Authors Note: If you haven't met the lovely griffin tamer Claudia yet, I implore you to read Ahara of Llowden first where she is introduced. :) Reviews welcome, please enjoy.
A Griffin Who Courts Humans
Claudia's bare feet padded along the thin dirt road as she made her way towards the edge of the town and the small farm she'd been told was there. She frowned a little, though her expression came off more as a soft sort of concern. The griffin, Hyrum, had been troubling her very much lately, and finally she was going to do something about it. She knew that the people of the town nearby were used to seeing her griffins, and she knew they were not afraid if they recognised they were hers - the farmers on the outskirts often had encounters.
This was different, however. Sighing and smiling to herself, she mused at how adorable Hyrum had been when he'd come to ask her permission to court a human. Claudia couldn't help but laugh a little out loud. Standing at the door of the house, she took a deep breath and brushed some dust off her shirt before knocking her knuckles a few times quickly on the doorframe.
Sera frowned, uncertain who would be knocking at her family's doorstep so early in the day- her brothers were away fighting and her mother and father where in Hysstas attending to business there- she worried about her safety and debated whether or not to even answer. Nervously, she called through the door. "Who visits?" while picking up her short bow, stringing it quickly, and retrieving some arrows from her quiver.
"I'm sorry, this is going to sound quite strange.. I'm looking for Kiori..?" Claudia said delicately, trying not to sound too terrifying. "My name's Claudia, I just want to talk with her for a moment..." She held her face close to the door to make sure the person inside could hear, and then stood nervously, waiting for a reply. People made her feel strange these days - distant and separate.
"There is no Kiori who lives here. I am called Sera-." The dark haired girl unlatched the lock on the strong wooden door and awkwardly hid her bow behind a hallway stand to the right of her. She stepped back, bowing her head politely as she caught a glimpse of blonde hair walk towards her. The woman looked to be in her mid thirties and was adorned in deep, white scars. "I'm sorry. There must be some mistake."
"Ah, no, sorry.. I must have gotten confused. He did mention the name Sera..." Claudia looked both worried and apologetic as she stood before the pretty dark haired girl. "Kiori means 'small, dark one', he must have been describing you. You've been feeding one of my griffins, I think.. and he's been following you around..?" The older woman went on, trying to explain a little and wringing her hands.
"Oh! Yes, I have been feeding one. A big black bird with red eyes- he's there outside my window most mornings. I'm really sorry- was I not supposed to?" Sera averted her eyes nervously to the floor, and then to the bow. She was definitely worried she had somehow upset this woman who was called a beast master of griffins.
"No, no. That's alright - as long as he's safe I don't mind, but there is.. another thing..." Claudia was dancing around the matter, people made her awkward, and the situation was already uncomfortable enough. "Hyrum came to me this morning and asked for permission to... court you." She forced out the words and tried to smile at the girl apologetically.
Sera's eyes widened in surprise and her face paled. "Court me... as in, as he would a mate?" she questioned through trembling lips. "Please, come and sit with me inside."
Claudia nodded slightly and tried to kick some of the dirt off her feet before following Sera into the house. Breathing deep and slow, she tried to concentrate on the matter at hand, and not worry about the 10 years in which she hadn't been inside another person's dwelling, or even in their company for very long. Things needed to be explained. Once they reached a small sitting room, Claudia took the seat offered her and sat rather stiffly, waiting for Sera to sit as well. "Hyrum is very interested in you - and yes, he wishes to take you as his mate..." She began, her voice serious but friendly.
Sera settled into a seat adjacent from Claudia, her face pale and her eyes large with confusion. "Has something like this happened before with your griffins?" she asked in a small but firm voice, trying to find her confidence and remember what her brothers had taught her when it came to thinking of relevant questions. She needed to understand what was actually going on here. She felt relieved that her parents were away in Hysstas right now.
