A/N: (Posted on Oct. 31, 2015)
First of all, to the people who are following and have favorited this, I would like to apologize for not updating for a year. I am deeply, terribly sorry that I got caught up in too many things to update. It was unfair to you to not update for a year, especially since I felt like I was too busy. And okay, I was busy, but I still should have written an A/N.
However, I am determined that I finish this story. It might take awhile, because of my schedule that I'm still getting used to, but I will do my best to make sure that I don't let this story go on my list of writing projects I abandoned.
So, for an update on how the Goose Squadron Tales are going…
I've completed a detailed outline for all of the chapters, right down to the epilogue.
I've also been getting myself back into the story with writing small parts of chapters over the weekends.
I have Thanksgiving break coming up soon (don't we all?) and I'll give you guys another Author's Note then, and an update on how the story's going so far. I don't want to promise a chapter, because I'm not entirely sure if we'll get time off from homework, but I swear that I'll do my best. You people deserve it!
I think that's about it. I posted part of Chapter 4 down at the bottom, just to see what you think of it. Good? Bad? Too confusing? Give me all the criteria you want.
See you all in a couple of weeks, and I hope you had a good Halloween.
That was more then a couple of weeks, wasn't it? There some pre-Christmas stuff that got in the way of writing, and this chapter had temporarily gotten lost in the depths of all my documents (one of the main reasons why the preview of Chapter 4 wasn't actually the intended Chapter 4).
I've also started to work on a new story, and the ideas won't stop coming for it, so that means there's even less time for this fanfic. I'm going to try and set aside time for this, though, in the amount of time I have for working on things that don't relate to school. (Which isn't much. But there's always the weekends, right?)
Here's Chapter 5. I decided to change Part 2 of Chapter 3 into plain old Chapter 4, so this is Chapter 5. Makes things easier, what? (As Greylag would say)
Four more days until the world ends...oh, wait, that was for 2000.
Thanks to duck liet(Congratulations on being Penny), Spr13gitfanfic4cookidonli (Don't worry,everything will be all right; Ugly & co. will show up later), and ArtemisCarolineSnow (woohoo! You liked the chapter!) for reviewing!
This is kind of long, so settle down with some Christmas cookies (or some sort of snack) and read away.
[Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, except for Snowy the mute swan, Sandy, Floe, Piper, the crow, the mother cat, the farmer, or his wife. I also don't own any of the poems that have appeared in this story.]
When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night bee too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.'
- Robert Frost
As the goslings grew, so did summer. Along with learning how to survive in a world that contained freedom and predators, neither of their parents had forgotten how they wanted to pass on human military skills. So the goslings learned how to salute by putting the right wingtip to their forehead, walking with a military "goose step", and the phrases that Greylag would say. Barnacles and Pinkfoot were especially proud when the aviator goose captain assigned them lookout on walks.
The days went by, cloudy one day and filled with bright sunshine the next. Dot knew it was rather cliché, but she was happy. It was warm, there were plenty of good plants to eat, and the goslings were getting better at swimming; why wouldn't she be happy? She even managed, one day on the pond while she and Greylag were teaching the goslings some water maneuvers, to push her worries about what could happen to the goslings - predators, shootings, and the like - to the back of her beak.
One day, the goslings learned about a flying wedge, a military tactic. It was basically a V shape – like geese used on migration – and used to smash through the enemy's lines. Greylag thought that they could use it in water too, if a fox or a weasel – Dot inwardly hissed at the thought of egg-eating weasels – came to close to one of the banks of the pond. The number of enemies coming at a predator would overwhelm them, and then the animal, formerly hungry for geese flesh, would turn tail and flee.
The goslings, at about three weeks old, still had their fluff. Their feathers wouldn't come until about five weeks later, at the end of summer. Even without feathers, they still could swim, paddling their feet through the water. Both parents decided, however, that the gosling had to wait until they were eight weeks old – or two months, and had feathers – until they could actually help drive off a fox. For now, they could only practice.
Of course, there were complaints.
"I don't want to wait for five more weeks," Snowy peeped, swimming around in the pond. "If a fox comes, I want to help."
Piper glanced at him critically. "If a fox comes, you know that they won't let us help. Anyway, you're too small. A fox could eat you in one gulp."
"Small!" Snowy peeped indignantly. "I'm older than you."
"By a day."
"I'm more mature," Piper countered.
"You're more stubborn," Snowy muttered.
