Salutations, greetings, and many great hellos!
I've been meaning to write this for a little while now. It was inspired by a brief passage about peacocks from Book Six, which I remembered out of the blue when my Speciation class talked about Fisherian runaway last semester. It sounded like a fantastic idea when it was first conceived, and so several months later, here it is!
DISCLAIMER: I love Guardians of Ga'Hoole, the books as well as the movie, but even I can't help but notice how racist the owls are to other birds. Also, I don't own the series, obviously.
For the first time in years, there was to be a great meeting held by the leader of B.A.A.D. in the depths of Silverveil. The various branches of this secret organization, scattered all around the owl kingdoms, would be gathering in a vast inter-species alliance, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the War of the Ember.
B.A.A.D., or the Brotherhood Against Avian Discrimination, had been a rather small group historically, with its scattered members only able to communicate and organize meetings via messenger pigeons. But after the War of the Ember concluded, and the Guardians of Ga'Hoole distributed the knowledge of reading and writing to all the creatures of the owl kingdoms, its numbers had exploded. Now, while messenger pigeons were still used to distribute major news, members of B.A.A.D. could easily meet and hold small gatherings at designated grog trees, which were under the ownership of higher-ranking members and thus bore B.A.A.D.'s insignia on the doors. All without raising suspicion from the owls, of course.
However, today was a new day. Pigeons flocked to every corner of the owl kingdoms, bearing news of an official meeting headed by the leader of B.A.A.D. himself. The forests were in a collective uproar as birds of all species flocked to Silverveil to hear what Don Kaaw had to say to his followers. The Don, a generous and accommodating bird to all who were not owls, even extended invitations to the general public, believing that all birds should be free to come and join the meeting.
"B.A.A.D. was founded by my forefathers so dat birds of all feathers could receive help and support against dem owls' non-owl prejudices," Don Kaaw reasoned. "S'only right ta let everyone hear dis old man out, whether dey're B.A.A.D. or not, ya dig?"
A clearing had been set aside within the depths of Silverveil for the meeting. It was plenty big enough for many hundreds of birds to aggregate, and easily distinguishable from other clearings so that no-one would get lost. In the center of the clearing was the ruins of an old castle built by the Others, rumored to have once been the smithy of the legendary Rogue Smith. All that was left of it were a few walls and a few crumbling towers, perfect for any speakers to perch on and let their voices be heard.
Soon enough, on the day of the meeting, the former smithy was far from empty. Doves, hawks, crows, puffins, ducks, pheasants, plovers, jays, robins, hummingbirds, and many more crowded together in the trees and swarmed amidst the grasses, talking to one another in a thousand different voices and filling the air with white noise. Some were devoted B.A.A.D. members, knowing full well why they were here, and others were just ordinary forest citizens curious as to what this was all about.
The only birds absent were the owls. Owls were forbidden, and usually had to be chased away if they happened upon one of these rare meetings. Often, they parted with looks of confusion, as if unable to figure out why they were suddenly being attacked by warblers.
Some time after guests had stopped flocking in, three black birds broke from the crowd and flew up to the top of the tallest stone tower, more or less level with the tree branches in which half the audience was situated. The larger two, Common Ravens, stood there and looked menacing while the smallest opened his beak for a horrifically loud shout.
"HEY, SHUT YER BEAKS, ALL OF YOUSE!"
A stunned silence swept over the collected birds, allowing Don Kaaw to begin his speech. The American Crow coughed once or twice, ruffled his dusty feathers, and then addressed his listeners.
"I welcome youse all to dis meeting of da Brudderhood Against Avian Discrimination," Kaaw squawked, although in his old age, he sounded more like a raven then a crow. "Fer dose of youse who are not members, I bid youse welcome and tank youse fer takin' da time outta yer busy schedules ta come and listen."
His words elicited a response from the crowd, who applauded him with wing beats and a chorus of tweets, caws, screeches, warbles, trills, whistles, squawks, honks, cackles, chicka-dee-dee-dees, whip-poor-wills, oh-sweet-Canadas, and other assorted bird noises.
"Dis is only da second time in my life dat I'd attended a meetin' as grand as dis," said Kaaw. "First time, I was nuttin' but a fledglin'. Now dese hollow bones ain't what dey'd used ta be, and flyin' all dis way widdout my mob's left me exhausted. I'm an old bird, but seein' so many hopeful mugs here wid me today brings me great joy. B.A.A.D.'s come a long way since da early days when dere were but a dozen or so of us.
