Chapter Seventeen: Fragile
Kenar's first visit to the house came at the end of Marahel, and it began inauspiciously.
"Hi, Gyre," he said when he came in. Gyre was taking a day off work to spend more time with the kids; Ehail had pointed out that Mallyn still acted far more afraid of his new father than of his new mother, and thought it was likely to be a matter of exposure. "Hi, Ehail."
"Hello, swe- Kenar," Ehail said, remembering Inyne's warning. "Your room is just how you left it."
Kenar put down his knapsack, lightly packed with whatever he thought he'd need and wouldn't be able to find in their home. "Thanks," he said shyly.
"Mallyn's room is on the other side of Rithka's," Gyre said, "if you want to know where to find him, although he's often outside or in one of the girls' rooms."
"Okay. I remember you mentioned him in the last letter," said Kenar. "Uh, Gyre, there's something I want to ask you."
"Of course," Gyre said, while Ehail busied herself with picking up the bits of collage scraps that Cenem had left lying around and missed when tidying.
"I want to forfeit my line name and take Rthan's," he said. "But I can't do it without you cooperating."
Gyre made a choking sound. "You can... do that?" he asked. Ehail's hand clenched around a shred of ribbon.
"Not usually," Kenar said. "But since there's just me with the line name and you as the progenitor I can, if you'll help. Will you help?"
There was a silence. Ehail looked at Kenar's face - hopeful, big-eyed - and at Gyre's - crushed, but he was holding it together. He'd fall apart later.
"How is it done?" Gyre asked.
"We have to agree on a line edict," Kenar chattered. "It doesn't have to be a serious one, just something I can break. Like, 'don't drink apple juice'. Is there apple juice in the house?"
"Yes," murmured Gyre.
"That would work, then," Kenar said. "And then my line name will go away, and Rthan looked it up for me and I should be able to take his line name after that and be a Koedh."
"Koedh," repeated Gyre slowly. "Do I need to do anything else?"
"No, just the agreeing that we have a line edict about apple juice," Kenar assured him, heading for the kitchen. "And now if you have any parunia boys later you can use it for them without me being all blue opal and in the way, right? Taala already has 'Camlenn' for her line name so you can't use that. And the line won't even exist anymore once no dragons have it, so it's not like silver Gyres won't be allowed to drink juice."
"I have a two-syllable middle name," Gyre murmured, too low for Kenar to catch over clinking glasses and the sloshing of juice in its jug.
Kenar poured. He drank, and cocked his head, and nodded once.
"Thanks, Gyre," he said. He put the juice away, put his glass in the dishrack where it was magically cleaned and put away, and picked up his knapsack and trotted upstairs.
"It didn't hit me before," Gyre told Ehail that evening.
"It didn't?" It had hit her a thousand times. Her heart was stained in bruise colors. It had hit her when the pen scratched and when the egg parents announced their occupations and when he was gone for angle after angle and when she'd read that letter and when Inyne had made that speech.
"No. I had... some connection to him that I didn't think could be crossed out. It didn't feel over. And now I don't have that," Gyre said against her neck.
"He's theirs, now," she murmured. "But he'll be here sometimes. He's here now."
"I know," he sighed. "I know. But that hurt..."
Ehail held him. "I know."
"Mom?" said Mallyn, a degree after Kenar had been sent off to fly home with his father after all the hugs he could tolerate.
"I was talking to Kenar. Um, you explained, how you adopted him but he went to his birth - I mean egg - family?"
"Yes?" Ehail said.
"I asked him about that. He told me about 'shrens'."
Ehail closed her eyes. She supposed Mallyn should have had at least a basic sketch of his mother and sisters' history, but he'd been dealing with so much. He was making great strides in Martisen literacy and Leraal fluency, he had started visiting Tekaal for art lessons periodically, he'd joined Rithka's kebel team (the only sport that would let people of disparate ages play together fairly), and he'd had an entire world and slew of magical conveniences and new people to get used to. They hadn't even managed to introduce him to all of his aunts and uncles yet, as travel was so stressful. So "shrens", as an educational topic, had waited.
