Ice-peak had been chosen as the site for the all-Aerie meeting. Every matriarch from every Aerie with the exception of a few who were too pregnant to make the journey and had sent Linegrandmothers instead, each with an elder, and the Eldest from every Aerie had arrived and been accommodated. Hawkwind and Swift, with Jessika along, had also come to Ice-peak. Rainsoft and Windnight had been chosen to represent the Snow-in-lee griffins. They had asked Jessika to be their translator.
Young though she was, she was more skilled at their language than anyone except Kassandra, and Kassandra had been judged too shy to stand up and talk confidently in a room full of strange griffins. Hawkwind hoped they’d made the right choice; Jessika, too, might be too intimidated. Regardless, she’d felt that Jessika, as the largely unknown princess of Northnest, most deserved to be there, of the four children. Giving the Snow-in-lee griffins a non-griffin translator who was not officially part of a Line had been a move to indicate impartiality.
The morning of the all-Aerie meeting dawned cold and crisp like fresh ice on a pond. Ice-peak’s council hall was filled to capacity. Each Linemother had a prominent seat, with her elder beside her, grouped around the Aerie’s Eldest. Hawkwind—who had not been officially taken on by South-scree because the council as a whole had wanted to wait—with the Snow-in-lee delegation were seated centrally, as they were the whole reason for the meeting.
Thornmother had brought Thornfire with her, for obvious reasons. Thornwing had been left behind; there just hadn’t been room for him in the delegations, according to the regulations. Starkind had been elected Eldest, as predicted, and sat at the head of the South-scree group. Most of the griffins were staring curiously at the Snow-in-lee group: perhaps mostly at Jessika; none of them had seen a human before. The girl was wrapped in layers of fur to keep her warm, but her head and hands were still clearly visible and strange to the griffins.
There was no single moderator for the meeting. The Eldest griffins were all expected to work together to maintain order, but Thornmother had said it was likely the Ice-peak Eldest—as the host—would be the most vocal. Now that everyone was seated, they were looking between each other, judging when to start the meeting. Slowly, the volume of conversation in the room decreased. Almost as one, the Eldest griffins each raised a wing straight up, attracting attention and signaling for quiet. The last of the talking faded and died away and the Eldest griffins lowered their wings.
Starkind stood up. “South-scree has called this meeting,” she began. “Everyone has agreed to it. Ice-peak has graciously hosted it. South-scree thanks you all for your efforts to make this meeting happen.”
She paused and many griffins gave small nods of acknowledgment.
“You have all been told, briefly, what this is about. Please allow South-scree to give you all the details of the extraordinary events that have brought us here.”
After some curt muttering, each Eldest griffin lifted both wings straight up and open, showing all their wing feathers forward. Hawkwind assumed that was a signal for yes, and Starkind nodded, lifting her wings the same way. Then she began to speak.
Clearly, Thornfire had told her almost everything about their journey, and Starkind must have spent copious time memorizing it all. She spoke with a strong, clear voice, without dramatizing anything. Hawkwind listened as she recounted the past when Thornwing went missing. She told of Thornfire’s hopeless efforts to get a rescue party from his own Aerie—which got some indistinct muttering from the crowd in return. Next, she spoke of Rainsoft’s discovery near the Aerie, and then Hawkwind’s, and the eyes of many griffins turned onto each of them. When Starkind explained about the human children, it was Jessika’s turn to endure the stares, but she smiled and waved at everyone, getting some chuckles and even croons of delight in return.
Starkind went on to tell of the bargain the disgraced Skycall made with Thornfire and his party. From there she recounted the journey Thornfire’s group made, through the mountains, to the camp near Snow-in-lee. Hawkwind tried her hardest not to blush as Starkind mentioned—in the simplest and most straightforward way possible—how Hawkwind awoke, and how it was evidence that she really was the last of her Line. Rainsoft’s history also had to be explained, because it was relevant to how the party approached Snow-in-lee.
