The gryphon fortress Greifspitze was older than the original Gryphonwind, from a time when gryphons lived peacefully with humans but built fortresses against dragons and rival gryphon bands. For the humans who inhabited the fortress now, everything was on a gigantic scale, with towering rooms and vast corridors befitting the large and mighty gryphons who built them. The throne room itself was a long, colossal corridor, lined with leaded windows that let in sunlight as if it were water from a broken dam, for gryphons were a proud race and loved to show off their golden bodies in the sun. At night the castle was cold, for gryphons needed little heat, and the fireplaces installed by humans seemed as small and void of heat in the stony vastness as twinkling nighttime stars.
On this day Greifspitze was only moderately guarded, for no city-king was fool enough to challenge the might and reputation of King András, who had tears in his eyes as he ventured out on the parapet to watch the sunset. He had just exchanged heated words with his Queen again. Both King and Queen were filled with heartache at the sound of children's voices echoing through the castle, children that belonged to the castle's ministers and maids, but not to the royal couple. The King wiped his eyes and walked to the edge of the high parapet, the top of which was wide and open like a terrazzo. The golden orange ball of the sun was settling toward the thickening purple clouds of a storm, as yet hours away. The swept white tops of the disturbance seemed to wait for the sun to dance on them as if on a stage. While the King watched, a movement in the northwest caught his eye, and he shifted his gaze. The King blinked the last tears from his eyes to clear his vision, and then he felt awe, and after that fear, for King András had just become the first human to witness the return of the Gryphonwind.
The attackers consisted of more than just Rezsó, leading the charge atop Devvskai, and Márton, vowing revenge while riding Rakhnyall. The Morning Star rumbled above the pair of Gryphonwind while they banked around from the west, having flown south from the clearing where Clement had vanished, near the Gryphon Lairs. Saqr piloted the zeppelin, Nazirah navigated, and Paliki helped ready an army of al-Dhi'b cousins who waited at the airship's windows bearing bows and arrows. Rezsó and Márton had not only been given swords by their gryphons, but armor as well, oiled and polished lovingly over the centuries by curators of Gryphonwind memories. But what truly panicked King András was the armor the gryphons wore, with sunlight glinting off the enormous polished bronze and steel plates and helmets like beacons of ancient war. To complete the King's terror, as he turned to re-enter the castle and raise the alarm, he saw to the east across the lower towers and parapets of Greifspitze, flying above the city toward the castle, at least two score dragons.
The King rushed off to remove his fine clothes, his jewels and silks and other apparel of peacetime. His frightened attendants fumbled the disrobing, dropping rings and blouses to the floor. András threw on mail and a breastplate, and grabbed his sword and shield, but by the time he returned to the high western parapet, the battle was essentially over. Fear had done its work on the imaginations of the castle soldiers, and in their minds they multiplied the two monstrously wicked Gryphonwind they saw into hordes of vengeful flying knights, assuredly hidden behind the gleaming silver zeppelin. The soldiers fell out of formation and were set upon by dragons, and in the mêlée of teeth and claws and swords and arrows, the King's men fell. The King's zeppelins, at rest above the battle, were tended by but a handful of junior pilots, and were of no consequence in the castle's defense. András ran onto the wide parapet and stopped at the edge of the slaughter, and let out a cry of despair.
Like a heavenly beast, Rezsó landed Devvskai on the far end of the parapet, the grey stone beneath the gryphon's paws lit by the dying gold rays of the sun while the red orb was swallowed by a purple storm cloud. Rezsó dismounted and strode over the fallen soldiers toward the King with his sword drawn and fury writ on his face. He stopped ten paces before the King and demanded of him, "Where is our brother?"
Four dragons hovered over the parapet in close proximity to King András. Smoke rose in threatening curls from the dragons' nostrils, and huffed out in leaps toward the King with the dragons' breathing. The King answered the demanding young stranger in the only way he knew.
