Friday, January 6, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday

I was a little late getting started on this, being still in mental vacation mode. But thanks to Jemima Pett, who has created a new writing prompts page, I pulled out a title and found a story. At just under 850 words, it's a quick Friday Distraction.

The Wrong Bird

It should have been an eagle, of course. Every kingdom put an eagle on their war-banners, unless they used a lion. But this was definitely a bird, so it had to be an eagle. It just didn’t look much like one.

The royal banner-maker wasn’t very good at birds. The result was an error the kingdom had to live with, the king declared. He didn’t want to spend the money to have a new banner designed.

“But what is it?” asked the prince, who was still too young to be polite and evasive. “We can’t have a bird on our banners and not even know what it is! It would be rude!”

King Kerwin exchanged glances with his royal advisors. “Does it matter?” he began to ask, and the chancellor of the exchequer nodded sagely.

The head of the army broke in. “The boy’s right. I’m sure it’s a nice bird,” he added, for Lord Wilfram had been well brought-up, and the banner maker might be somewhere about. “But we really must know what it is.”

“It looks fierce enough,” ventured the rather timid Lord Chuffle, master of the royal bedchamber. “That beak looks sharp, at any rate.”

“Nonsense!” roared Lord Gryphon, who wasn’t at all timid. “Why, it might not even be a bird of prey. Those feet aren’t exactly talons.” They all, even Chuffle, had to agree about the feet. And it would never do to have anything but a bird of prey on the banner. A war-banner, even of a very small and new kingdom, had to display something fierce, real or imagined. The color of the feet suggested this might be imagined, but it wasn’t fierce enough.

“What does the banner maker say it is?” Prince Janson asked in his direct way.

The lords all looked at each other.

“I, er, I’m sure I don’t know,” admitted King Kerwin. “Chuffle, send and find out at once.” Chuffle scuttled off.

It was an unusually practical move for the king, but was, alas, to no avail. The lords all stood around staring at the banner until Chuffle returned, puffing from a race all over the castle in search of the banner maker.

“My lord! Sire!” he panted. “The man is nowhere to be found!”

Men began to swarm in all directions, determined to flush out the miserable tailor, whom they now began to suspect of worse things than ornithological ignorance. In a moment, Prince Janson was left alone with the banner.

The boy studied it, first from a distance and then up close. Then he took the bit of fabric, hid it under his tunic, and slipped off around the corner and down an empty hall.

In the way of boys, Janson had long since found routes around the castle that avoided all the adults, especially the noble ones. In five minutes, he had made his way, unobserved, to the royal library.

Prying open the heavy oak door, he slipped inside, and pulled the door shut behind him. No one would interrupt him there, since no one else seemed to use the library.

He had a well-developed, and so far justified, belief that anything he wanted to know could be found in the library. This was largely the result of his father’s frequent demands that he “work it out for himself,” uttered when the king tired of the boy’s eternal “why, Papa?” That order, combined with a tendency on the part of his tutor to send him to the library to read on things—the tutor liked to sneak off with the queen’s chambermaid—meant that Janson knew most of the books in the library. He was probably the only one.

He turned to consider the long shelves of books. Where would he find the answer? There. The book he wanted was in the third row on the left. Janson remembered the big, beautiful books with drawings of every animal in the kingdom and beyond. Every bird, too, which was more to the point just then.

He would find their battle emblem in the section on sea birds, Janson thought. Those feet looked like water, however much some wanted to pretend they were talons, and despite Lord Chuffle’s claims about the fierceness of the beak, Janson thought it looked like some sort of duck. Something that ate fish whole, rather than tearing gobbets of flesh with a strong, hooked beak.

Janson leafed through the book. There it was, as he’d thought, right next to the albatross. Too bad the banner maker hadn’t slipped and made one of them, Janson thought. But there was no denying those feet, especially with the distinctly blue cast of the thread used to embroider them.

He pulled out the banner and compared it with the book, just to be sure, but there was really no doubt. No wonder the banner maker had disappeared. Janson hoped he had left with the trader caravan that morning, because Papa was going to be furious. And with good reason.

What kingdom could thrive with a blue-footed booby on its war banner?

I don't have any photos of the blue-footed booby, but I'll link you to one on Photoseek, the fantastic photo site of Photographer Tom Dempsey (and I'll encourage you to look around there, because he has hundreds of fantastic photos for sale).

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


  1. Brilliant. I have a picture of a blue footed booby, endemic to the Galapagos, and one of my favourite birds - I'd have it on my war-banner for sure!!
    Great story (and I'm glad the Flash Prompts helped).

    1. I'm especially glad that your flash showing up in my feed reminded me it was Thursday! You should have seen my face when I saw that, first assuming you were publishing early, then gradually realizing you had not :D

    2. Time flies when you're enjoying yourself!

  2. I saw Blue Footed Boobies on Kauai. Probably took pictures of them, but I cleaned out all of my old pictures after April passed. Sometimes I wish for them back, but not often enough to regret the original choice.

    1. I don't think I've ever seen any, but I think they are cool :)

    2. The Galapagos Conservation Trust used to have a Blue Footed Booby Day, in June, I think it was. I wonder if they still do it? Could be a cool blog hop....

    3. Hmm. I might look into that. I've never tried to organize a hop before...not sure I could get many participants, but you never know.


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