"See," he continued to the enraptured crowd, "my crow ancestors founded dis here gang a long time ago. But now dat dem Guardians spread deir knowledge of readin' and writin', dere are a lot more birds all riled up 'bout how owls treat us."
He paused for a second, both to catch his breath and let the gathered audience mull that over. There were thoughtful murmurs from the ordinary birds and a combination of cheers, boos, and hisses from the B.A.A.D. members. Eventually, they settled down to let Don Kaaw go on.
"Oh sure, every animal loves da Guardians of Ga'Hoole fer savin' the world from da Pure Ones," he said with a roll of his eyes. "But what no-one seems ta notice, 'cept us, is dat da Guardians and da Pure Ones ain't so different den dey want us ta tink. I'm sure youse all know dis by now, but owls look down on all us other birds, treat us as less den nuttin', just 'cuz we're different from dem.
"Take us crows fer example," Kaaw continued, patting himself on the breast. "You ask an owl 'bout us, and we's all savage bullies dat like mobbin' owls and peckin' deir eyes out fer no good reason. Dey see us as da lowest species of bird of all. But are we? I TINK NOT, STUPID!"
There was a huge chorus of caws from the American, Fish, and New Caledonian Crows scattered throughout the crowd, which were a mix of proud and angry. Kaaw let them go on for a bit before flapping his wings for quiet.
"Ting is, da owls STARTED dis whole conflict millions of years ago!" he announced. "Dem's apex predators – dat means dey're big enough and tough enough ta eat whatever dey want. And dey come out at night, when all of us is sleeping. Now, we crows is a social bunch. We like stickin' wid our mob and helpin' each other out. So we don't want no owls snoopin' 'round our neck of da woods searchin' fer a midnight snack, ya dig?"
This time, there was a larger chorus of much more varied bird noises. Many other birds, not just the various crow species, knew that most owls would grab a sleeping bird as readily as they'd grab a vole or mouse.
Don Kaaw stood up a little taller and shouted, "So whadda we do when we see an owl cruisin' over our territory in broad daylight? WE KNOCK 'EM OUTTA DA SKY, DAT'S WHAT! DAT'LL TEACH 'EM TA MESS WID OUR NESTS!"
He dissolved into a coughing fit from the strain of exerting himself so, but it was drowned out by the even louder uproar produced by the crows. Some other birds that sympathized with them joined in as well, until the whole crowd was once again making a terrible din that filled the clearing.
Once the uproar died down, Kaaw chuckled and went on, "Now, I hate ta burst yer bubbles, all of youse, but attackin' owls unprovoked… yeah, I can see why dey're mad wid us. But as youse all know tanks to dem owl books circulatin' 'round da kingdoms, we ain't da only birds dey tink less of, get me? And dat's why B.A.A.D. exists in da first place – fer birds of all feathers ta flock togedder and support each other in a world dat hates us."
Applause rang out around the clearing, and when it died down, a single wing was raised from somewhere behind Don Kaaw. One of his raven bodyguards pointed out the bird to him, and the three of them flew down to a lower tower so that the volunteer could come forth and speak his mind.
Said volunteer turned out to be a Turkey Vulture that soared in slow, descending spirals toward the speaker's perch. Don Kaaw and the audience were infinitely patient with the newcomer's methodical, cautious approach. Finally, the enormous bird had alighted on the tower and folded his wings, ready to speak his mind.
"I am Glutton, member of B.A.A.D., Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura," he formally introduced himself. "As our good leader Don Kaaw implied, I am one of the many birds that joined with B.A.A.D. after learning to read, and subsequently, learning about how owls discriminate against my kind. I've read of the owls' great history, in particular the many wars they had fought against one another, and the way they would perform their burial ceremonies. You see, I am quite fascinated by death, although not in the usual way for my kind, and these owl burials were a subject I looked into with great interest. Unfortunately, it is through my studies that I also came to learn how owls thought of me and my fellow vultures."
Glutton took a deep breath, then continued. "In a word, the owls see us as loathsome. We are nothing but huge, ugly monsters that hang about at the scene of a huge battle until our cowardly instincts tell us that it is safe to come down and feed. Fellow birds, I was scandalized and deeply hurt by such a shallow, generic viewpoint. I have always known that my feeding habits were not greatly loved by any member of the animal kingdom – except perhaps hyenas – but as a vulture, I take great pride in my duty to Mother Nature to keep the land free of decay and filth.
