He used to watch them from a distance atop the hill where he and his friends love to play but now they are closing in. The land developers have arrived at the village with their tractors and heavy equipment, clearing the savanna, and mowing down his father's farm. The machines roared like battle tanks on full-assault. Armed soldiers escorting the operation kept the villagers at bay so all they could do was to watch their lives being destroyed. The boy Edward wept, remembering what his grandfather used to say about eagles and men. He was 12.
Ironically, the summer started on a high note for Edward and his family. School has just ended with Edward getting the highest honors at their elementary school graduation. His father threw a feast, butchering the fattened calf along with the ten pigs and dozens of chickens that met the same untimely death at the hands of the butcher, but their sacrifice was worth it, leaving an entire village satisfied and bursting in the belly, what with the feast lasting three straight days. The palay stalks bent to near breaking point from the sheer weight of the grains they held symbolizing the abundance of a forthcoming harvest. And best of all, Tisay had whelped, giving birth to a healthy litter of eight, from which Edward picked the biggest pup, a boisterous male he named Habagat.
His first encounter with the Haribon came one late afternoon during a kite-flying adventure on the hill. The sun was slowly approaching the final stage of descent casting streaks of crimson into the clouds when Edward noticed that the kite he was flying did not have the whole of the sky to itself. A tiny speck had materialized from nowhere in the infinite vastness inconspicuously at first and then slowly it started taking shape. "Another kite", the boy thought to himself except that it never stayed in place, making a circular flight, unaided by the wind, and at times going against it, slowly, slowly revealing itself while losing altitude in what seemed like a graceful aerial dance no kite could ever imitate. By the time he realized what it was, the eagle had taken a tailspin, disappearing in a flash and hurling itself into the direction of Edward's house at the foot of the hill which is still fairly visible from his vantage point. It re-emerged in the blink of an eye clutching a chicken on its grip, the poor prey wriggling and shaking but not so much in trying to extricate itself than simply demonstrating the primeval urge to cling to life down to the last agonizing breath.
"That bastard raided my fighters again. That dead rooster was a three-time winner. I'm gonna get me a shotgun and blow up that monster to smithereens", his father Mang Bitoy fumed, while holding a gray rooster, and looking at the distance where the eagle had escaped.
"Jovito, why don't you just keep your chickens locked up inside the coop or you yourself watch them closely when you put them out to the sun instead of blaming the eagle? Retorted Edward's grandfather, Lolo Bentong. "Besides, I don't feel good about you betting on those stupid cocks anyway. So perhaps the eagle may have saved you from losing your shirt at the cockpit. You should be thankful instead."
Edward felt bad for his father. He had lost a prized cock, and now, he couldn't even win an argument.
But deep in his heart the boy was completely enchanted by the swiftness of the kill and even more so with the way his grandfather put things in perspective. He may be old, nearly a hundred years, but there is no questioning his wisdom and his way with words. It may be the first time that Edward saw the great bird do its thing, but already the boy's imagination has long been captivated by fantastic stories from Lolo Bentong himself about the plight of the majestic bird. How as a young boy, he watched a pair of these eagles do their courship rituals in the clouds during a thunderstorm And when he was sure that Mang Bitoy could no longer hear them, Lolo Bentong narrated in almost graphic details the way the Haribon made the act of killing the three-time winner look like swatting a fly.
The eagle in the words of the old man, would transform from just a creature of nature into a spiritual crusader that embodies the soul of the earth from which man and beast and all the elemental beings have evolved and on whose survival, the continuity of the cycle of life depends. It's the only one of its kind, the last of a dying breed, that's why the bird is revered and treasured by people like Lolo Bentong who remain firmly attached to the past. To them, it will always be Haribon, the King of Birds. And the wrath of the Gods should befall whoever had meant to harm it.
To the old man, everything the eagle did was beautiful. He finds no cruelty in the way the Haribon plucks its prey in one swoop to deliver a swift and sudden death because such is the way of nature, the way it was created, the story of its life, and how it was meant to be. "The Haribon takes only what it needs, and it does not inflict pain to its own kind unlike man who lusts for everything and who would not hesitate to take the life of another man to satisfy his greed," Lolo Bentong would always say. Then he would ask, "now who's the evil one?"
From that day on Edward would find himself staring aimlessly at the skies wishing to catch a glimpse of what had become the mythical bird of his imaginary world and when he does find it, he would never cease admiring the grace with which it dives and glides to the rhythm of the wind and as soon as the eagle disappears from his sight, the boy would be left wondering why a creature so beautiful would be condemned to live the cursed and lonely life. Every sighting of the Haribon is a profound moment for Edward until one day.
Habagat had broken off his leash and the runaway pup exuberantly dashed to its freedom faster than his nimble legs could normally carry him to explore the world and its pleasurable scents chasing locusts in the ricefields and searching for bird's nests and edible worms in the hollows of fallen trees. Edward who had so nervously searched for Habagat across the village was already closing in when he heard a loud yelp and the flapping of wings. The Haribon took off meters away, making huge strokes with its powerful wings to slowly pull itself up from the ground with the heavy carcass of the puppy hanging limply from the powerful talons of the great king of birds.
He could almost hear his grandfather ask "now, who's the evil one?" as Edward watched the clearing operation along with the angry villagers. He wondered what would happen to them now that they have been completely stripped of their land, their source of livelihood taken away just like that, and so with their dignity. This must be how it felt to the Haribon, throughout its painful struggle to survive in the rapidly changing world. A struggle that finally came to a tragic end one day when the King was caught in the trap father and son had built to take revenge on the adversary. Edward recalled how the King who ruled the earth and sky with such boundless courage and energy appeared to have lost the will to fight once it realized it was grounded and how the eagle stood motionless, calmly resigned to its fate it seemed, as his father struck with a butcher's knife, delivering the death blow.
This must be what Lolo Bentong had meant to say when he spoke of the wrath of the Gods...