Griffin's Gift

Sharalynn had wings. Nobody could see them, or touch them, but she knew she had wings. She could flap them and fold them against her back. She usually kept them folded against her back, because otherwise people would pass through them without thinking they were even there, and that made her shudder, made her feathers prickle. Sometimes, when they were folded, people would still pat her on the back or the shoulder, and that made Sharalynn incredibly nervous for fear they would break them. She never wore shirts or dresses with a back, because they trapped her wings and made her back itch.

As a little girl, people always used to think she was cute, running around with her arms out trying to fly, climbing trees to feel the wind in her feathers, but now she was a big girl, and big girls weren’t allowed to believe in things that couldn’t be seen or touched. Now, the other children teased her for her wings. If they were real, they asked, then why couldn’t she fly?

‘Ostriches have wings,’ she snapped back at them, ‘and ostriches can’t fly.’

So now they teased her for an ostrich, bending their arms in and flapping their elbows at her in an imitation of an ostrich’s useless wings.

Sharalynn’s wings were nothing like an ostrich, though. They were spread long and majestic, like an eagle. She watched them whenever she could, soaring effortlessly above the town. Without even thinking she would spread her own wings, stand on her toes so she could feel the wind trying to lift her off the ground. She was just too big for them, that was all. If only they were bigger, then she could fly.

It was on a day in the middle of spring, when the blossoms had all blown away and the buds of new leaves were springing bright green into the world, when Sharalynn found her first ever real friend. She was taking one of her solitary walks away from the town, away from all the people who would tease her. She liked to climb to the very top of the hill on the other side of the stream, turn her back on the thatched rooves and the willow trees, and sit under the acacia tree, on the big grey rock that looked like a hippopotamus.

She climbed up onto the rock, stood up on her toes and reached up. If she jumped and flapped her wings hard enough, she could just touch the acacia’s lowest branch. Every year she promised herself that next year, she would be able to grab hold of that branch and climb up into the tree’s protective canopy. Now that she could touch it, she was certain that next year really would be the year. Maybe then, when she could climb higher than anyone, the children would stop teasing her.

Sharalynn sat down on the hippopotamus rock, her knees drawn up to her chin, and looked out over the rolling savanna. It was her favourite view, because it was completely untainted by people. Doubtless there were other towns out there, nestled in the valleys like hers, but she couldn’t see them and so they didn’t spoil the view.

She turned her eyes to the sky, spreading her wings just a little as she wistfully watched the circling form of a griffin, its wings spread wide and tail whisking through the air as it steered itself among the currents. It folded its wings against its back—Sharalynn unconsciously mimicked it with her own—and the griffin dropped like a stone, front claws outstretch, long tail lashing wildly to control its decent before it disappeared behind a hill.

Sharalynn held her breath as she watched the hunting griffin. It wasn’t long before it reappeared above the hill, a dead animal hanging from its front claws. It was beating its wings now to support the extra weight it carried, long, smooth strokes that carried the griffin gracefully over the rolling savanna.

With an excited skip of her heart, Sharalynn realised the griffin was flying straight towards her. She jumped off the rock and ran out from under the tree so she could see the beautiful creature fly right over her head. It landed with hardly a sound into the very tree she had been sitting under.

Sharalynn ran back under the acacia, peering up into the branches until she caught sight of the griffin, prowling along the branches with its prey now hanging from its beak. It was a beautiful animal, no bigger than a serval, and with the black spots on its feline hindquarters to match. It reached the edge of a mass of twigs that must have been its nest, then dropped the prey animal on the branch, held it down tight with its front talons, and tore off stringy chunks of meat.

Peering through the branches, Sharalynn could see another eagle-like head peering out from the edge of the tangled nest to take the meat. Shortly after came the unmistakeable squawking of their chicks. Sharalynn clasped her hands to her chest with a bright grin, holding as still as she could as she watched the griffin and its lifemate feed their chicks.

The griffin lifted its head only once, fixing its keen eagle eyes on her, motionless and unblinking.

‘Don’t worry,’ Sharalynn promised, ‘I promise I won’t tell anyone about you.’

Satisfied that Sharalynn would keep her promise, the griffin returned to its duties. She was sure it was because the griffin had seen the wings on her back when nobody else could. It recognised her, however distantly, as kin.

She watched this intimate family scene until her neck grew sore, then reluctantly headed back down the hill towards home. She kept her word to the griffin and told nobody of her new friends. This would be her secret.

Every day she snuck out of town to climb the hill to the griffin nest. She watched the griffin soaring high over the rolling golden hills, weaving patterns in the air, hovering in place like an eagle before it dove with a cat’s strength and precision to the earth. Sometimes one parent did the hunting, sometimes the other. Sharalynn couldn’t tell which was the mother and which the father, but one was noticeably lighter than the other, its fur and feathers almost white compared to the nondescript sandy brown of its mate. Both had the beautiful black spots on their feline hindquarters.

Once, the darker one had bounded down to the ground not far from Sharalynn, close enough that she could see the striped black patterns over its face and down the back of its head. Its elegant long legs, the front feathered almost to the ankles, curled underneath it as it sat, dainty like a cat, and curled its tail over its front talons. It regarded Sharalynn with the unchanging hunter’s glare of an eagle’s yellow eyes, but there was a feline’s intelligence behind those eyes.

The griffin lifted one wing and began preening itself with its vicious hunter’s beak. It pulled one feather from its wing, looked keenly again to Sharalynn, then placed it in the grass at its feet. It stood gracefully on its long serval legs, then took a few steps back, eyes still locked with Sharalynn’s.

‘A gift?’ she asked, then pointed at her chest. ‘For me?’

The griffin turned, tail curled low in the grass behind it, then spread its wings. It bounded once, twice in the grass, then leaped into the air. Its wings beat with frantic power as it launched itself into the sky, then it drifted effortlessly back off over the hills.

Sharalynn watched it until it disappeared from view, then picked her way through the grass to where the griffin had left its feather.

It was one of the griffin’s secondary flight feathers, shorter than the dramatic feathers she could see in its silhouette against the sky, and the same dusty savanna brown as its coat.

Sharalynn twirled the feather in her fingers and brushed its rounded tip against her cheek. It was a reasonably plain feather, with no patterns or variations in colour, but it was the first real gift Sharalynn had ever received from a friend, and that made it all the more precious.

She sewed the feather into a hat, one with a wide, floppy brim for summer, and wore it every time she visited the griffins. After a month, she was finally allowed to see the chicks.

