A few days of sailing and they were home again. “I imagine you are ready for a bath,” Bryan smiled at Iaondrin. Iaondrin nodded, but with little enthusiasm. Daily conversations with Morgan, held even while they were sailing, had allowed her to update him on what they knew; unfortunately, as she had expected, he had little information to add, and no sudden insight about the meaning of the snippet of text McCluskey and her friend had uncovered. It had been difficult for her to think of anything else on the trip back. The weeks of just living, without having to think of much except how many more times she could read the books they had bought, or her next lesson with Azpiri, seemed very far away. This interruption, that upset everything she had thought she knew … standing there in their living room again, everything felt just a little unreal.
Bryan frowned slightly and kept an eye on her as he settled his sword next to the fireplace again, then shrugged out of his armor. That and their packs he put back in the room with the book shelves, shelves they hadn’t even started filling yet, though the one in the living room had few places left. When he came back, she was still standing there looking as if she wasn’t sure of what she was seeing. He stepped up to her and slipped his hand into hers. “This is our living room. It’s got a couch and a couple of chairs and even a book shelf that we’ve managed to almost fill.”
“Almost.” She squeezed his hand, tried a smile, and decided that she’d have to work on it. “Sorry.” She wrinkled her nose. “Yes, I do need a bath.”
“I’ll start the fire, then I’ll head out to the stalls before they close, get us somethin’ light for dinner,” he offered. “You can finish getting the bath ready and take yours, and I’ll take mine when I get back.” Judging he had time, he began to undo her braid with deft fingers just so he could feel it again. After starting the fire, he pressed a kiss to her lips, and then he was off to find some food. From his usual stalls, he found a grouse that had already been roasted, then some fresh carrots and potatoes. There wasn’t much left in the way of bread, but he grabbed the best that he could before heading back.
It was enough to fill their empty stomachs, and after the meal they settled on the couch, Iaondrin lying across his lap, not talking much but just enjoying being in their home together. After a while, when her responses came more slowly, more sleepily, he carried her the few steps to their bed, laid her in it gently. He lit a couple of candles in the room, put out the oil lamps, then laid down next to her, but found himself laying awake a long time watching her.
On her part, Iaondrin fell asleep while looking at him, eyelids blinking more and more slowly until they eventually stayed closed, even before the candles had burned down. She had not slept well since Bryan had come to Azpiri’s, but now she slept deeply, and she did not dream.
Bryan was up with the sun, feeling energized despite not having slept much. He cleaned up what they had left in the kitchen, making sure he got all the pieces of glass. Once it was straightened, he went to the baker’s for some bread and pastries, and back at home he put on a pot for tea. He sat in one of the chairs in their bedroom, sipping from his mug and nibbling his pastry, watching Iaondrin and thinking. After a time, she woke and stretched, and he saw her hand reach for his side of the bed. “Here,” he said softly and she turned to him. The smile she was working on did little more than soften her features when she saw him, but it was beautiful nonetheless. “I love you, Iaondrin.”
Iaondrin propped herself up on her elbows and blinked at him sleepily. “You look like you’ve already been out.”
He nodded. “Cleaned the front of the house, got bread and pastries, made tea.” His eyes drifted over her unclothed form and it took an effort of will not to slide back into bed next to her. Instead, he moved to sit on the bed, handed her his tea.
She sat up and pushed her tangled hair back from her face before taking the tea in both hands. It was still warm. “I should go see Azpiri. Tell him … well, tell him whatever.”
“We’ll take care of it,” he said, then he was silent for several moments, considering her before nodding. “I wonder if… would you be my wife? I don’t know that I have much to offer, ‘cept what we’ve already had, but I think I make you happy, and I know that you make me…” he fell silent again, but wondered if she could hear how hard his heart was suddenly beating.
Iaondrin looked at him over the top of the mug for a long time before answering. The threads had no advice to give her about how to respond, what a “normal” person might say. “You have offered me more than anyone else. And you do make me happy.” She reached out and took one of his hands, interlacing her fingers with his. “I would be happy to be your wife, Bryan. But you have to understand something.” She looked up at him through her eyelashes. “I am never going to wear those shoes, not even if you marry me.”
