To produce my foot, my each feather:

Now I

hold Creation in my foot.

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –

I kill where I please because it is all mine.

There is no sophistry in my body:

My manners are tearing off heads –

The allotment of death.

Ted Hughes, ‘Hawk Roosting’

Kraa…

Ben looked down through the twigs enclosing him at the enormous griffin, and didn’t know whether he felt fear or amazement more strongly. Perhaps you always felt like that when you saw a king. And Kraa was a king, there was no doubt about it. The terrible beak, the pitiless eyes, the huge tawny lion’s body merging with dull brown plumage at the neck… the sight of Kraa filled the heart with horror, with the wish to escape his hungry gaze. Yet at the same time Ben couldn’t see enough of the glorious griffin – for all the cruelty of his aura by comparison with the kindness that you sensed in Shrii and Firedrake. Kraa was the embodiment of everything in the world that hunted and killed. He was hunger and fury, the intoxication of the attack and of his own frenzied strength.

Was the griffin larger than Firedrake? No, they were probably about the same size. When the griffins had carried them out into the open in the basketwork cages, Ben had felt terribly small and vulnerable. Since then he had been able to imagine what Twigleg felt like most of the time a good deal better. The eagle claws of the griffins, seen at close quarters, were as unsettling a sight as their lions’ paws, and the snake’s tail seemed to have a life of its own. Kraa’s tail looked like a Persian horned viper, and caught a bird that was careless enough to fly past his throne as the griffin was making himself comfortable on it. And in the tawny feathers at his throat, three shone as if they were made of pure gold. Those must be the sun-feathers that they had come to find! So close, and yet to Ben they seemed even further out of reach than on the day when he had first heard of them in MÍMAMEIÐR.

It was the same for Barnabas.

He looked down at Kraa, and felt as ridiculous as a mouse who had gone up to a lion to ask for a strand of his mane. And the worst of it was that he had taken his son into the lion’s den with him.

Kraa preened his wings with his beak, and laid the snake-tail around his paws and claws. Then he looked up at the baskets where his prisoners were waiting for sentence to be passed on them. He inspected them all as fleetingly as a king who had already sent thousands to their death. But then his amber gaze fixed on the basket containing Shrii.

The young griffin could hardly move in his prison. His green plumage made it look as if the jungle was held captive in the basket with him.

A menacing growl came from Kraa’s curved beak.

‘In all my centuries of experience…’ Kraa’s voice was not loud. It was a rough, hoarse croak, but Ben thought he could feel it right to the marrow of his bones. ‘In all the battles I have fought…’ and the griffin reared up so that he could show the scars on his breast, ‘… I have never, never…’ here the croak became a shrill scream, ‘… never seen such treachery!’

He spread his wings, like a king throwing back his cloak in anger. Except that Kraa’s wings were a good deal more impressive. He held them outstretched, as if to remind everyone present of his strength and his size – and of how fast he could swoop down and bring death to every one of them with his beak and claws.

‘My own sister’s son!’ Kraa snapped at the air as if striking Shrii with his beak. ‘Did you really think you could steal this island from me in my lifetime? You and the fools who followed you. They will all pay dearly for it!’

Muted wailing rose from the cages containing Shrii’s monkeys, and Ben let his eyes wander over the crowd around Kraa’s throne. He saw many indignant faces, and fingers pointing accusingly at Shrii, but also monkeys looking up at the young griffin with eyes full of sadness. Maybe Shrii had more supporters than Kraa liked.

‘Hothbrodd,’ Barnabas whispered to the troll. ‘Maybe you ought to have another word with the twigs holding this basket together. I admit I still had some slight hope of being able to negotiate with this griffin. But he’s never going to believe that we’re not in league with Shrii, and I’m afraid he won’t forgive us for that!’

Kraa looked up at them as if he had heard what Barnabas said.

‘And what kind of human beings are these that you’ve been mingling with?’ he called up to Shrii. ‘Are they as scatter-brained as the boy with the brownie-maki? My spies tell me that he’s visited many islands and has often cheated our friends the poachers of their prey. I’m sure they’ll pay well for him. And your furry friend will fetch a good price too!’ Kraa called up to Winston. ‘So far as I can see he’s much the same as a rat, but I hear that makis sell in human markets for more than the largest parrots!’

Winston put a protective arm around Berulu, but Kraa was already turning to the cage with Barnabas, Ben and Hothbrodd in it.

‘No, these three aren’t here to rescue monkeys and parrot,’ he growled. ‘You were going to send them to me to buy my trust with humans’ gold! Shrii the kind-hearted! Shrii the monkeys’ friend! Lies, all lies! You’re as hungry for blood and gold as I am! This trio were to have helped you to steal my treasures, that was the plan!’

Shrii protested, but one of the other griffins silenced him by pecking at the basketwork cage containing the monkeys who followed him.

‘Nakal,’ Kraa commanded the proboscis monkey, ‘show my loyal servants what Shrii’s spies were going to use to win the favour of Kraa the Great!’

Reaching under his cloak of feathers, Nakal held up the bangle that Bagdagül had given Barnabas.

There was excited whispering among the assembled monkeys, and the snake that was Kraa’s tail writhed and bared its venom fangs.

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