Word spread quickly through Town about the bravery of Gryphon and Tiger. One evening a small delivery boy who was furred like a zebra gave a secret note to Tiger, and the next morning, Tiger showed it to Gryphon.
“A Mother needs our help,” Tiger said to Gryphon. “Her son has been kidnapped by a giant Eagle with red and black feathers.”
“That’s not possible,” Gryphon said. He was a little annoyed because even though all of Town knew how he and Tiger had slain Gold Dragon and vanquished evil Wizard, it was not easy being a hero, what with all of the tree-stranded kittens he had been begged to rescue in the past week. But Gryphon could not resist Tiger’s big, gold, imploring eyes, and so he agreed.
This time, Gryphon and Tiger got permission from the Dean of the Polytechnic Academy to take a day from school to rescue the missing Boy.
The secret note puzzled Gryphon, for he knew Eagle from when he was a small cub, and he remembered her as being very nice, and treasured the memory of the warm feeling he used to get when she baked her special partridge popovers just for him; because eagles and gryphons are all cousins once-removed. It was not like Eagle to go about kidnapping children, which was something the vanquished evil Wizard had once done.
Gryphon and Tiger rode a trolley to the north edge of Town, where they hiked into the dense forest of towering trees, toward the tall tree where Eagle lived. The day was sunny and the birds sang joyously, and ironically it was Gryphon who had to keep reminding the dewy-eyed Tiger that they were on a dangerous mission, and they should remain focused.
They found Eagle’s tree, and Gryphon flew Tiger up to Eagle’s nest. They found Eagle and Boy, and though Tiger was fretful that the secret note seemed true, Gryphon and Eagle shared a happy hug. Eagle was twice as big as Gryphon, and her white feathers bore swept patterns of striking russet and black arrows. Boy was ten and had blond hair that curled about his high, starched collar, with sapphire blue eyes and a nose as cute as a little pink gumball. Boy dressed even better than Tiger did, and had a fondness for touches of lavender color, which made Tiger jealous as lovely lavender went quite poorly with the copper-gold color of his fur.
Gryphon and Tiger settled into Eagle’s nest while Eagle served tea. Gryphon waited until the tea was poured and everyone had sugar before he spoke.
“This is not like you,” Gryphon said to Eagle. “Kidnapping children is an evil deed.”
Eagle slurped tea through her beak, and explained. “A year ago I had some chicks, and one of them was a poor flyer. One day while my chicks practiced flying, my sweet poor flyer fell out of the sky and was lost to his siblings. He landed beside a stream where a weeping Boy dressed in rags hid from his Mother. But Boy dried his tears when he saw my chick was in trouble, and he carefully carried my chick all the way home, right here to my tree.”
“We had cake to celebrate,” Boy said.
“Since then,” Eagle said, “Boy comes to me when he’s sad. His Mother makes him work like a slave and she teases his nice clothes, and she won’t let him play with his friends.”
“Why not?” Tiger said.
“My friends are all girls,” Boy said. “I like to dream, and my friends and I tell each other stories about kings and princes and dragons and trolls, and in my stories I’m hardly ever a boy.”
Eagle glowered her rust-gold eyes at Gryphon and Tiger, daring the youths to laugh at Boy’s dreams; but of course, Gryphon and Tiger understood.
“Boy has an Aunt,” Eagle said, “in Village, up the river. I’m taking him there to live. Aunt will let Boy be a child and play with whomever he wants, and if he wants to wear pretty things and become a girl someday, that’s okay, too.”
Boy sipped his tea, and smiled.
“Then we’ll help,” Gryphon said, and when he looked at Tiger and smiled in a sweet way that gryphons hardly ever do, Eagle knew she didn’t have to glower at Gryphon and Tiger ever again.
Boy rode Eagle’s back, and Tiger rode Gryphon’s back, as they all ascended into the air from Eagle’s nest. To the south, tall trees marched down to the edge of Town, while to the north the trees hiked up the mountains, over which lay the river valley, where Boy’s Aunt lived and toward which our friends flew.
But they had not flown very far when a loud shriek-roar pierced the gentle air, coming from behind them to the south. Gryphon’s fur and feathers immediately hackled up, and scared Tiger half to death.
“Another gryphon!” snarled Gryphon, and he swung about to face his foe, for the shriek-roar had been a challenge-call in gryphon-tongue. Approaching swiftly from Town was Other Gryphon, who had fire in his eyes and hate on his brow, and had a reputation for taking humans’ gold to do their dirty work. Atop Other Gryphon’s back rode a woman with long dark hair streaming haphazardly behind her, with a face if anything more hateful than the face of Other Gryphon.
Eagle came about to see what was happening, and from atop her back, Boy cried out, “Mother!”
