Young Ground Paw, the wingless keythong, trotted obediently behind the great and noble gryphon Queen. He had recently completed his training as a servant and at seventeen sun revolutions, he was ready to begin his life’s work. Like most young keythongs, he had been sterilized at birth. Queen Heartsong, his winged mother, turned around quite suddenly, startling Ground Paw. He froze in his tracks, intimidated by this royal matriarch, about whom he knew so little.
“Ground Paw, son of my egg-clutch,” she addressed him. “I called you into my presence so that I could assign you a new duty. I would like you to enter into service as a councilor-in-training. I want you to be more than a simple servant. I want you to be a member of the Council of Keythongs! I believe that you have the qualities that the council needs.”
Ground Paw bowed up and down like a mad creature. “I...yes, Great and Noble Queen Heartsong!” he cried. He did not, of course, understand what he was agreeing to do. A councilor on the Council of Keythongs? He had never, ever dared to dream of such a thing.
Over the next few days, he was briefed by his new mentor. Councilor Sunservant was only a few years older than he was, but he seemed to possess a wisdom that was greater than his age. Ground Paw listened to his teacher, astounded by this sudden opportunity that was gifted to him by virtue of being born of Queen Heartsong’s egg-clutch. He had no idea that the regal queen even kept track of her egg-born offspring. Like all other wingless beings in gryphonic society, keythong and kryphon guardians had raised him along with his other grounded relatives.
“As a councilor-in-training, Ground Paw,” the all-knowing Sunservant advised his student, “you must set an example to other keythongs and kryphons. You must show them what they should strive to be: the perfect servant, the one who puts others before himself or herself, always...and remember, Ground Paw, that means also that we wingless ones must remain without a mate at all times.”
Ground Paw’s determination to become “the perfect servant” faltered as soon as Sunservant referred to the state of celibacy that was forced upon all wingless ones. As a young adolescent—even if he was a sterilized one—he harbored a certain rebellious attitude toward the idea that the wingless servants should not mate. He managed to keep his anger repressed long enough to get through the lesson, but he knew that he needed to visit a special friend very soon—before he became inundated by the “privileges” of being a servant councilor. Everyone knew that the council of servants held no real power in gryphonic society. Even so, he would need to be careful when he went to see the beautiful kryphon nanny named Egglight. Queen Heartsong had bestowed upon him an extraordinary honor and he did not want to disappoint her.
After Sunservant had finished his rather lengthy lecture for the day, he ordered Ground Paw to go for his evening meal. He was very hungry after taking in so much mental information, but his hunger took second place to the more pressing desire of finding Egglight and walking with her one last time, before his duties inundated him forever. It was not a reasonable desire, but Ground Paw was in no mood for reason tonight.
Fortunately, Sunservant had been especially talkative during the day and the sun had long set at the time that Ground Paw obtained permission to leave. It was dark enough for him to steal secretively to the sacred terrace where Egglight tended to the royal princesses and princes, the winged offspring of Queen Heartsong and her consort King Lightning Bolt.
“Egglight!” Ground Paw called out into the darkness, as loudly as he dared. “Will you come to me, one last time?”
A wingless kryphon stepped out of the gryphons’ lair, her head-feathers ruffling.
“Ground Paw, what do you mean by coming here to me, at my place of service? I am a nanny of young gryphlets! If their parents see you and I together in their territory, they will demote both of us!”
Ground Paw rustled his own head-feathers slightly. He and Egglight were both wingless, yet they were a contrast to one another in terms of their forearms. While Egglight’s feathered forearms included sharp talons, Ground Paw’s were completely leonine, like his winged counterpart, the opinicus.
He was always careful not to offend his kryphon friend, but at the same time he needed to make his feelings known to her.
“Egglight,” he pleaded with her. “I need to see you one last time. I will be going into service as a councilor-in-training, so that I might one day serve on the Council of Keythongs. It is a great honor bestowed upon me by our noble Queen, but I am nonetheless troubled. Once I begin my duties in earnest, there will be no more moonlight walks for us upon the paw-bridge.”
