The Linnet's Wings :Take All My Loves, My Love - Page 68

The Linnet´s Wings vere or even fatal. Apart from the harness, I had nothing on but boots, shorts and socks, and ridiculous as it was to imagine that more clothes would change anything, bareness accentuated vulnerability in my mind. And nothing, it seemed, stemmed the dizzy, whirling head and the torrent of sweat which must, by now, be obvious enough to my companions. Gasping and swearing under my breath, I finally got enough control to get my foot back on the hold I’d seen, and five frantic scrambling minutes later I had joined my father and his brother cum-gamekeeper cum-personal assis- tant Uncle Stuart on the summit, or at least the point about a quarter of the way up the mountain which was my apprentice climbing that day. ‘Well done, lad’, my father said, and it wasn’t ruffled or patted cheek, all the child stuff, it was a touch on the hand and away, like he did with Uncle Stuart when they’d completed another routine conquest. Stuart himself, as always, wore a non-committal, slightly contemptuous expression and ‘held his peace’, as my father described what I saw as my uncle’s politic silences. Uncle Stuart had been divorced for two years then, and everyone professed incredulity at the intransigence of my now former aunt, but Stuart was a dour, withdrawn, disapproving presence even with me, his oldest nephew, still young enough to want to get on with everyone, especially his relatives. As usual, my relief and sense of accomplishment took over, for the time being at least, from my nausea at the height and breadth of where we were, the Cairngorms stretching away on all sides of us as far as the eye could see. Then I saw what had whooshed past me, a great giant of a golden eagle, as close as I had ever seen one, and a thrill in itself, with its huge wing span fully extended. ‘There you are, son’, my father said. ‘We’re even higher than the eagles today. How will that do yo ‘He’s hovering for a kill’, Uncle Stuart said, in the deflating way he had. ‘Or he’s after bringing in the big girl. That’s why he’s so low’. ‘Yes, sure enough, Stuart’, said my father. ‘But he’s a sight for sore eyes, for all that’. And so he was, a beautiful, smoothly turning vision against the vast mingled blue/grey sky. And, of course, Uncle Stuart was right, as he tended to be when some dismal outcome was in prospect. Female golden eagles are larger than males, and we only had to look a short distance to the right to see our eagle’s arriving mate, the generous feathers of her great wings ruffling in the wind and her talons already out. The male eagle swooped downwards in an enormous, graceful curve, and almost immediately under the zenith of his arc, as if he was using himself as a downward arrow, were two forlorn figures, a ewe and a young lamb detached from the main flock, perhaps disori- entated in the unfamiliar heat. Although it was July, the lamb looked no more than five or six weeks old; lambing happens when the weather changes for the better, and in the Highlands, that can take time. The female acted on cue immediately, diving with gathering violence down upon the sheep, its great talons sinking deeply into the back of the lamb. By the time the ewe had rallied itself from its panic, the lamb was off, head dangling, the birds coming closer to each other as if in self-congratulation and heading off eastwards. Withing seconds, the lamb’s body had stilled until it was no more than a little white sack with legs. Below, the ewe did a kind of revolving walk, bleating piteously towards nothing in particular. My father shook his head slowly in the philosophical way he had; Uncle Stuart’s eyes had narrowed, almost in admiration. They were not men for homilies or platitudes, and Stuart went straight to the practicalities. ‘That’s on Ian Lessiter’s land. If he ever sees it, he’ll shoot the pair of them’. ‘That should be against the law’, I said. ‘Huh’. Uncle Stuart was up on his feet, ready to go. ‘Fat lot Lessiter would care about that. It’s his livestock they’re away with’. 68