Falren sighed as he stood and went to the common area of the Nightheart home, the basket from Tirion tucked under an arm. He rang the bell there, which he’d set up to avoid shouting for every one of his children. It was a strange miracle that he and his late wife had so many. Other elves looked on them with raised eyebrows.
“Are you wolves or high elves?” an acquaintance had asked once.
“Both,” he’d replied wryly.
He waited patiently and counted the blonde heads seating themselves on the couches. Six. His brow lowered and he sighed.
“Where’s Taveth?” He looked directly at his eldest daughter, Kel’ori, who had little else to do during the day, and so had been tasked with keeping track of the youngest Nightheart child.
She rolled her eyes and pulled a nail file from her handbag. “Library? Probably?”
Yathen shook his head in mild disbelief. “Which library, oh, responsible sister?”
“The one upstairs?” She stuck her tongue out at him.
Yathen, third-born and arguably more responsible than his older sister, rolled his eyes. “No, he’s not. He’s at the Keep. King Landen has been granting him supervised access to the castle library. The public part, at least.”
“How could you possibly know that?” she demanded, avoiding her father’s unimpressed glare.
“Because I usually supervise him as part of my cadet duties. He’ll be home any minute. They chase him off at noon.”
As though on cue, the door opened and closed tentatively. The thin, gangly youngest Nightheart stopped, his lavender eyes wide behind the straw-colored bangs hanging down to the bridge of his nose.
“Heh. D-did I miss—”
“No, you’re just in time.” Falren pointed an impatient finger at the open spot on the couch beside Jareth, the Nightheart boy just two decades older than Taveth. Their father looked into the basket and sighed. “I don’t want any questions about this matter, is that understood?”
They all nodded suspiciously.
Falren set the basket on the table and gently lifted the sleeping high elf baby from the blankets within. “This is your new sister. Her name is Diori.”
“Like aunt Diori?” Jareth asked.
“Gods, dad, did you get some floozy preg—”
Ervaen, the eldest, punched Kel’ori in the arm. “Have some respect.”
“And some tact,” Virana mumbled from the other side of Jareth.
“Double tavern duty,” Falren said calmly. “Diori will be raised and treated as a sister by all of you. You will not question me on this, ever. If one of you so much as hints to her that she is not your sister…”
“Double tavern duty?” Kel’ori asked, her focus on her manicure.
“I’ll think of something worse. For you it might just be scrubbing the stoop outside the tavern for a whole day.”
She dropped her file and gaped at her father. “That thing just gets dirty again! And I’ll get filthy!”
“And people will see you,” Tyndra, the middle child, said on a giggle.
“People will see me, dad!”
“Then don’t tell Diori she’s not your sister.” He set a patient smile on her as she flushed with irritation. “Now, which of you would like to hold your new sister?”
~ * ~
Weeks passed and somehow Taveth had successfully avoided holding the new baby, let alone doing anything to care for her. His slight figure allowed him to slip into tight places at the mere sound of a whimper. Kel’ori, though, fell right into the role of full-time nanny to the child—once she’d gotten over her initial shock. Soon it was only her singing that soothed the fussy thing—but only for a short time.
“She wants her real mom,” Kel’ori said to Tyndra one day as she patiently let the younger sister trim her hair.
“She’s just a baby, Kel. She doesn’t know the difference.”
Taveth blinked from the doorway and frowned, then slipped away. There was nothing he could do that Kel’ori and the others hadn’t already tried. Instead, he went to Stormwind Keep, where Yathen was called to attend him. As usual, the newly-knighted guard stood against the wall and kept watch. Maybe one day they’ll trust me enough to not be guarded.
A note came hours later and was handed to the elder Nightheart. Yathen tapped Taveth on the shoulder.
“Father is asking us home. Put the book up and let’s go.”
Taveth whimpered. “But, I was just getting to the fundamentals of healing more than one person while in the midst of combat!”
Yathen’s eyebrow rose. “You’re finally choosing a study? Priesthood, like aunt Diori?”
The younger brother shook his head. “No. This is just an excellent compendium by one of the best authors of Class.”
The Nighthearts jumped as a man chuckled behind them. “If you like his priest work, then you’ll really appreciate the warlock volumes.”
Taveth blinked. “Warlock volumes. Plural.”
“One is an inside look on their demons and controlling them, with a fascinating section on the delicate relationship between master and minion.” He hooked a finger in the air, then led Taveth to a bookshelf deeper in the library.
“O-oh. Heh. I’m…not allowed back here.” The elf stopped and shifted uncomfortably.
The human smiled. “You are now. I see you in here every day, studying what appears to be everything. You’re a scholar, boy. You belong here.” The man pulled two thick volumes from a shelf and set them over the one still in Taveth’s arms. “The books are charmed so that if they are gone from the library for longer than a week, an alarm will sound from the spine. It will only be silenced upon its return. Though, I trust you won’t let that happen?”
Taveth sputtered and whimpered as he stared from the man to the books to his brother.
