17. The Birthday Ball

Chapter 17

The Birthday Ball

 

Cegil was right- it was a lovely day outside. He led me to what appeared to be a garden within a crevice in the mountain. We were still in the mountain homestead, but there was a great crack up above the area that allowed sunlight to stream in and warm the fertile soil. I wasn’t sure if that was natural or caused by magicks. The garden was a lot like the herb and vegetable one that Lioa once used back when she was a kitchen servant, but the plants were better trimmed and more for show.

There was one lone dirt path that serpentined around the garden so that visitors would be able to visit every area. For a long while, Cegil and I talked while walking along the path. I barely paid any attention to the shrubbery and flowers we passed as I listened to his version of the lecture and asked my questions calmly. Eventually, we came across a stone bench, and I felt I needed to sit down to process some of this new information.

“Okay, so you’re saying that I likely won’t notice anything, save for the usual bleeding?” I clarified as I numbly approached and sat down. Cegil remained standing and looked down at me, his form practically shading me completely from the sun.

“That is correct. Since you have already experienced puberty and the hormones associated with it, your body should already be used to it- even after all this time,” he answered in a kind and patient tone before he smiled ruefully. “Though I fear you may regain your former violent tendencies, as they seem to be part of your hormonal behavior.”

“Oh come on now- I wasn’t that bad, was I?” I replied cheerfully, thinking that he was joking. “I was just young then- I’ve long since learned to control myself and my emotions.”

“It may very well be a case of maturity, though I cannot dispute that you have become significantly mellow after mating with my brother. If it is not because your hormones had suddenly diminished, then you must have ‘grown’ rapidly,” Cegil commented, making a rather interesting point.

I suppose it could go either way- humans say marriage changes a person, though I could admit to feeling much less sadistic after mating. I couldn’t really imagine myself changing at all when my periods come back- and it seemed as though I had nothing to worry about when said puberty arrived. I already went through the awkward changes and mood swings, so there was no reason for me to react to it again.

“But mood swings aside, I know I can’t really tell when I’m in heat. How do I prepare for it, and keep Satel away from me when we’re not trying for a baby?” I inquired, finally getting to a bigger concern. There was still no certainty of my own fertility, but I couldn’t just assume it was low and chance it. There might not be anything wrong with me, and I’d just end up getting pregnant quickly on my first cycle.

“Satel will tell you when you are in heat at the very first sign. As soon as he knows what he is going through, he will take care to control his urges and inform you of your changes when they come. But it will be up to your will power to keep him at bay through the duration of the heat,” he warned.

…Something told me that Satel was already checking for my cycles. The falucite nose could smell it- and he had been sniffing me a lot lately. The question was could I trust that he was actually going to tell me? I had a horrible feeling that he was going to keep it to himself and take advantage of it. It wasn’t so much that I believed he wanted to trick me into having a falcie too soon, but that his own hormones were probably taking over his thinking.

All because Satel’s sensible side agreed that now was a bad time didn’t mean that his instincts and urges cared.

“You mean he won’t back off on his own? I thought he’ll be in control once he realizes everything,” I said in confusion, once the information really hit my mind.

“This is different- he will not force you, but he cannot help his urges. He may try to convince you to mate, but he will respect your decision to remain firm. As he grows older and becomes more accustomed to the scent of you in heat, he will be less demanding.”

I didn’t know how this was different from Satel’s current troubles- he clearly wanted falcie, but backed off with some persuasion. He even encouraged me to refuse him if I really didn’t want to do it- in his own contradictory way. Maybe he was unconsciously preparing me for the day I started my cycles.

Whatever… I think the worse case scenario was gone now that I knew what was happening- if Satel had no control and I went into heat, then I’d probably not even have a choice. …Not to mention I’d have no idea what was going on.

“Is there anything else you wish to ask?” Cegil inquired, gesturing for me to stand and continue walking. He knew I wasn’t as shocked as I was acting – something he knew from experience when it came to me – so I didn’t really need to be sitting. We also didn’t have that much time to talk- even if Cegil ‘negotiated’ an hour, both Lioa and the seamstress were not going to be happy with my being late.

I shook my head as I stood up. “I’m not sure if you can even answer it- it seems like Didra’s area of expertise…” I paused for a second and decided to chance it. I trusted Cegil far more than Didra anyway. “If I were to go into heat, would it be guaranteed that I would get pregnant if Satel and I…”

I couldn’t really finish the sentence, more concerned about being too crass than embarrassed, but Cegil seemed to understand.

“You may be right in that I am not qualified to answer such, but as far as I am aware, when those of my kind want a falcie, it is not very hard to conceive. Frankly, I feel that it is more difficult abstaining because of the high fertility rate. While you are not falucite, you should not have any trouble- if that is what you worry about,” he added, subtly hinting that he was curious as to why I wanted to know.

“It’s… a long story, and I have no proof if it’s even true. Not to mention… I haven’t told Satel about it yet, but only because I’m not sure of the validity,” I replied, not telling the whole truth. I only had one perfect opportunity to tell Satel, but I backed down to save face- telling him would’ve proven a point he was trying to make. I still wasn’t in the mood for his gloating.

