The Song of the Stars
The fire blazed in its pit, arms reaching out with warmth to brush the faces of those who sat around it, chatting softly, their voices barely rising above a murmur. Many of them were children anywhere from eight to fourteen, huddled in the laps of the few adults in attendance, giggling amongst themselves as they lounged about, waiting for their meal to be served.
One, a bit older and taller than the others, her deep blue hair pooling about her as she sat, legs drawn to her chest, spoke a bit more loudly than her companions. "May we please have a story?" her dark brown eyes lighted on a man with the smallest of children sitting in his lap, his hair as red and as wild as the flames themselves.
He considered her a moment, brushing calloused fingers through the hair of the little boy who was pulling on the straps of his uniform and chirping his agreement. "What sort of story would you like?" His deep voice was like soothing like a lullaby, rumbling from his chest outward, gentle as a breeze.
"All of them!" The girl demanded, her eyes sparkling with the promise of bedtime tales, her companions joining her in a chorus of happy demands that promised endless hours of diversion.
"All of them? I'm not sure we have time for such –"
He was cut off by a boy slicing potatoes, whose deep green eyes bore wisdom far beyond what his youthful frame would suggest. "Kratos, it's okay. It's a festival night and I haven't even got supper on the fire yet. We have time."
The man's dark eyes lighted on the golden haired youth and he smiled, nodding as he weaved his fingers through the hair of the boy on his lap once more. "Well, where do you want me to start?" he asked, though it seemed more to himself than to the others. "From where Yuan enters?"
A snort was heard over the crackling of the flames, and dark eyes connected with piercing green ones that shone like gemstones in the darkness. Grins were exchanged, but the green-eyed man said nothing, brushing his furiously blue hair behind one ear ad turning back to the fire to tend it, moving a log so that sparks flew into the air before harmlessly falling to the ground, eliciting gasps of awe from the children.
"I think you should start from the beginning," a soft voice interjected, turning the heads of everyone at the campfire. "From when we first met you, Kratos. Start from there."
The woman smiled at him, watched his expression morph into a gentle smile as they exchanged a long glance before he turned his eyes to the flame and began to spin their tale in his rumbling voice. She watched him for awhile, expression careful, before she turned to the little girl and boy curled up with their heads on her lap, thinking how cosmically unfair this was to Kratos.
She thought of how he should be a great grandfather by now, surrounded by his own kin, grey haired with wrinkled skin, his dark eyes still keen but otherwise faded. Martel worried for him, worried that this was going to take its toll on him eventually, because Humans weren't meant to live for so long and Kratos should be at the end of his natural life, but he was not and would not be until long after Derris-Kharlan had arrived once more and the world was reborn in its original form.
She knew he wanted to stay with them for as long as he could, but being away from his kind wasn't good for him. Even this short time had changed him from who he had once been into someone slightly more withdrawn, and though Yuan promised her again and again that there was nothing wrong with him, Martel worried regardless.
"Once upon a time," her attention was drawn to the voice and the man who was speaking, watching his eyes take on the look of one who was staring at a point a great distance away, "there was a giant tree that was the source of all Mana."
Like a mist, his words drifted about them, veiling the present and revealing the vague shapes of days long passed, calling memories so dear to dance before her eyes but just out of reach, never to be relived.
Everything else fell away and there was nothing but the world of the story, the world of their past.
Long fingers on one hand drummed against the table while the other grasped the porcelain handle of a coffee cup, brining the cup to a pair of chapped lips. The owner of those hands seemed more interested in observing the crowd of people jammed into the small pub than he did in drinking, however, for the lip of the mug lingered at his mouth for a moment before he finally took a drink. When he did, he seemed to savor it, eyes momentarily sliding closed, rolling the hot drink on his tongue before swallowing and leaning back to further study the mass of people.
In reality, he was the one who most stood out, tall and red haired, dressed in simple clothing, certainly, but in a way that suggested he held station, the cloth well made and new in appearance. And a sword hung at his side, something which civilians were not allowed carry, marking him as apart, as different, perhaps as better, depending upon whom you asked.
