Chapter Twenty-Five: Hometown

Tekaal was visibly drooping by the time Revenn left, and the conclusion of the working and the subsequent hit of drain didn't improve the situation. Rhysel was a little tired herself, but had gotten accustomed to ignoring the sensation, as longer Elcenian days made it chronic. "Time to go back to my tower and turn in for the, er, afternoon?" she asked Tekaal. She scrubbed a tear away from the side of her nose.

"If there is nothing else you would prefer to accomplish first," Tekaal said, swallowing a yawn. "I believe it is rather late in Elcenia."

"Let's go," she murmured, taking his hand.

"Bye!" Eryn said, hugging Rhysel one more time and waving in Tekaal's direction as they left her tower and made for the transfer point carved into the mossy stairs.

Rhysel's tower had a layer of dust in it, easily blown away, and otherwise was perfectly able to accommodate them for a cycle of sleep. When they woke up, it was still dark outside. "They're not going to be awake yet in Aristan," she said, peering out at the stars, "but they will be in a few angles - I mean, a few divs, maybe four - and then we can go meet Ryll and her family, even if no one else. Er, are you going to insist on formal address with all of them? I suppose Ryll would be the only Aaral Rysen, but there'd be a lot of Aar and Aaral Camlenns..."

"I suppose I can refer to your relatives by their first names," Tekaal said. "When it is called for. I have of course developed some skill at avoiding the need for them, as you may have observed."

They passed the time mostly by going through her library under firelight, choosing what to take and what to give away. Rhysel made a few trips to deposit stacks of books at the doors of the relevant recipients, and made glass belljars with which to protect the volumes until they were found. Rhysel then took the pair of them far enough east - to a country on another continent that she'd only been to once - that restaurants were open. They got breakfast, with Rhysel ordering for both of them in Eashiri, and then killed time by going to Aristan early and trying to catch platypuses.

"I am astounded," Tekaal informed her when she finally levitated a wriggling duckbilled animal into the air. It had been swimming moments earlier, but seemed to resent the rain, which ran down in rivulets off the towering trees flanking the river and kept splattering on its forehead. Rhysel extended her protection from the drops to the animal and it calmed down.

"Want to hold it? This one is..." She extended wild-kamai senses towards it. "...a female, so it's not poisonous."

"They don't deter predators by sheer absurdity?" Tekaal asked, holding out his hands to take the platypus and peer at it up close.

Rhysel laughed. "No."

Tekaal frowned at the platypus, as though expecting it to realize that it did not make sense and cease to exist, and finally released it into the river where she'd caught it. The sky was starting to pink with sunrise in the clear patches of sky.

"There's another transfer point closer to Ryll's house than the one we used to get here," Rhysel said, "but none of them are early risers, so I think we should just fly there. At least one of Ryll's kids, and by extension Ryll, will be up by the time we land. She has five - a singlet and two sets of twins. Ryll will like you," Rhysel promised. "And her husband's a good sort and her kids are just precious. And my little sister, Myret, will at least think you're interesting."

They flew in silence for a few moments, and Tekaal said, "And your parents?"

"Maybe don't mention to them that you're a wizard," she said. "Or a kama. Don't talk about magic if you can avoid it, or about being from another world, or where I was."

"I see." He tilted his head. "This leaves open... what topics of conversation?"

"Oh - lots - they aren't going to back you into corners trying to make you mention those things," Rhysel hastened to say. "You can tell them you sing and act - although they might want you to prove it, it's a very musical family and I'm the odd one out there - you can tell them you paint, you can tell them you teach and be vague about it if they want to know what, you can tell them about your family - er, leave out that Ahin's a witch, or if you do have to mention that say he's like an apothecary. Like Myret, my little sister."

Tekaal chewed on his lip. "I believe my customary approach to situations of this nature, namely fading into the background, will be unlikely to work in this context."

"Probably," Rhysel admitted. "Don't make a fuss over their having spanked me when I was little," she added. "It's just not a form of abuse. It wouldn't make any sense to them, you'd only offend them."