But Cegil picked up that I wasn’t ready to tell the whole story- not if Satel didn’t know it first. “Are you concerned that you may not be able to conceive?” he guessed, wanting to at least know the source of my worry, if not my reasoning.

I shook my head. “No, just worried about low fertility- maybe as low as a dragon’s.”

“To be fair, a female dragon does not necessarily have ‘low fertility’- they simply do not go into heat very often, and they do not have an orderly cycle. There are other factors that help reduce the chance of draklings, but they have nothing to do with fertility itself,” Cegil replied, bringing an interesting and surprising piece of news. It seemed the term ‘fertility’ was either misused or used lightly in the case of dragons.

“However,” he continued, “If you do truly have low fertility, then it may be a good compliment to our higher rate. You will have falcie, but you will not have to worry about too many.”

If I hadn’t heard the clarification on dragon’s fertility, then that last part would’ve made me feel much better- even if I had drawn that same conclusion long ago. If the only issue a dragon had with conceiving was a random and rare heat phase, then that meant that I wouldn’t have any trouble at all. My periods were regular back when I had them. …So my old fears were a moot point. Satel and I could have a family, and we could still both have our dreams with some careful planning.

I smiled up at him, grateful. “Thanks Cegil, that explanation actually helped,” I told him, earning a brief glance of confusion and curiosity as he wondered what part had helped me. To his point of view, what he had said didn’t seem to be more than a lesson on another species and a consolation statement- nothing directly helpful to me.

“I am…glad to be of assistance,” he muttered slowly, his words sounding more like a question. He then mirrored my smile and he guided me in a new direction before adding in an amused tone, “If you are satisfied, then we should make haste to Kurin’s work chamber. Best not to let Lioa fret to the point of hunting us down herself.”

I was kind of glad to hear that Lioa hadn’t changed much- it’s been far too long since I had last seen her as well. I really wished there was a way to change that…

Cegil only led me to the entrance of a hall that I knew led to the seamstress’ chambers before he backed away slightly. For a moment I thought he was backing down because he was afraid of how his mate might react to my being late – as it was technically his fault – but he soon revealed he had other business to attend to, starting with one more question that ironically answered my wish.

“Tia, there is something I wish to request of you and Satel, and thus I need permission from the both of you. When Satel’s settlement is made, may Lioa, my children, and I reside there with you?” the tall man began before he explained his case, “There is no real need for me to stay here in the homestead, and the longer Suel and Rannon remain in these halls, the more likely undesirable sources may notice them and cause problems. In addition to that, I would like to believe that we may see more of each other, and I know Lioa would like that.”

I knew the ‘undesirable sources’ had to be the Daedeleth, as they shouldn’t know Cegil was living in the homestead. I say ‘shouldn’t’, but I had a feeling they suspected it. They couldn’t do anything without proof, though, and that much had eluded them. But, if Cegil felt that way, then why hadn’t he moved before now? Had he been waiting for Satel to settle elsewhere first in hopes he could join us?

I suppose that made sense, as he couldn’t settle just anywhere while marked as a rogue falucite by the Daedeleth, but…

“I don’t mind, but we’re planning to create a settlement for pirates. I’m sure you could keep them away from Lioa and all, but would she be comfortable with the idea of sharing land with them?” I inquired, remembering the old story she used to tell me of how she lost her first husband, her unborn child, and her entire family at the hands of pirates. Though she accepted me, I couldn’t imagine anyone being able to just forget that little detail without some remorse or anger.

“I have discussed the possibility to her, and she told me that while she had suffered at the hands of pirates, she still loves you and trusts that the people you choose will also be trustworthy and honorable.”

Mature as always- that was why she was my main female role model and the person who helped me cope with my past troubles. Of course I wouldn’t let just any seafaring scumbag come onto my shore, so as long as she was okay with it, I didn’t see any problem.

“You have my blessings then, but good luck getting Satel to agree with the way he is right now,” I replied with a shrug. Knowing him, he’d probably think Cegil would be ‘offering’ to stay with us as a way to take care of us. I couldn’t believe puberty was making him so overly sensitive to how he’s perceived as an adult…

“Ah, that reminds me- I promised to show you a trick that should help you deal with him during his more irritable days,” the lavender haired man announced. He then summoned a wicked looking scythe to his side.

Suddenly seeing such a dangerous tool shocked me and forced me back into my natural accent. “Great Elati! Wot in five hells is that fer? Threatenin’ him?” I asked in a louder tone than intended.

“Hmm? It is but a scythe- farmers use them all the time to cut their wheat and other tall produce,” Cegil responded in a chillingly calm tone, acting as though having it out in the open was a very natural thing.

“That ain’t a farming tool- that’s a weapon,” I retorted, still a little shaken up. I’ve seen farmer’s scythes before, and they looked nothing like what he had. It had a black handle that was curved slightly in the middle for gripping and a menacing jagged blade at the end. If that much weren’t enough, it was also just a few inches taller than Cegil, making it a very good weapon for a man of his height to use.

