3. The Curse of Innocence

Chapter 3

The Curse of Innocence

            Every morning was the same- I would always open my eyes to see the ceiling above me, then catch traces of platinum-blond hair under my chin. It seemed no matter what position we started to sleep in, I would somehow always end up under Satel by dawn. He liked to cuddle me in his sleep, it seemed- his nose was tucked up against the area where my neck and shoulder met, and his arms were wrapped firmly around me like I was some oversized pillow.

Our legs were in a tangled mess like usual and his long hair was flared out around us, like another blanket. There were only very small differences to our morning wake ups- sometimes we were completely naked under the sheets, and at other times we would have our rumpled nightclothes clinging to us. Depending on Satel’s ‘mood’ the previous night, his chest would either be rumbling from a happy purr or he would just be breathing in a very relaxed state.

I honestly didn’t mind waking up in the same way every morning, but I was still a little curious as to how it happens. I never recall turning in my sleep or ever being roused when he starts to move. It was almost as if some higher being was magically manipulating us, because Satel always claimed to be ignorant of how it happened. …But that’s ridiculous- I ended up assuming that he just didn’t want to admit to his nightly actions. For all I knew, he might’ve had difficulty sleeping and had to turn overnight to get more comfortable. I must be a heavy sleeper.

Since we were on the western side of the mountain, the morning sun didn’t bother us. The windows only let in the soft blue backlight of the sky- my only indication that it was still morning was the coloring in the clouds I could see. Back when I traveled with Cegil, he always woke me up before dawn, but with Satel, we both slept in until the sun was past the horizon. Luckily, we never slept in too late, like mid-morning or noon, so no one had any complaints.

It wasn’t long after I had stirred when he began to stretch against me. I was feeling very relaxed and continued to lay there as he dropped a few kisses along my collar bone and then pushed himself up to look at me.

“Moaghos?” he inquired, offering in one word to retrieve said fruit to eat. I smirked up at him as my hands found their way to the back of his neck and began to play with his long silky strands.

“Are you implying that you would go now in the nude?” I asked in good humor. Usually he would wait until after we were cleaned up and dressed before suggesting something to eat.

He responded with a smirk of his own as he sat back and glanced down at me. My hands didn’t follow him, but his hair remained entwined in my fingers and was gently pulled over his chest as he moved. “I’ve done it once before- and it happened to be the only time a human ever noticed me.”

“Oh?” This must’ve been before I was mated to him, since I didn’t recall a time he’d ever risked it before. I didn’t miss his tone that told me that he thought the entire ordeal was hilarious, and honestly I was insanely curious to hear of the ironic accident. After all, I find it interesting that the ‘one time’ he went out in the buff was also the alleged first time that a human ever noticed him. Not that I didn’t believe him, since he’d told me that he went out to private groves where he shouldn’t run into anyone, but it was just a liiittle too coincidental.

“It was a girl. She looked a lot like you, actually, but her face was a little different. I suppose she hadn’t been exposed to much before, because she promptly fainted after she’d her eyeful,” the blond told me, finishing with an amused chuckle.

At first, I felt a little sympathy for the girl- if I had been in her shoes, I probably would’ve had a similar reaction… or more likely I would’ve thrown something at him. But soon I picked up his insinuation and had to inquire, “…You didn’t leave her there, did you? Anything could’ve happened to her while she was out of it.”

I guess I asked also out of sympathy- I knew I would’ve hated being left out, vulnerable to the elements. Though, at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be handled by a naked stranger…

“It was Eruda- it’s a protected sanctuary for humans, so nothing could’ve gotten to her. By the way…” he added before he winked and placed a finger on my lips for a brief second, “What I just told you is our little secret. Falucite and other creatures are not allowed on that island, so I could get into some serious trouble if anyone found out.”

What a troublemaker… I thought with a wry grin. I knew Eruda was one of the three places where moaghos grew, but I wondered why he went through the effort to go there when he could’ve easily gotten them in Rynrir or Kagma. But, really, that was all I knew of that large island out in the Sea of Elati. Despite the fact that the crew claimed they were Erudian pirates, we never once docked there.

“Huh… I didn’t know that,” I muttered as I thought about it. “I’ve never been there before.”

“Really?” At first Satel seemed shocked to hear it before a contemplative look came over his features. I had no clue what was going through his mind right then, but I had a feeling that he was hesitating for some reason before he added. “I was under the impression that you were from Eruda.”

I sat up and folded my legs under me before I tilted my head. “Why do you think that?”