Yet no one paid him any attention, his presence as comfortable and familiar as a pair of worn traveling boots. He was a usual face here, as the regulars knew. It was not unusual for Lord Captain Aurion to come to this part of town for a quiet bowl of stew, though it was fairly clear that wasn't what he was doing at this particular moment.
Finally, the crowd moved, parting for a grubby urchin whose age was unclear, his face covered in soot, shoeless as he padded across the floor, face red from running. Sir Aurion discernibly straightened his already impossibly straight back and motioned the boy over, leaning low enough for the young man to whisper something in his ear.
"Sir, I found the people you were talkin about," the voice was so soft that even the passing barmaid, curious about the situation, could not hear the words the child uttered. "A few blocks over to the east, givin speeches. Things look to be getting pretty hairy."
Sir Aurion straightened once more, pulled his coin purse from his side and dropped two gold coins into the boy's open hands. "Thank you. You have done a good deed, young man." Seamlessly, gracefully, the lord stood and hailed one of the maids, making sure she knew to have his order on the table by the time he returned – With places set for two guests in some place secluded.
Then, with a slight bow and a soft remark of good morrow to the other patrons, he began to take long, even strides toward the door and then down the street, his steps filled with purpose. Hand reaching out to grasp the hilt of his sword in an old habit that he had developed in school, he made his way north and then east, finding himself in the East Market of Old Town, where a small, angry, crowd had indeed gathered.
For a moment, he hugged the outskirts of the mob, taking in the situation, gauging how likely it may be that the crowd be provoked to violence. Inside the ring of people, he could hear the desperate voice of a child crying out only to be silenced by angry shouts and accusations, followed by the indiscernible pleas of a woman, though her tone was unmistakably the desperate pitch of one who felt physically threatened.
With a sigh, he took one step closer to the mob, then another, before raising his voice far above its normal volume to bark an order as he would to men on a battlefield. "Men and women of Colwyn, stand down!"
Heads turned, his voice echoing down the abandoned street, bouncing off of abandoned carts and stalls, magnifying the effect many times more than it would have had bodies stood in his way. In front of him, many of the citizens halted before turning about to face him, their eyes widening as they parted for him like a curtain before a theater crowd. Others, still in motion, ceased moving as they saw him advance, their faces turning a shade of pale that allowed him to know his expression was having the right affect.
"What is the meaning of this?" His voice was not an order, but a velvet threat demanding information at the risk of detaining each and every one of the people here until answers were had. When silence ensued, he lowered his voice and spent a moment making eye contact with every person near enough that he could see them clearly. "Well?"
"S-sir," someone finally managed to stutter, drawing Sir Aurion's eyes toward the speaker, a young city man favoring one of the small mustaches that seemed to be gaining popularity amongst fortune seekers. "These two … Abominations were … Were asking for you by name."
"Oh?" his eyes finally lighted on the "Abominations", a frightened looking woman with long, green, hair, and a defiant looking blonde boy. "I am well aware of the rumors, I assure you, however, it was posted on all the bulletin boards that I was launching an official investigation and did not wish for civilian interference in my business."
Sir Aurion could see them exchange terrified expressions, though protest appeared to be on a few of their lips. He did not intend to stand around long enough to hear tirades from vigilantes about civic duty, and was far too focused on his current task to care about writing them up for obstruction of justice. "Go back to your business. That is an order."
Without further ado, he switched his attention fully to the two Half Elves, leveling a curious stare at them before speaking. "Come with me. I am taking you into my custody."
He didn't wait to see if they were following him, simply assumed they would. After all, they had gone through all this trouble to look for him, and having found him, he had a hard time believing they would simply remain in marketplace with hostile and disgruntled cityfolk. So he was naturally unsurprised to detect Elvin-light footsteps following him across the cobblestones, though he did not look back to check for sure until he arrived at the door to the pub, looking down at them before silently beckoning them to follow him inside.
The patrons knew not to bother Sir Aurion on business, not when rumors had been circulating for weeks that Half Elves had been searching for him. For what reasons, not even Sir Aurion to himself was privy for no number of threats and no amount of extortion seemed to be able to force those lips to bear their motive. And that is why he had taken on this case himself, despite his workload, despite the imminent threat of another Sylvaranit threat – Because his presence may be the only thing that forced them to speak, and their frantic nature was enough of a menace for him to take an interest.
