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.