Hawkwind awoke early the next morning, with Swift and Joy still sleeping. The children, too, were huddled up and slumbering deeply. She stood without waking the others and strode to the door of their cave, tail twitching and wondering what had awakened her. She felt restless and nervous and desirous of being in the air, despite the steady warmth inside her from finding two new members of her Line.
As her wandering thoughts flitted urgently to images of Rainsoft, a second part of her mind supplied her with the answer. How could it be? Had that much time passed since she’d regained her flight and led Rainsoft on a chase through the sky? That second part of her mind chimed in with the information that no, it hadn’t been quite a month yet, but her acquisition of new Line members that would make raising a chick possible and her realization that having a chick would be critical to cementing her Line’s legitimacy and her own power and status had probably triggered her body to hurriedly prepare for another attempt.
Her feet acted on their own, taking her down the tunnels to where Rainsoft’s family now lived. She paused outside the door, which was shielded with a wooden frame of woven reeds, for privacy. She heard only the sound of sleeping griffins, and couldn’t bear to touch the door, much less move it aside, stick her head in, and call for Rainsoft. His whole family was in there.
Perhaps there was someone else? She shut her eyes with a muffled hiss. Yes. Thornwing. He’d suggested Rainsoft didn’t know how to give her a chick and implied that he, Thornwing, did. Her body commented that it was a fantastic idea but Hawkwind shook her head. No. She wouldn’t go to him. She knew that matriarchs sometimes did go seek out a particular male and demand his services, rather than waiting for interested males who happened to be nearby to come solicit them, but Thornwing was older than Hawkwind, and she didn’t have the confidence to go and demand him. If she tried, it would look like she was enamored or begging. That would give him the appearance of power over her, and already her Linemother instinct knew to never do anything that suggested any other griffin had more power than she did.
As she was wrestling with herself and about to just turn away, fly off into the forest, and wait out the heat until it subsided—if it even would without mating activity—the door slid aside with hardly a rustle, and Rainsoft poked his head out. She knew she didn’t have to tell him why she was there.
“Will you come?” she gestured.
A nice thing about talking with hands, there was no need to try to whisper. He nodded as he replaced the door, and Hawkwind turned immediately to head for the cave exit. Rainsoft followed as she passed other cave homes in the near darkness. When they reached the exit, Hawkwind leapt into a run and flapped into the pre-dawn sky. She saw no reason to lead Rainsoft on a chase this time; she let him keep up until she settled on a bit of cliff poking out over a valley a good ways away from the caves. Trees and bushes surrounded the bare promontory, and she pushed into them until she located a hollow just big enough for two that was shielded from view from above by tree branches.
Hawkwind didn’t feel the need to say anything, and it seemed that neither did Rainsoft. It was with trembling desire that she accepted him, and with sated exhaustion that she collapsed below him when it was over. As she lay panting, his warm weight against her, Hawkwind tried to analyze his technique. What more was needed to make a chick? What had he not done? It had certainly felt fulfilling and he appeared to have concluded correctly. Or had Thornwing been lying, hoping it would trick Hawkwind into asking for him when the time came again?
She groaned and flexed her claws. No, reckless and a bit brash he might be, but Hawkwind didn’t think Thornwing was a liar. Beside her, Rainsoft groaned, too, nudged against her, and then climbed back onto her. She would have to hope that this worked anyway. Maybe Rainsoft was doing everything the right way and she hadn’t kindled the previous time for another reason. Maybe there was just always some chance it wouldn’t work.
Or maybe she should have awakened Swift and asked her about it before sneaking out of the cave this morning. Some older griffin advice for her and for Rainsoft would probably have helped a lot. Or maybe Rainsoft’s father had already given him advice? Maybe he’d learned what to do and what he was doing was correct? It felt right at least.
They alternated napping and mating as the sun rose higher until its bright beams drenched them in green twilight under the canopy. Finally, Rainsoft sat up and nibbled her cheek feathers to get her attention. Hawkwind gave him a little smile as she rolled over to look at him.
“Thank you for coming to get me,” he gestured. “You could have chosen other males if you wanted, but you came for me.”
“I like you,” she said, truthfully.
“I like you, too,” he signed back, and then looked down, “but you don’t want to be my mate.”
It was time for the talk. Hawkwind stifled all her possible groans, grunts, and sighs and faced him head on, touching his bill to get him to look back up so he could see her hands.
“Rainsoft, listen to me,” she began with both hands and soft voice. “We come from places with different cultures. I am going to be a matriarch.” She had to stop, shaken a little by finally admitting it out loud and with conviction. “To have the power to protect my human children, I need status, and I am the only Hawk alive that can do it. I will start the rebuilding of the Hawk Line.”