"I am aware that some birds, especially those that actively hunt for their prey, see my lifestyle as one of laziness and cowardice," he went on, sorrowfully. "But as with all birds, our behavior is within reason. Turkey Vultures are some of the largest of birds, and thanks to our size, we cannot sustain powered flight. We rely on thermals of rising air to boost us into the air so that we may fly like the rest of you. We are too weak of wing to chase after rabbits or lemmings. The bodies of the dead are the only prey we can catch. And if we were to be injured by helping ourselves when it was unsafe to do so – well, we'd be goners. If only the owls would consider the larger picture, then they would not be so quick to judge."
With a parting bow, and a separate one to Don Kaaw for letting him speak, Glutton lifted off the tower and soared back to his tree, where two other vultures shuffled over to let him reclaim his spot. His flight was seemingly boosted by the polite applause from the listening crowd, and some more enthusiastic cheering from his fellow B.A.A.D. members.
More wings were going up now, asking for permission to speak their minds for the rest of the world to hear. After staring around for a bit, Don Kaaw finally selected a Herring Gull and motioned for him to come up to the speaking perch.
"Thank ya kindly, Mr. Don, sir," the gull squawked before turning to the crowd. "Name's Squall, folks. Uh, member of B.A.A.D., Herring Gull, Larus argentatus. Or somethin'. See, I never really cared about what owls thought of me. So they're a bit snooty and stuff, whatever. They say I'm the dumbest dang bird they ever saw? Joke's on them, they just don't know how awesome I am!"
There was a raucous outburst of laughter from the other gull species scattered throughout the gathering. "Tell 'em, Squall!" some of them hollered, before bursting out laughing again.
Squall grinned with his own amusement before resuming, "But seriously, y'all, us gulls have waterproof feathers that shed water, and we let insults slide off just as easily. We're just not bothered by none of that racdrops those owls say about us. But after gettin' involved some and seein' how other birds ain't so thick-feathered, well, it just made me upset. Ya know what they call us non-owls, folks?"
Every bird knew the answer to this one, and a thousand voices spoke out as one. "WET POOPERS!"
"Wet poopers!" Squall repeated incredulously. "Now how about that, huh? They think we're messy and dirty 'cuz we don't spit up no pellets like them. Like we can help what our digestion systems do! And for some reason, all us frinkin' gulls get slammed the hardest! Why? We're no worse than any other bird when we do our business! Nature don't care where we let it splat! If anythin', gulls are the CLEANEST 'cuz we dump it in the sea where no-one's gonna see it hangin' from a branch!
"But like I said," he suddenly calmed down, "this stuff about gulls bein' dumb and messy don't bother me none. Well, not much, anyhoo. It's seein' owls insult all them other birds that riles me up. It's not like a petrel or a skua can just decide 'oh, I don't like the way they laugh at me, I'mma just yarp a pellet instead'. Seems to me they just like makin' up more reasons to call themselves superior, that's what I say!"
This time, all the birds present cheered, the ordinary bystanders just as enthusiastic as the B.A.A.D. society.
"So, uh, thank you folks for lendin' me your ear holes," Squall concluded, ruffling his wings. "Remember, we birds can't change who or what we are, so we can't let them owls make us wanna. They see a bunch of wet poopers? I see a bunch of perfectly fine folks that don't need no pellets to make us special."
The Herring Gull left the speaker's tower to much support from the audience, the other gulls making the loudest and most enthusiastic racket of all.
The next bird that Don Kaaw permitted to fly forward was one of the ground birds. At first they thought that the Indian Peafowl that struggled through the air with every wingbeat was a peahen, due to the lack of an extravagant tail. However, when the bird landed clumsily on the perch and saved himself from pitching forward, the sunlight illuminated his iridescent blue feathers and revealed him to be a male. Murmurs arose from the crowd at the sight of a peacock without a colorful train of tail feathers.
"Greetings everyone, I am Cerulean Rectrix Unguis von Hallux the Fifth, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus, and not a member of this organization," he addressed the listeners, then suddenly paused and dipped his head to Don Kaaw. "I hope that doesn't mean I can't share my opinion at this meeting, sir."
"Nonsense," Kaaw waved away his concern. "I do hope yer thinkin' of joinin', though. No mob's ever too big, as da sayin' goes."
"I certainly think I will!" said Cerulean, hotly. "The things I've read about my kind are so infuriating that I ripped out my whole tail out of pure shame and rage!"