Claudia smiled at her. "Yes, but not often - I've never heard of it outside of my own experience. Many in my clan tried to court me when I was younger.." The memories made her laugh a little, and she remembered their depression when she showed more of an interest in humans than them. Claudia had been Clan Leader for almost two decades now – around twenty years of protecting her griffins from humans and vice versa. When she was young, she'd been the one needing protection, her village regularly attacked by the monstrous winged beasts. Eventually she had come to realise that she belonged with them, and that she could understand their language. Her face was marred with a tiny frown now - she was worried that the girl would reject Hyrum and he would be heartbroken. Claudia had seen griffins mope for years straight because their desired mate did not want them. Suddenly, she realised that her frown could be wrongly interpreted by Sera and quickly replaced it with a warm smile.
"I-That is." Sera blushed softly, feeling confused and not knowing how she should react to all of this. She was a human. She couldn't possibly, feasibly be with a griffin in a romantic sense. How would that even work anatomically or did the griffin, Hyrum, only desire friendship with her? She watched Claudia closely, her shoulders stiff with nerves but easing up a little when the blonde woman smiled warmly, as though encouraging her to relax. "What does she say about me?" she asked curiously, a small blush tinting her cheeks. Did griffins have intelligent thoughts like humans?
"There is too much to repeat fully, but it usually revolves around your kindness and beauty, as well as how good you are at taking care of your land and producing food..." Claudia laughed a little, beginning to relax as well. "He is quite the rambler..." It was an understatement - Claudia had assumed it was just curiosity that kept Hyrum going back to watch the girl most days, but Hyrum's rambles seemed to insist otherwise.
Sera reddened when she realised that the idea didn't repulse her as much as it should have, and she was actually flattered by the creature's appraisal of her skills. She should be disgusted, instead she was curious and politely entertaining the woman who lived with so many griffins. "I care for the property when my parents are away. My brothers are off training to be excellent archers, you see." she smiled a little. She had always been jealous of their exciting lives and had begged her parents to let her train as well. Despite her parents' rebuttal, her two older brothers would often teach her how to shoot arrows and ride like the very best horseman in secret.
Claudia was growing to really like the girl the more she talked to her - she had a kind warmth. "I can see that you do a wonderful job... Your crops are very large and healthy, as well as your animals.." She said, her tone showing that she was impressed. "And your brothers must be very skilled." She paused for a moment, considering her next words. "What do you think of Hyrum..? I have told you what he says of you.. it would be nice to hear the other side.." Claudia's face cracked into another beaming smile as she regarded Sera.
The dark haired girl stuttered for a moment, awkwardly avoiding the woman's gaze. "He is sweet, and very quiet- I suppose that's probably mostly because I don't understand his words." she raised her eyes to meet Claudia's and offered a nervous smile. "I'm trying to think of excuses now, reasons why it's impossible- there are alot, admittedly. Instead, I am coming up with ways to make it work." she dropped her voice towards the end almost as though someone might hear the admission. "I don't see how it can work.. My family are saving me for a political marriage. And- but I-" she was curious. She wondered what it would be like. How it would work. She had always wanted to lead a more interesting life like her brothers. The allure was undeniable.
Claudia was extremely shocked by the girl's admission - not just that she was thinking about it, but that even though she knew it was not possible, she was considering. The older woman blinked, as if trying to clear her mind and began to approach the subject differently now, changing tactics. "If you wanted to pursue this further, I would be happy to allow him to court you. Courtship can last up to a few months among the griffins, and it would not be wrong of you to delay your answer." She was smiling sweetly, and she tried to hide her curiosity and joy that the girl showed such an interest instead of immediate dismissal. "Of course, if you were to accept, there would be many implications.."
