Chapter Seven: Adopt
In the morning, Ryll asked Ehail to look over her letter to her assistant, who was holding down Ryll's Senatorial office while they were not in session. It looked fine to Ehail, although she suggested adjusting the transliteration of "Keppine" in the reference to the tropical house.
Gyre and Ehail shared eggs and rice with the family for breakfast, and left as Lerrel and Tyrrel went to their worksite and the younger children headed for school. They caught a coach to Aristan City that stopped in Tyren. "I'll stop and talk to Batai, before I go through the circle again and tell Rhysel," he said. "Do you want to join me, or meet again later?"
"I'll come with you," Ehail said. "I don't need to be home any time very soon."
"I'm sure Batai and his family will love to meet you," Gyre said. "They live just a couple neighborhoods away from me."
The coach ride was long, and everyone else in the carriage was asleep. They talked quietly about everything from the upcoming scheme for shren adoptions to the projects Gyre was working on. Ehail spent most of the trip with her head pillowed on his shoulder.
They got out at the Aristan City stop, and rather than hike from there to Batai's place, Gyre caught and hired a local carriage to take them to the address. "Batai makes instruments like Mother and Jenner and Tennel, but only to order - he doesn't have a storefront and he stays home most of the time with the kids. Karyn, his wife, is a medic and often at work, so it makes sense for them," Gyre said. "He'll be home."
"That makes sense," said Ehail.
Batai's family lived in a third story flat near the center of the city, up creaky stairs and across from a bustling hospital. Gyre knocked on the door to the apartment. "Daddy, somebody's at the door!" shouted a child's voice.
The door swung open to reveal a bearded halfblood with red-brown hair, balancing a five-year-old boy on his hip. The boy had skin the color of milk tea and a fluff of dark curls. "Uncle Gyre! Shiny hair!"
Ehail touched her hair self-consciously. "Hey, Batai, Aryn," said Gyre, pulling his brother into a half-hug and patting the child on the head. "How are you?"
"All's well here. Myll's gotten over her sniffles," said Batai. "What brings you here? Wasn't expecting you. Though if you stay long enough, Karyn'll be home for lunch and you might get some cabbage for your trouble. Who's this?"
"This is Ehail, my girlfriend," said Gyre, pulling her close. After a pause, Gyre pulled Aryn from Batai's arm, tossed him lightly into the air and caught him, and then offered him to Ehail.
Ehail took the little boy, unsure how to hold him but quickly finding the question of exact technique academic as he squirmed around trying to get ahold of her hair. "Well, my son likes her," Batai commented. "Come in. Did you say why you came by? I didn't think you liked cabbage."
"Didn't know you were having it," Gyre said, taking a seat at the kitchen table. "No, we're here to relay some news from Ryll. It's about Mother."
Ehail occupied herself while the brothers talked by sitting in an empty armchair and joggling Aryn on her knee. Aryn's sister Myll was sitting on the floor playing with wooden carts and stuffed animals that she crammed into them. She seemed more shyly intrigued by Ehail than Aryn had, waving and scooting a little closer but not attempting conversation.
Batai listened to Gyre explain the ultimatum, grave and silent, and finally nodded when the story was complete. "I don't think I would have chosen this approach," he said. "But Ryll's smart. I'll trust her on this one - although - no guarantee that it will last if it threatens to make Mother miss the kids' birthdays. They don't deserve to be punished."
"I'll understand, but hopefully it won't take that long for her to come around," said Gyre.
"Hopefully," Batai echoed. "Do you want to stay for lunch? Does your girlfriend like cabbage?" He glanced at Ehail as he asked that.
"I'm not choosy," Ehail said. "But don't we need to talk to Rhysel, too?"
"That's right," said Gyre, snapping his fingers. "We do. Better sooner rather than later, even if she's never visited Mother much. Batai, you'll pass on the information to Jenner?"
"Will do. He's going to be here tomorrow afternoon with a flute he made for me when I was flooded with orders. I'll tell him then," said Batai. "It's good to see you, Gyre. And nice to meet you, Ehail. You should both come over some time when Karyn is home."
