Arren Gets a Tattoo

Over the city of Eagleholm, the sky had turned a soft shade of pink on the horizon. Higher up it darkened to purple and blue, speckled with the first few stars. Sunset was ending, and soon twilight would come. Just above the horizon the moon had appeared as a faded sickle, ready to shine through the night.

In the city below, the streets were bustling. In the marketplace, stalls were closing and the owners headed for home, taking their wares with them. Members of the city guard had begun the night shift and were going along the streets, lighting the lanterns as they went. Above the last of the griffins were leaving the sky, returning to their nests to sleep.

Meanwhile, at the edge of the market district, the tavern called the Red Rat had just accepted a whole host of new customers. Traders, craftsmen and guards, fresh from work, had come to drink as always. The tables were crowded with chatting, arguing and laughing people.

And, in one corner, a slim white griffin sat and primly groomed her feathers. There was a circle of empty floor around her, and no matter how busy the place was, nobody stumbled into it without quickly stumbling out again. None of them dared to look her in the face.

Sitting under her wing, all alone at a small table, was a boy. He was fourteen years old, a Northerner, and he looked as if he had no idea or interest in what was going on around him. He didn’t even look up until a young man pushed through the drinkers and came to sit opposite him.

‘Hullo, Bran. Noisy, isn’t it?’

Bran put a couple of pints on the table, and pushed one toward him. ‘No more’n what yeh’d expect at this time of day. How’re yeh doin’?’

Arren took his drink, and swallowed a mouthful. He sighed and wiped his mouth. ‘Ah, that’s better. I’m all right. Mostly.’ His shoulders hunched slightly.

Bran caught the edge in his voice. ‘So, uh, what happened with that… accident the other day?’

‘I’ve been dismissed.’

Bran choked. ‘What, over a tiny thing like that?’

‘Bran, I went into hysterics on a plank poking out over the edge of the city. Eluna had to drag me back, screaming my head off. What in the gods’ names would they want with me after that? Anyway-,’ Arren shrugged. ‘It was a stupid job. I hated every moment of it. This way, I’ve got a chance at picking up something better.’

Bran mumbled into his beer.

‘So, how are things at your end?’ said Arren, with forced brightness.

‘Good,’ said Bran. ‘It’s weird workin’ under my own Dad, but he’s showin’ me all the stuff I need t’know. This mornin’ we raided a thieves’ den. Got three of the bastards. Rest got away, but we’ll find ’em soon enough. Yeh know,’ he added thoughtfully, ‘If yeh need a new job, it’d be great if yeh came worked for us. Havin’ someone what knows how to read’d be great for starters.’

Arren laughed. ‘Thanks! I’ll be sure to keep it in mind.’

‘Seriously, though, what are yeh gonna do?’ said Bran. ‘Got any plans?’

‘We’re going to go to the Eyrie and talk to the Masters. See if anyone needs an apprentice. Lord Rannagon might be able to help.’

‘Yeh reckon?’

‘Oh yes. He’s always good to us. He helped us get our last apprenticeship. Once he even gave us a place to stay between times.’

‘No worries, then, eh?’ said Bran.

‘None.’ Arren looked thoughtful. ‘I wonder where we’ll end up next?’

‘Who knows?’ said Bran. ‘How many masters have yeh had so far again?’

‘Four,’ said Arren. He counted off on his fingers. ‘The Master of Healing, who let us go because her son became a griffiner and she wanted to train him instead, the Master of Learning, who let us go because some books went missing and she blamed me, the Master of Gold, who let us go because he didn’t think I was cut out to be a treasurer, and now the Master of Building.’

‘Huh. Well at least yeh learned somethin’ from ’em all first,’ said Bran.

‘Yes. Like how the Master of Building accidently taught me that I’ll never stop being scared of heights.’ Arren’s mouth twisted.

‘We all got our weaknesses. I’m scared of snakes, yeh know.’ Bran rubbed his chin, and frowned. ‘I guess the real question is, what d’yeh want t’do? What are yeh good at? Bein’ a griffiner’s one thing, but that ain’t a career. What did yeh always see yerself doin’ with yer life?’

‘Being a griffiner,’ said Arren. ‘Beyond that… nothing, really. Just being a griffiner was enough.’

‘What about yer talents, though?’ said Bran. ‘I know yeh got some of them. I say, pick one out an’ use it.’

‘That’s a good idea.’

They drank in silence for a while, as Arren thought.

‘Persuasion,’ he said eventually. ‘I’m good at that.’

‘There yeh go,’ said Bran. ‘Persuasion. Talkin’. Yeh’ve always been good at that.’

‘Yes, but how could I use it?’ said Arren.

‘Be one of them dipplo things, of course.’

‘A what?’

Bran waved his hand vaguely. ‘Y’know, one of them people what flies around t’other places an’ talks.’

Realisation dawned. ‘Oh, you mean a diplomat.’

‘Yeah, that’s the one. They got diplomats at the Eyrie, right?’

‘A few,’ said Arren. ‘Lord Celth and his wife, and I think one of their nephews.’

‘Go talk to ’em, then,’ said Bran. ‘See if they got space for another one.’

‘What do you think, Eluna?’ said Arren, turning to her.

The white griffin stirred. ‘I do not see why not.’

‘It’s an important position, though,’ said Arren. ‘I’m not sure how we’ll get in.’

‘Easy.’ Bran grinned. ‘Persuade ’em.’

Arren grinned back. ‘We’ll do it, then.’

‘We shall,’ said Eluna. ‘And if they do not accept us, I shall threaten to tear off their heads.’

Arren laughed. ‘I don’t think that’ll work, Eluna.’

‘It worked for the last one,’ she said.




‘Is this a joke?’

Arren tried not to cringe in the face of Lord Celth’s icy stare. ‘No, my Lord.’

The old man sat back in his chair, and cast a bemused look at his partner. ‘You,’ he said, ‘You want to be a diplomat.’

‘That’s what I said.’ Arren looked to Eluna for encouragement. She huffed and shifted her position, moving closer to him.

‘And you don’t think that’s a joke,’ Lord Celth resumed.

‘Why should I?’ said Arren. ‘I need a job, and I think I have what it takes to be a diplomat. It’s that simple.’

‘I see. And you don’t think that Eyrie masters and little people like, for example, the Emperor of Amoran, would be at all… bothered if they were asked to negotiate with you?’

‘Nobody likes a diplomat,’ Arren risked a smile. ‘What’s the problem?’

Celth sighed and put his hands on the desk in front of him. ‘All right, I’ve done my best to be delicate, but since you’ve decided to try and play games with me I’m going to make this simple. Diplomats are selected for their birth and breeding. Other Eyries expect only the best and most influential of our griffiners. We couldn’t very well send a commoner, now could we?’

‘I’m not a commoner,’ said Arren.

‘No, of course not.’ The old lord was openly sneering now. ‘Even so, I think it’s plain enough for all to see that you wouldn’t meet our… standards.’

‘But a diplomat needs more than that,’ Arren argued. ‘He has to be clever and good with words. He needs to be persuasive.’

‘And just how persuasive are you?’ Celth said.

Arren shrugged. ‘Oh, I don’t know. I managed to persuade the Council to let me be a griffiner.’

‘Yes, well. Be that as it may, your background still makes you completely innappropriate for this position. Now if you’ll please go on your way, I have more important things to worry about.’

‘I’ve got one more question,’ said Arren. ‘Please.’

‘Fine.’ Celth waved a hand irritably. ‘Out with it.’

‘I know Eagleholm deals with the North,’ said Arren. ‘Is that true?’

‘Yes, it’s true enough. Is that all?’

‘Who do you send there?’ said Arren. ‘Who treats with Malvern?’

‘Various people. Lady Elkin always welcomes us very graciously.’

‘Send me,’ said Arren. ‘Let me deal with Malvern. I could do it.’

Lord Celth stared at him for a moment. Then he burst out laughing. ‘You? In Malvern?’ he laughed harder. ‘Gryphus save me, you really are as mad as the rest of your sort.’

Arren had to fight to control his temper. ‘I’d be perfect,’ he said. ‘They’d listen to me. My background would make them trust me.’

