5. A Lesson Learned

Chapter 5

A Lesson Learned

It took a sharp sting to my cheek before my eyes dared to refocus. When I returned to the world around me, I found that I was in the homestead, inside Didra’s little research laboratory. Other than the library, the evil shrew-woman frequented here for any hands on experiments or to treat any injuries that might come up.

I numbly glanced around, ignoring a rather cluttered room full of shelves, glass bottles, and books to find who was responsible for bringing me here and for pulling me out of my shell. I was sitting on the lone long table, amongst the many experiments that the pink-haired falucite had out. Before me, Didra stood with her arms crossed and a critical look in her eye as she examined me. Standing surprisingly close to her was Satel, appearing more worried than I had ever seen him.

Suddenly, Didra wasn’t satisfied with her results and lifted her hand to slap me across the face.

“Ow! What in five hells was that for!?” I growled as I placed a hand over my cheek. That must’ve been how I was roused in the first place- but she didn’t have to do it a second time!

“There- she is cured,” the evil woman announced as she turned away from me. “Though I would hardly consider this a medical problem. Psychology is far beyond my field of expertise.”

She then wandered off to the far end of the room to check on her falcie, since my shout had disturbed him to the point of fussing. My mate didn’t waste any time after her retreat to approach me. One hand went to cradle my reddening cheek while the other gently gripped my shoulder.

“‘Tia, are you okay? You were suddenly unresponsive when I was done with that scum,” Satel inquired as he tried to crane his neck to look me in the eye. I found myself glancing away before our eyes could make contact and I bit my lip as I tried to gather my thoughts. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to answer him- I just wasn’t sure what to say without having to recall that image of the sheriff to my mind.

Didra let out a sigh once it was obvious that I wasn’t going to answer. “Her symptoms correspond with one of the many possible coping strategies of those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. She must have been exposed to a particular stimulus that triggered disturbing memories from her past. I would not push to her speak of the trigger so soon- you may send her back into that unresponsive state.”

I wasn’t sure how long I had been hiding in my little shell, but I still felt like I needed to break down. The images were still fresh in my mind and I was doing everything I could not to really think about it. I didn’t want those phantom memories to come creeping back, and I didn’t want to make Satel worry about me more. But, the sadness was still lingering- I didn’t need to think of why I felt pain in my chest or why my eyes were burning. It was gradual and there was nothing I could do to stop it- the tears spilled over when the white-blond man glanced away from me to stare at his sister-in-law.

“I don’t understand the connection- why would she need to shut herself down over a memory? ‘Tia is smart enough to know that her past can’t really hurt her,” he said, proving that he didn’t have any experience to know what I was going through. Though to be fair, not many people often live through something so traumatic that it can break them.

Didra let out a dry laugh over that. “You are still a falcie- of course you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be traumatized. You’ve been protected throughout your infancy, and have no idea what real pain is. There are just some memories that are too powerful to be dismissed as something that cannot affect you. The human mind in particular is a very powerful weapon- it can summon visions that seem real to the human. To Tia, whatever it was that she had seen, it would have been like living through it all over again.”

At this, I felt Satel tense as he worked it out through his mind. I was struggling to keep my crying silent, but I was also still listening. By the sound of it, falucite had a stronger control of their own minds. I guess that meant that they couldn’t be confused by their own imaginations.

“Uh-‘Tia!” the über hat man suddenly called out when an errant tear managed to fall on the hand that was still on my cheek. Satel soon moved his thumb to collect the next tear as he gave me his full attention.

I didn’t know why, but it hurt me when he gave me that saddened look- it was as if he was the one who was lost and confused. He had no clue how to console me and it was ripping him apart. Before I knew it, he pulled me off the table and held me against him tightly, trying to comfort me the best he could. Maybe he didn’t know what I was going through, but he was suffering along with me.

But knowing this couldn’t stop the sudden bout of sobbing that came. I found myself clinging tightly to his form before I buried my head against his chest and let it all out. My muffled wails soon had Aared going and Didra rushed to calm him.

“If there are no actual medical problems for me to observe, then leave!” she snapped at us.

