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.
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.
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.
“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.