Chapter Nineteen: Kinship
Half a dozen letters back and forth sufficed to pin down a time when Miklar and his wife and daughters could visit. Before that date arrived, though, Prathu - his husband and three living children and three living grandchildren in tow - found a chance to do the same. "Rehired an old employee who quit to go to school and hasn't found work yet," he explained, when Ehail asked him what he'd done with the shop.
"She talks weird now that she knows all that philosophy," Sashpark said, squeezing past her father and into the house to stare down her curious cousins. "But she still brought me a paper pixie like she used to when she worked there before. I like her. Hullo everybody."
"This is my husband, Izaln," Prathu said of an aging blue-eyed Eastern elf, "and our twins Feln and Eresti." Feln, the woman, and Eresti, her brother, had their elf father's eyes and his silver-white hair - if either resembled Prathu at all, it would be in Prathu's hypothetical elf form or in their hidden miniature dragon shapes.
Feln carried her son on her hip, though he looked a trifle old for that; Eresti was leading two little brunette girls by the hand. The three children all looked close to the same age, and were all elves. "I think the kids can introduce themselves."
"I'm Brennde," said the probable eldest, sticking out her hand. "I'm twenty-seven! My mommy would've come but she has to work."
Her sister Valli introduced herself while Brennde went around shaking everyone's hands, and the boy permitted his mother to set him down so he could announce himself as Zermin from a more dignified position. Feln explained her husband's absence as being due to a desire to avoid particularly dense family reunions, but offered to bring him over on some other occasion.
Rithka, closest in equivalent age to Ehail's grand-niblings, hauled all three up to her room to induct them into the mysteries of pel-pwon, her newest board game. Cenem sat on Gyre's shoulders and watched the proceedings with mild interest, as everyone greeted everyone in various combinations and Prathu gave Ehail a tentative hug.
Dinner was in the oven, but before it was due out, everyone besides those who'd disappeared upstairs assembled themselves in the kitchen. Mallyn and Sashpark sat near each other. It was crowded with mismatched chairs; another table in the living room would contain the younger kids when dinner was served. "So," Gyre said, sounding like Martisen to Ehail through the translation spell but presumably rendering as Munine to the monolingual among the visitors. "I know Prathu's got the shop, but what do the rest of you do?"
"Real estate," Izaln said, "but I'm thinking about retiring soon."
"I edit the Encyclopedia Ennda," Eresti said. "Fact-checking, sometimes proofreading close to press time."
"Feln?" Gyre prompted when she was silent.
"Classified," Feln replied in clipped tones. "What's that lovely smell?"
Ehail blinked. "It's a fish casserole... Classified?"
"As in, I can't talk about it. I understand you're a wizard, Ehail? Dad said you fixed his oven."
"I did," Ehail said. "I, er, I actually went to school in Lypan."
"And I'm a jeweler," Gyre said, lifting one of his hands to shake the ever-present wedding bracelet around his wrist. Ehail touched the necklace at her throat.
"Those are super-pretty," said Sashpark.
"Thanks," Gyre said. "If you ever want a little something, let me know."
"I like bright things," Sashpark said, gesturing at her brilliant scarlet shirt. It clashed terribly with her hair. "Copper and citrines and rubies and stuff."
"I'll keep that in mind," laughed Gyre.
Rithka, followed by Brennde, Valli, and Zermin, charged down the stairs. "We," she announced, "are all hungry!"
"Then it's a good thing it's almost dinner, isn't it?" said Ehail. "You four are at the table in the living room. Sashpark and Mallyn can sit there too, if they want," she said, glancing at the pair of them where they were holding their quiet conversation. Neither seemed inclined to go sit at the kids' table.
The timer Ehail had cast chimed, and she took out the dinner and started plating squares of it. "There's cheese in this," Sashpark said when she saw her own plate, "isn't there."
"Yes," Ehail said.
"Oh well," sighed Sashpark theatrically. "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."
That got a laugh out of Mallyn, and Ehail smiled. "It's not cheese from your father's shop," she said. "We ate that a while ago."
"What kind is this?" Prathu asked, poking at a bit of fish on his plate with his fork. "No, don't tell me, I'll see if I can guess."
Prathu guessed the cheese correctly, prompting gentle ribbing from all three of his kids. When everyone had finished their casserole and the pie that came after that, the kids, this time including Cenem and Mallyn and Sashpark, all went upstairs, and Feln demonstrated an ability to come up with endless conversation topics - possibly due to practicing every time someone asked her about her job.
