Chapter 47: How very dull and what’s with those legs?!

Back at the Sleeping Dog the pirates were in an uproar.  The Black Dagger was missing!  Others in the tavern were accosted for information, but nobody could tell the band of pirates a thing.  The ship had been in the harbour, yes indeed it had, aye, many of the men in the tavern had seen it, well, some days ago now.  Was it days?  Maybe a week, or weeks, they supposed, and then one day it wasn’t there.  They had assumed it had simply gone on its way to other waters and other harbours to do its business, it hadn’t occurred to anyone there was anything amiss.  The pirates sat despondently around a table.  Gago ordered a round of drinks.

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Harrison Gus sat amongst them with Sancus, his parrot, on his shoulder.  Not only had they lost their passage home, Harrison Gus thought, Alan had been on the ship, his great friend Alan, who’d been so ill that he couldn’t come along with them to find a parrot for Harrison Gus.  Harrison Gus had been so looking forward to introducing his new parrot to Alan, and now Alan was missing, with the ship.  And all the others too, Harrison Gus supposed.  Except perhaps Ol’ No Legs, who’d gone to shore to gather supplies, or more likely sample supplies at various taverns.

Even if they found him No Legs would be no help, what would he know about what had happened to the ship, he’d only be able to tell them which tavern sold the least revolting alcoholic bilge water.  Oh, what to do.  None of the others were coming up with any good ideas either.

“Let’s go for a walk” Sancus whispered in his ear.  Harrison Gus shrugged.  He didn’t really feel like taking a stroll; what if the pirates discovered something or decided to do something and he wasn’t there?

“Now.  Let’s go.” Sancus said.  It didn’t seem like a suggestion, in fact, it sounded so distinctly like an order that before he realised it, Harrison Gus had stood up and was walking out the door.

“Don’t go too far!” called the Captain, before turning back to the deliberations around the table.

“Ok, so, where do you want to go?” said Harrison Gus when they got outside.

“Let’s go to the beach.  Let’s go find your friends, Morska and Sereni.”

Harrison Gus looked at Sancus.  Not so dumb this bird.  If anyone was going to know what had happened to the ship and its unfortunate passengers, Morska and Sereni just might.  He set off for the peninsula, where they’d met the mermaids before.  It was rocky and wet and slippery.  Awkwardly Harrison Gus made his way across the black rocks.  Sancus leapt off into the air, finding it more dignified to fly than be bounced around on Harrison Gus’ shoulder, but he circled slowly around keeping Harrison Gus company as they made their way along.

The mermaids were not there, no Morska, no Sereni, just the unbroken surface of the sea, rippling and dimpling in the breeze.  Harrison Gus could not see the Black Dagger from here either.  Sancus flew up in the air and squawked a few times, but when he came back down he told Harrison Gus there was nothing but endless sea as far as he could see, no Black Dagger, no mermaids.

Harrison Gus sat down and pulled off his boots.  He stuck his toes in the water and sat thinking about the ship, and Alan and his chicken, Pig.  He wondered how they were and if they were safe.  He could not imagine Alan voluntarily letting the ship leave without the Captain or little Harrison Gus or the rest of the crew, but perhaps he had been unable to stop it.  Perhaps he had been overpowered, perhaps he was still too sick to do much at all.  He certainly hadn’t been well the last time Harrison Gus had seen him, being rowed back to the boat by Deadfish to convalesce. Deadfish… Maybe he had something to do with it.  Harrison Gus could well imagine that Deadfish would sail away without them.

Sancus settled on a rock beside him and began preening and cleaning his feathers.  Harrison Gus watched him for some time.  It was strangely soothing to watch Sancus peck and polish his feathers and it distracted him from thinking of all the horrible things that might have befallen his good friend Alan.  Sancus seemed finally satisfied with the job, flapped his wings a bit and settled on the wet rock for a sleep.  Harrison Gus shook his head.  Sancus’ grey plumage must surely be cleaner after all that activity, but it was in no way even a tiny bit tidier than before.  Fluffy grey feathers still stuck out every which way.  It was kind of endearing.

Harrison Gus lay his arms over his knees and took a nap.

It felt like only moments later that he heard Sancus squawk and squawk again.  Harrison Gus jumped up, slipped on the rocks and fell into the sea.  It was not warm.  He scrambled back out and looked around.  There in the water before them was a mermaid.  It wasn’t Morska or Sereni, but some other mermaid.  Or… wait… could it be?  It was Sereni after all, but a bigger version of her, a grown up version.  Harrison Gus had not seen her for several weeks while he’d trekked across the island to find his parrot and in that time Sereni seemed to have grown inexplicably quickly, from the little toddler he remembered, to a rather sultry young teen.  But then, that was mermaids for you, they grew quickly from birth to adult size to reduce the chances of getting eaten by sharks and other hungry creatures of the sea.

“Sereni!” Harrison Gus called out.

Sereni smiled at him coyly and then jumped up out of the water and dove back under with a little wiggle of her fishy hips.  She didn’t come back up.  Harrison Gus peered into the water and clucked his tongue impatiently.  Sancus flew over the surface of the sea in low circles to try to find her.  Then there she was, popping up out of the water on their left, laughing a hard little laugh.

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“Sereni, wait!” Harrison Gus called to her as she prepared to dive under again.  She sighed.  She turned slowly onto her back and swam languidly towards them.  She looked at Harrison Gus impatiently.

“Well?” she demanded.

“I… where’s Morska?  Shouldn’t she be with you? And do you know where the ship is, the big ship that I came to the island on, the Black Dagger?”

