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The Storyteller Presents
The Luck Child

Not so long ago, here in the deep north-where it can be so cold just very cold is considered quite warm-two dark hearts ruled the land. One beat cold in a cruel King and the other in a terrible beast, a Griffin. And it happened in a week with two Fridays that the cruel King heard of a prophecy. A child had been born, reported his spies, a Luck Child, poor as penance, rich as snow, the seventh son of a seventh son. Wise men prophesied this child would one day be King and claim all the riches of the realm. "Superstition, Majesty, folklore," advised his evil Chancellor. "Old wives' tales. How could a peasant's child, not worth a spit-how could a brat become King?"
But the cruel King choked on the news, could not swallow it, felt it sharpen and pierce his heart. So he vowed a cold vow the boy would not live to see the snow melt and the summer come. And before dawn he set out with his Chancellor to find this Luck Child and do him in.
Now the boy they sought was indeed a humble child. Even as they rode, King and Chancellor, through the bleak hills and barron lands of the realm, even as they planned their wicked wiles, a tiny infant was at his mother's breast, rags to swaddle him, hundled for warmth, poor as penance, rich as snow. Gifts came for him, scraps of food, thin shawls, a blanket, for folk in these parts knew of the blessing of a seventh son to a seventh son and honored it. And joy warmed the simple hut where his mother lay and his father watched and his brothers slept. The Luck Child's sweet smile echoed in the room from mother to father, from brother to brother. And they lacked nothing except the full belly and the wherewithal to fill it. While baby fed and family slept, the father went from boy to boy, collecting strips of clothing, ripping his own coat, to make do for his new son, and he thought the while on the long winter and how he might feed them all. May the day bless us, he prayed silently, and the nights protect us, and the Lord watch over us. "Amen," whispered his wife.
A harsh knocking broke the silence. The father went to the door and opened it to the weather. Standing there he saw two men, hooded against the wind, fur framing their faces.
"We come for the Luck Child," said one of them sternly, peering into the cradle. "Is this him?"
The father said it was indeed so that in those parts they counted such a child as lucky, although they had nothing in the way of fortune for him. One of the men dipped into his cloak and produced a purse. From it he took a thick gold piece and held it up for them to see. The last flickers of the fire caught the gold and it sparkled. Husband and wife had never seen gold and were startled by it. Neither spoke. The man shook his purse, which jingled. "My master here, a good man, brings seven pieces like this," he declared, the gold jingling in evidence. "He seeks a child to patron and to care for." At this, the second man stepped forward, face in shadows, and nodded. "As if he were my own son," he said quietly. The first stranger explained their mission. They were to swap seven gold pieces for the Luck Child. He and his master stood, impatient, while husband looked to his wife and then both look sadly to the floor. "It's a bargain, I take it?" asked the first man. "Yes or no?" cajoled his master.
Finally the mother spoke in a small voice. "He's my little boy," she said, not looking at the strangers and their bags of gold, but pleadingly at her husband. The first man dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "You have six others, Mother," he said curtly, "and now they'll be plump as pigs." The mother wept. The children woke. Her baby began to cry. "He's my little lover," shw whispered, and held the tiny bundle to her. The first man sighed. "Well, of course," he said in a sour voice, "you must have more gold to comfort yourself," and dug into his pockets for a second purse. "Tis not more gold my missus wants," said her husband, standing by her and placing a protective hand on her shoulder. "You can't put gold to your breast. You can't hear its heart beat."
At this, the strangers dropped their guise of generosity. The evil Chancellor, for it was he, addressed the father in his real voice, a poisonous hiss. "Please yourselves," he hissed. "You've had your chance." And so saying, he turned to his master, the cruel King. "I'll send in men on the morrow," he told him, "and turn the snow bloody."