My hand unconsciously drifted over to my arm to touch one of my tattoos. It was known as an ‘Erudian-style’ tattoo, but that didn’t mean I was Erudian. In fact, I had gotten it from a man somewhere in the Northern coasts of Rynrir.

Satel seemed uncomfortable at first, then a little confused before he decided to list why he had come to that conclusion. “Well… you have a lot of Erudian traits- almost all of them possess the similar hair and eye color as you do, and they tend to look younger than they are. I seem to recall you constantly complaining about others mistaking you for someone younger.”

Again, that was news to me, but their description didn’t sound much different to any seafarer I’ve ever seen. Grey was the common color among us, though not all seafarers strictly had brown hair. …Now that I thought about it, the Wise Man mentioned something like that. He often said ‘our kind’, like he was talking about a particular race. I had always assumed he meant ‘pirates’, but who knows? Still, I had no memories of ever going to Eruda and everyone claimed that I had been living on the sea since birth. If being ‘Erudian’ meant someone who was born on the land of Eruda, then I wasn’t one of them.

“I don’t think I am, though I suppose I could be a descendant of one.” I relented a little- there was no point in denying something I didn’t really know. I couldn’t even say for certain if I had ever met another Erudian before to compare myself to one. I was too young to think about such things when I was on that pirate ship- and I had never asked the crew where they’d come from.

“But unfortunately, the only man who might know of my origins is no longer among the living,” I added before my eyes widened and I fearfully glanced up at my mate. It was then I realized I was falling into another trap- he had that curious look in his eyes and I knew what his next question would be. Thinking quickly, I placed a hand over my belly and faked a smile. “Oh, didn’t you say something about moaghos? I’m starving.”

A bemused grin came to his lips before he leaned forward and gave me a quick kiss. “Of course, my sirsa. I’ll return shortly- and I’ll try not to make anyone faint.”

He then disappeared, with no clothing on, and I promptly let out a sigh of relief when I realized that my diversion worked.

Satel was a very dangerous man- his powers alone were something to be feared. He could kill a whole town of humans or a clan of greater and lesser demons in one fell swoop if he wanted to. However, I was scared of something else- when Satel wanted something, he would stop at nothing to get it. I had first learned this when he wanted me to be his mate. Now, or rather since mating with me, he wanted to know of the past that I’ve been trying to bury.

Cegil was kind enough to never pry into my previous life. He wanted me to tell him when I was ready to face my old demons- much like how he did when we confronted his clan three years ago. But Satel was almost relentless- when I refused his direct questioning, he turned to trickery to get it out of me. It always started with simple questions or observations, and then I would somehow blurt out a memory that I wanted forgotten.

He didn’t know everything, but he did know more than Cegil did. At least so far they had been the happier memories, but they still brought me sadness because I would never get to live those moments again. Had I not distracted Satel a moment ago, I would’ve ended up mentioning who the man was and how he’d died. That was one memory I never wanted to remember- it was the most traumatizing moment in my life.

When the blond returned, he brought back the largest moagho I had ever seen. I wasn’t sure where he had gotten it, and I didn’t question it since it could potentially remind him about what we were just discussing moments before. He used his magicks to quickly cut the oversized fruit in half- my share was in my hands before the juices could bleed out.

Even with half a moagho, I had to hold it with both hands. I thanked Satel for retrieving it before I licked the center to prevent the juices from escaping. Like with all my clothes, the bed, blankets, and sheets were self-cleaning, so I didn’t really need to worry about making a mess, but I didn’t want to waste a drop either.

I didn’t notice his intense gaze on me until after I was done licking. I gave him a questioning look, but he shook his head in a silent ‘nothing’ excuse. He then bit down into his share and ate both the moagho meat and peel.

Three years into the relationship and I was still somewhat innocent… I’d often complain in my mind how Satel always seemed to have the upper hand when it came to our intimate moments, as I had no idea what I did in the times I caught him off guard. I only knew that I was doing something to cause him to go out of control too soon, like last night. It was easy to tell what set him off last night, of course, but I had no clue what I did that made him look at me that way right then- I could tell his expression was a little heated.

We ate in silence, thankfully, and when I was done, he consumed the peel that I didn’t eat. I suppose humans could eat the peel, too, but it was so bitter that I couldn’t stand it. I counted myself lucky so far that he didn’t bring up Eruda or ask the question I was dreading. But I knew it was in his mind and he was most likely waiting for an opening.