Pinkfoot, cannonballing into the pond, and splashing them both, interrupted them.
"Thanks for making him stop." Piper peeped to Pinkfoot, as Snowy spluttered from the water.
"No problem," Pinkfoot peeped back. "He was getting on my nerves, anyway."
"Hey!" Snowy peeped. "Don't talk about me like I'm not here."
The two female goslings glanced at him, mumbled "Sorry," and then dove underwater.
The actual doing of the flying wedge wasn't that hard. All the goslings had to do was swim as quickly as they could, in the wake of Dot and Greylag, in a V shape. But first, they had to learn how to swim quickly without tumbling headfirst into the pond and getting a beakful of water. It wasn't that hard for them – swimming is part of any waterfowl's natural abilities, after all – but racing around the pond, in a game of tag, was good practice.
"You're it!" Floe peeped to Sandy one morning, smacking him as gently as could be expected over the head with her wing. It was soon after the six goslings had learned the wedge formation. Even Snowy pushed his wanting of more independence aside for a game of tag, among other things.
With five siblings to play with? That was the ideal recipe for a good game of tag, which he liked even better.
Sandy glanced around the pond. The other goslings were waiting for him to make a move, their webs ready to get them out of the way of danger – if the gosling that was It could be called danger.
He inched toward Barnacles, and his older brother crept backwards by pedaling his webs on a backwards angle, a trick they had learned from Greylag the day before.
Slowly, Barnacles told himself as Sandy padded closer, wanting to give the gift of tagging to someone else. Lure him into a sense of confidence…
Sandy padded closer, and closer, and closer.
The suspense, Piper noted from a safe distance away, was terrible.
Part of her hoped it would last.
Barnacles zoomed off into the water as his brother leaned forward, wing outstretched. Sandy followed as well as he could. He was a little smaller than his siblings – just enough to have his webs not give as much force – but Dot had reassured him that he would get bigger.
That morning, Dot and Greylag watched the goslings play from a quieter section of the pond, while also taking a break to eat some pondweed. Occasionally, there were even some small stems, leaves, and pieces of tender grass floating on top of the water. The two molting adult geese snapped up everything avidly, because if they didn't eat for at least half a day, they would most likely starve.
"Did your father teach you anything else about military?" Dot murmured to Greylag as she pecked at a piece of grass.
"Let's see…" the gander honked – quietly. Every parent needs private conversations with one another, and this was one of them. "My father taught me upending – turning down in the water so you didn't have to go all the way down, what? It could be useful."
"Upside down…" Dot murmured to herself. "Upside down… My parents told me something about this…I've got it!" she cried.
Greylag blinked at her. "What, exactly, do you have?" he asked.
"My parents," Dot began. "They told me about a time where the military officer, who was in a danger, and had to go underwater to avoid detection. Or perhaps it was bullets. One of the two, anyway."
"It could be useful," Greylag admitted. "I never did like the look of that crow; to shifty for my taste. Can you remember everything else?"
Dot closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. "There's saluting, and those military phases, and positions…not to mention some aerial maneuvers. My parents told me about how a captain would act on a plane…those loud shiny creatures that fly across the sky…but they never told me how I should train my own goslings." She sighed deeply. "I'm mostly going about this on instinct."
"Well, you taught me, didn't you?" Greylag honked. "Why did they tell you those stories, anyway?"
Dot frowned thoughtfully for a moment, staring down at the water. When she looked back up, her eyes were a little more certain.
"It could have been because there was nothing for us goslings to do," she suggested. "But I like to think it was because they wanted to pass on their stories, so they would have a little part of what they had gone through with their goslings when they died."
"That's a nice thought," Greylag remarked.
The two geese talked with each other for a while, discussing plans. Dot felt better, now that she had told Greylag the reason she had hoped, had thought, had wished that her parents had told her all their stories.
Even if the reason wasn't entirely true, it was nice to tell it to someone else, especially on a sunny day in summer while a game of tag was played in front of you.
The summer kept growing, from June to July to August, and slowly matured from a hot, lazy season into something more medium. It was slowly turning out to be sort of summer where it isn't too hot or cool, a sort of summer that was slowly, day by day and week by week, coming to an end. This was bad news for schoolchildren in most first-world countries, as well as for migrating birds. The children just had to do back to school; migrating birds were on a clock to get to warmer country before winter set in.