And the father heard these terrible words and had fear for his family, who one by one had waked and clung to him and to each other, threatened by the two hooded strangers. He looked at his wife, hugging the precious baby. They could say nothing, but their hearts spoke. What could they do but sacrifice the one for the sake of the others? What could they hope but that these tall men with their rich furs and bags of gold would take thier child and care for him, hoarding his luck? The father bent down to his wife, and gently unclasped her hands from the baby, kissed his tiny forehead, and gave him to the Chancellor. "We'll hand over our little boy to your safekeeping," he said sadly. The Chancellor snatched the baby away, tossed the purse into the empty cradle, and headed for the door. "Look after him, eh?" cried the father. "Because he's a little precious, you see. The seventh son of the seventh son." His voice cracked with emotion. "He's a Luck Child." The two men, hurrying out, left no words of compfort behind them. The door, flung open in their wake, chilled the room.
And that was that. Husband looked at wife, who looked at, two, three, four, five, six. No one spoke for a long time. In the silence the cradle swung, jingling the gold pieces. Had it been filled to the brim with gold, it could not have comforted them.
Outside, the two men rode on through the bitter cold while the snow pinched and punched and slapped at their faces. On they went, their grim hearts set, until they came to where back cliffs traced the edge of the kingdom, a dreadful drop from land to sea. They left their horses and hastened to the brink, the Chancellor carrying the Luck Child in his arms. And after looking down to watch the waves crash against the rocks below, the Chancellor turned to the King, shouting to be heard. "The fall will finish him, or the icy waves!" Oblivious to this terrible scheme, the Luck Child smiled, a charming smile that touched even the King's heart. "That's a nice smile," he said in a troubled voice. "I'd smile too," returned the Chancellor, reminding him of the prophecy, "given you kingdom, given your gold, given all that is rightfully yours." "Would you?" the King asked sharply. The Chancellor caught his suspicion and was at pains to explain. "I wouldn't, sire," he insisted, scrape and grovel. "I mean he would! I speak of him!"
The King nodded, eyes narrowing. "I can't look," he said, pointing to the drop. "How far down is it?" The Chancellor bent over the edge to estimate. As he did so, the King paced a boot on his back and kicked him over the brink, sending him flying into space, dropping, dropping like a stone, the baby with him, hurling into the black jaws, the infants shawl unwinding as they fell, a white flag unfurling in the darkness. "That's right," cried the King. "You go too, sir!" No one shall share my crown!" And he shook his fists at the air in triumph, his own roar merging with the Chancellor's as he crashed to the ground, the rocks and wave rushing over him.
And the cruel King turned and went back to his horse, his heart pounding at the deed, the baby done for, the prophecy denied. But had the King looked, had the King watched, the sneer would have left his lips. For the baby fell, oh yes, he plummeted down, dropping into the dark, the sea roaring below, the black rocks beckoning-oh yes, he plunged downward. But remember: this was a Luck Child. The shawl caught on a jutting rock and wound round, pulling the baby up short before dropping him gently down on the shore. Sand, soft, safe. The evil chancellor fared less well. The sea had him. As for the cold King, the days went by, and from time to time he thought of the Luck Child, and felt a little bad, a tiny bad, a fleeting bad ... but soon he quite forgot what he'd done out of fear of a prophecy. Besides, it wasn't long before he had a baby of his own. A little girl. She sought out the one soft part of his heart and touched it. How he loved his little darling! And the years passed, ten, twelve, fifteen, sixteen; the daughter turned out a beauty, a lovely. A princess talked of. Longed for. And the offers! Hundreds. But the King was vexed. He didn't want her married. He wasn't going to lose her in a hurry, or his money, or his jewels, or his castles, or his crowns, or the things he wouldn't even mention in case anyone stole them. Hands off! is what the King thought. Hands off all my lovelies! Greed grew in him like a canker until he could enjoy nothing, until he would not count his gold for fear of rubbing it away with his fingers. Instead, he traveled his kingdom, inspecting harvests, collecting taxes, worrying each farthing into the Red Coffers. And always the King wanted more.
So it was one day he came to a mill busy with the reckoning of the crop. All morning the men had come, trundling in the carts loaded with their year's efforts, knowing that every sack they might keep, the King would take two. Inside, the Miller ground the grain while his son wrote the figures in a ledger. And though much was given away, enough was kept, for the sun and the rain had come that year in plenty and the harvest was good. So spirits were high, and the Miller's wife went among the men with a cup of cider and a heel of bread, and who didn't sing clapped, and who didn't clap laughed, and all was merry.
