The next morning a heavy drizzle rained down on the area, making the paths that had been beaten out into a soggy mire. To make things more miserable a stiff breeze blew, driving the rain into a mist.
Kira was not amused when she woke up to such dismal weather. Putting on her rumpled red shirt and navy trousers, which hadn't had a proper clean in weeks, she stepped out of the modest two-roomed hut she lived in, and shut the door, which a gryphon handy with wood had crafted, behind her, standing under the awning she had rigged up for such days.
Across the 'street' she saw Keryss exit his domicile and waved to him. "Morning! Lovely weather we're having, isn't it?" She watched with amusement as Keryss made a mad dash across the way to stand dripping under the awning. "Isn't it just? I thought these gryphons had weather prediction down to a fine art?" He shook himself, spraying water around.
Kira grinned, stepping away to avoid the worst of the spray. "Not quite. More often than not they're wrong." She looked out at the drizzle and sighed. "I hate getting wet."
Shrugging, Keryss watched a couple dash out into the rain, heading toward the mess hall. "Shall we do the same? I'll race you." Taking a deep breath, he sprinted out from under the awning, narrowly avoiding some large puddles in his way.
"Hey!" Kira protested. "I wasn't ready!" She dashed out herself, taking two strides before splashing into a puddle. "Bugger!" Muddy water dripped down her lower legs onto her soggy shoes. Sighing, she slowed down to a walk, past caring whether she got saturated, or merely damp.
Keryss was already sitting down to a platter of roasted meat when Kira arrived, looking like the proverbial drowned rat. After fetching a plate of what looked like a meat porridge for herself, she came over and sat next to Keryss. "Looking forward to this meeting with the gryphon council? The impression I got last night was that most of them are quite happy to have us as neighbours, figuratively speaking." She took a spoonful of porridge, and chewed it thoughtfully. "Could do with some salt," she remarked.
"Well," Keryss said, swallowing a mouthful of what looked like venison, "Put it this way: Even if they don't want us here, what are they going to do? Execute us? They can't exactly order us to vacate the planet. Besides, if no-one lives down here, where's the problem?"
A frosty glare from Kira met the Arrallin's statement. "That is not the kind of thing I want to hear right now. And I suppose the problem would lie in the fact that humans tend to multiply rapidly. I don't know about you Arrallins." She raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry as she raised her spoon to her mouth.
"Ah, I see what you're getting at. We don't go overboard like you humans do. We only mate when we...have to." Keryss seemed hesitant to answer the question. Before Kira could ask something else, he spotted the Chief Engineer. "Sefal, come sit over here. Talk to us."
Sefal, heading toward a table by himself, changed course and took a seat next to Kira. "What's up? Haven't seen you two for a while. Are you avoiding me?" He whuffled good-naturedly as he attacked his plate of porridge, without much slopping.
"Hah! As if we could." Keryss took another bite of venison, and chewed. "What do you think about this whole mess? Sure it's inconvenient, but on the other paw we get to start a whole new colony. We'll be the founding fathers of the Arrallin race!" He paused. "Then again, that all depends on who Etayne chooses, doesn't it?" His expression changed from an idiotic grin to a downcast frown.
Kira stopped eating, looking from one Arrallin to the other. "Am I missing something? I don't think I'm as knowledgable on your race as I originally thought."
Both Sefal and Keryss stared at Kira. Sefal spoke first. "To cut a long story short, when a female reaches her season, she chooses a male to mate with. If one is available, she will choose an Alpha. We mate for life, and if one of a partnership dies, the other will take another mate. Here, Etayne is our female, and Keryss and I are the males. She must choose one of us when it is her time to mate which, thankfully, is close on a year away."
"Ah. I see." Kira resumed her consumption of porridge. A second later the other two followed her lead. "To change the topic, how are you finding life here? Easy?"
Sometime around noon, the rain stopped, the ominous-looking clouds breaking up to let through wan rays of sunlight. Messengers, human and gryphon, ran through the settlement, asking all to congregate in the central square, thoughtfully planned out to allow for the current population and a decade's expansion. Fortunately, thanks to some ingenious drainage facilities and a lot of fine gravel, the square was relatively dry, free of the sticky mud that prevailed elsewhere.