‘Trust you? Because of your background?’ Celth wiped his eyes, still shuddering with suppressed laughter. ‘You – what was your name again? – if you went to Malvern, you’d never even be allowed to land. You didn’t think your sort ran the place did you? Gryphus’ talons, boy, the griffiners in Malvern have blackrobes cleaning out their cesspits. And besides that… you’re lucky we’re on the other side of the country. If you’d popped up in the North you’d likely be dead by now.’

Arren wanted to hit him. ‘I am not a-,’

‘Listen to me.’ Celth had stopped laughing. ‘Take my advice, boy – you’ve got luck on your side. In Eagleholm you’re safe. Well of course you are – nobody takes you seriously enough to think of you as a threat, and you can take it from me. If you were anywhere else, anywhere they still keep slaves, it’d be a different story. In Withypool you’d be collared in an instant. In Malvern…’ he snorted. ‘In Malvern, they would kill you. Even your own people would probably slit your throat in the middle of the night. They’ve seen too much horror to treat a blackrobe griffiner like a pet or a cute little oddity.’

‘What happened in the North wasn’t my fault,’ Arren said.

‘What does that matter?’ Celth waved dismissively at him. ‘Go away, boy. Run off home and keep a low profile, and hope they don’t get bored with you before you grow up.’

Arren felt a lump in his throat. He leaned over the desk. ‘Please,’ he said. ‘I need a job. I don’t have anywhere to live. Please just tell me where to go.’

Celth pointed at the door. ‘Through that.’

Please. I just need an apprenticeship. Every griffiner needs one.’

‘Then stop being a griffiner. If you had any sense, you’d have realised that already.’

‘I will never stop being a griffiner,’ Arren growled. ‘I would rather die.’

‘Die, then. It makes no difference to me.’ Celth stood up. ‘You may think you can keep up this charade, but let me assure you that one day it will end, and painfully. Pretend all you like, but you are not a griffiner, and you are never going to amount to anything. You’re an insult to everything that we hold sacred, and it makes me ashamed to know you came from my own Eyrie. Now get out.’

Arren’s voice failed him. To his utter despair, he realised he was about to cry. He turned and stormed out.

Eluna, though, stayed. She had stood up while Celth spoke, and though she said nothing her tail lashed violently.

Celth’s partner, Keephash, glared at her. ‘Go,’ he said. ‘Follow your ridiculous little human like the fool you are.’

Eluna raised her wings partway, and began to hiss. ‘My human was only a hatchling when he became a griffiner. He was more worthy then than you shall ever be.’

‘More worthy to eat my dung,’ the other griffin sneered. ‘Be gone.’

Eluna paused a moment, half-turning toward the door. Then, without any warning, she darted sideways and slammed her full weight into the desk. It toppled over, pinning Lord Celth beneath it and scattering pens, ink and papers everywhere. Keephash screamed in alarm and ran instinctively to help his human, and Eluna took her chance and bounded out of the room and after Arren, leaving deep claw-marks in the wooden floor.




Later that day, Lord Rannagon, Master of Law, was walking along one of the Eyrie corridors when he spotted something white moving on the floor. As he paused to look at it, it flicked upward, revealing the fan of silvery feathers at the end.

Rannagon followed the tail, and found Eluna wedged in the door to a storeroom, one wing poking upward with the feathers brushing the top of the frame.

‘Oh dear.’ Rannagon mumbled. ‘What in Gryphus’ name happened here?’

The tail swished, and Eluna moved backward, trying to look over her shoulder. When that didn’t work, she put her head down and wriggled out into the corridor. She was hissing, spoiling for a fight, but when she saw Rannagon she relaxed.

‘Only you,’ she said, apparently to herself.

Rannagon inclined his head toward her. ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt, but I thought you might be stuck.’

Eluna made a shuff sound at him, but said nothing.

Rannagon looked past her into the storeroom, and spotted the hunched shape inside. ‘I thought you must be in there.’

No reply.

‘Come out, Arren. I’m not angry with you.’

The shape unfolded itself, and Arren came out into the corridor. He kept close to Eluna and hunched his shoulders, keeping his eyes on the floor.

Rannagon thought he looked very much like his own daughter, Flell, when she was expecting a telling-off. Sometimes it was hard to remember that they were almost the same age.

He coughed. ‘I’ve just had a visit from a very angry Lord Celth.’

Arren shuddered, but didn’t look up.

‘Apparently,’ Lord Rannagon continued, ‘You and he had some sort of disagreement, and then Eluna here decided to attack him before you both ran off.’ He was careful not to look at Eluna as he said this; accusations toward a griffin always had to be laid on the griffiner, if they were coming from a human.

Eluna answered for herself anyway. ‘The human deserved it. I should have killed him for what he said.’

‘Lord Celth says you nearly did. He’s demanding that you be locked up in the Arena. Along with Arren.’

Arren looked up at that. His eyes were bloodshot. ‘No!’ he moved in front of Eluna, putting himself between her and Rannagon. ‘Nobody touches her. Not for anything. I’ll kill anyone who tries, I swear!’

Rannagon raised his hands. ‘Arren, calm down! I didn’t say that’s going to happen. I’ve never sentenced any griffin to the Arena for knocking a desk over! Lord Celth was overreacting.’

Arren calmed down a little, but his glare toward Rannagon was furious. ‘He’s an evil old bastard. He deserved what he got.’

Despite himself, Rannagon chuckled. ‘I can see you’ve been spending time with that Redguard boy. Now listen. If Eluna had killed him, that would be the only time she could be sent to the Arena. But she didn’t, and he’s not hurt. But she still did assault him, and unless there was a very good reason for it, then there have to be consequences.’

‘What consequences?’ Arren’s fists were clenching.

‘Never mind that now. What did he say to you? What was the disagreement about?’

‘I went to ask him to make me his apprentice,’ Arren said.

‘And what did he say?’ Rannagon asked, knowing the answer already.

‘He said I couldn’t ever be a diplomat.’ Arren shuddered again. ‘He said I can’t have another apprenticeship ever, with anyone, because… because…’ he looked at the ground again, and his fists opened and closed.

‘Because?’ Rannagon prompted.

‘Because of what I am,’ Arren said, in a very small voice.

In all the years he had known him, Rannagon had never, ever seen the boy do anything but ignore or deny his heritage. ‘Well,’ he said, as gently as he could, ‘I’m afraid it’s Lord Celth’s right to refuse anyone who applies to work under him. But it certainly isn’t his right to say things like that. Is that all he said?’

‘He told me to stop being a griffiner,’ said Arren. ‘I said I never would.’

‘I know that,’ Lord Rannagon said with a smile.

‘And then he told me to die,’ Arren finished.

‘Oh.’ Rannagon’s expression changed. ‘And that’s when…?’


Rannagon glanced at Eluna.

‘It is true,’ she rasped. Her feathers were puffed out, almost standing on end, making her sleek form look spiked and savage. ‘The old one called me a fool and said I had chosen poorly, and his human told mine he should die rather than be a griffiner.’

‘I see.’ Rannagon had gone stern. ‘That’s different, then.’

‘It is?’ Hope showed through Arren’s distraught expression.

‘Yes. According to the law, there are times when a griffin can assault a human or another griffin and be justified. Insults are a grey area, but a death threat… that’s clear-cut. If Lord Celth suggested that you should die, then Eluna can be let off with a warning. Normally Shoa would handle that, but I think you two have been through enough for one day.’

Arren closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Thankyou.’ His eyes opened again. ‘I was so scared…’

‘I can understand that!’ said Rannagon. He patted Arren on the shoulder. ‘You know I’m fond of you, Arren, and I would never let anyone treat you unfairly because of where you came from. Not even another griffiner.’

‘I thank you as well,’ Eluna said gravely. ‘You are a true friend to us, Rannagon.’

Something like this, from a griffin, was very rare. Rannagon smiled. ‘I stand by the people I care about. Always have done, and always will. Now, why don’t you two come with me and I’ll give you something to eat? I think you could do with a rest.’

Arren followed him, feeling light-hearted. Everything was all right now.




Over toasted bread and cheese in Rannagon’s own quarters, Arren told him more about what had happened.

‘Yes, I heard about your last apprenticeship,’ Rannagon said. ‘It’s a shame…’

‘It wasn’t right for me anyway,’ said Arren. ‘I just wish I could find something else – anything else. I just don’t know where to go.’

‘You could always be my apprentice, you know,’ said Rannagon.

‘But you already have one, don’t you?’ said Arren.