By the time Starkind was describing the exploration of Snow-in-lee, the theft of the Stones, and the fight to free the prisoners, the whole room was hanging on her every word. Coos of relief and astonishment filled the air when Starkind told of how the prisoners escaped to the safety of the camp. After that, Starkind had to tell how the group of griffins moved to the caves, began to learn how to communicate and hunt and fly, and then how they were attacked by a group of talis trying to recapture the Stones.
As Starkind was wrapping up, explaining how South-scree felt the need to call for an all-Aerie meeting, most of the griffins were nodding and muttering with acknowledgement. They seemed to Hawkwind to understand the situation.
“So, the disposition of these griffins freed from Snow-in-lee must be addressed,” the Ice-peak Eldest summed up. “We cannot ignore them.”
“There are two factions, however, among the freed Snow-in-lee griffins,” Starkind informed. “To describe them, I would turn to our Snow-in-lee representatives themselves, Windnight and Rainsoft. The human child, Jessika, is their interpreter.”
All eyes turned to the Snow-in-lee delegation. Windnight raised her hands and began to gesture. Watching her carefully, Jessika began to speak.
“Greetings all griffins from all Aeries,” the girl translated as well as she could for having known the language only a couple months and being only six years old. “We griffins freed from Snow-in-lee thank you for letting us come here. We are grateful also to the ones that freed us. Everything is different out here. We don’t know how you live, but many of us want to join you. We learned that you live in Lines. We didn’t. We lived in pairs with chicks of our own. We learned that griffins don’t normally live that way. We want to live the normal way.
“However, not all of us want this. Some of us don’t understand. Some of us want to keep our mates and chicks and keep living like we did in Snow-in-lee. He, Rainsoft, and I, Windnight, want to join Lines. We think that’s the right way. We don’t know what to do about the others that don’t want to join Lines. We think they’re wrong, but we can’t change their minds. Will you let us, who want to join you, be in your Lines?”
Rainsoft patted Jessika on the back as she finished. She smiled at him, and all three of the little group looked around at the gathered griffins. The Eldest of Ice-peak raised a wing to speak.
“What do you think should be done with the griffins who don’t want to join Lines?”
Jessika translated even though Windnight and Rainsoft were both good at understanding spoken language. In another moment, she was translating their answer for the griffins that had no hope yet of reading their hand signs.
“We don’t know,” the girl announced. “If griffins naturally live in Lines, with one matriarch, then they will see the truth in time. They will experience it.”
Everyone muttered and nodded in acknowledgment.
“What should we do about them for now?” the Ice-peak Eldest asked.
Jessika translated. “We don’t know. Maybe let them alone?”
This time the mutters were louder, and Hawkwind heard clearly over and over again “the prey, the prey, the prey.” The prey would suffer without the careful monitoring that the Aeries did. The In-the-wind Eldest griffin raised a wing.
“None of these—what should we call them? These griffins that don’t wish to live in Lines?” he asked first.
Thornfire raised a wing and spoke. “We have been calling them separatists.”
“None of these separatists wished to come here and speak for themselves?” the Eldest went on. “Do they realize how the Aeries view outside griffins, how we view rogues?”
The room waited while Jessika translated. “Us good Snow-in-lee griffins have tried to talk to them,” she said, and there were a few chuckles at her word choice. “They don’t want to listen. We tried to tell them about the Aeries and how it’s important to live in Lines and take care of the animals. Some of them did listen, but not all.”
“Thank you, Windnight,” the Eldest nodded.
Starkind raised a wing for a chance to speak, and everyone looked to her. “It seems that there are two issues to address. One: will we, the Aeries, take in the Snow-in-lee griffins who want to join us? Two: what will be done about the Snow-in-lee griffins who don’t want to join us?”
A chorus of agreement met her words, but an Ice-peak matriarch raised her wing amidst it. “What about this other, Hawkwind, the last of the Hawk Line? She is not of Snow-in-lee. She is not of the Aeries. She comes with a Snow-in-lee griffin called Hawkswift that she has already considered to be a Linemember, and as we heard from Eldest Starkind, there is another, Hawkjoy, that she calls Linemember.”
