Chapter Ten: Ekua
Mallyn began making progress at kamai again. When he managed to plug one of the holes that was involved in producing beads, Rithka made a show of distress, but she had pounds of them already sorted and unused; by the time she ran out he would be able make more for her on purpose. And they'd all have holes in them. When he managed to stop the indoor weather, Ehail put away her book with the drying and waterproofing spells in it, and there were somewhat fewer makeshift paperweights in use around the house.
He was working on the last gap. It was harder than any of the previous ones. Korulen thought he just wasn't motivated - magic escaping through that hole couldn't do anything on its own besides drain him, so no one else could tell if he left it open. Mallyn felt like he was working as hard as ever, but if he bought her theory, it would be because he didn't want to stop having an excuse to see her.
He told Sashpark about Korulen, feeling that it was only fair.
"I have a crush on my kamai tutor," he said. "It's not going to go anywhere - she's got a boyfriend, I don't think she's interested in me at all, I'm just her teacher's nephew she's helping. She might even be getting paid, I'm not sure. But it seemed like you should know about that."
"It's fine with me," yawned Sashpark. She picked up his hand where it was resting on her bed between them and inspected it. "Since we're only practicing anyway. What is the appeal supposed to be of holding hands? This is just a hand. It's not even gross and cool like it would be if it wasn't attached to you. I don't go around holding things that I have around that are equally interesting, like my umbrella, for no reason."
"It could keep us from losing each other in a crowd," he suggested. "I think that's why Mom wants me to hold her hand when we have to go shopping."
"Your mom makes you hold her hand when you go shopping?" repeated Sashpark, eyebrow raised.
"You're how old again?"
"It's so I don't get lost!"
"You couldn't find your silver-haired mom again in a crowd of elves and humans?"
"You can shapeshift," Sashpark remarked. "In an emergency you could get a good view that way."
"I couldn't before."
She became tired of holding his hand and put it back down. "You could song her."
"She didn't want to lose me in the first place, I think. Besides, I see long strings of family members all holding hands walking around together all the time, kids older than me even. Maybe it would be weird just in Reverni?"
Sashpark made a dismissive noise. "They didn't mention anything like that in my class on families around the world."
"Uh, maybe they didn't have time to cover everything?" Mallyn suggested. "If they were trying to do the whole world."
"It wasn't really the whole world. We did Esmaar and Imilaat and Nirlan and Ertydo and Linnip and Mekand and Larotia and Rannde and Egeria." She made a fleeting face when she named the last country.
"Is something wrong with Egeria?" Mallyn asked.
"They don't like dragons. We're not allowed in their country without official government escorts the whole time and if we split up from them we can get arrested. Thudias need escorts too, but they don't have to be Egerian employees, they can just be anyone who's not a dragon or a thudia."
"That's... that's pretty horrible," said Mallyn. "Why is it like that?"
"You think they have a reason?" Sashpark asked, scowling.
"It doesn't sound random... I mean, dragons are great, so they'd have to be thinking something weird. If you don't know, then -"
"There isn't such a thing as a good enough reason to be like that," Sashpark said firmly. "I went there once, when I was fifteen."
"...Why? Wouldn't you want to stay far away if they're awful to you...?"
"I would!" exclaimed Sashpark. "I was fifteen! I was a baby! I didn't get to decide to stay home."
"How did that happen?"
"It's a long story," she mumbled. "Do you really want to hear it?"
"Yeah. If you don't mind telling me," Mallyn added hastily. "You don't have to if you don't want."
Sashpark looked away. "My other grandma," she said. "My papa's mama. Gramma Gia. She was Egerian but she moved here and married my grandpa Onnarn. She didn't like my dad. And she hated me."
Mallyn nodded slowly.
"But she pretended, in front of my papa and Dad. So they thought she was just a crotchety old lady but grandmotherly love won out." Sashpark swallowed. "I don't blame them. I never told them a thing till I was fifty. She... told me never to say anything about how she locked me in the closet when me and my brothers and sister stayed with her - or how she called me that lizard thing when Papa couldn't hear - or how she said I should stop complaining about my cousin hitting me because I had scales so it couldn't hurt - or how she promised Papa she'd look out for me when she took us all four to Egeria when I was fifteen to learn about our heritage and instead she gave me to the escort and said I could learn about where dragons belonged and the escort kept me in a cage the whole week." She rubbed at her eye.
Mallyn stared at her.
"Gramma Gia said that if I did say anything, my papa would realize how wrong it had been to marry a dragon, and my parents would get divorced, and Papa would never want to see me again and I'd never see my sister and brothers either." She said Gramma Gia like it was all one word, all one syllable, that poured out to refer to its subject without indicating any affection or familiarity. It wasn't quite Mallyn's emphatic nameless pronouns, but it was familiar.