"There aren't any shrens anymore, or if there are they'll be cured very soon," Ehail said. "You should learn about them eventually, but you don't need to think about them now."
"But Kenar said... bad things about them," Mallyn said. "And that you were one and Rithka and Cenem, and him."
"Is there something you need explained, sweetheart?" she asked.
"I told him not to talk bad about you," Mallyn said. "And he said it was different. Because you were a shren."
"Well..." He'd defended her? To Kenar? "Sweetheart, shrens might be hard for you to completely understand, since you don't speak Draconic. I don't think Kenar just meant to 'talk bad' about me."
"I talked to Rithka about Draconic. I don't get it. I know the word 'shren' now. But you couldn't have ever been bad. Or Rithka or Cenem." He paused. "Maybe Kenar."
"Draconic isn't just about understanding what things the word talks about, but also about how the word talks about them," Ehail said slowly. She'd never had to explain this before. "And that part may not be something we can just explain."
"Does Dad understand it?"
"I don't think so," admitted Ehail.
"You couldn't have ever been bad," Mallyn insisted.
"Oh, sweetheart." She held out her arms and he stepped into the offered hug. "No one's saying I did anything bad."
"He said you were bad. And him and Rithka and Cenem, and all the other people who were shrens. And he's wrong."
"Maybe your dad will be able to give you a better way to understand this," Ehail suggested. "He's home today."
Mallyn considered this, still hugging her. "Tomorrow," he said, "Lyrrae and Renn?"
The household had mostly transitioned back to full-time Leraal use, with translations whispered into Mallyn's ear as needed. He had read the rest of "Kathyne", an elementary Aristanian history textbook, and several chapters of a novelized version of "Samarra". He'd effectively learned the Leraal alphabet in two degrees, leaning on his photographic memory to imprint a picture of each letter and its Martisen equivalents into his mind for ready reference.
"Tomorrow, you can go with your father to Aristan City and spend the day at Batai and Karyn's, if they say you may," Ehail said. "If they turn out to be busy, or they can't have you over for some other reason, you can stay at your father's shop for the day and watch him work like Rithka sometimes does. She may go to Barashi that day too."
"Okay," Mallyn said. "Thank you. And Mom?"
"You're good," he said.
Mallyn learned to read Leraal, although he was frustrated with his progress, especially when he compared himself to his polyglot sisters. "You shouldn't expect yourself to learn to read like dragons do," Ehail soothed. "We never had to work at learning languages the way you are. You're doing so well."
He didn't contradict her, but he did study a lot, not just the languages but also the materials he was given to help him catch up in academics. Rithka sometimes had to drag him out to play over his misgivings about his supposed slowness, though he never missed anything he'd committed to in advance, like a kebel game or a family card tournament. He did show up to meals, and the mark passed after which the trained-light had said he didn't need to snack so often. He never passed up a chance to see Lyrrae and Renn.
Ehail, meanwhile, became steadily more pregnant, learned to swap out beans for lentils in all of her recipes that called for the former, and became almost, almost used to the stab when Kenar came and the wrench when he left.
"Does Mallyn still want to be a kama?" Rhysel asked Ehail, while Cenem patiently attempted to teach the twins to say simple words and Rithka babbled to Tekaal about her day over the art lesson he was giving Mallyn.
"And a wizard too, now," she said. He sometimes shadowed her, when she was doing housework by spell or looking up a magical solution to a problem. Once he'd come along for her maintenance trip to the Lator house, finding all of the routine spellwork fascinating. "We told him that there does exist a double track, at Binaaralav, and I remembered you said there was some kamai method to acquire CC even for a Barashin."
"He's a little old to start at wizardry in Binaaralav, but a fine age to start in kamai," Rhysel said. "And I'm sure the wizardry program will take him. Although it's a heavy courseload to do both. Do you think he's ready for formal schooling? Starting this Rohel?"
"We'll make sure he knows he doesn't have to stick with both kinds of magic, if there are too many classes or he strongly prefers one once he's tried them," Ehail said. "But he's doing so well and he works very hard. I think he'll be ready by Rohel, especially if you and Tekaal are teaching again."