I decided that I had to come up with another distraction before he could get the chance. If I could keep his mind away from those thoughts long enough, he would eventually forget. My eyes fell to his long white-blond hair before an idea came to me. I waited for him to finish chewing the last morsels of food before I leaned against his body and played with a few strands of his hair.

“Can I brush and braid your hair?” I inquired bluntly before I leaned my head against his chest and faked a pleading look that usually made him cave into a few of my requests. I didn’t think he would refuse my proposal, but I didn’t want to take chances.

I was rewarded with a stunned, then curious look as he gazed down at me. “What ever for? It’s much faster to use magicks.”

“I know…” I replied in a near mumble. “But I like your hair and I’ve always wanted to …you know… play with it.”

I was actually being honest, even though it was a little embarrassing to admit. Me, a former pirate who once robbed citizens of Port Sibest at night… wanted to play with some evil monster’s hair like some little girl. But if it would get Satel to forget about what I mentioned before, then I was willing to suffer the light humiliation.

Besides, it wasn’t as if he would lose respect for me- he liked it when I acted cute. The falucite appeared contemplative for a while. I bit my lip nervously as I wondered if he already caught on to what I was trying to do. But soon a smile came to his lips before his eyes locked on me again.

“Very well- but in exchange, you must let me brush your hair,” he replied jovially as his hand came up to gather my light brown hair. …I really should’ve expected that, though at the same time, I couldn’t fathom why a powerful creature like him would want to waste his time grooming a human.

“…Sure, I guess,” I answered back, not seeing a reason why I shouldn’t let him. He still had his moments of being a shady bastard, but I knew I had nothing to worry about- he no longer used me as a pawn in his tricks, and if he was keeping something from me, then it was for my benefit.

We soon moved to the bathroom to finish our morning routines and then get dressed. There were a few compliments and stray loving kisses, but he didn’t bring up the Wise Man or the question of his death. Pretty soon, I forgot about it as well as I indulged in this new intimate act with my mate.

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

It was simple moments like bushing his hair or even straightening his ascot that reassured me that what I felt for him wasn’t just lust. The fact that I went out of my way to do nice things for him and that I wanted to help him at times meant that I did care about him to a significant degree. My greatest fear since mating with him was that I would never fall in love with him, but I suppose there was nothing to be concerned over.

Satel’s instincts were spot on- we were compatible enough to tolerate each other for the rest of our lives. …But was it normal that he still annoyed me at times? I knew most couples argued, but they felt so one-sided and we could forget about them in less than an hour. I couldn’t tell if I was resisting him because I secretly liked it or if he had fun baiting me. The only serious fight we’d ever had was in the aftermath of our first mating. Since then, we’d only have petty squabbles that he seemed to take joy in.

I never had brushed his hair before- I only ran my fingers through them when we were lying together. He sat still on the end of our bed while I sat behind him with a soft bristle brush in my hand. I carefully ran the grooming tool through his thick hair, running across only very few tangles. It seemed that his hair only got out of place overnight, rather than turning into a rat’s nest like mine did. Damn him…

It did take longer for me to braid his thick locks than it would for him to use his magicks, but he decided that he liked this better. I soon understood why when it was my turn. If I could’ve purred, I would’ve- it felt so good when he worked out the tangles and gave me the same treatment as I had done to him. It was very soothing, and I almost thought I would fall asleep right there.

My eyes snapped open when I heard something slam in front of me. I was soon fully awakened from my daydream to remember that I was in the middle of studying with Cegil. Now that we were in a stable home with learning materials, the tall falucite took it upon himself to properly teach me how to read. I met with him every morning in a small study close to the library so I could receive the education that I had been denied my entire life.

“I apologize- am I boring you?” Cegil inquired, tactfully hiding his minor annoyance that I wasn’t paying attention to him.

“S-sorry. It’s not you- I-I just didn’t get enough sleep last night,” I lied while hoping that I could keep my blush down. I actually took my studies seriously since I only felt like an idiot without them. I was practically the only one in the homestead who couldn’t read well or spell words correctly- and barely knew the only language I spoke. If I was going to live among intelligent creatures, then I needed to catch up.

Of course, my other reason was because I promised Cegil that I would learn to read- and I still didn’t want Satel to know about it… though some part of me suspected that he did. He had a self-appointed reading hour everyday, and after a few months of living with him, he had begun reading to me instead of giving me a book of my own.

“Oh? I suppose Satel managed to keep you up despite my suggestion to retire early,” he quipped, keeping the blatant humor out of his tone. The heat rushed to my cheeks and I glared at him.

