Please, do not use my characters without my permission.
A/N: there's something like animal cruelty in this chapter.
10: The More Things Change
Innya and Tonotec quickly dismissed the King's second wedding from their minds. Tonotec did not understand what it was and was way more interested in chasing things than asking about his father. Innya focused on raising and spending time with Tonotec. It was funny, but she enjoyed his company.
They did a lot of reading together. Tonotec had favorite books at two and could recognize the cover if there was a picture on it. Whenever she read them enough and he knew the story by heart, he would try to tell it to her. Of course, her mother thought it was the most adorable thing ever and had Tonotec do it often. Her father tended to ask questions through Tonotec's retelling and the poor cub did not quite understand questions yet, so he always gave strange answers.
Tonotec liked the garden, so Innya made sure to take him out there whenever the weather permitted. She practiced her fighting and he chased butterflies. Sometimes, he even caught him, but he never seemed to know what to do with them when he did.
On many occasions, her father would run Tonotec around the garden. Just run with him until the cub dropped. Tonotec had a good time with that as well. It was good he had a chance to run around with her parents, even though they came to the palace less and less as time went by. There could be a number of reasons for that, but they never told her and it did not matter. She and Tonotec went into the village to see them often.
When her boy's fangs came in, Innya started training him to learn that parts of his body were weapons. A Wolf cub was similar to a puppy when it came to having sharp canine teeth, cubs liked to shred things. So, Innya had a thick, white cloth and she let Tonotec tug on with his mouth to get him used to mauling.
Wolf canine teeth were great weapons, even though most Wolves rather use their fangs to bite their lovers in the heat of passion than to tear an opponent's neck open. The latter made Innya roll her eyes whenever she thought about it. Fangs were weapons, just like claws and Innya wanted Tonotec to understand that his teeth were like deadly blades. (Later she found out he used his fangs like most other Wolves, even though he knew they were weapons and it was definitely not something she wanted to know.)
Innya sat in a room she was trying to turn into a library and read a book while her cub tried to tear the cloth from her hand. He struggled and growled, but the cloth did not give. Tonotec was not one to give up and he never whined when he did not make any progress. He just struggled more and growled louder while tugging harder. Innya smiled because of his determination. He liked mauling the cloth.
"Oh, Innya!" The door of the study burst open and there was one of the last people Innya wanted to see without permission to kill her, Ashti. She was still a walking headache and she dropped to Innya's feet. If Innya had a sword with her, she was certain she would have "accidentally" beheaded the female before she even opened her mouth. Why the hell is Ashti on my side of the palace?
"What's the problem, Ashti?" Innya inquired against her better judgment, but the sooner she knew the problem, the sooner she would get Ashti out of the room. At least Tonotec was not bothered and wise enough to keep to his task. It looked like he was having a good time going at the handkerchief.
"Our husband has taken a mistress!" Ashti cried. There were actual tears, like she was hurt.
Innya truly hoped that was not the problem. Did I really stop reading for this? Then again, what did she expect really? She had stopped reading for Ashti, after all. So, really, who's the idiot here?
"So?" Innya asked. That could not be what was wrong.
"What do you mean so? Our husband has a mistress!" Ashti bawled. Her silver eyes were bloodshot, so she had been crying for a while already.
Innya controlled her anger for once in her life and she did not resort to violence, even though it was tempting. She calmly spoke, "Ashti, this is a case of history repeating itself with me on the outside not caring and you in the place I was the first time and you caring just a little too much."
Ashti's face scrunched up. "Huh?"
Innya wanted to rip her head off for being as dumb as she was. "Okay, Ashti, let's take this slowly. I'm just guessing here, but you're pregnant, correct?" The King had not taken a mistress while he was married to her until she got pregnant.
"A little bit," Ashti answered and that gave Innya an instant headache.
