amberdrake: (I follow the stars to my abode)
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This is the very end of White Gryphon. If you ever intend to read the book, you may want to skip this one because it's literally the last few pages.

     Two weeks later, Skandranon and Amberdrake watched as Makke packed up the last of the myriad of gifts that the Haighlei had presented to Skan and Zhaneel. The Black Gryphon would never again lack for personal ornaments; he had enough jewelry especially crafted for gryphons to allow him to deck himself like a veritable kestra'chern!
     "They're going to make me vain," Skan remarked, as yet another casket of jeweled collars and ear-tuft cuffs went into the packing crate. The curtains at the window and the doors of the balcony billowed in a soft, soporific breeze.
     Amberdrake laughed, as he reclined on the only couch in this room. "No they won't. You already are."
     Skandranon stared at him with mock effrontery. "I am not vain," he protested. "I am merely aware of my considerable attributes and talents. There is such a thing as false modesty, you know."
     Amberdrake snorted with derision, and took another sip from the cool drink he held. Skan was pleased to see that the dark circles under his eyes, and the gray cast to his skin were both gone. The first week after the Ceremony had been rather bad for his friend; all the horrors of what might have been came home to him as soon as he got a little rest. According to Winterhart, he'd had four solid nights of nightmares from which he would wake up screaming.
     "I'll be glad to see you back at White Gryphon," Skan continued wistfully. "It's going to be very quiet there without you around."
     Amberdrake gazed thoughtfully out the balcony door for a moment before replying. "I don't want to go home for a while," he said, very quietly. "There are things I need to think about before I get back, and this is a good place to be working while I do that." He returned his gaze to meet Skandranon's eyes. "Snowstar sent word that he doesn't want to run White Gryphon."
     "Then what I told you a few days ago still applies," Skan told him, wondering tensely if he was going to have to return only to shoulder responsibilities that he now knew he was ill-suited to handle. "I had to give him the first chance, since he's been handling everything for me since we arrived here, but—"
     "But that's one of the things I need to think about." Amberdrake turned the cup in his hands. "Being the leader of White Gryphon is not something I'd take on without thinking about it."
     "I wouldn't want you to," Skan said hastily. "But you'd be good at it, Drake! Listen, I'm already a symbol, and I can't get away from that. I'm an example, and I can't avoid that, either. But if I've learned one thing, it's that I'm not a leader—or at least, I'm not the kind of leader that Urtho was."
     "You're a different kind of leader," Amberdrake said, nodding. "When people need a focus and someone to make a quick decision, you're good at that. I've seen you act in that capacity far too often for you to deny it, Skan. You have a knack for making people want to follow you, and the instinct for making the right choices."
     "That's all very well, but a real leader needs to be more than that." Skan sighed as he watched Makke pack away more gifts, this time of priceless fabrics. "I admire those leaders, but I can't emulate them." His nares flushed hot with embarrassment. "I get bored, Drake, handling the day-to-day snarls and messes that people get into. I get bored and I lose track of things. I get bored and I go stale and I get fat. I make up crisis after crisis to solve, when there aren't any. I turn ordinary problems into a crisis, just so I feel as if I'm doing something. You, though—you're good at that kind of thing. I think it's just an extension of what you were trained for."
     "What, as a kestra'chern?" Amberdrake raised an eyebrow. "Well, you may be right. There's a certain amount of organizational skill we have to learn—how to handle people, of course—how to delegate authority and when to take it back. Huh. I hadn't thought of it that way,"
     "And you won't get bored and fat." Skan nodded his head decisively. "Judeth says I can have my old job back, so to speak. She'll put me in charge of the gryphon wing of the Silvers. Provided I can find someone to take over my administrative jobs."
     "Oh, really?" Amberdrake looked as if he might be suppressing a smile. "Fascinating. I wonder how you talked her into that."
     Privately, Skandranon wondered, too. Judeth had been entirely too accommodating.
     Then again—leading a gryphon wing took some special talents, and they were talents a mere human wasn't likely to have.
     Sometimes getting them to work together feels like herding grasshoppers. It's hard to get them to understand that teamwork is necessary off the battlefield.
     "We aren't the only people emigrating out of the battle zone, just the first. She thinks that we're going to need to help the Haighlei deal with more refugees, and they're as likely to be from Ma'ar's army as ours," he said by way of reply. "She wants to have the wing set up and ready to move the first time there's trouble. We're a lot more mobile than you two-leggers; we'll make a good strike and run force."
     I just hope that all of those damned makaar died with their master.
     "And the more cooperative we show ourselves, the easier it will be to get the diehards like Palisar to fully accept us," Amberdrake acknowledged. "Well, she's right, and you're right, and I have the feeling that we aren't out of the woods yet." His expression turned thoughtful. "You know, the mage-storms are settling down to squalls and dying out altogether, and one of these days magic will go back to being what it used to be. Ma'ar and Urtho weren't the only powerful Adepts up there, just the two most powerful. And right now, there probably aren't too many places that are pleasant to live in the North."