Met by the barmaid he'd spoken to earlier, Sir Aurion and his "guests" were lead to the back, to a reclusive table hidden behind a massive potted plant, far away from the remaining patrons. Without looking at his two charges, Kratos motioned for them to sit down before sitting down himself, though he did not touch the food.
After all, it wasn't for him.
"You are free to eat your fill," he told them, leaning back and observing the expressions on their faces.
The boy seemed shocked, his green eyes wide, half with terror, though he bit his lip and clenched his fists in determination. He looked defiant, as if daring Sir Aurion to say something offensive, his bearing very naïve but certain very brave.
The woman looked timid, unsure, but less shocked than her companion, as if she were expecting this outcome, though she too had an air of defiance about her, though Sir Aurion almost felt as if she were daring him to prove her wrong rather than right.
An odd contrast.
"I promise, it is not poisoned. Please," he motioned to the food again. "Eat."
It was the lady who first decided he was worth trusting, thought with great hesitance, reaching out to take a roll into her hand. She offered him a watery smile, and then swallowed, looking back to her hands. The boy remained stiff and defiant looking, refusing to even glance at the food, though Sir Aurion saw him fidget slightly by shifting in his chair.
Sighing, he trailed his fingers through his hair, momentarily pushing his bangs back from his eyes before allowing them to fall again. "I am not going to harm you. I took you away from that mob because you have been spending the last week or so spreading word that you were looking for me and I simply wish to inquire after the reason."
They exchanged a glance before the boy relaxed, though only slightly, and turned back to him with a grim expression on his face. "The information we have is sensitive," he explained, "and my sister and I are worried of the wrong people overhearing us."
"The only people who visit this pub are tradesman and soldiers," Sir Aurion explained, filing away the information that they were siblings for further use. "I promise you, your information is not at risk of being overheard and carried away. If it makes you more comfortable, you may whisper it to me."
Another frantic glance was cast at his sister before the boy stood up and nodded. The Lord Captain could see how strained his fists were, could feel him trembling as he neared and leaned his head over to whisper in Sir Aurion's ear.
"We heard that Sylvarant plans to test out their new weapons and deal a tactical strike to the Capitol, sir."
Drawing back, Sir Aurion pierced the boy with his gaze, watching him grow pale underneath it. He did not mean to make the child so uncomfortable, but in all honesty it was likely for the best if he were really going to attempt to gauge the boy's integrity.
His expression was brave, brave and earnest, no deception within the youthful face, and no pretense of saying anything other than what he believed to be absolute truth. Shifting his gaze, Sir Aurion looked at the woman, who was similarly grave and sincere, staring at him head on despite the way her hands were balled into mallets in her lap.
Taking a deep breath, he made an effort to visibly soften his expression and leaned back, relaxing. Whether or not the accusation was true, Sir Aurion did not know, but they had risked life and limb to bring word to him, and so he must consider it a serious threat, regardless of how "reputable" others might find the source to be.
"That is quite the serious allegation, young man," Sir Aurion laced his arms in front of him firmly. "One that I would like to discuss in detail, however, now is not the place nor is it the time." They both looked confused, and so he elaborated, "Eat your meal, and then we shall return to my place of residence to further discuss what you have both brought before me."
Their expressions took on looks of true shock, though Sir Aurion found the boy finally smiling. "Thank you, sir! Thank you for listening to us!" He looked so grateful that Sir Aurion nearly felt embarrassed at the exclamation, temporarily turning his face away.
"Do not thank me just yet. I am still not sure if I will be able to help you, nor even confirm your claims," it was the stark truth, but he could tell the boy would not be deflated. "Sill, it is as you've said, I will listen."
Saying no more, he leaned back and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of them slowly beginning to eat, muttering quietly to one another in excited voices that he could not discern and did not wish to. After all, this may be the last chance they had at having a normal conversation for a long while, for if they were right, their lives would never be the same again.
The shower was, perhaps, Humanity's most noble invention, Martel decided.
