family gathering (part 7)

Story by James Todd Lewis;  Chapter and section breaks by Kat Miller!
An extension of the story told in The Summit (available as an eBook from Amazon)!
(c) All characters copyright of James Todd Lewis (2015)

Friendly Challenges


Sahni asked softly as Van approached the table, “So, what does he look like?”  She was sitting alone, because Tallen had offered to get her food.

“Killer keen,” Van admitted as she sat down.  “I’m … worried about her though.”

“Worried?  Why?”

“I think she’s falling too fast.  We don’t know much about this cub.  I asked Kest about those knives he brought.  They were pretty long ones – odd ones, too.  Straight blades – no curve in them at all.”


“Call me what you will, but I watched them a little bit.  Kylie was very … affectionate for a first meeting.”

“She told me a few nights ago that they had gotten very close over TransNet,” Sahnassa replied.  “It may be genuine, and if he’s as attractive as you say he is, I’m not sure how shy I’d be.”

“You’d be fighting to keep your tail down, kit, I promise,” Van noted, but then saw Tallen walking up.  “Tallen de Dothnar, you didn’t warn me at all what you were going to do last night!  I’m a little hurt!”

“Sorry, Van,” he apologized as he put Sahnassa’s food and drink in front of her.  “I didn’t tell anyone.  I even told the jeweler that I had broken my aunt’s joining bracelet, and I was being forced to replace it.”

“But you don’t have an aunt, Tal,” Sahni noted, curious.

“Nope, but he didn’t know that,” Tallen replied, winking as he sat down beside his soon to be mate.  Buck then appeared behind Tallen and placed a plate of food down for Vanarra.

“Thanks, love,” she said, looking up at him.

“You’re welcome.  So, does this newcomer pass the Van sniff test?” he asked, sitting down beside Van.

“What’s the Van sniff test?” Saletta asked, sitting down alongside them with her own plate of food.

“Van’s a good judge of character,” Flint noted, settling carefully beside his mate.  “She can normally get a very quick sense of someone.  She’s hardly, if ever, wrong.”

“I was once,” Vanarra noted between bites of food, pointing at Sahnassa.  “Totally.”  Saletta’s eyebrow fur clearly indicated her curiosity, and Van sighed.  “Do I?” she asked Sahnassa.

“Go ahead, Van.  It’s alright.”

“I thought she was a spoiled little pureblood who wouldn’t last three sols in my office.  I … I suppose I didn’t treat her very well – the way you do when you don’t expect someone to stick around.  I … I actually, looking back,” Van noted, staring intently at the table.  “I was … probably very ugly to you, kit.”  Looking up into Sahnassa’s eyes, Vanarra immediately knew it was true.  She had been callous, even mean, to the Nephti kit when she arrived, and even for quite a long time after she had proven she was going to stay.  “Sorry, kit,” Vanarra uttered, clearly haunted.

Her eyes welling, Sahni leaned across the table, offered her paw to Van, and whispered, “It’s okay.  It’s over and done with.  You’re my best friend now, and that’s all that matters.”

Still shaken by the memories that had come back to her, and seeing in Tallen’s expression a realization that the two had probably discussed Sahni’s early seasons with Van, the mixed blood reached across with her other paw and held both of her friend’s paws.

“Excuse me,” Kylie’s voice piped in from behind them.  “I have someone I’d like for you to meet.”

“Oh, yes?” Vanarra and Sahnassa said at almost the same moment as they let go of one another.

The group turned their attention to Kylie and the very keen male now standing beside her as if that place was the most natural and perfect place for him to have been at that moment.  “This is Caloinath de Vassa.  He was freed from one of the de Caterra prison camps some time ago.  He’s setting up a small business out of his lair to do book-keeping and accounting.”

“I actually have a few clients, already.  I’m helping one of your competitors wind down their business, Matron Vanarra.”

