Abe Mero and Buff
Marvao and the Three Rivers
Abe Mero was pleased with his journey so far. With the help of the Valdelarco stork and the swifts he had safely transported the bumble bee to the ancient and resonating rocks of Marvao in the Sierra Mamede. The second river to cross was also nearby and there was news of the bee-eater flock flying further north.
Abe Mero was astonished to find the home of these swifts was in Outsider-made rocks. The swifts loved these great walls of rocks that rose up out of the mountainside. In these there were more nest-sized holes than in rocky cliffs. Outsiders, it seemed, had stacked many rocks up long ago around the edge of a very high mountain plateau. For the swifts it was now a peaceful place but they told stories from the past of much red blood spilt.
Outsiders would hunt each other on horses and there were even reports of giant tuskers being kept and used by them. Much blood would flow from a dying tusker and once free horses would moan with broken bones as they and Outsiders fell in these strange and bloody hunts. Abe Mero found the stories disturbing with so much pain and suffering of the animals. The swifts were not concerned that Outsiders killed each other in these events but this made Abe Mero more fearful than ever of such strange beasts.
At the edge of the real rock was a large area with great stones stacked up into giant tree-trunk shapes, towering into the sky. Here lived a different kind of messenger bird, called the crag martin. This bird was the guardian of the old stories about these strange rocks. The relative of the crag martin, the house martin, preferred the smaller white rock homes of the Outsiders lower down the mountain and lived there. The house martin had different stories to tell of more peaceful Outsiders. Abe Mero noted all this information and different points of views on the Outsiders. But he also kept a careful watch on the bumble bee among all the colours of flowers just outside the great tower rocks. Although all the birds were helpful, they did swoop quickly to consume as many insects as possible. A mistake could happen. Maybe even another bee-eater flock could pass by.
Sometime after the rise of the sun, Outsiders came out of their white rocks. From Abe Mero’s vantage point on a tall needle-leaved tree, he watched a group of Outsiders going into the place of many flowers. They spent time staring at the flowers but not attempting to eat them. But this was disturbing Buff. He knew Buff was not used to Outsiders at all and he watched her instinctively fly to attack them when they came near her flower. The bee-eater was most alarmed by one Outsider waving and striking at the buzzing Buff. It seemed as if Outsiders could balance very well on two legs like a bird but could not do much with the other two limbs.
Abe Mero was confused and fearful. Once when very young he had actually been frightened by a large group of Outsiders suddenly coming close to his bee-eater group. Their smell had overwhelmed his senses and their noises were too loud in his ears. It was his fear from that incident that made him fly away from his flock. This angered the bee-eater elders who thought he was just being arrogant and indifferent to the ways of the flock. Perhaps he was a bit like Buff. But this was no time for past knowledge. He needed to fight his fear. Action was needed if he was to save Buff from these Outsiders.
With his fright he took flight and flew down towards the flapping Outsider. Suddenly, there were a lot of Outsider cries. All eyes were on him. He felt so exposed. He dived up and down. Buff gave up buzzing and flew onto a large lily flower. He swooped down and tried to catch her but missed. It took several attempts and the help of other messenger birds to distract the Outsiders. He hated to be watched and once Buff was caught, he hid in a nearby fig tree. When all was quiet and the Outsiders went away he was ready to fly on.
Buff felt relief in the beak of Abe Mero. She felt safe again in a strange way with a bird that could easily kill her. His beak was just the right size to trap her. If she was to go north and build a new colony away from the long, hot and dry summers, she must continue her journey with him. He knew the way from the stork and had sharp sight to navigate over more highlands and valleys. Buff could only sense the second river the Tagus down below and the mountain nearby called Star Rocks. This was the name the Marvao swifts had given these dramatic heights. There was a shining cold whiteness about them in the distance. A solid high mass on the horizon. There would be even higher mountains to come but these would be after the last great river. Abe Mero was the seer; he saw this bigger landscape but helped her see it too.
Buff was more dominated by her search for bright large flowers and she would demand Abe Mero find these or she would starve. She needed to ignore his fear as Outsiders seemed to surround themselves with flowers. She needed to eat and the swallows and swifts gave good advice not to bother too much about Outsiders. Keep still, don’t buzz at them.
