Chapter Six: Shunning
Ryll looked like she might actually have an answer for why not, but the children were bouncing around in excitement about visiting Grandma's, and she was soon occupied lacing up Sel's boots. "If you want to come, you can," she said.
"Does she think your parents won't like me?" Ehail murmured in Gyre's ear as she set down Sel's craft project and they followed the Rysen family out in the rain. "Should we just leave instead?"
"I can't think why anyone wouldn't like you," Gyre murmured back. "Maybe she thinks you'll be bored by the harpsichord."
"Oh. I don't think it will be boring." Especially not if the children kept jostling her just like they were jostling their parents and their uncle, like she belonged there, was a perfectly appropriate addition to a family outing.
Everyone piled into the wagon, and Ehail wound up with Vianne in her lap. Vianne picked at the stitching on Ehail's sleeve and asked, "Are you from Elsenya?"
"El-see-ne-ya," Ehail corrected. "Yes. I am."
It wasn't a long trip, and the children shortened it by talking, often over Ryll who kept starting sentences. The three boys and two girls filled the air with chat about the horses, when one might foal and another might be trained up well enough to sell; about school, their lessons and their teachers; about the weather (rainy) and the sounds the carthorses made with each hoofbeat (splashy).
Ehail remembered being a child, but only dimly, and that was the only part of her life she'd spent very much around children. She'd moved upstairs when she was two hundred and three, when Ludei had asked her if she'd thought about moving away from the house and she'd told him no. After that she'd seen children, and heard them, but not interacted with them, and they hadn't climbed on her or presented her with artwork.
"I think you should be -" Ryll began for the tenth time as the wagon pulled up to its destination.
"Mom! Mommy I have a rock in my boot you have to carry me in or it will go in my foot and then I will have a rock in my foot!" cried Sel.
Ryll sighed, got out first to scoop Sel out of the wagon, and carried the girl to the patio where a weathered, grayed human man sat polishing a carved wooden chain. Ehail wasn't even sure how someone would make something like that, but he had several dozen unbroken links of wood, which he was smoothing down with sandpaper.
"You might want to -" Ryll started again, but Vianne tapped her mother's forehead and whispered that it would be only fair for her to be carried to the patio too, because otherwise that would be Sel getting a prize for having a rock in her boot, and that would be silly. Ryll carried her second daughter in and was then caught by her father in a hug.
Ehail climbed out of the wagon after Gyre so he could help her down. She caught Ryll's eye, hoping to hear whatever she'd had to say, but Ryll glanced at her father and just smiled at Ehail. Ehail concluded that whatever Ryll had to say probably wasn't too important. Gyre had to know his parents as well as she did.
The stones of the street were slippery, not just with water but also with some kind of algal growth indicating it was always wet. The climate wasn't that different from the tropical warm-wetness of Keppine Island, although Aristan's atmosphere pervaded the indoors in a way that climate control spells wouldn't let it do on Elcenia. Even when Gyre had hurried her inside out of the rain, Ehail's clothes clung to her, and she wished she'd worn something more weatherproof.
"Rushing by me like that, I'd think you didn't want a hug, son," said Tem, following them in and holding out his arms. "What are you doing here? Didn't know you were in town."
Gyre readily embraced his father. "It's been a while! Hope I didn't surprise you too much. I was here with Ehail, my girlfriend -" (Gyre said this with pride, which Ehail couldn't figure out) "to talk to Ryll about an idea for something Senatorial, and we decided to tag along when she and Lerrel and the niblings all came over here. I hear you have a harpsichord needs tuning?"
"Your mother has," Tem said, turning to scrutinize Ehail. "I carved the legs for it but don't think that has much to do with tuning." He was looking at her hair. Ehail wondered if he would be insulted should she turn into a bluejay, to be smaller. Gyre put his arm around her and she squished closer to him.
"Hello," Ehail murmured. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Ehail." These seemed like polite sentences to utter in context.