The lighter of the two griffins was perched on the branch, sitting daintily with its tail twisting in corkscrews underneath it. As Sharalynn watched, the darker griffin stepped out of the nest, walking slowly along the branch and then turning to sit and look back at the nest. It made a soft sort of cooing, purring noise and stood again.

The first little griffin head poked out from the edge of the nest, looking down to the ground and watching Sharalynn with big, yellow eyes. It ducked its head back in for a moment, then popped out again, looking intently at the lighter griffin standing on the branch. One clawed front foot reached over the edge of the nest, stretching long so it could keep as much of itself inside the safety of the nest as possible before its claws were able to grip the branch. It looked up; the griffin chirped again as its chick took its cautious second step.

Sharalynn could see its wings extend now, anything to keep its balance, and she could feel her own stretching in sympathy for the tiny creature. It balanced like that for a moment, half-in-half-out, and squawked once at its parent. The elder griffin gave another encouraging coo, and the chick’s wings shivered in preparation. It jumped its hind legs from the nest, but there wasn’t enough space between its front claws and the nest for its back paws to fit.

Sharalynn gasped, heart in her throat, as the griffin chick stumbled and almost fell forward. The parents both squawked their own fear for their chick, but somehow the chick managed to catch itself, flattening itself against the branch. All Sharalynn could see of it was its front claws gripping around the branch and its wings, still fluffy with bits of down.

The parent chittered at it with concerned, encouraging noises, and the tiny griffin released its death grip on the branch.

Sharalynn clasped her hands to her chest and bounced on her toes as the little creature took its first tentative steps from the nest. Its wings and tail lashed and flapped desperately to keep it balanced, and it squawked once or twice before it reached the lighter griffin. The parent bent its head to nuzzle the chick’s head, an oddly catlike gesture from a bird’s face, then the chick walked awkwardly to curl under its parent’s protective cage of legs.

A second chick emerged from the nest then, and had evidently been watching its sibling and wanted to show off a bit. It almost leaped from the nest, drawing a fearful cry from the parent at the end of the branch.

Whether from the chick’s exuberance or whether the parent’s squawk put it off, the chick’s back paws slipped.

Sharalynn dashed forward as its hindquarters slid over the edge of the branch, its wings flapping wildly, shedding feathers and down and beating dust and chips of bark from the tree in its panic.

‘Don’t worry, little chick!’ Sharalynn called up to it as it gripped on for dear life to the branch. ‘I’ll catch you if you fall!’

The little griffin’s back legs kicked madly at the branch, crying in shrill desperation as it tried to get purchase on the bark. Amazingly, it managed to get its hindquarters back onto the branch and it lay, half curled and quivering against the wood.

Sharalynn took a deep breath and relaxed her shoulders. Her own wings were quivering in fear for the tiny chick, and her heart was racing in her chest.

Both parents cried worried and doubtless scolding shrieks at the terrified chick. Sharalynn could almost hear their words, telling the chick off for trying too much too soon. The more cautious of the two chicks crept out on wobbly feet from under its parent’s legs, chirping its own nervous noises at its sibling.

Eventually the parents led their chicks back into the nest, their adventure for the day at an end.

Sharalynn sighed happily. She couldn’t wait to see the chicks learn to fly. She feared for them, as their parents doubtless did, too, but it was a skill they would have to learn fast if they were to soar and hunt like real griffins. They had managed their first steps out of the next—just barely—so they could learn to fly, too.

The next day as Sharalynn ran up the hill, she could already feel something was wrong. She beat her wings to propel herself up faster. She could see neither of the two griffins in the sky, nor hear the cries of their chicks in the nest. She was panting by the time she got to the top of the hill, wings shaking in fear. She could see the nest still perched in the branches, but it was different, somehow. Thinner, lifeless and empty.

‘Griffins?’ she shouted up to the nest. ‘Are you there?’

Her plea was answered with silence, and then, a tiny cry, distant and desperate.

Sharalynn’s eyes darted from the nest to where she heard that tiny peal, from the other side of the hill. She stumbled through the long grass and down the hill, listening for the griffin chick’s cry, growing stronger with every step.

Curled up in the grass, wrapped protectively around each other, were the two griffins. Both were motionless, the breeze ruffling their fur and feathers the only movement. Each had a wing reached over the space between them, and it was from there that Sharalynn heard the tiny squawking cry.

With a heavy lump in her throat, Sharalynn’s knees buckled under her and she knelt beside the griffin pair. A sob choked its way past the lump. She wrung her fingers in her lap, then dared to reach out to touch the lighter griffin on the head. She stroked a finger down its neck, between its shoulders and down its back to its once-nimble tail.

He insides were numb and cold. These were her first friends. They had shared their lives with her, introduced their children to her. Now they were gone.

Tears flowed freely as she folded the wings aside. Only one of the chicks sat there, its tail curled around its body and its wings shivering. Even on the expressionless eagle face of the youngster, she could see the fear in its eyes. It cried up at her, a terrified little whistle, as though it truly believed she could do something to save its parents. She saw that the chick’s left wing hung limp by its side, while the other was pinned tight to its back.

Sharalynn reached out to pick the chick up, keeping her fingers as clear of the sharp talons and beak as she could, but the chick was in no mood to attack her. It curled into a little ball, tail tightly between its legs, that left wing still hanging from its side. She held it—him—to her chest. The chick reached its front claws out, gripping tight to her clothes and scratching a little at the skin underneath, then buried its head into her hair and squeaked again.

‘I know,’ Sharalynn sobbed, breath hitching in her throat. ‘I’m sorry, little one. I wish I had been here sooner. I’m so sorry!’

The chick cried again, and Sharalynn felt her wings curl instinctively around to protect the tiny animal.

‘I’ll protect you, I promise.’ She supported the chick’s hindquarters in one hand and tenderly wrapped up its broken wing to keep it from jostling too much as she walked, then slowly and carefully stood. The chick shivered against her chest, crying every now and then into her ear as she made her way back down to town.

As she crossed the bridge over the river, Sharalynn was torn between wondering whether to run home and risk injuring the chick, or to walk and risk the other children coming to tease and target her. She clutched the chick to her chest and took a deep breath, sneaking down narrow streets between the thatched-roof houses.

The chick’s own squawking, though, eventually drew attention.

Sharalynn turned her back when she saw the children approaching from down the street, trying vainly to hid the chick even though it kept crying. Her wings were pressed protectively to her back to try and keep any of them from hurting her.

‘Shh, little griffin,’ she whispered. ‘Shh, or they’ll hurt you.’

But the chick didn’t listen.