Mallyn opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
"And when I was fifty, she died," Sashpark said flatly. "And then she couldn't do anything to me or get anybody divorced, and I told... and my papa wouldn't even go to her funeral or let my brothers and sister go."
"Good," said Mallyn fiercely.
"No," Sashpark said. "It wasn't good. My papa lost his mom. He loved her up until the angle after she died, they had a fine relationship for decades and decades that mattered, and then he wouldn't go to her funeral. But him going to her funeral wouldn't've hurt me. She was dead. I was fine. He could've gone and I wouldn't have cared. Maybe it would've been okay if I'd said something sooner, if he'd had a huge fight with her and then didn't care about her anymore and then years and years went by and then she died, but that's not what happened. And he should have let the others go if they wanted. They were a little scared of her - she got mad if they shifted out of their human forms, but never as mad as she got at me - but she was nicer to them and maybe they liked her so they should've gotten to decide."
"She hurt you, and he loved you," Mallyn said. "Of course he wouldn't want to go after finding out. Why didn't your siblings say anything? They were older equivalencies than you, they would have been about our maturity level by the time you were fifteen, wouldn't they?"
"I asked Linnde once," Sashpark said softly. "After, long after. And she said she was ashamed that she'd never said anything but since I was never injured, she let it be, since we weren't there that often and she was worried about the same thing, that our parents would get divorced. And after I was fifteen my parents stopped putting me with Gramma Gia anyway, even in emergencies, because I came back from the trip shaky and couldn't sleep for a month."
"I'm sorry," Mallyn whispered.
She didn't react to that at all. "They didn't know exactly what'd happened, but thought maybe she was senile or something and shouldn't be looking after kids. And Vernn was old enough to babysit by then anyway." She paused. "He always did. Once he canceled a business trip to watch me when it looked like there wasn't going to be anyone else but him and Gramma Gia. Maybe that's what he did instead of telling. Anyway - once I wasn't around Gramma Gia alone anymore, Linnde thought it was okay to let it be. She was like Dad. She didn't like drama, confrontation, any of that."
"Your family should've taken better care of you," Mallyn began.
"If you say one thing against my papa or my sister or my brothers I might hit you," Sashpark snapped.
Mallyn flinched away from her.
"I wouldn't even mean to," Sashpark said. "I miss them. They were good. I get mad when people say bad things about them. My papa put me in counseling with a free service a Revision Salvationist church offered even to unbelievers, and the counselor told me I must be very angry at my parents for not protecting me, and I bit him and never went back. Gramma Gia did what she did and that's not their fault."
"Don't," Mallyn said, "threaten to hit me. I don't want to make you upset, but don't threaten to hit me. You can just tell me what I shouldn't do and then say that if I do it you'll be mad."
"Fine." Sashpark flounced backwards onto her bed and tucked her hands under her back. "I won't. Don't blame my papa or my siblings for anything Gramma Gia did."
"Someone should've done something, though," he pressed. "Maybe someone else."
"What, have the government step in like for you? This was before lie detection spells were good enough to get used all the time by the cops, Mallyn. They had to ask more questions of more people and they were sometimes wrong. Getting them involved would've been worse for everybody. Probably even me."
Mallyn fell silent.
"They didn't even leave us with her that often," Sashpark said. "There was the trip to Egeria, and there were a handful of times before that when they had plans and then Grandma Phyrna and Grandpa Sernet canceled at the last tick and they couldn't get Uncle Miklar or Aunt Pessala or a neighbor to take us. They could tell I didn't like Gramma Gia. But I disliked lots of people who weren't as bad, too."
"So when you couldn't have our grandparents looking after you," Mallyn murmured, "that was when you got locked in the closet."
"Yeah. But they could usually take us. They'd fly down and stay for days and sneak us sweets and toys and Grandma Phyrna would measure us for new sweaters and let us pick out our own yarn, and - I'm sorry. Do you not want to talk about them?"
Mallyn watched the way Sashpark's entire body had relaxed at the drift of topic.
"Go ahead," he said. "I'd like to hear more about them anyway. What's Draconic for grandparent?"
"Either kind? Ekua," Sashpark said.
Mallyn was mostly able to avoid fighting with Sashpark. Their grandparents were a touchy subject, but the rest of their family - including her dozens of great-grand- and great-great-grand niblings - were safe topics. She loved books, in all languages, and could recommend readings for any set of specifications he cared to name, albeit with a bias towards her favored romance novels and kids' books published more than thirty years previous. He improved his literary fluency considerably with her help, and her provision of context. She had something to say about everything.
