“You publicly chastised me in front of that little shit,” he hissed. “I will never do anything that gives him the slightest satisfaction. I tried to speak with him and as treated with hostility and scorn. I tried to make amends with his mate and was treated with fear and loathing.” He glared at her. “I see no reason I should not return what I was given.”
Tindomiel’s ear drooped and she turned to the door. “Very well. Let me know when I am expected to be useful.”
“Stop,” he barked. She gripped the doorframe, visibly shaking. “Come here, Tindo.”
“I think you need some time to calm down, Foro,” she whispered as she made to step outside.
He stood, glowering down at her. “I said come here. We are not done,” he commanded. Tindomiel turned back to him, her eyes rimmed in red. She moved to the table and waited at the end of it. Forosuul pointed to the bench on his right. “Sit, please.” She settled down and stared at the tabletop. “Can you please explain to me, why in the name of all the gods those two are more important than our House?”
“Then explain why you keep taking their side against us,” he growled.
She looked up at him, hurt. “Against us? Is that truly what you think?”
“Eli is one of us. Niquisse is one of us. Sutrakarre is one of us. And obviously I am. They are not. And you keep arguing on their behalf!” He placed his hands on the table, leaning down on her.
She met his gaze, refusing to give up on her side. “I am arguing on behalf of two people who, though they were mistaken, thought they were protecting one of ours. One of whom matters a great deal to one of ours.”
“They had no business being involved. If they had stayed out of it, a little later Sutrakarre would have gone by and told them she was all right, and none of this would have happened. The House is under attack, Tindomiel, at times like this there is a line in the sand. Us and them. Us is members of the House, Them…is everyone else” He sank down into his chair as he drew a talon across the table, scratching the surface.
“Us could be more. The number could be greater,” she sighed.
“It could, and I hope it will be, but I am not letting anyone in the door who has shown such rank hostility to most of our House. Niquisse he tolerates only because of the tailor.”
Tindomiel looked at him, weariness and stress visible in every inch of her face. “Do you know who made sure I made it to the tavern to get everyone food? When I could barely walk because I hadn’t eaten and had used every piece of me to heal our niece? Do you know who bought me food and made me stay until I had eaten?”
“One of us would have done so if you had told anyone you needed help,” he sneered.
“I didn’t realize I was that far gone until I was trying to go to the tavern.”
“Then you should have come to us. Not some outsider who hates most of us. Someone who hates us is normally considered an enemy, you know,” he growled. Turning his face from her, he tried very hard not to bark at his own wife.
“He doesn’t hate us. That is where you misread him. He doesn’t care what most anyone thinks of him. Until he learns to trust them. But forgive me. Next time I will go get Eliân instead,” she responded bitterly. She sighed and closed her eyes. Very quietly, she offered an apology. “I am sorry that it seemed I was not supporting our family. I thought I was doing something good. I thought I was taking people who already had a connection to us and making it stronger.”
Forosuul sighed. “I tried to make amends,” he whispered.
“I know. And there was something I didn’t know, before you did that.”
She took a moment to attempt to explain what had happened to them. That a demon hunter tried to turn Mehe. Mehe was injured and Anas was struggling to take care of him. The demon hunter started infusing things that Mehe ate or drank when Anas wasn’t there with fel tainted energy. He was forcing an addiction on him. Mehe was very close to being lost to it when Anas discovered what was happening. And that the demon hunter attacked them both. “But it only reinforced everything he had every been told about demon hunters. That they are the big evil from our childhood nightmares. Anas was terrified of you because his one and only experience with one, was an attempt on the life of the man he loves and himself.”
Forosuul blinked and put his head in his hands. “Gods, Tindo….They’re both the same. A Ren’dorei did something to Mehe, so he hates all Ren’dorei, a demon hunter did something to them, so now they are afraid of them all. I have had bad encounters with a lot of different kind if people. I am not afraid of all of them. Nor do I hate them.”
“They are not you.”
“He doesn’t get a pass for being unable to look past his prejudices.”
Tindomiel stood again and started to move for the door. Very quietly, she told him, “He felt guilt you know.”
The demon hunter furrowed his brow. “Did he bother to say anything to me about it? Where are you going?”