“Sh-shut up!” I stuttered when I remembered the humiliating events of last night. Did he really have to bring that up? It was a miracle that I could look anyone in the eye after that- though no one picked on me or even hinted that they remembered what happened at dinner.

It was only after that when a small grin appeared on his lips. “Well, if you are quite done, I would like you to read this passage here. …Mind your phonetics.”

“Right, right,” I muttered as I reached for my book and glanced at the passage he was pointing out.

In the near three years, I had made significant improvement in my ability to read- at least, significant compared to the trouble I’d been having in the seven years before that. At first I wasn’t getting it at all, but then Lioa managed to sit in on one of my lessons. As it turned out, I had another reason why I was having such trouble reading- I had a rare condition that humans called dyslexia.

Falucite didn’t have such disorders, so Cegil didn’t recognize why it was so difficult for me to properly say the words I read or understand what I was reading. When it was known that I was truly dyslexic, Lioa pulled me aside to explain what that meant for me. I could still learn to read, but at a much slower pace. I had to recognize and memorize symbols and blend words together- things that average humans could do subconsciously.

It didn’t mean that I was mentally incompetent, as I was initially thinking when I heard my diagnosis- I was just one of the few who had to think differently when encountering the written word. Apparently, Lioa knew all of this because she’d once had a younger brother with a similar condition as mine, so she’d known what to do- and taught Cegil that he should also approach me in this manner. Since then, things have gotten much better- I gained some confidence in myself and Cegil was much less frustrated (though he hid it well) with me.

I was reading a little faster, though I still had trouble with enough words to not completely understand what I was reading. I was also writing now- though my spelling was terrible. At first, I couldn’t even spell my own name- when sounding it out, I would spell t-e-a or use ‘uh’ instead of an ‘a’. But after a great deal of practice and memorizing what ‘i’ and ‘a’ could sound like, I was able to get it right… and then move on to learning how to spell Cegil and Satel’s names. As if they weren’t complicated enough…

It was going to be a life-long struggle, and it was going to be a miracle if I could someday learn a new language, but as long as I didn’t give up, I could someday read at the same level as everyone else. Maybe then, I would be willing to tell Satel the hardships I went through to become the mate he deserved. At the very least, he had the right to know that I was once illiterate.

“…And… so the… m-man… healed- no held his… s-h-i-ld- oh child– …and pr-aid to the… go…go-dees-e…” Oh Elit, I had almost no clue what I had just read aloud…

“Very close,” he praised me genuinely, “You are doing well in correcting yourself and recognizing the ‘ld’ sounds.”

It wasn’t only the vowels that got to me, as I had some confusion with silent letters or letter combinations like ‘ed’ or double letters- but the more I could remember, the faster I could recognize the words. When he read the passage to me, I was able to understand what was said. So far, it was talking about a man who was praying to the goddess on behalf of his child. The rest of it- like why he was doing such a thing and what was wrong with the child, was beyond me since I couldn’t read the rest of it yet. I had to understand where I went wrong with the last few words.

We had long since established that I could understand words being spoken to me and I had no trouble paying attention when he or Satel would read to me. All I needed to do was learn to connect the words myself to understand. It was a very slow progress, going over a sentence at a time and then discussing it. In the beginning though, we could only go over a story one or two words at a time. It took almost an hour for me to get through an entire page, but it was better than a paragraph per hour.

When the lesson was finally over, I had pretty much forgotten the story and what it was about. With all the distractions and my learning new phonetic patterns, it was hard to focus on the tale and piece together the segments I’d heard. Hmm… I hope it wasn’t something important that I needed to learn about…

“Um… Cegil? Is something wrong?” I inquired when I noticed him frown again. He’d been doing that a lot during the lesson, but I had a feeling that they weren’t directed at me. At least… I couldn’t see a reason why he was still be frowning after finishing for the day.

“It is nothing,” he responded with a shake of his head before he sneered for a tiniest hint of a second. “The elders have been summoning me- they seem to have forgotten that I have specifically set aside this time for you and that I will not run to their beck and call.”

When Cegil had returned to the clan, it was under strict and unbendable conditions that tested the patience of the elders and their desire to have him back. Cegil agreed to return, but he would no longer actively serve the clan. He would choose the missions that interested him and at his own convenience. The only exceptions were missions that required two or more people or emergency events.

“If they’ve been bothering you this entire time, maybe it’s important,” I surmised as I wondered how they were doing it. It seemed as if he was hearing them in his mind since my ears weren’t picking up anything. I knew the elders could just speak the name of the one they wanted to see and the falucite would appear almost immediately, but I guess I was mistaken that it was a spell that teleported them.

