Chapter Thirteen: Ankauy
If Mallyn waited, he'd never go.
He'd convince himself that going to Mekand was a terrible idea. That even though it itched and burned to have the grandparents he shared with Sashpark living in a house on the bay without ever even meeting him, going and forcing the issue would be silly.
And Mallyn didn't want to go on itching-burning forever.
His last class ended, and he went.
Sashpark had a photo of her and her grandparents standing in front of their house, in her room. She tended to take it down when Mallyn was over. Once she forgot it, and that was enough to burn it into his brain.
The bay was bigger than it looked on the map, but Mallyn could shapeshift. He turned into a gull like the fluffy-footed ones that swarmed the beach, and started a clumsy flight around the coast.
Their house wasn't that far from the transfer point, as the bird flew.
It was chilly, even for a thickly feathered bird, and Mallyn was glad when he found the matching house - there was new paint on the shutters that were clipped open above each window, but it was clearly the right place. He turned back into himself, wished he'd brought a coat, and jogged from the beach up the wooden slat staircase to their front door.
He hoped they were home.
Mallyn swallowed hard and knocked.
His grandmother opened the door and blinked at him. Phyrna looked exactly like Ehail, except she had her hair up in a bun... and she very obviously had no idea who he was.
And then she opened her mouth and asked him a question. Or at least he thought it was a question, because he didn't speak Kandaph.
"Beg pardon?" he said softly in Leraal. He didn't know enough mind kamai to understand her that way, yet.
Phyrna blinked, then frowned. "I said, is this about the provincial preserve initiative, because we already mailed our constituency ballots. But I suppose it's something else?"
"What is it, then?"
She didn't use the exact same facial expressions as Ehail, but she still looked kindly, like if the answer were "I'm an annoying door-to-door salesperson" she'd still give him a degree of her time and maybe buy something inexpensive and correct his posture.
He made sure he had her calm, indulgent face burned firmly into his memory before he said, "I'm your grandson."
Mallyn expected her to slam the door in his face, or scream at him, or otherwise match the impression he'd built up that anyone who'd reject Ehail had to be an awful monster.
He didn't expect her to say, "I'm sorry, I think you've found the wrong house."
But he hadn't found the wrong house. Even if it was possible for him to make a mistake on the house, he wasn't going to make a mistake on the face his mother shared with her own mother.
"I have the right house," he said firmly. "You're my grandmother."
Phyrna's hand went to her face in a gesture of puzzlement. "Well, maybe a few generations removed - are you entirely elf, or for that matter entirely Western? My Lalkaxa's second husband was -"
"No, not generations removed," Mallyn said.
Phyrna crossed her arms. "There is no way for that to have happened," she said, somewhere between placid and irritated.
"I'm adopted," Mallyn said exasperatedly.
"My Iwadhir adopted two children, but they were not elves," Phyrna said, "and he and all his little ones died hundreds of years ago."
"And my mom and dad are alive."
"My living grandchildren are all Eastern elves, dragons, and halflings," Phyrna said flatly. "You are not one of them. You must have the wrong house."
"You sent her away," Mallyn said, words tumbling out of his mouth clumsily and with high speed; he heard his accent thickening. "You put her egg in a box and mailed it to Petar and she looks just like you -"
And then Phyrna slammed the door in his face.
Mallyn pounded on it until his hands were sore from cold and impact.
"I'm your grandson!" he shouted.
There was no response from inside the cheerily painted house.
"I am!" he cried.
Mallyn sat down right where he was. It was very cold. He hadn't learned to work with warmth yet - handfire was only light, and if he tried improvising something with what he remembered about the other tones that comprised fire, he might burn himself. He could live with the cold. He pulled some scratch paper out of his bag, and a book to prop it up on, and a pen. And he drew a picture of Rithka, and a picture of Cenem, and a picture of Nemaar, and then he turned around and started stuffing them under the door.
