Hawkwind, Swift, and Joy were testing out their healed muscles and basking in the early summer sunlight a week later, when a commotion came in the form of a lookout spiraling down from one of the higher peaks where a crude watch tower had been built. Hawkwind went running to see what the problem was, along with Thornfire and Thornwing. Swift followed her at a distance. The lookout gestured his information.
“There are strange griffins approaching,” he pointed, “from that way.”
“How many?” Thornfire asked.
Thornfire grunted. “Five griffins, the exact number of a usual scouting party, coming from the direction of South-scree.”
The Thorn brothers exchanged a wry glance heavy with resignation.
“It would seem we have no need to send a party of our own to report on our progress after all,” Thornwing commented. He looked over at Hawkwind. “They’ll have something to say about the Hawkmother.”
“Let them say it,” Thornfire shrugged. “It’s not like they can do anything about it.”
“Should I absent myself?” Hawkwind asked timidly.
“No, you should be here, with us, as a leader of this expedition. Wing, will you go find Rainsoft?”
The younger brother ran off while Hawkwind turned to Swift. “Can you find any elders among the Snow-in-lee griffins that would be interested in meeting this scouting party from an Aerie? These are griffins that might have a hand in determining the future of any griffins that want to join our society.”
Swift nodded and trotted away to call on some of the more active Snow-in-lee griffins. Hawkwind summoned Joy with a wave.
“Joy, will you find the children and take them to the cave?”
The younger griffin also nodded and dashed away. Hawkwind squared her shoulders and prepared to meet the scouting party as they circled over and then angled in for a landing. Thornwing returned with Rainsoft and Swift brought over a handful of others just as the newcomers touched down. Hawkwind hid her wince when she recognized Rocksky in the lead: the same big female that had initially captured and detained her in South-scree. Thornfire’s group assembled around him, and he and Rocksky exchanged polite if not friendly nods.
“Welcome, Commander,” Thornfire greeted. “You have found us.”
“Elder,” she replied. “The Thornmother prevailed upon the council to send us to ascertain your situation.”
“You mean fetch the bodies,” Thornwing remarked. His big brother jabbed him with a wing wrist.
“Thornwing,” Rocksky gasped. “You are Thornwing, aren’t you?”
“Rocksky, isn’t it? I do think we’ve met once or twice,” he answered, rubbing his poked shoulder.
“Then you’ve succeeded.” The look of astonishment, like she’d just been doused with a bucket of cold water, was almost comical. “You rescued Thornwing from, from somewhere?”
“From Snow-in-lee, just as I promised,” Thornfire smiled in an only slightly smug fashion.
Rocksky’s eyes were roving over the group now. “I do not recognize most of these griffins.”
“They’re from Snow-in-lee, too,” the mage told her.
“Other captives? From other Aeries?”
“Not exactly,” Thornfire clarified. “These griffins are, like us, descendants of the ancient Snow-in-lee griffins, but they and the generations before them were held captive by the talis. They had never been outside their prison rooms until we freed them. Like Rainsoft, who also came from Snow-in-lee but had escaped on his own, they cannot speak aloud and know little of our society.”
Rocksky’s wide eyes seemed to be trying to take all of that in.
“And you, the one called Hawkwind,” one of the other scouts spoke up, “you, ah,” he stuttered to a stop.
“Hawkwind’s story is true, just as she told you in the council chamber,” Thornfire said, somewhat sternly. “She is the last of her Line.”
“And its new Hawkmother,” another South-scree griffin that Hawkwind recognized as Skymist, the grey griffin who had been kind to her in the South-scree prison, murmured.
Skymist gave a little bow. Others of the scouting party copied her, and Rocksky gave them a glare, withholding her own bow of respect. Thornfire eyed her, and Hawkwind, too, felt like giving her a look, but after all, it wasn’t as though the Hawk Line was a part of South-scree. Maybe bows of respect weren’t warranted, and Hawkwind was awfully young and had earned her new status only by coincidence.
“So it would seem your mission has been a success, Elder,” Rocksky said. “What of the tasks given to your companions? Surely they have collected the mythical Sunstone and Moonstone.” She gave a little chortle.
“Of course they have,” Thornfire nodded with simple frankness.
Rocksky blinked. “They, they have?” she echoed.
“Both the Stones are safe and functional,” the mage assured her. “Would you like to see them?”
Hawkwind was starting to feel a little sorry for Rocksky. Certainly she could be a bit of a brute, but she was still just trying to follow her orders and if she hadn’t believed in the ability of four griffins to free another from a legendary city infested with monstrous finned serpents and retrieve two mythical, magical items, Hawkwind couldn’t blame her. Hawkwind herself hadn’t believed it could be done, either.
