LADY CARDULA AND THE GRYPHON



LADY CARDULA AND THE GRYPHON, by Shawn Scarber:

 

gryphon

 

Duncan hated human-sized books. Sadly, they were about the only tomes created and though he wrote long letters to the monks who lived in the Sambata monastery imploring them to copy larger editions, his letters often went unanswered.

“If I were a dragon, they wouldn’t ignore my letters,” Duncan mused aloud to no one in particular, because he rarely received guests. He tried once more to squint at the etchings, but it was no use. He tossed the book over his right wing onto a pile of other unread volumes.

“If you were a dragon,” answered a small voice with a cockney accent, “you wouldn’t read. I’ve seen them and they always have someone else read their messages for them. Usually a human slave or a tiny elf.”

He hadn’t noticed the crow perched at the edge of Duncan’s nest. The small bird bowed and cocked his head sideways, a friendly gesture among the birdfolk. Duncan returned the bird’s courtesy with a nod despite the fact a large, plump crow made for a tasty snack. Duncan was always willing to set aside his base nature for civility.

“Message for you, Governor,” the crow said offering a bit of rolled parchment to Duncan. “It’s from her Ladyship Elizabeth Erin Cardula of the Castle Carpatia.”

“I’ve never heard of such a Lady,” Duncan replied. “Why would the Castle send me a message when all they’ve ever sent before were knights attempting to make a name for themselves?”

“Would be rude of me to read the contents, Governor,” said the crow with another nod and a step back from the gryphon nest. “I just deliver the messages.”

And with that, the crow was aflight and not but a dark dot on the evening sun’s horizon.

Duncan uncurled the rolled letter. He noticed immediately the oversized paper and the larger text size. For once he didn’t have to strain his eyes to read.

 

To Our Closest Neighbor, The Gryphon,

Please excuse my ignorance. I do not know your formal name. However, I didn’t want this barrier to remain between us and spoil an opportunity to make introductions and acquaintance.

It’s my understanding the previous occupant of Castle Carpatia, the Honorable Duke Carlos Hallowell, failed to formally welcome you when you nested in the region.

I hope to remedy that failure and cordially invite you to our home for dining and conversation. It will be no elaborate affair, just a simple gathering between two neighbors.

Please meet me at the castle gates at sundown.

Yours,

Lady Elizabeth Erin Cardula of the Castle Carpatia.

“Hmm,” he said scratching the underside of his beak. “This is a new ploy! I guess they’ve finally had enough of me and plan to lead me to the castle where I will be trapped and caged and sent off to some traveling carnival as a spectacle. Well, Lady Cardula, I will not be so easily fooled.”

Duncan stretched his back and flapped his wings. The nest creaked under his claws and with a single leap he took to the air.

 

#

     His timing worked well and he arrived at the Castle just as twilight settled gently over the gray hills leaving a warm glow to the otherwise frigid landscape. He remained alert, waiting for any moment to be met with a ball fired from a harquebus or a ballista’s dart from behind the castle’s walls.

As circled the castle twice upon approach. He noticed the banners and flags flying the dark green and black colors of the new occupants. Fewer guards manned the castle walls and those that did appeared to be of Romani ancestry.

The only other human Duncan saw was a little pixie of a girl standing outside the castle’s open gate wrapped in a coat of wolf fur. Duncan lowered himself slowly, and deliberately created a small dust storm around the child with the ferocious flaps of his great wings.

 

To her credit, she didn’t cover her eyes or cough, but kept her smiling face fixed on Duncan’s eyes.

When his claws finally dug deep into the cool, rich earth he announced, “I am Duncan, the gryphon who nests north of the Castle Carpatia. To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

The girl bowed, but kept her gaze fixed on Duncan.

“I am Lady Elizabeth Erin Cardula, daughter of Duke Vlad Draco Calisto Cardula and the late Duchess Aurora Elizabeth Cardula and I am pleased to finally know your name, Master Duncan of the northern hills.”

“Lady Cardula,” Duncan said. “Please don’t take offense to this observation, but I cannot help but notice you are a young child. Perhaps not much more than ten winters.”