"Gyre's girlfriend, are you?" Tem asked. "Good to meet you too, child. I'm Tem."
"I'm not a child," she said. "I'm six hundred and sixty-three."
Gyre snorted good-naturedly. "Good luck convincing my parents that means they shouldn't call you 'child'," he said. "Lerrel is even older than you are and they call him that."
A redheaded elf woman came into the room. "What are you all standing in here for? The harpsichord is in my studio," she said. "Gyre, you are here, Garyn mentioned, do come in, bring your guest."
"Mother, this is my girlfriend," Gyre said. "Ehail, my mother, Allera."
"Girlfriend? Goodness. That's a first for you, Gyre."
"I've had girlfriends," he murmured, although he sounded embarrassed. "Just none I was - none who - I didn't bring any here."
"That's all I meant, child," Allera said. Everyone was assembled in the studio, which was full of instruments of all kinds, in various stages of completion. Most prominent was a harpsichord, a chair pulled out before it for Allera to sit in. She ran her hand over the keys fluidly and played a chromatic scale.
"How does it compare to the tuning fork, Mother?" Gyre asked.
Allera snatched up a metal fork from the top of the harpsichord and struck it on the chair, then pressed a corresponding key. "You see, that sounds right, it's the other notes I'm not sure of..."
"I'd say flat above that note, sharp below it," murmured Ryll. "But you might want to bring in Jenner or Batai or Tennel, for this one."
"Are you musical, Ehail, dear?" Allera asked, opening up the harpsichord and beginning to tweak things.
"Oh, no," Ehail said. "Not particularly."
"What is it that you do, then?"
Ryll opened her mouth; Ehail thought she might have been about to chide one of the children, though there wasn't anything obvious to chide them about. "I'm a wizard," Ehail said.
A muscle in Allera's jaw twitched. She carefully closed the harpsichord.
"You've only re-tuned half the strings," volunteered Tyrrel, Ryll's eldest.
"Well," said Allera. "I'm going to see how this half sounds before I do any more." She touched the keys again, but her fingers came down harder, and the notes sounded like whether they were in or out of tune they would have jangled badly. Ehail winced.
"Mother?" said Gyre.
"Oh, don't you take that tone with me, young man," said Allera, standing up fast enough to send the chair skidding towards Leyf, who dodged it. Lerrel corralled all of the children and ushered them out of the room, holding some urgent whispered conversation with Ryll that Ehail couldn't hear.
"What?" Gyre asked. "I just -"
"You just nothing. You brought a wizard - another wizard - into this house. Maybe you think the harpsichord would be improved if it caught fire? Or if it got rained on, so the roof needs to be blown off?"
It seemed that Allera didn't like her. Oh. Ehail didn't understand the content of the outburst, but the dislike was normal enough.
"I beg your pardon?" said Gyre. Ehail wondered if she should leave. Her legs didn't seem to work.
"Mother," said Ryll. "Maybe we -"
"It's one thing for Rhysel to marry one," Allera snapped. Ehail wilted. If Allera didn't approve of Aar Camlenn, who was so perfectly polite, and helped with the babies, and wasn't even a shren or anything similarly horrible, Ehail had no chance. "What can you expect from her? But I didn't think you were like that, Gyre, I thought you'd find some nice, non-freakish girl one day and -"
"Excuse me?" said Gyre. It wasn't news to him, was it, that Ehail wasn't the best he could do? She'd thought he'd known - she hadn't had a clue why he'd settle for her, but that he would, she'd assumed, or why else would he want her for his girlfriend? Silly of her. Of course it was news.
"I will not excuse you from -"
"Oh, I don't care if you excuse us or not," Gyre said coldly, taking a step back and drawing Ehail back with him, both arms wrapped around her waist. "We're leaving."