Vanarra popped her paw onto her forehead.  “That’s right!  Tresk said the tip on getting the new shelves came from you!  Thank you, Caloinath, or if you wouldn’t mind—”

“Cal will do very nicely, Matron.  I am honored to meet you, and honestly, all of you.  Kylie has told me a little about each of you.  I’m very sorry for the mistake I made with the knives this morning.  I … I should have known better.”

“I’m just curious, bud, why you were bringing such things out here,” Flint prodded a little.

“I wanted to show them to Kylie and … all of you.  I think they may be special, but I don’t know who would be able to tell me what they were.”

“Describe them to me, Cal,” Saletta bade him, which surprised Vanarra.  Given her run-in with a very long knife in the middle of her gut, Van was doubtful the petite Faelnar would want to get anywhere near them.

“They appear very old, but very well made, and they have a script on them I don’t understand.  The blades are about this long, straight, with beautifully ornate hilts.”

“Single or double bladed?” Saletta asked, and even Flint was looking at her curiously.

“They are both single side blades … uh, Dame Saletta?”  Saletta nodded with a smile, and he explained further.  “These were in a special case behind the warden’s desk.  When things … fell apart with de Caterra, I took them.  I’ve taken care of them as best I can.  I had a feeling that … they might have been stolen from someone, but I don’t know.”

Saletta pulled out her PawLink.  “Kest, this is Dame Saletta.  I want those blades brought immediately to the campsite.  No, have them brought back.  Yes, right away – imperative order.  Very well.”

“What are you thinking, love?” Flint asked.

“The script might be ancient Faelnar, and these blades might also be ceremonial in nature.  Perhaps they are reproductions, but I would want to see for sure.  Cal, is it your intent that if these blades have a real home or a place where they are supposed to be, that you’ll sell them?”

“If I knew they belonged to someone else, I would give them freely, Dame.  I just get the oddest feeling that they’re important somehow.  The warden seemed to dote on them quite a bit,” Cal explained.

“Why don’t you two get some food and join us?” Sahnassa suggested, and Tal nodded in agreement.

“Thank you.  We’ll just be a moment or two,” Kylie replied and smiling widely, her tail barely under control, led her Caloinath away.

“Okay, Letta, I’ve got to know,” Van asked at a whisper.  “Why are you so curious about those knives?  I thought you would have had enough of long knives to last you.”

“Our family is missing three ancient ceremonial knives,” Saletta explained at a loud whisper.  “These things date from the time, several thousand seasons ago, when metalworking first began.  They were covered in a plasti-resin when that was first invented to preserve them, but over time, that wears off.  They were on their way to be recoated when their transport was waylaid.  Everything aboard was stolen and the knives were never seen again.  If you remember that picture in our matriarch’s quarters, Van, the knives date back almost that far.  If these are those knives, they would represent a huge part of our familial identity!”

“So, we should be … nice about the knives?” Van whispered back.

“It was a miracle that they lasted as long as they did.  It was a major blow to lose them a hundred or so seasons back.  To get them back … would be big.”

“How big?” Flint asked quietly.

“Sahni’s matron initiation big,” Saletta replied with a sly smile in Sahnassa’s direction.

“Oh great,” the Nephti groaned.  “My initiation is now … a unit of measurement.”

“It was really wonderful,” Van mused.

“We’re back,” Kylie said, holding a plate of food, but looking unsure of where to sit.

“Flint, would you mind moving over a bit?” Saletta asked, and Flint instantly scooted, knowing it was not really a request.  Since the couple had been sitting across from one another, this put the newcomers in the middle of everyone, but more importantly, right across from Saletta.

“Thank you, Flint,” Caloinath said.  “Very kind of you.”

“Please, not a problem,” he offered.

The two sat, and Saletta asked, “So, when the warden used to dote on them, as you said, what … exactly … did he say?”

As Kylie ate, Caloinath explained.  “The warden was a true believer in the greatness of his own house, and when he used to get on that line of thought, he would almost always be looking at those knives saying something like, there will come a sol when all other houses will be like relics in a museum, curiosities of what used to be, but what didn’t survive on the trail of progress and evolution.”

