The Blackrobe Griffiner

Dawn over the city of Eagleholm. In the cool grey air, the morning calls of the griffins echoed over the rooftops. It was a signal for most people to wake up and get ready for work, but in the higher part of the city where the official buildings stood, the great lords and ladies of Eagleholm were already gathered.

The big stone Sun Temple looked silvery in the light. When it had been built, it had been carefully positioned so that from the front, the rising sun would look as if it were appearing from behind the Temple’s central dome. But today, on this most sacred time, it did something much more special.

The griffiners stood in a semicircle outside the Temple doors with their partners close by. In the middle, directly opposite the doors, Lady Riona the Eyrie Mistress blinked tiredly. Her partner Shree stood behind her, typically impassive.

On the Eyrie Mistress’ right side, Lord Rannagon did his best to keep his sleepy daughter quiet.

‘I’m tired,’ she complained yet again. ‘It’s cold. I want to go back home.’

Rannagon put his hand on her shoulder, not taking his eyes off the temple. ‘Shush, Flell. This is important.’

‘I’m hungry.’

‘Flell, I said to be quiet. We can have breakfast later,’ he added.

‘Why are we here?’ Flell whispered.

‘To see something very special,’ her mother said.

‘It’s just the Temple,’ said Flell, after glancing at it. ‘I’ve already seen it.’

‘Not like this,’ said Rannagon. ‘Look.’ He pointed.

High above, at the very top of the dome, a golden sunwheel spiked skyward. The three curling lines that represented sunbeams met in the middle, where a red gem the size of a man’s head had been set.

As Rannagon pointed, the light of the rising sun crept higher. It shone through the gem, making it glow dully.

‘That’s pretty,’ said Flell.

Rannagon smiled and hugged her to his side. ‘It’s not done yet. Keep watching.’

She watched, silent now. Slowly the sun moved upward, until it was directly behind the gem. In that instant, a beam of red light shone from it, spreading out to touch the silent onlookers.

Flell gaped. For a few moments she was speechless, and then she tugged at her father’s tunic. ‘Daddy! Daddy, is that magic?’

‘It’s Gryphus,’ said Rannagon. ‘His light shines through the stone once every year, and that’s today – the first day of Spring.’

‘Springday!’ said Flell. ‘I know that!’

‘And we have to come and worship,’ said Rannagon. ‘To make sure this Spring is a good one! Are you ready?’

‘I suppose,’ said Flell.

Behind them, Shoa shifted her immense bulk. ‘Foolery,’ she rasped to herself, but without much emphasis. Like most griffins she was prepared to put up with this sort of thing, and for good reason.

The red light vanished as quickly as it had come. As it faded, the Temple doors opened and a priest clad in blue appeared. He said nothing, and only gestured to welcome the rulers of the city inside.

Riona and Shree went first, walking side-by-side in a dignified fashion. Rannagon followed with Shoa and his family.

Inside the Temple only had one huge room. There were no seats – only a circle of flat cushions that formed a series of rings around the rounded altar, which was bathed in light thanks to a round window in the ceiling. At the edges of the room, big stone platforms stood at intervals.

As Rannagon took his place with Flell and Kaelyn, Shoa silently moved away. She chose a platform and leapt onto it, where she sat on her haunches, almost completely still except for the twitching of her tail. The other griffins there did the same, one to each platform. Some of the youngsters, not used to this ritual, flew around the inside of the dome, chasing each other and calling. It added a feeling of good cheer to the place, and no-one objected. After all, Rannagon thought, this was meant to be a celebration of life.

High above the gathered worshippers and directly opposite the doors, the priest’s three-legged partner stood on her own platform. It was far taller than the others, and she regarded her fellows regally. Rannagon knew she must be enjoying this – it was one of the few opportunities she would ever have to lord it over the other griffins, who would normally mock and bully a cripple unmercifully.

A weak or disabled griffin couldn’t afford to live in the Hatchery – the others would gang up on her and either kill her or steal her food until she starved. This one would have had no choice but to choose a human to protect and feed her, but whoever she chose would be more or less forced to join the priesthood. As the dominant griffin, Shree would never, ever let a crippled griffin’s human have any sort of real power.

Up on her platform, the three-legged griffin thrust her head forward and screeched.

Silence fell.

The priest began to move forward from his place at the base of the platform, toward the altar. ‘Welcome,’ he intoned. ‘Welcome in Gryphus’ holy name. Great Lords and Ladies of Eagleholm. Feel the warmth of sunlight, and be blessed.’

Sitting cross-legged on his cushion, Rannagon glanced at Flell. She had been to the Temple before, and kept respectfully quiet. Rannagon nodded to himself in satisfaction.

The priest reached the altar, and took up position beside it with his hands folded. ‘Many thousands of years ago, our ancestors came to this land. They found it harsh and hot, and dry – an unforgiving land. At first, they were convinced they had come to a bad place, one where they could never live. But one man among them stood up and said, “This land is hot and dry because of the sun! This is a country where the light of Gryphus burns bright, and sacred griffins roam the skies. Do you not see, brothers, that this is a blessed land – a land promised to us by Gryphus!”. At once his friends saw that he was right, and from that day on they swore that they would live to honour Gryphus and savour all his gifts. The moment they had made that oath, a great white griffin flew down from the sun. He came to the man who had spoken and said, “What is your name?”

The man said, “I am Baragher, mighty griffin.”

The griffin said, “You have honoured me, and I command that from this day, it is you who will rule over your kind.”

At once Baragher bowed down and honoured the griffin, for he realised that this was no beast, but Gryphus himself.’

In gratitude, the griffin used his magic to turn Baragher’s eyes the colour of the sky, and said, “From now on you are Baragher the Blessed. I shall carry you on my back, and help you to fight your enemies, and together we shall be greater than one man, or one griffin. My strength, for your honour. My power, for your wisdom. I shall fight, and you shall build, and for as long as you honour Gryphus my kind shall be beside you and there shall be no people stronger than yours.”’

The priest smiled.

‘And so Baragher and the white griffin were partners from then on. And over time, other griffins came to choose humans of their own. Together, Baragher and the white griffin fought the armies of the dark Night God, and this sun-blessed land was theirs to love and to nurture.’

Above, the three-legged griffin opened her wings and beat them once, sending hundreds of flower-petals fluttering down over the worshippers.

Flell giggled in delight and tried to catch some, but they fell through her fingers and she began to get frustrated.

Rannagon reached up and snatched one out of the air, handing it to her with a smile.

She took it eagerly, and played with it while the priest spoke on.

‘To this day, the descendants of Baragher and his people still rule this land, and the greatest among them are chosen by griffins, to lead with strength, with wisdom and with godliness.’ He paused. ‘But no matter how great we are, or how powerful, we must never forget that we rule here only by the grace of Gryphus. Only our reverence and obedience, our love of him, makes us truly great. That is why, on this, the first day of Spring, we gather here to remember. We come to show Gryphus that we, who are so great, can still humble ourselves to him. For our goodness, our spiritual strength, we can have the greatest gift of all – life itself.’ The priest raised his arms to the ceiling. ‘Mighty Gryphus! Fierce as fire, gentle as water! Gryphus our heavenly father! We stand before you not as griffiners, not as great Lords, but as we truly are inside – your children, weak and humble, but trusting in your love and protection, needing your guidance. We ask you to grant us a warm Spring and a bountiful harvest, so that we may have life.’

The griffiners bowed their heads and murmured their own prayers – some repeating the priest’s plea, and others whispering their own wishes.

Rannagon closed his eyes tightly. Honour, he thought. Give me honour, Gryphus. And… and… despite himself, he couldn’t stop the memory from rising in his mind. The small face, watching him sadly, blue eyes so like his own.

‘Protect him, Gryphus,’ he said, so quietly he could barely hear it. ‘Bless him. It’s not his fault. He didn’t ask me to do what I did. Please.’

If Gryphus heard, he didn’t reply. But, then, he never had.

Guilt-stricken, Rannagon glanced at his wife and daughter. I pray for that boy more than I do for them.

But they didn’t need his prayers, he reminded himself. They were safe and happy. And no matter how hard he tried, nothing ever seemed to be enough for the boy. But he knew why. He could visit as much as he liked, and bring all the gifts he could carry, but none of that would change the fact that his son was growing up without a father. His secret son. His bastard son. His shameful secret.

Rannagon held onto the guilt, nursing it as he had done countless times over the years. It wasn’t just guilt at betraying Kaelyn, but guilt at forcing his own son to live with the title of bastard.

I did all I could for him, he thought as he left the temple. I gave him more than any boy in his whole village. He’ll grow up with skills they don’t have, and surely…

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t rationalise it all away. He kept close to Flell, holding her hand to comfort himself as much as her.

‘Wasn’t that amazing?’ Kaelyn was saying to her daughter. ‘What did you think of it, Flell?’

