(chapter continued from previous post)
“Well?” Tyrel crossed his arms over his chest and gave Umako his best you’re-pushing-your-luck glower. He heard the others follow him, could all but sense Madoc loyally at his side, but didn’t look away from the earthborn.
Who tried to hold Tyrel’s gaze, but failed. Dropping his eyes, he mumbled something.
“I created it.” It was still only a mutter, but at least it was audible.
“Gods are supposed to have spirit creatures around them. I don’t. Didn’t.”
“And your idea of something useful was that?”
“No.” Umako scowled sullenly. “A friend visited. She showed me how. But it didn’t come out right. Then I couldn’t control it or catch it.”
“You might have told us, my lord,” Dayo said, his tone gently chiding.
“That I made a mistake? You already don’t really respect me, you just do what my mother says.” The tone simply dripped scorn.
“I’m sorry, my lord, but that just isn’t true. How could we not love and respect what we spend our lives caring for and helping to be the most beautiful place in the world? There is nowhere else that someone can experience a little each of more earthborn domains than they could ever visit in a single human lifespan. That is unique and irreplaceable.”
Umako looked up far enough to regard Dayo thoughtfully, though he carefully avoided Tyrel’s eyes. “Oh. You. You’re the one that was born wrong.”
“Yes, my lord. But since that seems to have helped with resolving this situation, it might not be that simple. I chose to come here, and you chose to accept my service, and that is the most important thing in my life. How is that not respect? I’m not alone in that, I promise you.”
“Maybe.” Umako didn’t sound convinced.
“It’s been acting out your feelings,” Tyrel said, pieces snapping together. “You resent the order because you think they only respect your mother, so it’s been making their lives difficult without doing anything that would actually harm you. Or drive away the people that come here so you can watch them. Because without the garden, you’re a very small island surrounded by your mother, and not much that’s interesting happens in an isolated valley. So you need the order.” No wonder he’d reminded Tyrel of his brother: a tangle of sulky animosity towards the entire world that had given him second place and insatiable greed for whatever he could gain because of that status, reluctance to admit to anything that might make him lose face and willingness to let others suffer for it.
Tyrel wondered fleetingly whether there would be an “accident,” or whether, instead, that was the sort of Chief Dunnval thought they wanted. The third brother down would have made a better leader, though.
“You, on the other hand, have no idea what respect is,” Umako said angrily.
“I have yet to see anything that deserves it,” Tyrel said icily. “Doing something in secret that then causes trouble for the people who’ve dedicated their lives to you, and refusing to tell anyone or try to help fix it, is the kind of behaviour that a small human child might be excused, but for anyone else, it’s dishonourable and cowardly.”
Kaveri made a small noise behind him, and Madoc bumped his leg hard in warning.
“And I have no respect for either,” Tyrel concluded. “If you want my respect, make things right.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Then ask your mother. I’m sure she’ll know.”
“She’ll be angry!”
“Act like an adult. Admit that you made a mistake and ask her help in fixing it. She’ll probably be so impressed by your courage and maturity that she won’t bother being angry.” That was a guess, but it seemed likely. If he was wrong, with any luck they’d be well away from here before Umako thought to point that out.
A long silence. Tyrel hoped Umako couldn’t hear how hard and fast his heart was thumping. Facing down humans that were larger and older than him, that had never been an issue.
“I’ll ask her,” Umako said finally. “Can I keep the net so it doesn’t get away again?”
“I think our mothers would have no objection to that.”
Umako strode past the moonblood trio and his lone gardener, into the pavilion, and returned dragging the net-wrapped spirit creature effortlessly. “You,” he said to Dayo. “I think I’ll want to talk to you afterwards.”
Dayo bowed again. “I’m always at your service, at any time, my lord.”
Umako walked off towards the entrance to the wildflower garden, still hauling the silent and docile spirit creature.
“I’m not sure whether you’re very brave or very foolish,” Dayo said to Tyrel. “But it worked. Thank you.”
Tyrel nodded. “We’ll come find you tomorrow or the day after. Just to make sure it’s really over.”
Dayo echoed the nod. “I look forward to it. Any of my brothers will be able to help you find me. I assume you’d rather I didn’t tell them about your part in this?”
“We’re trying to let people assume we’re human,” Madoc said, back in human-form now the danger was past. “Probably best not to go into any details.”
