Chapter Eight: Uen
Ehail found that she had brothers.
This meant that Mallyn had uncles, and an aunt, and cousins, even more than he'd had just from Gyre's sprawling side of the family.
Mallyn felt a perhaps inappropriate gratitude that Ehail hadn't located the extra relatives until Mallyn had learned the rest of them pretty thoroughly. This way he wasn't going to mix up a new uncle with Tennel or a new cousin with Taala.
It was still a fair-sized contingent that came to the house in late Rohel. Ehail's brother - clutchmate - Prathu was a blue opal dragon, who came in a beige-skinned human shape that didn't remotely resemble Ehail's. His husband was an elf, but not the kind that lived around Esmaar - Izaln instead had brown skin and almost-white hair.
The pair had two adult thudias, Feln and Eresti, who looked like their elf father. Feln and Eresti between them had three small elf children who talked over each other so Mallyn didn't hear any of their names. He shook hands with the most energetic of the three anyway when she demanded it. And finally there was a parunia girl from Prathu's previous marriage, Sashpark, whose bright red top looked bizarre with brown skin and color-spangled blue hair.
Mallyn was a little disappointed that his cousins' children were all so much younger than him, although they seemed to take instantly to Rithka and that was good. Sashpark, though, seemed close to his equivalency. "Hi," he said to her, after she'd greeted everyone else.
"Hi," Sashpark said back. "You're Mallyn?"
"Yeah. And you're Sashpark."
"I'm Sashparkphyrnarelprathdennadninkalinnsemiserizeler," she corrected imperiously.
"Do you need me to call you that?" Mallyn asked, frowning.
She laughed. "No! Sashpark is fine. Here, let's sit, my feet hurt, we had pattern chorus today."
"Pattern chorus?" Mallyn said, sitting down next to the chair Sashpark chose.
"March around in patterns, sing songs. It was the only performing arts elective I hadn't done yet so I figured why not, but we have to walk around so much, my feet are killing me. What do you do?"
"Um, I'm still working on Leraal," he said. He omitted and on learning to read my first language. "And I'm working on kamai, too." He was now safe to be around without warding: long steady practice over weeks had gotten the dozen most dangerous gaps closed up, and while he might produce embarrassing illusions, beads, or flocks of starlings, he wouldn't attack anyone's mind or set them on fire or disrupt their heartbeat. The fact that he hadn't made any headway in the last four days also went unmentioned. "I'll go to school for that and wizardry, soon."
Sashpark's attention was diverted to Gyre's wedding bracelet, and Ehail's jewelry too. "Those are super-pretty," she said.
"Thanks," Gyre said. "If you ever want a little something, let me know."
"I like bright things," Sashpark said. "Copper and citrines and rubies and stuff."
Gyre said he'd keep that in mind, and then Rithka and the elf kids came pounding down the stairs, then were diverted to the second table. Ehail started serving fish casserole.
"There's cheese in this, isn't there," Sashpark said, poking at a flake of swordfish.
"Yes," said Ehail.
"Oh well," sighed Sashpark, exaggerated resignation on her face. "I've only had cheese every day of my life for a hundred and fifty-six years, that's all. It probably doesn't build up to toxic levels for at least a hundred and sixty-two."
Mallyn laughed, startled by the sudden sarcasm. Ehail said, "It's not cheese from your father's shop. We ate that a while ago."
"What kind is this?" Prathu asked, but then he cut Ehail off and made a guess instead. He was right.
"Dad," said Sashpark witheringly, "you'd be more likely to identify cheese correctly than to tell the difference between fish and eggplant."
Mallyn could tell that Sashpark wasn't trying to be mean to her dad, but he didn't know how to relate to the conversational style. It wasn't something anyone had ever done with him. Maybe she was really unusual.
The fish casserole was good, even if Sashpark wished it hadn't had cheese in it. Mallyn was allowed two helpings, having left his days of small controlled meals behind him. Then there was lime cream pie.
"Wanna show me your house?" Sashpark asked Mallyn.
"Uh, sure," Mallyn said. "I think you've seen most of the first floor from here, except Mom's office. That's over by the stairs..." He led her towards Ehail's workroom, behind a pack of smaller kids going back upstairs to play. "She's a wizard. This is where she works on... wizard stuff."
"I know she's a wizard. She fixed our oven," Sashpark said. "When she came and visited our apartment a while ago. She's pretty nice."
"She's the best," Mallyn said fervently, starting up the stairs. "And all the bedrooms are up here. Mine's that one -"
"Who did those drawings on your door?" Sashpark asked, trotting forward. "Who are these people with you in this first one?"