The children came up behind her, but she kept stiffly walking and ignored their teasing. One of the girls, two years older than Sharalynn, came and hooked an arm over her shoulders, knowing just how uncomfortable it made her. She shivered at the touch, the girl’s elbow cutting through her invisible wings.

‘What have you got there, Ostrich?’ the girl sneered.

‘Nothing,’ Sharalynn muttered back, clenching her eyes shut against the discomfort in her back. She ached to shake her wings free and just run, but she couldn’t injure the griffin chick any further.

The girl snatched her hat off before Sharalynn had a chance to react, and even then, her hands were full.

‘Give it back!’ she cried, and the chick’s squawk at the same time seemed to echo her distress. That was the hat with the griffin’s feather sewn into the brim. She couldn’t stop the tears that were stinging again in her eyes.

The girl held the hat above her head to the sneers and taunts of the other kids. ‘Not until you show me what you’ve got there,’ she demanded.

Sharalynn hesitated a moment before answering. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? ‘He’s a baby griffin,’ she said quietly. ‘He has a broken wing and he’s just lost his mother and father.’

The children sniggered. ‘So you’re going to be its Mama now?’ one of the boys teased, then he laughed aloud. ‘Maybe she’s not an ostrich after all! Maybe she’s really a griffin!’

The children all laughed and began flapping their arms, running around her making mocking griffin noises.

Sharalynn blinked away the tears she couldn’t hide as the griffin cried in her ear. ‘Please, just give me my hat back and let me go.’

The girl shrugged and tossed the hat to land in the dust at Sharalynn’s feet. The griffin feather fluttered stiffly in the breeze. She crouched to pick it up, but the girl snatched it away again.

‘Ooh, what’s this?’ She tore the feather from the brim and tossed the hat aside again. She twirled the feather in her fingers, looking at it with disdain.

‘No!’ Sharalynn yelled, springing to her feet. The sudden action made the chick cry out again, and his claws dug hard into her skin.

The girl held the feather with both hands, thumb and forefingers ready to snap it in the middle.

‘Please, don’t,’ Sharalynn begged with raw, stinging eyes.

She caught the vaguest hint of guilt in the girl’s eyes, an uncertain twinge in her eyebrow that hinted at compassion. Then she shrugged and dropped the feather into the breeze to twirl and flutter, still whole, to the ground.

Sharalynn closed her eyes. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered, so quietly she wasn’t sure the girl would have heard. She stood in her silent sobs until the children had all run away, laughing and shrieking griffin noises into the streets.

The feather was still there, still whole, though it had been trodden once or twice into the dust. The delicate filaments weren’t so smooth and sleek anymore, but Sharalynn hoped she could fix it. She picked it up with her hat and shakily walked the last few streets to her house.

The house was always empty at this time of the day—her mother and father both worked at the castle, and her big brothers were both apprenticed, Olivander to the carpenter and Rutgerio to the town healer. None of them would be home until shortly before sunset. She could smell the pot of stew her mother had put over the hearth fire to cook for dinner tonight.

Sharalynn folded her wings against her back to keep them from bumping uncomfortably into walls and doorframes. Carefully, she carried the chick into her bedroom and set him on her bedspread. He crouched, so tiny and vulnerable, his tail curled around him as he stared up with wide yellow eyes. Most of his plumage was now the sleek sandy-brown feathers of a fully-grown griffin, but there were still patches of grey down that would have looked comical if he wasn’t so terrified.

‘Just wait here,’ Sharalynn told him. ‘I’ll see if I can find something for you to eat.’

The second she turned her back, the chick started shrieking with more power in his tiny lungs than she would have thought possible. When she turned, she saw him standing on all fours in the middle of her bed, squawking and crying, clearly begging her not to leave him alone.

She smiled at his fierceness, and bent to pick him up. Instantly he retook his position, clinging around her neck and burying his face in her hair. Even his shivering subsided a little. She stroked his back with one finger, taking care not to touch his injured wing, and carried him there as she headed back out to the hearth.

The stew smelt as though it had meat in it, so Sharalynn went in search of the scraps bin by the back door. Sure enough, her mother had thrown out the offcuts of meat, bits of sinew, fat and bone. Sharalynn fished them out of the bin with one hand. She felt the griffin’s head turn to follow these intriguing new smells, and he cried with a slightly different noise, less panicked and more inquisitive.

‘Mmm, dinner,’ Sharalynn confirmed for him as she wrapped the bits of meat in a cloth. She stood and headed back inside. She unwrapped the cloth by the coals of the hearth, then carefully plucked the chick from around her neck and placed him beside the scraps of meat.

The chick crept forward and sniffed at the meat, then squawked once at her and began picking at the bone, gripping it with its long front talons.

Sharalynn lay down on her stomach, kicking her legs behind her with a smile as she watched the chick eating.

‘What am I going to do with you?’ she asked, a scatter of tears renewing in her eyes at the sight of his limp wing. Her own left wing cringed in sympathy for whatever pain he must be hiding. ‘Do healers know about animals?’ Truly, though, she wondered if he would ever be able to fly. Even if it could be healed, how could she teach him to fly when she couldn’t fly herself?

Just as the chick was devouring the last of his offerings, the front door opened to admit Sharalynn’s two brothers. The chick spun his head around and lifted is one good wing in a threat display made to make himself look bigger. His tail lashed and he hissed like a cat at these intruders into his meal.

‘Hush, now,’ Sharalynn told him. ‘They’re family.’

‘Woah, there!’ Her eldest brother, Rutgerio, froze and lifted his hands when he caught sight of the baby griffin. ‘Is that a—?’

‘He has a broken wing,’ Sharalynn interrupted. ‘He fell out of the nest. Please, Rutgerio, can you help him?’

‘Not if he keeps that up,’ Rutgerio answered, keeping a cautious distance between himself and the hissing ball of claws and beak. ‘I don’t know anything about healing animals, only people. Sharalynn, this is a wild animal, you know that, right? It’s not a pet.’

Sharalynn nodded. ‘But I have to help him. His parents died, and he trusts me.’

Rutgerio sighed, folding his arms and frowning at the little creature, still furiously defending its meal. ‘You’ll need to immobilise its wing,’ he said, and Sharalynn jumped to her feet to run and give her big brother a hug. ‘Hey, now, I can’t promise it will heal well enough for him to fly well enough with it. As I said, I don’t know about animals.’

‘Thank you, all the same,’ Sharalynn told him.

Rutgerio patted her hair. ‘Bring him into my room, then, and calm him down. I don’t want him taking my finger off!’