“Ha! I can do whatever I like, Morska can’t tell me what to do, I’m not a child!” Sereni splashed her tail in the water. “Do this, do that, don’t do that, on and on she goes.  Honestly, she’s no fun!” She stopped her blustering and tipped her head to one side. “I don’t know why you bother with those funny little legs” she said to Harrison Gus, “and what a horrible little bird, ugly little thing.  Give it here and I’ll eat it up!” At this she smiled, her teeth sharp and shining.

Sancus flapped his wings once or twice and flew up high and away.  Harrison Gus stared at the mermaid.

“Do you know what happened to the ship?” he said.

“Hmpf.  You are dull.  Nothing happened to it.  It was there, and then it was gone.  Gone, gone, gone.  Poof!” She said and clapped her hands.  “Can you swim?”

“Not really, not very well.  What do you mean, then it was gone?”

“Well I’m not surprised.  I bet those legs don’t help.  You wouldn’t generate any kind of power with those.  They must just get all tangled up, all the time, how very awkward”, she laughed.

“What?”

“Useless for swimming, legs.  I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t swim, it’s so, oh so wonderful.”  She twirled her body in the water and disappeared under the water.  Gone.

 

 

 

Chapter 46: Pirates, parrots everywhere, but not a ship to sail

Two days later Harrison Gus and the band of pirates arrived back at Dodo Rock.  Many of the pirates took the opportunity to have another swim in the lake, including Sir Jones with his strange old lady breaststroke.

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Sancus, the scruffy grey parrot Harrison Gus had chosen to be his, took Harrison Gus back to the secret clearing behind the lake where they’d first met, for old times sake and because Harrison Gus was keen to see the dodos one last time.  Harrison Gus tried hard to feel awed by the creatures, after all they were supposedly extinct, but they were just so clumsy and chunky and generally silly-looking, and they kept running into things: him, each other, trees.  Sancus shrugged.  “They extinct for a reason”, he said.

They returned to the lake and after a lovely, idle time, during which Harrison Gus had a swim and a long rest in the sun, the pirates left for home.  Their way took them steeply uphill, then back across the plateau, before beginning their long descent back down into the woods on the other side.  For two days they scrambled downwards over scree and hard earth until finally they reached the cool protection of the trees below.

After they had recovered from the descent they carried on walking.  They walked and walked.  The days merged into one another.  Step after step they trudged across the leaf-littered forest floor, weaving around the endless supply of trees,  the foliage up above preventing much more than momentary glimpses of sky or sunlight, the bush down below so thick it was increasingly hard to kick your way through.  When Harrison Gus began to feel hungry or weak, Sancus would jump from his shoulder and fly off, returning with some nuts or fruit for Harrison Gus to eat.  It kept him going.  At night they sat around a fire and told stories, of the sea, of strange lands, of mountains of gleaming treasure.  They ate meat and fruit and slept like logs.

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“We will need to do something about those witches”, Sancus said one day sitting on Harrison Gus’ shoulder as he walked along.

“Like what?”

“We must think.  I think your friend Deadfish might be of some help.”

“He’s not my friend!  He’s just as creepy as the witches!  Creepier…”

“Perhaps”, said Sancus, scratching his chin with one claw.  They walked on in silence.  The way back to the town and the port and the ship seemed so much longer than the way to the Parrot Forests had been.  But at least they were able to retrace their steps through the path that TT and Starfish had cut through the dense undergrowth previously.  And yet the journey back seemed endless.  The days were long and the nights cold and uncomfortable.  And it seemed to Harrison Gus that they would never return.  By some magic, he wondered, had the witches made the forest endless, curve in on itself so that they were walking in circles?  Endless circles.  The thought sat in his belly and gnawed at him when he woke in the night.  Were they doomed to walk through the forest forever?

But one day he thought the forest seemed somehow familiar.  And as they walked, it seemed others recognised an outcrop and a strangely shaped tree and a sharp turn in the path.  And then, just like that, they walked out of the forest and there lay the township, just as they had left it.  It was like a dream, and Harrison Gus half suspected it was some trick.  But the pirates yelled happily, and “arrrr’d” and spat and clapped each other on the back.  They were all most relieved to be back in civilisation and for many, the sight of the sea before of them was like a beautiful fresh drink of cool water after a very long drought.

The gang returned to the old familiar Sleeping Dog and sat themselves down for pints of ale and cheese and bread.  Now that Harrison Gus was a true pirate, with his very own, albeit somewhat manky, parrot on his shoulder, he was given a full strength glass of the yellow, frothy drink as well.  Harrison Gus cut himself a hunk of cheese and nibbled happily.  He broke off some pieces and fed them to Sancus, who sat on his shoulder virtually purring at the taste of this new food he’d never tried before.  There they all sat, safely returned,  Harrison Gus himself, TT, Starfish, the Captain, Sir Jones, Cook and Gago.  Harrison Gus looked around the table once more.  Where was Gago?

Harrison Gus took a quick sip of ale and tried very hard not to make a face at the bitter taste.  He forced himself to swallow it down, receiving a raucous round of laughter from the gang, and a hearty pat on the back from the Captain, before excusing himself from the table.  He stepped outside into the fresh sea breeze.  There, along the horizon, she lay, the long body of the sea, breathing slowly back and forth across the beach.  It was so tranquil and peaceful, the sounds of the waves so soothing, and it was so good to be back in town, with good food and drink, warmth and a soft bed to sleep in, it almost made him forget the evil witches were here in town, somewhere near, making their evil plans.

