One of my favorite gryphons from Eyrie who never gets any cover love is Hatzel, so I reached out to Sydney Moncrief who sometimes does concept art work for me and asked if she’d take a stab at bringing Hatzel to life.

Hatzel was the first gryphon I created after Zeph. She’s there in the second scene and serves as a calm, responsible foil for the other characters. While being a strong, smart leader is core to her character, I wanted her to visually be a more prehistoric design than most gryphons. She should be scary when she wants to look imposing.

I’d been studying wingspan lengths in living creatures to get a feel for how big an animal could be and still fly. For the pterosaur (think pterodactyl or pteronadon) Hatzegopteryx, the answer was… well, the size of a giraffe. For raptors, Haast’s eagle had a wingspan around 9 feet and hunted moa, essentially giant ostriches. To say both animals inspired Hatzel’s name is spot on.

When I first sketched Hatzel, I knew there was a jag in her beak, but it became more pronounced as I wrote. Haast’s eagle went extinct a couple hundred years ago, so that got me thinking about prehistoric birds and cats not normally used in gryphon creation. I began to wonder if I could pronounce the beak jag into something even more fierce, reminiscent of a saber-toothed tiger.

Since her coloring has always been dark, “nearly black below the canopy where the light doesn’t reach,” I was worried about comparisons with Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon’s Skandranon, the eponymous Black Gryphon from the famous Valdemar books. I asked Sydney to consider the cooper’s hawk (Zeph) and magpie (Xavi) gryphons of her pride and add a little hint of each, hence the white highlights.

I’ve been using the term “saberbeak” to refer to Hatzel’s gryphon species. Where a lot of the gryphon prides in Eyrie are composed of similar species—harpy eagles for Merin’s, kakapo for the Parrotface Pride, Shrikes/Caracals for the kjarr and bog prides—I wanted Hatzel’s pride to be a mix of several smaller prides that couldn’t stand on their own.

I might delve into Hatzel’s back story more in a short story one of these days if people are interested. I feel like back story in novels is fluid: I come up with something detailed for every character and use that to influence my writing of their scenes, but it’s not set in stone until I commit it to writing that other people see.

Bonus Trivia! Another design I considered for Hatzel, one that would have emphasized her size even more, used a terror bird as her front half instead of a Haast’s eagle. Unfortunately, being flightless, that gave her smaller wings. Here’s Sydney’s rendition of a smilodon + terror bird gryphon. What do you think?