“Thornfire, I have a request,” Hawkwind approached him first thing in the morning.
“I don’t expect you to ask for something unreasonable, so I’m sure we can accommodate it,” he answered, in the midst of stretching out his back like a housecat, with wings pointed straight up to the sky.
“The children need more than meat to stay healthy. I need to take them into the forest to forage for other foods, like plants.”
“We should be able to do without you for a while. So far, we haven’t had any problems. I suppose even talis would hesitate before attacking such a large group of us, and we haven’t seen or scented any.”
“But it will be more dangerous for me, with four defenseless human children. I’d like to take another griffin along for protection.”
Thornfire stood up and wrinkled his brow with thought. “I’d send Rainsoft, but he’s the only one who can really communicate with the others. Will Wing be all right? If the talis attack you, he’ll be able to fight them.”
Thornwing wasn’t her first choice after all the uncomfortable questions he’d asked her the day before, but she supposed Thornfire was right; Rainsoft was an essential intermediary, and Thornwing would be able to defend her from talis should they take the more tempting bait of a pair of griffins on their own.
“All right,” Hawkwind agreed, keeping her voice carefully neutral. “We’ll be careful, and join back up with the group later today.”
She found Thornwing finishing his morning preening, with his grey animal companion stretched out in the sun beside him, and conveyed her goal and what Thornfire had said. He gave his agreement without any further comment and the pair of them with four skipping children in toe departed the group and headed for the trees.
“Don’t run too far,” Hawkwind instructed. “Keep one of us in sight at all times.”
She might as well have been talking to the wind, telling it not to rustle the leaves. The children vanished into the undergrowth, chatting at high speed, except for Kassandra, who was her usual quiet self. Hawkwind and Thornwing ran after them, and Thornwing’s animal friend scampered off with obvious jubilation.
“What is that beast?” Hawkwind took the occasion to ask him.
“Ferrie, you mean?” Thornwing replied. “He’s a mountain-ferret, been with me for years. We get along. I even considered sending him back to South-scree to tell Thornfire I’d been captured by the talis, but I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to find his way. He’s not that skilled at big picture ideas; he lives more in the moment.”
“He’s cute, I guess,” Hawkwind said.
“Your human chicks like him. They’ve been playing together for some time now.”
“And he’s safe? He won’t bite them?”
“He won’t bite unless they hurt him first. I told them to be gentle with him, and once he saw that they were my friends and were going to be kind, he understood that he shouldn’t hurt them.”
“Thornfire said something about you being good with animals, and that’s why you thought you could talk to the talis,” Hawkwind remarked.
“I have always been talented in understanding what animals are feeling, and I can somehow communicate to them what I’m feeling with my posture and sounds,” he shrugged. “I do it naturally, sort of like how Fire does magic naturally. I thought maybe I could befriend the talis. I was stupid.”
Within minutes the children had located more wild snow-celery and, clutching a stalk in each hand, had found perches on a mossy, fallen log to sit and crunch on the juicy vegetable.
“I wish there were more berries,” Rikah commented, “but it’s the wrong season. We only found a few wild strawberries.”
“I want a cookie,” Karo requested.
“What’s that?” Thornwing asked.
Karo put his snow-celery stalk in his mouth, tucking the spare one under his questionably clean arm, and held his hands out to show the shape and size, while talking around the snow-celery stalk. “They’re about this big,” he slurred. “Sort of like bread, but sweet.”
“What’s sweet?” the South-scree griffin pressed.
“It’s a flavor,” Hawkwind explained for him. “We can’t taste it.”
“But what’s it like?”
“I’ve never been able to conceptualize it,” she admitted. “No human has ever been able to explain it well enough for me.”
Jessika elbowed Karo gently. “That’s right, Karo. Remember, griffins can’t taste sweet.”
“I still want one,” the boy pouted.
“My favorite are apple cookies,” Rikah said.
“I like almond,” Kassandra murmured.
“The closest I can think is that it must be the opposite of bitter,” Hawkwind shrugged.
“Bizarre,” Thornwing mused, brows furrowed.
“That’s really not fair,” Jessika commented. “You can taste bitter but not sweet. Who wants to taste bitter? Yuck.”
“Toxic, poisonous things are often bitter,” Hawkwind explained. “Being able to taste bitter means we can spit out deadly things in time; it helps keep us all healthy.”
