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The griffins boy, p.1
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       The Griffin's Boy, p.1

           Julia Hughes
 
The Griffin's Boy
THE GRIFFIN'S BOY

  JULIA HUGHES

  © Julia Hughes 2013. Edited by Mervyn Walker, of Talon Publishing.

  In a world where only those of noble birth are invited to join the elite Griffin Riders, orphan Neb is destined for a life of drudgery. His path changes when he steals the disobedient young griffin Balkind in an attempt to prove that you don't need noble blood to become a hero. Join "The Griffin's Boy" on the adventure of a lifetime as he encounters girls for the very first time, learns the meaning of friendship and battles evil forces for his very soul.

  Companion to "The Griffin Cryer", parental guidance advised for younger readers.

  ********

 

 

  CHAPTER ONE: THE NAMELESS BOY.

  The boy knew there was no chance that he would be chosen as a Griffin Rider. Unlike the other youths standing to attention on the lawns of Cherub Conventus, he had no title. Worse, he had no name, but he'd learned to answer to "Neb", which literally translated to "No-one". Still, hope hammered in the boy's heart, as together with twelve other students, he craned his neck to peer upwards. What had been visible at first as just a blot on the horizon, now flexed massive golden wings against the blue skies. A collective sigh of relief could be heard, and heads twisted to watch as a fearsome looking bull griffin flew over the Main Hall.

  Neb screwed his hands into fists, digging his fingernails deep into his palms. Of course Griffin Master Romulus would only choose the noblest and best for his recruits. All Neb could hope for was to be chosen as a "Sanctuary Lad", and so he had risen earlier than usual to ensure nothing was left to pure fortune.

  Chantress Anderra's sharp voice cut into his musings: 'Griffin Master Romulus has already had his breakfast. He won't eat anyone today. Eyes front!'

  Neb started guiltily, and cast a quick glance towards the gaggle of young gryffants, as two year old griffins were termed, who sat about sixty paces away. Their hindquarters were tucked neatly under their haunches, their wings held at half mast, hooked above their shoulders. Their feathers fluffed, stirred by the gentlest of breezes. Under the mid-day sun their coats gleamed dark brown, chestnut, and pewter grey. Romulus is sure to notice, he's bound to ask and then discover I'm responsible for their grooming, Neb thought. He forced down a gleeful smile by digging his nails into his palms again.

  The thunderclaps from the west increased, the steady swipe of sail boat sized wings beating against gravity. With each swoosh of displaced air, Neb's blood rushed a little faster, until the sound pulsed through his veins. Anderra looked up, and the potential recruits, in a breach of discipline, looked as well. This time Anderra ignored the murmurs and whispers behind her:

  'Is that Fletcher?'

  'Is it Fletcher?'

  'It is Fletcher!'

  The incoming griffin swooped low, and dipped out of sight momentarily down the valley. Seconds later, the unmistakable outline of the griffin Fletcher – with his broken horn now clearly visible and his great golden brown wings outstretched to their fullest span – glided back up the hillside towards the waiting audience.

  Fletcher's forelegs stretched out, reaching for the ground. At that moment, with a happy cluck and a rattle of wings, a dark grey gryffant hurtled towards Fletcher. Startled, the older griffin mistimed his landing and stumbled, pecking badly to his right side.

  Any other rider would have been thrown. But not this one.

  Even so, Griffin Master Romulus grabbed at Fletcher's neck feathers and shouted an oath. Fortunately Fletcher's screech of outrage muffled his rider's curse. Unfazed, the young griffin continued to gambol around the newcomers, clucking with happiness, flapping its wings and trying to nuzzle both Fletcher and the Griffin Master.

  'Will someone please get that griffin under control?' Chantress Anderra asked peevishly. Neb detached himself from the back row. A couple of lordlings sniggered. The blond boy, who at fourteen was already much taller than Anderra – taller than all of his compatriots – showed no signs of discomposure.

  As though this wasn't the most important day of his life, he walked up to the two griffins and nodded curtly to Romulus. Then he slapped a hand against the grey griffin's shoulder.

  'Balkind, behave,' he said. Then he turned and without troubling to look behind to see if Balkind obeyed, walked back to where the other young griffins waited patiently. The mischievous one followed, head down and wings at half mast.

  Anderra breathed a sigh of relief. Behind her one of the lordlings whispered 'Who does he think he is? Showing off like that – he's only the son of a whore.'

  Neb wanted to laugh at the jibe, he knew Padrick hoped to make him lose his temper, but he'd grown accustomed to insults and jeering over the past two years. Besides, nothing else mattered, except to make certain his favourite griffin behaved, and Romulus overlooked Balkind's over-enthusiastic welcome.

