Starkind waved at Hawkwind, beckoning her to come join the South-scree matriarchs. Heart pounding, Hawkwind made her way to the group, Swift following her. Windnight and Rainsoft sat together, separate from the rest of the gathering, hands moving rapidly as they conversed.
“Let us take an initial vote,” Starkind was saying as Hawkwind reached them. “Let us all give our yea or nay opinion on if South-scree is willing to accept at least some new Linemembers from Snow-in-lee. If the consensus is yea, then we’ll work out the details of in what circumstances we’ll approve a transfer, but if the consensus is nay, then we can stop discussing it now.”
“Agreed,” the matriarchs and elders said, and Hawkwind added her own voice just a breath behind them.
Starkind hefted a bowl of black and white stones onto the table between them, and then put an empty bowl beside it.
“White for yea, black for nay,” the Eldest said. “Conceal your choice or not.”
Hawkwind knew what she would vote without having to think further. She reached into the bowl with other early voters and fished out one of the small white stones. Beside her, Swift—as the Hawk Line elder—reached into the bowl, too. Hawkwind transferred her stone to the empty bowl, her vote anonymous among all the other hands dropping stones in the bowl. When all were done voting, Hawkwind saw that the voting bowl had a neat pile of white stones. There were only two black ones.
“Majority says we will allow at least some transfers from Snow-in-lee into our Aerie and Lines,” Starkind proclaimed. “Those against it, do you wish to argue your position, or do you forfeit to the majority position?”
No one spoke. Starkind waited for several breaths before she poured the stones back into the selection bowl.
“South-scree will allow the option for Lines to accept transfers of Snow-in-lee refugees,” she declared. “Individual Lines may still refuse some or all transfers, but all Lines are granted the option to accept.”
Hawkwind found herself wondering who had dropped in the black stones. Who didn’t want the Snow-in-lee griffins joining South-scree? It was Hawkwind’s Aerie now, and she would have to live with dissenters. No one was meeting her gaze, and no one gave visible evidence of being angry; there was no way to tell who had voted nay.
“It seems the other Aeries have not made their decisions yet,” Starkind said. “Shall we look at the list of who might want to transfer to South-scree?”
Everyone bent over the list, and Hawkwind worked hard to read everything that was written in Aerie text, which she’d only learned to read a few months ago. She counted four Sky griffins, four Star griffins, three Rock griffins, and two Water griffins; however, there were griffins of other Linenames that wanted to join their mates in South-scree Lines. There were also five Eagle, three Ice, and three Snow griffins to be settled somehow.
“Sorting this out is all going to be tediously complicated,” the Skymother groaned.
“And there are more Snow-in-lee griffins that don’t want to join Lines,” Thornfire said, “but who might change their minds in a few years.”
“We’ll face that when it happens,” Starkind shrugged. “We have agreed as an Aerie to allow transfers. Each Line can decide to accept or reject the griffins that say they want to join. It doesn’t need to be decided now, either. Many of us may want the counsel of more elders before making a decision.”
“Agreed,” several South-scree griffins confirmed.
There were no Snow-in-lee griffins among the South-scree Lines who had written that they wanted to join the Hawk Line, but they wouldn’t have really known it was an option. Even griffins who knew Hawkwind hadn’t known at the time of writing if the Hawk Line was going to officially exist. She decided then that if there were any griffins who were rejected, she would accept them into her Line.
Hurriedly, Hawkwind searched for the Rain griffins. There were only three names written: Rainsoft, Rainsharp, and Raincloud. By the sex and ages, Rainsharp was Rainsoft’s little sister, and Raincloud was his mother. It seemed that Rainsoft’s brother had not added his name to the list; he and his mate would remain separatists.
Breath held with apprehension, Hawkwind read what the three Rain griffins had requested for their transfers. For Raincloud: In-the-wind, Rain Line. For Rainsharp: In-the-wind, Rain Line. For Rainsoft: South-scree, any Line. Hawkwind felt like she’d been punched in the chest. Rainsoft wanted more to be in South-scree than he did to be with his mother and sister in his birth Line. When had he changed his mind? Gentle warmth spread through her; some Line would take him—Thornmother had already volunteered—so he would be close by.