“You’ll stay the night, Commander?” Hawkwind spoke up. “There are empty caves for your scouting party. We’ve cleared the snow-screamers out of a section of the old caves where our armies were once staged for trying to take back Snow-in-lee. We’ve all been living there for a few weeks now.”
“That is resourceful,” the big black, grey, and white griffin grunted. “There certainly are a lot of you.”
Hawkwind gestured to the Snow-in-lee griffins gathered behind her. “These are Icemoon, Hawkswift, Windnight, and Stormstone,” she said. “They are from Snow-in-lee. They’re working hard to learn how to fly, fight, and communicate with us griffins that talk out loud.”
The four griffins gestured, “hello,” at Rocksky.
“They said hello,” Hawkwind translated. “They are looking forward to being a part of an Aerie.”
At this, Rocksky’s visage, which had started to brighten, dimmed again. “The disposition of all these new griffins will cause much debate,” she said.
“I’m certain that wise and compassionate minds can come up with a solution,” Hawkwind stated firmly.
“I agree with Hawkwind,” Thornfire said. “There is room for everyone in this world, if we all learn to get along. I’m sure you’ve flown far today. Why don’t you come to have some rest and food?”
Rocksky was gracious enough or confused enough to go along, and Thornfire led the group, with Hawkwind, the Snow-in-lee elders, and Rocksky’s patrol trailing after, to the sunning rocks.
“Should I call you Hawkwind or Hawkmother?” Skymist whispered eagerly as she made her way to Hawkwind’s side.
“I still don’t feel comfortable with the change,” Hawkwind winced.
“Then Hawkwind for now,” Skymist grinned. “I’m so glad to see you. The council started thinking you were all dead, and then some of them started regretting being so harsh to you all—not Skycall, of course. Thornmother exerted herself to get everyone to agree to send a search party. I managed to wrangle myself onto the team.” Skymist suddenly gasped. “The human fledglings, are they alive?”
“They’re fine,” Hawkwind assured her. “I just had Joy take them into the caves in case this turned violent.”
“Hawkjoy and Hawkswift are both Snow-in-lee griffins that have joined my Line.”
“Really?” Skymist beamed. “How exciting, and are you, I mean, are your planning, or maybe you’re already—”
“I don’t know yet,” Hawkwind cut her off, guessing what she was trying to ask. “I may know in a few days or a week or so, I’m not sure.”
“But you’ve tried? Rainsoft, I presume?” Skymist giggled, nudging Hawkwind with her wing.
A little ahead, Rainsoft glanced back, hearing his name, but then looked away. Thornwing glanced back, too, and winked.
“And Thornwing?” Skymist squealed quietly.
“Hush,” Hawkwind growled. “I don’t need everyone privy to my, uh, situation.” She could feel her nares heating up with a blush. “It’s no one’s business.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry, Hawkwind. I’m just happy for you. I don’t think I’ll ever be Skymother.”
“I’m not high enough rank, but that’s alright. It’s a lot of responsibility and I don’t think I want it anyway. I am happy for you, though.”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly my choice, but I’m doing it. It’s my path now and that’s all there is to it.”
Skymist smiled at her. “Good luck. I think you’ll make a great Linemother.”
Hawkwind smiled back. “I appreciate the encouragement.”
They took their places on the sunning rocks. Skymist had to sit behind Rocksky with the rest of the scouting party. Hawkwind sat beside and just a bit back from Thornfire, who had Thornwing on his other side. Swift and the other Snow-in-lee elders took places nearby, and Rainsoft got a spot, too, in the inner circle.
“What are you planning to do with all these griffins?” Rocksky asked without preamble.
“That will have to be decided,” Thornfire shrugged. “Many of the Snow-in-lee griffins are paired. They might not want to join our society. They might stay here, in the caves, and have their own city.”
“They’ll end up living in Lines like us,” Rocksky shook her head. “Why aren’t they in Lines now?”
“They were kept separate from each other, in different rooms, in Snow-in-lee, by the talis.”
That shut everyone up for a few heartbeats.
“The talis were keeping them?” Rocksky clarified.
“To power the Stones,” Thornfire nodded. “The ancient griffin mages must have known ways to renew the power, but the talis didn’t. They discovered that sacrificing griffins on the Stones gave the Stones some power, to keep the heat and the water running. For that, they needed a supply of griffins. A hot place for the talis was apparently more valuable than spending some extra time hunting food to keep the griffins alive and reproducing. Because of our weakness against the talis, they had no trouble managing the families.”
Rocksky was staring around at the Snow-in-lee griffins, and then seemed to realize she was staring, and looked down at her claws instead. “Why can’t they talk?”