“My mom likes bitter tea,” Rikah provided automatically.
Then all the children went still, and Hawkwind, too, catching her breath like she’d poked herself on a stick. Karo’s face began to crumple and Kassandra lowered her snow-celery to her lap, hands shaking. Rikah’s lip was trembling. Hawkwind could see Jessika biting her cheek to try to stop the tears that were building up in her eyes.
Hawkwind stepped forward and encircled the children with her wings. Weakly, Kassandra and Karo fell against her, starting to sob. Jessika and Rikah sat stiff and straight, sniffing and keeping their eyes open to stop the tears from escaping, but they, too, broke down after a brief struggle.
Hawkwind felt her own chest clenching, but she twisted down the cry in her own throat so she could comfort the children, holding them close against her body—no substitute for the arms of their own parents, but all she could offer, and all they had. She turned her head briefly to look at Thornwing, but he had pivoted, facing away, guarding them and giving them privacy.
Hawkwind let them cry for a few minutes. She didn’t know how much grieving human children needed, but she didn’t see a reason to restrict them, to tell them to not be sad; she just tried to care for them as well as she could. It was Jessika who sat up first, drying her face on Hawkwind’s furry shoulder.
“We need to look for more food,” she managed to get out between diminishing sobs. “We have to eat. Finish your snow-celery, everyone.”
“I’m almost done,” Rikah declared, hiccoughing only a little as he gamely took another bite. “I bet you can’t finish before me, Karo.”
Hawkwind backed off a little as the children finished, giving an extra pet to Kassandra’s messy black hair. Jessika hugged the smaller girl against her side until they’d both eaten up their snow-celery.
“We might be able to find some more wild strawberries,” Jessika proclaimed. “Let’s look over there.”
A new focus in mind, the children crawled off, staring at the ground and poking around under the greenery. Thornwing walked gingerly up beside Hawkwind.
“They got reminded that their parents died,” she said, forestalling any questions.
“I heard a brief version of the story from my brother,” he replied softly. “You and they are the only survivors?”
“That we know of. It may be others were left alive, but when I fled the castle with those four, everyone left was fighting for their lives, and most everyone else was dead already. The rainbow drakes killed everyone they caught. I was alone when I got these children out.”
“And you came to South-scree?”
“Only by accident,” she said. “I had heard old tales of griffins that lived in the north. I found them, or rather, they found me. Eldest Skycall said she wouldn’t drive me out of South-scree if I brought her the Sunstone from Snow-in-lee, and likewise Rainsoft could stay if he brought the Moonstone.”
“I found a strawberry,” Rikah caroled out. “There’s more here.”
The other three children ran to join him at a sunny patch of the wild berries.
Thornwing was shaking his head. “Hawkwind, have you been listening? Skycall will never allow you to live in South-scree now. That would mean adding a new Line to the city.”
“Thornfire said he’d handle the situation, that he’d make sure my children and I would have a place to live.”
“My brother is a mage and an elder and has a lot of power, for a male, but unless he has some extra leverage I don’t know about, I can’t see how he’ll do it.”
Karo ran up to Hawkwind, shoving a few final berries into his mouth. “These are good, but I want bread.”
“Bread doesn’t grow in the forest, Karo,” she told him. “I’m sorry.”
“How far is the nearest human settlement?” Thornwing asked.
“From here? I’m not sure where I am. I don’t know how far, and going into a town would be too dangerous,” Hawkwind replied.
“We could fly down the mountain and take a look.”
She stared at him. “No, we couldn’t. Leave the children here?”
“They could ride us.”
“No, they couldn’t. What if they fell?”
The other kids had gathered around them now. Rikah’s eyes were shining. “I want to ride you,” he whispered. “I want to fly.”
“No,” Hawkwind said firmly. “Your feet stay on the ground. Wasn’t that a rule at Northnest? No griffin ever carries a human except in a life or death emergency.”
“But we’re little,” Rikah argued. “We’re not heavy.”
“Let’s do it,” Thornwing urged. “By wing, we could find a town and steal some food.”
Karo took hold of Hawkwind’s neck. “I’m hungry. I want bread,” he whined.
“There are straps on our harnesses,” Thornwing went on. “We can tie the children on, so they won’t fall.”
“Yes, Hawkwind, please,” begged Rikah.
