A Party at the Eyrie

On the morning of her sixteen birthday, Flell stood at the entrance to the Hatchery where the unpartnered griffins lived and felt fear patter in her chest.

The Hatchery was one of the biggest buildings in the city of Eagleholm, but not many people visited it. Nowadays the high-roofed old building looked a little grubby, and the bright paints that had covered it were faded and peeling. It had lost most of its glory when Flell was only small. And maybe being home to over a hundred griffins didn’t help. Most people who visited it had to walk past pens crammed with nervous goats, but there was another entrance around the other side. It didn’t get much use, but today was a day for it to be opened.

Noble wooden griffins arched over her head, still showing traces of the gold leaf that had covered them. Between their reaching talons was a massive sun, whose rays melded into twining vines and eventually into a pair of improbably graceful cymran trees.

Flell stood between them, and felt tiny.

‘Are you all right?’ her father asked, behind her.

She swallowed, and made herself stand a little taller. ‘If you must know, I’m scared stupid.’

He chuckled. ‘Don’t worry. Shoa and I will be with you the whole time.’

Flell looked back at them. Her father, Lord Rannagon, wore a fine velvet tunic to match his eyes. His famous sword was slung on his back, more for ceremonial reasons than anything else. He looked very tall to her just then, which was odd considering the looming bulk of Shoa behind him.

The tawny yellow griffin yawned, shutting her beak with a snap. ‘You have nothing to fear,’ she said in the harsh language of griffins. ‘They know who you are already, and I shall be there if they become violent.’

Flell’s throat tightened even further. ‘I suppose.’

‘It’s all right,’ Rannagon told her. ‘Are you ready to go in?’

She glanced at Shoa, and him, and tightened her jaw. ‘Yes.’

The doors opened the moment she knocked. Or rather, one of them juddered and finally swung inward with a loud creak and a stifled swearword.

Some of Flell’s fear went away. She folded her arms and waited.

A middle-aged greying man appeared, puffing slightly. ‘Rannagon, there you are! And you Shoa, it’s always good to see you back. Just give me a moment-,’

‘Great Gryphus, didn’t anyone oil these doors?’ Flell muttered as the other one started to move.

The man heard her. ‘I know, I know, I meant to get around to it but Dermot mislaid the oil and – ow! Argh. Blasted thing. All right, that’s done it.’

With both doors open, the man went to stand in the middle of the entrance. He dusted himself down, straightened his tunic, and coughed.

‘Welcome Flell, daughter of Kaelyn and Rannagon. Welcome in Gryphus’ holy name. I am Lord Roland, keeper of the Hatchery and servant to the mighty griffins who have not yet chosen humans to live beside them. Today you have become old enough to be presented to them, and with Gryphus’ blessing you may be chosen to become a griffiner, to lead and defend your people with wisdom and strength.’ In a much more normal voice he added, ‘That’s the formalities more or less done with – shall we go in?’

Rannagon chuckled. ‘Yes please, Roland. It’s time my little girl found her partner.’

‘Or maybe not,’ Flell murmured, as Roland led them into the building.

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ the old man said. ‘You’re the daughter of the Master of Law, lass. They’ll fight each other to choose you.’

Flell reddened. ‘Really?’

‘Oh yes. They play it up as being all exciting, but as the daughter of two griffiners you’re more or less entitled to-,’

‘I mean will they really fight over me?’ said Flell.

‘Probably. It’s quite a spectacle when it happens.’

Beyond the entrance was a large space that served as a kind of entrance hall. Flell was flattered to see that Roland had made an effort – there were flowers around the place, and a table with a platter of her favourite cymran fruit tarts. And a freshly slaughtered goat hanging in the corner over a dark stain.

Shoa made a beeline for it.

‘You know that’s really for Flell’s-,’ Roland began weakly. He shrugged. ‘Oh well, I suppose I should have seen that coming. Now, where were we? Oh yes – help yourself to a tart. I made them myself.’

Flell grimaced at the sound of cracking goat bones. ‘Maybe later. What’s next?’

‘The griffins, of course!’ Roland said grandly. He gestured at a door. ‘This leads to the nesting room, where they all live.’

Flell could already hear the raucous screechings from the other side. She thought she could hear talons too, scuffling on wood. Just to the left of the door was Shoa, busy feeding on the goat carcass. Her massive grey beak sliced through flesh and bone with scarcely a pause, dripping blood onto her feathered head. The innards came out, and she ripped them free and swallowed them.

‘I can’t do this,’ Flell said.

Both adults stared at her.

‘Come on, Flell.’ Her father put a hand on her shoulder. ‘It’s all right. You’ll be fine. Shoa and me will be there, and we’ll protect you if anything goes wrong.’

‘No,’ she said again. ‘I can’t do it. I don’t want to.’

Roland looked bewildered. ‘Don’t want to?’

‘I can’t live with one of those things,’ she said. ‘And I won’t be chosen, not like this. I might be able to go in, but they’ll smell my fear. They’ll think I’m a coward and they won’t choose me.’

Rannagon gave her a hug. ‘Oh, Flell. Don’t you think I wasn’t afraid? I was, and so was your mother – remember what she told you? Everyone is afraid when they go in there! But they go in anyway, and that’s what impresses the griffins.’

