The Death of Skandar Taranisäii

Skandar Taranisäii sat with his back to the bars, and thought about the past. The past was all he wanted to think of now. He already knew everything the future had ready for him.

That was the thing about being a slave. All your choices were made for you. No need to think, not any more. That was how the pale-haired scum wanted you to be. Don’t think, don’t talk – just obey.

Around his neck the collar chafed, but he didn’t dare adjust it. They hurt no matter how you wore them – that was what they were made to do.

While he sat and thought, Kerwin stumped over. ‘Give us some room, Skandar?’

Skandar shuffled aside. ‘Ain’t much room in here, but help yerself. How’s the arm doin’?’

‘What d’you mean how’s it doin’?’ Kerwin snorted. ‘Killin’ me is what it’s doin’.’

‘Cheer up,’ Skandar advised.

‘Not much point in that, mate,’ Kerwin said. ‘No-one’s buyin’ me like this. Why else do you think I’m in with you an’ the others? We’re done for.’

‘S’pose it’s the best the likes of us can hope for,’ Skandar muttered. ‘I’m just thinkin’ about Caradoc. Just knowin’ he’s gonna be all right is enough for me.’

‘Don’t worry, Kerwin!’ Treasa yelled from across the cell. ‘Ole Skandar’s gonna get us out, right? Got some big clever plan, ain’tcha?’

Skandar chuckled darkly. ‘She’s got me worked out. I was gonna bite through the bars an’ fly away. Ye can come with me, if ye like.’

Treasa laughed, along with her brother Tierny. It was weak laughter, but at least it had a note of defiance.

Skandar sighed. ‘Well, here we are,’ he said. ‘End of the road. Look, everyone – before it’s too late, I just want t’say it’s been great knowin’ ye. I know some of us think we ain’t true Northerners no more once the collars go on, but it’s a lie. We’re Northerners, real Northerners, an’ we’ll be that ’till we die. Nothin’ an’ nobody could ever change that.’

They looked surprised.

‘Skandar, I always believed that,’ Treasa said. ‘Because of you. You was the one what taught me t’be proud of what I am.’

Skandar looked away. ‘That’s nice of ye t’say-,’

‘It’s true,’ Edan put in quietly. ‘For all of us. An’ for what it’s worth, it’ll be an honour to die beside you.’

Skandar smiled. ‘Do ye know what’d be a bigger honour, for me? T’die fightin’ beside ye.’

Tierny started to grin. ‘Yer can bet I’m gonna do that.’

‘Yeah,’ Treasa growled. ‘We’ll show them bastards how real Northerners die.’

They looked fiercely at each other, as if daring anyone to disagree. Nobody did.

‘Know what?’ said Kerwin. ‘We oughta make a plan. Anyone here see the Arena before?’

‘I have,’ said Edan. ‘Had t’help clean it once.’ He shuddered.

‘Didya see the fight?’

‘No, but I heard stories.’

‘That’s a good idea,’ said Skandar. ‘Tell us everythin’, Edan. What sort’ve weapons will we have? What’s the space like? Kerwin’s right – we should have a plan. Fight together an’ make it a battlefield.’

The others agreed loudly, and as if they’d planned on it beforehand they clustered around Skandar and he found himself surrounded by expectant stares.

Memories came flooding back to him, and they were old and fierce, and Northern.

‘Edan,’ he said. ‘What weapons will we have?’

‘Spears. I saw one broken… reckon they’d be about this long.’

‘An’ the space? What’s the ground like?’

‘It’s a round thing, the Arena. Big high walls. No way of climbin’ out. Ground’s covered in sand – they bring in new stuff every now an’ then from the lake. Soaks up the blood, see?’

Skandar thought. ‘What about the griffins? Do ye know how many there’ll be?’

‘No. I’d guess it depends on how many poor bastards they wanna kill. What I can tell yer, though, is that they won’t be flyin’.’


‘Yeah. They keep the wings chained. The griffins can flap but they can’t fly.’

‘That’ll make it easier,’ said Skandar. ‘Now listen. I know griffins, an’ there’s ways of makin’ ’em back off.’

Tierny looked cynical. ‘Like what?’

‘They won’t run onto a point,’ said Skandar. ‘So if we keep close together with the spears pointed outward, we might be able t’stop ourselves from bein’ overwhelmed. That won’t last us too long, though, not unless we do it right.’

‘How?’ a voice called from behind him.

Skandar looked over his shoulder, and blinked in surprise when he saw dozens of other slaves listening. The ones in the cells opposite his had moved over to the bars to hear him.

He stood up. ‘We stand in a ring, spears outward, right? An’ we hold together. We don’t attack, just defend. As long as we hold the ring, we’ll be safer. Panic, run, they get ye. If we stay together, we live!’

The slaves chattered excitedly amongst themselves, passing the plan along from cell to cell.

Skandar watched them, and felt unexpectedly sad. Was there really any point in giving them false hope like this?

But he stopped himself. They knew they were going to die – every man and woman here knew they didn’t have any hope of surviving this. False hope was still better than nothing at all.

