Thank you Julia!
"The Griffin's Boy" is his story, set on Ella-Earth; our world's twin in an alternative universe. Evolution has taken a different path and mythical beasts exist. Britain remains an island of mists, populated by Celtic tribes and governed by a strict feudal hierarchy. Only noblemen's sons are recruited into an elite troop known as the Griffin Riders. The best a nameless nobody like Neb can hope for is to become a griffin's lad. But then his fate becomes entwined with the mischievous grey griffin Balkind, who everyone knows is trouble…and sure enough, Balkind disgraces himself on recruitment day and is rejected by Griffin Master Romulus. But Neb is determined to change Romulus' mind. Telling himself and anyone who will listen that Balkind deserves a second chance, Neb steals the beast and flies off on the adventure of a lifetime. He quickly realises: Riding griffins isn't for the faint hearted. Girls are complicated beings, and best treated with respect.
One single courageous act earns Neb his heart's desire – but then he ruins everything: When his new friend Samara, is abducted, Neb rushes to her rescue – with disastrous results. The youngsters learn they are to be sacrificed in a macabre ceremony. Their only hope is Balkind. Although clever, Balkind has always been difficult to control. Will the griffin answer his boy's summons?
After saving the life of a Chieftain's son, Neb is the toast of the village. Unfortunately, during the daring rescue, the griffin's boy has been wounded and is unable to join in the celebrations, but he learns something very interesting:
Chapter Ten: The Boy's Secret. A dry mustiness tickled his nose and throat; for a split second, Neb thought he was in a griffin’s sanctuary. Then he decided that he lay face down on a straw mattress. He rolled his head to one side and opened his eyes, but that caused tiny white stars to explode in his head, and he shut them again quickly. In the flickering light of an oil lamp though, he had glimpsed a spear and a shield leaning against a wall. Liquid gurgled, cups chinked together and a voice rumbled:
‘I tell you Rommey, I’ve never seen anything like it. The way that boy controlled his griffin. He practically hung off its wings to force it upwards – in such a confined space – with a child dangling from its talons.’ There was a silence, then the voice repeated: ‘Never – hic – seen anything like it.’ Silence descended again. Just as Neb’s mind slipped into a lower gear, another voice spoke.
‘I wish I had seen it. Balkind can be a difficult ride.’ Every word sounded as though it had been first weighed, and then judged for its worth. Only one person hoarded speech like gold. Romulus! Neb’s mind sat up and paid attention; surely it was Blain’s turn to speak now! More liquid gurgled and again, cups chinked.
‘I tell you Rommey, that boy and that beast,’ Blain broke off and slurping, followed by a burp, sounded. Then Blain continued his train of thought: ‘that boy and his griffin, there’s the makings of something special there.’
Even though it was dark, Neb knew Romulus looked in his direction, probably to make certain he was asleep. After an age, Romulus spoke again: ‘Agreed.’
Because it was dark, Neb allowed himself a smile. He dozed, listening to Blain recount some long ago battle, when he and “Rommey” were young.
Blain’s voice rumbled on, interjected now and then with Romulus’ grunts of assent. Other sounds drifted through the hut’s wall, voices rising and falling in song, and the occasional shout of laughter. Neb didn’t doubt that Balkind was also bedded down somewhere comfortable and safe. Blain’s door creaked open, footsteps shuffled and quiet words were exchanged. A table was trundled over from somewhere to Neb’s bedside and a basin set on it. From outside, Wulfstan’s voice called 'Blain, Griffin Master Romulus! Are you two going to gossip like old women all night?'
Another male voice shouted 'Come out here, and join in the merry-making.' The last words were punctuated by a couple of feminine squeals of delight, and the drums and pipes started up again.
‘Leave the girl to her business; she’s a good little maid,’ the Chief commanded. There was more shuffling, a door hinge creaked, and Neb sensed Blain and Romulus were gone.
‘You can stop pretending to be asleep now, the Griffin Master’s not cross anymore anyway.’ Samara’s voice sounded close and the warm glow of a lamp played against his eyelids.
‘I am asleep,’ Neb mumbled, feeling his blankets being drawn back. But he opened his eyes. Samara crouched at his bedside, a small knife in her hand.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but I’m going to have to cut your hair – it’s matted to your skin.’ Her left hand was already curled around Neb’s hair at the nape of his neck. She tugged on it to illustrate the problem. Neb’s hand shot out and grabbed at the knife.
‘No,’ he slurred, ‘please don’t. It’ll be all right.’
‘It won’t be all right; it’s a bloody mess, and sticking to your wounds. They’ll go bad.’
With an effort, Neb managed to raise his head and looked into Samara’s bead-like black eyes. ‘Please don’t,’ he repeated.
‘Heavens, you’re even vainer than Lillian when it comes to your golden locks.’ She dabbed at his hair with a damp sponge, and began peeling wet hair from skin. Neb hunched his shoulders against the uncomfortable sensation.
‘Don’t fidget, and don’t blame me if …’ Samara broke off mid-sentence, and Neb steeled himself for the questions to follow. Instead, Samara continued sponging. Neb started to breathe again; she hadn’t noticed. In the hut's gloom, the new superficial wounds on his back hid the horror of his past. Or maybe, the scars have faded, he thought hopefully. That hope was dashed when Samara’s hand began tracing the mass of scars covering his right shoulder blade and back, which were usually hidden from prying eyes.
‘What happened?’ she asked, in a hushed tone.
‘A fire,’ Neb replied, and because his shoulders throbbed with a dull ache, he added, ‘is there any potion left in the flask?’
Samara’s hand continued to trace the scarred skin and tissue. Her fingers brushed his right shoulder blade and travelled across his shoulder to his upper arm.
‘A fire?’ she repeated, doubt in her voice.
‘Have you gone suddenly deaf? A fire. Is there any potion left in the flask?’
Samara’s hand traced from his bicep back up to his shoulder; he felt her breath on his neck as she leaned closer to inspect the scar tissue. Finally she replied, ‘No, you drunk it all; you drunk too much. Blain said you were giggling like a maiden at her first dance.’
Neb frowned, certain he’d only taken a couple of sips of the bitter liquid. Before he could question her further, she added, ‘There is no more; it’s made from a ferment of mushrooms and you had the last flask.’
She dipped her hand into a small earthenware pot and began slathering a cool lotion over his back; her fingertips seemed to massage beneath his skin, and soothed the tension from his muscles. They lapsed into silence and Neb began to drift into sleep, when Samara spoke into his ear again.
‘There, all done. I’ll comb the tangles from your hair now.’
He wanted to tell her not to bother; he’d had enough fussing, but once again her hand curled around his hair at the nape of his neck. It was pointless to argue with Samara; in the short time he'd known her, she seemed always to get her own way.
Samara crooned while she combed, pausing now and then to work free a stubborn tangle. His mind drifted away again. Then he felt a sharp tug at his scalp. He looked up to see Samara standing over him, her knife in one hand, a lock of his hair curled in the other.
‘Just to remember you by,’ and she stooped to brush his cheek with her lips. ‘I don’t even know your name,’ she whispered.
Neb closed his eyes and tried hard to remember; it had been so long since anyone had called him by his given name. Memories fluttered by: a woman wearing an elaborate golden headdress turned to smile at him and then was gone, replaced by other images that were too brief to catch. But Samara waited for an answer so seconds before an unconscious sleep claimed him, he mumbled more in hope than truth: ‘My name is Balkind's boy.'