By Rachel Ann Michael Harris
The wood bundle tumbled from Azarel’s grasp and scattered in the snow as Reuel shoved his muzzle into the boy’s face.
“All right, Reuel,” Azarel said. He’d been distracted for merely a moment, checking the sky to see if he could catch a glimpse of the majestic griffons said to make their aeries upon the mountain. Thirteen years old and he’d still never seen one.
Reuel rushed down the path, then stopped and loped back.
“I’m ready to go home too.” Azarel rearranged the sticks and tightened the rope before slinging it on his back.
As he trudged through the snow, a bare bush caught his eye. The fine bark and flowery scent even in midwinter told him all he needed to know. Amariah. Unbidden, his mind raced. Amariah could be used to heal almost any injury, and it worked quickly.
Azarel could attest to that, having experimented on Reuel when he found the dog injured in a rockslide three years earlier. No one else had been willing to help, except Azarel. Reuel survived, but Azarel’s inexperienced hands hadn’t been able to fully cure the dog; he still walked with a limp. He’d hoped that by helping Reuel, the healers would allow him to study medicine, but the dream had been foolish. Girls learned healing. Boys learned hunting and braved the woods to gather sticks to keep their families warm.
Elihu, if I can’t heal people, why did you give me this thirst for medicine?
Reuel barked, startling Azarel back to the snow-covered woods and thin mountain air.
“Coming, coming.” Removing a knife, Azarel cut a few branches and stored them in a pouch. He might not be able to learn medicine, but would anyone complain if he brought back a few branches?
Reuel tugged on his gray parka.
“Fine, I’m coming.” He stored his knife and chased after Reuel as the dog led the way home.
It wasn’t much of a race. Even with his limp, Reuel maintained the lead, stopping occasionally to wait for Azarel before running ahead. As Reuel rounded a snow-covered boulder, he barked again.
A deep rumble answered back.
The snow atop the boulder shifted. White and grey wings parted to reveal the speckled head of a giant raptor, followed by its thrashing lion’s tail. Round, beady eyes focused on Azarel as its taloned foreleg gripped the boulder.
Azarel stood as frozen as the mountain’s river.
Reuel returned to Azarel’s side, skidding to a stop outside the griffon’s reach. The beast screeched at the dog and spread its wings.
With slow, creeping steps, the griffon stepped down from the boulder, still towering over them. Azarel reached for Reuel, but as he tried to catch his dog’s scruff, the griffon pounced. Azarel fell back into the snow, pinned by the creature’s talons.
Reuel lunged, but a single swipe of the griffon’s other leg flung the dog away with a yelp. Slowly, the beast turned back to Azarel.
Azarel turned his face as the beak snapped at him. When he opened his eyes, he noticed something odd—a red gash bled where the right wing met the beast’s shoulder. As the wing shifted, fresh blood stained the white feathers. That was why it was on the boulder. It was too hurt to fly!
The pouch of Amariah cuttings pressed into his ribs under the griffon’s talon. The plant could heal that wound—the griffon snapped again—if the creature didn’t kill him first.
With a shaking hand, Azarel reached up and stroked the beast’s leg while clucking to it. The griffon blinked and turned its head almost upside down. It clacked its beak and shook its head. Quietly, Azarel began to sing a hymn—the same one he’d sung to Reuel when he was injured. The griffon gave a low warble. Sitting back, it stepped off Azarel.
He took a deep breath then got to work. Still singing, while moving as slowly as he could, he made a low fire and melted snow in his water sack. As it heated, he crushed the Amariah bark into a fine powder. The griffon curled up with its legs under it and crooned along with the song.
Reuel limped over and laid next to Azarel but kept his eyes on the griffon. Thankfully, the dog was only bruised from the strike.
Once the snow melted, Azarel mixed in the powder to create a paste. Now came the tricky part—getting close to the griffon. Crouching, he inched sideways, still singing. As he crept under the wing, the beast gave a low growl. Fingers covered in the paste, Azarel reached up and touched the wound.
The griffon snapped its beak down on the back of his coat and lifted him off the ground. Reuel snarled but didn’t charge.
Shaking, Azarel spread more of the paste on the wound. Please work. And fast!
It wasn’t until the wound was almost covered that the griffon lowered him, the numbing effect of the bark finally taking hold.
When he finished, Azarel reached back and patted the beak. The creature released him and stepped away. Gently, the griffon moved its wing. Then turning about, it flew above the pines. As it circled in the air, soaring above the mountains and into the clouds, Azarel saw why griffons were considered Elihu’s messengers. The magnificent creature came back and hovered above him, nodded, then flew away.
As it disappeared, Azarel wrapped his arm around Reuel and, for the first time, felt like he was standing where he was supposed to be.