Anyone else would come running to them, but not Cegil- there was still too much bad blood between them for him to give them any more respect.

“If it were a dire emergency, they would have sent someone here to contact me,” he added in a displeased tone before his eyes trailed over to the open doorway. “It will not kill them to wait a moment longer.”

I also glanced at the doorway as I privately wondered what exactly it was he was waiting for. Did he actually want someone to come get him? Come to think of it, Lioa could show up any second. Usually, I would spend time with her after my lessons either at the kitchens or in her room at the servant’s quarters. It didn’t always happen, but sometimes she would show up before my lessons were over and meet with me here.

My eyes drifted back to Cegil to note his demeanor- he was leaning back in his cushioned chair, appearing rather relaxed even though his arms were crossed like he wasn’t happy. He still didn’t show too much emotion since coming to terms with his past, but I could almost swear that there was a hopeful look in his eyes. …Wait, could he really be waiting for…

“Um… Cegil?” I hesitantly called out, unsure if I should even ask.

“…Hmm… Maybe another time,” he whispered to himself, leaving me to wonder exactly where his thoughts were.

“…Cegil?” I voiced again, this time getting his attention. He then gave me an apologetic look as he stood.

“Ah, forgive me. We are done for the day- you may go if you wish,” he told me- almost a little quickly. He almost seemed a little embarrassed as he turned away from me and added, “I suppose I shall see what they wish of me…”

I didn’t even get the chance to stop him when he suddenly teleported out to go see the elders. I let out a sigh before I stood and shook my head.

“…If you wanted to see Lioa, you could’ve come with me,” I mumbled to the now empty room. After all, it wasn’t as if he wanted to see the elders that desperately.

I ended up shrugging as I closed my book and headed out. Of course, I had no proof that he wanted to see Lioa for any reason. He might’ve been expecting someone else for all I knew. I decided to forget about it and not mention it to anyone- I wasn’t the type to start groundless rumors anyway… except in bars, should I need to start a fight or something.

When I reached the kitchen area, I found the short, matronly woman hard at work on some dish. I could only see her kneading a large ball of dough, but I had no clue what the end result was going to be. This was a usual sight for me- she was, after all, Satel’s personal chef. She was expected to have dinner done on time every night for us and (her self-appointed task) for Cegil.

“Ah, good afternoon Tia!” the brown haired woman greeted me when she noticed me.

“Do you need any help?” I inquired as I began to remove my red skirt and fold it neatly over the back of a chair. Since I wore trousers underneath, I didn’t think it would be that much of a scandal to flounce around without the feminine clothing- and I was less concerned of getting the pants dirty.

“No, I have this, dear. Just wash the dishes for me, please,” she requested while sprinkling more flour on the counter she was working on.

I confirmed that I would do so and rolled up the sleeves of my white blouse. I then pulled on a full apron to further protect my clothing. Even though there was magicks weaved into the material I wore, they weren’t waterproof, so I had to be careful.

It didn’t take long for me to organize the rather large load of dishes and prepare the sink for washing. The chore was fairly routine for me and I’d developed my own procedure for it. To an outsider, I almost appeared to be the typical human woman who liked to do housework or other ‘wifely’ duties, but things weren’t as they seemed. I actually hated cooking and cleaning- my only reason for doing it was for Lioa.

Lioa was a human servant in the homestead, so my only way of spending time with her was to help her with her work. At first, Satel was displeased to see me in the kitchens so often, but I eventually got him to understand why it was important for me. I never had a mother before, and Lioa was the closest thing to a mother I could get. I wanted to experience what I’ve been denied my entire life and get in touch with the feminine side that neither Cegil nor the pirate crew could ever teach me.

I found that I liked being a girl more than the pseudo-boy role that was thrust upon me, though there were a few male tendencies that I still favored. I needed Lioa to help sort out a few aspects of my identity and when Satel recognized that, he supported me completely. His only issue was more of a vain desire to ‘liberate’ his mate from the drudgery of common living and to have her live more like a queen.

Suffice to say, I thoroughly shattered that dream- he took a dirty pirate for a mate and I never once lived even a common human life, let alone a queenly one. What I did in the kitchen (save for the washing of dishes) was fairly new to me.

“Is something the matter? You’re being awfully quiet today,” Lioa asked, pulling me from my thoughts. I hadn’t realized that a lot of time had passed since I’ve started washing- it was actually unusual for me to be this quiet around the friendly woman.

“Not really,” I replied, being half-truthful. “I was just thinking about… random things.”

