As Hawkwind retreated to Starbright’s room with the children she felt a slight sense of relief. Starbright’s nest of worn leather and canvas cushions stuffed with plant fibers would be far more comfortable than the floor. The children started claiming cushions and Hawkwind let them; they soon enough tired of it and ran back into the living room. She lay down for a few moments. She wasn’t tired, and didn’t know if she should be. Swift knew of course, but hadn’t given her any precautions yet—
Hawkwind startled. Thornwing had come through the door. He let the leather curtain fall down behind him.
“You’re going to be Hawkmother, aren’t you?” he said, voice low so his words wouldn’t carry beyond them. “You haven’t told anyone?”
“Everyone will be able to tell, eventually, by scent?” she asked. “I’m not sure. I’ve never really paid attention.”
“Unawakened females won’t know, and won’t care. Other matriarchs might be able to tell; I’ve never really asked. Males will just know you’re awake but not in heat. Of course, everyone will know once you start showing. I only know now because I know when you last, uh, and we,” he trailed off.
“Yes,” she admitted. “Thornfire could tell, with his magic. After I was bit by talis, he burned the venom out of me, after he checked, and said there was—that I—”
Thornwing leaned forward and preened her neck feathers. “I’m happy,” he said simply, through a mouth of feathers. “Are you happy?”
“Sort of,” she whispered. “I won’t rest easy until I have a place for my Line. Then I will probably be happy.”
“If you tell the matriarchs, they will be more inclined to help you, and more forced to help you, which would be good and bad; they don’t like having their hands forced.”
“I thought about that.”
“I can tell Thornmother for you.” He stopped nibbling her feathers and sat back. “If we knew I was the sire, I could tell her that, too, and she’d be even more inclined.”
“I can’t tell. I don’t know who,” she paused and took a breath, “but there are two.”
He tilted his head at her. “Two?”
“Two chicks,” she managed. “I can feel two. I just know there are two, but I don’t think Thornfire could tell.”
Thornwing’s bill had dropped open a little. “It, it’s not unheard of,” he stuttered. “That explains,” he went on in a soft whisper, “why I thought maybe there had been two chick-pains. Now you know what it feels like, you should only let there be one. Twins are difficult, I’ve heard.”
“Difficult?” Hawkwind repeated, hackles rising slightly with concern.
“Don’t worry,” he hurried to reassure her, “not fatal or anything. The chicks just might be early, and small, and the birth could be complicated, but with Linegrandmothers to help, and a mage or two just in case, it will be fine.”
“We never had mages at Northnest,” Hawkwind reflected, “but I suppose the Linegrandmothers helped. I don’t remember there being any twins at the castle.”
“Because they’re rare,” Thornwing nodded. “It’s usually an accident. I guess it was sort of an accident this time.”
“I didn’t have a Linegrandmother to advise me. I hadn’t asked Swift anything.”
“Does she know?” Thornwing asked.
“She knows I’m pregnant. I haven’t told anyone there’s two yet, except you.”
He preened her neck ruff again, briefly. “Hawkwind, my loyalty is to my Line, but I still want to help you, at least until your Line is established, and you’re safe, and you have enough Linemembers to keep you safe.” He shuffled his feet against the floor. “Plus, you saved my life, freed me, and it might be that we made a chick or two together.”
“I wouldn’t have these chicks if it weren’t for you,” she admitted.
“You’d have gotten some eventually, just not yet,” he assured her.
“So, should I say anything to anyone?”
Hawkwind shook her head. “No, but thank you. I’ll tell people as I want to.”
Rikah suddenly burst into the room, throwing the curtain aside with boyish enthusiasm. “Hawkwind,” he panted. “There’s someone here to see you, a big griffin.”
Thornwing spun and slipped smoothly past the boy.
“Thank you, Rikah,” Hawkwind told him, and followed in Thornwing’s wake.
The Snow-in-lee griffins had crammed themselves into one corner together and were engaged in mutual preening while chatting fluidly with their hands. Hawkwind took a brief moment to realize how convenient that was. They could keep talking even while their bills were in use. The children had plopped down next to the hearth where the Sunstone was warming them, with laps full of fabric, following Jessika’s directions in sewing more clothing, but taking frequent breaks to pet Ferrie.
Thornwing was showing in a large female griffin, with much head bobbing, his feathers slicked flat in subservience. Hawkwind recognized her, although she hadn’t seen her up close before.
“Welcome, Thornmother,” Thornwing was saying. “May I present: Hawkmother.”
“I thought as much,” the matriarch said with a smile. “You really were the last of your Line.”
Thornmother was a dark chocolate brown with a white underside dusted with gold. The golden color was in her flight feathers, too, and her upper coverts were black. She had a black crown and eye-stripe, as well. She was also nearly double Hawkwind’s size. Daintily, she found a scrap of empty floor, and sat. From there, she eyed Hawkwind.
“So, I’ll be blunt. Do you have a chick yet?” she asked.
Behind Thornmother, Thornwing twitched.
“Yes,” Hawkwind admitted.
The matriarch’s sharp bill swung like a compass needle to the male behind her. “Yours, Wing?”
“Maybe,” Hawkwind said, before he could speak. “I don’t know whose.”
“You’re a quick one,” Thornmother remarked.
Rainsoft had also twitched at Hawkwind’s admittance, and his gaze was now steady on her. The Thornmother noticed.
“Or yours? Rainsoft, aren’t you? From Snow-in-lee?”
He bowed his head with somber assent.
“You are correct,” Hawkwind said, calling the attention back to herself. “I don’t know whose. Either or both could be the sires.”