The guests went home after Cenem buzzed downstairs and asked for her bedtime story; Ehail saw them out while Gyre read Cenem something out of The Mice in Formal Wear Omnibus Edition.
"I like Sashpark," Mallyn commented after everyone was out.
"You seemed to get along with her quite well," Ehail agreed.
"But we had an argument," he said.
"About our grandparents."
"Oh." Ehail looked away.
"I told her the story about Grandma Allera." Ehail suspected he meant the one about shunning her until she learned to tolerate magic - she hadn't told him the story, but he could have heard it from Rithka, or maybe Rhysel, or from Allera herself. "Sashpark thought it was awful of everybody to shun her."
"I don't know if your Grandma Allera would agree that it was awful," Ehail said.
"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," said Mallyn.
"Sweetheart," murmured Ehail, hugging Mallyn. "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," Mallyn said.
"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, hugging him 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, after a furtive glance around turned up no evidence of the named sister.
"I suppose," Ehail replied in a low voice. There had been no suggestion that Rithka's egg-parents were going to make themselves known. This didn't seem to be an ongoing source of distress to Rithka, though occasionally she had miniature crises about it, often timed around Kenar's visits or Cenem's outings with Marlii and Lhenrath. "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," he said, "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." He swallowed. "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 slowly. "When do we meet Uncle Miklar and Aunt Tialinh and their babies?" he asked.
"Next week," said Ehail.
The next week, Miklar landed in their yard, and on his back were a white-haired halfling woman and two indistinguishable silver babies. They dismounted - the babies fluttering, the halfling unrolling a rope ladder and climbing down that way - and Miklar changed into his own halfling shape. It was the chromatic opposite of his pale wife: black hair, black goatee, and navy blue skin corresponding to the Rimdweller halfling population, but of course he had silver eyes.
"Hello," said the twin parunias together when they'd fluttered up to the door. Their parents approached behind them.
"Hello," Ehail returned. "I'm told that you won't let me know which of you is Nivah and which of you is Aji."
"That's right," they said, still in unison.
Cenem, when she spotted them, turned into her slightly larger dragon form and flowed around Ehail's knees to go out and meet them. Miklar and Tialinh caught up.
"You might be more comfortable in human form, in this house," Ehail told Miklar. "Prathu implied that you have one."
"I have, but I'm used to this one. So are Tialinh and the girls," said Miklar. "Besides, apart from the eyes, my human form looks like Prathu's. Wouldn't that be confusing?"
"A little," Ehail admitted. It might have been her imagination, but she thought Miklar paused when he named their brother; maybe he'd meant to refer to their father instead. "Come in, please."
"We want to play outside!" chorused the twins, and Cenem a beat after.
"You can if you like," Ehail said agreeably. Tialinh and Miklar took her invitation, though, and entered the house.
"So what do witches do?" Gyre asked Miklar when everyone had served themselves little plates off the tray of snacks.
Rithka was trying very hard to sit still and look serious, and was eating crackers and a jelly blend that she normally eschewed on the grounds that they were "grownup food". "Witches make potions, Daddy," she told Gyre.
"I was asking your uncle Miklar," Gyre said gently, "since he's a witch."
"And anyway, I haven't made a potion like the kinds you find in stores in years," Miklar said. "I mostly work with industrial substances lately, not headache cures and shampoo. More like ore refiners, solvents, dyes. And every Sinen I teach basic water treatment craft at the community center."
"Water treatment?" Gyre asked.
"Well, you can conjure water all you like, that's cheap," Miklar said, "but it's just water - it's not like rain or river water which has a taste, some minerals, that sort of thing. A pinch of this, a pinch of that, and some very introductory witchcraft can get you a batch of water that tastes better and some people consider it healthier. And if you get stuck without your waterspout somewhere, you want to be sure that the water you can find - assuming you find some - is safe. Witching it up a bit can do that."
"What about you, Tialinh?" Ehail asked the diminutive woman. Tialinh and Miklar were sharing a couch cushion, pressing their knees together. "What do you do?"
"I'm on Tava's import regulation commission," said Tialinh.
"What's that mean?" Rithka asked. She had abandoned some of her pretended adulthood by scooting over into Mallyn's lap.