A voice behind him said something in Kandaph.
Mallyn twisted around.
That had to be his grandfather Sernet. He and Uncle Prathu looked just alike, apart from hairstyle - and again, facial expression. Mallyn never saw Prathu look so disapproving.
"Uh," said Mallyn. "What?"
"I said, what are you doing? Are those advertisements?" asked Sernet, switching to Leraal. "You should know that hand-distributing advertising to private residences isn't legal anymore. You'll want to take those to a business district."
"They're not advertisements," Mallyn said.
"Why are you shoving them under our door?" Sernet asked.
"They're drawings of people who ought to be important to you," muttered Mallyn.
That confused his grandfather. "Are you some kind of missionary? Are those drawings iconography of some sort? My wife and I are dragons; I'm sure you know that sending missionaries to dragons has never accomplished anything."
"I'm not a missionary," exclaimed Mallyn. "I'm - I'm your grandson."
"You have the wrong house," said Sernet. He leaned over and picked up the half-inserted drawings and offered them back to Mallyn. "Sorry."
"I don't have the wrong house!" Mallyn cried, refusing the drawings with a violent shake of his head.
"Easy, calm down, you've just made some kind of mixup -"
"I have not! You look exactly like my uncle Prathu! She looks like my mom!"
That seemed to unsettle Sernet, but he said, "Look, kid -"
"I'm your grandson!"
"Kid," said Sernet again, more annoyed, "we are not your grandparents. We're nothing to do with you and you're well past your stranger's welcome. Take your papers. Go home."
"I don't understand why you won't just -!"
"Get off my property," Sernet said, "or I'll remove you and notify the police."
Mallyn blanched at the threat and backed away, out onto the sandy planks.
Sernet watched him until he was about twenty feet away, then tore the papers in half and in half again and went inside.
Mallyn stood there, numbing from the chill and furiously heartbroken.
Finally he was too frigid to stay still, and the tide was approaching to lick his heels. He ran along the beach back the way he'd come, hands tucked under the opposite arms, until he had feeling back in all his extremities. He turned back into one of the local gulls and flew the rest of the way to the transfer point, and he went home.
He didn't tell his mother where he'd gone. She probably assumed he'd been studying with Aaseth or Eran.
He couldn't entirely believe that he'd made the trip, himself, with so little to show for it.
He told Sashpark.
"I don't believe you," she said flatly. "Grandpa wouldn't have threatened you. Even if you did trespass."
"He did! I'm not lying to you!"
"You must have just misinterpreted him somehow, that's all," Sashpark said.
Mallyn turned away.
"Why did you go to their house, anyway?" huffed Sashpark. "Why would you do that?"
"I just want them to acknowledge me, and Mom, and if they're so great they should've done it, and they didn't," Mallyn said.
"You don't go up to somebody's house and make demands of them!" Sashpark exclaimed. "That's not how you do it! It would be very dramatic but it makes them all defensive and they can just go in their house and then you can't do anything."
"I could show up at your house - I did, I showed up at your house and you were perfectly nice to me, until I complained about your grandparents," Mallyn said. "I could show up at Uncle Miklar's and he'd be nice to me and if I could fit in his house he'd let me in. I go to Uncle Batai and Aunt Karyn's all the time and they're nice to me."
"You shouldn't have gone to Grandma and Grandpa's," insisted Sashpark. "You don't know them."
"I want to know them! I ought to!"
"That was a terrible way to do it!"
"Well, what's your idea?"
"Come to my hatching day party," Sashpark said.
Mallyn blinked. "Huh?"
"They'll be there," Sashpark says. "And you won't be barging up to their house, you'll just be at your girlfriend's party. So they can't be mad."
"When is that?" Mallyn asked.
"Day after tomorow," Sashpark said.
"You didn't tell me."