He nodded at her, not happily.
“If you want a mate, one on one,” she continued bravely, even as she fought a throat tight with emotion, “you will have to choose someone else who also wants that. I hope, however, that you will join someone else’s Line, maybe Thornfire’s, and take your place in my culture. You would always be my favorite. You could mate only with me, if you wanted to.”
“But you will mate with other males,” he gestured rapidly.
There was no point in hiding it from him. “I will. My Line, like all Lines, needs varied blood. You should also see the value that you have. I don’t know if the Rain Line still exists outside of the Snow-in-lee survivors. You might be one of the last of them. Many Lines could be strengthened with your blood. If you talk to your little sister about it, she could become Rainmother of the Line.”
Rainsoft stood up, walked away a few paces, hesitated, faced her again, and sat down. “I don’t know how to feel about this. I don’t know what I want. I want to be a part of the world, not Snow-in-lee, but I have always thought I would have one mate, and once you invited me to mate with you, I thought it would be you, but I see. I have talked to my parents and a little to Thornfire. I see why you invited me.”
“I still like you,” Hawkwind interrupted. “I like you a lot. I don’t want to hurt you, but I—”
“I know,” he soothed quickly. “I know.” Rainsoft dropped his hands.
“I don’t know what else to tell you,” she said. “I can’t run away to be just with you. I have my children to care for. I have met Hawkswift and Hawkjoy, from Snow-in-lee, and they have joined my Line.” She took a deep breath. “I hope I will have your chick, to add to my Line.”
Rainsoft gave no reaction. Briefly, but not overly rudely, he gestured, “I’ll hunt and come back.”
Hawkwind flopped back down on the tangled leaves and grasses as he stalked off into the underbrush. The talk was done. She didn’t feel bad and she didn’t feel good. She’d been honest. She’d tried to be gentle. It was the most she could do. Hawkwind closed her eyes and dozed as the sun crept across the sky.
It was afternoon when crunching through the trees and the sharp scent of blood alerted her to Rainsoft’s return. He’d brought her half his kill, having obviously eaten part of it already. He offered, she thanked him, and ate hungrily. They preened the blood off of each other, and that led to more mating and napping until the sky began to show signs of dusk. At last, Rainsoft stood up and flicked his wings.
“I want to go back to the caves,” he gestured.
Hawkwind nodded. “If you see my children or Hawkswift or Hawkjoy, please tell them not to worry about me. I’ll sleep out here tonight and come back tomorrow morning.”
“You won’t come back now?” he asked.
“It’s not over yet,” she explained. “I don’t want to be mobbed.”
He seemed to realize what she meant, and leaned down to nibble her feathers. “You’ll be safe out here tonight? I’ll see you tomorrow? You won’t be lonely? Should I stay?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said reassuringly, “and thank you.”
He started to go, and then paused. “I hope you have my chick, too,” he signed rapidly. Then he dashed from the hollow and she heard him take flight from the cliff edge.
That settled it then. Either he was doing everything right, or he didn’t know what he wasn’t doing. Maybe Thornfire and his parents hadn’t told him that, or maybe he hadn’t asked, or maybe they’d assumed he knew somehow. Hawkwind settled herself more comfortably and drifted off to sleep again as the sun sank and the stars and moon lit the sky above the tree branches.
Hawkwind didn’t know what time it was, but it was still dark. She got up to take care of the necessary demands of nature, and then walked to the cliff edge to look at the dark dome of the sky. The moon was nearly full, the sky clear, and the brightest stars competing with the moon’s glow. It was a beautiful night for flying, but Hawkwind sensed that vigorous exercise like running or flying would not be conducive to conception. There was only one kind of exercise she wanted: a pity Rainsoft had left.
For a while longer she sat and absorbed the night, listening to the hunting calls of nighttime predators—only little ones, big ones had the sense to stay away from a griffin—and the faintest rustle of their furtive prey. She heard, too, the sound of wings, big wings. A dark spot against the lighter sky, a griffin was flying towards her. Perhaps Rainsoft had decided to return, but no, this griffin was larger, with a wider wingspan, and it was coming straight towards her.
There wasn’t much of the cliff bare of greenery, so he landed fairly close, and Hawkwind identified him even in the darkness.
“I thought I scented you in my dreams this morning, and when both you and Rainsoft were gone for most of the day, and then he returned covered with your scent, it was no challenge to understand the situation,” Thornwing said. “I’m glad I found you. I just wanted to…” he trailed off.
Hawkwind didn’t move so much as a single feather, staring at him.
“I didn’t come to try to force you,” he resumed quietly. “I just came to offer.”