Satel didn’t need to be told twice- he immediately teleported us back to our bedchambers where he continued to hold me. I was leaving a giant wet spot on his frock coat, but he didn’t seem to care as he carefully swayed our forms side to side in what would almost seem like a dance.

When I felt a little more in control of myself, I pushed back some and tried to wipe at my eyes with the back of my hand. “I-I’m sorry- I can’t seem to stop.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” he insisted as he guided me to sit on the edge of the bed. “I’m the one who should be sorry.”

“Why? It’s not your fault,” I muttered with downcast eyes. Yes, he was the one who unwittingly triggered my past memories, but I couldn’t blame him since he didn’t know. I’ve tried so hard not to reveal that one point in my life to him.

Satel’s silence told me that he wasn’t convinced with my statement. He sat down next to me and pulled out a clean wine-colored handkerchief, gently cleaning my face with it.

“I’m sure I can come up with many reasons as to why this is my fault. For one- I didn’t have to cover for Cegil today. If I had finished my missions instead, then you wouldn’t have been sent out.”

“If that’s the case, then I’m to blame as well- Cegil was in the middle of teaching me. The elders never sent anyone to tell him that it was urgent, so he didn’t have reason to cancel my lessons,” I countered, my voice still cracking from emotion.

Of course, we could always just blame the elders for everything- after all, they had their moments of blunders that seemed ripple to out as huge mistakes for everyone. But even with that thought, I couldn’t blame them. They didn’t always have easy decisions, and sometimes they had to compromise to ensure that everyone would be safe. Plus, Cujol couldn’t have predicted the outcome of sending me out there. He didn’t know about my past either.

Satel was hesitant for a while before he licked his lips and finally inquired, “I don’t like seeing you like this, ‘Tia-dear. Was it something I did? Or did that man do something that I didn’t see?”

To him, it was just about a normal day of him dealing with his territory and either protecting me or defending my honor. He honestly had no clue what set me off or why. As much as I wanted to stay quiet and push my luck in trying to forget today, I knew I couldn’t leave him in the dark. He was going to blame himself for this- and I didn’t want to risk this happening again because of ignorance. While I wasn’t some damsel in distress that constantly got into situations like today, I have been in enough of them to personally witness how far Satel is willing to go to save me- it’s only a matter of time before he chooses the same execution method as today.

“It’s not something that you did- it’s more of how you did it,” I began slowly, deliberately avoiding simple words such as ‘head’ or anything of the like. As long as I didn’t try to visualize it, I should be able to get through it. But it seemed that the more I said, the less I could control my voice- it started to crack as I continued, “I know you’re just trying to protect me and that sometimes people die from it, but try not to do it by that method again unless you really have no choice.”

My mate was a smart man- it didn’t take long for him to piece together what I had meant by ‘that’.

“…I didn’t know something like that would bother you,” he eventually replied after realizing that there wasn’t much else he could say. I could understand why he would think that- I wasn’t bothered by someone losing a limb, since I believed that it was a survivable injury and that it wouldn’t result in death.

“You didn’t know… and I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to face something like that again. It’s not your fault, anyway, so just be careful next time and let’s forget about it,” I suggested before I had one last sniffle. Now that the crying was out of my system and the chilling phantom images were again locked tightly in the back of my mind, I was feeling a bit better and ready to find something else to distract me.

“Before we forget, there is one more thing I want to know,” he started in the same hesitant tone as before.

“What is it?” I inquired while glancing up at his features guardedly. Surely he wasn’t going to use this experience as an excuse to pry into my past? Even he knew when to quit- and I doubt he wanted to risk hurting me again.

“Was this …uh ‘incident’ that you want to avoid the reason why you won’t tell me of your past?”

I relaxed at the innocent enough question. He wasn’t trying to pry- he just wanted to understand why I couldn’t want to say anything. I nodded once before I chose to lean against him and seek further comfort. He quickly obliged me by resting his cheek against the top of my head. He then moved the hand that was at my waist to my back and rubbed in slow circles to further calm me.