“This is a bad idea; I can feel it,” Hawkwind stated.
“It’ll be all right,” Thornwing soothed.
She glared at him. “Who got captured by talis? You are not known for having the best ideas. You’re reckless. I am not. I have to keep these children safe.”
Thornwing eyed her narrowly. “You need to know where there are human settlements. What if these children get sick? And what about providing proper food for them right now? If you don’t, they will get sick, and you’ll have to go there anyway.”
Hawkwind ground her bill. He had a small point.
“We’ll hold on, Hawkwind,” Jessika said softly, fingers twined in the griffin’s fur, big eyes looking up pleadingly. “We need something else to eat besides meat.”
Like releasing a dearly caught prey to another who claimed it as theirs when it wasn’t, Hawkwind surrendered.
“Are you strong enough to carry two children?” she asked Thornwing seriously. Around her the children bounced on their toes with muffled excitement.
“I’ve been flying a lot the past couple days, and I kept doing exercises during my confinement,” he replied with a flexing of his pectorals. “I can carry them.”
“Rikah, you will hold on tight to Thornwing and to Karo, understand?”
The boy nodded solemnly.
“And Jessika, Kassandra, you will hold onto me and each other, right?”
“Yes, Hawkwind,” the two girls murmured.
“Thornwing, let’s strap them on.”
Although every movement felt like walking ever closer to a cliff edge, Hawkwind helped secure the boys to Thornwing’s harness, and he did the same for the girls to hers. The load was heavy, but not as much as a big prey animal; Hawkwind would be able to fly well enough. Thornwing whistled, and his pet Ferrie came running through the brush, jumping up and grabbing onto him. He led the way to a nearby boulder that jutted out over a small valley. He climbed it, and took to the air with a leap. Hawkwind followed.
The girls yelped with fear and gripped tightly onto her back, but they didn’t scream or cry, and after several wing strokes, Hawkwind looked back at them. Kassandra’s face was open and humbled with wonder as she stared at the unfolding sky. The wind tossed back her curly bangs: revealing the pink mark on her forehead and making her eyelids flutter in response to the air on her eyes. Jessika was watching below as the ground passed, mouth open as if drawing in all the wind of their passing.
From above, the Earth spread out below like a map, showing forests and rivers and peaks and valleys; it was a view the children would have never had before. In the distance, Hawkwind could see level brown and green land. Tiny strands of grey smoke rising from it, visible only to her raptorial eyes, indicated that it was probably a human settlement. It would take a few hours to fly there—a day or more to walk there.
Thornwing and Hawkwind kept to a fairly low altitude, even though it meant more flapping and less catching of warm updrafts to jet upwards followed by gliding. The human children weren’t used to the thin air of the upper sky, and lower altitudes were warmer. It was a sunny day and they had warm-blooded beasts to ride, but Hawkwind could still feel the girls shivering slightly as the wind blew steadily over them. Soon enough they were hunkered down, snuggled as deeply into her back fur as they could get, eyes glazed as they watched the passing land and sky.
As Hawkwind and Thornwing approached the town, they dropped their altitude further, almost skimming the treetops with their wings as they tried to shield themselves from view. Most settlements had sentries; some even had an elevated guard tower; big settlements might have a keep, but this town didn’t. The griffins didn’t want to be spotted, and as soon as Thornwing found a break in the canopy, he swerved down into it, and Hawkwind circled around and followed him.
“So that is a human settlement,” the male griffin commented, “both like and unlike our own.”
The children were fidgeting with eagerness. Ferrie jumped right off of Thornwing and zipped away into the underbrush on some unknown ferret business of his own.
“We must approach slowly, and stay hidden,” Hawkwind reminded them all.
She led them into the undergrowth, moving silently, watching for the first signs of habitation; some of the homes might spill over into the woods. From the brief look Hawkwind had gotten, the town didn’t appear to have more than a low stone wall, and a road ran through it from west to east. They were approaching from the north, towards some of the more straggly homes at the western edge.
They crouched down among some bushes edging a stream. On the other side of the stream began a small patchwork field of various early spring crops, attached to a house. A few goats grazed in an enclosed area with chickens pecking around them. A clothesline was hung with dull linens flapping wetly in the intermittent breeze. Fruit trees dotted the empty spots around the house and outbuildings, just starting to flower and leaf out.
