Chapter Twenty-Four: Ceremony

"So," Rhysel said, "I can go back?"

"Presumably," Tekaal said in a soft voice.

She met his eyes. "I won't want to stay there. I live here now. I have work and a home - and a wonderful boyfriend. But I want to go for just a few degrees, now, to see for myself that I can - and then later, when we've had more time to prepare for a trip, I want to go with you and show you the world."

Tekaal nodded. He kissed her forehead, and said, "I'll draw you a sending circle."

An angle later, Rhysel was standing in her tower near Dyran, not a foot from where she'd collapsed to sleep before waking up on Korulen and Saasnil's floor. A moment of vertigo suggested that she'd dreamed the last months. That it had been only yesterday she'd gone to help with the collapsed rocks, the crushed workers, and hauled herself home and not dared to try the stairs.

But she looked down at herself - at the skirt, the sash, the long scoop-collared shirt and the sandals on her feet. She hadn't gone to sleep in these clothes; she hadn't owned these clothes. She ran lightly up the stairs to her library, which was missing the books Tekaal had summoned for her. A scan of the shelves left her with an armful more she wanted to bring back with her.

And then she was back in Elcenia again, Tekaal standing at the border of her circle with his lips pursed tight and his hand still out in the reversal gesture.

Rhysel pitched forward to fling her arms around him, books tumbling to the floor behind her. "You are the most brilliant," she said, "the most wonderful, the most amazing wizard I have ever met. I love you. You're spectacular."

"The spell invention itself was not difficult," he murmured, wrapping his arms around her. "It was only necessary to have the idea."

"But you're the one who had the idea," she said. "And you're the one who did invent the spell. And you're the one who cast it, and you're the one who sent me back, and I love you."

Tekaal kissed her. "I love you too."

They didn't go to Barashi that week. The students took up a ludicrous amount of time - Tekaal blamed the fact that they were being encouraged to choose specialties, and were more interested in taking up office angles to pursue those than in practicing the assigned workings from other disciplines. Rhysel was more inclined to think that the students were just studious and wanted to do well.

Whatever it was, Inen through Fenen were taken up by classes and meetings with students. Tekaal, who was still loaded with other classes, had it even worse, but Rhysel had responded by taking on most of his individual meetings and sending the rest of the kids to Talyn. She found herself irrationally jealous of her apprentice for being able to field questions and hold practice sessions at her tower while she was obliged to use her office; it still didn't feel natural to her.

"I confess I am not looking forward to hiring additional teachers. They will oblige us to hold weekly department meetings even if we should find ourselves with nothing to say," Tekaal told her when they found a simultaneous few degrees to lean out of their offices and talk.

"That sounds like a waste of time," she said.

"Ostensibly, it is to provide a platform for issues to be raised without making anyone go to the trouble of organizing a meeting for it," Tekaal said. "To encourage faculty to bring up minor things rather than waiting until they are worth the rigmarole."

"Well," she said. "I'm glad we can skip them, too, but I think another teacher might save more time than he or she would cost in obligatory staff meetings."

They didn't go to Barashi on Lunen, either, because that was the day of Ahin's wedding. She spent Lunen morning with an amused Keo, demanding help finding an outfit nice enough to wear to a wedding by Esmaarlan standards. Keo helped her pick out a layered sleeveless dress in ice-blue and a cardigan to match.

Rhysel decided against telling Keo about Ilen on this particular occasion. She still didn't understand Keo's - or any dragon's - issues with shrens, and until she found some clever way to approach it, she didn't want to fly into that particular window again.

Keo and Rhysel grabbed lunch at a restaurant the dragon favored. Each dish on the menu was marked with a number of stars, which Rhysel foolishly didn't ask about. When Keo asked what Rhysel thought of the food, Rhysel's response was to breathe a little puff of fire at her; this was technically kamai, not a side effect of her "pepper rice", but it felt like it ought to be.

And then Rhysel, dress wrapped in paper and tucked into her satchel, flew to Tekaal's home. "Can I change into my dress here and then teleport over with you?" she asked. "I don't want to fly across town in it."

"Of course," he said. She changed clothes in his bathroom, and emerged to find him pacing.

"I'm not going to make us late, am I?" she asked, stepping into new, white sandals and wrapping the straps around her calves.

"No, no," he said. "You may make us merely on time."

Rhysel laughed and hurried. "How do I look? Should I take my hair out of the braid?"