The old American Crow blinked curiously at the much younger bird. "And why's dat, junior? Youse peacocks is always lookin' mighty fine wid dem fancy tails. You should take more pride in yer appearance."
"I DID!" Cerulean exploded, his crest bristling with agitation. "AND THEY HATE ME FOR IT!"
He took a deep breath to calm himself, then used a shaky talon to pry loose a slip of parchment from his leg. It looked like it had been torn out of a book, and it was no doubt the very passage that had figuratively ruffled his feathers.
"To start out, I'd like to read a quote from a book I purchased recently from the local press, originally written by an owl named Violet Strangetalon many years back," he announced. He unfolded the paper while balancing on one talon, cleared his throat, and read out, "The folly of vanity is the curse of the peacock, a nearly flightless bird, happy to remain so and to strut about for the admiration of earthbound creatures. Their appalling ostentation is equaled only by their appalling stupidity.
"WHAT. THE. SPRINK," Cerulean practically roared, a difficult accomplishment for a bird. "DO YOUR RESEARCH, YOU FOOLS. YOU THINK WE LIKE DRAGGING THOSE HEAVY LOADS BEHIND US EVERYWHERE WE GO? THEY'RE A HINDRANCE! A LIABILITY! A BLIGHT!"
Again, the emotional peacock had to take a deep breath to keep his temper under control. Some of the more sensitive birds in the audience uncovered their ear holes, which they'd been protecting from Cerulean's strident protest (or from the vulgar curse word he'd used).
"I'm sure some of us enjoy displaying our tail feathers every breeding season," he went on, more quietly. "But that's the only time they're of any use to us. They take years to grow in fully, and in the meantime, they hinder our flight and make us more noticeable to predators. But our only hope of getting a peahen's attention and fathering a clutch of eggs every year lies in that tail. Maybe if they weren't so stupidly picky, or maybe if we were allowed the opportunity to help raise the chicks, we wouldn't need the tails at all. But NOOOOOOOOO.
"I used to take pride in the hard work I'd put into growing that tail," he continued, his tone becoming more downcast than irritated. "But I just had to go and read that dumb book. Learning about how LOATHED I am for DARING to display such GAUDY ornaments really took the wind out from under my wings. Figuratively. I couldn't even FLY until I plucked myself. Thanks, owls. REEEAAAAL good job you did crippling my self-esteem and ruining my chances of becoming a father, O Noble Ones."
His mood flipping back to annoyed, Cerulean spitefully ripped his parchment in half with his beak and let the pieces flutter down to rest near the castle wall. He sighed.
"Sorry about ranting on like that," he muttered. "But I hope I got my point across, at least. I'd like to show my support to the Brotherhood and do my best to contribute."
Don Kaaw let him go with a word of thanks for his passionate opinion and directions to the nearest B.A.A.D. grog tree so he could participate more in the community. A somewhat more muted and sympathetic applause followed his departure, his speech having saddened some of the audience. Being verbally abused into self-destructive behavior was not a joke.
Only one more wing remained up in the air. The leader of the B.A.A.D. organization nodded for the bird to come forward, and when she did, she caused a significant stir amongst the other onlookers. No-one had ever seen a bird quite like her, with an enormous jagged tail and wings, and yellow eyes so bright they almost looked like they were glowing.
"Gunden vhagen," she spoke in a foreign tongue. "Iby bisshen michten Hoolian. Bisshen Krakish?"
Fortunately, Kaaw recognized one word out of the incomprehensible babble she was choking out and called out to the crowd, asking if anyone spoke Krakish. The birds looked amongst each other and murmured in confusion, until a single Willow Ptarmigan flew forward and settled down on the tower nearest to the newcomer. He introduced himself as Henrik and said that he could translate for the current speaker.
Hearing this, the unknown bird unleashed a rapid burst of ugly-sounding words. Henrik nodded several times before turning to let the audience know of her intentions.
"She says her name is Brunnhilde and that she's a hagsfiend, a formerly extinct bird from the Northern Kingdoms," explained the ptarmigan. "Her egg was conceived by the dragon owls during the War of the Ember and she was the only one to survive being massacred."
Now some of the birds were muttering amongst themselves with new understanding, having heard of hagsfiends from the Ga'Hoolian legends that were among the books the Guardians had distributed. And most of them knew of the recent War of the Ember.
"But weren't hagsfiends evil?" shouted a random puffin.