Skandar sat down again, and comforted himself with thoughts of his son. No matter what happened to him, young Caradoc would still be safe. Another Taranisäii, surviving somewhere in the world. Skandar closed his eyes and prayed silently to the Night God. Watch over him, Night God. Keep him safe.




Caradoc Taranisäii sat in the corner of the room, silent and motionless. His shoulders were hunched, and he stared at something in his hands, stared at it as if hypnotised.

The collar hung open, the tiny spikes inside it still stained with blood. At the point where it opened, the locking mechanism poked out. The moving pieces of it were bent and twisted, broken beyond repair – when he tried to close the collar it fell open. It would never clamp around his neck, never weigh him down, never hurt him again.

He wished he knew why he could look at it now, and feel nothing.

When the door opened, he stood up without even thinking, hiding the collar behind his back. Saying nothing, he watched warily.

It was only Roland. Young, yellow-haired and finely dressed, he still had a dignified manner, as if part of him didn’t know that he wasn’t a griffiner any more and never would be again.

He smiled at the boy. ‘There you are, Cardock! What are you doing?’

Caradoc ducked his head instinctively. ‘I’m sorry, sir…’

‘Cardock!’ Roland came closer, frowning. ‘What’s that behind your back? Come on, show it to me.’

Caradoc obeyed immediately, avoiding eye contact.

Roland took the collar. ‘Look at me,’ he said sternly.

Caradoc did.

Roland held up the hated thing. ‘You see this, Cardock? Are you really looking at it?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Can you tell me what it means? Well?’

‘No, sir,’ Caradoc mumbled.

‘It means you don’t have to call me “sir” any more,’ Roland said fiercely. ‘You’re free, Cardock. Free. And I don’t want to hear you call me “sir” ever again. Understand?’

‘Yes, s- yes.’

‘Call me Roland. It’s my name. Just Roland. No titles or anything. Can you do that, Cardock?’

Caradoc made himself stand a little taller. ‘I can, Roland.’

‘Good.’ Roland hurled the collar away. ‘Now let’s go!’


‘To get you some proper clothes, of course!’ Roland said cheerily. ‘You don’t need to wear that awful robe any more. Come on!’

Caradoc followed him out of the room, keeping behind him out of habit. You didn’t walk ahead of a master, or you got beaten.

Roland took him into his own quarters – he’d only just moved into them. After the death of his griffin partner he had been forced to move out of the Eyrie tower. His belongings hadn’t been put away yet, and he went to a box by the bed and opened it. ‘Now, these are left over from when I was a boy. Most of my old clothes are gone, but I kept these to pass onto my own son one day. Go on, choose something!’

Roland might not be a boy any more, but he definitely sounded like one.

Caradoc went through the heap of clothes, and felt his stomach twist. Velvet, fine linens, dyed leather and feathers – he couldn’t wear this! It was… it was…

Roland was looking at him expectantly. ‘Well? Do you see anything that could fit?’

Caradoc quickly picked out a tunic and a pair of trousers. ‘I think… I think I could wear these…?’ he ended on a question without even meaning to.

‘Yes, they look about the right size,’ said Roland. ‘I’ll just go outside and wait while you try them on. Don’t worry if they don’t fit – just try something else!’

He left, closing the door behind him.

Alone, Caradoc fingered the expensive cloth. All of a sudden, he felt a little thrill. Checking to make sure he was really alone, he snatched up a velvet cape and touched it, smelling it and rubbing it on his cheek. It was wonderful and soft, like fur, but without the oily stench, and the inside was lined with some smooth cloth whose name he didn’t even know.

He glanced at the door again. It was still closed. Heart pattering, he pulled the cape over his shoulders. The clasp was missing, so he held it in place with one hand and tried a little twirl. The velvet swirled around him magnificently, and he almost laughed.

Suddenly bold, he put the cape aside and tore off the coarse black robe of a slave. Bare-chested, he went straight to the fire and thrust the hated thing in. He took off the matching trousers and put those in as well, and watched as the flames licked around them.

They were woollen and refused to burn properly. The cloth steamed and curled, giving off a foul stench.

Caradoc snarled. He snatched a lamp from the wall, opened it, and splashed the oil over the reeking black mass.

The fire whooshed up the chimney, and he backed off hastily when the heat scorched his face.

Then the robe burnt.

Grim-faced, Caradoc went back to the bed and put on the tunic he’d chosen. It was too wide in the shoulders, but it fit more or less. All the trousers were too wide as well, but he picked out the pair that were closest and put a belt around his waist to hold it all together. He kept his old boots.

Feeling irrationally frightened, he went to the door and opened it.

Roland was waiting, and he looked at Caradoc with – was that pride? ‘Don’t you look respectable now! I knew proper clothes would suit you. How’s your neck feeling?’

Caradoc touched it. ‘It hurts a bit.’

‘Don’t worry, it should heal cleanly. Tomorrow we’ll take the bandage off and check on it. Now, would you like something to eat?’

‘Yes, Roland.’

They shared some cheese and strayberries – Roland’s favourite. Caradoc kept quiet and respectful the whole time, but for some reason that didn’t seem to please Roland at all – he saw the young man giving him odd, frowning looks as he were doing something wrong.

