Oeric breathed a sigh of relief. His meeting with the Arch Monk wasn’t as terrible as he imagined. It was a load of bricks off his back. However, the Arch Monk reminded him about his son. One more thing he had to make right. That being said, he didn’t have to do it all in one day. He could deal with the tod another day. It was more prudent to give Soletus a little distance, and he needed more rest, and reflection on what he needed to focus on now that he was home. However, as he rounded the last corner home, Oeric nearly walked into him.
Father and son came to a dead stop. They stared at each other, neither of them moving. Oeric wanted to reach for him, but remembered the reaction he elicited in the meditation chamber. Instead, he withdrew, taking a step back. Soletus remained where he stopped.
“Papa,” his son greeted softly.
A cart crawled passed them, creaking and groaning filling the space where words should’ve been. Oeric took that time to take in his son. He indeed lost weight. He was hardly that chubby boy anymore. And he finally dropped the last bit of that round youthfulness in his face. It strengthened his jaw, making him look even older. Oeric feared the young tod would look sickly. Instead, his gaze was sharp with clear irises. His skin was warm and golden. His posture was straight but tense. However, that had to do with their unexpected meeting. Oeric was glad he was well. That’s what he wanted to see more than having a conversation.
When the cart left, Oeric spoke first. “I guess you stopped by the house to see your mother.”
His son gave him a curt, “Yeah.”
Oeric recognized that tone. Soletus didn’t want to speak with him. That ruined trust between them was clear. He stepped around him and said, “It’s good to see your doing well. We can talk later if you want.”
Soletus was still guarded, but the sharpness in his gaze let up. “Okay,” he answered.
“Good. Come anytime. I’m not going back on the roster for a while. If you don’t, that’s fine too. You decide what you want.”
His son bobbed his head.
Oeric didn’t linger after that affirmation. He continued walking. When he arrived home, Onyx wagged her tail at him from where she laid. He got on his knees and beckoned her closer. She padded over to him and nosed his hand to her ears. Oeric massaged the area behind them, contemplating whether him accommodating his son came off as weak. However, Soletus needed space and time. He just had to figure out how much was correct.
Cordea came out of the house and swayed her head at him. “Soletus came home and spent more time playing with her than speaking to me.”
Onyx rolled over to her back, and he started scratching her stomach. “Jealous? I could scratch your stomach too, you know,” he teased.
Cordea quirked an eyebrow at him.
Oeric concluded, during a gnat infested day, that he wasn’t very loving. Then again, Cordy wasn’t a hard woman to please. She wasn’t one of those women who needed honeyed words, flaunted with attention and constant flattery. However, that didn’t mean he should use it as an excuse to do or say nothing. He saw no harm in teasing her a little more.
She got on her knees in front of him and started scratching Onyx as well.
“I’m not sure what to think about the expression you’re wearing right now,” she said.
He brushed away all the shed hairs on Onyx’s stomach. “I wasn’t aware I was expressing anything.”
He often kept his expression as bare as he could. It gave him a sense of control. However, he stopped trying when he was in the swamp. There was no point in straining himself to hide his frustration with men who purposely did things to frustrate him. It made him realize his control was simply just burying things and not dealing with them.
His pent-up anger at them burst one fine morning. He snarled at them, for not waking up on time for morning call, but he didn’t become the animal he always feared he could. The one that lashed out and hurt others. He did, however, become that strict master that gave him the title of Master Dour. Anyone late would clean off mud on the walking platforms with a butter knife. He had half the men at it one day when they thought he wasn’t serious. Since he didn’t want them to use the cutlery in the mess, so he also had them carve their own knives.
Soon, they lined up every morning at the same time without question after that. He even got them to stand and pray by the end of it.
“I take it you ran into Soletus,” Cordea asked him when he didn’t say anything else.
“I told him to talk to you when he saw you.”
“I wish you hadn’t done that,” he said, allowing Onyx to get up and shake off the dust in her fur.
“He needs to,” she pressed. “You need to talk with him about what happened so you can move on to his current behavior.”
“He needs to do it on his own time,” Oeric corrected.
His wife frowned. “So, you’re just going to let him simmer in his own bitterness.”
“He needs space to make his own choices, Cordy. If he wants to hate me, fine. I’ve apologized. All I can do now is continue to show him no animosity. Besides that, he wasn’t bitter towards me. Uncertain of where we stood, but not bitter.”
She settled down beside him. “You’ve not seen the way he is around me. He’s short and snippy. I know it’s where he is right now in life, but I don’t want it to get worse.”
“It’s not if you realize he’s getting older and doesn’t want you hovering over him. I know you do it because you care, but you can care from a distance. He’ll come to you when he wants to, and it won’t be very often.”
“I know,” she said quietly. “I just miss it when he was a little lad and suddenly, he wasn’t. It’s like now, I don’t feel like I know him.”
“Did we ever,” he asked her. “He was this gentle, shy boy one moment and then practically the next, he realized he had a voice. All his lack of confidence hid the personality we have now. One I feel I’m catching up on understanding.”
“That,” she nodded in agreement.
“And Marth warned me about him being a fledgling, wanting to try his wings. To stop holding him back because I’ve not seen him as anything else but that shy boy. And then I stared seeing myself, he got bite, and just every fear weighed on me. But he’s clearly someone else and I don’t know what to do.”
Cordea tilted her head slightly. “You’ve changed.”
