Prologue He sat by the fire, eyes closed, shadows dancing on his gnarled face. The children tiptoed into the clearing and spread around the crackling wood. Flames flickered into the midnight sky mingling their sparks with the stars. The children waited patiently in the silence, hearts thudding at the pops and murmurs of the wood. They jumped as the old man raised his arms and flames leaped in a tapestry of yellow and red. He lowered his arms and the blaze returned to a flicker. Opening his eyes, he stared at each child with a dark and distant look. He began the story, his words becoming visions:
The boy called Naa’ki climbed out on a rock above the lake and gazed across the rippling blue water. He stood dreaming of canoeing to the far ends of the shining water with his father. This was his morning ritual. A time to think and be alone before his daily chores began. Eyes closed he felt the feathery touch of the wind and heard the lapping of waves. He gasped as a crushing pain seared his chest. His eyes sprang open. The ground fell away as he rose off the rock thrashing and screaming. A giant eagle held him, its talons digging into his ribs. He struggled to breathe. The sour smell of the eagle’s ruffled chest invaded his nose. The wings smacked his face with each beat. He lowered his head to protect his eyes from the crinkled feathers. Below, a forest of green mixed with sparkling water spread in all directions. The lake stretched like a fat silver salmon below Naa’ki. In the distance, he glimpsed the Great Salt Water. Water that goes on forever, his father said. With blood seeping through his buckskin shirt, Naa’ki shouted out to the huge bird: “Mother Eagle, what are you going to do with me?”
“I am taking you to my nest,” the eagle replied, “to feed my children.” Naa’ki’s lips trembled: “Why?” he asked. “Eagles do not eat humans, they eat fish.” “Your people have taken all the fish,” said the eagle. “Father Eagle left the nest so there will be more food for us. I have to go farther and farther to find food, and my children are dying. I will feed them human children.” The boy shivered as he understood. His people were catching fewer fish too, but he must not let her babies eat him. He thought fast. “Mother Eagle,” he said, “I am a good worker and my hands can do things that your beak and talons cannot do. I weave, and I can repair the nest and strengthen it against storms and wind. And I can make nets to catch the minnows in the small creeks. If you eat me you will get one meal, but if you let me work, you will get many meals.” Ahead he saw the nest at the top of a scraggly pine tree, bent in submission to the constant winds. The eagle spread her massive wings and floated into the storm-damaged nest. She released him, and he gulped for air. Three scrawny eaglets with gaping mouths, and wide open eyes greeted them with squawks for food. Their mother had only Naa’ki. “How do I know you will not run back to your village?” she said. “I promise you,” said Naa’ki, “that I will stay and work until your children are able to fly.” The eagle tilted her head and peered into the boy’s eyes. She glanced at the eaglets. “I do not trust humans, but you are a boy. You are not yet greedy. Stay...and work.” And so they agreed. The eagle took him back to the lake to wash his wounds. She held him firmly, but tried to spare him further pain. His buckskin shirt saved him from serious injury. For the rest of the day, Naa’ki repaired the nest. He wove the branches and grasses together, trying not to disturb the eaglets. Their chirping started at his slightest movement and never stopped. He put his fingers in his ears and sat quietly away from them until they hushed. If he moved, the racket started again. The boy sang soft songs to calm them knowing that they desperately needed food. They were quiet only for a while after Mother Eagle brought scraps of food. He worked in spite of the noise often pausing to gape at the snowcapped mountains and shimmering water surrounding him. He could not have imagined this world outside his village. Awe overwhelmed him. But fear was present, too. Every time he glanced at the starving eagles. If he did not find minnows tomorrow, he would be their food.
Published on Jan 20, 2013
A myth-like story for middle grade readers who like short adventure stories. Famine. A giant eagle. And a boy who would be prey. The book...