Sunday, May 22, 2011

Escape And Capture

Grez spent a fair bit of time in the bath, and made sure that his apprentice Plud did too. He had sent his best tunic, the one he saved for formal occasions, to the washerman for hand cleaning. It, and the cleaning for Plud’s, had cost him a silver disk. The master’s red sash, holding his sword and the tunic to his body, looked bright and new. The apprentice’s yellow one, holding nothing except the tunic as befitting his lowly status, was close to new. Both were decked out to parade their captured gryphon to the neighbourhood of the wealthy and powerful.

Although Plud was still clumsy, he more than made up for it by being a good companion to the captured gryphon. Sadly, the boy put his heart into his work as did all good apprentices. Once the gryphon was sold to a fancy home as a pet, Plud would have to undergo a bit of heartbreak. It was something he must get used to, else he would never make a journeyman. Thankfully, the boy did not whine about having to give up the creature; that would have been unprofessional enough to rate a beating. Gryphon catchers could not afford to be anything but agents; they could never be like subsistence farmers!

They both decked out and clean, and with Grez now shaven, Plud saw to putting on the leash. He had spent the early morning, as the sun went from red to yellow, cleaning the creature with soft wet cloth for the tawny leonine torso and hindquarters. A duster served for the gray-feathered front. The paws were scrubbed, and the talons polished. The coarse hair was brushed with even strokes. The leash for the creature, complete with beak muzzle for safety, was bought new and made of soft but tough leather. The gryphon indeed looked fit for a Prince.

Grez had wandered into town to catch up on the gossip and find out which august families would be in the market for a noble pet. He had heard that the Chancellor had boys who were coming up to the age when they would be delighted with the companionship a gryphon could offer. Said gryphon, with only an ounce of gold in its gizzard, has enough magical power to talk and reason but not enough to fly. Two more ounces of gold and it could fly away to freedom. Grez and the rest of his guild made sure that the customer did not possess the kind of squishy sympathy that would lead to the gryphon being fed gold or gold-bearing goldworms. When the creature flew away, the catcher was always blamed.

Although not noble, he being merely the administrative servant to the King, the Chancellor made enough to easily afford such a pet. His children would be delighted, as it would allow them to consort as companions with the offspring of nobles who already owned such pets. There was always the chance that the King would ennoble a Chancellor that he took a fancy to.

So, the destination was set. Grez, Plud and the gryphon would walk to the capitol, parade to the interior, walk down wide and stately Falid Lane, stop at the Chancellor’s residence and make the sales pitch. Both the pair and the gryphon would have to be clean in order to get any kind of a hearing.

Leash fitted over neck, and muzzle fitted over beak, Plud walked ahead of a silent gryphon. Grez assumed the silence was because of the leash; his apprentice was not so sure.

Since they lived on the outskirts of the capitol, it took less than an hour for them to get to Falid Lane. As Grez expected, the Chancellor was there. So were his children. The veteran catcher was pleased to see them look at the gryphon, their eyes bright.

As with all family pets, a closed sale of a gryphon depended upon the children wheedling the head of the household to make the deal. There was little overt salesmanship needed to sell a gryphon; the beast had to sell itself.

He did not have to knock on the door, which was a good sign. The children had evidently been cajoling their father, as he stepped out to greet them. Looking at the gryphon, he did not need to prompt the catcher to take off the leash and muzzle.

“Great Chancellor,” Grez began respectfully, “this gryphon you see before you is a prize. It has received the best of care, and it is affectionate with people. Although not possessing enough magic to fly, it does have enough for its reason. It is as yet untrained, but with its reason it is eminently trainable. It will be a fitting grace for your household, sir.”

Since Chancellors are not known to haggle, Grez had a moderate price in mind. Ten platinum disks, which would be more than enough for him to finally have the wherewithal to take a wife. He averaged five gryphons a year, gross, and this fine beast would be enough to tide him and his apprentice over for a year. The others were less tractable, or mangy or smaller, so they either went for less or had to be gotten rid of. He making a sale of this great beast to the great Chancellor would make his name shine in the land and assure him of easy sales. He would be a made man after this transaction.

Perceiving that the man inspecting him was of importance, the gryphon hissed through its muzzle: “Are you a ruler?”

“I am the Chancellor, the administrative servant to the King.” The man was thin, dark-haired and mostly bald, with fine features and understated eyebrows. Tall, he looked the part of a loyal servant to the King.

“Come closer,” the gryphon hissed further. The Chancellor doing so, the gryphon whispered something in his ear that made him blanch more than normal.

Turning to his eldest son, a cheery if muted lad who had accompanied him to see the gryphon, the Chancellor told the boy to get the Grand Wizard.

Wondering what was going wrong, Grez saw a look of pity in his customer’s eyes as they locked with his own.

He found out when two other gryphons, summoned by the Grand Wizard, landed on the front courtyard of the Chancellor’s residence. One of them was obviously female, and she flew over to Grez’s captive gryphon with obvious delight. The other was quite plainly regal.

