Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gryphon and Tiger Trick the Trolls

Crisp autumn arrived in Town, and leaves of red and gold and purple fell all across the campus of Polytechnic Academy. Acorns fell with clicks and pops on flagstone walks and bronze statues. Homecoming Festival approached, and the rumor on campus was that the Homecoming Dance would, for the very first time, have two Kings; namely the brave Gryphon and Tiger. The thought made Tiger nervous because he was shy despite his friendliness, and didn’t like to be stared at even when it was because people liked him.

It didn’t help poor Tiger’s nerves on the day when, right in the middle of classes, the King’s silver zeppelin, all sputtering and chattering engines, came to a halt above the quad. The King was lowered from his zeppelin on a golden chair, using a golden rope. All of the students, teachers, and deans rushed out to see what was going on, and everyone bowed their heads to their good and gracious King.

King scanned the assembled faces and said, in his best kingly voice, “Where are the famous Gryphon and Tiger?”

Gryphon tossed back his elegant mane and strode toward the King, while the crowd parted in front of him. Tiger walked alongside Gryphon, and his paws trembled.

“Are we in trouble?” Tiger asked Gryphon.

“I can’t imagine,” Gryphon said.

The King wanted Gryphon and Tiger for a mission; namely, to retrieve his lovely little daughter Princess, who had been carried off by trolls the night before.

Gryphon, being a gryphon, sometimes forgot his manners, and he asked the King, “Was there no guard at the castle?”

The King arched an eyebrow at Gryphon, but he had no time to be angry with a mere subject; and besides, the King was mighty frightened of gryphons.

“I had some Knights guarding my darling child,” King said, “but as you know, most of my Knights are dim and trembly.”

Tiger was more practical, and said to the King, “Where have the trolls taken your daughter?”

“Don’t be silly,” Gryphon said to Tiger. “They’re trolls, and trolls have no imagination. They simply took Princess to their caves.”

Tiger would have blushed if he didn’t have fur. “But the trolls’ caves are in cliffs that are very steep and hard to reach,” Tiger said, “and below the caves lay sharp rocks and crashing seas.”

The King said to Tiger, “Are you not brave enough, young hero?”

Tiger wrung his tail in his paws, and assured the King he was brave enough. But really, all Tiger wanted to do on this fine, crisp, sunny autumn day was to be alone with Gryphon while they held hands and counted the falling leaves.

Nonetheless, Tiger said to the King, “We’ll have Princess back by evening.”

“Very good,” said the King, and with a little twitch of his finger, the King’s golden chair was hauled by its golden rope back up to the silver zeppelin. The zeppelin’s engines huffed and puffed and rattled and chattered, and they turned the airship back toward the castle very quickly so the King could get home and make sure his Knights weren’t pilfering the silverware.

This time Gryphon and Tiger didn’t ask permission to leave school for the day, since everyone saw that were charged with a mission by the King.

No sooner had Gryphon and Tiger stepped out through the gates of the Polytechnic Academy and into the gold and red tree-lined streets than they were accosted by Girl. She no longer wore rags, but instead sported a sturdy outfit of brown leather pants and a loose white cambric shirt that had patterns of beads and trimmings of fringe. And Girl now had a proper leather scabbard for her sword, though she still had Tiger’s green scarf wrapped around her waist. Girl folded her arms and blocked the sidewalk, and though she was only twelve, she refused to give ground to Gryphon and Tiger.

“I saw the King’s zeppelin,” Girl said. “Where’s the adventure?”

No amount of dissuasion could make Girl relent, so Gryphon had her climb aboard his back. Tiger sat behind Girl, and they held on tight while Gryphon flew them to the cliffs by the sea, where the trolls lived. On the way, Tiger came up with an idea to fool the trolls, but it required that Girl give up her sword to Tiger and pretend to be helpless. Girl protested in language that both Gryphon and Tiger thought quite unbecoming a young lady, but neither of them dared point this out to her. But when Tiger assured Girl that her role in the rescue of Princess was the most dangerous job of all, Girl’s eyes lit up, and she nodded at once.

