37. Bond

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I was left with the unenviable task of informing Father and Mana. While our father shared Ryin's sentiment of it not being long enough, Mana had focused on every possible thing that could delay our journey. Most of all, she tried to use Little Rabbit's aversion to being separated from Cardan against me. When I would not be dissuaded, she then rounded on my father and lunged at the one opportunity she thought she had.

"She is not yet presented. What more perfect a time to do so than on the day your son tests into the elite?"

"Any time prior to then, Mana. Ryin deserves to celebrate his accomplishment separate from his sister. We could have the ceremony tomorrow. Should any suitors speak to Father, he will have the entire month to evaluate whether or not they are worthy of his only daughter. And if one dares to make such an impression, he would first have to travel back to Valhoal and receive my mother's approval before any marriage is to take place."

"You have been thorough in your thoughts on this matter," Mana grumbled.

"No more so than you, Mother," Father sighed. Then his eyes narrowed on mine. "Tallie, this does not need to be done. If you would rather I did not present you..."

Reaching out for his hand, I smiled at him. "I would rather you did. This tribe is mine, too. I deserve to have this tradition, even if nothing comes of it."

Seeing the direction this was going, Mana harrumphed to herself. "Well, it is impossible to make the preparations in so short a time. Give me a week and we will see to it that she is properly presented. Tell me, Tallie, has your mother taught you the courting songs?"

I tried not to smile. "The half that she remembers." If it was even half.

Mana nodded to herself. "Vestain has a daughter who will be presented in the next season. I shall ask if they are willing to hone your knowledge in this particular area."

I was not fond of the idea. "So long as it does not interfere with the little one's lessons."

At this, Mana had nothing to say. With many things, I could have shifted the responsibility onto one of the boys. Little Rabbit's lessons, however, could only be taught by me. Mostly because I was the only being who could read and write in Valhoalan, Common Maeroran, and Trade Maeroran in the entire Forest. One of the greatest assets of having Gryphon Riders for messengers was that they were often ignorant of tongues not of of their own source. Written word, especially, was difficult for a people who relied on oral tradition to grasp.

"Very well," she said, "we will work around the child."

All of a sudden, my jaw set. "I would rather we work with her. She may not be of our blood, but the Forest is her birthright, too. And she will be raised by me to be a Bridge Walker, Mana. I would rather she has all the knowledge that entails."

"I will speak with Vestain," she answered in a terse voice.

It was then I deemed it necessary to leave the house in search of my ward. As Cardan had suggested our first day, I was doing my best to treat her as my own. Some days it was more difficult than others, but I somehow found it easier when others doubted her right to be there. How they could dare to spurn one who the Forest accepted continued to astound me. Then again, they spurned Wraiths as easily. Considering who she was previously raised by, the enmity was mutual. Much to my dismay.

As per our paranoia, Cardan did not have her far from the house. Where she was, however, caused my own spine to straighten and I hurried to them. "Has Surrin seen?" I muttered, casting a furtive look at my grandfather's house.

"No, but his wife has. I think she was about to faint when she went back inside."

Shaking my head, I studied Little Rabbit and Massimu in deep communion. Their faces were so close together that she could not be able to see both of his eyes at once. Yet, there was the same unblinking stare that meant the sharing of minds. A stare a child raised to hate Gryphons should not have been able to stand.

"How long have they been like this?"

"Five minutes, now. I did not wish to interrupt."

"No. It would damage the bond. But what bond are they forming?"

Cardan shook his head. "She is not like this with Kiethe and Azrael."

"Nor Maphail."

"What is it, you think, that has him bewitching every woman in your family?"

Cardan could not have picked better words to say to me in that moment. She was family; through bond if not blood. Pride was bursting through me as I watched and a grin spread across my face.

Still holding onto that feeling, I said, "I suppose it has something to do with him being willing to teach everyone and love everyone the same. He respects all of us; not just his Rider."

At this, the pair finally broke their stance and Little Rabbit skipped over to Cardan and wrapped her arms around his legs. Bending down a little, he grabbed her under the arms and hoisted her up so she could wrap her legs around his waist and cling to him. It was in those moments that I could not imagine separating them; I felt sick knowing that I was about to do just that.

Best to get it out of the way, then.

"Can I take her?" I asked, stopping and holding my arms out for her.

Little Rabbit looked at me in an astonished kind of way while Cardan's eyes darkened. He knew why I was asking. It was to give her the idea to come to me before running for him. And he hated it just as much as I did. But still, he passed her to me.

She let me hold her all of a minute before she wriggled and I dropped her to the ground. Then she bounced between us and took our hands in hers and the three of us walked like that back to Cardan's house. Was there ever going to be a way to separate her from the man who saved her life?

There was a look on Cardan's face that made it seem as if he were pondering the same thing.

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