Grez, although master in his craft, was only a humble guildsman. He merely saw a regal-looking specimen, one fit to be the pet of the King. The Chancellor saw more. He and the regal-carriaged gryphon spent some time conversing. Two times, his eyes flashed over to Grez’s. Again and again, they showed pity.

Now looking somewhat harried, he glided over to the guildsman and explained the diplomatic incident that had been caused. “Grez,” he started smoothly, “I have to tell you that you have had the misfortune of capturing the intended consort to the gryphon king’s daughter.”

Evincing his humble status, Grez saw nothing in those words. He had some professional interest in the structure of gryphon society, but only insofar as it helped him locate and capture better pets. The Chancellor, being attuned to interspecies politics as well as administration, saw more.

The gryphon king had taken the capture of his daughter’s consort, an adolescent-aged gryphon, to be an act of war. The captive gryphon’s tales of the goldworm mother lode had not been legend. The creatures having found a veritable open-pit mine of goldworms feasting away on a rich deposit, the king and his loyal vassals had enough magical powers to wreak a fair bit of damage on humanity. He made that very clear, to both the Chancellor and the Grand Wizard. Normally genial underneath his full white beard, the Grand Wizard was uncharacteristically sobered after casting a quick augur spell. The gryphon king was not bluffing.

What that information entailed was a decision that a Chancellor normally avoided. The gryphon catchers’ guild was minor, but proud and independent. If the gryphon king has enough power to enforce a handover with apology, it was only a matter of time before it would be powerful enough to put an end to the guild entirely. It hurt the administrator to clip the vital wings of a long-standing guild, to push it towards an unavoidable demise, but the alternative was a war prosecuted by a newly powerful foe. For the greater good, Grez’s gryphon had to be returned and Grez himself forcibly retired. The gryphon king, after some calming words from the Chancellor, would accept that as compensation.

When the humble guildsman learned of the deal, struck right in front of him but without him, he exploded.

“What is this!? I caught him fairly! It has always been that way! You oleaginous hack, you are clopping on a free and independent guild of many centuries’ standing! Do you think your King will like seeing what all guilds will make of this outrage!?” Plud, although blushing, grinned as he heard his master give the august Chancellor what-for. His eyes brightened.

The Grand Wizard, acting as if he were bowing and scraping to a ghost, paused and nodded. Telepathic link broken, he rescued the Chancellor from more abuse and quietly whispered something in the chief servant’s ear.

No longer patient, the Chancellor’s dark eyes hardened: “I have been informed that I have the confidence of the King in this matter." Thanks to the Grand Wizard’s telepathy, he did. "You will find that your fellow guildsmen will not relish the prospect of war taxes, or the release of their apprentices to war service. That comes from the King.” His eyes said it might as well have.

Still locked in defending his rights, Grez found his outrage melt into bluster and evaporate into silence. The Grand Wizard, simply though his frowning gaze, made it very clear that the Chancellor and the King were one in this matter. The guildsman had the right to petition, but it became more and more clear that the King would pat him on the head and send him off. He could not win.

“Now, there are three conditions that have to be observed for this incident to not escalate into a war,” the Chancellor continued with his smooth mixed with iciness. “First of all, you are letting that gryphon go without compensation.”

Seeing no more splutter about to emerge, he continued. “The second condition is you retiring from the guild.” That got an audible reaction from the now-hapless Grez. Eyes now dim and sad, his apprentice Plud was blushing even more.

Spreading his arms out to the unsympathetic official, Grez protested: “But what about my Plud, my apprentice?” The boy to whom Grez had made a solemn promise, in the name of his centuries-old guild, to train in the arts of gryphon capture? What about his solemn responsibility?

Surrendering on all three points, Grez accepted the sinecure which the King granted in exchange for the ex-guildsman to attend to the greater good. His formal title was Secretary for Human-Gryphon Relations. The workload was little, but the royal pay was good enough for him to take a wife and start a family. Obligingly, he got rid of his old homestead and its memories. He moved into a suite five blocks away from the Palace – one befitting a minor but respectable civil servant. With the help of his wife, he became adjusted to the formerly degrading station of paper pusher. He learned to honour the King.

As for Plud, he had a happy life. The king of the gryphons, Graudink, had his retainers bring enough blood worms to his daughter’s fiancĂ© Skalfet for him to recover his flying. Thus restored to flighthood, Skalfet took the third condition in his talons and flew back to his mountain home; it soon became his and Rahduk’s family abode once the marriage was completed and consummated.

The royal couple had three children, each of which grew up with a luxury that no gryphon could boast of beforehand: a real, live, cuddly, watchful, attentive, and even friendly pet human. Having a well-fed and well-maintained Plud in the family nest, enjoying a life of ease and comfort if intermittent boredom, brought the couple some popularity…and had given a few other gryphons some ideas. There was even talk of forming a guild…

No comments:

Post a Comment