When he wasn't spending time with her, exploring and chatting and figuring out how to kiss, he was busier than ever. He spent less time in his appointments with Korulen because most of what was left to do was down to sheer practice and she could provide only minor course correction. That reduced scheduling didn't let him off the hook for kamai work; Ehail kept an eye on him and made sure he devoted at least an angle or two a day to blocking his gaps. He read - he had to be able to get through technical books without stumbling to make it in school. He played with his sisters, and sometimes tentatively with Nemaar. He made time for various family members, determined to treasure them all the more fiercely when his mother's parents wouldn't have him.
Aunt Ryll was confident that it was fine for Mallyn to travel around in Aristan alone. The mess around his adoption was far enough in the past that no random Watch member was likely to identify him, let alone decide to take him into custody to get him out of Esmaar. Ehail and Gyre were willing to bow to Ryll's senatorial judgment on the matter. So, with a bag full of books, he made an unaccompanied trip to Tyren, where Ryll and Myret and Gyre's parents lived. He intended to stop at his grandparents' first, where he'd most likely be able to see everyone else over dinner.
The coach's second stop picked up a passenger whose big blue eyes were freckled with color.
"What are you doing here?" Mallyn asked Kenar sharply.
Kenar took a seat diagonally across the coach. "Woodcarving lesson," he muttered, pulling out a book of his own.
"With Grandpa?" Mallyn demanded.
Kenar nodded once, awkwardly.
"Please don't fight, I'm trying to sleep," muttered a halfblood woman sitting on Mallyn's right.
Mallyn didn't say anything else, but he did sneak occasional glances up from the pages of A Price For Every Fruit, Sashpark's latest recommendation. He never caught Kenar looking away from his own book. Mallyn couldn't tell what the book was about, either, as it was in some language he didn't recognize.
Hadn't Kenar rejected Ehail, Gyre, and everything that came attached to them? He couldn't be taking woodcarving lessons from someone besides Tem. Even assuming there were other sculptors on the coach route, Kenar's parents wouldn't sign him up for lessons so far away from where they lived. He'd be taking classes in Nirlan somewhere. Obviously he was going to see Tem, a holdover from when he'd been Tem's grandson like Mallyn now was. Why?
Mallyn did not get very far in his book.
He and Kenar both got off at the Tyren stop, and both started walking down the main street.
Mallyn decided to veer off from the path to Tem and Allera's and go to Ryll's instead, because he didn't think he could stand it if he had to be nice to Kenar in his grandparents' house too.
Ryll wasn't home, but her husband Lerrel was, and so were all of her kids. The girl twins wanted to show Mallyn a makeshift shelter they'd put together in the backyard out of sticks and spare nails. The boy twins wanted Mallyn to borrow a horse and go on a trail ride with them. Taala wanted him to tell her all about his girlfriend, who she'd learned about from Rithka. Apran wanted to be told stories. Tyrrel wanted someone to play pyndo with who he hadn't already beaten a hundred times, even though Mallyn didn't know how to play yet. Mallyn set about fulfilling various cousinly desires until Ryll got home and announced that they were all going to Grandma and Grandpa's for dinner.
Mallyn squirmed. Was Kenar still going to be there? His lessons couldn't last too long. He'd probably already started home. It was a long coach ride. (Why would he take the coach instead of flying, anyway?) He could go home, too, if he didn't want to risk it. Unless Kenar was on the same coach again.
Ultimately Mallyn let himself be swept along with his cousins through the streets of Tyren to the house that Allera and Tem shared.
And indeed there was Kenar.
Ryll and Lerrel and their kids didn't seem to find that strange.
Kenar sat at the table and ate with them and politely thanked Allera for cooking. After dessert had been obliterated, he and Tem left to sit on the porch while Allera attempted to organize all of her actual grandchildren in a game Mallyn hadn't seen before. It had cards and a board and pawns, but also involved hiding in various parts of the house during certain rounds; Mallyn was pretty sure he accidentally broke the rules once or twice, but he was even surer that Apran did, so that was probably fine.
Tem went to bed early. Kenar didn't leave.
"Are you staying the night, dear?" Allera asked the blue opal boy. Mallyn could hear her out on the porch through the window.
"No, but I'd like to stay another div, if that's okay. Rthan's not going to be done with his cheese tasting for a while, and I finished my book so I was planning to fly back and can't kill time with the coach ride."
"Of course you may," Allera said.
Mallyn lurked around the doorway when Allera went to do the dinner dishes with Lerrel, and watched Kenar peel bits of wood off a block of it.
"Hello?" Kenar asked him, looking up.
"Hello," said Mallyn resentfully.
"You don't have to talk to me if you don't want to," Kenar said.
"Why are you here?"
"You keep asking me that," said Kenar. "I just go places like everybody else. I came here to learn woodcarving with Grandf-"
"You dumped the whole family when you dumped Mom and Dad, didn't you? Why are you calling him Grandfather?"
Kenar looked away. "I still visit you guys. I visit here too. He's like my part-time grandfather."
"I don't understand why you think you can just do that," Mallyn said.