I suppose this would’ve been a good time to ask about the strange sensations I was feeling in the aftermath of that mission yesterday, but I was worried that the conversation would eventually turned to what happened last night at the table. The falucite might not tease me over a ‘natural occurrence,’ but a fellow human would. Besides, the mission was far from my mind and I was no longer worried about it. Why bother reflecting on what was most likely guilt?

I reached for a small glass jar after the stout woman accepted my answer and went back to her cooking. I didn’t really pay that close attention when I pried open the lid and dipped it in the soapy water. The jar itself was too small for me to fit my hand in to clean it properly, so I covered the opening so that I could shake the water around in it.

“Ugh!” I yelled in disgust when I felt something that shouldn’t have been in there hit my palm. “Who left smillith stems in the jar?”

…Come to think of it, didn’t Satel have smilliths for dinner? I poured out the water and caught the two stems before they could escape. I then examined them both closely. “Huh? Who tied knots in them- and why?”

Suddenly, Lioa began laughing as she faced me. I was beginning to think I was the victim of a silly prank until she slowly calmed down and gave me an incredulous look. It didn’t take her long to realize that I was serious and that I honestly had no clue what was going on.

“Oh Maker, bless your innocent heart,” she declared before she finally explained herself. “Lord Satel was trying to impress you with his …well… his ability to use his tongue. Don’t you know anything of seduction?”

“I didn’t realize playing with food was suppose to put someone in the mood,” I growled as I fought down my blush and went back to washing. I was not having this kind of conversation with Lioa- the same went with Cegil, but he never pushed topics like this.

“Well… it can if you do it right,” she replied before she crossed the room to stand next to me and gave me a concerned look. “Tia, does this mean you never asked other women how to flirt or excite your husband?”

“Wh-why would I ask about something like that? It’s no one’s business but my own! Besides, I know how to mate- I don’t need help there…” I insisted as I looked away from her. Apparently she was done baking if she had to waste her time on my side of the kitchen… I risked a glance over to the counter and found that she was barely half done. Great… that meant I had gotten her full attention over all else.

Damn it, I should’ve known that last night would come back to bite me in the ass, no matter how fast I’d tried to run…

“Well, that’s fine if all you want to do is lay back, spread your legs, and simply take it,” Lioa said, her green eyes gleaming with mischief almost similar to Satel’s.

“L-Lioa!” I sputtered, stunned to hear such crude language coming from her mouth. I’ve said some pretty vulgar things before, but hers took the cake.

“It is true that this subject is not for mixed company, but there is a point when a woman needs to discuss this with other women so she can be informed of what’s expected of her as a wife. How else will you know if you’re not taught?” the woman continued, bringing on a good point, though I was stunned to hear that women really did discuss sex to others. “I will not go into detail of how you should act in bed, but at least let me explain why you sometimes drive Lord Satel insane. It is a little maddening that you unconsciously flirt with him without knowing what you’re doing.”

…I did? I didn’t know I was flirting with him, let alone driving him ‘insane’. I only knew that I was responsible for last night because of obvious reasons- but he brought it on himself! If Satel hadn’t gotten me worked up before coming to the dining hall, I wouldn’t have …grabbed him.

“Exactly what do I do that’s considered flirting?” I had to ask- she was making it sound as if I constantly tormented Satel with my non-existent feminine wiles.

“I have one prime example- you have a habit of licking the edge of your glass after taking a sip,” Lioa immediately answered with a knowing smirk. My brows furrowed in confusion before I shook my head.

“So? I do that to make sure nothing drips down the outside of the glass,” I retorted testily. …Well, that, and it was an old habit that developed in my days in Port Sibest. The townspeople would throw out anything I licked, acting as if I had cursed their items. It was the best way for me to collect mugs, forks, and other things useful for eating on. I never licked clothing and the like, so it wasn’t exactly my way of branding property or something.

“And yet you always seem to be facing Lord Satel when it happens…” she remarked while faking a look of doubt. “Still, I suppose the best way to explain it is to give you a mental image- Lord Satel simply wishes that he is that glass you are licking.”

There was a long pause as I worked that through my mind. Even though that wasn’t a ‘mental image’, just hearing it made me imagine myself dancing the tip of my tongue along his skin, rather than the edge of a cup. My face felt extremely hot as I dropped the jar I was still holding back into the water. Satel wanted me to lick him?

“H-How do you know that’s what he wants?!” I inquired frantically, nearly squeaking at the first word.

