The sea sighed restlessly, hurling itself against the cliffs in its neverending battle with the land. The old stone held up easily against them, as it always had, mocking the water.

But from where Skraed stood, she could see the deep overhangs that made the cliffs curve inward like stone waves – solid rock worn away by endless centuries of the sea’s relentless pounding.

At Withypool, other griffins liked to tell the old story of how the sea would wear away at the land until one day it would be all gone, and water would rule the world once again. Once she’d thought it was nonsense, but recently she’d been coming here to the watchtower more and more often, and she’d looked out over the sea and seen its relentless strength so many times that it had worn away her doubts just like the cliff.

High on her perch on the old tower, the young griffin yawned and began grooming her wing. The wind had ruffled the silvery feathers, and she ran her beak along each one several times until she was satisfied.

The tower had been eroded by the wind, but it was as strong and solid as it had been for centuries. Its wide, flat top had been decorated with statues of griffins. Some were lying on their bellies as if at rest, some sat on their haunches with their heads raised, and others reared up, pitted grey wings spread wide and talons thrust forward – challenging some unseen attacker. But all of them had their eyes fixed on the sea.

Three of them were real. They were so still that it was easy to forget they weren’t statues as well, but Skraed could smell them.

She paid no attention to them. Two of them were youngsters, and the third was old. None of them were particularly senior, which was why they were out here watching the sea instead of enjoying the shelter of the city further inland.

A high, piping sound reached Skraed’s ears, and she hissed irritably to herself. However unimportant these griffins were, they were still more important than her, and the reason for it was just another reason why she held them in such contempt.

At the edge of the tower, furthest away from the sea and sheltered from the wind by a heap of rubble, three humans were sitting around a fire and doing… whatever it was humans did. Playing with stones, most likely. Their voices were thin and weak, but they grated on Skraed’s nerves.

Humans, she thought, and scraped a talon along the stonework, leaving a white line. What would anyone want with them?

Oh, they were useful. Of course they were. They made good nests for griffins to live in, and they brought food. And if one of her kind was sick, humans would use their healing to make them better.

But Skraed despised the puny little creatures all the same. They were weak and defenceless, unable to fly, creatures without magic, creatures with no strength but what they stole for themselves.

‘We should tolerate them,’ she’d said to her brother, more than once. ‘But nothing more. I would rather die than carry one.’

Her brother had snapped his beak contemptuously at her. ‘If you choose to be unpartnered forever, then do so, but do not expect me to look at you when I have a home in the Eyrie.’

He was bigger than her, and she’d said nothing then, not wanting to provoke him.

Skraed’s bad mood had taken the enjoyment out of watching the sea. She hissed again and turned away. The three sentinels hadn’t moved, and suddenly an idea came to her. Making sure no-one was watching her, she moved to the nearest edge of the tower, using the statues for cover until she was out of sight. She waited there for a few moments.

When she was ready, she placed her paws well apart, lifted her head skyward and took a deep breath.

Deep in her throat, the little organ that stored her power began to thrum, more and more powerfully, until it pulsed like a second heart. Skraed felt it gathering itself, ready to unleash the energy it contained.

When the moment came, she opened her beak wide and let it out.

A thin beam of light shot out of her gullet, straight upward. It was pale, like lightning, and it was only visible for a moment before it disappeared into the grey clouds that drifted overhead. Energy crackled among them for a moment, and then that vanished too. For a moment, everything was still.

Thunder growled in the heavens. An instant later, the darkening clouds flashed pure white. The wind blew more powerfully, bringing the smell of rain.

Below, Skraed relaxed and smugly groomed her tail.

The storm gathered its power with frightening speed. Soon forked lightning divided the clouds into a dozen pieces, again and again, and big spots of rain began to fall.

Skraed heard the sentinels screeching at each other, as she quietly took off and flew away back toward the city before the wind could catch her. She gloated inwardly; they’d never be able to prove the storm was hers. And now they’d have to serve the rest of their watch in the wet.




Most people thought of Withypool as a city built on the coast, but this wasn’t quite true. It was within sight of the coast, but the people who had built it had decided to do it in the shelter of the hills further inland rather than leave themselves at the mercy of the storms that often blew in over the sea.

Skraed liked storms, but she agreed it had been a good idea.

The cluster of towers that made up the Eyrie – the seat of the city’s rulers – had been built at the peak of a mountain, and the rest of Withypool’s buildings sprawled down its sides and down into the valleys around it. It was a big city, and growing all the time. Here and there a small, squat tower thrust up among the ordinary dwellings. They were the homes of minor human nobles, and the unpartnered griffins they served.

Skraed fanned her wings, drifting easily on an updraft until she saw her own home and came in to land. The wind carried her too far, but she was in no hurry and didn’t bother to circle back in order to land closer. She landed in the street and began to walk the rest of the way, calmly taking in the sights.

The streets were crowded, as always. Humans were everywhere – humans talking, trading, fighting, going about their little lives. And as always, they were so noisy.

When they saw Skraed coming, however, they went quiet and stood aside to let her pass. The closer ones bowed their heads and avoided looking her in the eye, and some murmured respectfully or held out their hands.

Skraed didn’t even notice.

Ahead, the small tower she called home reared into the sky. Food would be waiting there. Her stomach gurgled in anticipation.

As she turned the corner, a group of humans passed her and she paused briefly to watch them. Their were easy to notice because they looked so much like each other – and so unlike the humans around them. Every one of them wore a rough black robe, and an iron collar clamped tightly around the neck. And where the other humans nearby were brown or blonde, these humans were dark. Black-haired, black-eyed, pale-skinned.

Skraed’s golden eyes narrowed, and her tail twitched. ‘Blackrobes,’ she spat, and loped away.

The tower had an archway more than big enough for her at its base. She shouldered aside the sheet of leather that hung over it, and went inside. A series of ramps led to the top, where the tower’s only room contained three enormous and messy nests. Skraed’s sister was asleep in one of them. Her brother wasn’t there.

Skraed’s sister woke up when she came in, but quickly lowered her head back onto her talons when she saw who it was. ‘Where have you been?’

Skraed went to the round stone trough and drank. ‘The watchtower.’

Her sister snorted. ‘You seem very interested in that place.’

‘It is a place to go,’ said Skraed. ‘Is our food here yet?’

Her sister yawned. ‘Not yet, but it had better come soon or I shall eat that blackrobe when he comes.’

Skraed lay down in her own nest. ‘And leave no-one to clean up your dung, Kraeae?’

Kraeae yawned again and scratched her flank with a hind paw. ‘Lord Tiron will buy another.’

Skraed didn’t bother to answer that.

Both of them were irritated by the time the food finally arrived, and when it did Skraed quickly saw why it was late. Instead of the burly slave who usually brought her and her siblings their meat, a small boy emerged from the top of the ramp. He had a side of fresh goat slung over his shoulders, which was obviously too heavy for him – he was breathing hard and struggled through the last few steps. He took the meat to Skraed and placed it very carefully in front of her, backing away the instant he let go of it. Skraed ignored him and began to eat while he scurried out.

Kraeae looked on resentfully. ‘What is this? Why have we been sent this chick who only saw fit to feed you?’

Skraed didn’t even look up from her food. She tore into the carcass, stripping away the choice meat around the spine and throwing her head back to swallow. While she ate the boy returned, carrying another side for Kraeae. Their brother Raekae still wasn’t there, but the boy brought meat for him anyway and left it in his nest.

Skraed watched him with vague curiosity. He wasn’t wearing a collar, but he was obviously a slave, judging by his robe and black hair. He was scrawny and underfed; a little weakling barely able to drag a chunk of goat up a tower. Why had he been sent?

Skraed rasped dismissively and went back to her food.

She had finished eating and was beginning to wonder if she could get away with stealing Raekae’s share, when he suddenly returned – flying in through the opening in the roof meant just for that and landing untidily in the midst of his nest. He shook himself, scattering rainwater, and attacked his meat without even looking at his sisters.

Skraed watched him warily. He was a big griffin, his grey shoulders heavy with muscle. And like all mature males, he didn’t like sharing his home. Once he’d been peaceful enough about it, but recently his sisters had seen him become more and more aggressive.

Quietly, Kraeae rose from her nest and left the tower by another, smaller entrance behind her. Skraed saw her take off into the rain, and thought of joining her, but just now she was too full and sleepy.

Raekae gulped down the last of his meat, and sauntered over to the trough. ‘So I see you have returned from staring at water, sister,’ he said once he’d drunk his fill. ‘Perhaps you remembered that we have water here to stare at all you want.’

Skraed eyed him cautiously. She was the smallest of the three, and her silvery grey feathers only made her look even smaller next to her big, dark brother. But she wasn’t going to show fear, not to him. ‘I leave here because I want to do more with my days than lie on my belly and grow fat and bored.’

Fortunately, Raekae’s reaction was to stretch his wings wide and give his tail a quick, energetic flick. ‘You are right, sister. But perhaps if you were not so frail you would go to the fighting pits and prove your worth there.’

So that was where he’d been. ‘I have no interest in playing at combat to impress humans.’

‘Of course,’ said Raekae, with more than a hint of contempt. ‘You are not made to show your strength against another warrior. Perhaps you could fight an ox instead, or pit yourself against a human. They will let you slaughter their criminals for them, if you want.’

Skraed didn’t rise to the bait. ‘I was made to fly,’ she said.

Raekae sat on his haunches. ‘Then fly, little sister,’ he said. ‘You say you do not want to stay here forever, yet you do nothing that will help you to leave! Choose a human, Skraed.’

Skraed looked away. ‘I do not want a human.’

‘It does not need to be a great noble,’ said Raekae. ‘A serving girl or the man who guards the corner of the street would be good enough for you, surely.’

He was mocking her again. ‘If you need a human to feel like a true griffin, then so be it, Raekae,’ she spat. ‘But my back will never be burdened.’

‘Then you are a fool,’ said Raekae, and walked off to his nest.

Skraed watched him finish his grooming before he curled up to sleep. He will leave here, she thought, and soon.

She had never told him or her sister why she had no interest in choosing a human, and most likely she never would. They didn’t care about what she thought or felt, any more than she cared about their own feelings. Griffins weren’t made to be feeling creatures.

Suddenly, it felt as if the walls were closing in on her. A wild impulse to get up and fly away and out of there into the open sky took hold of her.

Skraed only sighed and laid her head down on her talons. I was not made for this place. This was never meant to be my home.

But deep down, she knew there was nowhere else she could go.




It rained for most of that night, but by morning the sky was clear and the sun on the puddles made the whole city glaringly bright. Raekae was awake at dawn, as always, and flew to the roof of the tower where he screeched his own name at the sky – proclaiming that this was his territory. He had begun doing it a few years ago, and he knew his sisters probably resented it, but he didn’t care. They could fight him if they wanted him to stop.

When he was done he went back inside, where a slave boy he didn’t recognise had brought food. He ate without paying any attention to him or Skraed and Kaeae, and left the tower as soon as he had groomed.

The city was waking up while he flew over it. Below, in the marketplace, traders were setting up their stalls and a pair of ox-drawn carts loaded down with vegetables were being driven down the main street. Smoke drifted up from dozens of chimneys, carrying the scents of baking bread and spices.

To Raekae, it was a little world – interesting and comforting in its way, but ultimately unimportant. All was well with the humans, and that meant all was well for him and his kind, and that was all that mattered.

If the humans were waking up, they had been beaten to it by their furred and feathered neighbours. The air over the city was already full of griffins, circling lazily and enjoying the cool early-morning currents. Raekae watched them, making sure there was no sign of danger or aggression. All was still, and he turned his attention back to the city below.

Humans. For most of his life they’d been little more than a presence. They brought his food and water, kept his nest clean and when the sickness that had killed his mother struck him down as well they brought medicine that made him well. They were useful, but not important.

But as Raekae had grown older and began to grow restless with his easy life, humans began to interest him more and more. He knew the only way he would ever leave the home where he’d grown up would be to find a human of his own. A human who would serve him alone, a human he could guide and protect and carry to greatness – for both of them.

The very idea excited him. With a human beside him, he could do anything. He could go into the Eyrie – even live there. If his human could win proper status there, then he, Raekae, would be honoured and given golden bands to wear on his forelegs. They could go hunting together, or leave the city and go to war. So many possibilities, each one more glorious than the last. But he needed a human.

A human, he told himself. A human! Find a human!

There were different ways to find a human, and he had already chosen the best one. He leant to one side, tilting his feathered tail, and turned away to fly up the mountainside. There were several large buildings built higher up, close to the Eyrie, and Raekae made for one in particular. It was big and round, and flat, surrounded by a stone wall topped with iron spikes.

He flew in under the huge wooden roof that covered most of it, and landed on a gravel path. The path was a long one, winding in and around the pits sunk into the ground. The pits themselves were ringed by high fences to stop anyone from falling in. There weren’t too many humans here yet, but Raekae knew they would start arriving soon. The fighting pits brought hundreds of spectators.

A slave was busy raking the gravel. Raekae sauntered past him, deliberately knocking him over with his wing, and made for the centre of the building. The largest and deepest pit was here – the most dangerous, and the most popular.

Another griffin was sitting near it, lazily scratching his flank. ‘So the champion returns once again,’ he said, on seeing him. ‘Do you still have the taste for ox-blood, then?’

Raekae fluffed up his feathers and stood side-on to make himself look bigger. ‘I am tired of oxen,’ he said. ‘Today I will fight in the Talon Pit.’

The other griffin eyed him. ‘You came in good time. Redbeak has not wet his talons yet.’

Raekae extended his own talons. ‘The crowds are bored of their champion, I think,’ he said lazily. ‘I will give them a new one.’

The other griffin yawned. ‘If you can, do. It means nothing to me. My human and I have seen a thousand champions come and go.’

Raekae eyed him with more than a little dislike. This scrawny grey-feather had a human, and was therefore superior to him – a griffin in the full flush of youth, who could have killed him in a few blows. And that human owned the fighting pits, which had won his partner a pair of leg-bands. They were only made from iron, but they were decorated with engraved patterns of fighting griffins, and they were more than Raekae had.

I will have a human, he comforted himself. Soon I will find one fit for me. And my bands will not be iron.

He waited until the old griffin’s human arrived. He was a fat middle-aged man with a brown beard, and he bowed briefly to him. ‘Welcome back Raekae.’