“He hasn’t seen you again. I need air, Foro…”
“You just want to get away from me,” came his sullen response.
“Actual air. You can come if you want. But I feel like I cannot breathe right now. Tindomiel waited a moment, trembling at the end of the table. Forosuul reached out to her and she moved to his side. “Come sit on the steps with me?” He nodded and walked her out the door. Gripping the rail tightly, she lowered herself onto one of the stone steps. “I hate this.”
“All of this. That we are arguing over something so foolish, because right now our family is once again being targeted.” He nodded and settled down next to her. “You have become the Commander again.”
He responded quietly, “I have to be.”
“And who looks after the morale?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “The Illidari didn’t have morale, they had an obsession.”
“We are not the Illidari, Foro,” she chided him gently.
“I know that. But I have to keep everyone safe.”
“Of the members of this House, all but three are very capable, strong fighters,” she reassured him. “But they have connections, Foro. Pieces that do not fit into a neat little box. And to those pieces, their hearts are attached. Some in minor ways. Others far more.
To protect the House, those pieces must be accounted. We didn’t once before.”
“You cannot be suggesting that Mehe is anything like Celebsilmare.”
“I am suggesting that while the connection is not the same, it exists.”
“I will not expend my energy accounting for people that are actively hostile to us.”
“We have two options right now. Only two,” she sighed heavily. “You can find a way to work with this…Or you go tell Niquisse she may never see them again. You are the Patriarch. As Kajeda and Kalithil once told me, we don’t have to like your choice. We do have to follow. But I am asking you to think carefully on this. Before you go up there and break that girl’s heart.”
Gazing at her flatly, he said in a very simple tone,“I could send Eli to Mehe, tell her she can do whatever she wants. Then we could just deal with Anas.”
“And you think that would be better? You think hurting an innocent man is the better choice?” Tindomiel’s face fell in utter shock.
“He’d be better off. He’d figure that out eventually.”
“You have Eliân kill his fiancé and you think that won’t absolutely destroy him?”
“Not if he is strong like you think he is,” he countered.
“It doesn’t matter how strong you are. When someone rips out your heart…nothing matters anymore,” she whispered.
“I am well aware of that, I have been there,” he replied quietly. “Many times.”
“And you would willingly put someone else in that place. Intentionally put him there.”
“If my other alternatives were worse?”
“How are they worse, Foro? One way, you break Niquisse’s heart. Another, you destroy a man and probably break Niquisse’s heart.” She pleaded with him “Or, you let me do what I do best. And allow me to find a way for us to have a peaceful relationship with them.”
“You aren’t going to find that with a man like that. You met a stranger in the woods a few week ago. That’s all he is, some random person. Why is he even worth talking about?”
“Then you’ve made your choice. There’s nothing left for me to say.” She looked away from him, watching the fountain spray water into the air.
“A few minutes ago you said you hated fighting over something stupid. But you are still pleading his case,” he pushed.
“Forgive me. I will stop,” she answered dully.
“I just want to know why.”
“And I have told you. And you have pushed it away every time.” She refused to look at him.
“What you’ve said makes no sense. Nothing you’ve told me make him more important than our family.”
“I never said he was more important. I said that he is connected to us. I asked that you have Eliân apologize to Anas. Not Mehe, Anas.” She took a breath before her voice shifted, showing her utter frustration. “But you are so hung up on Mehe that you won’t hear what I am actually saying. I am not making him more important. I am asking that a member of our House be held to a standard of decency when it comes to people who have not done anything wrong.”
“You are suggesting Mehe has not done anything wrong?”
“Oh my gods!…” her hands came up, fingers curled inward. She looked at him, flabbergasted.
“We are going around in circles. The man has been kind to me. I am trying to help him through his trust issues, his suspicions. I am doing the same thing I always do. For the sake of someone in our family. Maybe a little for myself as well.” She dropped her head into her hands and sank against the railing.
Forosuul sighed and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “All right, how about this. Eli will speak to Anas,” he relented. “Mehe must not be present. I do not trust him not to shoot off his mouth, and if he does I don’t trust her not to slit his throat.”
“I have another condition.”
She turned to him and tipped her head to the side. “And that is?”
