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The piebald hippogriff, p.1

The Piebald Hippogriff, page 1


The Piebald Hippogriff

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The Piebald Hippogriff

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  The Piebald Hippogriff


  [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Fantastic Stories of Imagination May 1962. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

  _Because this is a masculine world, the author of this fairytale is usually identified as the wife of Poul Anderson. But a few more incisive cameos of fantasy such as this, and Mr. Anderson may come to be identified as Karen's husband._

  The edge of the world is fenced off stoutly enough, but the fence isn'tmade that will stop a boy. Johnny tossed his pack and coil of rope overit and started climbing. The top three strands were barbed wire. Hecaught his shirt as he went over, and had to stop for a moment to easehimself off. Then he dropped lightly to the grass on the other side.

  The pack had landed in a clump of white clover. A cloud of disturbedbees hung above, and he snatched it away quickly lest they should noticethe honeycomb inside.

  For a minute he stood still, looking out over the edge. This wasdifferent from looking through the fence, and when he moved it wasslowly. He eased himself to the ground where a corner of rock rose clearof the thick larkspur and lay on his belly, the stone hard and coolunder his chin, and looked down.

  The granite cliff curved away out of sight, and he couldn't see if ithad a foot. He saw only endless blue, beyond, below, and on both sides.Clouds passed slowly.

  Directly beneath him there was a ledge covered with long grass whereclusters of stars bloomed on tall, slender stalks.

  He uncoiled his rope and found a stout beech tree not too close to theedge. Doubling the rope around the bole, he tied one end around hiswaist, slung the pack on his back, and belayed himself down the cliff.Pebbles clattered, saxifrage brushed his arms and tickled his ears; oncehe groped for a hold with his face in a patch of rustling ferns.

  The climb was hard, but not too much. Less than half an hour later hewas stretched out on the grass with stars nodding about him. They had asharp, gingery smell. He lay in the cool shadow of the world's edge fora while, eating apples and honeycomb from his pack. When he was finishedhe licked the honey off his fingers and threw the apple cores over,watching them fall into the blue.

  Little islands floated along, rocking gently in air eddies. Sunlightflashed on glossy leaves of bushes growing there. When an island driftedinto the shadow of the cliff, the blossoming stars shone out. Beyond theshadows, deep in the light-filled gulf, he saw the hippogriffs at play.

  * * * * *

  There were dozens of them, frisking and cavorting in the air. He gazedat them full of wonder. They pretended to fight, stooped at one another,soared off in long spirals to stoop and soar and stoop again. Oneflashed by him, a golden palomino that shone like polished wood. Thewind whistled in its wings.

  Away to the left, the cliff fell back in a wide crescent, and nearlyopposite him a river tumbled over the edge. A pool on a ledge beneathcaught most of the water, and there were hippogriffs drinking. One sideof the broad pool was notched. The overflow fell sheer in a white plumeblown sideways by the wind.

  As the sun grew hotter, the hippogriffs began to settle and browse onthe islands that floated past. Not far below, he noticed, a dozen or sostood drowsily on an island that was floating through the cliff's shadowtoward his ledge. It would pass directly below him.

  With a sudden resolution, Johnny jerked his rope down from the treeabove and tied the end to a projecting knob on the cliff. Slinging onhis pack again, he slid over the edge and down the rope.

  The island was already passing. The end of the rope trailed through thegrass. He slithered down and cut a piece off his line.

  It was barely long enough after he had tied a noose in the end. Helooked around at the hippogriffs. They had shied away when he droppedonto the island, but now they stood still, watching him warily.

  Johnny started to take an apple out of his pack, then changed his mindand took a piece of honeycomb. He broke off one corner and tossed ittoward them. They fluttered their wings and backed off a few steps, thenstood still again.

  Johnny sat down to wait. They were mostly chestnuts and blacks, and somehad white stockings. One was piebald. That was the one which, after awhile, began edging closer to where the honeycomb had fallen. Johnny satvery still.

  * * * * *

  The piebald sniffed at the honeycomb, then jerked up its head to watchhim suspiciously. He didn't move. After a moment it took the honeycomb.

  When he threw another bit, the piebald hippogriff wheeled away, butreturned almost at once and ate it. Johnny tossed a third piece only afew yards from where he was sitting.

  It was bigger than the others, and the hippogriff had to bite it in two.When the hippogriff bent its head to take the rest Johnny was on hisfeet instantly, swinging his lariat. He dropped the noose over thehippogriff's head. For a moment the animal was too startled to doanything; then Johnny was on its back, clinging tight.

