Chapter Eighteen: Opal

Gyre watched Ehail feed Nemaar, and asked quietly, "Do you wonder about your egg family?"

She looked up from Nemaar's sleepy face. "I was never adopted," she said. "Why 'egg' family?"

"To distinguish them from me and my relatives and our children," Gyre said. 'You have a family, Ehail."

She smiled at Gyre. Nemaar disengaged and she adjusted her dress, then put the baby in his cradle. "I wonder about them," she acknowledged.

"Would you want to know about them? If the information were available."

Ehail placed a kiss on Nemaar's forehead and left the room. Gyre followed, after he kissed their son too.

"I am a wizard," she murmured. "I would have been able to find out if I were ever desperate to know... and if the shren house records weren't sealed up for a reason. Those people, whoever they are, didn't want me to know about them."

"So you're just respecting their wishes," he said, as they went to find Cenem and put her to bed.

"I suppose. I don't want to force myself on them."

Gyre swallowed. "What if you had brothers? Or sisters. They wouldn't have been the ones who decided to send you away."

"I guess that's true," Ehail said. "Do you think I should go through the dragon council, ask them to find out for me...?"

"It's up to you," Gyre said.

"I suppose they'd be able to figure it out," Ehail said. She spotted Cenem outside, attempting to chain plucked daisies together to imitate something out of one of her picture books without any understanding of how flower chains were actually made. "Cenem, sweetie, time for bed."

Cenem was put to bed, Rithka was indulged in a card game, Mallyn showed off his progress in learning to read Leraal, and finally all four kids were down for the night.

"You wouldn't have to go to the dragon council," Gyre blurted, when they were sitting together in their bed.

Ehail blinked. "...Because the representative already said he recognized me as a Hiral, and I could just look for those some other way? I think if I were looking for Hirals in general instead of just my relatives I'd do that through the dragon council too."

"Rhysel helped me convince Ludei to give me your parents' names," Gyre said, rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand.

"But those records are sealed - without a letter from the parents he never -" Ehail trailed off. "No, what am I saying, this is Rhysel we're talking about, she could probably get anyone who ever cared about a baby shren to do anything she asked. But just their names wouldn't - did you find them?"

"Yes," Gyre said in a low voice.

"Oh." She picked at a piece of lint stuck to their blanket. "You didn't tell me."

"I would have, but - they wouldn't acknowledge that you existed. They talked to me, but only as if I were someone who walked up to their house off the street," Gyre said. "But they have two sons, Ehail. You have brothers."

"Brothers," she repeated.

"I don't know how to find them," he admitted. "Your parents didn't tell me that much. And I didn't know if you'd even want to know. But they're blood-related to Nemaar, and even though they've never met any of us, that might matter to them. It might be a good reason to look for them. If you want to, dear heart."

"The dragon council would know where they are," Ehail said.

"Yes, I suppose."

"What are my parents like?" Ehail asked in a soft voice. "What's my mother like?"

"She looks - exactly like you. She had her hair up. But she looked exactly like you, and it was unreal," Gyre murmured. "She sounded like you too, once I got her to talk in Martisen. It was disturbing to hear her refuse to acknowledge you. He's a blue opal. Very cordial, both of them, except when I tried to make the topic about you, and not about how I really wasn't the fellow they'd sent for to repair their flagstones."

"Oh." Of course her mother looked like her. She might have had a different hair color, or preferred a non-human form with some other face, or both - she didn't have to look the same - but no. Of course her mother looked just like her.

"Do you want to ask the dragon council to find your brothers?" Gyre asked. "They might need your parents' names to do it."

"What are their names?" Ehail whispered.

"Phyrnahiral," Gyre said, "and Sernetkaber."