"No, you're entirely lovely," he assured her. Tekaal was in something not unlike his ordinary wear, as far as Rhysel could tell, though she couldn't remember seeing the particular shirt or trousers before. They were perhaps a little more form-fitting than most of his clothes, and all sage green. "Shall we?"

Tekaal teleported them to the Kithen household, where everyone was running from place to place and shouting at each other about forks and when they were expecting Cousin Nemifaath and boxes and whether anyone had seen Rasam. Rhysel tried to stay out of the way. Tekaal, who knew more about what was going on than she did, kissed her cheek and disappeared into the sea of Kithenik and farther-flung family and copious friends.

After about an angle past when Rhysel had expected the ceremony to start, she was herded into the backyard by Rinaal, who was beaming ear to ear about the fact that (she explained repeatedly) "my son is getting married!"

The backyard that the Kithen household shared with their neighbors was devoid of such neighbors, except for any who were in the crowd attending the wedding. At an edge of the circular lawn, an elf woman Rhysel didn't recognize was standing on a row of cube-shaped boxes. When Rhysel squinted she was able to read scrawled labels on the boxes - "K. clothes", "R. toys & books", "miscellaneous". The woman held a heavy book open along one arm, supporting its spine in her elbow. Everyone in the crowd was either facing her or looking covetously at the buffet table that had been set up opposite her.

Rhysel glanced at the food, but she wasn't hungry, and turned her attention to the woman on the boxes. Presumably she was some sort of celebrant.

The crowd gradually quieted. "Welcome, family and friends of Ahin Kithen, Kestaar Rebaaven, and Rasam Rebaaven," said the book-holding woman, breaking into a broad smile. "I'm Ahin's cousin Nemifaath, and I'm officiating today. Ahin, come up here and tell me why you hauled me across town today." The tone was light and teasing.

Ahin climbed up onto the platform of boxes Nemifaath was standing on via a shorter box on the officiator's left side. He was wearing a style like the one Tekaal had chosen, except it was in white trimmed with silver. "I hauled you across town so you could bring your book," he said, tapping it, "and so I could write my name in it, next to the name of the man I love, and next to the name of his child I love, and spend the rest of the day and the rest of my life married, and a father."

"Their names?" said Nemifaath. The words seemed memorized to Rhysel, parts of a ritual, but it was unfamiliar enough to her that she could largely forget about it.

"Kestaar, get up here," laughed Ahin. "Tell my cousin what you're here for."

Kestaar, his clothes exactly like Ahin's but with the colors reversed, climbed up the opposite side of the platform of boxes. Rhysel abruptly wondered if it was made of boxes deliberately, or for a lack of other materials. She could have made them a stage if anyone had asked her.

"I'm here to marry you, of course," Kestaar said. "And join your family, with my daughter too. But I think that will involve changing our names. This," he continued, gesturing at the house, "is a household of Kithenik. So, I'm here to spend the rest of the day and the rest of my life married, and a Kithen."

"But this isn't just a wedding," Nemifaath said.

"That's right," said Kestaar. "Rasam, sweetie, up here."

Rasam trotted up the box-stairs herself in a silver skirt and white blouse that matched the grooms' clothes. "I'm going to be a Kithen too," she announced, and Rhysel thought from the amused smiles on her father and stepfather-to-be and officiator's faces that this might not be entirely on script. "And I'm going to have two fathers instead of one. For the rest of my life."

"Well," said Nemifaath, "you're not going to do this only for Kestaar and Rasam to go back to the Rebaavenik's house up in Kelsandek, are you?"

"No," said Kestaar, and he tapped his foot on the boxes; Ahin followed suit, and Rasam a beat later. "While we were waiting for you to come make it official, we gave some of our things to the family we lived with until today, and we decided we didn't need other things and discarded them, and everything else is in boxes like the ones under our feet now."

Nemifaath looked down in mock surprise. "Well, you seem to have this all set up. I suppose all you need now is my book," she said.

"If you please," Ahin said.

Nemifaath handed Ahin the book and produced a silvery pen from the pocket of her drapey grey dress. He signed his name with a flourish, twice, and handed her the book; she wrote a few strokes and offered the volume to Kestaar. Kestaar signed twice, and Nemifaath initialed those signatures too and held the book down where Rasam could reach it. Rasam signed her name once, painstakingly, and Nemifaath made one last scribble in her book and clapped it shut with a bang.

"Help yourselves to your first kiss as a married couple," she said, grinning, and the men crossed the makeshift stage to meet in the center and do exactly that. "And Ahin," she added at length, when they'd torn themselves away from one another, "go ahead and give your daughter a kiss too."

