PART OF THE New ISSUE
‘Ka was struck by the elegance of the choughs’ flight, and slightly embarrassed by the efforts he needed to make just to keep up.’
Extract taken from Ka, the Ring and the Raven
By Richard Hallewell
Published by Hallewell Publications
SO Ka flew north once more, now hugging the coast. At first, he didn’t stop to ask the way, but on the afternoon of the second day he began to spot strange crows, a piebald black and grey, and recognised the hooded crows described by Swartfeather. After that, whenever he needed to feed or rest he would always look for a hoodie, introduce himself, and ask about Riach and the Old Raven. Both were always known, but both were always simply ‘north’. On he flew, past hills and then mountains, crossing deep arms of the sea and offshore islands. The weather was mixed, but never warm: days of sharp winds and rain, and others of grey, bone-chilling gloom.
A week after he had started, the cloud lifted and the sun shone brightly, bringing an unseasonable warmth. Ka was flying through a landscape he could never have imagined a few weeks before: a line of huge, undulating cliffs, falling sheer into the sea, occasionally broken by shallow bays with wide sand beaches backed by low dunes and sandy grassland cropped by sheep. He began to feel a deep tiredness, and remembered one of Swartfeather’s lessons.
‘Fatigue will sneak up on you on a trip like this,’ he had said. ‘Watch out for it. It makes you slow and stupid. If you can’t rest then you can’t, but if you can, do it!’
Ka peered down at the land, looking for somewhere safe to roost. There were no trees and no buildings, but looking closely at the cliff top he spotted something else: two crows – or something like crows – a male and a female, striding across the short grass behind the cliff edge. They looked a little larger than a jackdaw, but smaller than Swartfeather, and, though their feathers were a glossy black, they had bright red legs and narrow, curving red bills. They were choughs. Ka drifted down and landed beside them.
‘Hello,’ he said, in a mewing cat-like voice which turned out to be perfect conversational chough. ‘My name is Ka.’
The choughs stared at him with astonishment for a moment, then glanced at each other, before the male bird said:
‘Hello. I’m Branek, and this is Eseld. I’m sorry . . . I do apologise for staring – it must seem terribly rude – but we have never seen a bird like you before . . .’
‘. . . And we certainly haven’t met any bird which could speak to us,’ said Eseld. ‘Unless it was another chough.’
‘I’m a jackdaw,’ said Ka. ‘From the south. And I haven’t seen any others like me on this coast, so I may be the only one. And I’m fairly sure I’m the only one which would be able to speak to you, anyway.’
‘How extraordinary,’ said Eseld, with enthusiasm. ‘We are new here ourselves, you see . . .’
‘. . . So, for all we knew, it might be absolutely typical of birds here . . .’ said Branek.
‘. . . We just couldn’t be sure,’ concluded Eseld.
Ka found himself whipping his head from side to side as the birds completed each other’s sentences. After the austere discourse of the crows and hoodies, he found the conversation charming, but he was so tired that he was barely able understand what the birds were saying.
‘I have to apologise again,’ said Branek. ‘We are here on our own . . .’
‘No other choughs, that is,’ said Eseld. ‘When we got paired up we decided to head off by ourselves and find somewhere of our own to live . . .’
‘. . . So it’s rather nice to find someone else we can actually talk to,’ said Branek. ‘We are not usually quite so talkative . . . I say, are you quite all right?’
‘Oh . . . just a little faint,’ said Ka, who was shocked to find that he was on the very edge of collapse. ‘I don’t suppose you know of anywhere I could rest up, do you? I seem to have flown a very long way and I need a sleep more than I have ever needed anything.’
The two choughs looked at each other for a moment, then Branek said: ‘Well, if you can fly just a short way further, we have found a terrific cave in the cliffs . . .’
‘. . . The views are wonderful, and it isn’t a bit draughty,’ said Eseld. ‘Except when the wind is in the north west . . .’
‘. . . And there will be plenty of room for you to rest there,’ said Branek.
So the three birds took off, folded their wings to dip over the edge of the cliffs, then swooped in a low arc across the face of the rocks, with the calm water lapping idly against the edge of the cliff below. Ka was struck by the elegance of the choughs’ flight, and slightly embarrassed by the efforts he needed to make just to keep up. Fortunately, if was not a long flight, and in a few moments they landed on a little ledge jutting out from the cliff. At one end was a large rock, behind which was the entrance to a dry, shallow cave. Ka entered and looked around, then turned to the choughs to thank them – he may even have opened his beak to do so – but before he could utter a single word he had fallen into a deep sleep.
Ka, the Ring and the Raven by Richard Hallewell is published by Hallewell Publications, priced £10.00.
Joanna Geyer-Kordesch has a distinguished academic career bridging the disciplines of history of medicine and cultural history as embodied in our landscapes. After Directing The Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at Glasgow University from 1990 …
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