“Ground Paw!” Egglight hissed. “I am of course pleased that our wonderful queen has blessed you with such an honor, just as she has blessed me with the care of her dear gryphlet chicks. I, in fact, respectfully recommended you to her for the position of councilor-in-training. That is why I must refuse your request! And besides, do you think that as nanny to Queen Heartsong’s winged progeny, I can afford to take any more foolish walks with you upon the paw-bridge? We are adults now! May I remind you that we were both sterilized at birth for a reason, that we might mind our duties more than our desires? What sort of ridiculous romance can two wingless servants possibly enjoy? We cannot produce young of our own, so what need have we of mating? Go now, before I scratch your eyes out.”
Ground Paw backed off slightly at the very thought of Egglight’s fierce talons blinding him in one swipe.
“Egglight, I know it must seem foolish to you, but...”
“Yes, it does, Ground Paw...very foolish.”
“...but I must see you one last time before my service begins in full,” Ground Paw resumed his passionate entreaty. “Do you not long for one last...encounter?”
Egglight twitched her tail in irritation. “No, I do not, Ground Paw!” she shrieked into the night sky. “Go now, before we awaken the Queen and King!”
Ground Paw hesitated. There was the sound of a scraping talon against rock, and a small figure fluttered down from the top terrace.
“Young Princess Skystar!” Egglight boomed. “What do you mean, coming out of your den during the night time?”
“I heard you and Ground Paw speaking, Nanny Egglight,” the young gryphlet Skystar announced. “I think you and Ground Paw should go for a walk upon the paw-bridge. It is the perfect night for it—the moon is shining in all its glory!”
Egglight stifled a screech, wary of awakening Queen Heartsong, the mother of young Skystar.
“This is none of your business, Mistress Skystar!” Egglight scolded her. “You are far too adult for your own good. Next thing you know, you and that scamp of an opiniclet, Sun Quest, will be taking night-flights together. I won’t have it! Back to the royal den with you!”
“Oh, Nanny Egglight!” Skystar grumbled in consternation, flapping without enthusiasm back to the top terrace. “You never want anyone to have any fun.”
In spite of his anxiety about having been discovered by the young princess, Ground Paw barely managed to stifle his guffaw. “It seems your charge wishes me to succeed, Egglight!”
“Ground Paw, you are far too sly for your own good!” Egglight admonished him. “But you must think of your own situation. If you are caught taking an illicit walk with me, your opportunity to become a councilor on the Council of Keythongs will be obliterated. Then, you may as well become a cart-goat, making deliveries to mid-class mountain families. Do not risk it, Ground Paw!”
Ground Paw thought about the loss of opportunity that might accompany a simple walk with his beloved Egglight; but he felt anger rising within him. Why should he have to choose between his friendship with the kryphon he loved and his livelihood? Was it not enough that they had been sterilized at birth, robbing them of the right to fully love each other? The gryphons that ruled them seemed intent on destroying the future happiness of the wingless ones. None of this was just or fair, but he knew that Egglight was right about one thing: We must live in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. If he took the walk with Egglight, her future livelihood as a caregiver would be in jeopardy, too. He knew how much she treasured her work, and demolishing her efforts with the young ones was definitely not something that he was willing to do.
In that moment, Ground Paw made a decision that he would spend the rest of his life both defending to himself and regretting: he turned around and departed silently from his dearest love, letting his love recede gently into the darkness of the night.
Here in the Forest Lake Nesting Site, we have one elderly hopha living in the area. Her name is Gara the Rover. We gryphonic beings also know her as The Two-Foot-in-residence. She hikes around the lake at least once a week, and we often see her collecting nuts and berries outside a small shelter. She fashioned her abode from tree branches and leaves, expertly weaving the material together with vines from the forest.