"Well," Sashpark said, rolling her eyes, "Grandma and Grandpa are going to be there, and it's not like I'm not going to have thousands of hatching days, so you could have just skipped this one and not had a massive confrontation with them, but if we're going to have massive confrontations anyway, just come to the party and have it out then when you're not showing up uninvited at their house all the way in Mekand. I don't like to fight with you. It's not any fun."
"You think they'll act any better then?"
"They've always been great around me," Sashpark says. "If your presence turns them into horror-novel monsters somehow then at least I'll know what's going on."
Mallyn bit his lip. He didn't like that idea at all, but then they'd been acting abominably even before they set eyes on him, hadn't they? "Okay. What time, day after tomorrow? It's not during my classes, is it?"
"No, no," Sashpark said. "Evening. Dinnertime. Twelfth-and-naught. It's some family and some of my school acquaintances and the shop assistant who makes the paper pixies, a small party. Dad's cooking."
"Okay," said Mallyn again. "I'll be there."
Mallyn drew Sashpark a picture of herself, with her grandparents, intended as a hatching day gift but usable as a defiant gesture. He wasn't as convinced as Sashpark was that her presence would make Phyrna and Sernet see reason.
He fidgeted throughout his classes, doing worse than normal at casting spells and drifting off into thought during kamai. Since he didn't want to be early to the party, he went home, and did his homework at about half-speed before switching in frustration to drawings. He drew himself and Ehail and Gyre and his sisters and his baby brother. He drew all his aunts and uncles and their kids. He drew his house.
Finally, after having checked the time roughly once a degree for half an angle, Mallyn judged it was time to be on his way.
He got a translation spell on him from Ehail so he'd be able to talk to non-dragon guests at the party. He hugged Rithka and then his mom and then Rithka again goodbye, and took the transfer point that Aunt Rhysel had made in the front yard to Lypan.
Even from the street, he could hear early arrivals to Sashpark's party talking and laughing. He started climbing the steps.
"I hear someone coming!" Sashpark said. "I'll go see who." The door opened, and she spotted him. "Come in!" she exclaimed.
"Are they -"
She pulled Mallyn in through the door, and said, "Some of you have met my boyfriend, and some of you haven't, so this is Mallyn!"
"Hi, Mallyn!" a human girl promptly responded, but then she fell silent and looked confusedly at the silent room. Everyone else was focused on the ashen faces of Phyrna and Sernet.
"Sashpark?" Phyrna asked in a high, thin voice.
Sashpark planted her hands on her hips. "What, Grandma?"
"What is it, Grandmother?" Mallyn asked levelly. His heart was racing. His hands were cold.
There was a silence.
"Wait, is he your boyfriend or your cousin?" asked the same relative-of-some-kind who'd greeted him to begin with.
"Both," said Sashpark. "It's okay. He's adopted."
"Weird," said the girl softly, but then Feln shushed her, and she fell silent with everyone else.
"What is it, Grandma?" Sashpark asked.
"I don't understand why you would want to do this to us," Phyrna said.
"I just wanted to meet you properly," Mallyn said softly. "Uncle Prathu - Uncle Prathu, back me up -"
"Leave me out of this, Mallyn," said Prathu, looking away.
"We're leaving," Sernet said. "I'm very disappointed in your behavior, Sashpark."
"Grandma - Grandpa -" squeaked Sashpark, but they didn't pause. They didn't even go past her and Mallyn. They went out the window, her a silver-tailed fluffy-footed pigeonish bird and him a blue-opal crow.
Mallyn's eyes felt hot and prickly. He turned around.
"Mallyn," said Sashpark.
He looked over his shoulder. "What?"
"I..." She looked away. "You're going?"
"Yeah." He pulled the drawing he'd made for her out of his bag and handed it to her. "Happy hatching day."
"I - thank you," Sashpark said, subdued.
"Bye, I guess."
Mallyn started down the stairs.
"Mallyn," a different voice said sharply.
He turned around to see Feln standing at the top of the stairs. "What?" he snapped.