Then trumpets sounded as the King approached, and the mill fell silent. In he swept, glaring at the gathered sacks, noting the big pile that was his and begrudging the small pile that was not. All bowed and cowered at his entranced, save for the Miller's son, a handsome youth with golden hair, who remained at his seat as the King strode toward him.
"I am in you region inspecting harvests," announced the King. "How goes it?" The Miller's son smiled. "Fair, sire," he said pleasantly, and handed over the ledger. The King checked each entry with a sour eye, his finger running down the list. "Am I cheated?" he demanded suspiciously. "I will not be cheated." The boy shook his head. "No, sire," he told the King, and then continued in a bold voice, for he was a brave fellow: "I have counted each tithe and entered it. Your people sweat for each ear of wheat, each cob of corn." The Miller chimed in anxiously. "And Your Majesty also needs his tithes, of course." "Of course!" agreed his wife, thier eyes darting to the King to see if it appeased him. The King glowered at them. "That's right," he said threatenly. But the Miller's son was undaughted. "That's right," he echoed, smiling the while. "Otherwise we'd all be Lords and no King, and then what?" All around the mill, the peasants, still kneeling, shrank back at this daring and waited for the King's response.
The King walked over to the Miller. A shadow crept across his brain, nagging, nagging. "How come the boy is fair?" he asked suspiciously, "when you two are dark?" the Miller coughed nervously, glancing at his wife. Before he had time to reply, his son answered for him. "I'm a foundling, sire," he said easily. The shadow over the King deepened. He stared at the boy, his eyes fixed on the smile, wondering why he felt he'd seen that smile a thousand times before, in his dreams, in his waking thoughts. "Found where?" he demanded. "Found where?" The Miller placed a protective arm around his son. "By the black cliffs," he mumbled, his voice faltering. "Seventeen years since. Washed up without a scrap on his little body." The King's heart began to race. "You're a lucky one then," he said. Father and mother nodded, relieved. "That's what they call him!" said the Miller enthusiastically. "Lucky!"
Now the King knew the worst, knew where the shadow had come from, knew why the smile had haunted him. Bile curdled his mouth, and he gasped, hardly able to catch his breath for his thumping heart. For he knew the boy must be the one born to claim his throne. The Luck Child! Kill him! thumped his heart. Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!
Biting his lip, the King stared at Lucky. "A boy like you would do well at court." he said. Lucky's face fell. "I am needed here, sire." "Then you'll be missed," snorted the King, turning to the parents. "I'll take the boy." With that and brooking no disageement, he took pen and paper and began to write. "Take this to the Queen," he instructed Lucky. "It's a royal Warrent. She'll welcome you into our care." After sealing the paper, he handed it to Lucky and left, as he had left onece before, stealing a child from its parents. His page stepped forward. "Hurrah for the King!" he cried, a sharp look requiring agreement. "Hurrah for the King!" the peasants chorused. Hurrah for the King!"
So that night the Luck Child, after seventeen years of peace and happiness, oblivious to the King's foul designs, oblivious to all save the sorrow in his heart, the sad farewells to his mother and father, the past behind him, the adventure ahead. He clutched the Royal Warrant and pushed on. But there was many a mile between mill and palace. Many a forest. And Lucky had no horse or map. The night settled on his head like a huge cloth, and he was soon very lost. He went round in circles, hungry and tired, missing the harvest dance and the cider and the pretty village girls. Head fuddled, he plunged once more into the trees. But a man on foot could not fathom this place. Folk went in, but few came out. And foul things lived there. Owls hooted, branches rustled, the wind moaned, things slid and slithered underfoot. Lucky shivered, pressing on, full of courage. Until suddenly, without warning, the ground gave way beneath him and before he knew it he was falling for the second time in his life...down and down and down...