It was an absolutely lovely invention that she found herself relishing as warm water poured down her front, washing a month's worth of travel grime down the drain. She was not a dirty woman, did not like to be dirty, and so the shower was a great relief to her after Sir Aurion had explained to her how to control the heat and intensity of the spray. Mithos he had taken to another room where he had yet another shower, he assured, and Martel wondered just how massive this place really was.
He had called it a "place of residence", but as far as Martel could tell, he could house several dozen people here comfortably with room to spare. The Elder's home, the biggest in Heimdall, had not even been a fraction of the size!
Frowning, she could almost hear his voice echoing in her head as he promised her that Magitechnology was evil, and that it was in replication of the "wicked powers" she and her brother possessed. Shivering despite the steam rolling in clouds about her, Martel turned around and stared at the ceiling, trying to fight back tears at not being able to protect her brother from the cruel fate of living as a vagrant.
Focusing on the task at hand, Martel bent over to grab what Sir Aurion had referred to as "shampoo" to clean her hair, wondering how much she should use. He had told her that her hair would probably require a lot because it was very long, but she had no idea how much "a lot" was, so she just decided to guess. Besides, he could probably afford to replace one bottle of "shampoo" anyway, if he was rich enough to live in this huge mansion all alone.
While she worked the substance into her hair, Martel's mind wandered to the last year she and Mithos had spent on the road together, of how hard it had been to get by, especially in Sylvarant. The Tethe'allans were more civil so far, she thought with a frown, recalling their experience with the mob earlier today. If that had been Sylvarant, there had been no way they would have made it out alive short of a miracle, because as much as she'd felt they'd wanted her and Mithos gone, she hadn't felt killing intent like she had in other people. They would have been hurt, but she could have healed them both, and that … That was a comfort to know, though a cold comfort.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a frantic squawking and the sound of her brother's screams from the other room, just outside the shower. Not even shutting off the tap, Martel jumped out and wrapped a towel loosely about her body before skidding dripping wet into the adjoining room, soaking the carpet as she leaped forward to try and shoo the massive, flapping, white and green monstrosity away from her brother. It screeched at her as well, piercing her with a blue, avian gaze, feathers bristling in protective rage as it flapped at them, but protective of what?
"Martel, what is it?" Mithos asked, looking up at her with pleading eyes as he blocked his face with his hands, though the bird was not attacking them, just screaming at them.
"I … I think it's a Protozoan," Martel said, stepping in front of her brother and holding her towel up with one hand, reaching her hand out with the other. "I haven't seen one since I was very small. I'll try to talk to it, just stay behind me, okay, Mithos?"
Mithos nodded and backed off a few paces, though the Protozoan did not calm down, only screeched more loudly and beat its wings with greater force, causing a wind that made Martel shiver. She tried to speak to it, but it wasn't listening, and that scared her. Protozoans, in her memory, were gentle and wise creatures, so she had no idea what could provoke one to become so territorial …
"Damnit, Noishe!" The voice caused her to spin around and face the doorway, watching as Sir Aurion stalked into the room, his eyes focused on the Protozoan. He looked angery, his eyes narrowed in clear annoyance, his fists clenched at his side until he came to a stop beside her, staring up into the eyes of the Aeroan.
"Just what is the meaning of this, Noishe? What have I told you about trying to frighten my guests?" He spoke in fluent Elvish, which surprised her to hear, because so few people outside of the village spoke it, and as she had been told growing up, most Humans didn't respect or care about anything beautiful or sacred, so they wouldn't bother to learn. "You still get angry with the maids for cleaning when they are supposed to! These people are friends, Noishe, friends. Now apologize."
The Aeroan landed on the bed and made a sad vocalization, looking up at Sir Aurion with an apologetic look in its blue eyes. Martel was surprised to see how truly massive it was when stationary, at least twice as large as any eagle she'd ever seen, though she probably should have guessed that from its incredible wingspan.
"Do not give me that look," Sir Aurion sighed, his expression still stern. "I am not the one you need to apologize to."
With a disgruntled chirp, the avian shuffled about and faced them, still bristling slightly, and gave what Martel could only call a "resigned bird apology". Turning around, she looked to her brother, who only looked supremely curious as he met the Protozoan's eyes and smiled. "It's alright, sir. I think maybe he just wants you to keep you safe."
