Flight To Freedom This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Brandon turned his face to the sky once more, watching with vain but wild hope as the majestic falcon soared higher. His spirits plummeted with her as she dove to land on his arm in defeat, and he let out his breath in a frustrated gasp.

It was defeat for both of them if she failed, Brandon realized despairingly. He had been out here for over three and a half hours, trying desperately to help the too-well-trained falcon, Angel, discover her own freedom so he could have his.

Holding the exquisite bird on his wrist, Brandon recalled how he had gotten into this position. His Royal Highness the King of Delroa had been informed that the population of falcons in the kingdom was decreasing. The thoughtful king had quickly taken action to save the bird: he had passed a law making bird-hunting illegal, and had appointed a Royal Head of Birds to capture, breed, and keep track of the falcons in Delroa. Brandon, who had nearly completed his studies in ornithology, had been hired as apprentice to the Head of Birds. That was almost three years ago, and Brandon, still full of youth and independence, desperately wanted to complete his apprenticeship and move on to something of his own. But his contract had stated: "...in the service of the Head of Birds for three years time, when he shall set free his own falcon ..." Brandon was now attempting to perform this task with Angel, who perched impatiently on his knuckles.

It was a little painful to set her free. He had seen her hatch from an egg in the professor's laboratory, and watched the fluffy down turn to sleek feathers. He had even helped the professor teach her to fly, not long ago, and he knew she was the smartest of the flock, the quickest to learn. But this was the moment they had done it all for; all their hard work had gone into setting her free. And now Brandon feared she was too tame, as he stroked the brown feathers thoughtfully.

Again he flung out his arm, and she sailed up. Watching her fly was simply breathtaking, but he had seen it all before and he watched her now, rather absently, as she glided and looped dizzily far above him. He had endeavored countless times in the last few hours to show her she was free. He had tried hiding under a bush, but her eyes were as sharp as her talons, and she spotted him easily every time. He had attempted keeping his arm out of reach, but with a flutter of wings, she would land on his head with a screech of delight. He had even set her after squirrels and other tiny animals, but she would always return with them trapped in her claws, as she had been taught. Brandon was reluctant to admit it, but he was about ready to give up.

She was coming back now, swerving through the trees to reach where he stood. She flapped her wings in front of him, looking for a place to perch. Stubbornly, he kept his arms down and snarled at her out of frustration, his face contorted with rage. He lost his temper.

"Don't you see," he shouted. "you're free! Go!"

Angel alighted on a tree branch, turned around, and stared curiously at him. Brandon, angry with himself, slapped his palm against his forehead. He had broken the first rule of dealing with birds. "Never yell," he scolded himself under his breath, then repeated it for good measure. He took his hand away from his face and smiled grimly at the falcon.

"Angel, come here." She glided to him warily. "Good," he crooned, "now listen to me. You are a bird. You were meant to be free, correct?" He half expected her to nod. "I have tried my best to set you free, free of me and the Master." He grimaced. "I want to leave him as much as you do. Probably more." The trainer wiped his free hand across his sweating brow. "But I can't do that until I return and tell him truthfully that you are gone. Now there are several ways that I could do that: kill you or break your wing or tie you to a tree. And you're just lucky you're dealing with me, Angel, because I'd never do that, though another man would've, long ago." He sighed, and held his scarred, battered arm higher. "You've got to go, Angel, I'm sorry, I can't return with you if I have to stay here all spring."

The sun was setting. A cool breeze shook the trees in the forest, and Brandon shivered. He knew it was hopeless, and that she'd just come back like every other time. But he had to try. He lifted his arm and bowed his head in prayer, then signaled her to go. She soared from his arm one last time. Brandon did not believe in miracles, but he could not believe his eyes when he looked up. A flock of large birds, he couldn't make them out from here, was flying south in a V shape. He stared incredulously as Angel swerved in the sky.

"Yes!" he cried. "Go! GO!" Brandon was speechless in his excitement. Tense, breathless, he watched as she turned and slowly followed in their wake. He fumbled with his binoculars, his hands shaking, then looked up again ... she was gone.

His initial and unexpected sense of loss was quickly overridden by joy. With an exhilarating whoop, he turned and sprinted through the woods toward the professor's hut - this time, to say farewell. He had finally succeeded, and glory gave wings to his soul. He, too, was flying to freedom. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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