Raekae clicked his beak. Only griffiners like this were allowed to learn griffish, but all humans spoke it poorly. ‘I wish to fight in the Talon Pit today,’ he said.

The human rubbed his hands together. ‘Then you will,’ he said. ‘You’ve proven yourself very well by now, and the crowds seem to like you. Redbeak doesn’t care much who he fights either way.’

Raekae stirred. ‘I will fight him first,’ he said. ‘I was here before even him.’

‘Of course. Go in when the crowds have gathered, and Redbeak and I will do the rest.’

Raekae let him go, and settled down to wait. He looked calm, but in reality he was tense with anticipation. I have waited long enough, he told himself. Today I will fight Redbeak, and I will defeat him. The humans will see my magnificence, and afterward I will go among them and find the one who will be mine.

It was a plan that had been in his mind for a long time now. He’d been tempted before, when he had fought in the pits and the humans had cheered for him. More than once he’d seen a human who appealed to him in some way, and once he’d nearly made the choice. But he had stopped himself. Those humans were commoners – tailors, blacksmiths, bakers and guardsmen. None of them were good enough for him.

No, Raekae knew what he wanted. He wanted a noble, and he would have one.

Outside the sun rose higher in the sky. Inside, the humans were gathering. Griffins too. They were unpartnered, like the humans around them – griffiners and their partners did not go to the fighting pits.

Raekae watched the humans in particular, trying to single one out. They all looked more or less the same to him. Tall, short, dark, fair… he could tell which ones were nobles without any trouble; they wore feathers on their clothes and in their hair – false plumage dyed bright colours by some human magic. Raekae watched them in particular, wondering who was wealthier, who was cleverer, who stronger. I want a clever human, he thought. But not too clever.

The activity around the Talon Pit brought him back to the present. There were plenty of spectators now, and they were waiting for him. He took off with an easy flick of his wings, flying up and over the railings to land down in the pit. It was deeper than he’d expected, with stone walls. The bottom was covered in sand – every few nights, slaves would cart away the old, blood-stained grit and bring in fresh sand from the river.

So far, the champion had not arrived, but the onlookers were already shouting encouragement. Raekae sat on his haunches and groomed, acting as calm and self-assured as he could. Inside, though, his heart was pattering. He had never seen the champion, but no-one could come to the fighting pits without hearing tales of his size and ferocity. He was said to have defeated a dozen opponents, and killed at least five of them. And all without using any magic.

Redbeak wasn’t his real name, of course. No griffin had a name like that. But the fighters often made new names for themselves, to sound more dangerous.

I should have a name like that, Raekae thought, trying to calm himself down. His wings were mottled grey, and his furred hindquarters were pale – almost white, but not quite.

Greywings? No. Grey Thunder, maybe. But then he remembered there was another griffin in the pits with that name, and hissed a curse to himself.

A sudden, low grinding sound broke the air. Raekae turned sharply as the crowd began to shout. A door, hidden in the wall to his right, had opened from the inside, and Redbeak himself came charging out.

Raekae rose up, intending to scream a challenge, but the pit champion had no intention of waiting for that. Without even slowing his charge, he crossed the pit floor and hit Raekae full in the chest. Raekae managed to raise one forepaw in time, and his talons caught the main force of the other griffin’s attack.

Lightning pain shot up his leg and into his chest. Screaming, Raekae rolled onto his side. His leg flailed uselessly, still trying to defend him, but Redbeak had no mercy. He attacked again, giving his rival no chance to recover, and before Raekae could even try to get up he was on his back, kicking and flailing as the champion’s beak bit at his throat. The fight was over before it had even begun. Raekae tried valiantly to defend himself, and managed to land a few blows, but his leg was damaged beyond repair. Redbeak’s famous beak snapped shut around his throat and turned inward, the sharp point tearing into his flesh. Raekae could feel his own blood trickling into his feathers. One more tear, just a little deeper, and he would be dead.

But death did not come. Redbeak continued to hit him, opening wounds on his belly and face, ripping out chunks of feathers, but none of the wounds were fatal.

He is taunting me, Raekae realised through the haze of pain. Playing with me to amuse the crowd.

Fury brought him new strength. He gathered one of his wings and pushed hard against the ground, rolling himself onto his side. His good foreleg found a grip, and he dragged himself upright. Redbeak didn’t try to stop him – only stayed close and continued to bite at him, screeching insults now. ‘Who are you? What is your name? Tell them your name, weakling, let them know which little chick thought he was the Mighty Kraal, to face me! Tell them!’

Raekae’s wounded leg dragged on the ground, unable to even lift itself. But he stood on his three good ones, and held his head up as proudly as he could. ‘I am Grey Storm,’ he said.

Redbeak darted in and struck again, tearing a deep and terrible wound down the side of Raekae’s face. ‘Tell them!’ he said. ‘Let them hear! Tell them!’

Raekae gathered the last of his strength. He rose up, onto his hind legs, wings spread wide. ‘I am Grey Storm!’ he screeched. ‘Grey Storm!’

And then he attacked.

Taken by surprise, Redbeak actually backed away for a moment or two. But he was soon on the attack again, raising his talons to protect himself against Raekae’s assault before charging at him again. This time, however, Raekae was ready. He clumsily dodged the attack, balancing himself to strike with his talons.

He had forgotten his wounded leg. It buckled the instant he put weight on it, and he pitched sideways and fell.

A scream rose high above the roar of the crowd.

Raekae, half-blind with agony, struggled to get up. Pain and bloodloss had weakened him horribly, but the fear of being knocked down and attacked while he was helpless again blotted out the pain and gave him strength. He staggered when he found his feet, but braced himself as well as he could, ready to face another attack.

But that attack did not come. Light-headed now, confused, Raekae saw Redbeak a short distance away. The pit champion was shaking his head, rubbing at it with a forepaw and making a strange, low moaning noise.

Blood was dripping from the tip of his beak.

I have blinded him, Raekae realised slowly. When I fell, I must have struck his eye.

A sudden mad triumph took hold of him. ‘See!’ he screeched, to the yelling humans above. ‘See now, the pit champion’s beak is truly red at last!’ he turned to Redbeak, trembling as he hobbled toward him, but with his tail arched proudly over his back and his beak held high. ‘Do you cry defeat?’ he said. ‘Will you flee, or shall I take your other eye?’

Redbeak raised his head. His eye was a red mess, and the other was glazed with pain, but his voice was full of hate. ‘I will not fight you more,’ he rasped. ‘But you will never be champion. You are crippled.’

The words hit Raekae more painfully than the talons had. ‘I did not want to be champion,’ he said. ‘Only to prove myself. Now go.’

The door in the pit wall was opening again. Redbeak got up, and limped away into the darkness beyond.

Raekae stood very still, watching him go. He couldn’t quite grasp the fact that he had won.

Slowly and dully, he became aware of the shouts from above. They were loud and wild, and all of them said the same thing. ‘Grey Storm! Grey Storm! Grey Storm!’

There were human voices, and griffish as well. But the human ones meant much more to Raekae. His insides hot with excitement and joy, he lifted his beak to screech his victory, and collapsed without a sound.




Long, painful darkness let Raekae go. He felt too weak to even move. Then pain flared in his leg – horrible, tearing pain, spreading into his chest. Something was touching it, interfering with it somehow, making it hurt. Raekae struggled, his beak opening wide to snap at his attacker. The pain flared again, and something cold splashed onto his tongue and trickled down his throat. He swallowed without thinking, coughing when he inhaled some of the liquid. His eyes had opened, and he found himself in a strange place that smelled of humans, and griffins, and blood. Blood most of all. Maddened by fear, he tried to get up, but something held him back, pinning his wings to his sides. He screeched and struggled harder.

Something darted into his field of vision, and grabbed him by the beak. ‘Stop. Be still. Please.’

Raekae relaxed slightly, and glared. It was a human. Just a human.

The human did not let go of his beak. ‘You’re safe,’ it said. ‘I had to tie you down. If you tried to get up now, you’d make your injuries worse.’

Raekae tried to get up again, but slumped back. ‘Let… me go,’ he panted.

‘I will,’ said the human. ‘When it’s the right time. Is the pain better? The medicine I poured down your throat should help.’

The pain had receded, he realised. ‘I am better,’ he admitted.

‘Good. Now listen.’ The human let go of his beak and sat down beside the injured leg. ‘I have to splint this leg, so it’ll heal straight. Otherwise it’ll be twisted and we may as well just cut it off. I’ve already opened it and put the bones back together as well as I could, but you woke up before I could wrap it up.’

Raekae began to feel calmer. ‘You are a healer?’

‘Yes.’ The healer had long brown hair, and a high voice. Female, Raekae decided.

‘Heal, then,’ he commanded.

‘I will, but you have to lie still,’ said the healer. ‘If you move it, the bones will move too, and then they’ll be crooked.’

‘I will not move,’ said Raekae.

The healer got up and brought bandages and metal sticks and a big pot crusted with white around the rim. She opened the jar and dipped the bandages in, and set to work.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked.

‘Grey Storm,’ said Raekae.

‘I know that one; I heard the spectators yelling it from all the way down here,’ said the human. ‘I was asking for your real name.’

‘Raekae. It is Raekae.’ He sighed. ‘I believed I would be champion…’

‘But you are,’ said the human. ‘Or at least the crowd thinks so, and they’re the ones who decide.’

‘But I cannot fight!’ said Raekae. ‘My leg…’

‘You still beat Redbeak,’ said the human. ‘That’s all you have to do to be champion.’

‘I will not be able to fight,’ said Raekae. ‘When I am challenged…’

‘You don’t have to,’ said the human. ‘The challenger after you will fight the next one after him.’

‘And the winner will be the new champion,’ Raekae said bitterly.

‘Yes.’ The healer paused. ‘I’m sorry.’

He sighed; a deep, tired sigh that was older than him. ‘I will never fight again. I know it.’

The healer laid another metal stick against his leg and wrapped the soaked bandages around it, strapping it in place. She said nothing.

Raekae looked up at her, almost folornly. ‘Will I fight again?’

The healer looked him in the face. ‘You’ll never use this leg properly again,’ she admitted. ‘I think you’ll be able to walk on it, but you’ll have a limp and your talons will probably be weak.’

‘Crippled.’ Raekae moaned. ‘I am crippled.’

‘Your fight was still a great one,’ said the healer. ‘Nobody is going to forget how you defeated Redbeak with a shattered leg.’

‘It was an accident,’ said Raekae, without meaning to. ‘My beak caught his eye as I fell.’

‘I suggest you don’t tell anyone that,’ said the healer with a smile. ‘If it was me I’d want to milk it for all it was worth.’

Raekae lay there in silence for a long time, his leg screaming while the healer covered it in layers of bandages. She bandaged two of his toes as well, splinting them with iron poles.

‘I did not come here to be champion,’ he said at last, half to himself. ‘Not truly.’ He closed his eyes. ‘I came here for a human. I thought if I fought in the Talon Pit, then the best of the humans would come to see me. Noble humans, hoping to be chosen. I would defeat the pit champion, and then I would go among the humans and find one worthy of me.’ He cringed as fresh pain shot up his leg. ‘By the sea and the sky, what have I done? Crippled! Seventeen summers old and I am crippled. What human could I choose now?’


The healer reached the end of her bandage, and pressed it flat against his leg so that it would harden into the rest of the cast. ‘I know how you feel,’ she said softly.

Raekae didn’t look at her. ‘How could you possibly know?’ he snarled.

The healer stood up, dusting her knees, and took another jar from the bench behind her. ‘Keep your leg still while the cast sets,’ she said. ‘I’m going to put this ointment on your other wounds so they heal cleanly.’

Raekae lay still and let her do her work. The ointment stung, but his leg still hurt too much for him to care.

‘I’m a noble, you know,’ the healer said abruptly. ‘Or the daughter of one.’

‘A noble…?’ Raekae faltered.

She smiled at him as she tended to the wound on his face. ‘My mother is Lady Lalla – she’s the Master of Healing up at the Eyrie. She always told me, “Kyra, if you ever become a griffiner, I’ll make you my apprentice”. But no griffin ever chose me. All my brothers are griffiners by now, but not me. My mother taught me healing anyway, and I took a job here at the pits helping wounded griffins.’

Raekae stared at her in silence, his mind racing. A noble, he thought. She’s clever enough to know healing. And brave enough to speak to me without any fear. She knows griffish.

He said nothing.

‘I’m done,’ said Kyra. ‘I’ll get you some more medicine for the pain.’

Raekae opened his beak gladly to let her pour the stuff in. It tasted of leaves and water, and it numbed the pain.

‘Thankyou,’ he muttered, and slept.

When he woke again Kyra was there and the cast had hardened, leaving his leg completely rigid. But the pain, at least, had lessened into a dull throb.

‘It’ll take a few months to heal,’ said Kyra. ‘You’ll have to wear the cast until then.’

‘When can leave here?’ said Raekae.

‘Tonight, if you want to,’ said Kyra. ‘But we’ve got room for you to stay here if you’d prefer.’

Raekae stared at the wall, and imagined what it would be like to return to his siblings like this. ‘No,’ he rasped. ‘I have left the nest. There is no going back.’

‘Stay, then,’ said Kyra.

Raekae looked at her. ‘Then I will, Kyra.’




‘Have you heard?’ Kraeae shook the rainwater from her wings. ‘You must have heard.’

Skraed looked up from her nest. ‘You sound very gleeful about it. It must be bad, then.’

‘Our brother has chosen a human,’ said Kraeae.

Kree.’ Skraed laid her head on her talons. ‘Is that all? We already knew he was searching.’

‘That is not the best part of it,’ said Kraeae.

Skraed looked up again. ‘What is, then?’

‘I cannot believe you have not heard,’ said Kraeae, obviously relishing every moment.

‘I do not listen to gossip.’ Skraed said sourly. ‘Tell me what happened.’

‘He went to the fighting pits once again,’ said Kraeae. ‘The fool decided he could challenge the Red Beak and win.’

‘And did he?’

‘He did, but lost his leg,’ said Kraeae. ‘Our beak-brained brother is a cripple.’

Skraed thought of Raekae as she’d last seen him; full of self-confidence and fiery determination. ‘He will not fight again, then.’

‘Never,’ said Kraeae. ‘He chose the human who tended to him as his own.’

‘He would not have been the first to be seduced by a soothing potion and a few reassuring words,’ said Skraed. ‘But at least Raekae has what he wanted.’