"I will endeavor to avoid that topic among the other forbidden items," Tekaal said, expression darkening.

"If it's any comfort, Ryll and Lerrel don't hit their kids, and neither do Batai and Karyn - my brother and sister-and-law, the ones with my other niblings," Rhysel said earnestly.

"Do they leave their children in their grandparents' care?" Tekaal asked quietly.

"Sure, but Mother and Father abide by their discipline structure," Rhysel said. "They're not - I don't understand how I can explain so you'll really believe it, but they're not abusers, they didn't set out to hurt as many children as they could get their hands on and choose the mechanism of corporal punishment for rulebreaking and misbehavior."

"I see."

Rhysel spent the rest of the trip drilling Tekaal on Ryll's children's names (Tyrrel, Garyn, Leyf, Rhysel's namesake who went by "Sel", and Vianne). He appeared to have those and the other relevant parties' names memorized by the time they landed in Tyren.

"This is where I grew up," Rhysel said, sweeping an arm to indicate the quietly waking town. "Ryll's house is this way; my parents live north of the bridge we passed, and Myret's above her shop in the town center when she's home."

Tekaal nodded at her, and followed her on a meandering stroll through the town. It was weedy between the cobbles, but lacked the thick trees that dominated the unsettled parts of Aristan. She pointed out its few landmarks - "My father built that fountain and I helped with the curlwork around the bowl", "according to my mother, that's where I said my first word, which was reportedly 'suns'", "I used to come here for fruit tarts every Desden" - and eventually they reached Ryll's long, low ranch house.

The ranch itself, and the associated stable for the horses, stretched out from the Tyren town limits, and a few horses and one zebra were already out in the pasture getting rained on, which told Rhysel that Ryll was up and about. She paused to explain horses and zebras to Tekaal, who was reasonably sure they were not any more Elcenian than platypuses but could at least compare them to deer. Then she went to the front door, saw a sign saying "Bell out of order, please knock", and rapped her knuckles against the wood.

Not particularly promptly, the door was dragged aside by a small redheaded halfblood girl who fixed Tekaal with a suspicious look and then smiled at Rhysel. If Rhysel remembered right, Ryll's younger twins were seven, and the one she was looking at was Vianne, not Sel. "Hi, Vianne," she said. "Can you go tell Mommy that I'm here?"

Vianne bobbed her head twice and dashed back into the house, leaving the door half-open. "Mommy Mommy, Mommy," she exclaimed. "It's Sel's aunt."

"Sel's aunt?" Tekaal asked Rhysel quietly.

"The girls have a joke that I'm Sel's aunt, because we have the same name, and so Vianne gets Myret," Rhysel replied, crossing the threshold. "For some reason, they're perfectly willing to share Karyn, but I suppose she's not a biological aunt so maybe they imagine it's different?"

If Tekaal had a reply, it was drowned by Ryll's enthusiastic cry of "Rhysel!" as she emerged into the front hall from the kitchen off to the left. Ryll's hair was a butterier shade than Rhysel's, and her face more compact, but the resemblance was obvious. The sisters embraced, and then Ryll clamped her hands on Rhysel's shoulders, pushed her out to arms' length, and looked her up and down. "Well, you don't seem much the worse for wear. How did you get back so soon? I thought it would take months, years...?"

"Tekaal found a way to bypass the usual process," Rhysel said, reaching behind her to tuck a thumb into one of the fasteners of his shirt and pull him forward. "Tekaal, this is Ryll. Ryll, my boyfriend, Te-"

"Boyfriend! Oh my!" exclaimed Ryll, hands leaving Rhysel's shoulders to seize Tekaal's and maneuver him into the gaslight for a better look. Tekaal permitted this, although he looked somewhat alarmed when she transformed the gesture into another hug. "Tekahl?"

"Tekaal," he corrected, patting Ryll's back awkwardly until she let him go and returned to holding him in his place by his shoulders for inspection. He didn't offer to let her substitute "Aar Kithen", which contained the same problem vowel.