     Skandranon thought about that for a moment, and he didn't much like the taste of it. Amberdrake was right; there had been plenty of mages up there, and not all of them died or were burned out in that last conflagration. Most mages had either joined forces with Urtho or with Ma'ar; there was no point in worrying too much about those who had been with Urtho, but those who had been with Ma'ar couldn't all have been eliminated.
     And there had been a few mages, Adepts all, who had opted to sit out the conflict between Urtho and Ma'ar—to wait and watch from within hiding, and see precisely who won before making moves of their own. And where were they?
     No one knew. No one would know, unless they came out of hiding. When a wizard chooses to go into hiding, there isn't much that can pry him out until he's good and ready to come out.
     But no other mage had ever had anything like the gryphons. They had proved to be Ma'ar's downfall.
     We could surprise someone else, too.
     Well, that didn't matter at this very moment. What did matter was that there were two tasks facing the people of White Gryphon that needed to be finished. They needed to complete their city and learn how to run it—and they needed to learn how to live in this new situation and society.
     I can take care of contingency battle plans for dealing with possible enemies, if Drake can take over the city. Skan chuckled to himself. The old team. Just like before. With Gesten putting us both in our place.
     "Well, right now, what if we agree to wait until I have the permanent delegation here set up and running smoothly?" Amberdrake asked. "If I manage that—well, perhaps—my skills might be up to administering a city."
     "I'll agree to that!" Skan said readily.
     People are already deferring to him. Judeth does, and so do the rest of the Silvers. The Haighlei are—I think they're rather in awe of the way he could play so many roles, too.
     "Besides, I need to be here to help Silver Veil interview her replacement," Amberdrake continued, but this time with an amused sparkle in his eye. "We both agreed that, on the whole, I am not particularly suited to the position since Leyuet would never be able to unburden himself to someone he thinks of as being god-touched, but she's willing to talk to anyone from White Gryphon that I send for. I have a candidate or two. Jessamine, for one. She's competent, and she would be a complete change of pace from Silver Veil—which would make it impossible for anyone to ever compare the two."
     Skan sighed with relief when he realized that Amberdrake was not even thinking about taking the job himself. That had been a private worry of his; that Amberdrake would decide to stay here as Silver Veil's successor, with Winterhart in charge of the actual ambassadorial delegation. In many ways, it would be a good positioning of resources. Winterhart was admirably suited to such a task—and if Amberdrake was in the position of Imperial Kestra'chern, his people would be very well appraised of whatever situation currently prevailed in Shalaman's land.
     But I want him home, Skan thought stubbornly. We're a good team, and I need him back home where he belongs.
     Besides, he needs to take over from Lionwind, as well as taking over the city. The Kaled'a'in are more than they were before, and Lionwind is still acting as if they were just one of the Clans, with no outsiders among them to change things. I think he realizes that, too.
     In fact—Hmm. There were some stirrings in that direction, before we left. It seemed to me that Lionwind was spending an awful lot of time with the shaman. Maybe he's thinking that he ought to move on to something else, too.
     Change or stagnate. Keep moving or die. That always seemed to be the choices facing Urtho's folk.
     But if we change, we grow. If Drake takes all this leader business on, it will make him grow. He's been stagnating, too.
     This was going to wake him up, and that would be good, not only for him, but for Winterhart. She'll be his partner, just like always—Now that's interesting. She really wasn't suited—or trained—to be his partner when all he was doing was speaking for the kestra'chern. But as the full administrator? Oh, they'll handle that job together like two trained horses in harness!
     "Winterhart would probably enjoy sharing the administrative things out with me," Amberdrake mused aloud, in an unconscious echo of Skandranon's thoughts. "She'd been wasting her talents, really, until we got here. She was trained to rule, not only a household, but a full estate with a substantial number of retainers. It would be a shame to let that kind of training and skill go to waste."
     "You're going to do it, then." Skan could hardly conceal his glee.
     Amberdrake gave him a wry smile. "Sounds as though I've talked myself into it, haven't I? Well—yes. We will do it. Provided we don't make total fools of ourselves, setting things up here."
     "Good!" Skan settled back to watch Makke pack with a much lighter heart. Everything was settled—and exactly as he wanted!
     And now he would be able to get back to doing what he did best—being the Black Gryphon, and all that entailed!
     I won't be stagnating, either. We'll have to figure out how to work with the Haighlei forces; we have no idea what may be coming down out of the north. We gryphons really should put some thought into organizing ourselves in some way—
     He gryphon-grinned at Amberdrake, and the kestra'chern's wry smile softened into a real one.
     And Skandranon Rashkae sat back on his haunches and pulled himself straight up in a deliberately statuesque pose against the sunlit sky, content with himself and the world. Life was good.
     And his heart had never been quite so full of light.


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Amberdrake k'Leshya

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