A large platform had been erected at the north side, big enough to comfortably support the majority of the visiting gryphon council. The remainder were given the space directly in front of the dais. Everyone else was crowded together in the square, a quiet rumbling of chatter being the only sound present.
The members of the settlement council were arrayed in a nervous bunch to the left side of the platform. Kira was trying to look calm, but the way she kept fidgeting with her sleeves betrayed her inner tension. The Arrallins were quietly optimistic, and the other humans were in various forms of humour.
"I wish they'd stop looking our way so often," remarked Elinor, a plump woman with greying hair and hazel eyes, brushing a stray hair back from her face. "They don't look openly opposed to our being here. How would you feel if an alien race suddenly turned up on your doorstep?"
Kira, to whom the woman was speaking to, hmmed absently. "I dunno. Probably surprised at the very least." She picked idly at her left sleeve, pulling on a loose thread, looking around at the mass of people, then sighed.
"May I have your attention please?" Ciprin was standing at the forefront of the dais, glaring down his beak at the populace. The chatter died down quickly under his penetrating stare. "Thank you." He sat on his haunches, flapping his wings out and settling them against his back again. "Now, let's get down to the business at hand, shall we? We have met here to decide on the status of the new arrivals." He pointedly spoke to his fellow gryphons, but included the humans and the few Arrallins in his address. "This planet has always been home to gryphons only, and having to share our world with a bunch of two-legged, virtually hairless creatures, with the exception of the, er, Arrallins, may not be to the liking of some of us. This afternoon's discussion is mainly to examine these people, and see what they have to offer our society, and us theirs, and also to cement an amiable alliance with them, should that prove feasible." Ciprin paused, letting his words sink in. Satisfied that he had his audience's attention, he continued.
"Earlier today we drew lots to see who out of our number would speak for, and against, our potential allies or foes. After all," and here Ciprin let loose a wry chuckle, "all fifty of us would take an interminably long time to say our piece." A quiet titter of laughter ran through the crowd. "Speaking for the colonists will be Charlton, and against them, Drenan." As their names were said they stepped forward, the first a sienna-furred gryphon with mottled feathers of black and grey, the second slate grey with dark tan plumage.
"Now," Ciprin announced in a crisp voice, "we shall begin on a positive note. Charlton, if you please..." The gryphon stepped out of the way, taking a place with a good view of the colonists' faces. Catching Kira's eye with a steely gaze, he winked.
Kira blinked in astonishment when she saw Ciprin make a winking gesture at her. "Did you see that?" she asked Keryss, then Etayne, and anyone else she was close enough to dig an elbow into. "Did you see him wink at me?"
Keryss peered up at Ciprin on the dais. "Can't say that I did. Sorry."
"I did." A deep, resonant voice spoke from Kira's right. Turning she saw it was... What was his name? Something hard to pronounce...Oh, I give up. "Oh, good. I have a niggling suspicion that he's somehow rigged this so we'll win." She frowned as Charlton began talking about how great it was that the gryphons now had equals in intelligence, the opportunities for learning to be had, and how that might be achieved.
"A penny for your thoughts," said Etayne, whuffling quietly with amusement.
"Hmm? What? Oh, just thinking ahead. We've really got to choose a name for our...town, I guess you'd call it. Of course, I am assuming that we're granted residency status, but now I think that we have nothing to worry about." She scanned the gryphons on the dais, and the few on the ground. "Why on Earth are there so many of them? Surely a dozen or so would have been sufficient to decide our...fate, for want of a better word."
Charlton droned on, waving his forelegs around to emphasise his points. What they were, Kira wasn't sure; she had started to tune out from boredom, and a lack of sleep.
What seemed like hours later, though in reality only about an hour had elapsed, Charlton stepped down, having finally run out of verbal locomotion. Drenan stepped out to the front, and almost immediately started ranting about the disadvantages of sharing a planet with another sentient race, war, loss of culture, over-population and strained resources being the least of a number of grievances he gave.