‘Of course, but there’s no reason why I couldn’t have two.’

Arren thought of the things the Master of Law had to do, sentencing the worst criminals the city had to offer – murderers, rapists, blasphemers and traitors. Minor lawbreakers were dealt with by Rannagon’s underlings in the prison district – the Master of Law himself was only called into duty in the Council Chamber when the most appalling crimes had been committed.

His stomach churned. ‘I don’t think it would work,’ he said hastily. ‘Two apprentices, I mean. Which one of us would be Master after you retired?’

‘The Council would decide that,’ said Rannagon. ‘It would come down to who was more talented and knew the most.’

It would come down to who had brown hair and who didn’t, Arren thought bitterly.

‘Look,’ Rannagon said. ‘I’ll see what I can do to help you – talk to some of the Masters who don’t have apprentices, and do some persuading. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of possibilities. Why don’t you go back down to Idun – spend some time with your parents? They must be missing you.’

‘They don’t,’ Arren muttered.

‘Every parent misses their child, Arren. Trust me.’

‘My Dad hates me for being a griffiner. He doesn’t want to see me.’

‘Have you tried to talk to him?’ said Rannagon.


‘I don’t like him anyway,’ said Arren. ‘He’s not like my father. I wish you were my father.’ He started – he hadn’t meant to say it, even though he’d thought it plenty of times.

Rannagon looked embarrassed. ‘I’m really not that much of a father. Don’t be fooled. I spend far too much time working. As if smugglers and murderers were more important than family!’ his brows lowered. ‘Go and see your parents, Arren. You might not want to, but they’re still your parents, and you’ll regret it if you don’t.’

‘I’m too busy.’ Arren looked sulky.

‘Our parents make us who we are whether we like it or not, Arren,’ Rannagon said sternly. ‘Make the best of the time you have with them; one day they’ll be gone forever.’ His expression became distant. ‘I never was very close to my father. I went away to war to try and impress him; I thought that when I came back he’d see me, a man instead of a boy, and he’d be proud…’ A sigh. ‘When I came back I was a hero, and my father was dead. I never got to say goodbye. I spent so much time trying to prove myself to him that I wasn’t there to be the only thing he needed me to be – a son. That’s all a father ever wants, Arren.’

The genuine regret in Rannagon’s voice finally got through to Arren. ‘I suppose I could go for a visit.’

‘Go on,’ said Rannagon. ‘And I promise that when you get back, I’ll have a new apprenticeship waiting.’

Arren perked up. ‘All right.’

Though he was outwardly calm and determined, underneath his mind was turmoil.

He hadn’t mentioned his parents to anyone in ages, or even thought about them much. Now he tried to think of them, tried to remember his father’s face, his mother’s voice. They were dim and fuzzy now, details sliding out of his grasp. The strongest memory he had was of that last day, when Eluna had come for him and he had defied his father and flown away with her, into the life he wanted and should have, no matter what anyone said.

That was his last memory.

As he and Eluna left Rannagon’s quarters, Arren couldn’t stop worrying. What would his father say when he saw him again? Would he even speak to him? Arren knew he wouldn’t be allowed into the house. He had never forgotten what Cardock had said, that last day. If you leave, you can never come back. Arren had promised himself that he would come back, one day, but those words had lingered, rising up in his mind every time he thought of his parents.

Miserably, he returned to the thought that he had come to every time he considered returning to his parents: that they wouldn’t welcome him, and wouldn’t want to see him. His father didn’t love him any more, and his mother wouldn’t either. They wouldn’t want him back.

Not when he had stayed in Eagleholm, hidden away in the Eyrie, and hadn’t set foot in his birthplace or seen his parents even once in four long years.




‘I do not want to go,’ Eluna said when they were alone.

Arren wanted to agree, but found himself shaking his head. ‘We should go. Just for the day. Maybe we can find some food down there. And a better place to sleep. They’re going to kick us out of that stable any day now.’

‘There are animals near the village,’ Eluna admitted. ‘I need a good meal.’

‘And there’s the lake, too. Maybe we could go fishing. I think I’d like to be out of the city for a while, anyway – what about you?’

The white griffin shook out her wings. ‘I think it is time that we flew again.’

Arren blanched. ‘Oh no. I mean… I can just ride down on one of the lifters, it’d be easier…’

‘You cannot pay for it.’ Eluna snapped her beak. ‘You are a griffiner, Arren, and you must fly. If you will not sit on my back, then I shall carry you in my talons.’

Arren said nothing.

‘I will not let you fall,’ she said more gently. ‘Do you trust me?’

He hugged her around the neck. ‘More than anything.’

‘Good.’ She extricated herself with dignity. ‘Then we shall go.’


‘Now.’ Eluna sniffed the air. ‘Before the diplomat finds us.’

Arren started nervously and scampered down the corridor toward the lower levels of the tower. Eluna followed at a more leisurely pace. Whatever else her human was, she thought proudly, he was very fast.

They escaped the Eyrie without incident, and once they were in the open space around it Eluna caught up with Arren and nudged him with her shoulder.

‘Come,’ she said.

Very carefully, he hooked a leg over her shoulders and pulled himself up. She stumbled, but righted herself and flapped her wings once briskly. Arren settled into the hummock between her wings and neck, and held on. Most griffins wore harnesses – simple leather straps on their necks and heads that gave their human a place to hold on. Eluna’s had been lost some time ago, though, and Arren balanced as well as he could. His palms were sweating.

Eluna didn’t give him time to get too frightened; the moment he was safely on she rushed forward, talons clattering. Her wings opened and began to beat, rough and jerky, until, when she had reached full speed, she thrust herself into the air.

Arren’s yell followed the pair of then skyward. He clung to her neck with both arms, so hard he made himself tremble, and didn’t relax even slightly until she had levelled out into a glide. Eluna bore it patiently, as she had done before, and avoided the other griffins flying over the city.

It was a short flight from Eagleholm to Idun, and Eluna made it easily, moving in a long, slow line from the mountaintop and downward, bit by bit, over Eagle Lake and the lands around it until the village was in front of them. She landed easily at the edge of Idun, and without the clumsy forward lurch most griffins had when they landed with their own humans. Arren might be panicky in the air, but he was very light.

Arren fell off her back and lay on the ground. He twisted his hands into the grass beneath him and held on.

Eluna looked down on him. ‘Are you hurt?’

Arren had his eyes closed, and he breathed shakily. His face had gone the colour of snow. ‘Are… we… there…?’

‘We are,’ said Eluna. ‘Get up if you are not hurt.’

He sat up and rubbed his face. ‘Oh gods that was awful. I thought I was going to die…’

‘I shall never let you fall from my back,’ said Eluna. ‘And if you ever do, I shall catch you. I promise that.’

‘I trust you.’ Arren got up shakily and walked around until he felt calmer. ‘Let’s go.’

The village of Idun was fairly large, as villages went, being a stop-off point for traders coming to Eagleholm. It was also older than the mountaintop city, founded by the first settlers to reach this part of the country. Those early people hadn’t had griffins, or any desire to climb the supposedly magical mountain. When the first griffiners began to band together, they were the ones with the grandiose vision to build on top of Eagle’s Mountain and claim its magic for their own.

Idun, though, had continued to flourish, and plenty of craftspeople who couldn’t afford homes in the city lived there, taking their wares up to the markets via the huge lifting platforms.

The village hadn’t changed much as Arren remembered it. He climbed Snake Hill, where most of the houses stood, feeling a thick sadness in his throat when he recognised that building, this person. Even the hollows in the dirt road, the stunted tree with the dangling twigs tied to it, the rock outside the blacksmith’s, leapt out at him with memories of childhood games. Games he had played alone.

Further up the hillside he recognised more, and the sick feeling in his stomach grew unbearably. He had never been able to imagine that Idun could change, but now he saw that it hadn’t it almost frightened him. It was as though it had been here all this time, waiting for him to come back.

And there were the people. Oh yes, the people. They hadn’t changed much either. Some of them had aged, but they were all still there, watching him warily from a safe distance. None of them said anything. Arren ignored them. He had never been close to any of them as far as he could remember. Certainly not to their children.

He rounded a corner and there was his father’s leather goods stall, as rickety as he remembered, with the old boot hanging from the roof to serve as a sign.