But then I remembered the so-called ‘trick’. “My question still stands- are you saying that threatening him would help? Seems like it would make things worse since he’s so confrontational.”

Surely Cegil couldn’t honestly believe Satel would cower to anyone- especially me.

“I am not aiming to threaten him, but to distract him. He will not have a chance to second guess my intentions while he is wondering why I have this in view. You will likely be more successful through other means, but distractions can prevent many arguments when used well. Anything unusual or something he might like would do,” he replied with a small smile.

Initially I thought about how I could see that working- if Satel was too curious or stunned to think for even a second, then whatever was making him angry wouldn’t have a chance to cloud his thinking. I already had a few ideas that might actually work…

But I soon remembered Cegil’s earlier comment about how he had tested something like this on me before, and I tried to recall when that had happened. Maybe he didn’t use weapons but he did distract me with random treasures, then ale when I was old enough for it. I was very close to showing my indignation for those moments, but I instead chose to be grateful that I had some kind of advantage should Satel set me up for another argument.

“Are you sure that won’t backfire?” I inquired dryly as I pointed at the scythe.

There was a twinkle in his eye as he answered, “Not as long as I maintain an innocent façade and a story of being on my way to help a poor farmer.” There was a pause as I expressed doubt that any farmer would want someone with that kind of scythe on their farm. “…I need to bring my own tools- the more able to work the better.”

I didn’t really get the chance to question if the story was even true as he nodded his farewell to me and left me to make my own appointment. Too bad I wouldn’t be able to witness the coming confrontation- I kind of wanted to see the look on Satel’s face.

********************

Kurin was an elderly falucite who was an elder of the clan, and one of the few who chose to take on a manual skill for a hobby. She liked to sew and design clothes for her family- and many relied on her to weave magicks into everyone’s clothing. I wasn’t sure of her age, but she wasn’t as wrinkly as most of the elders. She had pastel green hair and golden colored eyes- I’ve heard there were some color combinations that were classic of the clans, but I had no clue what her maiden clan was. I suppose it didn’t really matter- she’s been Xanaturi for a long time.

She had a special workplace for her craft that seemed to be a modified bedchamber. But instead of the usual effects found in a bedroom, there were rolls of cloth, mannequins, tables, chairs, and lots of sewing accessories everywhere. And to one side, where a dresser might be placed, was a simple metal rod mounted to the wall where finished works or clothes waiting to be mended hung. Any outfits that were on the fancy side were displayed on the mannequins.

Lioa was as vibrant as always, and hadn’t seemed to change at all. The only difference, surprisingly, was that she seemed to lose a little weight and appeared thinner. Since she had two children, I didn’t think it would happen- maybe she’s been getting an exercise out of chasing those two speed demons.

As Cegil predicted, both she and Kurin were not very happy that I was late. Apparently I needed at least four hours to get ready for the ball- what a pain. If this were any other dance, I’d just get a bath in, put my hair in a ponytail, and get dressed- that much took only an hour, if not less.

I didn’t even get the chance to hug Lioa, let alone say how much I missed her, before she and Kurin practically dragged me over to the mannequin where my dress was. I had to try it on quickly so they could see what adjustments were needed. I was quite stunned to see what they’d accomplished- it was a dress worthy of the sea. And perhaps any queens or princesses of Eruda, if there were any.

It was made with shimmering and soft materials of sea blue and my favorite color, sea foam green. The bodice was mostly green with a blue center, the skirt was blue, and there was a green overskirt that covered the right side and gathered hear the hip at my left. The decorative embellishments came in the form of whirly seashells on the bodice, and lots of natural pearls on the bodice and underskirt. The top and bottom of the bodice was hemmed with a fluffy white lace that looked like foam.

The sleeves were not attached to the dress, but tied onto my arms where my armband tattoos were. The strings had pearls in them, and they tied under a salmon colored starfish (I wasn’t sure if they were real or not), and the top of the band had the same foamy lace on top. Save for the blue band on top, the rest of it was sea foam green, and also had pearls sewn in the puffy part under the band. The rest of the sleeve hugged my arm all the way down to the back of my hands, where they ended in a peak. These sleeves were clearly designed to cover my tattoos without my having to wear gloves.

Though I was still somewhat flustered that they insisted on making me a dress, I had to admit that I liked it a lot. I could see what Satel meant when he said they were inspired- I didn’t think it was possible to make a sea themed ball gown. Once I had it on, it fit perfectly, and I had a feeling I wasn’t going to part with this dress so easily. Not that I had many fancy functions to go to, but something about the dress felt special to me- like I wanted to keep it for any future generations down the line.

The bodice tied in the back, and once Lioa was done, she lifted my hair to plan the style. That was when she noticed something new about me.

“Oh Tia! You didn’t tell me you’ve gotten a new tattoo,” she muttered disapprovingly. Ordinarily she didn’t mind my ink, but there were certain rules that had to be followed. Tattoos were considered vulgar and tasteless to expose to the public eye- even if it’s just the family.

