7. Personal Mission

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The assistants returned and left with us two bedrolls to sleep on. Looking about the empty space, it was hard to determine where to lay mine. Not since I was kept in the nursery had I been required to sleep in the same room as another being. Cardan being a male I was not related to made the matter even more uncomfortable.

Seeming to sense my hesitation, Cardan began unrolling his bedroll near the center of the room. As he did so, he explained, "Entire families share a house. In the winter, we often surround the fire so that we are all able to stay warm. Come summertime, we cannot bear to be that close, and so we move our beds near the outer walls where the night air can cool us."

Given the exposure offered by the immense size of the tree and the open windows, I laid my bedding down near his. While it offered me comfort in safety, I was still unsure what it meant to share a space with him. Especially when confronted with the need to relieve myself. My eyes quickly scanned the wall for a chamberpot.

"What are you looking for?"

My face burned as I turned to meet his gaze. "A chamberpot," I admitted.

A small smile pulled at his lips as he also turned to search the room. "There will be a hole in the floor. It will be a sloping tunnel meant to take your waste and deposit it elsewhere. Ah, there it is!"

Cardan pointed out the small hole and I slowly approached it. As I glanced over my shoulder, he was studiously ignoring me in favor of rifling through his pack. My first instinct was to ask him for privacy, but I knew he had nowhere else to go. We were not to leave the chamber. Which meant this moment was all I could ask for and I hurried to make use of it.

When I had finished, I joined him by my pack and began to rummage through it. A moment later, he left me and headed for the same area of the room. I kept my eyes on my meager belongings, trying to pretend that my entire life could not fit in such a small space. In reality, my mother had never allowed me useless treasures. If it could not fit in a pack or a basket, then it was temporary and thus easy to discard. In moments such as these, I had to wonder if this was the future she had always envisioned for me.

A few moments later, one of the assistants arrived with a tray of food. The scent of the meat was foreign to me, but I thought I recognized one of the glowing-eyed creatures that Kiethe had made a snack of. In silence, the man set down the tray and turned back towards the stairs. When he was gone, I asked the question with my eyes.

"Miscits. Weird little creatures that look like hairy little people. You must have seen that their eyes glow, but what you do not know is that they secrete an oil through their footpads that also glows. It is how they leave trails for one another. But it is also why they are so easy to hunt. If they did not breed like rodents, they would be in danger of vanishing forever. Oh, and the tail is the best part. Easiest thing to debone."

Picking up the tip of the tail in one hand, Cardan chose to demonstrate by grabbing the protruding bone and pulling it out in one smooth movement. "They're also easy to skin because that same oil exists between their skin and muscle. Makes a great healing ointment for friction injuries. Including..."

"Saddle sores," I finished for him.

He nodded and proceeded to cut the creature into pieces so that we would each have an equal share. There were tubers and mushrooms to go with the meal, and Cardan made it a point to let me have the best choices. Simple as it was, I could almost imagine it were a feast for the two of us.

Once we had finished, he left the tray near the stairs and we both took our places on our bedrolls. When all of the outpost was no longer moving constantly, I was amazed to watch the glow in the illuminaire tree begin to dim. At last, only the tiniest sliver of gold remained.

"Sleep well, Tallie. Tomorrow will be a big day."

"Tomorrow I will meet my brother and father," I murmured into the night.

"And the rest of your family."

I shook my head. "My mother's family disowned her. They will not admit me as one of them."

"Your father's did not. I imagine they will be pleased to meet you."

"How can you be so sure?"

There was a pause just long enough for me to become suspicious. "I know them well," he finally admitted. "Ryin and I grew up together. His family has always treated me as one of their own."


"I was an orphan," he said in a slow, sad voice. "My mother had died in childbirth, so I never knew her. My father and his Gryphon, Alduric, were fishermen. He stayed out far past when he should have one day. He was caught in a summer gale and they were both smashed against the cliff. When Raydin—your father—heard what had happened, he took me in. I was ten."

So he had two sons to raise. For some reason, the thought comforted me. Even though he did not know of me, he was still a father to two children. And my mother got to keep her one. Given the circumstances of my family's separation, it was the best I could have hoped for.

"He was the one who sent me to find Sarrie, Rider of Xzaryth," Cardan continued. "Not many in the tribe agreed with him, but I was not going to disobey the man who raised me. For Ryin's sake, I am sorry that I could not bring your mother. For Raydin's sake, I am pleased he will meet you instead."

My chest constricted as one nagging thought rose up. "Cardan, if he sent you for my mother, why did he not send my brother?"

A long silence answered me and I knew I would dread the answer to come. "Ryin did not wish it."

I closed my eyes as they filled with tears. "Why?"

Cardan turned over in his bedroll and I opened my eyes to find him facing me. "Ryin will not discuss it, but I believe he is waiting until he has made a name for himself. For some of the tribe, your mother's name is spoken as a curse. To others, however, she is known as a True Rider. The Rider of the Black Gryphon. Xzaryth is known to this day as the most powerful and swift Gryphon our tribe has ever seen. Your mother is a legend, Tallie. Do not blame Ryin for not wishing to stand before her with no accomplishments of his own."

Wiping my eyes on my sleeve, I said nothing. Cardan could help me with many things, but when it came to my brother, I was willing to learn on my own. And it would be my own personal mission to build a bridge between my family.

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