Brunnhilde rapidly shook her head and exploded into more Krakish, sounding frantic and upset.
Henrik nodded to her, which soothed her somewhat. "She says not all of them were, the only ones spoken of in the legends are the ones that allied themselves with the bad owls, or otherwise made an infamous name for themselves. Some of them were passive and kept to themselves."
After getting more information from their exotic guest, he continued, "Brunnhilde is worried that the name of her species has been forever stained in the eyes of the owls, and she knows that name is now synonymous with evil and demonic things. She risked her life coming all the way here from the remotest parts of the Northern Kingdoms."
Many heads nodded in understanding of Brunnhilde's plight, especially the crows. Probably because they also had a violent relationship with owls – but it also could've been that they felt a deeper kinship to the half-owl, half-crow creature.
"She came here because she knew we were gathering to protest about the owls' discriminating against other birds," Henrik reported, "and she wanted to feel like she belonged for once. She's lending her voice to us because we need to know that the owls exterminated her kind, and she doesn't want the same to happen to anyone else."
Brunnhilde bowed politely and stammered out a few words to the crowd in thanks, before disappearing back into the shadows of the trees with a sweep of her cloak-like wings.
"No-one else?" called Don Kaaw. When nobody answered, he flapped back up to the speaker's perch and said, "Awright den, so tanks to all dem birds dat were kind enough ta lend deir voices. All of us have suffered ta some degree under da owls' reign over dese kingdoms – our new hagsfiend friend most of all, I reckon – and so we needs ta be dere for dem. No-one needs ta suffer alone, ya dig?"
"So why'd you call this meeting, huh?" came Squall's voice.
"Yes, I've been wondering that as well," frowned Henrik. "We do this at our local B.A.A.D. meetings, but what business warrants such a huge meeting?"
Don Kaaw stood up proudly. "A fine question dere, junior. Dere hasn't been a meetin' like dis in B.A.A.D. history, at least not recently. Anyway, I called youse all ta Silverveil fer a very important reason…"
He took in a deep breath, then narrowed his eyes seriously. "We're finally gonna do sometin' 'bout dem Guardian galoots."
There was a frantic knocking on the parliament chamber doors. The King of the Great Ga'Hoole Tree, who had been about to start the meeting, closed his beak as confusion swam in his polished black eyes.
"Come in!" he called out.
A tiny Pygmy Owl burst through the doors in a flurry of feathers. "Th-There's a visitor here to see you, Your Majesty! I-I mean, h-he didn't s-specify, b-but he demanded to speak t-to the owl in ch-charge, s-so I led him here! H-He's waiting for an audience with y-you!"
The King frowned, not liking the sound of this. If the visitor was hostile, then he hoped he could negotiate with him and come to a reasonable solution for whatever problem he came presenting. He gestured to the Pygmy Owl to let their guest through, even as the members of the parliament shared bewildered and worried glances.
When the doors next opened, a huge vulture somehow forced his way through the opening, losing a few feathers in the process. He held up a flag bearing an insignia, although from the grim expression on his beak, he took no joy in doing so.
"I come representing B.A.A.D., the Brotherhood Against Avian Discrimination," said the vulture, sounding morose. "My leader sent me to deliver an unfortunate message – we wish to declare war on the Great Ga'Hoole Tree."
The whole owls-being-racist-against-other-birds thing is definitely one of the things I disliked most about the otherwise fantastic books, and unfortunately wasn't presented as an issue. As a bird lover, I think that this is a massive double standard. The Pure Ones hating all non-Barn Owls was a problem, but the Guardians were allowed to bully vultures and crack jokes about gulls. And yes, ALL non-prey animals are shown as fully sentient races.
That line about peacocks was the same passage from Book Six that inspired me to write this. I also used other details from later books to set up this story, like the mention of printing presses and books being distributed to other animals in the last book. Learning about runaway sexual selection (aka Fisherian runaway) in school made it clear to me that peacocks don't deserve that kind of hate. And the hagsfiend in Books Nine-Ten-Eleven, the one who married an owl and wanted a child, made me realize that Hagsfiends Are People Too.
War might seem like a drastic option for B.A.A.D to take, but as sad as it is to say, I can see it happening. The owls in the books say rude or demeaning things about other birds so often and so casually – it even makes up a big part of their humor – so I think it makes sense that they'd spread their literature throughout the kingdoms without noticing that they're angering the "lesser species".
Anyway… I'd say that's enough for this author's note, huh? Please send me some reviews!