The beach was totally packed with people and gryphons of almost every colour combination. Here and there, at regularly spaced intervals, were large fire pits, over which roasted all sorts of game, ranging from large deer to small turkeys. In the embers were cooked vegetables, some looking not unlike the common potatoes and carrots.
Alla and Fortren had managed to find themselves a reasonably quiet part of the beach, and were dining thoughtfully on a large roasted haunch of venison. "I hope our parents aren't worried about us," remarked Alla, her deep blue eyes scanning the encroaching darkness around them. "Instead of two weeks, we've been here...oh, nearly a month now, surely? My mother would be tearing out her feathers, and my father...well, he'd probably be calm and collected, as he usually is. Sometimes I think his tail could be on fire and he would just sit and bear it."
Fortren looked at Alla with a gleam in his eye. "Really? Shall we find out when we go home?" He laughed at the murderous glare Alla gave him, and shuffled a few steps away. "Easy, easy. I wasn't serious. Well, not too serious, anyway."
Her hackles going down, Alla hmmphed in a contemptuous manner. "You do such a thing, and you'll never hear the end of it," she threatened her partner, tearing off another hunk of meat and swallowing it. "That's enough of that topic."
They didn't speak for a minute or two, until Alla broke the silence again. "Remember what you said to me before we left? 'We could just get strange visitors from space'? you said. Well...you were certainly right, weren't you?"
Fortren blinked a few times, then grinned sheepishly. "You know...I was. I didn't mean it at the time, of course. I was just mad, having had a bad day and all. And your comment about..." He paused, trying to think of the exact wording. "About finding a new species? They're definitely new to us."
"Hmm." Alla nodded, devouring the rest of her meal, careful not to get any meat juices on her fur or plumage.
Kira, Ciprin and a few others were gathered together near one of the fire pits chatting quietly amongst themselves. "I can't believe you had the nerve to play such a mean, though very well thought out, trick on us." She was laughing into her drink, held in a wooden cup of gryphonic fashioning. "All that worry for nothing."
"Hmm, yes, well, we were curious to see how you handled your situation. If you had just moped around, complaining and whining to us to support you, we wouldn't have wanted anything to do with you. But," and here Ciprin paused for dramatic effect, "you have shown that you have a number of good qualities; trust, ingenuity, common sense." He sighed and looked around. "It's getting dark, I see."
Keryss, chewing on a leg, murmured something through his mouthful of meat.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," chided Kira, chuckling at the Arrallin's expression.
Swallowing, Keryss repeated himself. "I said, 'That's stating the obvious.'" He took another bite off the leg, whuffling his enjoyment of it.
"Yes, well, I often state the obvious," Ciprin muttered in low tones, though he grinned when he said it. "Oh, by the way, have you come up with a name for your new place of residence?"
Humans and Arrallins met each other's glances. "Er, actually we haven't," admitted Kira. "We're a little short on creativity right now, so we haven't really called it anything." She took sip of her drink, made from the juice of ripe coconuts. It wasn't quite to her liking, but it made a change from water.
A dark-haired man with brown eyes spoke up. "Excuse me, but if I may make a suggestion?" At everyone's nod he continued. "As a courtesy to our gryphon allies here, why don't we let them decide on a name?"
The black gryphon hmmed, thinking the proposal over. "That's not a bad idea. We have a simple naming system, usually based on geographical location. I think your settlement should be called...let me see..." Ciprin rumbled into silence for a few seconds. "Ah. How about...what's the word for it...Bay Aerie? Although, as gryphons don't live here, it wouldn't be strictly an aerie as such...unless, of course we agreed to an exchange? Some of your people come to live with us, and vice versa? All in the interests of building up relations."
"That's not a bad idea. The integration of our societies could prove to beneficial to all parties." Kira looked to the rest of her people. "We'll bring it up at the next council meeting, shall we? I don't imagine there'll be much opposition to the proposal." She sipped some more of her drink, wishing she had access to sugar. And coffee. She was definitely starting to miss having her morning coffee.
"Good. We'll discuss it ourselves, and get back to you. I don't anticipate any trouble either. Always eager to make new friends, we are," Ciprin grinned. He looked across the beach, and saw some people dancing to music being played on improvised instruments. "That looks like fun. Shall we adjourn?" He gestured in the direction of the dancers, cocking his head. "Diplomacy can wait until the morning."
Chuckles from all round met his suggestion. "Sure! Why not? I must warn you, though, that my skills are a bit rusty." Kira took a few experimental steps, and almost tripped over a large stone hidden in the sand. "See what I mean?"
Keryss whuffled in laughter and, grabbing Etayne, quickly gave a demonstration of his skills, trotting adeptly on his hind legs, spinning his partner under his arm, and finishing with her leaning backward on his arm.
Everyone stared at Keryss, amazed at his competence. "Yes, well, some of us are better than others, aren't we?" Kira turned and strode off toward the dancers, the others following a step or two behind.
The next week flew by quickly. The new settlement of Bay Aerie was completed, and relations formalised, as much as anything could be formalised under the gryphons' odd sense of humour. The three groups of O.E. participants were sent home to their worried parents, and life in general became more normal, insofar as normality went now.
Alla flew side by side with Fortren on the long, tedious flight back home. "Wasn't that exciting?" she yelled over the noise of the wind rushing past.
"I guess," he shouted back, trying to focus his concentration on keeping the wind out of his nares. "It'll be great to be home again. Then we can get back to what we were doing before all this happened." Fortren swivelled his head around to look at Alla, and gave her a sly wink. He grinned when Alla laughed and winked back. Suddenly a large purple gryphon came shooting through between them, shouting "Make way, coming through!" on his way past. The intruder was out of reach before Fortren could react to the ignominious fly-by appropriately.
