A terrible price, p.1

A Terrible Price, page 1


A Terrible Price

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A Terrible Price
A Terrible Price

  Ben Woodard

  © 2012 Ben Woodard

  Myth and Fantasy

  Illustrated by Laura Leikona

  Book and Cover Design by Ben Woodard

  For more information about the author, please visit https://www.BooksByBen.com/

  The soaring eagle’s head jerked. In the maze of green and brown foliage below, his keen eyes glimpsed movement. He floated to the treetops. A human with spear in hand, crawled through the downed trees and thickets, stalking a young deer. Strange, the eagle thought. Humans usually do not hunt alone, and not this close to their village. Animals are sparse here, and this doe is too small to provide much of a meal. The eagle watched as the hunter with slow and careful movement closed on the animal. The human blended in with undulating colors of the forest. The eagle could not tell if he knew this human. He remembered the one he longed to be with—his friend, the boy. His thoughts drifted back to the boy named Naa’ki. The way they played and teased, and how without this boy, neither he, nor his brothers would have survived.

  Lost in his memories, he nevertheless spied a movement in the weeds ahead of the human. A shape weaved its way through the undergrowth. The familiar diamond pattern on its body caused the eagle to tense. The human in his crouched position did not detect the snake, and crawled toward it. A rattlesnake would not attack unless disturbed, but the human, with its stealth, might surprise the reptile. The eagle knew that he should not interfere in the activities of humans, but he must not let the snake strike.

  The powerful bird dove. His binocular vision locked on his prey. A transparent second eyelid allowed him to keep his eyes fully open focusing on the slithering reptile as he plummeted downward. The wind whistled through his feathers and the world around him blurred. He saw only the crawling creature. The eagle whizzed past the surprised human and snatched the snake, crushing it with his talons as the reptile tried to turn and bite. The deer bounded into the brush, and the human struggled to his feet. The huge bird dropped the snake some distance away. The eagle took no joy in the killing of this creature, or any animal, even those hunted for food. This would not be his meal—he preferred fish, but he remembered the time of hunger when he ate anything. A time of starvation. A time when Naa’ki came into his life. When the boy persuaded the humans to hunt and fish wisely, and saved them all.

  Lowering a wing the eagle banked back toward the hunter. As he neared, his heart leapt with joy. He recognized the human—Naa’ki. The boy who lived in the nest with him and his brothers for many suns. The boy who fed him. The boy he played with, and who named him Otter—like the playful animals at the river's edge. But Naa’ki left, back to his village and his people. Mother Eagle told Otter and his brother eagles not to bother the young human. He had saved them, and now needed a life of his own. Otter the Eagle often glided over the cleared fields outside the village hoping the boy would come out. He never did, until now. The eagle landed beside his friend.

  “Otter,” the boy said, his eyes wide, “it is you.”

  The boy threw his arms around the neck of the giant eagle, and the eagle’s wing encircled the boy. Naa'ki stepped back and dew glinted in his eyes. Otter cocked his head. He had never seen this in a human before.

  “I have missed you Otter.”

  The eye-dew increased and a drop spilled out running down the boy's cheek. He wiped the trickle off smiling. The smile was as bright as a full moon shining on winter snow. Spilling of the dew must not be painful, the eagle thought.

  “And I missed you, Naa’ki”

  “Thank you for saving me. I did not see the snake.”

  Otter stared at his friend. He was different. Older, and with a sadness in his eyes.

  “You were hunting?”

  “Yes, but I failed again.” His head dropped and he pulled up his pants leg. Below the knee his leg twisted sideways.

  “The shaman tried,” he said. “She could not get the bones back together. I can walk—slowly. I cannot run like a hunter must.”

  “Stealth may be more important than speed.”

  “Yes, but the animals are not near the village. They are a day’s trot away.” His eyes drifted to faraway mountains where the green of summer met the white of winter.

  “You are different since you left the nest. You are a man now.”

  The boy’s look shifted back to the eagle. “I went through the ceremony, but I am not a man. My injured leg will not let me hunt with the men. My duty is to stay behind with the women and help with planting and gathering.” Dew again appeared in his eyes, but he smiled at the eagle.

  “You have changed too Otter. Your beak is becoming yellow and your head feathers are almost white.”

  Otter nodded. “I am no longer an eaglet. I must hunt and feed myself. Neither Mother Eagle nor you need to find me food. Soon I will be as large as Mother Eagle, and would carry you if you were no bigger than before.”

  The bird fluffed his wings. “Let me help you. I will spot the animals, and tell you where to go. Then you kill them.”

  “No,” the boy said, his eyes scrunched against the sunlight. “I know how to hunt. I can stalk any animal and throw the spear. My leg will not let me get to the prey. I spied the doe outside my hogan early this morning, and crawled following her track all day. I caught up with her when you came.”

  The sadness in Naa'ki’s face tormented the eagle. He must find a way to help.

