22. Change of Heart

Chapter 22

Change of Heart

            The woman pulled me by the arm and guided me through halls, past doors, and down smaller passages that I wouldn’t have found on my own. I could have stopped her at any time if I’d wanted to, but I allowed her to lead me to Maker knew where. I suppose I was simply curious to see where I would end up- and it wasn’t as if I had anything better to do. Before she came, all I did was mope around and think about an issue that I couldn’t get a clear answer on.

Eventually we ended up in what appeared to be a long chain of kitchens. There seemed to be dozens of them, separated only by thin walls and a small empty doorway. The woman soon pulled me into one of them and finally let me go. I took a look around and discovered that the small space was identical to what one would find in any kitchen. The walls were off-white with painted flowers on them, while the floor and ceiling was plain grey stone.

There was a counter and sink on the wall that separated the room chain from the entrance hallway and next to that, in the corner, were several cabinets to store the dishes and cooking tools. On the other side was a simple square iron oven with a two circles on top for boiling water or heating other foods without having to bake them. Beside it was a table that seemed to be for chopping or holding foodstuffs while on the right side of the oven was a windowed door that led outside.

Above the table, there was a long rectangular window that gave me a better view of what was out there. At first glance, I thought there was a jungle out there, but it was in fact a giant vegetable garden. For a moment, I wondered if I happened to be on the other side of the mountain, but there was no way we could’ve crossed that lengthy base so quickly. It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of tall stone walls surrounding the area that I figured out that it was actually an open enclosure within.

“I suppose until we sort out where you belong and what you should be doing, you can help me out here. You can start by washing the dishes while I begin Lord Satel’s dinner,” the woman announced as she gestured to the pile of dirty pots, pans, and other tools within the deep metal sink.

Washing dishes, eh? I hadn’t done that in years, along with swabbing the deck. I surprised myself by actually heading towards the sink and began to pull out some of the larger pieces. I couldn’t believe that I was taking orders from a human… but then she wasn’t yelling at me or acting superior. I suppose I would’ve been more defiant if she’d pushed me in that direction.

“Come now, girl!” she chided me as I turned a handle to fill the sink with water. I glanced over at her as I wondered what her problem was now.

She soon grabbed my arms and began rolling back the sleeves to my elbows. “Don’t you know that you will get wet if you wash with your sleeves down? And where is your apron? No matter- I’ll get you one so you won’t have to worry about splashing on yourself.”

…I kind of did know that, but I didn’t care- it’s not as if it were my dress. Still, I stared down at the sink as she wandered off to retrieve a full apron to put on me. Some part of me wondered if I was getting some kind of amusement in waiting for her to snap and demand what was wrong with me. I wasn’t talking back to her, nor did I act as if I knew any better in anything.

I obediently ducked down my head when she lifted the top loop over me and then walked behind me to tie the material at my back. I didn’t delay any longer and dropped a few soap beads into the warm water so I could get started. I waited for her to go away and start her work, but she continued to hover behind me.

“You have such nice hair…” she commented almost fondly as one of her hands gathered up my long light brown strands at the base of my neck. “I’ll braid it back for you so it’s out of your way.”

I wanted to mutter a sarcastically relieved ‘thank you’ to her, since she clearly understood the importance of practicality over petty looks. I felt her gather up my hair into a ponytail first and then froze in place when her fingers touched my right ear. As always, I still had on my platinum ear hugger and I could tell she had seen it from the way she’d paused.

I waited for ‘it’ to come- that Elit-damned reaction every human had upon discovering that I was once a pirate. …But she didn’t say a word. Instead, she continued to gather all the strands and part them so she could braid it. I let myself be stunned at her lack of response- I knew she saw it, so why didn’t she…?

It was then that I remembered that landlubbers didn’t know how to identify pirates like seafarers could. I guess I was safe for now, unless I decided to open my mouth and tell her.

“There,” she announced as she tied off the end with something. “A lovely pink ribbon for a lovely young woman.”

“…Ah ain’t lovely an’ ah hate pink,” I mumbled in my natural dialect. I felt like testing the waters, so to speak, and see if she could figure it out. Or maybe I was hoping she would react to some kind of stereotype and anger me. I probably just wanted justification to blow up at her and storm off.

“Well… if you say so. I think you’re lovely- and pink is all I have, I’m afraid, so you will just have to live with it for now,” she countered before she finally moved to the other side of the medium sized kitchen.

I was irritated to know that there was something pink on my person, but I wasn’t furious enough to act out on it. I just continued to wash the dishes one utensil at a time. I glanced over to the woman once to find her chopping Fruits of Kotija for what looked to be a pie.

“By the way,” she began, causing me to flinch, “My name is Lioa. What’s yours?”

I didn’t answer her and reached out for a large pot to wash. What was the point in telling her my name? There was a chance that I might never see her again, either because of status or because I might piss her off within the hour.

