“Come on, it’ll be fun!”
“You and I have very different definitions of the word fun”
Evelyn laughed and brushed hair out of her face. Her hair was a blazing red colour and the wind atop the city walls made it dance about like a flame.
“Talon will catch you, just like Riva will catch me, nothing to worry about”.
Kieran walked up to the edge of the wall, “nothing to worry about?!” he said incredulously, “how about the 500 foot drop?”
Evelyn just smiled, “well it wouldn’t be fun without a little bit of danger now would it?”
Kieran sighed and lowered his head, he wondered how his sister had got so crazy. Only last year she had been nervous about taking her riding test, and now she was jumping off the city walls without a care in the world. He couldn’t help but smile though, her excitement was infectious.
Looking up he said, “ok Evie, but…”. He didn’t get chance to finish his sentence however. All he saw of his sister was a blur as she ran straight past, take a single step onto the palisades and leap into the windy void beyond. He stared after her, slack-jawed in amazement. Dashing to the falls he lent over and watched as the slight form of his sister plummeted towards the rocky ground below.
For all the terror he felt at that moment, Evelyn couldn’t have been more calm. Gliding through the air, she completely trusted Riva to catch her. Her trust was well founded as a few seconds later she felt the soft feather of the griffin brush against her hands, and her body land on Riva’s. “Well done”, she said as she rubbed the griffin’s neck in thanks, who let out a happy chirp. With a powerful beat of her wings Riva and Evelyn soared off into the sky.
After being initially relieved when Riva caught his sister, he couldn’t help but curse under his breath. Kieran knew he had no choice now. If he didn’t jump she’d never let him forget it. Gritting his teeth he took a few steps back, breathed in slowly a few times to calm his frantic heart, then with a yell ran at the edge of the wall, launching himself off and into the sky beyond.
His griffin, up until now perched on a nearby tower sunning himself, suddenly noticed of the situation and took flight. Wind rushed through Kieran’s hair as he fell further and further towards the ground below. Just as panic really started to set in, he felt the reassuring feeling of feathers underneath him as Talon caught him mid-flight, pulling up with room to spare. His riding leathers took the brunt of the impact as he was caught, he felt more numb in mind than in body after the ordeal.
High above Evelyn watched with glee as her brother slowly climbed to meet her, she had to confess she had been worried for a second as he fell. Talon wasn’t quite so used to these stunts as Riva was, so he wasn’t as quick off the mark, but it ended well. Kieran liked flying, he was a guard rider after all, and Talon was a strong griffin, but Evelyn and Riva loved flying. Not just gentle flights from place to place, real flying. The kind of flying that took you so high you started to feel dizzy. Or so close to the ground you could feel the occasional tree branch brush against you. Her brother would have called it extreme, she just called it fun.
Slightly more pale of face than he had been a minute ago, her brother pulled up beside her. “Was that really necessary?”
“You weren’t scared were you?” She toyed in reply.
“Nonsense. I just…prefer more conventional methods that’s all. One of these days you’re going to hurt yourself”.
Evelyn laughed, “says the guard rider, the one employed by the kingdom to fight wars. But apparently I’m the one that’s going to get hurt.”
He gave her a semi-serious look in return, “the difference being we can protect each other, we’ve always got each others back. Who will protect you from yourself?”
“Riva of course!” The griffin called out at the mention of her name, a look of pride in her eyes as Evelyn stroked her neck.
They really are two of a kind, Kieran thought. There was no denying that. But he didn’t let his inner smile show, instead he rolled his eyes. “Shall we be getting home then? Probably enough for one day don’t you think?”
“Not really” she replied, before diving out of his sight in the blink of an eye.
With his head in his hands he let out a long sigh, then dived after her.
For the next few hours they flew around the Kingdom, between the towers and the castle, into the mountains that surrounded them and down into the valley below. Scaring no small amount of farmers and sheep while they were at it. The stunts Evelyn insisted on doing grew more and more dangerous, concerning Kieran but making Evelyn even happier. He wasn’t one to back down however, and matched her stunt for stunt. It wasn’t worth the risk of her talking to his guard friends if he didn’t.
The sun was starting to set when they spotted another rider heading towards them. When he was close enough Evelyn realised it was Bill, their riding instructor.
“Hey Bill”, she called out as he approached, “come to join in the fun?”
Kieran just rolled his eyes, wondering how she had so much energy still.
Bill smiled, but it didn’t seem entirely genuine. “Another day perhaps Evie”. He often called her Evie like her brother did. As well as being the best riding instructor in the kingdom, he was also a family friend. Growing up he had been like an uncle to Evelyn and she was always happy to see him.