"You're a little bit pregnant? All right, I'm not going to address that, but he's not going to be physically intimate with you if you're carrying his cub. He seeks pleasure elsewhere so as to not pollute the life inside of you," Innya explained, or at least that was what someone had told her once. Male Wolves did not like to intimately touch their wives if their wives were pregnant because they believed it somehow would contaminate their cub, and who was Innya to debate that logic? She did not like to think about being intimate, especially if it involved the King. He had stopped with her more out of fear that he would kill his heir while wrangling her than anything else.
Ashti pouted. "But, that's not fair!"
"If he did this once, what made you think he wouldn't do it again?" Innya inquired. She figured the cage was open, the beast was loose, and he was not going to be captured again. The King was back to toying with women, which had been a huge part of his reputation before he married Innya. Innya was shocked he had even been faithful to her those first few months, but he was probably saving everything he had to get her pregnant, but now she was off track.
"He… but… we're in love," Ashti answered with a sniffle.
Innya's head throbbed now. There was no way Ashti could believe that. She did not care how brainless Ashti was. Nothing about the King said he loved anyone or thing beyond himself.
"I don't even care anymore. It's obvious that love to you isn't the same as love to him," Innya pointed out, like honor to her was not the same thing as honor to him. "Why'd you come to me with this nonsense?"
"Because he's our husband," she answered.
Innya shook her head as if that would help her headache. Slowly, go slowly. "Right, now remember how he used to be just my husband and then you came along?" Innya asked and Ashti nodded. Innya was proud of herself for using patience and not resorting to violence yet. Hitting Ashti would only make her cry more and Innya did not want to put up with that. "Now, what made you think you'd be the last, Ashti?"
Ashti rubbed her eyes with her fists, getting makeup all over her blue, silk dress sleeve. "But, we're in love."
"We just went over this. You two obviously have different opinions on what love is."
"How? Love is love!" Ashti wailed.
Innya gritted her teeth. "Okay, think about it this way, do you think you could love more than one person at the same time?"
Ashti whined and nibbled her lower lip, rubbing off the red color in one corner. "Maybe…"
"No, we both know you couldn't while the King clearly does." Innya motioned between the two of them and somehow managed to not roll her eyes. "Now, stop crying. What good are tears to a grown bitch? If you have problems with him having a mistress, go take it up with him or with her. I have nothing to do with this nonsense."
"How?" Ashti whimpered.
"What do you mean 'how'? Just go talk to one of them about this whole thing. Unload all this crap on them, so they know how you feel and what you want to do about it," Innya replied.
Ashti tilted her head, like she did not understand what Innya meant. It took Innya a moment to realize, but she was older than Ashti. It was probably only by a few years, but it was still time and experience. Maybe that was why Ashti came to her for help or whatever it was Ashti was looking for; she was never quite sure why the blonde had come to her. She often hoped Ashti did not look at her as a mentor, even though as time went on Ashti saw her as something equally as annoying.
"But, Innya—" Ashti sort of whined her name and it sounded horrible.
"Go!" Innya had already done her best. She was not about to go out of her way to help Ashti and confront the new mistress for her. That was just something else that kept the King away from her, so the new mistress was a good thing as far as she was concerned.
Ashti left the room, still in tears. Innya was glad she was gone and her head was feeling better already. She went back to reading while Tonotec continued to pull at the cloth. He had good focus, never once letting Ashti's presence stop him from his task.
Innya gave the material a little tug and it snapped; she had not realized how much he had torn into the thing. Tonotec was still going at it full force when the cloth popped, so he tumbled back, completely off balance. He crashed into the wall not too far from her chair. He hit it hard enough for the noise to bounce around the room.
Innya turned to him to see if her son would dare cry. Tonotec only winced as he fell onto his side. He rubbed his head with both of his hands.
"Come here," Innya ordered him.
"Yes, Mama," he replied and complied.
Tonotec walked over to his mother on all fours and she lifted him up to sit on her lap. She inspected his head, parting his very curly silver hair. She noticed a little knot forming on the back of his head. She massaged the area for him while he rested against her.