“Well, they are very much that way, now,” Buck replied.  “I used to be from that house, and those beliefs were everywhere, and—”

“But they were lies!” Liana interjected bitterly.  The statement from the normally quiet Faelnar drew everyone’s attention for a moment, but looking up and realizing that she had actually let her thought slip audibly, she looked down at Buck, her blush furs raised, and offered, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”

“It’s alright.  Believe me, I understand, Liana,” Buck offered.  “For a long time after I was disavowed, I couldn’t be in a room where they were mentioned without going off.  My business partner, at the time, had to nearly drag me out of a meeting when I started on a tirade about how bad they were.”

Liana nodded, and Cal offered, “It’s struck me how the fall of that house has affected so many.  I am a bit of an oddity, you see.  I grew up with no family, either parents or a family house.  I’ve always served in the camps.  So, I am having to learn about houses and families and matrons and dames and matriarchs – it’s all new to me.  Thankfully, I have a very good teacher,” he said, looking at Kylie with a warm smile, and she looked back up at him in unadulterated adoration.  Looking at Saletta, he stated, “Dame, if those blades are truly the property of your house, you may have them.  I took them specifically for that reason.”

“Thank you, Cal.  I should also tell you that at this particular gathering, the camp I mean, we’re not using any titles right now.  You can just call me Saletta or … even Letta if you would like.  So, what’s next for you, now that you have your freedom?” the Faelnar asked gently.

“Many things, I suppose, but … for now, work.  I’m working a couple of jobs right now that I enjoy, but I really want to have my own bookkeeping and accounting business started up.  I … I may need some certifications for that, so I’ve been trying to find a place to do some research.”

“The Pinnacle Center Archive could probably help you there,” Van commented.  “They’ve got a good resource section, and their borrowing policy has … eased a bit, recently.  You should be able to find what you need with no problem.”

“Could you show me where that is?” Cal asked Kylie, clearly unsure of his bearings in Shanandrae.  She, although her mouth was full of food, was able to nod agreeably to that request.  He nodded back to her and then turned towards Vanarra.  “Thank you Matron, I mean Vanarra—”

“Van will do, Cal.  Van will do.”

“Thank you.  I would be grateful for resources that weren’t too expensive to use.”

“You’re welcome.  I may even be able to offer you some pick up work from time to time, if you don’t mind – well, that’s a stupid thing to say,” Van stopped herself.  “You were in a mining camp, that’s what I heard, I think.  Heavy lifting and hard work is probably second nature.”

“Show her, Cal,” Kylie prodded him, smiling deviously.  “Show her your arm.”

Cal shrugged and pulled up the loose sleeve that covered his upper arm.  At Kylie’s direction, he raised it and flexed it, showing a powerful set of muscles rippling underneath.

Saletta smiled ruefully but bade, “Flint?  Would you please?”

“You have got to be joking,” the Lupar Pantera almost groaned, but at a stern look from his mate, also performed the same ritual.  Cal nodded appreciatively.  “I work out over at Claw Strike fitness.”

“That’s where you work, isn’t it, Kylie?  Are you two … friends?” Cal asked, putting his arm down.

“Yes, although he teases me mercilessly.”

“You just wait, bud,” Flint warned Cal.  “You’ll find out why; just get her riled.”

“Flint has the advantage of being able to take down nearly any sparring opponent on strength alone, but he can’t quite win yet when we’re sparring.  Cal, I’m curious.  If you and Flint would agree, would you two do the contest of strength thing?”  She put her elbow on the table and made the motion with her arm to indicate the contest.

“Come on, Kylie, really!” Flint complained.  “You can’t be serious!  Cal, are you really going to let her talk us into this?”

“I suppose there is no dishonor in a fair contest of strength, and amongst the prisoners, it was a common practice.  If you are comfortable agreeing to it, I will not refuse, but if you would rather not, that would be as honorable in my eyes.”