“They were all injured as chicks, by the talis. The talis destroyed their vocal cords. I think it may have been to keep them from calling out to each other or communicating, but over the generations, the population of griffins developed sign language, and it spread among them. I don’t know if the talis ever realized it.”
“I see.” Rocksky seemed to be thinking hard. “They will end up in Lines eventually, you know. That’s griffin nature.”
“Of course, but some of the families don’t understand, or don’t care, or don’t believe it.”
Swift lifted her hand for a turn to speak, and Hawkwind translated aloud for her. “We are splitting into factions,” she said. “There are some of us that have listened closely to Thornfire and the others. We recognize the situation you just said. We want to join the society that you have. There is another group that is still confused and traumatized. They can’t accept this new way of life, and they are unwell. I don’t know what will become of them. A third group wants nothing to do with your world. They accept being out of Snow-in-lee, but they are determined to live as before, to go their own way.”
“Thank you, Hawkswift,” Thornfire said when she’d finished. “Rocksky, the Aeries will need to know about this exodus from Snow-in-lee. There will need to be a consensus on how to accept the new populations.”
“Indeed,” Rocksky agreed. “The information will need to be spread. This might even call for a meeting of all Aeries, with representatives from the Snow-in-lee griffins, so everyone can discuss the situation and reach an agreement.”
“Until then, I was thinking most of the Snow-in-lee griffins would remain here,” Thornfire said. “It seems safe enough, at least during the warm months.”
Icemoon raised her hand this time, and Hawkwind translated again. “The factions Hawkswift spoke about are developing rifts between them. This problem has been growing the longer we are out of Snow-in-lee. The confused ones will need help to choose a path. The other two factions are starting to have conflicts.”
“What kind of conflicts? I haven’t noticed anything,” Thornfire said.
“You wouldn’t, unless you are paying attention to what we say to each other,” Icemoon gestured, “and although you have learned some of our hand speech, I think you do not listen to us much, unless in one-on-one conversation.”
For a moment, Thornfire looked slightly insulted.
“I think that’s normal,” Thornwing spoke up. “It’s easy to tune out a language you’re not familiar with. It takes effort to understand, so unless there’s a need to understand, most people would just not spend the energy to listen to conversations that don’t concern them.”
The mage shrugged it off. “You’re probably right, Wing.”
“We—the faction us here are a part of—want to join Lines, or have our own,” Hawkwind said aloud for Icemoon. “We have heard and understand that our natural way of life is to end up in Lines anyway if we live in groups. We accept that and will embrace it.”
“The others,” Hawkswift contributed, “do not want to accept that. They think they can keep their families and that their children can continue living as they do. They don’t believe that their daughters will remain asleep, as Hawkwind calls it.”
“Maybe they will accept it when they see it for themselves, some years from now,” Thornwing suggested.
“But until then, if we cannot convince them, they will need somewhere to live,” Thornfire said. “And as long as they are not violent to other griffins, the Aeries will need to know to leave them in peace.”
Rocksky rumbled in her chest. “Not all of the Aeries will agree to that. Some of them will see any griffin outside an Aerie as a rogue and a threat.”
“But they will have to see that the situation has changed,” Hawkwind argued. “Would they really attack a bunch of griffins only recently freed from imprisonment in Snow-in-lee? These griffins have done nothing to the Aeries.”
“Not yet,” Rocksky countered. “Who is to say that the separatist griffins will remain nonviolent? Besides that, prey must be managed. I don’t suppose you know this, Hawkmother, but the Aeries take care of the animal populations on these mountains. We manage our own population size and monitor the wild animal populations to be sure we don’t overhunt. If our food source were to decline, so too would we. That is another reason we have little patience for rogues that return to Aerie territory, and these separatist griffins could compound that problem.”
“What the commander says is true,” Thornfire nodded, while Hawkwind reeled from being referred to as the Hawkmother by a citizen of South-scree.
Did that mean that Rocksky was acknowledging her status? It must. Did that mean she had a new ally? It could. Rocksky had seemed to hate her before, but maybe the natural tendency to respect and protect the Linemothers was working in the big grey, black, and white griffin. Maybe she couldn’t help it. If so, maybe getting the help of Aerie griffins would not be that hard, now that Hawkwind had her new status.
“An all-Aerie meeting will need to be called,” Thornfire was saying when Hawkwind focused back on the conversation. “Until then, we’ll try to keep all the Snow-in-lee griffins here, unless we can ascertain if South-scree is willing to accept in the ones that want to join our Lines.”
Rocksky nodded. “That is the only course I can see, for now.”
Just then, a few griffins arrived with some bled prey animals for the tired scouting party.
“Please eat,” Thornfire said, getting to his feet. “When you’re done, we can show you to a cave.”
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Rocksky consented.
“This is no developed Aerie,” Thornwing rued, “but we’ll share what we have.”