"You have to be careful. If the unexpected happens, you can't let it throw you off so completely that you get hurt. Always stay focused, but on more than one thing. Stay focused on everything surrounding you, so nothing's a surprise," Innya told her son, even though she knew he did not completely understand.
"Yes, Mama," Tonotec answered anyway while nodding somewhat. He agreed more on instinct, she suspected than anything else, even though he knew deep down he had better remember her advice.
As time passed, Innya got tired of just letting Tonotec tug on cloth and occasionally suffer a minor head injury. She took him to the large garden and changed his butterfly game a little bit. She ordered him simply to "get the birds." Tonotec understood what his mother meant and he started on trying to capture and kill the birds in the garden. He really enjoyed mauling things. Innya shouted instructions to him and at times Tonotec would get dizzy from trying to follow her orders and his instincts.
"What are you doing out here?" the King asked one day when he found her in the main garden with Tonotec. Tonotec was all over the place thanks to the birds.
"Just letting Tonotec get some exercise. What of you? I heard you have a new mistress. You should be busy," Innya commented. The news was a couple of months old, but it was the best she had as far as his life was concerned.
"That's old news unless of course you mean my new new one." He threw back his shoulders, pride down his spine.
She rolled her eyes. "You're unbelievable."
He chuckled. "I try to keep you on your toes. The one you're talking about more than likely is the one who got pregnant very quickly. I only had her for a couple of weeks before she pupped."
Innya curled her lip up in disgust. That was her more information than she needed. "So, you're going to marry her, too, then?"
He shrugged. "It's only right. She's carrying my cub, after all."
Innya fought the urge to gag. "Lucky her. Don't invite me to this one. The only reason I came to the other one was to show you I don't care." She had her freedom and her family. The King could fuck the whole village for all she cared now.
He looked at her with a hint of a smile. "Is that so?"
"Yes, it is. I'm going to be visiting my parents no matter when you have this wedding, anyway," she said. She did not want him to get the wrong impression, even though it seemed late for that.
"Well into the night?" he asked as if he had any say in how she spent her nights.
"Is that any of your business?" she countered.
"Yes, you'll be out with my cub, after all."
She held in a laugh. There were times when she would be surprised if the King knew Tonotec's name. "Nothing'll happen to him. He'll be with me, after all. Besides, watch him closely and you'll see he's not so defenseless for a little guy."
The King turned his attention to his son. Tonotec dived into a bush and came tumbling out with a bird struggling in his claws. The little prince lifted the screeching animal to his mouth and ripped its throat out with his teeth. He spit out the huge chunk of meat. She would have to tell her father about that. Tonotec was really coming along, especially for a toddler.
"Mama," Tonotec called because he was looking for acknowledgment on his kill.
"Very good. One more," Innya ordered him and Tonotec, like a happy puppy, ran off to hunt another bird.
"What's the point? He could eat a bird for dinner," the King said.
Innya sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose as a headache throbbed at the front of her skull. "If you didn't notice, he didn't eat the bird. He only killed it. At dinner, the bird wouldn't be moving, able to flee, and he wouldn't experience the death for him to get used to it. This is getting him used to killing. He can't think about it or feel sorry when it happens. It has to be like breathing to him or he could end up dead. I mean, if he wants to be the best, anyway."
He nodded. "I see. You're certainly a killer. Did you parents do this to you when you were younger?"
"Him," the King grunted and frowned. His attitude toward her father was definitely one of the reasons her parents did not like hanging around the palace much.
She glared at him. "Don't be so bitter just because he can easily beat you in chess. He used to make me hunt rats in the woods and it had to be rats. If I came back with anything but a rat, he'd pop me with this rope he had. Nine times out of ten, I came back with a rat after he hit me with that rope a couple of times."
He glanced over Tonotec. "No rope for the cub?"
"He's going for birds. Those are harder to catch than rats because they fly, so he's got a more difficult task. He's still a little young, too," Innya explained. Besides, she knew that her father would get to the rope when he thought that it was necessary. Good luck to Tonotec then.
"I suppose. I wanted to tell you that you're to begin joining us for dinner," the King said.