‘It’s not just that, Dad,’ Flell said when he had let go. ‘I’ve been thinking about it for ages, and to be honest I just don’t think I can live with something so big. What if I get chosen by one the size of Shoa?’

‘Then it’ll be able to fly very well with you,’ said Rannagon. ‘That’s all.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Flell. ‘I just don’t like it, that’s all. Isn’t there some other way?’

Roland coughed. ‘Actually, there is.’

Rannagon looked up. ‘Yes, Roland?’

The old man smiled reassurringly at Flell. ‘I understand it that you’re nervous, lass. And if you really don’t want to go in there then I won’t force you. Maybe you should come and look at the chicks instead.’

Flell brightened. ‘Can I?’

‘If you want to, certainly.’

‘Flell, stop,’ said Rannagon?’ ‘You should think about this.’

‘I have. Which way, Roland.’

Rannagon grabbed his daughter’s hand. ‘Flell, listen to me.’


He looked troubled. ‘You can go and see if one of the chicks will choose you, but there’s a catch.’

Flell’s heart sank. ‘What?’

‘If you’re chosen by a chick, you’ll be a griffiner,’ said Rannagon. ‘But you’ll be lowly. You won’t be allowed to hold any sort of official position, not until your partner grows up. Other griffins will look down on both of you – you won’t be able to be anything other than an apprentice for at least twenty years.’

‘Oh, that!’ Flell almost laughed at his worried expression. ‘I don’t care about that.’

‘You don’t?’

‘No! I don’t want an official position, Dad. I never have. I don’t want to live in the Eyrie either.’

Even Roland looked surprised. ‘Is that so?’

‘Yes,’ said Flell. ‘What do I need with politics? You don’t have to do that sort of thing to be a griffiner anyway.’

‘Then what do you want?’ said Rannagon. ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me?’

‘I think I’d like to be a herbalist,’ said Flell.

‘You’ll want an apprenticeship with the Master of Healing, then-,’

‘No, that’s not what I said. I don’t want to be a healer, just a herbalist. I love herbs. Maybe I could sell them to healers. That could make me a living.’

Rannagon looked a little bemused. ‘It’s your choice. If that’s what you want, then so be it.’

‘It is,’ Flell said, and in that instant all her doubt turned into happiness. ‘Roland, can you show me the way?’

‘I certainly can!’ the old man opened a door in the opposite side of the room to the first, and ushered them into a large open space. With its wooden floor and high beamed ceiling, it looked almost like a barn – something that was helped by the pens that lined the walls.

An ancient grey griffin lay on her belly in the middle of the floor. She didn’t get up when they entered, but her head lifted to look at Roland as he unhooked a leather pouch and buckled it around his waist.

Flell had already gone to the nearest pen. Inside a single griffin chick lay asleep in a heap of straw. It was the size of a large tomcat, but tiny by griffish standards, its fluffy flanks moving gently in and out.

‘Now, this is quite simple,’ said Roland, behind her. ‘Take this.’

Flell accepted the scrap of meat. ‘Do I just offer it?’

‘Yes. It’ll take an interest, of course. The test is whether it takes an interest in you.’

The chick may have looked sound asleep, but it came awake so fast when Flell lowered the meat toward it that she barely saw it go from curled up to fully alert. It snatched the food and gulped it down, then fixed her with a penetrating yellow stare.

Roland provided another meat scrap. ‘Now, hold it just out of reach. When the chick comes for it, try and touch its head.’

Flell did.

She dabbed at the resulting scratch. ‘Ow! Why didn’t you warn me?’

Roland shrugged. ‘Onto the next.’

Flell repeated the process several times with several different chicks, but none of them took an interest in anything that wasn’t food. She did manage to avoid being bitten again – mostly.

‘Why do you take them away from their mothers?’ she asked eventually. ‘Isn’t it cruel?’

‘Cruel?’ Roland laughed. ‘The mothers give them to us!’


‘Of course. Nobody could take a chick by force, anyway. “Certain death” isn’t the half of it. Yes, the females who hatch out eggs here give us the chicks to raise. You see, normally a mother griffin would live alone in her territory and would raise her chicks there. But here they live so close together that it’s impossible. Sometimes one of our griffins will decide to leave us until her chicks are old enough to leave the nest. Mostly though they leave it to us.’

‘Why?’ said Flell.

‘Griffins weren’t meant to live all together like this,’ Rannagon put in. ‘It makes them more aggressive than usual.’

‘Exactly,’ said Roland. ‘If a mother tries to look after her chicks here, they just don’t survive.’

‘Why, though?’ said Flell. ‘What kills them?’

‘Other griffins,’ said a voice.

The old griffin was looking at them.

‘Other griffins?’ Flell repeated. ‘Why?’

The old griffin yawned. ‘Because that is what they would do in the wild. The chicks of another female are rivals for your own, and must die so that yours will survive.’

‘Sadly yes,’ said Roland. ‘Which is why we take them until they’re older. Once they’re old enough, they move out of here and back with the others. Then the mothers find them again and teach them whatever they have to learn.’

Flell frowned. ‘I don’t know what I’d do if my own parents gave me away.’

‘Griffins aren’t like us,’ Rannagon said.

‘Obviously,’ she murmured.

The next chick along was bigger than the rest she had seen. By now most of them were awake and calling for food. This one, though, just stared. It had pale grey feathers, and when its eyes turned toward Flell she gasped.

