Here is a short story that was shortlisted for the Elyne Mitchell Rural Women’s Writing Award. It is an extract from my unpublished novel, Devil Island, and is set in the beautiful forests of the Tarkine.
The boy lingered with the eagles. He didn’t come when his father called him, when his family moved on to the next exhibit. The birds were darker than he’d imagined. One was almost black, perched on the log in the centre of the flight aviary, watching the sky.
“Why are birds of prey called raptors?” the boy asked the keeper.
“It’s from the Latin. Rapio – to seize,” said the man. “I’m impressed. Most people think raptors are bloodthirsty dinosaurs chasing Sam Neil around a movie set.”
“Does the black one have a name?”
“We call him Woorawa. It’s an aboriginal word for eagle.”
“Woorawa,” the boy whispered. “How did he end up here at Binburra?”
“Hit by a car, a lot of them are. Only two hundred breeding pairs left of these Giant Tasmanian Wedge Tails. You’d think people would be more careful.”
The boy nodded, never taking his eyes off the bird. “How old is he?”
“Sorry kid. I’ve got to go,” said the keeper, picking up his bucket of dead rats. “Why don’t you ask him?”
The boy waited for the keeper to leave. “Talk to me,” he said.
The eagle swivelled his head and fixed his gaze on the boy. A man came and took the boy’s hand, hurrying him away. Woorawa looked to the sun, sinking low in the western sky.
Last night, he’d dreamed he was back in the Tarkine with his mother and father and Pilyara, his sister. He’d dreamed about the ancient eyrie of his birth …
His parents. Old eagles. Experienced. Thirty seasons of chicks, hatched in their broad nest, high in the branches of the centuries old myrtle-beech. Each year they cleaned and refurbished it with new stems, landing hard on dead limbs to break them, or snatching sticks from the canopy in mid-flight. As a final touch, sprays of soft gum leaves lined the nest. Two metres wide, three metres deep and weighing half a tonne, the roomy platform of tangled twigs made a perfect nursery for growing eaglets. The old myrtle groaned beneath its weight. There were other nests, scattered high throughout the pair’s forty square kilometre range. Five in all. Dining tables and lookouts and roosts. But the eagles had long favoured this myrtle tree for raising young, exposed as it was to morning sun, and sheltered from wind.
It was a good season, the season of his hatching. Woorawa’s egg was laid first. An especially beautiful egg, buff white, splotched purple-brown, blotched lavender. Pilyara’s plain white egg arrived three days later. His parents shared incubation duties by day. At night mother eagle brooded alone, her mate on watch, roosting in the crown of the canopy. Forty-two sunsets had passed since the laying of this clutch. Often now, she stood and stared at her eggs. Mother birds hear unhatched chicks. Chicks hear parents. It is how song birds learn their song.
Woorawa lay curled around the yolk, never hungry. But after so many days there was no longer any room. His eyes almost worked now. Brightness came and went. As more and more carbon dioxide built up in his bloodstream, Woorawa suffered an irrepressible urge to scratch. Not at his body, but at the thin film inside his shell. With beak crammed awkwardly under his wing, he scraped and struggled and scraped, not knowing why. One more scrape. Punching through the membrane, drawing breath from a trapped bubble of air, filling lungs. More life-giving oxygen flowed through tiny pores in the shell. He peeped. He peeped again. The world grew bright as mother eagle leapt from her nest. She stared at the egg, touched it with her beak, uttering low, soft encouraging calls. ‘Dirra-lich … dirra-lich … dirra-lich.’ Woorawa peeped and peeped.
“I’m here,” he peeped. “I’m coming.”
Tap, tap, tap … Tap, tap, tap.
Pilyara heard him in her ivory egg. Hour after hour he chipped away. It was gruelling work. Only strong chicks hatch. All through that day he tapped, rested, tapped again.
Tap, tap, tap … Tap, tap, tap.
The sun sank below the ridge. Mother eagle tucked Woorawa and his sister warm beneath her brood pouch and they slept a dreamless sleep.
Tap, tap, tap … Tap, tap, tap.
At noon that second day, Woorawa raised a little bump on the egg shell surface. The pip.
Tap, tap, tap … Tap, tap, tap.
The pip cracked free of shell. A star pip. Mother and father stood by in rapt attention. Sister too, waiting for breath, inside her ivory egg. Woorawa drew lungfuls of fresh air, peeped and peeped. But he couldn’t tap. Fatigued, the little eaglet fell asleep within the shell. Afternoon shadows came.
