It was then that I turned three years old.
The day after my third birthday, I was taken to my father’s workplace in the forest.
According to the information I had received during those three years, my father’s name was Luke and my mother’s name seemed to be Suzuya. The surname – I should say the clan name is the mere name known as Havu.
My new name is Yuri. Yuri Hovu, it was a simple and memorable name.
That day, Luke took me to the place that crossed the hill behind my house. The ride there was on a large, flightless bird called a Kakedori, and I sat between Luke’s legs.
This bird looks like a large bird that wears its winter gear on an ostrich and is flightless. It is covered in hair from the top of its head to its tail, except for its feet, and amazingly can be ridden like a horse.
By any stretch of the imagination, there is no such bird on earth. If there were, they would be a coveted icon in zoos, wouldn’t they? It would be strange if I didn’t know. Moreover, it would be strange if humans with hair on their ears existed, so I am really in a world other than Earth.
The bird drive is a very good riding animal, sitting more comfortably than a horse. It runs on feet shaped like reverse joints, which absorb shocks like a suspension system and don’t feel rocked when sitting on them.
And so I was taken to Luke’s workplace, which was, how shall I say, like a ranch.
I had heard of it, but Luke was really a farmer …… more like a ranch owner. Only, the vast pasture had livestock barns, a track made out of fences, a place similar to a horse farm, and the open part was like a pasture. It’s more like a breeding ground for racehorses than a livestock farm where cattle and pigs are raised.
“This is my pasture.”
Luke said, and then he landed on top of the bird and took me down between his legs.
I honestly express my thoughts
The pasture, set in evergreen coniferous forest, has a very idyllic and relaxed atmosphere.
The wooden barn was a little worn, but seemed to be well maintained. There are no rotting boards, no holes in the walls, etc. It doesn’t look like a new house, but it has been thoroughly repaired and doesn’t feel derelict at all.
Even in contrast to how I felt in Japan, it was still a very remarkable ranch.
“Do you know why I built a ranch in a place like this?”
Luke asked me with a little pride. I could tell from the usual conversation that this father puts a lot of emphasis on letting his child think for himself.
“Is this the ranch that Dad built from scratch?”
I thought the Hovu family had been a family that ran a ranch for every generation since our ancestors. However, from what he just said, it was Luke who built this ranch on his own, i.e. an entrepreneur.
The ranch was not exaggeratedly large, but it was several hectares.
“Yeah, I built it.”
Yes, it is.
It’s hard to build a ranch from scratch at such a young age.
“Never mind that, just answer Dad’s question.”
That said, Luke had a look of disbelief even when praised by a child.
No, I really think it’s amazing that he’s built this ranch in just one generation.
I, for example, am about his age but have no wife and only a small house that I inherited from my grandfather.
Raising a wife, having kid, having a house and building a ranch in just one generation.
“Hmm ~ is it because even if the livestock are noisy, they don’t disturb the neighbours?”
“…… You have an interesting idea. It’s true, if there were people living nearby, it would probably be noisy and disturbing.”
From what he was saying, it didn’t sound like the answer he was expecting. Even so, Luke stared at me as if he were impressed.
Is that such a strange answer? I was perhaps a little too urban in my thinking.
“But most of the people around here have livestock in their homes, so they don’t really care.”
Oh~ that’s it.
So they keep livestocks in their own house.
It’s not easy to find such a family in Japan.
“So, what’s the correct answer?”
“Look, it’s sandwiched between two mountains, isn’t it?”
Looking into the distance, it looked more like a hill than a mountain, but no matter how you looked at it, it was the slope of a mountain, a place where you couldn’t see the view.
Oh, so that’s it. It’s like a little basin.
“The wind doesn’t come here because the wind passes over the mountains. Birds don’t grow well in windy lands.”
I see, I can very much understand that reasoning.
But Luke also looks very young now, and he should have been younger when he started building the ranch. Was it then that he started looking around for a suitable location to start a ranch, finding a place that would be acceptable, opening up land that had previously been a forest, building houses and getting the business on track?
It’s easy to talk the talk, but it’s really not something that can be done easily.
This dad, he may be a great man.
If he’s really doing what he’s doing, he feels more like a young industrialist than a farmer.
“Does Dad work as a shepherd?”
“Well, sort of,” Luke replied.
Luke replied. I had sensed from conversations at home that he was indeed running a ranch.
“Do you run this ranch by yourself?”
“No, I’ve hired staff, I think they’re here already.”
Oh, I see.