Sir Aurion snorted, "While that may be true, I hardly need him to do so in my own –"
His words froze in his throat as he turned around and his eyes lighted on Martel, who was still clutching the towel to her chest and was dripping water onto his carpet. It surprised her to see his face turn a slight pink as he bowed out, calling to Noishe to come before spinning away. The massive predator winged after him and gracefully out of the door, which slammed behind them.
"What was that for?" Mithos asked, looking up at his sister, who had developed a blush of her own; she had completely forgotten that she was in such an immodest state of dress.
"I'm sure you'll understand when you're older," Martel told him. "I'm going to go finish my shower, so why don't you try to dry up some of this mess? There are more towels in the hamper on the wall."
Retreating back to the hot water, Martel dropped her wet towel and stepped back into the spray, rinsing out her hair and trying to enjoy the rest of her shower despite the blush on her face. She thought it was the first time any man had ever seen her anywhere near to being naked and it embarrassed her that it had been the man they were trying to beg help from. Her mother would have said it was shameful that he had been a human, but their father was human, too, and Martel …
Martel would never forget his smile.
Taking a deep breath, she turned off the spray and dried herself off, dressing herself in the loose robe and slippers that had been left for her while Sir Aurion had her clothing washed and mended. Stepping out, she saw Mithos throwing some wet towels into the dirty hamper, though he smiled at her when she came out of the bathroom. "I did what you asked, Sister," he said as he stood from where he crouched. "Do you think he'll mind that we got his floor wet?"
A knock at the door caused Martel to spin around and call out that whoever it was should enter, finding Sir Aurion standing in the doorway where he leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest.
"I wanted to apologize for bursting in on you before," he told her with a slight frown, offering a solemn nod of his head in way of apology. "Perhaps later tonight you two may join me for dinner and then we may discuss this … Sylvaranti Threat?" By the last words, his eyes had lighted on Mithos and a curious expression passed over his face before he frowned sharply. "… It appears as though I do not know your names."
The way his brow furrowed so deeply over his dark eyes was so funny that Martel felt her face softening in response. "My name is Martel Yggdrasill," she said in a soft voice, smiling at him and offering a slight curtsey, realizing that she should probably add some manner of title to address him, "and this is my brother, Mithos … Milord."
A look of brief disgruntlement passed over his face that actually made Mithos laugh rudely, causing Martel to frown, and Sir Aurion to snort, though he looked amused. "You do not need to call me that. I am a Knight before a landowner. Sir will suffice." For another moment he looked at them with the same unnerving expression he had used in the pub. "Will you accept my invitation?"
Martel blinked and was about to speak, but it was Mithos who spoke for her, offering Sir Aurion a warm smile. "Of course!"
Sir Aurion bowed his head again. "Then I will retrieve you when the time comes. Please, feel free to explore a bit. If you get lost, one of the staff can return you to this corridor. I have told them to be polite." Something in the way he said it suggested to Martel that it had been somewhat of a threat toward his staff to get them to listen, but considering they were Half Elves …
Well, he was being very kind to him, and she really had no clue as to why, though all the rumors they'd heard about him on the way here … She'd thought they were too good to be true. Apparently, he was determined to prove her wrong, with how stately and polite he had been, even going so far as to buy them a full meal and treat them as guests rather than prisoners. She supposed that sometimes fact was stranger than fiction.
With another quick word of goodbye, he backed away and shut the door behind him, though she did not hear his footsteps receding.
"You look like you swallowed a bug," the voice rang over the intercom, forcing Sir Aurion to suppress a growl at the interruption.
Glancing up, he stared into the eyes of the hologram, frowning sharply at the face before him, a grinning young man with dark brown hair and a long, thin face. "Lieutenant Petra. What a pleasant surprise."
"You don't sound too pleased, Lord Captain, but then again, this is you I'm referring to …"his grin widened and Sir Aurion groaned, rubbing his temple with his fingers.
"Petra, cut to the chase. I do not currently have time to waste listening to you tell jokes that I do not find funny in the slightest." His eyes flickered downward, back to the paper in front of him and he began to chew on his quill, drumming his the fingers of his free hand against the wood of his desk. "Well?"