Dot knew that it was customary for graylag geese to lag behind the other migrators, to, in a human sense, procrastinate their migration. Still, as a full time mother goose, she wanted her goslings to know how to fly excellently before the geese started to migrate.
To fly, the goslings needed their feathers. Dot and Greylag, the two adult geese, needed to finish growing their feathers after their one-month molt of their tails and wings.
Yet, as the days of summer kept going past, filled with military training and eating and preening and swimming, Dot found something that might cause flying practice to start sooner then expected. She had, in fact, thought of the possibility when Barnacles had been named.
Barnacles was growing in black feathers, just plumes that were darker around his neck. It was earlier than the other goslings, and Dot was concerned about what to tell him. It was a bit of a rare occurrence to find that a goose couple of a different species had given their son to you, and Dot wondered why. Why had Barnacles' parents given him to her and Greylag? Was it to make sure that they would still have eggs if there was an attack on the nest? It was muddling.
Barnacles, if he noticed it – and he most likely had – didn't approach her. Dot kept preparing to have him ask why he had black feathers and not gray, as graylag geese had, but her preparations weren't needed.
As the rest of the goslings got their own feathers – to Floe and Piper's delight, as they had been itching to have their own plumage for weeks – Dot noticed that Pinkfoot, although excited as her siblings, had become rather fixated on her feathers. Swimming up to her daughter one day under the shade of a few tall reeds by the edge of the pond, away from the other goslings, Dot asked her if everything was alright.
"Affirmative," Pinkfoot honked – the goslings had started to honk more and peep less, and also pick up some words that Greylag used – but she seemed to be thinking of something else. She held up her wing for her mother to see. "Do my feathers seem – I don't know – brown to you? Brownish? Not fully grey?"
"No," Dot told her after looking at Pinkfoot's feathers. "No, I don't see much brown, but it's alright, Pinkfoot," she added as her daughter looked worried. "Greylag geese aren't fully grey. They do have brown colouring in their feathers."
"But my feathers seem more brown," Pinkfoot protested. "And my head looks darker brown, though that may just be the light."
"Pinkfoot," Dot honked. "If you try to stop worrying about this – and I'm guessing you have been worrying about this a lot – I promise I will try my best to get you some answers."
"Answers?" Pinkfoot honked, sounding confused. "How are you going to get answers?"
"I have a friend," Dot told her daughter. "A friend who has lived in this marsh for years. She's old, and wise, and she has to know something about all this."
"Okay," Pinkfoot sighed. "Do you think she knows something about why Barnacles has black feathers?"
"You've noticed?" Dot clarified; she was filled up again with a worry about her other-species son.
"Yes," Pinkfoot nodded. "I don't know if Floe and Piper really notice – they're preening over their new feathers a lot lately. It was Floe who told me that she liked how my feathers were a nice brown shade."
"She didn't tease you about it, did she?"
"No. Don't worry about that, Mama. But Snowy has defiantly realized something's up, and he asked me about why I thought Barnacles had different feathers."
"And?" Dot asked with a lingering sense of worry still there.
"And I told him to mind his own business, and that Barnacles' feathers weren't his," Pinkfoot honked with pride layered on top of her words.
"Alright," Dot honked, relived. "Come on, let's get you back to the rest of the flock," she added, her mothering instincts that had been built partiality on flock mentality turning on.
"You'll find out answers as soon as possible, what?" Pinkfoot asked in an imitation of Greylag.
Dot chortled quietly. "Yes. I will. I don't want to leave you six, so I'll ask Greylag to look for my friend on his scouting expeditions."
"I thought he had finished those because of molting," Pinkfoot honked as they padded over to the five goslings and Greylag, who was just about to start instructing them on how you dealt with a rabid animal.
"He's getting his feathers back. And, a military goose's searching for enemies is never finished," Dot told her, angling her head toward Greylag. "Including rabid ones. Now, go on and listen."
Her only hope, Dot realized while talking to Pinkfoot, was Snowy, the mute swan. She had seemed so wise after she had looked over Dot's eggs, even gave her advice that her goslings would be the pride of her heart, and the joy of her life.
So, Greylag, at Dot's asking, had searched the marsh for Snowy, but the mute swan hadn't been found. The goslings were now about nine weeks old. Dot had decided to plan it so the geese would start migration when the goslings were thirteen weeks old, or about three months.
