Siddo’s downcast beak. “Try to act like I didn’t scold you, eh? Or your mother will have my feathers.” He winked, watching as his son walked back towards the nest where it lay on the far side of the rocky peninsula. Spreading his wings, Jeriko rode the wind up to where the other end of the rock jutted over the sea, where he could turn his head back and keep an eye on his sons. No need for history to repeat itself.
But one of his sons was not in the nest, a fact that his father’s quick once-over had missed. Already, Skrill was learning the skill of stealth better far beyond his bumbling brother. He had watched the whole thing from the thick dune grass, halfway between the nest and the two of them. His eyes kept seeing the one moment over and over again, when his father’s wing had patted his brother.
“I don’t understand,” Skrill spoke aloud in frustration. “What does he see in him that I don’t have? I can appreciate the skill of battle, I’m not screaming in my sleep about it!”
Growling, he kicked the sand beneath his talons, sending a shower into the beach grass stalks. His ears detected something else though, beyond the rustling. Skrill tried to dive into the shelter of the shadows, but too late. The bush to his right parted to reveal the stern yellow eyes of his mother.
“Ah, little one,” she said, blocking his escape with her wing. “I was wondering where you’d gotten to this time.”
“Don’t call me ‘little one’, I’m not a chick anymore,” Skrill fumed. “In fact, I’m catching up to him.”
“Catching up,” his mother cocked her head at him. “Catching up to who?”
“Nothing,” Skrill said, looking away as he glowered. His defenses were raised again. His mother settled down in front of him, folding her legs so that she lay upon the sand. Now the two were at eye level. She lay there, still and calm.
After a while, she finally spoke. “So, are you going to tell me what you were doing out here by yourself, or should I just sleep here for the night?”
“Better you go to sleep so you’ll stop poking your beak into others’ business,” Skrill muttered. A sharp cuff of the wing to the head knocked the attitude from him. He stood back up, shaking sand from his feathers as his head smarted.
“Very well then,” he said. “I don’t understand what he sees in my brother. I’m the one who doesn’t wake up screaming in the middle of the night, I’m the one who doesn’t constantly break the rules, I’m the one who wants to learn what Father has to offer.”
His mother chuckled in the hoarse huff sound of the Black-backed. “So you’re telling me stealing away when your mother’s head is turned isn’t breaking the rules?”
Skrill was silent. She had him there.
“Both you and Siddo are mischievous ones, there is no competition there. And there is nothing your father would like more than to teach you what he knows, but all you ever seem to be interested in is flying and fighting.”
“These are necessary skills,” Skrill shot back. “What good is a gull who cannot fly, who cannot defend himself? So much of this world can harm us, I am merely trying to learn to live in it.”
“Your father and I are two very different gulls.” His mother looked almost enchanted by the sentence, but then her gaze hardened. “But on this we can agree. Being able to defend oneself if threatened is important, yes. However, use this skill beyond when necessary, and you shall only bring suffering and pain. Your enthusiasm worries him.”
Words boiled within Skrill, seeking an opening from which to explode. Can he not see? I am only trying to fulfill the purpose of my life, of any of our lives: to live. On its face, it was a simple principle, but it spoke deeply to Skrill and his resentment. I shall finally live once I have bested him, once I have shown them all who the true heir is.
Powerful was his conviction, but the young, ambitious gull fought the words back down to the simmering core within. No good would come from revealing these things to his mother, she would only chide him. Still, a response was needed.
“I see,” Skrill said, staring out towards the ocean between the dunes.
“Your father is driven by the tenants of logic. His way may seem cold to most, but it has guided him throughout his life.” Her son’s attentive gaze compelled her to elaborate.
“Logic is the idea of, well, logic,” she said, struggling to express the philosophy in words. “For every decision there must be benefit. More than just benefit, it is a way of acting that considers all options and chooses the one with the greatest benefit for the most possible. Do you understand?”
Skrill nodded. On the surface it all made sense. Why show affection when more good could be done for the chick by using that energy to hunt or protect the nest? Yes, he could find parallels with his own mindset.
Yet these links to Skrill’s own way of thinking were precisely where the issues arose. Why spend more time with the broken one when a stronger one was well within reach? Why bother trying to mend when that time and effort could be creating a better heir, one that could bring more glory to the family than that fool could ever comprehend!
Skrill shook his head as he followed his mother back up the beach, the wind shielding her ears from his words. “Fools,” he muttered beneath his breath.
And so, the family was reunited once more in the nest. Yet the schism that had started when the second egg had started to crack was only widening. Siddo settled down beside his mother, snuggling beneath her wing against the landward breeze that blew cool in the late summer night. Soon, he was fast asleep in loving bliss.
Skrill lay far apart from the two, glowering at their closeness. Weakling! Idiot! The insults simmered within his mind, forming a venom that seeped deeper the longer he stared at them.
Then his eyes turned to his father, who sat outside the nest farther down on the rock, his eyes to the sky. The watchful guardian. Perhaps there is hope yet. Skrill slunk into the realm of sleep with the thought.