Week 53? But there are only 52 weeks in a year. Yes, but the calendar doesn’t always cooperate with us. We had 52.5 weeks in 2020. So, since the prompts were posted in 2020 this is week 53.
The prompt was What happens when the gryphon’s torch goes out? And what happens when you’re the one to relight it?
At first I thought ‘why does a gryphon need a torch?’ Then it dawned on me, who said the gryphon was a living being.
I swept a gaze around the room. Looked like another typical night at the Blue Gryphon: a couple of regulars working their way into a drunken stupor and a few weary travelers getting a meal before seeking beds for the nights.
I’d come here last fall looking to escape the farm life. There I was just some bastard son of a lordling and a local wench that had been abandoned on a church step, a waif that a local farmer had taken in in hopes of getting some free labor. Here I was a dustboy, a runner, whatever Dunstan needed. My life wasn’t any easier but at least here I was paid. Sometimes I even got extra coin from the customers for doing favors.
I’d been drawn in by the torch. Not just any old torch, a giant one that sat above the upper floor. You could see the light for nearly an hour’s walk, even during the day. I figured that anyone who could afford to have a light that big, must have room and need for a pair of strong hands and back. I was right; the light drew in people from all over the town and travelers from far and wide.
I did wonder why, as busy as the Gryphon was, there was only myself and a beer wench. But when I asked all Dunstan would say is that the last lad had left a few months before I showed up. He didn’t take his stuff, I know ‘cause I had them now, and no one talked ‘bout finding a body, so no one knew how or why he left.
One of the regulars came in brushing off dust and hollered across the room. “Dunstan, ye need ta check yer light. I wasna sure if ye were open.”
I saw Dunstan pause in mid wipe of the counter and glare at the man. “Shut yer gob, ya fool. Tha light’s good for months.”
“On me oath, tha light out. Maybe ya didn’t giv’ it enough fuel last time.”
Dunstan turned a little pale and looked in my direction. He stared at me for a moment, his expression half thoughtful, half resigned. He glanced briefly at the bar wench then looked back at me and sighed. “Calum.”
I put my broom down and walked over to the bar. “Yes Dunstan?”
“I need you to check on the light, boy. There’s a bucket of oil by the stairs, take it up.”
I shrugged and headed for the kitchen and the stairs. “Yes Dunstan.” As I passed through the kitchen I snatched a slab of roast and some bread. Long as I was out of sight, I may as well grab a meal.
I walked up the stairs, past the floor where the guests slept, up towards the roof where the light was, balancing the bucket and bread in one hand and the roast in the other. The upper stairs were dark and narrow. Dunstan didn’t waste any coin on keep these stairs lit. The higher I went the darker the stairs got. The light from the lower floor cast only a faint glow, making for deep shadows. I slowed down and half felt my way up the last few steps and found the door more with my nose than my eyes.
I sat the oil and bread down and fumbled for the latch to open the door. After a moment I got the door to unlatch and started pushing it up.
The hinges gave a loud groan as the door slowly swung open. A dim light shone in the middle of the room. I looked around and noticed that the walls seemed to shine. Before I could look farther I heard a discordant shriek and saw something moving. Without thinking I threw the roast at it and tried to back out. The door would not move to close but I did see that whatever made the noise had stopped.
Standing a few feet away, voraciously tearing into my lunch was a glowing bird.
Heart pounding, I looked around the room. The walls weren’t glowing; they were covered in reflective metal. Next to the wall I saw small piles of clothes: several piles. I looked at the bird. It was almost done with the roast. My brain turned to mush as I tried to back out. Dunstan had intended for me to be the creature’s next meal.
I bumped into the door frame as the fire bird finished the meat and turned to eye me. In panic I reached around for something, anything, to throw, and found the bread. While it wasn’t meat, the creature tore into the bread. It was starving and willing to eat anything. I noticed that the glow had brightened a little as it ate.
A rational part of my brain looked around again. There were no windows and only one door. The light was reflected up to the ceiling where more bright metal reflected it out through narrow slates. There was only one way in or out for either of us.
I could flee while it was bolting down the bread. But Dunstan would just find someone else to trick into coming up here. I could leave the door open so it could escape too. But that would risk the bird going to the kitchen where the cook could be harmed.
I finally found the door and slowly backed out. “Stay here. I’ll go get more food.”
The bird looked up at me and slowly spread its wings. I noticed the light getting brighter as I slowly pulled the door closed.
I quickly made my way back to the kitchen and scavenged up as much meat, cheese and bread as I could carry then made my way back up the stairs. I found the bird back in the middle of the room, crouching in a pile of ash.
I set the food down in front of it and back away. It took a few hops forward and started gobbling up the food. Every once in a while it paused to look at me.
I looked around again, taking in the piles of debris. The poor creature had been here for a while, eating only every few months. This was the source of the Blue Gryphon’s light. A magical creature somehow captured and caged here, and feed only every few month. I sat down and looked at the creature. The glow from her, I decided it was a girl, wasn’t too bad, it was the metal that made it look so bright.
I sat there, huddled next to the door, trying to stay as still as possible until I guessed it to be the dead of night. Hoping I was right, I crept back down the stairs, leaving the door to the cell open so she could leave, if she wanted to.
The kitchen was dark with only the night fire offering any light. I knew I’d have to pass Dunstan’s room to reach my room, and belongings, so I turned to the rear door and ran out across the yard.
I paused at the edge of the yard and looked up and down the dark street. One way led to the workers gate, and the farm I’d grown up on. The other way led to the main gate, the road to other towns far away.
While I pondered which way to turn, a light passed over my head. The fire bird had made her decision. Something fell to the ground and landed next to my feet. I reached down and picked up a golden feather. I looked up and watched her fly off over the dark rooftops, towards a future of devoid of cages. I closed my fist around the softly glowing feather and turned towards my own future.
2020 is over and the last of the prompts has been done. While I have fun doing these, my job as a writer (even a rank amateur like me) is to entertain. I hope I succeeded.
I’m going to go through and add a new tag for Odd Prompts. Go back through them and let me know what worked, what needs work, or what didn’t work.