Chapter 37 – Riverside

The river rushed by, the water clear and chill as it meandered its way from its mountain tributaries. It crashed over boulders hidden below the surface, its current tract tumultuous and of the rapids before reaching the calm paths downstream. Tiffaniel reached out a hand, standing atop a boulder, waiting for her twin brother to turn. Groyven reached up, assisting her as she dropped to the step below. Her raven hair hung half over her eyes, the moisture from the spray of the rapids making it stick to her face. She looked back at the gryphon with a glare, which was instantly returned. She huffed to herself in frustration, tossing her hood back and shaking her hair out. Reaching into a deep pocket in her robes, she drew out a leather thong. She flicked her hair back and tied it off in a well-practised manner before pointedly glaring back at the gryphon again, earning her the sound of Hendosphyre snapping his beak along with a short shriek.

 

‘Both of you, stop arguing!’ said Groyven in an exasperated manner.

 

Tiffaniel turned and took his offered hand, balancing herself before dropping to the next slick boulder.

 

‘I don’t want to hear it, Tiff.’ he said sharply, addressing her irritated expression.

 

‘The feathered beast could have glided us down.’

 

‘Too much risk, Tiff. Flying is not riding.’ Groyven explained as he climbed down to the next crag of rock, he looked back up at her, ‘The feathered beast is protecting us. On the rocks we are harder to track.’

 

Again the sharp click of the gryphon’s beak, agreeing with his words.

 

‘Something happened last night while we slept, he wants us to be cautious.’

 

Tiffaniel stood resolute, looking down at him, ‘Cautious? I don’t see a difference in risk, we break our necks climbing wet rocks or falling from his back in flight.’

 

Again a shriek, louder this time as Hendosphyre climbed down beside them.

 

Groyven shook his head, looking up at his sister, ‘Tiff, look, it is not much further.’

 

‘He could have glided us down one at a time, same risk, no tracks at all.’

 

Another indignant shriek rang out as Groyven shook his head, he looked over to Hendosphyre, ‘Go, we are almost at the bottom.’

 

The gryphon clicked his beak again and glared at Tiffaniel once more for good measure before jumping off the rocks, unfurling his wings, catching the air and gliding down to the flat rocks at the rivers edge a little distance off.

 

‘See, so easy! Why not with us on his back?’

 

‘You know why Tiff, stop complaining.’ he offered his hand again, ‘Even I am concerned, Tiff. The wolves, their calls are getting closer.’

 

As if to accentuate his point, they could just make out the cry of a wolf echoing down the valley and over the rush and bubble of the river. Groyven looked at Tiffaniel as her eyes widened. She quickly took his hand and jumped down, steadying herself. She looked down to see Hendosphyre standing riverside, his attention on the distant call, he turned his head and looked at them, letting out another shriek.

 

‘I know, we heard it too. We are coming.’ Groyven called back to the gryphon as Tiffaniel nodded agreeably.

 

He met her eyes, ‘Can we stop the…’

 

She held up a hand, stopping him, ‘Let’s keep moving.’

 

Groyven smiled and shook his head at her sudden change while he dropped down to the next ledge.

 

Hendosphyre settled himself and watched the children descend the rocky outcropping beside the rapids and small tumbling waterfalls. From here on, it was mostly a mixture of shale and flat sheets of rock along the river. By mid afternoon they should be further into the valley, where the banks would give way to course river sand and pebbles. He turned his head, the dragon’s wreckage now behind them. They had crossed the path of destruction earlier in the morning as the children rode on his back. Before they had reached the rapids they had made quick progress. But the words of the woman with strange eyes from the night before had deepened his concern. Her words were a warning. He rested his head on his crossed claws as he watched the children near the bottom of the rocks. While he could remain at their side, after midday he intended to retreat to the amulet to recover. It was beyond his understanding, just that within a short time, any hurts were healed, hunger was quelled, and fatigue was banished. He could feel it in the air, he had been hearing the occasional howl since they arrived in this place. Though, this morning below the ruins where they had slept he had come across the scent of danger. A lone wolf had scouted as far as it dared, silent and wary of the sleeping gryphon in the night. Tonight, under the cover of darkness the children would need his strength and protection.

 

Groyven held his hand out to Tiffaniel as she leapt down from the last step of rocks. The howl that they had all heard, coupled with Hendosphyre’s caution had shaken her. She looked across the river to the valley they had traversed since yesterday morning with trepidation. Even she had the sensation they were being followed, or at worst, hunted.

 

‘Tiff… Tiff! Calm down.’ Groyven’s words pulled her back to the present. A cold chill surrounded them, her wet hair was adorned with ice crystals and steam was rising from her and Groyven’s breath.

 

‘I am worried too. But if we can keep moving we can make it to…’

 

‘What if we don’t?’ she said, speaking quickly, ‘Hendosphyre found the remains of a farm, or village, or something on the river that we could shelter in for the night. We can only ride on his back so far, and he has to rest too.’

 

Groyven watched her, ‘At dusk, if we can’t see any walls, I will summon him again.’