“Because he’s always staring at you intently as you do it. I know that look of wanting in his eyes,” she informed, acting as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. I thought back to earlier this morning when I caught Satel looking at me when I was licking the moagho. Did he want me to do something to him then as well?

Lioa let out an exaggerated sigh before she wandered back to the meal she had been preparing. “My, my- the two of you are such a mess. You have him wrapped around your finger and yet you have no clue what to do about it.”

“Wrapped around my finger?” I echoed incredulously before I let out a snort. “Not likely- he’s the one who’s always in control!”

It was Satel who initiated everything- he was the one who knew how to disarm me and make me cave into any little demand he had.

“Come now- the truth in the matter is that he knows you so well that he can please you without you even asking. He would do anything for you and you know it,” she countered with a twinge of amusement to her tone. Her words carried serious accusations that I wasn’t being a good enough mate, but I could tell that she wasn’t trying to cast blame. She was just trying to help by making me realize my error- I just wished we were on a more comfortable subject…

“I know he does…” I admitting, thinking of all the times he would bring home gifts and comfort me when I was feeling down. But it wasn’t like I was using him or treating him like a slave! I just didn’t know what he wanted. “But I would do almost anything for him if he asked.”

“Really Tia?” the woman admonished me as she glanced at me over her shoulder with disappointment in her eyes. “Did you really have to add the word ‘almost’?”

“I don’t make deals with monsters, Lioa. Of course I’ll do anything harmless for him, but I won’t kill unless it would save his life,” I replied sternly, proving that I was just being rational. I loved Satel, but there was only so much I would do for his love.

My words quickly calmed her down and she soon began to laugh when she understood what I was getting at. I paused at my work to glare at her and wondered what was so funny.

“Oh my…” She sighed again while trying to hide her smile. “You do realize we’re talking of bedroom matters- not everyday life?”

“O-Of course!” I confirmed while frantically grabbing another pot to wash. I was just trying to conveniently forget that part- my vows were still true to my feelings, though it had nothing to do with mating. I don’t think Satel would be put in the mood from me killing someone… I hope.

“It is really bad for you to simply return the favor for all he does for you? I know you do nice, and innocent, acts for him, but he might also like it if you took charge in bed.”

…Why did she have to add ‘innocent’ like it was a bad thing?

“I’m not against returning the favor- I just don’t know how,” I blurted out before I could think about what I was saying. When I realized what I had done, I froze in place and mentally cursed myself.

“Precisely,” Lioa said smugly, quick to point out that I had just proven her case.

“Argh! You’re just as bad as Cegil!” I growled as I attacked the last item in the sink. Why did the people I look up to the most trick me into admitting the things I wanted to deny? Okay, that was redundant- that was why I looked up to them. They knew how to get past my stubbornness and make me face my faults.

“Then that’s a good thing- I must’ve gotten through to you,” she announced with a chuckle. “That settles it then- tomorrow I’ll teach you the importance of flirting and when it’s an appropriate time to tease.”

Tomorrow? Why not now so that I could get it over with? But when I glanced over to the small pocket watch she had hanging near the door, I discovered that two hours had passed already. Satel was expected back soon- I didn’t want him to appear and overhear the discussion. He might get any funny ideas… It wasn’t long before the insinuation caught up to me and I flushed yet again.

“If you’re referring to last night, that wasn’t my fault- Satel’s the one who started it,” I growled with a sneer while I finished cleaning up the area.

“And you clearly finished it,” she quipped without delay. “You may have gotten the desired result, but you got there too quickly. You need to learn to pace yourself, otherwise you won’t get as much enjoyment out of it as you should.”

“Wait… huh?” I intoned when I finished drying my hands. What exactly did that mean?

Lioa smiled at me again while she placed some kind of pie into the oven and then winked. “Unless you want to discuss mating with me, then you’re better off asking your mate what it means.”

I closed my mouth when I realized it was hanging open and tried very hard not to let my blushing get even worse. I knew I brought that statement on myself by mentioning last night, but I didn’t think she would go there. I thought we were strictly on the discussion of flirting not… that. Besides, Satel had a lot of stamina- he could easily hold out long enough to satisfy me. Of course, I wasn’t telling Lioa that…

“No thanks- I’m not that clueless,” I grumbled as I pulled off the apron and stormed over to my skirt to put it back on. “I’m done with the dishes, so I’ll be leaving now- unless you need anything.”

“No- that’s all. Thank you for the help dear- and you don’t have to learn if you don’t want to. I’m certain Lord Satel understands your discomfort and that’s the reason why he’s never pushed you or mentioned anything,” the short woman told me in a more motherly tone.