Ah, he's here to give an order. That was better than him just visiting. "Us?" She arched an eyebrow.
"Myself, Ashti, and my soon to be wife, Aliyana."
"Why?" she asked. She did not want to eat with any of them. She was not sure she would be able to stomach her food around them. Not to mention, she ate with her parents, nice cooked meals with a variety of foods beyond seasoned raw meat.
"I want you at my dinner table every night, simple as that," he answered.
"Then Tonotec will have to be there with me. I don't go anywhere without my cub," she replied. She did not think he would want that. Children were unpredictable, after all, and he would not desire to deal with the problem.
He looked at the cub again. "It's about time I saw the cub on a daily basis. He's my heir, after all. I'm his father, so he should eat with me and learn from me." Like that was his idea all along.
"Whatever," she replied in a clipped tone. He spoke as if he was proud of a son he did not even know. As far as he knew, there was nothing to be proud of and, for him, there never should be because he did not help raise Tonotec. He helped almost ruin Tonotec a couple of times, but that was further along.
The King grunted and left Innya with Tonotec. Her son quietly stalked his prey, a rather large bird. Tonotec had sneaked up on the fat creature rather well. When he was a few inches from the feathered animal, the boy pounced on his prey and caught it with ease. He killed the bird with his claws rather than his fangs that time.
"I can see why his grandparents are so proud of him." Innya said.
Innya's parents adored Tonotec and he was their other treasure. Her mother cuddled Tonotec, like he was still a baby. He did not seem to mind, always giving her mother a hug when her mother opened her arms for him.
Her mother enjoyed looking after the cub when Innya went to the Pit almost every day. Most of the time, her mother would tell her to take as much time as she wanted. She would spend several hours training and her mother would go about her day with Tonotec. He tended to excitedly tell her about that.
"Mama, the chickens!" He made hand gestures to show her the size. His toddler vocabulary did not have the words to let her know why he was so excited about the chickens.
"He keeps chasing them," her mother said from her spot in the kitchen. She was plucking a chicken. "The reason we're eating this one is because he got into the pin and killed it."
"Yes, Tonotec!" Innya high-fived him. "Dad, you hear that? We're eating one of Tonotec's kills."
Her father scoffed from on the couch. He had been complaining of back pain recently and her mother forced him to lie down. He also had to drink special tea. He was not happy about it.
"I saw the kill. Sloppy work," her father said.
"He's a baby!" her mother replied from the kitchen.
"If he can kill something, he's not a baby anymore."
"You're not a baby and you can barely stand up today."
That stopped her father for the moment. They had dinner, chicken and potatoes, and he seemed intent on proving her mother wrong by walking around. Tonotec ran around his grandfather's legs. Her father grunted and almost reached for his back, but caught himself.
"I'm gonna make this cub mean, like you used to be Innya," her father said.
"Excuse me, I'm pretty sure I am still mean," she replied.
He snorted, but did not add to it. He pulled out the rope that Innya remembered all too well on Tonotec and he cracked poor Tonotec with it so easily. Tonotec yelped and rolled out of the way.
"Leave him alone and be careful. You don't need to break down anymore," her mother said. Her father ignored that. He was not going to have a fun night when Innya and Tonotec left.
Tonotec quickly learned to move fast enough and read his grandfather to not get hit as much, but he still got caught with that damned rope. He also figured out there were little nooks in the living room he could use for duck and cover. Innya's father barked at the cub to attack, but Tonotec never seemed to care about going on the offensive. He got a good workout, though.
"He's just like his mom," Innya's father said as he rubbed Tonotec's head. A smile settled on her father's face. His back seemed all better, but it acted up a lot more than Innya remembered.
"No, I recall Innya going for your jugular after you hit her with that rope enough times," her mother replied.
Her father shook his head. "She was a lot older than he was." He scratched his chin. "She was about seven when she started to try to rip my throat out for the rope trick. That was when training changed up for her."