Ahin scooped up Rasam under both arms and spun her around, then kissed her on the forehead and put her down again. She giggled riotously and almost fell off the boxes from dizziness before Kestaar caught her by the shoulder, and then the crowd burst into thunderous foot-stomping and whoops and cheers.

Tekaal had, at some point, made his way through the crowd to Rhysel. He kissed her right beneath her ear and murmured, "Now the ceremony is over; there's only a party left. You can leave at any time if you like, but you're welcome to stay, too. Ahin made the food."

"He cooked his own wedding dinner?" Rhysel asked incredulously.

"He wouldn't dream of entrusting it to anyone else," Tekaal explained. "It's very good. He's a wonderful cook."

"I don't have much appetite," she demurred. "I got lunch with Keo."

Linisaar had moseyed towards them. "Hi, Rhysel," she said. "You haven't had Ahin's cooking yet, have you? Don't miss it, even if you're not hungry - just have one bite of everything."

"Well, all right," laughed Rhysel, and let Tekaal and his sister propel her towards the buffet. She reached between bodies and ducked under arms to get a plate with the most modest possible portions of each item on the table, and tasted. Tekaal raised an eyebrow at her when she went back for thirds, but he didn't comment.

"You don't have a sense of smell," she muttered at him under her breath, "you don't know how good a cook he is."

"I have nonetheless been reliably informed that the world is richer for Ahin having escaped that family malady and thereby being able to cultivate this skill," Tekaal told her. He seemed to be enjoying the food, too, although not with as much ecstatic relish as people who could appreciate the aromas.

Rhysel was mildly surprised that there was no dancing at the wedding. Perhaps everyone was too full of fruit-honey-butter sandwiches on almond bread, and turkey marinated in something secret, and skewers of asparagus and halibut and lemon and bayleaf drizzled with an equally mysterious sauce, and rolled-up salad greens concealing nuggets of soft cheese, and six-layered chocolate maple buttercream truffles, and the smooth white soup of impossible savoriness to which no one could identify any ingredients other than "water, presumably" and "probably pef tan, because he puts that in everything, doesn't he?"

"Dear gods," she muttered after an epic fight with herself over a fourth truffle. "Why hasn't he made a trillion aaberik opening a restaurant?"

Tekaal shrugged. "I believe he prefers witchcraft and would become bored if he had to cook on a daily basis. Also, he guards his recipes with an extreme jealousy that would not support having any staff in the kitchen other than himself. But we are all pleased when he chooses to produce a meal."

"I can imagine," Rhysel said, swooning over her candy. "Dear gods. I wish I'd skipped lunch. I think he's a better cook than my mother."

"If you only think that instead of knowing it, she must be incredible," commented Esten, sidling up to them.

"She's really, really good," Rhysel said. "Lots of practice. But no pef tan. They're probably on a par if Ahin doesn't use any of that."

"You should tell him that, and then put him in a situation where he can challenge your mom to a cooking contest, and put me in a situation where I can judge it," Esten encouraged her.

Rhysel shrugged noncommittally. She consulted her stomach about its ability to hold more food. It did not like the idea, much as her mouth craved another spoonful of the soup, another triangle of sandwich, another little leaf-cheese wrap, another skewer, another bite of turkey... "Tekaal," she said, "if I build a power box, flood it with lifeforce, and chug a vial of wakeflower so I can stand up, in order to become hungry enough to have another helping, will you be very cross with me about endangering my health?"

Tekaal smiled at her gently. "Only slightly. It is a special occasion. But I don't advise it."

"Hey, know what?" said the little blond elf girl who lived in the Kithenik's attic; Rhysel failed to place her for a moment until Tekaal supplied, <That is my cousin's daughter Ansil.> "If you want Ahin to cook again you should make there be another wedding. He'd cook at it." The small elf then poked Rhysel several times in the side to drive her point home, and then skipped away with a truffle in one fist, whistling.

Rhysel glanced at her boyfriend, who had become quite pink. <It's not that embarrassing an idea, is it?> she asked him.

<The way it was presented was embarrassing,> he answered.

She decided not to push.

She'd see how Tekaal held up after meeting her family.

They did not visit Barashi until another week of classes had gone by. On Fenen evening, though, they went to Kanaat's office, where the headmaster and Keo were waiting to send the pair of them along. "Aar Kithen, you know my dragonsong, correct?" Keo asked Tekaal. Rhysel didn't know what a dragonsong was, but didn't want to hold up the trip soliciting an explanation.