"The brother you took from us," Rezsó said, "whom you somehow snatched out of the sky two days ago, along with his gryphon. And a young friend of ours, a golden bird-boy of innocent beauty. These people are gentle, and would have given you little fight or cause for harming them, but for your consuming hatred of who we are, oh great King who revenges himself upon children."
Márton landed Rakhnyall next to Devvskai, and the gryphons' armor clanged against Márton's greaves as he climbed down. The gryphons were silent; other than to coordinate during battle, Devvskai and Rakhnyall refused to look at or speak to each other.
Like his brother, Márton strode toward the King, sword drawn and vengeance flaring in his eyes. "For your own sake," he said to the King, "you had better tell us all three of your captives still live."
The resigned and defeated King turned eyes of genuine puzzlement on his two interlocutors and said, simply, "Who are you?"
The steady hold that Rezsó and Márton had on their swords faltered.
"You know us not?" Rezsó said.
"I would have called you fools and imbeciles," said the King, "but for the overthrow which you have so assuredly delivered to me."
"We are your sons," Rezsó said, "Children of the woman who fled from you before you could strangle us in our cribs."
The King's sword, drawn but unused, hung limply from his right hand. He raised the weapon, and the boys and the dragons tensed. But the King merely swung the sword over and tipped the blade back into its scabbard.
"My sons?" the King said. "Who is your mother?"
"Paliki Veres," Márton said, "who loved us more than she loved herself, and left us behind lest you find us by finding her."
András shook his head. "I had forgotten her name. Dear Paliki...she left so suddenly...I thought I had hurt her. And yet she was with child...by me?"
Rezsó nodded. "Three of us. Boys."
"Princes," Márton added.
"I am overwhelmed," the King said, "and I offer you my throne and my goods and my castle as penalty for being so woefully unprepared for your attack. I would dearly love to hear your tale, especially how you resurrected the Gryphonwind! But the one thing I cannot tell you is the fate of your brother and his gryphon and your friend, for I truly have no idea where they are."
"I do." The voice shook with just-ended tears, and came from a doorway behind the King. All eyes turned; the speaker was Queen Bakarne, pale and thin and dun-colored in the very last ray of the sun.
"Or at least, I think I do," the Queen continued. "I knew seventeen summers ago that my maid Paliki Veres was with child. I suspected who the father was. Paliki and I both feared for ourselves and her children, and I allowed her to escape, knowing, my husband, to what I was sentencing myself: your anger that I watched turn to helplessness over the years. I was afraid to tell you the truth, back when your anger simmered constantly so close to the surface of your moods. You see, I am the barren one, not you. My fertility was stolen from me by someone I tried to help, one whose promise of returning my power was a lie; a wizard who quested for immortality. The power I gave up yielded him nothing, and even with the help of my own weak magic he couldn't restore to me what he had taken."
"He cared so little that he took the power from you," said the King, "but he cared so much that he tried to give it back?"
"This wizard has some little heart," the Queen said, "but very little. And the kidnapping of a boy with witch's blood in his veins, a boy who had the courage to become a Gryphonwind...that was a temptation I know my brother could not refuse."
The King felt dizzy; his throat was dry. "Your...brother?"
"Kauldi Azarola is his name," Bakarne said. "A wizard, though never a very nice one, and now no longer possessed of any spark of good. My love, there is a spot in the north woods that you watch during the storms. It fascinates you because lightning always strikes in that same lonely place."
"And yet," András said, "the woods never catch fire."
Queen Bakarne nodded. "It is my brother who captures the lightning there, for that is the place where he lives."
King András was stunned into silence. He held out his hand for the Queen, who gave him her hand, and he kissed it. Then, tearfully, he turned to the two youths who had defeated him, and he grasped them close; and Rezsó and Márton, who minutes before would as like to have killed the King, now listened to him weep the words, over and over, "My sons, my sons, my sons."