It didn’t really occur to me until then that Satel might’ve been keeping silent for my sake. He already knew how uncomfortable I was with public affection, so that easily could’ve translated into my possibly being reluctant to try something new. Considering the lengths he had to go in order to make me his mate, he didn’t want to take chances and chase me away. But surely after this long, he would know that I was getting used to him? Or was he waiting for me to make that move to prove it?

“It’s okay- I can’t go on forever like this, can I? I need to toughen up like a real woman,” I eventually said with a small grin. I did want to return the favor to everything Satel had done for me- and I wanted to surprise him. It’d be nice if I could catch him off guard (on purpose) for once. Lioa mirrored my smile and nodded.

“That’s my girl,” she replied proudly. “When we’re through, he won’t know what hit him.”

I laughed a little over that before I excused myself and left. Usually, Satel would be home by now and would take me to our room for the reading hour, but I simply figured that he was late. Besides, I was still a little nervous of him popping in while I was still in the kitchens and discovering my plans for tomorrow. I think I suffered enough embarrassment for one day…

I ended up wandering aimlessly around the homestead as I waited for his return, but after a while, I was getting concerned. He was rather late- I hope nothing was wrong.

No sooner than after that worry crossed my mind, I noticed one of the elders also taking a walk alone. I was easily able to identify my ‘grandfather’ (as he encourages me to call him) even though his head was down and his lavender hair was covering most of his face. If he wasn’t so hunched over, I might’ve confused him for Garroe.

Cujol was heading in my direction and as we passed each other, I could hear him grumble something under his breath. There was obviously something on his mind, as he barely acknowledged me. Even though he and Cegil were always at odds, he never treated me coldly or as an outsider. I instantly became another ‘beloved granddaughter’ to him, even though I was clearly human.

We didn’t get more than three steps apart from each other when he suddenly noticed me and shouted as if he was pleased to see me, “Tia!”

“What!” I replied in the same loudness, though my tone was out of shock. I placed a hand over my chest as I faced the old falucite. I wasn’t expecting him to have a late reaction to my presence- nor did I think he would be so thrilled to see me. Of course, it could’ve been because I happened to show up at an opportune time for him…

“I apologize- I did not mean to frighten you, child,” he told me in a kindly tone as a smile appeared on his wrinkled face. “Satel has yet to return from his task, and he is needed to run a simple errand in Tetan. The mayor is behind on his taxes and Satel is supposed to persuade them to at least prove they are unable to spare a crijok.”

“And you want me to go in his place to see if they are having trouble or to beat them until they pay up, right?” I guessed, quickly seeing where this conversation was going. As Satel’s mate, I was the only clan member, other than the elders, who could go into his territory and do whatever was needed to be done. The only reason an elder couldn’t go was because they were needed to oversee the falucite law.

“Not quite. I am sure you are formidable, but Satel is the one who should complete this task. I would like you to simply deliver a message to the mayor- tell him that we recognize their economic stress and that they have one more day to at least gather up the money they can spare as a sign of goodwill to their king,” Cujol explained calmly, not going into great detail over the situation.

Though I suppose he didn’t need to- what he was pretty much asking me to do was to inform the deadbeats that they were not getting off the hook for their delinquency while Satel is behind in his work. I didn’t really need to know the specifics since I shouldn’t need to get deeply involved. It was still Satel’s problem- I was just needed to buy him some time.

“You just want a messenger? I guess that’s not too much trouble… but how do I get there, and how do I get back?” I inquired, wondering if he remembered that I wasn’t a falucite. Cujol was getting on in years- maybe he was going senile… Then again, I had no clue if they were subject to mental decline.

“No need to be concerned over that- I will send you there and retrieve you when you are done. Now, I will send you to your chambers so you can prepare. Gather whatever you think you might need- you have five minutes,” the elder answered me before he raised his hand and teleported me before I could say a word.

I soon found myself in the middle of the room I shared with Satel. Since the blond had adjusted his magicks to allow me through, Cujol could send me to the chambers, but he couldn’t follow me in- not that I would want him to. I let out a sigh before I gathered my weapons and a jacket that matched my skirt. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what was keeping Satel and why was he so behind in his work.

Once again, I just hoped that he was okay and that he was simply delayed.

            Of course, he should’ve been the least of my worries. I was about to experience a traumatic event- one that was powerful enough to shut myself down even in the middle of a battle. It was as if higher forces were warning me that I could not run away from my past any longer.

To the Next Chapter

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