"We are," Rhysel confirmed. "I can arrange to have one of us teaching Mallyn's introductory kamai class, but for wizardry - and any academics or art he takes - he'll have to settle for standard teachers. Tekaal doesn't teach wizardry classes any more because kyma are in higher demand. Although he'll go on teaching Mallyn art outside of school, of course."
"Perhaps he could meet his teachers ahead of time," Ehail suggested. "To get comfortable with them. He's fine around other children, but can be nervous meeting strange adults."
"That can be arranged," Rhysel assured her. "How goes being pregnant?"
"It goes," Ehail said, peering down at herself. "I'm due end of Pehahel, if we assume a typical halfblood pregnancy - but Nemaar is as far as I know the first halfblood thudia - first one of a Barashin species - so I suppose something unusual for thudias might happen with him."
"I think it's very cute that he's a moon-baby," Rhysel confided.
"Maybe we'll make a tradition of that," Ehail said lightly. "I can teleport to the moon now."
"So you plan to have more?"
"I think so," Ehail said. "Not immediately. We can space them out, and make sure we're ready for another."
"Makes sense," Rhysel said. "I think I want a little boy." She looked at the twins - Kaarel was trying energetically to repeat after Cenem, but managing mostly unrelated gurgling; Aaris didn't seem interested in the exercise at all. "If we get one next time we try, I may name him after my Master. 'Reven' works in Leraal. Speaking of which, are you going to bring up Nemaar bilingual?"
"I suppose so," Ehail said. "Maybe trilingual, if we can think of a good third language."
"I'm trying for trilingual," Rhysel agreed. "I speak to them in Martisen, Tekaal speaks Leraal, and the nanny speaks Eashiri. Tekaal's mother says she read a book according to which it works better if you have one person per language."
"I think we'll probably wind up stopping with two unless we discover that we're going to have a lot of reason to go to, I don't know, Rannde. Gyre and Mallyn need to stay in practice with Leraal."
Aaris was starting to fuss, which was Rhysel and Tekaal's cue to pack the twins up and bring them home. "Say bye!" Cenem instructed Kaarel.
"Va!" Kaarel replied loudly.
Nemaar came along on the forty-third of Pehahel. Ehail severely alarmed the midwife-light during the course of the housecall by refusing sootheweed throughout the labor; she didn't explain why, being uninterested in detailing her history, but reassured the poor woman that she was just fine without "just one vial" of extract.
After the midwife-light handed Nemaar to Ehail and left, Gyre draped a blanket over his wife and let the kids in to see their baby brother. Nemaar was scrunched in towards himself, and his ears had understated little points; he had a thin dusting of reddish hair and almost-green eyes and a set of matching dimples. He cried, until Gyre swaddled him up in a blanket tightly enough that Ehail winced - "I learned to do this on Ryll's eldest, and they really do like it this snug," he explained, putting the baby back on Ehail's chest.
"He's little," Rithka said, turning into a sparrow and flying to Ehail's shoulder for a better vantage point.
"He'll grow," Ehail yawned. She was exhausted; she didn't care about the soreness, but she did want to go to sleep soon.
"When will he learn to shift?" Cenem asked.
"Probably when he's about six in Elcenian years, but it could be sooner or later," Ehail replied.
Mallyn was looking at the baby with shadowed eyes. Ehail made a mental note to ask what was troubling him, later, if he didn't volunteer the information, but for the moment she handed Nemaar to her husband, shooed Rithka off her shoulder, and rolled over to sleep.
Mallyn continued to be uncomfortable around Nemaar. He learned how to change a diaper when Ehail called him in to watch it done, but didn't volunteer for that or even less unpleasant infant-related tasks.
"Sweetheart," Ehail said, after Mallyn put down his arithmetic exercise and while Nemaar was down for his nap, "is something bothering you about the baby? You know you're our son, no matter how many other children we have, don't you?"
"I know," Mallyn said.
"Can you tell me what's the matter?"
Mallyn was silent for a long moment. Then he said, "It's just because he's a baby."
"You don't like babies?" Ehail asked. "Did you like Lyrrae and Renn when they were babies?"