Kurin moved closer, practically gliding behind me to also peer at the felonious mark before she said, “It is fine. Not many should be staring at her back, and it is not an obscure or offending image. This is Satel’s special day, after all, so he should be the least concerned about it.”

“Thank goodness,” Lioa muttered as she let my strands drop back down. “Though I must admit it is a pretty tattoo. I didn’t think seafarers needed wings.”

“They’re the sign of freedom to seafarers, and it’s a fairly common tattoo to have, though most have them placed on their arms. Satel has one too, in the same place,” I told her. I’ve always loved explaining my culture to her, since she was one of the few who didn’t treat me or other seafarers as low-life idiots.

“I do not mean to rush, but I must make the adjustments needed. Go ahead and take Tia to the baths- there are servants waiting to tend to her,” Kurin said urging me to take off the dress and be on my way.

“Yes, you’re right. We have so little time left,” Lioa agreed, subtly hinting her annoyance with the fact that I was late.

“But I already had a bath last night,” I protested as the motherly woman quickly loosened my bodice and sleeves. The soft fabrics quickly fell off my form and were caught by Kurin’s magicks before they floated over to her work station for said adjustments.

“Even so, your hair needs to be wet so they can style it,” Lioa responded as she practically began pushing me, almost naked towards a nearby door that led to a bathroom just about as big and fancy as the one in Satel’s old bedchamber.

There were two female servants, both human, and they were quick to strip me down and all but toss me into the in-ground bath. I protested and fought at first until Lioa told me to calm down, then gave the girls full permission to do whatever it took to clean me up properly. I didn’t need to scrub down at least- I just needed to get wet, and I had to stay in long enough for my skin to absorb the fragrance of the water.

The bathwater had some kind of lilies floating on top- I couldn’t tell what kind they were, but they had light and pleasant scent. Had I been on time, they’d have probably made me stay for twenty minutes, but settled for ten. Once I was dried off, they placed a cotton robe on me, then guided me over to a vanity where one brushed and styled my hair, and the other shaped and cleaned my nails- the latter not really necessary.

Interestingly enough, falucite were very clean and maintained, so even Satel took care of his own extensive grooming- and mine. Whenever he needed to clean and manicure his nails, he made sure to sit me down and get mine done, too. I thought that was surprisingly feminine of him at first, but then he gave a rather good reason why he needed to do it. Even the most lethal of assassins needed a well maintained body- and even fingernails could be used as weapons if kempt properly.

I was adamant about not having my nails colored, so instead she shined them. As for my hair, all of my bangs were pulled back, exposing all of my face, and was tied in a folded ponytail. The ends of my hair hung down to my shoulders, and the hair framing the sides of my face were curled, giving them a fancy look. The band that was tying the majority of my hair together was the same ocean blue as my dress and dotted with many pearls.

The maids wanted to do a full makeover on my face, but I only allowed light shadows on the eyelids and powder to cover my fading freckles. When that nightmare was done, I had to go back to the main room, where I was fitted for the proper undergarments for the dress. In addition to the old pettipants (that I hadn’t worn in years), I had a skeletal hoop skirt and a crinoline slip over it.

Somehow getting all that on took four people and half an hour, then another hour to finally get my dress back on without ruining my hair. The last task to be done was put on my matching jewelry, though thankfully there wasn’t much. I had to forgo my captain’s earring for the evening, since I only had one ear pierced and it would’ve seemed odd.

I had a small hairpiece placed just over my right ear that consisted of a conch shell, a starfish, a branch of choral, and a gathering of pearls. Dangling under the starfish were three strands of pearls. My other piece of jewelry was a sand dollar choker with yet more strings of pearls that crisscrossed, and one more strand that hung down to my cleavage, ending in a scalloped shell.

Even I could say with confidence that I looked gorgeous- and with all the materials from the sea, I was wearing the elements from my home with pride.

“You look lovely,” Lioa said, beaming with pride.

“Thank you, but what about you? Shouldn’t you also be getting ready for the ball?” I inquired, concerned when I noticed she wasn’t exactly dressed. Kurin’s room had three arched windows on the outer wall, allowing me to see that it was already close to sunset. The ball would be starting soon, and if it took as long for her to get ready, then she was going to be late.

The brown haired woman shook her head with a grin, “It’s fine- it shouldn’t take more than a half hour for me to get ready if I leave now. Your appearance is what matters, since you are the mate to the man of honor. No other woman should outshine you tonight.”

Why was this sounding more and more like a wedding? I never realized until now how important turning two hundred was to falucite. Sure, Satel was excited, but I thought that was just him. All this pomp and circumstance was making me uncomfortable…

But, if I were in front of a crowd of pirates, I’d feel more at home.

“Lady Tia!” a voice called out from the hallway before the door opened to reveal another servant. “Lord Satel is waiting for you in the garden,” she announced before bowing, then leaving.

“It is time,” Kurin said, nodding at me with an encouraging smile.

“You better go. I might be a little late, but I will see you soon,” Lioa told me with a wink before giving me a gentle nudge toward the door. And with that, I found myself shoved out of the bustling chaos in the room and out into the silent hall. The servant who had called out to me was still there, offering to lead me to Satel, but I shook my head to dismiss her. I knew where he was, so I didn’t need help.