“That is very perceptive, Master Duncan,” she said. “I feel my knowledge of your race is woefully lacking. I don’t believe I could possibly know your age. In fact, I was unaware a gryphon with your coat colorings even existed. All I’ve seen of your kind have been in pictures and the artists always depicted your brothers and sisters as having the white head of an eagle and the tan body of a lion. You look more to me like a raven and the blue and black sheen of your feathers is beautiful, much like my late mother’s hair.”

“I have always thought a lion had a gryphon’s body and an eagle a gryphon’s head, but that is not as important as the obvious.”

“My apologies, Master Duncan, but ‘the obvious’?”

“Yes,” he said. “The obvious.”

The girl continued to stand and stare with a look of complete confusion. Duncan considered just devouring her then and there. It would be a favor to her race. Was it possible that a human could be so ignorant of her kind that she didn’t even understand the basic food chain?

“I am a gryphon, Lady Cardula,” Duncan said. “You are a little girl. Gryphons eat little girls.”

“Have you?”

“Have I what?”

“Eaten a little girl?”

Duncan had to think about it. He’d of course eaten humans. They weren’t the tastiest creatures. Not like lamb or goat. No, they were more like pigs, but crunchier. And unless you lucked upon a fat one there wasn’t much there to really savor. Thinking back on all his meals he couldn’t remember once eating a child.

He shook his head.

“You know, I don’t believe I have.”

“Do you feel that you desperately need to eat a child? I did state in the invitation that I would provide food and beverage, didn’t I? If I failed to mention it was a dinner invitation I must apologize, you see I’ve only recently taken this role of castle host for my father and I am afraid of failing at it miserably.”

“No,” Duncan said. “I believe you were clear in your letter that it was an invitation to dinner. I guess I don’t feel a desperate need to eat a child. I doubt you taste much better than your adult counterparts. What I fail to understand is how you can stand there, braver than any knight I’ve ever faced, and simply expect to continue living with a hungry gryphon not but two claw lengths from your persons.”

The young girl’s head cocked a little, not unlike the little messenger crow’s, and stated, “But you’ve answered my invitation.”

Duncan nodded and still couldn’t believe the look of astonishment on the young girls face. The sadness and the hurt in her gaze was so penetrating to his two hearts that he couldn’t possibly eat the little girl now, but then he realized the error of his ways.

The invitation was genuine.

Not only was the invitation genuine, but also he now found himself on the side of being a terrible and deplorable guest. The shock and horror of such a thing struck him to the core harder than any knight’s lance or huntsman’s musket blast. In that moment he wanted to fly away, back to his nest, where he would hide his beak in shame for his remaining years.

“Lady Cardula,” he begged and pleaded, “please forgive me. I was under the impression your invitation was anything but genuine, a ruse meant to lead me here to my demise, but now I see that I was greatly mistaken. I have lived these many years in solidarity, hunted and hated by the Castle Carpatia’s previous holders. I should have realized when such care was put into the invitation to fit easily into my gryphon claws and read easily to my gryphon eyes that it had to be legitimate. However, I am still at a loss as to why you would want to befriend an old bird like me.”

The little Lady Cardula smiled and Duncan wondered why he hadn’t noticed her teeth before.

“It’s my father’s way,” she said. “We are like you. Hunted and hated. Creatures existing on the outside of humanity. Despite these setbacks, it doesn’t mean we creatures of the night can’t behave toward each other with warm civility.”

Duncan bowed in agreement.

“Well then,” the gryphon said. “What’s on the menu?”

As Elizabeth guided him through the castle gates, she asked, “Have you ever tried an old fat duke before? I hear they’re delicious.”

 

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Shawn Scarber creates web applications for a major telecom company by day, but in his off hours he writes about strange worlds and characters. He lives in North Texas with his daughter and a cat. His work has appeared in The Best of Abyss & Apex, M-Brane SF, and his teenage zombie novella Restless is available on Amazon. He is a Clarion West 2006 graduate and a member of the Future Classics DFW Speculative Fiction Writing Group. 


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