Lucky was in a hole the sucked him up, pulling him into it stomach. He dropped for what seemed like minutes and crashed, smashed, and dashed on the bottom. Dazed and bewhildered. Lucky opened his eyes to a strange sight. He was in a cave, an inch from a bubbling cauldron, and all around him as he peered into the dim light, he saw treasures and trophies piled on the ground. A voice from nowhere made him jump in surprise. "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear," it said. Lucky turned, searching for the speaker, but saw nothing. "Oh dear, oh dear," the voice repeated, and Lucky looked down and saw the smallest man he had ever set eyes on, a tiny, bearded, shifty chap, with darting eyes and a little skipping shuffle. "Oh dear oh dear," he continued regretfully. "You've fallen among thieves. This is a Robbers' cave. A terrible place."
Lucky explained he was on Royal business, and showed the Little Man his letter fromt he King. The Little Man shook his head and looked anxiously about him. "I see," he muttered. "Oh dear. Are you hungry?" Lucky looked about him, searching for an exit, but there didn't seem to be one, save the endless hole from whence he had come. He turned to the Little Man too late to catch him add a dash of white powder to the bowl of steaming stew he had dished out. "It's goulash," announced the Little Man, handing him the bowl, producing an old bent spoon, which he huffed and polished on his filthy apron. The stew smelled delicious, piping hot. "Thanks," said Lucky, accepting it with relish. "I'm supposed to be Lucky. That's my name...Lucky. But I don't seem very-" And that was as far as he got, for a single spoonful of the Little Man's goulash sent him reeling to the floor in a stupor, spoon and bowl scattering with a clatter.
"That's it!" the Little Man shrieked, hovering over Lucky's drugged body. "I'm the cook, also the poisoner, also the nastiest!" And with that he set about searching the boy for booty. But he was disappointed. Lucky had nothing, not a sausage-only his Royal Warrant, poking from his pocket. With a tut and a cluck and an irritated hiss, the Little Man snatched up the letter and broke the seal with his knife. "A letter from the King, eh?" he muttered. "Well, this will never reach the palace. Oh no-your luck's run out. Oh dear me, yes." So muttering, he sat on a rock and began to read.
The Little Man could not believe his eyes. What a terrible letter! "This is terrible!" he announced. And this is what the letter said. "Wife," it began, "when you read this letter order the bearer of it, a youth named Lucky, to be chopped into a thousand pieces. Do this without delay. King." The Little Man was outraged. "This is disgusting!" he declared, and regarded Lucky with pity. "Poor fellow," he said, all heart and sympathy. "We'll soon see about this!"
Now he was also a forger, this Little Man. Full of fair play, he sat down to write a new letter. Oh yes, he sat with his wax and his quill and a ready will and practiced the King's sly script until even the cold Monarch himself could have seen no difference. And then he began to write....
So it was the next morning, and the Luck Child woke refreshed and restored and-remarkably!-with the palace straight ahead of him. Very odd, he thought, but off he set without more ado, blassing his luck and brandishing his letter with the Royal Seal. He didn't see the Little Man watching from the woods, a benign smile on his little lips, a gleeful twinkle in his little eyes. Lucky blessed his luck and hurried on, hole, cave, and goulash fading from his mind as he viewed the finery before him. "I have a letter from His Majesty!" he cried, at the drawbridge, "A letter from His Majesty!" at the entrance to the court. In he went to find the Queen sitting stitching at the open window, and in a chair besides her, weaving at a loom-with eyes like licorice, smile like heaven, hair like silk, and skin like satin-was the princess, her daughter.
And a thing happened straight off: Lucky looked at the princess, the princess looked at Lucky, and that was it. Love! Oh yes, as the perplexed Queen greeted this unlikely youth and opened her husband's letter, Lucky quite forget where he or who he was or why he was there, and dropped into the deep for the third time, dropped into the licorice lakes. The Queen, meanwhile, read and reread the letter in her hand, her glasses falling from her nose. "Gracious!" she cried. "Well, gracious me!"
A week later, the King was on his journey home. A boo to him and a hiss. He gloated. He gloated on the gold, on the riches squeezed from the poor. Each tiny speck of something-a broach, an earring, a wedding ring, gifts from husbands to wives, mothers to daughters-plucked from the ears and fingers of his people, dropped into sacks to bloat his coffers. But it was not the wealth he was dragging home that drew the sneer across his evil face. No, it was relish. He was savoring his cruel deed, savoring the Luck Child in bits. He rode along contemplating the boy in a thousand pieces. How many pieces to a hand, he wondered? To an ear?