"Right. I was supposed to ask why you never brought in the Half Elves for detainment."He heaved a heavy sigh into the silence and waited for Petra to continue speaking, feeling in the tension between them that he would continue, likely to scold him for his "irresponsible behavior" regarding his public image. "Which was a very irresponsible thing. You already risk a lot by letting the Half-Elvin prisoners go, and you only get away with it because you're … Well, an Aurion. But frankly, Lord Captain? Even you can't push their buttons that much longer without consequences. You have to think about your future, about your promotion to General."
"Firstly," Sir Aurion began, raising his eyes to look his conversational partner in the face, "I do not care about the promotion to General. I have told you this multiple times. I became a Knight to protect people, and if I feel that accepting that promotion will put that goal in jeopardy, I will refuse it."
Petra looked about to object, but Kratos held up his finger. "Secondly, I have a reason for keeping the Half Elves with me and not taking them to the detainment center." He paused, pursed his lips together, and debated giving the nature of the sensitive information they had brought him, but ultimately decided against it. "They have information that I have deemed valuable and I do not want my witnesses being killed simply for their race. I have a lead I need to follow up on and I cannot do it if some criminals decide to murder them."
"Well that is … Certainly a good reason. Still …" He sighed. "Your father would be so disappointed if he could hear you say you would turn down the promotion to General. Imagine! Youngest General in 300 years, Kratos Aurion. You're the most skilled leader I've ever had the pleasure of serving under, Lord Captain, which is why I wish you would take it, because under you this war may finally end in our favor."
"Diplomacy, Petra, is just as mighty as the tempered blade, if you allow it to be," Sir Aurion explained, turning back to his page now that he was done attempting to communicate with his eyes. "War is a necessary tool to protect what is important. Like any other application of force, it is a shield to protect the weak and a sword to smite the wicked, but sometimes it is not the correct path, which is why soldiers and diplomats alike tread this earth."
"Lord Captain?" Petra sounded confused, and Sir Aurion heaved a sigh, shaking his head slowly again.
"Lieutenant, what I am saying is that one never wins a war. There are always losses, because a war is not something you can win, it is something you simply survive. Like any conflict of interests, even if you have gains, you also have losses. It is something you should keep in mind as you live your life day to day." He paused and looked up to stare at Petra again only to find the light on his terminal flashing. "There are always consequences."
"Now, if you excuse me, I have a call to take," and with a click, he switched the channels, effectively hanging up on Lieutenant Petra, his face softening when he saw that it was the glowing expression of his long-time friend that greeted him.
"Kratos!" she laughed, waving at him, and then backed off to twirl around. "I made this one myself, Nurse only watched. What do you think?"
"I like the color," Kratos said, leaning back; honestly, the work wasn't bad, though he could tell it wasn't done by a professional seamstress. "I think it's quite impressive for your first piece all on your own. Have you shown His Majesty?"
"Not yet. He's in a meeting with Luniare at the moment. Do you think he'll be proud of me?" Sir Kratos Aurion leaned forward in interest and hummed softly, nodding.
It went without saying that His Majesty would be proud of Princess Soleil for any of her accomplishments, no matter how meager they may seem in the eyes of most. He loved both of his children with all of his heart, of this Kratos was certain.
"Naturally," came his reply as she flowed to sit before the projector again, beaming at him.
"I don't have much time, because Luniare and Father are bound to be out of their meeting soon and then we're going riding together, but I wanted to tell you about my charity ball next week," she brought her hands together in front of her mouth, pretty blue eyes sparkling with mirth. "Would you be my escort?"
"If you wish me to be," Kratos smiled a bit, a hidden and soft smile that he reserved for so few. "What is the cause?"
"The orphanages in the Residential District. I want to raise money to renovate them after I had Nurse to make to visit one the other day," a wide pout soon dominated her features. "The one I visited was nice enough, but I convinced the woman who ran it to distract Nurse for me and ran off to find other orphanages … They're not so nice, Kratos. Those poor children …" He face fell, but she soon looked into his eyes, seeming very determined. "So I decided to hold a charity ball and deliver the funds myself!"
"I see," Kratos nodded in agreement. "That is a very excellent idea, Princess."