Ehail wrote to her line representative, Euakotsi, and Eua came to the house a week and a half later with a bundle of papers copied out of the council's genealogical archive. "I filled you in where you belong in the family net," Eua said chattily. She wore a Petaran-looking human form, short and amber-eyed with a woolen fluff of silver hair. "So now you're there, in case your brothers aren't interested but they later have dragon children who are! But here's the registration data for both of them. You've got a silver big brother, and a blue opal clutchmate. Miklarsernet and Prathukaber. Miklar apparently just missed being a Sandor - one of your paternal great-grandfathers was a silver, and he lived to be old enough that he missed Miklar's naming ceremony by just months, isn't that a pity? But Miklar hasn't got the Sandor look anyway, so he'd just be a branch of theirs instead of being a divergence of the Kabers... Oh. Sorry. I'm being boring."

"I just... I'm not used to all this," Ehail said.

"I usually know when to shut up about line stuff," Eua said, waving a hand. "But it's your family so I thought... anyway. Your older brother is Miklar, silver, age 752, who's on his second wife and lives in Tava, two grown thudias, both living, twin parunias - now that's unusual, their poor little halfling Mommy! but oh, it says she's alive, so I suppose that's all right - and the twins are nineteen now. And your clutchmate is Prathu, blue opal, your age. I mean, of course your age. He's on his second husband, five thudias, two living, one parunia. My, what a lucky family, I never had any parunias, do you suppose it runs in the family, are you going to have enough babies for a good shot at it?... And Prathu lives in Reverni. Their addresses are here." She pushed papers at Ehail.

"Lypan, Reverni," read Ehail aloud. "I went to school there."

"He's lived there for a long time!" Eua said. "Maybe you saw him and didn't even know you were related! But you look like a perfectly canonical Hiral, you aren't even doing anything odd with your hair, so I think he would have recognized you if he had seen you. But there are lots of Hirals! Maybe he thought you were my cousin Lutee or something, barely related to him. I guess you can ask! Is there anything else you need from me? I know it's weird for me to be your line representative since you are just a perfect Hiral -"

"I'm not a Hiral."

"I know, not technically, but you know what I mean. And I'm not either! So it's strange for me to represent you, it wouldn't be if you were from a little line with two people in it but it's strange since you're not. But I'll help you with any line-representative things you need done anyway!"

"I think this will be fine. Thank you, Eua," Ehail said, running her fingers over the address in Lypan. It was in the Hay District. She'd been through there once, looking for cheaper textbooks than the ones the school sold. She didn't think she'd been down Broad Street.

And her hair had been brown, so without a good look at her face this Prathu person wouldn't have recognized her at all, but she didn't want to talk to Eua about that.

"Okay! I'll go home, then," Eua said. "It's so nice to see you taking your place among us! Welcome!" She waved - Ehail did not understand how someone could act so energetic and chipper while ostensibly being more than two thousand years old - and let herself out.

"Prathu," Ehail said experimentally. "Miklar."


Maybe they would want her.

Gyre read over her letters for her, which were spare and talked around most of the details, but said that she'd gotten their information through the council, was Prathu's clutchmate, wanted to know them. She listed the biographical details ("married to a Barashin half-elf half-human, we have a thudia together and an adopted iron, adopted jet, and adopted Barashin elf who are the following ages, we live in Paraasilan"). She had rather intrusive amounts of corresponding information about them. She wrote in Leraal so Gyre could read it with the help of his pocket dictionary he'd bought at the circle, but he didn't have any changes to suggest. She put them in the mail.

Ehail waited.

She took Rithka and Mallyn to their sports, Cenem to choir, Mallyn to his tutoring sessions with the mind kamai student. She took all of them - plus Kenar when he was there - swimming and to visit the edge of the world and to picnic on the moon and to see plays and concerts and to see all of Gyre's family, especially Batai and Karyn and their four. She fixed breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and taught every subject on the National Standards list. Once weekly, she left the kids alone with Gyre and teleported to Petar to look after the maintenance of the barely-populated Lator house.

And she waited.

It felt like longer than it really was. After about two weeks, she had two letters - like they'd coordinated. Maybe they had.

She dithered about which to open first, and finally went to Gyre, thrust them in his direction, and shut her eyes and told him to give her one.

She opened the envelope without looking and unfolded the letter, then opened her eyes. It was Prathu's.

