"Your secret is safe with me."
Chapter Eighteen- An Elvish Blessing
Back in the comfort of home, Lanara tended to the bloody wound on Damien's cheek. Around them, the winter feast had turned into heavy celebration. Kallus, Naelen, and Calda all sat by the fire to warm themselves.
Calda had a wool blanket wrapped around her shoulders and a mug of hot tea. Kallus' own mug was full of festive ale. He rarely found a reason to take his attention away from Calda as she sat shaken and cold.
"Calda," Kallus spoke after a long while. "You are more than welcome to stay here until we restock your house with provisions. You lost a lot to those squatters I'm sure."
"Thank you, Kallus," Calda said quietly. "I don't want to be a burden to you. I can restock on my own, it's no trouble."
"I insist," he said. "Let this infraction be at my expense, not yours. I won't stand for it otherwise."
Calda nodded. "Very well then."
When Damien was all patched up, he went to join Lila in the dining room for a late supper.
Lanara got to her feet and offered Calda a hand. "Are you ready to retire?"
"I'm quite alright, Lanara, thank you," Calda said.
Then Lanara turned to her son. "It's about time for your bed, Nihilan."
"But, Mom, it's Solstice," Naelen moaned. "You always let us stay up on Solstice."
"It'll be fine, Lanara," Kallus said. "The children have earned their place at this party. Let them stay."
Lanara gave him a kiss before walking off. "Then excuse me while I retire."
"Good night, dear. Happy Solstice."
Kallus sipped his ale, wrapping his arm around Naelen. He smiled down at the boy. "You did very well today," he said warmly. "When your sister first told me about her ambitions to become a fighter, I feared it would suit her ill. You two worked amiably together. I would be happy to see you become a fighter as well."
"Dad," Naelen snorted. "You're getting all gushy. How much ale have you had?"
"Oh, this?" Kallus held up his mug. "This is a very light ale, Nihilan. I haven't been able to get drunk off it in thirty years. You, I'm not so sure."
Naelen smirked. "Only one way to find out."
"You want a sample?" Kallus handed his mug over for Naelen to taste. The boy gulped the liquid down, smacking his lips.
"I'll admit, it's not that bitter."
"Since when do you take to ales, son?"
"I like some of your ales. When they're not disgusting."
"I'll be sure to remember that." Then Kallus offered the mug to Calda. "Would you care for some, Calda?"
Calda giggled. "Do you perhaps have something a little stronger?"
"I certainly do down in my cellar," he said.
"I'm fine, thank you."
Moments later, one of the house guests came up to Kallus, offering a pitcher of fine ale.
"More ale for you, lord?" the guest asked as Kallus held out his mug.
"Thank you," Kallus said, drinking.
"Looks like the lot is waiting for your Solstice blessing. Should I tell them you are ready?"
"Right." Kallus shifted in his seat. Rising, he pulled Naelen to his feet along with him. "Come over here with me, Nihilan. You won't want to miss this."
He led his son to the dining room where most of the guests had already gathered. Kallus stood at the head of his own table, letting the crowd shift to surround him. He glanced at Damien and Lila where they sat, gesturing them forward.
"This year," Kallus began, "I offer a toast to my children." A moment passed as the guests fell quiet, filling their mugs.
"Earlier today, my son and I went to check on one of our neighbors. There we encountered two trespassers who had every intention of harm. They were defeated, but it would not be so without the valiant efforts of my children. Today I witnessed them laying their lives down for justice. I stand here as a proud father." He paused, clearing his throat. "Surely I am not the only father who is proud. There comes a time when our children must grow, to become who they are meant to be. I offer this blessing to them: may you always seek justice. May you protect those in need, and may your efforts bring fairness to the world." Lifting his mug, he beamed at Lila, Naelen, and Damien. "Se amyatúrë."
"Se amyatúrë!" the guests cheered along with him, gulping from their mugs. A round of applause followed, filling the air with a kind note.
As Damien shared in the toast, he felt Lila patting his shoulder. Her face formed a soft grin as she leaned into him. "With a bit of training, you would make a fine swordsman," she said.
"I don't want that," Damien swallowed. Against his own will, he was starting to hyperventilate. It was Lila who steadied him.
"One thing is for sure, you're not a weakling. Perhaps you just pretend to be."
"What, you think I wanted to take that man's life? You're mistaken."
"That's not what I'm saying at all," she said. "I think you have a secret strength."
Damien shook his head. "That is ridiculous. I got lucky, Lila. That's all."
"Don't think I'm a fool."
"I never said you were a fool." His face hardened. When he turned to leave the room, Lila tugged at his open hand. Her fingers folded into his, all warm and sweaty.
"You can tell me," she said. "I know your past life haunts you. I know that you have bad dreams most nights."
"And how could you know that?"
"Why else do you get out of bed so often? You are very active at night."
Damien reclaimed his hand and left before she could say anything else.
"Hey!" she shouted above the crowd. "It's very rude to do that!"
Rude or not, Damien did not care. He found some measure of solace near the hearth where Calda was sitting. She was keeping to herself quietly, sipping tea. Damien felt safer in her company than in Lila's.
"You look frustrated," Calda observed as Damien sat down on the leather sofa.
"I'll be fine," Damien folded his arms. He watched as Calda placed a new log on the fire, stirring it with the poker.
"If you need anyone to talk to, Damien, I am here. Not everyone understands what you must be going through."
"And you do?"
"You took a life, yes?"
Damien sighed. "Why is everyone asking me questions? I just want to brood in peace."
Calda smiled at him. "What you did was very brave."
"No one's ever complimented me before."
"I'm sure it won't be the last one you hear."
"I didn't feel brave."
Calda turned in her chair to face him. "The Elders say that bravery is not a feeling, it is a need for fairness."
"Well, I don't think anybody needed to die."
"Perhaps not," she agreed. "I am not a fighter, nor a warrior. I am simply the one they bring the wounded to after battle. And I must say, there is hardly ever a true need for violence."
"You're making me feel so much better." He rolled his eyes, causing her to chuckle.
"Still, I believe what you did was not out of impertinence. I believe you carved a way when your path was blocked. I believe you and the others were in real danger."
"I sort of got that, too," he said. "When he pulled out a dagger."
Calda fell silent, stirring the fire once more.
After a while, Lila found her way to Damien again, taking a seat beside him on the sofa.
"You really like to insult me, don't you?" Lila poked at him.
"Stop." He brushed her arm away. "I'm not in the mood."
"Aw, poor Damien." She faked her sadness. "Is there anything that doesn't bother you?"
"You don't bother me," he said, craning his head to look at her. In her eyes there were flecks of happiness, reaching out and touching with warmth. For a moment, all his frustration ebbed.
Lila leaned to whisper in his ear. "Your secret is safe with me."Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.