The moment he saw it, the sickness in his stomach swung upward, surging into his throat. He turned around with a jerk, wide-eyed. ‘I can’t do this. Let’s go.’

Eluna regarded him for a moment. Then she said, ‘No. We must go.’

‘What?’ Arren almost wheezed the word.

‘You are afraid of this,’ she said. ‘Afraid to see them.’

‘I’m not!’ he snapped. ‘I just don’t want to. It’s stupid. We don’t belong here.’

‘You are afraid,’ she repeated. ‘You reek of fear.’

He looked miserable. ‘Who cares?’

Eluna came forward, nuding him with her beak. ‘Fear is a thing that must be fought and defeated, or it will grow. I will not see you afraid when there is no danger. Go, Arren.’


‘They will not hurt you,’ she said. ‘And I am here. Go.’

Slowly, despairingly, Arren turned around and trudged toward the house. His head was full of visions, each one worse than the last. He pictured his father, looming over him, mouth open wide to shout. I told you never to come back! You aren’t my son any more. Get out!

He swallowed a sob, and kept going, head bowed as if he were in a funeral procession. He heard the door open, but forced himself not to look up, afraid of what he might see.

Silence. A murmur. Then-

‘Arenadd? Is that you?’

Arren finally looked up, and his heart clenched like a fist when he saw his father standing there.

But Cardock didn’t look how he did in Arren’s memory. He looked smaller, older. There was grey in his curly hair and his beard. Arren didn’t know what his expression was.

He scuffed a boot in the dust. ‘Hullo, Dad…’

‘Arenadd! Oh my gods, it is you! I hardly… Annir! Come here! It’s Arenadd!’

Running feet at the door, and then they were on him – both of them wrapping him in their arms, holding him between them, saying his name.

Annir was in tears. ‘Arren! You’re back, I can’t believe you’re back, I missed you so much-,’

‘I thought you might be dead,’ Cardock said, and his voice sounded odd – all thick and watery, almost as if-

Arren pulled away. ‘Dad, you’re crying!’

Cardock coughed and wiped his nose. ‘It’s all right, son. I’m just so happy.’

Arren stared at him. ‘Happy? But – but I thought-,’

‘Thought what?’ his mother asked.

‘I thought you didn’t love me any more,’ Arren said.

‘Didn’t love you?’ Cardock sounded outraged. ‘Sweet Night God, boy, you’re my only son! How could I stop loving you?’

‘But I ran away,’ Arren babbled. ‘And you said I couldn’t ever come back, and-,’

Cardock’s arms enveloped him again. ‘Don’t talk nonsense. I was angry, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love you any more. I was angry because I loved you.’

Arren let go. ‘Really?’

‘I was trying to protect you, Arenadd. I didn’t want you to get hurt. And when you didn’t come back…’

‘I wanted to,’ said Arren. ‘But I thought-,’

‘Well it doesn’t matter,’ Annir interrupted. She kissed him on the forehead. ‘You’re home, and that’s all that matters to me. You’ve grown so much!’

‘He’s going to be as tall as me soon,’ Cardock chuckled. ‘That’s the Taranisäii blood, sure enough.’

‘And Eluna’s here too,’ Annir added, looking past them. ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’

Arren turned to look at her. ‘She’s precious. I look after her every day, just how Roland showed me.’

Eluna swished her tail. ‘You have things to do here,’ she said. ‘I will go and find food. Call if you need me.’

She loped off.

Arren’s parents ushered him inside, and sat him down at the table by the fire. He looked around, and felt tears gathering behind his eyes when he realised that he was home.

Annir busied herself getting some food, while Cardock examined him with a look that was both puzzled and worried. ‘By gods, boy, what have they been feeding you? And what are you wearing?’

Arren stared at the tabletop, embarrassed. His clothes had once belonged to Bran, and were much too big for him. The sole was coming off one of his boots.

‘Is this the sort’ve thing griffiners wear up in that city, then?’ Cardock said, with just a hint of cynicism.

‘Bran gave them to me,’ Arren managed.


‘He’s my friend.’

‘So this is how griffiners treat their friends, is it?’ said Cardock.

‘He’s not a griffiner. His dad’s a guard.’

‘Oh.’ Cardock’s expression changed. ‘That’s different, then. But didn’t any of those other griffiners help?’

‘Lord Rannagon helps us,’ said Arren. ‘He gives us food sometimes.’

Sometimes?’ Cardock’s eyes narrowed. ‘Take that shirt off.’


‘Just do it,’ said Cardock, in the stern tones of a father.

Reluctantly, Arren lifted his tunic.

Cardock looked horrified. ‘Holy night, you’re wasted away to nothing – when was the last time you ate?’

‘Today,’ Arren said quickly. ‘Lord Rannagon gave me some bread and cheese.’

‘And before that?’

Arren thought of the previous night’s meal, scraped together from Eyrie table scraps and some bits and pieces thrown away by traders at the markets. ‘Roland helps us too.’

‘But you’ve got a master, haven’t you? Some other griffiner who teaches you? Doesn’t he give you food?’

‘Sometimes. When he could afford it. He wasn’t paid much. But it doesn’t matter; he’s not my master any more.’

‘Why not?’ Cardock sat down opposite him.

‘I wasn’t right for it,’ said Arren. ‘It’s all right; Lord Rannagon’s going to find me a new master. He’s done it before.’

‘How many times?’


Cardock looked bewildered. ‘Is that normal?’

‘Not… sort of.’ Arren squirmed. ‘No.’

‘It’s not? So other people just have one master?’ Cardock said.

‘Yes. You get a master when you’re a new griffiner, and he teaches you his job so you can take over when he’s old or dies. I just haven’t found the right master yet, that’s all. But I will.’

‘So where are you living?’ said Cardock.

‘Nowhere, really. We found a stable to sleep in.’

‘Oh gods.’ Cardock buried his face in his hands. ‘Oh gods…’

Annir came over, and touched him on the shoulder. Her eyes, though, were on Arren. She looked horrified.

Arren rubbed his knuckles nervously. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… what did I do?’

Eventually Cardock looked up. There were tears on his face. ‘Were you really that angry with me?’ he asked hoarsely. ‘Were you so sure I didn’t want you back? You lived on the streets and let yourself starve rather than come home?’

‘It was just for a few days,’ Arren mumbled. ‘I’m all right.’

Annir put her arms around his neck, and kissed him on the cheek. ‘You should never think you’re not welcome here,’ she said, cradling his head against her. ‘Never. You’re our son, Arren, and you can always come home.’

Arren pressed himself against her, saying nothing.

‘Well now.’ Cardock wiped the tears away. ‘You’re home now, and you don’t have to leave again.’ He gave Arren a hopeful look, like a little boy.

Arren knew he still wanted to go back to the city, but nothing could have made him leave. Not now. ‘I’ll stay,’ he said. It was enough for now.

Cardock smiled weakly. ‘And the first thing we’ll do is make you some new boots. Those ones aren’t fit for scrap.’

‘The first thing we’ll do is give him a decent meal,’ Annir corrected. ‘Here.’

Arren took the bread and ate ravenously. It was freshly toasted, and though it was rougher and darker than the fine stuff Rannagon had given him, he loved it. It tasted of home. The bread wasn’t all, though. He had only just finished eating it when Annir followed it up with a bowl of stew, and a baked apple – his favourite.

Arren ate until he was stuffed, and after that Cardock hustled him into the workshop and measured him for a new pair of boots. They’d done it plenty of times when he was small; then it had been a tiresome ordeal, but now it was almost fun, and that was mostly because of Cardock.

He talked endlessly while he worked, suddenly transformed from a taciturn, frowning man into someone excited and talkative and much, much younger.

‘We’ve been selling plenty… the people hereabouts are used to us by now, and they don’t care about buying from a blackrobe. We work fast and we’re not too expensive, and that’s the main thing. Old Roland keeps sending leather down too, of course, and that saves us plenty of money… people love the idea of owning something made from the skin of a goat eaten by griffins… think it’ll put some magic in their boots. Daft headed Southerners. Listen, Arenadd – now you’re back, there’s something I should tell you.’

‘What’s that?’ said Arren, taking advantage of the brief silence.

Cardock looked serious now, almost grave. ‘There are things I have to teach you. Important things. Every Northern boy has to learn certain things when he becomes a man.’

‘What things?’ Arren began to get interested.

