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Physical Book Imminent!

I should have news soon about the physical version of the Godkin story! In the mean-time, I'm trying to decide on interior illustrations. I'd love to know what you would like to see illustrated: characters, scenes, places... whatever you thought, "Ooh, I would have loved a picture of that!" while reading.

This is going to be an awesome-looking volume, folks. I'll have release dates and details soon. :)
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Flight of the Godkin Griffin: Epilogue

Not a short climb, Lucien observes.

No, I agree as I ascend on foot, one arm around the sling where my baby is sleeping against my ribs. I find the weight comforting but very different from the rocks I've been practicing with. No matter how carefully you weigh a baby, no stone will ever give you the same impression... the vulnerability, the preciousness. And the wiggle: babies wiggle a lot more than you imagine.

We've left my guards behind... but we are well past the point where it's safe to go without wings. Besides, I am never without protection, and by now everyone knows it. It's been an interesting, very grueling few months. I have occasionally tried to imagine undertaking this... adventure... without the Godson's help; it would have been disaster. Even with his help it's been a struggle. I've fought easier uphill battles than the one I'm embroiled in now.

So I have been busy. It's only now, at summer's end, that I've been able to get away from the seat of the Closest Kin to come here, as I have been longing to since I returned from Shraeven.

We're almost there, I tell him, and feel his attention grow more focused. I hike up the last crumbled feet of the trail and then we are standing on top of the world.

The Lip of the Sun, I say to him.

Ah...!

I am on a summit of tawny rock so far above the sea that the sky looks closer than the earth, almost touchable. The drop is sheer, straight down to amber rocks slicing through the foam-edged waves, an eye-watering turquoise. Their boom is distant, as is the scent of salt and summer. Up here you mostly smell the sky... feel a wind too high to gather earthbound smells.

This is where I grew up... this is where I had to come. Not just for myself, but to bring these two newest important people in my life. So I don't spoil the moment with explication. Together the Godson and I overlook the shimmering waters while I hold the sleeper to my chest, knowing that the taste of the air and the smell of it and the heat will reach the baby just as powerfully—perhaps more so—than the sight.

I remember not long ago I was contemplating my retirement in a room at Fort Endgame... wondering about godhead and grace. I wanted to wander the earth, to unravel the mysteries. When the Godson called me back to duty, I thought Shraeven was a distraction from that goal. But instead, Shraeven gave me the answer, sheathed in blood and suffering so that I would be sure to feel it piercing me, bright as a sword:

We are each of us vibrating between the eternal and the moment. To be mortal is to never be comfortable, never be able to settle on one or the other... and so we need reminders to pull us in each direction. Like gods and children.

I cup the baby's body against my breast and feel the brush of Lucien's ghostly hand. I spread my wings, feeling the heat in every feather, and the sun sparkles on the waves and in my eyes.

And then I step off the edge of the world and soar into the summer sky.



The End


What She Brought Back From Shraeven
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Angharad Triumphant

"Nadeir," Colblain says. "Where we started this whole gods-forsaken exercise."

"More like gods-becluttered," Gavan says. "Blood and life, it's good to see an honest fort!"

I laugh. "We'll be able to find you proper civilian clothes in the warehouse, if Supply will deign to honor my request."

"Better have the Godson set something on fire," Gavan says darkly. "That's the only thing that'll loosen that tightfist's fingers."

My entourage feels so thin now: Oweir left us soon after the Neshanti, Donal, Negrat, Ragna, Silfie... all gone. It's just the three of us—four, counting my divine patron. I am feeling distinctly abandoned when a shadow ripples over the ground and the corvid messenger dives, back-winging to land on Honeydipped's crupper. I twist around to look at him, heart lifting.

"Decided to come along? What about your mate?"

The messenger gives an unconcerned croak and leans forward to offer the flower in his beak. I turn it in my fingers: pale as honey, one of the mountain valley's blooms.

"Did he bring that all the way from Shraeven?" Gavan says.

"Maybe that's the message," I say. At his quizzical glance, I smile and say, "Shraeven's not that far."

I put my heels to Honeydipped's sides. All around me, the Kingdom's late spring spreads, bright spears of grass, brighter sky. Barely a season, there and back... and that by foot. How much closer for those who fly? Shraeven and its memories will never be far.