Kira yawned, wishing she could just lie down and snooze. She would have, except that such an act would be unseemly in a public square, and she might give herself, or her colleagues, a bad reputation. Instead she hummed idly to herself, working through a private repertoire of old songs she knew. Looking around she noticed that she wasn't the only person experiencing a problem staying awake. What with all the construction going on, many people were getting less sleep than was probably healthy for them.
She had just started on Que Sera Sera, privately thinking that the song seemed appropriate for the occasion, when Drenan wound up, going back to his place in the ranks.
"Now, if the leader - or leaders, if you prefer - of the colonists would please come up here..." Ciprin watched Kira intently as she began paying attention again, striding with purpose to the steps and up onto the platform, Keryss and Etayne in tow. As Kira stepped onto the dais, he caught her eye again, giving her another wink.
Kira smiled weakly at the gryphon before turning to face her audience. She hated public speaking. It always made her legs feel wobbly, and her stomach seemed to contain thousands of butterflies all beating frantically. Over her nervousness she painted a cool facade, a schooled expression that didn't reveal her inner turmoil.
"Right. Where to start?" Kira stopped, her mental processes momentarily non-functional.
Keryss smoothy stepped in before the silence could root itself firmly. "We're sure that you people, and our gryphons here, are anxious to get out of here as soon as possible," he said, glancing around to study reactions. A noticeable wave of agreement swept through both ranks, by way of nodding and verbal concurrence.
He whuffled to himself before continuing. "To cut down on time, let me be brief." Keryss to turned to Kira for permission to take her role as spokesperson. She nodded her assent, a smile of relief curving her lips.
"We didn't ask to be here. It was simply...well, perhaps simply isn't quite the right word. After all, how to you explain a rip in the space-time fabric in layman's terms?" Another titter of laughter. "As I was saying, it was simply an unfortunate coincidence that got us trapped here. This planet just happened to be the nearest one within our range, and the only one able to support compatible life-forms.
"Despite our unfortunate circumstances of arrival, we have endeavoured to be as hospitable to the gryphon race as they have to us. Our race - and when I say that I mean the human race, us Arrallins excluded - has earned a reputation for being...somewhat pushy, travelling through space, colonising new planets whether the inhabitants like it or not. This time, we intend on being the sub-dominant species, insofar as our breeding arrangements go." Keryss flushed slightly, then carried on. "At this stage our numbers are relatively few. But in a decade, twenty years, maybe fifty, who knows? We could be overrunning the planet, crushing the gryphons beneath the fist of our expansion." Looking at his captive audience, he noted a few expressions of discomfort, and a few of intense pleasure at such a thought. He privately made a mental note to do something about any subversive measures that might be taken.
"But no. We shall not do that. Any who have such ambitious thoughts will be dealt with in an appropriate manner. This is a great opportunity to learn from another species, possibly more so from the gryphons' point of view, and we should take it. We are here for good, and we will make the most of it, do the best we can with what we have." The Arrallin stopped, unable to think of anything else to say. "That sums it up, I guess." He turned to regard the gryphons watching impassively. "We are at your mercy. Decide as you will."
Ciprin came forward, and gestured for Keryss and the rest to step down. When they had returned, he stood at the front, gazing down at the people. To everyone's bewilderment he began to laugh, more of his contingent joining in. Seeing the range of vexed expressions on the faces, he managed to pull himself together. "I'm sorry. There really was no need for this meeting. We had already decided that you are quite welcome to share this world with us. The whole point of this exercise was to see how you would present your views. And there are so many of us here because...well, everyone was bitten by curiosity, and we had to draw lots to select fifty to attend. And while we've been here, more of us, who weren't present today, have been busy preparing a 'welcome' feast, over at Erint Bay." Ciprin laughed again at the mouths dropping open in amazement.
"We gryphons have quite the sense of humour, and I'm sorry we showed it in such a fashion, but really, it was one of the better jokes we've ever managed to get away with." Ciprin rumbled in laughter again, and gestured for everyone to make their way out of the square. "Go forth, and multiply...well, not too fast, mind you. We don't want to be overrun just yet. But before you do, let us all feast now, for tomorrow...the food will probably spoil." A ripple of mirth swept through the ranks as the people and gryphons streamed out of the square to begin the relatively short walk to Erint Bay, the gryphons taking a more direct route by flying.