"What kind of stunt was that? That has to have been the worst possible way to -"
"I don't want to hear insults," Mallyn cried. "I'm going home."
"I'm not insulting you, I'm telling you that -"
Mallyn spun around, stumbled on the stairs, and regained his footing one step down, then kept on towards the transfer point.
"Does Ehail know you're here? If you don't tell Ehail what happened," Feln said, "then I will."
Mallyn shuddered and took the last step down to the street.
"I will check," said Feln.
He transferred away.
"Mom?" Mallyn said.
"I..." It was hard to tell her; the very fact that Feln thought his mother needed to know made the fiasco shameful, let alone the fact that it had worked out so poorly. "Did something," he finished.
"What was it?" she asked.
He swallowed. "I convinced Sashpark to help me, about... our... grandparents."
"She had a hatching day party. They came. She told them she was inviting her boyfriend. They didn't know who I was." Mallyn was trembling with remembered cold or just emotion, he didn't know which. Ehail hugged him, which let him stop shaking, and keep explaining. "But I went to their house once - a while ago - and tried to talk to them and get them to change their minds, so they recognized me when they got to the party, and they acted like I'd killed someone or something. And I asked Uncle Prathu to back me up and he told me to leave him out of it, and then I ran out to transfer point home and Feln followed me and said I'd gone about it stupidly but I didn't want to listen to her insult me so I just left, but now I don't have any way to try again, the time I went to their house they said they'd call the cops on me if I ever went there again, and now they know that I'm Sashpark's boyfriend so I can't even try again with a better idea, and I just want an entire family now that I have one worth having at all and - and -"
"Oh, sweetheart," Ehail murmured. And then again, "Oh, sweetheart."
Mallyn squeezed her harder. "I'm sorry. I screwed up, I'm sorry."
Feln showed up later that evening, interrupting a quiet board game Mallyn was losing terribly to Cenem at. Ehail got up to answer the door.
"Hello, Ehail," Feln said. "I told Mallyn that if he didn't tell you about what happened at Sashpark's hatching day party, I would. Did he?" Mallyn cringed.
"He did," Ehail said, patting Mallyn's hair, but he barely felt it. He was so mad at Feln. He didn't even understand why, just that he was furious with her.
"Ehail," Feln said, "it was my impression that you wanted to leave Grandma and Grandpa alone. I didn't particularly speculate on why you'd want that, but there are any number of reasons it was plausible. It is true?"
"I... I didn't think there was much choice involved," Ehail said. "They've made it more than clear that they didn't want me..."
"Yes, but that doesn't mean they're unpersuadable. No one has been trying because no one except your moody teenage son has indicated he wanted to make it an issue," Feln said.
"Uncle Prathu said -!" Mallyn exclaimed. He'd said to leave him out of it, like it wasn't his problem, had nothing to do with him -
"My dad is one person, and one of his traits is an allergy to confrontation," Feln snapped. "If you'd gone to anyone else in the room for support you'd have gotten it. Notice that he also didn't side against you. I'm not offering you help sugar-coated, but I am offering you help, and I, unlike Sashpark, am an adult who can come up with more sophisticated plans than tricking them into the same room as you during Sashpark's hatching day party, which they came to equipped with beribboned presents and not their inmost feelings about their offspring. If you don't yet understand that it was a lousy idea to try to handle this on your own without any grown-ups helping you, Mallyn, then you aren't as smart as Sashpark claims."
Mallyn shrank behind Ehail, who said, "Feln..."
Feln interrupted her. "Do you want the rest of the family to attempt to get you and Grandma and Grandpa reconciled?"
"I - I - I don't know," Ehail whispered. "Can you stay for an angle - stay for dinner -" Mallyn did not want Feln to stay for dinner. But that wasn't up to him. "Gyre will be home, I need to talk to him."
"All right," Feln said, sitting in the red armchair and ignoring Mallyn like he wasn't there. "Thanks."