Seagulls flew overhead, screeching at each other and calling each other names.  Down on the wet sand stood Gago, staring out to sea.  Harrison Gus walked over to him.

“Beautiful isn’t it” he said to Gago after a while, to break the silence.  “The sea.  So quiet.”

Gago looked down at the little pirate with a scowl and raised eyebrows and then looked back at the sea, scanning the horizon.  “Aye, she’s quiet alright.  I think she’s eaten while we’ve been gone.”

“Eaten?” Harrison Gus said, swallowing.

“Aye.  D’ye see the Black Dagger anywhere?”  Gago said and turned and walked back to the tavern.

Harrison Gus squinted and stared and looked every which way along the horizon.  Gago was right.  The Black Dagger, their way off the island, away from the witches, the way back home to his own dear mother and father, was nowhere to be seen.

Chapter 45: So… tell me about yourself

Harrison Gus looked up and saw the parrots on the ground in front of him.  There was Mario, Midas and his little green helper parakeet, Petunia, and the others who had auditioned for him, all staring up at him in anticipation.  Who would he pick as his parrot?

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He saw Captain Greeneye, Sir Jones, and the other pirates, dotted around the clearing.  He looked around at the trees and saw many other parrots gathered there.  There was Sancus too, sitting in a tree, as casually as a parrot might who had not auditioned but was vaguely interested to know, all the same, who Harrison Gus might choose.

Harrison Gus cleared his throat.  “I would like to, um, thank all the parrots who were kind enough to choose me and audition for me, I’m honoured.  So very…  I…  But I need to choose…” He looked once more around the clearing, at the parrots, the pirates, at Sancus, at Petunia.  He looked at his boots.  He poked the toe of his boot into the dirt a little.  The crowd watched and waited in silence.

He looked up and breathed in, straightening his back to try to give himself some courage. He breathed out and in again, and then, “I choose Sancus!” he called out.

This caused an uproar.  Sancus had not auditioned.  It was against the rules to choose a parrot who had not auditioned.  The parrots on the ground squawked indignantly.  The pirates muttered amongst themselves and spat.  The birds in the trees flapped their wings in outrage.

But Harrison Gus stood quietly and calmly.  He was certain he had chosen rightly, even though Sancus had not chosen him.  He knew it was against the rules to choose a parrot who had not auditioned, but Sancus was the parrot he wanted.  If Sancus did not want him, then, he thought, he would not have any of the others.  A lifetime was a long time to spend with a parrot.  He had to be sure it was the right one.

The noise and kerfuffle did not die down until Sancus himself flew up into the air, squawked very loudly and landed in the middle of the clearing.  The parrots who were there shuffled away from him.  The pirates stopped talking and sat back down or settled back to lean against a tree.  The parrots in the trees stopped their flapping and leaned forward to watch Sancus and see what he would do.

Sancus eyed Harrison Gus.  Harrison Gus looked back at Sancus.

“You choose… me?” said  Sancus.

“Yes.  I choose you, Mr Sancus.”

“Just Sancus will do.  Even though I did not audition for you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I… Because you…  I just think that I…  we’d make a good team.” Harrison Gus looked down at the ground, flushing a bright red.

Sancus looked at the boy, then stared off into the distance.  The silence grew thicker as all onlookers held their breath to hear what Sancus might say.  Would he yell at Harrison Gus, explain the rules to him, or just fly off and leave him to it?  But Sancus did none of those things.  He did flap his wings and fly up into the air, but only as far as Harrison Gus’ shoulder, where he sat and preened for a moment.

“Alright then.  So be it.” he said.

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“So be it?” Harrison Gus said.

“Aye.  I’ll be yer parrot, arrrr.”  Sancus replied.

“You don’t have to talk like a pirate.”  Harrison Gus laughed happily.

“Oh good.  Well, we’d best be going then.  I’ve been waiting a long time to leave these sodding forests, always the same, trees, trees everywhere.  Branches waving, leaves rustling. Rustle, rustle, rustle.  I like trees, but honestly, I could stand not to hear or see the damn things for a good decade or two.”

Harrison Gus turned to look at the other pirates.

Captain Greeneye stood up slowly.  “Well”, he said, “it seems our young Harrison Gus has got himself a parrot.”

One or two pirates clapped half-heartedly.  Another called out “Yey…!”, in a feeble voice.  The Captain cleared his throat.  At this, the pirates stood up unanimously and gathered, albeit slowly, around Harrison Gus, some clapping, some nodding, and all mumbling their congratulations.

The Captain seemed genuinely pleased for Harrison Gus, and Sir Jones was too, Harrison Gus thought.  He wasn’t sure why the others were so hesitant, perhaps because he hadn’t played by the rules?  Did pirates care about that, being as how they were, well… pirates, thieves and lawbreakers generally.  He did notice that while many of the pirates were quite happy to pat or slap him on the back they dared not touch Sancus.  He seemed to inspire some kind of fear or awe in them.  Well, he supposed, he felt it too.

He wondered what his good friend Alan would make of his choice of bird.  Sancus was no chicken, yet Harrison Gus felt that Alan’s parrot, who was actually a chicken, and Sancus might just become great friends.  Sancus had a well-developed sense of self-worth, but he didn’t seem a snob, and Harrison Gus hoped he wouldn’t balk at spending time with a chicken.

The pirates packed up their makeshift tents and beds, as much fruit, dried meats and water they could carry, and began the journey back through the forest the way they had come.  As they walked Sancus whistled and chirped happily.  He seemed strangely merry, like a child almost, and very unlike the serious, noble bird he usually was.