Yathen set his hand on the other elf’s shoulder. “He won’t let it happen, Grand Master.”
The younger grew stony, his mouth agape.
The human laughed. “It is very nice to meet you, too, Mr. Nightheart. You two better get going.”
Yathen steered Taveth all the way home as the younger man remained in a state of shock. He was sitting on the couch when it finally all hit him.
“I met the Grand Master Librarian!” he shouted. “He gave me books from the restricted section!”
Falren pinched the bridge of his nose. “Have you heard a word I’ve been saying?”
“I…I met the Grand Master Librarian!”
“Never mind the straws,” Falren said, “Taveth is staying home.”
His violet eyes bugged wide. “I what? What’s happening?”
Tyndra pursed her lips. “But, I wanted Tav to come!”
Falren shrugged. “I guess he should have been paying attention.” He set his sights on the youngest of his children, who was hugging the three massive volumes to his chest as though letting go of them would mean his demise. “You’re staying home with Diori while the rest of us go to Tyndra’s beauty school event.”
Kel’ori dragged him to his feet and yanked him away. “Come on, I’ll teach you how to take care of her.”
Diori was sleeping peacefully in her crib until the very moment the front door closed—then her wailing started. Taveth’s palms immediately began to sweat at the thought of picking up the little baby. He cringed and suffered through the noise for a few minutes, debating if holding her would be worse than the noise. He deflated and lifted the infant the same way Kel’ori always did. The crying didn’t stop, and was now closer to Taveth’s ears. He cringed and went through the list of things his older sister had left that usually soothed the crying some. He reached the bottom, where singing was listed. He pursed his lips and shook his head.
“Nope. Have to find something else. I’m not singing. Not to you and not—” Taveth blinked and stared into the little blue eyes. “When did you stop crying?”
He sighed and took her to back to the crib. The wailing started again, first as little whimpers, then full-blown screams.
“All right, all right! I won’t put you in the—” He looked down at Diori as her wails died into small hiccups of retreating distress.
Her face pinched and two little bursts shook her tiny body as the screaming threatened to return.
“Uh, um. D-don’t cry? Please? What do you want? D-do you want… You’re not crying when I talk. Do you want me to keep talking? That’s all?”
Diori sucked on her lower lip and flipped an arm out of the blankets, her little fingers grasping at the air. She cooed at the young man and he smiled.
“Well, Diori, as it happens, I have some books I’d love to read. I suppose I can read them aloud?” He retrieved the tome from the top of the pile and sat down, the book propped on the table and the baby in his arms. “From the beginning, then?” He flipped open the worn cover. “Advanced Light for New Practitioners. Chapter one: Making the Most of Your Mana.”
~ * ~
The shrieking began at one end of the Nightheart house and streaked across the upper floor and down the stairs toward Taveth’s bedroom. The door opened and a thigh-high head of honey-colored hair launched across the room to shove behind his wing-back reading chair. Kel’ori appeared moments later, fists clenched, breathing heavy, and her face contorted with rage.
“He can’t protect you, you little brat!” She advanced on the squirming figure.
Taveth blinked and looked down at the wide blue eyes, staring pleadingly at him. The face beneath was covered in bright red lipstick—Kel’ori’s favorite shade. He grinned and stood to block the elder sister’s advance.
“I’m sorry, Kel, but this is a place of study and reflection. I cannot allow violence within these walls.”
She huffed. “Then hand her over and I’ll take this outside your stupid, peaceful bedroom!”
Taveth sidestepped as Kel’ori tried to dive around him, blocking her from Diori. “She’s seeking asylum. I cannot, in good conscience, let you take her from this room.”
“She got into my—”
“I can, however, offer you something.”
Kel’ori blinked and folded her arms beneath her ample bust. “What?”
“Advice. Don’t leave your lipstick where young children can get into it. You’d think after Ali you’d have learned that lesson.”
“I priddy,” the little voice came from the other side of the chair, where Diori stood with her arms crossed and a defiant expression on her face. “Like Krori. I priddy.”
Taveth motioned at the little girl and raised his eyebrows at Kel’ori. “She just wants to be pretty like you.”
The older woman huffed. “Fine. I’ll go get a new tube…and hide it.” She swept from the room as though if she didn’t go now, the vendor wouldn’t have her shade in stock.
Taveth retrieved a damp washcloth, then sat in the chair. He pulled Diori onto his lap and began wiping her chubby cheeks clean.
“I priddy,” she insisted.
“You’re very pretty, Diori. But not like Kel’ori, okay? You’re pretty like yourself.”
He left the lipstick on her lips only and showed herself a mirror.
Taveth gave a tentative smile as something familiar stared back at him from within the toddler’s features. “You’re very pretty. Would you like me to read to you?”
She nodded and settled in as he grabbed the library’s newest edition of the collection of Azeroth wildlife.
“Luh luh, Tabbef. Read!”
“I love you, too, Diori. All right… Kodos: How to Avoid Being Trampled.”