“It only happened once, but it was enough to change my life forever. I don’t want to face that moment ever again,” I added to further explain my feelings. I never thought I would ever speak of this to anyone, let alone Satel, but if I was going to properly run away, then he had the right to know (and so he wouldn’t have the chance to impede me).

“Because you’re not ready to face it? Or is it because you’re afraid of what might happen if you do?” the falucite queried out of curiosity. It was actually a good question- one where I wasn’t that sure of the answer. If I hadn’t had that defense mechanism of shutting down, what would I have done when remembering that moment?

Would I cry as I did earlier? Or would I act out in rage and destroy everything in my path? There was much more to that memory than just the death of a loved one- I was also desperately trying to suppress an undying hatred of the one responsible for it. Many have said before that Satel and I were a lot alike, and I felt as if I could have a similar tantrum as he if pushed too far. Maybe I couldn’t use magicks and destroy everything like he could, but I did possess a bloodlust like any man that had been lost to the fires of anger.

“I don’t know- probably both. I don’t want to find out,” I answered earnestly.

“Fair enough- but I still want to know about your childhood. If that’s the only time in your life that you don’t want to remember, then tell me if I get too close to it and I’ll stop,” he offered to show that he was neither giving up or trying to force me to face a demon.

“Alright …though I wish you’d just drop it altogether. I don’t need my past- I have you and Cegil,” I muttered against his coat as I closed my eyes and enjoyed his attentions.

He let out a chuckle over that. “That was sweet my dearest, but say that again and this time leave out Cegil.”

“He came first,” I chimed with a smile, knowing that this was just a playful argument. Satel knew full well that I only viewed Cegil as a father figure, but he still wanted credit as being the only important man in my life. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t going to give it so easily.

“But I’m your mate,” he countered in a cheerful tone.

“That’s true, but we would’ve never met if it weren’t for him,” I reminded him, earning an amused sigh.

“Okay, I’ll concede,” he said playfully before adding, “You win this round.”

We both laughed at that and I was grateful that he decided to tease me. I needed a good laugh after the day I’ve been through. It seemed that Satel was in the same position as me as he suddenly fell back on to the bed, taking me with him.

There was a long moment of silence before he finally confessed in a tired tone, “What a long and dreadful day.”

I had to wonder what he went through to make him say that. But thinking back on it, he seemed upset that he had to step in for Cegil- and he was apparently already tired when he came to deal with the mayor.

I wanted to ask him about his day, and what mission that Cegil had that was so important for a stand in, but a low gong sound resonated throughout the mountain. That was the signal that all members of the clan needed to gather, as it was time for dinner.

“…And we still have to attend dinner,” my mate added, sounding a little annoyed.

“We don’t have to go on time. You had a rough day, so you deserve a break,” I pointed out, conveniently ignoring the fact that I insisted on being on time last night. Of course, I only insisted out of stubbornness before…

“Maker… I haven’t had a break since we’ve first mated,” he mumbled to himself as he covered his eyes with the bend of his elbow.

Satel was actually overworked- he took on more missions than all of his siblings and cousins. He’d often complain about being behind or late on some of his work, but it wasn’t because he was loafing off somewhere- it was because he just had so much to do on top of caring for his territories. The amazing part was that he still found time to spend with me. No matter how much he did in a day, he still had some energy left to frequently take me somewhere for a date.

However, this was brought on by himself- the elders didn’t push him to work so hard. He was under the belief that he needed to be the perfect clan member just so he would be accepted by the younger members. Considering how confident and arrogant he could be, it was surprising that he actually cared about what they thought. Sure, I knew about some of his past, but I wasn’t the only one who believed that it was stupid to blame someone just for being born.

I never said it aloud, but the death of his parents was entirely their fault. They were the ones who weren’t careful, and they chose to be sacrificed for his sake. That wasn’t to say that I believed that they were wrong in their choices- only a heartless parent would give up their child to save themselves. The real problem was the Fates- if only they didn’t exist, then all of this drama wouldn’t have happened and Cegil wouldn’t have suffered because it.