“…I see. I haven’t earned your trust yet. Very well.”

I had to admit that she was a strange woman- others usually got angry if I didn’t answer them immediately. I wonder why she didn’t demand instant and undeserved respect like everyone else? Hmm…

After a while, the pile of dirty dishes began to shrink and I was nearing the final pieces to wash. The more I focused on my task, it seemed the less tense I felt. Maybe I needed this in a weird way- with something else to direct my attention, I didn’t have to think about my problems for a while.

Lioa continued to talk as we worked and she didn’t seem to care if I replied back or give any indication that I was listening. She did explain the servitude structure to me- the falucite pretty much kidnapped those who had nowhere to go or were rescued from some dangerous situation. Each branch of the family had their own sets of human or greater demon servants.

Sometimes certain servants were handpicked to specially serve one particular member. Lioa happened to be a personal chef to Satel, though she didn’t exactly explain to me how she came to be here as a servant- or why she chose to serve him in particular.

I felt like I was finally beginning to relax a little for the first time since coming here. Doing chores was the last thing I ever wanted to do, but it was enough to pull me out of my depression …Well, at least until the source of my confliction had decided to return and search for me.

I could practically feel his presence… actually, maybe I could, considering that this was the third time I’d supposedly done so. I tightly clenched the pot I was washing and slowed my other hand to just run the cloth around the sides of it. I could tell his eyes were on me as a tense air arose within the kitchen.

“Oh, Lord Satel…” Lioa said, confirming that he was indeed here. “Is something the matter?”

He didn’t reply to her either, but she seemed to catch on fast enough that I was the problem.

“Um… Is she not where she should be? I think she’s new and lost, so please don’t be hard on her. I told her to come here, so whatever punishment you have in mind, please give it to me,” the unusually kind woman offered. What was her angle, anyway? There had to be a reason why she was being so nice to me- maybe she wanted me to do more chores for her?

Satel still didn’t talk to her- instead I could hear his footsteps approach me until he was standing behind me. “What are you doing?”

He sounded a little curious, but I could detect that he was holding back on some other emotion.

“Washing dishes,” I replied coldly as I lifted the pot to dump out the soapy water and started to rinse it off.

“What happened to the dress you were wearing?” he continued, allowing a little more frustration to creep into his tone. Hmph- why was he getting upset now? He knew I wasn’t happy. Or was I right in assuming that choosing this dress over the walking suit was a major insult to him?

“I don’t know,” I growled dismissively. “Maybe the woman I stole this dress from ran off with it and sold it.”

He let out a sigh to quickly squash down whatever was threatening to bubble out before tiredly adding, “If you didn’t like the walking suit, you should’ve said something- you didn’t have to wear it.”

“Why bother? I hated all of the choices,” I snapped, even though I didn’t mean it. I barely had seen them, so I couldn’t really give an opinion on them. What really did bother me was the fact that he picked them out and I had no say in it. He was silent for a moment as I shook the water out of the pot and laid it on the counter to dry. I tried seeking something else to wash, but I was disappointed to find that I was done.

“Well… if you truly loathe them, then we can go out and find what you would like,” he offered as he moved closer to the point where his chest was almost touching my back. “So you don’t need to dress like this and work- I didn’t bring you here to be a servant.”

“Sex slave, servant- what’s the difference?” I muttered darkly, earning an instant reaction to him. He was close enough that I could hear the breath catch in his throat before one of his hands gripped my elbow and sharply turned my body to face him. It was then that I was able to see the hurt look on his face and knew that I went too far. Good, now he could suffer like I was. I wasn’t one bit sorry for what I had said- he had struck a much larger blow to me by making me his mate against my will.

“You are not my slave,” he replied harshly, his voice almost in a whisper. “You are my mate and should be pampered like a princess while within these walls.”

I couldn’t take it anymore- in a flash, my fist flew out from the sink and collided with his jaw. I felt tears gathering in the corners of my eyes but none escaped even after I felt the sharp pain of my knuckles making contact with bone and skin. Somehow, I managed to hit him hard enough to drive him back a step.

“It’s always ‘bout ye an’ what ye want!” I yelled, my tone sounding both hurt and angry. “At least ah chose ta come ‘ere- it’s the first choice ah’ve made since ye brought me ‘ere! All ye’ve done was tell me what ta do an’ how ah should live! Ah ain’t no better than a slave, an’ isn’t that what ye want? If not, then go away an’ leave me alone! Ah’d rather work ‘ere than be wit’ ye right now!”

I was breathing heavily after my outburst while he recovered from my punch. We just stared at each other a long time- both our eyes showed that we were stunned. It slowly dawned on me that I had struck Satel and I wasn’t sure how he would react to that. He wasn’t the type to just take anything without retaliation, but what exactly would he do to me?

