Return to South-scree
The Sunstone was back in place, and it lit up the Hawk cave. Hawkwind blinked against its light, aware that she was awake. She was lying on the patch of sand. Thornfire and Starbright were there, too. Starbright was sleeping, but Thornfire was awake, writing on a thick piece of parchment with an ink quill made from someone’s feather.
“Ah, welcome back, Hawkmother,” he murmured. “You’ve been asleep for two days.”
Hawkwind’s mouth was drier than the sand she lay on. She tried to speak but couldn’t even croak. Thornfire looked to the side, at someone out of her range of vision. Skymist walked over to crouch in front of her. She was holding a water skin.
“You’ll want some of this,” the grey griffin smiled.
With Skymist’s help, Hawkwind sat up and drank, and as soon as the liquid hit her insides she felt remarkably better.
“I’ll tell the others and they’ll bring you food,” Skymist said.
Before Hawkwind could protest that she was fine—although she wasn’t—Skymist dashed for the door and was gone.
“The total is twenty-seven dead,” Thornfire reported without preamble. “Many more are recovering from wounds. You may be saddened to hear that Rainsoft’s father died in the attack. He was among the group that went with you to fight. The other of your group that died was a female called Skyblack. The other deaths were mainly among the confused ones who refused to run or fight. Unfortunately, a few of those were chicks and fledglings following their confused parents’ lead.”
Hawkwind didn’t respond. It seemed that she couldn’t feel anything; her whole insides were numb.
“It could have been much worse,” Thornfire soothed. “You did well in making choices under pressure.”
Just then, Rainsoft and Thornwing both came into the room with chunks of meat. Hawkwind accepted hungrily. Thornwing’s pet Ferrie scampered down off of Thornwing’s back, and darted up to Hawkwind. He extended his arms, holding out a large beetle. Thornwing made some gurgling noises at him and he chattered back.
“I’m trying to tell him that griffins don’t eat beetles,” Thornwing explained, “but he really seems to want to give it to you. I think he likes you and is happy you’re safe.”
“I’m happy he’s safe, too,” Hawkwind murmured.
“I told him to hide when the talis came.”
Hawkwind opened her bill and let Ferrie set the wiggling beetle on her tongue. The mountain-ferret looked inordinately pleased when she gamely swallowed it, and ran back up Thornwing’s foreleg, chattering all the way. The two males stayed a moment longer to affectionately preen her feathers, and then ran off again, presumably to bring more meat.
“I did not tell anyone what I detected,” Thornfire said softly, “although Rocksky and the scouts with her at the time may have heard. They have no reason to speak of it. Thornwing and Rainsoft do not know, to my knowledge.”
He meant the knowledge that she was carrying a chick. Hawkwind gave him a nod.
“Congratulations,” Thornfire told her with a little smile. “There will soon be no one that can rightfully deny the existence of your Line.”
Thornwing and Rainsoft came in again with more mouthfuls, and left again once Hawkwind had accepted them.
“Rocksky took one scout and left to report to South-scree what has happened here,” Thornfire went on.
“Do you think that’s wise?” Hawkwind spoke to him for the first time since waking up.
“Commander Rocksky is on our side,” the mage assured her. “She will report the facts. The final decision is not in her hands at any rate. Once we are well, we will move ourselves closer to South-scree, to a safe place, and a delegation including yourself will go to South-scree, and we shall see what will come of all this.”
Starbright groaned and shuddered. Thornfire placed a gentle hand on his apprentice’s back, and in a few moments the young female opened her eyes.
“Water magic, Bright?” Thornfire chortled, eyes brimming with pride. “You used water magic on that talis, and the results reinforced what I always knew: you can master every element you put your mind to. Once you’re healthy, I’ll begin teaching you how to blend magic.”
Starbright trilled like a little chick and closed her eyes again. “It fought back, Master, with its own water magic,” she mumbled. “I felt it, but I had to overcome it. I had to stop it, and it bit me, but I won.”