Buff found herself circling across a patch of the brightest and tallest flowers imaginable. They glowed like the bright sun and with a deep black centre. She should have been spoiled for choice but she wanted the best flower there and kept flying into this golden maze. She needed a lot of nectar. She forgot about Outsiders, Abe Mero and even her journey until she found herself suddenly snatched up into his beak again. This time she feared his ways. He seemed ready to eat her. He tossed her about several times in the air like playing with his prey. She was in a giddy state and then found herself in some tree blossom, far away from the large yellow flowers, but surrounded by plenty of food. She felt Abe Mero’s fear. Slowly she was beginning to understand his eating dilemma.
Abe Mero knew he would have to face his fear as there were often large flowers and plenty of flies around the Outsider rocks. Flies had a bad taste but he was going to have to get used to this as food if he wanted to save the bumble bees. He needed to spend a lot of time catching hundreds of insects a day and he had not prepared for this migration marathon. Abe Mero knew he almost ate Buff; he had gone through all the skills he had learnt as a young bird except the final bashing against a branch. He tucked her quickly into his underbelly feathers and flew off. She was even more bristly after the incident but aware that he too had come close to eating her. Instead, he took her to trees blossoming with bright white flowers. She seemed happy to accept these blossoms away from Outsiders. She was changing and was more amenable with him; less like a bumble bee of high status and he, her servant and transport to the North. From this point he felt her mind become closer to his through fear and then trust.
Ahead, as the sun was setting, was a fast-flowing and sparkling river. Abe Mero knew this must be the third great river, the Douro or Duero, depending which side any of the swallows might nest on. A flock of swallows were keeping the bee-eater company and for these messenger birds it was the river and its deep valley that was of great importance and its truest name came from the deep depths of knowing like the true names of all plants and animals.
It was great fun to fly with the swallows swooping along the river and up the high cliff sides. The river wound round and round and some of the swallows took short cuts over high rocks. And there on the other side was the river again.
There were plenty of insects and wild flowers so both Abe Mero and the bumble bee were kept happy. Buff didn’t try to stop him much because of the need to keep up with the swallows. So now they were making good progress. This group were heading north over the high mountains. This was where the great animals like the bear and Old Lobo hid away in a mountain retreat. The swallows had never seen any sign but never stayed long high up on the mountainsides. It was too cold and they were always keen to get to the other side of the high peaks, where there were the edges of the great wide waters. This was their guideline and helped them keep flying further north in order to avoid the even greater mountain rocks of the Pi Ron Neos. The journey to the north seemed full of danger so Abe Mero was glad to be with a flock of birds.
High on one of the hills above the river valley, was a flat space with rings of broken rocks stacked up, but with no sign of the broken-down stones, in odd piles like dung. These were the remains of the Outsiders of long ago. Some swallows still knew some of the stories of those ancient times.
The Outsiders of these times made homes in the warmer valleys when long ago there were stories of endless forest. Now, there seemed to be endless patches of Outsider plants like the yellow ones Buff liked. For some birds these provided more food than the forests but for others there were fewer places to hide away. There were also so many more dangers like the dead river tracks and the thunder blasts that killed.
The swallows warned the bee-eater to keep away from the dead river tracks. Rolling beasts came quickly along these and hit birds but never stopped to eat them. The rolling beasts were strange lifeless creatures that could somehow move very fast. And the smell. Sometimes Outsiders were seen climbing in. Perhaps they ate Outsiders but then Outsiders could be seen getting out of them too. All these things went into the eyes and ears of the messenger birds: impressions imprinted and shared to try and protect the Many.
It was time to leave the river valley and head further north. Abe Mero wondered whether this was a good place in the north for the bumble bee to stay but the local birds reported that it became extremely cold in winter and too hot in the summer. This was not really an advantage for the bumble bee over the climate of Navaselva.
Some of the swallows would fly a lot further north before nesting as there were places with warm, mild weather and plenty of insects. No need to stay around these parts. Abe Mero followed the swallows as he now knew he would need to go as far north as they. It was a shock to see how high the mountains were but he kept to the edges as the swallows did but soon was faced with a cliff edge of a giant mountain. When he thought he was at the top of a mountain, there were more mountains rolling on and on. He tried his best to keep up with the swallows but lost them as the sun was getting low and his wings had tired flying so fast with these extraordinary long-distance flyers. His body was bigger and longer. He needed a different rhythm. Buff also needed to stop again and feed. She did seem less bouncy.