Hawkwind looked over at him, but he was half turned away from her, still talking with Windnight. She searched out Windnight’s name. The older griffin had put down In-the-wind, Wind Line, as her preferred choice. Her body had gone back to sleep, and her mate was dead, but she had one still-living chick, a female who was awake and had been placed with a Star male. The pair did not have a chick yet. Interestingly, Hawkwind saw that Windcold, Windnight’s daughter, wanted to join the Wind Line, but Starclaw, the male, wanted to join the Star Line in South-scree. It seemed the two hadn’t developed much of a bond.
“I suppose every Snow-in-lee griffin will have his or her own story,” Hawkwind commented to Swift, who was reviewing the list with her.
“Skycall was right about one thing,” Starkind spoke up. “This will affect our quota of births. We will have to adjust it for the next few years, or we’ll get over-populated.”
“I don’t think us mothers will mind,” Starmother chuckled. “We’ve been being pressured to meet the quota for some time now. It really isn’t that pleasant to be making chicks as fast as possible.”
“It will certainly make the males happier if you’re not,” the Sky elder chuckled.
For a moment, Hawkwind didn’t understand, and then her brain connected the dots and she had to fight the blushing of her cere. If the mothers weren’t pregnant all the time they would be coming into heat once a month—and the males would enjoy that.
Everyone looked up at the sound of a bell. The Ice-peak Eldest had flown over and rung one that hung at the head of the council hall.
“Have the Aeries all made their decisions?” she called out as she flew back to her seat.
The other two Eldest called out in the affirmative.
“Ice-peak has decided to allow transfers on an individually addressed basis,” the Eldest went on. “What of In-the-wind?”
Their Eldest stood up. “We will allow them, again on an individually addressed basis.”
Starkind stood. “We also, will accept transfers with the same condition.”
“Excellent,” the Ice-peak Eldest praised. “We are in agreement.”
The In-the-wind Eldest remained standing. “It was mentioned earlier that perhaps each Line would like to decide what griffins it will accept at a later date. However, I have noticed that some Snow-in-lee griffins have specified a second choice next to their name. If we do not decide now, many messengers might have to be sent between Aeries to sort out the transfers, which will delay them.”
“You are proposing we decide now, without the benefit of additional elders to help make the decisions?” a matriarch called out from the other side of the room.
“Ideally, the Snow-in-lee griffins in question could be present to talk to about it, but that’s not possible either,” another matriarch mentioned.
“Deciding now would be expedient,” an Ice-peak elder said. “The South-scree delegation could carry the decisions back and directly dispatch the transferred griffins with a guide to their new homes.”
“There are two Snow-in-lee griffins here,” said the In-the-wind Eldest. “We can ask them about their fellow survivors, can we not?” he asked directly to Windnight and Rainsoft.
The two griffins gestured and Jessika translated. “Ask us anything you want.”
Everyone looked around at each other for a moment until someone said, “well, then shall we get to it?”
The chorus of replies was not uniform in eagerness, but at least overall affirmative. The three Aerie groups put their heads together again, and Hawkwind joined back in with the South-scree group.
“Let’s start at the top,” Starkind directed firmly. “Skymother, there are four Sky griffins who want to join. One is a juvenile male, another is a female chick, another an older female who is asleep, and another an adult male who does not seem to be bringing whatever mate he might have had.”
The Sky elder nodded with a smile as the Skymother glanced at him for his opinion.
“We’ll take them,” she confirmed.
“Excellent,” Starkind grinned and made a note next to them. “Next are four Star griffins, ah—but one would rather join the Stone Line. That’s an Ice-peak Line.”
“I’ll check if they’ve noticed,” said the Rock elder, who hopped over to the next group.
“The other three are two males and a female, the female is awake, but there’s no mention of a male associated with her.”
And so it went. Hawkwind didn’t need to say much, as no griffins were asking to join her Line. She was relieved to see that the South-scree griffins had a welcoming attitude towards the Snow-in-lee refugees. A few snags came up, like when one of the Rock griffins wanted to bring her mate, a Fire griffin, to join the Rock Line, and he was requesting the Rock Line, too. She was awakened, but they had no chicks. Windnight was summoned to tell more details about the situation and it was revealed that the pair both wanted to live in an Aerie and stay together, as they seemed to have true affection for each other.