Into the muttering that followed her words, Thornmother called out, “and she carries new life. Some months from now, with a live birth, there will be none permitted to call her other than Hawkmother, matriarch of the Hawk Line. She will lead a Line without a home. Hawkwind?”
“I seek an Aerie that will welcome the Hawk Line,” she called out, struggling to keep her voice even.
“And you bring with you four human children, including this one,” called out one of the South-scree elders. Hawkwind thought it was the elder from the Rock Line.
Some more muttering flitted through the room, some curious, some concerned. One of the In-the-wind matriarchs raised her wing.
“Legend tells that our Lines split after a great war. Some Lines, including the Hawk Line, left us to ally with humans. If what we are told is true, those Lines, except the Hawk Line, are now dead, because they allied with humans,” she proclaimed.
“To my knowledge,” Hawkwind called out before anyone else could speak, “I am the only griffin survivor from Northnest. There could be more, but I honestly do not know. By your logic, we could say that the humans of Northnest suffered as much from the allegiance. The four children I escaped with might be the only survivors of the attack on the capital; there were more towns with many more humans, but I don’t know what kind of casualties they sustained.”
“Your point is taken,” Eldest Starkind welcomed. “The laying of blame in the past is of no concern now. The past should not be forgotten, but we are here to plan the future.”
“Association with humans doomed some of our Lines,” the same In-the-wind matriarch reemphasized. “Who is to say it won’t do it again?”
The under-the-breath comments turned more ominous, and Hawkwind wasn’t sure what to say to assuage them. Thornfire stood up.
“Hawkwind,” he summoned, “what are your plans for these humans?”
“Uh, well, they are people, just like us,” she began awkwardly, “but I have seen a city attacked and decimated. I have seen everyone I know killed. I have seen drakes tear apart my Linesisters and Linebrothers, chicks, and humans both adult and young, right in front of me. Have any of you?”
Silence met her words.
“If you think I would do anything that would bring that kind of death to any city, you are seriously mistaken. I have seen it. I lived through it.” Hawkwind fought a sudden lump in her throat and tried to ignore her rising pulse and adrenaline. “I saved these human children. It was all I could do. I will soon have chicks of my own. I would never put any of them in that kind of danger again.”
She looked over at Jessika, who was watching her with a trembling jaw, tears rolling down her cheeks. The girl had her hands over her mouth to keep from making noise. Hawkwind felt bad about describing what had happened at Northnest, but it had to be mentioned; she hadn’t wanted to make the girl cry.
“These human children will grow up in an Aerie,” Hawkwind went on. “They will have each other, and many more griffin family members. The Aerie will be their home. I believe they are all kind, bright young ones. I’m sorry I couldn’t bring them all to this meeting, but ask the other South-scree and Snow-in-lee griffins who have met them; they’ll tell you about them. Elder Thornfire knows them well. With an Aerie to raise them, I believe they will grow up to want nothing but peace and safety for their home. They, too, saw their city, friends, and families destroyed.”
Thornmother swiftly raised a wing, interrupting Hawkwind. “I have asked Hawkwind not to add to their numbers. She has promised it will be so.”
“Then what when these human chicks grow up? Will they want to have chicks of their own?” an Ice-peak elder asked.
“It may be that these children, once they are grown and able to take care of themselves, will want to return to a human city,” Hawkwind shrugged. “If they want to make their own families, then it may be they will need to find a home in such a city, and merely visit their Aerie, or perhaps Aerie griffins will wish to visit them. They might become an intermediary for trade between human and griffin cities—something that the Aeries have never had, to my knowledge.
“Here is how it stands,” Hawkwind summed up. “When I fledged, I swore on my life’s blood to protect the people of Northnest. These four are all I have left. I am the last of the Hawk Line. I will become Hawkmother. I swear now to honor both my responsibilities. I promise to never allow these responsibilities to fall upon any who are not willing to bear them. I promise to do all in my power to never allow them to hurt others.
“If the Aeries turn me away, I will take my children and my Line and find a place to try to build a home on my own, far beyond your borders. I realize these featherless chicks are a departure from the norm, but I will vouch for their harmlessness, and take responsibility for all of their misbehaviors. I ask you to welcome back the Hawk Line.”