Abe Mero had rested too long in the heat of the day and decided to try some early evening flying when he realised there were even more great rocks ahead. The light of the moon seemed helpful and he carried on with the help of a good head wind. He needed to find a way through rather than over and found himself flying along and up a high pass. There seemed to be a gap clearly ahead and he didn’t want to lose sight of it. Somewhere in the deep valleys there was the sound of long, drawn-out howls. Were these the howls of the lost wolves? Then a shadow cast over them. Danger was imminent.
An eagle owl was in flight, far from the flatter lands where hunting was easier and warm furry mammals plentiful. The ears of the eagle owl cast a shadow of two triangles on the mountainside in the moonlight. The bee-eater knew he was the target, a ready meal as the owl’s talons were in grab position, when suddenly the head of the owl swivelled. There was something bigger moving down below. The eagle owl glided silently just in front of the bee-eater and then underneath causing a great turbulence of air. It then swept silently above its prey on the mountain. A rabbit gave up its life to maybe save the bee-eater. But the bee-eater felt the bumble bee dislodged in the forceful and sudden gust of the tail wind caused by the eagle owl’s descent.
The moon kept up its strong and silvery presence. It was like a searchlight but Abe Mero couldn’t find the bumble bee. He nestled into a rocky crevice and felt an incredible and new feeling; an intense sense of loss. The howls of the wolf were louder here and the call was for the wildest of the wild to gather in the eerie light of the moon. Who would be able to come? Who would have survived the winter in frozen rocky peaks?
The morning sun rose with a pale red haze over the edges of the peaks and turned the remaining winter snowline into a glowing pink radiance. Abe Mero stirred and edged into the sun’s rays for warmth. The chill of the night and the loss of purpose and partnership were penetrating deep into the bird’s mind. He tried to sense insect wings whirring, flower smells but these were weak and far away.
As the sun warmed his muscles Abe Mero flew up and down the valley, looking for flowers where the bumble bee might be attracted to go. It was still rather cold here in early spring but there were some tiny ones on some of the rocks. There were a lot of ancient rocks and the flowers were pale yellow. The rocks were various shades of brown and almost black. Perfect camouflage for a bee, even a rather big and fat bristly bumble bee. Abe Mero could not detect much sign of insect life stirring but a lizard moved into a warm position on the rocks nearby and then caught something. Surely it couldn’t have been the big buff bumble bee.
A small-looking mountain creature appeared. It had a stripe by its eye. The eye was truly wild but not fearful. Its horns curved back. Its thin legs were sturdy and moved nimbly over the rocks. It then suddenly disappeared down a deep ravine. Still no sign of the bumble bee or any kind of bee. Suddenly Abe Mero had a sense of being flown over and retreated back into the crevice. Above was one of the big bird messengers that were seen sometimes at Navaselva. There it could be a friend but here it was likely to be foe. The bee-eater wasn’t particularly a small bird but had a sense of survival and kept hidden as this great golden bird of prey hovered around the rocky outcrops.
As the sun was beginning to warm up the rocks gradually there were more signs of life. Some early clouded yellow butterflies flitted by and then a larger one that looked like the colours of rock. Paper-like wings with mottled stone-colours, delicately moved around the solid rocks. There were small blue and yellow flowers and other small insects were gathering around these. Abe Mero was fascinated by this but also had an urge to snatch at this butterfly of the rocks and taste it. Just as he was about to fly out of the crevice a great lumbering beast appeared. Lean but muscular, it moved in and out of the rocks and then stood on two legs.
In the distance there was that same howl that had been heard in the night. The great brown beast with white grey parts looked quite ghostly. It moved nearer and nearer the hiding place of the bird. Abe Mero froze but out of the corner of its eye, to the side of the rock, he saw something on the nose of the beast. The nose then came very close into the crevice and something fell off.
The brown beast disappeared as quickly and silently as it had appeared. The howls began again. Could that possibly be Old Lobo whose stories had been told in the Meetings of the Many? Old Lobo, who had gone north many years ago? What was that other great beast? Was it the grand old bear of the dancing bear stories? What had it pushed off its nose into the darkness of the crevice? It smelled of Buff but seemed cold and lifeless.