Tap, tap, tap … tap, tap, tap.
Awake now, he peeped and scraped and pecked and peeped, holding his entire family spellbound. He tapped in a circle, broke off a cap, pushed it away. Mother and father leaned close to see their son. The big end of the beautiful egg was off and Woorawa wriggled free, wet and feeble, in an exhausted heap. There was no hint of the strength to come. Body wobbly, spindly neck unable to hold his too-big head steady before it lolled. Satisfied, father launched off, determined to provide his mate with a meal before dark.
Mother eagle swept her baby beneath her breast, drying his snowy down, warming his wet body. And Woorawa slept. He slept all that long afternoon. He slept through evening. He slept all night. And when morning came he sat up, bleary-eyed, head held high, surveying a view as ancient as he was new.
Proud father swooped in again and again, delivering bouquets of possums and fresh gum leaves on the wing. More than his mate could possibly want.
Peep, peep, peep … peep, peep, peep.
No umbilical chord delivered nourishment now. Brand new hunger. First craving.
Peep … Peep … Peep. This time urgent. Demanding.
Mother prepared a rabbit for serving, a rare treat here in the pristine forest, grasped fast in her talons, murderous beak delicately slicing fine slivers of flesh. With coaxing tenderness she offered a morsel to her son. Woorawa reached out his head. Good. Today he seemed to have control of his neck. He seized and swallowed. Lapin in blood sauce. A salty stream ran over the meat from a gland in mother’s nostril, providing Woorawa with an electrolyte rich drink, full also of enzymes and vital bacteria. Again and again he received mother’s minced offerings until his crop bulged. Quiet now. Sleepy. Dozing head on chest. Pilyara slept too.
And Mother rested, admiring her hatchling. She knew when she first saw the beautiful egg he would be special. Special like Karrhawara, the pair’s firstborn. Hatched when their nest was still shallow and narrow. Hatched when she was still young. Her mate fought for her that first summer in the Tarkine, all those years ago. The new breeding season had seen her cast out by her parents, last year’s chick no longer welcome. For two years or more she’d roamed alone on thermals of the central plateau. Sometimes she strayed into the territory of the few adult eagles who shared the skies. Invariably these pairs, including her own parents, evicted her with aggressive territorial displays. And it wasn’t just her own kind who seemed to despise her. A pariah of the avian world wherever she went, relentlessly hounded by smaller birds. Magpies and mudlarks. Crows and currawongs. Sometimes hawks and falcons mobbed her, with shrill whistles, dashing in with claws and beaks, hatred evident in their every movement. She mostly endured the indignity. Sometimes she rolled and plucked a too bold raven from the air, sailing down to perch, making of it a meal. Other birds harassed her as she ate, even little robins and wagtails. Was she welcome nowhere in the world? Perhaps she should leave her hostile homeland.
Weeks of lonely, aimless flight brought her to the Tarkine, a vast wilderness in Tasmania’s north-west. But prey was scarce and hard to catch for an eagle raised in the farmlands of the central highlands. No dead sheep. No paddocks of cats and rabbits here on Tikkawoppa plateau. Instead, myrtle-beech rainforest and button-grass moorland extended endlessly to the horizon. She’d never learned to hunt large prey, but plump little pademelons abounded in the cold, grassy clearings below. How hard could it be? She decided to try her luck.
The cloudy skies allowed her to drop lower and lower, with no fear of the feeding marsupials detecting her shadow. Selecting her target now. One … two … three. Wings folded, she plummeted earthwards. The pademelons heard the whine of wind in wings and leapt as one for the forest. Her intended victim reached shelter first. She switched focus to a larger male, crashing onto his shoulders mid-bound, just before the trees swallowed him. Seizing her prey tight with beak and claws, beating broad wings in reverse, she dragged him back into the open. But this was no rabbit. The struggling wallaby weighed ten times more than the inexperienced young eagle. And it fought, desperate for life, ignoring pain of slashing talons, resisting force of battering wings, dragging itself closer and closer to the safe haven of the forest where she dared not follow.
Now the pademelon was just metres from the gully. It hurled itself to earth, dislodging its attacker with powerful kicks of clawed hind legs, inflicting damage of its own. Discouraged, she retreated. A flurry of buff, breast feathers whirled about the battle field. The wallaby regained its feet, gathered itself for the final, few bounds to safety. Still she hung back, unsure if she possessed the strength to mount another assault.