Once in a while, Gara the Rover will join our Story Circle and regale us with the tales of hophas and their treasured friends, the winged horses. This, then, is her tale:
There once lived among the equine community a strong leader named Mountain Pounder. This majestic, black winged horse was the Chief Stallion of his herd, having won the leadership ten seasons ago after a fight with an elderly horse, Midnight Bonfire. One fateful day, Bonfire’s young grandson, Redfire, thundered in upon the harried harem to claim his family’s right to the leadership position.
“I am here to conquer you and take over your mares, Old Mountain Pounder!” Redfire cried as he lunged at the dark horse in mid-air, “I do this in the name of my grandfather!”
The two stallions immediately engaged each other in a fierce mid-air battle, biting into each other’s bodies with their sharp teeth and using their hooves as lethal weapons. They spiraled down from the skies toward the ground while Redfire flailed at Mountain Pounder’s head with his front hoof. The older stallion was determined not to die as he fell, dazed, away from the younger horse’s vicious bites and kicks. He used his powerful wings to sweep himself back up into the air, preventing a fatal fall onto the mountain rocks. He flew off, bruised and bloody, to the sound of his rival’s whinny of victory. That foolish young upstart, Redfire, dared to steal the post of Chief Stallion right out from under him! Mountain Pounder had no choice but to surrender to his fate: he was now a lone stallion whether he liked it or not.
His one consolation was that a young, wingless filly named Goldmare abandoned the herd to follow the fallen chieftain. Female horses on Gryphonia all tended to be wingless, with only a few rare exceptions. He knew that Goldmare had always held great admiration for him and that she was deeply in love with him. He allowed her to stay with him in his solitude and Goldmare grew into a beautiful golden mare. She gave birth to his son, a black winged foal who she named Nightsky.
. Nightsky learned to fly by watching and imitating his father, who took great delight in the young colt’s early attempts to leap into the air. It was not long before the son of Mountain Pounder was taking to the skies with his father, leaving Goldmare far behind.
Goldmare never complained. She took as much delight in her son as Mountain Pounder did, although she could not fly. “Nightsky, I am proud of you,” she told him, through the ages-old practice of equine telepathy, when he came home from a freedom-flight. “You are a strong flier, like your Papa.”
“I just wish you could come with us, Mama,” Nightsky replied. “It’s not fair that you get left behind all the time.”
“It is as it is,” Goldmare stated philosophically. “I learn much from the grounded world...but tell me, what creatures do you see on your flights? Mountain Pounder says the Lower Mountains are filled with gryphons.”
“Yes, I see them often,” Nightsky informed her. “I think they are very beautiful. Papa says he tried to mate with one once, but her mate drove him off.”
“If you mate with gryphons, Nightsky, you will become the father of a hippogryph one day. I have seen some of those eagle-horses in the valley on occasion. They are magnificent creatures!”
“We also had a glimpse of some very odd-looking creatures,” Nightsky added. “Papa says they are called ‘hophas’, or two-foots, and he also says that they are very dangerous. But I felt their emotions strongly! I believe that they love the equines and want to make friends with us.”
Goldmare whinnied in her anxiety. “Mountain Pounder warned me about the hophas. He says they are not to be trusted. He says they will make us their slaves and ride about on our backs. The hippogryphs say that they have enslaved the winged stallion named Grey Tree of the Valley.”
“Perhaps the hophas could be tamed,” Nightsky suggested. “We could train them to respect our freedom and set Grey Tree of the Valley free.”
“Nightsky,” Goldmare warned him. “They will never respect us...not if they enslave us and make us carry them around on our backs! You must be very careful. I know you are fascinated with creatures that are different from us, as I am; but we must not forget that we are horses. We must run or fly from such arrogant beings as hophas.”
Nightsky seemed to acquiesce to his parents’ advice, but Goldmare knew that he harbored a secret desire to befriend the hophas as well as the gryphons. She could sense his thoughts, even when the young colt believed that he was hiding them from her.