“You did win, and you saved all those chicks. Your bite has been taken care of. You’ll be fine, and you’ll be a fine mage,” he murmured, stroking her head.
Skymist came back into the cave with a fresh water skin for Starbright. Hawkwind curled back up, feeling wounds pinch and twist but not break open. Swift and Joy were next to visit; the word of Hawkwind’s recovery must have been passed on. Her Linemembers sat on either side of her, preening her battered feathers.
A few minutes later, Hawkwind’s human children came running into the room, calling her name, and restrained themselves from jumping on her with happiness. They cuddled up with her, and Hawkwind tucked them under her wings: Jessika with her golden tattooed wings, Rikah with his cooking knife, Kassandra with her strange little pink forehead bump, and Karolan with his magical potential. Hawkwind tenderly nibbled their ears with her bill, making them all giggle. Perhaps now she would have the power to make them a home where they could be warm and safe.
Two weeks had passed. The Snow-in-lee griffins had moved to the other side of the mountains, closer to South-scree, by flying, not navigating the long and dangerous path through the tunnels. Everyone who could recover had. The new settlement was divided into two sections and located in another series of caves. In one section were the griffins who wanted to join Lines or start Lines of their own. The other section was made up of the separatist griffins, who wanted nothing to do with the griffin society of the Aeries. Most of the confused ones had died in the talis attack. A few remaining confused ones had just left one day and no one knew where they’d gone. A few more confused ones had finally accepted their situation and chosen a side.
As for the orphaned chicks of confused ones, Thornfire had exerted himself, and simply taken them away from any separatist griffin that had wanted to raise them, not that there had been many, as they were more focused on their own family unit. He’d found homes for the chicks with griffins of their own Line among the Snow-in-lee griffins who wanted to be in Lines. Of course, even though the Line griffins felt the best thing for all the chicks would be to join Lines, they hadn’t tried to take any chicks born of the separatist griffins. They would learn in time.
Now, Hawkwind stood before the South-scree council again, without any restraints this time. Rainsoft, Thornfire, Thornwing, Starbright, Hawkswift, Rocksky, Stormstone, and Windnight were with her. Icemoon and a few other elders had remained at the settlement to keep an eye on things. Joy had come also, but she was waiting outside the council chamber with Jessika and the other children. Hawkwind and Rainsoft were both carrying what they had been tasked to bring back: the Sunstone and the Moonstone.
Eldest Skycall was looking off-balance.
“So you see the situation, Eldest,” Thornfire was saying. “We have accomplished what we set out to do, as well as potentially unseated the talis from Snow-in-lee, and saved a great number of our people.”
He’d spent the last half hour recounting the basics of what had happened since he had left South-scree with his party of four griffins and four humans. Of course, some things that everyone didn’t need to know had been left out.
“We bring our news here,” Thornfire went on, “to put the situation before the council. There are many griffins that need homes, and others still that do not want homes with us.”
Skycall straightened. “We’ll have nothing to do with—”
“Fire, we cannot make a decision for all the Aeries,” Thornmother interrupted, “as we all know.”
“An all-Aerie meeting must be called,” agreed another matriarch whose name Hawkwind didn’t know. “That is the clear path, before any decision can be made.”
The gathered matriarchs and elders chimed their agreement. Hawkwind thought Skycall might have ground her bill a little, but she did not object. “Then we shall send out messages at once, and an all-Aerie meeting will be arranged.”
“Until then I ask for asylum for the freed Snow-in-lee griffins,” Thornfire said smoothly. “They are, technically, beyond the borders of South-scree. I will ensure that they watch the prey animal population.”
“And what of chicks?” Skycall challenged. She suddenly pointed her wing down at Hawkwind. “That one has awakened and could kindle at any moment, maybe already has.”
Muttering fluttered around the room. Hawkwind could sense it now, and had been able to for a few days. There was new life in her, and it would cement the legitimacy of her Line. She forced herself not to bristle at Skycall.
“We can all tell, Eldest,” said one of the other matriarchs, “and there’s nothing to be done.”