“There are times when a true pair bond does occur among us,” Thornfire commented. “We all know it is rare. I think I know this pair, too. They spend a lot of time together, but they are also intelligent and adjusted quickly to being outside of Snow-in-lee. We have had paired griffins living happily in Lines before. They cause no trouble. The female remains asleep and the male doesn’t sire chicks, but they still serve their Line well.”
“You think this female will go back to sleep?” the Rockmother worried.
“You are afraid you cannot quell her?” Thornfire challenged with a raised eyebrow. “Look how young she is.”
“If she has a true pair bond with that male, she’ll not go quietly. It will be a scene at least, and a fight at worst. She won’t win, however.”
“Our nature selects against pair bonded females becoming matriarchs,” Thornmother put in. “Such females refuse to mate with anyone other than her bonded male. It’s not healthy for the Line. It is exceedingly rare that such a female awakens, in the normal course of things.”
“If she doesn’t go back to sleep, she’ll need to be removed from the Line,” Rockmother said flatly. “If she does go back to sleep, she and her mate may mourn what they’ve lost, more so than other non-bonded but mated pairs in this situation.”
“Perhaps the Fire Line would take them both,” Starmother suggested with a shrug.
So began a discussion between South-scree and Ice-peak regarding this unique pair of griffins. The Firemother was particularly sympathetic. In the end, it was agreed that Rockmother would meet the pair and evaluate them. If it didn’t look like it would work out, Firemother agreed to have them sent to Ice-peak, and she would try to work it out. No one could decide what they should do if that didn’t work out either.
One of the Water griffins was a male, a juvenile, who Windnight explained had come from one of the separatist families. Although his parents were holding tight to his younger sibling and refusing to consider the Aerie way of life, he’d already decided to join a Line and split from them. Watermother accepted him without hesitation. The other was an older female, apparently the grandmother of the juvenile male, who had gone back to sleep. Watermother accepted her, too.
It was hours later that a plan had been established for every griffin but a few. It took longer to sort out griffins of other Linenames who wanted to join different Lines. Someone posted a master list at the head of the room, and as transfers were settled, notes were written on the list and names checked off. Hawkwind saw that Windnight and her daughter Windcold had been accepted by In-the-wind, and likewise Rainsharp and Raincloud. She was happy for them all, although she liked Windnight and would be sad to see her go.
Finally, the issue of Rainsoft came up among the South-scree griffins.
“I offered to bring him into the Thorn Line initially,” Thornmother said, “and my offer still stands, although perhaps he would rather join the Hawk Line? The Hawk Line is rather short of males.”
Hawkwind took a minute to think about how she would like Rainsoft in her Line. The children were terribly fond of him, and he would be an excellent provider since he seemed to like Hawkwind so much. She clenched her bill. Actually, no, that wouldn’t be that good of a situation. Rainsoft did like her a lot, an awful lot. She liked him, too, but having him in her Line would mean having him around all the time, especially while the Line was still so small.
Hawkwind wanted a strong Line with strong and varied blood. She would be mating with many different males from many different Lines—she’d already decided that. Having a, well, possessive male around when she would be wanting to welcome and choose among many would be a frustrating complication. No, as much as she liked Rainsoft, there was a good chance of him getting in the way. He could still take care of her from a different Line.
Unlike females, who usually stuck close to their sisters, nieces, and aunts, males normally spent a lot of time visiting other Lines. There would be nothing wrong with Rainsoft bringing Hawkwind food or dropping by to visit with the children. Moreover, giving him to another Line would show Hawkwind’s own impartiality and generosity. He knew Thornfire and Thornwing and they could read a little of his sign language. If he went to the Thorn Line he would not be among total strangers. The Thornmother was willing to take him. The whole Line would look favorably upon him for helping to rescue Thornwing, and he was a partial celebrity for fetching the Moonstone.