“Looks like a nice home,” Hawkwind whispered. “It’s in good repair, the animals look healthy, the trees are leafy, and the field is full of vegetables.”
“Are we going to steal from them?” Jessika asked, tone of voice clearly indicating that she didn’t want to.
“They look prosperous enough that they could afford an involuntary donation to four hungry children,” Hawkwind suggested gently. “What would you like to do?”
The creak of a door made them all look up. An older girl, probably approaching marriageable age, had stepped out of the backdoor and down the steps with another basket of laundry. She was dressed for chores, but in clean and sturdy clothes, no patches or worn spots. She sang to herself as she added some undergarments to a half-barrel with a washing board sticking out of it.
“We could see what they would trade for a whole buck deer,” Thornwing suggested.
“Talk to them?” Hawkwind gaped.
“Not us, the children,” he said.
“It’s too risky,” she countered at once. “What if they try to detain the children? What if they report them to somebody?”
A second woman emerged from the house, this one much older, with grey streaking her brown hair. She knelt down next to the young woman and started helping her with the washing, joining in to the singing. The griffins and children watched and listened as the two women began a call-and-response song, singing different parts. The smiles between them showed well enough that they were cheerful people.
“Rikah should go,” Jessika said. “They won’t be as likely to want to keep a boy. Boys are more allowed to run around and live in the woods and do independent things.”
Hawkwind and Jessika shared a glance; the girl was afraid she might be recognized if she went. The griffin wasn’t sure if this was still Northnest or not—she was a little lost over the geography—but the royal family hadn’t secluded themselves; they were well known and might indeed be recognized.
“Rikah, can you do this?” Hawkwind asked.
The boy nodded grimly, chewing his lip and scowling at the house across the creek. “A deer for food and supplies,” he said. “A trade, no questions asked, right?”
Hawkwind smiled sadly down on him; a boy his age shouldn’t have had to grow up so fast and take on such mature matters.
“If they try to grab me, I run away,” he went on.
“And if they do grab you and you can’t run away, we’ll come get you,” Thornwing said, almost a growl, before making a soft whistle. A moment later Ferrie reappeared on his shoulder and he rumbled something low at the little beast. “Ferrie will go along. If anyone tries to grab Rikah, Ferrie will encourage them to let go.”
Hawkwind wasn’t going to ask how Ferrie would do that, or how Thornwing had told him to do that; she just nodded. “How will we make the trade?” she brought up. “Rikah can’t exactly carry the deer over there.”
“We’ll leave it on the bank here,” Thornwing said. “We should be able to sling it out there without being seen. They can come retrieve the deer and leave the traded supplies in its place.”
“All right,” Hawkwind nodded. “Go get the deer?”
“I’m on it.” Thornwing vanished into the undergrowth and Ferrie ran off in the opposite direction, towards the house.
“Rikah, are you ready?” she prodded.
“Ready, but what do we ask for?”
“Food, cloth or clothing,” Hawkwind started listing.
“Teeth scrubbers,” Kassandra put in, “and hairbrushes.”
“Knives, forks, and spoons,” Jessika added, “and bowls.”
“Cookies,” Karo said in a small voice.
“Good, I’m going to go,” Rikah announced.
Hawkwind’s stomach started flipping over and over as she watched the boy cross the stream by hopping across on some rocks and then walk steadily towards the house and the two women. She heard him call “excuse me” and saw the women stand up with surprise, but after that their voices were too soft to hear. Rikah stood with his arms crossed and feet planted confidently, and neither of the two women tried to grab him, although their postures displayed their concern.
Hawkwind ducked down as the boy briefly turned to point towards the spot on the bank by the creek. When she looked again she thought the younger woman had started feeling suspicious and overly curious, but as she started asking questions more pointedly, the older women patted her shoulder reassuringly. Hawkwind guessed the older woman was the mother of the younger one. She crouched down to be on Rikah’s level and talked to him some more. The younger woman stepped back then, still looking dubiously at the boy, and no longer speaking. Hawkwind wished she could hear what they were saying.
