The Black Gryphon
|The Black Gryphon|
|Author||Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|Followed by||The White Gryphon|
As the book begins, Skandranon Rashkae, the Black Gryphon, creeps into an enemy encampment. A Seer has warned Urtho of a new, magical weapon that has caused the capture of one of Urtho's key garrisons. Skan grabs one of the weapons and leaves, hotly pursued by makaar, creatures created by Kiyamvir Ma'ar to match Urtho's gryphons. After a long chase, Skan crash-lands in friendly territory.
Meanwhile, in Urtho's camp, Kestra'chern Amberdrake and Gesten, a hertasi, are waiting for the return of their friend Skan. Drake is sitting in the surgery tent in the area where the Healers live and work, when a seriously injured Skan is carried in.
While Skan is recovering in the Healer's tent, Urtho makes a visit to his friend and "son". He tells Skan that the weapon has been analyzed and that a counter to this weapon is already being created. Urtho then offers to give Skan a reward for his work, his choice in a mate and the ability to make offspring. Skan tells him that he will think on this matter.
During Urtho's visit, a commanding officer of Urtho's army appears and asks for a moment of Urtho's time. He would like Urtho to reward another gryphon for her ability to take on three makaar, single-handedly. Skan is immediately interested in meeting this female and demands that she be brought to the tent. The commander brings in a timid and shy gryphon named Zhaneel. After her account of the battle with the makaar, Urtho rewards her with a coin that can be traded for any service around the area. Skan suggests that she use her coin for the services of Amberdrake, because Skan believes that Drake is the only one that can help her get past her shyness. Skan is also furious with the trondi'irn, person that takes care and heals the non-human creatures fighting for Urtho, that takes care of Zhaneel for letting her get so bad in the first place.
Meanwhile, Amberdrake is dealing with his own problems with a particular client. Conn Levas, a mage mercenary, is using some of his built up coins to pay for Drake's service. The real reason that Conn Levas is visiting a kestra'chern is to make his lover, Winterhart, jealous. Amberdrake being the skilled kestra'chern that he is does not say anything to Levas, but secretly is very upset with this mage for using him in such a way. Also, he wonders about this Winterhart, because of her relationship with this man in the begin with.
While Skan is still recuperating, another gryphon is brought in to be healed. Aubri is an old gryphon from the sixth wing, the same wing as Zhaneel. Aubri did some scouting while on leave because Shaiknam refused to believe or double check a report of a fire flinger. He comes out of the skirmish badly burned. At first the hertasi, lizard-like creatures used to forage and help with certain problems, are helping to heal Aubri, but the trondi'irn for the sixth wing, Winterhart, walks in and tells them that Shaiknam and Garber have ordered them to work only with uninjured personnel. The treatment of the hertasi, leads to Gesten getting involved and fixing the problem.
Winterhart's appearance is not a welcome sight, especially for Skan. Skan does not know who this is, but he knows she is the trondi'irn is the same for Zhaneel. Also, he does not like the way she completely ignored him as though he were just some brainless animal. Cinnabar and Tamsin are the only things that stop Skan from physically harming Winterhart. Winterhart is callous, but she also knows how to heal a fallen gryphon.
Zhaneel's visit with Amberdrake did not go according to Drake's plans. Drake assumed a female gryphon would want a feather painting session in order to make herself more desirable to a male gryphon. After meeting Zhaneel, Drake realizes that this "gryfalcon," would need a boost in confidence. He suggested that she take her "flaws" and use them as advantages. He encourages her to use her hands for things that a human usually would. She takes his advice and creates her own training course. With the help of Gesten, Amberdrake's hertasi, and Vikteren, a mage, she develops a training course with many traps and dangers.