‘Look at that!’

The chick’s eyes were pale purple, like the twilight sky. Flell had never seen anything like it.

‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ Roland said, as proudly as if the little griffin were his own daughter.

Flell offered the violet-eyed griffin food. She took it, but delicately, and watched in silence. Flell gave her another scrap, which she took just as politely as the first.

Flell was enraptured. ‘Hello,’ she said in griffish. ‘My name’s Flell.’

The chick chirped at her, and raised a forepaw.

Flell laughed. ‘Do you want to tug fingers, or are you just asking for more food?’

Roland silently passed over some more.

Flell fed the chick again, not looking away from the soft feathered face and small, elegant beak. The chick kept watching her in return.

‘Touch her,’ Roland whispered.

Very carefully, feeling her heart might break at any moment, Flell reached down. When her fingers made contact with the feathers, the chick didn’t lash out or pull away. She ate another scrap.

By degrees, Flell progressed to rubbing the chick’s head, then stroking her just under the beak. The chick cooed.

Unable to make herself wait another moment, Flell opened the door to the pen and knelt in front of the chick. She backed away, but not far. In a few moments she had come closer.

Flell scooped her up and carried her out of the pen, and before anyone spoke she knew it was done. She had found her partner.

‘What’s her name?’ she asked Roland.

His eyes crinkled when he smiled. ‘She’s too young to have chosen one yet. You can name her if you like; I’m sure she won’t mind.’

Flell petted the chick’s head. ‘I’ll call you… Thrain. Thrain and Flell.’

Thrain cheeped and rubbed her head under her human’s chin.




Arren Cardockson, Master of Trade, sat in front of the polished silver mirror and combed his hair. He had been doing it for some time now, pulling the wooden teeth through every curl over and over again. The trouble, he thought, with having curly hair, was that it took forever to make it lie in place properly. Still, at least it wasn’t that much of a curl. Enough to be troublesome, but not so much that combing made it worse. Combing made it look better – it just did it slowly. Effort was all it took.

His pale, angular face frowned back at him in the mirror. Once, when he was much younger, he had resorted to cutting off all his hair. It had made him look ridiculous, and he had spent a few months telling anyone who cared that he had just done it to get rid of fleas.

No, the hair was here to stay, and if it must be obnoxiously black then it could at least be neat.


He put the comb down at last, and flexed his long fingers to get the ache out of them. Then he picked up the brush.

‘You are grooming even more than you always do,’ said Eluna, behind him. ‘Are you nervous, or is it another reason?’

Arren could see the white griffin’s reflection. ‘Nervous yes, but only because we’re going to the Eyrie tonight.’

Sha!’ she huffed. ‘For the celebration?’

‘Yes. Seems Rannagon’s daughter got chosen. Of course. That was such a big surprise that they started putting the decorations up yesterday.’

‘We do not have to go,’ said Eluna. ‘I know you do not want to be near Shoa and her human.’

‘We should go,’ said Arren. ‘We’re more than important enough. And don’t worry about Rannagon; he’ll be too busy being proud of his special daughter to bother us.’

‘I am not worried about the human,’ said Eluna. ‘Shoa is the one that worries me.’


‘She attacked me yesterday,’ said Eluna, quite calmly.

Arren froze. ‘What?’

‘I was not hurt. I was flying, and she swooped from above and nearly struck me. She said it had been an accident, but I do not believe her.’

‘It’s all right,’ said Arren. ‘Rannagon won’t let her hurt us.’ He didn’t sound as convinced as he would have once.

‘He suspects something,’ said Eluna. ‘They both do. Be careful, Arren.’

‘Always am. Bran’s going to be there too. I made sure of it.’




Lord Rannagon, Master of Law, straightened his ceremonial costume. It was getting a little tight around the middle. He wasn’t about to get a new one, though. A griffiner’s ceremonial outfit took months for an expert tailor. Small feathers, donated by Shoa, covered his chest. Beneath that was fox fur, dyed yellow, that extended into a hanging tab that had been adorned with tail feathers. Long wing feathers hung down his back like a cloak. The stitching alone must have been a nightmare.

Shoa appeared from her nest chamber, her coat glossy with grooming. ‘You are ready to leave?’

‘More or less.’ Rannagon sighed. ‘Flell, a griffiner at last! I almost can’t take it in.’

‘Chosen by a chick,’ Shoa pointed out.

‘I know, but if that’s what makes her happy then I can’t stop her. It’s not my right.’

‘That is true,’ said Shoa. ‘And now it is time for us to enjoy ourselves!’

‘Yes.’ Rannagon smiled briefly. ‘Everyone will be there. Or so I hope.’

Shoa huffed. ‘The young fool had better not dare show her face in my Eyrie.’

‘I don’t know if Eluna will come. And Arren. They don’t come into the Eyrie much.’

‘They have no right,’ said Shoa.

‘They have every right,’ Rannagon argued. ‘Arren’s a griffiner, isn’t he?’

‘He is angry with us,’ said Shoa. ‘With the council, and Shree’s human.’

‘Of course he is. He made Master of Trade, but he didn’t get any of the privileges that should have come with it.’ Rannagon’s forehead creased. ‘I’d say it’s better that way. He couldn’t possibly be a counciller… I should have thought of that before I argued old Cyric into taking him on, but what else was I going to do?’