Luke pulled the reins to move the bird and tied them to the hitching post, then led me by the hand towards the barn.
I looked inside the barn, and instead of horses, it was a stall where the birds were kept.
The birds were kept in rooms separated by walls, but each space was vast enough not to be uncomfortably cramped.
Considering that more birds could be fed by reducing the space, and that the barn did not have to be very large, it seems that he would have done more for the birds than for profit and efficiency.
In the barn there are two men in overalls, working on the sides of a two-wheeled trailer-like vehicle placed in the middle of the aisle.
They are feeding the birds in cages from a loading platform full of feed.
“So, is the feed dried grass?”
I had no ecological knowledge of bird repelling.
“Because they get thin on just hay, we have to add some mixed grains, tree nuts or beans.”
The birds seem to be herbivores and feed almost as well as horses.
“In the wild they survive by eating grass or tree nuts that fall to the ground, but they will also prey on small animals in winter when there is no food. Here, too, they used to hunt rabbits for food when they grazed.”
Not herbivorous. Horses don’t catch rabbits to eat.
But the speed and hard beaks of the birds are perfect for hunting mice or rabbits in the forest or grassland.
“Don’t they eat meat?”
“Yes. It makes them physically stronger, but if they remember what meat tastes like, they get very grumpy.”
Is it like remembering the taste of blood? It doesn’t seem to be a necessary ingredient for breeding.
But I think that’s only because the science is still immature. If a Japanese livestock breeder were to analyse it, he would probably say that there is a desperate shortage of calcium and sodium when feeding on this diet. There could be a variety of effective methods such as adding meat and bone meal to the feed, or putting rock salt blocks in the barn.
I appear to be the eldest son, and as it stands, I should inherit this pasture. The future might be happier if you look into it.
“Except that there are people who like grumpy kakedori birds, so if there’s a particular need to buy them, they’re also allowed to grow up hunting mice in fences fitted with rodent baffles. They can be difficult to train, though.
“It’s just that there are some people who like kakedori birds with a grumpy temper, so if there is a special purchase requirement, they will also be allowed to hunt rats and grow in the fence equipped with rodent baffles. Although it will be difficult to adjust.”
It seems there are humans who like grumpy horses too.
“Why would they want kakedori birds with grumpy temper?”
“Because some of the warrior like these birds, but there are more people who buy them and can’t get used to riding them. But if they’re handled properly, they can go into battle and wreak havoc in a completely different way, they can kick people to death with ease, they’re very powerful.”
Will they be as exuberant and crazy as a beast hungry for blood?
From what Luke says, the kakedori bird seems to be an animal weapon. Even if I could ride a kakedori bird in the future, I would want to stay away from such a ferocious bird. If you put your foot on the bird saddle and then get thrown off, your head would be trampled immediately. I can easily imagine such a thing.
“Having said that, I almost always leave the birds to others and only do the final training. I mostly look after the King Eagle.”
“King Eagle …… is it?
The king eagle came up a million times in the books my parents read to me, but it was one of those animals I couldn’t understand.
“It’s a bird that flies in the air.”
Are there eagles that breed for hunting?
At his urging, I was led to another barn a short distance away.
The barn was shaped like a three-story building, unlike the one at Kakedori. There were many windows, all open, but the inside of the diaphragm was fitted with something like a barred window.
From a distance, I thought the building was staff accommodation, but was this where the birds were kept?
When it comes to the equipment for keeping birds, I only know that apart from chickens, bird cages and wire cages are used, so I can’t say anything about it. Only that if this three-storey building is opened up, it should be very spacious. The capacity might be equivalent to a large aviary in a large zoo.
Upon arriving at the building, Luke pulled the latch on the double-opening door and opened it.
“Come on in.”
He nudged me in the back and I stepped inside.
I was so scared I was weak in the knees.
Behind the door was a huge space created by opening up all three floors of the building, and the birds that lived there.
However, those kinds of birds are strange.
The size was strange.
It must have been three or four metres from head to tail. Its body was thickly covered in brown feathers with streaks, its claws were sharp and its beak huge.
Its eyes were as sharp as those of a raptor.
So this was a king eqgle, and a very large one at that.
My mouth hung open in awe.
“Are you scared?”
Luke asked me with a sly smile.
“That’s for sure …… yes.”
“Yes, this is ……”
The eagle known as the king eagle was huge and cool..
It is not round, it is slim and dashing.
There are currently five of them. It seems a bit small for a house of this size, but given the size, I think it’s appropriate.