There were two pictures on the door - one of Mallyn with Lyrrae and Renn, one of him with Rithka and Cenem and Ehail and Gyre. "I drew them," Mallyn said. "Those are, um, Lyrrae and Renn." Maybe she wouldn't ask who Lyrrae and Renn were and he wouldn't have to explain everything.
"Oooh. They're really good," Sashpark said. "Like photo papers, only in graphite."
"Everyone keeps saying they look like photo papers," Mallyn said. "I just think they look like me and Lyrrae and Renn. Or me and Mom and Dad and Rithka and Cenem."
"Yeah, but photo papers would look like all these people too, if you took photos, and the papers would be flat, like the drawings," Sashpark said, pushing open his door. "Wow, you have lots of pictures up. You can do cover art for my book! Then you'll be a famous artist and people will hire you for money."
"Yeah. You can't read it yet. It's not done. I'm still working on it. But it's going to be really good and I'm going to publish it and write my own translations and it'll be the next Summersdawn!" At Mallyn's blank look she went on, "Summersdawn and the sequels were as seen as the sky by the entire Munine-speaking world starting about five years ago. And the Ertydon translation did pretty well some places too. The author is rich. People name their kids after her characters - there's a baby girl next door to us who's named Asanndra after the protagonist. She doesn't even have to deal with editors any more than she wants to anymore and her new book in a different series is coming out in the winter."
"Oh," Mallyn said. He tried to imagine naming a kid after Kathyne or some other book character he liked. It seemed weird to him.
"I bet there's a Leraal translation," Sashpark said. "I'll tell Dad we should get you that for your birthday so you can know something about world literature. Anyway, I'm writing a book of my own and it's going to be just as good, when I'm done."
"That sounds hard," Mallyn said admiringly.
Sashpark nodded. "I'm writing in Munine to start but I'll do a Leraal translation first thing if you want! Then you can read it. You don't sound that bad at Leraal as far as I can tell."
Mallyn's ears felt warm. "I mix up pronouns sometimes," he said. "I don't know as much vocabulary as I should either."
"Leraal pronouns are easy," Sashpark said. "The one for boys sounds like the word for tall and the one for girls sounds like the word for dress, so you can avoid mixing them up that way, and then you just put them together for mixed company, and the one for cases where you don't know sounds a lot like 'huh?' does in Leraal - hear that? And the one for objects and stuff is then just one little thing to memorize. I don't have a good idea for it."
"Oh," Mallyn said, fixing this tip in his mind. "Thanks."
"I like your drawings," she said. "When my book is ready for you to read it, you should read it so you know what everybody in it is like, and then you can draw the leads on the cover and the war and some landscape in the background. It'll be awesome. Can you do colors too?"
"Yeah," Mallyn said. "It's harder, but I can."
"Excellent," Sashpark said, grinning. "Hey, what's with this big jar of beads?"
"You can have some if you want," Mallyn said, shuffling his feet. "I'm, um, not that great at kamai yet. I keep making those by accident. My sisters can't think of anything else to do with theirs so I'm just collecting them in the jar."
Sashpark dumped out the jar on his bed and started pocketing just the yellow and orange beads. "I'm going to make a necklace," she announced. "Wait, do these even have holes in them?"
"Some of them do. Most of them don't," Mallyn said. "Cenem was gluing them to collages and Rithka was taking them with her to Dad's work and wrapping wires around them to make things, before they got sick of them."
"Maybe I can make it work with wrapping just string. I don't have any wire," Sashpark said. "Oh well. If nothing else I can put them in a vase and put flowers and water in."
Mallyn nodded. "You can have them for whatever."
"Thanks!" She finished filling her pockets with clinking bright glass and scooped the other colors back into their jar. "I know you're adopted, but Dad told me not to ask about your birth family. So tell me about your dad's side of the adopted family. They're Barashin, right? From Barashi."
"Yes," Mallyn said, amused. "They're Barashin and live on Barashi except a few of them who've moved here. My dad has a lot of brothers and sisters, and most of them have kids. It's only Jenner and Tennel who don't yet. But Ryll has a ton and makes up for both of them - she's got seven."
"Phew," Sashpark said. "Even my dad has only had six so far."
"I think Mom and Dad want a whole lot of kids," Mallyn said.
"Like your grandparents, huh," remarked Sashpark.
"Maybe. I'm not sure."
"I took a World Families class that said that Esmaarlanik never adopted kids because they all live in huge houses and the kids can just keep living wherever they are if their parents die or go to jail or anything."