Sharalynn gave him one last squeeze and crouched back down by the griffin, who calmed down as soon as Rutgerio had left the room. ‘He can help you,’ Sharalynn told the griffin, gently stroking his furred-and-feathered back. ‘He’s learning to be a healer, so he can fix your wing up and make it stop hurting. You trust me, don’t you?’

The griffin chick looked up at her, his yellow eyes full of love and trust. He crept almost sheepishly over to her, propped his front legs up on her knee, and squawked once.

Sharalynn giggled and carefully picked him up. ‘Good boy,’ she praised him as she carried him to her brother’s room. ‘Now, no scratching, all right? It will hurt, but I promise it’s all for the best.’

This time, when he saw Rutgerio, the griffin hardly reacted at all, though he didn’t take his eyes from Sharalynn’s brother.

‘Put him over here,’ Rutgerio said, patting his desk with one hand. In his other, he held a rolled up bandage. ‘Is he cut at all? Is he bleeding?’

Sharalynn shook her head as she placed the chick on his desk. ‘No, just his wing is hanging limp.’

Rutgerio nodded. ‘Right, you keep him calm. Don’t let him peck me. He might be young but he’s still got a hunter’s beak on him.’

‘Be calm, little griffin,’ she told the chick. ‘My brother’s going to make you all better, just you watch. You’ll be able to fly again before summer.’

Rutgerio smiled as he reached for the remarkably calm griffin chick. With gentle fingers, he folded the limp left wing against the tiny animal’s body. The griffin squawked and struggled a little to get away from the pain, but Sharalynn’s soothing voice kept him from attacking.

Sharalynn’s left wing throbbed in sympathy for the little animal as Rutgerio wrapped the bandage around his wing and chest, binding it tight so it wouldn’t jolt around, but not so tight that the griffin couldn’t breathe.

‘So did you find any treasure while you were there?’ Rutgerio asked, his gentle fingers pinning the bandage tight.

‘Treasure?’ Sharalynn asked.

‘Mmm.’ Rutgerio nodded. ‘Griffins are supposed to be guardians of treasure and such. They probably had something else in their nest they were guarding.’ He looked at her with a bright grin. ‘You should go and check tomorrow.’

Sharalynn smiled and picked up the newly-bandaged chick. ‘I can’t reach the branch, though. Could you help me get up there?’

‘If there’s something in it for me,’ Rutgerio agreed with a grin. ‘If there’s more than one treasure in the nest, then I get one of them.’

‘Deal,’ Sharalynn agreed, and the chick squawked his assent.

The next morning after breakfast, Sharalynn led her brother up the hill to the griffins’ tree. It was strange bringing someone else up here, after the nest had been her secret for so long. She set the griffin carefully on the ground and watched as he prowled around in the grass, wobbly on his legs and with his good wing stretched out for balance.

She and Rutgerio climbed onto the hippopotamus rock, then Rutgerio clasped his hands between his knees to give Sharalynn a boost up. She set her foot in his hands, braced her hands on his shoulders, and vaulted up to grab onto the branch. The scratchy bark scraped her palms, but with Rutgerio’s help, she was able to scramble onto the branch.

‘Be careful!’ Rutgerio called up to her, and the griffin added its own warning. Sharalynn wondered then which of the two griffin chicks she had rescued. Its concern for her made her think it was the first to have walked from the nest, and remembered watching its sibling nearly fall from the branch in its exuberance.

Sharalynn took the memory as her warning and crawled carefully along the branch to the trunk, then along the thicker branch that supported the remnants of the griffin nest. She tried to keep her wings folded to her back, to keep them from snagging on twigs and making her shiver with discomfort, but they seemed to hold themselves out of their own accord, as the chicks’ had done when they were trying for balange.

Once she reached the nest, she straddled the branch with her legs and peered into the tangle of twigs and feathers that made the griffins’ home.

She gasped aloud at what she found.

‘Is there anything there?’ Rutgerio called up.

‘There is!’ Sharalynn answered, and reached into the nest to pull out a beautiful golden necklace set with stones. There were two earrings, heavy gold and set with jet black and drops of sparkling diamond jewels, and a ring made like a golden vine to wrap around the finger. ‘Where do you suppose all this came from?’ she asked her brother as she held out the necklace. ‘Did the griffins steal it?’

‘No,’ Rutgerio called back up. He held his hands up, and Sharalynn let go of the necklace for him to catch. ‘Griffins are guardians, not thieves. They were probably guarding it for someone.’

Sharalynn paused as she got ready to drop the earrings and the ring. ‘So maybe someone came to steal it, and they…’ She trailed off, unable to say it aloud. She dropped each of the earrings and the ring into her brother’s waiting hands, then began creeping carefully back along the branch to climb back down.

‘And the griffins tried to protect the treasure for whoever it belonged to,’ Rutgerio finished for her. ‘It seems likely.’ He piled the treasure by the tree trunk, then climbed back onto the hippopotamus rock to help her down.

Sharalynn dangled her legs down, arms hooked over the branch until she felt her brother’s hands grab her ankles. She lowered herself carefully down, scratching her arms a bit more than she had intended, then let go and grabbed again onto Rutgerio’s shoulders.

With her feet safely back on the ground, Sharalynn brushed the bark chips from her clothes and walked around to the newly-discovered treasure.

The griffin chick was standing guard over it already, his eagle eyes scanning the rolling hills as though someone would come and take it from him at any moment.

‘See?’ Rutgerio said with a laugh. ‘He’s protecting it already. You should call him Treasure.’

Sharalynn grinned and crouched down beside the little chick, who puffed his feathered chest out proudly. It seemed he knew his duty as the new guardian of the treasure. She reached out to pat him on the head, and he nuzzled into her palm, but didn’t leave his treasure behind.

‘It suits him,’ Sharalynn agreed. ‘I don’t think we should take the treasure from him. Whoever it belongs to, they’re bound to come back for it sooner or later.’

‘You’re right,’ her brother agreed with a reluctant sigh. ‘I have no desire to get into a tangle with anyone who owns this much gold. Let’s get this home, then.’

They both agreed not to tell anyone of the treasure, then hid it in the floorboards under Sharalynn’s bed. Even one innocent comment to someone trusted could still be overheard, could still spread until all the town knew of the treasure. Sharalynn didn’t want to risk the same thief coming back to steal the treasure again.

The griffin, though, was impossible to hide. He stayed at Sharalynn’s side, sometimes with his arms around her neck, sometimes perched on her shoulder, sometimes weaving around her feet. The feathery tufts of griffin ears had sprung up on his head, replacing. He had shed all the fuzzy grey down and fluffy baby fur, too, and replaced it with the sleek feathers and fur of a full-grown griffin, though he still had a good deal of growing to do.