Mallyn wasn't privy to the rest of the relevant conversation. Feln didn't bring it up before or during dinner. He holed up in his room after eating, and didn't ask Rithka to eavesdrop for him. He just held his sister, squirrely and furred in his arms, and petted her, fuming.
Ehail and her parents... reconciled.
Various types of pressure to which Mallyn was not privy were brought to bear, and Ehail - accompanied by Gyre, while Mallyn and the other kids were left at Rhysel's - met up with them.
There were a series of these meetings, and then, towards the end of his school term, they came to visit.
Mallyn would have been perfectly happy to forget all about the history. He'd already experienced one great set of grandparents suddenly appearing in his life; another could have done the same and he would have dropped all the baggage they had attached to them. (It wasn't as though the people they most resembled were people he didn't like, either.) He tried to hug Phyrna, when she first walked through the door.
She (perhaps willfully) misinterpreted the gesture, patted him dismissively on the shoulder twice, and then turned away.
Phyrna and Sernet were stiff - she was polite, and he was quiet, and they ate what Ehail put in front of them, and they picked up Cenem and Nemaar, and looked freezingly at Rithka when she said, "Why did you take so long to come meet us? Even when we got miracled?"
Rithka didn't get an answer.
Mallyn barely got acknowledged to exist.
But they'd talk - superficially, about Sernet's new tenant at the office building he owned and the knitting circle Phyrna ran and their concerns about the flagging membership at the swatball club such that it might shut down.
They thought Cenem was cute. They thought Nemaar was cute. They wanted to hear all about Cenem's favorite stories and maps and collages and about when Nemaar had achieved various milestones.
They thought Rithka was a brat - they didn't say it, but it was obvious from the first moment she opened her mouth - and they harbored no affection for Mallyn at all.
Ehail wobbled like a puddle in the wind the entire time they were there. She was pale and folded in on herself, paperlike, and tried to anticipate everything they could ask for before they could ask for it, fetching glasses of water and throw pillows and the arithmetic workbook Cenem used the moment they seemed thirsty or uncomfortable or curious. Her face flashed a terrible pained expression every time Rithka made one of her increasingly blunt accusatory remarks, and every time Phyrna shut her down.
Gyre looked unsettled by the whole thing, and seemed to take up a permanent position behind Ehail, as though she were going to fall over. He didn't talk much, except to shush Rithka when she fumed and looked ready to yell. (A pointed look from Gyre was enough to keep Mallyn from making waves.) Rithka was sent up to her room - though with her cookies, not deprived of dessert as was customary for premature ejection from the dinner table.
If this was what he got for his trouble - if this was what Ehail got for her six hundred and sixty-something years of playing orphan - then Mallyn thought he might have to find the transfer signature to the bottom of the world just so he'd have someplace to scream.
He fled up the stairs as soon as he'd eaten his cookies, and went into Rithka's room. She was hugging her knees and sitting on her pea-filled cushion on the floor, silent tear tracks striping her face.
"You okay?" he said.
"Why am I mad at Cenem?" Rithka asked. "She didn't do anything. They just like her. Because she's cuter and littler and not mouthy. But I'm mad at her."
Mallyn nodded. "I'm surprised they like any of us, how they're acting," he said. "I'm surprised they even came here."
"I bet Feln made them. Feln's scary."
"She's not really -"
"I bet she's a super-spy and she can make anybody do whatever she wants," Rithka said.
"Heh." Mallyn dropped his chin to his chest. "Maybe they think if they come and it's unpleasant for everyone no one will ask them to come back. And they can go live in their house on the bay with the pretty shutters and not be bothered by relatives they didn't want."
"Draconic for jerk is rekero," Rithka muttered when Mallyn sat down on the floor beside her.
"What's Draconic for 'disappointed'?" Mallyn asked.
Rithka hesitated. "Ankauy," she told him.
"I'm that," Mallyn said.