The Dark Griffin - K. J. Taylor


The Black Egg

It all began with the hatching of the dark griffin. A restless day. A grey day. Clouds the colour of lead lay low over the land like a blanket, and the wind that blew over the mountains had the tang of ice in it. Winter was over, but the memory of it lingered.

The valley, overlooked by a trio of craggy peaks, was green and wild, untouched by humans. This was the domain of something else.

From her perch high above the treetops, the great beast who owned the valley had an excellent view of her territory. She lifted her head, the wind ruffling her feathers, orange eyes scanning the area for any sign of movement. All was peaceful, and she sighed and resettled herself in the massive nest she had made for herself. It was supported by the tops of five large trees and woven from the branches she had broken away to make room for it. Normally a griffin was content to sleep on a bare bough or a ledge, but this one had a clutch of eggs to guard. She would not leave her nest once during the three months it would take for them to hatch.

She sighed again and rustled her wings. It had been two and a half months since the laying, and she had not eaten for two of them. Her stores of fat were running out, and if the eggs did not hatch soon she would be forced to abandon them—or even eat them to save her own life. She lifted her wing and rolled slightly on her side to check on them. There were three eggs, each one about the size of a melon. Two of them had light brown shells, flecked with white. The third was black. Not just dark brown, but pure jet-black, without a speck of any other colour. She had never seen an egg like it before.

She nudged the black egg a little further into the soft curve of her underbelly and crooned deep in her throat, then listened intently. Nothing, and she rolled back onto her chest and refolded her wings. When the eggs were ready to hatch they would start calling back. Until then all she could do was keep them warm and safe.

At thirty years old and as tall at her shoulder as a man, the mother griffin was a well-grown adult. Her front half was covered in glossy grey feathers, and her wings were mottled with black and white. Her hindquarters had tawny brown fur, clawed, padded paws and a long tail whose tip bore a wide fan of rigid black feathers. Her forelegs were bony and covered in grey scales, and her forefeet had long, many-jointed toes tipped with sharp, curved talons. Perfect for grasping and holding. She rested these formidable weapons on the edge of her nest and murmured to her eggs. “Hatch soon. Soon. Do not make me wait longer. Awaken soon and break the shell.” It was less real talk than a kind of mantra, and she repeated it several times, letting the sound of her own voice keep her company and stave off her boredom.

After that she slept, woke and slept again, stuck in a kind of half-dreaming twilight as the time dragged by. She wanted to go, wanted to be free and fly away over the valley, but her instincts forced her to stay. She continued to check on her eggs, day after day, waiting for the chicks to begin their piping.

But they didn’t. The weeks dragged by and she slowly weakened. Her ribs started to jut through her skin, and her feathers lost their shine. She was starving to death. Yet still she did not leave. Every day she thought of finally giving up and leaving the eggs, but every day she decided to wait another night. Just one more night. Just one more.

And then, at last, nearly half a month late, the chicks began to awaken. She crooned to them, just as she had done so many times before, and finally heard a faint chirping in reply. She nudged the eggs with her beak and called again, and once more the piping voices of the chicks came from inside the shells that imprisoned them.

The mother griffin pushed them forward to rest between her forelegs, and prepared for the final stage of her vigil.

The black egg was the first to begin moving. Tapping came from inside it, and the chick ceased chirping as it began to struggle to