Flint stewed for a moment on that answer.  Cal was basically leaving it up to him and not goading him in any respect.  Kylie’s vicious smile indicated she would very much like to see it happen, and as he scanned the faces, including his mate’s, there seemed to be a fair degree of interest.

“I lost to you in a quarter tick,” Van commented.  “Even Kylie wouldn’t go up against you in a sheer test of strength.”

“Not without the ability to dodge and move, that’s for sure,” Kylie admitted.  “Look, I’m sorry Flint.  It’s probably not the best place, but I’ve never met anyone I thought even had a chance of pulling even to you, and he’s a Vulpi, like me.  I think he might be a worthy opponent, that’s all.”

“You are so goading him into this,” Sahni chuckled.  “You’re pushing about every button he has.”

“If it would put this to rest, win or lose,” Flint admitted.  “Okay, Cal, if you’re willing.”

“I am.  It’s been awhile.  My performance may not truly impress anyone,” he noted looking at Kylie.

“It’s alright.  I’m just curious.  I won’t think badly of you, regardless.”

Cal nodded, and Flint warned, “We’re going to need some room.”

Everyone scooted their plates down, and the commotion brought Tresk to the table.  “What’s going on?”

“Little contest of strength between Flint and Kylie’s new friend, Caloinath,” Van explained.

“Really?  Hey everyone, contest of strength between Flint and Caloinath!” Tresk shouted, bringing over everyone else.

“Thanks, Tresk,” Flint complained.

Cal actually turned and looked at the Vulpi.  “You’re Tresk?  Did the shelves work out okay?”

“Sure did, bud.  Hey, I’m pulling for you, now.  Don’t let me down!”

Solana looked at Tresk sternly.  “I thought you were supposed to cheer for members of our office.”

“Cal helped us get our shelves, Sola; wait until you see them, and then you’ll know why I want big red to win.”

Flint looked over at Saletta and whispered, “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”

“I am.  Just don’t get hurt, and don’t hurt him, okay?” she replied.  He kissed her on the side of the muzzle and then turned to face his opponent.  The Vulpi sitting across from him was calm, non-threatening, and had presented his right forepaw with his elbow on the table.

“I kind of meant this as a joke, Cal,” Kylie thought to him.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes.  It is an expected part of your culture.  Do you think it would damage Flint’s standing in his office if I won?”

“Are you only going to use your body, no special technology?”

“Not technology, as such, but I have an advantage in that I can push my body right up to the edge of fatigue and even damage without much distress.  Flint doesn’t have that ability.  Although I have my predictions, I’m curious to see how this goes, as well.”

“You ready?” Flint asked, putting his paw pad against Cal’s.

“I think he’ll be okay if he loses, Cal.  Just … don’t humiliate him, okay?” Kylie asked.

“I am ready,” Cal replied.  “With honor,” he added.

That struck Flint as interesting, and he replied in kind, “With honor.”

Vanarra, of course, officiated.  “Alright.  First one with paw fur touching the table loses.  Ready to go in three, two, one, go!”

The two competitors were instantly straining, and straining hard.  The contest seemed to move in Flint’s direction, with Cal’s arm being driven down, but the slow rate of the struggle started the cheering.  Cal’s paw was driven further and further, fast approaching where Vanarra had maneuvered herself to get a good look to make sure she called the contest as soon as the fur on the back of Cal’s paw touched the table.  It was close, but then, the Vulpi’s paw held.

Feeling his advance slowing and the momentum draining away, Flint took a breath and then tried to pounce on his opponent, thrust forward in a concerted, sharp push.  Cal’s paw-fingers flexed at just the wrong moment, and Flint’s attempt at an advance was halted, and having used an intense burst of strength, he was now starting to feel fatigued.