The day of the Summer Solstice, Rutgerio unwrapped the bandage from his wing.

Treasure bounded around him on his elegant long legs, his new wing held high. This new sense of balance confused him and made him stumble once or twice, and Sharalynn tried to hide her amusement. He bounded up to her in excitement, propping his front talons on her knees to chitter happily at her. He did another circuit of the room and gave Rutgerio the same treatment. Finally, he bounded over to the door, ears perked up, and stared back past his wings at Sharalynn with a sharp chirp.

Rutgerio laughed. ‘I think he wants to go and try them out,’ he said as he swung to his feet.

‘Come on, Treasure!’ Sharalynn stood and ran for the door, chasing the zealous little griffin out into the street.

He was still a little unsteady, and his left wing didn’t extend as far as his right, but Sharalynn knew he would try his hardest to make them both work.

She spread her own wings with him, laughing as she ran down the street, over the bridge and up the hill. She jumped in the grass with him, flapping her wings as she had seen the bigger griffins do to launch themselves into the sky.

‘Like this!’ she showed him, though she could never take off herself.

Treasure made a funny little chirping-squawk and leaped up with both wings spread as far as they would go. He darted through the grass, and all Sharalynn could see of him was the rippling streak of the knee-deep grass, broken occasionally by his head and wings as he leapt above the rolling savanna.

He never once looked like flying, but it was early days yet. He had never flown before, and to learn to do so with a formerly injured wing would take time, but Sharalynn was confident that he would take to the skies. She only wished she might be able to fly with him.

She tired much more quickly than he did and sat down on the hippopotamus rock, watching Treasure race around with his new wing, pouncing on prey, seen and unseen in the grass. Finally, he scrabbled up onto the rock beside her and flopped into her lap.

‘Having fun?’ she asked him with a giggle.

The young griffin chirped back at her and settled into a ball, his wings pressed smoothly against his back.

‘Maybe that’s all I need,’ she mused, stroking down his back, fir the first time without the hindrance of the bandages wrapped around wing and chest. ‘Maybe I just need to make my wings stronger, like you do. Then I’ll be able to fly with you.’

Treasure gave one sleepy chirp, then closed his eyes and dozed off in her lap.

Every day from then on, Sharalynn and Treasure practiced and practiced. When it wasn’t raining, they were both up on the hill, running with wings spread, leaping into the air, flapping and beating, jumping higher each time but never quite achieving flight. Sharalynn would pick up the increasingly heavy griffin and let him position himself in her hands, then throw him as high as she could into the sky. No matter how hard Treasure beat his wings, he could never keep himself off the ground for long.

Sharalynn didn’t mind so much that she couldn’t fly herself. She had accepted years ago that she was simply too big for her wings to carry her.

But for Treasure, who should be master of land and sky, it hurt. He could hunt on the ground as well as any wild cat, but his left wing had never quite healed well enough for him to fly. And yet, he never gave up.

The children in the town continued to mock her and her flightless griffin, though less now since the day Treasure had nipped back at one of them. He had never laid claw or beak on them, but the vicious spreading of his crest and feathers, the audible snap of his beak and deep, cat-like growl in his throat sent the children running. From that day on they kept their distance, doubtless awaiting the day when Sharalynn would leave the house without Treasure at her side, but she knew that day would never come.

Now, more than ever, Treasure remained her only friend.

They were returning from another flying practice session, late on a spring afternoon a full two years after Sharalynn had first met the griffins, when she spied a stranger walking up the road. This was a small town, with no particular claim to fame. The only strangers who ever visited were travelling merchants, and the very occasional musician or bard who came to perform in the town square or for the lords at their castle.

This stranger was neither. He wore a rich green velvet cloak trimmed with gold, such as a lord might wear, but then a lord would never visit their town alone, and any musician worth a cloak like that wouldn’t even consider coming here. He walked with a cane, but wasn’t resting his weight on it, rather he was tapping it out in front of him on the dusty road. Sharalynn saw that he wore a blindfold of dull red over his eyes.

Treasure stalked ahead of her, wings raised and tail flicking just a little, and she could hear a quiet growl forming deep in his throat. He was as protective of her as he was of his treasure, and growled in warning at anyone who approached her who wasn’t already trusted.

‘Hush,’ she told him, crouching down to stroke his back. ‘He’s just a blind old man. Hush, now.’

She stood up and walked over to the man, clearing her throat in case he hadn’t heard her approach. ‘Can I help you, sir?’ she asked, curtseying out of habit even though he couldn’t see.

Treasure continued to growl at her feet, but only in warning. He would only bite if he sensed Sharalynn was threatened.

The old man, who didn’t look as old as his hunch suggested, turned a smile towards her voice. ‘Well, now, you might, at that,’ he said with a toothy grin. ‘I’ve travelled down from upstream a ways, and I was hoping mayhap you might direct me to your town’s inn to rest these weary bones.’

Sharalynn shook her head. ‘We don’t have an inn,’ she apologised. She took in the stranger’s expensive robes and brightened. ‘But I’m sure our lords will gladly have you in their castle. All the important people stay there when they need to.’

The old man laughed and waved one hand. ‘Nonsense! I’m nobody important, just an old traveller. I needn’t intrude on your lords’ time.’

‘Oh, well, I can ask Mother if you could stay with us for the night?’ Sharalynn offered. ‘Only we don’t have another bed.’ As the youngest, she knew that meant she would be sleeping on the floor, but the old man had such a kind face underneath his blindfold, and travellers always had stories to tell.

He wrinkled his cheeks with a thankful smile. ‘What a kind offer. So long as your little pet here doesn’t mind?’

Sharalynn crouched to rest a comforting hand on Treasure’s back, but still the quiet growl rumbled on. ‘Treasure isn’t a pet,’ she said. ‘He’s my friend.’

‘Well, he doesn’t seem much to like me.’

‘He’s like that,’ Sharalynn said with an apologetic shrug. ‘He’s just… protective. The other children tease me, so Treasure protects me. He doesn’t trust strangers. Sorry, sir.’

‘Ah, well.’ The old man shrugged. ‘Let’s amend that right away, then. My name is Aderian.’

‘Sharalynn.’ She straightened with a smile, and hoped Treasure might calm down when he realised she was inviting him into her house. ‘My home is this way,’ she said, taking Aderian’s hand. ‘It’s not far.’