“We’ll not be adjusting our quota because of this,” Skycall retorted. “And any griffins not of South-scree will not be tolerated hunting in our territory.”
“If South-scree agrees not to have the compassion to take in griffins who have suffered much and have no home, you’ll not be forced to, by my estimation,” Thornfire spoke firmly. “You’ll also do without the honor of taking in Lines that have been absent from our society for generations. The Hawk, Eagle, Ice, and Snow Lines, once thought gone forever, or perhaps merely a myth, are back. Reject them if you will, but they are here. If South-scree does not take them in, some other Aerie will, and that Aerie will have the benefit of its blood being strengthened by them.”
There was more muttering.
“Eldest Skycall,” Hawkwind put in, “you told me if I brought back the Sunstone my place in South-scree would be considered, and likewise for Rainsoft. We have the Stones. You see them. What say you now?”
Thornmother stood up. “It is thanks to Hawkwind and Rainsoft that Wing has returned.” She spread out a hand. “We are not overpopulated here, and indeed for several years now the mothers have been unable to make the quota of chicks the council seems to think we need. Eldest Skycall, we have the space.”
“You propose adding a Line to our Aerie?” Skycall retorted, bill open with astonishment. “There are only five seating sections in here.”
“That’s your excuse?” another matriarch scoffed.
“Perhaps younger mothers would do better at meeting the quota,” Skycall said next, ignoring the accusation.
“Excellent,” one of the other matriarchs smiled. She pointed at Hawkwind. “Here we have quite a young mother. Surely she will be able to help.”
A few griffins chuckled.
“I call for a vote,” someone shouted out.
“Wait, what about Rainsoft?” Hawkwind interrupted. “What’s the fifth Line here? I know about the Thorn, Star, Sky, and Rock Lines, but I’ve never been told what the fifth is. Is it the Rain Line?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Thornmother. “It is the Water Line.” She nodded towards one of the sections of the seating. “However, I would be more than happy to adopt Rainsoft into the Thorn Line, if he wishes it.”
All eyes turned to the charcoal grey griffin. He lifted his hands to begin speaking.
“Rainsoft cannot speak aloud,” Hawkwind explained. “All griffins held prisoner in Snow-in-lee were injured by the talis as chicks. The talis destroyed their vocal cords.”
Rainsoft lifted his head so his feathers parted on his throat, showing the scar.
“I can translate for him,” Hawkwind concluded.
“Rainsoft, is that acceptable to you?” Thornmother asked. “Nod for yes?”
Rainsoft nodded and began speaking. Hawkwind spoke aloud for him.
“I appreciate your kindness, Thornmother. If I were alone, I would accept at once, but I have a little sister, and a mother. They both are asleep, so there is no problem there yet,” Hawkwind explained for him, noting to herself that he did not mention his brother and his brother’s mate. They had joined the separatists. “We have decided that we would like to stay together.”
“I see,” Thornmother said. “Are you considering seeking out the Rain Line in the Aeries and asking to join? I will tell you that the Rain Line is a part of the Aerie called In-the-wind. I can send a special request there. I do not know the Rainmother personally, and the Aerie is a two day journey from here, but I will do all I can for you, if that is your desire.”
“Thornmother,” Hawkwind added. “I, too, have volunteered to adopt Rainsoft, his mother, and sister into the Hawk Line.”
“You are hardly a Line and already think you can adopt others?” Skycall interrupted.
Grumbles came from the assembled griffins.
“Eldest Skycall,” sang out the matriarch Thornmother had identified as Watermother, “I see the tides of this council turning against your voice.”
Thornwing shifted nervously beside Hawkwind. “Hold onto your feathers,” he whispered.
The hall fell silent. Skycall wasn’t gaping, but rather scowling.
“I call for a vote,” one of the other matriarchs stated, crest lifted.
The matriarchs looked between themselves and even down at Hawkwind: who could only look back with genuine puzzlement.
“I second,” a different matriarch said.
“A vote it shall be,” Thornmother confirmed, when Skycall said nothing.
