This, like all of the other stories I’ll be putting on the blog from here on in, is experimental, and what I explore in this story might not actually show up in book seven.
THIS STORY IS NO LONGER RELEVANT
SPOILERS FOR BOOK SIX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So, Taro and I were married. How very bizarre. My whole life, during the few occasions when the subject had arisen, I had known I would never marry. Why would I? I owned no property and my family wasn’t political. There were no other reasons to get married.
And yet, here I was, possessed of a husband.
It was strange, what could happen when one had virtually no control over one’s own life.
The festivities weren’t over, of course. The ceremony had been completed, totally without dignity, one thing after another falling apart. Most of the spectators had been amused, but some were a little disturbed. I didn’t like to acknowledge that I might have just the smallest trace of superstition lingering in the corner of my mind, but I couldn’t help worrying that the ridiculous ceremony was a sign of things to come.
So, the ceremony was over, but the drinking, eating, and dancing were to commence. I liked drinking, I liked eating, I liked dancing, but the last time we and Fiona’s tenants had indulged in those activities all at once, it had turned into a riot. Since then, Fiona’s tenants had initiated their own ceremony offering their loyalty to her, but a couple of weeks wasn’t much time to reverse their opinions from blaming Fiona for everything that went wrong on the estate to trusting her completely. It was only logical to assume they’d carry remnants of resentment and even hostility for Fiona.
And I feared it was be more than remnants. More like big slabs filling their brains. What would happen with the introduction of alcohol?
Given all that had happened that day, a brawl would almost be fitting.
Taro took my hand and put it on his forearm. “Stop worrying,” he chided me in a whisper.
“I think worrying has become my natural state,” I responded.
“Well stop. It’ll create little lines between your eyebrows. You’re too young for that.”
“Yes. I’ll snap my fingers and change my emotions.” Actually, I was supposed to be able to do that. Shields were trained to do that. I’d sort of given up on that.
“Don’t be snarky on our wedding day.” He grinned at me, all white teeth. “It’s the most beautiful day of our lives.”
I snickered. I couldn’t help it.
And the day we bonded was the most significant day of our lives, if not the most beautiful. A wedding paled in comparison.
Our Matching had gone off without a hitch. Perhaps because Matching was normal for our kind, while marriage was not?
We followed all of the spectators to the area Fiona had cleared to allow for the festivities. I enjoyed the sight of the three large kegs, the dozens of bottles of wine, and half a dozen decanters of whiskey. And then there were the four long tables completely covered with food. Cheeses, breads, slices of various meats and fish – ugh, fish – vegetables and fruits unique to the area, and – best of all – piles of creamy pastries and cakes that I knew had layers of icing as thick as my index finger, so sweet it would make my teeth ring.
I did love dancing, but I was suddenly starving and I felt like I hadn’t eaten in ages. For the past several days I’d been living off coffee.
Taro chuckled and covered my hand with his own. “Wait, wait,” he said. “We’ve not yet finished providing a spectacle.”
The first dance was meant to be performed by the newly married couple and their parents, a symbol of the birth of the alliance between the two families. If Taro’s mother, the Dowager Duchess, were still alive, I would have had to dance with her, and wouldn’t have that been an interesting experience? As it was, there was only Tarce, Taro’s cousin, who wasn’t the most comfortable choice, either. We didn’t get on.
Tarce and I and Taro and my mother stood in a square in the middle of the dancing area. The musicians played the very calm, sedate beats of the Unity Sonata. We met our partners palm to palm, turning around each other, and then traded partners.
And Taro, one of the most graceful people I knew, stepped on my feet and tripped over his own. There were snickers. I wasn’t even surprised.
Everyone applauded politely once we finished and broke up. Apart from this dance, I was not to dance with Taro or any of my family. My evening would be filled with strangers. Though that was my fault, that they were strangers. I hadn’t spent as much time as I should have, getting to know them.
For about an hour, the musicians played relatively tranquil music, as per Fiona’s instructions. While everyone knew that Shields were susceptible to the affects of music, that we could be driven to violence, laughter, or lust, it would have been really embarrassing if I had gone crazy in front of everyone.
Not that it would have been the first time.
However, boring music at a wedding was tiring and more suitable for a funeral, so after the first hour, the musicians segued into livelier tunes, with the understanding that neither Taro nor I would be dancing, and that Taro would remain by my side in case the music did affect me.
So far so good, though I couldn’t help bopping a little in place, and Taro laughed at me.
I looked about for my family. My parents, my sister, Dias, they were all jumping around and having a good time. Part of my mind was enjoying their pleasure, was grateful that they were mingling so easily with Fiona’s tenants, but another part of my mind resented their uncomplicated indulgence. None of them had had to get married.