Treasure gradually calmed as they approached the house, but he still kept himself protectively between Sharalynn and the potential threat. After she had introduced Aderian to her mother and given him a cup of tea, she took the young griffin into her bedroom. Treasure jumped up on the bed beside her, reaching up to nuzzle her chin.

‘What’s the matter?’ she asked him. ‘He’s just a blind old man. He won’t harm me, I promise.’

Treasure didn’t seem so sure. He padded nervously at the bedspread with his front claws, glanced out the door and turned back to her. His eagle face couldn’t show any expression on its own, but Sharalynn had learned to read the look in his yellow eyes and the trills in his voice. Treasure was worried.

‘But why?’ Sharalynn asked him, wishing the griffin could speak to her with words. ‘He’s not been anything but friendly. I’ve never had many people be friendly to me, Treasure. Trust me in this, please?’

The griffin dropped his head in reluctant agreement, then jumped to the floor and wandered back out into the hearth room. He wasn’t a chick anymore, she realised, and not for the first time. He often acted older than she was, even though he was only two years old. She waited a moment before following, wondering if maybe the griffin was right about the stranger, or if he was being just as protective and worried as always.

The kindly smile the old man gave her when she returned allayed her fears, and she sat down beside him with her own cup of tea.

‘I can’t thank you enough for your hospitality,’ Aderian said warmly. ‘It’s been too long since I’ve had a good cup of tea. I’ll try not to be too much of a bother to you all.’

‘Oh, nonsense,’ Mother told him with a wave of her hand. ‘We get so few visitors here that any traveller is like to be the talk of the town until the next! Where did you say you’ve come from?’

Aderian shrugged. ‘I didn’t,’ he said with a cheeky grin. ‘I’m a traveller in the truest sense of the word, never settling for longer than a night or two in one place, but I’ve recently come downstream from the mountains. I might be blind, but that doesn’t mean I can’t experience the world just as everyone else.’

‘You must have some tales,’ Sharalynn remarked, leaning forward with a grin of anticipation.

‘Well, that I do!’ Aderian laughed. ‘Though I imagine you have your fair share of tales, lass, with a griffin for a friend.’

Sharalynn grinned. ‘You go first,’ she said.

‘Very well, then,’ Aderian said with a grin. Had she been able to see his eyes, she was sure the old man would have winked at her. ‘I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely truthful with you. I am, or rather, I was, the heir to a castle down by the great lake, but it was never much of a life for me. I heard all the stories of travellers, of minstrels and storytellers, and I wished to lead a life like that myself. So one day, I said goodbye to everyone in the castle, and set out on a new path.’

Aderian had indeed led an adventurous life. He had travelled all over the kingdom. He had met lords and ladies, even the king and queen once, long ago. He had met dragons and werewolves, ridden unicorns and even fought a phoenix.

‘It was the phoenix that finally blinded me,’ he said with a sigh. ‘Only a few years ago, so I still have my memories, and I’m not about to stop seeing the world just because I have no sight!’

‘That’s awfully brave of you,’ Sharalynn told him, resting her head on her arms. It was long past her bed time, she was sure, but Aderian had so much to say. ‘Do you ever get lonely?’

The old man nodded. ‘Oh yes, all the time. I visit my family every now and then, but every time it only makes me the gladder for the life I chose. All the intrigue of court, now there is a life I can do without. And my sister has done a far better job than I ever would have. No, it’s the road for me until the day I die, and I’d say there are still a good several years of living in me yet.’

‘It sounds amazing,’ Sharalynn murmured, closing her eyes. Maybe, when she was old enough, she and Treasure could do just that. Travel the world and see everything it had to offer.

Her mother rested a hand on her shoulder. Sharalynn shuddered as the hand passed through her wing, and frowned reproachfully up at her mother.

‘Time for bed, sweetling,’ Mother decreed, ignoring Sharalynn’s discomfort.

Sharalynn rolled her shoulder to shake her mother’s hand from it, then yawned widely and turned back to Aderian. ‘Will you still be here tomorrow?’

Aderian gave a nod. ‘I just might be,’ he agreed, ‘if you’ll have me. You still haven’t had a chance to tell me of your young friend, there.’ He gave that grin again, the grin that told of a wink in years gone by.

Sharalynn smiled. ‘I’ll tell you tomorrow, then,’ she told him, and took herself sleepily off to bed.

The next morning, she showed Aderian to the acacia with the hippopotamus rock where she had first met the griffins, telling him of her first friend and how the griffin had given her a feather that was now in pride of place on her hat.

‘Now, that is a special gift,’ the old man told her as they climbed the hill. ‘There’s magic in a griffin’s feather, but only if they give it as a gift.’

‘Truly?’ Sharalynn asked. ‘What sort of magic?’

‘Protection,’ Aderian answered. ‘From evil, from witchcraft, from nasty secrets.’

Sharalynn remembered how the girl in town had nearly snapped the feather in half, but something had stopped her. Could that be the feather’s magic?

‘Take good care of that feather,’ the old man said. ‘It could protect you more than you know.’

‘Thank you, Aderian, I will.’ She told of how she had found Treasure with his broken wing, and how the young griffin was trying so hard to learn to fly.

Treasure wasn’t being nearly so exuberant today, though. He walked sedately at Sharalynn’s side, not even leaving to pounce on butterflies and insects in the grass. He was determined to guard her against this man he still saw as a stranger, not to be trusted.

Aderian walked with the help of his cane, using it to feel where there were rocks or other tripping hazards in his path. He stopped at the top of the hill, and Sharalynn thought she heard him gasp.

‘Is anything wrong?’ she asked him, cautiously taking the old man’s hand.

‘No, not at all, my dear.’ Aderian shook his head, then began turning around as though he could see past the blindfold over his eyes. ‘I know this place,’ he murmured, then he pointed to the acacia. ‘There’s a tree, there, and a big boulder right next to it, there.’

Sharalynn smiled in surprise. ‘You’ve been here before?’

‘I have,’ Aderian answered. He felt his way over to the tree and rested a hand on its bark. ‘This was where you met Treasure? I do believe I knew his parents.’

Now it was Sharalynn’s turn to gasp, as she remembered the griffin treasures long hidden and half-forgotten under her bed. ‘Were they guarding your treasure?’

Treasure stalked forward, silent on his claws and paws.

‘They were.’ He sighed. ‘I suppose it’s all lost, now, stolen by whoever it was that took their lives. I took some with me when I left home the first time and set the griffins to guarding it, just in case I ran out of coin.’ He frowned in memory. ‘A necklace, I think there was here. And a ring, yes, a ring like a vine twisted around your finger.’