“Sadly I must cut your day short, your mother and father need to see you both urgently”.
“What is it?” asked Kieran, gliding down to their level, all thoughts of levity gone.
“It’s best if your parents tell you, please, don’t try and force it out of me”.
Even for Evelyn there was no denying that whatever it was, it was serious. They both nodded in understanding and without another word followed Bill’s lead as he led them home. She wondered what could be happening that prompted such secrecy, it was rare to see Bill in this sombre a mood. Whatever it was it didn’t bode well.
“An army?! What do you mean they are invading? When? Where? How?” Evelyn had to pause for breath, a million and one questions had just popped into her head, she didn’t know where to start.
“Apparently they appeared out of nowhere”, said her father. “Or at least that’s what the scouts say, they are barely a days ride from the valley gates now, and led by some sorcerer”. He waved dismissively.
“I’m sure that’s just an overreaction to a scary looking man on a horse”, her mother said. “When an army appears out of nowhere you don’t hang around gathering accurate information, you just report it. They probably got mixed up that’s all.”
While Evelyn wanted to believe her words, something definitely seemed off. She thought sorcerer’s were the stuff of myth. Did her mother know something she didn’t?
“In all likelihood it’s just a large gang of strangely dressed people that spooked the scouts because they fell asleep on the job. It’s protocol that the guard investigate, but I’m sure it will turn out to be nothing”.
“But do you all have to go?” She was concerned about being left alone while her whole family went off to fight some mysterious enemy. Her brother on the other hand, wasn’t so concerned.
“Don’t fret sis. We’ll be back in time for tea. We’ll go, show these foreigners they messed with the wrong kingdom and we’ll be back before you even realise we’re gone”.
Her Mum gave Kieran a disapproving look, then turned back to Evelyn with a smile. “We’re all Guard Riders sweetheart, it’s our duty, and in two years time when you turn eighteen it will be yours too”, she said, giving Evelyn a hug. “As for you, Kieran. Just focus, army or no army you’ve not been in a real battle before, don’t go in there all cocky. I want us all to come back in one piece.”
Kieran smirked but when he saw how serious their mother’s face was he dropped it and nodded.
“Are you ready Jess?” Dad asked their mother.
She nodded, “I’ll just grab my sword and lets get going. Are the griffins ready?”
As if on cue Bill stomped in through the front door. “Ready when you are. Looks like clear skies, if we fly through the night we should reach them just as dawn breaks”.
They all grabbed the rest of their gear and headed outside, Dad manoeuvring his long lance through the small doorway. Evelyn followed. As she walked in the evening gloom she watched with a mixture of fear and admiration as her family mounted their griffins. Even in the failing light there was no denying their beauty, Evelyn had been in love with them since she was a young girl.
Each griffin possessed distinct colouring, but the general look of the creatures was the same. Covered in feathers, they had a strong body with powerful back legs for takeoff and landing, and smaller but still strong front legs. Their wings stretched out from the middle of their backs, their width twice as wide as their body and incredibly powerful. Evelyn had once seen a griffin accidentally blow over a farmer’s newly finished shed.
He hadn’t been happy about that but her mother had consoled him, and the whole family helped him rebuild it. Guard Riders were held to the highest of standards, they were an inspiration to the nation and her family were some of the most well known.
Her family mounted their griffins. The saddles were deliberately minimalistic, Griffin’s didn’t like to be restrained. Cloth wound round their necks and doubled under their legs, joining together in front of the rider who sat in front of the wings. While riding the rider would wrap their legs in the cloth coming from below to keep their balance, while holding the cloth that went round the Griffin’s neck to keep control. These were just precautions however, mainly used in training. When you had been flying together as long as her parents and their Griffins had they were so in tune with each others movements there was very little chance of somebody falling off.
Evelyn has almost fallen to her death during her riding test, which should have left her more cautious than most. She trusted Riva implicitly however and it always felt to her that they flew through the air as one being. Griffins were family, not just some beast to be ridden. Thinking of Riva made her sad, there was so much going on her Mum had made her send her back to the rookery, she wished she were here now.
Before mounting up her Mum came to give her one last hug and whispered in her ear, “we’ll be back tomorrow, get some rest and I promise when we get back I’ll speak to the council about getting Riva a place in the Guard rookery.”
Evelyn couldn’t help but smile, the Guard rookery was much nicer than the civilian one, she had been pestering her parents about the move for a while but her father always said, “when you’re a Guard Rider”. It was a tedious answer, but she hadn’t relented.
With one last squeeze her mother let her go and joined the others. With great beats of their wings, the draft nearly knocking her off her feet, all four griffins took off into the sky. Her brother gave her another wave as they headed out to join the rest of the guard. It was dark but Evelyn could just make out the shapes of other griffins in the distant nights sky, the guard gathering for battle. It made her nervous.