Dear Ehail,

I tried to write to you once when we were kids. Mom and Dad didn't mean to tell me you existed, but I found out - I don't even remember how - and they caught me writing you a letter. I never tried that again, but I guess they can't do anything about it now. I won't tell them if you don't!

I live in the Hay District with my husband and my parunia daughter from my last marriage. Two elf thudias from this marriage are grown and out of the house and you've got two grand-nieces and a grand-nephew that way. The thudias from the last marriage were half-human, and their descendants are pretty thinly related by now, but I know where they're all at if you're very serious about getting in touch with family.

My husband is Izaln, my parunia's name is Sashpark, and my elf thudias are Feln and Eresti. I showed all of them your letter and Sashpark especially wants to meet you. You and your husband and kids are all welcome at my house (it's above my cheese shop) any time. Izaln and Sashpark are both home by tenth-and-same. I'm in the store all day up until then, so if you just want to meet me, come in. I'll give you free cheese.

If there's anything else you want to know about me/us, you can ask! I'm just not sure what all to put in here. There's a gap between "not close enough to this person to do anything but small talk" and "live with this person, and can talk about whether to have rice or noodles for dinner" and you've dropped right into it - you're my sister, but I don't know hardly anything about you! I'll read anything you want to write. Or hear anything you want to say, if you come here.

I might be able to find time to visit you in a while, but my shop is open every day and I just had to fire my employees for behavior I don't even want to write about. Sashpark will only mind the shop if I bribe her, which I suspect isn't the best of parenting methods.

- Sincerely, Prathu

Ehail read the letter twice, then handed it to Gyre - Prathu had written in Leraal just as she had. She picked up Miklar's letter.


Sorry this took so long! I didn't know we had a miracle in the family and wanted a while to talk over how best to welcome you, with my wife Tialinh and my sons Gahav and Attan. I think that if we want to visit, it'd be best to do it at either your place or maybe Prathu's - we live in a halfling-proportioned apartment in Tava, and while I imagine you can fit in here since you'd be Mom's height and she's short in human form, your husband probably can't, and I don't know about the Barashin elf kid either. (It's a funny coincidence - I only heard about Barashi existing at all last month. A fellow in your city is using witchcraft formulae that use Barashin plants and I read a writeup of that. I work as a witch myself.)

I've enclosed a recent picture of my girls. I'm afraid I can't tell you which one is Nivah and which one is Aji. They won't tell us - the only way to figure it out is for me or Tialinh to watch them while the other goes somewhere out of earshot and sings one dragonsong or the other, and see which one reacts. They mix themselves up again as soon as they can. Short of permanently denting a few scales (not something I'm going to do to them on purpose!) or calling in an empath to check them, there's no good way to avoid confusing them when they'll sabotage us if we try, so we just let it happen.

At any rate, I'd love to meet you. I'm free every Fenen all day, and most evenings, but given enough notice I can fly to Esmaar (or down to Reverni) any day of the week by rearranging my hours, and of course I can bring the girls. Tialinh's time is more limited, but we can work something out - tell us about your schedule!

- Miklar

Ehail handed that letter on to Gyre too, and sat, thinking.

Her life had gotten so full of people.

"Well," she said into the silence, after Gyre put down her elder brother's letter. "We should go see them."

Ehail could teleport to Lypan, whereas she'd need to fly at least partway to Miklar's place in Lan Quero; Prathu had also opened himself up to drop-ins where Miklar hadn't.

The Hay District had been a sparsely traveled area of mostly warehouses, hole-in-the wall stores and restaurants, and the world's first scoot factory (which had churned out unsafe, clunky vehicles that could barely fly), back when Ehail had attended school. The modern-day Hay District had several warehouses, but also contained residences and brightly stained-glass-fronted shops and islands in the streets with miniature flower gardens. Every corner was decorated with the Revernian flag, the state flag, the municipal flag, the Hay District flag, or a combination. The police made themselves a visible presence, pausing arbitrary passersby to find out what they were doing and send them on their way.

Ehail and Gyre were waved over by an officer as soon as they popped into place. "What brings you here, folks?" he asked them, fidgeting with a pin on his collar.