* * *
The poor sun had finally been consumed by the mounting purple cloudbank to the west, and the dark blue canopy over Port Cedryssene drew closer and grew blacker. Below Márton and Rezsó, the city curled around Cedryssene Harbor as if seeking a place to hide. The slightly bluish glow of the city's alchemical lights trembled as if in fear, and huddled around the more defiant orange-yellow live firelights of the scattered Dragon Trees. The sweet smell of alchemical gas and the smoky tingle of live firelight rose up to the boys, and mixed with the fresh breeze blowing in advance of the storm. The city seemed to quiver in anticipation of trouble. Many of the city's zeppelins were already heading out to sea, spooked both by the oncoming storm and the frightening organized army of dragons that followed the Morning Star. The occasional dragon's fire-breath lit up the other dragons' colorful bodies like a nighttime raid of circus acrobats. The aerial adventurers headed northeast from Greifspitze, and Márton and Rezsó looked down at the amazed faces of people staring up at them through the vast rooftop windows of Cedryssene Central Station.
"They see us, and our gryphons," Márton said. "They're afraid."
"They will learn," Rezsó said, "there's nothing to fear."
But first there was fear, for at that moment, out of their Lairs came the gryphons.
The attack was heard before it was seen, a loud flapping of wings and the shriek-roars of war cries from the northwest. Then the gryphon swarm could be seen over the mountains, the creatures' dark gold fur and feathers high enough in the sky to steal a few rays of the disappeared sun as well as throw back light from the city below. Sparking black silhouettes against the deepening blue twilight, the gryphons mounted into the sky from the Lairs like an erupting volcano.
Rezsó, atop Devvskai, called up to Saqr on the bridge of the Morning Star. "Have they come to help?"
"No," Saqr cried. "I do not know what they want."
The gryphons circled over the city until their numbers swelled to the hundreds, and then, with cries that ripped the air like talons, the gryphons dived on Port Cedryssene.
Those unfortunates on the streets who watched the gathering gryphon-swarm with awe were the first to die, ripped nearly in half by the beaks and talons of the angry gryphons. People screamed and ran for shelter, but few could outrun the swift and enormous eagle-lions. Gryphons swarmed trolley cars and tipped them over, ignoring the alchemical sparks from the overhead wires; and then the gryphons pecked out the shrieking trolley riders, ripped apart their bodies, and moved on to the next car. Gryphons tore out the corners and walls of buildings brick by brick, and clawed wider openings from windows to get at the families inside. What few weapons the humans had were too small and too slow to fend off the angry beasts. Gryphons dived through the rooftop windows of Cedryssene Central Station, and soon the marble station floors where slick with blood. Gryphons pointedly ignored the Dragon Trees, signaling that their argument was not with their ancient enemy. The dragons watched while trying to decide; it was their city, too. But the dragons with the Morning Star decided for the rest as they banked as one into a cluster of gryphons and began to fight. Several gryphons tried to swarm the Morning Star, and more dragons flew up from the Trees to defend the ship.
Márton and Rezsó watched, stunned by the sudden attack. Their own gryphons hovered and even trembled at the terrifying raw power of their own kind. Márton and Rezsó looked at each other, unsure what to do. Below in the city, fires broke out from alchemical sparks, bodies littered the streets, and some people jumped from buildings rather than be ripped apart by the gryphons. Rezsó looked up at Saqr, who fired arrows at gryphons attacking his ship. Then Rezsó looked toward the far dark woods where Kauldi hid. But before Rezsó could call out a plan to Saqr, another gryphon swept up in front of him, massive and black as pitch, with gold eyes that glowed a fiery red hate. The gryphon hovered and slashed at the air with his foreclaws and beat his enormous gold-streaked wings, wings of such span that they could easily have enveloped both boys and their gryphons. The wind whipped up by the wing-beats rattled the armor worn by the Gryphonwind and their mounts. At the sound of the black gryphon's booming voice, Devvskai and Rakhnyall flinched and trembled.
"Gryphons of the Cedryssene Lairs," cried the gold-black gryphon. "I look upon armor taken from our museums, now on your filthy hides! And I observe...riders. Filthy, two-legged vermin." The gryphon gave a shriek-roar that drowned out every other clash and cry of battle. "What is this obscenity that I witness this night?"