  “Goodbye my friend,” he said as he rose into the air. The boy limped back to the village, his head bowed.

  When the sun drifted behind the snow-capped summits, Otter sheltered for the night in his old nest. His mother would return and raise new eaglets here in the spring. His brothers had traveled north in search of more fish. Only Otter remained. He had no wish to leave. Now the boy filled his thoughts with the hope of the two being together again.

  Leaves and sticks littered the aerie and holes gaped everywhere. The eagle remembered how neat Naa’ki kept it. How he spent his nights weaving the twigs and reeds together strengthening the nest against storms. As he slept, the eagle dreamed of soaring over distant peaks with Naa’ki flying beside him.

  At first light Otter woke to splashes and grunts from the lake below. The majestic bird peered over the nest. The sun peeked between nearby crags and trees, its rays splaying the lake-fog with beams of warmth. Through the mist a giant grizzly appeared—the same one that nearly attacked the boy. The bear lapped the cool lake water. Otter had an idea. He dove and landed near the hulking bear. The grizzly cocked its head.

  “Brother Eagle,” the animal said, “why are you watching me on this early morning? Do you suppose you will make me your meal?”

  The eagle twittered.

  “Of course not Brother Bear, but I have something to ask you.”

  “If it does not involve food, I am not interested.”

  “It involves the boy.”

  “I no longer think of the boy. He is not a meal and he is not a friend.”

  The bear returned to gulping lake water.

  “Brother Bear, he saved us by teaching his people the wisdom of Mother Eagle.”

  The bear snorted spraying a drizzle of droplets toward the eagle. “The Eagle’s wisdom is no greater than the Bear’s.”

  “Yes, but he listened to Mother Eagle. She did not try to eat him.”

  “Go away bird, I am hungry and require food. You would only be a snack even if I could catch you.”

  “Brother Bear,” said the eagle, “listen to me. You, and all the bears, know Naa’ki saved us. We must help him.”

  The bear tilted his head and his words struggled out.

  “What would you have me do?”

  “The boy is unable to hunt. He was taught to be a hunter, but his leg
is hurt. He cannot go where the animals are.”

  “The bears are grateful for that.”

  “The boy would not hunt bears.” The great bird’s eyes flashed.

  The bear was quiet. Then spoke:

  “Neither the boy nor his people hunted bears,” the grizzly agreed. “But other humans do. I cannot tell them apart. I may help the boy...how?”

  “You must let him ride you to hunt.”

  With a thundering roar, the mighty beast rose on its hind legs, teeth bared, and claws ready. The forest went silent. All creatures seemed to be holding their breaths. Even the trees appeared to stand as statues, afraid to drop a leaf. The grizzly glared at the eagle.

  “Eagle, you speak foolishness. No bear, and especially this bear, would allow a human to ride on its back. Go away, and come back with a better idea.”

  The great bear lumbered into the growth.

  “Brother Bear,” called the eagle. “Do you remember what it was like when humans first came to our land? They took all the fish, and hunted the animals. And you know the difference now. The boy did that. He paid a terrible price. His leg. Naa’ki does not want to do the work of the females. He wishes to hunt like the males.”

  The bear stopped.

  “Brother Eagle,” he said, “you have learned your mother's ways with words well, but a human on my back is too terrible to conceive.”

  “Brother Bear you are proud—too proud. And so is the boy. You need each other. Together you will make a fine team.”

  The grizzly’s shoulders slumped.

  “We must hunt far from humans or other bears. Any creature that dares to speak will feel the wrath of my claws. I must have my share of the meat.”

  The bear continued into the forest.

  “Brother Bear...,” started Otter. The animal stopped. He did not turn around.

  “Only the strongest and bravest can humble themselves to help another.”

  The bear grunted, and vanished into the brush.


  About the Illustrator

  Laura Leikona

  Laura Leikona has loved native folklore all her life. She reflected often on childhood hunts for Native American arrowheads in the woods surrounding her grandmother’s home while illustrating this, her first e-book illustration. Leikona enjoys moving to and exploring new places. She currently lives in the most western (and southern) U.S. state; Hawai’i. Explore more of her art at https://Leikona.com.

  About the Author

  Ben Woodard

  A spellbinding storyteller of high adventure, Ben lives in Kentucky with his wife Lynda. Ben has had many adventures: walking the Great Wall of China, hiking in Tibet, climbing Mt Everest, and more. He recently learned to surf in Hawaii.

  Ben is active in SCBWI and a member of a local children’s writing critique group. He is a former Marketing Manager for a major corporation and ran his own marketing consulting business. He began writing children’s stories in 2008 and has completed picture books, middle grade and young adult stories.

  For more information about Ben, please visit BooksByBen.com

  Author Notes

  Learn why the boy Naa’ki lived with the eagles, and how he saved them. Read The Boy Who Flew With Eagles, a middle grade story for e-readers.

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