"We're here to visit my brother," Ehail said. "Can you give us directions? I haven't been here in a long time." She showed him the address.

"Up that way, turn left at the garden-island with the water feature, it'll be on your right," said the officer. "Have a good time!"

Ehail smiled and followed the directions. "What did he want?" Gyre asked.

"Should I have put a translation spell on you before we left? Since we were only going to see Prathu I didn't think of it. He just wanted to know where we were going," Ehail said.

"What makes it his business?" Gyre asked, frowning.

"Reverni is like that. More so now than it used to be, but there were always a lot of police. I'm just glad they never asked me what species I was when I was in school, only where I was going. I didn't wander around much then anyway."

They found the cheese shop. Its front window was bands of frosted glass in yellow, white, and orange, and the door was propped open. The man behind the door was tall and solidly built, with light brown skin and close-cut darker brown hair that would have let him pass for a local human save his sparkling blue eyes.

"Ehail?" he guessed when they walked in. "And that would make you... Gyre?"

Ehail nodded. Gyre said, "And you must be Prathu. Nice to meet you."

Prathu smiled tentatively at Ehail. "You too," he said. "So, er, welcome to Reverni. I didn't expect you here this soon. Even when I could leave the shop to my staff I tended to plan ahead by a week or two to fly across an ocean."

"I went to the Lypan Institute, a long time ago," Ehail said quietly. "I could teleport most of the way."

"Oh, so you're a wizard! Neat!" Prathu said. "I, er, I own this cheese shop. It's more interesting than it sounds. Do you want any cheese?"

"Maybe. What do you recommend?" Ehail asked, looking around at the selection. Blue paint on the counters and shelves signified that they were enchanted to keep cold. They held individual wedges and wheels of cheese, wrapped in glass paper or sitting in jars of brine. "Are you allowed to distribute to non-citizens?"

"Yeah, I have a permit for that," Prathu said. "My current favorite is the basket cheese over there in the blue jars... You didn't get citizenship here while you were in school?"

"No. Petaran exchange program," Ehail said, looking for something she could put on the pasta she had planned for dinner. "It allowed me ten years' residency and I didn't have to, um, answer as many questions as I would have had to if I'd gone for citizenship."

"Oh. Right." Prathu swallowed. "I did try to write you once when we were kids."

"I believe you," Ehail said.

"Mom and Dad practically scaled me alive. They'd never been so mad. They wouldn't even tell Miklar what I was in trouble for. He kept asking me if I'd killed someone." Prathu shook his head. "I don't know how far you're planning to go in the plan to unite with the family, but... maybe leave them be. I've got a whole lot of great-great-grandchildren and such to occupy you if me and my husband and our kids and their kids and Sashpark won't do the trick."

"I'm not planning to go bother them," Ehail murmured.

"That cheese over there with the pink mold is Sashpark's favorite," Prathu said, abruptly changing the subject. "Let me know if you want a taste of any of these before you pick out what you want."

"Where is Sashpark? Is she in school?" Ehail asked.

"Has to be until she's a hundred and seventy," Prathu said. "They let her skip every other semester, though, since she's got to spend so many more years on it than a non-dragon would. She's on until the end of this month and then off until spring. And even during the semester she's only there alternate days - our district is on an interlocked double schedule so they can use the schools and staff for twice as many students." He scratched the back of his neck. "I'm rambling, sorry."

"It's fine," Ehail assured him. "We're thinking of sending our son Mallyn to school for magic soon. He has Barashin magic called kamai, and he wants to be a wizard, too... there's a school in town that will teach him both."

"I thought Esmaarlanik didn't go to school," said Prathu blankly.

"Some of them do. Only for specialized things, usually," Ehail said. "I teach the girls at home - but Rithka sometimes goes to work with Gyre."

"Did you grow up in Reverni, Prathu?" asked Gyre.

"No," Prathu said, "Mekand, but I moved here when I got old enough. It was more important to be geographically central before teleportation got so common, selling something like cheese... and I like the place."

"Why cheese?" Ehail asked.