"Yes," said Mallyn. Then, "Renn was a twin."
"Oh," breathed Ehail. "Oh, sweetheart."
"Ryller wouldn't stop crying," Mallyn said. "He got sick. He picked him up and hit his head against the wall."
Ehail pulled Mallyn into a tight hug. His voice lowered, once he could speak right into her ear.
"He died," he said, "and I had to bury him in the backyard. They told the neighbors he died of the sickness." Mallyn swallowed. "I did like them when they were babies."
Ehail just held him, swaying side to side, completely at a loss for words. Had the charges in Mallyn's parents' trial included murder?
"Lyrrae and Renn don't know," Mallyn said, incongruously pleading. "Lyrrae was only just born and Renn was only a year old. I think he might feel something's missing but he doesn't know."
"No one is going to hurt Nemaar," Ehail said. "He's safe. It's okay to love him. He's going to grow up here with us and no one is going to hurt him."
Mallyn nodded slowly, and she felt a tear soaking into her shirt. "But he's little. And hurtable." He swallowed. "And I don't want to hurt him."
Ehail kissed Mallyn's hair. "You know that he's little and fragile and you'll be careful with him, won't you?"
"I don't want to hurt him." He pulled out of the hug and sat on his feet on the floor. "...My birth father's parents came to the farm, once. They were awful to me and Lyrrae and Renn. But they were like that to him, too."
"You aren't going to grow up to be like your birth parents, Mallyn," Ehail murmured. "You can decide what to do. You don't want to hurt Nemaar, or anyone else, or why would you be nervous?"
"I don't want to hurt him," Mallyn whispered. "He's so little."
"He'll grow. In a few years, he'll be able to shift, and he'll be about Cenem's dragon size and covered in silver scales, and even less breakable. But even now I think you could hold him without hurting him. You've held Kaarel and Aaris."
"I know." He swallowed. "They're girls. I didn't think about it. Ryller was a boy."
"You don't have to hold Nemaar or play with him if you really don't want to, sweetheart," Ehail said. "But I know you don't want to hurt him. If there's some kind of accident, that's terrible, but we can take him to a light, and I know you won't do anything bad to him on purpose."
Mallyn nodded slowly. "Maybe," he said.
"You can wait, if you want," Ehail said. "I wouldn't start asking you to watch the smaller children for us even if you were completely comfortable with Nemaar, not yet. But I hope you'll be able to hold your new little brother soon."
"Maybe," said Mallyn again, and then he sneezed and laughed weakly.
Ehail felt a strong draft, and looked at the window, which was firmly shut. "Did you feel that?" she asked.
"No. Feel what?" Mallyn asked.
"A wind. Hm." She shrugged.
"I didn't feel it," he said, and got to his feet, but he tripped over the end of his sandal and fell face-first towards the floor.
With a small boom, he levitated two inches off the ground rather than striking it, and then fell through that gap with a soft "oof".
"Did you do that?" he asked Ehail, sitting up again and rubbing his nose.
"I didn't have time to react with a spell - I don't even know one off the top of my head that would do that..."
Mallyn sneezed again.
This was followed by three seconds of indoor rain.
"Why don't we visit your aunt Rhysel," Ehail said faintly.
"I'm sorry, Ehail," said Rhysel quietly, taking her hand away from Mallyn's forehead. "Can you ward your whole family?"
"If I have to -" Ehail began, but she stopped; Mallyn was shaking in his chair. "Mallyn, sweetheart, are you okay?"
"I don't want to hurt anyone," he keened.
"You won't," Ehail said. "I can look up enough wards for all of us, and if you damage some of the things in the house, it can be repaired or replaced. We'll be fine."
"I'm so sorry," Rhysel said.
"Don't be," Ehail said. Spontaneous kamai was something they could deal with, with wards and patience; she was just glad they'd found out what it was.
Rhysel shook her head. "No, it's my fault. He wasn't a kama before, and spontaneous kyma don't appear completely out of nowhere. He wasn't a kama until he was exposed to kamai - I didn't do it deliberately, and it's rare, it hasn't happened to any of the Binaaralav students or random people in Paraasilan, but before he was around kamai he couldn't have spontaneously manifested." She sighed and looked apologetically at Mallyn. "I know you wanted to learn kamai, but I wouldn't have wanted you to have to do it this way. You have some tough work ahead of you getting yourself under control."