Mighty and brave Devvskai spoke from a lowered face drawn back into hunched shoulders, like a guilty child. "We are...sire, this...it's not what you think."
"These," the black gryphon snarled, "are Gryphonwind, the wasters of our lives, humans who kill and kill and kill for no reason. Who even today, even with their glittering playlands to amuse themselves, still kill us for sport!" The gryphon struck out with his right forepaw, and knocked the bronze helmet off Márton's head.
Below them the city burned and the battle continued, though many gryphons had left off hunting humans to fight back against the dragons.
Rezsó addressed the huge gryphon. "Sir, my gryphon addressed you as — "
"We belong to no one!" shrieked the gryphon. "He is not yours!"
"I understand! I understand...it's just...he addressed you as 'sire.' "
The wind from the gold-black gryphon's wings nearly blew the Gryphonwind off their mounts. "I am Torrynsegh," he said. "The Gryphon King. Before me your King András once groveled, and promised me peace and gold in return for the lives of his subjects. That promise has been broken! And before I kill the four of you, two vile and murderous humans and two traitorous gryphons, I want to know...which human in this city killed Ffinzgyor?"
Even in the dim light, the faces of Rezsó and Márton could be seen to turn pale.
"Ffinzgyor," Márton said, "is dead?"
Torrynsegh squawk-roared at Márton, blowing back the prince's near-black hair. "You know him? Did you kill him?"
"No, no," Márton cried. "Where did you find him?"
"In the mountains, not far from the west bank of the river. Tell me who killed him or die at once."
And Márton explained, over the cracks and shrieks of the battle below and the thrum of the Morning Star's engines overhead, about him and his brothers, about three curious and daring gryphons, about the love between Ffinzgyor and the boys' missing brother, and about the return of the Gryphonwind. And about the wizard.
As the story was told, the red rage in Torrynsegh's eyes faded just a bit, and he wept a tear for the courage of Ffinzgyor, the first warrior of the new era of the Gryphonwind. Then the Gryphon King beat his wings and shrieked a command, and the gryphons broke off battle. The dragons winged back and waited; something was not right about this battle, and they were hungry to know, too.
King Torrynsegh told them.
For a moment the air was quiet above the burning, screaming city. Then together, gryphon with dragon, Gryphonwind with Gryphon King, overwatched by the sleek silver Morning Star, all turned and headed for the secluded, knotty tree-tower of the mortal who killed Ffinzgyor.
* * *
Kauldi limped toward a window boxed in by branches and twigs that was glazed over with a thick sheet of wavy glass. He opened the pane and sniffed the air.
"I feel the storm coming on, little bird," the wizard said. "And I see some... commotion...over the city."
Kjermaak knelt in a corner of his cage. His white wings were grimy, and old tears had left their tracks cut into the dirt on his face. Though Clement's blood had dried and the youth's body had been dragged away by an army of rats, the bird-boy refused to touch the blood stains on the floor. Kjermaak rubbed his shoulders and winced at the gritty dirt he felt. He could not get clean, not in this horrid cage lined with dirt and blood; and the bird-people were always fastidiously clean. Kjermaak licked a line of dirt off his left forearm, and spat, and sighed.
Kauldi raised a spyglass to his left eye. "I hear gryphon cries," Kauldi said, "and see dragonfire in the sky. There is a zeppelin out there, the Morning Star...how appropriate. Captain Saqr must be trying to put a halt to the battle. And..." The wizard squinted at silhouettes backlit by dragonfire. "And the Gryphon King. Impressive. I tried to open communication with him once, years ago. To see if your friends, little dirt-bird, were hiding in the Gryphon Lairs. I was more correct than I..." Kauldi hissed. "Them. I see them. The Gryphonwind, the other two. It appears, little dirt-bird, that your heroes have incited the gryphons to come out of their Lairs and attack the city. Now I see buildings burning, and gryphons flying out, my goodness; flying out of the roof of the Central Station. And those cries; oh dear me, the despairing wails of dying humans. How very delightful! When I kill your two friends, dirty bird, I will be hailed as a hero."