‘And a pair of jet and diamond earrings,’ Sharalynn supplied.

Aderian’s head snapped up and he swung around and looked at her. ‘You found it?’ he almost demanded.

Treasure leapt forward with a piercing eagle-shriek such as Sharalynn had never heard him give before. His wings were raised in threat, the full ruffle of feathers around his neck standing out and his tail lashing.

‘Treasure!’ Sharalynn cried, lunging forward before he could attack the old man, but he only held his ground and screeched once more at the threat to his prize.

‘Treasure!’ Sharalynn yelled again. She crouched down beside him, hesitating a moment before she rested a restraining hand on his back. ‘Whatever is wrong with you? It isn’t your treasure, you know. You were only guarding it on Aderian’s behalf.’

Aderian had his hands held up in defence. ‘I suppose it’s only to be expected,’ he said, his voice shaken. ‘The lad never met me, and I suppose his parents didn’t get the chance to tell him who he was guarding for.’

Aderian’s every word made Treasure tense up even further, until he was quivering with the effort it took to hold himself back.

‘Hush,’ Sharalynn soothed him, stroking his stiffened little body with one hand. ‘It was Aderian’s treasure you were guarding, right? He’s only come to retrieve it. Hush, now. He knows what each of the pieces look like. Now, how would anyone know that unless it was his?’

Treasure cocked his head, as though something had finally gotten through to him, and he sat down on his haunches. He was still tense, but this was progress.

‘Please, Treasure, you’re scaring our guest. You’ve done well in guarding the treasure for him and Aderian is very proud of you, aren’t you, Aderian?’

‘I couldn’t be more proud,’ Aderian agreed, still with a slight shaking in his voice. As before, when Sharalynn had first mentioned the treasure, he seemed to look straight at Treasure, as though he hadn’t lost his sight at all. ‘And your parents would be proud, too, to have guarded my treasure for so long as you have. If there is anything I might do in return for you, Treasure, you have but to name it, and it will be yours.’

The griffin stared at him for a long moment as he made up his mind, then he curled his tail over his toes and settled his wings against his back. He glanced briefly up at Sharalynn, then returned his hard eagle eyes back the old man.

‘I think that’s as much acceptance as you’ll win from him,’ Sharalynn apologised. ‘Come home. I have it all hidden under my bed for you.’

Back at home, Aderian stood anxiously by as Sharalynn pushed her bed aside and lifted the floorboards, though whether that was because of Treasure’s ongoing prowling or simple shock at finding something he thought lost, Sharalynn couldn’t tell. She pulled out the cloth-wrapped bundle and laid it on her bed.

Aderian gasped at the metallic jingle the treasure made. He sat on the side of the bed and passed a reverent hand over the bundle.

Treasure immediately jumped onto the bed and snapped his beak at Aderian’s hand.

‘Treasure!’ Sharalynn gasped as the old man snatched his hand back. ‘He didn’t hurt you, did he?’

‘No,’ Aderian said with a shake of his head. ‘Just a warning, I think.’ He forced a laugh. ‘He does his job well. Thank you, Treasure.’

Sharalynn sat on her bed and picked up the bundle to place on Aderian’s lap, casting a warning look at Treasure as she did so. The griffin returned her with a challenging look of his own, but flopped down on the bed between them. Sharalynn scratched him behind the feather tufts of his ears to calm him down.

‘This is magnificent,’ Aderian breathed as he ran his fingers over his long lost treasure. ‘I think, Sharalynn, that there perhaps is something I can do to thank you.’ He slipped the ring over his right index finger and turned his face towards her. He reached his right hand out, reaching for her shoulder, then past it to her wing.

Sharalynn gasped and twisted away, but his hand traced delicately around the bounds of her invisible wing, never quite touching it.

‘They’re real,’ Aderian told her. ‘Maybe you have doubted it in the past, because none else could see them, but—’

‘No,’ Sharalynn interrupted with a dazed shake of her head. She hardly believed what he was telling her, not that they were real, since she always knew they were, but that he could see them. ‘I’ve never doubted it.’

‘All to the better,’ Aderian said with a soft smile. ‘When my sight was taken, I was left with just a little, the sight that not so many normal people have. I can still see a little of magic. Magic in that griffin feather on your hat, magic in your wings.’ He held up his right hand, displaying the vine-twisted ring on his finger. ‘Magic in this old ring of mine.’

Sharalynn swallowed. Her fingers trembled where she scratched Treasure’s neck. ‘What are you offering?’ she asked timidly. Was this what Treasure was worried about? ‘Are you a witch?’

Aderian nodded and gave his winking smile. ‘I have some knowledge of magic, yes. Your wings are in the magical world now, which is why none can see them and why you can’t use them. Sharalynn, with your griffin feather, I can bring your wings into this world.’

Treasure growled beside her, but just this once, she ignored him.

‘You mean I could fly?’ she asked. ‘What about Treasure? Could you fix his wing, too?’

The old witch nodded again. ‘With Treasure’s permission, I could.’

Even Treasure stopped growling at that. He lifted his head, and his left wing twitched.

‘What do you say, Treasure?’ Sharalynn asked her friend. ‘Aderian can help you to fly, just as you’re meant to.’

The griffin stared for a long time at this stranger who might offer him flight. Finally, he gave a begrudging nod and jumped off the bed, not looking back as he left into the hearth room.

Aderian’s hand caught her own. ‘Thank you, for allowing me to repay your kindness,’ he said with a warm smile. ‘Up on the hill, I think would be best. I’ll prepare it tonight. Thank you, and to your family, for all that you have done for me.’

‘Thank you,’ Sharalynn managed to reply. ‘Treasure and I will meet you there tomorrow morning.’

He smiled again, patted her hand, then got to his feet with the help of his cane and saw himself out.

Sharalynn was quiet over dinner, and could hardly sleep that night. She tossed and turned as much as her invisible wings would allow her, wondering if she was doing the right thing. He could see her wings, surely that counted for something. He was certainly telling the truth about that, and as she had reminded Treasure, he couldn’t have known what the griffin treasure was unless it was his.

She was going to bring her wings into this world. Treasure would have his wing healed so he could fly. So why did she feel so scared?

Finally, when the first light of dawn peeked in through her window, she tossed the covers off and quickly got dressed. Treasure waited by the door to her room, sitting daintily with his tail curled over his front claws.

‘Ready?’ she asked him.

Treasure turned his head to the side, dropped it to look at the floor, then glanced over his shoulder at his slightly-outstretched left wing. Finally he looked back at her with a sigh and resettled his wings.