 

Tiffaniel nodded, her eyes sharp as she glanced about nervously.

 

‘Tiff, we will be fine. We have fire, ice and a very loyal and protective gryphon at our command. If wolves try to hunt us, they will have to deal with all three before they can touch us.’

 

She looked at him, a small smile on her face, ‘For a moment, I almost forgot. I have my brother, the fire demon here beside me.’

 

Groyven glanced at her, ‘And I have the ice witch.’

 

‘I don’t like that name.’ Tiffaniel replied quickly, ‘I am not a witch.’

 

Groyven smiled as he watched his sister return to a more normal mood, ‘Then what are you?’ he asked as he started walking towards the gryphon.

 

‘Ice sorceress? Maybe, enchantress? I know! Ice seduct…’

 

‘No, Tiff, no! Stop! That one has nothing to do with magic.’ exclaimed Groyven.

 

Tiffaniel looked at him, a confused expression on her face, ‘It sounds like it should work.’

 

She slyly looked at him, ‘Tell me what it means, Ven.’

 

He looked at her sidelong, ‘When you are older.’

 

‘When I am older? If you know, I should know too. I thought it sounded interesting, I overheard Illias speaking of Sialin with one of the crew, he said she was a “fiery seductress”. She commands fire and…’

 

‘No, Tiff. It has nothing to do with being powerful or a magic user.’

 

Tiffaniel glanced at him again, ‘You are not going to tell me, are you?’

 

Groyven shook his head, watching Hendosphyre stand and walk ahead of them along the bank of the river.

 

‘Well, you can act all superior, you can find comfort in your knowledge of words. It won’t help us if we come across someone and find out that they can’t speak or understand common. If the common tongue that we know is even used in this world.’ said Tiffaniel.

 

Groyven looked at Hendosphyre again, noticing that the gryphon was keeping an eye on the far bank of the river.

 

‘Hendosphyre, do you think that the common tongue we know is spoken here?’ asked Groyven.

 

Tiffaniel spoke with a tone of disbelief, ‘How would he know?’

 

Her expression changed when the gryphon nodded, ‘How do you know?’

 

Hendosphyre did not respond to her question, distractedly tossing his head, his eyes once again on the opposing bank of the river as they walked. The path to mid-morning passed uneventfully, for stretches of time they rode on Hendosphyre’s back, and when the river bank got too rocky or rough they walked at his side. On a calm stretch of the river they took a break from the walking and relaxed for a short while. Groyven sat on a boulder at the river’s edge, observing the surrounds, marking out a makeshift map on some parchment that Tiffaniel had stowed in the bag. He had fashioned a crude writing implement from charcoal he had scavenged from the campfire at the dwarven ruins. Tiffaniel crouched at the water’s edge, absently making ice flowers on the surface of the water while Hendosphyre kept watch with the forest at their backs.

 

Tiffaniel looked up at the mountains, a thought crossing her mind, ‘Ven?’

 

‘Hmmm?’

 

She stood and walked over to him, ‘Do you think it was mountains like these that we lived in, before we went to the Enclave?’

 

Groyven looked at her momentarily before casting his gaze further, to the surrounding mountains, and the not-so-distant snowy peaks, ‘Our home is in the mountains, I remember snow. I think it was a little like this, the village we lived in may have been higher up though. Like among the mountains that look over this valley.’

 

‘I hope we can find our way home, Ven.’

 

He frowned slightly, ‘I hope so too. But,’

 

‘I know, I know. Survive first, find help if possible.’

 

Groyven nodded slowly as he drew more of the river on his map.

 

Suddenly they heard a click, then a low forceful shriek. They both turned to see Hendosphyre standing on guard, his stance aggressive as he stared at the opposing bank of the river and the tree line. Tiffaniel looked to Groyven.

 

He quickly grabbed his things and scooped them into the bag, ‘Run, Tiff!’

 

Without a word she ran for the gryphon, Groyven close at her heels.

 

‘Quick, get behind him.’ he said between short breaths.

 

Hendosphyre ran towards them, pulling up into a defensive stance, one wing out wide and low, providing shelter and a wall of feathers for the children to conceal themselves behind. As soon as the children had hidden, he pulled his wing in, letting it droop as if it were injured, lowering his belly to the ground. Scant moments before, he had caught the scent of the approaching predator and as he ran to the children his sharp eyes had picked out flashes of movement among the loosely gathered trees on the far side of the river. He posed himself as if resting, quickly checking on the children, pressing against his body. He could feel Groyven shift under his wing, parting some feathers to peer out.

 

‘What do you see, Ven?’

 

Hendosphyre immediately let out a hiss, tightening the concealing wing in warning as he picked out another glimpse of movement on the far side. Narrowing his eyes, he waited. Suddenly, a large wild cat broke out from the cover of the forest, a blur of white and greys. It slid on the mixture of shale and sand that made up the bank of the river as it attempted to change direction. Scrabbling, clawing for traction with its big paws. Hendosphyre marvelled to himself as it managed to keep itself from tumbling into the water despite its apparent reckless momentum. He watched on as it slid backward down the river bank, its fore-paws outstretched, its claws acting like anchors, tearing gouges into the shale until it slid to a stop, its rear paws just kissing the water’s edge. In one swift movement it launched itself back up to the edge of the bank, away from the water. It stood there momentarily, looking into the forest, gathering itself. The gryphon had seen an animal such as this before, but only once, by chance and from the air. If there hadn’t have been the fresh blood on the snow from its kill he never would have known such an animal existed. This one was a prime example.