The small girl kept glancing back at the Temple. ‘I want to see the light come out of the stone again.’

‘You will, next year,’ said her mother. ‘Promise. We’ll take you every Springday from now on.’

‘The priest was boring,’ Flell added. ‘He always is.’

‘Speak respectfully to him, Flell,’ Rannagon said sternly. ‘He works very hard for the good of our souls, and he doesn’t get paid much to do it either.’

‘All right.’ Flell perked up. ‘Can we go to the dancing now, Mother?’

Kaelyn ruffled her hair. ‘First we’ve got to go home and get some breakfast! We’ll have something special since it’s Springday.’

‘I want strayberries!’

‘We’d better see if we have some, then,’ said Kaelyn. ‘Let’s check the garden – maybe some have ripened by now.’

Flell ran ahead, bright-eyed. Other children of griffiners were going their way, and she went to find her friends and talk excitedly about all the things they were going to do for the celebrations later in the day.

Kaelyn kept pace with her husband. ‘We met on a Springday – remember?’

‘Of course I do.’ Rannagon smiled to himself. ‘I was going to see if there were any apples left, when I saw a girl so beautiful I couldn’t look away. I walked right into the gutter.’

‘Funny,’ said Kaelyn. ‘I saw a dopey straw-headed boy fall flat on his face. And when I went to help him up he started babbling gibberish like a blackrobe.’

‘You do that to a man,’ said Rannagon. ‘Always have.’

Kaelyn grinned. ‘Ah, well, when that boy stood up I realised he had the most dazzling blue eyes. And then I didn’t know what to say.’

Rannagon shook his head sadly. ‘Yet another defenceless victim of the famous Rannagon charm. I just don’t know how we’re going to offset the damage.’

Kaelyn gave him a shove. ‘All that and modesty! I must be the luckiest girl in the city.’

Shoa came up behind them. ‘Rannagon.’

He glanced over his shoulder, and sighed. ‘Oh right. Duty calls. Sorry, Kaelyn – I suppose I’ll have to find you later.’

‘Off you go,’ she said cheerfully. ‘The city needs its Master of Law and so on. But see if you can rule that the Eyrie should give you the afternoon off.’

‘I’ll see what I can do,’ said Rannagon, and climbed onto the impatient Shoa’s back.

Once he was in place the yellow griffin walked away from the crowd and took off once she had a clear space. She flapped hard for extra height, while Rannagon held on tightly, and circled over the city a few times before closing in on the Eyrie.

She landed neatly on one of the many balconies, and walked through the archway into the room that served her as a daytime nest. Rannagon got off her back and did his best to straighten her feathers before walking through the nest and into his own quarters. Once he’d lived in them, but now that he lived in Kaelyn’s ancestral house down in the city his old home had become his office.

A large desk had replaced the bed, and was already piled high with paperwork. Muttering to himself, Rannagon stumped over to the chair and sat down. There were few things worse than working on a holy day, but there was simply too much to do for him to put it off, and he would have to get a lot of it done now if he was going to take the afternoon off.

Shoa had wandered in after him. ‘I am hungry.’

‘Oh, right.’ Rannagon stood up at once. ‘I’m sorry.’ He crossed to the other side of the room, and opened a cupboard. There was a wooden crate inside, and he reached in and lifted a live rabbit out. He offered it to Shoa. ‘Your favourite.’

She clicked her beak appreciatively. ‘You were saving this?’

‘Yes, for Springday. After all.’ Rannagon tightened his grip on the terrified animal. ‘This is the day when we humans should remember how much we owe your kind.’

‘Much!’ she summarised, and snatched the rabbit out of his hands.

Rannagon winced at the crunch of bone and the brief squeal that signalled the animal’s final moment. ‘Yes. We forget it too easily. But I never will.’

‘Of course you would not,’ said Shoa, gulping slightly. ‘If you ever did, I would tear off your head.’

With that she sauntered off into her nest.

Rannagon grimaced. It was a difficult thing to accept, but that was her idea of a joke.

He returned to his desk, and turned to the little tray where his messages went. The one on top looked new, and he picked it up and read it idly.

Alisoun Kraessen, Hatchery assistant, requests an audience.

Rannagon scratched his beard. This was interesting. People didn’t usually ask for an audience with him like this, and commoners almost never did. When they did, it usually meant they either wanted to complain about his having locked up or executed a relative… or they had a crime to report – something too serious to take to the city guard.

Rannagon considered a moment, and then decided to see the woman now. It would be more interesting than spending the morning at his desk.

His apprentice, Anyon, appeared not long after this with his young griffin walking beside him. ‘Master.’

Rannagon stood up. ‘Ah, there you are. Anything to report?’

‘No, Master. It’s fairly quiet at the moment.’

‘Thank Gryphus for small mercies.’ Rannagon picked up the message. ‘I see one of Roland’s assistants is asking to talk to me. Do you know what for?’

‘I didn’t meet her myself,’ said Anyon. ‘She didn’t get past the guards down below. They reported to me, though – apparently she said she had something very important to tell you.’

‘I need more than that if I’m going to waste my time with her,’ said Rannagon. ‘Did she have a crime to report?’

‘I… think so, Master.’

‘Good enough. Send someone to bring her here, and make it quick – I want this afternoon free.’

‘Yes, Master.’ Anyon hurried out.

Alone, Rannagon sat back in his chair. A crime, in the Hatchery? It was a disturbing idea, but he wasn’t overly worried. The griffins there were very good at looking after themselves, and if it was something really bad then Roland would have come himself.

Rannagon grinned. ‘Unless old Roland’s turned to a life of crime.’ He chortled at the idea, and went back to sorting out the mess on his desk.




Alisoun, when she was escorted up to his office some time later, turned out to be much younger than Rannagon had expected. She was blonde and gangly, obviously not yet out of her teens, and she looked a little sullen.

Despite that she sounded respectful enough as she bowed to him. ‘Milord.’

Rannagon stayed in his seat. ‘Alisoun Kraessen?’ he said, glancing at the note in his hand.

‘That’s right, milord.’

‘I understand you have some sort of… problem to report.’ Rannagon folded his hands on the desk.

‘Yes, milord.’ Alisoun looked nervous. ‘I don’t like doin’ this, but it’s the right thing to do.’

‘Out with it, then.’

‘Yes, milord.’ She stood a little straighter. ‘It’s Lord Roland, milord. He’s doing something wrong.’

Rannagon raised his eyebrows. ‘Lord Roland? What in Gryphus’ name has he done?’

Alisoun shuffled. ‘I ain’t sure if it’s against the law, milord, it’s just that… I thought… someone had to be told.’

‘I warn you, if you’re wasting my time-,’

‘He’s trainin’ a blackrobe!’ the girl blurted. ‘I saw him doing it!’

‘What? Training a – what are you talking about?’

‘There’s a blackrobe what comes to the Hatchery,’ said Alisoun. ‘Name of Cardock. He used to work there when he was a boy. He’s free now – working as a bootmaker down in Idun. Roland sells him goat hides cheap.’

Rannagon shook his head. ‘He always was soft-hearted. So?’

‘So this Cardock brings his son with him,’ said Alisoun. ‘I thought it was just because, but I noticed there was somethin’ odd goin’ on. While Cardock was helpin’ with the skinning, Roland would take the boy off somewhere. Didn’t want him around the knives, I thought, but I had to go fetch something last week, an’ I saw them.’ Alisoun stared at the floor. ‘They was in the chick-room. The boy was playin’ with one of our griffins – just a youngster. Roland was there. I thought it was odd, an’ then I listened an’ I caught what they were sayin’. It was Roland, milord. He was teaching the boy. Teaching him griffish. Making him say the words.’

Rannagon stared in shock. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah I’m sure. Milord. I hid and watched for a while. Saw Roland showing the boy how to get on the griffin’s back.’

‘It let him do that?’

‘Yes, milord. I saw it carry him all round the hatchery. You could tell they’d done it before.’

Rannagon looked at his hands, unable to hide his astonishment. ‘Roland… is training… a blackrobe boy… as a griffiner?’

‘That’s what I saw, milord.’

Rannagon stood up. ‘If you’ve lied to me, the penalties are extremely severe – and even more so if-,’

Alisoun took a step back. ‘No! I swear, milord. It’s all true, every word. I’d stake my life on it.’

‘Let’s hope you don’t have to.’ Rannagon pointed at the door. ‘You can go now. I’ll begin investigating this at once.’

‘Yes, milord.’ She made for the door, then stopped and looked back. ‘Is there a reward, milord?’ she said in a rush. ‘For tellin’ you this?’

‘You’ve just betrayed your employer,’ Rannagon growled. ‘You’ll be lucky if you keep your job. Now get out.’

Alisoun took the hint and scurried out.