‘He calls himself Kullervo now,’ said Kraeae. ‘I spoke to him myself.’

‘A human name,’ said Skraed. ‘What griffin would allow some human to take away his own name?’

‘What does it matter? Crippled or not, our brother has a fine home in the Eyrie now, and soon perhaps his human will win him golden bands.’ She paused, thoughtfully.

Skraed eyed her. ‘Tell me you are not jealous of him.’

‘Jealous of a cripple?’ Kraeae’s tone was lightly dismissive, but Skraed wasn’t fooled.

Shortly after that the slave-boy arrived with their food, and the two griffins didn’t talk any more.

That night, though, Skraed lay awake and thought. She was more depressed than angry that Raekae had left. He had always been the most ferocious of her siblings, but he was the most lively as well, and the most intelligent, and Skraed had felt she had more in common with him than with Kraeae. Kullervo, she thought. You realised your dream, at least, even if it cost you your leg. Perhaps one day I shall realise my own.

But deep down Skraed knew the truth. She had no dream, and never had as far as she could remember. She didn’t like living in this place, surrounded by humans, but where else could she possibly go? Leaving the city for good would be a better thing, but she knew she couldn’t do it without a human – and she did not want a human.

Do you really want a life alone? an inner voice whispered.

‘Yes,’ she told the darkness. But the defiance in her voice felt false.

I still have Kraeae, she thought. She is a fool, but I still have her here.

But two days later, Kraeae would be gone.




Kraeae’s departure was abrupt, and unlike her brother’s it was unannounced. She had been leaving the roost every day – to mingle with other griffins, Skraed assumed, though she rarely talked about whatever she’d been doing. Skraed returned to the watchtower and spent most of the second day exploring the coastline alone, and when she returned home that night she found the roost deserted.

Kraeae didn’t return that night, and she didn’t come back the next day either. When the slave-boy returned, he only brought food for one.

Skraed barely touched it. She lay in her nest, listening to the rain and feeling more alone than she had ever imagined she could be. Where was Kraeae? Where was her sister? And her brother? Who had taken them away from her?

But she knew. Humans. Humans had taken them, lured them away, left her with no-one else in the world.

Skraed didn’t leave the roost the next day. She lay in her nest, staring at the wall, cursing all humans, longing to see her siblings again. Even to argue with them, as she had so many times  in the past – that would be enough. It was the griffish way to argue.

That evening, the slave-boy came again. He was bolder around her now – and more so when he noticed how listless she was. He put her food down in front of her and stepped away, bowing low.

Skraed glanced up, but didn’t take the food. Instead, she looked at the boy. He was slight, and pale, and his black eyes were big. They made her think of a little chick just out of the shell, piping for its mother.

The boy looked back at her for a moment before averting his gaze to the floor. ‘Your sister’s safe,’ he said. He spoke the human tongue, of course, and his voice was as small and timid as he was.

Skraed stared at him. ‘My sister…?’

The boy started and backed away. ‘I just thought you wanted t’know,’ he said. ‘Your sister chose a noble, up at the Eyrie. She lives there now; that’s why she didn’t come back.’

Skraed understood the human language well enough, even if it was impossible for a griffin to speak it. ‘So I was right,’ she said bitterly. ‘A human did steal her away.’

The boy backed away further – of course he couldn’t understand her. It was unthinkable for a slave to know griffish. ‘She’s safe, I promise,’ he repeated. ‘An’ I’ll be here to bring yer food until you choose a human too.’

‘I will never choose a human!’ Skraed hissed, and the boy fled.

The next few days dragged by. Skraed stopped her visits to the sea. She spent all her time in the roost, either sleeping or pacing back and forth, or grooming her silvery feathers until they grew thin and ugly and began to fall out. Her golden eyes dulled, and her fur lost its gloss. She barely ate, and before long she began to grow thin.

The only relief from her despair was the slave boy. He came to put fresh water in the trough and clean out the old nesting material and the remains of old meals. And, more and more often, he would remove the shrivelling remains of the meat Skraed had refused to eat. Now, though, when he came, he talked. Not about anything in particular, and never looking her in the eye. He chattered away while he worked, telling her all the latest news. How Lord Ruel, Master of the Eyrie, was planning a visit to Malvern in the North, how it was being said that further Southward a griffin had chosen a slave, how there was a shortage of meat because sickness was killing dozens of goats… anything and everything. He never acted as if he expected a reply; he only talked. And despite herself, Skraed listened. It was painful for her to admit it to herself, but the boy was her only company now.

One day, the boy came upon her lying half-asleep, her eyes open but staring at nothing. She didn’t stir when he came near. Very carefully, probably thinking she was dead, he ventured closer. Skraed didn’t even blink.

She felt something touch her, on the beak. She looked up dully, and saw the boy looking down at her. He didn’t take his hand away, but his eyes were full of fear.

Skraed closed her own eyes and sighed, almost peacefully.

‘Welyn,’ the boy’s voice whispered. ‘My name’s Welyn.’

The hand withdrew, and when she looked again the boy had gone.




The next day came, and Welyn returned. But this time, he was not alone. Two men came with him – one of them was Lord Artan, the minor noble who owned the roost. The other was an elderly stranger. Skraed looked up when they came in, but did not stand.

Artan was holding Welyn by the upper arm, none too gently. ‘Tell him what you told me. Now.’

Welyn was pale and looked terrified, but he spoke rapidly to the stranger, gesturing at Skraed. The stranger listened and replied, but Skraed didn’t catch most of what they said.

Finally, the stranger came close to her and bowed his head. ‘I have come to help you, wise griffin,’ he intoned, in griffish.

Skraed glared up at him. ‘Who are you, human?’

‘My name is Calder. I’m a healer.’

Skraed looked away. ‘I do not need a healer.’

‘The slave boy says you’re not eating,’ Calder persisted. ‘That you hardly leave your nest. He says you’ve stopped grooming, and you have no interest in anything.’

‘Leave me,’ said Skraed.

‘Forgive me, but I have to examine you,’ said Calder. ‘If you need medicine, then it’s my duty to give it to you. You don’t want to die, do you?’

Skraed hissed irritably.

Regardless, the healer began to examine her, peering into her eyes, feeling through her feathers for parasites, rubbing at her sides to feel the ribs beneath. Skraed’s tail began to twitch warningly.

‘Is there any pain?’ Calder asked, apparently oblivious. ‘Do you feel sick in your stomach? Do you have a cough? Is there- argh!’

Skraed’s talons caught him in the leg, tossing him aside. Artan let go of Welyn and darted over to rescue him, but Skraed had had enough. She stood up, spreading her wings, and opened her beak wide to hiss a warning. Artan snarled an order at Welyn, and helped the healer out of the room with the slave boy running ahead.

When they were gone, Skraed lashed out with her talons, hitting the partition between her nest and the space where her brother had once slept. They left a row of deep grooves in the wood. She struck again and again, until it cracked and a shower of wood-dust scattered over the floor. With a scream of rage, she struck the water-trough next, knocking it down and spilling water all over the floor. Her heart pounded, pumping hot blood through her veins and awakening her vitality again at last. Wild and hissing, she spread her wings and made a short, messy run across the roost before launching herself into the air.


She spiralled upward into the sky, and the wind in her feathers felt like cold water, washing away all the filth of misery and solitude. In that moment, she realised as if for the first time where her place in the world was. It was in the sky, where there were no walls and no roofs, only endless freedom.

Freedom, she thought wildly. That is what I was meant for. That is what I want. To be free.

She flew over the tower several times and then landed at its top. The sun was out, glowing as gold as her eyes. She raised her head toward it, and screamed.


Her own name rose into the sky, echoing over the rooftops of Withypool. It was a message to every other griffin in the city, a message to the sea and the sky. I live, it said. I fly. I rule.

When she was done she felt exhausted, but invigorated as well. Properly hungry for the first time in days, she returned to her nest and tore into the food still lying where she’d left it. It tasted delicious.

After that she slept, and dreamed of flying and hunting, and fighting.




Morning came, and Skraed woke up feeling oddly peaceful. She sat up and groomed, shocked by how filthy her coat had become. Well, it didn’t matter – she could clean it easily enough.

She would go out flying today, she decided. But not to the sea. She’d seen enough of it. Today she would go Westward – inland, where there was open farmland mixed with forest. Perhaps if she found an uninhabited area, she could hunt like a wild griffin. Plenty in the city liked to do it from time to time. Even partnered griffins would sometimes take their humans in search of game. And, occasionally, wild griffins.

Skraed had no illusions about finding a wild griffin. None of them would be foolish enough to venture that close to a human city, and she would have heard about it if one had.

She finished grooming, and waited for her food to arrive. Once she had eaten, she would leave.

But food did not come.

‘Where are you, Welyn?’ she asked the empty air. ‘Do not keep me waiting long, little human.’

When the slave boy finally arrived, he was moving slowly… painfully slowly. She quickly saw why – he had a haunch of meat with him, but instead of hoisting it onto his shoulders like he should have he had it clasped against his chest. It was too heavy to carry like that, and the load got in the way of his legs and made him even slower.

Skraed watched him curiously. ‘Come now, little darkman,’ she said. ‘I am hungry.’

Welyn reached her at last, and put the meat down in front of her. He shuddered as he bent down to do it, but backed away and left to fetch water for the trough.

Skraed ate, savouring every bite and planning her day. Perhaps, before she left, she would stop by at the fighting pits and visit her brother. He would be surprised to see her, but perhaps he would be pleased as well. And she could see this human who had managed to impress him so much…

Her mood soured at that. She hissed to herself and closed her beak around a bone, crushing it. No, Kullervo could stay in his new den – she wanted nothing more to do with him.

Skraed finished eating, and began grooming her wings again. As she rose, preparing to take off, a scraping sound made her look around. She closed her wings, staring curiously.

Welyn had just reached the top of the stairs again. He was carrying a tin bucket of water… or trying to. Every few steps he would stop and put it down, shaking with the effort. Water slopped over the side as he picked it up again.

Skraed took a step toward him. ‘Work harder,’ she urged. ‘You are not so weak. I want my water.’

Welyn kept trying. After a long, painful struggle, he reached the trough. Once he had rested again he wrapped both hands around the handle of the bucket, and pulled. But he couldn’t lift it high enough. He tried with all his might, whimpering softly as his arms strained, but every time the bucket defeated him.

Skraed began to feel confused. She had seen him bring water like this dozens of times – it took at least four bucket-fulls to fill the trough properly. He had always managed it then.

There was a smell. Faint, but there all the same – tangy and unsettling in her nostils. She shivered her wings and opened her beak, trying to spit it out.

Welyn made one last effort to lift the bucket. This time he managed to bring it up to the rim of the trough. With a painful gasp, he let go with one hand to tilt it forward. Instantly the bucket slipped out of his other hand, hitting him in the stomach. He fell backward, hard, water splashing everywhere. When he landed, he jerked violently and screamed. The bucket clanged to the ground by his hand, but he made no move to pick it up. He shuddered and moaned, and his eyes slid shut.

Skraed jerked in alarm when she heard him scream. After he went limp she watched, waiting for him to get up.

He did not move.

Slowly, Skraed moved toward him. The smell bit into her now, stong and unmistakeable. It woke strange urges inside her, filling her head with images of tearing talons, flesh red and steaming.


Skraed stood over the boy, and nudged him gently with her beak. ‘Get up,’ she commanded. ‘Get up now.’

She could hear him breathing, and see his tiny chest moving up and down, the heart pattering inside it like a bird’s. He was so small and fragile lying there… as if the merest touch could break his bones. The smell of blood came from him in waves.

Skraed nudged him again. ‘You are hurt.’

When she nudged him again, harder, he rolled onto his side and then fell limply onto his front. The blood-smell instantly became stronger, when she saw the big wet patch on the back of his robe.

Hurt, she thought blankly.

The boy stirred and moaned, his fingers uncurling. Without thinking, Skraed looked down at her own forepaw, resting on the ground by his head. The long, flexible toes were made for gripping… four facing forward, and a fifth set to one side.

She had never realised how much it looked like a human hand.

All at once a strange sadness filled her, and a loneliness. She looked down at Welyn again, the blood soaked into his robe, and she knew what had happened. She remembered the furious look on his master’s face the night before. Everyone knew what happened when a slave made his master angry. But the boy was too small… too fragile.

Nobody protected him, she thought.

Skraed nibbled at her tail-feathers, and abruptly reached a decision. The little human was hurt, and he needed to lie down somewhere he could rest and be comfortable. If she left him here on the floor, he could die.

Very carefully, the silver griffin wrapped her talons around Welyn’s chest. He was so small she could easily encircle and cover his whole torso, and she lifted him gently, his arms and legs dangling. Moving on three legs, she carried him to her nest and laid him down in the dry straw and reeds, face-up. Still not satisfied, she moved the nesting material around with her beak, making a neat little hollow for him to lie in.

That was better.

Skraed glancecd around, considering what to do now. If she left him here, his master might come back and hurt him again. And he was all wet… he might get cold and sick.

She kneaded the loose straw with her talons, huffing restlessly to herself. He was only a human, and a slave at that. Why should she care what happened to him?

The thought of that sent an unexpected pang through her. No. No. He couldn’t die. If he died… if he died she would be all alone. She could not bear the thought of that.

A fierce need rose inside her – an urge to protect him, keep him alive, to not let him die. Cooing softly, deep in her throat, she climbed into her nest and curled around him, protect him with the soft curve of her belly where her paws and talons could shield him. She spread her wing over him, and settled down to wait.

Welyn felt warm against her fur. She cooed again and nibbled at his hair, trying to groom it. It felt like coarse fur. ‘Safe, little one,’ she said. ‘You are safe. I will protect you.’

Welyn stirred and nestled against her instinctively. His fingers curled in her feathers.

In that moment, he didn’t look like a human to her any more. He was a chick – her chick, hers to keep safe and warm.

‘Mine,’ she said. ‘You are mine.’

The morning passed in a dream. Skraed dozed and woke again, checking anxiously to make sure that Welyn was still there. He was, and his trembling had stopped. His face looked pink now – she thought that was good.

She hadn’t stopped to wonder how he would react when he woke up and realised where he was, but there would have been no reason to worry. He moved again, groaning, and his eyes opened slowly and looked up into Skraed’s big golden eyes.

He stared for a moment, and then stilled. ‘Hello,’ he whispered.

Skraed nibbled his hair. ‘Welyn.’

