Wyran played the day’s events through his head. His focus was not on the battle with the fey to rescue Nadya’s nephew. It was on the kindness of Nadya’s sister Marut for thinking to offer shelter despite the tragedies that had befallen her family in the days prior. There seemed to be more genuine good in this country than he’d anticipated. It was not an unpleasant realisation, but more of a pity on his behalf for being prejudice. Perhaps it was his attempts to overcompensate that lead him to be standing in the bitter Irrisen night chopping wood.
It was not the frozen wind that bothered Wyran that night. It was his lack of armour that left a knot of anxiety in his stomach. From the moment he stepped through the portal in Taldor, he had been captured, tortured, freed and hunted. The weight of his armour and weaponry had become a sign of security for him. While in the evenings, once he’d removed every piece of steel from his person, he felt naked and vulnerable.
Between each echo of axe striking wood, Wyran paused just long enough to confirm his presence had faded back into the whispers of night. Every pitch echoed this far north. The sparse icy tundras carried the noisy ramblings of wildlife. Wyran knew that he could easily be fooled by a cunning intruder hiding their passing, for this he was extra vigilant.
The ache in the pit of Wyran’s stomach that twisted, pulled, and poked at his fears began to lessen. As if soothed away. A warmth filled his body and radiated through every extremity. Wyran breathed in the tranquillity that came from divine presence. A pulse of warm light shone from behind him. Wyran quickly buried his feelings of calm relief and prepared himself for the contempt of his patron’s ward.
“Well, if it isn’t the Herald of the Inheritor!” Wyran called. The sarcasm was unmissable.
“I’m not Herald yet.” Replied the young celestial. Wyran smiled happily to himself as he turned to face Invictus the messenger. Unlike his usual visage of golden plate armour, Invictus wore lose white robes. A sword with a sun burst hilt was embroidered along a white tippet that hung around his shoulders. His wings had been tucked beneath lose layers of cloth.
“I’m sorry.” Wryan said, bowing with respect. His disdain had not been intended for the one he held such affection for.
“You should be.” Said Invictus with a firm tone. He knew Wyran’s apology was intended for him and not for the disrespect he’d shown. “You two might not like each other, but you’re both Iomedae’s chosen wards. Cut him some slack.”
Wyran nodded. Like most of the angels he had met, Invictus remained diplomatic and fair-minded. And as usual, he was also correct.
“Yeah, you’re right.” Wyran sighed.
“It doesn’t mean he’s not an ass,” Invictus paused. Wyran caught a glimpse of Invictus’s eyes surveying skyward for a very brief moment. “He’s just an ass you’ll have to be nice to.” Invictus continued with another quick glance up, anticipating a rebuttal.
“We know you will.” Invictus broke away from his paranoid glances toward the heavens, took a step forward, and placed a firm grip on the shoulder of Wyran’s shield arm. “You’re doing very well. And we’re all proud of you.” Invictus’s grip softened but his hand remained. Wyran blushed at the sound of the praise despite the unintended condescension. Wyran placed his hand on Invictus’s wrist. The two exchanged wide boyish grins as the aasimar stroked the angel’s hand with his thumb.
“It’s been a breeze.” Wyran said, letting go and tapping the angel’s chest with his knuckles. “Why are you here?”
“To bring you a gift!” Invictus smiled.
“What kind of gift?” Suspicion grew in Wyran’s voice. “The first time the Herald came to me he said I was being given a gift, and ya know, that’s been…” He stopped. The expression on Invictus’s face cautioned him. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good gift. You know that I love Iomedae and I’m grateful. I’m just saying that you angels have a skewed concept of what a gift is.” Wyran kicked at the snow. Invictus remained silent. “Well, ya know, one doesn’t usually give a Holy Crusade as a gift. Though great as it is.” Wyran looked off into the distance and chewed his bottom lip.
“Are you finished?” Invictus asked.
“I’m still getting this gift, right?”
“Yes, of course.” Invictus turned and two stood side-by-side looking out towards the darkness. A soft glow of white light began to flicker against the consuming blackness. The light grew brighter and began to take form. The light pealed away and a brilliant white griffin emerged. The proud beast strode towards the on lookers, and halted before them.
“It’s amazing. I’ve never seen a griffin up close.” Wyran circled it, studying it closely. When eye to eye with creature, he could feel the griffin studying him back.
“Saint Wyran of Light, may I introduce to you his Brilliance, the Majestic Aroden, Lord of the Griffins.” Explained Invictus.
“Wow, Lord of Griffins?” Wyran bowed, and Aroden returned the gesture.
“He isn’t really.” Invictus said, placing his arm around Wyran and gesturing towards Aroden. He gave the angel a stern glare, but was pacified with scratch under the neck. “We talked about it. He felt that if you’ve got a title, he should have one too. As if being named after Lord Aroden was not honourable enough…”
“Lord of Griffins or not, he’s the finest creature I’ve seen.” Said Wyran feeling Aroden’s soft feathers and fur. Aroden nuzzled at his new companion with affection.
“Great. You two are going to get along really well.”
“You mean he’s mine?” Wyran turned his focus towards Invictus. Aroden nipped at his hands to try to reclaim the paladin’s attention.
“Yes, he is. You share a divine bond.”
Wyran smiled and ruffled Aroden’s neck feathers. The griffin chattered happily.
“You hear that, boy? We share a bond.” Aroden clawed at the ground in approval.
“He doesn’t fly yet. But he’ll always come if you call him. No matter where you are.” Said Invictus. His attention broke away from the griffin and his rider. Wyran looked away from Aroden to see Invictus staring towards the night sky. He sighed to himself.
“I’ve got to go.” Invictus said. Wyran nodded at him and smiled.
“Don’t thank me. Thank her.” Invictus grinned with satisfaction. “I’ll see you soon.” he added as light began to envelop him. In the moments before Invictus departed, Wyran took hold of the angel. They held their arms tight around one another, but the light grew brighter. With their last seconds together the two exchanged a kiss.
The light faded and Wyran found himself in the dark once more. He smiled and nodded in triumph at receiving his first kiss.
“Now,” Wyran said, turning to his new companion. “Where are we going to put you?”
Aroden looked towards the stables. His head tilted from side to side as he listened for what moved inside.
“Nice try. But you can’t eat those horses.” Wyran reach up and scratched Aroden’s back. “I think this is going to work very nicely.” He added.
Wyran found some old horse blankets, and settled Aroden near the kennels. “I’m sorry these smell like horse. But I wasn’t entirely prepared for you. I will buy you finer blankets when I can.” Aroden bowed his head, and Wyran did the same.
A deep understanding was forged between Wyran and Aroden that night. Like Invictus had said, they shared a divine bond. Wyran could feel the presence of Iomedae within his new steed. He knew, much like his own service to the divines, that this bond was for life. The only thing that would part a griffin from his rider is when either of them draw their final breath.
The evening grew later and colder. Wyran sat with Aroden for several hours. He’d asked Nadya’s sister for some horse meat, and she offered her most desirable cuts. He watched as the griffin consumed the raw flesh, while he ate a small amount cooked meat taken from the same colt.
The sickening anxiety that Wyran experienced during the evenings never returned after that night. He would eventually wander if it was the kiss from the celestial that calmed his nerves. Or if it was in knowing that Aroden would defend and serve him with the same dedication and vigour that he himself had pledged to Iomedae. Regardless of the reason, he took comfort in drawing even closer to the divines, both Invictus and Iomedae a like.