A mile from the palace he heard bells. A party of bells. A delirium of bells. He could not hear for bells. He called his men to investigate, but they could not hear him for bells. And at the edge of the palace, hundreds of people cheering, or so he guessed; he could not hear for the cheers for the bells ringing, but their happiness was clear in the sea of flags, waving, dancing....And then, looking up to the battlements, the King saw something and he couldn't believe it....
For framed on the Royal Balcony, waving down to the crowd, the Queen smiling behind them, stood the princess and Lucky, both in white and lace, hand in hand, strewn with confetti.
A noise came out of the King's mouth. A howl. A cry of rage, rage, rage. His heart thumped, his veins popped out of his neck, his face went puce, then purple, then thunderously dark. "Oh!" he howled. "Ohhhhh!" His daughter, his future, his precious treasure, standing there embracing the Luck Child for all to see. "How? How? How?" he howled. But no one listened.
"How?" he demanded of the Queen as he burst into the court. His wife hurried toward him, equally bewhildered. "You ordered it!" she cried. "On pain of death." the King thought his heart would shatter. "I ordered him to be chopped into a thousand pieces!" He read the letter the Queen thrust at him. There is was, in his own hand, the Luck Child must marry the Princess. "Marriage on pain of death," ordered this handwriting. "Do this without delay, King." The King's head sagged, the leter slipped from his grasp and floated to the floor. His head filled up with the words of the prophecy, repeating over and over like a spell. "The Luck Child will one day be King. The Luck Child will one day be King." He couldn't shut out the words from his mind. "The Luck Child will one day be King...."
The Princess saw her father and rushed in front of the balcony. "Father!" she cried, leaping into his arms. "We're so happy!" And following on, looking every inch the Prince, came her husband, the Luck Child. "Majesty," he began humbly, kneeling in front of the King. "Forgive me. I had thought you a cruel tyrant, a blight on the poor. But now you make this humble peasant your son and heir and the happiest husband there ever was." The cold King couldn't look at him. The solution. The only solution. A thin smile creased his mouth, his eyes glinted. "And the golden feather?" he asked innocently.
Lucky was confused. "Beg pardon?" "The Golden Feather from the Griffin," the King said impatiently. "Do you not have it?" The Princess looked at her mother in horror. "No, sire," said Lucky. "Then you must fetch it," the King told him, his smile thickening into a sneer. "Was it not understood my daughter could not marry without it?" "But that's impossible!" cried the Princess, clinging to her husband. "The Griffin is a monster. It eats people! It's terrible!" "She's right," said the Queen sadly. Oh yes, she's right, thought the King. I have him now. Now I have him. "Yes," he agreed aloud. "It won't be easy. But not every man is fit to marry my daughter. That is the condition. The Griffin's Golden Feather."
"Very well," said Lucky with a deep breath, and though the Princess wept, though the Queen sorrowed, though the King smirked, he strode boldly to the door. "Don't worry," he told them, gathering up his courage, "I'll come back." BUt the Princess wept and wept. "No one has ever come back," she wept. "We'll see," said her husband defiantly, and without more ado set off in search of the Golden Feather from the tail of the Griffin.
Off he marched, the Luck Child, his chin a determinded jut. To the Griffin, he told himself. To the Griffin. It became a direction when he had none, a distance when he knew none. "What do you seek?" folk asked him. "The Griffin." "How far do you travel?" "To the Griffin." And he paid no heed to the warnings, the weeping at his folly. No, he marched on. With each month his resolved strengthened. With each mile the land got poorer. Green gave way to dust. On! No lush, no life. The black deserts of the Griffin. On and on he trudged, until one day he came to a lake where no fish swam, and in the middle of the lake was an island and in the middle of the island was the shattered lair of the Griffin.
Lucky looked and was dazzled. For the island was pitted with jewels, the shore dusted with gold. It sparkled, cold as flint, on the black mirrors of water, and a fine mint rose around it and crept to the far bank where Lucky stood wondering how he might cross. Soon he could see nothing at all, the mist enveloping him. A curlew called and then Lucky heard a bell, a handbell chiming sorrowfully across the water, sounding nearer and nearer, bringing with it the dim shape of a boat, a small craft steered by a stooping figure.