‘They will not be on the council,’ Shoa said flatly. ‘I will not allow it.’

Rannagon sighed. ‘What are we going to do about him? Nobody cared about what he did before, but now he’s Master of Trade he’s got power, and he’s using it. Fraudulently, if the complaints I’ve heard are true.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Shoa.

‘There’ve been some stories from the marketplace. Claims that he’s staged some “accidental” raids on suspected smugglers and then failed to give back everything he confiscated. Some traders have been saying he’s been spotted taking things from their stalls without paying.’

‘You see?’ said Shoa. ‘I told you that you should not trust him.’

‘I know.’ Rannagon grimaced. ‘Gryphus forgive me, I can’t believe I listened to old Roland. “He’s not like the others”, he said. “I taught him how to be civilised”. Hah.’

‘Foolery,’ said Shoa. ‘We should remove him and find a new human to care for the chicks.’

‘Well.’ Rannagon mumbled. ‘Maybe it’s not that surprising. I know for a fact that the Master of Gold is paying Arren about a quarter of what he should be getting as Master of Trade. Anyway, let’s get going before we’re late.’

He left the room, muttering and preoccupied.




Eluna, whose human was Master of Trade, kept close to his side as they walked to the Eyrie. She never left him any more. Unless they were at home or some other place where she felt completely safe, she would stay as near to him as his shadow. Other griffins who saw her do it called her a coward and a mother hen, but she ignored them. It had been many, many years since she had cared what any griffin said.

Arren didn’t seem to mind. He wouldn’t leave her any more than she would leave him.

‘We shall eat well at this celebration,’ she said now.

‘Definitely.’ Arren smelt of excitement. ‘And I, for one, intend to get very drunk. Mostly because it’ll annoy everyone, and that’s the only fun I’m going to get out of that lot.’

Eluna chirped. ‘Do that if you want, but remember your other purpose.’

‘Hm? What are you talking about?’

She lowered her beak and nudged his head. ‘You are a mature male now, Arren. It is time for you to choose a mate.’

Arren choked on a laugh. ‘Oh, right. Of course. I’d forgotten about that.’

‘This will be the best time to choose,’ she said haughtily. ‘You are a griffiner, and only another griffiner will be a fine enough female to lay your eggs.’

‘Uh, I’ve been meaning to explain a few things about humans, Eluna…’

‘Do not be a fool!’ she said. ‘Find a mate, Arren. You have explained enough. If they will not give us our rightful place in the Eyrie, then we must take it. Mate with a female who will give you status.’

Arren rubbed his chin. ‘Marry above myself, eh? That could work. In theory. I’ll keep an eye out, then, see if there’s any rich girls who look desperate.’

‘And if you cannot find a mate, perhaps I shall,’ Eluna said archly.


She raised a wing, displaying the smooth white feathers. ‘I am young, and very beautiful. Many males will be interested, but I have only one male in mind.’

‘Who?’ Arren grinned.

‘You shall see.’ Eluna sped up, bounding around him almost like a playful kitten. ‘I shall mate with a poweful male, and win his favour! And perhaps I shall bear his eggs, and you and I shall have chicks to teach. They will grow to be friends to us, and they will help us.’

Arren laughed aloud at the sight of her. She saw the Eyrie coming close and calmed down, settling back into a sedate and dignified walk just in front of him.

She had groomed her feathers almost as long as her human had groomed his hair, but she feared that it wasn’t enough. It had to hide the fact that her body was scrawny from her old illness. It had to cover the patches that the ulcers had left. Deep down inside her a deeper fear stirred. It was one she had never shared with Arren, or with anyone. A griffin never showed weakness. She had to be the best for her human, the strongest and the best. She had to be able to protect him and fight for him if she had to, and she had to be powerful to win the status she deserved.

She knew she would lose it all forever if she ever revealed her secret.

The illness that nearly killed her had attacked the magic gland in her throat, and she would never be able to use the power she had been born with. If the other griffins in the city knew it, even her human would be nothing beside that shame.

If they ever found out, she would die.





Flell, newly made griffiner, cuddled Thrain in her arms and laughed as the little griffin tried to bite her favourite sunwheel earrings.

‘Silly! You can’t eat those!’

Thrain shifted in her grip and stretched her neck out, snapping for them. Her talons dug into Flell’s arm.

‘Ouch!’ Flell smiled indulgently. ‘You’re so cute, aren’t you? You’re just lik-,’

Thrain finally got an earring in her mouth, and pulled.

‘Son of a bitch!’ Flell dropped the baby griffin and clutched at her bleeding ear.

Thrain gave her a triumphant stare, and swallowed the earring.

‘Oh, wonderful.’ Flell glanced around quickly, hoping nobody had heard her use the phrase she’d learned from a certain prison guard who’d come to talk to her father.

Thrain stood there, gulping slightly, and trotted off.

Flell ran after her. ‘Come back here! Thrain!’

Her ear ached savagely. She hoped it wasn’t bleeding on her gown.

Thrain reached the door that led to the council chamber, where the celebrations were just about to start. She sniffed around the crack at the bottom, and scratched at the wood.

Flell caught up with her. ‘So you want to go in, do you? Let’s go. But I’m not carrying you.’ She didn’t want her best gown shredded.