But the forest was large and after many hours they were still surrounded by trees as thickly planted as before and there appeared no end in sight.  Sancus had ceased his happy whistling some time ago.

“It does stop, does it not?”  he said suddenly.

“What?” Harrison Gus said.

“The forest, the trees.  There is an end?  We are not walking in circles are we? Should I fly up and check our position?”

“No, it’s just a long walk.  We can’t fly like you or it would be much quicker. You must have flown away, out of here, these forests, sometimes?”

“Nope.  We who have… had… not yet been chosen cannot leave the Parrot Forests.  Well then.  To pass the time, perhaps you ought to tell me about yourself.  Tell me your history.  Tell me of your family and how you have come to be here with this band of miscreants.”

Harrison Gus proceeded to tell Sancus about his beloved parents, about his wish to become a pirate like his old friend, Captain Greeneye, and so about the journey to the Parrot Islands to find a parrot of his own so he could be a true pirate.  He told Sancus about the adventures he’d had on the way, about Pig, Alan’s parrot, who was actually a chicken.  About the ugly Deadfish and his deeds, and about the witches and the mermaids and all the frightening ordeals he’d experienced since they’d come to the island.

Sancus listened to all of it in silence, so that when Harrison Gus finished, he wasn’t at all sure that Sancus was even awake.

But Sancus was awake.  He sat wide-eyed on Harrison Gus’ shoulder, taking in every word.

Chapter 44: Riches, spices or poo?

The pirates laughed and booed the poor little bird, Petunia, who was still standing quite proudly over her freshly deposited little, round, brown poo.

Captain Greeneye held up his hand to silence the pirates.

He bent down and, to Harrison Gus’ horror, picked up the little poo between naked thumb and forefinger.  Harrison Gus wrinkled his nose but could not help moving closer to look at it.  It was brown and oval and kind of wrinkly.  The Captain knocked it against a rock.  It made a surprisingly hard, solid, wooden sound.

He brought the poo to his nose.  The pirates and Harrison Gus stood in awe-struck silence as the Captain sniffed it.  A collective groan rose from the pirates when the he then proceeded to take a knife from his pocket, sliced a splinter from the poo, and put it in his mouth.

The Captain looked up with a triumphant smile.  “By jove” he cried.  It is!  It’s nutmeg! This bird’s poo is nutmeg!”

Petunia scraped one toe along the ground and cooed coyly.

The pirates gathered round the Captain and the precious poo was handed from pirate to pirate.  By the time it came back round it was considerably smaller.  A number of the pirates had followed the Captain’s example and taken off small pieces to taste.  Nutmeg was a most precious spice.  Wars had been fought over it, and were being fought still, and not many knew where the remote island was where the fruit with its precious kernel grew.  No-one except a small band of wealthy and rough sailors from the lowlands who returned from their mysterious journeys across the sea with it, and traded it for great sums of money, and who defended their secret with such violence that none dared cross them.

It was a strange and precious gift the little parrot had, the ability to… produce nutmeg.  Such a talent really was not to be… well… sniffed at.  Many of the pirates urged Harrison Gus to choose this special bird as his parrot.  They seemed to deem excreting nutmeg a more valuable talent even than Midas’ treasure finding ability.  The pirates began to argue about how much nutmeg was currently worth on the market, and at what Petunia might be able to produce the spice.

Petunia cocked her head at Harrison Gus and winked at him.

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She flew into a nearby tree and settled on a thick branch, tucking her wings tightly against her body.

Harrison Gus left the band of pirates talking animatedly amongst themselves and snuck away to wander amongst the trees to think.

It grew quiet in the wood as he wandered further away.  He knew he’d have to make a decision soon.  Another parrot or two might audition for him in the next couple of days, who knew, but as time went on that was less likely.

He heard a flapping by his ear.  It was Sancus flying by.  Sancus landed on a big boulder between the trees and shuffled around, getting comfortable.

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Harrison Gus slowly approached the boulder.  He leaned against it and looked at Sancus.

“So”, Sancus said.  “You’ve got options.”

Harrison Gus nodded.  “I do.”

“Some solid options, good birds”  Sancus continued.

Harrison Gus nodded some more.

“What do you think you’ll do?  Who do you think you’ll choose?”

Harrison Gus stood in silence.  It was on the tip of his tongue to ask Sancus why he hadn’t auditioned, why Sancus didn’t want to be his parrot, but he was afraid of what Sancus might say.

“I don’t really know.  I suppose I might choose Petunia”, Harrison Gus said.

“Ah”, Sancus nodded his head in quite a human-like fashion.  “Nutmeg, hmmm?  Valuable that.”

“Yes, but…” Harrison Gus stopped and looked away into the distant trees.

“Bit unsavoury?  Eh?  Unsavoury!  Get it?  It shits it and it’s a spice, right? Unsav… oh never mind.” Sancus hopped around the rock a bit, clearly annoyed.

Harrison Gus looked quickly at Sancus. “No, it is funny, unsavoury.  I’m just… not sure what to do.”

Sancus turned his head and looked at Harrison Gus with one beady eye, then the other.

“You don’t want Petunia?  One of the others take your fancy?  Perhaps Midas, the treasure hunter, hmmm?”

“Well…” Harrison Gus thought hard.  “I think that treasure hunting is a useful skill, but I don’t think he likes me very much.”

“That matters to you, does it?  Everyone must like you?”

Harrison Gus flushed a little.

