True Rider

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Raydin had been cradling the boy in the crook of his arm for over an hour and he still could not believe it. Even Maphail, when he and Xzaryth came to investigate their whereabouts, had sniffed at the child in confusion and opened his wings in a slight question before going off to sunbathe. Now, the Black Gryphon and his Rider continued to study them expectantly. As if it should be just as easy as recognizing your own.

Once more, Raydin trailed his finger over the boy's face in order to push the long black hair to the side. This was no newborn son for him to hold, but a boy of a nearly a year. It made it easier to look at him and see a younger version of himself. In his son's face Raydin could already see his lips, chin, and ears. It was lucky for him that he got his mother's eyes, though the nose he bore had somehow been a creation of both parents'. Dark eyebrows pinched together in his sleep and he shifted for the fifth time in the hour.

"He is perfect," Raydin whispered at the same rate.

"He is yours," Sarrie said as if that explained everything.

"Ours."

Sarrie shook her head before leveling him with a wary gaze. "No. Not ours. For he can be no son to me where you take him."

Stunned, Raydin's eyes ripped from his son's face to meet her penetrating stare. "What?"

He watched as she swallowed hard, looking away as she spoke. "Ryin is a young man without the need of a mother. He is old enough now that he may return to the land of his father. To live amongst his father's people." No amount of stubborn bravado could hide the pain in her voice.

"No," Raydin whispered in horror. "He is your son, Sarrie. Do not think I will take him from you."

"Do not think I will allow him to be earth-bound," she snapped as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

Like an animal caught in the eyes of a predator, Raydin didn't move. He was paralyzed. With both fear and elation. Of all the blessings he had ever been given, he had never thought a son would be amongst them. Now, to hold the infant in his hands, his greatest fear was that she would take him back and disappear again. To know that her plans were so far opposite was enough to terrify him.

"As my son, he will live in a palace. He will grow up near-kin to Valalya and her brothers. He will know the ways of the desert and how the great Desert Eagles protect our home. And he will watch his mother fly off on missions without ever knowing the freedom of having wings himself."

Raydin could see it as she described. Yet, when she prophesied the last part, he could not help but shudder. To be the offspring of Gryphon Riders was to know the freedom of the sky. Above, below, and all around. Without that...

"But as your son, he will grow in our ways. Be taught our lessons. Learn from our people and come to earn his place as a man and a Gryphon Rider. Love him as I do, I cannot keep that future from him. It is his birthright. And only through you will he ever fulfill that destiny."

"He is still your son, Sarrie."

"And I am making the best decision for him that I am able. Be sure he knows that," she added in a whisper.

"You will still see him," he accused. Already he knew the answer.

"The borders of the Forest have been closed to me for a long time now. When Ryin passes beneath those trees, I will see him only in my dreams. Until he becomes a man, my son will be lost to me."

Unable to hold it in any longer, Sarrie crumbled in on herself. She bent forward at the waist and seemed to fold to the ground from there. Great wracking sobs shook her body and a high-pitched keening escaped her lips.

In an instant, Xzaryth was there, shading her beneath a great wing and nuzzling his beak into the crook of her neck. As if he were whispering soothing words, he huffed into her ear after every shuddering gasp. And she clung to him the way she would never cling to another living soul.

Raydin sank to his knees, clutching their child to his chest as tightly as he dared. The scene that had unfolded before him had drained him of thought and energy. Though he loved his son and his Gryphon, he somehow felt that he knew nothing about the love for either when he watched the torment Sarrie was now experiencing.

"How?" he finally croaked. "How can you ask this of me when I see what it is doing to you? How can I look after a son when his mother is barred from our home? How can I watch this boy grow into a man and not share that with the woman I love?"

Taking deep breaths, Sarrie was finally able to compose herself enough to say, "Because you have to."

Again, Raydin bowed his head over his child and let the tears fall from his eyes, just as he had the moment she first laid the boy in his arms. And just as Xzaryth had done for his Rider, Maphail rose from the ground and came to Raydin's side. Lying down beside him, he sniffed again at the infant before meeting the watery gaze of his Rider.

Watching them, Sarrie had grown calm again. Only silent tears now stained her face from where she was curled into the side of the Black Gryphon. "We should get him inside," she whispered at last.

Raydin could only nod as he rose slowly to his feet. Together, the Riders were escorted back to the Eagle Claw Inn by their watchful Gryphons. And as soon as Raydin reached the rooms where they had been staying, he settled Ryin into the cradle that had been provided for him. For another hour or more, they continued to watch the steady rise and fall of their son's breaths.

Finally, Sarrie stirred. She rose to her feet and went to a water basin set in a wash stand. There, she scrubbed away the evidence of her turmoil. Yet, even with the tear stains gone, Raydin could see her defeat in the set of her shoulders and the weariness in her face.

Rising from the bed, he strode across the room and wrapped his arms around her. For a moment, she was stiff in his arms. Then she melted into them and he felt as if she belonged there and nowhere else. And somehow, he found himself wondering, after all she put him through, how could he still be so in love with her?

Nothing could support his thoughts more than her next words.

"Raydin?"

"Yes?"

"I want you to do one thing for me. I ... I want you to find him a mother. I want you to find a wife."

He felt as if he'd been struck. Stepping back, he couldn't even imagine what she was seeing in him. The emotions he'd endured throughout the day were nothing compared to the storm absorbing him now. Once they settled enough, however, Raydin angrily grasped Sarrie's shoulders and barely refrained from shaking her.

"Don't you ever say that again! Ryin has a mother. And I have a wife. You are ours, Sarrie. You always will be. I will never take another. Do you understand me?"

Looking at the floor, she nodded slowly. With a sigh, Raydin released her shoulders. Only to grab both sides of her face and raise her head so that she had to look at him.

"You mad, irrational woman. Do you not know yet how much I love you? And how much it hurts me to be away from you?"

Before she could answer, his lips fell overtop her own in a kiss as desperate as the last night they'd spent together. When he pulled away a few minutes later, he pressed her against his body and buried his face in her hair.

"You are ours. And our son will grow into a powerful man who will always know that his mother is Sarrie, Rider of Xzaryth, the greatest Gryphon our tribe has ever seen. Ryin is the son of a True Rider."

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