"Tekawl," attempted Ryll, and he shrugged; whether this was to achieve the subsequent effect of her taking her hands off his shoulders was unclear. "Well, welcome! I'm so glad to see you! Rhysel, I got your letter, but I haven't opened it yet... there's been Senate business..."

"That's all right," Rhysel said. "It just said we were coming here, today or tomorrow or in half a tenday after that, and that you might want to let Mother and Father know."

"Well, I can go ahead of you and tell them you're coming," Ryll offered. "But they're home and I don't think they'll tell you to go away and come back next Ruden! You haven't seen them in three years!"

"Three years?" Tekaal asked.

Rhysel glanced away - at, as it happened, the twin girls now peering into the hall. Sel appeared to be marshaling a valiant effort to contain her excitement, which failed the instant her very own aunt made eye contact: she launched herself into Rhysel's knees, aiming so as to knock her over. Tekaal caught his girlfriend and her niece both with air kamai and set them on their feet; Sel giggled.

"Three years," said Ryll, after planting her palm on Sel's head and drawing the child away from Rhysel. "I know you live far away, Rhysel, but it's not like they'd work it into the conversation if they suspected you got here by transfer point. You don't have to put up with the godsawful stagecoach ride every time."

"I know," said Rhysel, fidgeting. "I took transfer points most of the way here today, and flew the rest of the way. But... you know."

Ryll sighed. "I do. Uh, if you'd like to take over making breakfast, I can go now..."

Rhysel was nodding halfway through the suggestion. "I'll handle breakfast. Had you started?"

"Got out the eggs but haven't cracked them," Ryll said gratefully, and she hugged Rhysel again and slipped out the door.

<I'm the only one without pitch,> Rhysel informed Tekaal as she sidled into the kitchen, <but I'm also the only one Mother managed to teach to cook.>

<Shall I do anything in particular while awaiting your sister's return and the availability of eggs?> Tekaal inquired. He was eyeing the girls, who were observing him from a shrinking distance.

<Nothing in particular, no.>

Rhysel fixed omelettes, and by the time she was sliding a third onto a plate, the rest of the household had awakened and Rhysel had paused to hug her brother-in-law and the three nephews. (Ryll's husband Lerrel was as inclined towards hugs as his wife, and required one of Tekaal, but this one had left the wizard coughing somewhat when it ended.) Each of these, having Rhysel's presence explained to their satisfaction, started quizzing Tekaal; not yet prohibited from discussing magic, he was reasonably forthcoming with answers to everything from "how old are you?" (Garyn) ("ninety-two") through "are you a kama too?" (Tyrrel) ("yes") to "you know she's my aunt, right?" (Sel) ("so I have been informed").

Eventually everyone but the yet-absent Ryll was full of eggs, and Ryll too finally arrived and hung up her dripping poncho to find her own eggs plated and kept warm for her. "They'll expect us all over for lunch, and Myret'll be there too," she reported after she was halfway through.

"All right," said Rhysel, smiling just a little and then picking up Leyf's napkin to dab away some of his food from his chin.

"So, Tekaal," said Ryll, sounding like she'd been practicing the sound on her way to her parents' house, "what makes you think you're good enough to date my sister?"

"I have no excuse to doubt her esteemed judgment," Tekaal replied steadily.

"Good answer," Ryll laughed.

Ryll finished her breakfast, while her elf husband Lerrel slipped out to hitch horses to the family wagon and make the trip across town possible without shedding overactive children to the enticements of street musicians and sweet shops. Rhysel showed Tekaal how to climb up into the dry, roofed wagon without slipping on the wet steps that hung from its rear entrance. Flying would have been possible but he'd need to know how to get out of the wagon without when they arrived at their destination.

Lerrel drove the carriage, and the children engaged in ever-more-fanciful speculation about what their grandmother would make for lunch (eventually collapsing into giggles when Leyf opined that she'd spin them snowhawks out of sugar that would make real icicles descend from their teeth). The usual flautists and fiddlers and others with portable instruments were lining the avenues under every third building's last two feet of roof, filling the air with songs, and Rhysel closed her eyes and tilted her head back to listen. All of the musicians took cues from their neighbors, and popular songs they could all follow along with rippled along after the wagon.