‘Me, neither,’ she admitted. ‘I’m scared. This is so sudden, Treasure. What if it’s not right?’

Treasure stood and jumped up on the bed beside her, nuzzling his head under her hands. He would trust her, whatever she decided.

She pulled his left wing from his body, just a little, and saw the kink in the fragile bone where it hadn’t quite healed properly. Treasure had never shown any pain, not since the bandages had been removed, but he had never been able to stretch it far enough to fly. For him, then, she needed to do this.

With a deep breath, she stood and swept her griffin feather hat onto her head. ‘Let’s go,’ she decided.

Treasure jumped off the bed and led the way out into the chilly dawn streets.

The morning breeze was cold against Sharalynn’s back. Spring hadn’t yet completely given way to summer, and without the sun the breeze still gave her goosebumps. She folded her wings against her back, but still the breeze niggled. With physical wings, no longer made only of magic, she would be able to fold them against the cold.

She followed Treasure up the hill to where Aderian waited, sitting cross-legged on the hippopotamus rock with his cane balanced on his knees.

‘Welcome, young griffins,’ he said with a welcoming smile, and uncoiled his legs to slide off the rock. ‘I understand your nerves.’

Sharalynn nodded, her mouth dry. ‘I trust you,’ she said. ‘But please, is it dangerous?’

Aderian shook his head. ‘Not in the least. I have been practicing with magic for longer than you have lived, Sharalynn. For me, it is as natural as dressing in the morning, or setting the hearth fire for dinner.’ He held up a hand and spread it over his head. A shower of silver sparks, like tiny stars, trailed behind his hand and lit his kindly face with a cool glow.

Sharalynn gasped and took a step back, then reached a hand out to catch the glowing shower, but it disappeared before it touched her hand. ‘It’s beautiful,’ she said.

‘That is how your wings appear to me,’ Aderian told her, and he reached out again to trace around the bounds of her magical wings. ‘Are you ready?’

Sharalynn shook her head in truth, but there was a pull now, a desire for what the magic could do. She had seen it now, proving that the old man could do just what he promised. She would have wings that everyone could see, that would grant her flight. Nobody would mock her when she could fly.

‘If it’s safe,’ she said, ‘then I trust you.’

Aderian smiled and ushered her to the rock. ‘Just sit there, my dear, and close your eyes. Oh, and I’ll need the feather, too.’

Treasure stalked anxiously around the rock, sniffing at it and at Aderian’s long robes.

‘Stand back, my little friend,’ Aderian told him. ‘Your turn will come. Now, Sharalynn, spread your wings and close your eyes.’

Sharalynn did as asked, feeling her heart thudding in her ears and tingling in her fingers. Her wings tickled as Aderian traced them with the griffin feather. She could hear him muttering words of a spell under his breath, indecipherable against the cool morning breeze. She could see the light of the dawn rising behind her closed eyelids.

She felt Aderian move closer. He rested one cool hand on her head, and she flinched a little as he brushed the feather over her eyes.

With that action came a light press against her back and on her face that made her gasp. The redness of the dawn light dove into blackness, and then the morning erupted.

Treasure screeched with all the venom and fury of a wild animal. She felt his body rush past her, always screeching, the sound splitting Sharalynn’s ears so that she had to cover them with her hands.

‘Treasure!’ she cried. ‘What’s—‘ She broke off, realising that her eyes were open, but still the world was black. ‘Aderian, what’s happening? Why can’t I see?’ Panic rose in her throat as she groped over the rock. She rubbed her eyes and blinked them open again, but it was like being in the cellar under the house without a candle. No matter how wide she opened her eyes, she couldn’t even see her nose in front of her face.

Treasure!’ she screamed.

The griffin was right there at her side, nuzzling her face, wrapping his feathered front legs around her neck as he had once done as a chick. He made worried cooing noises against her face, then abruptly turned around and screeched again.

Sharalynn started back and clung to the griffin’s soft fur, the only familiar thing in a world she couldn’t see.

‘Stay away!’ she roared, knowing just who Treasure was screeching at. ‘You liar! It was never your treasure, was it? You stole it! I trusted you, and you stole my eyes!’

‘I never stole it,’ Aderian said, his voice pained. Treasure, it seemed, had laid his claws on the old witch before he had come to Sharalynn’s side. ‘Only from the one who stole it from me in the first place.’

‘Give me my eyes back!’ Sharalynn cried, tears of panic running down her face and stinging her eyes. ‘You don’t deserve magic!’

Treasure screeched again and wrestled himself from Sharalynn’s grip, leaving only fur behind that clung to her clammy fingertips.

‘No!’ she screamed. ‘Treasure, he’s evil!’

The griffin didn’t listen. She curled her knees up to her chest and rested her forehead against them, wrapping her arms in a fragile cocoon around herself in an effort to block out the sound of her friend’s anguished screeches. Aderian yelled incoherent rage. She heard the scratching of Treasure’s claws against the rock, the tearing of fabric as he ripped at the witch’s robes, sickening thuds as Aderian’s fist connected with the griffin.

Every sharp sound made her cringe. Every human roar and every eagle screech buried her face further into her knees. She couldn’t open her eyes now, for fear of what she knew she would never see.

Finally, the fight ended. Aderian’s footsteps thundered off over the sandy earth and his robes crashed against the grass.

‘Treasure?’ Sharalynn sobbed.

He was beside her before she had finished saying his name. Her fingers brushed over him, feeling for any wetness against his fur or his feathers, but finding nothing. With a loud cry she threw her arms around him.

‘Oh, Treasure. Why didn’t I listen to you?’

The griffin was panting loudly in her ear, then he wormed his way out of her embrace.

‘Treasure?’

He cooed comfortingly at her, promising he wasn’t going anywhere, and pressed a clawed foot against her chest. She heard the rustle of his feathers, then felt his other talon grab at her shoulder as he climbed up in front of her. The feathers of his neck tickled her nose, then there was the flicker she had felt before, of a long feather brushing over her eyes.

Treasure cooed again, muffled a little with the feather in his beak, then nuzzled her cheek and cooed again.

A surge of hope jolted through her heart. Griffin feathers, given as a gift, held magic. Protection against evil.

She tentatively opened her eyes. Treasure’s bright yellow gaze stared back at her.

With a sob that this time was filled with laughter and relief, she flung her arms once more around her friend.

Around her, still providing their fragile cocoon, her wings were no longer made of magic, but of flesh and feathers.

‘We won’t give up,’ she sobbed. ‘You can fly, I know you can. If you can give this to me, I’ll find a way to give this to you. I promise.’

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