Then, out of the blue, the cavalry arrived. A second bird screamed earthwards, slamming the unfortunate pademelon with all the force and know-how of a born and bred Tarkine forest eagle. Now both birds went in for the kill. Beaks like knives. Rapier talons wielding crushing, bone piercing force. The stranger’s claws gripped the wallaby’s neck, throttling it in spasmodic reflex. Soon their victim ceased struggling and they had their meal. In a spirit of companionship the eagles fed, gorging til crops could hold no more. The male lifted off, roosting on a low bough, ruffling feathers and preening. He watched her. She joined him. Side by side they rested, digesting their meal.
Hours later the stranger took off with a carefully chosen stick in his beak, broad wing strokes struggling to restore him to the breezy forest sky. Without hesitation she followed. Higher and higher they spiralled, riding updrafts where wind meets mountain. One thousand metres. Two thousand metres. Invisible to naked, earthbound eyes. But youth, a full stomach and the joy of friendship made her fearless. Her companion was in a playful mood, dropping his stick over and over, only to sweep around and catch it again. She joined in the game, diving on the stick, snatching it up in her claws.
The stranger abruptly plunged twenty metres, wings folded, then looped into a vertical climb. Stalling, he hung, momentarily suspended in space, striking a heroic pose in silhouette. She watched this virtuoso display with admiring eyes, at times mirroring his movements. Again and again he demonstrated his acrobatic skill. Teasing, she swooped him. He fled in mock fear. First she pursued him, then he her, flying close above and behind in perfect synch. She spun and hung upside down in the cold air, presenting her talons. Instantly he seized them in his own, and the pair fell from the sky in a spectacular, cartwheeling, trust exercise. They pulled from their giddy descent just metres from the tree tops. Intoxicated with love and lust, the birds alighted on a broad branch in the upper canopy, yelping low, hoarse with excitement. He preened his intended, nibbling her nape, caressing her bill, serenading in high, tremulous yodels. She crouched, beginning a loud, demanding ‘choo … choo … choo’ call, reminiscent of the voice of a whining nestling. Her suitor mimicked the call. Rising a few metres in the air, he landed lightly on her broad back, balancing with clenched claws to avoid causing harm, wings beating in slow motion, beak agape. Bowing low, he curled his wedge-shaped tail aside … touched his cloaca to hers for just a few seconds … transferring sperm. She had her wild mate.
When unattached male eagles strayed into the forest, he defended her honour. Hovering high on silent wings, he would suddenly arrow down, trying to knock his rival from the air. So fierce were these encounters that both birds sometimes crashed into the canopy, where the fight continued. No challenger ever matched his savage resolve. Every time he saw his opponent off, circling above, occasionally dropping down to kick the humiliated loser in the back as he fled. Master again of his skies.
It was thirty springs ago that the she-eagle hatched Karrhawara’s beautiful lavender egg. But she still remembered. She remembered the love, the pride at the sight of her first chick. The sadness when tapping from her second egg grew weak and died. The joy of Karrhawara’s first flight, of his first kill. The satisfaction of soaring with mate and son beside her, the misery of lonely adolescence gone for good. She’d laid many eggs since that year of first mating. Speckled ochre ones, blotched green ones, dull grey ones, brown spotty ones. But never one to match the beauty of that splendid original egg. Until now. Woorawa would be special, she was sure of it.
Pilyara hatched three days after her brother. In a lean year she may have been killed outright by her sibling, or forced from the nest to her death. In some eagle species only one chick ever survives. But with food plentiful in this remote place, and despite Woorawa’s overbearing nature, both chicks thrived. In fact, father was such an enthusiastic provider that the nest soon groaned with uneaten prey. Discretely waiting for his departure on the morning hunt, mother took to collecting day old carcasses and dropping them away from the nest. A boon for devils and forest ravens.
