A sudden shrieking bled through the leaves and pierced the calm, making the tree retreat into itself, and the words that hovered around me quieted instantly, leaving only one. Danger. Danger, the forest rumbled, but instead of running away, I turned toward the sound.
Something was in terrible pain.
I don’t know why I ran toward it. But I did. I ran toward the cry that rent the darkness and made the hair on my skin stand up in warning. The scream quieted briefly only to rise again, a death call, and I stumbled into a clearing and drew up short. There, bathed in moonlight, was the biggest bird I’d ever seen. It lay in a heap, an arrow protruding from its chest. Feathers quivered as it drew breath, labored, gasping, and I approached carefully, one softly placed step at a time.
I couldn’t soothe it the way a mother soothes a child, but human sounds rarely soothed animals unless the animal was a beloved pet or a faithful horse. This was neither. The bird raised its glossy white head, eyes black and trained on my face, and watched me in wary desperation. Its wings shuddered with the impulse to fly, but there was no strength behind the movement.
It was an eagle, the kind you only see from a distance, if at all. It was magnificent with its regal, white head and sooty black feathers, the very tips tinged a blood red. I didn’t dare touch it, not for my own sake, but for the eagle’s. My touch would alarm, not comfort, and the bird would struggle to fly, which would only cause pain. I crouched nearby and studied it, trying to ascertain what could be done, if anything, to alleviate his suffering.
I reached out and placed a hand on the fan of the wing nearest me. Closing my eyes, I pushed a word toward him, silent energy encompassed in thought. It was the way the animals shared their essence with me, and it seemed to work in varying degrees when I wanted to get my way.
Safe, I told him silently. Safe.
His wing stopped shuddering beneath my hand. I opened my eyes and regarded him gratefully. Safe, I promised again. He was still, perfectly so, but his eyes clung to my face, and his breaths were more shallow.
He was going to die.
The arrow was buried deep in his chest, and pulling it out would kill him more quickly. I worried more about his pain and the animals that might find him and make a meal of him before he was dead.
Then there was the matter of the arrow itself. Where was the shooter?
I listened intently, pushing my senses outward, hearing the conversation of the trees, the hum of the nightlife, and the rustle of the wind. I couldn’t feel danger or fear, and I didn’t sense pursuit or hear the approach of human thought. Maybe the eagle had been able to fly a distance before he fell, escaping the archer.
Light. I felt the word rise up from the bird. Light. I wondered if his yearning was for the day, as if it would save him from his fate, as if the night was responsible for his death. Or maybe the bird saw the radiance of a shiny forever beckoning him to fly into endless skies among the Gods.
I could stay until then. I could stay until dawn, if he lasted that long. I would keep the predators at bay as he left one world to fly into the next. I relaxed beside him, moving my hand to the silken feathers of his breast.
I kept my touch light and my intentions heavy, pressing the power of my intent into his pained breaths.
Relief, I told him. Comfort. Quiet. Peace. The words were only a balm, not a cure. I was not a Healer, after all. But I urged wellness on him too, though it was only a wish. He was so resplendent, and I hated to see him die.
Boojohni would come looking for me. He would grumble and bellyache and groan about his sore feet and knobby knees, but he would come because he loved me and would worry if I didn’t return soon. My father had tied me to him when I was young. Tied, like an unruly dog. My father was so afraid something would happen to me, he had never left me unguarded. It was Boojohni’s job to make sure nothing happened to me. We were about the same height then, making us appear like two naughty children being harshly disciplined wherever we went. Boojohni hated it even more than I did. But he was compensated for his trouble and humiliation. My humiliation was not considered.
Boojohni was a troll, more closely resembling a monkey than a grown man, with a flat, rubbery nose above an impressive beard that matched the wild hair that started low on his forehead and continued down his back. He was only four feet tall, fully grown, but he wore clothing, walked on two legs, and was as wise as any man, though Boojohni was the first to disown the human race.
I was much taller than Boojohni now, but he was still my protector, though I’d outgrown the leash. I would not be caged, though my father tried. If his concern had come from love, it would have been easier to endure. But it came from self-preservation, from fear, and the resentment between us had grown deeper and deeper since my mother had died.
I sighed softly, just a huff of breath, but the eagle raised its eyes and regarded me.
Light. The word rose up from him again. Urgent. Questioning.
Soon, I soothed, stroking his head. I lied. There would be no light. Dawn was hours away. But I would stay, and Boojohni would just have to grumble. He had a nose like my father’s hunting dogs. He would find me easily enough if he insisted upon it.
I eased myself into a more comfortable position, wrapping my gown around my legs to ward off the slight chill and pulling my cloak around me. The growing time was fast approaching, and the snow was gone from the ground, thankfully. The trees were clothed in green, and the grass was thick beneath me. I curled myself in a half-moon around the bird, laying my head on my arm, and I kept my other hand soothing and stroking, urging healing with my thoughts.
I proved myself a poor protector.