"It means that when people in Tava want to buy something that's grown or made outside of Tava, I help make sure it's safe and legal, because we don't have the same product safety standards or laws about what people ought to buy as everyone else," Tialinh said. "When there's something that's very popular in Tava from outside, I work with the people who make it to help that go more smoothly so not every transaction has to go through the commission."
Nivah and Aji (whichever was which) gamboled in from the garden with Cenem at their tails. "Mummy, Daddy, we want to go flying, with Cenem," they said. "May we?"
"How far?" Miklar asked.
"Not very," they said.
"To Aunt Rhysel's," Cenem put in. "And back. She has a kind of rose from Barashi and they want to see it."
"That's a couple of miles away, to Gyre's sister's place," Ehail told Miklar and Tialinh, "and we let the kids go by themselves when they like. Cenem has my dragonsong."
"The twins have mine," said Miklar. "But I don't know..."
"I could go with and be supervisory," offered Rithka.
Eventually Miklar and Tialinh were persuaded to release their twins to the expedition, provided Rithka went along and also brought Mallyn on her back. He was filling out - and had, upon beginning to keep a reasonable diet, begun to grow taller again at a rapid clip - but she was still capable of keeping up with dragons half her size while carrying him. He'd made enough progress at controlling his kamai outbursts that he could be among unwarded people - he would still produce uncontrolled effects if he tripped, hiccupped, or was startled, but Korulen had helped him track down the outlets that produced the worst dangers, and he would do nothing more harmful than rain on people or produce colorful glass beads that had to be distributed to eager sisters.
"At some point," Miklar said when Tialinh had left off watching the children depart and sat back down, "you should meet my sons, Gahav and Attan - and Attan has a daughter and a granddaughter, too. My daughter-in-law is no longer with us, unfortunately..."
"I never realized I came from such a large family," Ehail murmured.
"We're not a large family," Miklar said, surprised. "As dragons go, that is. I mean, Prathu had four kids with his previous husband, but not a dozen. It's just the two - three - of us in our generation. And we're already in our seventh and eighth centuries and none of us has been married more than twice, unless you've been up to more than you mentioned in your letter."
"I've never been married to anyone but Gyre," Ehail said.
"Dragons just sort of accumulate relatives," said Miklar. "I suppose it's easier to follow when you get used to them slowly. You can wait on meeting my sons if you like, of course."
Ehail nodded. "We've been busy here - the kids have a lot of activities, and Gyre's usually at work during the day, and I'm -" She'd been about to mention going back to the house for maintenance; she decided against it. "- dealing with Nemaar. He naps well, though."
"Thudia babies are trickier than parunias," said Miklar sagely, "at least when they still are babies. Except for mixing themselves up constantly ours aren't much trouble. But if you need tips with your sprout I remember a thing or two from handling my boys, back when."
There didn't seem to be as much to say to Miklar as there had been to Prathu; Ehail wasn't sure if that was because he'd brought fewer people or because he just wasn't as friendly for some reason, but at any rate Miklar and Tialinh excused themselves once their daughters had returned from viewing Rhysel's rose garden. "Thank you for having us, Aunt Ehail," the twins said politely.
"You're welcome," she replied, and they went.
"Mom?" said Mallyn. She was feeding Nemaar, which he usually avoided being present for; she looked up with mild alarm.
"What is it, sweetheart?"
"Can I go visit Sashpark by myself?" he asked.
"How would you do that?" Ehail asked. "I can't teleport you - there's no one here to watch Nemaar and Cenem and Rithka."
"Aunt Rhysel has a transfer point set up in Lypan," he said. "It's got one of the schools that wanted to add a kamai program."
"So she'd be taking you?" Ehail asked.
Mallyn nodded. "I asked her when I was there with Nivah and Aji yesterday."
"And is Sashpark off school today?"
"Yes. She's off odd-numbered days this month."
"Well, that's fine with me, as long as it doesn't interfere with your lessons with me or Korulen," Ehail said. "And sometimes I may be able to teleport you there, when there's someone to watch the other kids. You know my dragonsong, right? Sing it if you need me."
"Yes. Thanks, Mom," Mallyn said. He ducked out.
Mallyn came home angles later, in time for dinner. Ehail put a plate of noodles in front of him. "Did you have a good time with Sashpark?" she asked.
"Yes," Mallyn replied. "Um, she decided we should date."
"What?" Gyre said.
"Really?" Ehail said.