She opened the door, expecting Thrain to run off through it, but the small griffin didn’t go too far ahead. Flell followed her, and looked around in amazement.

The rounded council chamber had a circle of seats for the councillers to sit on, but today those had been removed and the platform in the centre that the Eyrie Mistress stood on now had a troupe of musicians on it, busy tuning their instruments and arguing over what to play first. The lantern holders on the walls had been decorated with flowers, and colourful banners hung everywhere. Tables had been set up, and food was being carried out and laid on them among the flower-filled vases already there.

And – Flell looked up – dozens of carcasses had been hung up in the tiered seating above. That was a good idea; the griffins could eat without any humans getting in the way. It would leave plenty of clear space below, too.

Some of the guests had already arrived, and a few griffins were already up at the meat. And, Flell noticed, there were guards around. They wore ceremonial armour and stood spaced around the walls, each one holding a tasselled spear. They looked very relaxed, and chatted amongst themselves, and Flell relaxed too. They must just be there for show.

Thrain was already wandering around exploring. Flell tried to follow her, but the little griffin wove in and out of various legs – human and wooden – and quickly shook her off. Flell thumped herself on the forehead and groaned.

‘Don’t worry about her,’ said a voice from behind her.

Flell turned. ‘Dad, she won’t listen to me! She won’t sit still! She ate my earring!’

Rannagon looked at her ear. ‘Ouch. Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll give it back eventually. Just keep an eye out while you’re cleaning up after her.’

‘She’s impossible!’ Flell complained. ‘Aren’t they supposed to help us?’

‘Flell.’ Rannagon’s voice went stern. ‘She’s not a pet, and you can’t treat her like one. She’s your partner, and if you don’t respect her she won’t respect you. Yes, I know she’s rough and won’t sit still and won’t go wherever you want. That’s because she has a mind of her own.’

‘All right, but… she wanders off all the time – what if she gets hurt?’

‘She can look after herself. All griffins can. It’s a matter of pride. Believe me. Once I asked Shoa if she needed my help, and she was insulted.’

Flell relaxed. ‘I suppose I’ll get used to it. I wish Mum was here.’

‘She would too. She should be back in a couple of days, and we’ll tell her all about it, eh?’ Rannagon looked around. ‘Ah, looks like they’re about ready to begin. You’d better go and find Thrain.’

‘I thought you said-,’

‘Yes, but you’ll need her with you for this. Hurry!’

Flell went off obligingly to chase down the little griffin, and eventually found her grooming herself under a table. She wouldn’t follow, so Flell picked her up.

More and more people had been arriving, and by now the room was fairly bustling with finely-dressed men and women. The musicians had settled their argument and looked ready to play.

Flell found her father again. ‘When does it start?’

He looked past her, and smiled. ‘Now.’

The large double doors on the other side of the chamber had been opened, and a hush fell as two figures came through. One was a griffin, old and dignified. Beside him was a woman who looked even older, clad in a magnificent gown made from fine Amorani silk.

‘Come on,’ Rannagon said quietly.

Flell followed him, and he ushered her toward the old woman and the griffin.

The old woman had been looking around the room, apparently searching for something, but she stopped and smiled when she saw Flell. ‘There you are.’

Beside her the griffin said. ‘And this is the one who has chosen her. You have made a fine choice in your human, little one.’

Thrain peered up at him and cheeped softly.

Flell bowed to the old woman. ‘Eyrie Mistress Riona.’

‘Lady Riona will do,’ the old woman smiled. ‘Come and stand just in front of me. Off to the side. Rannagon – keep your big head out of the way for once in your life, would you?’

He patted Flell on the shoulder and retreated.

‘Lords and Ladies of Eagleholm!’ Lady Riona began. ‘I present Flell, daughter of Kaelyn and Rannagon. From today on she is Lady Flell. One of you. Welcome her!’

‘And I present Thrain,’ the old griffin said. ‘A beautiful young female who has chosen this human for her own and become a partnered griffin. I command you to welcome her and treat her with the respect she has earned.’

The assembled griffiners cheered politely. Some of them who knew Flell and her father already gave a friendly wave.

‘Now,’ Lady Riona resumed. ‘Let the celebrations begin!’

The musicians began to play, and the chatter resumed. Once Lady Riona and her partner, Shree, had left for the food, many people came to talk to Flell.

She found herself greeting at least a dozen people, some of whom she didn’t even recognise.

‘Congratulations, Flell! I’m proud to see you join our Eyrie.’

‘Well done! And what a beautiful little griffin you are, Thrain. Shree was right, you chose very well.’

‘I don’t think we’ve met, my name’s Lord Tyrel. I know your father very well – I see where you got those lovely blue eyes!’

‘I suppose you’ll be looking for an apprenticeship now? I did hear that-,’

And so on and so forth. Flell smiled and said the appropriate things, and when she had the space she put Thrain down and went to get something to eat. The small griffin seemed nervous at all the attention, and kept close to her human’s heels.

At last Flell had an appetite again. She helped herself to a cymran tart, and passed Thrain a chicken leg, which the griffin toted around proudly like a dog with a stick.

After that she drank some warm mead, and talked to some old acquaintances who wanted to hear all about her visit to the Hatchery. She was disappointed to see that Roland wasn’t there.