It felt like hours had passed before a frown came to his lips and his brows furrowed in anger. I clenched my hands and mirrored his features as I waited for him to lash out at me.

Fine,” he growled between gritted teeth as he turned away. He then walked back towards Lioa and tipped his hat to her. “If my sirsa wants to work, then give her as much as she wants. I’m leaving- give my dinner to Maetira.”

Lioa let out a sigh before confirming that she understood his order. Satel then vanished without so much as a second glance towards me. I fumed a little from his dismissal and turned back to reach for another dish to wash… only to find yet again that there were no more in the sink. I had forgotten that the pot was the last item.

I wrapped my fingers around the edge of the sink tightly and cursed Satel to the five hells. I could barely control myself and I wasn’t sure if I was angry or sad- I was shaking, my eyes were burning, and my throat felt a little sore. I tried hard to at least quiet my breathing, but my lungs demanded more air than usual and I ended up hissing through the nostrils.

Ordinarily, punching someone usually made me feel better, unless Cegil caught me in the act, but it didn’t work this time. I didn’t want to hurt Satel and even in the heat of passion I regretted it. My heart ached and I thought I was going to explode.

“Oh dear…” I could hear Lioa mutter frantically behind me.

I reacted quickly and violently when I felt her hand touch my arm. I slapped her arm away as I sharply faced her and gave her the most venomous stare I could muster. “Don’t touch me!”

The last thing I needed was some brown nosing human hoping to get on my good side just so they could use or backstab me later. The stout woman let out a very short whimper as she cradled her hand. I thought she would take the message and back away, but instead a stern look came to her face and she placed her hands on her hips.

“Now stop that!” she ordered, her eyes gleaming in determination. “It’s no wonder you explode as you do! You’re trying too hard to bottle your emotions and you desperately need an outlet. Now come here!”

Her yelling succeeded in stunning me long enough for her to grab me and guide my face to her shoulder. I felt one of her hands at the back of my head before her fingers gently stoked my hair. I felt my breath hitch once before she soothingly added, “I can tell you’re on the verge of crying. Just let it all out- I won’t tell a soul.”

I didn’t want to- not in front of her of all people, but I couldn’t hold back any longer. I let out a loud wail against her shoulder as the tears finally escaped my eyes. She was actually shorter than me by a foot and I was slightly bending over her form as I buried my face against her shoulder. My arms hung limply against her sides and gently swayed in tune to her soothing rocking motions.

I just… couldn’t stop crying once I started. All I could do was keep going until there was nothing left in me.

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

I still didn’t completely understand why I was so upset. Once my sobbing reduced down to simple whimpering, Lioa guided me over to a small square table in the corner so I could sit down in one of the chairs. The table was nothing special- it was made of unfinished wood and seemed to be used for peeling vegetables rather than having a tea break on.

I just sat there with my head resting in my hands as the cook went back to check on her now baked pie. She soon cut out a slice and placed it on a small plate before she sprinkled what appeared to be sugar on it. When she was done, she brought the slice over and set it down in front of me before she settled down in the other seat available.

“Here. This should warm your soul and help you feel better. I know Lord Satel said to give it to his sister, but I’m sure neither one would mind you having some of it,” she told me with a reassuring smile.

I stared down at the fruit pie for a long while before I finally picked up a fork and tasted it. Fruit of Kotija was a fruit that hailed from the continent of Kotija (obviously) and they grew on trees that could withstand the cold climate there. Their skins came in three different colors, but the meat inside was always juicy and white. They were naturally sweet, but there were some tart versions that were perfect for pies.

The slice I was eating wasn’t as sweet as I was used to, but then I saw her sprinkle the sugar on just moments ago- that meant the pie wasn’t meant to be for dessert. As I thought about it, she did mention it was supposed to be Satel’s dinner, so I guess it made sense.

“So you are the legendary Tia that Lord Satel always mentions. Ever since he had met you, he would sit where you are and go on and on about your deeds with his brother,” Lioa remarked after I had a few more bites.

Satel talked about me to her? Why? I didn’t take him for a gossiper, let alone someone who would be willing to spend free time with humans… Oh what was I talking about? He chose me for a mate- he must have at least some fondness for my kind, despite his outward act.

“…He did?” I eventually inquired, after being unable to fathom it. “Why would he?”

“Why would he talk to me? Or why would he mention you?” she asked to confirm. I kind of wanted to know both questions, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it- thankfully, she decided to answer both anyway. “I’m not sure why he prefers to come to me instead of his family, but he likes to sit in once in a while to watch me bake things. And he’s been quite smitten ever since he had laid eyes on you.”

