The Natural Order of Things
The circus was in town, but none of its many colorful sights could draw Triena's attention away from the small traveling zoo at the end of the circus' yard. And of all the animals and creatures in the zoo, only one held the twelve-year-old girl's interest for more than a few minutes. It was a beautiful creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. A wooden plaque next to its cage said it was a baby griffin, captured recently in the nearby Aerie Mountains.
A man dressed in battered leather armor sidled up next to Triena as she stood looking into the sad eyes of the young griffin. "Fine creature, eh, little lady? No beast flies higher or faster. Why, if I didn't keep its wings clipped, that little chippy would shoot right out of the cage the minute I opened its door to feed it, it would."
Triena shrugged, still looking into the deep green eyes of the hatchling griffin. "It...it seems so...sad."
The man chuckled. "Ah, beasts like that, they don't feel things like you and me do, little lady."
She looked the armored man square in the eyes. "But you must have taken it from its mother, right?"
"Aye," The man's voice grew proud as he spoke. "Aye, right out the nest, the mother swooping at my back all along. But I fought her off with my trusty long sword."
"Don't you think it misses its mother? Or that its mother misses it?"
"Girl, you been listening to too many fairy tales." The man looked into Triena's face and saw it was set hard, could see that he was not persuading her. He licked his lips, looked up to the golden moon, and composed his thoughts. Finally, he looked back into her cold blue eyes and told her "It's the natural order of things for animals and beasts and monsters like this here griffin to get caught by hunters. Like survival of the fittest, that's all. I happened to be fittest, so I took the prize. Natural order at work, little lady. Now run along and see the other sights, eh?"
Triena began to protest, but the man nudged her roughly. "Go on now, lots more to see," he said. With a long last look, Triena moved on, but there was nothing else at the circus she wanted to see. Her mind was always going back to the baby griffin and the sad expression in its beautiful green eyes.
As Triena headed home to her mentor Pellgraff's tower, her heart was heavy, her steps slow.
When she got home, the wizard Pellgraff asked her what was troubling her. He always knew when one of his students was in a bad mood; that was one of the many talents he possessed that made him a good teacher.
Triena sat with her mentor at his table and told him about the baby griffin and what the armored man had said.
Her teacher nodded as he spoke to her. "He's wrong; creatures of all sorts feel emotions. True, they may not feel things exactly as you or I would, but they do indeed feel emotions. Doesn't a dog wag its tail faster when you give him a treat? Does a cat not purr louder when you pet her? Why should we think a griffin or any other strange creature feels things differently than animals we're more familiar with?"
Triena clapped her hands and sat up. "So you believe as I do? That that griffin is sad, and so is its mother?"
Pellgraff laughed lightly and patted his young student on the shoulder. "I can't say what a griffin feels, Triena. However I do think that if we can assume that a young griffin feels things like a puppy or a kitten would--or especially like a young girl would feel if she were taken away from her parents--then yes, the griffin would be sad and afraid and lonely right now."
Triena jumped out of her seat and grabbed at Pellgraff's sleeve. "Great! So let's go down to the circus and free it and take it back to its mother and--"
The wizard laughed harder this time and gently pushed the girl back. "Now, now, not so fast! We can't just go down there and disturb a man's means of making a living; that would be breaking the law."
"The law?" Triena's voice cracked as she threw her hands up. "What about the griffin's right to be free?"
"And what about the right of the other creatures that man must have in his zoo? Should we just go there and let them all free, too?"
"We could return them to their homes."
Pellgraff sighed at his student's impetuous reply. "Impossible. I'm sure they come from far and wide."
"Well then we could bring them all here to live."
"Here! I have enough trouble taking care of students like you, thank you very much."
Triena paced, gnawing on her lower lip. "Well..."
Pellgraff continued speaking. "And what about all the other creatures in all the other circuses and zoos and exhibits? What about them?"
Triena's shoulders slumped. "I'm...I'm only one girl."
