Manningby Sasjah Miller
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"The process of training a hawk comprises of several distinct phases. The first phase of training is known as "manning". During this phase the hawk learns to be carried on the glove and is taught that the falconer will provide food from his glove. The hawk will also steadily overcome the fear of people and things that she will encounter within our environment. The manning of a hawk can be most easily carried out by restricting the food intake of the bird, when hungry, food can be used to build a bond between the falconer and hawk. This phase of training can be thought of as complete when the hawk will sit steadily on the glove and is relaxed in the presence of the falconer."
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My lady does not care for the ocean. She sits huddled between my legs, her head hiding miserably in her feathers. There are no mice, no rabbits to hunt here on the endless expanse, only wetness and a quick watery death. So she has turned inwards, into herself, refusing even the bits of meat I tempt her with and ignores the sudden shifts and surges when our boat skims the waves towards a future neither of us has ever wanted.
In an odd, eerie way the ocean reminds me of home, of the wide plains of Sarmatia I grew up on; oceans of grass in summer, snow in winter, and the sky as grey as the ocean we are sailing now. I observe the memory and the feeling it evokes in me. It does not help me to feel like this so I bury it in the safe place, the one inside me that no one can touch or find, only my lady of the endless sky.
This boat we're on, my lady and I, is laden with miserable boys who try to find comfort in the words of the captain that it won't be long now, and if they would care to lift their eyes and stop examining the bottom of his ship as if it were to fall away from under them right now they'd already see the white cliffs of the island that is going to be our home for the next fifteen years. Not home: a place to eat, to sleep and to fight and probably die. Home is fifteen years away from here.
Home is a wisp of clouds in the sky, a trail of dust on the horizon, it's there but it might as well not be for all the good that it does me. This boat and everyone that's on it, puking, moaning, or simply sitting grey faced with their heads between their knees is getting on my nerves.
The Roman officers that are with us aren't really helping to lighten the mood. I doubt we've had ten friendly words from them this whole journey. We have not been mistreated, not by far (they wouldn't have gotten away with it, a throat is easily slit in the dark of the Germanian forest) but they haven't been exactly friendly towards us either. At least they've let us keep our horses; they are stationed in the bilges below trying to keep their balance while munching in utter content from the swaying hay sacks in front of them.
And then we are there: at the foot of the bone white cliffs of Britannia. Seagulls cry over our heads, and my lady perks up, suddenly awake and eager. She hops on my hand and pecks at the meat I hold between my gloved fingers. I stand up, swaying gently and still silently queasy, but the coast is so near now that I can see a single figure standing on the beach, backlit by the setting sun, the bloodred rays dancing off his gleaming helmet.
The Roman officer.
The one the common soldiers told us about when we shared the last dregs of beer with them and the fire we'd built was warm and inviting; the officers snoring noisily, rolled up tightly in their mantles, and all the pleasure girls gone back to their houses to sleep away whatever was left of the night because all of our coin had been spent on their dubious graces hours ago. The one too good to be true. The one who will lead us to our deaths.
Suddenly my lady alights from my hand, beats her wings and soars up into the sky, sensing the land that we are now approaching rapidly. I let her go; she will come back to me. By the time the captain's finally managed to bring the boat ashore she is perched on a boulder, close to the Roman officer, tearing ferociously at something furry and not quite dead yet. We set foot on land and curiously enough it sways beneath us, the way the world moves sometimes when you've ridden hard for hours without rest.
I whistle and my lady, who has by now finished her first Britannian meal, takes wing again and flies toward me. She shears past the officer's head, the tip of her wings almost touching his hair that is black as the Sarmatian night, and lands with perfect ease on my outstretched hand. I smile and gently smoothe her neck feathers, the way she likes it done. The Roman officer's gaze has not strayed from pir group, although my lady has done her best to ruffle his feathers and I feel a grudging admiration rising inside me. Singleminded and impertubable. I like that in a man. Even if he's the one whose job it is to get me killed.
"Welcome to Britannia, you who have travelled so far to come here. My name is Artorius Castus, your commander in spe." he says, a smile warming his words as he approaches us, his hands outstretched in a broad gesture of welcome to us all. "God has been merciful," he continues, "there is no rain tonight; a sure sign that your stay here in Britannia will be blessed and fruitful. Tomorrow we will travel to Hadrian's Wall and you will tell me who you are, but tonight you drink and eat, because for now your long journey is over."
There is no food here on the beach save the rodent my lady has caught, and we tarry, unsure where he wants us to go. He sees us waver and points to the darkening cliffs behind him where suddenly lights spring up, showing a path leading up the rocks and over it. "Lads, I'm not sure about you, but I'm pretty hungry myself, and quite exhausted from standing on this bloody beach the whole afternoon waiting for you all to arrive. I could definitely do with a draft of good ale, a place to rest my ass, and a well cooked piece of mutton," he says with a feral grin as he turns around and starts to walk towards the beckoning lights, his boots kicking up clouds of sand and grit that settle slowly around us, not doubting for a moment we will follow.
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