I was surprised once again when Lioa described the conversations he’d had with her- he didn’t hold back anything and even told her about what little he knew of my past. I also discovered that he had been watching me from afar for quite some time and I didn’t even know it. I was about to think he had been stalking me, but she assured me that Satel only visited briefly between his missions. It wasn’t like he was watching me sleep or anything creepy like that. …But was that one time I bathed in a pond an accident or on purpose? Hard to say…

“He also mentioned how you were once a pirate and have three tattoos- I didn’t believe him at first, but after seeing you act in a rough manner, I can see the influence they had on you,” she finished, ending with a tone that was a mix of criticism and wonderment. I couldn’t tell if she disapproved of me or of the pirates. Perhaps both?

“Wait- you know I’m a pirate? Are you really okay with that? Everyone else treats me like the plague,” I muttered as I kept my eyes to my plate. I didn’t want to see her expression or figure out what she was thinking. For all I knew, she could be feigning kindness just because I was her master’s mate.

Lioa was quiet for a minute- I risked glancing at her quickly, only to find that she had a far-off look to her eyes. I could tell she was having a bad memory, so I didn’t pry and went back to eating. I knew the drill when it came to painful pasts- and I wasn’t interested in getting to know hers.

“…I’ve had my share of grief and tragedy at the hands of pirates, but I don’t recall seeing a little girl there. I make it a point not to blame everyone for the actions of a small few,” she replied in an almost guarded voice. “I know holding on to that hatred and pain only brings misery- and it’s not as if it would bring back what I had lost.”

…I never really thought of it that way, though I did have reason to blame all humanity for the cruelties I’ve seen. It was like humans deliberately attacked me for no reason, so I couldn’t forgive a single one. …But Lioa was a little different than what I was used to. She was the first to know who I was. yet didn’t seem to hate me for it.

“That doesn’t really explain why you’re being nice to me- I haven’t done anything for you other than ignore and hurt you,” I pointed out, hesitating to mention my suspicions about her.

She doesn’t have to like me or be kind to me- she could easily be using me in some way and I wanted to know her motive. There had to be something in it for her somewhere behind that façade. I would know, because I’d came across people before who’d acted compassionate and then threw me in harms way a moment later. That seafaring lady back in the Wastelands was another prime example of my current wariness.

“I suppose it’s for the same reason I had grown fond of Lord Satel- I simply want children, and I’ve always wanted a daughter. You look like you could use a mother right now with the way you’re so confused and in pain. I don’t know what happened to your birth mother, but it’s obvious she hadn’t taught you anything- you clearly act like the men you were raised by, and that’s not enough,” Lioa answered earnestly, revealing more than I was expecting.

I paused at the mention of ‘mother’. I’d never had a mother… well- technically I had to have had one in order to be born. But for as long as I’d lived, I didn’t recall ever seeing a woman’s face in my early years. I guess my mother must’ve died giving birth to me or was killed and handed me off to someone she trusted. I couldn’t think of how I ended up on a pirate ship otherwise.

“I still don’t understand how you benefit from this- every human I had ever met wanted something or had ulterior motives,” I told her, wanting to figure her out. I had thought that letting her know I was on to her would get her to confess, but she only gave me a confused look.

“It sounds to me that you have been around the wrong kind of people. Not all humans are shady criminals like the pirates you’ve been around- nor is everyone as greedy as those you have met in your travels. I have nothing to gain by helping you, other than the chance to be a surrogate mother for what seems to be a sweet little girl hidden under those heavy layers of pain and mistrust.”

She was sounding an awful lot like Cegil with the way she acted like she cared about me. But Cegil was falucite and Lioa was human- I couldn’t believe for a second that a human could truly love someone unconditionally. I had never seen such a case, but to be fair I have heard of them. Could I really trust her? Or would that just leave myself vulnerable again if I decide to confide in her?

“I know what you’re going through- once you’ve been dealt a cruel hand, it’s hard to see the world in a bright light. But no one person is the same- and how you meet these people is entirely up to how you choose to approach them. You could continue on wallowing in misery, reflecting on your past and crossing the lines of pity and self-loathing- or you could learn to let go of all that and simply live your life. Whatever makes you happy,” Lioa finished with a knowing look.

It was clear that she was speaking from experience. She must’ve suffered and learned to cope- something I had never figured out. I couldn’t understand how to let go of my sadness and forget the pain. Some part of me didn’t want to forget people like the Wise Man, but at the same time, I didn’t want to remember most of the crew or the people of Port Sibest.

“Tell me how, then,” I demanded suddenly. If she could overcome everything, then there must’ve been a secret that I wasn’t aware of. “How can I forget those who betrayed me and not fall into another trap set by my own kind? How can I forget those who I’ve lost?”

I was on the verge of crying again, but I really had no tears left to shed. Lioa gave me a reassuring smile before she reached out and held my hand.

“You can never forget lost loved ones- and you shouldn’t. If you had happy memories with them, then treasure them forever. It’s the only way to keep their memory alive,” she advised me before adding. “As for the bad things that have happened to you- well, it is hard to forget, but you shouldn’t let them shape the way you view the world. I’m not saying you should trust everyone, but if you stop treating everyone like your enemy, then you may find some real friends out there.”