I thought the interior of the building was just walls and roof, but there was a thick pillar that looked like a pruned tree had been planted directly inside, and it seemed to be holding the whole thing up without impeding flight.
A thick beam extends from the top of the pillar to the wall, and the king buzzards seem to enjoy perching on it.
On closer inspection, they were frequently flying between the beams. Occasionally, when they think they are about to leap up and fly, they wave their wings twice or three times, catching the beam with such force that it might break if it were not so thick.
The wings of the king eagle are formed of brown feathers with stripes. Only the chest to belly is white mixed with grey markings, punctuated with different colours.
The plain colouring makes the bright yellow on the beak and feet both conspicuous and beautiful.
“Wow … there are such creatures”
It was as if I had glimpsed something amazing in the ecosystem and felt like I had seen the entity of a legendary bird such as the phoenix or the griffon.
“Right? This is my favourite bird. They’re very intelligent, and if they get familiar, they’re also very close to people.
“Do you get used to humans?”
“Of course. Otherwise it’s too dangerous to ride.”
“What do you mean, ride them?”
“There’s the so-called sky riders in the story, isn’t there? What do you think that is?
Luke said incredulously. They do appear in the story, but I thought they were just great knights who whose role was unknown.
“You must be able to ride them too.”
He was saying something inexplicable.
“Should I ride them and fly into the sky? ”
“Don’t be afraid, of course I’ll fly with you too, so don’t worry. It’s a Hovu family tradition to let children ride a king eagle at the age of three, and I was made to ride one when I was three.
That’s not what I’m talking about.
However, from what he said, it sounded like Dad was planning to let me fly on the king eagle today. The conversation seemed to turn into him trying to cajole me, a scared child, into letting me ride.
“Is this the kind of animal you let people ride up on and fly?”
“Of course, that’s what they’re bred for.”
He seemed to be serious.
“Don’t worry, Dad is the world’s best king eagle rider.”
My father had his own reassuring words.
Honestly, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. The common sense part of my brain was ringing alarm bells at the prospect of flying on such an animal.
However, from the way Luke spoke, it sounded as if each generation of ancestors had left behind a remarkable legacy, and he didn’t sound like he was lying when he said he was so skilled that he didn’t feel in danger.
That said, I didn’t get the slightest sense from Luke that he was going to challenge dangerous behaviour.
“I know that and I will be ready to be aware of it.”
“That’s good, that’s my son.”
A king eagle flew down after Luke took the wooden flute hanging around his neck into his mouth and blew. Was it the sound of the flute that selected the individuals and made them fly down? Only this one of the five responded to the sound, so it must have chosen the individual and made it fly down.
While I was dumbfounded, Luke took the saddle, which was hung on the wall in a different shape to the one used to kakedori birds, and put the leather circle with the reins through the front of the bird’s beak to attach the saddle to the bird’s back, wrapping the leather straps around its belly to secure it in place. The saddle is not flat, it has a slight height and feels more like a camel saddle than a horse saddle. Although it has to be straddled just the same, only the part that rides is a little higher like a chair.
Luke took hold of the reins that extended from the sides of the king eagle and tugged on them to entice the eagle. The eagle did not resist in any way and was led along obediently. Luke opened the double-opened door we had come in through and walked outside the house.
After closing the door with the latch once more, he pulled the slow-walking eagle into the grass away from the building. He then gave the eagle two knocks on the head, before bending his feet and crouching down. He then bent his feet and crouched down. Like a well-trained dog hearing “sit”, it sat down very obediently. The coaching really helped.
“Raise your hands a little.”
He said to me, so I held my hands up high and Luke wrapped a belt with several metal rings around my waist and pulled it so hard that it hurt. He wrapped his arms around my stomach and picked me up.
I was placed on the bird saddle like a piece of luggage.
Luke put on a similar leash and climbed into the saddle. It was easy for me to straddle the saddle at my height, but Luke had to bend his feet to ride, which seemed a little uncomfortable.
Although he is straddling the king eagle, he has wings, unlike a horse, so he cannot swing his feet around when riding. As a result, the sitting position becomes like sitting on a tatami mat with an uchihachi. But this would hurt his pelvis, so the saddle was raised a little to make it look like he was sitting.
Luke tied the belt around his waist and the leather straps for the bird saddle to hold his body in place. The belt around his waist appears to be a harness for wearing. Once it was in place, he also tied the belt around me, who was sitting between my legs, so that it would never get separated from the saddle. This way, no matter what position he was in in the air, the king buzzard would never be separated from himself.
Next, Luke manipulated the reins.