Flukes, Fauns & Griffins
"This place is pretty impressive," Xena said to the bard as they strolled along the fenced area, lined on both sides by cages and enclosures. They were just outside the walls of the city of Athens, where they were spending a well-deserved vacation from the road.
"I never knew these still existed..." The warrior was looking at a large form perched on a rock in a huge cage. With the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, shining like gold in the late afternoon sun, the griffin was a majestic and formidable creature indeed.
"He's beautiful. I have never done them credit in my stories," the bard mused.
"But what I don't understand is, why do they have to keep them in cages?"
"Yeah, isn't it kind of sad? Griffins used to roam the country in large prides, and now the only way we get to see one is here, behind bars. Poor thing."
"Poor thing? If he was out here instead of in there, it would probably be trying to make dinner of us!"
"Good point," Gabrielle said dryly. "But I still feel kind of sorry for him. He looks unhappy in there. Maybe they should just have let him be."
"That's what I'm saying," the warrior said.
"Only if they had, he would probably have been killed by now... and his kind with him. He's supposed to be the last."
"Makes the world a safer place," said Xena, her usual, practical self.
"And a poorer one, too, Xena."
They watched the creature in silence for a while as he sat there preening his feathers. From time to time he raised his head and looked at them out of a bright gray eye that held an unsettling amount of intelligence.
"Yeah well.... Let's go on before I get depressed."
"Look at these! What are they? Tell me, Gabrielle," the warrior said when they saw a small band of strange, horned little creatures skipping and playing on a grassy hill. "Are they Satyrs?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "They're fauns. Smaller, gentler cousins. They're really playful little fellows. Watch them."
The fauns looked like a curious cross between a goat and a man. They walked upright, with human torsos and bearded human faces, although their shaggy heads sported small horns. Their hind section, however, was that of a goat, fur-covered legs ending in little cloven hooves. One had a little pan flute that he was playing, though no sound could be heard. All the others were dancing to the unheard tune, a merry mix dance, leaps and capers. They looked utterly content and carefree.
Xena raised a questioning eyebrow to the bard.
"They're the only ones who can hear their music. Some philosopher once thought the notes were too high for a human's ears, that's why we couldn't hear anything."
"Of course," the bard agreed. "Their music is just plain, simple magic, that's all. I always thought the guy was crazy. I guess he was just trying to sound important. Every child knows what strange and wonderful things can be done with magic. He'll probably be trying to tell us that the earth isn't flat, next."
The warrior nodded her agreement, while her eyes rested on the little dancers.
"They look happy. How come being fenced in doesn't seem to bother them?"
"Well, they may look human, but they're actually pretty dumb. They don't know much beyond merrymaking and chasing nymphs whenever they see them."
After watching them for a while, it was evident to Xena that the bard was right. The fauns really were a bit air-headed. "You know, they're really rather boring. I don't think I can stand this much bliss. Let's move."
Without waiting for the bard, she strode in the direction of a large body of water she had become aware of a while ago.
"What in Tartarus...? There are horses in the water here, Gabrielle!" Xena was staring dumbfounded at the pool of clear water, where indeed it looked like a herd of horses was frolicking in the water, as the bard came panting up to her, looking faintly indignant.
"Look closer, Xena, they're not horses."
At that moment, one of them leaped out of the water, and the warrior could see that Gabrielle was right. The creature had the foreparts of a horse, but the rear body and fluke of a dolphin.
"I can never get their name straight," Gabrielle admitted ruefully. "It's a real tongue-twister: Ich- ickti- whatever. They're the mounts of the nereids, nymphs that live in the sea and look like the mermaids.
"I never knew such creatures existed," the warrior said, shaking her head.
"Yeah, it's a fascinating world we live in, isn't it?" The bard smiled dreamily.
"Yeah, whatever," Xena agreed, and walked on, the bard following behind, grumbling softly to herself at her best friend's lack of appreciation.
A sound like a human voice caught Gabrielle's attention, and she turned her head.
"Xena, look! Over there, it's Atis! You know, the wall paintings we once saw in Aphrodite's temple, about the King of the Apes?" She hurried to catch up with Xena, who, while no doubt impressed by what they had seen, was getting impatient to be back at the inn with a good meal.
Xena looked where the bard pointed, and groaned loudly. "Zeus, I hope he hasn't seen us. I've had enough of primates in pink nightgowns to last me a lifetime!" They hurried on until they were out of sight of the Ape Man, who seemed to be snoozing at the moment.
"Now this is atrocious!" Xena shouted when she looked at the herd of creatures behind an especially high fence. "They can't keep these prisoner here, these are centaurs!"
"Strange centaurs, though," Gabrielle put in. "I have never seen them with that kind of coat. Though I have to say the black and white stripes look neat."
"Strange or not, Gabrielle, they're intelligent. We can't allow them to be locked in here. They might as well put us in cages."
"I'd like to see them try," said the bard, smiling. "You're right, though. But can we be sure they're intelligent? I've never seen this kind before. Maybe they're like the fauns and only look like they've got a human mind."
"We should find out."
"We should." Gabrielle stepped up to the fence and called softly. "Hey there... Can you hear me?"
"Of course we can hear you, silly," one of the black-and-white centaurs said irately. "It's about time somebody noticed us. Can you help us out of here? They're feeding us hay, for Zeus' sake!"
"Centaurs don't eat hay..." Xena murmured. "That does it, Gabrielle, I'm getting them out right now!"
"Okay, kids, now we've seen the eagles, the mountain goats, the dolphins, and the gorillas. What else should we- Sina! What on earth are you doing in the zebra enclosure? Get out of there this instant!"
Megan O'Leary, in charge of the field trip to the zoo, covered her eyes with one hand and shook her head slowly. Was there no end to trouble with this kid?
Author's note: And yes, I do know the name of the horse-dolphin-creature. It's "ichthyocentaur". But that doesn't mean I know how to say it... ;-)