43. Parents

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"In due time," the dragoessa said without hesitation. "And by the hand of the Blood Dragon. Not yours."

Her little chin raised and I could feel my blood run cold. "She left me."

Even though her voice was indignant and her features were almost aloof, I could feel the hurt. Anger, resentment, fear, and a keening loss filled her chest and I wanted nothing more than to gather her in my arms and pull her to me. For that one second, I thought I understood a little of how Ryin must have felt, knowing that our mother had given him up. Unlike Ryin, however, Little Rabbit had been left for dead, not in the arms of someone who would love her.

"Her crimes will be answered for, young Mage. The worst you can do to her is to fulfill your vow to the Dragon and live a life in spite of her."

"She will not come until I am fifteen."

"That gives you time, then, to master your Ability so that you may be of use to her."

"Who will teach me?"

The shapeshifter's lips curled into a thin, knowing smile. "There will be those that heed the call."

"You will be one of them." It was a command; not a question.

Cardan and I were quick to exchange looks, but neither of us dared to interfere. Though she may have been a mere seven years, she knew well what it meant to barter for her future. This time, at least, she was having her say.

Looking up at us, the dragoessa smiled a little before she said to Little Rabbit, "I will do as you wish, young Mage, when your parents return you to this place. As it stands, I am not permitted to leave Silver Lake."

"Why?"

Pulling her hands away, she sighed, "I have forged bonds of my own, lovely one."

Nodding as if it was decided, Little Rabbit turned to look me in the eyes. "You will bring me back here."

I smiled before I could stop myself. "Cardan and I have discussed it. We will all return to the Forest once a year for a limited time. I am willing to share some of that time with the shapeshifters of Shade."

Every one of us looked to Cardan. He seemed to have tasted something sour when he grudgingly said, "As am I. If this is what she needs."

Again, Little Rabbit nodded. Before she could say more, however, I took a step forward and placed a hand on her shoulder. Then I looked to the dragoessa and said, "We will return in the next week or so. Soon, however, we will leave for Valhoal."

She nodded in understanding before her gaze shifted back to the child. "When last you come, I will have something prepared for you, and I hope you will accept it. Until then, lovely Mage."

Her transformation was fluid and silent before the lightning bird darted away into the open sky.

Even as she flew off, I glanced at my brother and found him shaking his head. When he turned toward Azrael, I shot Cardan a look that suggested he take Little Rabbit. He nodded and I followed after Ryin.

The first question I asked him was, "Are you comfortable around her."

He snorted. "Comfortable? No. Yet, I am growing more accustomed to her. Not that I could imagine spending another night in Silver Lake."

"No, I would not fancy another night such as that," I agreed. Then I asked, "But you could maintain a relationship with her? The trading of information and such?"

Turning away from Azrael, he gave me a hard, lengthy stare. "What do you want of me, Tallie?"

I gave him a weak smile. "She is willing to keep in contact with the Forest. I need someone on our side willing to talk to those of Shade."

Ryin raised his eyes skyward as he sighed, "Why me?"

"Because we both think Father belongs elsewhere, Cardan will most certainly be in Valhoal, and no one else will come near here. I need you."

Meeting my gaze, he waited several more moments before he gave a short nod. "I will consider it."

Sighing in relief, I thanked him quickly. Then I turned to follow Cardan as he led our little girl to his Gryphon.

Only after Cardan had lifted her into Kiethe's saddle did he glance at me. A curious expression was settled over his face. Then a little smile appeared on his face and it would not leave.

I was about to ask when he glanced askance at me and said, "That is the first time someone has called us her parents."

All of a sudden, I was smiling as well. "I rather liked the sound of it, too."

His spine straightened a little and he looked down at me. Only then did I realize how close we stood to one another. "Promise this to me, Tallie, that we shall always be her parents. Even if you choose to marry another."

I made the promise with no hesitation. His other words, however, lingered in my mind. Even as I climbed into the saddle behind my father, no other thoughts crossed my mind.

Cardan had asked for a right to her even if I chose someone else. He did not indicate that he would marry another.

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