"I do," he confirmed. "I will notify you if we should wish to be unsent at any time before Chenen at twelfth-and-same."

"Right then," Keo said. "Who's going first?"

"I will," Rhysel said. "Do you need a focus, or...?"

Keo shook her head. "I'm just going to send you to your tower. I've been there, so I can do it, and Kanaat can too because he experienced it through me. From there you can take transfer points wherever you want to go."

Rhysel nodded and stepped into the diagram.

Keo cast the spell.

Rhysel landed in her tower again, but without the nervous questioning of her experiences; there was no particular relief of tension when Tekaal appeared beside her, only an intensified excitement. She glanced out the window and saw it was late morning, although if she wanted to stay on something resembling her usual schedule, she'd need to go to bed soon.

"Where shall we begin?" Tekaal asked her.

"First," she said, "let me give you some transfer point signatures, in case we get split up somehow. This is the one for this tower..." She touched his head and shared the point's fingerprint. "This is my parents' hometown; this is the one in my blood sister Eryn's tower; this is the one at Master Revenn's old tower, though I'm not sure who has it now, probably one of his children or grandchildren." She puffed a sigh. "I don't know if we'll get to everything over the next couple of days. But if you don't mind... I think the first thing I want to do is visit some graves."

"Several of them?"

"Two," she said. "One is near here. Right before I was summoned, there was a disaster in town - I was able to save everyone but one man. He was a friend. Used to best me often as not in the annual ice sculpture contests Dyran holds... I wasn't allowed to use magic for those," she added when Tekaal looked incredulously at her. "I'd like to pay my respects while we're here. And before we leave Dyran I should also talk to the Wanderer who was installed in my place. Then, I should talk to Eryn - you can meet her too - about that death kama she found, and try contacting my Master to - say goodbye. I don't know if he'll let me, but, I can try. And I'll visit his grave either way."

Tekaal nodded soberly. "Of course."

"And I'll send word to my parents that I want to visit," Rhysel went on. "I have a standing invitation to Ryll's place, so just showing up unannounced wouldn't be a complete loss even if everyone else were away, but we might not wind up with time this week, depending. We can come back later if it's almost the end of Chenen, Elcenian time, and we haven't gotten to it yet."

Tekaal nodded. Then, he tilted his head, and pointed out, "I have been studying death kamai and may be able to ask a spirit's presence. Of course you should visit your blood sister if you wish, but it may not be necessary to ask the help of the kama she found for you."

"Oh, good point," Rhysel said. "I wonder if he'd be more likely to come to you than he would be to come back to the other kama? I might want to try her, if he won't talk to you," she added. "Or if it turns out that you simply can't do those kinds of workings, rather than them not working on Elcenia."

"Of course." He bent to kiss her forehead. "Where is your friend's grave likely to be?"

"I missed the funeral, so I don't know where it will be in the yard, but I know where the yard is," Rhysel murmured, and she led Tekaal out of her tower and into the air. "It'll be marked."

The graveyard was a grove of trees of every size, each with a stone plaque at its base, except for the ones that had grown so broad as to swallow theirs in roots and bark. Rhysel looked among the saplings; Mortel had died less than a year ago. She found his name at the foot of a birch.

Rhysel reached out to touch the young tree and felt its lifeforce under her hand. It wasn't anything like Mortel's, but she liked the Restron tradition of planting trees over bodies, to encourage new life in place of lost life. Tekaal didn't speak, and no one else approached the grove to disturb them.

When the sun hit the top of the sky, Rhysel drew away from the tree. "All right," she said. "Let's find where the Wanderer set up his tower, and then move on."

The kama Revenn had sent to look after Dyran sighed to learn that Rhysel didn't intend on coming back after all, but said he'd put in a request for a replacement. He was curious about Tekaal, and kept ignoring Rhysel's questions about how her erstwhile town was doing to ask Tekaal about Elcenia.

Eventually, Rhysel was satisfied that Dyran would be taken care of one way or another, had gotten the Wanderer to agree to bring a letter to her parents' town indicating that she'd be there in the next tenday, and extracted herself from the new tower. "To Eryn's?" she asked.

"By all means," Tekaal replied, and they borrowed the Wanderer's transfer point to visit the image kama.