"Let's go," I say. "There's work to be done."

"Aye, mistress!"
stern, stoic, proud

Farewell the Second

I'm expecting... something when we cross over. Visions of empire and war. Trumpets sounding a tantara. The Godson bursting into flame above my head like a symbol of my divine right to rule.

But instead there is nothing... nothing external. Just a feeling, a welter striving behind my solar plexus. Relief, release, regret. Joy and fear and joy.

I don't cry, and nothing feels different... except everything has changed.

There is work to be done.

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We descend out of the mountains then, down to the Sunkin's Way, and once we reach the road the men strike up a marching song. We're home, we are the pride of the Kingdom, the sun shines on our shoulders. The banners snap in a familiar wind: no more the perfume of Shraeven's foreign flowers, but the grassy herbal tang of the shrubby lands flush to the rocky slopes.

At night Donal spars with me, but I score more touches on him than wonted. I have come home... he is about to leave. His heart is already distant. On the eve of his departure he gains his focus again, enough that we put on a good fight for our watchers. He scores the last point, and I put my hand on his sword to hold it in place.

"Eat supper with me," I say.

"Gladly."

So again, I find myself sitting at a meal before parting. It is a genial time spent reminiscing, completely in keeping with his character, just as Ragna's silence had been of her. Over the remnants of a fruit tart I try to imagine Donal suggesting a friendly nap and smile.

"Something funny?" he asks.

I shake my head, looking down at my plate. I don't know how I'd explain. They're so different, and yet the same in the only way that matters.

"You'll see her again," he says, pouring himself another cup. When I glance up at him, he says, "Ragna. You've been subdued since she left."

I nod. "I loved her."

"Love her," he says. "The love remains, even if the people never come back."

I look up at him. He smiles back at me.

"You're a long sight from the days you were a provincial making trouble for my captains," I say.

He smiles, but there is a weight in his eyes that I recognize, one that keeps him from laughing. "I enjoyed serving under you, Angharad. I'm glad I had the opportunity."

Is that it? I'm... disappointed. As I see him out, I wonder at my melancholy... but I have no answers, none I dare look at too closely. Even the Godson is silent on the topic. I lie on my stomach on my bunk and stare at the egg until I fall asleep.

The following day our march brings Nadeir into sight and with it the Rind, the major road circumscribing the Kingdom's original borders. This is the fastest route to Aneshet and we stop when we reach it. There is some minor ceremony as Donal's unit detaches from our company, one Nedwin oversees as the ranking officer on the march. Donal accepts Nedwin's formal thanks for the courage and hard work of his conscripts; all I can see is his hard back and strong neck, spine straight as a plumb line.

Then his men turn to face me and come to attention. He strides to the center of their formation and then walks to Honeydipped's flank. And there before the gods and everybody he takes my hand and kisses it.

"Aneshet bids the Godkindred Kingdom to look for him in the spring." The look in his eyes makes the fur on the back of my neck stand on end... an electric tingle that makes me aware of every eye on us. "We will come to her then."

"She will await your arrival," I answer.

Holding my eyes, he whispers over my knuckles, "I'll be back for you, Angharad."

He lets my hand drop and turns away... leads his men down the Rind without a backward glance. As their boots thump on the stone, I hear them begin a Neshanti song.

My fingers still feel his breath.

If he can make good on that promise... the Godson says, musing. A man who could make a kingdom out of a province in a year would be a magnificent emperor.

No more empire, I say, but sitting astride Honeydipped I feel flushed and alive.

I'll be waiting, Donal.
miserable, sad, unhappy, defeated

Farewell the First

The border is unmarked but we both know it. Ragna reins in her mount and Honeydipped comes to a halt alongside and together we gaze at gray and yellow stone beneath a bright sun.

"Shall we stop for noonmeal?" I say.

Ragna nods and we separate to return to our respective countrymen and give the order: we'll stop for an hour or so. My men pitch my tent and set up the basics in it; a meal is served, slices of that good hard cheese from Black Vines on crisp crackers baked with sesame seeds, spiced meat rolled into cabbage leaves. We drink pale wine together and it is a quiet meal... I expect no less.

Ragna glances at the egg, which is considered one of the "basics" that goes into my tent whenever we stop. I've put the baby's bed blossom in the box with it, and unsurprisingly (to me, anyway) it hasn't wilted yet.