"Are they trying to earn money?" Tekaal asked her.

"No - if they were performing for money it would be at a concert hall. But most people in Aristan learn at least one instrument, or sing, and practice outside like this," she said. She sighed. "I used to go on long, long walks when I was a little girl to hear them all, since I never managed to be even passable at making music of my own."

"What about you, Tekaal, are you musical?" Ryll asked, picking lint out of Garyn's hair and glancing in his direction.

"Yes," he said. He didn't elaborate.

Ryll was about to inquire further when Lerrel pulled the horses to a stop and tied them to a post outside Rhysel's parents' house. Rhysel peered out the gap in the front of the carriage's top.

A grey-haired, solid-bodied human man was sitting on the covered patio in front of the house, whittling something that hadn't yet taken recognizable shape. He set down knife and wood and hauled himself to his feet when the wagon stopped.

"Good to see you again," he said to Rhysel, and he held out his arms, hugging each passing grandchild as they streamed into the house, but then straightening up and looking at her. He didn't say anything about having thought it would be a while, or ask how she'd been able to come back; Rhysel didn't know if that was her sister's coaching or just his own laconic self, but she was glad she didn't have to explain it. She lowered herself from the wagon, let herself get wet in the few steps between it and the building, and went to accept her hug.

"It's good to see you too, Father," she murmured.

He squeezed her and let go. "And this is the young man you're seeing?" Tekaal looked older than any Barashin elf under nine centuries did, despite being only in his nineties, but whether Tem knew that or not he'd be calling Tekaal Rhysel's "young man" simply because he was her boyfriend. Ryll had never been able to convince their parents to stop calling Lerrel "child" even though he was more than five times the combined age of his in-laws.

"Yes, Father, this is Tekaal. Tekaal, this is my father Tem."

"Good morning," Tekaal said, smiling - Rhysel wondered if he was drawing on his acting skills. Tekaal offered his hand to be shaken. Tem didn't recognize the gesture and might have ignored it anyway; he used the opening to hug Tekaal too. Tekaal was stiff but refrained from protest.

Tem, having finally hugged everyone who he felt required hugging, ushered those who were still sitting on the patio into the house. There, Rhysel's mother - who looked no older than Ryll or Rhysel herself, and bore similar red hair over her sharp expression and falling around her sharp ears - was already dandling one of Ryll's girls on each knee and couldn't readily get up to continue the round-robin of hugs. "Welcome home, child," she said to Rhysel. "It's been so long. I wish you'd visit more often."

Rhysel fidgeted. There wasn't a good answer to that, not one that wouldn't bring up either magic or not wanting to spend much time at her parents', so she only said, "Hi, Mother. This is my mother, Allera," she added in Tekaal's ear.

"You must be Tek," Allera said to Tekaal.

"Tekaal," he replied, slowly and clearly.

"I can't pronounce that," Allera said, removing one hand from its task of stroking Vianne's hair to wave dismissively through the air. "Temmer, Tem. Tekaal, Tek."

"The syllable 'tek', in my native language, means 'hat'," Tekaal tried. "I would prefer not to be addressed as 'hat'."

Allera blinked, and said, "Have you got a middle name?"

"I do not." There was a silence, and he said, "I would not object if you were to call me 'Kithen', that being my surname."

Allera clearly didn't like that, but found herself with no graceful way to object, and so she shrugged and started putting small braids in Sel's strawberry-brown hair. "Kithen it is. So what do you do?"

"I am," he said carefully, "a teacher," - and then, to deflect attention from the question of what he taught, "and occasionally I act."

"He sings," Rhysel put in; she laid her hand against Tekaal's back.

"Do you?" Allera asked. "Will you show us? We usually try to do some singing as a family when we get together. And it won't be time for lunch until a bit later."

"Now?" Tekaal asked, blinking.