Gryphon landed atop the cliffs. Tiger looked all the way down at the crashing surf and jagged rocks, and he almost took hold of his tail for some nervous wringing. Girl jumped right off Gryphon’s back, landed two inches from the cliff edge overlooking the sharp rocks and foaming sea, and said to her friends, “Let’s get a move on, eh, fuzz-butts?”

Gryphon, Tiger, and Girl carefully picked their way down a narrow troll path on the cliff wall, and Tiger whimpered every time his foot kicked a small rock off the path to fall way, way, way down below. Soon our rescuers were confronted by a troll guard who hunkered down and stared at them with little yellow eyes in his bulbous green face. The troll waved his spear like a club, and took Gryphon, Tiger, and Girl to Chief Troll’s cave.

Chief Troll was squat and green and smelly, and had warts on his nose and warts on his chin and warts on his ears, and each wart had a single wiry hair growing out of it like a sickly potted plant. Girl almost laughed at Chief Troll before she remembered that she was supposed to be helpless, so she tried to look frightened, which was a very difficult thing for Girl to do.

Gryphon spoke to Chief Troll. “We hear you have a girl who might need a playmate.”

“She doesn’t need a playmate,” growled Chief Troll, “because we are going to roast her for our holiday dinner.” Chief Troll squinted at Girl. “But we can always use a second course!”

Girl had to use all of her smarts and strength to refrain from popping Chief Troll on his warty, runny nose.

Gryphon and Chief Troll sat down and played cards, and Gryphon pretended to want to win lots of Chief Troll’s gold, and he didn’t complain when Chief Troll changed the rules in the middle of a hand. Of course, Gryphon lost.

“Your Girl is mine!” cried Chief Troll.

Tiger stood beside Girl and wept profusely. Then he looked down at Girl and nudged her.

“Cry like you’re very upset,” Tiger whispered to Girl, and Girl did, even though the thing she hated most in the world was to cry.

Then Tiger gave Girl a hug and whispered to her, “Find Princess and be ready to escape with us when we return.”

Gryphon flew away from the troll caves carrying Tiger on his back, and the trolls laughed at them for losing their little friend to Chief Troll. “Don’t forget to bring us another girl for dessert!” cried one of the trolls. Then the trolls took Girl to meet Princess. The trolls had not locked Princess in, for they figured girls were too scared to escape along the sheer cliff wall overlooking the jagged rocks and the crashing sea.

Princess wore a pink fluffy dress with a pink fluffy bow in her curly blonde hair and pink fluffy satin rosettes on her pink satin shoes, which would have been fluffy too, except it was hard to walk in fluffy shoes. Princess was ten years old, and was busy trying to make a troll child’s doll look pretty by pasting dried flowers onto it.

Girl approached Princess, and Girl’s black curly hair was tangled, and she had dirt on her face and mud on her boots and scuff-marks on the knees of her brown leather pants. Princess stuck out her tongue at Girl and said, “I don’t play with stinky boys!”

Girl sighed; this was going to be much more difficult than she first thought.

Meanwhile, Gryphon and Tiger went to ask their wonderful friend Eagle for help. Eagle came with them at once, and flapped her huge wings while her white feathers with their russet and black arrow-shaped markings shone in the sun. Eagle showed Gryphon and Tiger how to fashion a flamethrower from a barrel of pitch, a hand-pump, and a nozzle.

“I’ll carry the barrel in my claws,” Eagle said to Tiger. “You ride on my back and shoot flames at the trolls.”

“I don’t want to roast trolls,” Tiger said.

“Just scare them, then,” Eagle said, “so Gryphon can rescue Girl and Princess.”

Gryphon shook his head, and said to Tiger, “You are being so contrary today.”

Tiger pouted because back in Town, all the autumn leaves were falling without him and Gryphon being there to catch them and run through them and roll through the leaf piles until, exhausted, Gryphon and Tiger would laugh and hold hands and say nothing at all.