Deciding that the best thing for her would be to try and get some sleep she sighed and went to bed. She wrapped the covers around herself to try and hide away from what was happening. Sleep was not that kind however and denied her that simple escape, she kept getting images in her head of her family fighting, dispatching foes left and right, but then being caught up in some mystical spell and captured, or worse, killed. It wasn’t the army that was troubling her, the guard riders had defeated many before without any problems, their kingdom was well located in the mountains and the advantage their griffin’s gave them meant they could take on foes two or three times their number without issue. No, it was the sorcerer.
There was no reason to be worried, sorcerer’s weren’t real. Like her mum had said, it was probably just a scary looking guy that had spooked the scouts. But what if it wasn’t. She’d heard stories of sorcery and magic, all the children had, they had been thrilling at the time, but they were just that, stories. She had never met or heard of anyone who practised actual magic and she was pretty sure there was a law against even attempting it….but why make a law if it wasn’t real?
These thoughts combined with various images swirled around her head for several hours until finally her body overcame her mind and she fell asleep.
She awoke to bright sunlight streaming in her window and excitedly got up and went to see if anyone had returned. Nobody was in the house though and when she checked out side only Riva stood there, a quizzical look on her face. She sighed, it wasn’t surprising really that they weren’t back yet, fights take time and so does travelling, even if you are flying. It was nice to see Riva though, griffin’s weren’t technically meant to leave the rookery without their rider, but this one was a bit of a rebel. Giving her a weak smile she walked over and stroked Riva’s neck. The griffin chirped happily and nuzzled her in return.
She’d just have to keep herself busy until they returned she thought. So she set about doing her chores, cleaning the house, grooming Riva, anything and everything to keep her occupied. Their family was quite well off so cleaning the house by herself took up a lot of the day, and by the time she’d finished grooming Riva the afternoon was starting to fade into evening. There was still no sign of them. Doubt started to creep back into her thoughts. What if something did happen to them? What if they were actually captured and killed like she imagined? What if they weren’t coming back?
By evening her concern had grown into an insatiable worry, consuming her every thought. She was just about to take Riva and start looking for them when she spotted a rider in the sky. Hope bloomed anew and her heart skipped a beat, but the rider came from the direction of the city, not from the direction her family had flown off in. As he got closer she recognised the official regalia of the council and a sense of foreboding overcame her.
Landing nearby he dismounted in a careful and delicate manner, as if he were afraid of hurting his griffin. Evelyn rolled her eyes, politicians were never good riders, don’t show confidence in your griffin and it won’t show confidence in you. Straightening himself out he walked over to her at a measured pace.
She may still not be old enough to join to guard but she could still tell everything she needed too by the way this man dressed, rode and walked. He’d never seen battle, never defended his country, probably spent most of his time doing paperwork. The fact that a man like this had flown out to see her didn’t fill her with hope at all.
He stopped a few paces away from her, he seemed suddenly very off balance and his head twitched this way and that, looking anywhere but directly at her. “I’m afraid I have some bad news”.
There it was, the punch to the stomach which she had been sure was coming and yet could never be ready for. Before he even finished what he was saying she fell to her knees, her legs collapsing underneath her.
“Information is sketchy, very few of the scouts returned…but we know for sure the Guard Riders were unable to stop the advancing army, as far as we can tell”, he paused gathering himself, “nobody survived”.
Tears streamed from Evelyn’s eyes now, it felt like a floodgate had opened that could never be closed. A part of her soul had been exposed and stripped away, never to return. In one night she had lost her entire family, her entire universe. She didn’t want to be here, she wanted to fly far away and hide from the world, but she knew that would do no good, the pain would only follow her.
The man had continued to speak but she hadn’t heard many of his words, something about going with him and keeping her safe. She didn’t know what to do but she knew she didn’t want to go with a complete stranger. She felt his hand touch her arm as if to bring her out of her stupor, but she jerked it away. Quickly getting to her feet she ran, ran to the only friend she had left, she ran to Riva and hugged her tight.
Riva instinctively knew something was very wrong and pushed her head against Evelyn affectionately. They took comfort in each other’s embrace before it was yet again interrupted.
“You must come with me”, he said urgently. “They will come looking for you, your family is well known, please.”
Evelyn didn’t listen though. On some level she knew he was right but right now all she wanted to do was fly. It wasn’t logical, it wasn’t going to make the pain go away, but it was the only thing she had left. She mounted Riva and with a firm jolt they rose into the air, dashing away towards the mountains before the man had any chance of following. Within moments, they were just another star in the night sky.