“When I marry you,” he said absently before what she answered actually sunk in. His grin was sudden, his elation had him trembling. He found he didn’t know what to do or say next, so went with the simple expedient of taking the tea from her, setting it on the side table, then pulling her into an embrace, still unable to stop smiling. “I couldn’t kiss your feet if you wore the shoes,” he finally said.
“You can’t kiss them if I’m wearing my boots, either,” she pointed out. It felt right sitting there with his arms around her. For a moment, Iaondrin was struck by the image of wearing nothing but her boots, and shook her head to clear it. “Also keep in mind that marrying me doesn’t get you a Seat on the High Council.”
“Like I said before, we’re out there too long, people get ideas, I talk to the Watch. Too much of a hassle.” He loosened his arms enough so he could look her in the face. “I thought you were done trying to get me to leave.”
She frowned slightly, and then nodded. “That did sound like I was trying to do that, didn’t it? But I didn’t mean it that way. I just …” She paused, looking for the words. “I don’t want you to think I’m marrying you so I’ll have an excuse to tell Priore to go pound sand.”
“Well, first the shoes, then the Seat… You’re taking away all my dreams,” he smiled wryly. “I didn’t want you to think I was asking because he’s about to.”
From the look Iaondrin gave him, it was obvious the thought had not occurred to her. “I’m sure he’d let me keep you as a lover, if you were worried about that. I could even make it a point of the negotiations.” She might have been joking, but she was so often literal about things, it could be difficult to tell.
“I thought you were going to tell him to take a long walk off a short pier?” he asked, one corner of his mouth curling up. “Five minutes after you say yes, are you going to leave me for another man? Oh, the tragedy!” He wasn’t sure short of changing her mind she could dampen his mood right at this moment.
“If you had listened closely, you would know I’m not proposing leaving you for another man.” She kissed him softly. “Now that we’re affianced, aren’t you going to offer me a pastry, or something?”
“Affianced?” he repeated. “Is that what it’s called?” He shrugged. “To tell the truth, I have no idea what I, or we, do now. But I will be happy to bring you a pastry and a mug of tea.”
“Somebody has to perform the ceremony, I suppose,” she mused. “But I have no idea who.”
Bryan shrugged again. “My parents’ll know,” he started, then paused. “Ma’s gonna wanna hug you, even though we’ve only had a few dinners together.”
Iaondrin stiffened slightly, a reflex that she could not conceal – not that she would have tried to conceal it from him in any event. “You need to make her understand she can’t do that.”
He nodded slowly, “I know.” He seemed about to go on, but tilted his head instead. “There might be one time she could… How long does it take the mark to fade, once there’s no more contact?”
“You mean the mark I put on you?” She brushed her fingertips over his cheek, but when he shook his head, she thought some more. “Oh, you mean just touching. I don’t know. I’ve never had occasion to figure it out.”
Bryan wrinkled his face. “All right, never mind then. If you knew it was under, say two months, then I figured we could tell my parents the day after we beat off the Hunt again. But better not to chance it. I’ll talk to my ma. Now, you just lay there and I’ll bring you some breakfast in bed.” He kissed her lightly, rubbed the end of his nose against hers, and went to make her tea and get the other pastry.
She lay back for a moment and stared at the ceiling, noting with satisfaction that it didn’t seem to be about to crash down on her. She rolled over onto her side to look at the floor, just to make sure it didn’t look to be at imminent risk of collapse. Then she tugged the sheet up to look at her toes, thinking about impractical shoes and practical boots.
When he brought her breakfast back, she still had the sheet up and a slightly perplexed look on her face. “Missing something?” he asked, holding out the mug and pastry.
“Almost certainly.” Iaondrin took the mug, glad for the warmer tea, and the pastry, and didn’t speak again for a few minutes until they were both almost gone. “Do you think Jaely could carry flowers or something at the ceremony?”