Kylie watched Cal, his eyes closed, straining to come back.  His whole body seemed to be pouring into this effort with a focus that was absolute.  “He has compromised his strategy.  He may have been able to defeat me if he had not strained at the last.  Now, the curves are moving in my favor.”  The voice in her head from Cal was right in time with a slow movement that started to reverse Flint’s gains.  The cheers and calls from around them changed, and Cal spoke to her again.  “Interesting.  His body has the capacity to defeat me, but his mind is defeating him.  The crowd is causing him to become distracted.”

“Mange, I cannot believe it!” Tresk shouted.  “I – keep it up big red!  Keep at it!  You’re coming back!  You’re coming back!”

“Although, I do have to admit that having Tresk cheer for me is somewhat gratifying,” Cal noted.

Kylie caught a glimpse from Sahni, who looked at her questioningly.  “He’s playing it fair, Sahni.  He’s got better concentration than Flint, even though Flint’s body could actually beat Cal’s.”

Sahni’s features relaxed, and she returned her attention to the contest.  “Okay.  Just tell Cal not to gloat afterwards.”

“He wouldn’t,” Kylie reassured her.

Now the struggle had pushed Flint back into the losing position, and he was fighting to stay in the game, panting heavily.  “Dammit!” he said out loud.   Glancing at Cal, he looked back to see the Vulpi exerting himself, but calm, focused.  Realizing that this had been a contest he was ill prepared for, Flint tried to learn from the Vulpi’s example and center himself.

“He’s learning from me,” Cal noted, his progress starting to slow.  “He will not be able to reverse his losses, but if there were a rematch, his chances of beating me would be far better.”

Van was scrambling and gently pushing the observers around, Saletta included, to get into position to judge should Flint fall.  Just as she made it into position, Flint’s strength failed and a muscle spasm weakened him just enough to drop his paw to the table.  “Done!” Van shouted, and the two competitors relaxed and pulled back.  Cheers were nearly universal for Cal whose first reaction was to reach across the table and grasp his opponent’s paw.

“You are a valiant opponent,” Cal told Flint.  “And honorable.”

“You,” Flint huffed, “were amazing!  I learned a lot from you, just now!”

His own breathing still strained, Cal replied, “Your strength is impressive.  I doubt I could best you in a rematch.”

“I don’t know.  You’re pretty strong.  Mining camp, huh?  I guess you got a pretty good workout there.”

“It would seem.”

“Here you are!” Tresk offered, putting a full plate of food in front of Cal.  “To the winner belongs the prize.”

“Here, here!” Flint offered.  “I’m going to go get you a drink, okay?  Una juice?”

“Yes, please, Flint, and you don’t have to.  Thank you, Tresk.  I … appreciated the support, my friend.”

The phrase “my friend” seemed to freeze Tresk for a moment, and he replied quietly, “You’re welcome.”

“Congratulations, Cal,” Saletta offered.  “That was very well done.”

“I thought so, too,” Kylie added, and Cal put his paw on her shoulder and nodded.

“I bet you did,” Van said, almost under her breath but not quite.

“Van!” Kylie warned.  “Although it may cost me a stitch or two, I can still take you.”

“Oh, alright.  Sorry,” she replied half-heartedly.  “Well done, Cal.  So, how about it, Buck, Tallen?  You two want to give it a go?  He’s tired now, I’m sure.”

“Uh, no,” Buck replied.

“Same here.  I’m going to bank on that whole refusing the contest is not dishonorable thing.”

They all laughed, and Cal replied afterwards, “Your honor is fully intact, and you have my respect, Tallen.”

“And I still have both my arms intact.”

“So, while he’s finally getting a break to eat, would you like to tell us how you two met, Kylie?” Van prompted.

“Oh, alright,” Kylie replied.  “Have any of you heard of a program called Lost Trails?”

“I think I have,” Saletta answered.  “It’s something about connecting freed Vulpi back to their families.”

“It’s more than that.  You can offer to provide guidance and help – it’s just someone to talk to – whatever.  Well, I signed up for the site – it’s a TransNet site, and I started flipping through the records, and Cal’s kind of … jumped out at me.”

“I’m not surprised,” Solana offered, smiling slyly.

