Chapter 24 - Frustration
Ezekiel swallowed dryly as he realized his father’s gaze was on him. His eyes burning through the back of his head. Ezekiel wanted to just walk away from the coming lecture, the coming confrontation, but he also didn’t want to drag it out.
So he turned back to his father and without making eye contact he took a knee kneeling before him in submission. And instantly an age old ritual was began. A ritual that his father had taught him to practice since he was a child. Ezekiel had always been given the ritual as a form of punishment.
But he knew that it could also be used to ask for forgiveness for trespassing against others or against the Clan Head himself. Ezekiel knew that it was something considered outdated. Reserved for the Guardians and the Clan Head alone now, but his family choose to practice it anyway. A physical altercation between Shifters was often too dangerous and Ezekiels family found that the Ritual suited them perfectly fine.
In the Ritual the violator took a knee and then submitted their wrongs in spoken word to the victim of their actions. Once done the violator then waited defenselessly, hands bound before them for a response or a physical form of retaliation for their transgressions. Ezekiel knew that the Ritual didn’t always work. Sometimes the violator refused to participate or the victim wanted to settle the situation with more blood then the other Shifter wanted to spill.
“Before you start...” Ezekiel began placing one fist atop another before him and clasping them to his breast. “I meant no disrespect Father. Truly.” Ezekiel tried to convey the truth of this by dropping his gaze in obedience.
“Mmm-hmm...No disrespect?” Mantilo mused then shook his head while looking down at him. “So what did you mean by going against my direct order? Going near him after I told you to stay away was stupid and reckless of you!! I heard you fighting with him, what if he had gotten lose? Who knows what he’s capable of! If he wasn’t so badly injured....who knows what he may have done? Don’t you understand that I tell you things to protect us all!?” he asked his son softly.
Ezekiel sighed in relief. He had to be thankful for small favors. His father hadn’t seen everything, hadn’t seen him....nibbling on their new guest. Tasting his skin.
What the hell had he been thinking? Ezekiel wondered looking back on his behavior now. It was like he had been drawn in, like a moth to a fire or a magnet to metal. His earlier actions felt almost automatic now like he had been in a trance.
Ezekiel winced as his father growled at him. “Speak!”
All while Ezekiel had mused his father had been waiting on his response. “Well...” he began. “I know what you told me and why but...” Ezekiel said. He knew that he had to be humble right now, and contrite, but that had never been in his nature. He struggled with what to say. So in the end he went with pure stupid honesty because he didn’t have much else but that to give. “I went to see the mortal because I was...curious. I’ve never see one of them this close before and he was moaning so I went to investigate...”
“Curious?” Mantilo hissed starting to walk a tight circle around Ezekiel like a cat circling a mouse. “And so you what....snuck into the room of your attacker only to get attacked once more! We don’t know what this moral is capable of! Don’t you understand that if that boy had aimed his weapon a little more accurately your mother and I would be burying our son instead of tending to an injured outsider!!?”
Ezekiel paused. He could feel his father frustration, and his concern all at once. And he instantly felt horrible for not realizing his father’s feelings earlier. He was a protector, fierce and strong and this is what made his father such a determined leader. Ezekiel knew that his dad was a natural born Clan Head and that he took his title seriously as ruler and protector of the entire Leopard Clan. So the fact that someone, a mortal at that, had not only gotten onto his lands, but had almost managed to fatally hurt a member of his own family. It must have angered his dad to no end.
“Look. I’m not some fragile piece of glass.” Ezekiel scoffed. “I may be the youngest, but you know that I’m not weak. I’ve had lots of scrapes and broken bones Dad.”
“But none of them could have taken you from us. A broken leg is nothing compared to this! You srug off my concern like a fool! ” Mantilo pointed out sharply.
“I know...but I’m fine. Believe me, I’m okay.” Ezekiel told his dad softly, trying to reassure him with a smile and a carefree shrug of his once injured shoulder. “It was just a lucky strike. The mortal was on the edge of death when I found him. He was drowsy and weak so it’s a wonder he cut me at all...” Ezekiel blinked as he recalled coming out of the shadows and then feeling the cold blade sliding down into his body at a downward angel.
He shook his head to clear away the still fresh feeling. “And today when I went in to the room, he woke up disoriented as well.” Ezekiel said admitting to sneaking into the mortal’s room. “The stranger woke up and saw me and then he ran.” Ezekiel continued talking slyly. Omitting the fact that he had fallen to sleep in the stranger’s bed which he now knew had caused the mortal to attack him, but he would have been an idiot to tell his father that.
“I must have scared him when I tried to stop him...” Ezekiel said with a fake shrug of confusion. “I attempted to stop him from running out of the room and he defended himself. Again I don’t believe that he was trying to hurt anyone. He just seems kinda lost...”
Mantilo snarled cutting Ezekiel off. “I didn’t ask you for your opinion Ezekiel! I will certainly find out the truth about the stranger for myself! Your input is deeply unappreciated on this matter. So refrain from giving it!”
Ezekiel ex-hailed in frustration wanting to speak more, but he held his tongue. Suddenly he wished that he had never gone into that room. Maybe if he had just stayed away, the mortal wouldn’t have gotten so worked up.
“I’m sorry. I submit that I was wrong and impulsive. I have disrespected the rule of my Clan Head and gone against his wishes. I will take whatever punishment you give me.” Ezekiel began hoping to sooth his father’s ire with him. He recited the words that completed the ritual.
Then unable to help himself he slipped in a few more words in on the strangers behalf. “But I do feel like we have to get more information from the mortal before we judge him unfairly for his actions.”
Mantilo sighed. “....I accept your submission, and pardon you Ezekiel...This one last time.” he recited the answer to the Ritual of Violation that ended the practice. “Now rise.” he told him softly.
“Thank you Clan Head.” Ezekiel answered then did as he was told. But once he was standing on his feet Ezekiel found himself troubled by his father’s lack of an answer to his request of mercy on the mortal’s behalf “So what happens now?” he asked him as they looked at each other.
“Now...” Mantilo sighed whipping a wide hand across his mouth. His deep brown eyes troubled. “Now I make sure that this mortal is really as defenseless as you seem to believe. Then I’ll figure out what to do with him after we’ve spoken.”
Ezekiel looked down towards the doorway where his mother and his brothers had dispersed with the mortal. “Maybe I should come with yo...”
“Nooo.” Mantilo cut him off, and sighed once more walking past his son. “I will not require your presence for this Ezekiel. You will go out and patrol the Northern and Southern villages.” he commanded, leaving no space for argument. “Once you return tonight this matter will have been settled.”
Ezekiel turned around as his father brushed past him.
“But....!” He called, but he knew it was futile. His father’s wide back was ridged and set with the latent streaks of anger. “I’m the one he attacked! Just let me talk to him for a second....”
“No! Leave for patrol Ezekiel!” Mantilo thundered cutting him off once more with a voice as sharp as a knife and as vicious as a leopards. “Do not test me again so soon!”
Ezekiel snarled viciously at being forced away from the mortal yet again. Not caring if his father heard him he took the steps down to the first floor and quickly left the mansion. Once outside he shed his flesh and raced across the fields in his spotted fur.
Letting the power in his body, the animal within steal away all thoughts of his mistakes, but more importantly; He let the beast steal all his memories of the mortal’s warmth. The feeling of his skin beneath Ezekiels aroused fangs. He let the smell of fresh pine wash away the haunting scent of blood and the feeling of his body laid up against Ezekiels own. He tried to run it all away.
But it all remained in spite of him.
For all that Ezekiel didn’t even know the strangers first name.