"One girl with big dreams. But you're not being very realistic, are you, Triena?"
With a grunt, she sat down and answered her teacher. "No, sir, I guess not."
Pellgraff leaned forward and stroked Triena's mouse-brown hair. "You have good intentions, that can not be doubted. But you have to be practical. What applies to one must apply to all."
Triena sat and pouted for a moment. Then a thought came to her and left her lips like lightning. "Then why aren't all beasts captured?"
"And why are only so-called creatures caged, but men and elves and gnomes and dwarves are allowed to be free?"
"Now that's different. Why, it's the natural order of things, and--"
Triena's eyes went wide. " 'Natural order of things?' That's just what that...that...scum at the circus said, too! You're no better than he is!" The girl shot from her chair and ran out of her master's room.
"Triena, come back. Let's talk more about this. You'll see that I'm right." Pellgraff knew his student hadn't heard him, and even if she had, she probably would not have obeyed or believed him.
The girl stormed through Pellgraff's tower, going first to her room to get her hooded cloak and backpack, then down to the basement room where the wizard kept supplies. She jammed handfuls of items she thought she'd need for the task she had in mind, then went out into the night.
By the time she got to the circus grounds the crowd from earlier was gone. Most of the performers were gone, too, asleep in their wagons or off in the city having fun on their earnings.
Triena drew the hood of her cloak over her head and sneaked through the circus grounds until she got to the area where the zoo cages were. From her backpack she took out a small bottle of shimmering powder made from spider webs and the wings of dragonflies. As she undid the bottle's stopper and sprinkled the powder over her, she uttered the words that would unlock the magic in the powder that would allow her to move invisibly for several minutes.
After carefully putting the stopper on the bottle and the bottle back in her pack, Triena steeled herself and set out toward the baby griffin's cage. "You can do this, girl. You can do this," Triena kept thinking as she made her way closer to the cage.
The griffin was lying on its side, its head on its furry front claws. Its wings were spread out, much too small for a creature its size. When she got within three feet of the cage Triena could see where the griffin's captor had hacked off the long tips of the feathers, the ones that would allow it to fly. "Probably chopped them off with the same sword it used to hurt your mother, eh, young one?" the girl thought as she crept closer to the cage.
The griffin sniffed at the air and its head shot up, its sparkling eyes alert, its mouth open. Oh no, it smells me!" Triena's mind raced. Would the griffin let out a screech? Would it cry out and alert others to Triena's presence?
But the creature was silent. It continued to sniff at the air and after a few moments its head turned in Triena's direction. Its eyes honed in where she stood as if her spell of invisibility meant nothing to the regal-looking creature.
Taking a chance, Triena decided to whisper to the griffin. "You know I'm here, don't you? And you know I'm here to help you, too, eh? Keep quiet now, as I open your cage." Triena went around to the door and examined its lock. She stiffened and paused when she heard someone humming, coming toward the cage.
It was the armored man, the hunter who'd caught the griffin. "He must be making the rounds, checking up on his creatures," Triena thought.
As the man walked from cage to cage, Triena quietly fumbled through her pack feeling for the iron wire and pig fat she would need to cast the spell that would open the cage's lock. Finally she found the items.
Moving slowly, silently, Triena rubbed the fat over the lock and touched the wire to it. Whispering the proper magic words, she coaxed the lock open, but her whispers were not quiet enough.
"Who's there? I hear you. That you, boss, come to check on me?" The armored man took a step away from the cage and Triena held her breath. She saw that he wore the long sword he had told her about earlier. She stood perfectly still, staring at the man.
His back was to her. He took another step away from the wagon, looking for the voice he'd heard.
Triena's hands shook as she worked the lock off the door's latch. The fat she'd rubbed on the lock made it slippery to hold and she dropped it just as the latch swung open!