“Well, there weren’t any pictures, just needs and so forth, and he wanted to come to Shanandrae.  I … sent him a note, and then he sent one back and … I don’t know; it just kind of started there.”

“So you found him?” Liana asked.

“I did.  Until this sol, I really didn’t know what he looked like.  He described himself, but … I don’t think he got the description quite right,” she replied, looking at him with a large, almost feral, smile.

“What did he say?” Sola asked.

“Well, he said he looked sort of average.  I think he looks way better than average, actually.”

Between bites, Cal offered, “You’re too kind, Kylie.  It was you who were far better than what I expected.”

“You two do make a cute couple,” Vanarra observed.  “So what attracted you to him the most, do you think?”

Kylie thought for a moment.  “He listens to me and … helps me, too, when I am the one supposed to be helping him.”

“You have no idea, dear Kylie,” he said.  “To have someone as wonderful as you to talk to.  I know what it’s like to go for so long, not able to talk to anyone.”

“You were … incarcerated by the de Caterra?” Liana asked.

“Imprisoned, but perhaps nearly entombed would be a better term,” Cal offered.  “It was a … long time to spend alone.”

“That’s over now, Cal,” Van stated a little more firmly than she meant to.  “Kylie’s there for you, certainly, but … I think you’re going to find a lot of friends here.”

“Well, thank you.  It’s very kind of you to say,” Cal started, but Liana interrupted him.

“No, it’s true!  There were so many reasons for everyone here not to want me, and … they have been there for me – Vanarra, Kylie, and Tresk.”  Tresk walked over to Liana and patted her on the back, gently – a gesture she readily accepted.  “If there’s a home for you, you’ll be able to find it here.”

“Take it from me, Big Red,” Tresk offered.  “Even if you’re not the most … likeable Vulpi around, these folks will stick by you.”

“And we protect our own,” Sahnassa added, looking at Van.  “You taught us that.”

Vanarra reached out and gently stroked Sahnassa’s muzzle.  “We share our burdens and accept help, you taught me that.”

Cal looked at them and nodded.  “I can see that you all are … most special.  Trust is not a very easy thing for me, as you might imagine, but … Kylie has taught me that it is worth doing.  You have been very kind to me, and I thank you.”

“Alright, everyone, let’s give Cal and Kylie a chance to eat, and simply enjoy being together,” Van requested.

The group disbanded, in large part, but Saletta stayed at the table with Vanarra and Sahni.  “So, what are you going to do?” Van asked Sahni.

“I was thinking about swimming, actually,” Sahnassa suggested.

“Muddy fur … I don’t think I’m up for that,” Saletta replied.

“How about a nice narrow-boat pull across the lake and back?” Kylie asked.  “It looked pretty interesting on the other side.”

“Good, but Sahni and I have to be back in time for lunch.  Tedarri de Dothnar is going to be bringing his wife and their two adopted kids out for a visit.”

“Oh, they are coming!” Sahnassa exclaimed, excited.  “I was hoping they’d show up!”

“Who are they?” Kylie asked.

“Tedarri and his mate, Danala, put us up in their lair once we had been rescued from the Meeting Den.  I’m hoping she’s bringing some of her mill biscuits,” Van said, licking her lips.

“Oh, I ate so many of those,” Sahni reminisced.

“I know!” Kylie exclaimed, as if having a mild epiphany.  “Van, could you tell Cal about the Meeting Den?  He hasn’t heard it.”

“Sahni tells it better than I do,” Van replied.

“She asked you,” Sahni pressed.

“Alright.  Cal, I can tell you if you’d like.”

“Please,” he asked.  “I would be honored to hear.  Presume that I know … only the barest details.”

For the next half interval, Cal, Sahni, Kylie, and Saletta listened as Van told her version of the rescue.  “Are you enjoying the story?” Kylie asked him mentally.

