by Ruth Davis Hays 2011
As the days inside the Monastic Temple University of Coreigan flowed together into one long internment, ‘Khiall used every moment he was alone to struggle back to life. Straining against the stinging objections of his groin muscles, he pulled himself up off the cot with the wooden chair as a crutch and paced the small, confining room inch by inch. This exercise kept him busy as well as healed his body. Yet, he tried to seem the invalid whenever one of the monks entered his cell.
Eventually, the high priests decided that he should get out of bed and sent young Brother Daviel to coax the fae out, offering to walk with him in the gardens. The mention of being outside caused ‘Khiall’s heart to leap and he did not object to the proposal.
Daviel would usher him along the stone passages, playing the role of tour guide as they went. Each day, he would relay some new story or fact about the monastery. ‘Khiall would listen to his tone and word choice rather than the stories; he found that he was learning a great deal more about the young monk than about the school.
This, he found, would prove useful to him.
Two frustrated players threw down their cards and pulled away from the table.
One, the tall young monk named Daviel, stalked to the corner and lit a small clove cigar. He watched the rest of the card game silently, a thin cloud of smoke encircling his cropped, brown hair. He was disappointed in losing his money, inherited though it was but more than this, he was disappointed in himself for letting the changeling distract him so easily and force him play a foolish hand.
Running thin fingers through his rough hair, he stared with fascination at the slender, pale hands of the strange fae.
They all called him Khiall, but that was not his name. None of the Young Brothers at the temple school knew exactly who Khiall was or why he was here. It was obvious that he was not devout.
Each youth present had his own tale for being at the temple. Most were sons of wealthy families who had no idea what else to do with their extra boys. Some felt the call of the spirit guides to serve their world in some capacity or other, but ones like Daviel were simply too much trouble to deal with at home and had been given over to the Blessed Brotherhood for redirection in their lives.
Daviel suspected the same was true for Khiall.
Yet, all the Young Brothers had one thing in common: They were humans. Few of them had ever seen a fae and fewer still had ever spoken to one.
This small group of privileged boys had collected around Khiall within the first week of sighting him. They were all friends with Daviel and since he had been caring for the fae during its confinement, they felt brave enough to join the two in the crowded dining hall one afternoon.
The questions had spilled from their mouths as soon as Khiall had responded in greeting. He placated them with simple, commonplace facts about faerlins and fae in general until one query stumped him.
“Is it true that fae men don’t have a …staff?” a round-faced boy named Onath asked.
All eyes were on Khiall, but he simply stared at Onath with a furrowed brow as if the boy’s face were melting. The question was picked up with enthusiasm.
“Yes, I heard that, too,” said a blonde acolyte. “I heard that the fae men and maids looks the same … down there. No root.”
“You don’t have a stock?” another boy asked, horrified.
“No Cock’s Crown at all?” asked a fourth.
Khiall had delayed his first instinct to punch Onath in the face for his suggestion, and as he looked from one pair of curious eyes to the next, he realized that these accusations were not given with malicious intent. These humans were baffled.
He was possibly the most exotic creature they had seen in their dreary lives, and they could not help but poke him with a stick to see what he would do. A hard chuckle rose up in Khiall, which strained his sutures until they hurt.
He snorted and shook his head. He would have stood to exit the dark, lacquered dining hall if the effort hadn’t seemed a threat to his injury. Instead, he went back to eating his cold, tasteless hidget egg soup and chuckled, “All you saphiens are idiots.”
After that first interrogation, the group had become practically inseparable unless their chores around the monastery kept their minds and hands busy and pure.
At first, the Blessed Brothers observed the acolytes’ innocent attention to the strange fae with approved charity, but as the weeks passed, a jealous whisper along the temple halls suggested to the higher priests that the friendships were not all that they appeared and that a closer eye should be placed on the newest apprentice.
At first, the whisper was not heeded.
Eventually, Khiall used his considerable charms to lure the five young acolytes into participating in one of the most heinous sins against Coreigan: gambling.
The games had started out harmless, just a friendly card game to learn more about each other, the fae had insisted.
But now they were all in debt to him and addicted to his spellbinding tales of Fae lore. Each week they tried in vain to gain their money back from him.
Daviel sneered at the memory of the first few games as he dragged the bittersweet cigar smoke into his lips.
Khiall had played badly and ended up assuring them that if they had been betting money, they would have all been rich. The others had not caught on yet to his scam, but Daviel had. Though, it did not stop him from sneaking into the fae’s monastic cell to share in his stories, his ploys, and his infectious, cavalier banter.
Khiall could probably talk this group into any mischief of which he could think, no matter how much trouble they would be in if caught by the Blessed Fathers.
“I thought the old proverb said that those lucky at cards were unlucky in love,” Onath, a rather chubby, second-year student, muttered from the other side of the table. He had also quit the game. “Seems you’re lucky at both, Khiall.”
Daviel noticed a brief tension run across the changeling’s face, then he shrugged and smiled that sly, captivating grin that he had. This smug complacency annoyed Daviel.
“Yes,” Daviel piped in, compelled to get something out of this smooth con man, even if it was not his money. “You do have more experience at both than the rest of us, Khiall. But, then I heard that is why you were sent here. Being a little too lucky with love. Trouble with girls, Khiall?”
The others all seemed to ignite with questions and curiosity as if there was another exciting tale of daring to come forth from the mouth of the Changeling. But, this line of conversation was not welcome. The hurts were still too fresh, the tragedy still too real.
Khiall threw his hand of cards against the far wall as he leapt up and advanced on Daviel.
“You kecker,” he hissed into the young man‘s ear. His night blue eyes turned to ice in his ashen face and the usually handsome visage was twisted with rage. The steel grip of his taloned hands dug into Daviel’s arms. “You know nothing! You heard pig-shat.”
Despite the pain in his biceps, Daviel felt satisfied with this response. He had only said it in jest. He had actually heard nothing, but now he knew that there was something there.
He smiled politely, bravely.
“You’re right, Khiall. I don’t know anything; I was just funning with you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you angry.” He tried to sound calm and reassuring. The grip loosened and Khiall’s suspicious glare bored into his eyes and down into his soul for a moment or two, then the fury faded. The blue eyes twinkled and the smooth lips parted in a forgiving smirk that melted into a smile, showing off ivory fangs.
“No harm done. Sorry, if I scared you,” the fae purred, though not without a hint of taunting in his voice.
“Duathea forgives you.” Daviel nodded in acceptance. He kept Khiall’s gaze and silently met the challenge in the fae’s voice with an inviting smile of his own.
The Changeling turned back to the table to gather his cards, his winnings, and to verbally usher the others out of his room and back to their own.
Daviel snuffed out his cigar on the stone floor and rubbed his aching arms. He was not surprised to find that each arm had five bloody cuts. He knew then that he would follow Khiall anywhere, even into the Ninth Hell itself.
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