At two weeks the chicks shed silky, white down, replacing it with sooty, grey fuzz. By three weeks mother brooded them only at night. Or during the wildest storms, shielding them with extended, umbrella wings to keep them dry. At four weeks the eaglets were strong enough for play. Tug of war with sticks and bones. Hop chasy. Pretend-to-fly games. Dark primary quills sprouted on stubby white wings. Soon Woorawa managed little lift offs, facing into the wind, flapping uncertainly until rising over his sister’s head. Filled with envy and admiration for her accomplished brother, Pilyara practised too. The chicks grew bold, exploring branches beyond the nest, giving ungainly chase to yellow thornbills whose pretty nests adorned the eyrie’s walls and understorey. These cunning birds built two storey constructions with a decoy nest on top to deceive cuckoos. Meanwhile, their own eggs lay safe in a concealed lower chamber. The beneficent lords of the manor tolerated these tiny tenants, offering them safe haven from butcher birds and ravens. In return, the little insect eaters rid the eyrie of pests.
At three months the eaglets were fully fledged. Woorawa was a dark bird, even now larger than his father. One hot afternoon, Woorawa took his first flight. Pilyara tried too, flapping and leaping skywards. But she-eagles are larger than males, and Pilyara’s greater weight put her at a disadvantage. It was more than a week before she joined him, flying clumsily about the canopy. They bore the broader, longer wing feathers of sub-adults, designed to give greater lift to inexperienced youngsters. Soon they soared with their proud parents. Black Woorawa and his red sister, learning eagle lore. Like all children, they had a lot to learn. To glide on still wings. To fall like a stone on prey. To pull from dizzying dives before crashing headlong to earth. To seize wayward daytime possums on the wing, right out of the canopy. To pluck a bird from mid air. To cooperate in flushing and exhausting large prey. And how to steal meals at roadside kills.
When Woorawa’s parent’s first took this territory, and for decades after, there were no roads, no cars. But ten years ago a road took shape, snaking aimlessly through virgin wilderness, bisecting the beautiful forests of Donaldson valley, going precisely nowhere. It was supposed to lead to a tourism bonanza. Instead the poorly maintained track led to illegal four wheel driving, hunting and arson. Tarkine eagles soon learned to take advantage of road-kills, scanning the looping trail for carcasses – wallaby and wombat, possum and deer.
Autumn. The eaglets were six months old, nearing independence. Parent birds learned the hard way to drive off fledglings well before the start of next year’s breeding season. Once, the old eagles had relented, allowing a persistent yearling to stay. The pair returned to the eyrie one afternoon to find their plump nestlings slaughtered and devoured. No. They wouldn’t make the same mistake again. But mother eagle would miss her beautiful black son.
Men and machines were increasingly common visitors in the Tarkine that year, as southern beech coloured red and gold. The fledglings sometimes trailed deer stalkers along the road to nowhere, claiming headless carcasses and road kills. One hunter released a group of sows with piglets, hoping to pursue them the following spring. The eagles picked off the piglets one by one, working in tandem to separate them from their mothers. Bold Woorawa in particular, enjoyed these easy pickings.
One morning, as they began the hunt, he watched his father launch into high soaring flight, prospecting for prey over the forest. A waste of time. Woorawa screeched derision and veered north towards the road, Pilyara close behind. After a moment’s indecision, mother followed her fledglings, leaving her mate tracing measured, ever-widening arcs in the western sky.
It wasn’t long before the eagles spied lunch. A fat pademelon lay dead on a curve in the road. They dropped to earth, one by one, in lazy circles. A motor sounded somewhere in the distance. On the ground their broad wings and short, feather-booted legs made them clumsy. Woorawa bounded to the carcass, perched on top and plucked the belly. Mother and sister showed more caution. It took some minutes before they joined in the feast. The meat was fresh and delicious. Roomy crops allowed them to gorge at large kills, consuming a third of their body weight. And gorge they did. The motor grew louder. Pilyara turned her head. Without external ears, her hearing was unremarkable, no keener than a human’s. And with no particular fear of cars, she took little notice of the noise, until the utility raced around the bend. Weighed down by her heavy crop, Pilyara’s take off was too slow, too cumbersome. She barely made it to windscreen height before the impact sent her crashing right into the cabin. Showers of glass and feathers and blood blinded the driver. The dying eagle’s hooked beak reflexively seized his leg. Screaming in pain and surprise he let go of the wheel and swerved from the track straight at the other eagles. Woorawa and his mother, hopping and flapping to the roadside, could not quite escape the careening vehicle. It snapped Woorawa’s unfurled left wing, and clipped his mother’s head. The raptors fell silent to the dust. Screeching brakes fell silent too. A man in the passenger seat swore and hurled Pilyara’s smashed corpse out on top of Woorawa’s prone body.
“What the hell!”
The shaken men got out and looked around at the carnage. Blood seeped from the driver’s blue-jeaned thigh.