The armored man let out a curse and turned to the sound of the lock falling. "All right, who's muckin' about there, huh?" He drew his sword and spat another curse, then said "I don't like this foolin' around, okay? So come out and the joke'll be over." He had a dark look on his face. His eyes were small and hard, frightening to Triena.
Triena looked into those eyes as the man came closer to where she stood. She was lost in the hardness of the hunter's eyes. Triena almost did not hear the griffin let out a little purring sound, but when she heard it she looked up into the beautiful green eyes of the griffin. The sadness was gone from those eyes, replaced with something like...concern? For Triena?
Then the girl looked down and saw that the spell of invisibility was done, its time expired. She was fading into view again. With a gasp she spun around and began to run from the griffin's cage.
That sudden burst of motion was her undoing as the armored man spotted her.
"Ah ha! Stop right there, brat!" The bellow of the man's voice filled Triena with a paralyzing fear.
"It's all right, girl. I won't hurt you. I just want to talk to you." Between saying "talk" and "to you" the man sprung like a cat and was atop Triena. She let out a scream and began to fight, twisting in the man's powerful grip. He raised his sword high. "Now stop your squirming or I'll cut you in two and no one will ever miss you."
Triena kept screaming and the man let out a growl. "I'll cut you, I swear it, I'll cut you!"
Triena was crying and screaming and fighting with all her might. Some voice in the back of her mind, some rash impulse told her she's never break free of the man's hold unless she used her beak and bit him in the hand.
So she bit. Hard.
"Beak?" Triena puffed as the man let her free with a curse. Blood ran from where she'd bit his left hand. His right hand was still high over his head, his sword reflecting golden moonlight.
"That's it, brat. I'd have given you a chance, but now..." The sword swung down and the golden arc of light it made as it moved transfixed Triena.
A shriek, a flurry of motion, a burst of blood, and the man fell, the baby griffin standing on top of him.
The man moved a bit, but his movements were uncoordinated. Triena took a moment to look over the man and she knew that he would recover from his wound and that he'd be unconscious from a long time.
"You...you saved me. You got out of your cage and..." Triena looked into those emerald eyes and heard the voice that told her to use her beak. "Free. Good. Friend." The griffin got off the man's back and walked into the darkness.
Triena followed it. "Wait. I can help you some more."
The griffin stopped and turned to the girl. It was almost as tall as she was.
Triena rustled in her pack and drew out a clay pot. She undid its stopper and poured its thick, sweet-smelling contents over the griffin's cut wings. Then she waved her hands over the wings three times, chanting the words that would unlock the magic of the balm. The thick liquid took on a rosy tint and began to glow. Soon the griffin let out happy sounds and fluttered its wings. Its wings were growing back to their full length!
The griffin pranced around Triena in a wide circle as it flapped its wings and let out joyful cries. Then the beautiful creature took to wing and circled overhead, its cries sounding to Triena almost like laughter. The sounds of people coming into the zoo area alerted them both, and the griffin looked down at the girl.
Triena waved up to it and began to move toward the shadows. She whispered "Go now. Go and find your mother and live free," as she crouched and hid.
Triena sneaked away from the circus undetected. As she left the grounds she looked up to the moon and was glad to see the silhouette of the baby griffin as it flew high overhead.
Two nights later she cried tears of joy when she saw the silhouettes of two griffins, one small and one large, fly high overhead. She may have disobeyed her master and she may have broken the law of the city, she may not have even followed the so-called "natural order of things", but Triena knew that she'd done the right thing.
Mike Griffith has been writing fiction off-and-on for many years, but is just now getting serious about it. His story "Why the Moon?", published in the July 2002 issue of Twilight Times has been read live on a radio program called "Fractured Fiction" and "The Three Dancers" may soon follow. Mike teaches communications at Northampton Community College in Tannersville, PA and is co-editor of the educational newsletter Teaching for Success.
"The Natural Order of Things" is dedicated "to precocious souls everywhere, especially his daughter's." The other stories were inspired by his wife, his daughter, and many other women he knows and has known.
Published by permission of the author.