“I am.  Hearing her telling it, and seeing her.  It’s … remarkable.  Our Sahnassa is special in so many ways, but so is this one.  It’s … quite sad that she can’t know about our larger universe, the Teldear, and even the truth of who Me Sha really is.”

“I like it when you say our,” Kylie replied, leaning into his shoulder a little.

“A truly remarkable story,” he commented, just as the two security hovers pulled back up close to the shelter.

“It appears that the blades have returned,” Saletta said, standing.  “Excuse me a moment.”

“I’m coming with you,” Vanarra replied.  “Excuse me, all.”

As soon as the two were out of hearing, Sahnassa said quietly, “Cal, I think you did a wonderful job with your body.  Kylie, what do you think?”

“He’s absolutely gorgeous, and … Cal, you fashioned yourself especially for me.  I … I’m sure I’ll want to study you … in detail, but the way he looks, the way he smells and feels … it’s all just perfect, but … it’s because Cal is inside that makes me love him so much more.”

“I wish to show you love as you are used to having it, as you need to have it, Kylie,” Cal offered tenderly.  “With a physical presence, I can give you so much more, and I want to.”

“But it’s like I know the colors of his soul, since I’ve seen the real you, Cal.  Not Caloinath, but Caloizar, the Izar from across the untold distances who felt love for someone … so primitive.  Thank you,” Kylie replied, hugging him.  “And Sahnassa, my Sahnassa, who so kindly let me pledge myself to you.  In your service, and under your guiding paw for the rest of my sols.  I love Cal with my heart, but my soul is yours.”

“Are you … okay with that Cal?” Sahni asked.  “I know what’s she’s pledged, but I want you two to be happy.”

“We can be, Teldear.  I find her desire to serve you and her commitment to you … very endearing.  It makes me want to take care of her and protect her so she can fulfill this vow, a vow I know goes into her inmost self.”

“I love you both,” Sahnassa admitted.  “And so you’re both happy?”

“With this form, I can be with her how she needs me to be,” Cal explained, putting his arm around Kylie’s back.  “They are returning,” Cal whispered, and Sahni nodded.

Looking over, she asked the approaching pair, “So, what’s the verdict?”

Saletta and Vanarra said nothing until they walked over and sat at the table facing Cal and Kylie.  “Cal,” Saletta began, “these knives are from de Gonari, and they are the three that were lost.  I did a project in academy on them, and I know what they look like.  These aren’t forgeries or look-alikes; I know what to look for, but there’s a problem.  The protective coating on them is nearly gone, and unless we do something right away, they’re going to start deteriorating.”

“Then, they are yours.  Take them back into your house; they should have never been taken from your family in the first place,” Caloinath stated firmly.

“Thank you,” Saletta replied, smiling.  “But I’ve spoken with our matriarch, and she demands that we compensate you in some form for the knives.  It would be … dishonorable, in our eyes, not to show our gratitude for receiving such a great gift, and one that was so earnestly and generously given.”

“Then,” Cal offered, “let the matriarch of your house fulfill her honor as she thinks best.  If I must serve by accepting a gift, then that is what I will do.”

“I like you, Cal,” Saletta replied.  “I like you a lot.”

“I like him because if Flint gets out of line for either of us, I know who to call,” Van sniped, elbowing her dame, gently, causing Saletta to giggle.

“Oh, Van, please!  So, Caloinath de Vassa, you can expect a call from us, very soon.  With your permission, we are going to send the knives to our archives.  There is another problem, though,” Saletta said, remembering.  “We … might not have the right expertise on staff to deal with that kind of item.”

Without hesitation, Vanarra suggested, “Bring in Lyssia de Oterbythe.  She’s the best archivist I know, and according to Tanatta, she teaches high order classes on the preservation of things like this.”

“Do you think she would agree?” Saletta asked.

“Oh, if I asked … yeah,” Van confessed.

“Ooo… that’s right!  De Oterbythe is beholden to you.  Bonus!  Can you make the call?”

“Sure, but then let’s go find a boat!  I want to get some fun in before the mid sol meal!”


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