30. Lifeblood

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He was right. Without the necessity of traveling to Shade every few days, I was able to learn more of my people than I had in previous weeks. I also learned what my father meant.

When my mother told stories of her youth, I had envisioned a being entrapped by her sex. A young girl who could dream of nothing more than flying, and told she could not even be carried off the ground. In my mind, I had envisioned the women of her tribe as oppressed.

That was not true.

If anything, these women were the lifeblood of everything around them. Each day, they moved about the village with undeniable purpose. They fetched water for the troughs, brushed brambles from fur, raised babies and fed husbands. Their homes were kept in order, and the roosts for the Gryphons were generously cleaned. More than that, however, they were the confidants of men and beasts.

The more I watched, the more I realized that the affection shown to me was something many Gryphons reserved only for the females of their lives. It was not an open display given to their Riders. I could only classify it as a male thing when I watched Riders and Gryphons in communion. They would stand facing one another and stare deep into their souls—as my mother often did with Xzaryth. If they bestowed affection, it was in a chirp or a nudge. They were proud of their Riders and, if criticized, showed indignation in the swelling of their chests and the stretching of their necks in a towering manner. Yet, for me, all of them would spread their wings and hiss in outright agitation.

No, it was not that the relationships were reserved for Gryphons and Riders. Merely, every being had a different relationship in regard to another. Females were beloved and protected. Males were respected partners.

While I didn't go to the lengths my mother did when she was young, I also was not shy about showing off my relationship with the Gryphons. Massimu, especially, was fond of me as I often stopped by on my way to or from my father's house to scratch him or brush the dust from him. As Surrin was getting older, there were fewer and fewer days the golden giant was let out to fly. If I could have managed it, we would have gone out on our own. Alas, no one was about to allow that.

Maphail did.

After spending so much time in the saddle, the days spent on the ground seemed to drag on. Mana did her best to teach me the best ways to weave baskets or skin miscits and collect the oil or even tan hides. All work done by the people of the Sesare Tribe that I was not interested in. Like my mother.

I preferred to fly. I enjoyed working with the Gryphons, mending saddles, and mixing healing pastes. It was an unfortunate result of my raising, but I knew myself to be unskilled and lazy in regards to much of the work these women produced. While I did what was asked of me, I knew that it was with no one eager to have me repeat the experience.

The day my father asked me to go on a hunt, I dropped the basket I had been working on and bounded to his side. "Bow or Maphail?" I asked at once.

"You have hunted with Xzaryth?"

A grin spread across my face. "More than I have with a bow."

"Alone or with your mother?"

"Both."

"Then I will trust you to take Maphail while I go with some of the other men. The elsoans have just finished their mating season, so the males are free to be taken."

"Very well. Is this to be a flushing tactic or are we meant to take what we can?"

His eyebrows rose appreciatively. "Your mother taught you our tactics?"

"The people of Valhoal are very grateful to know them."

"Do they work well there? I did not think the desert yielded herd animals."

"Dygons, mostly. One large pack could feed half the city for a week."

My father had no response for that. Instead, he motioned for me to follow him to Maphail. "It is a flush, today. You will be flying with Reor, Rider of Zadere. He will come from the northwest. You are to fly from the northeast. Push the herd south."

Bowing my head, I ran off to change into my riding clothes. By the time I emerged from Mana's house, Maphail was saddled and waiting for me outside. My father was nowhere to be seen, having gone ahead with the other hunters to position themselves. After Maphail gave his permission to be ridden, I vaulted into the saddle and began to strap myself in.

"I heard we were to fly beside Maphail. I was not told you would be riding him."

Looking up, I found a young man near to Ryin's age with dark, narrow eyes and a thin-lipped mouth made wider by his grimace. Dismissing him, my eyes traveled over the dark brown fur of his Gryphon and the feathers that were a startling light color in comparison. His eyes, however, were almost black.

"You must be Reor. And this is Zadere. Tell me, do you know if he is kin to Xzaryth?"

At once, Reor's back stiffened. "We do not track such things," he said in a stiff voice.

"Pity. He has Xzaryth's eyes." Smiling at the Gryphon, I bowed my head. "Thank you for flying with us today, Zadere. It is an honor to hunt at your side."

Pressing lightly with my knee, Maphail began to spread his wings. At once, the younger Gryphon backed away, his own cream-colored wings spreading. Maphail did not wait as he took a few bounds along the dirt track in the center of the village before launching himself into the air. It was several long seconds before Zadere and Reor joined us. Together, we swung about and headed north.

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