CHAPTER 13 (Part 2 of 3)

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Maggie knew something of how valuable a gift this would be. Even in Everynne's world, such things were reserved only for the most deserving. Yet Gallen took the small package, hefted it, then glanced into Maggie's eyes. He tossed the package to her. "I want you to have this. I wanted it for you all along."

Maggie sat with the package in her lap, too surprised to reply.

"Ah, a gift of true love," Grandmother said, and Maggie realized that she was right. Gallen would only give such a treasure to someone he cherished. "I don't know what to say," she offered. "Thank you."

Grandmother patted Maggie's knee. "I have something for you, but it will not be ready until tomorrow."

Maggie thanked her, and Grandmother turned to Orick. "And now, for the bear. I have considered many things, but as I talked to you last night, of all the people I have ever met, you seem to be the most self-sufficient. You yourself admit that there is nothing you want or need, although you grumble more than anyone else I know. So, I put the question to you: what one thing would you ask of me?"

Orick stepped forward and licked his lips. "Well, you have a lot of nice things here. The food is good, the music and the company is even better—but I'm just a simple bear from the woods, and the land provides for my needs. I think if there were one thing I'd ask for, it wouldn't be yours to give." He looked at Veriasse and Everynne. "I didn't start this journey because I wanted to, but I'd sort of like to tag along with Everynne and see it through to the end."

Gallen and Veriasse looked at Everynne, letting her make the decision. Maggie suspected that even Everynne had no idea how much this would mean to the bear. For days now, Orick had been showing her a special kind of devotion, and Maggie suspected that as unseemly as it might appear, the poor bear was as lovesick for the woman as he could get.

"You've been a good friend, Orick," Everynne said. "But if I were to be a true friend in return, I would deny your request. I've tried to put a calm face on when speaking of it, but this last portion of our trip will be extremely dangerous."

"Gallen and I have been in a few tight spots before," Orick said. "And I've always been right there at his side."

"Please, don't ask this of me." Everynne's eyes misted over. "Orick, I love you. I couldn't endure the thought that you might get hurt on my account."

Orick watched her with longing in his brown eyes, turned away. "All right, then," he said. "If you don't want me. I'd probably just get in the way." He turned and began loping back toward Maggie's room.

"Wait!" Everynne said, and she rushed to him. She got down on her knees and scratched the thick fur under Orick's ears, then looked into his eyes and said lustily, "If you were a human, or I were a bear, wouldn't we have a fine time?"

She kissed him on the snout, and Orick's red tongue flicked out, licked her forehead. Orick gave a sharp little roar of grief and lunged away to Maggie's room.

Everynne stood watching after him a moment.

Veriasse said, "He'll be okay. Male bears get used to being sent away by females." He did not say it to be unkind, merely stated the fact. Young cubs never left their mother voluntarily. Instead, she chased them off. And later, when a male mated, he would usually run with the female until she chased him away.

Everynne nodded wistfully while still watching after Orick.

Grandmother glanced at Everynne. "Do not feel bad. You've given him the thing he most wants: your love. It is something I could not give him, and he will treasure it always."

"Can you give him something more?" Everynne asked. "Will you make him a locket with my image inside? Something to remember me by."

"Of course," Grandmother answered.

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