The mothers turned to their elders and began speaking quickly and quietly. Thornfire flew up to join Thornmother.
“Hawkwind,” Thornwing said flatly, “the matriarchs are going to vote out Skycall and put in a new Eldest. They might ask for your vote; they seem to like you. You’ll need a yea or nay vote for Skycall. To vote, you’ll be offered a basket of white and black stones. A white stone is yea; a black stone is nay. You reach in and secretly select your stone. Keep it hidden in your hand. Then, you drop it in a box that will be brought to you. A majority of white stones means Skycall stays. A majority of black stones unseats her.”
“I understand,” Hawkwind whispered nervously.
“If Skycall is unseated, a new Eldest will be elected. That won’t happen today. Today, each Line will nominate one of its elders. Everyone will get to think about who they want and voting will happen tomorrow.”
“What exactly does the Eldest do?” Hawkwind asked.
“The Eldest doesn’t technically have any extra power to make decisions that regular Elders don’t have, and in a way, he or she has less, although Skycall has been known to abuse her position,” Thornwing explained. “The Eldest is required to help moderate discussions and remind griffins of any laws they might have forgotten in their passion. The Eldest needs a thorough understanding and knowledge of all our Words. He or she acts like an encyclopedia of them, ready to recite any bit of them needed at any time.”
“What are the Words? I remember Thornfire mentioning them before.”
“They are a combination of our history, our laws, our beliefs, and our ethics, that we in South-scree try to live by,” Thornwing told her. “The other Aeries have similar Words, but some minor differences. Wherever your Line is accepted, you will need to read and learn the Words of that Aerie.”
“I think I understand.”
One by one, the matriarchs were returning to their position at the head of their seating section. Once all had returned, one said, “I think it is time for the stones?”
Someone fetched a basket and someone else a box. The basket and box were carried around to the matriarchs who voted just as Thornwing had said they would. Thornmother looked briefly at Hawkwind, but no one suggested bringing the box to her. The box was taken to Skycall, who removed the stones one at a time. They were all black. Hawkwind was a little surprised; even Skymother had voted out her own Linemember. Skycall seemed even more shocked.
After gaping at the room for a few breaths, she seemed to gather what little dignity she had left. “I will step down,” she said to the room, and then did just that, leaving her collar of office on the podium and gliding down to the council hall floor. She looked straight ahead, although Hawkwind had half expected her to glare at her.
The matriarchs all stood ready at the front of their sections. They looked to their right to the matriarch farthest from Hawkwind. That one nodded.
“The Star Line nominates Starkind,” she said. Hawkwind sought out the elder who had straightened to attention at those words. So that was Starkind, Starbright’s mother according to Thornfire and his good friend. She was something of a tarnished gold in color, with darker wings and lighter feet.
The next matriarch nodded. “The Rock Line nominates Rocktall.”
“The Thorn Line nominates Thornfire.”
“The Sky Line nominates Skywhite.”
“The Water Line nominates Watercloud.”
Only after all the names were announced did muttering and soft comments run around the gathered griffins.
“Until tomorrow, when a new Eldest is chosen, we will adjourn, in accordance with the Words,” Thornmother said, and all the other matriarchs nodded in agreement.
“We’ll have to come back,” Thornwing shrugged.
“Are you happy?” Hawkwind asked him. “Your brother might become the Eldest.”
“That would be a mixed blessing,” he said frankly, as they turned towards the exit. “Thornfire’s time needs to be devoted to his apprentice, to training future mages of our Aerie. He’ll also need to devote time to studying the Stones and those drake collars you got.”
“And what would the benefits be?”
“Status. Being the ranking mage already, and then becoming the Eldest would put him with nearly as much status as a matriarch. With that status would come power and influence.”
Hawkwind and the others passed out of the council hall, joining up with Joy and the children, and Thornwing led them back to Thornfire’s home. His own home had been uninhabited for years now and was in need of repair and cleaning. For the time being the group was squishing themselves into Thornfire’s domicile, except for Rocksky who had her own home to go to. Hawkwind figured it was also likely that Starbright would go stay with another Linemember, to make more room in her master’s house, but for now she went with the others.