"Became worse you mean?" Innya grinned. She loved training with her father throughout her life, but it was never a fun experience. Results did not lie about how effective he was, though.
"Tonotec, your mother will be expecting you to be out for my neck way before you're seven. So, get mean, boy!" He pushed Tonotec roughly and the child growled menacingly at him, which was about all Tonotec ever did. His instincts more than likely held him back from trying to kill his grandfather. Cubs just knew not to attack certain people.
"Dad, he'll bite you if I tell him to," Innya said.
"Tell him," he dared her. He wanted to make sure Tonotec was properly trained in being a warrior and a killer.
"Dad," Innya sighed.
"I'll crush this little cub," her father said and he teased Tonotec by growling at the cub, who growled right back.
Innya's father challenged Tonotec on a daily basis to make sure he learned to be fearless. Tonotec liked spending time with his grandfather. She used to love it when she was a cub, even though pain went along with it. But, that all paid off as she got older. Innya connected with her father on so many levels. Will Tonotec ever connect with his own father like I do with mine? She doubted he ever would and she really did not want him to.
Tonotec did not really seem interested in anything that was not tempting him or his mother did not order him to attack. That attitude showed in full force when his mother took him to dine with the King. Innya and Tonotec showed up late without her explaining why and they saw the King, an extremely pregnant Ashti, and a redhead woman who Innya did not care to know, but she assumed the redhead was the King's soon to be third wife.
Innya walked in the dining area as if she owned the place and not like she was fifteen minutes late. Tonotec came in right behind her on all fours with his chest puffed out. She sat at the far end of the narrow, long table. Tonotec sat next to her. Neither Innya nor her cub bothered to even glance down at the other end of the table. The King grunted, but he did not say a word to bring anything up.
Innya and Tonotec did not really eat when dinner was served. Tonotec curled his lip at the cuts of deer meat in front of him. He tried it when Innya did, but neither of them finished it. That was how the warrior and her son had dinner from then on for a few years. Every now and then, the King would bother them about eating the entire meal, making it more irksome for them.
"Mother, we're staying for dinner, right?" Tonotec asked. He was five years old and they were at Innya's parents' house. Tonotec watched his grandmother prepare dinner while Innya sharpened her old sword. His tails swayed behind him, eager to have some of the rabbit stew. The rabbits had been purchased in the market. She and her father had taken Tonotec out to hunt rabbits, but they were too quick for him.
"Your father wouldn't appreciate that much," Innya replied as if she cared. They often ate with her parents. She was sick to her stomach with raw meat, even when they only had it in small doses.
"Yeah, but your mother would appreciate that much," he argued and he had a point.
"No five-year-old should ever pose such great arguments. We'll eat here and then we'll fake it back at home." Their usual habit.
Tonotec smirked; he looked like his mother when he did that. "Mother, you're full of clever ideas."
"More like foolish ideas," Innya's mother remarked.
"Ah, Mom, you know we do this all the time. At least Tonotec approves." He seemed to like having a conspiring going every now and then. "I know something else that Tec will approve of," Innya said. She had not meant to shorten her son's name as she had just done, thus giving him a horrible pet name as her mother had done to her. The word "Tec" sort of fell out of her mouth before she could stop it and she wondered if mothers gave their cubs pet names by accident. She just gave her cub a reason to be annoyed with her later on in life as she had been with her mother for the name "Innie."
"What do you have planned for this little softie today?" Innya's father inquired as he pushed Tonotec roughly, but the boy stood his ground rather than stumble back as he used to do.
"Today Tonotec will get to see what warriors do in their free time," Innya replied.
"You're going to take my five-year-old grandson to the Pit?" Innya's mother asked with wide eyes. Innya half-expected to get slapped just from the way her mother sounded.
"That was the general idea," she answered, doing her best to sound like that was normal.
Her mother stared her down. "To fight?"
"To observe. He'll be expected to fight soon, though."
"What? You can't be serious." Her mother moved closer, as if closing the distance would change her mind.