Mallyn shifted from foot to foot and then sat on his chair, across from Sashpark. "Well, maybe they won't adopt any more. Rithka and Cenem are miracles and I'm from Barashi so it's not like they adopted regular Esmaarlan kids. But I'm really glad we got to be in this family. It's a good one. And now Mom's bringing her egg family in, which is great. I wonder when I'll get to meet our grandparents."
"I don't think that'll happen," Sashpark said, chasing a bead out from under his pillow and plunking the refilled jar back on his desk. "Dad said not to mention your mom or any of you to them because they didn't want to acknowledge Aunt Ehail. We can visit you all the time, though."
She was so nonchalant about it.
"They don't want to meet us?" Mallyn asked.
"I don't think they know you exist - I mean, they know Ehail exists, but possibly only in the abstract. You in particular they'd have no way to have learned about. But Dad knows them pretty well and so do I and we think it's best to just -"
"Just let them pretend Mom never hatched?" Mallyn asked, frowning.
"Well, if you want to put it like that, yeah, it would only cause arguments, and you just said you've got loads of family on the other side, and us and Uncle Miklar and his family will all acknowledge you, but Grandma and Grandpa -"
"Are bad people?" Mallyn suggested.
The look on Sashpark's face strongly suggested that he shouldn't have said that.
"Grandma and Grandpa are nice! Not wanting to admit they had a shren doesn't make them bad! They're - you don't even know them! They're my grandparents, how can you -"
"See, just there, 'my grandparents'. They should be both of our grandparents! That's how we're cousins."
"We're cousins because my dad and your mom are clutchmates," Sashpark said coldly.
"Because they have the same parents! Who don't want to know me for an idiotic reason. You and your parents and siblings and Miklar and his family should all shun them like my dad's family shunned my grandma Allera."
"Shunned her?" Sashpark asked, suddenly more bewildered than angry.
"Yeah! She was being horrible to my aunt Rhysel and to my mom, and everyone got sick of it, so they stopped spending time with her and inviting her to things until she changed her mind about them," Mallyn said. "And she did. She missed my parents' wedding -"
"Your family let your grandma miss her son's wedding?" Sashpark asked, horrified. "They didn't even invite her? Because they disagreed with her about something?"
"And it worked! Now she gets along fine with everybody -"
"Because she was bullied into it! That's an awful thing to do. I can't believe anyone would do that. I'm not going to do that to my grandparents," Sashpark insisted.
"Maybe they could be my grandparents too, if you would!"
"I'm not going to have endless fights that won't even help with Grandma and Grandpa just so you can harrass them through me to meet them when they don't want to meet you. I love them and I barely know you, and I don't think they'll ever -"
"You don't even care if they're doing the right thing!" Mallyn cried.
"If I agreed with them I would have stayed home, but that doesn't mean I have to attack them -"
The door was flung open and Rithka trotted in to tackle-hug Sashpark, interrupting the blue opal midsentence.
When Sashpark had blinked several times and then patted Rithka on the head, Rithka let her go, hugged Mallyn too, and then left the room, clicking the door shut behind her.
"That was weird," Sashpark said.
"Yeah," said Mallyn weakly. "She's usually way more talkative."
By unspoken agreement the mutual grandparents were not mentioned again until it was time for Sashpark to leave. They talked about other mutual relatives. They talked about kamai and wizardry. They talked about Esmaar versus Aristan versus Reverni. Sashpark sat for a portrait in colored ink. And then she left.
"I like Sashpark," Mallyn told Ehail, when the visitors had all gone home and Cenem was getting her bedtime story.
"You seemed to get along with her quite well," Ehail said.
"But we had an argument," he confessed. Maybe Rithka had already told.
"About our grandparents," Mallyn explained.
"Oh." Ehail broke eye contact and Mallyn was suddenly ashamed.
"I told her the story about Grandma Allera. Sashpark thought it was awful of everybody to shun her," Mallyn mumbled.
"I don't know if your Grandma Allera would agree that it was awful," said Ehail.
"And when I said maybe I could have your parents as grandparents too, if Sashpark and everybody else they do want to talk to stopped, she got mad at me."
"Sweetheart," murmured Ehail, wrapping Mallyn up in a hug that he gratefully returned. "I don't know enough about them to have any idea if they'd react the same way - and - it's not quite the same thing in the first place - and -"
"Sashpark cares more about not having to fight with her grandparents than about whether they're doing what's right," muttered Mallyn.
"Sashpark only has one set of grandparents left, Mallyn," Ehail said. "Her other father was a human. His parents are long gone by now. If we leave everything how it is, you and Sashpark both get one set of grandparents. If she shuns them, she doesn't get any."
