Authors: Kathryn Lasky
Tags: #Ages 9 & Up
Guardians of Ga’Hoole
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As Dewlap lashed out in futile desperation against the wind and water, the book she had left on the rock tumbled end over end into the sea.
Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of England during World War II. For months, citizens of London were subjected to ceaseless bombings by the Nazis. It was called the Battle of Britain and the courage of the men, women, and children was remarkable during this terrifying time. Churchill’s radio addresses helped rally an exhausted and frightened nation. It was said that Winston Churchill was the man who mobilized the English language. I would like to acknowledge a great debt to Churchill, for I very closely modeled many of Ezylryb’s speeches in Chapters Eighteen, Twenty, and Twenty-two after some of Mr. Churchill’s most stirring addresses.
When I was a child, a popular reply to a bully was: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Now that I am an adult, I think this is not true. Words can hurt. But I never would have dreamed back then when I was a child that words like Mr. Churchill’s could give such courage, strength, stamina, and valor to the citizens who were facing the most horrific circumstances of war.
Sparks flew off his beak as the owl, mad with rage, careened through the night sky.
“I must find water! I must find water! This mask will melt my eyes. Glaux blood on my brother’s gizzard!”
The Barn Owl screeched as his glowing beak sliced the blackness of the night. The curse, the worst that an owl could say, seemed to relieve Kludd of the terrible feelings that stormed within him. But hate still fed him, fed his flight, fed his desperate search for a cool pond in which to plunge his mask of molten metal, his singed feathers set aflame by his brother, Soren, in a battle that had gone wrong. All wrong!
Below, he spotted the glint of the moon off a smooth liquid surface.
The huge Barn Owl banked and began to spiral downward. Soon, cool water. He had lost his beak in one battle. He had lost all of his face feathers in another. His ear slits had been scarred this time but he still had one eye and, most important, he still had his hatred. Kludd fed and coddled his hatred as a mother owl fed and coddled her baby chicks.
Thank Glaux he still could hate!
he Brown Fish Owl looked up and blinked. The red comet had passed by for the last time nearly three months before. What could this glowing point in the sky be? It was hurtling toward the lake at an alarming speed. Great Glaux, it was screeching the most horrid, foulest oaths imaginable!
The Brown Fish Owl stepped farther out on the sycamore branch that extended over the lake. If this were not a Fish Owl, it would need rescuing. Most species of owls, save for Fish Owls and Eagle Owls, were completely helpless in the water. The Brown Fish Owl began to spread his wings and was ready to flap them quickly for a power takeoff. Within the sliver of a second before he heard the splash, he was off.
There was a sizzling sound as Kludd hit the water, and then there were wisps of steam. Simon, the Brown Fish Owl, had never seen anything like this—an owl glowing like a coal from a forest fire, plunging into the pond. Was
it a collier owl? But colliers would know better. Remarkable as it seemed, a collier owl could do its work without ever getting burned. The Brown Fish Owl grabbed the mysterious owl with his talons just in time. But his gizzard went cold as he saw the owl’s face—a mangled deformity of molten metal and feathers. What was this?
Well, better not worry now. At least it was alive, and as a pilgrim owl of the Glauxian Brothers of the Northern Kingdoms, Simon’s duty was not to question, nor convert, nor preach, but simply to help, give solace, peace, and love. This owl seemed sorely in need of all. And this was precisely why the brothers took seasons away from their retreat and study; to go out into the world and fulfill their sacred obligation. The Brother Superior often said, “To study too much in retreat can become an inexcusable indulgence. It behooves us to share what we have learned, to practice in administering to others what we have gathered from our experience with books.”
This was Pilgrim Simon’s first season of pilgrimming and this seemed to be his first big challenge. The burned owl would need tending. No doubt about it. Restoring fallen owlets to nests, making peace between warring factions of crows—the Glauxian Brothers were among the few owls who could speak sense to crows—all that was
nothing compared to this. It would take all of Simon’s medicinal and herbal knowledge to fix up this poor owl.
“Easy there, easy there, fellow,” Simon spoke in a low soothing voice as he helped the wounded owl into the hollow of the sycamore. “We’re going to fix you up just fine.” This was when Simon could have used a nest-maid snake or two. What a luxury they had been back at the retreat in the Northern Kingdoms. But here the pilgrims were charged to live simply. To avail themselves of the blind snakes that tended so many owls’ nests, keeping them free of vermin, was not deemed appropriate for the pilgrim owls who were dedicated to service. They had been instructed to live as sparely as possible. Simon would have to go out and dig the medicinal worms himself. Leeches were the best for healing these kinds of wounds, and being a Fish Owl, he was fairly adept at leech gathering.
