*spoiler alert* In part one a teen girl, Amy, and her brownie companion, Morin, help drive off a flock of harpies, saving three fae–a captain and his two remaining soldiers. Amy also rescues a griffin egg from the harpies.
In part two the fae try to take the egg away from Amy because fae and mortals usually despise each other. But Amy threatens to sidestep into the mortal world, a human’s only skill in Faerie, and the fae withdraw to let the egg hatch safely in Amy’s lap.
In part three the group journeys to Lady Nerina’s court, seeking sanctuary. But when they arrive, Tam draws his sword and informs Amy that she must surrender the young griffin.
Amy shouted, “No!” but she froze as Tam’s blade dug in deeper.
Tam forced his voice to stay even. “I don’t wish to harm you. Give me the griffin, and you will even be rewarded.”
Tears sprang to her eyes, but Tam had his orders. There were plenty of animals she could befriend, most of whom could stay in the mortal world without harm. The captain had explained this to him. She’d only had the griffin for a single day, and it was kinder in the long run. A griffin needed someone who understood magic, like Lady Nerina. Not a trickster, whose only talent was to step between worlds.
And that was all she needed to do now. Once she returned to her human world, everything would be as it should. Why wasn’t she going? He pushed the sword in a hair deeper but stopped when she gasped.
Morin took a step forward. “Amy, is this truly worth your life?”
“You tell me,” she said, and Tam’s spirits sunk at the determination in her voice. “Will Riff’s whole life be chosen for him, without giving him a say?” She shot Tam a glare. “Will he be raised by those who betray him to get what they want?”
Tam swallowed. “I did not betray you—I am sworn to Lady Nerina’s service. I won’t disobey my orders. Just go home.” Please. I don’t want to hurt you.
“I don’t have a home,” she burst out. “Or parents who want me. I know what it’s like to be alone in the world. If Riff stays with me, he’ll be loved.” She clutched the griffin tighter.
This was no time for pity—if he didn’t find a way to convince her soon, he’d have to slay her. His orders were clear. “If you refuse, it will cost you your life, and the griffin will still stay with us. You have saved him. And now you must leave.”
Tears fell from her eyes as she turned to face him. “No.” She clutched the griffin tighter. Riff’s head snaked out and his beak snapped. It fell short of Tam’s face, but the sentiment was clear. The guards on gate duty drew their swords.
Tam lowered his weapon and stepped between them and Amy. “You are surrounded by soldiers,” he said, trying sweet reason. “You cannot prevail.”
“Then kill me,” she said stubbornly. “Kill me and take what I love best. Or blind me and hunt me down later. That’s what fae usually do.”
Sweat beaded his upper lip, and outrageously, he wanted to plead with her. Fealty was everything to fae.
“Humans are not hunted here,” Lady Nerina said. Tam breathed a sigh of relief, and Amy spun, still holding the griffin.
The lady’s beauty was ageless. Her embroidered blue court dress glimmered softly in the setting sun, which gilded her blonde curls. Tam was surprised Amy didn’t hand over the griffin from sheer embarrassment. Leaves and twigs were caught in her hair, and small smears from Riff’s meals decorated her sturdy pants and leather jacket. But she showed no signs of backing down from Lady Nerina’s commanding presence.
Lady Nerina gestured to Riff, who snapped at her, too. “You refuse to surrender the griffin, even though we can give him better care. Is that truly love?”
“Yes,” Amy insisted. “I want him to choose his life, not have it decided for him.”
The lady’s lips curved into a smile. “I assure you, deciding what a griffin will do is a losing proposition. Much like trying to persuade a mortal.”
Morin stood forward and bowed. “I am known to you, Lady. Please accept my word that Amy is acting out of concern for the young creature. Is there any way to reassure her?”
But instead of answering, the lady raised her gaze to the sky. A shadow passed overhead, and Tam heard Amy gasp. An adult griffin descended gracefully and cupped its wings to land. Fae scrambled out of the parade ground by the gates, hastily clearing a path.
The brown eagle’s head blended seamlessly into the lion body, and the griffin landed on cat feet that barely seemed to touch the ground. Its head swiveled to Amy.
She showed none of her earlier restraint. She ran to the newcomer, the young griffin in her arms, who protested this treatment with an undignified squawk.
Tam hurried after. “We are honored, windrider.”
The griffin glanced at him, but she addressed Amy. “I tracked the harpies and found the shards of eggshell. When your trail led in this direction, I flew here, hoping Lady Nerina’s retainers had found our young griffin.”
Amy kissed Riff’s scrawny head. “Is he yours, then?”
“My sister’s. She was wounded by the harpies, and we are tending her now. Would you wish to journey to see her? You would be most welcome.”
Amy’s face lit with joy. “You hear that, Riff? You have a family! And we’re going to see them.”
Lady Nerina joined them. “Welcome, windrider. I rejoice to hear the young griffin’s mother will heal.”
Tam sheathed his sword, and he held his hand to his side to hide the shaking. For the first time, he’d glimpsed a duty he couldn’t faithfully perform
He bowed and left for the kitchens while Lady Nerina spoke further with the adult griffin. As he stuffed bread and cheese into a journey sack in silent apology, he tried to articulate, at least to himself, the reason for his shame. Amy had done nothing deserving death, and he had been prepared to deal it out. But he had sworn fealty, and a fae without honor was less than nothing.
He returned just as the griffin party was taking their leave, and he sighed in both relief and regret as the gates clanged shut behind them.
He was so glad he hadn’t killed Amy. And he hoped they never met again.