As Zhaneel continues her training, many of the other gryphons, humans, and non-humans begin showing up to watch her. At the same time, Garber, the second in command of the sixth wing, has learned of Zhaneel's training and has decided that Winterhart needs to go put a stop to it. Winterhart confronts Zhaneel stating, "You (Zhaneel) had no orders and no permission", but Winterhart is caught off guard when the normally quiet Zhaneel stands up and shrills, "Orders? I am on leave time! These who help me are off-duty! What need have we of orders, of permissions? Are we to request leave to piss now?" After Zhaneel's attack on Winterhart, Skan joins the attack as well, before Winterhart is finally asked by Zhaneel to speak in private.
Meanwhile, Shaiknam and Garber have really messed up their positions. While in battle, many of the mages of the sixth wing used so much magic that they were put into a coma. The only way for them to come out of the coma alive was to be sent to a healer, unfortunately, Shaiknam said they were just being lazy and left them to die where they lay. Due to Shaiknam's callousness, the mages called for a meeting with Urtho. They demanded that either Shaiknam went, or they would. During this time, Vikteren declares that he is an Master Mage and that he would have a vote in the matter. Also, the reason that most gryphons continued to fight was because Urtho controlled their ability to mate and have children. Upon learning of this, Vikteren, Amberdrake, Tamsin, Cinnabar and Skan decide that the gryphon's should make those decisions for themselves. Vikteren gives Amberdrake a set of "mage keys" that will unlock any mage locking spells. While Urtho is away dealing with the mages, Amberdrake, Cinnabar, Tamsin, and Skandranon, go up into Urtho's tower and seek out the formula for gryphon mating.
While Skandranon is in the library, he senses another gryphon. Due to Skan's curious nature he uses the key to unlock a door protected by a special mage lock. Behind the door, Skan discovers models of all the different types of gryphons floating in the air. Then he senses another gryphon in the room. Kechara a "misborn" gryphon is kept in the room because of her deformities. She is childish in nature, and has wings that are too large for her body. She attacks Skan at first, but after a while they start talking and Skan learns a lot about her and she recognizes his form among the models in the sky. Skan realizes he must leave, but promises Kechara that he will return some day.
After the confrontation with Zhaneel, Winterhart is sent to see Amberdrake. Amberdrake heals a back injury she sustained while helping an injured gryphon some time ago. While he is helping with her physical injuries, he is learning of the new feelings that she is experiencing due to Zhaneel's outspokenness. Winterhart had set herself up to believe that just because they were animals, gryphons were unintelligent and only good for taking orders. She also starts questioning her relationship with Conn Levas, and her allegiance to Shaiknam and Garber.
Cinnabar and Tamsin begin working on the understanding of the gryphon mating process. When Skan arrives they inform him that they had figured out how gryphons could have children and it did not even need magic. The females would have to fast for two days and then gorge themselves on food the day before the mating flight. The male gryphons would need to spend two days in a very cold climate in order for their seed to become active. Skan is at first angry at Urtho for keeping this hidden from the gryphons, because he believes Urtho only did it to control the gryphons. The real reason that Urtho gave in his book:
"Too often have I seen human parents who were too young, too unstable, or otherwise unfit or unready for children produce child after doomed, mistreated child. I will have none of this for these, my gryphons. By watching them, and then training others what to watch for, I can discover which pairings are loving and stable, which would-be parents have the patience and understanding to 'be' parents. And in this way, perhaps my creations will have a happier start in life than most of the humans around them. While I may not be an expert in such things, I have at least learned how to observe the actions of others, and experience may give me an edge in judging which couples are ready for little ones. Those who desire children must not bring them into our dangerous world out of a wish for a replica of themselves, a creature to mold and control, a way to achieve what they could not, or the need for something that will offer unconditional love. For that, they must look elsewhere and most likely into themselves."
Skan begins spreading the information that has been obtained of the mating formula. He also begins training on Zhaneel's training course, another attempt to get close to the interesting gryfalcon. With the information gathered by Skan on his trip at the beginning, Urtho has created a box that can diffuse the weapons of Ma'ar. With her special hands, Zhaneel is chosen to fly this box into the battle. Amberdrake plans a "victory" feast for Zhaneel's return from her first mission. He invites Skan and Zhaneel, but doesn't tell either of them that the other was invited. After the celebration, Skan talks with Zhaneel and they learn of their mutual feeling for one another.