Nervous, Caradoc stopped eating and folded his hands in his lap.

‘Is there something wrong?’ Roland asked.

‘No, sir.’

‘I told you, call me Roland.’

Caradoc cringed. ‘I’m sorry, I meant… Roland. Sorry, Roland.’

Roland gave him that frown again, and he shrank back even further.

‘Are you sure you’re feeling all right?’

Caradoc said nothing.

‘You can tell me,’ Roland persisted. ‘Anything you need, anything that’s bothering you…’

‘I want to go home,’ Caradoc whispered.

Roland stared at him. ‘What?’

Silence, once again.

‘Now look here, Cardock,’ said Roland. ‘You’re not making any sense. What do you mean, “home”? What home are you talking about?’

Caradoc said nothing.

‘Not the cages?’ Roland ploughed on. ‘Not back in with the slaves – you don’t mean that, do you? Or – are you talking about the North? You want to go back there? Is that it?’

Still, Caradoc said nothing.

Roland’s frown deepened. ‘Where? Where’s “home”, Cardock? Where do you want to go? Answer me, for gods’ sakes!’

Caradoc burst into tears. ‘I don’t know!’

Roland stood up. ‘Now, then – just hold on a – Cardock, what’s wrong? Why won’t you just tell me? Cardock, please…’

But Caradoc couldn’t talk to him. He turned away, curling in on himself, and shuddered with sobs. He wished he could stop – you weren’t supposed to cry, you had to be quiet, had to… had to… do what? There weren’t any rules any more, there was nobody telling him what to do. There was… nothing.

A hand touched him on the shoulder. He shied away, trying to shield himself with his hands, but Roland’s voice came, and it wasn’t shouting or angry. ‘Cardock. Cardock, please don’t cry. It’s all right. You’re not going to be hurt, not ever again. I won’t let it happen.’

Caradoc calmed down, little by little. ‘I want my dad.’

‘Is that it?’ Roland let go of him. ‘Your father – what was his name?’

‘He’s Skandar. Skandar Taranisäii. And I’m Caradoc, not Cardock.’

‘Hm.’ Roland rubbed his chin. ‘Do you know where he is – if he’s been sold or not?’

‘No.’ Caradoc sniffled.

‘Well then, let’s go and find out!’ said Roland, all brisk and commanding again.

Caradoc’s face lit up. ‘Can we?’

‘We most certainly can.’ Roland gave him a mischievious look. ‘Tell me, have you ever wondered what the inside of the Eyrie looks like?’

‘Yes,’ Caradoc admitted. ‘But we can’t-,’

‘Can’t what?’ Roland drew himself up. ‘I happen to be the son of Lord Elrick, and I can go wherever I like, and so can any of my friends who happen to be with me.’

‘Is my father in the Eyrie, then?’ said Caradoc.

‘I doubt it. But an old friend of my father’s definitely is, and I’m sure he’ll be happy to help.’

Caradoc shuddered again. ‘I want my dad to be free, too.’

‘That can be arranged. What about your mother?’

‘I don’t have a mother.’

‘Yes you do,’ said Roland. ‘Everyone does.’

‘I don’t remember her,’ said Caradoc. ‘I don’t know where she is.’

‘We can ask about her as well, if you like. What was her name?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Oh.’ Roland looked puzzled for a moment. ‘Well, maybe your father can help. Let’s go and find out what he’s up to, shall we?’

‘All right, s- all right, Roland.’




The mountaintop city of Eagleholm was at the centre of the lands it owned, and the big round tower called the Eyrie was at the centre of Eagleholm, in every sense of the word. Eyrie towers were where the powerful griffiners lived, along with the griffins that owned them.

Like all Eyries, Eagleholm’s was wide as well as tall, and every level featured plenty of arched openings with ledges protruding below them like balconies without railings. The top was flat, and every opening and every door was wide enough for five people standing side-by-side, and taller than a man. With another man standing on his head. All of it had been made that way for one reason, and that reason could be seen everywhere in the city, but mostly above it and around the Eyrie itself.

In the sky above Eagleholm, griffins flew. Dozens of them, circling aimlessly or mock-fighting and swooping for thrills. At the Eyrie itself, one would occasionally fly in through one of the openings or land on the flat roof, coming and going as they pleased.

Inside the Eyrie were the griffiners, and aside from the young Eyrie Mistress, Lady Riona, none of them were more powerful than Lord Raegon, Master of Law.

The old man sat in his office, scribbling away at yet another document. There was no sound in the room but the scratching of his pen and the faint shuffing of Kakree grooming her wing feathers.

There was so much to do, and Lord Raegon was not pleased when someone knocked at the door. ‘Who is it?’ he called. ‘If it’s not important, come back later!’

The door opened, and a stocky young man bowed politely. ‘Lord Raegon.’

Raegon sighed and put down his pen. ‘Roland. What do you want?’

‘Good morning, my Lord. I hope this isn’t a bad time.’ Without waiting for an answer, Roland ushered someone else into the room.

Raegon looked sharply at the newcomer, and sighed again more loudly. ‘Ah. I see you’ve brought your little friend along. Why is he- you’ve set him free?’