…Though at the same time, I wouldn’t be here if that tragedy hadn’t happened. Like Satel’s birth, my being here was a minor blessing in the aftermath of sadness.

“…Maybe I’ll take on a few less missions for a while- just in case Cegil needs more help,” Satel continued while I tried to glance up at his covered face.

Taking on less would reduce the stress, and he needed a vacation. Maybe I didn’t spend every minute of the day with him, but I knew he was working hard- most of it was probably fun for him, but it was still too much in such a short amount of time. Plus, I don’t think he’s ever gone out of his way to for something for himself; except for our dates anyway, but they were also for me.

…But I couldn’t exactly tell him that. He always gets so defensive if I even hint that he should take a few days off- though if it were for me he’d agree in a heartbeat. I could ask him to spend the day with me, but then I would also have to cancel my lessons with Cegil and miss my time with Lioa. It wasn’t something I was comfortable with doing often- at least as far as my lessons went.

“What exactly is Cegil doing that requires assistance?” I asked instead of focusing on my mate’s need for rest. It was a safer subject at the moment- and I was a little curious about it. It must’ve been something urgent if it needed someone to oversee it until Cegil was ready to take over.

When I really thought about it, I realized that I knew nothing of what my former guardian had been doing for the past few months. Usually he would tell me of his missions, but lately he had been focusing more on my studies whenever we were together. I wasn’t sure if this was because he didn’t think it was important, or if he happened to be hiding something from me.

“Hmm… I’m not sure if I should tell- you would be better off asking him to be safe,” Satel mumbled after a while, his arm still covering his eyes. With an answer like that, it made me all the more curious. My mate rarely kept secrets from me… even though I continued to keep some of my own from him.

“Why do you say that? You had to be involved, so don’t you have a right to say anything?” I inquired, trying to figure out if he was also hiding something or if he was just protecting Cegil’s personal matters from others.

“That’s not how it works,” he replied with a chuckle before he moved his arm and stared up at the ceiling. “I’m not sure how you’d react and I don’t think he wants you to worry. …It has something to do with the coastal regions, particularly around the area you hate so much.”

“Ugh! I hope it’s something bad- I won’t be one bit sorry if they had another tidal wave,” I growled when I picked up that he was speaking of Port Sibest. Even after I had helped them and allegedly ‘sacrificed’ myself to save them, they still thought I was some evil pirate that cursed their town with mythical human magicks.

I was expecting him to chuckle over that, but he remained eerily silent over my words. It was one of those awkward pauses that made me feel as if I had said something very wrong. …But he knew how I felt about that port town, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I would be so negative towards them. I was about to check and see if he had fallen asleep, but he suddenly shifted to support himself up by his arms. I also had to sit up since I was almost laying on him.

“We better go to dinner,” he announced with after a sigh. “But after that, let’s take a nice hot bath before retiring for the night.”

I wasn’t sure what he was trying to cover up, but I knew that’s what he was doing. I could pressure him to talk to me, since he would eventually tell me anyway, but I decided to let him keep his secrets for now. He probably had a good reason for not telling me- or perhaps he didn’t know everything and didn’t want me to get the wrong impression.

Instead, I gave him a small smile and nodded to him. “Sounds good.”

At the time, he didn’t know that I was related to the problems in the coastal regions, but he had his suspicions. Ever since that tidal wave that had swept me away in Port Sibest, Satel never once brought me close to the sea. He was right to do so, because there was something searching for me- something that would take me away from him. No matter how much I missed my early days, I didn’t want to go back.

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

Cegil didn’t show up for dinner that night- apparently, his business at the coast had delayed him. I was a little worried about his safety, but I relaxed upon seeing him in the study the next morning. He appeared to be fine, if not a little tired, so I had no reason to be concerned about his well-being.

“Good morning,” I greeted him as I walked over to my seat and searched for my book. “I was a little worried when you didn’t show up for dinner last night.”

“I was delayed until very late in the evening,” he responded simply, not willing to explain more than that. “Enough about me for now- I have heard that you suffered from a traumatic event yesterday. Are you feeling better?”

