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.