Eventually, though, she got tired of it. Everyone seemed to think she wanted an apprenticeship now, and she had to say no and explain why over and over again. The other griffiners didn’t seem to know how to react, and she caught more than one slightly disappointed look. She refused to be embarrassed. This was her choice, and she was happy with it, and they would have to find a way to accept it.

During a brief moment of respite, while she was enjoying some grapes from a bowl, she saw him. She caught him out of the corner of her eye, and when she realised she had seen something odd she looked again.

There was a griffin down here among the humans. She was fairly large, but not heavy, with an attractive white and silver coat. And beside her was… well, a boy. Maybe man would be a better word.

Even in the crowded room, he stood out appallingly. He was tall and thin while the men around him were stocky. He was pale while they were tanned, and his thick, curly hair was pitch black. His clothes were plain and fit him poorly, and he had a dagger in his belt.

It was his face that bothered Flell most, though. His eyes were as black as his hair, and they were always on the move, watching everyone and everything in the room.

For a moment Flell felt certain he must be a spy or a criminal, or something equally shifty, but then she realised that he was holding a cup of wine and chatting to someone. Not to one of the guests, though – he was actually talking to one of the guards.

Flell went to find her father.

‘There you are! Enjoying yourself?’

She didn’t waste any time. She pointed straight at the black-haired boy. ‘Who is that?’

Rannagon followed her finger, and his look of concern faded. ‘Oh, him? That’s just the Master of Trade.’

What? That… that bl- that Northerner is a Master?’

‘Didn’t I tell you?’

‘Oh – wait.’ Realisation dawned. ‘That’s him, isn’t it? The blackrobe griffiner. The one Roland secretly trained.’

‘Yes, that’s right,’ said Rannagon. ‘His name’s Arren Cardockson.’

‘Oh.’ Flell sagged. ‘I didn’t know he was a counciller.’

‘He’s not. I’m surprised he even came tonight; he stays away from the Eyrie.’

Flell watched the young man with renewed interest. She had never seen a Northerner before. They were supposed to be nasty, vicious heathens who covered their faces in tattoos. This one didn’t look particularly savage.

Rannagon had disappeared into the crowd. Flell looked at Arren again, and a wicked thought crossed her mind. She moved closer to him, hoping to get a better look.

He saw her, and handed his drink to the guard before coming toward her. Flell’s heart leapt into her throat when she saw how sharp and unfriendly his face looked.

He confronted her with his arms folded, and gave her a long, slow look.

Flell coughed. ‘Er…’

‘I saw you staring,’ he said.

‘Er, sorry.’

Arren laughed, and all of a sudden the air of menace she had dreamed up disappeared and he was just another young man, enjoying himself at a party. ‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘Everyone’s staring. They’re probably wondering why there’s a blackrobe in the Eyrie.’

‘Of course you’re here,’ said Flell. ‘You’re the Master of Trade. Didn’t they invite you?’

‘No, I just turned up. It’s the best way to be at a party, Flell.’

She started. ‘How do you know my name?’

‘I used my psychic powers,’ he said solemnly.

Flell pulled a bemused face. ‘Er, really?’

Arren burst out laughing. ‘They just announced it in front of everyone, you daft girl! My gods.’

Flell relaxed and laughed too. ‘Oh, right. I’m sorry.’

Arren gave her another searching look. This time, he looked interested. ‘I’ve heard about you already. From your father. We knew each other very well when I was younger.’

‘Really?’ Flell was surprised.

‘Oh yes. I’m afraid we’ve fallen out of touch since then. He told me all about you, though. Whenever we met he’d tell me about whatever you’d been up to. He’s very proud of his daughter.’

‘I know.’ Flell felt warm inside.

‘You don’t look much like him, though,’ Arren added thoughtfully. ‘Except for your eyes.’

‘Everyone says that,’ said Flell.

‘Probably because it’s the truth and they don’t have the imagination to tell you something you don’t already know. Would you like to meet my friends over there?’

Flell started. ‘Oh. Yes, why not?’

He ushered her over to the griffin, who went to him immediately. ‘This is my partner, Eluna.’ He could have been introducing a Queen.

Flell bowed her head to the griffin. ‘It’s an honour to meet you, Eluna. This is Thrain.’

Eluna bent to sniff at the chick. ‘A strong youngster. With her colour, she could have been my own.’

Flell took that as a compliment.

‘And this is Bran,’ said Arren.

Flell turned, and found herself face to face with the guard. He was big and burly, and a reddish square beard made his jaw look even heavier than it already was.

Flell took a step back. ‘Er, hello?’

Bran offered up a big, gap-toothed grin. ‘By Gryphus, they sure make ’em good up at the Eyrie, don’t they?’

Arren put a hand over his eyes. ‘I’m sure. Bran, this is Flell. Rannagon’s daughter.’

‘Oh, right,’ Bran bowed to her. ‘Milady.’

‘Pleased to meet you,’ Flell said stiffly.

‘Name’s Captain Branton Redguard if yeh wanna be formal about it,’ said Bran, apparently pulling himself together.

‘Oh yes, and I’m Arren,’ said Arren. ‘Forgot my manners there! Arren Cardockson, Master of Trade.’ He held out a hand.

Flell took it, and was surprised when he hooked his fingers into hers and tugged before letting go – the griffiner’s proper greeting.

‘Well.’ Flell coughed. ‘It’s… uh… been nice to meet you. I should… I’m going to go and get another drink.’