Cegil said something similar to that- he told me that not everyone was the same and that every race had bad and good people in them. It was one of the few things from him that I’d always doubted, but after hearing Lioa explain it, it was making a little more sense. I was so afraid of being betrayed or hurt again that I pushed everyone away, only seeing the worst in them.

But was even feigning civility enough to make others act nicer? I took another glance at Lioa- it sure worked for her, I guess. For one, she made it hard for me to be mad at her, and she also managed to get me to sit down with her to talk. Would things have been different if I gave everyone I had met a chance? I mean, I had to put up with an entire town filled with cruel and misguided people. It was hard for me to believe that it was just a coincidence that so many mean-spirited people gathered in one place- especially considering that my crime was only being a pirate in name.

At least… that justified my reason to be the way that I was. Lioa still had a point- I had sole control over how I viewed the world and I didn’t have to assume everyone was the enemy. I needed to stop focusing on myself and really take the time to look at my surroundings. …It sounded easy, but I knew it was going to take some time before I could even come close to the level of acceptance that Lioa was apparently at. I was going to have to reevaluate who I was and change my habitual behavior.

“I…think I understand what you mean,” I responded slowly after having worked it out in my mind. “But past sins aside, how do I go about forgiving those who had just wronged me now? I didn’t want to come here …and becoming Satel’s mate was his choice- not mine. I can’t forgive him for what he’s done… but I don’t want to hate him either. I just… ugh, never mind.”

I pulled my hand out of her grip and glared at the remnants of my pie. I didn’t even know how I was feeling, so there was no way I could vocalize them. Plus, what was I expecting from telling her anything? I doubted she could do anything to help.

“No- you’re doing fine,” Lioa said to me reassuringly as she reached out for my hand again. “Talk it out and maybe I can help you make sense of what you feel. There’s no point in bottling it all in- you’ll just end up in that uncontrollable emotional state again.”

“But I don’t know what to say!” I growled in frustration.

“You don’t need to ‘say’ anything- just list how you feel,” she advised me as she squeezed my hand. “I know this is different from what you’re used to, since men tend to teach others to be self-reliant and not discuss their feelings. Using physical force like you do is only a short-term salve to your emotional wounds. You need to understand yourself and those around you if you want to permanently feel better.”

“Discussing feelings is something for weak-willed sissies,” I muttered with a sneer, using a landlubber’s term so she would understand.

As this, Lioa let out a knowing smirk. “No- it’s for women and you are a woman.”

I…couldn’t argue with that logic. When the pirates taunted each other about talking about their feelings, there were saying it was for women, weren’t they? I had gotten so used to playing the role they’d originally placed me in, that sometimes I really did forget that I wasn’t a boy. I suppose that revelation also tied into the fact that I had no mother figure in my life.

“I…I feel…” I began awkwardly, struggling to ignore the embarrassment of even having to start a sentence that way. But- I wasn’t getting anywhere with my methods, so I had to try something else. “Angry… sad- and I feel like I have no choice in anything.”

That was a start, anyway. There was a multitude of other feelings, but they weren’t ones I could name. Most of what I felt for Satel were things I had never experienced before. I had to briefly explain the situation and how I came to the homestead, all while being as vague as possible about what happened last night. I mentioned my fears to her and why I felt that I should’ve been given the chance to wait a while.

“Hmm… That doesn’t sound like something Lord Satel would do. Have you asked why he had to marry you now? Perhaps he had a very good reason behind his decision and you just didn’t understand it.” I almost cringed when she referred to it as a ‘marriage’, but by human terms, that’s what it was. …Though I suppose some women, who might’ve been raised differently in the views of virginity, could’ve seen it as rape.

“It sounds to me like you’re just defending him,” I pointed out with a tired glare.

She was, after all, his personal servant, and she admitted to being fond of him in a motherly way. Of course she would ‘understand’ and know him better than I would, but I didn’t want to hear an excuse as to why I was here.

“No, I don’t agree that what he did was right. I just think there is more to it than that. I know it doesn’t seem long since you’ve met, but he really does love you and falucite tend to be very loving and supportive of their mates. There has to be a reason behind what he did- it might not be a good reason, but it was probably enough in his mind to warrant that behavior,” she explained to prove that she wasn’t taking sides.

All I remember was that he didn’t want me to get too old- I didn’t get the chance to tell him that I wouldn’t be asking for more than a year to think it over, but even so, I doubt he would’ve cared about my reasoning. Er- wait, that was my view, wasn’t it? I really didn’t know what Satel would’ve said if I’d explained what I wanted.