‘Secret things. Special things. Even… magical things.’ Cardock sighed. ‘If we were in the North, you’d go up into the mountains for the ceremonial hunt, and the priestesses would give you the sacred tattoos. Every Northern man had them once – every woman, too. You couldn’t grow up without them.’

‘What were they like?’ Arren asked.

‘The tattoos?’ Cardock’s eyes creased. ‘Blue, they were. Blue spirals. My father had them. I don’t remember so well nowadays… there was so much I never learned from him. Your mother knows some things too, even though her parents weren’t born in the North like mine. She’ll teach you as well.’

‘I’d like to learn,’ Arren confessed.

‘It depends, though,’ Cardock said. He hesitated a moment, and then began to speak the Northern language. ‘Do you remember, Arenadd?

Arren started. He almost gaped at him. ‘Er… er… I don’t know…’

Cardock’s black eyes were fixed on his face. ‘Do you remember?’

Very carefully, Arren dredged up the old knowledge from his memory. ‘I remember.’

‘Then I can teach you.’




Arren spent that night in his old hammock in front of the fire; it was a little short for him now. Eluna, returning with a belly full of who-knew-what, found she could fit into the workshop and so made herself a makeshift nest next to a pile of old boots.

When Arren woke next morning it was to an odd sense of déjà vu, and for a short while immediately after opening his eyes he forgot about all the time that had passed and all the things that had happened since he had last slept in this hammock in this house.

His mother was there to greet him, with porrige and fruit and warm smiles, as if he were small again.

It was odd to be treated like a child. People might look down on him for being a Northerner, but they almost always expected him to behave like an adult, and no-one ever assumed he couldn’t understand something because of his age. Arren had always taken it for granted, but now he relaxed and let himself embrace boyhood again.

It made him feel happier than he had been in a very long time.

After breakfast, Cardock called him into the workshop. Arren had expected to start learning these mysterious Northern secrets his father had hinted at the night before, and without meaning to he gave him an affronted look when he found himself being directed toward an awl and a heap of boot soles.

‘Go on, get to work,’ Cardock said in his old familiar way. The only difference was that now he said it in Northern. ‘Do you remember this too?’

Arren picked up the awl, selected a piece of leather and set to work making holes in it.

‘That’s it,’ Cardock said approvingly.

Working with the awl again was so unexpectedly enjoyable that Arren didn’t complain, but he began to get impatient. When was the special teaching going to start?

They had worked in silence for a while until, without any sort of introduction, Cardock started talking. ‘You know the language, and that’s an important thing to start with. A lot of what makes a people who they are is just words. Words for things, words for feelings and places. Names are words. Do you know where your name comes from?’

‘It’s from Arenadd the Sage,’ Arren said. ‘You told me before.’

‘But do you know where our name comes from?’ said Cardock.

Arren frowned. ‘What do you me- oh, Taranisäii? Is that what you mean?’

‘Yes. Do you know where that name comes from?’

‘I don’t think so. Not really. Where?’

‘It means “of the blood of Taranis”,’ said Cardock.


Cardock chuckled. ‘Well… no, not really. It’s not a real Northern word. I don’t know where it came from really, but my father used to say that one of our great-grandmothers was so strong and ferocious that other people would say she must be descended from Taranis the Wolf. One day when someone said that to her, she said, “I came from Taranis, aye”. And so from that day on they called her-,’

‘Taranisäii!’ Arren chimed in.

‘Exactly! Taranis, aye.’

They shared a laugh.

‘Are we really descended from Taranis?’ Arren asked.

‘There’s no way to know for sure,’ said Cardock. ‘It’s said every member of the Wolf Tribe is descended from him. And we’re Wolves, you and I. Your mother had no tribe at all, poor thing. None of her family lived to tell her, you see. But when I married her, she became a Wolf too. It wasn’t a proper ceremony, not without a priestess. But we did the best we could. We’ll teach you the ceremony, too, so that when you’re ready you’ll know what to do.’

Arren tried to imagine being married one day. His mind rebelled. ‘I always thought I’d get married in the Sun Temple like the other griffiners,’ he said.

‘No Northern man could ever marry in one of Gryphus’ sun temples,’ Cardock growled. ‘It’d be blasphemy.’

‘They wouldn’t let me in anyway,’ Arren said. ‘I wanted to see inside, but they wouldn’t let me. Not even when Lord Rannagon asked. I asked them to teach me about Gryphus.’

Something hardened in Cardock’s face. ‘And what did they do?’

‘They said I could never be one of Gryphus’ people. And I don’t want to be.’ Arren looked fierce. ‘It’s all nonsense anyway.’

Cardock relaxed. ‘Gryphus is real, boy, as real as the Night God. But he isn’t our god.’

‘I know.’

Cardock saw Arren’s sad expression, and patted him on the back. ‘It’s all right. Forget what they said. You don’t need Gryphus.’

‘I don’t need any god,’ said Arren.

‘Everyone needs a god,’ said Cardock. ‘They made us, and if we turn away from them it’s worse than turning away from our own parents. That’s why it’s every parent’s duty to teach their children about the gods. It’s no different than taking a child to meet his grandparents.’

‘I don’t want to worship a god,’ said Arren. ‘It doesn’t do anything. I tried.’

‘Doesn’t it?’ Cardock said sharply. ‘Then what will you do when you’re in trouble? Sometimes, the gods are all you have to turn to.’

Eluna is what I turn to.’

‘And what if she was gone, eh? What if she couldn’t help you?’

‘She can always help me,’ said Arren.

‘And so can the Night God. It’s time you learned about her, Arenadd.’

‘All right,’ Arren said reluctantly. ‘I do want to know about her. Is she like Gryphus?’

‘In some ways,’ said Cardock. ‘Gryphus is the Day God. His power is fire and light, and heat. It’s no wonder his followers are so loud and bright. Gryphus teaches them to conquer and master everything in the world, and to be afraid of darkness.’

‘I know all that,’ said Arren.

‘They’re all afraid of darkness, Southerners,’ Cardock continued. ‘They should be. Darkness is where the Night God rules.’

Arren looked thoughtful. ‘Does she have a name?’

Cardock nodded. ‘Her name is Scathach.’ The name sounded rough and hissing. ‘But most people just call her the Night God.’

‘Does she have Temples, like Gryphus?’

‘No. The Night God never had temples, or any buildings at all. It’s not her way.’

‘Then where do people go to worship her?’ Arren asked.

‘In the circles,’ said Cardock. ‘The stone circles. There aren’t many left now. When the Southerners took the North they knocked the stones down. I don’t know of any that weren’t destroyed. But there might still be some left, out there in the wilds somewhere. I hope so.’

Arren looked puzzled. ‘A stone circle? What does that look like?’

‘Well… I’ve never seen one myself,’ Cardock admitted. ‘Our people would take large stones, about as tall as a man, and make a circle with them. Sometimes they carved the stones with special patterns. Oh, and every circle always had thirteen stones. Thirteen for the thirteen full moons of the year.’

‘What did they do there?’ Arren asked. He had been slightly resentful, but this was interesting.

‘Everything. Births, deaths, marriages, sacrifices…’

‘Sacrifices?’ Arren stared. ‘You don’t mean-?’

‘Animal sacrifices,’ said Cardock. ‘At special times. I’m not sure which animals, but probably the sacred ones. Wolves, deer, hare, snake – the ones the tribes were named after.’

Arren relaxed. ‘So they didn’t kill people?’

‘I don’t know – I doubt it. They say things like that about us, to make us sound scarier.’ Cardock grinned. ‘It comes in handy sometimes. Next time someone’s making trouble, tell ’em you’ll drink their blood and turn into a wolf.’

Arren snickered. ‘Bet they’d believe it, too.’

‘No doubt. Anyway, so those were the stone circles, and that’s where the Night God was worshipped.’

‘I want to know more about her,’  said Arren. ‘What does she look like? What does she do? What are people supposed to do for her? Does she-?’

‘One at a time, boy, please!’ Cardock laughingly waved him into silence. ‘What does she look like? That one’s easy enough. Everyone knows that the Night God looks like one of us. She appears as a beautiful Northern woman, with only one eye.’

‘One eye? Why?’

‘Good gods, boy, didn’t you hear that story at least? I thought I told you when you were in swaddling clothes!’