Rannagon slumped back into his chair. In fact if Roland did in fact turn out to be guilty, she would be entitled to a cash reward, but Rannagon was damned if he was going to tell her that.

Her whole story was unbelieveable. Why would Roland, of all people, be training a blackrobe boy? The offspring of a former slave, for gods’ sakes? Of course everyone knew that the old Hatchery owner was an eccentric, but Rannagon would die before saying he was the sort to commit this kind of treachery.

And it is treachery, he thought. We all know what happened last time a blackrobe snared a griffin.

No, there had to be sort of mistake. Had to be.

Rannagon yelled for Anyon, who appeared a few moments later. ‘Master?’

Rannagon looked at the half-grown griffin standing by his apprentice. ‘Rakki, Shoa and I have a task for you.’

Rakki fluttered his wings. ‘How shall I please my master?’ he chirped.

‘Shoa wants you to fly to the Hatchery,’ said Rannagon. ‘Find Keth, and tell her that her human must come here to see us at once.’

Rakki loved the Hatchery. ‘I shall fly fast,’ he promised, and ran off through Shoa’s nest.

‘What did that woman have to say for herself, Master?’ Anyon asked.

Rannagon rubbed his eyes. ‘She told me a very strange story about Roland – one I’m having a lot of trouble believing. Or maybe I’d just prefer not to believe it. Either way, she told it very convincingly.’

‘And what was that?’ said Anyon, immediately interested.

‘I-,’ Rannagon stopped himself, and decided he’d prefer not to spread the story until he’d got to the bottom of it. ‘We’ll see what he has to say when he gets here.’

Anyon scratched his head. ‘I never would have thought Roland would do anything illegal.’

‘Me neither.’ Rannagon frowned. ‘But we’ll find out.’



Any hopes Rannagon might have had for spending that afternoon with his family died well before Roland finally arrived. He came alone, wearing nothing fancier than the special leather-sleeved tunic that protected him from small beaks and talons. There was a bit of straw in his hair and a smudge of dirt on his forehead, and his boots were scuffed.

‘Came straight from work, did you?’ Rannagon said, unable to hide a smile at the sight of him.

The middle-aged Hatchery owner was breathing hard. ‘Sorry I took so long, but several hundred griffins don’t feed themselves.’

‘Please, sit down,’ said Rannagon.

Roland did, very gratefully. ‘This Eyrie needs fewer stairs. Not all of us can fly, lad.’

‘I take it Keth decided not to come?’

‘Not feeling up to it today.’ Roland pushed his hair out of his face, enlarging the smudge in the process. ‘Now, what can I do for you?’

Rannagon was used to this. ‘How are you? Griffins giving you much trouble?’

‘Plenty, as always. I swear, one of these days they’re going to decide breakfast was late one time too many and eat me instead. But you know how it is with griffins.’

‘Don’t we all. Now then.’ Rannagon braced himself. ‘I’m sorry I called you up here like this, but you know I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for something important.’

‘Of course,’ Roland said guardedly. ‘It’s a pleasure just to see you again anyway, Rannagon. I’ve seen dozens of people become griffiners in my Hatchery, but not many of them come back to visit.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ Rannagon leaned forward. ‘Roland, I’ve just had a visit from someone who told me a very… disturbing story about you.’

‘It’s not about how I sleep in these clothes, is it?’ said Roland. ‘Because I’m afraid that one is true.’

‘No. It’s about a certain person who’s been visiting you. A Northerner.’

‘Oh, you mean old Cardock. We’ve been friends for years, Rannagon – everyone knows that. Ever since I set him free.’

‘I’m not talking about Cardock,’ said Rannagon. ‘I’m talking about the boy he brings with him.’

‘Ah yes. Young Arren.’ Roland smiled indulgently. ‘He’s a bright lad. Loves to come see the griffins.’

‘So I’ve heard.’ Rannagon began to feel sick. ‘I’ve been told he does more than see them when he comes to the Hatchery.’

‘He’s brave enough to pet some of the chicks when I let him-,’

‘And ride on them?’ Rannagon said sharply.

‘Certainly not,’ said Roland.

He said it too fast, and Rannagon had questioned too many lawbreakers not to spot it. ‘What are you doing down there, Roland? I want the truth.’

‘I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said Roland, but the lie was plain. He had lost his relaxed attitude, and Rannagon could see his eyes crinkling slightly. There was fear there, now. Just a hint, but it was there.

His heart sank. ‘Are you training that boy, Roland?’

‘What? Why would I do a thing like that?’

‘Oh holy Gryphus,’ Rannagon mumbled. ‘Roland, what on earth possessed you? Where did you get the idea that you could possibly get away with it?’

Roland hesitated, and finally caved in. ‘It wasn’t my idea.’

‘What do you mean it wasn’t your idea? One of your assistants saw you teaching the boy griffish – showing him how to ride on a griffin’s back!’

‘It was her idea,’ Roland insisted. ‘Not mine.’

‘Her? Who’s her?’

‘The griffin, of course!’ said Roland.

‘She forced you to do this?’ said Rannagon.

‘Yes. When she chose Cardock’s son to be her human. I was there. I saw it. She chose him, he chose her. And the law says that everyone chosen by a griffin must be trained – no matter who they are.’

‘A blackrobe?’

‘Northerner,’ Roland snapped. ‘His name is Arren. Arenadd. He prefers Arren. The griffin’s name is Eluna. He chose it for her.’

‘So let me get this straight,’ said Rannagon. ‘One of your griffins chose this boy, or so you think. And instead of separating them, you decided to train him?’

‘I did separate them,’ said Roland. ‘It nearly killed her. She wouldn’t eat anything unless I forced it down her throat. But the moment that boy returned, she took food from his hands. It saved her life. I had no choice – he had to become her human, or she would die.’

‘But what did you think was going to happen after that?’ said Rannagon. ‘Did you honestly think you wouldn’t be caught?’

‘I was hoping I could keep it a secret for longer than I did, but no – I expected to be caught.’

‘And what did you think was going to happen then? Did you think the Eyrie would just accept it?’

‘He’s a very intelligent boy, Rannagon,’ Roland said softly. ‘Talented. Very talented. He knows griffish as well as I do, and he rides as if he was born to it. He can read and write, he knows numbers. And Eluna… she’s special in her own way, too.’

‘Oh, how?’

‘She’s… gentle,’ said Roland. ‘For a griffin. I don’t think she’ll grow to be very large, but she’s very bright. All she wants is a good life for herself and her human.’

Rannagon’s brow furrowed, but he said nothing.

‘There’s no anger in them, Rannagon,’ Roland said. ‘No danger. Only potential.’

‘What are you suggesting?’ said Rannagon. ‘That they could be useful to us?’

‘That’s exactly what I’m saying.’

‘A Northerer, and a griffin mad enough to choose one? Are you out of your mind?’

‘No more than I always have been.’ Roland smiled. ‘You should meet them, Rannagon. See for yourself, and then make up your mind.’

Rannagon hesitated. ‘I trust you, Roland. Always have. I’ll meet them, then. Before we make this public.’

Roland stood up. ‘You’re a good man, Rannagon,’ he said gravely. ‘You always have been. That’s why I wasn’t afraid when I realised you’d found us out. If there was anyone I had to entrust with my secret, it was you.’

Rannagon looked away uncomfortably. ‘Thanks.’




Rannagon finally rejoined his family late in the evening, when the celebrations were beginning to wind down. Kaelyn had just managed to catch Flell and was arguing with the overexcited child.

‘I don’t wanna go home!’

‘Too bad. You need your sleep. Come on, stop sulking or you’ll get a slap.’

Flell pouted, but stood up quickly a moment later. ‘Daddy!’

Rannagon held out an arm to catch her. ‘Hullo, petal. Where are you off to?’

‘You said you’d come see the dancing with us,’ Flell accused. ‘I was waiting for ages.’

‘I’m sorry, Flell. I did my best but I had important things to deal with.’

‘You always say that.’

‘That’s because it happens a lot. Hello, Kaelyn. Yes, I know, I know…’

Kaelyn shook her head. ‘Flell’s right, Rannagon. You work too much.’

‘It’s a full-time job,’ he reminded her as they set off for home. ‘And besides, something’s come up…’

‘What? Is it serious?’

‘It… could be. C’mon, Flell, stop that.’ Rannagon hoisted her onto his shoulder, and she perched there happily enough.

Kaelyn dropped the subject after that, but she obviously hadn’t forgotten it. That evening after they’d eaten and Flell had been put to bed, she brought it up again.

‘So what is this thing that’s so important? More problems with smugglers?’

‘No.’ Rannagon pulled off his boots.

‘What, then?’ she gave him that steely look that meant it was time to be direct.

Rannagon told her what Alisoun had said.

‘It’s a lie,’ Kaelyn said instantly.