"We'll try to arrange it," Gyre said brightly, standing up and ruffling Myll's curls before extending his hand towards Ehail. Aryn slid off her lap, albeit not before sticking out his tongue at his uncle, and Ehail stood up to follow Gyre out.
They walked between Batai's building and Gyre's shop. "You seem to like kids," Gyre remarked.
"I do?" Ehail asked. "They're - well, your niblings are all very sweet."
"They are," Gyre said. "Do you spend much time with the kids at your house?"
She shook her head. "My job doesn't take me near them often... when it does it's all very quick, fixing someone's vision or casting an analysis for my research or something, and they don't gravitate towards me just because I have shiny hair, either."
"Mm. I was wondering if you were thinking about adopting one or two of them, once that becomes possible," he said.
Ehail pursed her lips. "I don't know. Maybe, but I think I'd rather get them from a different house... I think it would be strange, to pick one who I've known all of his or her life, and suddenly take so much more interest than I ever had before."
"Fair enough," said Gyre. He looked thoughtful.
They rounded a corner close to his shop, and Ehail nearly bumped into Arylla.
"Oh!" exclaimed Arylla. "You're back! I had no idea where you were, Gyre, I wish you'd tell me when you go on vacation. Maybe sometime, we could go somewhere together, just the two of us." She completely ignored Ehail. "You haven't had trouble with thieves, have you, Gyre? I noticed that you have a new lock on your shop door - I mean, I saw that it's brass, now, instead of the iron one you had. I hope nothing was taken!"
"Arylla," acknowledged Gyre, shutting his eyes. "Hello. Goodbye."
"What?" said Arylla. He routed around her and Ehail jogged to keep up with his longer stride; when he dropped back into a walk, he caught Ehail's hand and squeezed it.
"Gyre?" called Arylla.
Gyre didn't look around, but Ehail did, and the elf behind them shot her such a look of venom that Ehail felt chills down her spine. Ehail faced forward and sped up a bit, pulling Gyre along.
"What is it?" Gyre murmured in her ear.
"She looked at me like - like she wanted to cut me into pieces," Ehail whispered back.
He drew in a sharp breath through his teeth. "Excuse me one moment," he said to Ehail, and then he released her hand and spun on his heel to march back towards Arylla.
"Oh, Gyre, do you have some time to spend with me after all?" purred Arylla, when she saw this. "There's a massage parlor up by the bridge with a special for couples -"
"Absolutely not," said Gyre. "Arylla, I don't want to see you ever again. I don't care if you tell your brother to blacklist me. I don't even care if he does it. It's not worth putting up with you, or letting you look at my girlfriend that way. Leave me alone."
"I don't understand," said Arylla in a thready whine, pouting brilliantly red lips at him.
"I'm done talking to you," said Gyre, turning his back on Arylla and striding back towards Ehail.
Ehail didn't look over her shoulder again. She didn't think Arylla would look any friendlier the second time.
"Why is she like that?" Ehail asked Gyre during the hike from the circle building towards Rhysel's tower.
"Arylla?" he asked. "I won't ask what you mean by 'like that'... I think she expects me to make a lot of money," he sighed. "I don't have much now, since I keep sinking profits back into materials, but I think that's what she wants from me. She never did an apprenticeship herself and doesn't seem to have any interest in looking for one now, so she mooches off various siblings and has some sort of unskilled job at any given time. Why me as opposed to anyone else in a lucrative profession, I don't know. Maybe because of the business with the lapidary."
"How long has she..." Ehail made a vague gesture.
"A couple of years. She's very persistent - I promise, I never encouraged her any more than you saw the first time you met her," he said fervently.
"I believe you," Ehail said. "I hope she'll leave you alone now."
"I hope she'll leave you alone," he said. "I don't want to deal with her, but I did get somewhat used to her over time, and it's probably my own fault for putting up with the implicit extortion in the first place. You didn't do anything to make it even slightly appropriate for her to mistreat you."
"It's not your fault either."