"When do you think?" she asks.

"I don't know," I admit. "But it's gotten hard. Soon, I am hoping."

She smiles. "You will have to send me a portrait."

I nod. And find I have no words for the end of this journey. The enigmatic hillswoman I found on the border, who became my esquire... my translator... my friend and my confidant. And now my peer in an arena I never expected to enter. What do I say? What is there to say?

Ragna squints, lifting her head. "An hour?"

I nod.

Her whiskers lift a little. "A nap?"

"If you wish?" I say, perplexed, for I hadn't thought her tired.

But then we lie together on my bunk and she tucks herself against my chest and I understand. I rest my beak above her head and my arm over her shoulders. She lifts her chin just enough to settle the side of her face against the inside of my other arm... and we relive the many nights we have spent just so. Indulging in the "merely" asexual embrace that she taught me means so much. Because "I love you" comes in more forms than the ways I'd assumed, and if I leave Shraeven with one, quiet, personal revelation... it's that.

At the end of the hour she rises, thick fur shimmering. Stretches and looks down at me.

"I'll have your whisker," I say.

"I'll have your feather," she says. She looks at me a little longer with those sea-green eyes, so uncanny. Then she says, soft, "Thank you, Angharad."

And then she's gone.

By the time my tent is packed the Queen of Shraeven, her heralds, guards and servants are already too far down the road to be seen by normal eyes, and mine are having trouble of their own. I draw in a deep breath and turn away.

Shall we step over the border together?

I smile, my eyes leaking. I'm not sure we could do it any other way.
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Passing the Mantle

The first Shraevenaese I ever met, the folk of the mountain plateaus, come down to greet us as we ride past. It is here that the last of our taggers-on leave us for home... the fighting folk that Negrat brought to the capital, such a very long way. Ragna holds especial interest for the headmen and their shamans, who whisk her away for curiosity, not to air their concerns (for truly, what do such self-sufficient men and women need?). But I'm the one the children follow... the stranger with wings. I remember how to say hello to them—emfa! emfa!—and they laugh and want to see me fly.

I return to camp festooned with flowers, pale as honey and blue as a summer sea. I'm still wearing them, inhaling their perfume, when Negrat settles down beside me that evening.

"Are you staying, then?" I ask.

"Here?" He smiles. "It would be a fitting end to my adventure... if this was a story. But life does not end anything neatly, you will have perceived."

"Oh yes," I say, chuckling. "I have so perceived."

"I will stay home for a while... long enough to badger my successor," Negrat says. "And then I will make my way back to the capital."

"To badger my successor," I say, nodding. "Life might not have neat endings, but patterns it does very well."

He laughs and pats my knee. "Ah! I have trained you well, Godkin woman! You will make your people crazy with confusion, just as you must. We must all start from confusion, to learn anything at all."

"From honest confusion, anyway," I say, trying for a sage tone. "For if you deny your confusion, you can never repair your ignorance."

Negrat claps his hands, delighted. "I have taught you all that I know! I am content."

I grin and together we look at the stars as they become visible: swiftly to my sharp eyesight... and perhaps even more swiftly to his less-than-normal gaze.

I am not at all surprised that after he has gone, I find a baby's bed blossom where his tail was so lately warming the stone. I wonder where he found it, but only for a moment. He has his ways... so will I.

Even an old griffin can learn new tricks.
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miserable, sad, unhappy, defeated

Memorial

It is much as I remember it, the green chain of mountain valleys connecting Shraeven to the Kingdom... except that the deepening of spring has brought forth different flowers and the people no longer curse the names of the pards under their breath. Riding here I am assailed by a deep contentment, knowing that I changed their lives for the better. I spent bitter coin to do it, but for now there is peace and safety here because of my decisions.

It is no surprise then, that in the mountains I am as warmly received as Ragna. In fact, a facsimile of the document that declared us allies against the pards has been carved in stone and set on a pedestal in the town halfway between Shraevensgate and the border. The original, the headman says, will travel from town to town on an annual rotation. He glances at his new queen to see if she objects to their veneration of a symbol linking them to their former oppressors, but Ragna only smiles. After all, that Godkindred oppressor rescued her in the same battle that destroyed the pard nation.