‘That’s what I hoped. But I had Roland brought up to me personally after that. He confessed everything.’

‘Confessed – you mean it’s true?’

‘Yes.’ Rannagon sighed. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, Kaelyn. Roland’s like family to me – I couldn’t bear having to haul him up in front of the council. But what can I do? I heard it from his own mouth. He’s taken a blackrobe as an apprentice. Taught him things only we were meant to know.’

‘Don’t punish Roland,’ said Kaelyn. ‘He’s just an old eccentric; I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm by it. But you’ve got to put a stop to this apprentice of his. Separate him from the griffin – send him away somewhere, for his own good. It’s too dangerous to do anything else.’

‘I know.’

‘Half the council will want him dead the moment they hear about it,’ said Kaelyn. ‘We all know how dangerous this could be.’

‘Of course we do,’ Rannagon growled. ‘I saw what happened last time with my own eyes. But Roland insisted this was different. Said there was no harm in the boy or the griffin.’

‘Oh, what does he know? He’s never seen what their kind become when they get the chance.’

‘Yes.’ Rannagon rolled his shoulders. ‘He said I should meet them first – before I make any decisions. I’ve agreed to keep it secret until I have. It’s the best thing to do, and besides, I’m honestly curious.’

‘When are you going to do that?’

‘Tomorrow, at the Hatchery. Shoa’s coming, of course. She wants to get the measure of this griffin. We’ll handle it carefully, don’t worry. Neither of us want anything to happen to Roland, or Keth.’

‘I don’t think anyone would.’ Kaelyn shook her head and muttered to herself, ‘What was he thinking?’




Lord Rannagon thought he knew Northerners. To him they had always come in two types – cringing and subservient, or sullen and resentful. There was a third kind, too – a kind he had encountered in the North itself and hoped to never encounter again. That was the only place a true, wild Northerner could be found nowadays, but they were extremely rare.

He wasn’t sure which of the three kinds he expected to find when he went to the Hatchery the next day to see Roland’s apprentice, but all of his expectations were shocked out of him when he found none of them. What he found was the one thing he had never expected, and that was this boy. This neat, friendly boy whose smile was open and confident, who neither cringed nor bowed when he saw the man who was second only to the Eyrie Mistress herself in power and influence.

This boy who instead stepped toward him and held out a hand, saying, ‘Welcome, Lord Rannagon,’ in perfect griffish.

Dumbstruck, Rannagon held out his own hand automatically. The boy linked fingers with him, tugged and let go – the gesture of greeting that only griffiners used.

Behind him the griffin that had chosen him stood looking as self-assured as her human. She was half-grown, probably about ten years old, and had a beautiful white and silver coat.

Rannagon pulled himself together. ‘So you would be-?’

‘Arren son of Cardock,’ the boy said promptly. ‘And this is Eluna,’ he added, putting a hand on the griffin’s shoulder.

‘I can speak for myself, Arren,’ she told him, but gently. She came forward, and bowed her head to Shoa. ‘I am Eluna, sun-feathered warrior. I have known of your power and strength since the egg, but am awed to see you with my own eyes.’

She had taken the right tone. Shoa cocked her head. ‘I am pleased that you know your place, youngster,’ she said regally. She glanced at Rannagon. ‘My human and I have come to see you and your own human, to see the truth of what we have been told. Is it true that you have chosen this one?’

‘It is.’

‘You have made this choice of your own free will?’

‘I am a griffin,’ said Eluna. ‘No living thing makes my choices for me. This human is mine. And he is under my protection,’ she added.

‘You have made your meaning clear,’ said Shoa, swishing her tail as a warning. ‘Come with me now, Eluna, and we will talk. I wish to understand you better. While we are gone, our humans shall talk.’

Eluna moved closer to Arren. ‘I prefer not to leave my human.’

‘He will not be harmed,’ Shoa said irritably. ‘I know the law as well as my own human.’

‘It’s all right,’ Arren told the white griffin. He lifted his chin. ‘I can deal with this. Anyway, Lord Rannagon is a good and noble man. I trust him.’

Eluna pushed him gently with her beak. ‘Call and I will come,’ she said quietly, and turned away to join Shoa.

Shoa walked close to Rannagon as she turned to leave the Hatchery. ‘Do not be fooled by this one,’ she said in an undertone.

Rannagon gave her a look to show he understood, and the two griffins left together.

‘I’ve always wanted to meet you,’ the boy piped up. ‘Everyone talks about you.’

‘What do they say?’ Rannagon asked despite himself.

‘What I said before,’ said Arren. ‘That you’re good and noble. They say you’re a hero, too.’

‘Hero,’ Rannagon muttered.

The boy eyed him with interest. He was tall for his age, with the thin build common to Northerners. Like all his people he was pale and had pitch black eyes that made his face difficult to read. His well-combed curly hair matched them in colour. He wore the simple woollen tunic of a peasant, which was slightly too big for him, but from the way he carried himself he might have been wearing feathers and velvet.

‘That’s right,’ he said. ‘They say you went North to fight in the war, and you killed the evil griffiner who wanted to take over.’

‘I did fight in the war,’ Rannagon admitted. ‘But that was a long time ago. Besides, we’re here to talk about you. Where is Roland?’

‘He’s not here,’ said Arren. ‘He said we should talk alone.’

‘I see. So Roland is your master?’

‘He teaches me,’ said Arren. ‘He’s always been doing it.’

‘What do you mean, always?’ said Rannagon. ‘How long has he been doing this?’

‘Since always,’ the boy repeated. ‘Since I was little. That’s when Eluna chose me. I don’t remember, but Dad says I wandered into the chick room, where we are now. When they found me I opened all the doors and the chicks got out. They would have eaten me, but Eluna was there and she wouldn’t let them.’

‘How old were you?’

‘Three, my dad says. Look.’ Arren tilted his head and pulled his hair back. ‘There’s a bite out of my ear. They don’t know which one did it. But it wasn’t Eluna. She never bites.’

‘You were chosen… when you were three?’

‘Yes. My dad says it was an accident, but Roland thinks it was meant to happen.’

Rannagon thought quickly of Eluna. ‘And Eluna was just a chick?’

‘We’re the same age,’ said Arren.

Rannagon rubbed his head. This was begnning to make a little more sense. Eluna couldn’t have known what she was doing.

But she hadn’t changed her mind.

Arren was watching him. His gaze was very direct. ‘Roland didn’t want anyone to find out about us. He said they would one day, but he wanted to finish training us first.’

‘And has he?’

Arren frowned. ‘I know griffish, and how to ride, and how to make a harness for Eluna. I can read and write. Roland says my runes are very neat. I haven’t learned a trade yet, though. Except boot-making. My dad taught me that. But I’m not going to be a boot-maker.’

‘You can read?’ said Rannagon.

‘Yes. I like reading.’

‘Can you show me?’

‘All right,’ said the boy.

Rannagon had never met a Northerner who could read. He reached into his tunic pocket and brought out a scrap of paper which he handed over.

Arren looked at it briefly. ‘It says “Remember to send out for venison”.’

Amazed, Rannagon hastily offered up another scrap.

‘“Seventy inkpots, eighteen boxes of candles, a wax stick and a ball of string”,’ Arren read without a pause.

Rannagon stowed the scraps away again. ‘Good Gryphus, you really can read.’

‘Of course I can. It’s not hard. I practise every night. Roland says for my birthday he’ll give me a book of my own.’

Rannagon said nothing. The truth was that the more he talked to the boy, the less certain he felt. His speech was the polished speech of a griffiner, with only a trace of a Northern accent. There was no fear or hostility in him, only the calm assurance of someone who knew exactly what was happening and who apparently believed that he was in control of all of it. Rannagon had the uncomfortable feeling that he was right.

‘Do you want to be a griffiner, Arren?’ he asked at last.

‘I already am,’ said Arren.

‘But do you want to be one?’

‘I am one,’ Arren repeated. ‘I’m a griffiner.’

Rannagon tried another tack. ‘There’s nothing else you want to do? Nothing else you could be?’

‘No. I won’t leave Eluna. I’m her human.’

‘I see. So what do you want to do now that you’re a griffiner?’

‘I’m going to go see the Mistress and swear to be her man, and then I’ll start my apprenticeship with one of the Masters,’ Arren said, as if it was as simple as that.

‘Arren, you know that can’t happen.’

‘Yes it can! Every new griffiner gets apprenticed. It’s the law.’

Rannagon saw the time had come to be honest. ‘None of the Masters will take you, Arren. You can’t be apprenticed. The Eyrie Mistress won’t accept you as one of her own.’

Arren began to show a hint of distress. ‘Why? Did I do something wrong?’

‘You’re a Northerner, Arren. You can’t be a griffiner.’