"Arylla's," he agreed. He squeezed her hand as they passed the edge of Paraasilan and Rhysel's tower came into distant view.
They reached the tower and Gyre rang the bell. Rhysel's apprentice - Ehail thought his name was "Talyn" - answered the door. "Hi, Ehail," he said. "And you're one of Rhysel's brothers, right?"
"I'm Gyre," said Gyre, nodding. "Is Rhysel home?"
"She's teaching class," said Talyn. "She'll be home in a half angle to get a snack. Aar Camlenn, too. Can I help you?"
"Afraid not. It's a family thing and we should talk to her in person," said Gyre. "Is it okay if we wait here?"
"Don't see why not," said Talyn, standing aside. "Do you need anything? I was practicing kamai..."
"Don't let us interrupt," said Gyre.
Talyn disappeared up the stairs, and Ehail and Gyre sat at the kitchen table. "Place is neat," commented Gyre. "Either Rhysel got a lot tidier as an adult or that's one of her apprentice's chores."
"Or Aar Camlenn does it," Ehail said.
"Or that. Point. Are you excited about Ryll and Lerrel adopting a shren?" he asked her.
"It's - it's very nice of her," Ehail said. "She already has five..."
"Ryll's wild about kids," Gyre said. "She would have been itching to have another one - or two or three, the way halfbloods come in multiples so often - if this hadn't come up. Especially with Tyrrel apprenticing with his father, now, and often out of the house. I'm frankly surprised the girls got to be seven without any little siblings."
"Oh. That makes sense," said Ehail. "Her children are so cute."
"Aren't they?" asked Gyre with a smile.
Ehail nodded. "I wonder how quickly all of the shren children will be adopted. Are there a lot of people like Ryll, in Aristan?"
"I'm sure they'll all have homes very soon," said Gyre encouragingly.
"Oh." Ehail pursed her lips. "How soon?"
"Are you worried about whether there will be any left for you?" Gyre asked softly.
"I - well - I couldn't adopt one now, I live in a shren house. I don't have a job outside of it, to make money to live somewhere else and support a child." She shifted in her seat, looking at the smooth stone table. "And I'm probably just going to keep doing that forever."
"Do you want to do that forever?" Gyre asked.
"What else would I do?"
"Whatever you like," he said. "Anything. What do the others do when they move away?"
"They find work. Or they already have it - people in the house take in work sometimes. Some of them get married..." Ehail shrugged awkwardly. That sounded presumptuous. Gyre drew breath, but was interrupted by his sister's entrance.
Rhysel descended the stairs, presumably having arrived by indoor transfer point. "Gyre! Ehail!" she exclaimed. Ehail glanced at Rhysel's midsection: her tunic was belted higher, showing a slight rounding. "Hi!" Rhysel continued, taking the last few steps. "What are you doing here?"
"Ehail and I went to see Ryll yesterday," said Gyre. "And while we were in town, we swung by to see Mother and Father."
Rhysel winced. "You didn't happen to mention that Ehail is -"
"A wizard? We did. Rhysel," said Gyre, "I had no idea - believe me - I didn't know Mother felt that way, about you or magic in general - why didn't you ever tell me?"
"What should I have said?" Rhysel asked, looking away. Behind her, Aar Camlenn came down the stairs too. He went around his wife while applying a peck to her cheek, nodded to Gyre and Ehail, and started rummaging around in the kitchen for food.
"I don't know, exactly," admitted Gyre. "But I gather it's been going on for years - I wish I'd known."
"Now you do," said Rhysel. Aar Camlenn handed her an apple, which she bit into mechanically. "I'm sorry if she was rude to Ehail, too. I suppose I should have warned you in particular, for that reason."
"Well," said Gyre, "Ryll saw the whole thing, and had an idea."
"Hmm?" said Rhysel.
Gyre summarized the shunning. "We're expecting Tennel to be on Mother's side, unfortunately," he said. "I'll let you know if he contradicts our expectations. But Ryll and Myret and Batai and presumably Jenner and I are all with you."