I waited until she was out of sight before I finally began moving. I just needed the short moment to compose myself because the last few hours went by in a blur and I didn’t have the chance to think over my day. Everything was still and silent in the hall, the only noise was coming from the hard heels of my slippers echoing in the empty space. By the time I reached the opening to the very garden I had been walking with Cegil in, it slowly dawned on me that I was about to face Satel for the first time after hearing the news.

I didn’t even know why it had become such a big deal to me. I should’ve been simply relieved that I had an answer to all of our problems. But for some reason, knowing Satel was truly an adult made me view him in a different light- it wasn’t a bad view, really. Just different.

And while I tried to pass everything off as nothing to get excited over, I still froze in my tracks when I caught sight of my mate. His back was facing me, and the only thing that helped me identify him was his platinum blond hair tied in a tight braid down his back. My heart began pounding as he turned to me with a happy grin. I wasn’t sure if it was the clothes he was wearing, or the knowledge of his manhood that made me feel like a young girl with a crush.

Just as how I’ve been primped and polished, he was also transformed into a royal figure. I’d never seen so much of his face before- his hair was also pulled back, save for a few rebellious strands near the top of his hairline. His ears were fully exposed, showing off the old corsair earring I had given him- but unfortunately he was sans the über hat this evening.

He wore a red and black jacket with coattails and gold buttons, and had white fall front trousers. His boots were black and knee length, and his cuffs and collar had some kind of shiny gold trim. To complete the look – and to cover his tattoos – he had white gloves covering his hands. He looked like a mature human prince.

Had it not been for the beard and mustache he’d been growing out for me, I would’ve thought he looked like one of those frail pretty boys I’ve terrorized in other kingdoms. His beard wasn’t that full- it was still in the short stubble stage, but it was more pronounced now. It made me proud of him to know that he was ready to accept himself and let his family see that.

“Oh ‘Tia-dear- you’re a vision,” Satel whispered as he immediately grabbed my hands to pull me closer to him.

Somehow I ended up speechless, and could only respond by lifting my head as his lips drew near. A hand slid to my lower back, and my chest came into contact with his before he turned his head and deepened the kiss. I felt that familiar warmth that came with being close to him, but it was amplified because of my new awareness about him.

It was like I was meeting and falling in love with him all over again, and I wasn’t sure why that was. He was still Satel- the man I knew inside and out, and the only one I was intimate with. I was rediscovering how much taller and bigger he was, and how I fit so well in his arms. All of those fights we’d had were long forgotten, and all I could recall was the good memories we’d had together.

I didn’t notice when we had moved, but when I finally pulled out my daze, he was hugging me tightly to him, and my arms were wrapped behind his neck. It was like those horrible romance novels Satel convinced me to read- once I mastered reading that is. But I didn’t find it all that ridiculous when it was just us doing the same motions.

When we broke away for air, he wouldn’t let me go- instead he guided my head to rest against his shoulder, my nose near the crook of his neck, as we began swaying to silent music. A memory came to mind of the time I wasn’t so sure about being his mate, and he requested a hug from me. He held me like this back then- and it wasn’t the last time he’d done so.

“You know,” he began, his voice seemingly loud against the quiet of the garden, “I’ve gathered all of those pearls myself, ever since I had learned how to teleport. It was kind of a hobby of mine, since I loved to visit the coasts and other areas of the sea. I hadn’t planned on giving them up for your dress, but I’m glad I did. I means a lot to me, seeing you wear them.”

So he’d been behind the dress, too, though indirectly. Kurin or Lioa must’ve known about his collection and asked for them when they had the idea. Pearls were the jewels of the sea, and a seafarer’s precious commodity. If these were truly natural and not produced by sea farmers, then this dress could possibly be one of the most expensive known to man.

Satel finally pulled away at my silence, still holding a smile, though he was getting concerned. “Why aren’t you saying anything? Are you mad at me?”

I grinned and shook my head before I spoke the feelings that were on my mind, “Ah love ye.”

“Well, that was unexpected,” he replied, chuckling a little. I rarely ever initiated an ‘I love you’, since I believed actions were better than words, but I always responded to him when he’d say it to me. Satel soon leaned over to look me in the eye, his rust colored eyes brought out more by his red coat. He gave me a smirk before he told me mischievously, “But for the record, I love you more.”

“Don’t turn this into a competition- yer only gonna lose,” I responded, laughing a little.

“Mm, I don’t think so my sirsa. I will fight to the death to defend my love for you, and not even you can stop me,” he responded smugly, keeping our noses only centimeters apart.

“That makes no sense,” I retorted, still smiling like a love sick idiot.

“It does to me- and even so, I still love you more. You have yet to give your rebuttal to it.” He tilted his head some and closed the distance enough to hover his lips over mine.

But I wasn’t giving him a victory tonight. I lowered one of my hands down to his trousers, then lightly scraped my fingernails down his groin through the material. I watched as his eyes closed halfway and a purr escaped him before I said, “Satel-dear, ah can get ye ta say wote’er ah want. Ah love ye more, an’ ye’ll agree ta it in a second.”