"Hey, Ferryman!" called Lucky. "Will you take me across?" The boat slid into the shore and there before him was the oldest man Lucky had ever seen. His white hair and white beard engulfed him, leaving only the eyes, dark and haunted, and the mouth, pale and wan. "I go across, back and forth ceaselessly, with you or without you," said the Ferryman in a voice of funerals. And Lucky barely had time to step onto the boat before the old man did indeed push away from the bank and set off slowly into the mist.
"I seek the Griffin," Lucky told him, holding onto the sides of the narrow craft, the Ferryman poling sadly through the waveless water. The Ferryman simply nodded and said nothing. Lucky peered into the mist, the world silent save for the curlew calling and the steady rise and fall of the oar. The island loomed before them, the jewels shimmering. "Such jewels!" sighed Lucky. "Such riches." "No one brings them back," replied the Ferryman, his own voice shrouded in gloom, his head bowed wearily. "I shall," announced the boy, determined. "I shall come back." The Ferryman shook his white head, the eyes hollow. "Ah," he murmured. "If you do, perhaps you'll discover why I must continue this weary way, back and forth, without ending. For I am tired and sick to my soul." And so saying, the Ferryman reached the opposite bank and Lucky leapt off the boat, all youth and courage. "I'll remember," he promised, and turned to wave, but the craft had set off again, sliding into the mist, the Ferryman's bowed head slowly vanishing.
For each who came, the same tale: the Griffin, please, for love, for justice, for fame, for fortune...but always in the end for the Griffin's supper. The Ferryman turned and pushed down his oar away from the bank, not wanting to hear the boy's cries, the splintering bones, the suck-suck-suck of juices.
Lucky walked into the Griffin's ruined domain. The great beast ipped open the roof, smashing through the stone and timbers, turning what had once been a palace into a vast filthy nest, lined with muck and bones and things spat out. A dark, dark, damp stench overwhelmed Lucky as he wandered the hall, the stone flagstones bare save for a table large enough to seat a hundred men, but with only a single, massive chair set against it. Lucky shivered as the cold air whistled through the rafters, and he looked up at the black night and moon above his head. Evil hung over him like a foul breath, and for the first time in his brave life he knew what fear was.
A scampering noise startled him and he jumped round, dagger at the ready. "Oh dear, oh dear," said a familiar voice. Lucky couldn't believe it! Looking up at him was the ragtag and darting-eyed Little Man. Lucky was relieved and delighted and said so at once, embracing, the Little Man and wondering what on earth he was doing there. And the Little Man told him that the Griffin had smashed open the cave and carried him away. His cooking had saved him, he explained, and now he was a servant for the terrible monster. And then Lucky said he'd come for the Golden Feather. The Little Man's face fell. Impossible, he told Lucky, impossible. But Lucky had come too far to hear these words again. He'd made a solemn promise to his wife. By hook or crook, fair means or foul, he had to have the feather. The Little Man scatched his little ragged head and sent clouds of lice buzzing angrily about him. "Hide under the table," he told the boy. "And I'll do what I can." Lucky hugged him with glee and made for the table, crouched under it, then popped his head out. "I must also discover how the poor Ferryman can cease his endless crossing."
Before the Little Man could reply, a huge shadow threw the hall into darkness and high above them they heard a dreadful beating of wings. "Quick! Quick!" urged the Little Man, and Lucky dived back under the table. As the furious beating grew louder, the Little Man scampered to the kitchen, where an enormous pot of goulash simmered, and added the entire contents of his sleeping herbs, enough to send an army to sleep. Then, with a terrifying thump on the floor of the hall, causing dust and bones to jump and shudder, the Griffin arrived.
The beast that filled the banquet hall struck fear in folk's hearts and haunted their dreams. Misbehaving children were threatened with his name, the sight of him flying through the clouds set strong men screaming for safety. The Griffin was immense. HIs massive head, half-lion, half-dragon, sat on the body of a giant golden eagle. His claws could rip a tree from its roots, his wings could slap down a house. He was neither good nor bad, not knowing the meaning of the words. He was simply hungry, always hungry, and when he was hungry, his rage was horrible.