"You don't have to, I can go home myself, you don't have to," Ehail murmured against her own shoulder as he pulled her back and out of the room. Ryll stepped between Ehail and Allera and was addressing her mother in sharp words and sharper tones. The swinging door closed behind Ehail and Gyre when they'd left the room.
"Yes," he said fervently. "I do have to. We're leaving. You don't deserve that."
"She's your mother," whispered Ehail. They were halfway to the front door. "You don't have to fight with your mother. Not for me. She's your mother."
"That doesn't give her leeway to treat you like that. Nothing would." They were out. It had just barely stopped raining, although droplets from the towering trees were still trickling down.
"If I knew my mother," Ehail began, but she didn't finish the sentence. If she knew her mother, then what? That mother hadn't given her the chance to find out. But if she'd known her mother wouldn't she find that relationship too precious to risk over some - shren?
"If..." Gyre didn't finish his sentence either. He sighed. "I know it's late on Elcenia. Do you want to go home?"
"I should probably leave you be," agreed Ehail. He was still holding her. Why was he doing that?
"No, that's not - Ehail -"
"She's right," Ehail said reasonably. Her lip was only trembling a little bit. At least the children hadn't been in the room. "I'm -"
"Ehail, I have no inkling as to why she reacted like that - I guess from what she said there may be something between her and Rhysel that I wasn't around for, that has bled over in some bewildering, irrational way to hurt you, but whatever it is isn't right and it doesn't change how I feel about you," he said.
He sounded just as though he meant it.
He hugged her closer. "Ehail," he murmured in her ear. "I think I'm in love with you."
Ehail wondered if she was dreaming. She could never remember dreams past the first moments of waking, so perhaps this was how they went. Exactly like standing in a rainforest on another world with Gyre's arms around her and him telling her he loved her.
But everything felt solid. The ground was slick and hard under her shoes, and the air was soupy, and Gyre was warm. She didn't think dreams were like that.
If she said it back, he would really hear her.
"I love you," she whispered anyway.
Inside the house, Ryll was shouting at her parents, and Allera, at least, was shouting right back, but Lerrel had gotten the kids out the back door and into the wagon, and he pulled up around the front. "Do you want to come back with us?" he asked Gyre and Ehail in a low voice. "Ryll may be a while, but you're always welcome at our place. You can stay the night if you like; we've got guest rooms."
"Do you want to go back with them?" Gyre asked Ehail. He was swaying slightly, and she swayed with him rather than step out of his embrace. "Or we could go to dinner, or we could go back to Aristan City, and you could stay at my place or go home. Whatever you like. Anything you like."
"We can go back with them," Ehail said. The little children hadn't heard anything Allera had said. Lerrel had taken them out of the room.
"All right, then we'll do that," Gyre said, and he helped her into the back of the wagon where the kids were all sitting. They seemed disgruntled; Garyn in particular had wanted a chance to tell his grandpa about a frog he'd seen that morning. Tyrrel had a pensive look about him - he seemed to know something odd was going on - but he gave Ehail an encouraging smile.
Vianne sat on Ehail's lap and looked at Gyre as though defying him to shoo her off of his girlfriend.
And the wagon trundled back to the Rysen household.
Lerrel assigned the boys to set up Gyre and Ehail in guest rooms, and after a brief detour in which Garyn and Leyf attempted to provoke their older brother into a pillow fight with the guest pillows, everything was set up to let them stay the night. "It's so nice of you to let me stay here," Ehail told Lerrel when the boys had cleared off and he poked his head in to check their handiwork.
"It's a long coach ride back to Aristan City," Lerrel said. "And it's the least we can do. You're welcome here, Ehail. I apologize for my mother-in-law. Ryll tried to warn you, but we're trying not to expose the kids to those attitudes and so she couldn't say much in front of them."
Ehail nodded slowly. "Gyre didn't know? That she wouldn't like me?"
"Suppose not," Lerrel said. "He would've been off at his apprenticeship before Rhysel came down with kamai. Magic wasn't such an issue with her, before that, is what I understand."