"Which also reminds me! Father is holding that banquet in your honor soon," she leaned so close to the projector that all Kratos could see was the tip of her nose and her very round eyes. "Have you had a tailor make you something yet? Or do I have to have one of my tailors do it for you?"
"Princess, it is not necessary to have a new garment when I have plenty of perfectly acceptable clothing already," he explained. "I did not desire a banquet in the first place and this is all going overboard. As I have told both you and the Prince Luniare multiple times, I am content serving without reward."
"Don't be silly! It will be fun," her smile widened. "Maybe you'll even meet a nice lady this time."
"Princess, for the love of Ratatosk –"
"Tethe'alla's most eligible bachelor," she held up a finger to silence him. "Though I shouldn't think I would have to remind you, Kratos, honestly. Don't you get lonely in that huge mansion of yours? You don't even have live-in staff!"
"I have told you time and time again," he grumbled, though it did not reach his eyes, "I am married to my work." As if to demonstrate, he motioned about his office. "I do not want to subject anyone to that. You know how single-minded I am. We've known one another for over a decade."
She only continued to pout at him, and if she were there, he had no doubt she would jab her finger into his chest and stomp her foot in mock frustration. "You mean you're a stubborn jerk."
His lips twitched up into a lopsided grin.
Voices from Soleil's end of the connection alerted Kratos to the presence of Nurse, or perhaps Prince Luniare or His Highness. "I would assume that means you are being summoned?"
Her face turned apologetic, "May I call you tomorrow? I'm sorry for it being on such short notice this time …"
"Yes. That is fine, Princess, as always," he bowed his head in respect and watched as the line finally went comfortably dead, leaving him with his own thoughts.
Turning toward his work, Kratos considered the blank paper for a moment before dipping the tip of his pen into the ink well and beginning to write in his small, sharp handwriting. He knew what he must do to get his answers, and so it was finally time to call on that old life-debt he was owed from those not so distant days ago.
I regret to inform you that I require your assistance most urgently …
Martel pulled the blanket more tightly about her, leaning against the daybed, Mithos wrapped up beside her. Nearby, Sir Aurion crouched by a blazing fire that he had started in the hearth, cooking sausages over the flame. It wasn't what she had expected when he had told them they would be eating supper together, but Martel found she didn't really mind.
In a way, it was almost comforting to her that he was such a simple person content with making them such a simple meal. It reminded her of the nights she and Mithos had spent in their small yard over the fire pit in the heat of summer, making food over the open flame, and so the scene put her at ease, even in such an alien environment. He also looked at home with the orange-yellow glow of the flames and a skewer in his hand, which made her wonder a bit about the kind of man he was beneath his titles.
"You two look quite comfortable," he said casually, picking a sausage off his skewer and tossing it to the Protozoan, who perched on the daybed. "I am glad. I was worried this situation would be … Awkward."
Mithos simply beamed when the Human handed him a sausage, Martel laughing as he inhaled its scent deeply before beginning to eat it. As Sir Aurion handed Martel her share, she smiled at him and offered a response, "we grew up in the countryside and used to do things like this as a family back when we still had a … A home."
For a moment, his face grew very grim and he nodded before she noticed him visibly relax, though he did not slouch, stilling with this legs crossed before him, his face turned slightly toward the fire. "I understand. I would often sneak sausages from the kitchens when I grew up and roast them over an open flame in the woods outside the manor where I grew up."
That statement made Martel very sad, for it was so very stark compared to what she had Mithos had shared. Had he really grown up without someone to share sausages with …? Still, it was not her place to ask, and he didn't seem upset …
"I suppose that we should get down to business," he began after a silent moment which was filled primarily by the sound of chewing. "I need for you to elaborate about what you told me earlier."
Martel glanced warily to her brother, who looked to the Human with wide eyes before nodding and swallowing his bite. "We were chased from our village and went to Sylvarant, and on our way out of the Kingdom we overheard a unit of the military talking about their secret plans to attack the capitol of Tethe'alla. My sister and I were terrified and I convinced her to come here, but we weren't really sure what to do until we stopped in a Half-Elvin settlement and met a man named Bartemaeus. He … He told us that if we wanted a helpful Human who could get us an audience and help us warn everyone we should find Lord Captain Aurion…" Mithos trailed off. "So we came here and started asking for you."