"And if this doesn't work, are you going to involve extended family?" asked Rhysel. She sounded tired more than gratified. "Get Grandmother Cerysa and Cousin Laryn and everyone to ignore her too? Encourage Father to crash at Myret's place?"
"It hasn't come to that," said Gyre, drawing his eyebrows together. "I thought you'd be glad..."
"It's a nice thought," Rhysel said. "It would have been nicer, when I was seventeen and I was safe, and I came back home for an Ascendancy holiday thinking that if everything went well I could pick up my sculpture apprenticeship again, and instead I left earlier than planned because Mother had forgotten how to talk to me any way but shouting. Now... well. Everyone else has the relationships with her you all built. I have what's left of mine. Maybe you can slightly improve mine by wrecking all of yours, but I'm not sure it's worth it."
"Rhysel," said Gyre. "I'm so sorry."
"I accept your apology," sighed Rhysel, sitting down and rubbing her back with the hand that wasn't holding her diminishing apple. Aar Camlenn sat beside her, smoothed a tendril of hair out of her face, and nibbled on a slice of toast with some kind of nut butter. Ehail liked how they moved around together. Like they had joint personal space, instead of negotiating two separate bubbles of it.
"What about your children?" Gyre asked her. "Ehail?"
Rhysel smiled thinly. "The girls aren't entirely up to me. I wouldn't go against Tekaal's wishes by letting Mother see them if she 'steps out of line' with them, and he has no qualms about letting her know that's what's on the line, when the time comes. She is capable of restraining her temper. When it's important. And Ehail..." Rhysel peered at the shren. "You're right. She deserves better."
"It's important when it's you, too, and she has to see that," Gyre said. "I didn't think I'd even have to ask, but I guess I never did get to know you as well as I should have... are you going to participate in the ultimatum?"
Rhysel took the last bite of her apple and incinerated it; the ashes floated to the floor and melded with it. "I suppose so," she said. "Goodness knows that given the choice I'd rather get visits from you and Ryll and My and Batai and Jenner and my niblings than from Mother and maybe Tennel. I'm just not very optimistic that it'll help."
"Maybe one day," Ehail piped up quietly, "she'll apologize to you."
Rhysel blinked at Ehail in surprise. "Does that seem likely?"
"You have something she wants," whispered Ehail. "You can take it away. So maybe. She might tell you she's sorry." Ehail had nothing her parents wanted. She wouldn't have been able to refuse them if she had, if they'd come to claim it. But Rhysel did and Rhysel could and maybe Rhysel would get what Ehail had always wanted.
"Maybe," said Rhysel, looking away. Gyre hugged Ehail, then got up and walked around the table to pull his sister into a hug. Rhysel hugged him back.
"We both have classes in two degrees," said Aar Camlenn, after finishing his toast and casting the time spell.
"Is there anything else?" Rhysel asked, addressing Gyre and Ehail together. She stood up, extracting herself from the hug in the same motion, and took her husband's hand.
"What are you going to name them?" Ehail blurted.
Rhysel smiled a little. "Tekaal's mother suggested Kaarel for one of them, and we like that, but we're still thinking of a name for the other. Do you have an idea? We want Leraal names, since we live here."
"Aaris," said Ehail.
Ehail swallowed. "Years ago a thudia came to the house and took his baby aunt home. When he died, the girl went to a friend of his. I never met the friend, but I thought she must have been a wonderful person, to take in a shren who wasn't even related to her because a friend of hers had asked her. And her name was Aaris."
"I like that name," said Rhysel quietly, and she glanced at Aar Camlenn. He nodded once.
"That's all," said Ehail, ducking her head apologetically.
"We'll see you both later," said Rhysel, and Aar Camlenn teleported them away.
Silence hung in the air. "I should probably go open my shop," he said. "And see if I can sell anything in what's left of today."
"Do you want me to teleport you to the circle?" Ehail asked. "I should probably have teleported us here - I don't know why I didn't think to offer - the weather is nice -"
"It is," he agreed. "I enjoyed the walk. I could've asked to teleport if I'd wanted to cut the time we spent on the trip, although I think we'd have wound up waiting for Rhysel until the same time anyway. But if you don't mind, I would appreciate the ride to the circle."