‘I have, as a matter of fact,’ Roland said loudly. ‘I bought him first, so it was my choice.’

‘Of course. I don’t know what you’re going to do with him now, but it’s not my concern. What can I do for you?’

‘I’m looking for someone,’ said Roland. ‘A slave by the name of Skandar Taranisäii. I wanted to find out if he’d been sold yet.’

‘Why in Gryphus’ name would you want to know that?’ said Raegon. Over in the entrance to her nest chamber, Kakree lifted her head and stared.

‘I want to buy him,’ said Roland.

‘Oh, good gods,’ Raegon rolled his eyes. ‘Why? What possible use could you have for one slave?’

‘None. I’m going to set him free as well.’

‘What for? Are you trying to make your own little blackrobe family now, Roland?’

Roland set his jaw. ‘This boy here wants his father back, and that’s all there is to it, Raegon. All I need is permission to look at the records.’

Lord Raegon rubbed his forehead. ‘I see. Well, you can look if you really must, I won’t stop you. You’ll need plenty of luck to find one name, though. What did you say it was?’

‘Skandar. Skandar Taranisäii.’

‘Hm. I suppose – wait a moment.’ Raegon’s eyes narrowed. ‘I know that name.’

‘You do? Then you know where he is?’

The old lord looked thoughtful. ‘What does he look like?’

Roland looked at Caradoc. ‘Tell him, Cardock.’

The boy looked terrified, but he did as he was told – staring at the floor the whole time. ‘He’s very tall, and he’s got black eyes and black hair like me.’

‘So we’ve established that he’s a Northerner,’ Raegon said sourly. ‘Well done.’

‘Keep going,’ Roland urged his friend.

‘Er – er – he’s got a beard,’ Caradoc stammered. ‘And tattoos, all on his arm.’

‘What sort of tattoos?’ Raegon said.

‘They’re… they’re blue, milord. All blue and swirly, in… circles, milord.’


‘Don’t know, milord,’ said Caradoc. He had gone white.

Raegon traced a spiral shape in the air. ‘Like that?’

‘Yes, milord.’

‘Ah.’ Raegon looked at Kakree, and broke into griffish. ‘You remember a human like that, Kakree? Blackrobe, with blue spiral tattoos?’

The grey griffin yawned. ‘There were many of the dark humans, but only one had the marks. We saw him in the cages with the rest.’

‘That’s right. Thankyou.’

Kakree yawned again. ‘I am bored of seeing these two. Send them away.’

‘Of course.’ Raegon turned to look at Roland. ‘Yes, I know where this Skandar is.’

‘That’s great,’ said Roland. ‘Where can I go to find him?’

‘He’s in the prison district,’ said Raegon. ‘But he’s not available for sale.’

‘Why not?’

‘He was the leader of a little gang of blackrobes before Lady Riona began the selling-off. Rebellious. They made an escape attempt, and were put in with the others we decided were no good for sale.’

‘What’s going to happen to them, then?’ said Roland.

‘Lord Orome bought them all cheaply,’ said Raegon. ‘For the Arena.’


Raegon, Roland and Kakree all looked up sharply.

The shout had come from Caradoc. He looked aghast when he realised what he had done, but he didn’t apologise. He grabbed Roland’s arm. ‘Don’t let them do that to him! Roland, don’t!’

‘Oh, for gods’ sakes, take him out of here,’ Raegon said. ‘There’s nothing I can do, Roland. It’s out of my hands.’

‘I understand.’ Roland took Caradoc by the shoulder. ‘Thankyou for your help.’ He left hastily, taking the boy with him.

Raegon’s expression softened once they were gone. ‘Poor silly boy,’ he muttered. ‘I think losing Rakee did something to him. Now he’s latched onto that child for lack of anything else to care for. No doubt he’ll grow tired of that soon enough.’

Kakree flicked her tail. ‘When shall they feed the wild griffins, Raegon?’

He started. ‘I’m not sure. In a day or so, I think. The Arena’s going to be packed.’

‘I think I shall go,’ she said. ‘It would be amusing to watch the killing.’

‘If you want to,’ said Raegon.

‘But you must come with me,’ said Kakree. ‘I would never go there and be taken for a humanless griffin.’ She huffed at the very idea.

Raegon knew better than to argue. ‘Together, then.’

‘I shall look forward to it.’ She laid her head on her talons and went to sleep.




‘What do we do now?’ Caradoc asked, when he and Roland were well away from the Eyrie. ‘How do we help my Dad?’

‘Calm down,’ said Roland. ‘We know where we is now, and we know who to talk to. But we’ll have to hurry!’

Caradoc scurried along behind his benefactor, feeling a wild hope race inside him. It was all right now. Roland could buy Dad and take his collar off too, and then everything would be all right. Dad would know what to do; he always did, and he would help the world make sense again.

As they walked along the streets of Eagleholm, people turned to stare. A young nobleman, with a blackrobe boy following him – surely a personal slave, but with no collar? No robe?

Caradoc avoided looking at them, and kept close to Roland.