"Oh." Was it only about magic? Ehail had become a wizard to be something other than just a shren. Knowing magic made her more useful, better.
"I need to go get some food into the kids and put them to bed. I don't know if you or Gyre are hungry," he said, turning his head so his voice would carry into the adjacent guest room where Gyre was re-making the bed, "but if you do, you're welcome to join us for dinner."
"I could eat," said Gyre. "Ehail?"
"I could eat," she echoed.
"I'll call you when the food's ready, then," Lerrel said, with a friendly, apologetic smile, and he went off to collect junior kitchen helpers.
Gyre finished replacing the inexpertly tucked-in sheets on his bed and went into Ehail's guest room to sit beside her on the mattress. "How are you feeling?" he asked her softly.
"Complicated," she said.
He chuckled ruefully, and wrapped his arms around her waist and nuzzled the back of her neck. "I am so sorry I didn't know not to bring you there," he said into her hair. "I would never have subjected you to that if I'd known."
"I know," Ehail said.
"I was thirteen when Rhysel manifested," Gyre said. "I apprenticed far enough away that all I got were letters - I knew she was a spontaneous kama, that she had control issues, that they apprenticed her to a fellow in Restron, but I thought that was the end of it. By the time I came home for a visit, Rhysel was thousands of miles away. I never saw my mother behave that way in my life. If I had dreamed she would speak that way to you..." He shook his head; she could feel it on her neck. "I love you, Ehail."
"I love you too," she said, almost inaudible.
She could feel him smile, too. "I'm trying not to cavort around the room repeating that over and over like a character in a bad play," he said. "I think it might alarm you."
"It would be strange," Ehail said. "If you cavorted."
"Yes, a bit. But I'm very, very glad," said Gyre. He'd moved his head to speak in her ear.
"I am too," Ehail decided. "And other things. It's complicated."
"Let me know if I can help you tease any of it apart," he said.
Ryll was home in time for dinner. She'd apparently walked the whole way, but looked more furiously resolved than tired. Ehail wound up sitting across from Ryll, between Gyre and Sel, and as she served herself mango papaya salad and a beef-and-bean dish, she kept flicking her eyes towards Ryll's face and wondering what she was upset about.
"Myret will be here in few subs," Ryll said, when everyone had served themselves. "She's eaten already, but she's a part of a decision I've made. So are Jenner and Batai and Tennel, but they'll have to be informed by mail - unless you want to stop by Batai's when you're back in Aristan City, Gyre. I won't be there until the Senate is back in regular session."
"What do you mean, Mom?" Tyrrel asked. "What decision?"
"Let's wait until Myret arrives," Ryll said.
"Is it about Grandma?" Tyrrel asked.
"We're waiting for your Aunt Myret," Ryll repeated, and she took a spoonful of the beef-and-beans. "Thank you for fixing dinner, dear, children."
"You're welcome," said Lerrel. He looked curious, and apprehensive; Ehail thought that these were appropriate ways to feel.
Myret appeared when only Vianne and Lerrel were still picking their way through dinner and Tyrrel had begun cutting everyone slices of cassava cake. Myret's entrance was audible through the whole house, as was the mild curse associated with the stubbed toe she acquired on her way in. "Here I am, Ryll, what was so danged important you needed me to walk halfway across town about it?" she called.
"Come in to the dining room," Ryll called back.
Myret stomped in, shaking water out of her short hair, which spiked every which way where it was still dry and was barely tamed by the damp. "Well?"
"Mother has gotten away with her overblown, outdated anti-magic prejudice for years, and it is not good for this family," Ryll announced. "It drove Rhysel away, it soured Tekaal on his in-laws and for good reason, and now it's done Ehail harm. I'm not sure if all of you have heard yet that Rhysel is pregnant -"
"She is?" Gyre exclaimed.