There is a huge battle, and many are injured. Healers and trondi'irns are rushing around trying to heal hundreds of injured creatures and humans. Amberdrake is brought into the healing also and ends up over-exerting himself in the healing. Cinnabar at one point helps Winterhart to heal a gryphon. Cinnabar tells her that all in all she is starting to look much better, and that all she lacked now was to get rid of Conn Levas. Cinnabar then calls Winterhart, Reanna. Reanna was at one time a lady of the High King's palace. Cinnabar suggests that Winterhart tell Amberdrake of her true name and history.
After their talk, Winterhart is laying in her tent relaxing after the hours of healing. Conn Levas comes by and Winterhart pretends to sleep so that he'll go away without getting what he really wanted from her. After his departure, she sees a shadow around her tent and recognizes it as Amberdrake. She calls him inside and they relax together. Winterhart confesses to her true name and why she had been hiding the entire time. Amberdrake reveals to Winterhart that Ma'ar had implanted a device that threw off negative energy causing those without shields to have a large amount of fear. It was too late for the king because he was already dead, but Urtho sent Skan to retrieve the device and destroy it. This revelation of the events caused by Ma'ar, helps Winterhart to understand that it is not her fault that she deserted the palace in its time of greatest need.
During this time, more battles are fought and the general consensus is that Urtho is losing. Conn confronts Winterhart and says some demeaning things about her. She later goes to Amberdrake to talk and he finally confesses his feelings to her. Shaiknam and Garber are put back into command of the Sixth Wing because of the assassination of the commander that replaced them. After they are put back into position, the gryphons decide that they will revolt and Skan is left with the task of telling Urtho. To Skan's surprise, Urtho already knows of the gryphon revolt. Urtho still believes that he can control the gryphons because he is the only one holding the secret to their mating abilities. Skan surprises him by telling him that the gryphons have learned how to have their own children, but it's out of respect and love to him that keeps them in his services.
After the revelation that the gryphons knew how to reproduce, Skan explains the reason for revolting against Shaiknam and Garber. After looking at the map, Urtho determines that Shaiknam is a fool, and Urtho will split the non-humans among the other commanders. Urtho also surprises Skan by assigning Skan to be the commander of the gryphons and to report to Urtho. Urtho reveals to Skan the plan to evacuate the area, as a matter of fact some families have already been evacuated from the city. Skan also tells Urtho that he saw the models and met Kechara. We find out that Kechara was being kept in the tower because she is a very powerful Mindspeaker. Skan requests that Urtho give Kechara to Zhaneel and himself.
All noncombatants were evacuated along with several of Urtho's artifacts and books. On the last day, there is a battle. Aubri is circling the field heading back to his position when he notices the people of the Sixth Wing backing out and allowing Ma'ar's forces into the land. Aubri sees the tent that Shaiknam and Garber use, and he listens into a conversation between Shaiknam, Garber, and an unknown person, who later turns out to be Conn Levas. Aubri is captured and given to Ma'ar's forces. Conn Levas goes to the tower to have a meeting with Urtho. Conn Levas walks in and throws Miranda thorns, a very deadly device created by Ma'ar.
Skan and Vikteren are fetched by a hertasi and Skan complains to the hertasi as to why he left Urtho alone with Conn Levas. When the doors are opened, Skan sees the shape that Urtho is in and using a single talon he rips Conn Levas' throat open and on the backhand of the original slash sends Conn across the room snapping his spine on a table. Vikteren rushes over to Urtho and tries to help as much as he could until Tamsin and Cinnabar come in to help. Urtho tells Skan of a device he has created that will kill Ma'ar. Skan takes the device and leaves.