“The damage has been done,” she continued as I thought more on it. “All you can do at this point is talk to him and try to understand his side- and you also need to calmly let him know why you’re so upset. This is the only way to reconcile and strengthen a lifelong relationship.”

“…Just talk it out, huh?” I mused, suddenly feeling better. It was such a simple answer and I couldn’t believe that it never crossed my mind. I was too wrapped up in my own misery, and the only person I could think of, other than myself, was Cegil. I hadn’t considered Satel’s feelings, or even acknowledged that he had any.

“But…what if I don’t want to have a relationship with him? Why should I just roll over and take it instead of punish him for overstepping his bounds?” I inquired before I finally picked up a fork and ate another bite of the pie. Lioa let go of my other hand so I could hold my plate while eating.

“That’s your choice. You can continue to feel sorry for yourself and hate him- or you can give him a chance and see if you can live a happy life with him. Even if someone else chose your path for you, you still have the freedom to choose how to walk, or even deviate, from it.”

Suddenly, I felt a happy warmth before my eyes turned back to really look at her. Her hair was too dark a brown and her eyes were the wrong color. Her chin was too soft and void of a familiar goatee and mustache. Lioa wasn’t the Wise Man- and she wasn’t him reincarnated, yet she possessed a similar wisdom as he’d had. Well, without the pirate analogies and sarcasm, anyway.

With that thought, I felt that I could trust her, and I desperately prayed to Elit that she wasn’t going to be like the other humans that had hurt me. I didn’t want to seek solace from a human, but I needed the advice she was offering- and some part of me couldn’t help but be reminded of the times I would go to the Wise Man for stories and help. Despite the crap I went through in the past, my visits with the Wise Man were my fondest memories- and that in turn flavored my opinion of her in a more positive way.

“So I do have a choice after all…” I said, as my nerves calmed and my mind quieted. I still didn’t know what my decision was, but I was a lot less confused now that I had a plan. “Then I need to talk to Satel.”

However, after I said that, I realized that it wasn’t going to be easy. I made him mad earlier and I wasn’t sure where he went or if he was still in the homestead. Actually, would he want to talk with me after what I had done? The problem was that if I couldn’t think of a good justification for punching him, then I must’ve made a huge mistake. Sure, I was upset, but if I still couldn’t hate him even after all of this, then my actions were uncalled for.

“Where would I find him about now?” I asked, wondering if I should go looking for him so soon. I probably should give him time to himself to cool off… but what if he holds a grudge this time? Damn- this was still a big mess.

“I’m not sure. Dinner should be in an hour, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be there. Maybe you should try asking Lady Maetira or Lord Garroe,” she suggested. It would’ve been a good idea if I knew where they were.

Still, I didn’t have the heart to snap at her- she didn’t know that I knew next to nothing about the homestead and she was just trying to help.

“I guess I’ll try that later. But for now, I’ll walk around. I need to plan what I want to say to him first,” I replied as I stood up. I didn’t finish the pie, but I wasn’t feeling hungry enough. I needed to sort things out with Satel and figure out my life before I felt up to taking care of myself.

“Okay, just be careful. If I confused you for a servant, just imagine how others in my station might react,” Lioa warned me, bringing on a good point.

I was still in a maid’s outfit and those who didn’t have a falucite’s sense of smell were going to be easily confused. Lioa turned out to be a nice person, but there was no guarantee that the next human servant would be like her- and I doubt they would believe me if I told them I was mated to one of their masters.

…I suppose I could retrace my steps and try to get back that walking suit- if not to clear up confusion, then as a way to rectify my behavior towards Satel. When I thought about it, I pretty much just threw away a gift from him and I couldn’t forget that grudge I held for a similar stunt he had pulled back in Cec’re. He had a right to be frustrated and upset with me.

I thanked Lioa for everything and assured her that I didn’t need any guide to help me find my way back. I wanted some time alone to process what I had learned from her, and I figured that if I did get lost, then I could always pretend to be a new girl and ask for directions from any servant I might come across. I glanced back at the kitchen she was in once I was out in the connecting hallway and decided that I should visit her again.

As much as I didn’t think it would happen, I ended up enjoying her company and found solace in her motherly attitude. She was definitely not bad for a human and I felt that I could learn a lot from her. I really didn’t know much about how women acted, other than my generalized (and demonized) observations of them, so having a female mentor might not be a bad thing.

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

I thought I could retrace my steps… but I had forgotten that Lioa dragged me around in a frenzy, so now I didn’t know how many corners I’d turned or which ones to take. I couldn’t really tell time, but I figured that the dinner hour had come when a bell rang in the distance and the halls became void of all personnel. I wasn’t sure where the dining hall even was- and I figured that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go alone.

I hadn’t heard any news about the Daedeleth or if they were still here. From what little I had gathered from Maetira earlier, I was under the assumption that they would only be around for a short while. They probably wanted to do a quick survey, demand as much information as possible, and then go home to process what they’d learned. I doubted they were going to impose on the Xanaturees for a whole night.