“I think…  I think… I’m not sure I like Midas.” he said.  Midas was snooty, and while his treasure finding talent might be useful, he couldn’t help but think of Alan and his chicken, and Sir Jones and his beautiful, if useless, parrot.  Neither were perhaps birds with the best, most useful talents but they were loyal birds, kind birds.  Midas, while clearly clever, did not seem to him to be particularly kind or loyal. But was Petunia?  How would he know which bird would be the best companion for him?

“And Mario?  You are not pleased with his singing?”

“I am indeed, it’s beautiful”, said Harrison Gus.  “But… ”  How could he explain what he was looking for in a parrot.  “My parrot will stay with me my whole life?”

“Yes indeed”, said Sancus.  “Your chosen parrot will likely live as long as you, perhaps longer.”

“Then I would like a parrot who is a friend, a parrot who will listen to me, and who might…” he looked at Sancus, “advise me truly”.

“You want an admirer?”

“Not an admirer, a friend, a true friend.”  Harrison Gus hung his head.  He hadn’t felt a real connection with any of the parrots who auditioned, not… not the way he felt one with… Sancus.  But Sancus had not auditioned. How could he decide between the others?

“What makes you think you deserve that?  You think you can just meet a parrot and in a day or an hour figure out whether they’re what, a soulmate?”

“No. You’re right.  I don’t know how this is supposed to work.  And I don’t know how to choose.”

“You should be grateful so many parrots choose you.  Not many pirates get to choose amongst so many.  You are a lucky boy.”

He was a lucky boy.  He knew that was true.  He knew he was being decidedly ungrateful by fussing over which one he should choose.  It might be a difficult choice, but having a choice was a gift.

Thinking it through he decided that Petunia was the best choice.  Nutmeg was a valuable spice, and he quite liked her.  She had a funny way about her, but she seemed sweet.

“Petunia then.”

“For her precious produce?”

“For that, and her nature.  How do I… actually choose her?”

“You go back to the clearing and gather all the birds who’ve auditioned, and there announce your choice”, Sancus said and with a flap of his wings he flew off.

And so Harrison Gus returned to the clearing and called out the names of all the birds who’d auditioned for him.  One by one they came and settled near him on the ground.  The pirates too gathered round to find out who Harrison Gus would choose.

Slowly the clearing grew quiet.

Harrison Gus felt nervous.  All eyes were on him, all ears, fleshy and feathered, waiting to hear what he might say.

Chapter 43: Mathematics, acrobatics, and poo

In the morning there was no sign of the scruffy grey parrot, Sancus, except for one small grey feather that floated away when Harrison Gus awoke and lifted his blanket to hop out of bed.

After breakfast, the pirates set about fixing up their makeshift tents and beds from the night before, gathering firewood, and searching for anything edible that might improve Cook’s stew.  Harrison Gus suspected that would be a fruitless exercise, no matter what delicious and delicate fruits, plants and meats they might find.  Although Cook’s stew certainly allowed plenty of opportunity for improvement, the minute Cook’s hands fell on any ingredient, they just seemed to suck all the pleasantness out of it.

Mid morning, as Harrison Gus, Captain Greeneye and Sir Jones rested together for a spell under a big tree, their conversation was interrupted by a loud rustling.  The rustling grew louder.  A tree opposite them appeared to be the source of the noise.  It began to wave its branches about, and as they watched the tree became really quite agitated, then nothing less than frantic, until at last, Mario, the beautiful red and blue singing parrot Harrison Gus had met before, popped backwards out of the foliage.  Harrison Gus thought he saw a flash of grey in the tree behind Mario, just before the foliage sprang back into place.

Mario tumbled through the air but quickly recovered himself and landed as gracefully as he could under the circumstances, right in front of Harrison Gus.  Mario kicked the dust with his feet a few times, shuffled about a bit and squawked grumpily, tossing his head from side to side.  Then, at last, having gathered himself, he turned to the pirates, bowed for Harrison Gus, and repeated his audition from several days earlier for this larger audience, singing his beautiful, sad and happy songs, and, once again, bringing tears to the eyes of all who heard him.  Mario bowed and flew back into a tree, managing to look both pleased with himself and his performance, and irritated, presumably at having to repeat his audition.

Shortly after, the same tree began to shake again.  This time out popped Midas, the yellow treasure-hunting parrot, followed closely by the little green parakeet Harrison Gus had also seen before.  The duo repeated their audition also, the little green parakeet flying off and hiding the golden ring for Midas to find, Midas returning with it shortly after.

Sir Jones clapped unreservedly for their efforts, whereupon he received a sharp squawk and a not too gentle peck from his own parrot.  Sir Jones stopped clapping and cleared his throat, rubbing his arm, but still managed a wink and a nod to Midas and his green companion.

The Captain too was very impressed with Midas. He laughed and clapped Harrison Gus on the back appreciatively and, it must be said, quite hard.  So hard, in fact, that Harrison Gus slipped forward off the log he’d been sitting on and fell on his bottom on the rather unyielding ground.

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‘Ooph’, Harrison Gus grunted and up he scrambled, trying to clap for the birds’ performance while surreptitiously rubbing his sore bottom.  It was not a good look.  Midas and the little green parakeet barely bowed before they flew off, Midas with eyebrows raised haughtily while the little green parakeet tweeted bitterly over its shoulder as it flew.

“Well”, said Captain Greeneye, “that’s two parrots wantin’ ye already, and you’ve not been here but two days!  And a treasure hunting parrot at that.  Well, well, well!”