 

The snow leopard stood there, watching the trees as it shook the mixture of sand and mud out of its paws. Its ears were erect, changing direction as it listened. It seemed to be satisfied after a few short moments and it started to slink upstream along the river. Hendosphyre watched carefully, they had not been noticed, yet. With that thought, he watched the snow leopard slow to a stop and turn its head, looking across the water at him. Emerald eyes stared at the gryphon, with a mixture of suspicion, curiosity and unsettling intelligence. It took a few steps towards the river, its eyes now firmly scrutinising the appearance of a gryphon in these mountains. Its head tilted, one ear pricked as if listening to a spoken word. Giving one last glance, it suddenly exploded into a run, heading upstream. Within seconds it was gone.

 

Hendosphyre released his wing. As Groyven and Tiffaniel stood, he dipped his head, quietly gesturing for them to get on his back. Within moments he was moving as fast as he felt he safely could, immediately putting distance between themselves and where they were seen. Thankful that both Groyven and Tiffaniel instinctively understood the urgency and his need for silence. For nearly a quarter of an hour they made their way, Hendosphyre moving at the edge of a run and both Groyven and Tiffaniel holding on, keeping their grips tight and bodies low to his back. 

 

Slowing, he felt Groyven’s hand patting his side, listening for his voice.

 

‘Hendosphyre, let’s stop just inside the trees, up ahead.’ said Groyven quietly.

 

Hendosphyre tossed his head and redirected himself to the edge of the forest. Entering the treeline, he weaved between the trunks until they were a dozen or so yards in before stopping and allowing the children to dismount.

 

Groyven was the first to speak, ‘That was no normal mountain cat.’

 

Tiffaniel nodded agreeably, ‘It was incredible.’

 

Hendosphyre clicked his beak, quietly. Turning and looking back toward the river through the trees.

 

‘I do not think we were followed, it left pretty quickly.’ said Groyven as he watched the concerned gryphon.

 

‘Ven, is it just me, or did that mountain cat seem like it was it listening to a voice before it ran off.’

 

Groyven nodded, ‘I felt the same. But its paws, they were so large, its tail…’ he shook his head slowly, ‘It was like it was running ahead of something. Not away from it.’

 

Hendosphyre quietly clicked his beak.

 

Groyven watched the gryphon, ‘The wolves we have been hearing?’

 

The gryphon fixed him with a stare.

 

‘Is that why you wanted to get away from there?’ asked Tiffaniel.

 

Again Hendosphyre nodded.

 

Groyven looked towards the river, ‘Maybe we should stay in the treeline for a little longer and keep moving.’ he looked to Tiffaniel.

 

‘It will slow us down, Ven. We have to reach…’ she stopped talking as he looked at her.

 

‘Hendosphyre, if we haven’t reached the place you found by sunset I will summon you early.’

 

The gryphon made a small reassuring sound.

 

‘The trees are too thick here, so I will release you now. If we need you I will call for you immediately.’

 

Hendosphyre gently nudged Groyven’s chest before brushing against Tiffaniel. Standing in a gap in the trees he slowly became insubstantial, a glow forming around him as he returned to that place bound to Groyven’s amulet.

 

‘Ven?’

 

‘I know, Tiff. I don’t want to be without his protection, but we need him at full strength tonight so at least we can sleep safely.’

 

Tiffaniel nodded hesitantly as Groyven met her eyes, ‘Don’t forget, we have power to protect ourselves too. We are not defenceless without him. We just need to be more careful and keep our eyes open.’

 

She watched as he secured the bag, with the strap crossing his body from shoulder to waist.

 

‘Ready?’ he asked of her.

 

Tiffaniel nodded and followed him as they started off, both silent and keeping the edge of the forest and the river to to their left and within sight. They wove their way through the trees, without discussion and as quietly as possible.

 

Unbeknown to the twins, A sinister black form watched from the shadows at the edge of the treeline, looking out on where the gryphon had encountered the snow leopard less than twenty minutes earlier. It confidently stalked out from the cover of the forest, the sun did not reflect off its coat but rather was absorbed by it. It was as if its lupine form was a moving shadow as it covered the ground at a lope. Moving rapidly over the broken ground, it kept its nose low, skimming just above the ground, following the scent. It stopped with interest when it found the place where the gryphon had concealed the twins. It pawed at the ground, its red eyes glinting in the sunlight. After a few more moments of investigation it looked downstream, the direction the scent pointed to. Appeased, it padded without concern back towards the treeline. It gave one more look downstream before melting back into the shadows and disappearing into the forest while the sun slowly tracked its way through the heavens, heading unerringly towards midday.

 

 

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