I wasn’t sure if I actually had him under my spell, or if he was just lost in the feelings I was creating, but his eyelids closed all the way and his lips parted as he was about to capture mine for another kiss.

…Only, we ended up jumping apart when someone cleared their throat. “I am sorry for interrupting, but the man of honor should attend his birthday ball,” Cujol muttered dryly, trying to hide an amused grin.

I wanted to get angry for the interruption, but he had a point. Lioa and Kurin worked so hard to get me to look nice for this, and here I was about to let Satel ravish me and – maybe – get me back to the bedchamber. But I was also worried about Satel’s feelings now that his grandfather was here. The last time I had seen the two together, they’d had an argument. While Cujol had forgiven everything, I wasn’t so sure about Satel.

But, curiously, Satel didn’t seem to remember it and didn’t express any annoyance. In fact he looked a little relieved- perhaps because Cujol saved him from a losing battle. I told him he wasn’t going to win…

“You’re right. It would be rude of us not to appear,” my dashing mate replied as he pressed against my side and guided my hand to take his arm.

“Oh, Tia, move to his other side,” the elderly man requested before we could leave.

“What?” I asked, unclear of what he wanted.

“This is Satel’s day, so he should be at your right side, as a show of respect,” he clarified, reaching out for my other arm to maneuver me around.

I didn’t have any problem with it, as I did respect my mate, but Satel stopped him in a firm and non-aggressive tone. “She’s fine this way.”

He then looked down at me fondly as Cujol inclined his head curiously. “‘Tia is the most important person in my life, so while this ball is about me, I want her to be at my right hand side.”

This wasn’t the first time he was able to make my heart flutter. He had a way of making me feel important and needed- and while he could treat other humans like objects, he only gave me the utmost respect. It’s really no wonder why I still loved him after all of these years.

Cujol backed away with his hands folded in front of him before he smiled warmly and gave a short nod. “Very well- if that is your wish, then I will not protest.”

Satel was still staring fondly at me, and it took me a moment to realize that I was doing the same to him. I was about to say something, since this wasn’t the right time to have a ‘moment’, but he gently nudged me to move with him as Cujol began walking away. The elder was leaving before us so he could announce our arrival.

As we walked together to where the ballroom was, I briefly wondered if Cegil had saved me the trouble by telling Satel of his puberty. My mate was being very subdued, and he handled himself in front of his grandfather much better than he did before. But I didn’t think he would be able to adjust his behavior so fast after learning- I would’ve thought it’d take him a few days.

The only reason I hadn’t said a word yet was because I didn’t want to ruin the night for him. I’d already learned my lesson from the fiasco of our last ruined date night. What I wanted to say or ask could wait until after the event- that way, if an argument was going to happen, then at least we’d still get to enjoy the evening before then. It was the man’s birthday, after all.

As we entered the ballroom side by side, we were greeted by claps and cheers of his family. The room was a lot like what one would imagine for a ballroom- pillars, chandeliers, and lots of space. Like the grand hall where the elders deliberated, there was one wall that had nothing but stained glass. But since it was already dark, the usual brilliance of the colors were not pouring into the room.

I felt like I really was some famous princess with her prince, and that we were making a public appearance for some charity, or whatever those royals did to seem important. I was playing a role that I wasn’t suited for, but I suffered it for Satel. As long as he was by my side, it wasn’t too terrible.

We first had to walk about the room so that the well-wishers could say what they wanted to Satel then we had to dance the first song while everyone watched us. When the second song began, and couples began to join us out on the dance floor, I felt like I could relax and finally enjoy it all.

This was actually the first – and probably last – time we could attend a ball, so we both wanted to make the most of it. Because most balls invited other clans, or might have the unexpected guest, we couldn’t attend any and risk being seen together. Just once Satel wanted to dance with me like this and be able to socialize without having to hide me. The only reason it was happening was because Makhis’ra was protecting the entire homestead from uninvited guests as a gift to Satel.

Because of one’s loyalty to a mate, anyone who might see us together would suspect something was off. It didn’t make sense for them to see someone who didn’t bring their mate to an event for couples. Somehow I doubt anyone would believe I was just a ‘friend’ with the way he’d touch me intimately. Friends didn’t hold hands, wrap arms around waists, or constantly lean in to kiss lips or the neck area- and Satel seemed to be unable to restrain himself sometimes.

I didn’t realize I was not paying attention until I was twirled around for the next dance step. Satel then pressed against my back, his hand at my waist and the other holding my hand out to the side before we walked a few steps forward, then back. “Is anything the matter dearest? You look distracted,” he whispered in my ear before I was spun back around to face him.

“Ah was thinkin’ that it’s too bad we can’t do this often,” I replied, choosing that as the safest subject to discuss. I was actually thinking many things at once, but there were some topics that might be too sensitive for right now.

“I don’t know- we could host some of our own in our settlement with Cegil’s help. The only trouble is I wouldn’t know who to invite,” he muttered before letting out a quiet laugh, “I doubt the pirates would appreciate such parties, let alone have a date to bring.”