For the first time since they had met, Arren sounded like the ten-year-old boy he was. ‘I’m not a Northerner!’ he yelled. ‘I’m a griffiner!’

‘You’re a Northerner,’ Rannagon repeated. ‘A darkman. A blackrobe.’

Arren twisted his fingers in his black hair, and tugged hard. ‘I’m not,’ he whined. ‘I’m not. Leave me alone. I’m a griffiner.’

‘Look at yourself,’ Rannagon said harshly. ‘Look in a mirror. Your eyes are black. You know what you are.’

‘I don’t care what colour they are,’ said the boy. ‘I don’t care! I’m a griffiner, like you.’

‘You can’t be.’

The boy exploded. ‘Yes I can!’

Rannagon could see the tears on his face, but he forced his heart to harden. It was for the child’s own good.

‘I came here to put a stop to this, and now I will,’ he said. ‘Arren son of Cardock, as Master of Law I forbid you from ever setting foot in this Hatchery again. You are forbidden to ever call yourself a griffiner, and you are also forbidden to seek out Eluna. If you disobey any of those commands, you will be arrested immediately. Do you understand?’

Arren had gone quiet. ‘I won’t leave Eluna.’

‘You have to.’ Rannagon softened his voice. ‘Please, Arren. You’re only a boy. I don’t want to have to do anything to you. This is for your own good.’

Arren just stared at him, disbelieving.

‘Try and understand,’ said Rannagon. ‘Right now nobody knows about this except for you, Roland, me and Shoa. And we can all keep it that way. But if this got out – if you went around calling yourself a griffiner, if the Eyrie found out – then there would be people who would handle this very differently.’

Arren folded his arms, facing him defiantly.

‘Arren, you will die. Do you understand that? There are people in this city who would kill you for calling yourself a griffiner. Common people. Griffiners. Griffins. Even members of the priesthood. You’re a good boy, I can tell, and you haven’t done anything wrong. I’m doing this to protect you.’

‘Eluna protects me,’ Arren said stubbornly.

‘She can’t protect you against the entire Eyrie.’

‘Yes she can.’ Arren looked upward, and the confident smile returned.

So did Eluna. She swooped in with Shoa close behind her, and as if sensing her human’s distress she went straight to him. Arren put his arm around her neck, hanging onto her for dear life.

Shoa returned to Rannagon. ‘This young one is mad,’ she said, not troubling to keep her voice low. ‘And a fool.’

Eluna lifted her wing, draping it over Arren, and glared silently.

‘Come,’ Shoa said. ‘We have humoured the old fool. It is time to end this.’

‘Yes.’ Rannagon said resignedly.

In the end, they had to separate Arren and Eluna by force. They clung to each other, fighting every step of the way, both screaming in protest. Roland appeared as if by magic, emerging from the back room where he lived. A man who must have been Arren’s father was with him, and at Rannagon’s command they took the boy’s arms and pulled him away. Shoa lunged at Eluna, knocking her down as she tried to follow, and the white griffin struggled as Arren was hauled away by his father.

No!’ he screamed. ‘Eluna!’

‘Arren!’ she called back. ‘I will find you! I will find you!’

Arren didn’t stop fighting until he was through the door, keeping his eyes on Eluna until the last.

When he was gone, Shoa wrapped her talons around Eluna’s head and bashed it against the floor. ‘You shall not find him,’ she rasped. ‘Your place will never be beside that one.’

Eluna lay still after that, apparently defeated, but the instant Shoa let her go she was up and charging for the door. Shoa ran after her, catching and subduing the younger griffin with ease. But she refused to stop fighting back until after Roland had poured a sleeping draught down her throat.

When it was over, Alisoun and one of her colleagues hauled the sedated Eluna away to lock her up.

‘You do realise what you’ve done, don’t you?’ Roland said when they were alone.

Rannagon wiped the sweat off his face. ‘I had no choice, Roland.’

‘Yes you did.’ Roland faced him, suddenly full of angry authority. ‘You had every choice. To give a chance to someone who had nothing, to show our people that it’s time to stop living in fear – you had every choice.’

‘Fear?’ Rannagon said sharply. ‘What fear?’

‘Fear of them!’ said Roland. ‘Their kind! Don’t you see, Rannagon? I took a Northerner – the child of two slaves – and I showed you that I could make him every bit as civilised and educated as you. I made him forget his heritage – showed him how to be something better. His father can’t even read. That boy could have been an example of what we can do, to help people like him.’

‘We can’t.’ Rannagon scoffed. ‘Can’t you hear what you’re saying? You can’t change a Northerner. No matter what you do, they’re all the same underneath. It comes through.’

‘I can change him,’ said Roland.

‘You can’t make the moon become the sun, Roland. One day you’ll realise that.’




Arren almost never cried, but he was in hysterics by the time his father got him home. The moment Cardock let go of his arm he made a bolt for the door, and when his mother Annir restrained him he didn’t yell – he let out a high-pitched and unearthly scream. His mother let go of him in her shock, but an instant later Cardock had caught him and pinned his arms to his sides.

Arren fought back like an animal, yelling incoherently. When Cardock tightened his grip, he bit him and tried to escape, but got a slap to the head for his trouble.

Eventually, his mother managed to get through to him by calling his name. He stared at her, then went limp and started to sob frantically.

Annir took him in her arms and held him close, murmuring. ‘There, there. It’s all right. Please don’t cry, Arren…’

Nothing she said helped. The boy cried as though his heart would break, eventually finding his voice enough to try and say what had happened. ‘C…can’t… g-go back… they t-took her away…’ after that he started sobbing again, and couldn’t finish.

Cardock tersely explained the situation.

‘Oh no.’ Annir hugged her son tighter. ‘Poor Arren. You really loved that griffin, didn’t you?’

‘She was mine!’ Arren wailed.

‘You should count yourself lucky, boy,’ Cardock said gruffly. ‘That Lord Rannagon could have had you killed – or worse, collared.’

‘So he’s not going to do anything to him?’ said Annir.

Cardock shook his head. ‘Roland might be in trouble, but as long as Arren keeps away from the Hatchery and Eluna, Rannagon promised he’ll be left alone.’

‘Thank the night for that.’ Annir sighed. ‘Our son, the griffiner…’

‘I said this would happen,’ said Cardock. ‘I knew it would. From the moment he talked us into it. Never trust a Southerner.’

‘Stop that,’ said Annir. ‘Roland’s a good man, and you owe him everything we have.’

‘I don’t owe him anything,’ Cardock growled.

Arren pulled away from his mother. ‘Take me back there,’ he said. ‘I want to go to Eluna.’

‘You can’t. You heard what Lord Rannagon said.’

‘I don’t care what anyone says,’ said Arren, red-eyed and trembling. ‘I want Eluna.’

Cardock lost his temper. ‘You’ll do what I tell you, or I’ll take my hand to you. You’re going to stay out of that city, and if you argue any more you’ll go without supper for the rest of the week.’

Arren folded his arms. ‘I don’t have to do what you say,’ he retorted. ‘I’m a griffiner. You should do what I say.’

Cardock grabbed him by the collar. ‘You are not a griffiner!’ he yelled. ‘Get that stupid idea out of your head! You’re a Northerner, and now this nonsense is finally over I’m going to do what I should have done ten years ago. We’re going back to our homeland.’

‘I won’t go,’ said Arren.

‘You’ll go because I say so.’

‘I will not!’ Arren shouted back. ‘You can’t make me do anything! You’re just a stupid old blackrobe!’

Cardock hit him in the face, hard – not once but several times, and shoved him violently onto the floor.

Arren lay sprawled, his cheek gradually swelling and turning red, staring up at him in disbelief – too shocked even to cry.

Cardock turned away, hiding his shame with anger. ‘Go and clean up the workshop or I’ll hit you again.’

Arren knew he was beaten. He got up and shuffled resignedly out of the room.

When he was gone, Annir dared to relax. ‘What are we going to do with that boy?’

Cardock slumped into a chair. ‘He’ll come North, with us. It’s time he learned how to be a real darkman.’

Annir glanced at the workshop door. ‘You know,’ she said quietly, ‘I really believed he could be a griffiner. When Roland said he could persuade them to let him be apprenticed – I thought it was true.’

‘He tried,’ Cardock muttered. ‘My gods, what have I done? I gave him my son, and look what he did with him.’

‘Taught him things people of our kind couldn’t hope to know,’ said Annir.

‘Turned him away from us,’ said Cardock. ‘Twisted him. Did you hear him talk? He sounds like a bloody griffiner. That accent… that voice he uses, like a lord ordering us about… sometimes I feel like I’m a boy again, doing whatever the overseer told me so I wouldn’t get whipped.’ He covered his face with his hands. ‘It scares me.’

‘It’s not his fault,’ said Annir.