Arren thought quickly. ‘Gryphus did it, right?’

‘Exactly. The Southerners tell that story too. The two gods fought, and Gryphus cut out Scathach’s eye. But she took the full moon and put it in the hole, and she uses the sickle moon as her weapon.’

Arren hadn’t known that part. ‘She doesn’t use a sword?’

‘Never.’ Cardock looked dreamy. ‘Long ago our people would charge into battle, wearing black robes and wielding sickles, with bones in their hair and blue spirals on their faces. They must have been a magnificent sight. They even attacked the South once.’

‘I know that.’ Arren scowled. ‘That’s why they’re all slaves now.’

Cardock put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Not all of us, Arenadd. Not all. And even in slavery, the Night God never left us. She loves us. We’re her chosen people.’

‘Then why didn’t she stop us from being slaves?’

‘The gods can’t do things like that,’ said Cardock. ‘That’s not what they do.’

‘Then what do they do?’

Cardock smiled. ‘They inspire us to do it ourselves.’

‘Huh. Then they’re useless.’ Arren stabbed the awl through a stubborn bit of leather.

‘Arenadd, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that a man only truly has anything if he works for it. Try and imagine how pointless life would be if anything you ever wanted was handed to you on a silver plate! The gods only do as much as we need them to.’

Cardock went on in this vein for some time, well after Arren had lost interest. He listened dutifully anyway, not wanting to upset his father, but perked up when Cardock finally said it was time for lunch.

Arren had that afternoon to himself. He spent it with Eluna. They didn’t do much; just wandered around the village, talking and exploring before settling down in a comfortable spot just behind the workshop so Arren could clean the griffin’s talons and check her feathers for parasites.

Neither of them talked about going back to the city. Even Eluna seemed content.

That night Arren ate dinner with his parents. Afterwards Annir took him aside and, as if they’d arranged it beforehand, she led him out of the house without saying a word. Arren, sensing something important was coming, didn’t ask questions.

Outside it was chilly. Arren’s breath misted in the air as he looked upward. A half moon shone through a layer of cloud, its light creating a gold ring.

Briefly Arren wondered if what his father had said was true. Was the Night God really watching him? Was the moon really an eye? What else could it be if it wasn’t?

He shivered.

Still silent, Annir walked away from the house, weaving through the other buildings in the village. Arren kept close behind her. They reached the top of Snake Hill and went down the other side, and on out of the village and into a field. During the day it was used as a pasture for goats, but now it was deserted and silvery in the night.

Annir walked to the centre, where there was a pool of water. There she sat down, cross-legged, and gestured at Arren to join her.

He sat beside her and looked down at the water. It was completely smooth and still; a perfect picture of the sky above. The moonlight reflected out of it, shining straight on Arren’s face.

‘What are we here for?’ he asked at last, almost reverentially.

Annir turned her head and smiled at him. ‘Your father asked me to teach you this. It’s the only thing I ever learned when I was a girl. My mother should have taught me, but I never knew her. I learned it from one of the old women I grew up with.’

‘What is it?’ Arren asked.


‘What?’ the peaceful feeling that had come over him disappeared. ‘Magic? But-,’

‘But what?’

‘Humans don’t have magic!’ Arren exclaimed. ‘Everyone knows that. Only griffins have magic. Eluna told me. Keth told me. Every griffin I ever talked to said so. They’re the ones who know about magic.’

‘Yes, I know griffins have magic,’ said Annir. ‘And it’s very powerful, too. But we have magic of our own. Just small magic, nothing that can move mountains.’

‘Where does it come from?’

‘From the Night God.’

‘What sort of magic is it?’ Arren asked, suspiciously. ‘What does it do?’

Annir shrugged. ‘Healing magic, magic for hunting, magic for making blessings and curses.’

‘Oh.’ Arren looked away, not wanting what he was thinking to show on his face. His mother had no idea what she was talking about. This “magic” wasn’t real magic; it was just superstition and rituals that didn’t do anything.

‘I don’t know any of those spells, though,’ Annir went on, oblivious. ‘I only know the one. And that’s what I’m going to teach you.’

‘All right. What does it do?’

‘It’s a divining spell,’ said Annir.

‘A what?’

She ignored him and leant over the pool. ‘Water and moonlight. That’s all you need. That and a prayer. Look into the water and say the words, and if you’re lucky the Night God will show you your future.’

‘Oh. Fortune-telling.’

‘I suppose. Now listen carefully and I’ll tell you the words. You have to remember them.’

Arren listened carefully, and his mother recited them. They were Northern words, and though he knew most of them the setting made them sound heavy and mysterious.


‘Plentyn yn tyfu’n ddyn,

Gorffennol ddaw’n bresennol,

Rhaid i amser fynd rhagddo

Arglwydd tywyll y nos, gweddïaf


Cwyd len y nos, rho i mi ond trem

Yn y nen, tair lleuad lawn ar ddeg,

Pob un yn fywyd blwyddyn,

Llygad y nos, agor led y pen,

Dangos fy nhynged i mi.’


He repeated them with her several times until he remembered them, and Annir was satisfied.

‘That’s all you have to say. But when you say it, you have to concentrate. Don’t just say them; mean them. You have to honestly want to see your future – really, desperately want to.’

‘Should I do it now?’ Arren asked.

‘Not now. It’s not the right time.’ Annir gestured skyward. ‘Wait until the moon is full. That’s when the Night God’s eye is open all the way, and that’s when she hears you the clearest.’

‘All right. Is that everything?’

‘No.’ Annir looked toward the water. ‘Say the words when you’re alone. Make sure the water is reflecting the moon – keep your eyes on it and don’t look away. Put your finger in the water and make a circle – thirteen times. If the vision comes, you’ll see it in the ripples.’

‘I’ll try it, then,’ said Arren. ‘When the moon’s full.’

‘Wait,’ said Annir. ‘Don’t do it until it feels right. You can only do it once in your life. If a time ever comes when everything looks uncertain and you don’t know what will happen – when you really and truly need guidance, do it then.’

Arren glanced at her. ‘Did you ever do it?’

‘Yes, when I was very young. I was about to be sold, and I didn’t know who to or where I’d go. So I tried it.’

‘Did you see anything?’ said Arren.

‘No.’ Annir smiled. ‘Not that I remember. Maybe it was the wrong time. But the Night God still heard me. I was sent to Eagleholm just as the griffiners were selling off all their slaves, and the trader didn’t want to pay to send me back where I came from so he set me free and let me wander off into the countryside. I wasn’t worth enough to keep.’

She’d never told him this story before. ‘How did you end up here, then?’

‘I didn’t know where I was going,’ Annir said. ‘I just found a road and followed it until I found Idun.’ She smiled. ‘And the sweetest boy was living there as a bootmaker’s apprentice. He gave me a home. And after that he gave me a son.’

‘That’s amazing,’ said Arren. ‘Dad must have been the only other Northerner in these lands, and you found him.’

‘I know.’ Annir sat back with her legs stretched out in front of her and her hands propping her up behind. She looked much younger then, like the girl she had been when she had come to Idun. She looked at Arren – a look full of love. ‘I believe the Night God guided me. She wanted me to find your father.’


‘So that we could make you, Arenadd.’ She leaned over and kissed the top of his head. ‘And we made you a free man.’

He squirmed. ‘Aw, stop that, Mum.’

She laughed. ‘I mean it! You know, when I was a girl I always swore I would never have children. I couldn’t bear the thought of birthing a child into a life of slavery. But when I was free, I was free to be a mother. To me, it was the best thing I was given after I came here.’

Not for the first time, guilt bit into Arren. ‘I’m sorry I left.’

‘It’s all right. Every boy wants to try and do his own thing when he gets old enough. It’s natural.’

‘Hm.’ Arren looked away.

Silence, for a time.



‘I’m going back to the city. You know that, don’t you?’

‘Yes, Arenadd, I do. Both of us do.’

‘But that’s… all right, isn’t it?’

‘You know we both want you to stay. But you’re a griffiner now, and you can’t be one here. You’ve learned so much from those people in the Eyrie, and it’ll give you a much better life than we could offer you.’

Arren looked up at her. ‘Really? You mean that?’

‘Eluna’s looked after you this long. I trust her to keep you safe. Just keep visiting us. Let us know when you need help, make sure we know you’re all right. And don’t be afraid to come back when you need to.’