Still, I didn’t want to take any chances in unwittingly running across one. My meeting them could cause problems for both Cegil and Satel- either through me attacking one of them through anger or by having them figure out that I used to travel with Cegil all the time.

…Having to mention the words ‘used to’ made me miss my guardian all the more. Would the overwhelming sadness fade away with time as I grew more used to being by Satel’s side? I wanted to say ‘I hope so’, but it was still hard for me to accept the idea of having to leave Cegil. I couldn’t ask him to stay in the clan for my sake, so I was just going to have to live with the idea of not seeing him everyday. As long as I could visit him every now and then, I think I’d be okay.

I wasn’t sure how long I ended up walking around, but I soon gave up on the idea of finding the servants quarters. I was completely lost, and there was a chance that the owner of that room was in there and probably wouldn’t appreciate finding out that someone had stolen her dress. …Come to think of it, was I wearing her spare or something?

Somehow, I managed to stumble across a familiar looking door and realized that I’d reached the library. It had a distinct pattern on the polished wood surface, but I had no proof that it was the only room to have such a design. I was only able to find out by actually opening one of the long ten-foot doors and met with the sight of the grand bookcases.

I immediately noticed that it was dark outside when my eyes darted to the nearest window, but I couldn’t determine just how late it was. All of the lamps were lit, casting a warm glow all around, and it was bright enough to read from- too bad I was still illiterate.

Didra was seated at the end of the long table, just like the first time I had met her, and she was reading from a thick, leather bound book. Just what was she studying up on? Medicine? Biology? If she was a doctor, then shouldn’t she already know everything about that?

It was both a relief and a dread to find her. Depending on her mood, I could get some information- or she’ll snap at me and possibly use me for some kind of medical experiment. Besides, I had nowhere else to go and I was getting tired. Might as well come in and at least rest in one of the chairs.

I hesitated a little before I slid my body through the small opening I made between the doors. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t open the doors more- it was just that I was a little too cautious of being in the same room as Didra without another person nearby. I nearly jumped when her bright green eyes lifted to stare directly at me.

“So there you are. We missed you at supper,” she murmured, not sounding annoyed or remotely upset. I was shocked to hear that I was expected to attend. Or was she just trying to be civil?

“…I didn’t know where to go,” I replied as I edged to the furthest seat away from her.

“That’s not surprising- I suppose even Satel would be so childish as to leave you on your own after a fight. This is why I am against falcie mating before maturity,” the pink haired shrew-lady muttered as she turned a page in her book. “Though, to be fair, he did not have much of a choice. Upon meeting and choosing you for a mate, he does not have the luxury of time. You would have been long dead by the time he reached adulthood.”

Actually, Cegil told me Satel had another seventy years before he was an adult, so I had a fair chance of living long enough. However, I would have been a wrinkly old woman by that time. But even knowing that still didn’t explain why I couldn’t date Satel for up to a year before being mated to him.

Instead, I focused on the fact that she knew that Satel and I’d had a fight. Was it that obvious? Or was she assuming that there were problems because we were young?

“You…already know we had a fight?”

“It was an easy guess- Satel only goes off to destroy villages when he cannot control his anger. Since you are the only new stimuli in his life, you are the likely cause,” she replied while marking her page with a ribbon.

I was stunned when she then explained to me where the young platinum blonde went shortly after I told him that I wanted nothing to do with him. Satel owned many dots of towns as part of his territory and he was free to do as he pleased to them. There was a few times in his life that he would go on a rampage and destroy homes when he was extremely upset- the fact that I must’ve riled him up to such extreme said a lot. The man was pissed.

I wanted to say he had it coming, but… I couldn’t run away without some of the blame myself. It’s not that I particularly cared about those villages, but I didn’t like the thought that I caused him to go crazy. It was his fault for bringing me here, but it was also mine for dragging my feet and giving him mixed signals. I should have pushed him away after that first kiss- not let him get away with more.

I really had to face facts- I didn’t want him to stop, so that meant that I did like him a lot. I could almost admit that I might’ve loved him, but that was no excuse for him to take me by force.

“Damn it,” I hissed quietly as I rested my head in my hands. What was I going to do? This was a giant mess and I wasn’t sure if we could possibly reconcile at this point. I was more willing to work with him now if I could get an explanation, but what if I caused an enormous rift between us with my actions today?

“Don’t worry. Garroe has already tutored and prepared him for the arguments that might arise in relationships. It may take time, but you will both develop and learn how to co-exist in a healthy union. Even with a dismal beginning, you could both easily form a strong bond for life,” she reassured me before she used her magicks to return the book from whence it came.