“Both?” The matriarch’s feathers flicked with surprise.
“Twins,” Hawkwind confirmed.
For a long moment Thornmother stared at her, and she stared back. “Your manner may be modest, but I see more behind it. I want you for South-scree. Will you stay?”
“If I am granted permission to stay, I will stay,” Hawkwind agreed.
“Understand; this settlement has as many problems as any city. Not every griffin is kind and understanding. Not every griffin will welcome a new Line. There are even griffins here who disobey the Words, and the council deals with them.”
“Whenever people live together, there will be difficulties,” Hawkwind responded, lifting her bill. “It was so at Northnest. There were troublemakers, even an occasional evildoer. That is the way of society.”
“We understand each other,” Thornmother nodded. “We work hard: the council, the matriarchs, the elders, and the Eldest. You will join us in that?”
“I will do my best. I have a lot to learn. I am young.”
“We will help you, if you do as you say, and do your best.”
Hawkwind struggled internally against the fragile flutter of hopeful butterfly wings.
“I can’t guarantee anything,” Thornmother said swiftly, as if able to see inside her to that delicate glimmer of relief. “Tomorrow we will count the votes for a new Eldest and then I will bring the matter to the council. It may be that we can agree to induct you right away, but others may want to wait for the all-Aerie meeting, and settle the matter of all the new griffins at once. Messengers have been sent off to the other Aeries. It will take weeks to organize the all-Aerie meeting. Until then, you would have to return to your caves in the mountain, where the rest of the Snow-in-lee griffins currently reside.”
“I understand,” Hawkwind was quick to assure her.
“Good.” The Thornmother got to her feet. “I once had twins. I was young and stupid and trying to fulfill the quota. I vowed to never do it again, and listen to my Linegrandmothers, whatever the quota might say. Expect to be very uncomfortable before the end, and I was larger than you at the time.”
The matriarch laughed. “That’s why I’m only doing one this time, again.” She patted her own belly, and then reached out to put a hand on Hawkwind’s head. “I know you have friends and even a couple Linemembers to help you, but if you need anything, you can come to me.”
The frail little butterfly fluttering in Hawkwind’s chest almost turned into drips of teary relief, but she held onto her composure. The Thornmother looked over at the four children. After the novelty of a new griffin in the room had worn off, they’d returned to their sewing, happily ignorant of the adults’ conversation.
“Most curious creatures,” the Thornmother murmured. “They will be living with you?”
“They are in my charge. I have sworn to protect them,” Hawkwind answered levelly.
“Fear not. I won’t try to take them from you,” she promised. “You should make them Linemembers, so they have legitimacy.”
“Even though they are human, not griffin?”
“There is nothing in the Words that say all Linemembers must be griffins,” the matriarch shrugged.
Hawkwind stared at her.
“So, you’re a Linemother, as long as the Eldest does not object—and he or she will have no legitimate reason to—you can bring them into your Line. Do that, and no one can question their presence here, and they’ll have full rights, but please, Hawkmother, do not add to them.”
“I won’t,” Hawkwind agreed. “Thank you for that information.”
“I should be on my way. There are still members of my Line I haven’t spoken with.” She turned to go and paused before Thornwing. “You’ve already made up your mind about the voting, I presume, Wing?”
“As always I am eager to hear your guidance, Mother,” Thornwing bowed immediately.
“Cheeky. Not that what I say will matter to you, but I am counseling voting for Starkind.”
“I came to the same conclusion.”
“Luckily, and even if you voted for someone else, I wouldn’t know, so do as you like.”
He bowed lower.
“And thank you for establishing a connection between the Thorn Line and the Hawk Line.”
He shook his head. “Thank the Hawkmother for taking pity on me.”
Hawkwind almost laughed. Thornmother looked over and shared a wry glance with her.
“He is charming, isn’t he?”
“In a slightly arrogant and annoying way,” Hawkwind said. “I do owe a great debt to the Thorn Line, for the assistance of both Elder Thornfire and Thornwing.”
“Don’t go around proclaiming debt like that to anyone,” the matriarch countered. “As a Linemother, you can’t afford to admit debt any time except for when you’re backed into a corner and have no other choice. Considering that Fire took advantage of your situation to manipulate you into going with him on a fool’s errand that returned to us a missing Thornson, and that the Thorn Line has gained both a link of alliance with and the status of being the favorite of the Hawk Line due to Wing’s actions, I’d say we’re equal. We don’t owe each other anything yet. Let’s try to keep it that way, and not take on debts that aren’t there.”
Hawkwind winced, chastised. “I understand. I am still learning—”
“And I’m trying to teach you. I am a most impatient teacher.”
“Rather like Fire,” Thornwing commented with a snicker.
“You could try listening, for a change, too,” the Thornmother scolded. “I’ll go now. See you tomorrow in the council hall.”
“Thank you,” Hawkwind called after her as she left.
As Thornwing’s back was turned as he watched the Thornmother leave, Hawkwind saw Rainsoft gesture rapidly: “you said I was your favorite.”
Hawkwind gestured back: “she said it, not me. You are.”
And as she looked at him, at his serious orange eyes with sincerity shining soft like moon glow from them, tension melted from her, and she knew she hadn’t lied. Thornwing was indeed charming and useful, but Rainsoft was special and important. She still didn’t know what would become of him. Would he go to join the Rain Line at In-the-wind? Would he and his sister be willing to become Hawks instead? What of his mother?
As the group settled down for the evening—with Thornwing slipping out to go fetch food—Hawkwind found herself stuck in pondering possibilities, which stayed with her and followed her into her dreams that night.