They snuggled in, almost shoulder-to-shoulder, and Hawkwind set the Sunstone into the fireplace for safety. Ferrie ran out from where he’d been hiding among Thornwing’s feathers and curled up by the Sunstone to nap.
“What happened?” Rikah demanded.
“Can we stay?” Jessika asked, the two younger children nodding beside her.
“We don’t know yet,” Hawkwind answered them. “What do you think will happen, Rocksky? Thornwing?”
“Elder Thornfire is well-liked by most,” Rocksky answered, “but there are others who would question passing him so much power in addition to what he carries already. He is also considered a radical by certain griffins,” she said this last with a sheepish grunt.
Hawkwind knew that Rocksky and Thornfire rarely saw eye-to-eye on matters of policy.
“I believe he would make a good Moderator,” the commander went on, “but Thornwing made some excellent points, and I think many others will see them, too. It would be a controversial appointment. The only thing that might swing it in his favor is that he has brought us the Stones, and potentially regained us Snow-in-lee.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Thornwing argued. “We may have taken the Stones, the Snow-in-lee griffin prisoners, and killed many talis, but they will not give up the city. There was always a natural spring there, just a smaller one. The talis will stay.”
“It’s also Thornfire’s fault that we have this new problem—all these Snow-in-lee griffins that need homes,” Rocksky went on. “Some will dislike him for that.” She shook her head. “As much as some may like it, I don’t think he will be elected.”
Thornwing was nodding. “You are probably right. Who then?”
Rocksky went silent to think, only looking up when she’d made a choice. “Thornfire, we can agree, is out of the running. The same Line almost never holds the seat of Moderator twice in a row and Skymother knows it, so she nominated Skywhite, who is unremarkable enough that she won’t draw votes from other candidates. Watercloud is a steady, gentle griffin, but too gentle for a time when an all-Aerie meeting is about to be called. That leaves Rocktall and Starkind. There it is a hard choice. Tall is one of the youngest elders. He is fit and strong and would bring a solid presence to the all-Aerie meeting, but I am thinking the matriarchs will want someone more like them, and more likely to follow their direction, more predictable. For that, I think Starkind will be victorious. She is past her years as Starmother, but still sound of mind and not so old that she will appear weak.”
Starbright perked up and ventured to speak. “Starkind-mother is smart and fair. I think she’d be a good choice.”
“Then you know where to cast your vote,” Rocksky nodded at her. “I should go now, and hear what the Rock elders have to say about it. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
The rest of the group gestured or said their goodnights and Rocksky took her leave, making a bit more space in the room.
“Everyone in the Aerie votes for the Eldest?” Hawkwind clarified. “Not just elders and matriarchs?”
“All fledged Linemembers may vote,” Thornwing confirmed. “Most will vote the way their matriarch and elders council them to. Depending on the Line, the matriarch may be more or less firm about whom the vote for. As you have just observed, it is not always—in fact not even usually—the case that Linemembers vote for the candidate from their own Line; the situation is often more complicated than that.”
“You will vote, too?”
“I’ll vote with the others, in the morning.”
“And whom will you vote for?” Jessika asked.
“I will probably cast my vote for Starkind,” he shrugged, “but I’ll sleep on it. Many griffins will discuss it with an elder in formal or informal meetings, but I was there, I heard the announcing of the candidates myself, and I am known for keeping my own counsel.”
“So Thornfire won’t be back for a while? He’ll be in meetings with Linemembers?” Hawkwind guessed.
“Probably. We should go ahead with getting a meal ready and settling sleeping arrangements.”
Starbright took herself off to find a spot to sleep with a Star Linemember and offered her room to Hawkwind’s children, as it would be more comfortable than the floor. They accepted, and that meant Hawkwind would get the room, too. Thornwing announced that he would make his brother share his room with him. That left five adult griffins to share the main room, which would be snug but not impossible. The remaining group set about organizing their accommodations.