Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Dragon's Quest" Excerpt: Loose The Gryphon

"The wings came free with such velocity that they flung me backward..."

I watched the net carefully as I loosed the rope and lowered it down to the bank. I stayed back by the peg anchoring the rope, as far away from the massive gryphon as I could get. The net dropped away, and the gryphon shifted a little, but it didn’t get onto its feet or spread its wings like I was expecting it to. Very slowly, I crept closer.

When I stood about five paces away, I saw the reason it stayed still: it was still trapped. Thick silver wires winked from among the feathers of its wings and the fur of its body. I was going to have to take all of the wires off in order to free it all the way. As I inched toward the gryphon’s back, I could almost see the end of the wires twisted together at its side. I reached out a hand to try and smooth some of the feathers aside. As soon as my hands brushed the very tips, a tremendous movement made me jump back. In less than a blink, I found myself staring into the wide golden eyes of the gryphon, which had whirled completely around at my touch. Several more of the wires held its large, hooked beak closed, or I didn’t doubt that it would be able to snap the wires and free itself. It blinked at me, lunging defensively when I got too close. True, it couldn’t actually do anything to me, in theory… but, let's face it, it still scared me every time. One of us was going to have to buck up, and it very likely wasn’t going to be the gryphon. Finally, I took a deep breath, clenched my eyes shut, and thrust my hand onto the gryphon’s side. I felt the muscle flex under my touch, but nothing else. When I opened my eyes, the gryphon’s head loomed over me. I kept my hand where it was, and after a few moments, the gryphon laid its head back down. I took that as a signal that I was now free to commence whatever I was going to do.
I moved around to its back again, and pawed through the feathers till I could find the twisted part of the wire. It was heavy stuff, almost as thick as coat-hanger wire, and about as pliable. It took some pulling and tugging, but at last I got it loose enough to slip off.

The wings came free with such velocity that they flung me backward. I sailed several feet through the air before landing on my back with a gasp.
Above me, the gryphon unfurled its thirty-foot wingspan. It was so close over me that I could actually see when the feathers transitioned to fur, right at the base of the wing. It flapped a few times, but with the rest of its body still bound, it didn’t have the balance to fly. It flopped along the ground, wings flat above its body, till its head pointed toward me again.
There was the massive beak with the wires again. This time, it was the gryphon inching toward me, as if it wanted me to undo its beak. I struggled to my feet. Did I dare? I knew that if I didn’t, that would mean taking all of the wires off, myself. But what if I did, and it still tried to bite me?

The great amber eyes stared at me. I moved slowly, speaking softly as I did.
“Easy now,” I whispered, “I don’t want to hurt you—“ and I really, really hope you don’t want to hurt me! I thought.

One by one, I removed the wires. As the last one came off, I jumped back and cringed, just in case the gryphon decided to take a snap at me. Instead, it went right for the wires around its paws, nipping at the metal till it separated. When all four paws were finally free, the gryphon sprang to its feet, cawing happily in a noise that rang in the enclosed space of the troll-cubby.
I hadn’t moved from where I stood since I finished freeing the beak. The gryphon, standing, was about five feet tall at the shoulder, and its head was pretty much level with mine. It made no sudden moves as it calmly approached me, examining me carefully with its piercing gaze. We stood eye-to-eye for several seconds, and then the gryphon bent its head down and nudged my hand. I pulled back, and it nudged again. A small thrill ran down my spine as I opened my hand and allowed the gryphon to slide its head underneath my palm. Its feathers were the softest things I had ever felt; it was like stroking rabbit’s fur. I kept stroking it, and I heard a soft growling noise coming from deep in the gryphon’s throat. The more I stroked, the more sustained the noise became. It was almost like a purr of sorts. The gryphon’s beak opened wide, and a relaxed croak escaped. I picked up my hand as it turned to look at me—

And with a single bound, the gryphon snatched me in its talons and took off through the membrane of the troll-cubby!
When we finally emerged in the sun-lit outside world, we were nearly level with the treetops. The gryphon’s grip was firm, but not at all painful like my dream. Instead of just dropping me from that height, it kept a hold on me and swooped down, landing me squarely on my back. It released my shoulders, and I was surprised to find that it hadn’t even torn my tee shirt. It backed away to let me stand.

As we stood there, it bucked its head a few times, making a strangely articulate screeching sound. It almost sounded like, “Ee-Kahr-ess!” It scratched the ground in front of itself and made the same noise again. “Ee-kah-ress! Ee-kah-ress!” It looked up at me as if it expected me to respond somehow.

I didn’t speak gryphon, but I tried mimicking the sound. “Ee-car-ess?” I said.

Nod and scratch. “Ee-kahr-ess!”

If I didn’t know any better, it sounded like the gryphon was trying to say—“Icarus?” I gasped. “Is that your name?”

Furious head-bobbing. “Ee-kahr-ess! Ee-kahr-ess!” It looked up at me again, tilting its head back and forth and making curious chirping noises.

I took the hint and pointed to myself. “Laura,” I said distinctly. “Laura.”

“Aurr-ah! Aurrrr-ah!” Icarus warbled, and I had the indescribable wonder of hearing a gryphon doing its almighty best to say my name.

“Yes,” I nodded almost as emphatically as Icarus had done, “Laura!”

Aurrah!” Icarus leaped forward again, his tail twitching like a playful kitten—albeit a kitten the size of a draft horse. He bobbed his head against my hand again, and when I stroked the feathers, he croaked happily, his whole body fairly rumbling with what I could only assume was a lion-sized purr. I had to execute a frantic little sidestep as he flung his paws forward without warning, stretching his back exactly like a cat. It was so bizarre and incredible that I giggled.