‘I promise,’ said Arren. ‘On my honour as a griffiner.’




In the end, Arren stayed with his parents for less than a week. He had enjoyed the first day, and he enjoyed the second too. But by the third day, he was beginning to feel the urge to leave. The question of what might be happening back at the Eyrie started to nag at him.

And he was bored with his parents. The teaching Cardock had promised had been over in less than a day – though his father talked some more about the Night God during the next few days, Arren quickly realised that he didn’t really have anything more to say. He was just repeating what he’d already said, fumbling for more than what he actually had. As for Annir, she was apparently satisfied with the little she’d passed on, and only wanted to spend time with her son.

Once the “teaching” was done, he found himself doing what he’d done for most of his early childhood: helping his father in the workshop, making boots and bags and other things. Cardock acted like this was the most natural thing in the world, but for Arren it rankled. He hadn’t come home to work.

Guilt made him stay well after he had started wanting to leave, but Eluna soon started to say she wanted to go “home” as well. Duty might have made him stay, but Eluna was more than enough to make him leave.

One morning, a bare four days after his arrival, Arren did what seemed best.

‘I’m going back,’ he said, while breakfast was being cleared away. ‘Today.’

Both his parents stared at him as if they’d been slapped.

‘Today?’ Annir repeated. ‘Why?’

Arren looked uncomfortable. ‘Well… I can’t stay forever. You knew I had to go back.’

‘But you just got here!’

‘I’ve been here four days,’ said Arren.

‘But why do you have to go so soon?’ said Annir. ‘Can’t you stay longer?’

Arren glanced out the window, to where Eluna was waiting. ‘I have to go. Lord Rannagon’s finding me a new apprenticeship; I promised I’d be back to see him soon.’

Cardock stood up. ‘Now look here, boy, you can’t do this.’

‘Do what? I just came back for a visit.’

‘This is your home, Arenadd. Do you think we’re your servants, waiting here patiently ready for whenever you decide to show up? We’re your parents. Your place is here, with us.’

‘I’m a griffiner, and my place is in the Eyrie,’ said Arren, a little shakily.

‘You’re a Northerner, and your place is with your own people.’

‘But you knew I had to go back, Dad. I never said I was going to stay.’

‘If you have to keep going back to that Eyrie to do your apprenticeship, I won’t stop you,’ said Cardock. ‘But I want you to live here again. Fly back to the city in the morning and come back at night.’

‘You could do that,’ Annir said brightly. ‘Doesn’t that sound good?’

‘You don’t understand,’ said Arren. ‘An apprentice has to live with his master. I can’t come back here every night.’

‘Why, what do they teach you when you’re asleep?’ Cardock asked sourly. ‘Hm?’

‘I just can’t do it,’ Arren mumbled. ‘It’s too much flying. Eluna wouldn’t like it.’ He tried to imagine having to fly to Idun and back every day for his entire apprenticeship. Vertigo gripped him at the very idea.

Cardock was oblivious to his son’s fear. ‘Don’t shut yourself away again, Arenadd. You need to be with us, and we need you. Nobody should grow up alone.’

‘My name is Arren. And I’m not alone.’

Cardock looked bewildered. ‘What’s wrong with you, Arenadd? I taught you everything, the way I promised. I thought… I thought you were learning, I thought I showed you to be proud of who you are.’

That was when Arren finally told the truth.

‘I’m never going to be proud of it, Dad.’

Cardock sat down again. He seemed to shrink, right before Arren’s eyes. ‘How could you say that? I taught you-,’

‘Yes, you did. I wanted to know. I really did. And I did learn. I learned about the past. This isn’t the past. This is the present. Our people were great once, but… not any more. Not for a long time.’ Arren drew himself up. ‘That’s why I’m doing all this. That’s why I stayed at the Eyrie and didn’t come home. I wanted to be a griffiner all my life, but it’s not enough for me any more. I’m going to go back to the Eyrie and I’m going to find a new master, and this time I’m going to finish my apprenticeship. Nothing and nobody is going to stop me. I’ll be a master, and I won’t stop until I have a place on the Council. One day I could even rule my own Eyrie. This one, or another one – it doesn’t matter. Because you know what? After I spent all that time listening to you, I finally realised something.’ Arren lifted his chin. ‘I realised that all my life I’ve been fighting to move forward, and become something more. More than just a peasant boy, more than just a blackrobe. You’ll see one day. I won’t just be a griffiner. I’ll be the greatest, most powerful griffiner there ever was.’

Cardock looked away. ‘Griffiners destroyed our land,’ he said, very quietly. ‘They put those collars on us.’

‘And a griffiner set you free,’ said Arren. ‘Time moves forward, Dad. And so I.’

Cardock stood up again. ‘I knew you’d changed. I just never knew how much.’ He came closer. ‘You’ve turned into one of them. Full of big ideas and fancy words. And you’ve become just as power-hungry as they are as well.’ He put his hands on Arren’s shoulders, and looked him in the face. ‘But you’re still my son. And nothing will ever change that.’

Arren couldn’t look him in the eye. ‘Thanks, Dad.’

‘Now listen,’ Cardock said sternly. ‘I’ve done everything I could, and if you won’t listen to that, then this is all I have left for you. Whether you worship her or not you still belong to the Night God, and she’ll watch over you all your life. But even she isn’t the true heart of a Northerner. My father told me this, and I want you to remember it. It’s the truth of what we really are.’

Arren looked up. ‘I’ll remember.’

‘Never take a blow without returning it,’ said Cardock. ‘Argue with every lie you hear. Never let someone insult you and get away with it. Take what’s offered. Never give in. Fight until your last breath.’ He grinned. ‘And never say no to a woman.’

Arren grinned back. ‘I’ll remember those. I promise.’

Cardock let him go, and he went outside to join Eluna.

Annir gave her husband a look. ‘I’m not sure your father told you that last one.’

‘No.’ Cardock laughed. ‘But we both want grandchildren, don’t we?’

Outside, Arren had already climbed onto Eluna’s back. ‘Thankyou for everything you taught me,’ he said solemnly. ‘We’ll come back and visit. Next time it’ll be sooner, I swear.’

‘It had better be,’ Cardock growled. ‘Or else I’ll come up to that city and find you myself.’

‘Understood.’ Arren waved to them. ‘Goodbye.’

‘Be careful,’ Annir called. ‘Look after him, Eluna.’

The white griffin huffed aggressively.

‘She will,’ said Arren.

Eluna said nothing. She turned away, and took to the air, leaving Cardock and Annir watching on the ground. Alone again.




During the flight back, Arren was surprised to find he felt a good bit calmer than before. What he had said to his parents that morning had made him feel odd – nervous, but excited and full of powerful certainty at the same time. He wasn’t quite sure where his speech had come from; it had sprung into his mind fully-formed just moments before he said it, as if it had been waiting for the right time. And when he had said them, he had known – completely and with all his heart – that he believed them. They were a truth he’d been searching for all this time.

He clung to that truth now, nursing it like a precious jewel. Now he knew it, he knew everything he needed to know. This was why he’d stayed in Eagleholm, clinging on stubbornly at the edges of griffiner society. This was why he’d suffered through so many pointless apprenticeships and kept coming back. This was what he truly wanted, and had wanted for a long time. He would be a master, and more, and nothing and nobody would ever stop him.

Once, years ago, Lord Rannagon had told him that the moment when someone discovered their greatest desire in life was the moment when they became an adult.

Now I know my desire.

He thought of that for the rest of the journey.

They landed near the Eyrie and walked toward the nearest entrance.

‘Eluna,’ Arren said.

The white griffin turned her head slightly. ‘Yes?’

‘I’ve decided to get a tattoo.’

Eluna clicked her beak. ‘A skin drawing? Why?’

‘I think I’m ready for it. And besides, I’ve thought up a picture.’

‘Do what you wish,’ she said indifferently. ‘For now, we have other things to worry over.’

‘Yes, of course.’ Arren began to feel nervous. ‘Let’s go find him.’

When they entered the Eyrie they were told that Lord Rannagon was elsewhere. Not having anywhere else to go, Arren and Eluna loitered in the passageway outside his office until he returned.

Shoa was in front, haughty as always. When she saw them she tilted her head to look at them, huffed and pushed past Eluna into the office. Arren had spent enough time around griffins to recognise contempt when he saw it, and he made a rude gesture at her back.