“Mehe will apologize to Sutrakarre. And Eli. To show good faith, I will have Eli speak to Anas first. I will trust you will hold Mehe to the other end of the bargain.”
“I will do what I can. But you must permit me time to speak with him.” Forosuul nodded. “And to speak with Anas.”
“As you wish.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. Sitting up slightly, she edged herself closer to him and laid her head against his shoulder.
Forosuul smiled faintly. “I know Eli behaved badly, Tindo. But she is not the only one. I won’t let her shoulder all the blame.”
“I never intended for her to,” she acknowledged. “To get through to Mehe, one must work through Anas. If one wishes to make amends with Mehe and help him see his part, it is Anas’s forgiveness that must be gained.”
“Which is why I said Eli will go first; and she will be instructed to feign sincerity to her fullest ability.” Tindomiel chuckled at him. “It’s the best we are going to get.”
“I am aware,” she conceded.
“You know how she reacted when I chastised her over her behavior?”
“I’m guessing like it was no big deal,” she shook her head.
“She sat there, smoking her cigar, looking at me like she could not imagine why anyone would care. The only emotion she betrayed in the whole thing was being angry when he called her incompetent.”
“His behavior was justified by hers, according to him; and Sutrakarre is out of his mind telling him he should trust people he doesn’t know. The two of them are nuts,” she laughed.
“Let’s not start this over…”
She waved her hands. “No, no, what I mean is…they are actually similar in a lot of ways.”
“Eli and Mehe?”
Tindomiel nodded. “He said she accused them of being involved in what happened to Kali.”
“And he accused her, right?”
She nodded again, chuckling. “So he called her incompetent. They apparently stood their throwing verbal jabs at each other.”
“He is lucky she showed restraint,” he offered. “Professional pride is one of the only things she feels.” Forosuul shook his head.
“I am well aware. And if Sutrakarre wasn’t there, we might well have found out how skilled he is,” she pointed out.
“If they had been really fighting when Sutrakarre arrived, it would have been worse, he would have defended Eli.”
“Honestly, if we got them to stop bickering, they might make a decent team.”
Forosuul chuckled. “Here’s how they are different. If I go tell her right now she is going to work with him, she’ll shrug and say, ‘you’re the boss, but he better watch his mouth.’ If you told him the same thing, he would refuse.”
“Likely. But if Anas asked him to, he would grumble and do it. He is not beholden to me,” she reminded him gently.
“I know you want to see some good in him, but from what I have seen, he is a nasty piece of work, Tindo. If he ever hurts you, I am going to do things to him that would turn your stomach.” His tone was even, but the threat was very, very real. She winced a little in response.
“If you were looking at Eliân from the outside, the way she is when she isn’t putting on a show for a mark, tell me you wouldn’t think the same. If you didn’t truly know her.” She waved it off. “Never mind. It’s not important. She is what she is. I should go check on Kali. I probably slept through my turn.” She made to stand, grabbing ahold of the railing for support.
He reached over and placed and hand on her shoulder, urging her back down. “Sutrakarre can handle her, stay with me.”
“Are you sure?” She did her best to keep her tone calm and level.
Forosuul nodded. “He’s a big boy, he can handle a lot,” he joked.
“I meant,” she swallowed. “Are you sure you want me to stay.”
He blinked at her “…what? Of course I am. Why would you ask that?”
“You aren’t very happy with me right now,”
“That is not true,” he reassured. “Tindo, we aren’t going to always agree. And sometimes, we are going to fight.”
She looked down at her feet. “I know that. But you have never spoken to me the way you did today.”
Forosuul sighed. “I had a very long and trying day. This is the first move on our House since Kajeda’s death.” Tindomiel nodded. He continued quietly, “I am feeling the burden of my responsibilities.”
Tindomiel gently placed a hand on his arm. “Stop trying to shoulder them alone. Let Silannah talk to Ælithil. Nephew or not, she is the your Captain. If he takes issue with a retainer, he should go to her first. Any retainer.”
“She is not yet herself.”
“What, she can’t sit and talk?” She made a face. “Surely she is capable of that.”
“Have you tried speaking to her lately? She is very angry. She would not have handled Æl well.”
