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.

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