…Maybe that’s why she’s being so nice right now- she’s done with her studies for the day and I’m not interrupting her. She seemed to be at her snappiest if someone bothered her while reading. She was probably not as scary as others made her out to be- it was just that people like Satel and Cujol most likely didn’t understand the meaning of ‘time alone’.

I found some solace in her words. Things between Satel and I weren’t over because of a few blows exchanged, but we would both have to work at maintaining it. Now that I was in the commitment, there was no point in me lingering in fear and uncertainty. I had to give it a try and see if it was possible for me to love him for the rest of my life. I’d never know unless I gave him a chance.

“By the way, how are you injuries? Satel pestered me last night, claiming that you were on your deathbed or whatever worried drivel he came up with,” Didra inquired, appearing rather interested. Ah, she was interested in the injuries I had sustained yesterday. As a medical biologist, things like that should catch her attention, but then why couldn’t she have been bothered to see me?

“I’m fine. There was some kind of metal rod in my leg, but Satel got it out easily enough,” I responded politely, holding in a sarcastic ‘thank you’ towards her. All because the shrew-lady was docile at the moment didn’t mean she would spare me if I angered her.

“I see… I also heard you had some complications from the medicine I prescribed you. Do you feel better now? Now that you’re mated, you should not feel faint anymore.”

At this, I finally glanced up at her in confusion. “Medicine? I was told that it was from my body changing.”

Didra let out a disgusted sigh before she pinched the bridge of her nose. “I apologize- that falcie must’ve misunderstood me when I explained it to him. You humans die easily from infections, so I gave you the blood of the ba’sra beetle to boost your immunity. The blood is highly poisonous to ordinary humans, but as long as you have mated, your body will adjust and accept the medicine without harm.”

She was then more than happy to fully explain the changes I was going under now that I was mated. After the …‘act of intimacy’ I’d had with Satel, I received falucite hormones from him and they were reshaping my bodily functions to slow my aging process and make it more falucite-like. All it meant was that my body was turning into something like a hybrid between human and falucite, but without the powers or need to follow the same diets as they did.

But what was the most comforting information to me was the fact that I didn’t have to worry about babies any time soon. Didra guessed that I was around eighty to one hundred-ten years old by equivalence. Like Satel, I was a falcie and my reproductive organs were going to shut down until I reached falucite adulthood. In fact, it also worked that way for males, too- Satel wasn’t fertile yet and all that he had been giving me was hormones.

Technically, that made our coupling something akin to a child marriage by human standards, but it was hard for me to see it that way since we appeared like human adults. I didn’t really understand all of the other changes, but I was happy over the last one. Surely by the time I’m able to have kids, I’ll be ready for them.

By the end of Didra’s brief explanation, there was one issue still bothering me. “What would’ve happened if I hadn’t mated after taking that medicine?”

“You would have fallen ill and expired within two days,” she answered before adding. “I would not have given the blood to Satel if I’d had any reason to suspect that the two of you would not have mated that night.”

“Did Satel know that?” I inquired, almost dreading the answer. It chilled me to think that if I had refused and won, I could’ve died. Surely he didn’t trap me with the medicine and made it to where I had to mate or die? …But no- he hadn’t said a word about the possible poisoning or threatened me with it. He just informed me that it was medicine and acted as if I would’ve been disgusted to learn of its origin. Well… I couldn’t deny that drinking insect blood was gross.

“I believe so, though there are many aspects of human biology that he is not aware of. However, while it is not in his nature to lie, I would imagine that he didn’t mention anything so as not to worry you.”

Was that really the reason? Why would he give it to me in the first place if it would risk my life? But as I thought about it, he was damned sure we were going to mate that night, and the beetle blood offered a quick remedy to any infections that were sure to have come from that wound. These days, human medicine could barely hold a candle to what the falucite and other races knew, so it was common for an infection to be considered a death sentence anyway.

So the question was did Satel save me? Or was he just using a method to trap me into a relationship? Given the history between us, the former made more sense since he often made sure I was out of harm’s way. …Then again, he’s tricked me lot, too, but not in this nature. I guess the only way I was going to find the answer was if I ask him myself.

“It is getting late. I should retire for the evening- as should you,” Didra announced as she stood up and placed her hands on her belly out of instinct.

“…Um, how do I get to my room?” I inquired in a quiet tone, already dreading the answer. I didn’t even know where Satel’s bedchambers were located, and it wasn’t as if I could enter them without powers.

That cruel pink-haired bitch only smirked at me. “Only Satel can take you to your chambers- too bad you’re currently at war with one another.”

She then disappeared, leaving me alone to scowl at the books. Didra wasn’t scary- she was just an asshole.

I settled myself against the chair I was sitting in and tried to get as comfortable was possible. There was nowhere else for me to go, so I was going to have to sleep where I was. I was still irritated with Satel, but I couldn’t blame him for everything. I brought some of this on myself, and I had to adapt and make things right.

To the Next Chapter

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