After another minute the older woman said something to the younger one, making the latter go back into the house. She came back out quickly enough, holding an object wrapped in a cornhusk, which she passed to Rikah. The older woman held out a hand to shake, and Rikah tentatively shook, while Hawkwind held her breath, afraid the woman was about to yank him into her arms and carry him away. She didn’t, releasing the boy’s hand and standing up. Rikah turned and made his way back around the patchwork field to the stream. Once he’d crossed and pushed through the bushes to reunite with Hawkwind and the other children, he revealed what he’d received to a chorus of muffled squeals of excitement.
“They aren’t cookies,” he apologized, “but she said she’d baked some cornmeal cakes.”
He held out the four small but heavy cakes on the cornhusk, thick and slightly greasy, probably from being cooked with lots of butter and possibly lard. Karo’s hand shot out towards one, but he pulled it back guiltily.
“Can we have one?” he asked politely, as if remembering his manners.
“Of course,” Hawkwind said, “but eat slowly and savor it.”
The four cakes were taken up with gusto, one to each child, while Hawkwind questioned Rikah.
“What did they say?” she asked. “Did they agree to the trade?”
“They asked me lots of questions at first, who I was, where I came from,” he winced. “I didn’t want to lie, so I just told them that I couldn’t tell them. The girl didn’t like that, but her mom said it was all right. They didn’t believe me at first, that a deer would be there on the stream bank. That made the girl angry. Finally the mom asked me if I was telling the truth. I said yes, and she agreed. She asked me what I wanted in trade, and I told her. She said she would do her best to get me everything, but she couldn’t promise. She said she would give me enough things to equal the deer.”
“You did wonderfully, Rikah,” Hawkwind praised.
“The corn cakes were a gift, she said,” he went on. “She said she didn’t have any cookies, but that she’d try to trade for some with her neighbors, if she could.”
Rikah looked down at the corn cake making his hands greasy. He seemed to swallow his next mouthful with difficulty.
“She said I could stay with her, live there,” he mumbled.
The other children stopped mid-chew and looked at him.
“I didn’t say there were four of us,” he added.
Hawkwind’s chest hurt. Maybe it would be better if they went back to live with other humans, as Thornfire had once said. Maybe they could vanish into the populace and no one would know they were survivors of Northnest.
“I’m staying with Hawkwind,” Kassandra announced firmly.
“Me, too,” Jessika echoed only a heartbeat later.
Rikah and Karo didn’t say anything.
“Karo,” Hawkwind said gently, “you can go live with that family, if you want to. It’s all right. I want you to be safe and happy.”
After a moment, the boy took a big bite of corn cake, chewed slowly, and swallowed. “Thornfire is going to teach me magic,” he whispered. “I’ll stay with you, too.”
“I’ll stay also,” Rikah said.
“You can change your mind,” Hawkwind felt she had to say. “Anytime you want, we can come back.”
A commotion behind them made them startle. Thornwing was dragging a young buck deer through the undergrowth.
“I had to go a ways,” he reported, dropping the beast. “Looks like this village does a bit of hunting in the area.”
“Then they’ll be even more grateful,” Hawkwind nodded, “if deer are scarce around here.”
“I’ll toss it out, provided the deal has been made?”
“It has. Let’s toss it out and go back a ways so the people can make the exchange.”
Trying to show themselves as little as possible, Hawkwind and Thornwing got the deer onto the stream bank and then the whole group retreated back into the trees, finding a spot to relax where the children could finish their corn cakes and lick the grease from their fingers. Hawkwind and Thornwing sat in a small clearing and preened their flight feathers while the children perched on the curving roots of a grandfather tree. After a few more minutes, Ferrie came dashing through the forest and took his perch on Thornwing’s shoulder. He chattered something that sounded happy to Hawkwind.
“Ferrie saw nothing upsetting. So,” Thornwing mumbled through a mouthful of feathers, “it was a good idea, wasn’t it?”
“What was?” Hawkwind countered.
“The children are getting good food and more because we carried them on our backs and flew them to a human settlement.”
Hawkwind stifled a growl. “I’ll admit it’s working so far, but we haven’t got the stuff yet.”
“It’ll work,” Thornwing sighed with a soft smile. “I always have the best ideas.”
“Like going to try to talk to talis, yes, the very best ideas.”
“All right, that one wasn’t the very best, but it might have worked. I had to give it a try.”
The sun found its way past the leaves above, bringing out the gold color in Hawkwind’s feathers and warming her through. She found herself laying her head down onto the clover and dandelions for just a few moments.