"I didn't know that," Myret blinked.
"She's taking her time telling everyone about it," Ryll said. "Because of course her children are going to be kyma, and of course she doesn't know which of her siblings except the one who happened to be in a position to name a child after her are on her side."
"That's me, I'm named after my aunt," Sel whispered loudly in Ehail's ear.
"Mother is hurting herself too," Ryll continued. "She literally does not know that she's going to have more grandchildren in a few months, because Rhysel and Tekaal have a reasonable fear that she'll behave abominably towards those grandchildren."
"It's twins?" Tyrrel asked.
"Identical twin girls - apparently Tekaal could tell that immediately," Ryll said. "But my point is, Mother's prejudices are tearing this family apart. And until she changes them, I don't think we should invite her to be a part of the family."
"You want us all to shun Mother?" Myret asked, tilting her head farther than looked comfortable.
The words not for me came to Ehail's lips, but she didn't say them. It wasn't about her, apparently, although she might have triggered something; it was about Rhysel, Rhysel's twins on the way.
"Until she changes her tune," said Ryll firmly. "She's not invited to family gatherings, we don't go to her place for meals or to visit, she isn't welcome at our homes, and anyone who stands with her instead of with the injured parties here isn't welcome either. Father excepted, as he has to live with her, but if he voices agreement with her hateful beliefs we'll disinvite him too."
"Mother'll be apoplectic," Myret predicted. "She'll seize up and keel over twitching."
"No one is proposing shouting at her like she's vermin, for having a skill, while she stands there trembling," said Gyre darkly. Ehail didn't remember trembling. "We're just not having her by for brunch twice a week."
"It's not just that. What if she never changes her mind?" Myret swiped a slice of cassava cake and took a bite. "Won't she ever get to even meet Rhysel's kids?"
"I haven't spoken to Rhysel about this yet, but assuming she agrees with me, no, she won't," Ryll said. "If I adopt a shren child, the way I plan to, she won't get to meet him or her either. Until she's willing to change."
"You're going to..." breathed Ehail.
Ryll nodded once. "Now, I expect Tennel will agree with Mother," she said regretfully. "He's never liked kamai. But I think the rest of us can pull together for Rhysel. And Tekaal. And Ehail. And the little kyma-to-be."
"So we shun Mother," Myret said. "And Tennel, if you're right, and you probably are. And if we have to pass urgent tantalizing messages like 'you have the following number of new grandchildren' we do it by having Father over and him going home to talk to Mother?"
"Yes," said Ryll.
"I wouldn't put it past Mother to stand outside my shop and not budge till I talk to her," Myret said.
"Neither would I. I'll loan you a horse and you can outrun her when you go to and from work," Ryll said. "If she gets too extreme, we can talk to the Watch, although I'd really rather not involve them in a family matter."
"A horse? Oh, can I have Guarana? I like her," Myret asked.
"Yes," said Ryll. "Any other questions?"
Gyre shook his head. "I'm with you. Thank you, Ryll."
"Thank you, Gyre," Ryll said quietly. "And you, Ehail. I've been considering this for some time. I might have waited until Rhysel's children were born, but today gave me a push - even though I wish I'd managed to warn you first and spare you some pain."
"I'm fine," Ehail murmured.
Gyre kissed Ehail's hair. "I'll tell Batai," he said. "I think Batai will want to tell Jenner. Will you write Tennel, Ryll?"
"I'll do that," Ryll nodded.
Ehail was cajoled into reading bedtime stories first for the girl twins (while Vianne put her silver hair in a messy braid) and then for the boy twins (while they pulled faces at each other, trying to avoid getting caught). Tyrrel was allowed up a little later, and said that he'd outgrown bedtime stories, but he gave Ehail a hug before he went to bed.
After all of that was done, Ehail kissed Gyre goodnight, and went to bed in the guest room provided. She couldn't remember having ever been so tired in her life.