Sera bit her lip, casting her eyes upon the woman's body now. She was terribly scarred- large wounds that had healed poorly littered her body. Sera herself was not afraid of such scarring, but instead wondered somewhat morbidly if she would be covered like that one day. Her body was one that had seen few injuries, most of them acquired through everyday life on a farm. Not as serious as Claudia's. And even now, she still felt curious. She wondered how it would work, and what her brother's would think- her parents would be disgusted and promptly marry her to some influential husband before her family's name became too sullied. "What implications?" she spoke aloud, though in a small voice.
Claudia smiled to herself. Sera was really considering this. "Well, it would be... undesirable for Hyrum to live here, away from the clan. You could have no other mates, you could never have children..." She trailed off, looking at Sera seriously, but a pleased smile was stuck on her lips.
Sera blushed awkwardly, but worry quickly took over her face. "I would bring you trouble. My family would search for me. I'm sure they'd find me."
Claudia smiled slyly. "You would be a member of my clan. No one would take you anywhere against your will.." She laughed a little, an almost sinister, mischievous laugh.
"They would hunt me down. Attack your griffins and call them unholy-" the girl averted her eyes to the floor. "How could you protect me? Why would you risk yourself and the griffins?"
Claudia smiled apologetically. "You have not seen the size of my larger griffins, nor how numerous they are. They are also clever, swift hunters... I would protect you because you, if you accepted Hyrum's courting, would be a real member of my family." She laughed a little and sat back in her seat. "Not to mention Hyrum would kill anyone that dared threaten you.."
The idea was overwhelming to her. "I am not sure what to say." she blushed meekly. "I want to say yes, but I know that I should decline instead." Sera blushed at the thoughts of words like 'courtship' and 'mateship', realities that she would have to consider if she said yes. She watched the woman seriously, silently asking her to convince her regardless of all the consequences.
Claudia simply shrugged.
Sera's shoulders fell, air leaving her lungs and falling from her lips as she gave in and sighed. 'Alright.' She agreed, in slight worry and exasperation. 'Let's do it.'
The older woman grinned in excitement. "I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun, and wait until you see Hyrum's reaction!" Claudia laughed and clasped her hands tightly together as her tone quickly changed and she frowned deeply - she had to tell the girl the truth. "You know, Sera... Once you've accepted this, you will not really be able to... leave..." She cringed a little - she had gotten too caught up in the excitement of taking the girl home to be courted by Hyrum. Internally she scolded herself.
Sera winced at the admission, a small, scared pout taking control of her lips. Whatever she chose now would determine how she lived her life. All of her life. "Will I be able to visit my brothers?" she asked instead, her brows furrowed and shoulders hunched.
Claudia nodded, some part of her smug that Sera was still considering this. "Yes, of course..!" She exclaimed, once again looking joyous.
"Then I-" Sera laughed softly. "Well, I've always wanted to lead a more adventurous life. I suppose if I will be unable to change my mind or leave later on, it makes me more inclined to try my hardest to make things work." her cheeks reddened and she looked away, unable to face Claudia now. "Yes."
Claudia said nothing, just stood, walked across the room and hugged the girl firmly around the shoulders. She was excited not only at the prospect of seeing Hyrum happy, and the clan's curiosity at the new human, but also the prospect of having a human around for herself. Almost 10 years had passed since she'd spent a sizeable amount of time with a person, that was about to change dramatically, and though nervous, she was also greatly anticipating it.
Sera, used to very affectionate brothers, returned the embrace and laughed. "I'm actually very nervous." she murmured into Claudia's shoulder. "Please take care of me. I don't know how to do any of this."
"I will be there to help you however I can, don't worry lovely.." Claudia beamed and squeezed the girl tighter. "The clan will love you, small and dark Kiori."
Kiori stood nervously in the clearing, Claudia at her side and many, great and large griffins surrounding them. She closed her eyes and hid in close to Claudia's side, holding onto her arm tightly.
Claudia laughed slightly and hugged the girl into her side with her free arm. "They won't hurt you, they're just curious.." She said softly, and in her mind, told Andromache to come forward and greet the girl nicely, to set a good example. As requested, the huge white griffin stepped towards them, keeping her head low and making happy trilling noises as she gently sniffed the human from a mere head-span away.