Leave it up to him to worry about me first… I couldn’t stop the slight grin on my face before I wondered who had told him about it. Could Satel have seen him before he had left earlier? Or maybe Didra mentioned something?

“Yeah, I’m fine now. Satel accidentally made me remember something from fifteen years ago, but it won’t happen again. He knows to avoid it now,” I answered him, trying hard not to think about it. It was easier to talk about it like it was nothing now that I had a good night’s sleep and time to think about other things.

“I do not wish to pry in your life, so I will not ask, but from what I heard of your condition, I would imagine you have seen some terrible events,” the lavender haired man noted, still expressing concern for me. He didn’t like to see me suffer anymore than Satel did, but he was also much more considerate when it came to things I wanted buried.

Actually, Cegil could understand me better than my mate in this instance- for a long time, he had been running away from his past and didn’t tell me anything until he was ready to face it. He was going to give me the same respect that I had given him for all these years. However…

“It was…” I admitted quietly while I took a seat and folded my hands in my lap like a prim and proper lady. I still wasn’t ready to delve too much into it, but Satel had gained a large clue regarding my past and it wasn’t right for Cegil to not be at the same level as he. If anyone, he should be the first I confide in, though Satel has also earned that privilege. “Satel was just protecting me as usual, but he… did something that was similar to something I’ve witnessed before.”

I could tell I had his attention with the way his cinnamon colored eyes were trained on me. He tried hard not to seem as if he wanted to hear it, fearing that it might drive me away, but I knew he was just as curious to know.

I carefully described last night, only using vague terms the closer I got to the incident. I managed to say the word ‘beheading’ before I choked up and couldn’t continue. That was Cegil’s cue to know that I couldn’t say more.

“You need not force yourself- I am beginning to understand your dilemma. You have lost someone dear to you in the same manner,” he stated, proving that he really did get it. My throat was beginning to hurt and my eyes were burning, but I did get out a nod before I bowed my head to hide my face from him. I was hoping that I could keep from crying, but the memories were still too powerful.

Since Cegil was so tall and his arms were so long, he barely needed to lean over the desk to touch my shoulder. “I, too, know the pain of death and it has taken me over two hundred years to come to terms with it. The only reason it took so long was because I tried so hard to run away. It is your choice if you want to continue running, but I do hope you also come to terms sooner rather than later. You will never be able to heal until you do.”

“But it hurts so much!” I confessed to him, my voice a little more strained as I continued to hold back my emotions.

“I know, but it fades eventually. Tia, it does not have to be today or even this year, but you should try to find the courage to reveal your pain to another. I recommend confiding in your mate, as he can comfort you in your time of need.”

I couldn’t argue with Cegil’s words- he was, after all, someone who experienced a similar path as I have and has lived through pain. I was a little stunned that he would tell me to go to Satel if I should want to reveal my memories, but I figured he was just trying to help. Cegil loved me like a father, but he couldn’t comfort me as much as Satel could.

Still, it was so much easier to run away. I didn’t need that past anymore, now that I was living a better life with the falucite. I had a second father and a man that I loved- I could easily build a future with them and forget all about the pain. …But why after all this time, could I still remember it so clearly? Were my last moments on that ship just too much for me to let go of?

I glanced up when something lavender was held up to me and I discovered that Cegil was offering his handkerchief so I could dry my tears. I accepted it with a small thanks and only used it around my eyes. As for my nose, it was beginning to get a little runny, but I simply sniffed it back. I didn’t have the heart to blow my nose on his nice clean piece of silk- tears were not as disgusting as snot.

“I’m sorry,” I eventually said after calming down. I then gave my brother-in-law back his handkerchief. “I didn’t mean to break down and interrupt my studies.”

“It is alright. You were merely taking one more step towards recovery,” he replied as he accepted the cloth. “However, I fear that I must cancel your lessons for today. I do not have much time, as I will have to return before they send someone else in my place. I do not want Satel to volunteer himself again- while he had meant well, he almost compromised the mission.”

“How long do you have before you have to go?” I inquired, storing the rather surprising bit of information about Satel for a later question. It wasn’t often he would call out his own brother as if he was being a burden- not even when joking.