He started to say that it was all new to him, but remembered that from what he’d heard, wedding feasts had family and friends and she was in short supply of both. Tilting his head he wondered if there were a way to sneak her family in for the ceremony, and the part of him that planned when he was not paying attention was set in motion. “I don’t know, but if there’s a way to do it, we’ll do it.”
She smiled then, just a small one, around the last bite of the pastry. “I’ll have to get her some ribbons. So she’ll feel pretty.”
“Right,” he chuckled. “You are a treasure.” With the last few exchanges between them, she revealed how happy she really was, and Bryan got another glimpse of who Iaondrin deserved to be. He took her mug from her as she ate the last of her pastry, set it aside and sat on the side of the bed again. Holding her face in his hands, he kissed her thoroughly.
While they were eating a brief midday meal, he said, “We should leave a message for Lewes at the Vind Hall, then tell Azpiri what we learned. If you want, we could visit my parents and tell them. And you should tell Morgan. Or,” he paused as a thought occurred to him, “we could tell them all at the same time.”
Iaondrin looked up from her plate. “You mean use the amulet at your parents’ house? Your mother isn’t going to hug me, is she?”
“I’ll make sure she doesn’t. We’ll give them a fuller explanation of what is going on, make sure they understand.” He had been as brief as he could before about why his parents couldn’t touch Iaondrin, but now that she was going to be their daughter-in-law, they should know. “I understand if you want to tell Morgan here before we go out,” he added softly.
She looked at him, thinking that she should want to tell them all together. Maybe that was what Bryan would want. But she knew she didn’t want that. In fact, the thought of being present when his parents were told made her uneasy, the worry that his mother might, despite any warnings, hold out her arms made an itch grow between Iaondrin’s shoulder-blades. But mostly, she selfishly wanted the time she had to talk to Morgan to be her time for reasons she could not articulate even to herself, though Morgan himself would probably enjoy the chance to “meet” the future in-laws. He had a boldness and ease of spirit that she could not match.
Bryan watched her as the silence grew, saw her turn away, the little frowns cross her face. “So use the amulet and tell him,” he suggested finally without rancor. This was her time, from what little he understood of being… affianced was her word, and she should get to do what made her happy.
She spun her fork in her hand. “It … That’s okay with you?” As she asked the question, another part of her mind continued to worry away the issue of why it was important to her to talk to Morgan first. She liked his mother, she liked his father, she liked how Bryan interacted with the two of them. They would become her family. Without even hearing Bryan’s answer, she pulled the amulet from her pocket and looked at it, how the light reflected from the cut surface of the stone.
“It’s fine with me,” he assured her. “He’s never met my parents and I imagine things would get quite confusing for him only listening anyway. He should hear first.”
She was still staring at the stone when he finished answering. They will be my family. “They took him away. I couldn’t do anything about it, but I don’t know if he understood that then. He understands it now, of course, and he has found his place, so it’s silly to feel this way, but …” She stopped, drew a breath. “I need him to know I’m not turning away from him.” She closed her hand over the stone and looked back up at him. “I need to know it for myself.”
This time Bryan was silent for a few moments, mulling over her words. “You know, you’re not losing Morgan. You’re gaining some Montpeliers.”
“A whole set,” she agreed, with one corner of her mouth turning up. And with that, a thought came that had not occurred to her before. “Don’t you have any cousins? Aunts? Uncles?”
“No,” he answered simply. “Only son of two only children. Only my ma’s dad was still alive when I was little, and I don’t remember him. From what I have been told, both my parents’ parents were older when they had my parents.”
“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say. It didn’t seem polite to express relief that they wouldn’t have to warn a bunch of other people not to be overly affectionate. Nor to express regret that there weren’t more Montpeliers.
He shrugged. “Hope you didn’t want a really big wedding,” he smiled wryly. When they had finished eating, he stood to start cleaning up. “Talk to Morgan,” he urged. “He should know that you’ve found your place.”