"Mom, what's the problem? Dad tossed me in the Pit when I was eight and all he told me was 'don't get killed.' And when I say tossed me in there, I mean he literally threw me in there. I slid face first in the dirt and was surrounded by a bunch of sweaty, smelly weaklings who not only laughed at me, but kicked my butt all up and down the Pit quite soundly. The sooner Tonotec gets in there, the sooner he'll get better and that's the key thing," Innya pointed out.
That statement was enough to take the heat off of Innya. Her mother turned her attention to her spouse and looked at him with fury. "You threw her in the Pit when she was just eight?"
He winced. "You know, Innya, I recall also telling you don't ever tell your mother about that. And 'threw' has such negative connotations. I wouldn't call it 'threw her in there.' Eight's relative. Eight, nine, five, really what's the difference?" He waved the whole matter off, even though her mother was infuriated, fire dancing in her eyes.
"She was just a tiny cub! She barely had fangs in her mouth! Speaking of fangs, was that the day she came back with her top left fang knocked out or was that another one of your little adventures?"
He glanced away. "Maybe."
"I don't believe you! You took my little cub to the Pit when she was eight! That's it, Innya, I'm coming with you," her mother declared. Well, that was not the plan.
"Um… why, Mom?" Innya asked. It was not like she had been the one who took herself to the Pit when she was eight.
"For all I know you might throw my little grandson in the Pit like your father did with you. I won't have it. He's only five and he's the only grandson I have. So, let's go." Her mother marched to the door.
"You're kidding, right, Mom?" Innya asked. She could not even remember the last time her mother talked about going to the Pit.
"No, come on. Chinto, watch the food in the stove and don't let it burn," she told her husband.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied with a slight smile. He was obviously just happy to be out of trouble with his spouse. Lucky him.
Innya sighed. "Mom, you haven't been to the Pit in decades."
"And?" she asked.
"Decades," Innya repeated and she did not mean like a couple of decades, no. Her mother had stopped bothering with the Pit long before she was even born.
"Tonotec, come on. Your mother will meet us at the Pit." Her mother opened the door and her son dashed out without having to be told twice.
"Mom, decades for crying out loud. You stopped going to the Pit before you even met Dad," Innya argued as she made her way out of the door with both of her swords, one over her shoulder and the other attached to her hip.
"What does that have to do with me going now?" her mother inquired as they started on their way.
"It has everything to do with it. Why go?" Innya asked.
"I told you, you might throw my little grandson in there with those filthy warriors."
"Don't you trust me, Mom?"
"Let's just go, Innie."
"Innie?" Tonotec echoed. He had never heard her called by that ridiculous name before and she wished he never did.
"Don't worry about it," Innya told her son.
Tonotec shrugged and the trio arrived at the Pit in silence. Innya took a look around and she found there were several Moon Thieves at the Pit, which was odd. There never were more than five Moon Thieves at the Pit at one time and that was very rare. They usually just had better than things to do most of the time. There were nine there now.
Innya turned to her mother, who had noticed the same thing as her daughter. Innya hoped her mother would be able to explain why it looked like the Moon Thieves were having a convention, but the older female could only offer a shrug. Innya turned her attention back to the Pit.
"Tonotec, you make sure you watch me carefully and pick up on everything that you possibly can," Innya said.
"Yes, Mother," the cub replied.
"Hold this for me." Innya handed him the weapon on her side. It was her heavier, but newer sword. He held it with ease, showing he was strong already. Innya smirked and her mother rubbed the child's head to acknowledge his power.
"I have it, Mother," Tonotec said about the sword.
"I can see that. Be a good cub for your grandmother," Innya replied, even though he would be on his best behavior. He always was. She left her mother and son to go pick a fight.
"Watch your mother in action. She's a real terror," the boy's grandmother told him with a proud smile. Innya was always glad she made her mother proud. She knew her father was proud of her since he had trained her, but her mother did not really have a hand in her training and it felt good to know she approved. Time to show off.
Next time: teaching Tonotec through observation makes life difficult.