The boy smiled. ‘Have you been… looking after me?’

‘Yes,’ said Skraed, forgetting that he couldn’t understand her. ‘I did not want you to die.’

A sudden spasm of fear moved across Welyn’s face. He sat up sharply. ‘Oh no! How long was I here? I fainted… oh no, he’ll… my master…’ he struggled to get to his feet, smelling terribly of fear.

‘No.’ Skraed lifted her wing, herding him back with it. ‘No,’ she said again. ‘Do not leave. He will hurt you again.’

Welyn pushed her wing, trying to get past. ‘I have to go – if he sees me here he’ll flog me to death.’

‘No.’ Skraed pulled her wing back, pushing him gently into the straw. ‘Stay. I will protect you.’

Welyn tried again several times, but every time Skraed brought him back. Eventually he gave up, and she curled herself around him again, cooing and nudging his side.

The boy sat down, not touching her. His face had gone white. ‘Well. Well maybe if… maybe if you won’t let me go, then…’ he looked desperately at her. ‘You’re my master too, really. I serve you. If you won’t let me go, then I’ve got an order. Haven’t I?’

Skraed wasn’t really listening. ‘You will stay here,’ she muttered. ‘He will not have you.’

Welyn watched her carefully, and then leant back against her belly. ‘Have… have you got a name?’ he asked tentatively.

Skraed stared at him.

‘Mine’s really Llewellyn,’ said the boy. ‘Llewellyn Welynaii. But Welyn is easier.’

The name was utterly impossible for a griffin to pronounce. ‘Welyn,’ said Skraed,  though it sounded more like “Elin”.

Welyn smiled and put a hand on his chest. ‘Welyn.’

She peered at him while he did it, and then raised her forepaw, holding it to her chest as well as she could. ‘Skraed,’ she said. ‘Skraed.’

‘Your name?’

‘Skraed,’ she repeated.

The boy tried his best, wrestling with the unfamiliar griffish sounds. ‘Skraaay? Skaee… Skade?’

Skraed clicked her beak. ‘Skraed.’

‘“Skade”,’ said Welyn. ‘Your name’s Skade?’

Skraed flicked her tail. It would do. ‘Skade,’ she said.

‘It’s a very beautiful name,’ Welyn told her shyly.

He cannot pronounce my name, and I cannot pronounce his, Skraed thought. The idea amused her, and she laid her head down and closed her eyes contentedly.

But their time together couldn’t last. Only a few moments later they both heard footsteps on the stairs. Skraed looked up sharply, and Welyn cried out in fear.

Skraed stayed where she was, but her eyes narrowed and she extended her talons.

A moment later, Lord Tiron himself appeared. ‘Welyn!’ he snarled. ‘Where are you? Come out, now.’

Welyn huddled against Skraed’s belly. ‘I’m here, my Lord. I’m sorry-,’

Lord Tiron stared, his anger replaced by bewilderment. ‘Welyn?’ the anger returned. ‘I don’t believe – how dare you? Get away from there, this instant!’

Obediently Welyn stood up. ‘I’m sorry, Master. I didn’t want… it’s not my f-,’

As he stepped toward his master, Skraed rose instantly and leapt forward, putting herself between them. ‘No,’ she hissed.

Lord Tiron took a step back. ‘Skraed, please, I only came for the slave. He shouldn’t have been so close to you – I promise he’ll be severely punished.’

Behind her, Welyn gave a sob of fear.

Skraed’s tail began to lash back and forth. ‘You will not touch him,’ she said. ‘I will not allow it.’

Tiron gaped at her. ‘But… he’s only a slave, I don’t understand-,’

Skraed came toward him, her head low and her shoulders hunched, wings half-spread to make herself larger. ‘You will not touch him,’ she repeated.

Tiron squared his shoulders. ‘I really think this has gone far enough. Let me take him, Skraed. He won’t bother you again.’

Skraed rose up. ‘Mine!’ she snarled. ‘Mine!’

‘But I-,’

‘MINE!’ she lashed out, hard and fast, and if Tiron hadn’t doged out of the way he would have been seriously hurt. Seeing sense, the old man ran back down the stairs and was gone.

Snapping her beak angrily, Skraed turned and stalked back toward her nest.

‘He is gone,’ she told the terrified Welyn. ‘I will not let him near you.’

Welyn didn’t reply. He backed away, white-faced and stammering.

‘Welyn.’ Skraed relaxed. ‘Do not be afraid. I will never hurt you.’

The boy did not understand. He kept on moving away as she came toward him, until his back hit the wall behind her nest. He cowered pathetically, as Skraed loomed over him.

She lowered her beak, and nipped gently at his ear. ‘You have nothing to fear. I swear it.’

‘Please,’ Welyn whispered. ‘Please, let me go.’

Skraed ignored him. She pushed her head against his chest, rubbing her feathers on his robe. ‘I will stay with you,’ she promised. ‘Always. Touch me.’

When she had stilled, Welyn did too. Very, very tentatively, he put a hand on her head – jerking it away once or twice before he relaxed. He felt the feathers, running his fingers through them and scratching the skin underneath.

Skraed closed her eyes blissfully. No human had ever touched her, except to check her for illness or parasites. This was different.

When she looked up, Welyn seemed very calm. ‘Your feathers are beautiful,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know they were so soft.’

Skraed backed away. ‘Come,’ she said. ‘Walk with me.’

Welyn obeyed, keeping close to her side. She led him to the trough, where there was still some water left. She drank and then nudged him, urging him to do the same.

Welyn cupped some water in his hands and drank. ‘I shouldn’t be doing this,’ he said afterward. ‘I shouldn’t… I’m going to be in so much trouble.’

Skraed only stared peacefully at him.

Welyn sat down by her talons. He seemed to be deep in thought.

Skraed sniffed his back. The blood had dried now, and his robe was stiff. ‘You will heal and be well again,’ she said. ‘I know it.’

Welyn looked up. ‘I’m a slave,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I’ve always been one, I always will be. Like my father and my grandfather, and his grandfather before him. All us Northerners are slaves. All we do is serve. The gods made us for it, my father says.’

‘There are no gods,’ said Skraed.

‘But I think… if I serve,’ Welyn went on, ‘If I serve… if I’m made to do it, then maybe I could…’ he hesitated. ‘Then maybe I could just serve you. I could be yours, and do everything for you, just like a-,’ but he didn’t dare say the rest.

‘I will never want a Southerner,’ Skraed told him. ‘I do not want a great lord or lady, and I never have. You are enough for me, Welyn.’

As soon as the words left her beak, her mind came alive with possibilities… wild possibilities, insane ones. Could she choose a slave – this slave – to be her human? Could she make Welyn a griffiner?

I can, she thought.

A shout came from the stairs, and she turned to see more intruders. Tiron again, and someone else she recognised – a burly slave, the same one who had once done Welyn’s duties. She had never learned his name.

The slave saw them both, and his face darkened. ‘Welyn,’ he called. ‘Come here. Now.’

Welyn stiffened at the sight of him. ‘Dad. I can’t…’

Skraed pushed him behind her once again, facing down the two adults. ‘I told you you would not touch him,’ she hissed. ‘Leave us. And you, blackrobe, leave with him or I will tear off your head.’

The slave tried his best, calling to his son – offering up threats and coaxing. Welyn tried to go to him more than once, but Skraed would not let him.

‘I will bring a griffiner,’ Tiron threatened. ‘Give him up, or we’ll take him.’

Skraed only showed her talons and hurled threats at him, and he gave up once again and left.

If anything, Welyn looked even more frightened this time. ‘Oh gods help me…’

Skraed turned to him. ‘They will return soon, and they will bring others. You and I should not linger.’

‘I don’t understand you,’ Welyn sighed. ‘I’m sorry…’

Skraed heard movement on the stairs, and tensed. ‘We must go.’ Ignoring the boy’s protests, she padded over to him and bent her forelegs, pressing her chest against the ground and lowering her head. ‘Get onto my back,’ she commanded.

Welyn didn’t move. ‘Skade, someone’s coming.’

Get on!’

Too late. Skraed straightened up abruptly, tasting the musky odour of griffin on the air. ‘This is my roost! Leave, or fight!’

The other griffin had flown in via one of the openings in the roof. He paused, lowering his forequarters so that his human could dismount easily, and then came forward to confront her.

Skraed squared up to him, wings raised. ‘Do not come near him, brown-feathers. I will not warn you again.’

The other griffin, who was indeed brown, looked at her with open hostility. ‘Your name is Skraed?’

‘It is, and this is my roost. Leave now.’

The brown griffin put his head on one side. ‘What is this, female? The human Tiron told me you were protecting a blackrobe chick and would not give him up. Why is this?’

Skraed’s tail began to lash. ‘He is mine,’ she said.

‘Yours?’ the other griffin chirped disbelievingly. ‘The little blackrobe is yours?’

‘Yes,’ said Skraed, without hesitation. ‘Touch him and die.’

‘You cannot choose a blackrobe,’ the other griffin told her. ‘Cannot.’

‘I can,’ said Skraed. ‘It is my right to choose any human I want.’

‘No.’ The brown griffin took a step closer. ‘I will not allow it. You shall not disgrace our great territory. Give him up, now.’

Skraed began to crouch, bracing herself to spring. ‘No.’

The other griffin said nothing. He sprang past her, talons outstretched – straight at Welyn.

But Skraed was ready. She leapt, sideways, throwing herself in his path. He hit her in the chest, but she had raised a forepaw to protect herself, and before he could recover she was on him.

The two griffins struggled, snarling and tearing at each other. The humans in the room retreated, keeping well back from the fight.

The brown griffin was larger than Skraed, but she was driven by pure anger. She hooked her beak into the back of his neck and pulled hard, ripping through skin and muscle. He screeched and kicked at her belly with his talons, leaving rows of deep gashes. Skraed let go, but swung sideways and hit him in the face with her wing, knocking him off-balance. In that precious moment, when he was unable to defend himself, she rammed him full in the chest, putting her full weight into the blow. He stumbled and fell, landing awkwardly on his side, and with that the fight was over. Skraed pinned his neck down with her talons and pressed the point of her beak into his throat.

‘Leave, or die,’ she rasped.

The brown griffin struggled, but stopped when she pulled her beak back, opening a wound just over his jugular. He slumped to the ground, panting and furious. ‘I will go.’

Skraed lingered a moment longer, and then withdrew, kicking him hard in the belly before she moved away. ‘Go, then.’

The brown griffin got up and limped away to sit by his human, who began tending to his wounds.

Skraed didn’t wait for them to recover. She went to Welyn, who had retreated to a corner. ‘Come now,’ she told him gently. ‘It is done.’

Welyn stroked her neck. ‘You fought for me,’ he said in disbelief. ‘Does that mean…?’

‘Yes,’ said Skraed. ‘You are my human now, Welyn. Come.’ She knelt again, offering her back.

Welyn glanced at the griffiner and the other adults in the room. ‘We have to get out of here,’ he said at last. ‘You’re right. But…’

‘I will not let you fall,’ Skraed promised.

Welyn set his jaw, and climbed onto her back. He did it awkwardly, obviously not used to sitting on any animal’s back, but he found the spot on her shoulderblades, just in front of her wings, and settled into it easily enough. He yelped when Skraed stood up, and tugged at her feathers. It hurt, but she didn’t mind.

He was far lighter than she had expected.

She saw the utter astonishment and horror on the faces of the humans watching – and she could smell the same emotions from the other griffin. It filled her with terrible glee. ‘Come!’ she said. ‘Let me show you the sky, little human.’



That first flight with Welyn was one of the greatest experiences of Skraed’s life. She flew carefully, keeping as level in the air as she could for fear of hurling him off her back, but she could feel him clinging on for dear life anyway. At first he cried out in fear, but when Skraed had steadied her flight and settled into a leisurely soar she felt his grip on her loosen.

He is brave, she thought with exhilaration. My human.

She drifted over the city, wings beating occasionally to keep her up, looking down on all the houses and monuments of Withypool. It truly is a marvel, she thought. My brother was right.

Welyn shifted on her back, and she thought of him again – him and the rest of his people. And then something finally fell into place. This city is magnificent and strong, and it was built by humans. But not by griffiners. Not by any Southern human. It was Welyn’s people that made this place.

Skraed beat her wings more powerfully, and opened her beak wide, sending her name over the city. She did it again and again, and as the sound died away she heard an echo.

It was Welyn. Welyn, screaming his own name with hers, just as a griffiner should.

If Skraed had been human, she would have laughed. Ahead and below she saw the ugly shape of the fighting pits. Without a second thought, she brought her wings in closer to her sides and descended straight toward it.




It was the middle of the day, and the fighting pits were bustling. Humans and griffins were everywhere, nearly all stinking of aggression, but Skraed was unafraid. She walked in among them with her head held high. Welyn walked close beside her with his hand on her flank, half-hiding, but his eyes were wide with wonder.

‘I always wanted to go to the fighting pits,’ he said eventually. ‘Have we come here to see the fights?’

Skraed hadn’t been thinking of that, but now she decided – why not? ‘Hold your head high,’ she said. ‘You are a griffiner, and worth more than this rabble.’

Perhaps Welyn guessed what she was thinking, or perhaps it just happened to be that moment when he realised the full implications of everything that had happened up until now. Either way, he looked more and more confident as they walked together through the crowds. At first when people stared at him he looked frightened and embarrassed, but Skraed hissed warningly at them, and when he saw them back down he raised his chin and stared back proudly.

Skraed chose a pit at random, and shouldered her way to the railings at the edge. Below a young griffin was wrestling with a heavily-armoured human. It was only a mock-battle, with no danger to either of them, but Skraed and Welyn watched anyway – Welyn venturing to shout encouragement along with the other spectators.

In the end the griffin won, and Skraed screeched insults at him anyway as he left the pit.

Welyn’s eyes were shining. ‘That was amazing! Can we watch another one, Skade? Please?’

Skraed chirped. ‘We shall, but at a different pit. Come!’

Welyn followed her reluctantly. ‘Are we leaving?’

Pausing to bite a smaller griffin who had got in her way, Skraed made straight for the Talon Pit with Welyn in tow. She wanted to see the place where Kullervo had lost his leg.

Welyn lost his disappointed look when he realised. ‘This one’s huge! What do they do in there?’

At the moment the pit was empty. Skraed took advantage of a gap in the audience to shoulder her way through, and settled down.

