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 "You are returning to your men." It was not a question as the Rider entered the stable. With her appearance came the distinct scent of the Black Gryphon, causing many of the stabled beasts to toss their heads and stamp their feet in distress. Sarrie pretended not to notice.

"I am," Barrin answered without inflection. He wanted nothing more than to have the queen's closest confidant leave him to himself. The last thing he needed was another reminder of what she offered him. Of what he must refuse.

"Will you be returning?" Sarrie questioned as though she truly did not know the answer.

"I have little intentions of such," Barrin admitted. She would learn from Thalon soon enough. Barrin had not the makings of a king. And had no ambition to do what was needed for the newborn country.

It surprised him when Sarrie's face fell. In her dark eyes, he caught a glimpse of despair before she quickly averted her gaze. For the life of him, the mercenary could not understand her own thoughts or feelings on the matter. Of course, similar to Thalon, she did not force him to ponder it long.

"It is a pity that you cannot envision a life here. Especially since this place has a way of transforming you once you have opened your heart to it."

Barrin stood straight and closed his eyes. His jaw strained as he kept the words he desperately wished to say behind his clenched teeth. They would do no good to be said aloud and his patience had not yet entirely abandoned him.

"Xzaryth and I had no intentions of finding this place to our liking. When I was sent with a missive for the new queen, it was with great reservations that I took the job. What the sun would do to my dear Xzaryth, I did not wish to know. And how I would feel being in so exposed an environment weighed heavily on my mind. There was also, of course, the added dangers associated with the Kingdom nearby. But I had never turned down a mission, no matter the difficulties involved. I wasn't about to start.

"Then we saw it. Like the ocean but made of air, this absolute sea of blue extended out before us. A sky so clear and so bright, it made my heart ache with its beauty. We could fly forever, I thought. Absolutely free with nothing to interfere in our bliss. It was in that moment that Valhoal began to feel like home."

"Your freedom is the most important thing you and Xzaryth share, is it not?" Barrin demanded as he shoved a blanket into his saddlebags.

"It is," Sarrie confirmed.

"Then you will understand when I say that it is not any intention of mine to give up what freedom I hold for myself and my men."

"Yes. Of course I do. But you will also understand when I say that the last thing I ever thought myself to do was the one thing I fled from with swiftest speed: form roots." Allowing her eyes to bore willfully into his own, Sarrie said, "I was never meant to be earth-bound, unlike my mother and the other women of my tribe. All who have come to know me know this is true. Yet, Valhoal has a way of climbing inside of your heart and twisting your own desires. Even to the point things you once despised become a need of their own. One your heart will not deny."

With nothing left to say, the dark-skinned Rider slipped from the stables with less noise than a breath of air. Lord Barrin was left with her words rolling over one another in the back of his mind. Despite the fact that his decision could not be reversed, he found that he would ponder the strange phrase much for the rest of his life.

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