Eryn lived in a mountain village in the north of Restron, not far from Broad Lake, and the last time Rhysel had visited, the place had been buried so deep in snow that Eryn had gotten into and out of her home via a door on the fourth floor. It was summer this time, though, and that door opened into the air, without even so much as a ladder justifying its place in the architecture. Rhysel instead rang the bell at the door that opened to a narrow set of mossy stairs winding up the mountainside; Tekaal waited on the step below.

"Just a sub!" hollered Eryn's voice - it was illusory, as from nowhere in the tower could it have carried so clearly, but Rhysel smiled to hear it anyway. "I've got my hands full."

<I've waited this long,> Rhysel sent mirthfully, echoing the sound to Tekaal so he'd know what was going on.

"Rhysel?!" exclaimed Eryn's illusion, and the door flew open, trailing soap bubbles from the image kama's froth-covered hands. She was plump as ever, blond waves of hair framing a beaming face. "Gods, it's you! I thought you were stuck in that other existence."

"I was," Rhysel said, flinging her arms around Eryn's neck without heed to the soap. "Tekaal found a way to let me come back."

"Tekaal's this serious-looking elf fellow?" Eryn said, looking appraisingly in his direction while she squeezed Rhysel back. Rhysel suspected she was bolstering her pronunciation of the long aa with more illusion, but the effect was quite seamless.

"I prefer to be called Aar Kithen, generally speaking," said Tekaal.

<Sorry,> Rhysel sent to her boyfriend, and she stepped back and went on without giving Eryn a chance to inquire deeply into the justification for the alternate set of syllables. "He's a wizard, that's the kind of Elcenian magic that let me write to you. A bunch of wizards tried to figure out how to let me come back and he's the one who pulled it off."

"Good for you, Aar Kithen Tekaal," said Eryn, apparently interpreting "Aar Kithen" as a title all its own and "Tekaal" as a name that might reasonably follow it.

"Just, 'Aar Kithen', please," he said patiently. "Thank you."

Eryn stuck out her tongue at Rhysel, who rolled her eyes. "So," Eryn said after a pause, "you want the transfer point signature for that death kama?"

"Maybe," Rhysel said. "Te- Aar Kithen's going to try first. He's studying death kamai, but either some death kamai things don't work on Elcenia, or some of them don't work for Elcenians. I guess we'll find out." She sighed. "When you talked to Master Revenn, did he sound - happy? Rested?"

"He sounded put out with me for bothering him?" Eryn suggested. "But yeah. I think he's happy and rested. Come in, both of you."

The sisters caught up, which included Eryn introducing Rhysel to her soapy new puppy (Tekaal was taken aback by the creature; apparently it had escaped Rhysel's notice that Elcenia lacked dogs). Tekaal, opposite the room from the women, undertook the tedious ritual of spirit-calling, which involved drawing several drops of his own blood and repeating Revenn's full name some sixty-four times between long pauses. Rhysel's eyes kept sliding away from Eryn's face towards her boyfriend performing his working, towards the end of it. Eryn would normally have made doe-eyes and complained of neglect, but she held her tongue this time.

"Revenn Carrel Aldrel a Casten," intoned Tekaal a final time.

There was a silence. Rhysel held her breath.

A grey, smoky figure, shaped in a manner suggestive of Revenn, appeared between the elf's hands. Revenn looked at Tekaal and then Eryn and then Rhysel, and sighed.

"You have one sub," was the first thing Revenn said. One sub, sixty-four slices, long enough to bolt down a small breakfast - simultaneously not enough and all Rhysel could've asked for.

Tekaal stood back. Eryn had already had the chance to talk to the dead man, and so she only waved and then stood aside as well.

"I -" She faltered, then started over; she wanted to fill her time with the most important things, but the silence she uttered when trying to sort out her thoughts wasn't such a thing. "I learned to help the children. They're still how they are, but they're feeling better. And I'm teaching, and it hasn't killed me, and Master, I miss you, I'm sorry I couldn't be there when it happened, I'm sorry I couldn't come right away when I heard -"

"It's all right, Rhysel," said Revenn. "The demon was stopped. We couldn't have brought you there in time to help even if you had been on Barashi."

Rhysel glanced at her feet. "I guess that... I've distracted you from time with - with your wife, and -"

"Yes," said Revenn gently. "I'll see you again in a few hundred years, Rhysel. I wish you all the best. But please don't tell Aar Kithen to call me up again. I don't really have the knowledge I'd need to be of any use if an emergency comes up, you know, and for a social call... Don't dwell on me, Rhysel."

"I understand," she whispered.

"Goodbye, Rhysel," Revenn said, and the spirit dissipated.