Cardock looked up. ‘My son! My own bloody son!’ his eyes narrowed. ‘I’m done with this. I’m not going to let it keep happening. Wait until we’re home again. He’ll see what his real heritage is then. And when he’s older I’ll take him up into the mountains and teach him about what we really are. He’ll come back a man – the man he should be.’

‘I suppose so,’ said Annir. This wasn’t the first time her husband had talked like this, and she’d learnt that it was best not to interrupt. Unlike him she’d never been in the North, and didn’t share much of his romantic view of the place. The truth was that she doubted they would have an easier life there – the North was ruled by griffiners just like the rest of Cymria.

Still, best to say nothing. She left Cardock to brood, and slipped off into the workshop to try and comfort her son.




Drugged, Eluna slept for the rest of that day. She woke up briefly several times, but her vision was fuzzy and when she tried to get up the world lurched alarmingly and she fell down again. Helpless and unable to think straight, she surrendered.

The sedative wore off by late evening, but left her feeling passive and confused. She lay with her head resting on her outstretched talons, and peered at her surroundings.

Gradually, she realised that she was in a cage.

She blinked stupidly.

As her alertness returned, she remembered what had happened. Shoa, blue-eyed and pitiless, her human impassive beside her. Arren, dragged away from her. And through it all, her own attempts to fight back, to reclaim her human – and her failure.

A soft hiss, like steam, escaped from Eluna’s beak. She had fought for what was hers, and had failed, and the failure was what she focused on now.

Rage and humiliation made her talons curl. Defeated! Her human, stolen! Her right, violated!

Eluna staggered to her paws, blinking and swaying when the lingering effects of the drug made her head spin. Anger helped her to fight it off. She paced back and forth in the cage, examining her prison. It was made from wood and rope, but it was strong – she shoved the bars experimentally and hissed when they didn’t budge.

Food and drink had been left for her in a corner. She guessed that they would be drugged, and left them alone.

Her head was full of thoughts of Arren. She didn’t know where he was, or what they might be doing to him. Perhaps they had killed him already. And here she was, powerless to help him, with no way of knowing what they might do to her either.

Despite all that, it wasn’t in Eluna’s nature to despair. It was completely clear what she had to do now, and she shook off the last of her tiredness and began to look for a way out.

No chance. The cage had been built for griffins, doubly reinforced at every joint, with steel pins as well as ropes holding the bars in place. Even if Eluna had been full-grown, she wouldn’t have been able to get out by brute force.

She tried a different tack, rearing onto her hind legs to try and bite through the ropes. They were thick and tightly woven, and she couldn’t get a grip on them, though she tried again and again until her neck was agony.

Finally, she lay down to consider her next move. If she couldn’t break out, then there was only one option left: wait until someone came to open the cage, and then make her move. That would be the best chance she would get.

Even so, she spent most of that night moving back and forth, searching endlessly for a way out.





The white griffin woke up sharply, rising to her paws. She said nothing when the voice called her name again, but began to sniff the air, one front paw raised aggressively.

‘Eluna.’ A human shape moved on the other side of the bars.

She caught the scent, and recognised it. ‘Roland.’

‘How are you feeling? Are you all right?’

‘I am not!’ Eluna rasped. ‘Where is my human? If he is hurt, you shall die first.’

‘He’s fine,’ said Roland. ‘I swear. Lord Rannagon promised he wouldn’t be hurt – but only if he never comes back here and never tries to find you.’

‘Shoa cannot force me to abandon my human,’ said Eluna. ‘I will fight for my right if I must.’

‘I understand-,’

‘The boy is mine! I shall kill anyone who would take him from me, griffin or human.’

‘Yes, I know. Listen.’ Roland came closer. ‘Eluna, listen. I didn’t want this to happen. I’m on your side, remember? But I had to do what Lord Rannagon said. He only let me go free out of sympathy – by rights I should be in prison by now. I did my best to persuade him, but that was all I could do.’

Eluna threw herself at the bars. ‘Free me or die!’

Roland took a step back. ‘You won’t be kept in here much longer, don’t worry. They only wanted to be sure you couldn’t follow Arren.’

‘I will find him the moment I am free,’ Eluna vowed.

‘I know. He’s yours. Eluna – I only came here for one reason, and that was to ask you a question.’


‘You want Arren, and he wants you. I know that. But from hereon in, if you’re going to be together, the time for secrecy is over. If you go back to him, everyone will know. Rannagon and Shoa will know. The Mistress will know. Eagleholm will know. Do you understand?’

‘Let them know,’ said Eluna. ‘I will have my human.’

‘You don’t understand,’ said Roland. ‘If you do this, you and Arren will have to fight. Everything you want, you’ll have to fight for. You’ll never be safe. You’ll never be accepted. Your whole lives will be like that.’

Eluna stood tall, puffing out her chest. ‘We have known that all our lives,’ she said. ‘We have accepted it, Arren and I both.’

‘I know Arren isn’t afraid of anything,’ Roland said fondly. ‘He believes in himself – and you believe in him too. And if you’ve accepted it, then what else can I do?’ he came closer – so close she could easily have reached him through the bars. ‘Now listen,’ he said in an undertone. ‘Here’s what you have to do. Arren is back in Idun, with his parents. It’s only a short way North from here – follow the brightest star on the horizon. When you’re on the ground you can follow the scent – you’d recognise Cardock’s by now.’

‘I know his odour,’ said Eluna.

‘Good. Here’s what you have to do next…’

Eluna listened closely. ‘I will do as you have said,’ she promised.

‘Good luck, and Gryphus’ blessing,’ said Roland. ‘And you escaped on your own, yes?’

‘I did not see you,’ said Eluna.

‘Exactly,’ Roland said, as he unlocked the chain that held the door shut.




Arren went to the hammock that served him as a bed that night with his face swollen and throbbing. Too proud to betray himself again, he waited until he was certain his parents were asleep before he let himself cry. He did it silently, muffling the sobs with his hands, and when they were finally finished he felt exhausted.

Hopeless plans filled his head. He wanted to sneak out of the house – run away and try and get back to the city to find Eluna. But the sheer hopelessness of the idea stopped him from trying it. It was too far to go alone, and his father would catch him. If that happened, he’d be smacked again for certain.

But there had to be a way. Had to be. Arren didn’t care if his father hit him again; he wouldn’t give up. Nothing and nobody would stop him from going back to Eluna. He would be a griffiner, and nothing would stand in his way – not his father, not Lord Rannagon, not the Eyrie Mistress herself.

It was more than a dream. For Arren, being a griffiner was something that would happen – must happen. The simple fact that anyone would try and stop it was meaningless. Only Eluna mattered; Eluna and all she represented. For Arren, Eluna was the key to his real life – the life meant for him and nobody else, where there was no hard work and nobody to tell him what to do or make him go to bed without supper. When he was with Eluna, he was invincible and the world was his. Without her, he would be nothing.

So Arren lay and brooded, full of sullen hatred and a longing so powerful it made his heart ache. Deep down, some vital part of him refused to accept the fact that he might not see Eluna again, and he clung onto that conviction, using it to keep himself together.

Eventually, he slept.




Eluna’s arrival was signalled by a loud, splintering crash. Cardock and Annir woke up in fright, and only became more frightened when the crash was followed by thuds and thumps, and the unmistakeable sounds of something big moving inside their home.

Annir lit a lamp, and Cardock snatched up a chunk of firewood before hurrying to investigate. Annir kept close behind him, lighting the way.

They followed the sounds into the workshop, where the back door had been broken down. A table had been knocked over, and tools scattered over the floor. Cardock retrieved a large leather-knife and stuffed it into his belt before silently gesturing at his wife to follow.

‘Arren,’ she whispered.

They found him in the room that served them as a kitchen, sitting in his hammock by the fire. Eluna was sitting on her haunches on the floor, and Arren had his arm around her neck. Both of them stared calmly at Cardock.

Annir wiped her forehead. ‘Arren! What in the gods’ names-?’

Arren hopped down off his hammock and went over to the fireplace, pulling out something hidden behind the woodpile. It looked like a bundle of leather straps.

He brandished it at his parents. ‘Eluna came to find me,’ he declared. ‘And nobody’s going to keep us away from each other ever again.’

Cardock didn’t dare move. ‘Arren, get away from her now!’

‘No,’ said Arren. He untangled the bundle of straps and showed them to Eluna. They made up a griffin harness, like the ones used in the city, and the white griffin dipped her head and let him put it on her. He did it quickly and expertly, fastening it in place over her neck where it would give him something to hold onto in the air.

‘How did she get here?’ Annir asked dumbly. ‘I thought you said…?’

‘Arren!’ Cardock yelled. ‘I told you to get away from there!’

Arren ignored him.

‘Boy, come over here now or I swear-,’

‘Eluna and me are leaving,’ Arren told him matter-of-factly. ‘She came to get me. Goodbye.’ With that, he started to walk away with her following close behind.