"I see," was all the Human said, pressing his lips into a tight line as his brow furrowed deeply over his eyes. After a moment, he ran his hand through his hair and sighed heavily, leaning back against the wall near the hearth. "Very well. I shall help you. I know of Bartemaeus and, after hearing your story, if he pointed you in my direction he must consider the threat serious. In fact, I have already contacted an old acquaintance of mine to inquire further about any possible plans."
Martel watched as Mithos' eyes widened in excitement and a grin spread across his face, warm and bright. "Really? You're really going to help us, even though we're—"
"You risked your life to bring this information to me, and I would not dishonor that," Lord Aurion said, his eyes sliding to Mithos. "In the meantime you will stay here where I can make sure that no one approaches you with ill intent."
And with that he made it clear he was done speaking on the subject, turning back to his sausages, allowing Mithos to chatter to her until the excitement caught up to him and he nodded off where he sat. Pulling her brother's head into her lap, Martel pulled her fingers through her brother's hair and smiled at him, glancing up when she felt the Human's eyes on her intently.
"Is there something wrong with my face?" she asked, frowning softly, pausing in her petting.
"Not at all, Miss," he replied. "I simply was wondering about you. You and your brother are quite sheltered for Half Elves. I have never seen one of your kind uninhibited by pain and bitterness toward my kind. Most fight tooth and nail against us and consider us the reason for their problems."
Her frown deepened and she glanced away, chewing her bottom lip before choosing to answer. "We grew up in Heimdall," glancing tentatively toward the Protozoan, she found her eyes falling upon the strange Human once more. "The Elves blame everyone for their problems but them, it seems, though I can't blame them too greatly. I think they were searching for a perfect world and … Well, I'm not sure Aselia is what they're looking for."
Sir Aurion's frown mirrored her own. "I suppose not. But what would I know? I am only a Human, am I not? My kind is known for our passionate desires and our penchant to destroy. I know enough of the Elves to know how little they think of us, that they blame us for the violent nature of the Half Elves."
She blinked at him slowly before softening her expression, resuming her petting. "They're very lonely. Their heart longs for a place of their own that they can never find among the Humans. I feel my kind is the same way."
"Perhaps. I am not so sure. In my experience the displacement is due more to rejection than nature," he pulled sausages from the skewer and offered one to her, which she took. "No one has made a place for the Halflings."
Martel looked at him long and hard, wondering at his strangeness. She'd never met anyone like him, not a Human, not an Elf. In all the world there was no one who had spoken about this in the same way, not even Half Elves. Everyone was hurting and bitter, Humans, Elves, Half-Elves…
"I sometimes wonder if Half-Elves refer to himself as Half-Elves because my species has done them no favors," he leaned forward, pulling the second sausage from the skewer at it and seeming to weigh it in his hand. "But are the Elves any different?"
"It's just a different kind of hate, that's all," she muttered, chewing her lip again. "Sir Aurion … May I ask you a question?"
"I suppose that depends on the question," he looked slightly amused as he glanced up from his meal, "but very well."
"You don't speak about Half-Elves the same as others I've heard. May I ask … Why is that? Why do you treat us … Differently? You've been so kind and I just can't figure out why because you're a very important person, and … To be honest when I heard what the Half-Elf in the pub said … I …" She trailed off. "I thought it was too good to be true."
"I suppose this is a bit grim, Miss, but all men bleed the same," he looked at her, his face oddly distant. "I have killed Humans and Half-Elves alike and in their last moments the same fear of the unknown passes through their eyes. Far be it from me to judge any man as less."
He was right, it was grim, but … Oddly a comfort. In an unfamiliar land at least there was some kindness, and in a place she never expected to find it.
"It is late," he stood. "Allow me to carry your brother back to your room."
Martel hesitated at this, but nodded, watching as he scooped her brother into his arms. Standing, she followed him down the hall, where she opened the door for him to deposit her brother on his bed. Then, with a bow he turned from the room to go do whatever it was that strange Human men did after dark.