Roland didn’t seem to notice anything. He led the way through the edge of the market district, and toward a huge building. It was even bigger than the Eyrie, and far more open. High wooden walls were extravagantly decorated with carvings of griffins and fighting men, and bright red banners flew from the roof. Lower down there were posters pinned up, with garish drawings of popular Arena griffins in aggressive poses. Each one had some letters underneath. Caradoc didn’t know what they could mean.

There was a gate leading inside, with a guard on it.

Roland slowed down and dusted himself off before he went to talk to the man. ‘Pardon me, but could you please help?’

The guard stood a little straighter. ‘Fight’s not ’till this evening, sir.’

‘Good. I’m hoping to talk to Lord Orome – can you tell me where to find him?’

‘Owner’s in his office probably, sir. Go ’round the back an’ they should let you in.’

‘Thankyou.’ Roland gestured to Caradoc. ‘Let’s go.’

They followed the Arena’s wall, until they reached the spot where a section of it extended out over the edge of the mountain. Most of Eagleholm stood on solid ground, but over the years it had been enlarged with massive platforms. The Arena’s holding pens took up an entire section of those.

Roland stopped at the point where one wall joined another. There was a door there. He knocked.

Eventually it opened, and a man wearing grubby leather padding appeared. ‘Yes? Sir.’

‘Roland Elrickson, here to see Lord Orome if you don’t mind.’

‘Official business?’ said the man.


‘Come in, then.’

Roland gestured at Caradoc. ‘In we go!’

The man gave Caradoc an odd look, but said nothing, and let both of them in. The door led to a badly lit passage that smelled of straw and sweat, and ended in another door.

Their guide opened this one, and ushered them through into daylight. No roof here, only a wide open space with a huge iron gate on one side and an archway into darkness on the other. Ahead of them was another wall, with a door in it. This one was painted red, and looked brand new.

The man who had let them in pointed to it. ‘He should be in there, but make sure yer don’t interrupt him if he’s in the middle of something. He’s in a right bad mood today.’

With that, he was gone.

Roland turned to Caradoc. ‘Now then, I’m going to go in and talk to Orome. You should stay out here. Just wait, and don’t wander off. This place is dangerous.’

Caradoc nodded mutely.

‘I won’t be long.’ Roland smiled to cheer him up, and went off and through the red door.

Caradoc watched him hesitate in the entrance, and heard him say something to the man inside. He wanted to go and listen, but he kept away, moving back toward the door he had come in by. The man who owned Dad now had to be in a good mood, and Caradoc couldn’t risk making him angry.

The time went on, and Roland didn’t come out. Caradoc went over to the gate and looked through. On the other side was a yard, with sand all over the ground, just like there was on Caradoc’s side. In the middle of the yard was some sort of frame, with a handle on it for turning and some ropes. Caradoc couldn’t work out what it was supposed to do, so he stuck his head through the bars on the gate and tried to see closer.

Bars. The yard was full of bars. The walls were set with big, heavy cages, with iron bars thicker than Caradoc’s leg. He was looking at a prison.

His heart leapt into his throat. ‘Dad!’ he yelled. ‘Dad, it’s me!’

There was a dull clanking sound from the yard, and something moved behind the bars. Something huge.


Caradoc pulled his head back, and stumbled away from the gate as fast as he could. Griffins!

And not just any griffins. He wasn’t really scared of some griffins. When he had still had his collar he had worked in the Hatchery that Roland’s father owned, and he had to feed the baby griffins. He had seen the grown-up ones, too. They were big and horrible, but they didn’t kill you. They were used to people giving them food and doing whatever they wanted.

They weren’t like the griffins in the Arena.

The wild griffins.

Wild griffins were monsters. They killed people, and ate them. People came to see them do it in the Arena. They ate the criminals, and the slaves who ran away, and the lunatics who wanted to try and fight them.

Caradoc backed away into a corner, and stayed there, hugging his knees. It seemed to take Roland forever to come back.

He did emerge, eventually, stone-faced.

Caradoc nearly ran to him. ‘Did you buy him, Roland? Is he free?’

Roland stared at him for a moment, as if he didn’t recognise him. ‘Let’s go and visit your father, Cardock,’ he said gruffly. ‘He’s not far away.’




Next door to the Arena there was another large building, but this one had spikes in place of banners, and the posters on the walls had pictures of wanted criminals. The doors were metal and barred, and every one had a guard both inside and outside. They gave Roland and Caradoc suspicious looks.

Roland, looking uncertain, approached the pair posted at the main gate. ‘Excuse me…’

One guard, a burly young man, nodded to him. ‘Mornin’, sir.’

Roland put a hand on Caradoc’s shoulder. ‘This boy’s father is in the lockup, and he’d like to visit him.’

The guard gave them both a bemused look. ‘Who are yeh, sir?’

‘Roland, son of Lord Elrick. This is my friend Cardock. His father’s name is Skandar.’

‘Hm. Do yeh know who owns him, sir?’

‘Yes, Lord Orome bought him two days ago.’

The guard’s expression changed. ‘Oh, right.’ He looked sadly at Caradoc. ‘Poor little bugger. I’ll see what I can do.’

He turned and shouted to the guard on the other side of the gate. ‘Oi! Ratface! Go send someone t’ask the warden if this lad can get a chance t’say goodbye to his dad, willyeh?’