Most of the South-scree griffins smiled down at her, and some of the others did, too. Thornmother gathered the heads of the South-scree delegation to her and spoke rapidly with them. Some of the other griffins were talking urgently among themselves, too. Hawkwind wished she could comfort Jessika, but she was too far away. She met Rainsoft’s gaze, not having to say anything, and he reached out to give the girl a little hug. Jessika turned and wrapped her arms around his neck, drying her face against his fur.
Eldest Starkind suddenly stood up and flared both her wings for silence. She looked around at the room and then down at Hawkwind.
“South-scree welcomes the Hawk Line,” she declared, “and asks the Hawkmother to establish her Line with us.”
Elation flared in Hawkwind’s chest, making her feel like she had floated up a half a foot into the air. She could barely keep herself from crowing. “Yes, the Hawk Line accepts your offer.”
Beside her, Swift was beaming. Jessika had stopped hugging Rainsoft and was laughing through her tears. Some of the other gathered griffins were making sounds of approval. A few weren’t smiling, but none of them booed or hissed, at least.
Hawkwind’s heart and mind were bubbling over with mingled relief and joy, like she’d drunk a gallon of the fizzy sugar water a brewer back at Northnest had made for the children. She hadn’t been able to taste the sweetness of the sugar, but she’d felt its jittery effects on her body. The Ice-peak Eldest promptly moved the meeting on to other business, oblivious to her ecstasy.
“That takes care of the Hawk Line. What of the Snow-in-lee griffins who wish to join our established Lines?”
“There is precedence for adopting griffins into other Lines,” someone commented; Hawkwind wasn’t paying as much attention as she should have been and didn’t know who had said it.
“But those cases were when there was an irresolvable conflict between a griffin and other members of its Line, and the mothers and grandmothers were upset by it,” someone else said.
“That’s right. It’s usually a young male or female that hasn’t broken any laws but for whatever reason cannot live peaceably in its birth Line, or sometimes even in its own birth Aerie.”
“That’s what the petition process is for; this is different.”
Hawkwind, though her body still felt full of crackling elation, forced herself to look up and focus, knowing how important the meeting was.
“These Snow-in-lee griffins haven’t done anything wrong,” Thornfire spoke up.
“But they don’t know our ways,” an Ice-peak elder countered.
“They will learn. They want to learn,” the mage rebutted.
“Are you suggesting the petition process?” an In-the-wind matriarch asked.
“It could be done that way, but that would probably be tedious. I am more inclined to wish that first each Aerie would decide if they are willing to take in refugees. If they decide to allow it, then each Line within the Aerie would decide if they will accept the Snow-in-lee griffins of their same Line,” Thornfire explained.
“That makes logical sense to me,” an Ice-peak matriarch nodded, and others seconded her.
“What if an Aerie or a Line decides not to welcome new Linemembers?” another elder asked.
“Then, other Aeries and Lines would state whether they are willing to adopt Snow-in-lee griffins of other Lines. Only those that need adoption would petition,” Thornfire suggested.
Some griffins were nodding, but others were holding still, not expressing their opinion. Only a few seemed to be against the ideas, evidenced by slightly shaking heads or looking away. Hawkwind approved of the process in general, but she’d spotted a problem that Thornfire appeared to have forgotten. She raised a wing to speak, and got acknowledgement.
“This would work for most of the Snow-in-lee griffins, but the Eagle, Ice, and Snow Lines were at Northnest, and all were killed, but I know there are Eagle, Ice, and Snow griffins among the Snow-in-lee survivors. I’ve been told that those Lines are not among the Aerie Lines anymore. If those griffins are adopted into other Lines, those three Lines will be no more.”
“She makes an excellent point,” someone said.
“Thank you, Hawkmother,” Thornfire called, “I had forgotten about that.”
“Then Aeries will need to take in those Lines, the same as has been done for the Hawk Line,” the Ice-peak Eldest realized.
“Is it just those three?” someone asked.