While she and Welyn waited – Skraed sitting on her haunches and Welyn perched on the railings – Skraed caught a scent that made her look up. It was unfamiliar – but she recognised it as some kind of food. She glanced around and eventually saw where it was coming from – there was a man wandering through the crowd with a large tray hanging around his neck, doing a brisk trade in some kind of human food.

Welyn had noticed him too. ‘Gods, I’m so hungry. I wish I had some money. But Dad says we’re not allowed money…’

The vendor wandered closer, still shouting his wares. ‘Pastries! Bread! Toasted nuts! Honey apples!’

Welyn looked sadly at the tray as it passed by. The vendor stopped a moment later to make a sale, and the boy ventured into his line of sight. ‘Please, sir, can I have one?’

The man stared at him. ‘What?’

Welyn reached up toward the tray. ‘Can I have one, sir? Please?’

‘Oi! Get your hands away from that!’ the vendor casually smacked Welyn across the face, sending him flying.

A split second later, Skraed rose up and struck the man with her beak. Fortunately for him it was a glancing blow, and only knocked the tray off his neck. He yelled and scrambled to retrieve it – if he had been going to protest he forgot about it as the people nearby dived in to help themselves to the fallen snacks.

Skraed turned away to shield Welyn with her wing as he got up. ‘Come,’ she said. ‘He will not hurt you again. Take whatever you like from him.’

Welyn stood shakily, and his eyes widened when he saw the frantic vendor. But his surprise quickly turned to pleasure when he realised what had happened. He bent and picked up a handful of pastries and a bag of nuts, stuffing them inside his robe.

The vendor rose, clutching his ruined tray. ‘You!’ he roared, pointing at the boy. ‘Give those back right now!’

Welyn folded his arms. ‘No.’

The vendor stepped forward, hand raised to hit him again, but he faltered and backed away when Skraed came to the boy’s side, hissing softly. ‘What…?’

Welyn drew himself up. ‘You can’t hit me again,’ he declared in his piping voice. ‘Or Skade will bite you.’

The vendor had gone pale. ‘But… but…’

‘I’m a griffiner,’ Welyn declared for all the crowd to hear. ‘Skade is my griffin.’

Several people there laughed – but there was a note of uncertainty in it.

Skraed raised her wings. ‘He is my human!’ she said loudly. ‘Anyone, human or griffin, who hurts him shall feel my talons.’

‘That’s right!’ said Welyn, pretending to understand.

‘Come.’ Skraed draped him with her wing. ‘We should go now. You need food and rest.’

Brimming with confidence now, Welyn climbed onto her back – sitting upright and proud in front of the astonished crowd. Skraed turned away with a swish of her tail, and walked away through the pits – making sure that as many people as possible saw them both. Let them all see. She was aware of nothing in that moment but pride – pride in herself, and pride in Welyn too. Already, he has shown me what he can be. What I can make him.




Their visit to the pits had the precise effect Skraed had expected. By evening, the entire city knew about her and Welyn – and they let them both know it too.

Returning to her nest, Skraed imperiously commanded Lord Tiron to provide food for herself and Welyn – who went so far as to specify just what he wanted, and added that he wanted it at once. Tiron, white-faced with helpless anger, sent Welyn’s father to carry out the instructions.

By that evening, Skraed and Welyn were lounging in the roost together, sharing a joint of roasted goat and receiving the visitors who had already begun to arrive. They came slowly at first, in ones and twos – ordinary people from the fighting pits, wanting to see if the tales of a slave-boy being chosen were true. But after them came others, and still others. Humans and griffins both, some angry, some shocked, others merely curious. Skraed accepted them calmly enough, once she had made it clear that she would attack if they showed any aggression toward herself or Welyn. When questioned, she simply told them what she now knew to be true: that Welyn was her human, that she had chosen him and intended to keep him.

‘Why?’ more than one other griffin asked her.

She didn’t have an answer for that. Or, at least, none that sounded satisfying.

As for Welyn, he was intimidated at first – naturally – but after the first few visitors had come and gone his newfound confidence returned. By evening he was sitting up straight, unafraid, accepting each newcomer with the same cool imperiousness as Skraed. But he answered questions far more eagerly than she did.

When night had fallen and the last of the visitors had gone, Skraed yawned and flicked her tail dismissively at Tiron and his single remaining slave. ‘I am tired,’ she said. ‘You may leave us now.’

Welyn’s father glanced at the boy, but said nothing.

‘He shall stay here with me,’ Skraed said instantly.

‘I’ll stay here,’ Welyn unwittingly echoed. ‘With Skade.’

Tiron bowed curtly. ‘As you wish. Dyfrig – come.’

Welyn’s father – Dyfrig – lingered after his master had gone down the stairs. ‘Welyn, this is madness,’ he hissed, keeping his eyes on Skraed.

Welyn faltered slightly, but quickly recovered. ‘I’m a griffiner now, Dad,’ he said. ‘I want to be a griffiner. Skade chose me.’

‘Boy,’ Dyfrig growled. ‘You have no idea what you’ve done. This isn’t a game.’

‘I know it isn’t,’ said Welyn.

‘Lord Ruel will find out, if he hasn’t already,’ said Dyfrig. ‘What will you do then?’

Welyn lost his certainty at that. ‘I don’t know…’

‘No. You don’t.’ Dyfrig inclined his head. ‘Sleep well.’

When he was gone, Welyn turned to Skraed. ‘What will we do when Lord Ruel finds out?’

Skraed yawned. ‘I shall deal with him.’ Or with the true ruler of this city, she added to herself.




The next morning, Skraed rose at dawn as usual. Welyn was still asleep, curled up against her, but he stirred when she did.

Skraed watched benignly as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. ‘Did you sleep well?’

Welyn smiled and reached up to touch her beak. ‘Good morning, Skade. By the Night God, I thought maybe it was all a dream.’

Skraed went to the water-trough, and drank deeply. Refreshed, she settled down to groom while Welyn got up and helped himself to some of the food left over from the previous night.

When Skraed had finished grooming, she sauntered over to him and gulped down the remains of the roasted joint – crushing the bone and swallowing the pieces.

Welyn watched closely. ‘You’re so strong,’ he said. ‘It’s amazing. I bet you could bite through iron.’

Skraed rubbed her beak on a wooden upright at the edge of her nest, to clean it. Then she looked at Welyn.

‘Little human,’ she said seriously, ‘I know you cannot understand me yet, but you must.’

He watched her anyway, listening intently as if hoping that would help him know what she was saying.

‘You are my human now,’ said Skraed, ‘And I will not go anywhere without you. But now that you are mine, you and I have two choices. By the law of the city, we must go to Arakae and his human Ruel and swear loyalty to him… or we must leave and never return. But what is it you want, Welyn? Shall we stay, or go?’

But Welyn only stared at her, uncomprehending.

Irritation rose in Skraed’s throat. She dug her hind claws into the wooden floor and was about to turn away when an idea came to her. She sat on her haunches, facing Welyn, and swept the floor clean with a flick of her tail. Once she had made sure that he was watching, she extended one front talon and slowly – clumsily – began to scratch pictures on the floor.

She made the outline of a tall tower, and then several others around it, jabbing the tip of her talon into the wood to make marks where the openings were.

Welyn squinted at it. ‘Buildings?’ he guessed.

Skraed thought quickly, and moved her head up and down in the manner of a human. Yes.

‘Towers,’ said Welyn. He paused for a few moments, and then his eyes lit up. ‘It looks like the Eyrie. Is it?’

Skraed dipped her head up and down again.

‘The Eyrie,’ Welyn mused. ‘What about it?’

Skraed thumped her paw on the crude picture, and then raised it to touch Welyn. She did it again, and looked enquiringly at him.

‘Me… and the Eyrie?’ he said. ‘You want me to go to the Eyrie?’

Skraed gave her imitation of a nod.

‘To see Lord Ruel?’ said Welyn.

‘To see Arakae,’ said Skraed.

Welyn frowned. ‘Why?’

Skraed watched him silently, hoping he would work it out. Show me your human cleverness, she thought.

‘Well,’ Welyn said at last. ‘If… if you want to go see him, then… we will, but…’ he broke off.

Skraed showed him her talons.

Welyn touched them – feeling the sharp points. ‘I know what you’re saying,’ he said afterward. ‘You’ll protect me, won’t you?’

‘Always,’ Skraed promised.

‘We’ll go, then,’ he said.

Skraed was pleased by his courage, but disappointed all the same. She had hoped he would say he didn’t want to go – then she would have taken him on her back and flown away out of the city for good.

But perhaps it was better this way, she thought as she flew out of the roost. No matter where they went, sooner or later she and Welyn would have to swear themselves to some Eyrie Master or Mistress – and she was confident that she could make Arakae accept what she had done. With him she would have an advantage she wouldn’t have in any other Eyrie.




Arakae had already heard the news, as she had expected, and he met her and Welyn in his audience chamber with his own human beside him.

‘Skraed.’ He said it flatly, showing no sign of whatever he was thinking underneath.

Skraed extended her forelegs and bent her head low to the ground while Welyn bowed beside her, awestruck in the presence of the Eyrie Master.

Arakae regarded them impassively. He was silver and grey, like Skraed, but while her eyes were golden his were pale blue. ‘So the stories are true,’ he said when Skraed had risen again. ‘I did not want to believe them at first.’

Skraed faced him boldly. ‘I have chosen a human.’

‘So I have noticed.’ Arakae looked at Welyn. ‘Let my own human speak with him.’

Skraed stood aside. ‘Go forward,’ she said, to Welyn. ‘Speak and be brave.’

Arakae’s red-bearded human had already stepped forward. ‘So you’re the slave boy the entire city is talking about,’ he said.

Welyn had gone the colour of milk. ‘I… I… yes…?’

Lord Ruel was as impassive as his partner. ‘Tell me how this happened.’

Welyn did, stumbling over his words and punctuating them with constant “sir”s and “my lord”s.

‘Is this true?’ Arakae demanded when he was done.

‘It is true,’ said Skraed.

Lord Ruel said nothing. He stared at Welyn for a long moment, as if waiting for him to become as frightened as possible.

Welyn couldn’t hold his own silence for long. ‘I’m sorry, my Lord,’ he blurted. ‘I didn’t want… I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, it just… I couldn’t…’

‘But you wanted it to,’ Ruel said sharply, cutting him off.

Welyn jerked as if he had been slapped. ‘I… uh… I don’t know…’

‘You want to be a griffiner,’ said Ruel. ‘You’re frightened, of course, but you’re just as proud.’

It was a statement, and not one to be argued with. ‘I… yes, my Lord,’ Welyn mumbled, staring at the floor. ‘I do… I like Skade and I want to be her human. But only to serve you, my Lord,’ he added, looking up unexpectedly.

Ruel’s mouth curled slightly in a smile. ‘You’re more intelligent than you look, boy.’

If anything, Welyn looked even more frightened.

Ruel sighed. ‘I don’t like this, but I have no choice,’ he said. ‘The law is absolute. A griffin may choose whoever she wants. If Skraed has chosen you and is certain of her choice, then there’s nothing I can do to contradict that choice. However,’ his voice rose and sharpened, ‘If you are going to live here in my city, then both of you must swear loyalty to me and Arakae. This Eyrie does not accept griffiners who are outside our authority. Is that understood?’

‘Yes, my Lord,’ Welyn said instantly.

‘And you, Skraed?’ said Arakae. ‘What do you say?’

‘We will swear ourselves,’ said Skraed. ‘But only if you promise us that Welyn will be treated as any other griffiner would be. He must be trained in the same way, and have the same opportunities for advancement. Otherwise…’ she left the rest unsaid, but it wasn’t necessary to say any more.

Arakae caught the hidden threat, and his eyes narrowed. ‘All griffiners shall have the same treatment as all the rest,’ he said.

Skraed did not believe him. ‘Then there is nothing more to debate,’ she said. ‘We are yours.’

‘Then say the words,’ said Arakae. ‘Both of you.’

Skraed bowed again, a gleam in her golden eyes. ‘Of course, Father.’




Lord Tiron held out the bundle toward Welyn. ‘Here,’ he said gruffly.

Welyn took it. ‘What is it…?’

‘Your freedom.’

The bundle unfurled in Welyn’s hands. It was clothing – a tunic and a pair of trousers, wrapped around a new pair of leather boots. ‘For me?’

‘A griffiner cannot be a slave,’ said Tiron. ‘You can take off your robe and burn it.’

‘Thankyou,’ Welyn said in a small voice.

‘Lord Ruel commanded me to do it,’ Tiron told him, and left.

Skraed nudged Welyn gently. ‘See, now, what I have done for you. Put them on, and be proud.’

There were tears in Welyn’s eyes. Tenderly, he put the clothes down on the pallet that had been brought up into the roost for him. Then he sat down and took off the rough shoes he wore. He took off the filthy woollen leggings as well, and last of all the robe – tearing it away from himself as if it were a bandage encrusted with pus. Underneath he was even slighter than Skraed had thought. The lashmarks on his back stood out horribly against the pale skin, but he didn’t seem to notice any pain. He climbed into the tub of hot water that had been brought for him, and scrubbed himself vigorously, cleaning away the dirt as diligently as he would have swept a floor.

‘Wash away the slave,’ Skraed told him, and watched as he did just that.

Afterwards, Welyn climbed dripping out of the tub and dried himself before he put on his new clothes. He did it slowly, reverently, obviously knowing how much it meant.

The clothes were nothing fancy, but they were brand new and well-made, and they fitted him very well.

Breathing heavily, Welyn straightened the tunic and turned to face Skraed. ‘I’m free,’ he whispered. ‘Free.’

Skraed looked benevolently at him. ‘You are.’

Without any warning, he ran at her. She shied away instinctively, but he wrapped his arms around her neck and held her tightly. Skraed stood tensely for a few moments, but gradually her natural aggression and fright drained away and she let herself relax.

Welyn had not let go. He held onto her as if she were another human – his mother, perhaps. ‘Thankyou,’ he said. ‘Thankyou, Skade. Thankyou so much.’

She pulled away as gently as she could. ‘Come now. We shall eat.’

But they had no time for that. Moments later, they were disturbed yet again by visitors. Skraed might have chased them away, but she stopped when she recognised the griffin who flew in.

It was her brother.

