Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A relative's funeral

One of Adrick's earliest memories was attending the funeral of his grandfather, old Baron Adrick of Morand, fourth of that name. He was marching behind Grandfather's coffin, his hand clutched in his father's. The coffin was born on a wagon drawn by four matched black horses who must have been griffin-steady, for beside the wagon paced Wingshadow, Grandfather's griffin. Wingshadow was huge and dark for a Golden Griffin; the feathers of his neck and wings had darkened to a deep bronze, and he was almost too big to fly combat maneuvers.
The procession entered the Baronial cemetary, and passed by rows of family tombs, and the stone griffins that guarded them. At the end of the last row was Grandfather's gravesite. The coffin was lowered into the tomb. One by one Old Adrick's comrades, relatives, and retainers filed by, depositing burial gifts atop the coffin as Wingshadow crouched at the head of the tomb, watching. Young Adrick left a knife with a gold wire-wrapped hilt, in a tooled leather scabbard. The knife had never been his; his father had given it to him the day before to leave as tribute. Adrick felt a twinge of jealousy as he dropped the knife -- he would have liked to keep it -- and he had seen plenty of weapons already dropped on the coffin. As he turned from the tomb, he saw Wingshadow's great yellow eyes watching him -- could the griffin have somehow read that unworthy thought? Evidentally not - he raised no protest as Adrick walked back to where his Father stood. Finally, the last gift had been deposited. Then Wingshadow underwent a terrifying change: his face and beak suddenly turned white; the whiteness moved like a flush down his neck and shoulders and back along the muscular leonine body, and all the way down his tail, all the way to the tufted tip. Only the great yellow eyes retained the color of life. For a moment, the eyes flickered around horizontally, as if recording the scene, then they glazed over to a blank, white stare, and Baron Adrick's tomb was guarded by a stone griffin. Young Adrick had watched dry-eyed throughout the funeral; his grandfather had never been close to him, but had been an awsome presence in the background of his life -- someone whom he had to please but would never be able to -- sort of like God. The tears which started from his eyes now were more the result of fear than grief. "Is he dead, Father?"
"Of course . He's been dead for three days."
"No, I mean Wingshadow."
"No, Adrick. But Wingshadow is too old to take a new Rider, so he will do what all griffins eventually do -- he will become a guardian, and guard your grandfather's tomb for all eternity. There is no finer fate for a Golden Griffin, and no greater honor for a Griffinrider."

1 comment:

  1. Years ago, when I was studying heraldic symbolism, I read that the griffin symbolized faithfulness and guardianship. I thought about this, and wondered why the griffin symbolized guardianship. I ended up inventing my own mythology of griffins. In my world, griffins can voluntarily turn to stone. It is not permanent; the griffin retains a sort of subliminal awareness of its surroundings. It can stay in this state for centuries, but if disturbed, it re-animates, ravenously hungry. The perfect guardian. In my world, there is a saying: if someone has been horribly frightened or terrified, instead of saying "He looks as if he's seen a ghost", one might say "He looks like he ran into a stone griffin." Sorcerors used to enslave wild griffins and place them on guard over their treasures. In the wild, griffins turn to stone when they get too big and old to fly.

    Centuries ago, the founders of the Griffin Empire forged a partnership with griffins. A line of griffins would associate itself with a noble family; for the human family, partnership with a griffin line was both necessary and sufficient for membership in the upper nobility. This provided a lucrative sideline for such noble families. Most horses are naturally terrified (to the point of uncontrollable hysteria) of griffins. Noble families raise horses in close proximity to griffins; these horses grow up to be "griffin steady". They are then sold to the lower nobility, for whom they are capable of serving in the cavalry in conjunction with griffins. Enemy armies, with no source of griffin steady horses, are at a severe disadvantage.

    A griffin, if it doesn't turn to stone, has an active lifespan of one or two hundred years. It can thus serve two to four riders in succession. But it eventually becomes too big and old to fly, and then voluntarily chooses to become a stone guardian at the grave of its last rider. No one with a fraction of an ounce of sense in his head would trespass in a noble cemetary, guarded by stone griffins who would awaken hungry and enraged at the intrusion of non-family-members.