"Well, if you don't have anything memorized... Rhysel, did you actually mean he performs, or -"

"I do perform," he murmured. "I have several songs memorized. Nothing with lyrics in Martisen, however."

"That's fine," said Allera, and by this time all five of Ryll's children were looking at him expectantly too.

Tekaal inhaled as though to sigh, but instead he produced the opening bars to The Wonders of Matref.

When he finished the song, Ryll was the first to applaud, and everyone else followed suit. Tekaal watched Rhysel clap her hands twice and looked confusedly at her.

<Mindspeech is safe; no one can tell. This is like stomping your feet is in Esmaar,> she sent him.

<Ah.> "Thank you," he said aloud.

"That was lovely," Allera said sincerely. "It's so nice Rhysel has found a young man with some musical talent, when she can't make music herself."

Since Rhysel felt exactly the same way about the matter when she thought about it, she didn't think herself justified in the flare of annoyance, and controlled it; something crossed Tekaal's face but he didn't speak. Ryll cut in. "Tekaal, do you want to hear some Aristanian songs? My kids can harmonize on The Mango Tree."

"I would be intrigued," Tekaal said, after scanning eager faces and appearing to conclude that he would not be putting any of them too terribly on the spot. Ryll conducted them through the folk song, singing along herself to balance the voices, and then Allera fetched a lap-harp and accompanied herself in another song and Tem in a third selection. Tekaal was pressed to sing again - he chose something Rhysel only vaguely remembered hearing at one of his private concerts for her, rather than another song from The Man in Red and Gold - and finally Allera decided it was time for lunch and went off to the kitchen.

"Have you been doing any sculpting?" Tem asked Rhysel next.

He wouldn't count anything for proxic kamai, so she could only say, "A little," and bring up the ice sculpture contests in Dyran and the handful of things she'd made the long way in the last three years.

"Father," Ryll said, "did you ever give Rhysel journeyman sculptor status? Wasn't she close when she left? And she's kept up."

"Haven't yet, no," grunted Tem.

"Maybe you should," Ryll suggested.

Tem looked at Rhysel appraisingly. "Let's see you make something, girl," he said.

Everyone followed Tem to his workshop, where a fairy in marble with half-finished wings stood opposite a bronze tower of miniature leaping capybaras. (Tekaal did seem to recognize the capybaras, although Rhysel suspected they lived somewhere other than Esmaar in Elcenia.)

"Something in wood?" Rhysel said, looking at her father's pile of scrap. "Do you care what I make?"

"Up to you," Tem said, taking a seat and leaning his elbows on his knees.

Rhysel took up an irregular block of wood that looked like it might fit around the shape of her pet wren. She helped herself to one of her father's knives and started to carve.

By the time Allera called everyone into the main part of the house for lunch, the bird was clearly a bird, although Rhysel had yet to peel away the shavings between feathers or sand anything. "You can come back to it later," Tem said, clapping Rhysel once on the shoulder and turning to go in for the meal.

Allera had made pork and onion dumplings, rice and beans smothered in cilantro, and a mango yogurt dessert. "No troll food?" Rhysel asked.

"I know you like troll food, Rhysel, but I don't know if your young man does; it's an acquired taste," Allera said briskly. "You can fix it for yourself later on if you like. I'll let you help with dinner. You always had lots of promise as a cook. Kithen? This will be all right for you, won't it? No allergies or whatnot?"

"Not that I am aware of," he said. "Thank you."

The door slammed open. "It is pouring out there!" called a new voice. "Am I in time for lunch? Gods, that smells good. I've been working with the most foul-smelling goops all morning..."

"My aunt," said Vianne.

"Myret," called Ryll, "guess who's here!"

"Aziel?" guessed Myret. "No, I'd've noticed her from outside. The First Citizen? Hey, First Citizen, Ryll can't actually cook, she's tricking you -"

"It's me, My," laughed Rhysel.