Gryphon, Tiger, and Eagle waited until dusk, and then they flew to the troll caves. On the ledges in front of the many cave mouths, the trolls all bustled and swept, preparing for their holidays.

But Gryphon ruined the trolls’ holiday plans when he swept in and batted at the trolls with his claws extended. The trolls scattered away with grunts and shrieks. Tiger worked the flamethrower and was careful not to burn any trolls, because he didn’t want to hurt someone unless he absolutely had to. More trolls wobbled out of the caves and shook their fists and called our friends funny names, and threw their spears at the attackers. But trolls were very poor spear-throwers, and did no harm.

Tiger worried how they would find Girl and Princess, but he needn’t have bothered. Girl heard the fighting, grabbed Princess by the hand, and hauled the pink beribboned girl to the cave mouth. Princess took one look down at the twilight-ghostly crash of surf on the jagged rocks far below, and shrieked.

“Serves ya right,” Girl said to Princess, “for making me play with your stupid dolls!”

Gryphon turned and dived toward the cave where Girl waved and Princess shrieked. But Chief Troll appeared in the next cave mouth up from the girls’ cave, and he began to climb down the cliff wall toward them.

“No one,” cried Chief Troll, “is stealing my holiday dinner!”

Eagle swooped toward the cliff, just above Gryphon. She cried back to Tiger, “Let go of the nozzle!” Tiger let go of the nozzle, and Eagle threw the barrel of pitch at the cliff wall beside Chief Troll. The barrel exploded, and knocked Chief Troll off the wall.

“Oh, no!” Tiger cried, for the explosion also knocked Girl and Princess out of the cave mouth, and they tumbled down toward the jagged rocks and the crashing sea below.

Gryphon moved fast, and used his wings to thrust his body after the falling girls. He got there just in time and grabbed both girls to his chest, and then veered sharply away from the jagged rocks. But his momentum was too great, and Gryphon and the girls crashed into the sea.

“Gryphon!” cried Tiger. “Oh, no! Gryphon!”

Eagle banked down toward the sea to look for her dear friend. “Wait.”

“Eagle,” Tiger cried, “Gryphon can’t be gone! We never got to run through the autumn leaves together! And now we’ll never — ”

A huge splash threw seawater on Eagle and Tiger, and Gryphon burst out of the ocean carrying Girl and Princess. Gryphon shook his body wildly to throw off the water. Princess spat up seawater and shrieked. Girl tossed water out of her hair and cried, “That was the most fun I’ve ever had!”

Somehow Chief Troll managed not to get smashed on the jagged rocks, and he cursed and shook his fist at the heroes while they flew away, and Chief Troll grumbled that the trolls would now have to eat cold potted meat for their holidays.

Girl and Princess rode atop Gryphon, and Tiger rode on Eagle, as they flew to the King’s castle. Girl had really had enough of Princess’ shrieking, and used her green scarf to tie up Princess’ mouth.

The King gave gold to everyone for rescuing Princess, and Gryphon and Tiger received cheers when they returned to the Polytechnic Academy. The Dean offered Girl a place in the school, and though Girl felt she needed no education, she accepted. And she was partly right, for even though she was twelve, she was placed in the same class as Gryphon and Tiger, who were fifteen.

The next afternoon, Tiger chased Gryphon through a pile of fallen leaves, after which the boys curled up close together in the leaves, and slept.

At the Homecoming Dance, Gryphon and Tiger were voted Kings, and Girl was made an honorary Queen. But Girl refused to be Queen and so she traded titles with Tiger, who rather giggled when he was pronounced Homecoming Queen. Girl met another girl whose favorite color was blue, and Girl and Blue Girl danced together all night long.

Gryphon held his Tiger very close while they danced, and Tiger no longer felt the least bit contrary.

The King had almost been upset when he saw that Girl had gagged his precious Princess. But five noisy minutes after he removed the green scarf from Princess’ mouth, the King asked Girl if he could have the scarf back.

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