A few days later, Greylag had found a patch of nearby wild grasses, close to the nesting area. Dot had let him take the goslings there on a short walking excursion, as grain was good for the growing goslings. She hadn't gone – she felt unwell, her stomach was rolling, and occasionally sent out flashes of pain. Dot thought perhaps a change of fresh air might help keep the goslings from eating whatever plant she may have accidentally ingested. So, she had stayed at the pond to nibble on fresh grasses and roots, and hope that her stomach pains would go away.
She had just finished getting a particularly stubborn plant from the bank and settled down to do some through preening. A Dot cleaned her feathers, her thoughts were on her parents, how her mother and father had come to the marsh to raise her and her siblings. They had all returned to the farm, of course. Yet, as a year slowly passed, her siblings had either gone to other farms, or flown off on a spring migration when they were just a few months short of a year. Dot had been the one that stayed on the farm, for two years, out of five other goslings. And then the flood had came, and her parents were swept up in a tumult of water…
A loud cawing started Dot out of her thoughts, and she looked up to see a crow. The mother goose thought it might be the same crow that had attacked them at the start of the summer, but it was hard to tell with crows.
Filled up with a sudden hope, Dot decided to try something unpredictable: she spoke to the crow.
"Excuse me!" she honked up to the crow. "Could I talk to you for a moment?"
The crow blinked at her as it flew down, and no wonder, Dot thought as the other bird, a non-waterfowl bird at that, settled down onto a rock. It probably wondered what went on in her head, interrupting a bird in flight like that.
Greylag's words from weeks ago floated into her head for a moment from a shadowy corner: I never did like the look of that crow…
Dot firmly pushed that thought away as her stomach rolled once more. There would be time to think about that later. Right now, there was a chance, a slim chance, that this crow would know Snowy.
All she had to do was ask it.
"Yes?" the crow cawed, and Dot thought that it sounded like the same crow.
"Do you remember me, from the start of the summer?" Dot asked hopefully.
"Wait…" the crow narrowed his eyes in thought, then opened them wide. "I do! Didn't I dive down at you, and your friend?"
"Yes," Dot sighed with relief. "You did dive down at my mate and me. Listen," she added. "Do you know any birds on this marsh?"
The crow nodded. "Hmm…" His eyes narrowed in concentration. Dot waited patiently; crows sometimes took a while to answer you, unlike other birds.
"Mostly I know ducks, although I have talked to a few swans," the crow admitted finally.
"Any mute swans? You know, they stay here all year?" Dot asked.
"Pretty sure I know at least a few of them," the crow cawed.
"Then could you please find a mute swan for me?"
"Why me?" the crow asked, sounding offended. "I'm not a homing pigeon."
Dot ignored that last remark, and said, "It's because you just said you know some birds on this marsh. I need you to find a female mute swan for me, because I have goslings to raise, and can't do it myself."
"Well…" the crow shuffled on his perch. "What's in it for me?"
Dot mentally scanned the farm, narrowing in on the crops. Wheat, hay, corn… "I know where you can find some corn," she blurted out.
The crow straightened, as his favorite food was corn. "Where?" he asked eagerly.
Dot pointed a wing in the direction of the distant cornfield that started a few meters away from the edge of the marsh. "There."
"Hmm…" The crow thought about this for a moment. "How do I know you're telling the truth? The corn could have been picked already."
"Even so," Dot bluffed. "There should be some kernels still left over. The military officer, who owns the corn, is rather old. These past years, he's tended to leave a few ears of corn behind."
"Are you sure?" the crow asked, eyeing her warily.
"I've lived at the nearby farm for a couple of years," she replied. "I know how the crops get taken in."
"Fine," the crow agreed, gazing away into the distance as if imagining all the corn he would be able to eat. "I suppose it's better than berries."
"Exactly; corn is much better then berries," Dot honked. "Now, do you promise to find Snowy – that's the name of the mute swan – as soon as you can?"
The crow glanced at her. "I'll try," he promised. "But don't expect a miracle."
And with a flap of his wings, the crow flew off.
Three days later, a large white swan with a gracefully arched neck found herself giving advice to a worried gray goose in a patch of reeds, nearby a small pond. A crow – and a nervous crow at that – who had said that there was a gray mother goose in need of her advice, had notified the swan earlier. The crow had mentioned that the mother goose lived by a pond, with her mate and six goslings.
"And I could tell it was you," Snowy told Dot. "Because you and Greylag are the only grey geese that I know of at this marsh, and why would a goose that didn't know me want my advice?"