"She didn't say that." He swallowed. "She just said it would be awful to shun her grandparents. But they should be ours. That's how we're cousins!"
"I'm sorry it didn't work out that way, sweetheart," Ehail said, squeezing tighter. "I wish I could give you the usual number of grandparents. But my parents decided a long time ago that they didn't want the job, and they haven't changed their minds."
"Like Rithka's?" Mallyn asked, checking to see if she was around. Maybe she'd hurtle out of nowhere and hug him again. Otherwise he might have to go and find her.
"I suppose," Ehail answered softly. "But sweetheart, at least now you get three new uncles, a new aunt, and plenty of new cousins. You did say you liked Sashpark."
"She likes my drawings, and she had a good idea for how to remember the rule about pronouns in Leraal, and except about her grandparents she's nice. And she's funny." Mallyn gulped. "But..."
"You're allowed to like people even if they do one or two things you don't like very much," Ehail said.
Mallyn nodded, more because he didn't want to disagree with Ehail than because he understood why that could be. "When do we meet Uncle Miklar and Aunt Tialinh and their babies?" he asked. Maybe they would be better.
"Next week," said Ehail.
Mallyn hugged his mother tighter. Then he ran off to find Rithka, who was sitting in her room with her model scoots.
He picked her up and sat her on his lap, and she wound her arms around his chest.
"Hugs help even when they don't," Rithka observed.
"Yeah," Mallyn said. "Heh. Draconic for hugs?"
"Uen," said Rithka. "They might be really nice people otherwise. Grandma Allera is nice. She's not a basically awful person."
"She might as well have been until she changed, I think."
Rithka sighed into his shirt.
Mallyn dumped another handful of beads into his jar. "This isn't working," he said. "I'm not dangerous anymore, but I haven't stopped up one more gap since then! Maybe I should just stop here and deal with making beads and illusion fireworks every time I sneeze forever."
"Mallyn," admonished Korulen. "Rhysel said you'd likely hit a plateau. She did too, and she got all her gaps eventually, and now she's a Master kama. You've only been stalled for a few days -"
"Almost a week!"
"Five days. You were going very quickly before, and now you're going a little slower, that's all. That's a reason to work harder, not to give up."
Mallyn put his forehead on the table. It was cold, perhaps because it was made of stone, perhaps because he'd snowed two inches on his last attempt. "But I don't know what I'm doing wrong."
"Besides complaining when you could be practicing?" Korulen asked archly.
He looked up at her and frowned. "I'm sorry, I just... I'm sorry."
"Sit up," she said, slapping her hands down onto the table. "Let's try something a little different, since you're frustrated. We're working on adding gap number one, but you've only known how to block all the dangerous holes for a few days; maybe you're afraid to lose hold of them if you concentrate. So, as long as we're here and I'm warded and Rhysel's just downstairs if we need her, let all the ones you've been blocking open and just focus on the first gap."
"But then something awful might happen -"
"I'm safe," Korulen said. "Rhysel can fix anything that goes wrong. Go on now."
It was hard to drop his attention to the riskier gaps, but he did his best, and focused hard on the first. He tried not to worry that something would happen that could get around or through Korulen's ward, or even scare her. When he thought he'd relaxed in the right places and that nothing would get past him on the first gap, he closed his eyes and conjured a ball of handfire.
He felt very itchy.
"Spontaneous kyma never hurt ourselves, do we? Not seriously?" he tried to say, but for some reason all he managed was a series of chattery squeaks.
"Mallyn?" said Korulen slowly.
Mallyn was really itchy. He reached up to scratch his head. Something didn't feel right...
"Mallyn, that's you, right?"
"What happened?" he failed to say. He only heard squeaks.
He opened his eyes. Korulen appeared to have multiplied several times in height. The room was huge. He couldn't even see the top of the table.
"Mallyn, you turned into a... a weasel, or something," said Korulen.
Mallyn tried and failed to shriek, "What?" But his squeaking did become louder and shriller.
"Uh," Korulen said. "I guess you can't talk." <Think back at me,> she sent. <I can do all the magic for a two-way conversation.>
<I turned into a weasel?!>
<Well, I don't know if you're a weasel specifically, but you look like one,> Korulen sent. <I'm going to pick you up and take you to Rhysel. I don't know how you'd handle the stairs.>
<I itch everywhere!> complained Mallyn.
Korulen held out her hand, and he walked awkwardly onto her arm, unable to coordinate his feet other than by moving them one at a time. She scratched the back of his neck with her other hand, which didn't help. <I think it's the fur,> he concluded.