There came a day when the family of three could no longer avoid the fearsome hophas. On that fateful day, Mountain Pounder led his mare and son through the forests of the lower mountain, grazing on the tender grasses and plants that grew more plentifully as they traveled nearer to the valley. Suddenly, Mountain Pounder brought his head up with a snort.
“The hophas! I can sense their odious presence.” He told them. “Goldmare, take young Nighsky and hide among the trees. I will not be bested this time by yet another enemy.”
“Mountain Pounder!” Goldmare called after him as he bounded into the air. “Be careful. You should retreat from them and go no closer.”
“I will protect the family that is left to me!” he whinnied back at her as his wings propelled him into the air.
Goldmare’s protest was lost in the mountain wind. Mountain Pounder flew until he saw the two-footed trolls readying their ropes. They had a contraption with them, as usual: it was a square structure, with round log-like things under it to move it forward. To Mountain Pounder, it looked like a trap. After his humiliation at the hooves and teeth of Redfire, he was determined not to lose his dignity again.
The two-foots looked up into the air excitedly, pointing at the winged horse and preparing a stick-like implement. They tossed a rope into the air, somewhat clumsily, the stallion thought.
In a burst of pride and in the desire to protect his family, Mountain Pounder made a decision. He decided, in that moment, to do what no horse had ever done: he chose to attack the hophas first, before they had a chance to assault him and steal his freedom. He soared over them, flailing at their furry heads with his hooves. They dropped the ropes and dove for cover, to Mountain Pounder’s delight. He turned around and flew back in for a second attack, landing on the ground and biting one of the golden-tufted males on the forearm. The creature screamed in pain, while a second one brought out the stick-like implement. Mountain Pounder reared in the air, narrowly missing the head of a smaller male. One of their females uttered a high-pitched scream. The hopha with the stick-like implement made a clicking noise and a yellow burst of energy hit Mountain Pounder squarely in the chest. In a fit of agony, he realized that he had underestimated the fighting genius of the two-foots: they had used the implement to throw some strange weapon at him. He felt his heart thud like thunder, and he fell to the ground dead.
From the grove of trees, Goldmare and Nightsky watched in horror.
“Papa!” Nightsky cried, but to no avail. He and Goldmare saw the hophas gather around the equine father, embrace him with their forearms, and make sad wailing noises. It occurred then to the son of Mountain Pounder that the hophas had not intended, or at the very least, had not wished to kill the big stallion. He felt their remorse at having killed a winged king, and for some reason he could not hate them. He looked in the direction of a small, black-tufted male who stood off to one side. The youth spotted the two horses watching among the trees, and he turned and ran towards them. He shouted in a language that neither Goldmare nor Nightsky could comprehend, but they both understood that the youngster was trying to chase them away so that the others would not attempt to capture them.
Goldmare needed no urging to leave the scene. She nudged her young colt and the pair galloped off into the wooded terrain. When they had run far enough, Goldmare halted and screeched her grief and rage into the skies.
Nightsky remained silent for the rest of the day. He felt the terrible loss of his father, but at the same time he felt a growing determination within himself to go one day to the hophas and find this youth who had possessed the courage to break away from his herd for a moment to ensure the freedom of Mountain Pounder’s mate and son. He felt that he and this hopha youth were somehow destined to make peace between their peoples, so that one day there would be no more deaths such as the one that befell the proud stallion Mountain Pounder. Goldmare sensed her son’s determination, and she too decided that she would one day go to the hopha, if only to rescue her son from their wily clutches.
We wingless ones feel a special empathy for those whom the society rejects. Nonetheless, we struggle to comprehend the actions of wicked creatures such as the vile despot, Queen Talona, and her ruthless mother, Soundringer. I remind myself, however, that this despot was a misunderstood youngster at one time, and that Soundringer loved her only gryphon chick with a fiery protectiveness that few could truly comprehend. She desired only the best for Talona and so she kindled within her the desire to ascend to the most powerful position in the gryphonic community, that of Premiere Queen. Unfortunately, in her fervor to secure her daughter’s advancement, she drove her into a pit of madness, the sort of insanity that unmitigated power sometimes ignites in those who are destructively insecure.