Dot opened her beak to suggest a reason for why a goose would contact Snowy, but a something else came out of her beak, a question that had been nagging her for three days and wouldn't let go. "Are there any other geese here in the marsh?"
"Why, yes, there are." Snowy spoke with a thoughtful gleam in her eye. "There's a small flock of pink-footed geese, about five families – not greylag geese, dear, but are they sometimes mixed up with one another by humans. There was a black-and-white feathered couple – I think the term is barnacle geese – that left for Greenland about three months ago. Oh, and a pair of red-breasted geese."
"The black-and-white feathered couple, the barnacle geese," Dot honked. "Why did they leave?" Barnacles had recently acquired some white plumes. He could very well be related to the black-and-white geese.
Snowy hesitated. Was there worry in her voice? "They left because the one of the gander's wings had been injured while their flock stayed at the marsh for spring migration, and they had to stay here and wait for it to heal. They come from Greenland, don't you know, so they couldn't get their beaks around much of the language here. They were a bit homesick, I think, and they were flock sick too. You know, when you're missing your flock."
"You sound like you know them," Dot honked.
"I did," Snowy nodded. She shifted her weight on the soggy ground, as if nervous. "I helped them with a problem they had."
"How did you help them?" Dot asked.
Snowy fixed her with a slightly sad gaze, the thoughtfulness melting away like snow in the springtime. There was anger in the white swan's eyes too, but it wasn't directed at Dot. It was more like anger towards Snowy herself.
Before Dot could think further about this, Snowy continued, "If you want to be frank, I helped them figure out where they should put their eggs when they had to leave quickly," she explained, bitterness spreading through her whistle-like speech*. "They couldn't wait to get home. I wanted to help them. I didn't want to help them give up their eggs."
"They gave up their eggs?" Dot honked, shocked.
"Yes," Snowy sighed. "One to the red-breasted goose couple, one to a pink-footed goose couple, one to mute swans, and one…"
"It was to us, wasn't it?" Dot realized; it felt like the sun had risen in her mind and illuminated this new idea that made complete sense. "But why didn't you come and tell me?"
"I didn't want to tell you," Snowy admitted. "I knew the news would be shocking, and I wasn't sure what your reaction would be." She let out a quiet snort. "Not that destiny cares whether you want to do something or not."
"They gave up an egg to me," Dot murmured. "When we were naming Barnacles, Greylag thought that a goose might have given us one of her eggs; he looked just a bit more brownish than what we remembered greylag goslings to look like. I thought that if that was true, I would try to be a better mother to him than his own mother, and now I know I have to be."
"You named him Barnacles?" Snowy asked, surprised.
"Yes," Dot honked. "We didn't know what color his feathers would be, and since barnacles are so many different colours…we thought it would match."
"I see." Snowy bent her head a moment to fix one of her feathers.
"The pink-footed geese," Dot honked after a moment or two of silence. "What are they like?"
"They look rather like your type of geese, dear," Snowy honked. "A bit more brown, especially on their heads, and their necks are a bit paler. But they do have upper-wing coverts that are like yours – bluish-gray, yes? And from what I could see of a few younger geese, they don't get their pink legs at the same time you do, but it was mostly a yellowish colour." She paused, and added, "One goose that I think had goslings about the same time as you told me they get pinker legs when they're a year old."
"Snowy," Dot honked. "Did – did any of the pink-footed geese say they had given up one of their own eggs?"
Snowy blinked. "The goose I talked to mentioned that a pair of geese in the flock was thinking about it. Just in case, you know? It wasn't like the barnacle geese – these geese wanted to make sure at least one of their eggs were away in case of an owl attack. Why did you ask?"
"My daughter thinks her feathers are browner than the rest of her siblings," Dot admitted. "I'm not sure if it's just because graylag geese have some brown tinges to their feathers, or because she was given to us. But I promised her to find out all the answers I could, and I thought you would have some."
"I don't know any facts," Snowy honked. "Not for certain. But I did see that the two geese that were thinking about giving up one of their eggs had five eggs when I was leaving their pond. And then later, I was flying overhead, and I counted eleven goslings in all. Four from one couple, three from another, and only four from the two geese that were thinking about giving up one of their eggs."
"So they could have given Pinkfoot to me," Dot frowned. "Snowy, what should I tell them? Barnacles and Pinkfoot, if – alright, when – they ask me why they have different feathers, what should I tell them? I don't want to tell Barnacles that his parents abandoned him just so they could get home quicker." A surprising amount of venom filled Dot's honk as she said the last few words.