“Just an hour- long enough to have a short conversation with you,” he answered while crossing his arms as he settled more into his chair.

So he was only here to check up on me before leaving- well, that, and he couldn’t leave a note and trust that I would understand it. Of course, that last thought was just a jest- of course he would want to see me after learning what had happened to me. It was in his nature to make sure that I was doing well. I also appreciated the fact that he waited for me to arrive so he could spend a little time with me before leaving.

I could just ask to review another book and try my luck on a page, since that could take an hour, but I decided to focus on his comment about Satel and his mission. “Is it okay if I asked what your mission is about? I’m a little concerned about it- or rather, I’m concerned about Satel. He seemed tired even before my problem came up.”

Used to, I would be more focused on Cegil’s well-being over Satel’s, but ever since I had grown close to my mate, and since Cegil had regained his powers, my feelings have shifted. That wasn’t to say that I didn’t care about what the tall man was doing, but I didn’t have reason to worry about him since he was so powerful and experienced. And, I figured I would get a little more of a hint in case Cegil wasn’t comfortable in divulging his personal business. At the very least, he could explain how Satel was being a burden.

“I am afraid I must decline telling you for now, but you and the rest of the clan will be made aware as soon as I finish my conclusions. As for my brother, his personal feelings got in the way and he tried to start unneeded confrontations,” he explained in the professional tone that I would expect from him.

“Personal feelings…?” I echoed as I tried to figure out what that meant. Satel wasn’t the type to lose his composure easily, though he was susceptible to frustration when it came to dealing with other family members or me. I also picked up that Cegil must’ve been doing some kind of major investigation if he was going to report to everyone soon.

…But what was going on that needed to be investigated? Usually, everyone in the clan knew of the problem that was being looked at, and as far as I knew, there was nothing unusual going on.

“I have an inclination that you might understand what I mean when you learn the whole story,” Cegil told me cryptically before he turned the subject towards Satel’s behavior. “However, if he was not so overworked, he may have had an easier time keeping his emotions in check. I fear that he has forgotten that he needs to make sacrifices when he takes on long-term commitments.”

I didn’t need to ask for an explanation as to what that meant- a falcie that had just come into power and is entrusted with one territory could easily perform five missions a day. But, while Satel was still a young falucite with bounding energy, he also had about six territories and a mate to care for. He couldn’t possibly do as much as he used to anymore, and it was only a matter of time before he might come home and claim that he’s too tired to spend time with me. Age was going to take away that energy eventually.

“Well, he said he was going to take on less work, but I don’t think it’ll be permanent. I just wish that he’d figure out that he can’t keep doing this,” I muttered to myself. Sure, Satel does listen to me if I try to tell him this, but he’s so stuck on the idea of being perfect that he would argue his way out of it and do his little dirty tricks to make me forget I mentioned anything. …Damn it, why did I have to love those Elit-forsaken tricks?

“He loves you, so he will find a balance. He swore that he would make you happy and even an ambitious falcie like him will realize that you are not satisfied with his lifestyle,” he reassured me with a nod. “Do not give up on him.”

“I won’t…” I promised with a small, sad grin. In hindsight, I couldn’t believe how much I had changed from being constantly wary of Satel to worrying about him like a real wife. I guess commitments do change a person- and it will eventually catch up with my mate.

“Hey… if we’re not having lessons today, then would you like to accompany me to the kitchens to see Lioa?” I inquired, almost suddenly. I suppose I just wanted to change the subject to a happier one- or maybe I felt that Cegil deserved a better distraction than my own mate problems before leaving.

I almost laughed at the brief look of shock on his face before he hid it behind a mask of indifference. “I do not have that much time to spare… however, if you feel the need for company, then I will not turn you away.”

Heh, nice. He did want to see Lioa- he just didn’t want to admit it. I hid my smirk as I stood up and gestured for him to follow me. Even though I treasured my moments with Cegil, I was willing to bow out and let him be happy with someone else. He deserved to be happy after all this time- and I believed that Lioa could bring that out in him.