Cardock followed too. ‘Arren! Stop right there – I mean it!’

Arren and Eluna passed through the workshop without a backward glance, heading for the broken door.

‘Arren!’ Cardock shouted again. ‘If you go through that door, you’re never coming back, understand? You can never live in my house again.’

At that, Arren did stop. And for the first time, he looked uncertain. ‘Where will I live? You’re my Dad.’

Cardock pulled up short at that. ‘I…’ he threw the makeshift club aside, and held out his empty hand. ‘Please, Arren. Don’t do this. I’m begging you. Don’t.’

‘Why can’t I?’ said Arren.

‘You know why. Please. You’re my only son, Arenadd. Don’t make me lose you.’

Arren glowered. ‘My name is not Arenadd.’

‘I don’t care what you call yourself; you’re my son. Don’t leave me.’

‘Please.’ Annir came to her husband’s side. ‘Your father’s right. We love you. Don’t throw your life away.’

Arren looked at them, and at Eluna. His fists clenched and he shuddered softly. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He had to leave.

Eluna nudged him gently. ‘This is our time, Arren,’ she said. ‘We have worked for it all our lives.’

‘I know, but…’

She glanced at Cardock and Annir. ‘Make them proud.’

Arren drew himself up. ‘Yes,’ he said, some of his usual self-contained certainty coming back. ‘I will. We will.’ He looked back at his parents. ‘I will!’ he said. ‘I’ll make you proud. I’ll show you what I can do. And I will come home.’

Eluna crouched low to let him climb onto her back, and he settled into the hollow between her neck and shoulders with ease. Once she had straightened up, he held onto the straps and she walked out of the house.

The sun was rising.

Annir and Cardock followed the white griffin, neither one able to find the words to argue any more. They watched, disbelieving, as they saw their son sitting proudly on a griffin’s back, balancing with the ease of someone who had done it hundreds of times before.

Around them the village was waking up, people coming outside to begin the day’s work.

They saw it too.

Eluna walked a short distance, and then broke into the short, rough run of a griffin preparing to take off. Her wings opened, beating hard. On her back, Arren leaned forward, bracing himself. He was thin and light, but even so he weighed Eluna down. She crouched low as she ran, and then leapt clumsily into the air.

The handfull of onlookers exclaimed in astonishment. Perhaps aware of it, once she had reached soaring height Eluna circled over the village several times, swooping low for all to see.

Cardock, looking on powerlessly, felt something he hadn’t expected to feel at that moment. Creeping in, overlaying his fear and dread, was pride. Pride in his son and – more unexpectedly still – pride in his own people.

To his left, one of his neighbours had climbed onto a rooftop to see. He was a big fat man, and as he stared as Eluna swooped again before she rose – flying away Southward. The man started to laugh raucously. ‘Look at that!’ he cackled, his voice carrying over the village. ‘It’s a blackrobe griffiner!’ and he laughed until he looked close to bursting.




Guilt had followed Rannagon home that morning. It stayed with him, faint but insistent, gnawing in his stomach.

He brooded in his office, greeting everyone with a frown, too distracted to give his full attention to his work. And still, the guilt hung over him like a cloud.

He’d never thought it would be like it had been, and he had certainly never thought he would feel bad for doing what he had done.

The boy will forget about it eventually, he told himself, but he didn’t believe it. He tried to push away the memory of Arren’s face – that awful look thrown at him, full of shock. Not the rage or tears of a child, but just that look.

That stayed too, with the guilt, and Rannagon dwelled on it all morning, as if the memory were a problem that needed solving.

Eventually, unable to concentrate on his work, he went to find Shoa and asked if she felt like going on a visit to Carrick. She agreed, and once Rannagon had made his excuses to his colleagues the two of them set out.

Being in the air again made him feel better. The guilt faded, and he began to wonder if maybe it had really been guilt at not having visited little Erian often enough.

It wasn’t, and he knew it, but as he leaned automatically to match Shoa’s movements in the air he found himself thinking about the two boys. Both young, both humble, so different but – he realised – so alike. One with black hair and one with gold, and neither one fitting into the role life had set out for him. Erian was a bastard who thought of himself as a lord’s son, and Arren was a blackrobe who thought he was a lord.

Once again the image of Arren’s face rose in Rannagon’s mind.

Taking Eluna away broke that boy, he thought grimly. It was too much for him. I came too late.

He banished the feeling of sympathy as quickly as he could, but like the guilt it lingered. The boy couldn’t help what he was. His ego was almost comical, but despite that Rannagon had found him… intriguing?

Yes he had, and now he began to regret having acted so hastily. If only there had been another way. If he had at least taken more time to talk to them both, to try and understand…

Understand what?

Rannagon shook himself. It was too late now, and there was no point in agonising over it. The little blackrobe’s situation had been an accident, that was all, and Rannagon had done nothing except his duty. For now, there was another child to worry about, and he began to look forward to seeing him again.




Rannagon returned home in the evening, and by the next morning he was in the great Council Chamber in the Eagleholm Eyrie, back on duty once again. As Master of Law he was of course a member of the Council, and would stand behind his sister whenever it came together. Riona would call the Council together when something major came up that needed discussion, but today’s meeting was just the customary weekly affair. Riona liked to liase with her officials regularly, and had organised these weekly Council sessions because she thought making those liasons public made them more effective.

Rannagon wasn’t expecting anything noteworthy to happen at this one, and he stifled a yawn as he sat down on his customary seat once the formalities were over with. Shoa sat on her haunches just behind him, on the lookout for trouble.

Riona had already taken her place in the middle of the circle, with her own partner Shree. She was much older than her brother, and her long once-blonde hair was shot through with silver, but she looked as sharp as always as she started the meeting.

‘Before we do anything else, if anyone here has anything urgent to discuss, speak up now.’

A pause. Nobody moved.

‘Good,’ said Riona. ‘Then we’ll proceed as usual. Lord Cyric, you first.’

The elderly Master of Trade coughed. ‘The marketplace is in good enough shape, Eyrie Mistress. In co-operation with the city guard, Skark and I investigated the North-Eastern side lifter, and discovered that one of the men in charge had been accepting bribes, though we haven’t discovered just what he was helping to bring up…’

Rannagon let his mind wander as the old man’s dry voice continued. He wondered what Flell was up to. She liked to spend time with her mother in the herb garden, learning the names and uses of the plants. She was learning griffish too, and doing well at it. When she was a young woman she would be ready to go to the Hatchery and present herself to the griffins. Rannagon had no doubt at all that she would be chosen. The daughter of such a prominent griffiner would be the first choice for all but the most haughty griffins.

Rannagon remembered the day he had been chosen, and smiled to himself. He had just turned sixteen – the youngest age when most nobles were allowed to present themselves to the griffins. Once children had been presented – even babies. That had been made illegal by Rannagon’s own father. As the previous Master of Law, he had declared that it was simply too dangerous for a child to be partnered to a griffin. Even a griffin that had grown up around humans could be unpredictable, and a child didn’t have the caution or the physical strength necessary to survive.

Rannagon shivered. More than one griffiner chosen too young had come to a bad end. Most of the time the griffin that had done it hadn’t even meant to. Even he himself, a grown man trained in combat, was no match for Shoa in a rage.

He brought himself back to the present and found that Cyric had finished speaking. His neighbour, Lady Evlyn the Master of Taxation, smoothly took over.

Rannagon ignored her too – he hated numbers and figures. He sat back and idly watched the light coming in through the openings high in the roof, which was why he saw the intruder first. A griffin came flying in, with no warning and scarcely a sound, and began to circle rather clumsily just below the domed ceiling.

Rannagon blinked, then frowned. ‘What the-?’ he stood up angrily. ‘You, griffin! Get out of here!’

Lady Evlyn broke off mid-sentence, and looked upward with her fellow councillers. She hissed to herself. ‘Of all the-!’

The griffins there were starting up aggressively, furious at the interruption. But none of them were as angry as Shoa. She reared onto her hind legs, her wings opening in a glorious fan of yellow and gold. ‘Eluna!’

The name drifted upward, and as if that was a signal the griffin – the white griffin, Rannagon realised with a jolt – flew down toward the Council. She landed inside the circle, near Riona’s seat, stumbling sideways when her paws hit the ground. Recovering herself, she bent her forelegs and allowed her rider to climb down.

Rannagon, looking on, felt as if the ground had fallen away beneath him. ‘Holy Gryphus,’ he mumbled.

The other councillers were staring in blank astonishment, too stunned to react. Even the griffins looked nonplussed.

Arren dusted himself down, glanced around at the Council, then turned to Riona and Shree. Then he knelt, bowing his head. Beside him Eluna lowered her own head to Shree.

‘Great Shree,’ she recited, ‘I am Eluna. I come in peace, without design on your food or territory and with no threat upon your human, who is most wise and cunning.’

