Tiger was fifteen years old, and he went to school in the ivy-covered halls of the Polytechnic Academy. He was handsome in a cute-ish sort of way and he liked to dress well, which was not always easy as his trousers and shirts and vests and ascots had to match appropriately with his white and copper-gold black striped fur. Tiger walked on his hind legs like most semi-beasts did. He was shy and dreamy and quiet, and therefore Tiger had few friends although his disposition was pleasant and helpful. But Tiger would have done anything in the world if he could become friends with one of his schoolfellows, the big and serious and sometimes kind of scary Gryphon.
It was when Town’s most powerful Wizard gave Tiger a chance to be brave that Tiger hit on an idea of how to make Gryphon his friend.
Everyone thought Wizard was good and judicious in his use of magic, and he must have spied some kernel of bravery within Tiger. One day Wizard summoned Tiger to his home, the Magic Tree in Town Park. When Tiger arrived, Wizard spoke.
Wizard wore his blue and silver Wizard robes and his blue and silver Wizard hat. “Tiger,” said Wizard, “north of Town lie the terrible Dragon Caves, where the giant winged lizards hide and plan ways to attack Town. Of all dragons, we most fear Gold Dragon, for he is the largest of his kind, and keeps for himself the greatest hoard of gold in the world. In my auguries I have seen a Townsperson kill Gold Dragon and take his gold.”
Tiger stood respectfully before Wizard’s blue and gold cloth-covered magic-making table and said, “Who performed this feat, Wizard?”
“You did, Tiger.”
So Tiger was charged with the quest to kill Gold Dragon, who liked to steal gold from Town’s tradespeople and sometimes ate one of their children just for fun. But Tiger didn’t believe he could achieve his task on his own, so before school the next day, Tiger screwed courage into his tail with his nervous paws, and dared speak to Gryphon for the very first time.
Gryphon was three times as big as Tiger and walked on all fours, but he used his forepaws as hands like all gryphons do. He wore no clothes over his magnificent chocolate and gold fur-and-feathered body, and when sunlight struck his enormous dark wings, gold sparks appeared to fly off the barbs of his feathers.
In class, Tiger liked to sit where he could always see Gryphon, and he wished and wished that Gryphon, just one time, might look at Tiger and smile. But Tiger never saw Gryphon look at him at all.
That morning, Gryphon frowned at Tiger when Tiger made bold to talk to him.
“Who,” Gryphon said to Tiger, “are you?”
Tiger trembled, and twisted his silk handkerchief in his paws. Talking to Gryphon meant so much to him! Tiger told Gryphon about his quest, and asked Gryphon if he would like to help.
“We’ll split the reward Wizard promised me,” Tiger said.
Gryphon lowered his sharp yellow beak close to Tiger’s face. “If I do more work, I want more gold.”
“Certainly,” Tiger said, though he would have given Gryphon all of his gold just to hear him say, “Yes.”
“When do we leave?” Gryphon said.
“Today,” Tiger said. “Right now, if you like.”
Gryphon nodded; he was Tiger’s age, and craved adventure. “I will enjoy missing a day of drowsy lectures and alchemical experiments to go chase after dragons.”
The heroes set off, marching toward the mountains north of Town. The morning streets were filled with busy Townsfolk going hither and thither on horse or on foot, with street-sweepers sweeping and cookware vendors vending and potholder and tea cozy carts rattling and fine ladies promenading, and the busy Townsfolk all turned to stare at the unusual couple. Tiger tried not to smile, though he was happy enough that his heart almost burst. Me, he thought, here I am, walking along with handsome Gryphon! But the Townsfolk shied away, fearful of gryphon’s size and power. Tiger’s heart pinched with a tiny grain of hurt, and he tried to ignore the fearful people.
Into the autumn-changing densely forested mountains hiked Gryphon and Tiger, and while they hiked, they talked. Each found that the other loved books and music and painting as much as he did. Only when Gryphon let Tiger climb onto his back to fly him across the raging rapids of a wide river did Tiger ask his companion, “But why don’t you fly all the way anyway instead of walking on the ground with me?”
“Because I want someone to talk to,” said Gryphon.
On the other side of the river they walked again, and Tiger recalled how no one, not even he, ever talked to Gryphon because everyone was so afraid of him.
Tiger let Gryphon walk ahead a few paces before he whispered, “I’m not afraid of you, Gryphon.”
Gryphon’s tall ears twitched, but he didn’t turn around.
Walking together again, Gryphon and Tiger soon heard the heavy clink of gold coins being counted, one by one. Only one dragon dared count his gold coins so everyone could hear, and that was Gold Dragon, and it was because Gold Dragon was big enough and fierce enough that he feared no other dragon in the world.
