No, no, no: that’s a gryphon (note the spelling, please, which I prefer over the double ‘f’ because it’s closer to the original Greek and just, you know, looks better on the page, so stop hassling me), not an Aquilea. Aquilea is her name. And she’s one of the primary characters in my novel Gryphon’s Heir. I chat about her today to show off her lovely statue and provide a little background as to how she came about in my imagination. Look at those majestic wings, the graceful head, the powerful muscles, the fusion of lion and eagle in legs and body. If you’re not familiar with gryphons, they have a long and honourable place in mythology. With their front half an eagle, and the rear half a lion, they were intended to embody the best and most courageous characteristics of both animals.
Aquilea isn’t the protagonist of Gryphon’s Heir. That would be the human Rhissan Araxis, known to his friends as Rhiss. He saved her life when she was very young, right after finding himself transported into a pretty remarkable setting and some pretty remarkable circumstances. Her mother had just been killed by another flying beast, a nasty, malevolent thing called a Malmoridai, and Rhiss, who’s always had a soft spot for the underdog, came to Aquilea’s rescue. In return, she’s become his devoted companion. They don’t actually talk to each other, not verbally at any rate, although Aquilea is every bit as intelligent as a human. But they do converse --- sort of --- mind to mind. It’s something Rhiss had to be taught how to do, and the process is still evolving --- one of only a number of things that makes their relationship so delightful to me.
So… I’ve been asked a number of times… where did the idea of Aquilea originate?
Well, I started with Rhiss, my protagonist. (He’s based a little on me. Well, okay, quite a lot.) I didn’t have the title, to begin with. But I needed creatures for a conflict. I already had a bad creature in mind. Now I needed a good creature, one that would be intelligent and form a close relationship with Rhiss. And I wanted it able to fly. But what? A dragon? Nope. Tolkien’s Smaug, McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern, and Paolini’s Saphira immediately came to mind, and I didn’t want such an obvious similarity. Hmm. An eagle? Nope, Tolkien again. Hmm. Flying mythological animals, I thought, mentally running through the catalogue. What about some sort of hybrid? And the gryphon just came to me in a flash. I wasn’t aware of any as famous as Smaug, which was an important consideration --- that was then, of course; since my book’s publication, I have belatedly discovered the gryphon is evidently used much more often by fantasy authors than I was aware of at the time. However and oh well, he said, shrugging pragmatically. I’m very attached to Aquilea, whose name I thought of, using the Latin words for eagle and lion. Like Rhiss, I’m sure there could be some linguist out there to quibble with the proper construction of the name, but frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. I like it.
And so there she was, in one fell swoop, if you’ll pardon the pun. Why a female? I really don’t know. She just was. Had to be. Always had been. I can’t say rationally beyond that, because I don’t know. Some things in life, you just know with utter certainty. You don’t know how or why you know what you know, but by gosh, you do. And I can tell you that Aquilea had to be a girl. Ah QUILL leah. Three syllables, emphasis on the middle one, and don’t ask why, because again, That’s Just The Way It Had To Be.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, yes, Aquilea flew home… although she was in the aircraft cabin with us, not cruising through the clouds under her own power. She endured the indignity of being carry-on luggage quite well, although I’m sure I heard her sniff disdainfully when I informed her of the arrangements (she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, you know). I was actually a little worried about taking her on board with us as carry-on, because sometimes you encounter airport security people with absolutely no sense of humour at all (although I can imagine it’s a fairly thankless job) --- you know the type: oh no, you can’t take that on board! It’s a weapon! --- and if I’d had that misfortune, well, there’s no arguing with them. But fortunately, there were no difficulties. Not surprisingly, Aquilea attracted her fair share of attention from the security people, but it was of the admiring sort, not the suspicious.
And I like to think she preened, just a little bit, as the security people gave her their admiring attention.
Because, to paraphrase A.A. Milne, she’s that sort of gryphon.