Lucky could only see the Griffin's talons. They had landed by him, crushing an abandoned skull into dust. He shrank into the shadows of the table and waited. The Griffin threw back his head, his huge nostrils heaving like bellows. "My sniff snuff snaff manwhiff," he complained snorting. The Little Man appeared, dragging the steaming pot of goulash. "Of course you can smell a man," he cried cheerily. "That's me!"
The Griffin shook his head, his wings restless. "No," he said dangerously. "Snuffle snort other sort." Lucky tried to make himself invisible while the Little Man fussed and soothed the Griffin, clucking and cooing and stirring the pot. At the sight of the food, the Griffin's beak unclamped and a cavern of a mouth apeared, a mouth big enough to eat a horse. "My could eat a horse," said the Griffin, and with that he dipped his beak into the goulash and within seconds the cauldren was licked clean, goulash and sleeping herbs sucked into the bottomless stomach.
The Little Man watched carefully, but the potion seemed to have had no effect on the monster. He belched, a gust of goulash smothering his cook, and then demanded a sscatch, as was his custom. "Scitch, itch, scrutch, scatch!" de demanded, and the Little Man clambered up onto his back to oblige. The Griffin loved to be scratched. He twisted and turned and arched and purred while the Little Man ran his nails through the feathers. "Yum, mmmm, eummm, ohyum," he sighed, delirious. The Little Man preened away, working his way up toward the single Golden Feather on his back. He tugged at it.
"Eeeeeeeech!" roared the Griffin and reared up, his wings suddenly flapping with a horrible violence. The Little Man clung on for dear life. "I know!" he cried desperately. "Clumsy, I'm clumsy, I scratched too hard." "Yowch," sulked the Griffin. But he would not let the Little Man stop. "No!" he ordered. "Itch scratch scritch." And so the Little Man did, obediently working at the feathers until he felt the monster relax. Once again he took the Golden Feather in his hand and pulled on it. "Yeowch!" cried the Griffin, and before he could avoid it the Little Man found his face sandwiched within the Griffin's beak, a gulp away from joining the goulash. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he moaned, his head a fragile as an egg. "Oh dear, oh dear."
"My not like things pulled," said the Griffin. The Little Man tried to nod his head but couldn't. "No, that's right," he agreed. "You're a sensitive monster." The Griffin was briefly pacified. "Yes," he said, then thought on it. "Not monster," he corrected. "Beastie" tried the Little Man. The Griffin shook his beak in disgust, opening his wings to crush the Little Man against the table with a single claw. In the commotion, the Little Man managed to grasp and hang on to the Golden Feather, so that as the Griffin reared up it came away in his hand. He dropped it as he lay prostrate on the table, the Griffin's claw pinning him caually, talons three inches into the wood. In a flash, Lucky shot out an arm, gathered up the feather, and retreated back under the table. "My bird!" insisted the Griffin, oblivious to all this. "My misunderstood bird. My not beastie!"
The Little Man could hardly breath. "Of course you are," he wheezed. "A bird. A very nice bird. I should go. I should go back to where I came from. To that dark, horrid cave. Serve me right." "No!" roared the Griffin, prodding him. "Don't try and stop me," he gasped. "I'll tell that old Ferryman to row me across. Yes, he's outside now, I expect, waiting for a passenger." He gasped again. "I'll go. Poor fellow, why's he always there? Why can't he leave?" The Griffin threw back his head dismissively. "Is curseddeworst and staydesame less someone take pole then someone curseddesameways him, so on so on so on," he clucked. "Simple."
Underneath the table, Lucky, clutching the Golden Feather, listened hard to this, but understood nothing. "So if someone took the pole from him," asked the Little Man, more familiar with the Griffin's curious expressions, "they'd have to row and he'd be free? So simple. I should go and tell the poor fellow. I should take over. Really. I shouls go now and take over." As he said this, wriggling to escape the Griffin's suffocating claw, the misunderstood bird relaxed his grip while a massive yawn overcame him. "No!" he exclaimed, yawning. His claw slipped away from the table, and his wings stretched in tiredness. "Go to sleep now," said the Little Man, scampering free. "Busy day ahead. Eating people and wreaking havoc."