I had a dream one night that provided me with a certain insight into the two gryphons that many of our people judge as being of “low-to-no moral character”. I have written it down in my journal:
Talona screeched as she left the company of her three hated half-sisters, Sunsky, Mountain Rain, and Cloudhopper. Father Sun Quest had recently heaped yet more public praise upon the trio but he had, as usual, completely ignored his only chick by Mother Soundringer. It seemed that he would forever favor his daughters by his perfect “One True Mate”, the oh-so-wholesome matriarch, Skystar.
Tal flew off enraged into the sky, careening down near the jagged rocks until she was close enough to crash into them; and she then veered away at the last minute, saving herself from impending doom. After a while, she tired of her dangerous game and landed on a rocky ledge to rest. As the chilling wind whipped at her fur and feathers, the memories of her chickhood resurfaced.
The scene was vivid in her mind. Talona, then known as “Tal”, remembered herself as a young chick under attack, retreating into the air to escape her tormentors. She felt the painful bites of the other high-class gryphlets as they chased after her. One of them plucked a feather from her wing. There were many youngsters in the sky, each one of them taking turns diving at her, but there were three chicks in particular that held the most impact for her.
“Father Sun Quest loves us, but not you!” the youngest princess cried out merrily as she chased Tal through the air. This one was Mountain Rain, the worst of her three half-sisters. She reached out with her beak and plucked another feather out of young Tal.
“Careful, Rain!” the eldest sister, Cloudhopper, called. “We don’t want to send her crashing down into the rocks, do we?”
The middle sister, the one who would be queen of Gryphonia later in life, lagged behind. She darted in and out, half-heartedly nipping at Tal’s side and then falling back. Tal could sense that this princess’s heart was not in the attack but even so, she did not attempt to stop it. This was Sunsky, the “gryphon of courage” that the oracle Truth Speaker had predicted would rise to rule Gryphonia.
Sunsky was always her most hated nemesis, even more so than the villainous Mountain Rain...perhaps it was because Sunsky was such a little goody-goody, like her mother Skystar. Tal was nonetheless surprised at how little energy this chick, the top favorite of Father Sun Quest, held within her for the assault. Talona the adult gryphon remembered her as being much more vicious, but perhaps she had overestimated her rival for the Stone Throne. It suddenly occurred to her that Sunsky was chock-full of weaknesses. She had no stomach for the fight! The young Tal decided to change tactics. She swooped down low, surprising her pursuers. She then circled around to the rear and rammed her beak into Sunsky, delivering a mighty bite in the process. Sunsky quivered and nearly fell to the rocks below, but the sneak attack had raised the ire of the little sky demon, Mountain Rain. The youngest gryphon flew headlong into Talona and clawed her savagely with her talons. Tal returned the attack, and the two little chicks floundered in the air until they fell into a thorny bush below. The thorns pierced Tal’s skin and she screeched in pain. Mountain Rain seemed oblivious to the pain and continued the attack. Tal countered it by pulling an especially thorny branch back and letting it snap into Mountain Rain’s head. This time, the nasty little creature bellowed noisily, to Tal’s perverse delight. Immediately following her small triumph, Tal fell down into the thorns, the bush so thick that it nearly choked her.
“How dare you attack my sister?” Mountain Rain cried from above. “She will be queen one day, but you are only next-in-waiting. You will be waiting and waiting and waiting to be queen, but it will never happen. You are the daughter of the dreadful Gossip Queen and everyone hates you.”
Tal felt the words sear her soul. Her beloved mother, sarcastically known as Soundringer the Queen of Gossip, swooped in and picked up her tormentor by the scruff of the neck, tossing her aside onto the mountain rock. She reached down with her left claw and gently helped her young daughter up out of the bushes. Tal wailed out her pain, pressing her head against her mother’s breast.