Ehail bit her lip and held out her hand. He took it and squeezed it. She brought them both to the circle, and kissed her boyfriend goodbye.
It took a month and a half before Ryll was able to adopt, and Ehail, between house work and time spent with Gyre, was kept busy teleporting various people from place to place for negotiations.
The violet-group children existed in a legal vacuum, as the local merfolk didn't claim them as citizens or subjects until they tried to move into merfolk settlements. They could be dispersed to Aristanians in congenial environments immediately. Ryll's ranch didn't qualify, and so she had to wait to clear various hurdles with the relevant terrestrial governments.
Petar's adoption laws strongly disincentivized foreigners from removing their children, and everyone hatched in the Keppine house technically had citizenship with Petar. The fact that shrens weren't being adopted by locals, and that Aristan claimed a population with special advantages in doing so, took a long time to cycle through the relevant offices of social services. Corenta, meanwhile, turned out to have four contradictory applicable law sets on shrens, adoption, foreign policy, and the interaction of changes of residence with taxation. No one unambiguously authorized to make a ruling between these seemed to exist, and the matter was tied up in a snarl between judicial and legislative bodies.
Esmaar turned out to be the one quickest to let its juvenile shrens go. They were in extended negotiations with Aristan about extradition, asylum, and similar - necessary, as a circle connected the two countries. Some policy had already been hammered out and could be brought to bear. The only restriction was that the shrens weren't allowed to go home to any household that employed corporal punishment. (Ehail didn't think that made a lot of sense, as all of the shrens old enough to be adopted by people unrelated to them wouldn't care either way, but it was apparently called for to score some political point.) Since Ryll and Lerrel never struck their children, they were the first to help themselves to shrens from the Lator house.
Gyre, of course, promptly asked Ehail if she wanted to go with him on a trip to meet his new niece and nephew.
Ehail said yes.
They gave the kids a Barashin tenday to settle in and learn to keep their new siblings' names straight, but after that time had elapsed, Ehail found herself in another coach between Aristan City and Tyren.
"She got two," Gyre said. "A ruby girl in her seventies and an emerald boy in his forties. Taala and Apran."
"I hope they like it in Aristan," said Ehail.
"Me too. I hear," he added, "that Ryll and Lerrel were able to give them line names."
"Really?" Ehail asked. "I wasn't sure if it worked for adoptive family."
"Apparently there's precedent Jensal knew about, so she suggested it," Gyre said. "So, Taalacamlenn and Apranrysen."
They walked to the ranch from the coach stop, hand in hand. The front yard contained Ryll's entire pack of children plus Batai's two all at play. Most visually arresting was a girl her new sisters' size with brilliant, translucent-red hair. A less obtrusively otherworldly boy was following his brothers and cousin Aryn around in some kind of race. The emerald shren wasn't doing very well in the competition, and was lapped due to tripping three times while Gyre and Ehail watched. Ryll and Lerrel, and beside them Batai and a woman Ehail presumed was his wife Karyn, looked on.
Ehail frowned at the picture. "Ehail?" asked Gyre as they came within earshot and could hear the children laughing. "Is something the matter?"
"It's only..." Ehail began, but Sel barreled into her and hugged her leg.
"Hi Ehail!" exclaimed Sel. "Taala! Over here, this is Ehail, she's Uncle Gyre's giiiiiiirlfriend and she has pretty hair, like you."
Taala, and Vianne with her, approached at a more sedate pace. "Like me?" asked Taala quietly.
"Yes," said Ehail. If she were Taala she would be alarmed at the idea of a dragon turning up at her new, supposedly remote home. "Like you. It's nice to meet you, Taala."
"It's nice to meet you too," said Taala politely. "Apran, come here, this is our uncle Gyre and his girlfriend!"
Apran abandoned the lost cause of the race and tripped his way over to meet the new arrivals. "Hi, Uncle Gyre," he said tentatively. "Hi, um..." Vianne whispered in his ear, and he finished, "Ehail."