Skan goes to Snowstar, an old mage, and has him open a gate into a safe place in the palace. Snowstar tells him that he has a good idea of a place that would have no guards directly in it. Skan goes through and ends up in a stable. When he exits from the room he was gated into, he finds Kechara, who was kidnapped by Conn Levas, and a bag containing Aubri. They all go through a secret passage into the palace. Meanwhile, Urtho has decided that he will try to convince Ma'ar to attack him in the tower. Urtho knew he was dying and that if he died and Ma'ar happened to be there then he'd die as well. Urtho opens a gate and starts taunting Ma'ar enticing him to come fight. While Urtho is doing this, Kechara, Skan, and Aubri come into the room from the secret passage surprising Ma'ar. Skan sets the device and Kechara flies towards Urtho, with Aubri and Skan right behind her. Aubri gets stuck in the gate until Skan pushes him through. Urtho closes the gate and asks "why they went to Ma'ar like that." Skan just blushes and Urtho tells them that they don't have much time. Skan asks him if he can open a gate into the land where they were to evacuate to, and Urtho says he will try. The people who have evacuated see an explosion in the distance, signaling the death of Urtho. At the same time, a gate opens and Kechara and Aubri pop out. The gate begins collapsing on itself and Aubri tells them that Skan is still inside. Vikteren holds the gate open long enough for Skan to make through, but he does not appear as the once Black Gryphon, but as the White Gryphon. After the collapse of the gate, the mages have to put up shields to protect the people because of the mage storm created due to the death of both Ma'ar and Urtho.
- Skandranon "Skan" Rashkae—The Black Gryphon. He is interested in books and learning of leaders-and how they lead. Very confident in his abilities, he believes no one else can do what he can. He is injured at the beginning of the story and has to stay in a healer's tent while his wounds are mended. His chief healer is Amberdrake, but he also receives help from Cinnabar and Tamsin. While healing, he meets Aubri and also Zhaneel, who he falls in love with. In the end, he is the defeater of Ma'ar, but it all comes with a price for his black feathers are turned white from a problem with the gates.
- Kiyamvir Ma'ar—leader of the group fighting Urtho. He is a powerful mage bent on world domination. He's defeated many different cities and uses the conquered people in his new army. Like Urtho, Ma'ar creates a new race of creatures called Makaar. The makaar, unlike the gryphons, take orders without question and without a thought of their own. Ma'ar commits suicide rather than face defeat at the hands of Skandranon.
- Kestra'chern Amberdrake "Drake" k'Leshya—Amberdrake is an empath/healer. He does not fit in with either kestra'cherns, people usually of the Kaled'a'in race that are trained in helping people mentally and emotionally, or healers because he is a combination of both. He is a friend of Skandranon, and worries about his friend when he does not return from his dangerous mission. Meanwhile, he meets Winterhart after a confrontation between her and Zhaneel. He learns of her past and falls in love with her. There are some hinted at homo-erotic duties that certain empaths and healers will perform, and some of the fees for the better service providers (Amberdrake is identified as being in that category) can be quite high. There appears to be very little stigma attached to this type of service, and Amberdrake continues to be held in high regard by those familiar with this practice as well as those who are not. In the first novel of this trilogy, Amberdrake is initially seen as someone who is a state of emotional turmoil somewhat more serious than those he seeks to heal in fact. Amberdrake and his emotional status receives a great deal of attention as the plot lines continue to develop and progress. The toll for what empaths and healers are able to do seems to be pretty high throughout the novel, again, with the focus being primarily on the Amberdrake character. Ambiguity and instability are explored in detail in order to give the reader insight when it comes to these interpersonal relationships.
- Gesten—A hertasi, a lizard-like creature very good at getting goods. Gesten is the helper of Amberdrake. He sets up for all appointments that Amberdrake has and assists him with foods.