Sir Jones ignored the others entirely now, which was wise given his own parrot’s jealous nature.  He concentrated whole-heartedly on patting his parrot, which lay luxuriously stretched out in his lap, its head tilted back across one arm (from which position it found it could no longer move because of the weight of its twinkling, golden beak) as Sir Jones scratched its tender white feathery throat.

“Course none are as attractive as this ‘ere parrot, eh, Jones!” The Captain laughed and clapped Sir Jones on the back.

“He is very beautiful, Sir Jones”, Harrison Gus said.

Sir Jones’ parrot practically purred under all this praise, tried hard to lift its head to look at them all, confirmed that no indeed it couldn’t, and flopped back down again.

“Alright well, enough chatter”, the Captain said.  They got up and got back to work.  Harrison Gus gathered dry broken branches in his arms and carried them back to Cook’s improvised kitchen, guarded by Cook’s big, blue parrot.  The big, blue parrot eyed Harrison Gus as he dropped the branches haphazardly near a growing pile of wood and stood staring into the trees.  The parrot watched Harrison Gus stand there for a while, and then he squawked.

Harrison Gus jumped at the sound.  He bent down and tidied the branches he’d dropped.  Strange, he thought, he was certain he’d seen Sancus in the trees earlier, and again just now in the tree over there, but Sancus would not come out and show himself.  Why was he here?  Was he going to audition?  What if he didn’t? But Harrison Gus was pleased that Sancus had (he assumed) made Mario and Midas audition again.  If Harrison Gus did want to pick one of these parrots, it would be hard to explain to the pirates how he’d ended up with a parrot without it auditioning first.  But… did he want Mario?  Or Midas?

Over the next several days, three more parrots came forward to audition for Harrison Gus.

One could do simple sums, not a bad talent for a pirate who could not read or write but wanted to manage or keep track of his wealth.  Harrison Gus, however, was able to match this parrot’s mathematical skills easily, having had some education at school before his great journey with Captain Greeneye had begun, so he dismissed this parrot from his deliberations immediately, particularly since it seemed rather aggressive, and pecked at other parrots that came near.

Another was able to perform acrobatic tricks in the air, great tumbling loops and swoops, cartwheels and somersaults,  rapid divebombs from great heights, pulling up just before it hit the ground, and flying low and fast dragging its toes through the dust, leaving behind a trail of swirls and patterns on the ground.  It was a fabulous display, and Harrison Gus and the pirates who saw it hooted and clapped, until the parrot relented and performed another short routine for them, flying upwards in tight little circles like a tornado and then diving straight back down with its little body straight and its wings tucked around its body, at the last minute spreading its wings and landing softly on the ground, bowing low.

It was spectacular, yet, Harrison Gus felt, this talent could not compare to the beautiful songs of Mario, or the treasure hunting skills of Midas.

The third was a strange little bird.  It was small with tufts of wispy pale yellow feathers stuck haphazardly here and there, its pink skin clear between them.  It very softly introduced itself as Petunia.  The pirates sat in silence and watched and waited as Petunia sat cooing on the ground, twisting and turning and looking rather sheepish.  Finally she lifted herself off the ground, and clutching her wings to her sides and shutting her eyes tightly, gave a tiny little fart and deposited a small poo on the ground.

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She landed back down and poked the hard round little poo with her beak, rolling it towards Harrison Gus and the pirates.   She looked up at them triumphantly.

Chapter 42: The homicidal shepherdess

Harrison Gus promised the scruffy grey parrot that he wouldn’t tell the pirates, any of the pirates, not even Captain Greeneye, about the secret clearing and the big, fat dodos that lived there.

“Come on”, the grey parrot said.  “I’ll take you back now, if you like.  If you’re done with the… auditions.”

“Auditions?  What auditions?”

“Those fellas, them parrots… Mario the singing wonder? Midas the treasure hunter?”

Harrison Gus looked blankly at the grey parrot.

“They want to be your parrots, my boy.  They picked you.  So they showed you their talents.  Do you want one of them?”

Harrison Gus looked utterly confused.

The grey parrot shook out its wings and tucked them back in.  It didn’t help make him look any less scruffy. “Well, you could choose Mario to be your parrot and be able to hear his beautiful singing any time you like.  He can evoke for you the greatest joy, the most blissful sadness, whenever you wish.”

The grey parrot looked at Harrison Gus for a moment, took a deep breath and went on.  “Or, you could choose Midas and you can send him to find you treasure whenever you like, wherever it might be.”  He paused.  “You will be rich, you will never want for any money.”

“But I… we haven’t even got to the Parrot Forests yet to look for a parrot.  I thought… I don’t know how this works.”  Harrison Gus sat down.

“Technically you are at the Parrot Forests, these trees are the edge of the Forests.  The usual route is a bit longer, your friendly dodos showed you a short cut.  Any parrot who wants to be yours will show you their talent and if there is more than one parrot interested in you, you can choose between them.  But you may only have one.”

“And… What’s your name?”

“Sancus.”

“Oh that’s a… nice name.”

Sancus snorted.

“And you don’t…  want to be my parrot, Sancus?” Harrison Gus asked, suddenly wishing he hadn’t.  He’d set himself up for a nice bruising; what if Sancus said no?

Sancus looked at him in silence.  Harrison Gus could feel his cheeks turn red.  He began to sweat.

“I have not decided”, Sancus said eventually, cocking his head to one side.

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After a further lengthy silence he said, “anyway, you will have to go the long way to the Parrot Forests with your pirate friends before you choose a parrot.  Your friends can’t know about the shortcut or they will find the dodos.  And if you go back to them with a parrot now they will wonder where you went to get it.  Let’s go.”