As soon as Simon had Kludd arranged in the hollow on a soft bed made of down plucked from his own breast and a combination of mosses, he set out to gather the leeches. As he flew to a corner of the lake that was rich with leeches, he reflected on how this owl, which might be a Barn Owl, had fought when he had tried to preen him. This was very odd. He had never known an owl who had resisted being preened. This owl’s feathers were a
dirty, tangled mess. That he could have flown at all was amazing. Smooth flight depended on smooth feathers. On every flight feather there were tiny almost invisible hooks, or barbules, that locked together to produce an even surface over which the air could glide. This owl’s barbules had become unhooked in the worst way. They needed to be lined up and smoothed out again. But when Simon had first tried, the owl had pulled away. Odd, very odd.
Simon returned in a short while with a beakful of leeches and began placing them around the curled edges of the strange metal mask that had melted over most of the owl’s face. He didn’t dare try to remove it. Upon closer examination, Simon was sure that this was a Barn Owl, an exceptionally large one at that. With patches of soaked moss, he squeezed drops of water into the owl’s beak. Occasionally, the owl’s eyes would flutter open, but he was clearly delirious. In this state he spewed a nearly constant stream of curses laced with tirades of vengeance and death addressed to some creature he called Soren.
Day and night Simon treated the strange Barn Owl, changing the leeches, squeezing drops of water beneath the twisted piece of metal that was where a beak must once have been. The owl’s agitation calmed; the rancorous curses fewer—most thankfully, for the Brothers of Glaux
were a gentle order who eschewed fighting. For two days the Barn Owl had slept long uninterrupted stretches, and now on the third day, his eyes blinked open. Simon could tell that he was fully conscious at last. But the first words out of that metallic beak shocked the pilgrim Brown Fish Owl almost as much as the curses had. “You are not a Pure One.”
A Pure One? What in the name of Glaux is this owl talking about?
“Forgive me, but I am afraid I do not understand what you are talking about,” said Simon.
He should be afraid.
“Never mind. I suppose I must thank you.”
“Oh, don’t suppose anything. You need not thank me. I am a pilgrim. I am merely doing my Glauxian duty.”
“Duty to what?”
“Duty to our species.”
“You are not of my species!” Kludd barked with a ferocity that shocked the Fish Owl. “I am a Barn Owl, Tyto alba. You are”—Kludd seemed to sniff—“judging from your stink, a Fish Owl—not my species.”
“Well, I was speaking generally, of course. My Glauxian duty extends to all owlkind.”
Kludd responded with a low, growlish hoot and shut his eyes.
“I’ll leave you now,” said Simon.
“If you’re going hunting, I would prefer red meat to fish—vole, to be precise.”
“Yes, yes. I’ll do my best. I’m sure you’ll be feeling better as soon as I get you some meat.”
Kludd glared at the Brown Fish Owl.
You can be sure of nothing with me. Glaux, what an ugly owl—flattish head, muddled color, not quite brown, not quite gray or white. Miserable little ear tufts. It doesn’t get much uglier than a Brown Fish Owl, that’s for sure.
Kludd, however, thought he had heard of these pilgrim-type owls. Might as well learn a bit more. “So you say you’re a pilgrim. Where are you from?”
Simon was delighted that the Barn Owl was taking any notice at all. “The Northern Kingdoms.”
This interested Kludd. He had heard of the Northern Kingdoms. That was where the ancient and brilliant owl Ezylryb, whom he had almost captured, had come from. It was because of Ezylryb that he had nearly died in this last battle. “I thought the Northern Kingdoms were known for their warriors, not pilgrims.”
“Owls of the Northern Kingdoms are very fierce, but one can be fierce in love and in peace as well as in hatred and in battle.”
Glaux, this owl frinked him off. Made him want to
yarp a dozen pellets right in his ugly face. “I see,” Kludd said. But of course he didn’t see at all. Still, sometimes diplomacy was necessary. And this was what Kludd considered a diplomatic response to an owl that made his gizzard turn green.
“Well, why don’t you fly off and get me some good red meat, nice and furry, good bones—my gizzard needs something to grind.”
And I need time to think.