Raekae – or Kullervo – landed awkwardly, and limped forward with his splinted leg stretched out in front of him. He didn’t bother with the traditional apologies for invading Skraed’s territory, but eyed her with open hostility before casting an equally unfriendly look at Welyn. ‘So I see what our father has told me is the truth.’

Skraed stood up, noticing how much thinner her brother looked now. ‘And I see what our sister told me is the truth as well, brother.’

Kullervo turned his head, fixing her with a dark flame-coloured eye. ‘You have never respected anything in your life, Skraed. Not this great city, nor our human friends. But this… this mockery is unforgivable.’

‘My human-,’ Skraed began.

‘Do not lie to me!’ Kullervo screeched, lashing out with his wing toward Welyn. ‘It is a mockery, and that is what you always intended.’

Skraed knew that she was not afraid of him any more. She advanced on him, rolling her shoulders in a rude swagger. ‘You are right, brother,’ she said. ‘It is a mockery.’ She glanced at Welyn. ‘I chose this little human to show the fat fools in the Eyrie how much I think of their beloved traditions. If this darkman chick-,’ she turned away, wrapping herself around Welyn, ‘-If he can be a griffiner, then any human can be.’

‘A darkman cannot be a griffiner,’ said Kullervo.

‘But Welyn already is,’ Skraed told him coolly. ‘Sworn to the Eyrie and given his freedom. A griffiner shall be a griffiner because we say – no-one else. If  I say he is a griffiner, then he is one, and I will kill anyone who tells me I cannot.’

A griffin cannot sneer, but there was a sneer in Kullervo’s voice. ‘You may think you can do as you please, Skraed, but you will learn. I promise you that.’

‘I intend to learn,’ said Skraed. ‘And at least my own lesson shall not come too late, cripple.’

Kullervo turned away, half-hopping on three legs. ‘Do not call me brother again. You have made your choice, and I shall live to see you suffer the consequences.’

With that, he was gone.

Skraed yawned. ‘Bitterness is a rotten meat, brother. Feast on it all you will but I shall not take a bite.’

Welyn was still looking up at the hole. ‘That was your brother, wasn’t it?’

Skraed glanced at him. ‘Of course. Come to throw a cripple’s weak insults, as I should have expected.’

Welyn rubbed a hand through his wet black hair. ‘He was angry with you, wasn’t he?’


‘He was angry because of me,’ Welyn added. ‘I know he was. Everyone who’s come to see us was angry. They don’t want me to be a griffiner. The griffins don’t either.’

‘What does it matter what they want or think?’ said Skraed.

‘Well.’ Welyn did his best to look big. ‘You can still protect me. And one day I can show them I’m a good griffiner, and then they won’t be so angry. Will they?’

Skraed draped her wing over him. ‘You will show them. We both shall. Now, I am thirsty.’

With that she turned away and loped toward the water-trough, as though nothing had happened.




That evening, Skraed and Welyn shared a special meal to celebrate their success and Welyn’s freedom. Dyfrig brought up roast meat, bread, fruit and cheese, and even a small flask of wine. Tiron visited very briefly, and Skraed overheard him tell the slave to stay in the roost “in case the boy needs anything else”.

She turned her attention to the food a moment later, gulping down the best parts of the meat and leaving the rest for Welyn, who didn’t complain. This was only the second time she had ever tasted cooked meat, but she was coming to love it. From now on, she decided, she would demand it more often. When she and Welyn had their own home, he would cook it for her every night.

Welyn ate heartily, gasping in delight at each new flavour and giggling when the wine got up his nose. He liked the cheese in particular, and held a piece out for her. ‘Here, try some! It’s really good!’

Skraed sniffed it suspiciously. ‘It does not look like food…’

‘Try it,’ Welyn repeated. ‘It’s made from cows.’

Skraed gulped it down. It tasted horrible, and she gagged and flicked her tongue in disgust.

‘Oh, I’m sorry!’ said Welyn. ‘Here, I’ll get some water.’

Skraed looked up as he went to the trough, and noticed the boy’s father had disappeared. But she forgot about it quickly enough when the water arrived and she thrust her beak into the bucket.

After that Welyn tried to tempt her with some fruit. She tasted that and liked it, though the apple disappeared down her throat before she could bite it and made her feel like she’d swallowed a rock.

Welyn ate sparingly, but finished the wine a little faster than he probably should have. A little unsteady on his feet, but grinning broadly, he stumbled over to Skraed’s nest and sat back against her flank. ‘Isn’t this amazing? All this food, just for me, and new clothes, and people bringing me things… my own dad, too!’ he frowned. ‘But you know what? You know what? When… when I’m rich like a proper griffiner, I’ll buy my dad and make him free, and my ma too. Dad says she’s still in the city, but the master- I mean, Lor- I mean Tiron, sold her to someone else.’ Welyn giggled. ‘Tiron’s not even a griffiner, you know. I’m more important than he is. I can tell him what to do. Isn’t that funny? He doesn’t like it; I saw him scowling. But he knows if he doesn’t do what we want, you’ll bite him.’ He laughed again.

Skraed chirped her own amusement. ‘Perhaps one day you shall have him beaten.’

Welyn was silent for a while.

‘Maybe we should go away,’ he said suddenly. ‘Go out of the city and live somewhere else, and then come back later, when I’m grown up.’

Skraed looked up. ‘I would not be unhappy if we left,’ she said.

‘I’m not sure I’d want to leave my dad, though,’ Welyn added. ‘Maybe…’ he broke off.

Skraed’s head turned sharply, but it was only Dyfrig returning. ‘Where has he been-?’ she began, and stopped when she realised that he wasn’t alone.

Several men were with him, all slaves like himself. Most of them were old, but they looked strong – toughened by lifetimes of hard labour.

Dyfrig looked grim. ‘Welyn, we’ve come to talk to you,’ he said.

Skraed hissed a warning, but didn’t stand up. None of them looked threatening, and she quickly decided that she would let Welyn deal with them first. She wanted to see how he held up without her.

Welyn stood, instantly sober. ‘Dad. What’s this about?’

The slaves with Dyfrig spread out into a rough semi-circle. Though they were dressed just like every other slave in the city, there was a sternness – almost a gravity – in how they carried themselves, that made the rough robes seem more like ceremonial outfits.

‘You don’t know who these are, do you?’ Dyfrig asked his son.

Welyn shook his head silently.

‘We’re the elders, Llewellyn Dyfrigi,’ said the oldest man there. ‘The oldest of the darkmen in Withypool. We may not be anywhere near the great tribal masters of the North, but here it’s our place to guide our fellows.’

‘And to preserve the ways of our people,’ one of the others broke in. ‘However poorly.’

‘Why do they let you?’ asked Welyn. He looked awe-struck.

‘We speak for the slaves, and see to it that all of us keep the laws our masters laid down for us,’ said the oldest man. He smiled wryly. ‘You’re too young to know how it is. But the griffiners realised a long time ago that blackrobes listen to blackrobes. In return for a few privelages, we keep the others in line. Our masters don’t care if we pass on a few old stories while we’re doing it.’

Dyfrig spoke up. ‘Welyn, I asked the elders to come here and talk to you because I thought you’d listen to them.’

Welyn inclined his head toward them. ‘I’ll listen. What do you want to tell me?’

The eldest took a deep breath. ‘Llewellyn, you must stop this.’

‘Stop what?’ Welyn looked blank.

‘You can’t be a griffiner. Understand that.’

Welyn looked upset. ‘Yes I can. I already am. Skade says so.’

The elder cast a distrustful look at Skraed. ‘The griffin is obviously an eccentric. I have no idea what’s going on in her head, but this is for you to understand. You have to reject her. Tell her to chose someone else. Leave. Don’t accept what she’s offered you.’

‘But-,’ Welyn began.

‘You cannot be a griffiner,’ the elder repeated. ‘Do you understand? It goes against everything this city was built on. Darkmen were not meant to be griffiners, and every time it’s happened in the past, it brought disaster.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ said Welyn.

‘Then be afraid,’ Dyfrig snarled. ‘Do you think this is a game, boy? Do you think that just because this mad griffin started following you around it means you can traipse into the Eyrie and expect them to just accept it?’

‘But they did!’ said Welyn. ‘Nobody’s tried to-,’

‘What a man says isn’t always what he means,’ one of the elders put in. ‘Do you honestly expect a Southerner to be fair and kind to one of us? To a blackrobe?

‘Skade can fight them,’ said Welyn. ‘She can protect me.’

‘Against Arakae himself?’ the elder said sharply. ‘Against every other griffin in Withypool? You think she can fight all of them?’

Welyn said nothing.

‘Listen,’ the eldest slave said, more kindly, ‘You don’t understand. You think you’ve discovered something wonderful, something that’s going to make your whole life better. But we haven’t come here to tell you differently because of you. It’s not because of anything you’ve done. It’s our role in life to care for our people however we can, Llewellyn, and if something happens that threatens them, we have to act.’

‘I’m not threatening them!’ Welyn burst out. ‘I never-,’

‘You are,’ the old man told him. ‘Whether you mean to or not. Llewellyn, we’ve had peace here in Withypool for hundreds of years. Yes, we have hard lives, but at least we have lives. We have a place. Our masters trust us to be calm and obedient and accept the way of the world. But now what? What will happen now? If a blackrobe becomes a griffiner, how do you think the people of this city will react?’

‘How?’ said Welyn.

‘Our masters won’t trust us any more,’ said Dyfrig. ‘Think of all the people out there who have to feed and clean griffins, like us. D’you think their masters will trust them to do it if they think they might suddenly decide they’re griffiners? A slave who can’t do his job any more is useless. You know what happens to useless slaves.’

‘Sold,’ an elder said grimly. ‘Sent away to who-knows-where. At least a hundred men and women would be gone – sold to the mines in Canran, most likely. They would never return – never see their families again. Do you want that to happen, boy?’

All of Welyn’s new confidence looked gone. But that was when he surprised Skraed. He faltered while the elder spoke, but a moment later he rose up defiantly. ‘No I don’t want to happen, and I’ll make sure it doesn’t!’ he shouted.

‘How?’ said Dyfrig. ‘How exactly d’you mean to make sure it doesn’t happen, boy?’

‘I’m a griffiner,’ said Welyn. He lifted his chin and looked at the elders. ‘I am. I’ll set you all free. You’ll never be slaves again.’

There was a murmuring from the elders. But it didn’t sound either excited or optimistic.

‘I will!’ said Welyn. ‘And then maybe you can be chosen, too!’

Dyfrig laughed unpleasantly. ‘And what griffin would chose us?’

‘Skade’ll have babies,’ said Welyn. ‘They’ll choose you.’

‘Is that so?’ Skraed muttered.

‘You can’t “set us free”, Llewellyn,’ the oldest elder said, rather sadly.

‘But I can. Don’t you want to be free?’

They glanced at each other.

‘Where would we go?’ one man said. He sounded genuinely puzzled.

‘Back to the North,’ said Welyn. ‘That’s where we all came from, isn’t it?’

‘The North is a frozen wasteland, ruled by griffiners,’ an elder said in a flat and final voice. ‘There’s nothing for us there.’

‘I’ve lived here all my life,’ said another. ‘This is my home.’

‘But you’re a slave here!’ said Welyn. ‘You have to work all day, and you get beaten, and you have to wear that collar…’ he touched his own bare neck, and shuddered.

‘Yes,’ said the eldest. ‘And nothing will ever change that.’

‘This is madness,’ Dyfrig growled. ‘Welyn, please. Please, I’m begging you to see sense. The griffiners will never let you be one of them, never. Maybe now some of them think you’re amusing, but sooner or later they’ll decide you’re dangerous, and when they do…’

Skraed watched, tense now as aggressive smells filled her nostrils. She could see this lot off in an instant, and she placed her front talons down flat, ready to stand up. But she hesitated, looking at Welyn, wanting to know what he would do now.

Welyn did not back down. He stepped forward to confront his father, fists clenched. ‘Me and Skade went to see Lord Ruel today,’ he said. ‘Him and Arakae. Lord Ruel said there was no way he could stop Skade from choosing me, so I had to be a griffiner. He made me swear loyalty to him, and Skade too, and afterwards he said he would find someone to train me. Teach me griffish, and how to read. He promised!’

The elders looked horrified. ‘Already…?’ one said.

Dyfrig gaped for a moment, but then his face darkened. ‘He was lying. He’s a Southerner – an Eyrie Master. What are you to him? Why in the Night God’s name would he tell you the truth, boy? You tell me that!’

‘He did!’ said Welyn. ‘I know he did. He wouldn’t lie. He’s going to make me a griffiner. And I don’t care what you say, I’ll set you free anyway. Or maybe I’ll just buy you and make you my slave if that’s what you like better!’

Dyfrig snapped. ‘You idiot boy – don’t you understand? They’ll kill you.’ And he lashed out, hard.

His fist caught Welyn in the side of the face, throwing him sideways straight against the partition at the edge of Skraed’s nest. His head hit the wood with a sickening crack, and as Skraed rose she saw him slide limply to the floor, blood soaking into his hair.

She screamed – a horrible incoherent noise with no word or sense in it. Dyfrig stepped backward, wide-eyed, but he was too late. Skraed lunged forward, straight at him, a whirling mass of feather and beak and blazing eyes. Her taloned paw hit him in the chest. This time, she did not curl her paw to blunt the impact. Her talons tore into the man’s body as if it were made of straw as the blow hurled him clear across the roost. His fall was cushioned by a heap of reeds, but it didn’t matter – he was dead already.

Breathing hard, Skraed bent over Welyn. ‘Get up,’ she commanded. ‘Get up!’

Welyn’s eyes were wide-open and staring at the ceiling, but there was nothing behind them any more.

‘No,’ Skraed hissed. ‘No!’

She rose and turned her head, hearing a noise, and saw the elders panicking – trying to flee.

At the sight of them, instanity wrapped red-hot talons around her brain. She screamed again, and ran at them. The eldest one was there, ahead of her – too slow to move out of the way. She tore him down, and the screams only inflamed her even further.

She caught another of them, trying to get to the stairs. Her beak took his head clean off, splattering blood over the walls.

The others were gone.

‘No,’ Skraed snarled, and took to the air, flying out through the open roof and into the night air.

Outside the stars were out, and a bright full moon gave the city an eerie light. Skraed rose, silhouetted blackly against it for a moment before she began her descent. She landed by the tower’s base with a thud and a scraping of talons, and an instant later she was running.