Well, yes, my parents, but they’d had a choice in the matter.
Mika didn’t seem to be around. Further examination revealed that Linder was absent as well. I smiled. Lucky them, to be able to sneak off and have some real fun. Mika had made out well during his visit. It might be difficult for him to leave Linder behind, though.
I looked longingly at the tables of food, envying those who were availing themselves of the offerings. Starving starving starving. But if I couldn’t dance, then I had to be available to speak to whoever cared to address me, and talking while stuffing food in your mouth was never pretty.
The sun had set when the tenants started leaving in large numbers. Most of them would have to rise at dawn to begin their long, hard day of labour. Mika returned, looking rumpled, in time for our family to say farewell to the guests and to thank them for their attendance and gifts.
Most of the local aristocrats lingered, as many of them had nothing to do the next morning. Healer Browne remained as well, though her days were just as long and difficult as any other tenant’s.
“Many people added to enough alcohol to float a boat can often equal violence,” she explained.
“You’re extremely dedicated,” I complimented her. She was everywhere, all the time, prepared to swing from a common appointment to a catastrophe.
“I think it’s time I take on an apprentice,” she replied. “Carson Bench is bright, of a good age, and he has shown an interest.”
“Has he shown any other talents?”
Browne could cast spells. Everyone knew it. But few, if any, spoke of it, as far as I knew. Casting spells created a complicated legal problem. Pretending to cast spells was illegal, but actually casting spells was not, because according to the law, magic didn’t exist. So people were arrested for faking spells, not for actually casting them. It was all quite stupid.
We were all pretending neither she nor any other tenants with such abilities actually had them. We had all lied about it to the Emperor’s Imperial Guard, too. A truth no one would admit existed. That could come back and kick us all in the teeth, someday, but I tried not to think about that.
Browne used casting primarily for treating her patients, and I wondered if she might consider a person lacking those abilities worthy of her time.
“Not that I’ve seen,” she answered. “It’s not essential.”
She would, of course, know better than I, but I didn’t know if I could ever again feel full confidence in a healer who couldn’t cast.
Then again, maybe all of the healers who’d treated me in the past had also used casting, and I had lacked the knowledge to recognize it.
I felt Taro stiffen beside me. “Earthquake,” he whispered.
Oh, of course an event would hit on our wedding day.
I looked to Mika, who carried my pouch of casting supplies, because Zaire forbid I mar the look of my gown with a belt and pouch. He handed the pouch over, and I opened it and dumped the contents on the ground. Then I sat on the ground myself, awkward and uncomfortable in my dress.
The lingering aristocrats circled around to watch the show. I hated having spectators when I Shielded. I always worried I looked deranged, with all of my attention inwardly focused. It was made all the worse by the fact that I had to cast to get the job done, which never should have happened. It was only because Taro had to channel in the place of his birth that such extra steps were necessary.
Damn the Emperor, sending us to the Flown Raven, flouting the laws that stated only the Triple S council could place us.
I remember being told once that the Emperor was weak and easily bullied. That had not been my experience with the man. It wasn’t what anyone else was experiencing, either.
It was not the time to be distracted.
I cleared my mind. I properly arranged my casting ingredients. I spoke the necessary words.
And the cast didn’t work at all. I could feel it. It was as though the effect of it hit some sort of wall within me and didn’t reach Taro at all.
But it didn’t seem to need to. Taro’s shields went down, mine went up, and it suddenly felt as though I were actually inside his head. I could feel his brain working. I could feel the ground beneath his feet.
Most disturbing of all, I could see through his eyes. See him looking at me.
And my, didn’t I look a mess?
This channelling was the quickest and least difficult we had performed since arriving. Actually, it was the easiest channelling we’d ever experienced anywhere. In mere moments, it was over, and I was back inside my own head.
Taro was staring at me, his face pale.
“That’s it?” one of the aristocratic spectators demanded with disappointment.
“How do we know there was anything going on at all?” another added.
Taro scowled. That particular accusation, that Sources and Shields claimed disasters that never happened made their expertise necessary, had always been a sore point for him.
“Thank you for your attendance,” mother said bluntly, an obvious invitation to leave.
“Hiroki, Sam,” Fiona called to a couple of footmen. “Be so good as to collect a few others and light our company’s way to their carriages. We wouldn’t want anyone to stumble.”
The lingerers were reluctant, but they were quickly herded away.
And I headed straight to the closest platter of meat. The food had all been picked over, which wasn’t appealing, but I was so hungry it felt like my stomach was trying to eat itself.