The Northern Kingdoms! The mere mention of them by the disgusting Brown Fish Owl had set Kludd’s mind ablaze. He had to plan carefully now. The capture of the old Whiskered Screech Ezylryb had failed miserably. Of course, one hardly could have called it a great scheme. No, the great scheme had been to build a force large enough to lay siege to St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, better known as St. Aggie’s. The academy had been snatching owlets for years and training them to mine flecks, among other things. With flecks, one could create weapons of unbelievable power. Not simply weapons that killed, but weapons that could warp the minds of owls. St. Aggie’s had the largest known supply of flecks. But the owls of St. Aggie’s didn’t know what to do with them. Still, ignorant as they were, they had found the stronghold of the Pure Ones in the castle ruins and tried to make off with the owlets that Kludd and scores of Tytos had cap
tured. The Pure Ones, of course, fought back to recover what was, in their minds, rightfully theirs. This resulted in the Great Downing. Scores of baby owls dropped while the two powerful and lawless forces battled it out. And it was the Great Downing that had alerted the owl world—in particular, those noble owls, known as the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, who rose in the darkness of the night from the Great Ga’Hoole Tree—that there was something out there more fearful than St. Aggie’s.
Before the Great Downing, the organization of the Pure Ones had been secret, and this state afforded them valuable time and opportunity to build their forces and develop their strategies. The Great Downing had brought the Ga’Hoolian owls out in full force. And, most significantly, it had brought out the legendary warrior from the Northern Kingdoms, known there as Lyze of Kiel and now in the Southern Kingdoms as Ezylryb. But it was not Lyze of Kiel the warrior who had interested Kludd. It was Ezylryb the scholar. It was said that this owl had the deepest knowledge of everything—from weather, to fire, to the very elements of life and the earth. And this owl best understood the lurking powers of the flecks.
So when the Pure Ones had lost the owlets, their source for new owl power, Kludd had abruptly decided to change tactics. The capture of one owl like Ezylryb would
be worth more than one hundred baby owls. The only way he could think of capturing the old one was through a Devil’s Triangle. By placing three bags of flecks in three different trees to form a triangle, Kludd had laid a trap that had ensnared the old Whiskered Screech by causing massive disruptions to his powers of navigation. The flecks set up a magnetic field. That this field had been broken was not only unexpected, but disastrous. And it had been broken. Other owls had come to Ezylryb’s rescue. They had snapped the power of this field as if it had been no more than a brittle twig. Higher magnetics! Ezylryb knew these dark sciences. And that was why Kludd had wanted him.
There had been a fierce battle with the owls who had come to rescue Ezylryb. Much to Kludd’s horror, one of them had been his own baby brother, Soren, whom he had pushed out of the family’s nest when Soren was an owlet too young to fly. At the time, Kludd thought that he had been delivering up his younger brother to the Grand Tyto Most Pure, for that had been the requirement—to sacrifice a family member and thus assure one’s own admission to the highest ranks of the Pure Ones. But something had gone wrong. St. Aggie’s had shown up and taken his brother. Now this very brother had nearly killed him. And not only had the Pure Ones had their new recruits stolen from them, not only had they lost Ezylryb, but their
stronghold had been discovered. They needed to find a new place to roost, a headquarters from which to plan their war for supremacy.
Well, no need to think about all that now. There were other more important matters—like higher magnetics.
All this time,
I have dreamed of flecks, of controlling the owl universe and making it pure. I have dreamed of conquering St. Aggie’s, with its great reservoirs of flecks and its thousands of owls to mine them. And then I dreamed of capturing Ezylryb. But now I know what I must do. I must lay siege to the great tree on the Island of Hoole, in the middle of the Sea of Hoolemere. Yes, the Great Ga’Hoole Tree must be ours, with its secrets of fire and magnetics, with its warriors and its scholars, it must be ours. I shall bide my time. I shall gain my strength. I shall find my scattered army and then we shall rise—rise a thousand times more powerful than we ever were, against the Guardians of Ga’Hoole.
“A nice plump vole for you, sir. Strong bones and plenty of fur. Its winter pelt is fully grown. That should set your gizzard grinding just fine.” The Brown Fish Owl pilgrim had just returned.
Yes, and so will you, pilgrim.
For Kludd had decided that upon regaining his strength, he would kill this owl immediately.
His own survival must remain a secret for some time if all his plans were to work. Yes, by tomorrow with the vole’s bones like grist in his gizzard, he would be ready to kill the stinking Brown Fish Owl. Kludd, like the best of killers, was patient.