Gryphon and Tiger crouched low in the bushes, and crept toward the mouth of Gold Dragon’s cave. Gold Dragon’s body filled the maw of the cave entrance, and his long scaly body was as gold as autumn sun, and his huge leathery wings were as black as winter coal. Smoke rose in elegant curls from his nostrils, and when he smiled his yellow fangs shone like polished daggers. Gold Dragon stopped counting his gold, raised his long snout, and sniffed the air. Then he roared.
Gryphon and Tiger knew they were caught, and stood up on the small ridge in front of Gold Dragon’s cave.
“Who,” cried Gold Dragon, “has ventured into my forest and up to my cave to spy upon my wealth and then lay themselves out for my supper?”
Tiger forced himself not to wring his shaking paws together. “We are no spies,” he said, “and it is us who shall eat you for supper!”
“The people of Town,” Gryphon said, “are tired of your theft and butchery, Gold Dragon. We have come to kill you and take your gold!”
Gold Dragon, we must confess, had never laughed so hard in his life as he did right then.
“You, kill me?” said Gold Dragon. “Two different furry beasts, and one with pretensions of dragon-flight?”
“I fly like a lion,” Gryphon said.
“And I creep soft, like a cat,” Tiger said.
“And we both fight like heroes,” said the youths together.
Gold Dragon dropped his fistfuls of gold, which clattered and tinkled like Gold Dragon’s laugh. “Well, then. Come and get me, lads!”
Gryphon flapped his mighty wings and took to the air, and came at Gold Dragon from the sky with beak slashing and claws bared. Gold Dragon was still in his cave, and couldn’t spread his wings. Tiger, during the hike, had whittled a spear from a tree branch using his claws, and harried Gold Dragon from below with the sharp wooden point. Before long, Gryphon and Tiger learned that Gold Dragon’s blood was green.
Gold Dragon roared at his injuries, and breathed streams of fire that Gryphon and Tiger leaped and dodged. Together the youths kept Gold Dragon from exiting his cave, and for one moment it looked as if they were about to win.
But with a swoop of one giant-taloned paw, Gold Dragon broke Tiger’s spear and grabbed him up, and nearly crushed poor Tiger in his strong, bony fingers. Then Gold Dragon held Tiger daintily before his snout, dangling his victim from two pointed claws like a bracelet charm, and prepared to barbecue Tiger with fire-breath.
Tiger looked up at Gryphon, and he felt a cold knot in his heart. Gryphon hung in the air and watched, as if waiting for Gold Dragon to finish off Tiger. It was Tiger’s worst fear: that strong and solitary Gryphon, in need of no friends, planned to betray Tiger all along, and would keep all of the gold for himself.
Then Gryphon’s dark wings with sparks of gold spread wide, swooped around like a town dandy’s cloak, and dived down toward Tiger. Gryphon seized Tiger and pulled him away just as fire shot from Gold Dragon’s snout. Gryphon threw Tiger over his head and onto the thick mane that covered his shoulders.
“Hang on!” cried Gryphon to his friend.
Gryphon swept down again and again, and with his sharp claws he took out both of Gold Dragon’s eyes, and shredded Gold Dragon’s leathery black wings. Gold Dragon wailed and cursed, and lashed out and spat fire. Finally Gryphon seized hold of the underside of Gold Dragon’s neck. Tiger crawled forward up Gryphon’s shoulders, and together Gryphon and Tiger each delivered a kill-bite to the soft throat of unlucky Gold Dragon.
Gryphon landed next to Gold Dragon’s body and let Tiger climb off his back. Gryphon glared at Tiger with his black and gold eyes, and then he reached out and grabbed Tiger close to his warm chest in a long hug.
“I don’t understand,” Tiger said. “For a moment I thought you would let me die, and keep all of the gold for yourself.”
“Gold Dragon surprised me,” Gryphon said, “and for that moment I couldn’t decide whether to save you by grabbing you, or save you by killing Gold Dragon first. Then I saw your eyes and I knew.”
Tiger’s gold eyes gazed up at his new friend. “Knew what?”
Gryphon’s voice was no longer harsh. “I have waited so long for you to talk to me,” he said. “But I thought you didn’t care for me.”
“I…what…not care for you? I watch you all the time!”
“And I watch you too, when you’re not looking.”
“But you never talk to me!”
Tiger lowered his head. “I’m sorry.”
Gryphon held Tiger even closer in his dark gold fur. “I so love you, Tiger.”
Tiger freed his arms and pulled Gryphon closer. “I love you so too, Gryphon.”
Gryphon and Tiger held each other close for so very long that, when they headed back to Town, they almost forgot to fill their canvas bag with gold for Wizard.
Gryphon and Tiger didn’t really have Gold Dragon for supper, because dragon meat is very tough and gamy, and only very hungry coyotes will eat it. Which the coyotes did.