Belree trudged along the steep trail beside Weirim. Her wings were pinned down tight to her sides and her back was heavily loaded with Varda trade goods. The fall of her weighted gryphon paws fell muffled in the dust. Her beak was covered with a cage held on by straps wrapped in a figure eight around her head and neck. She hadn’t had a drink in hours, none of them had. She was so tired and hot, and so very discouraged.
“Why are they doing this?” she asked between gulps of air. “If they want help transporting their goods why won’t they let us fly them?”
“We’re being trained,” Weirim answered her friend. “They want to show us who’s in charge.”
“We aren’t stupid,” Belree countered. “They know we will behave as long as they have the hatchlings.”
Weirim looked back over her shoulder at the caged wagon Riple and Marsdon were pulling. At least the hatchlings didn’t have to walk. They were caged, but they were safe from the whips and the prods the Varda were using so liberally on the adult gryphon.
“Timenall will come,” Weirim said with confidence. “He will find a way to set us free.”
“They ripped his claws out, Weirim. Even if he did manage to get free of the harness and boots…” her voice trailed off as a Varda came near.
“We must not give up hope,” Weirim whispered after the man passed out of hearing range.
A whip cracked over Belree and her head. “Quiet you two!” a Varda shouted from behind them, “or the next one will take some hide off.”
Belree and Weirim continued to trudge along in silence.
It was a steep, narrow path winding up the hillside in a zigzag fashion. Weirim was tired, but she couldn’t imagine how exhausted Riple and Marsdon were pulling that heavy metal cage with fifteen hatchlings in it. The Varda obviously had the capture of the gryphon planned out long ago. The metal cage would have taken weeks to construct. The two big male gryphon beaks were parted and their tongues hung out as they panted under the load.
Belree and Weirim rounded the next switchback and were headed further up the slopping trail when they heard rock crumble and slide down the hillside. The hatchlings screamed in fright. Weirim turned to see that the back wheel of the cage had left the road. The corner hung out over the precipice as Marsdon, on the outside struggled to pull it back onto the trail. Several of the Varda rushed forward to try and push the cage back, but it was radically tipping, sliding further off the road. Riple tried desperately to make himself an anchor and dig his claws in, but with the heavy lead boots on he could not gain any traction. Marsdon’s back foot slipped over the edge. He was pulling the cage over with him. The gryphon screamed in panic. The Varda pushed harder on the cage to try and keep it from falling over the cliff.
Ram, their leader, could see all they had worked so hard for on the verge of collapse. If they did not have the hatchlings, they did not have leverage over the adult gryphon. He ran forward pulling his knife from its sheath at his waist. He vaulted over Riple to the brace between the two gryphon. He leaned down and cut through the harness that held Marsdon to the wagon. Without the harness to hold him in place Marsdon plunged over the side of the cliff, his wings held in place by the harness that bound him to the wagon. The gryphon lifted their heads in unison and screamed in agony as they saw him fall helpless to save himself.
Without the weight of the large gryphon the Varda were able to push the wagon back into place on the road.
The hatchlings were crying.
Marsdon’s mate Dalfie screamed at the Varda “I will kill you all for this!” She struggled under her load as tears flowed down her cheeks. “I will…”
Whips cracked and cut deep into the flesh of the angry adult gryphon. The Varda added Keeree’s pack to Dalfie’s load trying to quiet her by overloading her into submission. They hitched Keeree to the wagon in place of Marsdon.
When Dalfie would not be silent they beat her with a cane and threatened to kill one of the hatchlings. The other gryphon begged and pleaded with her to be quiet. She eventually resorted to sobbing silently at Lopho’s side.
Weirim stood shaking under her load. Timenall had to come, he just had to come.