"One of these days that Keltin will get his just desserts," rumbled Alla disapprovingly, staring after the small dot winging his way around another victim in the distance.
"I wish," mumbled Fortren. "He and Rizarra are perfect for each other, if for any reason other than their attraction to purple."
Alla shrugged non-committally. "All good things come to those who wait," she quoted. In answer she received a "Hmmph!"
They fell silent as land made its appearance on the far horizon.
The returning gryphons were met by a large gathering of worried parents, who immediately swarmed over their assorted offspring as each landed. Fortren and Alla managed to avoid theirs momentarily, long enough for them to get out of the crush.
Fortren's mother Pallia almost smothered him with affection, preening his feathers as if it were her last task in life. "Oh, we've so missed you!" she exclaimed, as her son tried to squirm away from her. Tymon merely stood back and watched with calm amusement at the two's antics. When Pallia had given as much of her enthusiasm as she could, Tymon stepped forward, and lightly nibbled Fortren's ear tufts. "Welcome back, son. How did you find it?"
"It was great!" he declared, his eyes gleaming. "Well, it was mostly great. It got off to a boring start though. I think Alla's discovery changed that quickly enough."
All three looked over to where Alla was being treated to a restrained showing of parental affection. "Did she now?" murmured Tymon. "Tell me more...at home. I think we need a little quiet, right now." He turned and led the way out from the landing area.
Sitting on a plump cushion, Tymon looked at his son. "Right. Tell us everything...no, on second thoughts, just tell what you think is relevant." He rested his head on his forelegs, and waited for the story.
"Okay. Um...where to begin." Fortren looked somewhat on the flustered side. He hated being put in the limelight like this. "Hmm...well, we flew down there, drew lots of maps, surveyed, orienteering...that kind of thing...for a few days. Everything was drearily routine. Then we got word of a strange alien craft crashing over where Alla's group were staying, and we all rushed over to get a eyeful of it.
"It turned out to be full of strange two-legged people called humans, with no fur, and a few of these...cat-like people, Arrallins, only they were about the size of the humans." Fortren paused for breath, having spouted all that in a long burst. "The long and short of it is that these newcomers have set up an Aerie of their own down there, and we'll be...exchanging people, as it were. Some of us will live there, and some of them will live here. I quite like the idea, myself." He glanced slyly at his father. "Perhaps Alla and I could...you know..." He trailed off, leaving a suggestive ending hanging in the air to be picked up.
His parents shared a Look, then turned their gaze back to Fortren. "We've been chatting," Pallia began, "with Alla's parents about your...being together."
Fortren's expression remained bland, as if he were saying, "Oh really?" in a casual tone, but inside his stomach started knotting. "Go on."
His mother chuckled with a sardonic humour. "Alla's parents really don't think much of you, you know that." Fortren nodded. "They're not too happy about Alla being with, and I quote, 'a common nobody', meaning you, obviously." She smirked slightly. "The upshot of our discussions is that both us and them have decided - " Pallia broke off, watching her son imperceptibly squirming in discomfort.
"Get to the point, dear," Tymon admonished his wife lightly. "I think Fortren is dying of curiosity." He gave his son a wink, careful to see that Pallia didn't see it.
" - you and Alla will be permitted to continue relations, even to the point of marriage, should you wish it." Pallia finished, watching her son's reaction.
Fortren showed a momentary loss of composure, his expression warring between sheer relief, and sheer excitement. "Thank you. I don't know what to say..." He looked about distractedly. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go see how Alla's getting on." He quickly got up, and fled out the front door.
"Oh, that felt so good," commented Pallia to Tymon. "We don't manage to perturb like that very often." She stood up, and moved over to be with her partner.
Tymon nuzzled his wife's crest feathers before replying. "No, we don't. It was a rather nice moment of satisfaction, though."
Pallia shrugged, and laid her head against her husband's flanks. "No matter," she muttered. "As long as he's happy."
Alla met Fortren almost halfway between their homes. "Did you hear?" she cried excitedly, almost tripping over her own feet as she narrowly avoided running him down. "I was just on my way to see you!"
"I heard, all right. How on earth did my parents talk yours into letting us be together?" Fortren was travelling a little more sedately, and simply side-stepped Alla's rush.
Alla shook her head. "I have no idea; they wouldn't say, probably because they think they would lose face." She grinned at Fortren. "Isn't this wonderful? I can't wait to get married!"
Fortren blinked. "What? Married? Now? At our age?" Suddenly he felt flustered, inadequate and much younger than he was. "Surely you don't want to get married now?!"
A hearty laugh allayed some of his fears. "Of course not, silly! Wait a year or two. Besides, we have to organise it first, unless of course you want to elope?" She batted her eyelids suggestively, making Fortren very uncomfortable.
"Er, no, marriage will be fine. So long as you do mean to marry later... I'm not sure I can take much more excitement." His nares flushed redly as he sought for a way to change the subject, but his girlfriend had other ideas.
"Now, perhaps we should find some secluded place and pick up where we left off? I think it was before Sinclan came on the scene. Don't you agree?"
Fortren grinned. "Well, maybe I could stand one more piece of excitement." He followed Alla down the path to the landing area. Wow, he thought, Alla and me...together at last? I wonder where Sinclan will be hiding... He put the thought aside as they reached the take-off point, and launched himself after his partner, following her northwest to the place where things had just started to get interesting... This time there would be no rude surprises. I hope, he thought.