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GRYPHONS

by Chris Wayan, 2006

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A gryphon, a large, cold-adapted, carnivorous people on Lyr, an experimental world-model. Sketch based on a drawing by Kyle Sarrif of VCL. Click to enlarge.

SPECIES

Winged lions with hawklike beaks, very close to our heraldic conception of griffins, though their forelegs are leonine not avian. And the digits are far more separate than in any Terran cat--not as deft as human hands, but possessing thumbs and able to manipulate all but the smallest objects. Gryphons are the biggest fliers on Lyr, and one of the biggest predators, massing 30-40 kilos--which, in the strong gravity of Lyr's polar regions, weighs 42-56 kilos, or 92-123 lbs. (Living on a slower-spinning, nearly spherical world as we do, it's easy to forget that on Lyr, as on Jupiter, your weight differs noticeably from equator to pole: if staggering around with 23% more weight sounds hard, consider the polar figure: 41%!)

HABITAT

Gryphons evolved in the forests and steppes in the Roland Group--the coldest of the major landmasses. Their niche resembles that of wolves in Terra's northlands--but winged, omnivorous wolves. Dare I say ravenous wolves? (But Raven's a trickster, not a punster.) Perhaps, despite appearances, I should include one more northern species: polar bears! Like them, they're huge (for Lyr at least, where animals run smaller than Earth), and their size is an adaptation to cold, against which they're superbly insulated. But gryphondown grows at a price: you easily overheat. Gryphons have spread south to the cool rainy uplands of Li, in Oronesia, and west to Scania and the Shielding Islands. They herd and ranch in the high mountains of Troisleons and Corona, but no further south, finding the heat oppressive. A map of Lyr, a large water world with small scattered continents. The cool-temperate range of gryphons (intelligent, hawk-headed leonine creatures) is marked in yellow.

In an empty world, gryphons might well eventually evolve a smaller hot-weather subspecies. After all, the Neanderthals bulked up (and according to a very intriguing new theory, grew furry!) to live in Ice Age Europe. Why shouldn't gryphons slim down? Because sphinxes, lebbirds, icari and even floxes already fill their niche in warmer zones. So, aside from a few traders, scholars, ranchers and herders (all living in mountains above treeline), the only significant gryphon population south of Corona are two recent colonies on Altai and Averorn--cold but fertile lands in the far south that no one else much wants, for precisely the reason gryphons do.

BEHAVIOR

Impressive, dignified, slow and thoughtful, Gryphons are the purest, most austere intellects on Lyr. However, do not do lunch with one, unless you like splatter films. You never miss lips until you see how messy things get without them...

A green-eyed gryphon perched on the brink of a caldera like Haleakala; snow caps the cliffs. Gryphon based on 'Dun Hen' by Erin M. Schmidt of VCL.
The message "make love not war" resonates for gryphons, precisely because they find it so hard to avoid fights over territory and mates. Gryphons still struggle with a double standard: males promiscuous but jealous, herding "their" females, who, as sensuous as lionesses, like to mate outside the clan. Gryphon females still have to argue for sexual equality--and, often, for peace, when males are already crouching, ears back, ready to duel... Two gryphons, with hawklike heads and wings and leonine bodies, between stone arches. One leaps in rage at the other who rears up, claws spread.

I've been describing mainstream gryphon culture, as seen in Roland, Scania or the Shielding Islands. The gryphons of western Ythri, particularly Hesperia, are more progressive: you see females out herding, trading in pegasi towns, indeed everywhere--confident and relaxed. Even back in Roland, elders rarely try to arrange mates any more, but there, only males initiate courting. In Hesperia it's no longer shocking for gryphon girls to propose mating flights. Dueling is less socially acceptable, too--even males will try to break up fights. In Roland, females will try to intervene, but the men? In the heat of the moment? Oh, they'd feel ashamed later, but...

TWO INFLUENTIAL LEGENDS:

LEEA AND IMRIC

Leea and Imric were legendary lovers--probably real people, leaders of their day, though now as overlain with archetypes as the strata over Troy. Today they're rolemodels for the sexes in gryphon society: Imric, a brave, loyal (and jealous and reckless) male, forced to become a resistance leader when their homeland was invaded after drought disturbed the hunting ranges of Scania, and forced (far harder) to forgive Leea's many affairs; Leea, the gentler, more thoughtful female who risks her bond with Imric by mating with nomadic chiefs who were traditional enemies, forging an alliance that brought peace to the land. It's not quite "make love not war" in the human sense, but the story resonates strongly for gryphons. Sphinxes or pegasi find Leea ordinary and Imric absurd, but in marital squabbles all over the north, Imric and Leea still come up daily, arguing for sexual equality, tolerance and forgiveness, outbreeding, and peacemaking.
On the deck of a red-sailed ship, two plucked, pink gryphons sit wretchedly in barrel-tubs. Atop the mast is a lookout: a soka, an intelligent species like a mix of monkey, moth, and cat.

THE EPIC OF HRILL

A cold, rainy, Aleutian sort of archipelago sprawls across Lyr's southern hemisphere. Only gryphons live there--only they can stand the cold of Averorn. Now, gryphons evolved in the far north, and to reach Averorn, they had to fly 30,000 km--right across the equatorial zone. Every gryphon that ever tried, died of heatstroke. They're just not built for it.

But Averorn's discoverers, the little moth-monkey-people called soka, who sail around much of southern Lyr and occasionally rove even north of the equator, brought more than word of Averorn to the gryphons. Soka-crewed ships call at a great island called Hrill, in southern Oronesia. Though Hrill's only 15 degrees north, it has huge, snowy volcanic peaks up to 4600 m high (15,100'); and on their flanks, two Lyran centuries ago, lived the southernmost gryphons in the world--a branch of the small clan representing their species at the Trade Institute on nearby Arinnian.

Seventeen gryphons, hearing from the soka of vast, unsettled southlands too cold for anyone else, concocted an outrageous, humiliating plan. They plucked themselves naked, and rode soka ships south over the equator, in shaded decktop tents, pouring cold water on their bare, bumpy skin every hour, until they were past the tropics. They raced south as their pelts and feathers regrew... and won that race. By the time they had visible down, they were in the south subtropical zone. Heatstroke killed one, and skin infections another, but fifteen survived the voyage--at least physically.

But gryphons are the proudest people on Lyr, and they've never lived it down--that image of warriors and queens all pink, naked, flightless, helpless, plucked as megachickens in a stew-pot. While the icari wrote epics celebrating the courage of their Antarctic explorers, the first two generations of Averornian gryphons were silent and ashamed. It was a shock when their grandchicks grew up, uncovered the truth, and started singing a mock epic of their own, celebrating the moral courage of gryphons brave enough to be laughed at.

Oddly enough, it caught on--there was, after all, some truth in it.

Today Averornian gryphons have a distinct culture, with a wry humor and humility unheard of in the proud north. Perhaps the best analogy is the early Australian shame (but eventual pride) in being descended largely from convicts banished by England--it too fostered a wry egalitarian humor. Or perhaps the cultural divergence was inevitable--like Australians, Averornians faced a harsh, marginal land where solidarity and sharing are essential and pretension is divisive. Culture follows nature? Perhaps.

Or maybe it was that song.

Map of Lyr, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.

Gazetteer: index of places, with descriptions. Or...

TOUR LYR! Climb volcanoes, swim seas, meet weird creatures. First: survival tips! Then, pick a region:
Ythri -- Polesotechnic Chain -- Troisleons -- Roland -- Oronesia -- Gaiila -- Flandry -- Diomedes -- Ak'hai'i -- Averorn

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