Another nod. “I think it might be best if I just say that Lord Umako chose to act when it became clear that it was necessary, and leave it at that. It’s a shame no one else will know how grateful we should all be.”
“Yours is enough,” Kaveri said.
“Be well.” Dayo gave each a respectful nod, and left them alone in the moonlight, surefooted in the night on familiar ground.
“How do you know that an earthborn being angry would be the same as something born of earth?” Kaveri demanded, and at the same time, Madoc’s much more blunt, “Are you completely out of your mind?”
“I didn’t know,” Tyrel said. “And probably, yes. We’re done here. Let’s get back to Kieran before the moons set.” As much because it would make talking impossible as because he could move more quickly, he raised his eyes to Talir and asked her to change him back to his fox-form.
The pause made him wonder briefly whether she was about to refuse, but she answered—though with a lingering sense of concern and reproof.
Madoc heaved a sigh, but went back to his cat-form. Kaveri, not surprisingly, simply peeled off the bulky tunic and let it dissolve back into moonlight, freeing herself to run on two feet without encumbrance.
She did use her raccoon-form to get through the fence into the night garden, though.
Kieran, lying on his back where he could look up at the stars and moons, hands linked behind his head, rolled over to greet them with a smile and a nod. “All sorted out?”
Tyrel changed back to human, he very much hoped for the last time tonight; Talir answered so swiftly it was rather dizzying. “It’s over. But you wouldn’t have let us go if you didn’t already have some idea what was going on, would you?” He pointed at the fence. “You can’t get through it, but you could’ve jumped that even with Talir dark, let alone right now.”
Kieran shrugged and sat up with his legs crossed. “Yes. And would have if you needed me.”
“I should’ve thought of that before, instead of falling for the excuse. How would you know?”
“Talir would have been distressed.” Kieran regarded them measuringly. “Instead, she’s unhappy and worried.”
“She’s not the only one,” Madoc growled. “How does Talir feel about her children trying their best to get themselves killed?”
“Unhappy and worried,” Kieran repeated. “What happened?”
“We caught it,” Tyrel said shortly. “The valley’s own earthborn created it and didn’t know what he was doing and he was too embarrassed to admit that he made a mistake. He’s going to ask his mother for help. No more pranks. Maybe we should go back to the inn now?”
Kieran’s pause reminded him of Talir’s when he’d asked her to change him to fox-form. Still, like her, he acquiesced. “I want to hear the rest as we move. Kaveri, you need more clothing than that.”
Kaveri heaved a long-suffering sigh, but began to weave violet light into a new dress. Madoc retrieved the bag and sorted out his own gear and Tyrel’s.
It was mostly Kaveri who gave Kieran a more detailed version of events, though Madoc offered his own commentary and observations. Tyrel said nothing, only hid his dagger and throwing knives again and concentrating on walking.
“I have no idea whether an earthborn could kill us personally,” Kieran said. “It’s unlikely that one would risk angering our mothers to do so, but I suppose a very young one might be angry enough to try. I expected a lone trickster spirit, since they typically are solitary in this part of the world and nothing suggested otherwise. Tricksters can be difficult but fight poorly and tend to attack with their surroundings, which would largely be earth, here. I did not expect you to take chances so large.” The measured words nonetheless had a distinct tone of reproach and concern intertwined.
Rather like Talir’s, in fact.
Tyrel shrugged. “It got the job done. No one got hurt. I was annoyed enough at him that I wasn’t thinking about him being a god. He was acting like my next-youngest brother, so I treated him like my next-youngest brother.”
“There’s some similarity there,” Madoc admitted. “But Cerdic’s a lot less dangerous. You don’t normally lose your head. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Tyrel said flatly. “I forgot briefly that life is now about spirit creatures and gods instead of impertinent brothers wanting me out of the way. That’s all. We did a good deed. Huzzah and hooray.”
He didn’t think anyone was buying it, but they went along with it, at least for right now, which was about all he could ask.
At the inn, Kieran dropped back a couple of strides and held out a hand to slow Tyrel, letting Madoc and Kaveri get ahead of them on the stairs.
“Whatever it is,” he said softly, “tell us, or tell Talir, or find some other way to deal with it. No one should live waiting to die.”
“No one should live without some point to it,” Tyrel retorted.
“True. But sometimes it’s not so hard to find a purpose, if you stop tripping yourself up.” Kieran let his hand fall and lengthened his strides to catch up with the others.