"I've always liked it. And it's more interesting than you might think," Prathu said, warming up to the topic, when footsteps sounded from the door.

"Hi, Dad," said a brown-skinned brown-eyed girl with long puffy spangled-blue hair and a shirt saturated with orange flowers. "...Grandma...? Oh! No, you must be Aunt Ehail. Hi! I'm Sashpark! I'm more interesting than cheese, so it's lucky I came when I did. School let out early because the anthem rally was canceled because the dance choir all have the south flu, Dad."

"What, all of them?" asked Prathu.

"Well, no, but enough to cancel an anthem rally over. So I'm home. Hi, Aunt Ehail! Hi, Linnipese-half-elf-looking-person! It's nice to meet you!"

"I'm from Barashi," Gyre told her, amused. "I'm your uncle Gyre."

"Hi, Uncle Gyre!" Sashpark replied, undaunted. "So what do you do?"

"Ehail was just telling me that she's a wizard," Prathu said.

"Nifty," Sashpark said. "Can you fix our oven?"

"Probably," Ehail said, at the same time as Prathu said, "Sashpark! That's rude!"

"What? I just asked her if she could. But it'd be great if she did fix it. You're too cheap to hire someone to do it. At this rate we're going to have to cook everything on the stovetop until we can file for hardship. Come on," Sashpark said, rolling her eyes.

"Show me?" Ehail asked, and Sashpark gestured for her to follow. A rickety set of metal stairs led from the street to a second-floor balcony attached to the building, but Sashpark turned into a butterfly - or, no, looking closer, a fairy - and avoided them altogether. Ehail followed suit in bluejay form, while Prathu and Gyre went sedately up the steps on foot.

"Jay, neat," commented fairy-Sashpark, going in through an open window that had just enough room for Ehail to get through too, and then both shifted back to their human shapes. The window led to the kitchen, which was wallpapered in green and gold and smelled even more of cheese than the shop did. "There," Sashpark said, half-falling into a kitchen chair and grabbing a kiwi from the fruit bowl on the table. She bit into it, skin and all. "It doesn't heat up."

Ehail cast an analysis on the oven, and had just decided which spell it needed by the time Gyre and Prathu came in. "I can fix this," she told Prathu, ending the analysis. "Do you want me to?"

"I don't want to put you to any trouble - we mostly do things on the stove anyway," Prathu said.

"It's not a problem. In exchange for the cheese?" Ehail suggested. "I think I'd like to try the pink kind on our way out."

"If you put it that way... all right," said Prathu, smiling and shrugging.

Ehail cast two spells to patch up the stove and sat down next to Gyre. "How's school, Sashpark?" she asked.

"It's okay, but I hate civics," Sashpark said around a bite of kiwi. "For stuff like history I can just learn about a lot of different history, there's tons, but civics is always the same and I'm not allowed to skip it and do an extra creative writing or art or something. Ugh. Here's how to fill out tax forms, here's how to rent apartments, here's how to fill out nine hundred kinds of paperwork, here's how to cooperate with cops, here's why we have five bodies of legislature and why they're all sooooo important. It hasn't changed in fifty years. And they only find the budget to send us on field trips to the Tower of the Capital every four years or so even though we live in the capital. Can I come live with you in Esmaar, Aunt Ehail? I know Esmaarlan kids don't have to go to school."

"Sashpark!" exclaimed Prathu.

"Oh, never mind," she grumbled. "Only I'm almost done with my book! I wish I had more time to work on it."

"You're writing a book?" Gyre asked her.

She nodded rapidly. "It's about a World's Four Corners light-aide who goes to help the wounded in war-torn Pleia and then she gets involved with a soldier she helps and they have a forbidden romance. And, you know, a war, because there's a war. But mostly it's about the forbidden romance. But you can't read it yet! It's not ready!"

"All right," said Gyre mildly. "But it's impressive that you've written a book."

Sashpark propelled most of the rest of the conversation, but Ehail and Gyre eventually had to go home to pick up the children from their various activities.

Ehail teleported herself and her husband, a wedge of pink cheese in her pocket.