The Griffin laughed and yawned all at once, the sleeping draught muddling his thoughts. "Ya zzzzz now then," he said wearily. The Little Man stroked the Griffin beak as it slumped on the table, eyelids drooping. "That's it," he said. "Snoozie woozie." And in a second the lids dropped shut and the Griffin was asleep, his head rolling over and crushing the Little Man again, his nostrils pulling in and out peacefully.
A the first sound of the Griffin's steady snore, Lucky crept out from under the table, brandishing the Golden Feather, beaming with delight. The Little Man whispered to him to be very very quiet, and then, as Lucky stole forward to help disintangle him from the snoozing Griffin, as he shook his little head, patted the Griffin affectionately, and told Lucky to go, Godspeed, take care, stay lucky. And so he did, leaving the huge Griffin and the Little Man, unlikely companions in the fading evening.
Off the Luck Child scurried, clutching the Golden Feather, scooping up jewels, scooping up gold; straight home he wanted to go, straight home to happiness. He waited impatiently at the bank for the sorrowful bell of the Ferryman. As he poled slowly forward through the mist, the old man could hardly credit what he saw, but there he was, the smiling youth, leaping onto the boat as it turned and headed to the opposite shore. "I dare not think it possible you have the answer," he asked, he white head shaking. "But then you did come back. No one has ever come back." "Well, I have come back," said Lucky triumphantly, "and I do have the answer." And this is what he told him. "The next passenger you have, hand him your oar. Then your luck will be his, his freedom yours." The Ferryman eyes misted over. "By handing him the oar?" Lucky added, beaming. "That's it," he confirmed. "Simple."
The old Ferryman was moved to tears. "So simple," he added, remembering a thousand crossings, a thousand thousand crossings, an age of crossings. "So simple," he said, and the tears ran from him. And for the first time in years, centuries, hope filled the Ferryman. Because-for all the tears-a smaile was forming in his mind, a tiny smile growing, getting ready to be born.
The King was in his Counting House, smelling his money, when a trumpet sounded a fanfare. A great cheer went up on the ramparts and battlements. The King was paralyzed. The cheering grew louder, the bells started up again, and as he forced himself to the window he knew what he would see below. His page burst into the room. "He's come back!" he cried. The cold King's heart thumped and thumped. In rushed the Queen, her face alight. "He's come back!" His head throbbed. In came the Princess, and before she could speak, her husband, the Luck Child, appeared brandishing his trophy. "I've come back!" he cried. "And I have the Golden Feather!" He had done as bidden and the King could do nothing but agree and give his blessing. "You have my blessing," he said, though it cost him dear in his bitter heart. Then Lucky, his smile torturing the King, pulled open a chest loaded with treasure from the Griffin's island. The King whimpered, his eyes popping, while the boy, his arm embracing his darling wife, explained his adventure. "I took a ferry across a lake to where the Griffin lives. On the other shore, gold lives where pebbles should, emeralds where sand. And where the sea breaks, diamonds fall."
The treasure burned into the King's eyes, the want welling in him until he was giddy. "Lucky," he mumbled, swallowing, swaying, skin turning hot and cold. "So lucky." But even as he spoke, the poison swilling his eyes, souring his mouth, the King vowed to go himself to the black lake. Greed will be my guide, he told himself; gold my map. That very night he slipped away alone, leaving his daughter and the Luck Child to their joy, and set off in search of the magic shore across the lake. And, at length, he found the lake and took a ride with an old white-haired Ferryman who seemed to row ceaselessly back and forth, tolling a sad bell while the curlew called in the mist. And he wanted the boat to go faster, faster, faster, and the Ferryman offered him the fatal oar, telling him there was, indeed, a way....
So if you come one day to a black lake where the curlew calls and there is an island in the mist and a ferry goes back and forth, back and forth, rowed by an old man, turn around: Griffin lives there, you may never get off the boat. For the Ferryman was once a wicked King who ignored a prophecy. And nature, my dears, is a wise woman who pays us back, tit for tat.


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