The other guard nodded and stumped off into the prison.

‘He’ll be back in a tick,’ his comrade said. ‘Just sit tight, sir.’

‘Thankyou so much for your help,’ said Roland.

The guard shook his head. ‘I’ll die before I stop a little boy from seein’ his father one last time, no matter who he is.’

‘Even so,’ Roland said gravely. ‘What’s your name?’

The guard saluted. ‘Haig Redguard, sir.’

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Haig.’

The guard grinned. ‘Thanks, sir. Who’s the kid, anyway?’

‘His name is Cardock,’ said Roland. ‘He- oh, why don’t you tell him yourself, lad?’

Caradoc looked the guard in the face. ‘My name is Caradoc. I worked at the Hatchery. When they started selling all the slaves, Roland didn’t want me to get sent away so he bought me and made me free.’

‘Caradoc, then,’ said Roland. ‘Most people just called you Cardock after the plant. I didn’t know it bothered you.’

‘Not really,’ Caradoc mumbled. ‘If you want to call me that you can.’

‘It suits yeh,’ said Haig, in a jolly kind of way. ‘So… free, are yeh? That’s lucky. Roland here took a likin’ to yeh did he?’

‘He was kind to me at a time when I felt as if no-one else cared,’ Roland said, very matter-of-factly. ‘I repaid him the best way I could think of.’

‘An’ now he’s takin’ yeh t’see yer dad one more time,’ said Haig, to Caradoc. ‘Yeh got a good friend here, sonny.’

Caradoc said nothing to that. He looked toward the gate, waiting.

Ratface (if that was his name) returned a few moments later. ‘Warden says if they got an escort they can go in. Damned if I’m doin’ it, though, I’m about to knock off for the day.’

‘I’ll do it,’ said Haig. ‘Yeh got the keys?’

‘Yeah, yeah, just hang on a bit.’ Ratface fumbled in his pocket, and a moment later the gate swung open.

Haig brought the two guests in, and waited until the gate had been locked again. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Stay here an’ I’ll send someone along t’stand in for me.’ He nodded to Roland. ‘Let’s go.’

They set out, through the lockup, past a guardroom where a couple of men were resting and sharing a snack. Haig sent one of them off to take his post, and went on without another stop, through two more gates that had to be unlocked and to a place where all the walls were gone and they were in a forest of bars.

Dozens of cells, barred on all sides, each one holding a small group of robed and collared slaves. Guards patrolled between them, and above there was nothing but open sky. The air was full of the smell of sweat and dirt, and the low murmur of voices and the clank of iron.

Haig gave the whole thing a rather despairing look. ‘Here we are. It’s gonna take some time t’find the right one, though. Right – Caradoc, if that’s yer name, listen. We’re gonna walk along through all these, an’ yeh gonna have t’keep yer eyes open, right?’

‘Yes, sir.’

Caradoc watched, turning his head to check every cage they passed. Faces looked back, all pale and black-haired. Black eyes fixed on him, some curious, some despairing, some even angry. Long fingers wrapped around bars. There were even some women there.

He recognised some of them. That was the worst part. Some of those faces were familiar, but they weren’t his father’s.

‘He’s not here,’ he said eventually. ‘Where is he? Dad! Dad, where are you?’

‘Call him!’ Roland said. ‘Keep going that, lad, I’m sure he’ll hear you. Go on!’

Caradoc didn’t need any more encouragement. Forgetting everything, he broke away from his escort and ran down the row, shouting for all he was worth. ‘Dad! Dad!’

And, at last, an answer. ‘Caradoc? Caradoc, is that ye?’

His head turned, and he saw the face looking at him through the bars, and before he knew what had happened he had run to it and thrust his arms into the cell, clinging to his father’s rough hands. ‘Dad!’

Skandar pressed himself against the wall of the cell, hugging his son clumsily through the bars. ‘Caradoc! How did ye get here?’

There were tears on the boy’s face. ‘I’m free, Dad. Roland set me free.’

‘Who’s that?’

‘He’s over there,’ said Caradoc, waving vaguely in the young noble’s direction. ‘He bought me, an’ he’s gonna buy you too, Dad! We’ve come here to take you away.’

Skandar looked sharply at the approaching Roland. ‘Is that so?’

‘Yes, it is,’ said Caradoc, turning to look at him.

Roland’s face creased as he looked at the pair of them. ‘Talk to your father a while, Cardock. I’ll keep out of your way.’

‘It’s all right,’ said Caradoc, turning his back on him to look at Skandar again. ‘He’s good. He took my collar off.’

Skandar’s scarred face brightened when he smiled. ‘There’s nothin’ ye could have told me that would’ve made me happier, son. I’ve been a slave nearly ten years, but ye’ve been a slave yer whole life, an’ seein’ ye free means more to me than my own freedom ever could.’

‘But you’ll be free soon too, Dad.’

‘That’s right, I will,’ said Skandar.

‘I didn’t know what to do,’ Caradoc said sadly. ‘I was so scared…’

‘It’s all right now, Caradoc.’ Skandar took the boy’s hands in his. ‘This is what ye must do.’