Harrison Gus stood up and kind of shuffled around, turning his face away from Sancus, and brushing imaginary dirt from his clothes.  Sancus flew to a branch and then hopped across to another.  Harrison Gus took the hint and followed.  The route took them round to the other side of Dodo Rock.  He could see the pirates on the other side of the lake.  Sancus flew away now that Harrison Gus could see where to go, and Harrison Gus moved quickly along around the lakefront.

By the time he arrived on the other side, the pirates were up and about and soon the party was ready to continue on their journey.  Harrison Gus couldn’t be certain, but as they walked, every now and then he thought he saw a flash of red and blue in the trees in the distance, or a burst of yellow.  He wondered if Midas and Mario were following him.  Was Sancus following him too?  Sancus had said he was undecided about whether he wanted to be Harrison Gus’ parrot.  Did that mean that he would hang around until he had?

The journey continued for two more days and nights.  When he had the chance, he looked closely at each of the pirates’ parrots, those who had one that is.  Some had more obvious talents than others, and some talents seemed a little… silly to Harrison Gus.  Take Sir Jones’ parrot, for example.  He was beautiful, yes, but his heavy golden beak weighed the poor creature down so much that he could barely lift his head at the best of times, and Sir Jones was spending much of the journey carrying the bird.  Having said that the parrot and Sir Jones certainly appeared to be very close.  Perhaps this was why Sir Jones had chosen the parrot, because they got on so well.  Or perhaps the parrot had been the only one to choose Sir Jones.  Sir Jones, in his squeaky leather pants and odd little ways, was certainly an acquired taste.

Mario and Midas both seemed like good choices.  Beautiful music at will, no worries about money.  And yet…  Harrison Gus couldn’t help wondering what Alan might think of these choices.  Alan, with his own scruffy parrot… chicken.  But Alan’s parrot-chicken was a noble parrot-chicken who defended Alan when he was attacked, and Harrison Gus for that matter, and was a brave and kindly parrot-chicken, and great friend to Alan.  Could Harrison Gus feel the same about Mario?  Midas?  Sancus?

One sunny morning they arrived in the Parrot Forests.

All around them Harrison Gus heard the squawks and cries of wild parrots, parrots who had not yet chosen or been chosen by a pirate master.  In a clearing the pirates made a camp.  The Captain explained to Harrison Gus that it might be several days before a parrot came to ‘present itself’ to him, audition for him as it were, and ask to be chosen as Harrison Gus’ parrot.  Harrison Gus said nothing of Midas and Mario, who had already auditioned.  He saw them both almost straight away, sitting in branches nearby.  He saw the little green parakeet who had helped Midas by hiding the ring for him to find.  But look as he might, he could not find Sancus.

Night fell and Harrison Gus continued to read to the men from Don Quixote.  His copy of the book was getting quite tattered.  He sat by the fire with Sir jones looking over his shoulder, mumbling the odd word in his ear.  It was slightly disconcerting and tickly.  Harrison Gus read out loud about the beautiful young woman, also known as the cruel basilisk, the homicidal shepherdess, or Marcela, and the burial of Chrysostom, one of her many victims.

He read Marcela’s beautiful speech on her unasked for beauty and the unrequited love of her suicidal suitors.  And he read a little more of Don Quixote’s further adventures, which led him once again to be beaten to a pulp, then carried by an ass to another inn, which once again Don Quixote mistakes for a castle.

How wonderful, thought Harrison Gus, to have such a vivid imagination as Don Quixote, that an inn might be mistaken for a magnificent castle, that a plain frame with straw might be mistaken for a sumptuous bed fit for a king.  He looked at his own bed for the night, a pile of leaves spread across a shallow hole he’d dug in the ground, a woollen blanket for cover, and another woollen blanket strung up between two poles, pitched slantwise, making a lean-to shelter to protect him from the worst weather.

It had seemed to him rather a nice bed in a pinch, but now as he lay down in it he tried to imagine himself in a great soft bed, with a thick mattress to lie on and a soft feather-bed to cover him.  He snuggled down under his blanket, but it did scratch his chin so, and the leaves beneath him crackled rather loudly.  He sighed at his own lack of imagination, but very soon he was asleep.

A scruffy grey parrot landed by near his prone little body, sauntered around his sleeping form and found a little pocket behind his knees to settle into.

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He turned a few times and sat, looking like a raggedy ball of fluff with his scruffy feathers sticking out every which way, and watched as the young boy slept.

Chapter 41: How much would you pay for one live dodo?

Harrison Gus sat and watched the parrots in the trees and the dodos milling around on the ground.  The two dodos who had chased him down here had wandered off, their purpose apparently having been achieved.

There were countless parrots in the trees, of any and every shade imaginable.  Three parrots in particular caught his eye, or perhaps he caught theirs, he could never be quite sure.  The first was a fiery red parrot with pale blue wings that flew straight at him and at the last moment turned and landed in the grass near, but not too near, his feet.  It sat there and looked at him until he looked away.

The second parrot was yellow, or rather a range of quite distinct shades of yellow.  It had pale yellow wings, a saddle of dark yellow on its back, a golden throat, and the rest of its body was a bright canary yellow.  The yellow parrot sailed towards him from some distance away and then flew in increasingly smaller circles around and around him, until it veered off and settled in a nearby tree.

The third parrot was a grey scruffy looking parrot that looked at first as though it might be a juvenile and not quite grown into its adult feathers.  But when it landed on a moss-covered log less than a metre away from him, Harrison Gus could see that it was an adult.  It was also not entirely grey.  Underneath its wings were ribbons of dark green, light blue, dark blue and black.  The bird shuffled up and down the rotting log peering at Harrison Gus through sparkly black eyes.