We travel toward the beginning of our relationships, Ragna and Donal and Negrat and I. It is like moving through time. From the corners of my eyes I glimpse myself talking to Colblain about duty and service... shouting my outrage at Magwen, riding alongside Silfie, Silfie with the sun in her cinnamon curls...

So many memories. I begin to feel the weight of them. Not just Shraeven, but the campaigns before. Glendallia, where there is a fountain in my likeness: hard conquerer, sword weeping water. Ulnith, where I almost died covering the retreat in the battle of Kendrick Caves. Even the slopes of Firerake, where I fought my first battle as a fourteen-year-old foot-soldier under Captain Trerian... ah, that was ages ago, it feels like.

How many more fights will I see, dismantling the empire?

A lot fewer than you did as a Mistress-commander, the Godson says. You will not have the luxury of killing your own enemies personally. Not again.

We'll see about that.

When we reach the village where I first heard rumor of the pard nation, I excuse myself from my advisors, my guards and my foreign allies in order to make a pilgrimage. I had not overflown the site I'd decided on when we first entered the mountains, but I remembered its location as only a flier can... even though I choose to walk the trail on foot, my boots digging into moist soil and scrabbling on rocks.

Once I reach the quiet mountain top with its commanding overlook of the valleys, I set out a circle of stones, pound a plank into the soil and take out the paint.

When I finish, I sit back, hands on my knees.

I suppose I should have known I would be followed. What surprises me is that Ragna lost all her guards on the way up. She crouches alongside the wood, tracing the words as she reads them. Then she glances at me. "You remember him."

"Of course I do," I say. "He led us to the pards... and he died for it. What was he, nineteen? Twenty?"

"Seventeen, mayhap," Ragna says. "The shepherd boy Murdinal. You spelled his name wrong." At my glance, she smiles, whiskers barely moving, and says, "I will have a stone marker erected. For him and all the others who died during the battle."

"Did I choose a good site?" I ask.

She rises, brushing off her knees. Glances around. "There is enough room here for a proper memorial. And the way is hard enough to focus the mind and easy enough that people will make the trip. Yes, I think it's good. Thank you for thinking of it."

"I'm sure you would have, too," I say.

"Perhaps," Ragna says. "Perhaps not. We pards lack a person's proper sense of history."

I stand up too. And snort. She looks at me and then smiles properly, accepting my opinion of her self-deprecation.

"Come," I say. "Let's go down together, Shraeven and the Godkindred Kingdom."

As we head for the path, she asks, "Will you still call it that when you get back? The Godkindred Kingdom?"

"I'd better," I say, "if I change the name, the Godson will set me on fire."
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War-Griffin's Welcome

The people of the plains of Shraeven know me as a face in a parade, a religious curiosity or a perturbation in their routine.

The people of the mountains of Shraeven know me as the woman who spilled her own blood to make them safe. So it doesn't entirely surprise me that when we ride up the road toward the first of the mountain's dimpled valleys, the people have not just formed a crowd to await our arrival... but arranged a giant festival. Colorful tents are pitched like a patchwork skirt around the town's perimeter and even from a distance we can hear the singing chatter of tambourines.

"Looks like a party," Gavan says, ears straining forward to catch the sound of fiddle reels. Nedwin has released my Godkindred captains from their duties (Donal, of course, is still in personal command of his Neshanti conscripts), so they've taken to riding alongside me.

The mountains must elicit inevitable memories for Oweir, who looks to be brooding... but his expression lightens when dozens of belled dancers stream toward us, parting just before the point of our formation to tumble and caper, their crazily-dyed skirts and scarves flashing in the high white sunlight. Behind them skip scores of children with wicker baskets of the scarlet flowers of the valley, distributing them randomly to soldiers, heralds, anyone they can reach, until the spicy-sweetness of their perfume is interwoven through the ranks like trails of incense.

By the time we reach the tents with their aromas of roasting sausages and fresh beer, it's only the rigid discipline of the army that keeps the whole traveling party from dissolving.

I am waiting for Nedwin when he rides toward me.

"Is this safe?" he asks.

"These people are allies," I say. "We fought with them."

He studies my eyes, then nods and heads back at a quick canter. No doubt the townsfolk will soon be much richer for our coin. I smile up into the sky and stretch my pinions.