“The Thorn Line has received no new members tonight,” Hawkwind began slowly. “The Hawk Line will have males of its own in good time, and is not in desperate need. No Aerie lets a chick starve.”
Some of the gathered griffins smiled at that last. It was an Aerie saying that Hawkwind had heard and tucked away in her mind for future use.
“The Thorn Line was the first to offer him a place. If that is still how it stands, then that is how it should be,” Hawkwind finished.
Thornfire was giving Hawkwind a look that suggested he knew exactly what was going through her mind, and approved of it. Thornmother’s expression was similar, and she nodded at Hawkwind’s words.
“Let it be so, unless any other Line contests my claim,” she said.
No one objected, although there were a few little sighs and shrugs, and Hawkwind wondered it if was because the Thorn Line had attracted so much notoriety of late, and would now have another notable griffin to show off.
Thornfire went to the master list and wrote down the decision by Rainsoft’s name. From the corner of her eye, she saw Rainsoft notice and look at what had been written. He showed little reaction except for a relaxation of the muscles in his shoulders. It could have been a sign of relief or disappointment, or possibly a mix of both.
When every griffin had been sorted except for the Ice, Eagle, and Snow Lines, attention went back to the front of the room. The Ice-peak Eldest looked pleased.
“The only question remaining is the fate of the griffins in the Ice, Eagle, and Snow Lines,” she summed up. “As pointed out, they are the last of these Lines. To absorb them into other Lines would end them.” She consulted the list. “There are four Ice griffins, including an awakened female. There are three Eagle griffins, with an awakened female there, too. There are five Snow griffins, with two awakened females. All of these Lines have the potential to be viable. Are we willing to make room in our Aeries for new Lines, not just new griffins?”
There was grumbling around the room.
“The issue is not just our kindness,” an In-the-wind matriarch said. “The issue is the supply of food.”
“Nightmother makes an excellent point,” Rockmother agreed. “South-scree has taken in the Hawk Line. Our numbers are slightly low right now, and we are glad to have the Hawk Line, but in the long run it will mean fewer births per matriarch and lower individual Line populations, unless the hunting improves somehow, but our records show a fairly steady trend in prey over the last few decades.”
“Perhaps what is needed is a new Aerie, in a new location, far enough away to provide enough game for the new Lines,” an Ice-peak elder suggested.
“Starting a new Aerie is no easy task,” a different Elder argued, “and not something for a dozen griffins with no experience living in an Aerie—or even in the open world, on their own—to undertake.”
“Indeed,” Starkind said. “It is hard enough for experienced griffins.”
Everyone went quiet, likely thinking the same thing.
“Lines from our Aeries would have to go,” Thornfire voiced. “The Ice, Snow, and Eagle Lines would take their places in the current Aeries.”
“A new Aerie hasn’t been made in generations,” called out another matriarch. “Where would we go?”
“We would have to scout a location,” Thornfire shrugged. “It could be done.”
The sound of dozens of griffins thinking hard was deafening.
“Fire Line will not go,” announced the Firemother abruptly.
“Moon Line will not go.” That was the Moonmother, fast on the heels of Firemother.
More matriarchs spoke up, raising their wings urgently for attention.
“Wind Line will not go.”
“Thorn Line will not go.
“Star Line will not go.”
“Rain Line will not go.”
Hawkwind’s hopes sank. Perhaps no one was brave enough. Perhaps she should volunteer? No, she did not have any experience running an Aerie either, and without being a large Line, she needed the help of other large Lines in a safe and established Aerie.
“Hawk Line will not go,” she added to the tally, as others called out their intentions, too.
But then, into a breath of silence: “Storm Line will go.”
Everyone turned and stared at the Stormmother; her advising Elder stood firm and tall behind her.
“Claw Line will go.”
Now everyone was staring at Clawmother, too.
“Sky Line will go.”
The entire South-scree delegation gaped at Skymother. Hawkwind could hardly believe it; a Line from South-scree was volunteering, too.
“Sun Line will go.”
That was four. Four was plenty. The room broke out into conversation.
“Will we take on one of the new Lines?” Starkind asked the South-scree matriarchs, firmly and rapidly.
“No,” said Thornmother, and the others echoed her, so Hawkwind did, too.