Kjermaak's body heaved but there was nothing in his stomach to come up. He squeezed out two more tears instead.
Then Kauldi, still looking through his spyglass, grew silent. He saw them; in the dark they glittered like diamond dust: the hundreds of gryphon and dragon eyes turned his way. And they began to come closer...
Kauldi slammed shut his windows and fired up his machines. He unlocked Kjermaak's cage and entered, and grabbed at the flying and bounding boy. Finally the wizard caught hold of Kjermaak's right ankle, and pulled him down. The child struggled and kicked and shook his head violently, but Kauldi twisted one of Kjermaak's wings, and threatened to shatter the delicate bones. The golden-skinned boy submitted, and Kauldi tied him to a chair.
Kjermaak squirmed, afraid the chair back would damage his wings. He saw the little lights from the console reflect off Kauldi's black silk cloak like reflections off a raven's wings. The downy white hairs all over the boy's body prickled with fear.
"You're the raven that captured us," Kjermaak said, "aren't you?"
"When I want to be," Kauldi said. "Look at this frightful dirt. Your wings are almost as black as mine." The wizard stood behind the chair, over the child, and held in his right hand a metal wand charged with captured lightning. Kauldi waited for his visitors, while behind him his lighted machines blinked and hummed.
The tree-tower shook once, hard, and then rumbled. From outside all around came the snarls and roars of vengeance. Twisted tree limbs were torn from the structure with a crackle of splinters, and tossed aside. Twigs and leaves and more splinters snapped into the room while claws and teeth ripped openings in the tower. Then the tearing and crackling subsided. The two princes stepped off the backs of their gryphons hovering outside, and climbed through the ripped walls into the laboratory. Both Márton and Rezsó had their swords drawn, and Rezsó removed his helmet so the wizard could see his face as he saw Márton's.
Kauldi brandished the metal wand at the boy, and said to the princes, "You will force me to hurt this child?"
Kjermaak looked at his friends, and kept his expression stoic.
Márton glared at the wizard. "What did you do with Clement?"
Kjermaak cried out, "He cut out his heart!"
Márton and Rezsó kept their faces set firmly in anger, and did not show any reaction to the news; for now they knew Clement was never coming back. Kauldi lowered the charged wand to within an inch of the boy's face, and let the child hear the wand's dangerous hum.
"Your brother's body," Kauldi said to Márton, "provided me with raw materials for an experiment. One that, sadly, failed."
Rezsó pointed to the bird-boy. "And him?"
"Merely awaiting the next storm," Kauldi said.
"The wizard told me," Kjermaak said, "he's killed scores of children here."
Kauldi pressed a button on the wand that made its hum increase, and made Kjermaak flinch. But Kauldi's hand holding the wand shook. He looked around. Through the tears in the walls of his tower came growls and snarls and heavy, angered breathing, along with the smell of smoky dragon-breath and the flash of small throat-flares that the angry dragons tried to control lest they set the tower alight with the princes and the boy still within. But this time it was the wizard who flinched, fearing the repeated shrieks and growls from the tight throats of the vengeful gryphons.
Márton raised his sword at the wizard. "Your days of killing children have ended. Why did you take the bird-boy, anyway?"
Kauldi dared not turn his head, but from the other side of his wall of blinking machines, he heard — and felt — scratching. The wizard cleared his throat, and smirked at Márton. "This dirty bird child was fool enough to follow your fool of a brother."
"Clement was not a fool," Márton cried.
"You thought him one," Kauldi said.
"I did not."
"I saw," the wizard said. "I watched the three of you for a long time. You took pleasure in tormenting your clown and jester, Prince Márton."
"He was my brother," Márton said. "He knew I loved him. He...when I was ill once, and with a fever...he wrapped me in blankets and lay beside me, and held me close to sweat the illness out. He had love, wizard. Something your sister told us you lack. Clement had love...and it gave him courage...that was his...his weakness and his strength."
"No matter," Kauldi said, "for his heart failed me as have all the others."