“Okay,” he said slowly. He wasn’t certain he liked her assessment. It was what he was going for. However, was it a good change? How could she know? He hadn’t even begun to do anything.
“None of this would’ve come from your mouth months ago,” she told him.
He searched her face, still uncertain if it was a good thing or not.
“You’re being thoughtful,” she explained and caressed the long scar going down his left cheek. “I find it delightful. But it worries me you are going from one extreme to the other. I’ll agree he needs space, but you shouldn’t be afraid to be his father.”
He wiped her hand away. “I’m not. This isn’t me running. I’m doing something my father failed with me. I don’t even want to worm my way back into his affairs unless he needs it. I’m also not putting myself back in that position.”
Cordea’s brow met. “What?”
“I asked for a six month leave and I will not reclaim my master position,” he told her.
She rocked away from him. “Oeric, straight fieldwork means you’ll be out on the road more. We still have a daughter to raise! She needs a father, not a glimpse of one.”
“I never enjoyed teaching warders; you know that. Besides, the other masters aren’t going to trust me to do anything, not even Tyr.”
Cordea then wore a scornful smirk at the mention of Tyr. “Ah yes, Tyr. He came to visit several times. He and Allysianna, kept trying to convince me to throw you out.”
Oeric gave her a wry smile. “I burnt that bridge with a nice hot fire.”
“As a friend and second, he shouldn’t be so quick to condemn you. That was the most annoying thing about this all. Everyone being quick to condemn you.”
“He’s not my second anymore. He’s taking our band. As for a friend, again, that’s for him to decide. However, if I’m not worthy enough to be his friend in his eyes, then I rather not be one with someone who thinks like that. Now you,” he said, taking her hand and kissing the top of it. “You shouldn’t accept such behavior from me.”
Cordea leaned into him and kissed his forehead. “If I recall, I slapped you and said some nasty things to you.”
“I hurt your son.”
“He’s our son,” she said, kissing his check.
“I lost control. He didn’t need to see that,” he said.
She kissed him lightly on the lips. “If I were the better wife, I would’ve marched in during that fight and stopped the two of you. Controlled the situation better instead of believing the two bullheads could talk to one another. I should have forced you to stop hiding.”
“That’s not your responsibility,” he told her with his head down. “That’s mine. Doesn’t that frighten you that even now, our son isn’t sacred enough for that part of me? That a child can stop me, then nothing that can stop me.”
She then pulled his collar back and attacked that little sensitive spot on his neck with her lips. She then said between nips. “I will.”
Chills roll through his body. She was making it hard to think.
“Then I’ll hurt you,” he said and put his hands on her arms to push her away. But then he forgot why he would want to.
She then breathed into his ears. “I remember there was a moment you snapped on a petty road thief and was trying to pound him into the ground with your fist. I stopped you with your own staff. And then I held you on the side of the road. Trying to get you to calm down.”
“What an amazing memory,” he muttered.
She then held his face. “I’ve seen that dark place, Oeric. I know what I got when I dragged you out, literally, I might add. And when everyone was telling me, you’re a cur, look at his scars, you know what those mean, I needed to stay away. I didn’t. I might not be a smart woman, but I’m not a weak one who runs from scars and hides her love.”
That was true. She wasn’t afraid to love him and to challenge him. Everyone told her he wasn’t good for her. He didn’t feel like he was. Yet after a while, he hated the thought of her being with someone else that wasn’t him. He ignored that desire and encouraged her to find someone else. Being friends was enough. He was satisfied with that. She had plenty of males who fancied her. Her parent had plenty of offers to try for a match, yet she refused to even share a single meal with them.
He and then that argument that led to him kissing her and her two older brothers finding out about. They threatened to hide his bones in a place Dias couldn’t find. For her sake and his, he needed her to find someone else.
He tried to reason with her at the demand of her parents. They were present, encouraging his self-loathing tendencies, and tried to make him unappealing. Cordea saw through their manipulation and did something completely unexpected. She spat in the face of tradition and family and promised herself to him. She even went as far as having engagement pendants made for them both.
Instead of his ego being bruised, he was touched. He found himself unable to give any more excuses. She had been that daughter who loved her family too much. Ignored how awful they treated her. She could be only what they wanted her to be. And she accepted that role. Only stepping out of it once to retrieve him under the guise of helping the Arch Monk. They labeled her as a rebel but accepted it as it was a good cause. Her wanting to be with him and him saying yes was too much for them. Her family abandoned her save her youngest brother, Lynhart. The rest moved out of town because they couldn’t stand to see her marrying a mistake.
Oeric blearily stared at the house they made their home while she worked her nibbles up the length of his ears. Then the feeling of unworthiness started to niggle in the back of his mind. He expected they would slowly get back into step. Not just start again, like they just had a spat. Was he running again? Maybe? He let out a long sigh and pulled away.
“I’m sure Saedee is getting lonely.”
Cordea leaned forward again and purred into his ear. “I told Fern to take Saedee because I needed to talk to you alone.”
“I think maybe you would be better off—”
She stopped him with a kiss. It went beyond the nibbles she was currently doing and engulfed him. He nearly toppled to the ground. She made it very clear what she wanted.
When she released him, he was too breathless to argue. And once again, she held his face. “No. I wouldn’t be better off. Stop trying to run. I told you last night not to. And I want your love right now.”
He couldn’t deny her that. “Then why are we still out here?”
“You’re the one who wanted to play with the dog.”