- Conn Levas—A hired mage mercenary working for Urtho. He appears for the first time with an appointment with Amberdrake. His reasoning for going to a kestra'chern in the first place was to make Winterhart, his lover, jealous. Conn later turns against Urtho, taking Aubri and Kechara to Ma'ar, and attacking Urtho with a magical thorn that slowly kills the recipient. Conn upon leaving the room where Urtho is dying, runs into Amberdrake and Skandranon, and Skandranon brutally kills Conn Levas.
- Healer Tamsin—A healer, life-bonded to Cinnabar. He heals many of the combatants on Urtho's side and also aids in the stealing of Urtho's formula for gryphon mating.
- Healer Cinnabar—A healer, life-bonded to Tamsin. She was formally a child of nobles in the king's palace. Cinnabar aids in the stealing of Urtho's formula for gryphon mating.
- Urtho—The Mage of Silence. He is the reluctant ruler of the people in the land. He was made ruler after the king was killed and all nobles had fled. He is the "Father" of the gryphons. He is surprised by the attack by Conn Levas and is hit with a very deadly thorn. He tries to challenge Ma'ar to a duel knowing that when his death come that his tower would explode and kill Ma'ar, but he later helps Aubri, Skan, and Kechara to escape just before his death.
- Zhaneel—A gryphon that was believed to be "misborn" early in the story; towards the end it was made clear she was simply the first in a new breed of gryphons, called a gryfalcon (a gryphon in the shape of a falcon), whose parents are killed in battle. She is made fun of by other gryphons because of her form. She is much smaller and has smaller wings than the broadwing variety. She also has human hands in the place of talons. She gains recognition after single-handedly killing three makaar. Due to all the years of being made fun of, she is very unconfident and Skan suggests that she visit Amberdrake. Amberdrake convinces her to learn how to use her differences as a strength. She creates a training course fit for her skills. Skandranon falls in love with her and the feeling is mutual. Her time to really shine happens in a confrontation between herself and Winterhart.
- Aubri—A grumpy gryphon from the sixth wing, the same wing as Zhaneel. The first time he appears is after a battle when he is badly burned. He later spots Shaiknam, Garber, and Levas backing out and allowing Ma'ar's troops through. He is captured by Conn and given to Ma'ar, but rescued by Skan.
- Winterhart—Trondi'irn, trainer of the gryphons, of the sixth wing. She is the lover of Conn Levas, but she doesn't really love him. After her face-off with Zhaneel she is sent to Amberdrake to help an old back problem. With the help of Cinnabar, she admits to who she truly is to Amberdrake. She was formally a lady of the king's castle, but ran away due to a device that caused fear in all but those with shields. She has lived in disgrace for years due to her cowardice. She later breaks it off with Conn Levas and becomes the lover of Amberdrake.
- General Shaiknam—One of Urtho's commanders. He is the leader of the sixth wing. He uses the gryphons and other non-humans, including mages, only as weapons and not as though they actually having intelligence. He is removed from his position after sending many of his mages to their death. He gets his position back after the commander that takes over is mysteriously assassinated.
- Commander Garber—Shaiknam's second in command. He believes the same as Shaiknam and sends orders to Winterhart that keep the gryphons under their thumb.
- Vikteren—An Adept Mage. He hides his skills, making people believe that he is lower than he really is. He leads the mages on the revolt against Shaiknam and Garber. He also lends Amberdrake a key that will unlock any magical locks that Urtho may have put on his books about gryphon mating.
- Kechara—A "misborn" gryphon whose name is translated to beloved. Kechara is kept locked up in Urtho's Tower because he does not want her to fall into the wrong hands. Kechara is discovered by Skandranon while in the tower getting the formula for mating. She is older than Skan, but her mind is not as advanced. Her mind may be of a child, but her power is mindspeech. She is later kidnapped by Conn Levas, and rescued by Skan. Before his death, Urtho gives her to Skan for protection.
- Mercedes Lackey, Official Timeline for the Heralds of Valdemar Series—Sequence of events by Valdemar reckoning