The scent of the elders made trails in several directions. Skraed followed the nearest, and chased down the fleeing human with ease. He died with barely a cry. But there were other scents, others winding away into the houses, and Skraed was not done yet.

She followed relentlessly, her head low to the ground. Another slave was still in the open. She pinned him down and tore his entrails out with her beak.

Only two left now, but they had escaped while their friends died.

Skraed continued relentlessly, heedless of anything but her rage; her need to kill. She didn’t even notice the people who saw her run past, or hear the cries when they saw the blood that was on her.

She found her victim at last, cowering in an alley. He screamed when he saw her, and pressed himself into the corner where he had taken shelter. ‘Please! Please, don’t! HELP! HE-,’

Skraed swung her beak sideways, smashing his head into the wall. It burst open, and the contents splattered everywhere like vomit.

And now, only one, Skraed’s inner voice whispered, icy-calm.

She turned to leave the alley, and finally realised that she was not alone. There were men there, men blocking her way out. Not blackrobes, but Southerners – big men, wearing armour and the blue tunics of the city guard.

Skraed advanced on them, her eyes burning.

‘Stop,’ one guard commanded – with astonishing courage. ‘Stop now, or we will have to use force.’

Blood had soaked into Skraed’s beautiful silver feathers, turning them dark and sticky. She paused for a moment, her madness fading with uncertainty.

‘That’s right,’ said the guard – wheedling now, coaxing her as if she were a dog. ‘Just stay there. Don’t move.’

Skraed’s eyes had become veined with red. Her talons scraped over the cobblestones with a soft, grinding rasp. ‘Humans,’ she hissed. ‘Die.’

She charged.

The guards were stronger than the elders had been. They were solid men, well-armed and trained. But they fell like grass-stems when Skraed hit them. She felt rather than heard her talons screech over the metal breastplates they wore, but did not pause for a moment. She knocked most of them over with her chest or paws, and when they were down she struck with her beak – fast, crushing blows that made their armour crumple and smashed the bones underneath.

Skraed ran over the bodies to resume her hunt.

The last slave was hard to find. She found his scent eventually and followed it, but it twisted and turned many times and finally disappeared. More guards came after her, but they left her alone once she had killed more of them, and she was too intent on her goal to care where they had gone.

And finally, she found the end of the trail. It ended at the door of a house. Skraed broke it down with scarcely a pause, smashing the frame as well to get through. Inside there were several people, screaming and scattering out of her way. She killed all of them, not caring who they were. But one of them was the man she had hunted.

Satisfied at last, her sides heaving, she turned and limped out of the ruined house. Suddenly she was aware of pain. There were several deep cuts on her flanks and forelegs, some of them dripping blood onto the ground. She hadn’t even noticed them.

As she stepped back out into the street, she saw them. Guards, dozens of them. They were carrying nets and spears.

Skraed extended her talons. ‘Leave,’ she said. ‘Leave or die.’

They said nothing. Their leader gave a signal, and they began to advance slowly on her, holding out their nets.

Skraed suddenly felt uncertain. There were too many of them… she couldn’t fight them all, not when they had spears, not when they had nets.

‘Leave me,’ she hissed again. ‘Or I will use my magic.’

They hesitated at that. Instantly, Skraed charged. If she could bowl them over, get into the open, she could fly away…

A net caught around her talons. She stumbled, rasping furiously and trying to kick it away. It wouldn’t come free. She bent to tear it off with her beak, but the instant her head was down another net wrapped around her wing. Spear-points jabbed into the soft flesh around her chest, and she reared up angrily to fight back.

It was just what they wanted her to do. The nets came in, weighted at the corners, tangling her legs. She dropped onto her forelegs again, but her head got caught in the net hanging off her wing and she couldn’t lower it far enough to bite herself free. Caught off-balance, she tottered sideways and thudded onto her side.

After that, all chance of escape was gone. They were on her in moments, tying her wings and legs together and binding her beak shut.

Helpless, Skraed lay and kicked weakly at them. You! she raged. You humans! Filth! I will kill you! All of you, I swear it! YOU WILL DIE!

But nobody could hear her now. Her fight was done.



Skraed spent that night – that last, awful night – in a cage beneath the Eyrie. They had hobbled her wings and forced some foul-tasting liquid down her throat that had left her feeling drowsy and confused and killed the magic inside her. As if her magic could have helped her now.

She paced back and forth through all that long night, neither eating nor sleeping. Her throat still tasted of blood.

Her mind was full of terrible visions and sounds. She saw Kullervo, and heard his angry, contemptuous voice. All those griffiners, full of anger. All those griffins.

But above it all, louder and clearer than anything else, was Welyn. She could not remember him alive, could not hear his voice in her head. The only memory of him was his tiny, pathetic body lying at her paws. The sick crack his head had made on the wall. The smell of his blood, pooling on the floor.

She remembered the massacre too, but that was a different kind of memory – a red memory, half-blinded with raw anger and animal strength. Remembering it brought back something of the insane rush of power that had driven her then, and she clung to it obsessively, loving it even as it caused her pain.

Die, she thought. Die. All die.

‘Die,’ she rasped, chains clinking, talons clicking on the floor. ‘All of them, die. All, all, all.’

Her vision painted bloody pictures of dying humans, and the taste rose to the back of her tongue, more delicious than any food. Yeeeeesss…

But it could not last forever. Little by little her strength drained away, her mind succumbing to the dulling effects of the poison they had made her drink. Her pacing slowed and dragged, and shortly before dawn she collapsed, falling onto her belly and lying there unable to move.

Helpless anger filled her.

I swear, she intoned deep inside her mind. I swear it now. Never again shall I bow. Never again shall I submit. None shall ever rule over me, none shall ever command me. I am mine until death, and not even the great powers of nature shall ever change that.

She repeated the oath softly in the darkness, until the words hardened inside her. When they finally came to take her away, she was still whispering it. ‘Never shall I bow. Never shall I bow. Never. Never. Never.’




Skraed had already guessed where they were going to take her. She struggled weakly as the human guards chained her forelegs together, but there was nothing she could do to resist. They made her walk, prodding her with spears, and the chains were so short they barely let her shuffle along. She had no hope of fighting them like this.

They took her up and up, through the passages of the Eyrie and finally into a huge chamber – the very one where she and Welyn had sworn themselves to Arakae and Ruel just the day before.

Now the chamber was brightly lit, full of torches that showed the shields hanging on the walls and the elaborate fans of griffin feathers dyed bright colours. A circle of benches ringed the floor, and now they were occupied. Twelve griffins stood together, each with a human beside them. They were big, both male and female, glossy and powerful from good food and the finest homes their partners could provide. Each of them wore special ornaments as signs of their prestige – shining metal rings clamped around their forelegs, some gold, some silver, some studded with gems.

Beside them their humans wore their finest ceremonial outfits – the men wore tunics, with long wing-feathers sewn onto the shoulders to drape over their backs like cloaks. Over the chest each one had been covered in hundreds of small breast-feathers, and below that a patch of fox-fur extended toward the ground in a long “tail” whose tip was weighed down by a fan of even more feathers. The gowns worn by the women were adorned in the same way, but every outfit was coloured to match the griffin that stood beside its wearer.

Humans who think they are griffins, Skraed thought. Filth and lies.

At the middle of the ring was Arakae, with Ruel beside him as always. The big griffin’s stance was certain and strong, but his eyes gleamed with anger.

Skraed’s guards brought her to him, and tugged at her chains so that her forelegs folded and she fell into a crouch. She got up instantly, shoving the hated humans away.

Arakae opened his wings and held them up, making himself huge. ‘Bow your head to me, Skraed,’ he commanded.

But Skraed stayed defiantly upright, raising her own wings clumsily. ‘No.’

Arakae began to hiss. ‘Bow!’

‘I shall never bow,’ said Skraed, loudly enough for the entire council to hear.

‘Yesterday you bowed to me and swore your loyalty and that of your human,’ said Arakae.

‘My human is dead and my vow is broken,’ said Skraed. ‘My loyalty is to no-one.’

Provoked, the councillors began to mutter among themselves, some rasping threats.

Skraed showed no fear.

Arakae took a step toward her, his feathers bristling. ‘You have committed a crime which cannot be forgiven, Skraed. You would do well to remember that before you speak so insolently to me.’

Skraed snapped her beak at him. The threat in it was instantly obvious to everyone there. ‘Unchain me, coward,’ she hissed. ‘We shall see how mighty you are then.’

Arakae reared up and hit her in the face. The blow sent her tripping and staggering to the floor, unable to recover under the weight of her chains. She landed on her side, gasping in pain.

But she got up a moment later, and still she would not bow. ‘What courage, to strike me while I am helpless, o magnificent Arakae.’

He was truly angry now. ‘And what courage you showed, little silverwing, when you slaughtered defenceless humans.’

‘Humans!’ Skraed spat her contempt. ‘Humans are vermin. Thieving, lying, useless. They took this land from us, slaughtered us as if we were their prey, and we choose to live with them? To give them our strength, when we could crush them like the insects they are!’

The councillors screamed their hatred.


‘Kill her! Arakae, kill her now!’

Arakae seemed calmer now. ‘You have no remorse, then, for what you have done.’

‘Remorse!’ Skraed’s talons tore deep furrows in the wooden floor. ‘Free me now, mighty slave, and I shall slaughter every human in this chamber – along with any griffin who tries to stand in my way.’

Arakae moved back a pace, closer to his human – standing protectively between him and the maddened silver griffin. ‘You have broken the pact between our two kinds, Skraed, and the punishment for that is always death.’

‘Kill me then,’ she said. ‘Kill me in the pits, where I can die fighting humans. You will see many more of them dead before I am done.’

‘The fighting pits need no more mad griffins,’ said Arakae. ‘And you are my daughter. It is a shame to my name that you have done this. I will not allow any human or griffin in this city to say I am weak, and death would be too easy a punishment.’

Skraed felt the faintest pang of fear then, but she thrust it away. Even now, she refused to believe that he could do anything to her that would ever make her repent.

Arakae’s eyes narrowed. ‘My magic shall be your punishment, and for you, it will be a living death.’ He turned his head sharply to look at the council. ‘Move away. Keep your humans safe. Ruel, you must move too.’

‘What are you going to do?’ the human asked quietly.

‘Move,’ Arakae repeated, and Ruel did.

Skraed’s guards hooked her leg-chains onto a pair of metal rings set into the floor, and retreated.

She struggled. ‘What is this? Father, what are you doing?’

Arakae folded his wings tightly against his body, and lowered himself into a crouch. ‘I am going to show this council the punishment you have earned. The crime was yours, and the misery and humiliation shall be yours alone. Farewell.’ He stretched his neck out, straight as an arrow, and closed his eyes.

Now Skraed was afraid, truly afraid. She had expected death, but not this, not this uncertainty, or that ominous promise. ‘Father, do not-,’

Arakae’s entire body had gone rigid. He opened his beak wide, and his magic rushed free.

The last thing Skraed saw was the light pouring out of him, golden as his eyes. Then it struck her, wrapped itself around her, and after that there was only pain.

Caught in the grip of magic, she had no control over her body. She began to fall forward, but a moment later it was moving her – lifting her until the tips of her talons barely touched the floor. And then it began to do far worse things. Its grip increased, like iron, and squeezed. Harder and harder the force became, agonisingly painful. Her beak forced open, and she screamed.

Something broke, inside her. There was a tearing, a wet hotness, and blood poured out of her beak and onto the floor, turning her scream wet and gargling. But the magic would not let her die. It snapped her bones, one by one, warping and twisting them inside her until the shattered pieces tore through her skin and muscles. Her eyes rolled back in her head and all she saw was redness.

Then the force around her began to pull, and that was when the true pain began.

Her feathers came out, and her fur, ripped out of her like splinters. Her hind claws extended and then tore free in a spray of blood – and her talons went with them a moment later. Her skull cracked, breaking in half as her beak came away, landing on the floor among the discarded remains of what had been her wings.

Skraed hung, imprisoned by burning light, her body so broken and distorted it was barely a body any more.

But the magic was not done yet.

After a moment of torment so intense it broke her mind, the force holding her in place began to put her back together again.

Broken bones knitted back together, and bald skin flowed back into a single unbroken piece. Her skull reshaped itself, and her paws and legs with it. The pain receded little by little, and her scalp prickled. Something thrust itself out of her mouth, splitting the fleshy inside, and the tips of her toes spiked outward. Fresh blood poured through her, and her heart beat again, weakly.

Over, she thought, and slid into unconsciousness.

The last thing she heard was Arakae’s voice, low and weak with exhaustion. ‘Now you have been punished, Skraed…’




She didn’t remember anything else – did not remember being taken away, or being put into a new prison. For a long time she dreamed – strange, frightening dreams that tasted wrong and made no sense. They were full of feelings she did not understand.

When she woke from them, she was freezing cold.

She stirred and shivered, thinking she must be lying buried in snow. She had never felt so utterly cold in her life. Her instincts told her to warm herself up, and quickly, but when she tried to move she couldn’t. Her body felt all wrong – clumsy, somehow, as if she had forgotten how to control it.

She lifted a foreleg and kneaded at the snow, but it wasn’t snow. It was something strange and rough… it felt wrong. She opened her eyes, but all she saw was darkness.

To her surprise she reacted with a pang of fear that was far out of proportion to the situation. There was no danger, only cold and dark.

Nestle down, she told herself sternly. Warm up.

It did no good. She shook herself to make her feathers fluff up, but nothing happened. She had been in snow before, but even then her coat had been more than enough to protect her – what was this? Ice, perhaps? Maybe she was wet.

No. Not wet. Only cold.

The only alternative was to move around – stop herself falling asleep and possibly never waking up. Perhaps she could find out where she was, and maybe leave and find somemwhere warmer.

It took her several tries, but she managed to rise onto her paws. She felt another jolt of fear at that – irrational, but uncontrollable. Why was she so clumsy? She didn’t feel any pain, she wasn’t injured, but she could barely stand. Her hind paws wouldn’t bend or flex properly. Had the cold made her stiffen? If so it must be bad.

Thrusting the fear away once again, she shuffled clumsily forward, only to run into a solid barrier – a wall, she realised. A stone wall. She followed it, but it only led to a corner and another wall. It was cold and dirty, but she followed it anyway. Another corner, another wall. She was hemmed in on three sides. What about the fourth?