"Mallyn, I really don't want to -"
"I don't get why you think you can practically spit on -"
"So if somebody besides Batai had adopted Lyrrae and Renn you'd never see them again because you're only connected through sharing your birth parents?" snapped Kenar.
He calmed down before Mallyn could even scream at him. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have brought that up. Mallyn, I don't want to talk to you. Leave me alone."
"Mallyn. I don't want to talk to you. Leave me alone," repeated Kenar in a dead sort of voice.
Mallyn shut up, but he didn't move. Kenar looked at the whittling knife and the half-formed shape of wood in his hands. He turned his head toward the window and called, "Grandmother, I'm going to go now. I'll see you next tenday."
"Goodbye, child," replied Allera from somewhere inside.
Kenar didn't put away his tools or his project, he just shifted to tuck them away, and ambled off the porch and took to the air. The rain made splattering sounds against his scales.
Mallyn slipped back inside the house, teeth clenched tightly.
"Are you okay?" Apran asked him, tapping Mallyn's elbow. The little miracle had strikingly emerald-green eyes, which could make Mallyn uncomfortable when used for staring.
"I'm fine," Mallyn said.
Apran studied Mallyn's face for a moment, then hugged his leg, and then ran off.
"Mallyn, come see," cried Sel's voice. "Vianne found a baby tamarin! Come see before it runs away!"
Mallyn went to look at the baby tamarin.
He caught the late coach to Aristan City and went home.
He glanced into Kenar's room on the way to his own, at the neatly made bed and the bookshelves and the tidy desk.
He did not understand, and it felt like his skin was too tight.
Mallyn finished blocking his gaps exactly two days after Korulen said: "You know, even after you're done with this, you'll be spending a while much less efficient than a regular kama. If there's time between you getting under control and term starting, we might as well carry on lessons to work on some introductory stuff. So that it doesn't handicap you badly in your first kamai class."
He practiced with renewed fervor, and soon nearly passed out showing off how he could conjure handfire without doing anything other than that.
And then she started teaching him mindspeech.
For a beginner who couldn't find other people's minds across open space, this involved holding hands.
Mallyn promptly explained the appeal to Sashpark.
Sashpark looked at him, and looked at their linked hands, and said, "If Korulen breaks up with her boyfriend, you have to break up with me before you date her. I'm pretty sure I lean serial, not simultaneous."
"There's slang for it but those are the words from the required seminar for twelve-equivalents on Comporting Oneself Romantically. Slang changes too much anyway, ten years go by and it's all different and not everyone catches up at the same time so I have to keep switching idiolects - anyway. It means you can't date me and her at the same time, is what it means."
"Okay. That's what I figured anyway," Mallyn said. "Wait, does that mean it might not matter that she already has a boyfriend?"
Sashpark gave Mallyn a considering look. "Both of them would have to lean simultaneous, and so would you. Do you want two girlfriends at the same time?"
Mallyn contemplated his schedule. "I guess not. I mean, even if - when - we break up, you'll still be my cousin and we'll hang out, right?"
"Yep," said Sashpark.
"Which would it be if I didn't care that she had a boyfriend but didn't want two girlfriends myself?" Mallyn asked.
"Would you really not care?"
"I think I'd care. Maybe not enough that I'd rather not date her at all. But suppose it wouldn't bug me?" said Mallyn.
"I didn't get a technical word for anything like that in Comporting Oneself Romantically because it's not a culturally likely thing in Reverni really. People here just do pairs or webs," she said. "Do you want the modern Leraal or some Martisen or what?"
"Draconic," suggested Mallyn.
Sashpark produced words for that, and for the case where he'd have two girlfriends and not want them to have any other boyfriends, and myriad other edge cases. "Why do you want to learn so many Draconic words?" she asked him, after he was out of ideas. "You can't use them."
"Sure I can. I know a lot of dragons. Now me and Rithka can talk about all the many boyfriends she'll have when she grows up, like she keeps telling me. I can ask her if she'll have them antasi or lharze."
"I mean, you can't make entire sentences in Draconic."
"I can if I learn enough words," said Mallyn.
"Not grammatical sentences," contradicted Sashpark. "Not without getting a dragon to give you the whole sentence."
"Yeah, well. I can pretend," Mallyn shrugged.
"That you're a dragon?" she asked.
"That I can speak Draconic," he corrected hastily. "That's not the same thing. Barashin dragons can't speak Draconic. And Mom says Barashin deities can."
Sashpark still looked skeptical, but she tossed her hair and said "I guess everybody needs hobbies."
"You're glad I have hobbies. When your book is done you want cover art," Mallyn pointed out.
"Yes," she agreed, and then she launched into a description of how she was considering rewriting an entire chapter of said book in Ecian and then translating it back into Munine, for realism. Mallyn sat back and listened.