Iaondrin nodded, pushed her plate and utensils across the table so he could pick them up, and then laid the amulet on the table. Morgan’s response was quick, and she decided not to waste any time with pleasantries (not that she ever did, since the counted every second as precious), and went straight to the news of the engagement. There was silence on the other end for several seconds, and then the sound of Morgan calling out the news to others. She could almost picture him sitting in one of the large Clunne tents, turning to say something loudly; that faint, distant voice would be Parand, asking him to repeat himself just to be sure she had heard it correctly. And then there was muffled cheers.
“I know how you hate parties, cousin, so we’ll celebrate on your behalf. As if this bunch needs an excuse to drink,” he added.
“It’s good of them to take that party burden off your hands,” Bryan said with a chuckle, resting his hand on Iaondrin’s shoulder. “Tough work, that.”
“The Clunne are a generous people,” Morgan answered. “I will have to make certain an appropriate wedding gift is sent. By the way, Bryan,” he continued, and the lightness in his voice became tempered with more seriousness, “Owen may be prepared to have his people meet with representatives of your Councillor Ankarra.”
“Good,” Bryan answered. “Of all the League Councillors, she seemed the one to make a deal where both sides profited and stick to it. And as we told you, she helped us out, or at least her bodyguard did. We still use the names she gave us.”
“There’s some wrangling of egos that needs to occur on this end first,” Morgan cautioned, “but I am cautiously optimistic.” From there, the conversation wandered, until the full thirty minutes had been used, and Iaondrin slipped the amulet back into her pocket.
Before she could say anything else, a knock on the door came. It was Gerald, with his assistants and a crew of workers from the ironmonger, ready to start installing the iron-work. “Going to get noisy around here,” he warned them.
“We were about to go out for a couple of hours anyway,” Bryan assured him. “How’s the barn?” Since Gerald was there, and they were going to need it soon, he figured he’d ask.
Gerald grinned, a pleased glint in his eye. “A veritable death trap for your nasties. If you’re nice to me, I’ll tell you where all the tricks and traps are.”
“I only need to know where they aren’t,” Bryan pointed out with a smile. They left the workers to begin and went to the Vind Hall. When he got to the clerk at the counter, he said, “I’d like to have a message at all the Vind Halls for someone who does work for you.”
The young woman glanced past him, to where Iaondrin stood before the wall of postings. It was obvious she recognized her – after all, the League notice for her arrest had been pending for years. But she made no comment, and instead simply asked, “Have you written it already, or do you require quill and parchment?”
“Didn’t write it yet, but it’s simple.” He took the proffered equipment and scratched out a quick note:
I didn’t understand it all before, but now I do. We need to talk. Please return to Tarrish as soon as you can.
“This is for Jamesen Lewes,” he told the woman. Silently, he hoped the man got it soon as he paid his fees.
Olivia Nichols took the parchment and collected the coin. “We’ll distribute it immediately.” She stood, said something to one of the other three clerks on duty, and disappeared into a back room.
Iaondrin was still standing in front of the wall, reading notices, arms folded across her chest, and carefully not glaring daggers at any of the Vind who paused to look at her as they passed by.
“Something wrong or are you ready to go to Azpiri’s?”
“Just a little jumpy. I haven’t been in a Vind Hall in a long time.”
“Well, you know how I feel about ‘em,” he murmured, taking her hand and leading her out. “But I guess they have their uses,” he grudgingly admitted. At Azpiri’s shop, they asked to see the Dominti.
Azpiri’s student opened the door to the upper floor, and told them he was upstairs in the study. At the top of the stairs, they found him with numerous books opened or stacked up, and sheafs of paper either filled with or ready to record notes. He looked up from where he stood over one table-top. “Welcome back.”
“Thanks,” Bryan looked up at the mage as he stood upright. “We’re pretty sure we have a name for it now,” he said without preamble and laid the scroll on the table in front of Azpiri. “The Terror born from Silence and Shadow. Or, as the Eepling say it, Verschrikking, from Stilte en Schadu.”
Azpiri smoothed the scroll out with long fingers and looked down at it, eyebrows drawing together. After a moment, he said, with a faint note of annoyance in his voice, “I have never heard of it.” It was obvious he did not like the realization.