"Apran, do you have a broken leg?" Ehail asked him.
The emerald looked at his feet. "Well, um, I don't know, how do you tell?"
"A broken leg?" asked Gyre.
"Did anything happen that could have injured one or both of your legs?" Ehail asked.
"I fell off a horse," he said.
"That could do it," Ehail said. "You should go to a light - or a kama - and get that healed -" Gyre was running over towards the collection of adults closer to the house. "Gyre?"
Ryll, ashen, and Karyn, fumbling with some sort of bag, came back with Gyre, also at a run. "A broken leg?" exclaimed Ryll. "How?"
"I fell off a horse," Apran said. "Remember?"
"That was four days ago."
Apran nodded, looking mystified. "Yeah, and I guess I broke my leg then - Aunt Karyn, what're you doing?" Karyn had scooped him up and was walking briskly towards the house. Ehail - and everyone else, sensing that something interesting was afoot - followed her in.
"I am going to set your leg," Karyn said firmly. "Ryll, don't worry, it's probably just a thin fracture. It's possible to ignore those for a few days. But it should be splinted. Lucky I brought my bag..."
"It might not be a -" Ehail began.
"Apran," said Ryll, "why didn't you tell me or Daddy that you'd hurt yourself?"
"I didn't think it was worth bugging you about," said Apran sheepishly. "It's not bad."
Karyn set him on a chair with a footrest and started rolling up the leg of his pants. Ryll sat on the arm of the chair and hugged him, his head to her shoulder. "Apran," she said, "it's not bugging us if you tell us you're hurt."
"But it's not that bad. Garyn got a papercut the other day and he didn't tell you," Apran said.
"Papercuts," said Karyn, "will heal by themselves. Broken legs need attention. Now, I need to poke at this a little bit, and it may smart, Apran, be brave."
Apran looked completely nonplussed at Karyn. "Okay..."
Ehail spoke up. "You were tripping, and your leg could have healed wrong and made it hard to use even after it was knitted. You want to be able to run and play, don't you? And some injuries can lead to infections. Those could make you feverish, or tired, or even cost you a form, and you wouldn't like that."
"Oh. I guess. But what things are like papercuts and what things are like broken legs?" Karyn was probing his leg delicately with graceful brown fingers, occasionally flicking her eyes up to his face and frowning.
"Four months' esu," said Ehail. "That's the approximation I learned for what's worth going to a light about. Any worse than that, it's a problem."
"Elcenian months?" Apran asked, and Ehail nodded. "Okay," he said. "I think I can remember that."
Karyn's mouth dropped open. "Oh," she breathed. "I didn't... make the connection..."
"And tell for less than that, if it hurts for more than two days, or if it's because you hit your head, or if it also itches," Ehail said, looking away from Karyn's sudden, intent look at her.
"Okay," said Apran. "Aunt Karyn, what's wrong?"
"You don't need to splint his leg, necessarily," Ehail said, avoiding looking at the medic. "He could go into his flying form - what have you got, Apran?"
"I'm a parrotlet," he said. "I'm really cute, too! Want to see?"
"Yes," said Ehail, and he shifted, out from under Karyn's hands and Ryll's arms. "This form isn't injured, so your leg won't get any worse. You can go to a light or a kama like this, and get your human form's leg all fixed."
"I think it should still be splinted until then," said Karyn, somewhere between firm and faint.
"Okay, Aunt Karyn," said Apran, shifting back obediently and holding out his broken leg for her. She went about her business, hands admirably steady despite her obvious discomfort, and soon his leg was splinted.
"The town kama here does wild magic," said Ryll, when the splint was applied. "Apran, if you'll shift and ride on my shoulder, I'll take you there right now."
Her son obliged, and Ryll went out back to saddle a horse.
Ehail turned to Taala. "Did you hear everything I said? It applies to you too."
"Yes," said Taala. "Thank you."
Ehail felt a ghost of a smile cross her lips, and she sat down to accept cuddles from Gyre's nieces and nephews.