The passing of the months had brought the seasons past midwinter to the fiercest cold of the year. South-scree huddled under a thick coating of sharp and gritty snow wherever screaming winds failed to scour it away. The griffins had dug tunnels through the snow and avoided going topside as much as possible. During the winter they spent much time sleeping and crafting, living off preserved foods except for on the rare days when the weather cleared enough for intrepid hunting parties to make a quick trip down the mountain.
On one of the days that the winds were raging their hardest, Hawkwind rested, panting, in a deep room of her Line’s home under the stones of South-scree, while Joy and Swift saw to her comfort and gently cleaned the two weak and struggling chicks she’d just brought into the world. They were a little early, but big enough.
Starbright had been on hand for the delivery. It was she who kept the room warm and properly lit. Thanks to her, the birthing had not been fatal for mother or chicks, despite the potential complications that came with twins. The babies were blind, naked except for a fine coating of fur and wet downy feathers that would fluff up and keep them warm once they were dry. Swift was overseeing their care, checking their breathing and severing their umbilicals. Joy offered Hawkwind fortifying tea and adjusted her cushions.
“Hawkswift says, ‘nicely done’,” Starbright translated.
From Hawkwind’s position, she couldn’t see Swift, and she tried to turn around.
“Stay still,” Starbright said. “We’ll bring them to you.”
Fresh towels, the softest the Aerie could make from the coats of mountain sheep, were put down over the cushiest cushions in front of Hawkwind’s chest. Swift and Joy each carried over a trembling chick. Hawkwind had to catch her breath again as she saw them.
“They’re perfect,” she whispered.
Swift gestured, “yes, they are.”
Four legs, two naked wings, oversize head, and stubby and featherless tail: griffin chicks were called ugly by some, cute by others, but to Hawkwind they were exquisite miracles. The one on the left opened its bill and chirped a soft little chick-chirp. The other heard it, turned its head towards its twin and chirped back. Hawkwind leaned forward, nestling her head between the two of them, and chirruped in reply, the same way she remembered her mother and grandmother and great-grandmother chirruping to her. The chicks immediately chirped again, and she chirruped back, nudging them gently. Their baby toes curled against the towels. Their naked wings twitched. They couldn’t yet hold up their heads; they had a lot of growing to do.
“Bring the light up a little,” Hawkwind whispered, and Starbright touched a glow-stone set into the wall.
With brighter light, Hawkwind could tell their fur color, although they would be white and downy where their feathers would be for several months. One had dark grey-brown fur, lightening to slate grey on its belly and feet. The other was rusty red-brown, with light brown underside.
Swift smiled at her. “One of each,” she gestured.
Hawkwind shook her head slightly. It would always be impossible to know for sure, and chicks did not always resemble their sires, but it was hard to deny Thornwing’s rusty red and Rainsoft’s—now Thornsoft’s—charcoal grey in the fur of the two chicks.
“What are they?” Hawkwind asked, knowing Swift would have checked, although in their current positions the bits in question were hidden.
Swift held a hand over the grey-brown chick. “Male,” she gestured.
Hawkwind nodded with relief. The Line would need males to protect and feed the future chicks. This chick would be the first of them, and would hold the position of eldest male for as long as he lived. He would also probably be in high demand by other matriarchs, as he would be South-scree’s first chance to get Hawk Line blood into the other Lines.
Swift moved her hand to hover over the rusty-brown chick. “Female,” she gestured.
Elation flowered in Hawkwind’s chest. Female: Hawkwind had an heir. Joy might yet awaken in some years and take over the position of Hawkmother, but in case she did not, this chick would be right in line, raised and ready to assume the position.
Of course, Hawkwind intended to have more chicks, and when she did the importance of these two would dim a little, but for the moment, their presence told Hawkwind that she was safe. Her Line was legitimate.
“Can we see now?”
Hawkwind looked over at the leather curtain in front of the doorway. Four sets of little human feet were visible in the gap below it. Jessika, who had called out, was already starting to stick her head through.
“Come in, but don’t touch them just yet,” Hawkwind said, “and keep your voices down, please.”
The four children tiptoed in with obvious restrained excitement. They gathered around the cushions and sat down.
“They’re not very pretty yet,” Hawkwind smiled, “but they will be.”
“I saw kittens born once,” Rikah whispered. “They weren’t pretty at first, either.”
“What will you name them?” Kassandra asked breathlessly.
Hawkwind leaned her head to one side, softly brushing her male chick with her cheek feathers. “Hawknight.” She tipped her head the other way, to nudge her female chick. “Hawkday.”
The children smiled.
“I like them,” Kassandra grinned.
“Me, too, but I like my name better,” Jessika boasted. “Hawkwings.”
Hawkwind had taken Thornmother’s advice and inducted the children as actual Linemembers. For that they had received Hawknames. Hawkwind had worried that the name Jessika had chosen was too suggestive of the stylized wings tattooed on her back, but the girl had insisted, and Hawkwind had acquiesced.
She had, however, guided Rikah away from certain of his initial choices, like Hawkblood, Hawkkiller, and Hawkman. He’d eventually settled on Hawkdare, which Thornwing had helped him choose. Kassandra had taken a long time to think about hers, and had picked Hawksky in the end. Little Karolan hadn’t known what to pick, so Hawkwind had sat down with him and Thornfire, each of them coming up with names, until Karo had agreed on Hawkrain, perhaps in sympathy of Thornsoft losing his birth Linename.
The other griffins of the Aerie were happier calling them by their Linenames, and the voiceless griffins especially preferred them, as there was no easy way for them to sign their human names. The children called each other by either name interchangeably. Hawkwind found that she used their Linenames more for light, casual topics. If there was something serious she needed to talk with them about, especially something from the past, she often reverted to their human names.
The twin chicks were starting to give hunger chirps and struggle to lift their heads, and Swift sent Joy to fetch some food, which Hawkwind or Swift or any Linemember would tear to bits and feed to them. As Hawkwind and Swift helped the little ones take their first nibbles, Hawkwind felt her thoughts drifting forward, imagining the chicks in a year, in two, five, ten, twenty. They’d have personalities. They’d talk and fly and hunt and maybe make more chicks. They’d take their places in the Hawk Line.
She transferred her gaze to her human children. What about them in a year, two, ten, twenty? They would grow, too. Jessika, Hawkwings, noticed her gaze and met it. Might she be seven years old now? Hawkwind supposed she must be. The girl’s gaze felt far older than that, and in it Hawkwind read her thoughts.
The griffin turned her head away, tired from the birth, and burdened from her long fight to achieve this security for the children. She was Hawkmother now. Snow-in-lee was emptied of griffins; they had been absorbed into the Aeries and the separatists exiled. Thornfire had the Sun and Moonstones hidden in his possession. Hawkwind had won a safe home for Jessika, Rikah, Kassandra, and Karolan, but the girl’s gaze said that wasn’t enough.
The Princess of Northnest still wanted her kingdom back.
To be continued...
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