When we reached the kitchens, I discovered that the stout woman wasn’t there, so I had to redirect Cegil towards her chambers. It was the only other place where I figured she would be at. The lavender haired man soon grew suspicious of where I was taking him and stopped when we reached the distinctive hallways of the servant’s quarters.

“Where are you leading me, Tia?” he inquired with a hint of worry to his tone.

“Well, she’s not in the kitchen, so she must be in her chambers,” I replied in good humor. I had a feeling he was getting nervous and I soon had to face him when he froze in his tracks.

“It is not proper for a man to intrude in a lady’s bedchamber unannounced,” he told me as he tried to turn and walk away. I quickly grabbed him by the arm and somehow managed to yank his form back around.

“Oh come on!” I cheered as I began pulling him gently by the arm. “She knows I’ll be visiting, so surely she wouldn’t mind you showing up for a few minutes.”

It was kind of cute to see the giant man so flustered at the thought of seeing a woman in her private room. It was a testament to how old he was- only a prim and proper old fart would think this way nowadays. Of course, ‘old fart’ would only apply to a human, seeing as Cegil was more of an equivalent to a forty-or-so year old man. Still, that would probably be considered ancient to younger humans…

But anyway, even if that was just the etiquette required by all clan members, then someone really dropped the ball with Satel. I recalled that he used to barge in on me dozens of times before we mated. Or would he argue that appearing in my bed unannounced didn’t count?

As we reached Lioa’s door, I was about to reach for the knob and open it when Cegil grabbed my wrist and shook his head.

“Knock first,” he hissed quietly, admonishing me for my lack of manners. I gave him a sheepish grin before I did so- I was so familiar with Lioa that I didn’t even have to knock. Though I usually did take care not to open the door if there was someone else in the hall. I just happened to forget that Cegil wasn’t that close in our inner circle. And… well, Lioa could be indecent at the moment, and while it would be a bit funny to seem him all flustered, it probably wouldn’t go over that well with his code of honor.

“Come in!” Was the muffled reply after I obliged my former guardian.

The motherly woman was sitting in the rocking chair that Satel and I had acquired for her as a birthday present. She had been humming a tune as she ran a needle and thread through what appeared to be a dark red tunic. But when she noticed Cegil lurking at the doorway, her eyes widened before she poked the needle to a small pillow on the table beside her and hid the clothing behind her. …I wasn’t sure why she reacted that way.

“Ah, good morning Cegil,” she quickly greeted just as cheerful as ever.

I almost sniggered when the tall man chose to bow to her in a polite gesture. It was funny in two ways- for one, he was bowing to a servant (not that I treated her as such), and the other, he was so obviously doing it to look good in front of her. I believe I was beginning to understand why Cegil liked to tease me about Satel- it was both cute and fun when seeing someone else blunder at love.

Of course, Cegil wasn’t exactly ‘blundering’- he seemed to be more hesitant to insinuate anything other than deep respect for the woman. I’m sure if he really wanted to, he could woo Lioa in a day, considering how charming he was.

“Good morning Miss Lioa. I apologize for not appearing at supper last night- I do hope the food you had prepared did not go to waste,” the falucite said after straightening from his bow.

I had to wonder if he had that speech planned the entire time. It made for a nice excuse, but he needed to at least figure out that he didn’t have to have one to go see her. Even if I were somehow ‘off’ in my forming belief that Cegil like-liked her, he still clearly wanted her companionship in some way. There was no reason to distance himself from her.

“Oh no- it’s still fresh and I can serve it tonight if you would like,” she responded as she stood up from her chair and headed over to us.

“That would be wonderful. I will try to arrive on time tonight so that I may partake of your exquisite meals,” the giant man said with a soft look in his eyes. Sometimes he had to attempt to hide his emotions, which was an improvement from him having to force them to come back when he confronted his past.

I couldn’t claim that I knew what I was seeing, but I knew Cegil didn’t make that kind look to anyone other than me. Either he was viewing Lioa as yet another daughter (highly unlikely) or… he’s very fond of her.