I also shared a quick chuckle as I said, “Ah dunno, mebbe they could take each other? Separate half o’ them an’ tell them ta dress as a lady fer the night. Ah bet Fiet would make a lovely bearded lady.”

Though if more lady pirates like Gisette and her crew manifest, then it shouldn’t be a problem. I guess we should have a ballroom built with our home then…

“Since you have no comments about Cegil, I assume you know that I also consented to let him and his family come live with us?” he prodded as the music picked up a faster tempo.

“Ah made a guess,” I replied as I matched the new pace and twisted my hips to every other beat as the dance required. “Ah’m glad ye said yes- it would be nice ta see them more often.”

“That’s the only reason I relented- did you see that scythe Cegil was carrying around? If I hadn’t known better, I would think he was trying to coerce me to agree.”

The music entered into a crescendo, making us pull apart long enough to wider steps and a few twirls before it plummeted quickly down to a softer melody. In response, I was drawn back against his chest, in a close hug as we continued to move. I had to resist the urge to smirk at Satel’s words about Cegil- it was a hard thing to do when trying to imagine that look on his face when he’d seen it.

“Cegil told me he was going off ta help a farmer.” I held back my smirk again as I remembered the lie. I then changed the subject a little by adding, “But it’s nice we can do something fer him. He’s done so much fer us, an’ he does need a place ta stay. Don’t forget it’s getting kind o’ risky fer him ta stay here wit’ the boys- an’ he’s not easily welcome anywhere else.”

“I didn’t think of that…” he admitted before he fell silent. I wasn’t surprised- he was probably suspecting Cegil wanted to keep tabs on him. While that scythe seemed to help Cegil get a foot in the door, I seem to have secured his stay by ridding Satel of any notion that his brother had ulterior motives.

“By the way, did Cegil mention anythin’ else ta ye?” I asked, interrupting his thoughts.

He glanced down at me, confused. “Hmm? No, we only talked about our future settlement and about you and Lioa. Why? Is there something else the matter?” I shook my head against his shoulder.

“No- there’s something ah need to tell ye after the ball. It’s nothin’ bad, but it ain’t appropriate fer right now,” I told him. If Cegil didn’t say anything, then I still needed to have that talk with him. …But now I’m wondering why he was being so mellow right now if he had no clue about his puberty.

Could he just be in a good mood because it was his special day? Or maybe he didn’t have any reason to think about his family negatively when we were the ones visiting them. I could see how their visiting us would offend him and make him think they were being nosey, but this was a completely different situation.

“All right. I’ll hold you to that,” he promised, sounding eager to hear what I had to say.

Nothing more was said, other than a few endearments or silly comments as we continued to dance.

After a while, dinner was served in the dining hall and we got to sit close to Makhis’ra- something of an honor. Once everyone’s bellies were filled, it was back to the ballroom, where Satel and I danced a little more, then talked to the others. Other than discussing the settlement with Cegil and Lioa, there was nothing much to talk about. I made sure to limit our conversations with Garroe and Didra in fear that the evil shrew would taunt me more.

The ball lasted for about three hours, well into the night. Satel took me back out to the gardens so we could sing to Elit, then back to our bedchambers. We were actually planning to go back to the ship after, but I decided that the dress was far too nice to take back with me. We had an agreement with the clan that we could keep our things in Satel’s falciehood room until our new home was completed, so I felt it was best to store it there for now.

…And it was probably best to have ‘the talk’ there anyway, rather than on the ship.

In fact, Satel only waited until he was untying my bodice for me that he reminded me of my ‘promise’. “So what did you want to tell me, ‘Tia-dear?”

I hesitated for a second, feeling his deft fingers working the strings loose in the back. I wasn’t sure if I should ease into it or just blurt it out and see what would happen. I licked my lips before I decided to start with, “…Ah had a talk wit’ both Didra and Cegil today, an’ they told me wot’s really been happenin’ between us.”

Satel seemed to freeze behind me after that before he slowly continued on with what he was doing. “…Well I suppose it couldn’t be helped,” he muttered as I felt the bodice came loose.

“Wot?” I asked sharply as I turned to face him. I barely managed to catch the pretty top by hugging my arms around myself.

“Nothing. Continue,” he replied quickly with a bright smile. I raised an eyebrow at his actions and wondered what he was hiding from me. …Surely he didn’t know what was really happening this whole time and was messing with me!?

…No, even he wouldn’t do that. Maybe he was guessing at what I was about to say and came to the wrong conclusion. Perhaps easing into it wasn’t the best option then.

“Speakin’ ta Didra ain’t the funnest way to find out, but… yer goin’ through yer final stage o’ puberty,” I told him before I waited for his reaction.

He stared at me for a moment until the words registered and his eyes widened. “Me!? What have you been telling Didra?” he inquired, sounding both incredulous and frustrated. That kind of put me off and made me wonder what he’d been thinking before. The idea of puberty didn’t seem to surprise him- but the thought that he was going through it did. I wonder why?