There was indeed a fourth wall, and this one had a door in it. But she couldn’t open it no matter how hard she pushed, and once again there was that feeling of wrongness. The metal-studded wood was so rough and hard on her skin – she could feel it graze her in several places. She had rubbed her flank on plenty of wooden surfaces to scratch an itch, so why was this hurting her?

What stone is this? she thought. What wood? Is this magic?

She tried to turn her head to nibble at the wounds, and now the wrongness rushed upon her in a flood of fear and uncertainty. Her neck would not bend that far, her head could not reach. And when she tried harder she realised, I have no beak.

Panic-stricken, she hit her face against the wall. Solid stone bashed into her, hitting her eye without anything to stop it. She opened and closed her mouth, but there was no beak around it – only some strange hard thing inside that clicked very faintly.

She raised a forepaw to try and touch her face, and promptly fell forward onto the floor. Her foreleg bent too far, and in the wrong direction, and when she fell her wings did not open to catch her.

She heard a strange sound as she lay there on the icy stone. It was a soft, weak thing, like some small animal in pain.

And she was making it. When she tried to make herself stop, it only became louder. It made her shake and heave, and her panic doubled – she was sick, dying, convulsing with some terrible disease.

What did Arakae do to me?

But she knew. Little by little, she realised the truth. He had taken, not her existence, but her life. And that was everything. Her wings, her talons, her beak, all gone. Even her fur and feathers. Her tail. The faint burn of magic in her throat had disappeared.

She didn’t feel the cold any more after that. She lay and listened to the awful, weak sound coming from her own throat, but her mind was somewhere far, far away, in a dead place where it knew nothing of this pathetic wreck that had been made of her body.

But some tiny shred of her lingered inside – lingered and saw, and knew.

I am not a griffin now, it thought. I am… I am… human.




Much later, one of the guards stationed outside opened the cell door and peered in by the light of the lantern. He saw the strange woman lying there in the middle of the floor. She was completely naked and shivering, but made no effort at all to protect herself. She wasn’t even lying on the straw pallet provided, choosing instead to lie on the exposed stone. Her eyes were partly open, but there was no expression on her face. She lay utterly still, drool slowly leaking out of her open mouth.

The guard put down the plate of food he’d brought, and quietly withdrew.

‘How is she?’ his colleague asked, outside.

He shook his head, awestruck. ‘By Gryphus, it’s really true. They turned her into a human.’

‘How’s she look?’

The man thought of the sharp-featured face and long, tangled silver hair. ‘Like a woman, I s’pose. Just a tiny bit odd.’

‘Wonder what they’re gonna do with her now?’ said his friend.

‘No idea. I doubt they’ll have to kill her though.’


‘Take a look at her if y’like,’ said the guard. ‘She’s not doin’ anything. Mind’s broke, by the look of it. Lights are on but nobody’s answerin’ the door.’

His friend whistled softly. ‘Wonder if she’ll stay like that?’

‘Well, I’m on duty again tomorrow an’ the day after. So I’ll see, won’t I?’




The guards did indeed see, and so did their fellows. Fascinated by the stories of the griffin who had become a human woman, they found excuses to look into her cell whenever they could. But they always found her unchanged.

She stayed where she was, comatose on the floor, her lips moving occasionally, never looking at anything or rising to take the food they brought. One guard kindly moved her onto her pallet and covered her with the blanket, and she showed no reaction at all to his touch.

Little by little, their fear of her turned to pity, and contempt as well. More than one of them had lost a friend to her rampage.

Skraed was unaware of any of it. She let the cold embrace her, welcoming its numbing power like an old friend and forgetting all thoughts of food or warmth.

Let me die, she told the cold. Let me freeze and starve to death.

At other times she lost herself in memories of the past, having visions of the faces and voices of her siblings – and of Welyn, too. Poor Welyn. Her precious little human, the only human whose memory did not make her hate.

I was so proud of you, she thought. If only I had not been such a fool, you would still be alive.

She remembered all those who had come to see her, all those griffins and humans who had tried to warn her.

They were right, Welyn. I should never have chosen you. My choice killed you.

That thought brought more strange feelings – feelings of… of something, something she couldn’t identify. A feeling of wishing she had done something different, and misery that she had not. A powerful desire that Welyn was alive and with her, mixed with… with something that made her eyes sting and burn and her throat feel constricted the way it had when her magic had first awoken when she was young. After that her face became wet, most of the time, and that frightened her.

I am sick, she thought. My eyes are weeping. I shall die soon.

By the time the guard moved her onto the pallet, she was too far gone to notice or to try and resist.

But the bedding brought warmth back into her body, and little by little, life of a sort came with it. She began to spend more time awake, unable to escape into her dreams again. Still she refused to try and eat or to get up, but she did move – flexing her hands experimentally. They worked the same way her forepaws once had, but though they were weaker they were far more flexible. She could move each finger independently. Despite herself, she felt a vague interest at that. No wonder humans could do so many things, if their forepaws… their hands were this delicate.

A moment later she was filled with revulsion. Hands, human hands, and they were hers. She ran them slowly over her body, and the revulsion increased, churning in her stomach. Smooth, bald skin, with only a few patches of coarse hair tucked away, and a strange mane that covered her head.

It was hideous.

She closed her eyes again and dreamed of a time when she was still whole, with all her beauty and strength.

The dream couldn’t last. She woke up, suddenly aware of a presence. Something was touching her.

She stirred and opened her eyes, aware of a smell. It was harsh and rank, a human smell, she realised. Skraed’s eyes opened fully, and she hissed. Her human mouth could do that, at least.

The thing touching her moved – it was a hand, sliding under the blanket.

Skraed hissed again, uncertainly, but the smell of the human alone was enough to rouse her.

The intruder was unpreturbed. ‘You’re pretty, for a freak,’ he said softly. ‘Do you even know how to talk?’

‘Do not touch me,’ Skraed said, or tried to. The words came out slurred and distorted.

The man leaned closer. ‘You killed my brother, griffin,’ he rasped. ‘Tore his head clean off. They should’ve killed you for that. If you’d been human then they would have. But you’re a griffin, and that Arakae thinks you’re too special to get what’s coming to you.’ His hand dug into her, clutching at the strange growths on her chest. ‘But you ain’t a griffin now, are you?’ he laughed nastily. ‘They made you one of us. An’ you’ve got some real nice tits on you now. My wife ain’t got tits this good.’

Skraed’s heart beat faster. He had no right to be here, this human, had no right to touch her, or to speak to her this way, with so much contempt in his voice. She made a clumsy grab for his arm. She missed, and only brushed him with her fingertips, but he let go.

He took her by the hair, wrenching her head sideways and dragging her upward – suspending her painfully in a half-sitting position. ‘You little bitch. I’m gonna give you what they should’ve given you already, an’ by Gryphus I’m gonna love it.’

Skraed hit him. The blow was driven by griffish instinct; she didn’t punch as a human would, but slashed at him with her fingers, aiming for where she thought his face was.

The man let go of her and jerked away, yelling in pain. ‘You filthy-,’

Skraed didn’t hear him. She forgot everything – forgot she wasn’t a griffin any more, forgot that she was a weak and crippled human. All her old fighting instincts took hold, and she launched herself off the pallet and straight at him, hands outstretched.

He fought back, but she didn’t care. She hit him again and again, slashing at him, and every time a blow connected he cried out.

She felt blood on her hands, and a fierce joy filled her. My talons! I have not lost them!

A strange sound broke out of her human throat, and this time it was not whimpering or crying. It was a sound she recognised, and it did not frighten her.

She was laughing for the first time.

In the end one of the man’s fellow guards came to his rescue, though they had to pull Skraed off him. She huddled into a corner, still laughing. When they had gone she felt her fingertips, nibbling at them with her teeth, and her joy doubled and strengthened and rose higher and higher. She had talons! Her fingers were not tipped by square pink human fingernails, but with perfect, curving claws. They were smaller than her talons had been, but they were strong and sharp, and in that moment she realised the truth.

I am human, she thought. But I am still myself. I am not helpless. I… am… not… helpless.

She felt her new toes, and they were clawed as well. Magnificent.

Her finger-claws tasted of blood. She licked them, relishing the first thing she had tasted since becoming human. She could still fight, and when she realised that, her will to live came surging back.

She braced her new legs against the floor, steadying herself on the wall behind her. When she felt ready, she pushed. Her legs straightened, lifting her off the ground. She stood, awkwardly, unwilling to move away from the wall. Her legs were weak, but they worked.

I can walk.

She took a tentative step forward, and then another. Her knees buckled and she fell forward, landing painfully on her front. But her hands shot out to catch her, and stopped her face from hitting the floor. Doggedly, she pushed herself upward – pausing to decide how to place her feet for the best balance. When she was standing again she paused, waving her arms experimentally and rocking this way and that on her feet. It was easier than she had thought. Perhaps her new body knew how it should move, if she could only trust it.

With that thought, she took a few more wobbly steps forward, and clicked her teeth triumphantly when she managed it without falling. Her foot bumped against something on the floor, and she nearly did fall, but caught herself in time.

She paused for a while, wondering what to do next, and then slowly bent her legs until she was crouching. That was easier than standing up, at least. She felt around clumsily until she found the thing she had bumped into. It was a pot, and she fumbled with it for a while before she managed to pick it up.

She sniffed at the contents. Water. Her mouth felt drier than the clay around it.

She tried to dip her beak into the pot before she remembered she didn’t have one any more. What should she do, then?

She concentrated, dredging up memories of watching humans drink. Oh. Of course. That made sense. She tilted her head back and poured the water into her mouth. It overflowed and splashed down onto her chin and chest, but she managed to swallow most of it. It tasted different than the water she had drunk as a griffin, but she didn’t care. It was water.

Carelessly dropping the empty pot, she explored further and found something she eventually decided was food. Eating was another thing she had trouble with – swallowing the food whole was painful, and she decided that if it hurt she shouldn’t do it. She tore it into small pieces instead, and then swallowed it. That worked better.

The food made her feel stronger. When it was all gone she felt around some more, and found something that puzzled her much more than anything else she’d picked up. It was a large piece of something that felt like… she paused, struggling with words she had never had to use before… cloth?

Yes, that was it. She twisted her claws in it, wondering why they had left it for her. Was it another blanket? That seemed likely, so she carried it back to the pallet. She needed all the warmth she could get.

She dozed. This time her sleep was peaceful.




When she woke again, there was light. Someone had come in and lit a torch on the wall, and she could see the cell. She blinked and peered around, taking in the stone walls, roof and floor, and the door – still tightly shut, of course. Just now she was glad. She needed time to regain her strength, and to think.

She sat up on the pallet, and examined her new body properly for the first time.

The skin was human skin, with just the faintest silvery sheen to it. Her new legs were long and thin, like her arms. And there were those strange growths on her chest. She prodded them, bewildered. What were they even for? She vaguely recalled that human females all seemed to have them, but she had no idea why. They hurt when she put too much pressure on them, and she winced and left them alone.

Her claws were far more interesting. She looked at them closely, turning her hands over to appreciate them properly. They were black and hard, sticking out a short way from her fingertips. She dragged them over her thigh and watched the light red lines they left behind.

Her lips curled upward of their own accord. A smile, she thought. Humans do it to show happiness. I am happy, so I smile too.

She was rather proud of that deduction.

Whoever had brought the torch had brought more food. She decided to try walking again. This time it was easier. Triumphant, she picked up the food and took it back to what she was beginning to think of as her nest. It tasted delicious. To Skraed, who had never bothered to linger over the taste of food before it disappeared down her throat, it was a strange revelation to have. But not a bad one.

After she had eaten, she noticed the cloth she had picked up before. Now she could see it, she noted its odd shape. It was too small to be a proper blanket, and why would it be shaped this way? She plucked at it, frowning unconsciously. Those two long pieces that came out from the sides… the holes at either end… why?

Slow realisation dawned. Clothes! Of course! Humans had no feathers – they covered themselves with things like this instead.

She spent a good part of that day trying to work out how to put it on, but once again her new body surprised her by how flexible it was, and in the end she got her arms into the sleeves and put her head through the hole between them. The rest of the outfit draped over her body, down as far as her ankles. She felt much warmer with it on.

While she rested, absent-mindedly tangling her fingers in her hair, the door opened. She started up, but the guard only stepped in and put some more food down on the floor.

‘You ain’t staying here much longer,’ he said in a rough voice. ‘You’ll never see Withypool again, an’ good riddance.’

When he had gone, Skraed picked up the food and ate it piece by piece. So that is what they mean to do with me now, she thought. Not death, but banishment. Then so be it.

She never wanted to see Withypool again, with its gloomy streets and dark memories. Out there was another world, one that did not know her, and when Skraed thought of it she knew at once what she must do.

I will go. Leave Withypool far behind. I will not die, as they want me to. I will survive, even in this hideous form. And I will find a way to change back. I will become a griffin once more, and when I have I shall be free.

She flexed her hands, staring fixedly at her claws. And if anyone tries to stop me, I will kill them. I will learn to fight again.

The thought tasted of triumph, and she savoured it for the rest of her time in that cell.

The next day came, inevitably, and when the guards came to take her away she was standing by the door, her sharp-featured face impassive. She said nothing, but walked silently if clumsily between them out of her prison and back into the world.

They took a quiet route away from the Eyrie and through the city. But plenty of people saw them, and they turned and stared at the strange silver-haired woman, who walked as if she were only just learning how and whose face was so expressionless it might have been carved from stone.

Outside the city, in a muddy field, one of the guards gave Skraed a small cloth sack. ‘There’s food in here, and some money,’ he said. ‘You’re free to go wherever you like, but if you ever come back to the city you’ll be killed. Understand?’

Skraed said nothing.

The guard scowled at her. ‘Don’t think we won’t know who you are if you come back. Everyone the city knows what you did. Get going, Skraed, an’ don’t ever come back.’

She stared at him. Only stared, through those weird golden eyes.

The guard couldn’t meet her gaze for long. ‘C’mon,’ he muttered to his colleague, and walked away back toward the city.

Skraed watched him go for a moment, and then turned away. Open country lay ahead, waiting to receive her. The whole world, that she had spent so many years dreaming of but never ventured into. It was all hers. Skraed of Withypool was coming now.

She stopped herself. No. Not Skraed of Withypool. Skraed was a griffin, and I am no griffin now.

She took a deep breath and rubbed her new hands over the face she had never seen. ‘Skade,’ she said at last. ‘I am Skade.’




Neato text ornament here