“It will be okay if you’re late- if dinner is already over, do not hesitate to come to me and ask for your meal. It’s my job to make sure everyone is fed before bedtime,” she insisted with a similar look. Before I knew it, they were standing rather close to one another and I was picking up a silent cue to excuse myself. Again, I couldn’t really tell if anything was happening… but I did want it to.

I was about to back away towards the door, but Cegil seemed to sense me and gently gripped my shoulder. He then pulled me in front of him like a shield against the chef. Huh. I once did this before when using him as a shield against Satel. Did this mean he was afraid of Lioa for some reason? Why?

“I do not think it is right to burden you when you should be resting, but I thank you for the sentiment,” Cegil declined politely as he let me go and began backing away.

Lioa actually surprised me when she stepped around me and tried to follow after him. “Nonsense- all I do is cook and beat some sense into this girl. I can stand a late night serving- and perhaps some extra conversation.”

“Hey…” I mumbled in discontent when I was mentioned. It wasn’t like I was clueless all of the time… wait- that didn’t come out right. I decided to let it go, since it sounded to me that Lioa was sort of asking him on a date. …Well, more like asking to spend time with him, but I didn’t see much of a difference.

The lavender haired man paused for a moment before he nodded and gave a tiny smile. “That would be… nice.”

Oh, come on Cegil! Why are you hesitating? I couldn’t help but wonder. It wasn’t as if he had to mate with her- then again, what did I know? I never anticipated being mated to Satel after I began dating him willingly. But when I thought about it, he should have his instincts to tell him if he could be with her.

“I am sorry, but I must be going. I will try to attend dinner on time, and if not, I should hope to see you later,” Cegil said to excuse himself. That was a little better, but he could easily bow out of the late night meeting by showing up on time. I wonder what action he would take later on? And Lioa said that I was a mess!

The short woman soon closed the door with a wistful smile after the falucite had left. But soon she noticed me and put on her ‘business face’.

“Wipe that grin off your face, girl. We have much to talk about,” she intoned seriously as she walked back to her rocking chair. I hadn’t realized that I was smiling, but it was soon gone from my face as I remembered what she wanted to talk about.

I wasn’t sure if she brought it up so fast to ensure I wouldn’t say anything about the exchange, or if she felt that our discussion was more important, but either way I was slightly put out that I couldn’t attempt to tease her. But actually, now that I thought about it, I wasn’t as sure about her as I was with Cegil. What if she didn’t like him in the same way he did? Lioa was nice to everyone- though she did do more for him than anyone else. I suppose I could ask if I don’t bolt from the room in the next few minutes…

She resumed her needlework as I slowly shuffled over to her bed and sat down at the edge.

“Tia, I heard about last night. If you’re still not feeling well, we can postpone our talk for another day,” she told me as she took a moment to glance at me.

“No, I want to get this over with,” I muttered in determination. “I need to return the favor, as you’ve said- Satel had to put up with me last night and I need to thank him in some way.”

I suppose we were both tired and everything, but Satel went out of his way to rub my back before we went to sleep. I felt bad that I couldn’t do anything to thank him for that since I didn’t know how to do massages.

“Okay, I’ll try not to get too graphic, but please don’t run if it gets too uncomfortable. You can’t learn anything if you don’t try to listen,” she warned.

“I won’t,” I promised as I stared down at my feet. I’ve faced greater and lesser demons, dragons, and uncivilized humans- what I was about to learn was extremely harmless compared to facing a past that I wanted nothing to do with. It was embarrassing, but surely I could survive it.

“Very well. I suppose I don’t need to start from the beginning- most of what you need to know you can copy from Lord Satel, but I should explain the reason behind it,” she began while focusing on that tunic.

I just sat there and listened to her with my fingers clenching the sheets below me. I had to keep reminding myself that I needed to learn this.

“Well first, after you get him alone…” Lioa began, a giant grin starting to form on her face…

Little did I know that she had more planned than just a ‘talk’- I should’ve been wary of that scrap of clothing the moment she had hidden it. ‘Satel wasn’t going to know what hit him’, indeed!

To the Next Chapter

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