‘Rise, Eluna,’ Shree snapped. ‘Let my human speak with yours.’

Riona hadn’t moved, but her eyes had narrowed. ‘Who are you?’ she said.

Arren looked up. ‘Great Lady Riona,’ he said in his refined voice. ‘Mistress of this Eyrie, Master to all the lands of Eagleholm. I am Arren, son of Cardock, born in your domain. I am your most humble subject.’ He ducked his head again. ‘I have been chosen by this griffin, and have obeyed the law and come before you to swear my loyalty and service as a griffiner of Eagleholm.’

Dead silence followed this little speech. The Councillors glanced at each other.

Lady Evlyn burst out laughing. Half a heartbeat later, everyone else joined her. The entire Council folded in on itself, derisive and incredulous laughter rising to the roof. Even old Cyric, eternally sour, was sniggering.

Arren threw a puzzled look at Eluna. She stared coolly back.

Evlyn managed to control herself. ‘What – in – talons is this?’ she gasped. ‘My Lady, is this some kind of Springday joke?’

‘I am not a joke,’ Arren said sharply. He didn’t shout it, but he said it with a certain authority, and once he’d said it he turned his back on the Council and looked intently at Riona again. ‘I’m here to swear my loyalty, Eyrie Mistress,’ he repeated.

Only Rannagon hadn’t laughed. ‘Arren,’ he said. ‘What are you doing here?’

Arren barely spared him a glance. ‘Swearing myself to your sister, my Lord,’ he said coldly. ‘The way I said I would.’

Riona looked at her brother. ‘Rannagon, do you know something about this?’

The Council was looking at him now.

‘Yes, I do.’ He pointed at Arren. ‘This… boy was chosen by accident. Or he met Eluna by accident. He got into the Hatchery when he was small, and a chick attached herself to him. Lord Roland knows all about it – he was there. And according to what he told me, he decided to train the boy in secret.’

The councillers had sobered. Hearing Rannagon’s story, they started to mutter amongst themselves.

Riona looked calm. ‘When did you find out about this, Rannagon?’

‘Yesterday,’ he replied. ‘One of Lord Roland’s assistants saw them and reported it to me. I went to investigate. Roland told me the story, and Arren and Eluna both confirmed it.’

‘I see. Why didn’t you tell me about it, then?’

‘Because-,’ Rannagon rubbed his forehead. ‘I don’t believe Roland did what he did maliciously. He’s just an eccentric. I had the boy and the griffin separated, and informed the boy that if he tried to find her again or go into the Hatchery, he would be arrested.’ He looked meaningfully at Arren as he said this.

Arren stood up, putting his hand on Eluna’s neck. ‘I didn’t go and find her. She came and found me.’

Shoa pushed forward, glaring at the white griffin. ‘And I had told you that if you sought out your little blackrobe I would kill you with my own talons.’

Eluna stood proudly, facing her elder. ‘I replied that I would not leave him for any threat. And I shall fight you for my right to stay, if I must.’

Arren stood just as proudly. ‘Eluna’s right,’ he said, breaking into griffish. He turned to look around at all the councillers. ‘I am a griffiner. I know your language. I know your ways. It’s my right to be here.’

‘He knows griffish!’ one counciller exclaimed. ‘That’s impossible…’

‘I know it!’ said Arren. He turned to Riona. ‘I know it,’ he repeated. ‘Mistress, all I want to do is serve you. And I will.’

She watched him closely as he spoke, and finally appeared to make up her mind. ‘The law says that everyone chosen by a griffin becomes a griffiner. But you can’t become a part of this Eyrie unless the Council allows it.’

‘Ridiculous!’ Cyric shouted. ‘Throw this blackrobe brat out or I’ll do it myself!’

Evlyn, though, was looking at the intruders with interest. Several other councillers called out their agreement with Cyric, and she spoke up then. ‘I don’t see any harm in it.’

‘It’s repulsive!’ Cyric hurled at her. ‘Next you’ll be teaching goats how to read!’

‘I won’t stand here and let our way of life be mocked,’ the Master of Taxation said. ‘Some things are sacred.’

‘We were chosen by Gryphus,’ the Master of Building agreed. ‘Gryphus would never choose a blackrobe. It’s blasphemy.’

Cyric and the Master of Building muttered their agreement.

Arren looked on helplessly, unable to do anything to stop his last hope from slipping away.

Then Rannagon stepped forward. ‘Eyrie Mistress,’ he said.

Riona waved the Council into silence. ‘Speak, Lord Rannagon.’

Rannagon took a deep breath. ‘I support the boy.’

Everyone there stared at him, including Arren himself.

‘What?’ Cyric exclaimed.

Rannagon didn’t budge. ‘This boy fought to be one of us,’ he said. ‘He didn’t walk into the Hatchery knowing griffish, with a high birth and an important future mapped out for him. I went in as the son of the Master of Law, ready to be apprenticed to him the moment I was chosen. There was no chance of my leaving without a griffin beside me. But this boy went in with nothing. No high birth, no money. He went in as less than nothing. But he was chosen! At three years old, he showed he had something in him that could impress a griffin. He had the intelligence to learn, and the courage to keep struggling even when he knew what might happen to him if he persisted. Here today he showed us he can do the last thing every griffiner learns: he flew.’ An image of another boy flew across Rannagon’s mind. A bastard, clutching a wooden sword. ‘A man has no control over his birth,’ he said. ‘I believe that Arren Cardockson has made himself into something good already, and if we let him he can become even better.’

Rannagon had finished, and he moved to stand beside Riona – leaving Shoa where she was. She blinked coolly and came to join him, keeping her opinions to herself for the time being.

The Council stared dumbly, every one of its members obviously taken by surprise.

‘Rannagon’s right,’ Evlyn said, breaking the silence. Beside her, the Master of Healing nodded, though Cyric and several other councillers remained unmoved.

Riona said nothing. For the first time in years, she looked as if she didn’t know what to do.

Rannagon moved closer to her – so close they were almost touching. ‘Look at the boy, Riona,’ he muttered in her ear. ‘There’s no harm in him. Roland was right.’

She looked at Arren through narrowed eyes, and then finally spoke. ‘Very moving, little brother. But I agree. There is no reason why this boy should be turned away. He proved himself very impressively by coming here in the first place, and it’s obvious he’s been well-trained. Shree – what do you think?’

Her partner spoke up. ‘I see no harm in this youngster, only foolish pride. Her human is no different. But they have acted well and respectfully, and if they wish only to serve us, so be it.’

‘Then we’re in agreement,’ said Riona. ‘Arren… Cardockson, I accept your service.’

‘And Eluna, I accept yours,’ said Shree.

Arren knelt again, beaming with pride. ‘Thankyou, my Lady.’

‘There’s only one thing left now,’ Riona said, cutting across him. ‘You must be apprenticed.’ She looked at the Council. ‘Several of you have no apprentice. Will any of you take this boy?’

‘Hah,’ Cyric sneered.

The rest of the council exchanged glances, and several there began to confer with their partners. A tense quiet filled the room.

‘You’re wasting your time, my Lady,’ Cyric said in a loud voice. ‘Nobody here is going to train him.’

‘That’s enough, Cyric. Councillers, have you decided?’

‘Raee and I would be willing to take him,’ the Master of Healing said mildly.

‘So be it,’ said Riona. ‘Arren, go to your new Master. From now on, you’ll do as she tells you.’

‘Of course, my Lady.’ Arren stepped forward confidently, and took up his place by his new Master’s left hand. Eluna, of course, went with him.

Rannagon, looking on, was surprised to find that he felt proud of the boy. He smiled to himself.

The Council broke up a short time later, several of its members visibly angry. But there was nothing they could do. Arren was under the protection of his master now, and Riona’s as well.

Rannagon left feeling pensive. Shoa was close behind him as usual, and he was ready for an argument when they were alone, but he didn’t care. He had already spoken out, and nothing could undo that.

When they reached their Eyrie quarters, Shoa passed him and turned to confront him. ‘They must be watched,’ she said. ‘And watched closely.’

Rannagon hesistated, and then nodded. ‘They will be.’

‘Do so,’ the yellow griffin commanded, and walked away.

Rannagon stayed where he was, hiding his relief. ‘I will,’ he said.

Alone, he sat down at his desk and put his head in his hands, remembering the quiet triumph in Arren’s black eyes. You got what you wanted, boy, he told the face. I hope for your sake it’s what you really wanted. I’ve given you your chance – now it’s up to you to do the rest.

He thought of Arren’s brash confidence, and had a feeling that despite his youth he wasn’t someone who wasted chances, or mishandled them. It gave him a chill to realise it. He hoped he had made the right choice.

Only time would tell.

He must be watched. Both of them must be watched.





Neato text ornament here