“Wake up, child.” Kallen nudged Lew with her own staff. “It’s time for you to go.”
Lew snorted and raised her head. “Oh, Pando. High Greenwarden, I’m sorry. I wasn’t asleep…” Lew mumbled, but Kallen waved her off.
“I have no time for your lies, delinquent. Begone.”
Lew huffed and stumbled groggily out of the great hall. Kallen’s casual disregard almost felt worse than his constant berating. Was this another punishment? Should she try to get into his good graces or be even worse just to force him to react? She wondered if she’d left anything in the hall and patted her shift. She gasped. The thin, flimsy book was still there in her pocket, and it changed everything.
By two past Sunfall the next day, Lew had not opened the book. She didn’t know why she wasn’t already in trouble for taking it, but she knew better than to risk taking it out where a rat or crow might see. Even more, her relationship with reading was mostly dry tomes, and she saw no reason why this book, mysterious as it was, would be any different. Instead, she kept it with her, and now and then, when she became anxious and felt trapped, she touched her hand to it, feeling its smooth cover, bending it a little between her fingers. She had forbidden wisdom – a connection to the vast world outside Pando that none of her peers would ever see. It felt good.
In Lewellyn’s bedroom, Bat-face put his palms together and looked at his feet. It was a perpetual struggle for him to project obeisance that didn’t look like contrition. With his head down and his ears flat out like the bat wings they were, he looked as if his head were ready to take off and fly out the window. He probably wished he could do that. Lew hadn’t even told him anything he’d done wrong yet, although there was plenty to tell.
“I don’t know what kind of a joke it was to give me peasant food yesterday, but tomorrow I want you to bring me a cheese pie with salted meat.”
“What’s a cheese pie?”
“Oh, Bat-face, if you don’t already know, I don’t have time to explain to you. Figure it out yourself and bring it to me.”
“Certainly, Miss, but what’s a cheese?”
“What did I just say, Bat-face?”
“I gotta figger it out for myself.”
“You must figure it out for yourself. Fig Yure.” Lew realized that if word of cheese pie spread throughout Candon, people might trace it back to her. Do not talk to the prisoner.
“You know what, Bat-face, just forget it.”
“I mean it. You never heard any of this.”
“Any of what? Of the cheese pie?”
“No. I mean yes, that. Forget it.”
“I’ll have a cassava pie with salted meat.”
Bat-face bit his lip. “Those are very strange ingredients to put together. I dunno if I would be able t’ make it taste good.”
“You don’t know if you would be able to make it taste good. I have tremendous faith in you, Bat-face. Dismissed.”
“Yes, Miss.” Bat-face pressed his lips together and turned to leave. Lew didn’t feel the same satisfaction harassing him as she usually did, though. In her empty room, she felt small. The daughter of the most powerful man in all Pando and one of only six Greenwardens in her own right, she was close to the top of the world she knew, but now she had to admit that that world might not be very big. It didn’t even have cheese.
At the hippogriff pen, Lew set her mind to piling their food as fast as possible. Biffy always harassed her and today was no exception. He She often had to waste valuable time pushing him out again, but this time she was ready. When Biffy shoved his feathery head in the food shed door, she slammed it on his blotched beak. He screeched and leapt back, staring at Lew and screeching a second time. There was no way a flimsy wooden door hurt his beak. He was just being a baby. “Serves you right.” She grinned with satisfaction as she dragged out the bag of salted meat. “I hope you learned your lesson.”
Biffy clicked and squawked in complaint, two sounds Lew had never heard him make. Gryphons speak a pidgin dialect of Crakaw, the language of crows, and Skiree, the language of large birds of prey, and Hippogriffs’ vocalizations include all the sounds in both those languages and more. However, they have no grammatical structure that Pando scholars have ascertained. Whether they lack the faculty for sophisticated language or if, raised among crows and gryphons instead of horses and people they might learn Crakaw, is a matter of heated debate among overeducated individuals who have had too much mushroom wine. As someone waving an equally large cup would point out, language breeds pride, and as long as we enjoy hippogriffs who act more like horses than gryphons, we should count our blessings for their lack.
When Lew reached for Biffy’s reins, he backed away, but she pressed, and he clicked again as she put her foot in the stirrup and kicked over his back. He chortled and squawked when she snapped the reins, clopping a few steps forward and stopping. “Hey!” Lew shouted, in no mood to miss an opportunity to fly, and she kicked him with her heels, sending him into a mad gallop forward, lurching into the cool forest air.
Lew urged Biffy upward – higher and higher towards the canopy that now loomed like a prison ceiling. She imagined the hues of the sunset, and pushed Biffy upward as he clicked and quorked and struggled to level out. As they came to the top, Lew braced herself to burst through the leaves once more, but Biffy went into free-fall.
The feeling of riding a hippogriff down to earth was so exhilarating that Lew forgot to be mad. She shrieked and giggled while Biffy squawked and clicked, opening his wings and sending them away from Zalatha, towards Elfain. The walk was a day’s journey, but at full speed they could make it in an hour. For half that time, they flew in peace, but when the daylight waned, Biffy tried to turn and go home. His clicks and squawks grew more urgent as Lew kicked him and hit him with the reins, yanking in the opposite direction each time he tried to change course.
Lew saw Elfain in the distance, bits of its glittering blue shrine to Pando peeking from between the trees. She gasped. She’d never seen such a pretty building, and she wouldn’t miss her chance because of some homesick griff. “Biffy, keep going. What’s wrong with you?”
Biffy croaked and started to turn. Lew grabbed the reins in her hands and yanked, but this time Biffy yanked back. Lew kept her grip, but lost her seat.
Lew shrieked, nothing separating her from the fast moving earth but a quarter league of air and her death-grip hold on bark-rope reins. Biffy shook his great feathery head, and the rough rope burned her palms as she slid further down. The ground rushed past beneath her dangling legs, the wind whipping not just her hair but her whole body, throwing it against Biffy’s heavy hooves.
Oh, Pando, Lew thought, I’m falling. I’m going to die. She screamed again for Biffy to descend, but he screeched and shook his head. Lew slid on the rope again, which sliced her palms open, sending flecks of blood flying onto her face. She gritted her teeth and pulled a hand up further. Then another. Biffy thrashed again and she slid back down, gasping from the pain. She tried to reach for a stirrup, anything to get her a path back onto his back. As she struggled, Biffy headed towards a trunk. He clicked and tilted to avoid clipping his wing, and Lew huddled close for impact.
With a sickening crunch, her body crumpled against the heavy tree. Her hair flew up around her in a few seconds of freefall, followed by another instant of blinding pain. Then everything stopped.
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