“This piece of information is about four hundred years old,” Bryan responded, though he wasn’t trying to annoy Azpiri any more than he already was. “I don’t think anybody knew it, except the person who called the thing.”
Azpiri blew out a breath, and looked around the books he had piled up. “Unfortunately, my library focuses on things other than studies of <between> and gates and portals and the like. I have been over everything I have, with little useful result.” He looked back at the two of them. “And the two of you?” He did not outright ask whether they had spoken to any other mages, but it was clear that if they had not, he would soon report the connection between the teleportation problems and the A’nari Keep.
“This was copied from the Library in Halveet. Then we went to the Aihv’ to meet with some people we hoped could tell us what the A’nari were doing and who might have been angry enough to do this. No answer yet.” Bryan shrugged. “I think it is the trap, though, causing the problems. Iaondrin told me that when they tried to teleport out during and after the attack, they kept ending up back inside the Keep. And then when they finally walked out, they couldn’t teleport very far, ended up walking most of the way down the mountain.”
Azpiri’s eyes moved from Bryan to Iaondrin and lingered for a moment, as if he were imagining how that had worked out. She held his gaze, with an expression that said she would welcome neither questions, nor sympathy, and he turned back to Bryan instead. “I need to be certain that people who have the required expertise have been informed.”
“Ellinden So knows what we suspect about the trap. Seemed to think it was a better explanation than others that had been bandied about. Who else she’s told by now…,” Bryan shrugged. “That mage that Locopo sent to guard his family during the attack is mad now. Mad enough to attack his own Evandin.”
Azpiri relaxed slightly with the news that Ellinden So had been notified, clearly thinking that if anyone could muster the right resources to the problem, she could. The last sentence though, caused him to freeze in place, surprise evident on his face. “His own Evandin?” Iaondrin watched his reaction, knowing full well how his mind must be spinning at that revelation. He looked around again and murmured softly, “I would much rather go back to being simply a shopkeeper, hearing about the adventures only in passing.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to join in the fun. You just have access to information we don’t. But whatever it was about this thing that drove him mad, he also can tell when it is coming. There’s some sort of connection there now.”
“Is he still alive?” He turned back to Bryan and Iaondrin. “Or the Evandin?”
“Yes. Both of them. We didn’t know what had happened when we first met them. We left a message for them, hoping they’ll come back so we can find out what drove him mad. And maybe help him.” Bryan suppressed a shiver. “I don’t want it to happen to me, too.”
Iaondrin frowned slightly, wondering whether she would be able to take care of him if he were mad, the way his mother had done for his father. Of course, Safford had a whole other sort of crazy going on … She looked sideways at Bryan, trying to imagine him in a bushy beard, but she just couldn’t quite picture it.
“Depending on how he attacked his Evandin, his madness may have as much to do with that as with these things from <between>,” Azpiri answered.
“Tallentire implied strongly that he was mad from the encounter, but I’ll take your word for it. The mage Evandin relationship is not something I know a lot about.” Bryan tilted his head to the side, thinking over what had been said. “I don’t think there’s any more we learned on this trip.”
Azpiri nodded, and passed the scroll back to Bryan. “There is not much, if anything, that I can do about the teleport problem. But I can at least give you your cold iron sword, and equip you as best I can for your next encounter. All charged against your account, of course,” he added with a sigh.
“After the sword and the pack, the rest is Iaondrin’s, I believe.” He turned to Iaondrin. “Actually, the pack I asked for is for you, too. It’s like mine. You’re starting to carry more scrolls and stuff, so I thought it might be useful.”
“Oh.” Iaondrin stared at him blankly for a moment, wondering why it had not occurred to her to think of buying one herself. She wasn’t used to carrying much with her, that was why. “Thanks.”
“Not a problem. I have an eye for useful items. Stick with me, it’ll rub off,” he smiled slightly. To Azpiri, he said, “If you have the sword and pack, we’ll get out of your way, let you get back to work.”
Bryan led Iaondrin to his parents’ apartment. After greetings were exchanged, he had them sit on one side of their table, he and Iaondrin on the other. “There are a couple of things we have to tell you. I know I told you there was some magic, and I used a lot of hand-waving, about not touching Iaondrin, but now it’s time you learned exactly what the problem is.