Arren turned hastily. ‘Lord Rannagon. Hullo.’

Rannagon looked tired, but he was smiling. ‘What a surprise to see you back! I thought you’d still be off with your parents. Did you go and see them?’

Arren trailed him into the office with Eluna. ‘Yes. We just came back.’

‘You didn’t feel like staying longer?’

Arren fidgeted. ‘I wanted to come back and see if you’d… see what you’d been doing.’

Rannagon reached his desk and sat behind it. ‘You want to know if I’ve found you a new master. I understand. Sit down.’

Arren obeyed. Behind him, Eluna said ‘We have been without a home too long. Tell us what you have done, yellow-furred human.’

Rannagon looked amused. ‘I’ve done everything I could. But I’m afraid it’s not what I was hoping for.’

‘Tell us,’ said Arren. ‘We can take it.’

‘All right.’ Rannagon put his hands on the desk in front of him. ‘I talked to everyone, including the Eyrie Mistress. Asked questions, did some persuading… called in some favours. It took a while, but I did find a master who might take you on. More or less.’

Arren’s heart beat faster. ‘Who?’

‘I’m not sure you’ll want to take it, Arren. You can still be my apprentice, you know. That offer still stands.’

‘Who is it?’ Arren persisted. ‘Just tell me.’

‘Very well. Do you remember Lord Cyric?’

‘Uh… you mean the Master of Trade? I don’t know if I’ve met him.’

‘You have,’ said Rannagon. ‘He’s a council member. Was, anyway. He was there the day you flew in and surprised us all. You’d remember him. He’s very old.’

Arren remembered then. ‘Him? Why would he want to take me on? He didn’t even want me to be a griffiner.’

‘No, he didn’t, and he kept arguing with us for some time after then. But times have changed.’


‘His griffin died,’ said Rannagon. ‘He lost his place on the council, and his place in the Eyrie. He was disgraced after his last apprentice left the city without permission and never came back. Nowadays he lives out in the city and doesn’t visit the Eyrie any more.’

‘So why would he want me?’ said Arren.

‘He doesn’t. But since his apprentice walked out on him there’s nobody to be his successor when he dies. And he will die; he’s not a well man at all. Unfortunately for him since he’s disgraced and griffinless nobody wants to be his apprentice. I paid him a visit and told him that the law demands that he train someone to be Master of Trade, and that since you were available he didn’t have any other choice. He didn’t like it, but he gave in, and if you want it the apprenticeship is yours.’ Rannagon frowned. ‘I don’t think you’ll enjoy it much, but one thing I can promise is that this master won’t dismiss you. He can’t. No matter what happens, you stay.’

Arren couldn’t believe what he was hearing. ‘So if I take it, I’ll be Master of Trade one day?’

‘If everything goes to plan.’

His mind raced. The Master of Trade had a place on the council and a home in the Eyrie, as a matter of law and tradition. If Lord Cyric was as old and sick as Rannagon said, then it was just a matter of time. And then… he would be Lord Arren, Master of Trade. Council member.

His excitement finally showed, in a huge joyful grin. ‘I’ll take it!’

‘Don’t be so quick, Arren. I’m warning you; he won’t treat you well.’

‘I don’t care.’ Arren lost his grin. ‘What else do I have? I can take this and put up with a grouchy old man, or I can starve on the streets.’

‘You can still be my apprentice,’ said Ranagon.

‘You already have one. And I don’t want to be Master of Law anyway. I’ll be Master of Trade. It’s perfect for me.’

‘You think so?’

‘Yes. I grew up with a trader, didn’t I? Eluna, what do you think?’

‘I think,’ she said, ‘That my human has made up his mind. And I think that he would do this thing well. If it must be Master of Trade, then it shall be. I trust you very much, Rannagon, but I do not think my human and I should be here with you. Arren does not want to be Master of Law, and I do not want to live beside that foul-tempered old hen.’

Fortunately Shoa hadn’t stayed in the room to hear that.

Arren snickered behind his hand. Even Lord Rannagon looked amused.

‘So be it then,’ he said. ‘I’ll give you directions to Cyric’s house.’

‘Thankyou so much, my Lord,’ Arren said. ‘You’ve done so much for us – if there’s ever anything I can do in return, just name it.’

‘It’s enough to know you’re all right, Arren,’ Rannagon said. ‘It’s my purpose in life to see justice done. Letting you starve the way some people in this Eyrie want wouldn’t be justice. And you’re a good lad. You deserve better.’

‘Thankyou, my Lord.’ Arren twined his fingers together. ‘Could- could I, uh, borrow some money?’

‘Of course.’ Rannagon rummaged through a drawer and tossed him a bag of gold oblong. ‘Buy yourself some new clothes. It might make Cyric a little friendlier if you show up looking neat.’

‘I always look neat,’ said Arren.




Once they had the directions to Cyric’s house Arren and Eluna left the Eyrie. But they didn’t go straight to find the Master of Trade. Instead, Arren led the way directly to the part of the city where the craftsmen lived. Blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters and other skilled people all ran their businesses there. Most of them had stalls in the market district as well. Arren knew the area by now, and he knew where to go.

First he visited a tailor, and bought a new tunic and leggings that fitted fairly well. There was still plenty of money left over, and he went to do the final place he had planned to visit.

It was a small shop, tucked away between a baker and a herbalist. He’d passed it many times in the past, but had never gone inside. Bran, though, had told him about what went on there.

Heart pattering, he left Eluna in the street and went inside.

He’d barely stepped through the doorway when the tattooist appeared. When he saw them he almost walked out again in sheer bewilderment. The tattooist was a willowy blonde woman, whose skin was just as pale as his was. She had dark rings around her eyes, and her arms and legs were covered in tattoos.

‘Don’t stand about, laddie,’ she said in a rough, no-nonsense voice. ‘What are you doing in here? Good grief, you’re a Northerner. Fancy that. But anyone’s welcome in here so long as they ain’t drunk and got money. What do you want?’

Arren blinked at her. ‘Uh… a tattoo?’

‘This one’s sharp. How big, what colours and where? Sit down, for Gryphus’ sake.’

There was a bench along one wall, with some stools lined up. Arren picked one at random, and rolled up his sleeve. ‘I want it right here. About this big.’

‘Easy enough. What picture? A heart, maybe? A sunwheel? Always popular for them that want good luck. What’m I saying? No way a Northerner wants a sunwheel. I heard like the sun makes you people turn into ashes. Total nonsense. What did you want? Come on, name a picture. Give us a design. Got some on the wall if you ain’t got a thought.’

Arren did his best to take all this in. ‘I want,’ he said, very slowly and deliberately, ‘A wolf.’

‘Can do that. What sort of wolf?’

‘Just the head. A wolf’s head, right here. Holding the moon in its mouth.’

The tattooist looked interested. ‘H’m. Now here’s a challenge. Got colours in head?’

‘Make it blue,’ said Arren. ‘Just the wolf. The moon should be white.’

‘Ain’t got white. Doesn’t work. You’re white already anyway.’

‘Oh. Uh… yellow, then.’

‘Yellow how?’ the tattoist countered.

‘Yellow like your hair,’ Arren said at once.

She cackled. ‘Nice one. You got anything else for me?’

Arren thought. ‘I want you to put a symbol inside the moon. In black.’

‘What symbol’s that? Not a sunwheel?’

‘No. Have you got some ink?’

‘Bottles full. Not givin’ you any, though. Use this, see if it works.’

Arren took the charcoal stick and looked for a place to use it. ‘You don’t have any paper, do you?’

‘What, do I look rich? Just draw on the wall; it’s grubby enough anyway.’

Arren stood up, and drew the symbol on the wood. ‘There. Can you do it?’

The tattooist inspected it. ‘Never seen nothing like that. Can draw it, though. Is it one of your lot’s heathen marks?’


‘Wonderful. Sit that skinny backside down an’ I’ll get to it.’

Arren obeyed, trying his hardest not to laugh. The tattooist selected some bottles of ink and unpacked a selection of needles. They looked horribly sharp.

Arren looked away stoically. He refused to make a sound when the first needle penetrated his arm.

This wasn’t a stone circle, and the tattooist was as far away from a priestess as you could get, but it would do. From this day on, Arren Cardockson was a man.





Neato text ornament here