“South-scree will not welcome new Lines,” Starkind declared to the hall as a whole.
“In-the-wind will welcome the Eagle Line,” announced the In-the-wind Eldest.
“Ice-peak will welcome the Ice and Snow Lines,” the Ice-peak Eldest proclaimed.
So it was settled.
Hawkwind gazed around the room, dazed by the sudden flurry of decisions at the end. Every Snow-in-lee griffin that had wanted to join a Line now had either already been accepted or had a plan with a backup plan for acceptance. It was done, and relief drained Hawkwind of the last of her anxiety like fluid from a cracked egg. Her legs trembled and she sat down.
“It is decided,” the Ice-peak Eldest said, sounding rather surprised by it herself. “Does anyone have any objections?”
Hawkwind couldn’t wait to go back to the Snow-in-lee survivors and report on the results. She imagined their faces when they heard the news. They would be in Lines; they would have a place in society. In the case of the Eagle, Ice, and Snow griffins they would found their own Lines. One of their females—already decided in two cases, but still uncertain for the Snow griffins—would become the first matriarch. A couple of those females had mates of other Lines who wanted to stay together, but it would probably be fine for them to join the Lines.
No one objected to the settlement, although everyone was looking around as though they feared someone would speak up with a new point that would undo all their work.
“Then it is confirmed,” the Ice-peak Eldest crowed out. “May the matriarchs of Sky, Storm, Claw, and Sun meet to discuss their scouting and Aerie-founding plans on their own. Ice-peak will host them until they are ready to depart.”
For a few moments, babble ran around the hall like a circling wind, until someone called out. “What of the separatists?”
“There’s nothing we can do,” proclaimed Nightmother.
“They are not welcome,” came a voice from the back of the room, hidden from view.
The chorus of agreement was undeniable.
“When they want to live like proper griffins, then we will consider them,” Moonmother stated.
Another chorus of agreement rocked the walls.
“It seems we have a consensus,” the Ice-peak Eldest nodded, although she looked a little disappointed to Hawkwind. “Does anyone wish to dissent?”
The room went absolutely silent. Hawkwind wanted to speak up, but she knew there was little that could be done. Griffins that wouldn’t follow the Words and the Aerie councils’ guidelines on hunting could not be tolerated. They would endanger the entire Aerie with the risk of starvation.
“Let the record show that none have spoke in favor of welcoming the separatists,” the Ice-peak Eldest concluded. “They must remain outside our borders. Our work here is done. Thank you all for your cooperation and wisdom. This all-Aerie meeting is adjourned.”
Something not quite a cheer but still joyous erupted from the crowd. Griffins began standing up to leave or shuffling about to talk with each other. The Thorn, Rock, Star, and Water matriarchs stood together facing the Skymother. They were saying their goodbyes. Hawkwind looked over at Windnight and Rainsoft. The two were making their way over to the South-scree group. Jessika ran ahead of them and jumped on Hawkwind, giggling and wiggling.
“Hawkwind,” Windnight gestured, “I will return with you to my fellow survivors, before gathering those that will come to In-the-wind and leaving with them, but now I wish to go greet Windmother. I will return, and thank you for all that you’ve done on our behalf.”
“You’re very welcome,” Hawkwind told the older female.
Jessika transferred to Windnight’s back so the elder griffin would be able to speak with the Windmother, who knew no Snow-in-lee sign language. Windnight took herself off, and Hawkwind faced Rainsoft.
“I’m glad you will be staying in South-scree,” she told him.
“Me, too. I will still be able to visit my mother and sister whenever I wish,” he replied by hand, “but I wish to be closer to you and Thornfire, and the children, and the others.”
Thornmother stepped up beside Hawkwind. “The Thorn Line welcomes you,” she said. “Will you accept us, and join us?”
Rainsoft stood tall, his long ebony wings folded back and crossed at the tips. He bowed his head slowly in agreement.
“The Thorn Line will need to learn to speak with our hands,” Thornmother said. “All of South-scree will. I hope you will teach us.” She leaned forward and preened the neck feathers of her newest Linemember. “Welcome, Thornsoft.”