"I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to hurt anyone," chanted Mallyn, drawing his knees up to his chest.
"While you're here, I can counteract anything you put out," Rhysel said. "When you're home, there's wards. If the first three things you did were a gust of wind, catching yourself in midair, and making it rain, you probably don't have my pyrokinetic tendencies anyway. Avoid stress. Don't get sick." She brushed a wisp of hair out of her face. "Ehail, do you want to leave him here for a few degrees while you go look up wards for Gyre and the other kids?"
"Not just yet," Ehail said, scooting her chair to the left so that she could put an arm around her son's shoulders. "How does he learn control? How did you do it?"
"Me? A lot of extremely patient tutoring from my Master," said Rhysel. "And practice. I had to learn where the kamai was escaping and maintain focus on all of those gaps, and then practice doing it enough that I could do it perfectly, unconsciously, in my sleep -"
"I'm going to do magic in my sleep?" Mallyn asked, horrified.
"Maybe, maybe not," Rhysel said. "It depends."
"You won't be able to hurt anyone. And we don't have anything irreplaceable, sweetheart," Ehail soothed. "It's okay. As long as it takes, it's okay."
"I can tutor him that much during the school break," Rhysel said slowly. "But not while school is in session, and it starts in three days. Tekaal says I overextend myself, but even if my ideas of my limits are different from his, I know how many angles there are in a day."
"Can Tekaal help?" Ehail asked.
"He's not a mind kama. He could supervise Mallyn's practice and prevent damage from magical outbursts, but it takes a mind kama to be any help with making progress beyond that. They can find the gaps." Rhysel chewed on her lip. "We can try Talyn, but... I don't think that should be our first choice, for reasons I'd rather not detail unless we wind up going with that plan."
"What about the other teachers?" Ehail asked.
"This goes a little beyond 'personal favor' level in terms of time investment, and ideally he'd have the same supervisor throughout at least most of his work," Rhysel said. "Mallyn can't start regular school this term, not uncontrolled, and that means I can't just assign my department to give him extra help." She closed her eyes and thought. "Student tutor? I can assign extra credit."
"Mallyn, would you be comfortable with that?" Ehail asked softly. He was trembling and couldn't seem to decide whether to scrunch his eyes closed or stare into space.
"Okay," he murmured.
"Okay," Rhysel repeated. "I'll ask Korulen. She's a promising mind specialist, and in the highest-level class, and she's keeping a light courseload. There are more possibilities if she turns me down, though."
"Okay," Mallyn said again.
"It'll be fine, sweetheart," Ehail said, smoothing his hair. "Will you be okay sitting here with Aunt Rhysel for a few degrees while I go find wards for everyone at home?"
Mallyn nodded mutely. Ehail kissed his forehead and teleported home.
She sifted through the book of wards until she found five different, acceptably-rated personal wards, which she would cast on Rithka when she got home from her darotan game and on Gyre, Nemaar, and Cenem when they got home from their excursion with Cenem's egg parents (Nemaar was on this outing to make Gyre's day off work more efficiently distributed between his children).
Ehail hoped that they wouldn't need to wear them too long - Nemaar in particular she thought she might want to regularly de-ward, out of harm's way, to avoid affecting his development - but Mallyn was too terrified of hurting people to take the risk that everyone would make it through the way Rhysel's parents and siblings had. Even if Ehail and Rithka and Cenem spent most of their time nearly impossible to kill, didn't care about pain that was less than supernatural, and could certainly be healed from injuries which fell short of killing a form, leaving them unwarded and only protecting Gyre and Nemaar wouldn't be good for Mallyn.
She cast one of the wards on herself (it wasn't rated against falls or self-inflicted injury, but she expected that would be fine for her purposes) and teleported back to Rhysel's to retrieve her son.
"Let's go home, sweetheart," she said. "It'll be okay."
Mallyn took her hand.