“They’re fucking eagles,” said the passenger.
“Who gives a shit. Joe. You drive. Get me to a damned doctor.”
The driver hobbled to the car and hauled himself in.
“Hang on a minute.” Joe retrieved a long-bladed knife from the back of the ute. Since childhood he’d been impressed by his uncle’s hunting trophies – including eagle skulls and claws. What about a collection of his own? Already Joe could see the display behind glass in his pool room. He reached down to sever the she-eagle’s feet. But Woorawa was only disabled, not dead. He reared backwards and seized the man’s right wrist in his steel-clawed grasp. Joe dropped the knife. Woorawa’s hind, killer claw, pierced bone. Three forward facing talons sliced deep. Leg muscles automatically tightened their grip, ratchet-like. Joe stared at his trapped, mangled hand, too shocked and horrified at first to make a sound. Woorawa leant forward and tore a strip of flesh from Joe’s arm.
The man screamed, rousing Woorawa’s mother from her stupor. She shook her head, regained her feet, and took off at a clumsy run along the road, skipping and hopping and flapping until airborne. She circled low, calling encouragement. Woorawa heard. Releasing Joe, he struggled off, dragging his snapped wing behind. Joe struggled off too, moaning low. Mother watched the ute reverse around and drive away. She planed back to earth, reassuring her crippled son with soft, double-noted whistles. ‘Dirra-lich … dirra-lich … dirra-lich.’ Woorawa nibbled her bill, her nape, yodelling like a nestling. He flapped his good wing and fell unbalanced to the dirt. Mother walked over to Pilyara’s body. She pushed it. She picked up the knife and dropped it. She flew to a low branch and called again to her fledgling. As morning wore into afternoon she remained close by. Woorawa dragged himself a little closer to his sister’s side, surprised and confused by the pain in his useless wing. He watched his mother, comforted by her presence. Now they both heard a motor’s thrum. With one, wild, grief-stricken shriek, mother launched skywards, flying south, abandoning her son. Next year’s brood would learn to stay shy of the strange, shining eagle slayers that hurtled along roads.
The ranger slowed his vehicle at the sight of Pilyara’s crumpled corpse. He got out to examine it and spotted Woorawa huddled nearby on the roadside. He fetched a net and gloves. On the ground, a man can run down an eagle. But Woorawa barely tried to evade capture. Dejected, in pain, in shock, he suffered the indignity of netting without fuss. That was two years ago. Two years of surgery and pins and more surgery – until Woorawa’s left wing had matched his right in size and strength. And now he crouched in the cramped pet carrier, in the back of a jeep, on his way to a new life at Binburra.
Next morning, the keeper netted Woorawa and Aquila, a young she-eagle. Over the past months the two birds had formed a bond. He placed the pair in carriers, then stowed them into the jeep.
“Won’t be long,” he told them.
Aquila settled at the sound of his voice. She’d been raised by carnies taking dodgem cars around agricultural shows. They’d handed her in when she ate their cat. After such a cosmopolitan upbringing, Aquila felt quite at home with people. Not so Woorawa, who uttered a rasping ‘kark’, the call he made when threatened. Woorawa had maintained a healthy hatred of humans throughout his rehabilitation. This wild instinct would serve as the best possible protection for him and his over-friendly mate.
For the bird’s keeper, such a hard-earned release was nerve-wracking as well as elating. Binburra’s budget didn’t stretch to radio trackers for eagles. He imagined Aquila with a mobile phone tucked under one wing. Wished he could ring her and say, ‘How’re you going darling? Have you had a nice feed?’ But all he could do was wonder and hope.
Woorawa had demonstrated in the last few weeks that he was ready to return to the sky. Freshly moulted, new feathers gleaming, black as sable. Five or six times a day he completed a dozen laps of the aviaries’ hundred metre circumference flight path, his playful mate chasing after. The birds, with their two and a half metre wingspans, negotiated the twists and turns with extraordinary precision. The keeper never tired of this display. Some raptors were lazy fliers, needing constant encouragement to take exercise. But Woorawa required no rousing. He revelled in his increasing strength and pinion power, maintaining a rigorous, self-imposed training regime, worthy of the finest athlete.