She beat a hasty retreat.

Arren followed her. ‘Flell!’

She stopped and turned. ‘Yes, what?’

He smiled at her – a genuine smile. ‘Sorry about Bran. He gets like that sometimes. You couldn’t teach the man manners if your life depended on it.’

‘It’s all right,’ said Flell.

‘I like you, you know,’ he said, quite matter-of-factly. ‘You’re different.’

‘From who?’

‘All of them.’ He waved a long-fingered hand. ‘All these other stupid saps who call themselves griffiners. I heard how you’ve been turning down apprenticeships – why?’

‘Because I don’t want one, obviously.’

Arren chuckled. ‘Fancy that. But listen-,’ he leaned closer. ‘When you get sick of this lot, come up onto the Eyrie roof. Eluna and me will be there.’

With that, he was gone.

Bemused, Flell returned to the tables and picked up another chicken leg for Thrain. The little griffin dragged it under the table to eat it, while her human returned to the festivities.

While Flell was enjoying another cup of mead, a woman she had spoken to before came over. ‘There you are.’

‘Oh, hello,’ said Flell. ‘Yes?’

The woman – Flell thought her name was Danyll – moved a little closer. ‘I saw you talking to the Eyrie’s shame.’

Flell stared. ‘The what?’

‘You know.’ Danyll grimaced. ‘That cursed blackrobe. I can’t believe he had the gall to even show his face in here after what he’s done.’

‘Why, what did he do?’

‘Oh, he’s a petty thief,’ said Danyll. ‘Lives out in the city in a rundown little house, consorts with guards and other scum. There’s even a rumour that-,’

Flell couldn’t help it; she loved gossip. ‘That what?’

‘They say that when he was an apprentice, he murdered his master,’ said Danyll. ‘So he could take his position.’

Murder?’ said Flell.

‘Oh, there was never any proof and the old man was very ill,’ Danyll added. ‘But he died suddenly, and what griffiner would let someone like that take his place in the Eyrie?’

‘Oh.’ Flell scratched her sore ear. ‘I met old Cyric once. He wasn’t very nice.’

‘Hmph. Anyway, my advice is to stay far away from that one. He’s trouble.’

‘Obviously,’ said Flell. Which was why she went to meet him anyway.





Arren waited for her, with Eluna. The night air was warm, and the half-moon overhead shone brightly. Arren knew perfectly well that his people worshipped the night’s dark god, and he didn’t care.

‘I don’t care if she’s up there watching,’ he murmured, to Eluna.

The moon seemed to stare at him, like an accusing eye.

‘I don’t care!’ Arren called to it. ‘You hear me? Stare at me all you like. You’re nothing, and Gryphus is nothing. Strike me down if you can!’

Nothing happened, and he sneered. ‘Hah! Pathetic.’

‘Stop that,’ Eluna rasped. ‘You are being foolish.’

‘I had too much wine; I’m allowed to be foolish. Did you get close to that male you were after?’

‘Close enough,’ she said. ‘Not as close as I hoped, but I saw him pass and hissed an offer to mate. I do not know if he heard me. Where is this female you spoke to?’

‘Coming, I hope.’ Arren grinned. ‘If she’s mad enough.’

‘How rude,’ said Flell, from behind him.

He turned sharply, and grinned again more widely when he saw her. ‘Well well well. So the polite young lady decided to come and hobnob with the Eyrie’s scumbag.’

Flell gave him a look. ‘So it would seem. And by the way, you can stop pretending to be a handsome rogue because it’s not charming.’

Arren started. ‘Yikes. Looks like this rose has thorns.’

‘You’re still doing it,’ Flell said stonily.

‘Oh fine.’ Arren pulled an exaggeratedly sulky look. ‘Congratulations, by the way. Becoming a griffiner is damned special.’

Flell smiled. ‘Thankyou.’

Arren looked very serious, as he looked down at Thrain. ‘Treasure her, Flell. Treasure her every day. Never take her for granted.’

Flell bent to scratch the little griffin behind the ear. ‘She’ll take some getting used to, but I’ll get by.’

‘I’m sure. And you’ll have your parents to help when things get tough. Please, come sit with me. There’s a nice view.’

She took the spot beside him, on a wooden bench someone had brought up. Eagleholm spread out below, dotted with faint yellow lights like tiny suns. ‘I’ve never seen it from this high up. It’s beautiful.’

‘Isn’t it?’ Arren leaned back with his hands behind his head. ‘Get used to it, Flell. From now on, this is how you’ll see our city. I know Thrain won’t be able to carry you for a while, but it doesn’t matter. Us griffiners, we see the world from above.’

‘I’ve never met anyone like you before,’ Flell said after a while.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said. ‘I haven’t either.’

She chuckled. ‘That’s not quite what I meant.’


‘Yes. I mean I haven’t met… you know… someone of your…’

‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,’ said Arren, and his voice had gone flat and hard all of a sudden.

Flell winced. ‘I’m sorry. It’s just that… people didn’t seem to like having you in there.’

‘Of course not,’ said Arren. ‘I’m a bloody blackrobe. I know griffiners, Flell, and a lot better than you do.’

Despite herself, she took slight offense at this. ‘Is that so?’