I shook my head while keeping my voice calm. “Ah didn’t get to say a thing- Didra already knew why ah was comin’ an’ had ta tell me e’erythin’ like she was teachin’ a class. She listed yer symptoms exactly.”

“Wait- so she already knew? …Then it is me…” he muttered in a daze before he walked over to sit at the edge of the bed. I just blinked at him, his words confusing me more. Did he think it was happening to someone else? How did that make any sense?

I watched on, growing more concerned by the second, as Satel summoned his über hat to him and covered his face with it. He then began laughing, at first a little bitterly, then it started to have a twinge of crazy to it. “Satel?”

He moved his hat back enough so I could see his face, his lips still pulled back in a strained grin. “I’m such an IDIOT!” he shouted suddenly, startling me.

“Ah’ve been tryin’ ta tell ye that fer years, but ye ne’er seem ta believe me,” I said teasingly, cautiously approaching him. He seemed frustrated and angry over the news, and I really shouldn’t joke, but I couldn’t resist. It wasn’t often he’d say such things.

…Still, I wasn’t expecting him to act like this. Sure, I was thinking he’d might be embarrassed for not figuring it out sooner, or even upset that his family told me what was going on and not him- but not this.

“Remember that morning when you woke me up to mate, but you were still asleep?” he asked, as he pushed his hat further up so that it was in its proper place. When I nodded, he continued. “That was when I began suspecting that you were starting puberty, so I thought it had been you this entire time. Traditionally we’re supposed to figure it out by ourselves, but I was hoping to give you hints over time…”

Me!?” I yelled, repeating his words. “Where in five hells did ye get an idea like that?”

Though it did explain a lot from his sniffing me to his unusual responses just a moment ago. And – infuriatingly enough – his thinking it was me helped throw him off the trail completely. What a disaster it could’ve been had I started my cycles while he was still clueless!

“Well you were acting just as strangely as me!” he answered defensively, his emotions already spiking as be began listing his evidence, “You had sudden concerns about conceiving, you seem to hint that you want falcie, you stress over the little things- and not to mention your mood swings!”

“Mood swings!? Yer the one who had mood swings!” I shouted, slightly offended and inwardly amused that his list actually applied to him, save for the first item. And before he could have the chance to yell back, a thought occurred to me and I ended up voicing it, “Are we really havin’ an argument o’er this?”

I don’t know!” my mate roared, throwing his hands in the air in exasperation.

My eyes widened, unused to that tone coming from him, before the ends up my lips perked up and I began snickering. It wasn’t long before it became a full blown laugh. Now that I knew that he wasn’t trying to hurt me, and that he really wasn’t angry with me, it was hard to rise to the challenge and fight him back. Instead, I only realized how stupid this argument was getting and couldn’t help but find the humor in it.

“This be stupid!” I chortled out, answering his befuddled gaze.

And like Cegil had said, it was enough to throw my mate off and distract him from whatever he was feeling. He just stared up at me like he was in a trance, the corners of his mouth quirking up slowly. His hormones must’ve kicked in again, because he reached out for my wrist and yanked me down to sit next to him. Just as I fell, he teleported the rest of my clothing off me, leaving me completely naked, save for the choker still around my neck.

The hand furthest from me was placed at my knee while his other arm wrapped around my back and his hand reached for the hairpiece. Once it and my pearl hair band were gone, my hair fell free and he threaded his fingers through it. I wasn’t bothered that I was naked, though I wished he would lose a few layers himself. Though despite the compromising position he’d put me in, he wasn’t attempting anything more than a cuddle.

I let him guide my head back to his chest, then waited as he lowered his nose to breathe in my scent.

“So do ah smell like ah’m in heat?” I inquired when he seemed done with his inspection. “Ah suppose it’s not out o’ the question that ah could be startin’, but ah won’t be able ta tell ‘til ah start bleedin’.”

“…No,” he replied before pressing a kiss against my forehead. I couldn’t help but notice how …disappointed he sounded. Could it have been his instincts lamenting the fact that we still couldn’t have little ones yet? Something told me that he probably had plans to take advantage of me while he believed that he was still immature. Maybe he wanted to enjoy my scent without having to worry about it, but now…

“Well, ah discovered last night that yer…” I trailed off and coyly pointed down at his groin, “…‘gun’ is loaded, so ah guess we really have ta be careful.”

He laughed a little over that. “Interesting euphemism my sirsa, but true nonetheless.”

“So wot are we goin’ ta do now?” I finally asked when it seemed he wasn’t going to say anything else. Since Cegil said that Satel should know what to do, I needed to know what the plans were so I could help out.

Satel was silent for a while, but then replied, “We’ll discuss it in the morning. For now we have tonight, and you’re clearly not in heat, so let’s take advantage of it.”

I quickly picked up that we’re not going to be mating as much as we used to, and I did feel a little sad about it. Actually, I might’ve felt sad because Satel was acting like it we were going to lose something important. While I did enjoy our intimacy, I didn’t mind moderation as long as we weren’t going to stop altogether. And it wasn’t as if sex was all that was keeping us together- as long as we’d always have each other to turn to, I was content.

To the Next Chapter

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