"Son, Sashpark is your cousin," Gyre said.
"That's what I said," Mallyn said. "She said it's not like regular cousins because I'm adopted and she's a parunia and we didn't grow up together and we aren't going to get married or anything. It's just sort of practice. Is it okay?"
"You're a little young to be dating, aren't you?" Ehail asked, chewing her lip.
"I won't let it get in the way of any of my other stuff," Mallyn promised. "I think I'll be ready to go to school in Marahel. I'll still draw and play with Rithka and Cenem and study and I'll go back to kebel when I can stop raining all the time."
"What does Sashpark being a parunia have to do with anything?" Gyre asked.
"Nothing really, since Mallyn is adopted," Ehail said, "but supposedly - I haven't looked closely into the research on this - a lot of her genetics come out of nowhere and she's literally less related to me than Feln or Eresti are. I believe Reverni's consanguinity laws actually refer to that sort of thing, which may be why she mentioned it... Gyre, do you think this needs to be disallowed?"
"It's just for practice," Mallyn said. "So I don't look stupid when I - have a regular girlfriend, later. If I do."
Gyre thought, looking perplexed, but finally shrugged. "Up to you, Ehail."
"And as long as you can keep everything you need to do with your time under control, I'll allow it," Ehail said.
"Thanks," said Mallyn, smiling, and he coiled some noodles around his fork and endured Rithka beginning to pester him about how he had a giiiiiirlfriend and her interest in whether he had kiiiiiiissed her.
Kenar's next visit was at the end of Komehel. "I found out we're related," he told Ehail when he'd put his knapsack up in his room.
"...Oh?" she said. She didn't think he'd just recently realized that her name was still on a canceled adoption paper, never crossed out.
"Rthan's cousin is your dad, apparently," Kenar said. "I met some extended family at a flight competition - Tanzil and Simnel compete in the kids' leagues together, they do relays - and a distant cousin was talking to me about books and then she mentioned her boyfriend Mallyn and I don't think that's a common name so I asked. So apparently we're actually related."
"Oh," said Ehail.
"I thought you'd maybe like that," Kenar said, shrugging awkwardly.
Ehail had no idea if she liked it or not.
Mallyn was ready for school in Marahel. He controlled his outbursts without fail - Rhysel was fantastically impressed with him - and was making progress in maintaining his energy levels by doing this with increasing efficiency. (He was still drained every time he suppressed a burst of magic, ate ravenously to make up for it, and had become taller than Ehail.) He was sufficiently competent in Leraal to attend classes taught exclusively in that language and had started teaching himself Munine in his spare time so he'd be better able to operate during his visits to Reverni. Ehail was full to bursting with pride.
A few weeks after he learned to use transfer points, he came home from a visit to Sashpark and knocked on Ehail's office doorframe. "Mom?"
"Um, I... did something."
"What was it?" she asked.
He swallowed. "I convinced Sashpark to help me, about... our... grandparents."
Ehail felt cold, and could no longer assume that this was an actual temperature change wrought by Mallyn's flailing kamai. "Oh?"
"She had a hatching day party. They came. She told them she was inviting her boyfriend. They didn't know who I was."
He was shaking and avoiding eye contact; Ehail got to her feet and held out her arms, and he almost fell towards her. "But I went to their house once - a while ago - and tried to talk to them and get them to change their minds, so they recognized me when they got to the party, and they acted like I'd killed someone or something. And I asked Uncle Prathu to back me up and he told me to leave him out of it, and then I ran out to transfer point home and Feln followed me and said I'd gone about it stupidly but I didn't want to listen to her insult me so I just left, but now I don't have any way to try again, the time I went to their house they said they'd call the cops on me if I ever went there again, and now they know that I'm Sashpark's boyfriend so I can't even try again with a better idea, and I just want an entire family now that I have one worth having at all and - and -"
It was probably the largest speech he'd ever uttered - even graduation to full sentences hadn't made Mallyn a chatterbox - and by the time he trailed off he was weeping on Ehail's shoulder. "Oh, sweetheart," she murmured, still cold. Were her parents - those people - whoever they were - she knew what they'd look like, but nothing of their personalities - what was going through their heads? Were they angry, would they retaliate, had they been slowly changing and then been thrown swiftly back into rigid refusal to hear of her by the shock, had he made otherwise decent people who had raised good sons miserable by mentioning her to them...?