"Pinkfoot already asked you about this, yes?" Snowy affirmed.
"About why she had different feathers, that's right," Dot nodded.
"First of all," Snowy spoke with a sense of purpose, "you're right that you can't tell Barnacles about why his parents gave him up. It wouldn't be good for him. Tell them…tell that that you talked to a swan that knows what happened, and that both Barnacles' and Pinkfoot's parents wanted to give you one of their eggs, so that if a predator attacked their parents' nests, they would still have eggs. And Dot, you must tell them that you accept them and love them. It is essential."
"I already do accept and love them," Dot told her.
"Good," Snowy replied. "Then it shouldn't be hard for you. Do you still keep watch for the cat?" she added.
"Yes," Dot honked, slightly bemused by this turn in conversation.
"I think she had kittens." Snowy shifted around a little on the marshy ground. "I was flying past where she sleeps – in an old barn, of all places, and I thought I heard mewing."
Dot blinked. "I guess I can relate to the cat slightly. We're both mothers."
"You shouldn't let that cloud your judgement about cats as a whole," Snowy said quietly.
"Has she always bothered birds here?" Dot asked; Snowy shook her head.
"No, she only came at the start of summer, just before you and Greylag, I think. There are a few humans who migrate around here for the summer – she came with a family this year. Their pet, I suppose."
"Odd," Dot honked. True, she had lived with the farmer and his wife, but had never really considered herself their pet.
"I suppose so," Snowy agreed, and a small frown flitted across her beak before asking, "Tell me, how are the goslings doing with swimming? I remember I never liked to swim when it was cloudy; I always preferred to swim in the sun…"
When the goslings came back home from another outing, Greylag behind them, the sun was more then halfway between it's zenith and the horizon.
"How did it go?" Dot asked, waiting patiently on the bank, as the six goslings paddled over to her, looking worn-out. Dot's stomach had gotten better, but Greylag had wanted her to rest anyway while he took the goslings a little ways beyond the pond again. He had said that it was good for the goslings to get used to the area around the pond.
"It was fine," Greylag assured her as he swam behind his offspring. "We didn't see any enemies, and we found a nice patch of rushes."
"The roots tasted great!" Snowy peeped; her second-hatched always seemed to have a bit of energy in him, no matter how tired his siblings were.
Dot felt herself relax as the goslings finished their swim and began to clamber onto the bank; she had been growing worried ever since Snowy the mute swan had left. "That's good."
"Hi, mama. Can we go to bed now?" Piper yawned as she blinked up at her mother.
"Are you feeling any better?" Barnacles asked, his white feathers showing clearly among black.
"I'm feeling fine, Barnacles," Dot answered. She blinked at Piper, worried that of all the goslings, Piper seemed the most tired. "Of course you can go to bed, but the sun's not all the way down yet. Don't you want to stay out on the pond a bit more?"
"Piper waddled quicker then all of us on the way home!" Floe peeped.
Dot glanced at Greylag in confusion. Wouldn't he have told Piper to slow down?
"I tried to get her to halt," Greylag explained, looking a tad embarrassed. "She was waddling past me now and then on the way home." He glanced at Piper, and concern flickered in his eyes. "I think she was worn out from eating too."
"Alright," Dot honked, relieved that there was a reasonable explanation for Piper's weariness. "Just listen to your father a bit more in the future, okay?" she added to Piper as Dot pressed her beak briefly to the gosling's.
"Okay, mama," Piper peeped, and then let out another yawn. She waddled past Dot, heading towards the place among the reeds where the geese usually slept.
"Sleep well," Dot called after her, and was answered by a sleepy peep.
The other goslings, after talking a bit more about their adventure ("We saw a blue jay flying overhead!" "A frog jumped out at me!"), began to file past Dot too. She let her beak rest for a moment on Snowy's beak, and Sandy's, and Floe's, before she realized that Barnacles and Pinkfoot were making no move to go to sleep as well. Instead, then were talking to each other quietly, and Dot couldn't make out what they were saying.
Greylag came up to her, making sure not to bump into Barnacles and Pinkfoot, who were still discussing something between each other. Dot noticed that he looked guilty now.
"I'm sorry," he began, but Dot shook her head.
"It's fine, Greylag." At his dubious expression, she added, "Piper is fine; she's just a little on the tired side. And you did try to get her to stop."