<We'll de-fur you soon enough,> promised Korulen. "Rhysel!"
"What is it?" called Rhysel's voice.
"Mallyn turned himself into something like a weasel!"
Korulen got to the bottom of the stairs and displayed Mallyn to his aunt. Mallyn squeaked unhappily.
"Oh gods," exclaimed Rhysel.
"He can't talk," added Korulen.
"No, of course he can't. I think he's a mink," Rhysel added.
Mallyn thought as hard as he could, <It doesn't matter what I've turned into! I'm supposed to be an elf!>
Korulen got that, and forwarded it to Rhysel.
"Of course, of course," soothed Rhysel. "But I don't - I mean, I could change your shape with proxic kamai, but I've never worked on anything this comprehensive. I think I'd better get Bryn."
Mallyn flattened himself against Korulen's arm, which she was now holding in front of her belly so he wouldn't fall. <You can't fix it?!>
"If I were the only Master around, I'd probably be able to," Rhysel reassured him on her way to the transfer point. "But as long as Bryn's available it would be best to try her."
<I itch!> wailed Mallyn with an accompanying squeak of dismay as Rhysel disappeared.
"She'll be back soon," Korulen said. "I'll see if I can find something scratchy for you."
Korulen put him on the kitchen table. Tekaal was sitting there, with a plate of grilled tomatoes and bacon, though he hadn't said anything throughout the proceedings.
<Hi, Uncle Tekaal,> Mallyn sent sheepishly.
Tekaal blinked at him, unflappable. <Hello.>
"Aar Camlenn, can you think of anything that would be good for an itchy mink?" Korulen called.
"Nothing comes to mind," replied Tekaal. "I suppose..." He touched the table and the part of it that Mallyn was sitting on became rougher. Mallyn rolled around on it as best he could; it didn't help. <Thanks,> he said anyway.
Rhysel was back after a few degrees with Bryn Rhylenn, who Mallyn had never met but knew to be one of the Binaaralav teachers. She was an elf as well - or maybe not 'as well', given Mallyn's predicament, but she was an elf. She was old enough to look old, which put her at nearly a thousand years of age. "Well, well. You've gotten yourself into a mess," she remarked to Mallyn.
<Help!> he pleaded, righting himself on all four feet again.
"If you were my apprentice, I'd make you work it out for yourself," sighed Bryn. "Everyone wants quick solutions..."
"Bryn, he can't just stay a mink for the next few weeks," Rhysel said, exasperated.
"He has things to do," put in Korulen.
"All of which are more important than a solid, honestly-won foundation of kamai, I suppose? Very well. Here, child," Bryn said, sitting down carefully at the table and holding out a hand.
Mallyn scampered forward. Bryn tapped his forehead with one forefinger. "There. See how far you can get with that."
"What'd you give him?" Korulen asked.
"Enough skill to funnel his outbursts through the right channels so he'll get a shapeshifting result each time. With decent mental discipline he should be able to aim that at his own form, as I presume he knows it," said Bryn.
<But what if I just turn into something else?> asked Mallyn.
"Well," said Bryn. "In that case you'll need to try again. If you truly can't manage the trick after a reasonable amount of time -"
"Ten tries," said Rhysel firmly.
Bryn shrugged. "Very well. Ten tries, and if you still aren't yourself, I'll go ahead and push to you complete shapeshifting knowledge, at the expense of every attempt you make in the future to learn wild kamai the correct way, since your aunt seems to consider your momentary inconvenience such a high priority."
"Try handfire," said Korulen coaxingly. "You want the spontaneous reaction to go out holes four, nine, thirty-six, and thirty-eight, and now you can do that without having to actually block the rest."
Mallyn tried, and changed, but not into an elf. The itching went away, so probably he wasn't furry.
"Frog," supplied Korulen.
He tried the requisite ten times: sparrow, bee, platypus, squid (he had to change very quickly out of that one), tiger, bluejay, squirrel, swan, and finally Korulen.
"Augh!" he and Korulen cried at the same time.
"Most likely," remarked Bryn, "whatever is so important for you to accomplish can be done in her form as well as -"
"Bryn!" exclaimed Korulen.
"Very well, very well," sighed Bryn, and she touched Mallyn-in-Korulen's-form's forhead again. "There you are, child. I trust I'm needed for nothing else?"
"That should be it, assuming he can shapeshift to his choice of forms at will now," Rhysel said. "Mallyn?"
Mallyn closed his eyes again and tried.
When he opened his eyes, Bryn had gone, and he was himself once more.
He inhaled as deeply as he could and flopped backwards onto the table.