Did they even know her name? Ludei had named her; her name hadn't been written on her egg's packaging. Gyre might not have had occasion to mention it when he spoke to them. Mallyn would have called her "Mom". Did her parents know her name?
"Oh, sweetheart," she said again.
Mallyn hugged her tight. "I'm sorry," he said. "I screwed up. I'm sorry."
Two angles later, Feln rang the doorbell, and Ehail left off the soberly conducted game of pel-pwon she and the kids were playing to answer it.
"Hello, Ehail," Feln said. "I told Mallyn that if he didn't tell you about what happened at Sashpark's hatching day party, I would. Did he?"
"He did," Ehail murmured, reaching behind her to touch Mallyn's head. He was shaking again, and looking mutinously at his cousin.
"Ehail," Feln said, "it was my impression that you wanted to leave Grandma and Grandpa alone. I didn't particularly speculate on why you'd want that, but there are any number of reasons it was plausible. It is true?"
"I... I didn't think there was much choice involved," Ehail said. "They've made it more than clear that they didn't want me..."
"Yes, but that doesn't mean they're unpersuadable. No one has been trying because no one except your moody teenage son has indicated he wanted to make it an issue."
"Uncle Prathu said -!" began Mallyn indignantly.
"My dad is one person, and one of his traits is an allergy to confrontation," Feln snapped. "If you'd gone to anyone else in the room for support you'd have gotten it. Notice that he also didn't side against you. I'm not offering you help sugar-coated, but I am offering you help, and I, unlike Sashpark, am an adult who can come up with more sophisticated plans than tricking them into the same room as you during Sashpark's hatching day party, which they came to equipped with beribboned presents and not their inmost feelings about their offspring. If you don't yet understand that it was a lousy idea to try to handle this on your own without any grown-ups helping you, Mallyn, then you aren't as smart as Sashpark claims."
"Feln..." said Ehail, trying to think of something to say to defend her son, but she wasn't sure that she was wrong.
"Do you," Feln asked, "want the rest of the family to attempt to get you and Grandma and Grandpa reconciled?"
"I - I - I don't know," Ehail whispered. "Can you stay for an angle - stay for dinner - Gyre will be home, I need to talk to him."
"All right," Feln said, taking a seat and ignoring Mallyn's grouchy look. "Thanks."
Gyre was home when expected, and listened to Ehail and Feln explain the situation between them. "You thought Ehail didn't want to meet her parents?" he asked Feln.
"If I were her, I'd resent them pretty badly," Feln said, shrugging. "Or maybe I wouldn't much care for not-miracle sorts of dragons. Or something like that. It seemed like it might explain the facts I had to work with, and I didn't make it my top priority to learn otherwise. But Mallyn's blowup suggested that it at least wasn't a family consensus."
"I don't know what to do," Ehail said to Gyre in a small voice.
He kissed her cheek. "You don't have to decide right away," he said.
"I'll think about it," Ehail said. "If that's okay."
"Fine by me," said Feln.
They might not even know her name.
Gyre said he hadn't gotten to it - they'd interrupted whenever he'd said "your daughter"; they'd sent him away before he'd thought of switching to "my wife"; she'd heard no indication that Mallyn had used it.
They were acting as a unit, her mother and her father both, but she didn't know if they moved that harmoniously by nature or if one might be more reluctant the other - if one or the other might, let alone or encouraged gently, want to meet her at least once, confirm the family resemblance, learn her name.
It was possible they'd like her if they met her, if she was very polite to them.
It was possible that, backed into a corner, they'd be like Allera - who Ehail still called "Mother", planned to go on calling "Mother" no matter what, but was only calling "Mother" because her real one had been absent to begin with and Allera had changed first.
It was possible that if Ehail got enough help, her mother could be coaxed to ask for forgiveness like Allera had.
And they might not even know her name.
Ehail squeezed Gyre's hand, probably too tightly, and teleported to the Blue Park in Lypan. Neutral territory, Feln's idea. Feln was there, and Miklar, who didn't share his brother's hatred of conflict, and - Ehail saw when she took a slow step forward and could see past Feln - Prathu's longer-haired double, and her own mirror image. Blue opal father and silver mother.
She took another step, looking at her feet as they shuffled through blue grass and continuing to clutch Gyre's hand in hers.
She reached the edge of the patterned picnic blanket, and forced herself to look into eyes just like hers.
"Hello," she said quaveringly. "My name is Ehail."