Gryphon and Eagle feared for their riders, and did not move fast enough. Other Gryphon swept in, slashed at Eagle’s face with his claws, and then seized Boy off her back. Eagle cried out with blood in her eyes while she fell toward the treetops. Gryphon went after her, his beloved friend, while Other Gryphon escaped back to Town with Boy. Mother screeched triumphantly atop Other Gryphon’s back.
Eagle was stunned but grabbed hold of a tree, and she perched impatiently atop it while Tiger licked clean the wounds on her face. Then the three of them flew swiftly to Town under the noonday sun.
Eagle was curt and angry, and her eyes burned with fierce anger. “Do you two know how to fight?”
Gryphon nodded while Tiger, riding Gryphon, told Eagle about Gold Dragon and Wizard.
Eagle ruffled her feathers. “Boy saved my chick, and I will do anything to save him.”
They found the home where Boy lived with Mother on the northeast edge of Town. The house sagged with moldering beams and rat-eaten thatch. Only patchy grass grew in the dusty yard, where a weathered and wheel-less old carriage sat upon overturned apple crates. Boy was in rags again, with dirt on his pretty face, while he hauled water from the well to fearsome Mother standing in the doorway. He was crying.
Atop the roof-peak, watching the skies, sat Other Gryphon.
Gryphon did not hesitate. “Take Tiger!” he cried to Eagle, and she swooped in and snatched Tiger off Gryphon’s back with her talons. Poor Tiger was terrified, and held on tight while Eagle gently lowered him to the ground.
But no one was watching that, for the air was filled with the fur and feathers of two gryphons fighting. Gryphons are proud and jealous, and at times they hate nothing so much as other gryphons. Gryphon battled Other Gryphon, and the neighborhood shook with eagle shrieks and lion roars, and there was much slashing of claws and jabbing of beaks; and Tiger whimpered when he saw blood on Gryphon’s face. Eagle hovered in the air and stayed back, knowing that gryphon pride was greatest in their fighting prowess, and she didn’t dare take that pride from her dear friend Gryphon by interfering. A quartet of King’s Knights rode up on their fine horses, but being dim and a bit trembly under their polished armor, they pretended not to know which gryphon was good, and so they watched the battle while eating apples. Boys and girls drawn away from their games by the fight knew which gryphon was good, and they cheered him on.
Gryphon fought for his friends and for honor, while Other Gryphon only fought for money; and, truly, Other Gryphon was taking a tremendous beating from the young and powerful Gryphon. Other Gryphon finally shrieked a surrender-cry, and flew off like a frightened bunny would fly, if bunnies could fly. The laughter of merry children chased Other Gryphon far away. Tiger finally stopped wringing his tail, and cheered.
But it was not over, for Eagle looked down and saw Mother knock Boy down into the dirt, spilling his pail of water. Mother reached out to strike the fallen Boy again, but before she could she found enraged Eagle in her face.
Eagle hit the ground hard and skidded in the dirt, and thrust her beak out until it was but an inch from Mother’s face. Then Eagle ripped out an eagle-shriek that blew Mother off her feet, caused part of the old thatch roof to collapse, made the dim Knights drop their apples, and forced Town’s lively stock market to shutter early for the day.
Eagle’s words to Mother were nearly as loud as her shriek. “You’re attacking your own son!”
“He’s a sissy,” cried Mother. “A worthless little freak!”
Eagle’s next shriek halted rail and zeppelin traffic in and out of Town until the next day.
With two steps Eagle stood over Mother like a feathered gallows, and Eagle raised her beak. “You are no mother,” Eagle said. “Prepare to die!”
But Boy sat up and cried, “Eagle, no! She’s…she’s my mother!”
Gryphon and Tiger watched with their shoulders touching, and each shed a tear.
Eagle turned to Boy. “You love her still?”
Boy looked down at the dirt. “Yes…”
“She doesn’t deserve you.”
Boy nodded, and said nothing.
“Do you still,” Eagle said, “want to go live with Aunt?”
And Boy nodded again.
So Eagle explained to Mother how it would be, and Mother got angry and demanded to know who would do the chores.
Gryphon laughed. “Hire Other Gryphon to do that. I hear he’s available.”
So Boy, riding Eagle, and Tiger, riding Gryphon, flew to Village. Along the way Boy fretted, for he was still raggedy and dirty. But Aunt drew him a hot bath, and Boy came out to the picnic supper in the front yard wearing the fine new outfit that Aunt bought just for him, and already the girl from next door came over to play with him, and in Boy’s dreams he was always a girl.
Before she went home, Eagle promised to always watch over Boy in case Mother tried to steal him back again. Tiger nestled in Gryphon’s thick mane while they flew back to Town, and once he whispered, “I love you,” into Gryphon’s tall ears. That made Gryphon so happy he would have done a loop-the-loop, but he didn’t want to scare his wonderful Tiger, who was afraid of heights.
That evening, Tiger took flowers to his mother and kissed her pink nose, while Gryphon gave his mother a smothering, warm hug, and then took out the trash without her even having to ask him.