“She’s probably going a bit stir crazy. Silannah trained. Every day. Without cease for my entire life.” She shook her head.
He nodded. “I believe it.”
“And now…she can’t. And I don’t know if she can work the forge either.”
“She can’t. Sutrakarre is going to be working with her every day now. He will get things moving.”
“I cannot force heal her…oh really?” She smiled faintly, a little surprised. Forosuul nodded. “In what capacity?”
“He will help her healing along. He has more experience in this sort of injury. He knows how to help it heal faster without compromising it.” He tried to sound reassuring. “And he will be talking to her.”
“Fair enough. I thought you said she is angry.”
He chuckled. “She is. But he can handle it.”
“So you have her talking to the Counselor daily? That’s going to piss her off…”
“Aye, it did. But I made it an order,” he smirked.
Tindomiel sighed, “You’re out of your mind.”
The man arched an eyebrow at her. “Why do you say that?”
“When you poke a bear repeatedly, it doesn’t get calmer with each hit,” she chided him.
“He won’t poke her,” came his laughing reply. “You know she actually likes him, says he is ‘respectful’.”
“Huh. I don’t know that I would agree,” she grunted. “Unless his tactics with her were different.”
“I have a feeling his tactics are different with each person.” Forosuul shrugged. “Trust me. This is a man that goes toe to toe with Eli in the bedroom, gets under your skin, and gets Silannah to like him. All in the same week.”
Tindomiel smiled faintly. “Is there any food prepared right now?”
“The kitchen at Kal’s inn is always open,” he offered her a hand to stand up.
Taking it, she pulled against it and straightened. “I don’t think I have eaten anything in days, other than the muffins Mehe forced on me.”
“Well, come on then, let’s get you fattened up.” Forosuul smiles at her, offering a little wink.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“I like you as you are. Always have,” he said softly. He guided her gently toward the inn.
“I have liked every way you have looked over the years.”
Forosuul smiled faintly. “You never saw me before I lost the eye.” Moving her through the door, he found a table in the corner and pulled out a chair.
Tindomiel picked up a loaf of bread and tore a chunk off. “No,” She put the piece into her mouth. “And that would have been nice. Now you have none, and yet you see more.”
“I do. I doubt you’d have cared for me then.”
“Why would I not?”
“I was not a very nice person in those days. That is when I worked with Eli, remember?”
Tindomiel chewed a little. “I remember,” she murmured.
“I was a lot like her then, or at least I tried be.”
She nodded, whispering, “When things were simpler.” She recalled the other night when he had said he wished things could be simpler like they were before.
“They were simple. They weren’t better.”
Tindomiel ate a little more. “Even with all the stresses and hardships. Me making friends with random people who are rude?”
“Even then,” he replied gently.
She kept her eyes downcast, not daring to look this face. “All right.”
“You don’t believe me” he asked. Tindomiel lowered her head. “You’re wrong. I would never want to go back to that life.” She picked up a bit of cheese from the plate and took a bite. “I don’t want to be that person.”
“Who do you want to be,” she asked quietly.
“What I am. Yours,” he assured her.
Tindomiel looked up at him with tear filled eyes. “You will be. For as long as you wish.”
“That means forever,” he smiled at her.
Tindomiel smiled in return, though faintly. “I’m sorry my love…I am just very tired.”
Forosuul tipped his head to one side. “It’s all right, you don’t need to be sorry.” She finished off the cheese and picked up an apple. “I am going to need to have this table refilled,” he joked. Tindomiel turned purple and put the apple back down. “Oh stop it, eat as much as you need to.”
“I am not accustomed to doing as much healing as I did the past few days. Not like this. Not this intense for such a long span.”
“I know, so eat,” he encouraged. Tindomiel picked the apple back up and took a bite.
They spoke for a while longer while she finished off the fruit. She eventually pushed the two empty plates aside and put her arms on the table. She put her head down and closed her eyes. “A bed would probably be more comfortable,” he said, pushing her hair back from her face.
She nodded slightly. “Mmhmm…” Forosuul scooped her up into his arms and carried her up the stairs. Laying her gently on the bed, he crawled in beside her and pulled the blanket over them both. She nuzzled into him and was asleep before her even closed his eyes.