  'Behave, Balkind, best behave,' Neb muttered from the corner of his mouth. But just in case, he kept a hand on Balkind's shoulder. He buried his fingers into the ridge where the griffin's velveteen pelt gave way to a fluff of feathers and prayed harder than ever, as he watched his fate approach.

  An odd couple indeed: Chantress Anderra glided as she walked. Her nest of dark brown hair, piled into a top knot above her narrow sharply angled face never stirred. Besides her elegance, barrel chested Romulus's rolling gait seemed more pronounced. A scar ran from his left temple to his upper lip, leaving that side of his face immobile. Apart from the puckered flesh around the scar, the left side of Romulus's face was smooth and unwrinkled; his milky left eye only half visible beneath a permanently semi closed eyelid. But the other side of the Griffin Master's weather beaten face was usually immobile too, and his remaining eye missed nothing.

  Please let him chose Balkind, and please let him chose me as a griffin's lad. Neb's hand curled on the wing emerging from Balkind's shoulder until it clutched at a fistful of feathers. Surely Balkind would be chosen; he was difficult, but fast – and clever – a little too clever for his own good. If Balkind could talk, he probably wouldn't bother to speak with me. Neb smiled inwardly at that thought, but kept his eyes trained straight ahead. Chantress Anderra sailed past him. By contrast Romulus's head twisted this way and that, in an effort to see everything. Romulus pointed – this one, that one – his was the choice to make, Anderra advised.

  Neb watched carefully, mentally approving the Griffin Master's selection: Almost instinctively, the experienced old warrior had chosen five of the swiftest, bravest and most obedient of the assembled griffins: Among them two of Neb's favourites: Kelednak; a tawny gold and black, and the pied black and white known as Rafe. Neb's heart beat a little faster, and he sent up another prayer to anyone who might be listening: … One last griffin to be chosen; he has to name Balkind; he might not be the most obedient, but he is the fastest, and bravest. Please let him call out Balkind's name …

  They were moving back down the line again. Anderra spoke into the Griffin Master's ear. Neb's ears were sharp and he heard their whispered exchange:

  'Are you certain?'

  'He has the makings of something special.' Their eyes moved over Neb and his griffin. Romulus nodded 'and Balkind,' he finished. Neb patted Balkind's shoulder, and almost allowed a grin to escape.

  Without another word, Romulus spun on his leather booted heel, and marched off to select recruits from the students. Telling Balkind and the other young griffins selected by Romulus to stay, Neb led the remaining gryffants down the hillside to the orchards. They piped with excitement at this unexpected treat and immediately began gobbling up fallen berries. Griffins were omnivores, like men. Like men, bull griffins thrilled to the hunt. However, many of the remaining gryffants were does, and preferred fruit to meat. Some
would be selected as scouts, and paired off with griffin lasses. Others would be re-claimed by their owners while one or two might always remain semi-trained and half wild.

  Out of habit, Neb checked to make certain the heavy nets slung over the sweet-berry bushes and apple trees were securely raised on their props. These nets were strong enough to keep the greedy young griffins out of the orchards; it would be disastrous if one of them sagged low enough for a griffin to become entangled in their folds. He exited the orchard, making sure the gate was secured behind him. Again it would be disastrous if one of the unselected griffins took a mind to follow the Griffin Master and his new recruits.

 

  A sudden panic gripped Neb's stomach, and realising he was missing the riders' selection, he jogged back up the hillside to the Main Hall. He was too late. Romulus had made his choices. As was traditional, those youths chosen by Romulus were serving lunch to their new mentor. Those not chosen had skulked away. Several tables and benches had been pushed together, and arranged under a muslin cotton canopy of blue. The tablecloths of matching blue were almost hidden from sight by the finest robes of the girl students. Neb thought the girls looked like a vibrant rainbow. Only the wealthiest of parents could afford materials dyed in such vivid colours, and the girls wore their dresses of scarlet, teal and fuchsia pink with pride. They were already seated and giggled and chatted, thrilled to be waited on by the boys. A few paces away, under a smaller marquee, four novice harpists tuned their instruments. Only the littlest musician noticed Neb's return. She gave him an excited grin and a wave, tugged her toga back over her shoulder, and leaned into her harp again. The newest intake of students ferried dishes from the kitchen to the griffins and back again. This was their first real introduction to dealing with griffins, and their young faces shone. Neb's heart sank as he realised his hopes and all his hard work had come to nothing.

  His chance had come and gone.

  ********

 

 
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