‘They like you, Flell. You’re one of them. But you don’t know someone properly until you’ve seen their other side, and I’ve seen theirs.’ He jiggled his eyebrows at her. ‘I’ve seen the nasty side of griffiners.’

‘Such as?’

‘I love this,’ said Arren, apparently to himself. ‘She wants details.’

‘Go on,’ said Flell. ‘I’m listening.’

‘Hm. You know Lord Celth?’

‘The Master of Diplomacy?’

‘That’s him,’ said Arren. ‘He’s a nice, polite, well-educated man and he once told me I should die.’

Flell started. ‘Lord Celth said that?

‘He certainly did,’ said Arren. ‘A kind man, Lord Celth. Eluna squashed him under his own desk. We barely got away with that one.’

Flell snickered. ‘Great Gryphus. He deserved that. I can’t believe he actually said that to someone!’

Arren shrugged. ‘You can say what you like to someone like me. I don’t really care any more.’ He gave her that slow, searching look again. ‘But enough about me. Do you really want to know why I told you to meet me up here?’

‘Yes, why?’ said Flell.

‘You’re interesting, that’s why. You’re not like the other griffiners.’

Flell felt flattered. ‘How?’

‘For starters you’re up here talking to me during a celebration that’s being held in your honour. They’ll have taken that as a big slap in the face. They throw a party for the new griffiner and she’d rather go consort with a blackrobe on the roof.’

‘I was bored,’ Flell said bluntly.

‘Me too. Bored of standing there and looking out for trouble, anyway. Until I saw a very beautiful blue-eyed girl staring at me. You are very beautiful, you know.’ He said this rather shyly – but with a certain boldness as well.

Flell blushed. ‘Thankyou. And you’re very…’ She balked at “handsome” – it felt like going too far, and she didn’t really think so anyway. ‘Dark,’ she substituted.

Arren looked thoughtful. ‘Do you know, that’s the nicest thing a woman has ever said to me?’

‘You’re welcome.’

He gave her a sly, sideways look. ‘So… how about it, then?’

‘How about what?’

‘How about we, you know – sneak off and do something better than sit up here on our backsides?’

Flell blushed even redder. ‘Are you suggesting-,’

‘-That we go meet up with Bran at the Red Rat and have a drink or two? How did you guess?’

‘Oh. I’m sorry, that was… er, the Red Rat?’

‘I know it’s not the Eyrie, but it’s cosy and the beer is good, and they’re the only tavern in the city with doors big enough for Eluna. So, how about it? Want to give it a try?’

Flell coughed. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Come on,’ Arren grinned. ‘Didn’t you ever wonder how the commoners have fun?’

All of a sudden deep, hot embarrassment filled Flell’s stomach. She shuffled away from him, aware of how isolated they were together – and remembering what Danyll had said. ‘I should go. I don’t even know why I’m here.’

Arren’s hopeful expression disappeared. His head slumped into his hands. ‘Oh no. You’ve found out the truth about me, haven’t you?’

‘No-,’ Flell began.

He looked up at her. ‘Don’t lie. You know my secret, don’t you?’ Arren covered his face. ‘Oh gods. I don’t care what you think of me, just don’t tell anyone, please. It’d be the end of me.’

Flell’s heart pounded. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Yes you do.’

‘No, I don’t,’ she lied.

Arren looked pathetic. ‘I’ll tell you, then, but keep it to yourself.’

She eyed him warily. ‘All right…’

‘I mean it. Don’t tell anyone.

‘I won’t, I promise.’

Arren set his jaw. ‘Here goes, then.’

Flell kept very still as he leaned over and whispered in her ear. Her eyes widened.


Arren moved away. ‘You promised, Flell. You can’t tell anyone.’

‘That you’re afraid of heights?’

‘I can’t help it.’ Arren sighed. ‘Gods, it’s so humiliating. A griffiner, afraid of heights! I can’t even fly with Eluna without sweating rivers.’

Flell gave up and laughed. ‘Your secret’s safe with me. I’ll take it to my grave, I swear.’

Arren smiled. ‘Thanks. I knew I could trust you. So… the Red Rat?’

‘Maybe later.’

‘It’s a deal,’ said Arren. ‘What would you rather do?’

‘I don’t know. Just talk?’

‘I could live with that.’

Flell thought briefly of Danyll’s warning. She thrust it aside. The whole idea that this funny, clever young man could ever kill someone was ridiculous.

As time passed and they talked on, she moved closer to him without even thinking. He was happy to let her do it. In his pocket, the black gemstone he had stolen the previous day felt as heavy as the thought that wouldn’t get out of his mind.

This is her, it said. This is the one I was looking for. This is the woman I’ll marry.




While Arren and Flell talked on through the night, laughing and joking and smiling on each other more and more, the moon watched in silence. It shone on them, turning their hair and their faces silver.

It shone on Eluna and Thrain as the white griffin groomed her smaller companion. It shone on Bran, as he walked back to his home, grinning at the thought of the bag of food he had been given. It shone on Lord Rannagon, and on Shoa, as they talked in low voices in the office they shared.

And, far away, it shone on a mountain, casting shadows into an overhang on its flank. It did not touch what hid inside, or disturb its deep, rumbling breaths. For now, it left the monstrous shape of the dark griffin undisturbed.

It shone on them all, humans and griffins alike, and waited. And knew.

In less than a year, four of them would be dead.



Neato text ornament here