The gryphonling blindly stretched its head forward and bumped its beak into her clenched fingers. It squeaked again and scrabbled its legs.
She cautiously unfurled her hand and smoothed a tentative fingertip over its feathered head.
Mother Eulogia’s hands appeared, one covering the gryphonling’s body and furled wings, the other using a damp cloth to clean what she could of the muck that seemed to be gluing its eyes closed.
One amber eye, then the other, blinked open and glared.
Mother Eulogia murmured to it. “I wonder if you have anything to do with the screeching kerfuffle I heard about at the Mivart’s Hotel. Some spoiled son of a Capital visitor covered in scratches and gouges and no one prepared to say why.”
Its beak opened on another hiss as Mother Eulogia carefully cleaned its battered-looking wings and matted fur.
Miklos peered over Leila’s shoulder. “It’s an unusual colour. Most of the ones I’ve seen at The Cliffs are shades of brown and orange.”
Mother Eulogia kept cleaning. “Unusual, but not unknown. There’s a strain of darker ones in the southernmost colony, I’ll have a word with the fishers and farmers, have them keep an eye on visitors to the area.”
She addressed the gryphonling again. “Although that doesn’t solve the question of what to do with you. You’re too young to be out on your own and your mother won’t be taking you back with all the strange scents you’re carrying.”
She cast a sideways glance at Leila, who was murmuring soothing nothings, trying to keep the little thing calm and still.
Leila pretended not to notice.
Finally, the examination was over and Mother Eulogia went to rinse the cloth in the overflow water beneath the pump. “He’s not badly injured, just scrapes and a few sensitive spots. He needs water, food, and a safe place to rest until he’s ready to decide what to do next.”
Mistress Matas put her hands up. “Not here, I’m not having those claws and that beak near my weavings.”
Miklos shook his head at Jassie and Toni’s hopeful expressions. “Can you imagine the mess if he got into the shop? No, your mother would be furious.”
All eyes turned to Leila.
Mother Eulogia said. “He seems to like you.”
Leila shook her head. “I can’t. My weaving too, and where could I leave him when have to sing for the Prince?”
Mother Eulogia waved a hand. “He’s a kind man, good to animals, and I’ve heard you have your own little space away from the guests. It will be fine.”
It wasn’t Prince Andreas Leila was thinking of. “Mistress Helden…”
Mother Eulogia’s face set. “Ahhh, yes, I see. Never you mind about her, I’ll see to it she’s accommodating.”
Leila had her doubts but held her tongue. There was more though, she looked at the loom with the sunset fabric, longing to understand how to create the blends and patterns.
Mistress Matas sighed. “Come away from the creature. Eulogia can amuse herself with working out how to feed it while I look at your weaving.”
Leila stepped back glancing worriedly back at the gryphonling’s grumble and scrabble at the table. He settled again as Mother Eulogia put a dish of water and some thin strips of dried fish in front of him.
With it occupied, and holding on to a small hope that Mother Eulogia would decide to take it with her, Leila reached into her bag for her loom. Her fingers found coins during the quest, and she realised she’d still not checked the money Xavier had given her the night before. This was not the time or place; it would have to be dealt with later.
She carefully pulled the loom from the bag, Mistress Matas frowned. “You don’t protect your weaving?”
Leila replied. “I used the wrapping cloth to hold the gryphonling.”
The frown eased but the older woman still looked sceptical as she took the wooden frame Leila held out.
She spent several agonising minutes looking over the nearly finished strip of fabric, carefully unrolling some of the completed section at the bottom, before restoring it to working order.
As she handed the loom back to Leila Mistress Matas said to Miklos. “Very well, you were right, she is talented with the hand loom, the question is whether she can translate it to something larger.”
Miklos smiled. “Only one way to find out, Mother.”
Mistress Matas looked between Leila, stowing her loom away, and the table. The gryphonling was splashing its beak into the water dish, pulling out the soaked, softened fish and gulping it down.
She sighed. “Very well, I’ll allow you to make use of my old loom. You will need to supply your own thread, and you will only start when that creature is well enough to be left outside.”
Thread for a loom that took up an entire wall? How would she find it? How could she pay for it? She twisted her hands into her skirt and tried to breathe.
Miklos patted her shoulder. “I’ll take you to meet the textile traders, you won’t need anything fancy for a first project so I’m sure you’ll be able to afford enough to make a start.”
Mother Eulogia was re-wrapping the gryphonling, much to its displeasure. She handed the wriggling, growling bundle to Leila, who absently cuddled it close and hummed the start of an old lullaby to settle it.
Jassi said. “That’s a pretty song. What is it?”
Leila flushed. “It’s a song my mother used to sing to help me sleep.”
Toni asked. “Does it have words?”
She replied. “Yes, it tells the story of one of the Moon Goddess’s hounds, who loved music and would protect the houses of those who sang to him.”
Toni’s eyes rounded. “Why did it have to protect the people? Were there monsters? Did it fight them?”
“It did, it fought the night monsters that came in from the desert and scared them all far, far away.”
There was a sleepy-sounding grumble from her arms. She said. “The hound’s name was Perran and he was very fierce. Do you think that might be a good name for this fierce beast, even though he’s not a hound?”
Toni and Jassi thought it over, then nodded.
Mistress Matas said. “Now that’s sorted. I suppose you need to be getting up the Hill to sing for Himself. Are the rest of you staying for tea?”
Leila found herself outside the gate in the wall a few minutes later, clutching a sleeping gryphonling, with a well-wrapped package of fresh biscuits in her bag.
Mother Eulogia was beside her. “Come along then, I’ll have a chat with that old cat of a housekeeper about your new charge. She’ll not like it; she never likes anything new or unexpected. Be sure to tell me if she kicks up any sort of fuss after I leave.”
Leila gulped and tried to keep pace with the island’s Wise Woman without jostling Perran. “But how can I look after him and still weave, and sing? And I don’t even know what to feed him.”
The older woman tutted at her. “Such a worrywart, girl. You were all set to sing to that little bundle of spite just now, and he was responding to you as well as that dog in your story. Gryphonlings eat fish, and occasionally other types of meat. Just ask some of your friends in the Shipwreck Village to keep a fish or two for you from their daily catch.”
More expense. She hoped the coins in the bottom of her bag weren’t all coppers. If even a couple of them were silver, she’d have enough for food for both of them.
Halfway up the Hill, Perran started to thrash and growl, Mother Eulogia said. “He probably needs to relieve himself.”
Leila hurriedly unwrapped the cloth and looked around for somewhere to put him down. Mother Eulogia pointed to a box of sand at the side of the road. “Use the dog box.”
She put him down and watched as Perran investigated, dug, then squatted. She said. “Is that what they’re for? So the dogs don’t soil the street?”
Mother Eulogia nodded, then, as the gryphonling stood, and kicked sand behind it, she said. “Hold out the cloth.”
Leila did so, and Mother Eulogia scooped the now resigned-looking animal out of the box and into Leila’s hands.
They continued up the Hill, Leila receiving more advice on the care and feeding of gryphonlings, along with conjecture on what to do with it, once it was old enough to take care of itself.
When they arrived at the Governor’s House, Mother Eulogia swept inside, calling for Mistress Helden. The housekeeper’s false smile disappeared as soon as she saw Leila hovering in the other woman’s shadow. “What’s that troublesome little fortune-seeker done now?”
The air around Mother Eulogia near-crackled with ice from her expression. “A word, Hilda.”
She nodded to Leila. “You go and get yourself ready for your singing.”
Leila nodded and fled.