‘What, Dad?’

Skandar’s eyes closed for a moment. ‘North,’ he murmured. ‘That’s where ye must go. Back to the place where ye were born.’

‘We’ll both go,’ said Caradoc.

‘There’s one other thing,’ said Skandar. ‘I want a promise that ye’ll do this, Caradoc.’

‘I’ll do anything, Dad,’ said Caradoc.

‘Then promise me this.’ Skandar gave his hand a squeeze. ‘Grow up, Caradoc. Marry. Father a son. A son, Caradoc. Bring another Taranisäii into the world. Raise him t’be a free man, an’ teach him to be proud of what he is. What we are. Promise me ye’ll do that.’

Caradoc’s eyes shone. ‘I will! I promise. I’ll go North and have a son, and he’ll be brave like you.’

‘Like ye, son, brave like ye,’ said Skandar. He smiled again, and let go of his son’s hands. ‘That’s all I want. Live a good long life, Caradoc. Go North, an’ be proud.’

‘I will. But you’re coming too, aren’t you-?’

‘Cardock.’ Roland appeared at his shoulder. ‘It’s time to go.’

Caradoc stepped away from the cell. ‘Are they going to let him out now?’

‘Not now,’ said Roland. ‘The guards want us to leave. Come on, let’s go back to the Hatchery and we’ll have lunch.’

‘Dad has to come too!’ Caradoc said. ‘I won’t go without him.’

He looked around frantically – Haig had come over, and two other guards. Haig looked worried; they looked irritated.

‘Go on, get goin’ with yer,’ one said.

Caradoc started to panic as they herded him away. ‘I want my Dad! Let him out! You said-,’

Skandar stayed where he was. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ he called. ‘I’ll be fine. Go an’ have yerself a good meal an’ I’ll see ye later!’

Caradoc broke free and ran back to him. ‘What if I don’t see you again? Why won’t they let you out?’

Skandar gave him another hug. ‘I said don’t worry. I’ll be out of here soon. Be good now.’

Caradoc calmed down. ‘All right, then.’

He let himself be led out of the complex without complaint, and followed Roland placidly back to the Hatchery, where there were apples and herb bread and other wonderful things he’d never tasted before. He ate plenty, secure in the knowledge that everything was going to be all right. He didn’t even correct Roland any more when he kept calling him Cardock. People had been calling him that for years, and maybe it was a better name after all.

That afternoon he helped to feed the griffin chicks. It was odd to do it now just because he wanted to. All he could think of was Dad, and how much he would have to tell him. Maybe when the griffins saw him and realised how brave and good he was, one of them would choose him and make him a griffiner, and then they could all fly back to the North, where people would call them both “sir” and they could wear feathers and eat cymran fruits the way griffiners did.

Caradoc finished the work, lost in these happy fantasies, and sat down to rest with a big smile on his face.

Roland wasn’t smiling. He put down the meat bucket and sighed.

Caradoc looked at him. ‘Will Dad be free tomorrow? Did you buy him yet?’

Roland turned to him. ‘Cardock…’

‘What? What is it?’

‘Cardock, I tried.’

‘Tried what?’ Caradoc began to get upset. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I tried to buy him. I argued with Orome, I offered him all the money I had. He wouldn’t do it.’

Caradoc just stared at him blankly.

‘Orome wouldn’t sell him,’ said Roland. ‘He told me none of them were for sale, and threatened to have me charged with bribery if I didn’t leave it alone. There was nothing I could do.’

‘But they can’t-!’

‘I’m sorry, Cardock. I did my best.’

But they’ll kill him!’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

Caradoc didn’t shout again, or cry, or argue, or try and run away. What he did instead was something far, far worse.

He looked straight at Roland, eye to eye for the first time, and in a low, hard voice he said, ‘I hate you.’




Two days later, Skandar Taranisäii stood with his back pressed into the wall in the Arena’s holding chamber, and thought of his son one last time. He wished he hadn’t lied to him, but there it was again. False hope. Better than nothing.

Somewhere to his left in the packed space, Kerwin spoke up. ‘Feelin’ ready, Skandar?’

‘Are ye?’ Skandar said immediately.

‘Ready to be outta this hole, definitely,’ said Kerwin. ‘Where are yer, anyway?’

‘Over by the wall, with an elbow jammed in my ribs,’ said Skandar.

‘Somewhere in the corner, shoulder in the back,’ said Kerwin. ‘How long’re they keepin’ us like this, anyway? You’d think they didn’t even care about us!’ he laughed raucously.

‘It ain’t right,’ said Skandar. ‘Moment I get out, I’m complainin’ to someone.’

‘Bet them griffins’ll love t’listen,’ Kerwin said. ‘By the way, I’ve been wonderin’…’

‘What?’ said Skandar.

‘How did yer get t’be collared, anyway? I know yer weren’t born to it like me, not goin’ on that accent.’

‘Got arrested for bein’ a bit too uppity, an’ collared for punishment,’ said Skandar.

‘Another bloody rebel!’ Kerwin said. ‘Should’ve known. Wait, they’re openin’ the gate. Get ready!’

