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?
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?”
“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.
“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.