  The piebald hippogriff leaped into the air, and Johnny clamped his legsabout convulsed muscles. Pinions whipped against his knees and windblasted his eyes. The world tilted; they were rushing downward. Hisknees pressed the sockets of the enormous wings.

  The distant ramparts of the world swung madly, and he seemed to fallupward, away from the sun that suddenly glared under the hippogriff'stalons. He forced his knees under the roots of the beating wings and dugheels into prickling hair. A sob caught his breath and he clenched histeeth.

  The universe righted itself about him for a moment and he pulled breathinto his lungs. Then they plunged again. Wind searched under his shirt.Once he looked down. After that he kept his eyes on the flutter of thefeather-mane.

  * * * * *

  A jolt sent him sliding backward. He clutched the rope with slipperyfingers. The wings missed a beat and the hippogriff shook its head asthe rope momentarily checked its breath. It tried to fly straight up,lost way, and fell stiff-winged. The long muscles stretched under him asit arched its back, then bunched when it kicked straight out behind. Theviolence loosened his knees and he trembled with fatigue, but he woundthe rope around his wrists and pressed his forehead against whitenedknuckles. Another kick, and another. Johnny dragged at the rope.

  The tense wings flailed, caught air, and brought the hippogriff uprightagain. The rope slackened and he heard huge gasps. Sunlight was hot onhim again and a drop of sweat crawled down his temple. It tickled. Heloosened one hand to dab at the annoyance. A new twist sent him slidingand he grabbed the rope. The tickle continued until he nearly screamed.He no longer dared let go. Another tickle developed beside the first. Hescrubbed his face against the coarse fibre of the rope; the relief waslike a world conquered.

  Then they glided in a steady spiral that carried them upward withscarcely a feather's motion. When the next plunge came Johnny was readyfor it and leaned back until the hippogriff arched its neck, trying tofree itself from the pressure on its windpipe. Half choked, it glidedagain, and Johnny gave it breath.

  They landed on one of the little islands. The hippogriff drooped itshead and wings, trembling.

  He took another piece of honeycomb from his pack and tossed it to theground where the hippogriff could reach it easily. While it ate hestroked it and talked to it. When he dismounted the hippogriff tookhoneycomb from his hand. He stroked its neck, breathing the sweet warmfeathery smell, and laughed aloud when it snuffled the back of his neck.

  Tying the rope into a sort of hackamore, he mounted again
and rode thehippogriff to the pool below the thunder and cold spray of thewaterfall. He took care that it did not drink too much. When he ate someapples for his lunch, the hippogriff ate the cores.

  Afterward he rode to one of the drifting islands and let his mountgraze. For a while he kept by its side, making much of it. With hisfingers, he combed out the soft flowing plumes of its mane, and examinedits hoofs and the sickle-like talons of the forelegs. He saw how thesmooth feathers on its forequarters became finer and finer until hecould scarcely see where the hair on the hindquarters began. Delicatefeathers covered its head.

  The island glided further and further away from the cliffs, and hewatched the waterfall dwindle away to a streak and disappear. After awhile he fell asleep.

  * * * * *

  He woke with a start, suddenly cold: the setting sun was below hisisland. The feathery odor was still on his hands. He looked around forthe hippogriff and saw it sniffing at his pack.

  When it saw him move, it trotted up to him with an expectant air. Hethrew his arms about the great flat-muscled neck and pressed his faceagainst the warm feathers, with a faint sense of embarrassment atfeeling tears in his eyes.

  "Good old Patch," he said, and got his pack. He shared the last piece ofhoneycomb with his hippogriff and watched the sun sink still further.The clouds were turning red.

  "Let's go see those clouds," Johnny said. He mounted the piebaldhippogriff and they flew off, up through the golden air to the sunsetclouds. There they stopped and Johnny dismounted on the highest cloud ofall, stood there as it turned slowly gray, and looked into dimmingdepths. When he turned to look at the world, he saw only a wide smudgeof darkness spread in the distance.

  The cloud they were standing on turned silver. Johnny glanced up and sawthe moon, a crescent shore far above.

  He ate an apple and gave one to his hippogriff. While he chewed he gazedback at the world. When he finished his apple, he was about to toss thecore to the hippogriff, but stopped himself and carefully took out theseeds first. With the seeds in his pocket, he mounted again.

  He took a deep breath. "Come on, Patch," he said. "Let's homestead themoon."



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