"See..?" Claudia asked and smiled at Kiori.
"Yes... She's so gentle." the small girl praised, slowly reaching a hand forward to touch the griffins' smooth beak. She had never touched a griffin before- her admirer had always kept her distance. Kiori stepped forward away from Claudia slightly to fully appreciate Andromache.
The huge white griffin purred at her and thrust her head under Kiori's hand, forcing them through the feathers there before crouching on the grass, sitting rather like a housecat. Claudia smiled and petted some of the others that came up to watch, telling them to be nice to the new arrival. Obviously, Hyrum had been quite far away, but suddenly he came bolting out from the trees, coming to a lurching stop just beside Andromache, who flattened her ears at the younger griffin and narrowed her eyes, scolding him for being so rash. Hyrum, however, didn't notice this; he was too busy staring excitedly at Kiori.
Claudia listened to his energized chattering and smiled broadly - this was probably the first time they had been so close, from the way they both told it. Slowly, Andromache shifted and stood, moving out of the pair's way. Hyrum took a nervous step, stretching out his neck to get his head as close as possible to Kiori while his body stayed in place.
Kiori smiled and looked at Claudia, her lips trembling with nerves. "Has he been told yet?" she asked, watching Hyrum out of the corner of her eyes.
Claudia nodded happily and sat cross-legged on the grass, lifting her arms so a young griffin could stretch across her lap. Several others gathered around her, and Andromache also sat like a beautiful statue, to the woman's side. Hyrum slowly stepped towards Kiori, raising his head to sniff the girl's face. Claudia spoke for the small black griffin as he examined his prospective mate. "He says you smell wonderful.."
Kiori grew red, her eyes wide. "I-uh, thankyou. Can he understand me?"
Claudia nodded quickly and disentangled a paw from her hair. "He says you're welcome and asks if he can sit with you. He also apologises for not bringing a gift, he didn't know you were coming."
"No, that's fine." Kiori promised. "Of course you can sit, it will be our first time sitting together." the small girl laughed, shuffling closer to Claudia and then sitting down. "I'm so nervous.."
"Don't worry..." The older woman breathed and re-arranged a tiny griffin in her lap, gesturing to Hyrum. "He is too."
The black griffin flattened his ears and lowered his head to glare at the clan-leader, unhappy with her accusation. Still, he sat beside Kiori, flicking his tail so it lightly brushed her back.
"How long have you- wanted to pursue me?" Kiori asked the dark griffin, whom she realised now wasn't so large after all, shivering as the tail lightly trailed across her pale skin.
The griffin's eyes seemed to beam at her wordlessly, and both waited for Claudia to translate. "He says since the first time you fed him..." The older woman supplied.
"That was three weeks ago now, when my parents left for Tithiel." Kiori murmured softly, awed at how quickly the griffin had formed such an attachment to her.
"And it took you this long to ask me, Hyrum..?" Claudia laughed. "Also, I had a thought - we should probably move the clan..." she continued, gazing warmly around at everyone present. Andromache raised her great head and looked at her questioningly, to which Claudia replied with a soft smile, and obviously a mental explanation. Andromache seemed stern, but eventually resettled her beak on her front paws. The others, especially the younger griffins, seemed extremely excited at the idea, and rubbed and butted their heads against Claudia's back and shoulders. "Probably not too far, just so we can put some distance between us and the town.." She added, for Kiori's benefit.
"Oh.. Incase they come looking for me." Kiori realised and instantly felt as though she were imposing on this bright and kind woman. "I'm sorry..." she spoke softly, drawing her knees to her chest to hide her shame.
"It's fine, sweetheart..! You wouldn't be here if it worried me.." She beamed and patted the girl on the shoulder. "We'll just move a little away so if they do come, we have more time to prepare.."