Sunday, May 22, 2011


The creature went willingly, albeit grudgingly. It accepted the leash thrown around its neck, although not without protest. Not used to shuffling its taloned legs on the winding trail through shaded forest and by soothing brook, its movements still restrained by the bars now loosened in their binding clamps, it frequently stopped for rest. Every time, Grez gruffly reminded it that there would be no food until it reached its new home. The creature, made skittish by the crowded shade of limbs and leaves, just hissed. It saved its words.

Some catchers take food for themselves with them, so as to taunt their captives while journeying home. Grez did not, adjudging it unprofessional. He was used to the hunger as noon time turned into afternoon; Plud was not. The boys’ stomach growled audibly as they reached the roadway leading to the village. The gryphon noticed.

Looking forward at what appeared to be the weaker party, it said: “Why do you share my hunger?”

Looking into the creature’s hunger-shined eyes, Plud replied: “We will be sharing much for some time, until you find a new home. I will be taking care of you.”

“Yes, you will,” Grez affirmed laconically. Curiosity satisfied, the creature fell silent. It put up no resistance subsequently.

Take care of it, Plud did. The surplus gold was sold by his master to the quartermaster of the Magickers’ Guild, who always had use for gold. It was the magical metal in the land of Wrilk, and necessary for any aspirant magicker to consume. Like the gryphons, magickers had a special pouch in their bodies that accumulated gold. All men, and women, had such a pouch but the normals’ capacities were too small to hold enough gold to magick with. Boys and girls with a sufficiently large pouch, wchich was the appendix in humans, were swiftly put under a master magicker’s supervision.

Since gold was magic, it was not used as mere money; silver and platinum were. Since there were no silver or platinum worms, the metals had to be mined.

Grez was lucky. He had gotten seventy silver disks for the nugget of gryphon’s gold, even after he had shaved off an ounce to replace the nugget he had used to keep the creature’s reason and voice. Had it had more, a minimum of three ounces, it could have flown away. Any gryphon possessing a troy pound or more in its gold gizzard had access to other tricks. Such a gryphon could magick its way out of the standard leg trap, warn its fellows and destroy a good location. That misfortune made for hard, lean times for a gryphon catcher. It takes time to find a new spot where goldworms seemed likely to feed, one which was not spoken for by a fellow member of the guild or the Prospector’s Guild. The compromised spots were thrown to senior apprentices for practice. Although they had the right to become journeymen after seven years, many stayed under their masters until they could catch gryphons on their own.

Plud was far, far away from even hoping for his independence. The gryphon having been caught and installed in the backyard of Grez’s homestead, it was now the boy’s job to feed, watch, take care of and talk with the captive creature. Sensitive boys, despite they being slow learners in the necessary practical parts of the craft, were sought after by grizzled journeyman hoping to become masters. They had the necessary sensitivity to cajole the captured creatures into their new lives.

Grez himself had used humour when he was an understudy. One of his proudest moments as an apprentice had come when he had charmed a gryphon into chuckling at his antics. His own apprentice, on the other hand, had an earnestness about him that (Grez hoped) would induce the creature to trust him and (by extension) all humans.

Its grey feathers, where a mere lion would have a mane, still ruffled but less so as the boy worked his own quiet charm on the creature. His master supplied the money for food and the property for keeping. The apprentice supplied the watchfulness, the care, and the scut work needed to keep the gryphon fed, watered and cleaned. Yes, that included waste disposal.

Plud, heaving and sweating, dragged the dead sheep into the back courtyard where the gryphon waited. Seeing his assistant keeper stop, the gryphon waited until the human was a safe distance before tearing into the flesh. No more did it have to be threatened by the master’s sword: becoming accustomed to its new fate, it accepted captivity and the associated ease. Its artificial nest was the size of a large hut, and was well sheltered from the rain. The gryphon, as its blood-coated beak kept tearing into the mutton and long-healed throat gulped the nourishing meat down to its stomach, looked more relaxed as its belly filled. Soon to be overtaken by post-prandial restedness, it would avail itself of the nest.

The first walks outside the homestead were a party of three, Plud leading the gryphon and Grez following behind watchfully. At first, he followed the gryphon with sword at the ready. As it became more domesticated, in part because of his earnest apprentice’s sincere words, Grez started to sheathe his sword. Once he was satisfied that the creature was inured to its capture, his apprentice would walk it by himself. It would be then time for the walk that mattered most: into the opulence of the capitol. That walk would announce to the dignitaries therein that a properly domesticated gryphon was for sale as a pet.

The meal finished, which had cost his master close to a disk of silver, Plud’s breaths slowed as he himself rested. The domestication seemed to be going smoothly. As part of his schooling, he had heard horror stores about cunning gryphons that had pretended to be domesticated but lay in wait to slash the backs of gullible apprentices. The creature in his care did not show those signs. It kept eyeing him, but its knot-muscled legs did not tense up when it appeared to be docile. Its feathers did not rustle when it appeared to be quiescent. It did not bother to sharpen its claws on the smooth rock face of the walls that held it in. It had made some runs for those walls, all defeated by the lack of a rough spot for its talons to grip, but its scrabblings stopped when it realized that escape attempts were of no use.

The field itself was neat: it had to be, as Plud was charged to keep it so. The grass was green, not yellow, and the earth was unbroken by rocks. It made for soft padding for the gryphon. The nest was made of fine, restful, golden straw; the building that contained it was made of solid wood with a sturdy roof. Like most apprentices, Plud moved from sleeping in his skimpy bed in the master’s residence to sleeping with the gryphon once it need not be supervised with the sword. As his training told him, the best way to bond with a gryphon was to listen to its adventures in the air, wind and mountains.

Luckily for Plud, and more luckily for Grez, the gryphon was a good storyteller. Its belly full, it graced the air with anecdotes of its first goldworm find, its struggles with the dog-rats that were a staple foodstuff, and tales of a magical mountain-cut with a whole goldworm colony: the mother lode. The last sounded like a legend. The apprentice, although inexperienced, detected no signs that the creature missed its freedom.

Grez was even more pleased to learn that the creature was a fair listener as well. Plud, attempting to hold up his end of the conversations between boy and gryphon, told the creature about his schooling and how he had learned about gryphons from his friends in the woods. The creature snorted whenever it heard one of Plud’s friends’ canards; the boy just shrugged in return.

It had taken more than two months and about a third of Grez’s profit when he decided it was time for the creature to take the extended walk into the capitol. That was the big walk: it was like a dog breeder taking his prize to the show. As advertising, it would announce that a gryphon was for sale. Looking into the creature's clear tawny eyes, studying the thick beak that was pointed at him, scanning the sometimes rippling leonine body, Grez concluded that this was an especially fine specimen. It would bring real platinum from a rich and powerful man. Why, this gryphon – it was fit for a Prince! He even saw signs of the creature becoming affectionate with his apprentice, as friendly gryphons are wont to do. It rubbed its beak against the boy’s belly from time to time, and rested its feathered head on the boy’s back when Plud was lying supine in his master’s field.

There was only one point of doubt. Although affectionate, the gryphon had a standoffishness about it. At first, Grez thought it would make for a selling point: a noble beast for a noble master. Nobles paid more.

But, his instincts told him something was off. Lying awake in his own well-appointed bed, looking at the utilitarian needlepoints covering his windows, wondering if he finally had enough security to take a wife, he felt his gut tell him that there was something not quite right about his prize.

Failing to pin it down, he switched to plans for a stately promenade and drifted off to sleep.

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