Griffons are regal beasts revered as symbols of freedom and strength in many cultures. They are physically striking, with the hindquarters of a lion and the head, wings, and forelimbs of a great bird of prey—typically an eagle, but some instead bear the features of a hawk, falcon, or even osprey or vulture. In rare cases, the griffon’s hindquarters may resemble those of a different great cat, such as a leopard or tiger. The variations seem to conform to the environment in which the griffon lives—for instance, the griffons of north have the hindquarters of a lynx and the upper body of a snowy owl—though this is not always the case. Some griffons lack wings altogether.
These wingless griffons, known as alces, result from a rare mutation. Among a clutch of other griffons, the alce is typically considered the runt, so few of these offshoots survive their fledgling stage. Those alces that do make it to adulthood tend to be tougher, more violent, and more aloof than most griffons. Wild griffons rely on their powerful wings to hold them aloft and their keen eyesight to spy out prey. The speed with which they plunge toward the ground and grab up their victims is shocking. They may tear open victim’s flesh with their razor-sharp beaks, but usually just take their prey to a high, secluded location where they can enjoy their feast without interruptions. On the ground, they take cover and leap out to ambush prey, then fly off with their prize. The exception to this is when a griffon is hunting to feed its offspring, in which case it will almost never purposefully bring a living creature back to its nest for fear of endangering its chicks.
Skilled animal trainers long ago learned how to raise griffons as mounts for military forces or powerful individuals. Such mounts are known for their strength, bravery, and unfailing loyalty. They are among the smartest of animals and possess a wisdom not normally afforded most animals; it is thought that a griffon chooses its rider as much as a rider chooses the griffon. The process of training a griffon to accept and carry a rider in flight is a long and expensive ordeal. Griffon trainers charge rich sums for their services, and a ruler who can boast of owning a stable of griffons is the subject of great respect and envy.