“AHHHHHHH!” Screamed Orion. His coarse beard whipped painfully into his eyes as air roared past him.
Heedless of his reputation, his ego, or anyone else in the vicinity he continued to scream. His body shot into the heavens, hurtling towards vast mountains of puffy clouds.
A calm voice somewhere in the vicinity of his booted feet spoke calmly, “Do you always scream this much?”
“Ahhhh-hicrrr-,” a blast of icy air cut Orion’s guttural cry short and for a minute his face turned as blue as the sky around.
The great eagle flattened his wings, slowing their accent and turning into a lazy spiral. He cocked his head to one side, considering his passenger, “For a Demigod, you’re not that brave are you?”
“Wha-wha- what do you mean by that?” Orion stammered, his pride catching him up. Chest heaving the burly man glanced down. It was a mistake.
The eagle crowed, “Stop squirming like that! Or we’ll both be in trouble-No! Stop it! Now!”
There was an awkward moment, with the greatest Hero of the Ages scrabbling to grab everything and anything solid in sight. Both forms dropped like a stone, passing through a large clump of cloud.
“You’re an idiot!” Screamed the eagle, his voice echoing off of several pearly masses. When they emerged from the cloud their bodies dripped with condensation. Orion found himself bent over backwards, his face pointed to the distant land forms below. Hundreds of fathoms below.
The eagle squawked again, “No! Stop! Stop this now, or I will drop you!”
He clung onto the human with one large clawed foot. Struggling to keep the being from twisting his leg from its socket.
“You’re as terrible as that rabbit I caught this morning. It couldn’t just lay there and die.”
Being associated with common vermin brought the warrior to his senses. Eyes flashing with rage, Orion addressed the creature, “Excuse me? Eagle, are you aware of to who you speak? I suppose The Knight of the known world is a joke to you.”
“You lack in tact as well.” The eagle felt his pool of patience reach rock bottom. “And it’s not ‘Eagle’ or ‘Beast’. My name is Acquim. Acquim the Third, son of Londrum, King of the Sky. I’d have hoped that someone of your . . . intellect and stature would understand the common courtesy given to royalty.”
Orion gritted his teeth, his own temper finally breaking. He interrupted the great bird with a roar, “Common courtesy? Why don’t you just drop me already? That’d be courtesy enough for what you’ve put me through! For one destined to be the noble steed of the Hero of the Century, you certainly have a way with showing loyalty.”
As he spoke, Orion glanced to his belt, clutched tightly within the creatures talons. There were several deep gashes in the hand crafted leather where the beast had pierced it. It was a mark of Acquim saving his life, but Orion could only think of his wounded pride. He blundered on, heedless of Acquim’s look of complete befuddlement and disbelief. “And for that matter intelligence, you’re lacking . . . rather a lot.”
There was an awkward moment, when their eyes met. But before either could respond, Acquim’s leg spasmed dropping the large man into open air.
“You dare-“, was all Orion could utter before he disappeared into a massive cloud bank. In stunned silence Acquim stared at the man’s body print. Legs and arms spread wide. Then a chill wind twisted the vapor and the image was lost.
“He really is that stupid.” He spoke to the now silent air.
His father’s words rang in his ears as he remembered earlier counsel given. You two are destined for greatness, you and that half-immortal. The Skies have foretold his coming to us. My son we cannot turn him away. I won’t say he is lacking in . . . refinement, but the two of you will make the impossible, possible.
Rolling his eyes as a wave of guilt passed through to his tail feathers, Acquim gathered wings to his sides and dove.
Father had better be right about this. He thought as his vision blurred from the cloud bank. Sunlight blinded him as he burst from the cloud. Below him stretched the wide world, a vast bowl of green and brown broken by ribbons of blue. In the exact center of the living tableau, a figure spun round and round. A faint wail echoed up to him.
“Alright, ” he said, smoothing his feathers from head to tail, “let’s show this human what we’re both made of.”
With that Acquim dove, air and water streaming from his body as he shining beak split the air. A howl formed from his feathers as the elements parted, urging his body onward.
Orion was to the point of prayer. The ground was growing closer with each of his sobbing breaths.
Maybe I shouldn’t have called him a steed. He thought as tears leaked from his face. I’m not ready to die, I can’t go like this! I’m the Hero of Destiny, I’ve been told from birth I would live to make a difference in this world. Not fall to my death from some stupid oversized pigeon!
Clouds whipped by, completely unconcerned by his presence or trajectory.
Perhaps this is just a dream- That thought was pushed from his mind as he ripped through a flock of gulls. One caught on his sheathed sword and evaporated in a puff of feathers.
“Great Gods of the Air I’m going to die!” He screamed, realizing just how quickly his mortality was catching up to him. Individual peaks and forests were making themselves more distinct in his vision. There was no getting around it. He was going to die.
“Gods grant me mercy” He whispered, closing his eyes tight.
Air roared all around him. And then, something was enfolding him. His body tugged to the side, away from the waiting mountain peaks. The roar in his ears changed. And then, with a wrenching in his gut he was hurtling upward, warm feathers pressed into his face.
“Acquim?” He hazarded a guess, eyes still shut tight.
The eagle spoke with a certain calm, “I am here, Orion . . . your loyal steed.”
Tears of relief and gratitude poured from Orion’s eyes as the two soared into the sky.
He opened an eye, looking at the blurred blue and white world passing around him.
“Thank you,” he said gently, “I am a coward and prideful and I shouldn’t have call you steed.”
Acquim cocked his head looking at his rider, “And I’m an arrogant chicken. I guess there’s some things we can work on. Together. Agreed?”
Orion glanced up towards the sun. He smiled and nodded his head, “Agreed.”
Below them the world turned.