Man and eagles set off for the liberation point. Their road ran between blue gum canopies under a narrow ribbon of sky. It grew rougher and rougher as they climbed, causing the jeep to pitch and slide. An iron rim of distant cliffs rose up ahead. They climbed higher and higher. The road narrowed and narrowed again. Bracken and saplings punched through the track. Flattened by the chassis and tyres, they sprang back up behind, resilient, untamed, reclaiming the road. The country grew wilder, more rugged. Tall eucalypt forests gave way to sassafras, beech and leatherwood. Each bend in the road revealed breathtaking vistas of the range, in turn blanketed by forest or scarred by jagged bluffs. The once distant wall of granite cliffs now loomed in the windscreen.
The morning was cold and unnaturally calm. No wind tossed the trees or crumpled the light coverlet of cloud. There was only the man and the eagles and the wilderness. He’d been accused by some of taming Aquila. It had been a challenge not to go in that direction. Before Woorawa, the she-eagle had a crush on him. Not his fault. She was raised by humans. It sometimes took years to dehumanise an animal, particularly a carnivore. To frighten it of strangers. Make it aware of it’s own species. Ensure it could hunt without ‘human parent’ support. The job demanded a specific style of animal husbandry, designed to preserve the sanctity of wild behaviour, a style specific to wildlife rehabilitation. It was wrong to care too much, or at least to show it. Successful release required animals to span the sometimes unbridgeable gap between two radically different worlds. The keeper had done his best.
At last he stopped the jeep and carried the birds along the rough track to the head of a rocky pass. Ideal eagle territory. Remote. Unoccupied by other pairs. Sheer walls of stone enclosed the way, tops fringed with jagged, sandstone battlements. How good to feel the bird’s weight in his hands this one, last time. Aquila tipped the scales at five kilograms now, with Woorawa not far behind. People were always surprised and rather disappointed to discover that eagles, even of the Tasmanian giant wedge-tailed variety, were smaller than F-15 strike fighters, and weighed less than average domestic cats. But these legendary raptors still retained larger than life reputations. Whether reviled or revered, eagles fired human imaginations, declining to be contained within any single perception. What would it be like to be an eagle? To be Woorawa? Strong. Fierce. Faithful. Ever vigilant. To possess vision of unimaginable clarity. Humans thought they’d invented Google Earth, but human vision was fuzzy, rabbit-eared antennae reception compared to glorious, high-definition colour. What would it be like, to bear un-blinking the full force of noon-day summer sunshine, and still be able to read a newspaper headline a kilometre away? To see without doubt?
He’d like to fly. Just glide away, leave his old world behind, as the eagles were about to do. The sheltered stillness of the pass struck him, as it always did. Sassafras saplings, clinging to the cracked stone cliffs, stood still as statues. Yet high winds swirled the myrtle-beech forest topping the escarpment. The keeper followed a barely rippling stream, punctuated by a dark chain of rocky pools. The path led him to the crest of a waterfall. He swung the cages onto a broad, stone ledge jutting over the water. He never knew how to feel on these occasions. The Germans would have a word for it. Bittersweet was the closest he could find. Aquila would go first. He’d free-flown her here before, watched her spiral and dive. Always she’d returned to him. Not this time. He was just a man now, no longer her keeper.
“Okay darling. Let’s get this hood off.” The man kissed her head, whispered encouraging words. Aquila whistled with excitement. Gathering her in his arms, wings tucked in tight, he tossed her to the sky. Up, up she flew, higher and higher, till he could barely see her. Then she banked, and wheeled a tight circle, the wedge of her tail in sharp silhouette against the cobalt sky. The man breathed a big sigh, and turned his attention to her mate. He was something else altogether. Woorawa lay quiet within an eagle sleeve, a secure, purpose-made canvas and Velcro restraint. The man extracted Woorawa from the carrier. The bird felt heavy, muscular, tense with anticipation like a wild bird should. He removed the hood. The eagle gazed at him with cold, agate eyes. Slowly, carefully, he opened the sleeve, grasping Woorawa’s legs and body tight. The bird stared at him for a moment, beak open, then turned to face the sky. The man held onto his legs, let him flap for a minute to stretch his wings, raised him high.
“Here’s your second chance mate. Don’t blow it. One. Two. Three.”
Woorawa was gone. Would they stay together? Aquila must follow her wild mate. Alone, her chances of survival were bleak. Woorawa found Aquila, circled just metres above her. They wheeled a freedom arc, in unison, like they’d done it all their lives. The man wished them luck beneath his breath. And at some invisible signal, the eagles turned and vanished into the sun.