She startled awake, the size of the shadows informing her immediately that time had passed while she’d inadvertently slept. The girls were making crowns of flowers and the boys were having sword fights with sticks. Ferrie was licking the grease from the cornhusks.
“It’s only mid-afternoon.”
She looked up at Thornwing, sitting comfortably, leaning against her back.
“I stayed awake,” he went on. “Don’t worry, I’ve been watching them.”
“Hawkwind,” Jessika greeted with a grin.
The girl ran over and placed a dandelion crown on Hawkwind’s head. Jessika and Kassandra both wore crowns, too, the bright yellow flowers reflected on their skin.
“We’ll make one for Thornwing next,” Jessika announced.
“Hold off, there,” the male griffin laughed. “It’s probably time to go collect your spoils.”
“Our what?” Karo asked, pausing in his battle with Rikah.
“The results of your trade,” Thornwing rephrased. “Let’s see if they’ve been left on the stream bank for you.”
Ferrie ran over and stole Hawkwind’s crown; then sat on Thornwing’s head, eating it to the laughter of the children. The group crept back towards the creek, approaching slowly in case watchers or traps had been left behind, too. Hawkwind peered at the house across the stream and fields, but no one was outside. The deer carcass was nowhere to be seen. The bank sand had been raked to clear the blood away, and two bundles were sitting in its place. The two griffins snuck out their long arms to snag the bags and yank them in, and then the group ran back to the clearing where they’d rested.
Eager hands pulled open the bags. The first held food wrapped in cornhusks or rough paper: bread, rounds of cheese, fresh green vegetables, carrots, potatoes, various squash, a small bag of salt, dried beans and peas, and a few tiny bags of spices and herbs. The second bag held the inedible items: some wooden spoons and forks, an eating knife, a pair of wooden cups and bowls nestled inside a battered but functional metal cooking pot, a comb, a tooth cleaning brush with the tooth powder it was usually used with, and a bigger knife that might be used for butchering animals. At first Hawkwind thought that the fabric it was all wrapped in was just random scraps, but then Jessika exclaimed.
“Clothes, it’s clothing.”
The children began laying out the pieces. There were several undergarments, a few shirts and trousers, socks, and a few heavier garments made of knitted wool—jackets, scarves, and hats. Then Kassandra found one more little bundle among the layers and plucked it out. She handed it to Jessika when she saw what it was.
“Sewing thread and pins and needles,” the older girl gasped.
Rikah took a look at the items. “I’m surprised she gave us those. My dad wasn’t skilled enough to make pins and needles. They’re really difficult to make, so they’re expensive. These must have cost her a lot.”
Jessika held the little bundle close to her heart. “With these, and using this clothing as a guide, I can make us all more clothes. We’ll need more as we get bigger.”
She trembled, and Hawkwind feared another crying spate coming on. The griffin patted Jessika’s back in as encouraging a fashion as she could manage, and the girl sniffed, bit her lip, and straightened up with a firm, tear-denying face.
“There’s also this,” Karo said, holding something up. “I can’t read it, I haven’t learned yet.”
There had been a letter tucked in among the items in the second sack. Hawkwind took it from him and read aloud.
“To the brave, mysterious young man,” she read, “I hope these supplies will aid you on your journey. I wish I could help you more. If you ever need anything and are passing through again, come by my house and I will help you. If you ever wish to have a home, my home is yours. Do not be afraid to visit. Your friends—which I assume you have—are welcome, too. Best of luck, Judit Rania.”
Hawkwind winked at Rikah. “I think she likes you.”
The boy went red and then spluttered, “but she’s old. She’s like a granny, besides, I don’t like girls.”
“You say that now,” Thornwing grinned, and then sombered curiously, “actually, how does human mating work?” he asked.
“Later,” Hawkwind grunted supressively. “We should get going. Let’s pack everything back up,” Hawkwind urged.
The weight was greater now, with the big bulky bags, so getting in the air was no easy thing, but once up, the group retraced their wing beats back up the mountainside. Jessika and Kassandra, on Hawkwind’s back again, chatted with each other about what they would be able to do with all the things they’d gotten, instead of looking at the scenery this time. As the sun was getting old in the sky Thornwing sighted the group of freed griffins making camp in a spot where the trail dipped into a small valley. Hawkwind followed him down and rejoined the group with a much happier set of human children.