The slaves shuffled out in a ragged column, past a rack with spears hanging from it. Skandar grabbed the first one he could get his hands on, and held onto it tightly. His heart fluttered. This was it.

They walked out into daylight, into a huge open space with walls all around. There was sand underfoot, as promised, and criss-crossing chains above. Higher up was the tiered seating, already packed with hundreds of people. Skandar could hear the faint babble of their voices.

Once they were out in the Arena, the slaves spread out, most of them running for the walls to try and find a way out. Some tried to go back into the holding chamber, but the gate had already slammed shut, nearly crushing one woman who tried to hold it up.

Skandar stayed near it, looking quickly around to take everything in. In the opposite wall there was another gate – much, much larger than the one he had just come through. That would be where the griffins came from. He lifted his spear, testing the balance. It seemed good enough – it even had a metal point on it.

True to what they had agreed, at least a dozen slaves had stayed close to him. They clustered around uncertainly, pointing their spears outward.

Skandar stood up straight. ‘All right!’ he said in his sternest voice. ‘Just like how we planned. Make a ring, spears out. Get ready for- shit!’

The other gate had opened. The griffin gate. Above, the crowd roared.

The gate had hardly opened before they came rushing through. Griffins, pushing and shoving to get there first. Huge and horrible, all ragged feathers and wide-open beaks, chained wings flailing.

Several of Skandar’s companions lost their nerve the instant the creatures appeared. They broke out of the circle and ran.

Skandar held his spear tighter. ‘Hold steady!’ he bellowed. ‘For the Night God’s sake don’t run! They go after whatever moves!’

He was right. The griffins spread out as the slaves had done, and chased down the running men and women. Dozens of people died in the first few moments. The griffins didn’t stop to eat what they had killed; they charged around the Arena, smashing their victims down from behind before running on to chase whoever caught their eye next. Northerners fell onto the sand, dead or dying.

They made no sound, Skandar thought dully. They didn’t screech or hiss, didn’t make any battle cries the way he had thought they would. And why should they? This wasn’t a battle. It was a massacre.

The griffins paid no attention to the circle of slaves who stood still, not at first. They killed most of the panicked ones, and one or two of them stopped to eat. Skandar, watching, nearly vomited at the sight.

Their strange protection couldn’t last. One of the few slaves still alive came running toward the circle, unarmed and trailing blood. ‘Skandar! Skandar, help!’

Skandar faltered. ‘Tierny-,’

He saw Tierny’s panicked face, and took a step forward without thinking.

A griffin rose up, seemingly from nowhere, and smashed Tierny into the ground. His body rolled, landing at Skandar’s feet and splattering blood onto his robe.

Skandar looked up, and saw the griffin rearing over him. A blast of hot breath blew over his face, full of the stench of dead men. No chance to get away.

A roar came, from somewhere to his right. ‘ATTACK!’

Skandar lifted his spear, pointing it straight upward just as the griffin lunged. The impact hit him like a falling tree. He fell backward, stunned, but as he struggled to get up he saw the griffin backing away, snorting, blood on its feathers.

‘Get it!’ the voice yelled – Kerwin’s voice! ‘Kill it!’

Skandar got up, shaking away the dizziness. He snatched up his spear. ‘Kill the griffin!’ He charged, and his heart lifted when he saw them. Others, running beside him, screaming defiance.

The griffin hissed, lashing out with its beak, but it hit spears, not flesh, and they thrust back. And, sure enough, it backed off. Kerwin darted in close and struck at it, slicing a line down the side of its face.

The griffin reared up angrily, opening its talons wide for a strike, and in that moment Skandar lunged forward and stabbed his spear straight into the thing’s belly.

The griffin screamed.

Unarmed now, Skandar raised his fist. ‘Finish it!’ he yelled. ‘Kill it quickly!’

Badly wounded, the griffin landed awkwardly on its paws and tottered sideways, landing on its side. Urged on by Kerwin, the slaves closed in, and the griffin curled up, making a horrible high keening sound as the spears went in through its chest and then its eyes, letting its life run out in a rush of hot red.

Standing over its corpse, Skandar lifted his head to the sky and screamed. ‘I am Skandar! Skandar!’

Bloodied and covered in sweat, Kerwin brandished his spear and shouted his own name, and around them both the others joined in, calling defiance to the crowd, to the griffins, to death itself.

When he saw them in that moment, Skandar felt something he had not felt in too many long, cold years – something he had, in a sense, never known in all his life until that day. After a lifetime spent believing in it, but never truly seeing it, he was surrounded by true Northern warriors. And it wasn’t until that moment that he realised it was what he had dreamed of seeing all his life.

He didn’t see the others falter and turn, or hear Kerwin’s warning. He never saw the griffin coming. He never had a chance to run or to fight.

Death hit him, from the side. He felt the talons in his body, and then he felt it come apart, muscle and bone. The griffin hurled him aside, still living, and turned to slaughter the others before its fellow prisoners could arrive. Nothing could ever stop death, not in this place.

The sun watched, high above, and Skandar Taranisäii’s blood ran out onto the sand. His eyes, still open, looked at whatever it was that waited for him, and then closed. Free, at last.





Neato text ornament here