“We have a list of names,” Thornfire announced. “If everyone is interested, let it be passed out to all.”
The chorus of assenting voices was enough to get the parchment scattered around the room. Hawkwind shared with Windnight, and she glanced quickly down the list. She guessed there were about five-dozen griffins there. They were grouped by Line. Beside each name, the sex and age of the griffin was written, and in the case of females, whether they were awakened or not.
“Some of these females are awakened,” an Ice-peak elder objected, right on cue.
“The Linemother will need to dominate them,” Starkind said. “They should go back to sleep.”
“That’s not certain,” someone else worried.
“If they don’t, then the current Linemother will go to sleep instead,” Thornmother spoke up. “There can be only one mother of a Line.”
That statement got waves of conversation rushing through the hall. An In-the-wind matriarch stood up and flared her wings for silence.
“That would not be a bad thing,” she began, and almost got shouted down. “No, listen to me. These griffins have been separated from us for a long time, while we have been breeding with each other for ages and they have been breeding with each other. They must have different blood from us and we from them. Mixing blood makes blood stronger. We know this and have seen it. Having a different mother for a decade or two will not ruin a Line; it will improve it.”
Now the waves of conversation turned varied. Some griffins clearly agreed with her. Others stubbornly refused to.
“If we bring in any of these Snow-in-lee griffins, the males will mate with our matriarchs,” the Watermother of South-scree pointed out. “Their blood will mix in that way. Who is to say a female chick we bring in from Snow-in-lee won’t grow up to become a mother? The chick of a union between an Aerie mother and Snow-in-lee male may become a mother. If we have any contact with the Snow-in-lee griffins, their blood will find its way into ours.”
An In-the-wind elder stood up. “The Watermother is right. And remember, nature selects the female who is the best for the Line at the current time to become the next mother when the old one gets tired. If an incoming awakened female from Snow-in-lee is not put back to sleep by the presence of the current Aerie Linemother, but rather the Aerie Linemother goes back to sleep—then the Snow-in-lee female is the best choice for the Line. We all want what is the best for our Lines, right?”
Some voices tried to shout over the elder’s last words, but others called out in support of him. Hawkwind waved her wings to get attention.
“From what I have seen, I think it is unlikely that a Snow-in-lee female, even one who is physically fit and strong, would dominate an Aerie Linemother,” she told everyone. “The mature Snow-in-lee griffins are self-conscious of their inability to speak aloud. In addition, they don’t understand many of our customs, so they’re cautious and reserved, keeping to themselves while they observe from a distance. I would be surprised if any were confident enough to overcome one of you. I think it is more likely that a chick from Snow-in-lee, if raised in an Aerie, might one day become a mother.
“On a related point, I’m not sure what to expect from the mature males,” Hawkwind went on. “If the talis placed them with a mate, and that female awakened, the male will have been used to mating only with his one female. When she goes back to sleep, he’ll be confused, and she might be sad. Both the griffins of the pair will need to adjust to their changing feelings for each other and their situation. The males might not want to mate with other females, or they might become tormented when they discover they want to mate with a Linemother who is not the mate they’ve lived with—and even had chicks with—for years.”
Thornfire waved his wings next. “That’s another issue that must be addressed. The pairs of griffins are mostly of two griffins from different Lines. Many want to stay together. That would involve one half of the pair being adopted, probably the male being adopted, because the chicks will bear their mother’s Linename, so the female and chicks would more easily go together into the same Line.”
Grumbles of exasperation came from many of the assembled griffins.
Thornfire waved the parchment of names. “You’ll see after the sex and age, and a note of what Line the griffin wants to go into.”
Starkind raised her voice over the continuing hubbub. “I suggest that each Aerie consider whether they will allow new Linemembers at all before we continue with this discussion. If we don’t wish to allow it, then we can stop talking about it now, and decide instead how to keep the Snow-in-lee griffins out of our borders.”
“Show of wings for agreement: take time to decide if Aeries will allow new Linemembers,” the Ice-peak Eldest cried out.
Nearly all of the gathered griffins raised a wing.
“Passed. Take time now.”