“You’ve heard about her family, the stories of what happened. The thing that did that is still trapped inside the Keep, but it sends out pieces of itself to hunt the A’nari. And those they touch.”
Iaondrin kept her hands folded in her lap, and her eyes focused somewhere in the middle of the table-top. She could almost feel how Bryan’s mother looked from her son to Iaondrin and then back again. Would she be angry that her son had put himself in danger? She tried to look at his parents from the corner of her eye, to read their reaction, wondering all the while how they would feel to hear that her son planned to marry a woman who had brought such darkness to him.
Eldon leaned his head to one side as he considered the two of them. It was strange that even with the fifteen or more years missing, he could still tell that his son was confident, not worried. He found himself saddened to see that Iaondrin seemed to have pulled back further into her shell, most likely worried about what they would think. “You put yourself in harm’s way?” he asked his son.
“Yeah, pa. It was my choice,” Bryan answered firmly. “I knew what I was getting into,” but he paused and one corner of his mouth turned up wryly. “Well, mostly. No one knows what they are getting into until they face this thing. But yes. I chose to not let Iaondrin go on alone.”
Donia took her husband’s hand on the table-top, interlacing their fingers, deliberately waiting so that both Bryan and Iaondrin could see it. “We do what we must, for those we love.” She wanted to hold her other hand out to the girl, to show her that she would be willing to take on the danger her son had, but she did not. First, it would merely create an awkwardness, when the girl refused to take it. Second, it would divide her son’s attention, give him another that he would feel the need to protect.
“So now, you understand why you can’t touch Iaondrin. At least until I go and clean out the Keep.” Bryan waited for both his parents to nod. “Good. Because I’ve asked Iaondrin to be my wife and she’s said yes.” Despite their nods, he still tensed to stand and keep himself between his parents and his wife-to-be.
Donia glanced at her husband, and then looked back to her son. She wanted to stand up, to go to the girl. But that was why Bryan had told them first about the curse she carried – so Donia would know not to do it. Because of that, she instead reached for her son’s hand, and let that touch and her smile tell them how pleased she was. “Good. That’s very good.”
Bryan sighed and relaxed even as his father nodded in agreement with his wife. “I’m glad you think so, because neither of us knows what to do now.”
“Well, you could have a religious or a civil ceremony,” Donia answered. “Our family has never been observant. Iaondrin, do you follow any faith?” Finally, the girl looked up (Not a girl, Donia reminded herself) and shook her head. “So you need a justice of the peace and to register your union. And,” she added with a half-smile, “pay the appropriate fee.”
“Well, it is the League,” Bryan offered wryly, reaching over for Iaondrin’s hand. “And what happens at the ceremony?”
“Eating. Drinking,” Eldon answered with a small smile. “Well, that’s more the celebration after.”
“You say your vows. The justice can say them, and you can simply affirm, or you can choose your own. We affirmed – it was easier than trying to remember exactly what we wanted to say.”
“Seems simple enough,” Bryan nodded. “Think you can handle that?” he asked Iaondrin, squeezing her hand briefly.
“I think so. The less I have to talk, the better.”
“Is there anything else? I’d hate to find out we did it wrong at some point,” Bryan asked his mother. “Plus, that doesn’t seem like much for the big deal that weddings are made out to be.”
“You need witnesses,” Donia added. “And any friends or family that you want to attend and share your celebration. A small one, I am sure,” she reassured Iaondrin. “It can be as big or as small a deal as you want it to be. Pick a place, pick a time, arrange for the justice of the peace, let the people you want to be there know when and where to show up.” She didn’t know what the two of them wanted, whether Iaondrin would prefer that it be informal, and told herself that she would have to accept the possibility that her soon-to-be daughter-in-law might want to be married in her trousers and boots.
“Doesn’t sound too hard,” Bryan nodded again. There was more small talk and catching up since Bryan and Iaondrin had been away for a week or so and then they took their leave of his parents.
To be continued.