It was a comfortable domestic scene: Arek was working quietly at the desk, laughing quietly to herself as she thought of new scrapes to force on the heroine of her latest novel; Dozilva had just returned from coaxing the two youngest boys into their afternoon nap, and was now listening to Sanadhìl talk with quiet excitement about his latest research. In the center of the room a young boy appeared, bawling and falling instantly to his knees with a surprising amount of force, adding new pain to his general upset. All three adults started, but Dozliva reacted first, crossing over to him and putting her arms around his shaking shoulders.
"Xandhìl! What's wrong?"
It took a few moments soothing for his answers to become at all intelligible, during which time Sanadhìl and Arek exchanged concerned and uncomfortable looks.
"He-he pushed me," their second eldest eventually managed, burying his face in Dozilva's shoulder.
"Who did?" Sanadhìl asked, fearing he knew the answer before it was given.
"Taz! H-he p-pushed me! Off the roof!" The confession brought new tears, and horrified looks from the adults other than Sanadhìl, whose typical reaction to distress was to display no emotion whatsoever. Arek stood, with a nod to the other two, and disappeared immediately from the room. "I d-didn't do anything, mother I was j-just reading!"
"Sssssh, darling, shsssh. " Dozilva smoothed his hair maternally, pulling him to his feet to make sure that he wasn't seriously hurt.
"What happened?" Sanadhìl managed to keep his voice even, belying the rising sense of panic. Tazenir had been acting out ever since they'd told the boys that he and Arek were planning another child, but this episode was especially severe.
Some further coaxing on Dozilva's part was necessary to get the boy to answer his father's question, but eventually they learned the basics of the incident: in a fit of inexplicable pique at finding his brother carefully ensconced in their rooftop play area amusing himself with a book pilfered from Sanadhìl's collections, he'd pitched first the book, and then his brother, off the side.
Sanadhìl left the room feeling physically ill, trusting Dozilva's skill with the child over his own.
"He hates me," Xan was crying again, Dozilva trying to reassure him that this could not be the case despite the evidence to the contrary. The boy lacked the insight to realize that he was only a convenient target for misdirected anger. Tazenir didn't hate Xan, he hated his father.
Sanadhìl found the abused book - a history of Psyra sprinkled with some particularly colourful if questionably accurate anecdotes - lying on the pavement outside. When looked up there was no sign of anyone on the roof. By the time he returned to the library it was empty, and he sank into his chair, smoothing the wrinkled pages absently. He tried to tell himself that the matter wasn't as serious as it sounded. Tazenir knew what his brother was capable of, and probably had no real expectation (or hope!) that the younger boy would have hit the ground below. The mistreatment of a sibling who had until recently been nothing but protective and loving was probably more jarring than anything else. It was still shocking, and underneath the shock yawned a chasm of guilt and failure.
Arek came back to him first, the sound of a crying infant in the hall explaining Dozilva's prolonged absence. She stood in the doorway a few moments before speaking. "I told him he is going to stay in his room for the rest of the day, and that he is not going to Justen and Mercy's party, and that we'll see after that." She crossed the room, taking the book away and setting it aside, then taking his hands and crouching beside him. After a moment of silence, she spoke again. "You really can't blame yourself for everything they do."
He looked at her then, with a wounded look, but said nothing. She sighed, in no mood to argue the point with him again. "I'm going to go see if Dozilva needs any help." With that she squeezed his hands, kissed his forehead, and left him to his brooding.
That evening, he surprised the others by volunteering to take Tazenir his supper.
He knocked, but didn't await an answer before entering. Taz's startled look turned quickly to a scowl when he looked up from his marbles, but he waited until it was clear that his father wasn't simply going to leave after clearing a space to set his dinner tray. "What do *you*want."
Having finished the menial portion of his task, Sanadhìl turned to face his son. The boy was already tall for his age, and built on what seemed set to become a much more powerful frame than either of his parents. His light grey skin and steel-coloured hair set him apart from his peers, and Sanadhìl was well familiar with the many injustices that came from being born different. He was also well familiar with the resulting resentments these could ferment. But his son's anger had taken a form his never had, and one that he'd never been able to comprehend or accept. Rather than answering straight away, he cleared a spot to sit on Taz's unmade bed.
His son, too young to see through the cultivated calm, read this behaviour as merely provoking. "Go away, I hate you!" He snarled, sending marbles scattering against the floor with a frustrated sweep of his arm.
"I find," Sanadhìl managed this time in a calm-sounding voice, the nuances of his anxiety lost on his nine-year old child, "That I cannot blame you for that. And yet I cannot allow you to abuse your brother in my stead."
Taz's face flushed purple. "I hate him too!"
"No, you don't. You're jealous, and I can't blame you for that either."
Sanadhìl was the most baffling of his parents. Taz could tell when he was pleased by something, generally, but he never betrayed any anger, or much of anything else. It was disconcerting - like yelling at a wall - and his outburst gave him as much or less satisfaction as he may have had from that exercise. He sulked instead. "You love him more than me. More than any of us!"
The problem was that Xandhìl was much easier to relate to. The others were too young for him to cope much with, though his co-parents assured him he was improving. Tazenir, while older, was just of a breed of person that he'd never been able to related to. He was very active, and only barely intellectually inclined despite his quick mind. He had a volatile temper that wasn't helped by his situation, and he had the size to back it. Xandhìl, by contrast, was quiet and scholarly, as happy to spend time with any of his parents in the library as anywhere else, and had even shown interest in Sanadhìl's work and magic that Tazenir had never expressed. Though it was not an issue that mattered to his father, he also looked more like Sanadhìl (despite inheriting his wings and other supernatural traits from Arek), sharing his colouring and slight build. Parents were expected to love all their children equally, though, weren't they? "Don't be absurd," he said, with finality that failed to impress his son. "I care for all of you. But I won't pretend to understand you, Tazenir."
The bald confession threw him for a loop. "You do hate me," he concluded hesitantly.
"No. I do know what you are thinking - that of course I can't possibly understand what it is like to be you, how difficult things are for you. Perhaps when you are older you will be able to see that I do - of course I do. For now... I will make a bargain with you."
Taz stared at him with suspicion, confused at this turn of events.
"Your brothers - all of them, rely on you to... help them. And your new brother or sister too, whenever they come along. It is simply not acceptable for you to be someone they should ever fear. So here is my bargain: if you swear to me that you will never, ever again hurt any of your siblings, I will make arrangements for you start formal martial training."
"...to learn to fight?"
"Yes, Taz. I want you to think about this before you answer me. If you start training, you will learn how to hurt people, and none of the other children could stand up to you. So you must be sure you can promise to never lay a hand on any of them." He paused to let his meaning sink in, then rose. "After you finish your dinner, you will go and apologize to your brother, and come straight back to your room. I will come back for your answer at bedtime."
By the next morning, it was settled, and while Tazenir was still barred from the party that week, and grounded for some time beyond it, Sanadhìl was turning his mind to the no-doubt awkward conversation he needed to have with Domink Rademacher.