“There, there, my dearest chick,” Soundringer soothed her. “Those dreadful little monsters of Sun Quest’s will one day regret their actions. I will make sure that you become queen in Sunsky’s place.”
As soon as the gryphon mother’s words entered her young mind, Tal felt a jealous rage welling up in her for Sunsky, the one who would be queen. She felt as though she would like to kill her and Mountain Rain, leaving the eldest sister Cloudhopper to watch their demise helplessly. She wanted to torment these three privileged brats, just as they had tormented her.
“One day, little Tal,” Talona screeched to her younger self, within the echoing chambers of her own mind, “I will get them for what they did to you.”
And thus the gryphonic community planted the seed of fear within the heart of its most vulnerable chick...the one who would later be known as “the Monster-Bird Queen” of Gryphonia.
The scribes once wrote that the world of Gryphonia is “alone among the stars, an oasis of life in a galaxy riddled with dead worlds”. Unlike those dead worlds, Gryphonia is a diverse world that is full of life. Its population includes gryphons, winged horses, hippogryphs, gargoyles, and hophas, to name just a few of the many life forms that inhabit the planet. The hophas (known in some spheres as humans) are relatively new arrivals to the world, having traveled through the dimensions in starships so that they might escape conditions on their own depleted world.
The hophas felt extremely fortunate to have landed on such a gem of a planet and so far have restrained themselves from running roughshod over it. Ironically, it is the hophas themselves who were responsible for naming the planet after a large portion of its population: the gryphons who inhabit the world are everywhere. A curious mixture of what appears to the hophas to be leonine and aquiline features, the beings both fascinate and terrify the hophas.
The gryphons, for their part, consider the hophas to be mythological creatures. The avian felines are very parochial, seldom straying very far from their home in the mountains. Since the hophas inhabit the land that the gryphons call “The Flatlands”, the two species have interacted little if at all.
To the gryphons, “Gryphonia” is not a planet but instead comprises their particular home territory. There are gryphons of the mountains, the valley, the seashore, and the forest. Each group considers their own area to be “Gryphonia”. It will be the gryphonic beings of the mountains, however, that will one day forge an alliance with the dreaded, two-footed hopha creatures.
I am Tale Weaver, an elderly scribe and the teller of the stories of Gryphonia. I am the one who receives visions from my sister, the oracle Truth Speaker, and through her guidance I perceive not only the actions of the other beings from the outside world, but I hear their thoughts as well.
I am that which the gryphons call a kryphon, or a wingless female. I am confined to the ground, unlike my gryphon sisters who have wings to soar in the sky. My kryphon nanny brought me up in the mountains among my wingless brothers, who are known as keythongs. We comprise the gryphonic servant class, and the elders train us from birth to serve the Great Winged Ones. We, the wingless, are all supposed to be sterilized at birth so that we do not over-populate and grow more numerous than those of the winged class. I must confess, however, that there are those among the wingless who have deliberately evaded such an unjust fate.
I am one of those wingless rebels who refused to cooperate with the dictatorial laws contained within The Gryphonic Code. That irritating piece of legislation forbids the kryphons and keythongs to mate, even with each other. At an early age, however, my gryphon mother chose to remove me from the legal chains of my society and she instead brought me to a wonderful, free place called “The Forest Lake Nesting Site”. I have lived here all of my adult life, and I have welcomed the rejected ones from all over Gryphonia to join the lake, the trees, and me in creating a sacred retreat outside of the demands of the rigorous, class-based societies. It is here that you will find the mystics, sages, oracles, hermits, rovers, and other creatures that were once cast-aways of their own communities. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we remain cloaked in mystery. Until the dawn of the New Age of Freedom, it will remain so. Nonetheless, I am a scribe, and I will tell my tales to whoever wishes to listen.