"I know." A little of the guilt left Greylag's face. "Dot, did you find anything out from that friend of yours? Snowy, was it?"
Dot nodded. "Yes, I did, and she told me that-"
Dot stopped as Pinkfoot's voice reached her ears. She turned, away from Greylag, to look at Pinkfoot. The brownish-feathered gosling looked worried.
"Yes?" Dot asked tentatively.
"Barnacles and I need to ask you about something."
Pinkfoot sounded too nervous to be simply asking about feathers. Concerned, Dot opened her beak to respond, but Greylag beat her to it.
"What's the matter?" he asked; far from sounding like a stern commander, Greylag also seemed concerned. "Is everything alright?"
"We—" Barnacles blinked, and drew in a deep breath. "We wanted to know if you found out anything more about our feathers, why they're different colors? Pinkfoot told me you would get some answers." He sounded calmer then his sister.
Dot was suddenly grateful that Snowy had come that day. "I do have some answers. There's this mute swan that I know, and she's lived here for a while, and she…" Dot found her honk shaking a little; she tried to make it stop. "She explained why your feathers are different colors-"
"They gave us away, didn't they?" Pinkfoot was quiet; her voice was shaking. "They…they gave us away…"
Rushing forward, Dot encircled Pinkfoot in her wings. She felt like she was suddenly trying to desperately keep the gosling safe from predators and heartbreak, loneliness and the upsetting news that the mother goose knew she could not withhold; although she knew, in the end, she could not protect her daughter from any of those things, however much she wanted to.
"They thought they were doing the right thing," Dot whispered. "They wanted to keep you safe."
"How would…giving us away make us safer?" Barnacles asked, now sounding upset. Greylag padded closer to the three of them. Out of the corner of her eye, Dot saw Greylag reach out a wing to try and comfort Barnacles. The black-and-white gosling blinked at him, but didn't back away.
Dot drew away from Pinkfoot. "Snowy - she's this mute swan I know - told me that your families would have given you to us when you were still in your eggs. She said it was they did that so your families-" she didn't want to say parents; she doubted that she would be able to continue talking if she said that- "would still have one of their goslings to raise if their nest was attacked. They wanted to make sure you weren't hurt when you were still unhatched."
"She's sure that happened?" Barnacles blinked again, this time at Dot.
"Yes," Dot reassured him; she didn't want to hurt Barnacles by telling him the true reason why his parents had given him away. "She knows a lot of the geese here, and she picked up enough information to know that your families gave us to you because of those reasons."
"They only wanted to protect you," Greylag put in. "And Dot and I want to protect both of you too."
Dot nodded in agreement, finding herself unable to speak as Greylag continued, "I know it's not the best situation, but I promise you two, if you really want to find your families, we'll do everything we can to make sure you get to see them."
Pinkfoot and Barnacles exchanged a glance.
"It's fine, Papa," Pinkfoot whispered, and Dot's heart lifted a little. "I'm happy with you and Mama for now. I'm glad you told us."
"I'm glad too," Barnacles added, calm filling his honk once more. "And I'm fine with not meeting my real-" He broke off, frowning. "I'm fine with not meeting my other family," he finished.
"About not your feathers-" Dot began, worried if she was bringing up the wrong thing. Yet Pinkfoot and Barnacles had been concerned about that too…
"I don't mind about that, Mama," Pinkfoot told her. "My feathers just made me wonder about…about my other family, and you and Papa cleared that up for Barnacles and me, so I'm fine now."
"I don't mind my feathers either," Barnacles added. "I like them, actually."
"I like your feathers, too," Dot honked. "And that saying, about birds of a feather… It's is a load of rubbish. It doesn't matter whether you came from another goose's nest. You're still brother and sister to Piper and Floe and Snowy and Sandy. Birds of a feather doesn't apply to this flock."
Pinkfoot and Barnacles looked comforted for a moment. That was all Dot saw of their expressions before the two goslings came rushing at her, and Dot found that her wings were wrapped around them.
As Dot hugged the two goslings tightly, she felt a mixed emotion of joy and relief rise up inside her. Pinkfoot and Barnacles still thought of her as their mother, and nothing could change that.
*Mute swans aren't exactly mute; "their hoarse, muffled trumpet or bugle call given during territorial defense doesn't carry like the calls of other swan species." Also, when communicating with each other in a group, mute swans usually whistle, growl, or snort at one another, hence the reason for Snowy's whistle-y voice when she talks to Dot. (found from All About Birds website).