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The clearing grew strangely still, and in the stillness, a beautiful golden tone rang out, and another, and then another.  It was the red parrot with the pale blue wings sitting on the grass before him.  It was singing the most beautiful song Harrison Gus had ever heard.  He felt the purest joy and a great sadness all at once.  Tears ran freely from his eyes.

The song made him think of home, his mother and father, his comfortable bed.  It made him think of the sea, the smell and the feel of the waves and the spray that skipped up along the bow and over the gunwale into his face when they sailed, and the cry of the seagull, calling out ‘land! land!’.  He found the song almost impossible to bear, yet when it stopped the silence itself felt for a moment unbearable.

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Harrison Gus stood and clapped his hands together.

“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard!” he said to the bird, which bowed low, eyes twinkling.  It hopped around in a circle two times.  Then it burst into song once more; this time a jolly, pleasant tune that lifted his spirits and made him feel light and airy and happy.  When it’d finished the parrot turned and hopped around and bowed again.  Harrison Gus bowed playfully in return.

“That was wonderful!”

The bird nodded, almost as though agreeing, and then slowly retreated.

Not long afterwards the yellow parrot spread its wings and glided down from its tree.  It waited until it had Harrison Gus’ undivided attention and then spat something out of its beak.  Harrison Gus wrinkled his nose, but when he looked more closely it appeared that what the parrot had spat out was not some masticated food but a ring, a golden ring.  Harrison Gus picked it up and wiped it on his sleeve.  It was plain, except for two deep jagged scratches.

The yellow parrot squawked twice.  Harrison Gus looked up to see another parrot, a small green parrot with a small red patch on its head, actually more of a parakeet really, swoop down and snatch the ring from Harrison Gus’ hand.  With the ring clutched in its claws it flew away.

A while later the parakeet returned, without the ring.  The yellow parrot now tilted its head and sat quietly, as though listening, then jumped up and spread its wings.  It flew away.

Harrison Gus shrugged.  He was thinking about the beautiful songs of the red and blue parrot.  The heart-breaking song, and the light, lovely tune that followed.

There was a loud shriek, followed by a strange snort.  He looked around to find the source of the noise and found himself looking at the scruffy, grey parrot on the rotting log.  It stepped from foot to foot and back again.  It flicked its head from side to side, staring at him with its round little eyes.

“Impressive, old Mario.  He can sing some ditties”, the bird said.

“What?” Harrison Gus stared at the parrot.

“The parrot.  The blue and red parrot that sang for you.  He can really belt out a tune, huh?”

“Um…”

The grey parrot rolled its eyes. “Never heard of a talking parrot before?”

“Well… yes… but…”

“I’m a little more articulate than your average psittaciforme?”

“What?”

“Psittaciforme.  Parrot?”

“Oh.  Well… yes, you sound like… a human.”

“I’ve been around a while.  You pick things up.”  It ruffled its feathers, a bit proudly really.

“Ok.” Harrison Gus continued to stare at the parrot.

Just then the yellow parrot swooped down and landed on the grass in front of him.  It spat something onto the grass.  It was the ring.  Harrison Gus picked it up.  He found the same two scratches on it.  He looked at the parrot.  The bird bowed.

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Harrison Gus dropped the ring back on the ground in front of the yellow bird.

“I should probably get back”, he said.

“Not impressed?” the grey parrot asked.

“With what?”

“Old Midas here.  He’s a treasure hunter.  That little fellow there” he nodded to the little parakeet, “he flew that ring off and hid it somewhere on the island and Midas found it again, pretty quickly too.  Sometimes he takes quite a bit longer.”

Midas squawked angrily.

“Well you do.” the grey parrot said.

Midas flew up into the little spindly tree again and sat on a branch, preening.

“That’s amazing.” Harrison Gus said, looking at Midas.  “He can find treasure?”

The grey bird nodded. “He’s got some kind of weird second sense for gold.  Whenever there’s any nearby he’ll fly right to it.  Handy, eh?”  It stared hard at Harrison Gus.

“Yeah”, Harrison Gus said wistfully.

Midas hopped off his branch and glided down to Harrison Gus’ feet where he sat and preened some more.

“You parrots are really talented.  Midas can find gold.  That bird before sang like a… like… like an angel.” Harrison Gus sighed.  Then he looked at the grey parrot.

The grey parrot looked at Harrison Gus.  Its expression might suggest that if it had eyebrows it would be raising them in rather a challenging way round about now.

Harrison Gus cleared his throat.  “Well… I should be getting back.  I don’t suppose you know the way?”

After a prolonged silence the grey parrot said, “I tell the truth”.

“I’m sorry?”

“That’s my thing, I tell the truth.”

“You tell the truth.”

“That’s right.”

“Ok then.  Well… so, I should go.  Do you know how I can get back?  I’m pretty sure I can’t climb back up that hole I fell in.”

“No you can’t”, the grey bird said.  “But first, tell me, are you going to tell those pirate friends of yours about this place, the dodos?”

“Shouldn’t I?”

“No indeed!  This is the last bastion of the dodo, the only place they are safe.  I’m sure you think kindly of your friends, but do not forget they are pirates.  How much do you think a dodo might be worth?”

Harrison Gus stood and stared at the parrot, frowning.

“I can’t tell them?”

“I would prefer you didn’t.”

“But…”

“No.”

“But the Captain wouldn’t…”

“Not one of them.”