Mika took it upon himself to collect my casting ingredients and put them in my pouch. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t thought to do that myself.
“That seemed much smoother than other events I’ve witnessed,” he said.
“We’re getting used to our post,” Taro replied quickly.
Which wasn’t what was happening at all. I didn’t know what was, though.
I was getting tired of strange things just popping up on us all the time. It was making me prematurely old.
At least I had a suspicion of my own about what might have happened. All by myself. No one had to spoon feed me. Fantastic. “I’m about to collapse,” I announced as I piled two plates with Taro’s favourites and my own. “I’d like to do that in our suite.”
“Of course.” My father kissed both of my cheeks. “Congratulations, my dear.”
As our family all kissed us and wished us well, Taro grabbed two bottles of wine, one red and one white. Then we finally escaped to our suite. Taro seemed to feel the need to hide just as much as I. He leaned against our closed door as though he feared someone might try to force their way through it. “What the hell was that?” he demanded.
I put the plates on an end table. “It seemed as though I was actually inside you in some way, that I could feel what you felt and see what you saw. Is that how it was for you?” I sat down. I was so tired.
“Pretty much.” He left the door and went to the sidebar to pour each of us a goblet of wine. “Do you think getting married did something to us?”
“Yes.” Ugh, warm white wine. “It was supported by a cast. I wonder if this happens to all of the couples the matchmaker handles. The matchmaker has a reputation of unbreakable contracts, after all.”
“Can you feel me now?” he asked. After a moment of staring at me, he said, “Because I can’t feel you.”
I looked at him. I wasn’t sure what to do, to test the theory. How did I make my mind reach out to his when we weren’t channelling?
The answer was that I didn’t. “I can’t feel you, either.”
“So, perhaps the bond in combination with the wedding ritual,” he suggested.
I disagreed. “Pairs have been married before. No one likes it, but it’s happened. I’ve never heard of any reaction like this.”
“Do you plan on telling anyone?” Taro finally took a sip of his wine, grimaced, then put the goblet on the sidebar as far from him as possible, as though he thought it might be contagious.
It had probably gone off. Maybe half of our guests were at home throwing up.
“Of course not,” I said. Never tell anyone about any extra abilities, ever.
Though, as it had turned out, just because we never admitted we had unusual talents didn’t mean smart people hadn’t ever figured anything out. We’d sprinkled people all over the world who knew at least something of the unnatural things we could do.
“Maybe they kept it to themselves,” said Taro.
Perhaps. It didn’t seem likely to me, though, as I’d ever met anyone quite as paranoid as Taro. Sometimes I wondered just where the paranoia had come from, but I never asked. If he wanted to tell me, he would.
Taro looked through the other bottles on the sidebar, perhaps looking for a more palatable wine. “Can you imagine what the Triple S council would do if they found out? They’d be trying to get everyone married off.”
“It would be too unpredictable,” I objected. “It could go very badly.” Just the Pair bond could create emotional imbalances between partners. What problems might a marriage cause to such relationships?
“Maybe they’d figure it was worth the risk.”
“Huh.” It would be disgusting, forcing people to marry. I would know, I’d had to do it. Though, no doubt, many of the regulars would find it all fabulously romantic.
An old memory popped into my head. “Maybe it’s more than that?”
Taro gave up on his search for wine. “I really don’t like the sound of that.”
“The harmony bobs,” I said.
“Remember? The merchant made us go through that ridiculous little ritual before he would give them to us. And he said there was some kind of cast involved.”
Taro shook his head. “As a selling point. I’m worried you’ve begun seeing a cast in any ritual.”
“All rituals have power.” So I had been told, and so I was coming to believe. They didn’t all involve casts, true, but they changed people’s relationships and beliefs. They created legal status. They could have people executed.
“They were stolen from us,” Taro persisted.
“Maybe they’d already done the job.”
“I think you’re bending your brain to find explanations that aren’t there,” Taro warned.
“What do you think is happening to us, then?” I challenged him.
“That it’s us. This sort of thing is always happening to us.”
I sighed. He had a point.
He collapsed into the settee beside me. “Then stop thinking so hard. You’re making my head hurt.” He took my goblet, had a sip, and grimaced as he handed it back.
I didn’t know why he kept doing that. He knew I drank white and he didn’t like white.
I supposed the why of the change in our channelling didn’t really matter. It was done. And if it meant channelling was easier and that I didn’t have to carry a purse of ingredients with me, that was excellent.
I was tired of keeping secrets, though. Maybe when I was a million years old, I’d force some poor young thing to sit beside me and tell her everything I’d ever done. It would be a great relief.