The autumn air nipped at her legs as she made her way up the garden steps to the stables. One of the stable hands worked at shoveling hay with a pitchfork into an empty stall, while another groomed one of the black feathered gryphons near the front of the stables. They didn’t question why she was there. They knew who she had come to visit.
In the middle of the stalls, Liora heard the low coo of Vesper as the creature’s tiger striped face poked over the pine gate. Her big yellow eyes peered out, and the girl lifted her hand to rest on the creature’s beak.
Foe allowed her to visit the creature whenever she wished. Visiting the beast gave her someone to care for other than the prince and the six-year-old child.
Running her hand over the creature’s beak, Liora reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of dried deer meat she got from the kitchen.
“Don’t tell anyone I’m sneaking you treats,” Liora whispered, watching Vesper take the piece in her beak and swallow it in one bite. “Our little secret, all right?”
The creature cooed, rubbing its head into the girl’s shoulder. Liora loved the bird-lions of the North. They were soft and warm compared to the scaly dragons her people had raised. Gryphons were friendlier too. There was less of a chance of getting hurt, and definitely no chance of being poisoned if a gryphon wanted to be rough.
The girl wanted a gryphon when she was older. Foe had gotten his first gryphon at fifteen and so had Charn. Cáel would have gotten one if he hadn’t been sick.
If they weren’t going to send me away, I could have gotten one in the spring. Her heart sank at the thought.
The whole reason she had gone to the stables was to cheer herself up, but instead it was making her more upset with thinking about all the opportunities she was going to miss. She wouldn’t be celebrating her fifteenth name year with her friend. She wasn’t going to be taken to the nests to have a gryphon choose her. She wasn’t going to see the university with Caldor.
Vesper pushed into her shoulder again, this time giving out a low whine before the girl rested her head on the creature’s beak. The bird-lion could sense she was upset. Gryphons were sensitive to emotion.
“I’m gonna miss you,” Liora whispered, petting the soft orange feathers of Vesper’s cheek.
“There yah are,” Foe’s voice boomed from the entrance to the stables. “I thought yah were scribblin’ in yah room.”
Liora glimpsed at him. How could he be so happy to see her when he was going to be sending her away once she was done with the translations? Why did he care?
Vesper squealed, as Foe threw the creature a piece of meat before it ran into the corner of its stall to enjoy it.
“Don’ tell them I give her treats,” Foe lowered his voice to a growling whisper. “Not good for them feathers or some bull.”
Liora wanted to smile knowing all too well that between Foe and herself Vesper was getting spoilt. Instead, she just fiddled with her fingers and glowered at her hands.
“Yah all ’ight, Li?” Foe noticed the girl wasn’t talking. Normally, when he spotted her on visits to the stables the girl would tell stories to the creature, or would be curled up with the feathered beast in the stall.
Liora shrugged. What could she say? She couldn’t tell Foe that she had overheard their conversation from the other day. The adults would have more reason to get a rid of her, if they believed she was eavesdropping on their private conversations. They didn’t need more reason to send her away.
“I’m fine,” Liora chirped, rubbing her arm.
Foe didn’t believe her. The girl appeared fine, but wasn’t acting like her normal self. She avoided eye contact and had a somber expression on her normally smiling face.
“All ’ight,” Foe sighed. He wouldn’t push for her to tell him what was on her mind. If she wanted to talk, he would be there to listen.
Vesper’s head rested over the stall, as the creature nudged the girl’s shoulder gently. Liora went back to patting the creature’s face.
“Me wife was wonderin’ if yah could take Druce for an hour after lunch,” Foe muttered, noticing the girl bury her face into the creature’s neck. Liora was usually excited to babysit the child.
“I can’t,” Liora forced out, “I… I got translations that need to be finished. I’m sorry.”
Liora moved away from Vesper before hurrying past the Steward. She avoided looking at Foe, as she hurried around the corner of the stable. They were willing to leave their son in her care, but wanted to send her away. How fair was that?
They needed to see that they needed her around, not just for Cáel, but possibly for Druce.