“Offer?” she repeated in a bare whisper, even as her body clamored at her to grab him, yank him, manhandle him; order, command, threaten, coerce him, whatever, until he satisfied her hunger.
“I noticed you have two new members of your Line,” he remarked, a bit more confidently. “You really will become Hawkmother. You need a chick for that.”
“How do you know that Rainsoft isn’t doing it right?” she demanded. “Why do you think I need you?”
“You tell me. Did you feel the chick-pain?”
“It can’t all be pleasure if you want a chick. I don’t know exactly what it feels like, naturally,” he coughed, “but I know how to make it happen, and I know you don’t get a chick without it.”
“There’s supposed to be pain? That doesn’t sound right at all,” she refuted.
“It only lasts for a few seconds, so I hear, and I think you’d know it if it had happened.”
Hawkwind regarded him icily despite the blistering fire inside. Surely he couldn’t be making stuff up just to get her to let him mate with her. Hawkwind had seen matriarchs and what they did to males who tried to force mating or who tricked, slighted, or disgraced them. There usually wasn’t much blood, but there was spectacle, screaming, and fur and feather ripping. Sometimes other Linemembers even joined in to defend their matriarch, and the offending male came out much the worse for wear.
“I didn’t feel anything like that,” she admitted.
“Rainsoft doesn’t know how to do it, or that he needs to do it. It’s a particular technique,” Thornwing explained evenly. “If you’d ask Hawkswift, she’d tell you.”
“And if you’re lying, she’ll help me tear your feathers out,” Hawkwind promised.
And in that promise was acceptance. It had slipped out without her really noticing, but her body knew it, and Thornwing heard it, evidenced by the slightest alteration in his posture and the lay of his feathers. He took slow steps towards her until he could, ever so cautiously, reach out and touch her neck, just brushing it with his bill.
“I’ll prove it to you,” he breathed.
Heart thudding like she’d been fighting, wings quivering, she managed to swallow and take a shuddering breath. “You will.”
And with that clear declaration there was no more hesitation. It started the same, though Thornwing was older, bigger, heavier, and his grip was at once both more secure and gentler. It felt just as good, maybe better; she thought he was paying more attention to her, adjusting himself based on her reactions. His style certainly led to upmost repetitive satisfaction.
Then he slowed and leaned forward to whisper to her. “Are you ready? Let me know when you’ve felt it.”
He changed his position, beginning to press hard in one spot.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel,” she grunted back.
The pressure was becoming intense, making a slight ache. Was that it?
“Probably helps if you relax,” he muttered.
She tried to relax, felt the alteration, and a flash of sensation sparked through her. It was part pain, undoubtedly, and part elation and release. It made her shiver and tense.
“Hawkwind?” Thornwing urged. “Was that it?”
The wave of feeling was still crackling through her and, stunned, she couldn’t reply.
Again—sharper this time, making her jerk, gasp, and then hiss out her breath. Thornwing relented.
“That must have been it. Hawkwind, are you all right?” he murmured.
She was shaking as the shimmery sensation, equal parts weakness, joy, and ache, trickled from her deep belly out her limbs, even into each finger and toe. She felt her fur and feathers prickling.
“I suppose,” she mumbled, “that was it, or them? You didn’t tell me it had two parts.”
“Two parts?” he echoed, sounding amused. “Indeed?”
The ability to think and speak was diminishing, thanks to Thornwing, but she tried to put her tongue in motion. “What’s funny?”
“I’m sorry, it’s not funny, but I am,” he breathed, “delighted.”
He bit her neck, not hard enough to damage, but hard enough to convey his own passion, and hard enough to spur a peak of delirium.
“Two chick-pains could mean two chicks,” he explained after a few more mind-numbing moments.
“How?” she queried, reduced to the simplest of communications.
“Don’t ask me,” he grunted, “how it works. Just know it can mean that, only if there’s two.”
Whatever. Hawkwind stopped trying to force herself to think, but rather just gave in, riding the swells until they became waves that crashed at last onto the shore with thunder and fury. And then there was sudden stillness, sudden peace.
“Can I stay with you?” he asked when he’d caught his breath, “the rest of the night?”
“Yes,” Hawkwind agreed, grabbing his shoulder to pull him with her.
She led him to the hollow she’d shared with Rainsoft and curled up with him. The rest of the night was hardly restful, but it was deeply satisfying, over and over again, and it was with a bit of sorrow that they both got up, giving each other’s feathers a last little nibble, when the morning sun made its presence known.
Hawkwind flew back to the caves, while Thornwing flew off in a different direction, to hunt. She could only hope that what she needed would soon be on its way and her Line would have new life. Now perhaps Swift could answer some of her questions.