"Bastard," Rezsó said.
Kjermaak raised his head; his last tears had dried. "Whatever the wizard does to me," he said to the brothers, "be sure to kill him."
Rezsó took two steps closer to the wizard, sword extended. "Who betrayed us to you?"
"One of those changeable, winged cat-birds," Kauldi said, "who was sickened by the dishonor of gryphons that let themselves become subject to the whims of humans."
The one who had been scratching behind the machine wall roared; it was Torrynsegh. "What is the traitor's name?"
"A onetime friend of these pathetic, human-loving gryphons," Kauldi said. "Gryphon Barttylln. He shall be rewarded?"
"He shall be dismembered," roared Torrynsegh. A massive "crack" sounded from behind the machine wall, and fresh air blew in around the consoles. A flash of lightning blazed through the laboratory, and then an explosion of thunder rattled the chairs and tables.
"The storm," Kauldi cried, while he slid the wand closer to Kjermaak's throat. "I must prepare my experiment. If you gentlemen will give me room — "
Devvskai was outside, and cried, "The storm is still many leagues away! And it will pass north of the city."
The lights on the machines had winked out when the lightning flashed, and the wand in Kauldi's hand had become a lifeless length of metal. The wizard pressed the wand to Kjermaak's throat and pushed the button, but the boy merely shivered once from the cold touch of steel.
Torrynsegh's head appeared from around the back end of the wall of machines. His gold eyes were dimmer than before but still blazed with red rage. Smoke curled weakly off his feathers and tall ears.
"The lightning has been set free again," Torrynsegh said. "Kill the wizard."
Together Márton and Rezsó stepped in, and as one plunged their swords through the wizard's heart.
* * *
In Greifspitze sits now a King happy beyond measure, for at his side are two handsome princes, clear of eye and stout of heart. Márton no longer dreams of war, and with Rezsó prepares for the day when they will rule over Port Cedryssene together as just and tolerant kings. With the brothers live Saqr and Nazirah, who raised the boys; and Paliki and Queen Bakarne, who both laugh and weep over their old and vanished fears; and Devvskai and Rakhnyall, who switched back to their proper riders with much tearful cheering from those who understood.
Every day a golden bird-boy alights on the castle walls. Kjermaak tries hard to be a squire to both princes at once, when he is not flying about teasing the tigers in the King's walled garden. Under that garden lie the bones of Clement and Ffinzgyor, guarded by the tigers and forever close to their brothers and friends. Over the hills and mountains behind the castle, to the west, circle gryphons with their newly selected riders, training for flight and combat and the formation of a new Gryphonwind fellowship. The people of Port Cedryssene work to repair and rebuild their city, and understandably still fear the gryphons. But the honor of the Cedryssenians' young flying knights is slowly softening the people's hearts and changing their minds. Back in the Gryphon Lairs, boy and girl gryphon cubs polish up the old armor and dream one day of wearing the heavy plates themselves. The gryphon cubs scare each other with frightened whispers about the horrifying fate of the traitor Barttylln at the claws of their enraged and still terrifying King Torrynsegh.
Sometimes as the sun goes down, Rezsó sees Márton on the high western parapet of Greifspitze, looking north over the pass toward the mountains and the once-dreaded Gryphon Lairs. Rezsó knows what Márton is thinking, for he too has found that very patch of sky where they last saw Clement, and though it makes no sense the brothers still watch for the fair Clement to return atop Ffinzgyor with a smile and a laugh. For both brothers still remember how it all began on that glorious sunny day in their thirteenth summer, when their frightened little clown of a brother held his breath and ventured into a clearing where two mighty and snorting gryphons waited, watching with their deadly gold eyes the humans who had just spied them. Alone, Clement strode toward the ferocious gryphons, let his love overcome his fear, and raised his right hand in a gesture that forever changed the world.
And all Clement said to the gryphons was, "Hello."
-- for Mohan and for Rajah, but most of all for Clarence, the brother who never came back.
Article © Cody Stanford. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-05-10