"Rhysel!" Myret exclaimed, poking her head into the dining room. "Good gods, it's been ages. I'd tell you to stand up so I could hug you but my umbrella's busted and also I've got rash ointment all down my arms and don't think you'd like it on your shirt. Weird clothes. Does everybody wear stuff like that where you live now? What was it called?"

"Myret," Ryll said, getting up to pull another chair out of the stack in the corner, "why don't you just sit down and help yourself to some food."

"Don't mind if I do, I'm starved. Gods, this smells amazing, Mother -"

"Myret," said Allera sternly, "why do you have rash ointment on your arms?"

Myret blinked, nonplussed, as she took a plate and heaped it with dumplings and rice. "'Cause I've got a rash, that's why. Don't worry, 's not contagious, I just fell into a patch of -"

"Fell in?" asked Allera, frowning. "Or did you jump in, like last time, to have an excuse to test something on yourself?"

"I said I fell, and I fell!" snapped Myret hotly. "But it wouldn't be any reason to bark at me if I didn't. I can't go testing things I'm not sure of on other people, can I? Can't tell if something works for a rash if I don't have a rash to put it on, can I?"

"You're not nearly careful enough. Half the time you come in here for meals you're near-drunk on a new tincture or smeared in a new cream, goodness only knows what you're doing to yourself when you don't need to be presentable. What if you get yourself permanently sick, lose a limb, wind up a freak of nature like Rhysel?"

"Mother!" exclaimed Ryll.

Rhysel shrank into herself and reached blindly for Tekaal's hand. He took it, and squeezed it, and she glanced at his face, which was frozen in astonishment.

"That's not going to happen!" Myret shouted. "Any of it! I know what I'm doing, I always start with tests on animals -"

"Animals don't start setting things on fire and making them explode!" Allera fired back. "Testing on your rodents wouldn't tell you if you'd discovered a plant that would make that happen to you! I lost one daughter -"

"Mother," Ryll interrupted. "Mother, you haven't lost anyone, all three daughters are right here -"

Allera ignored her. "Lost one, and Myret, you have no care for your well-being at all -"

Tekaal was squeezing Rhysel's hand hard enough to hurt, and she couldn't stop herself from squeaking in pain. He instantly released her, but the squeak was enough to draw Allera's attention.

"And you!" the elf woman snapped. "I can't believe you! You were a sweet little girl, you had a problem, that charlatan -" Rhysel flinched at hearing her talk about Revenn that way - "said you could learn to control yourself and come back and live a normal life, but no, you wanted to learn more kamai, dive deeper and deeper into the thing that nearly destroyed our entire family, and now you've gone off to live in another existence where that sort of thing is tolerated -"

"Mother," Ryll tried again. "Mother, please calm down."

"Don't interrupt me, Ryll! And now your baby sister is so encouraged by this behavior that she wants to turn herself into a freak just like you, you abnormal -"

Tekaal stood up abruptly; his chair fell over backward behind him. "What," he said in a voice full of steel, "in the name of all that is good and decent makes you think you have the right to speak to her that way?"

"Hold your tongue, young man," hissed Allera. "Rhysel -"

"I will do no such thing," Tekaal growled. "I will not listen to another word of this in silence. I will not listen to you berate your own daughter for possessing the ability to use kamai through no fault of her own."

"I suppose you're a kama too," Allera sneered. "I don't have much hope that she could have found a normal boyfriend. But I was civil about it -"

"Mother, Tekaal," Ryll squeaked. She went unheeded. Rhysel dimly noticed that Lerrel had herded the children into the playroom upstairs some time ago.

"Civil about it," shouted Allera over her eldest's protests, "until -"

"You were civil about it because we scrupulously avoided every topic adjacent to the subject of magic!" Tekaal roared. "Despite the fact that this cuts you out of ninety percent of your supposedly beloved daughter's life -"

"Don't you dare suggest I don't love my daughter -"

"I'll say it outright!" Tekaal bellowed. "No kind of love is manifested by one party calling the other a freak of nature over the dining table! I cannot fathom what failure of emotion or intellect could lead you to imagine otherwise! I do not know why you might choose to do such a thing, nor why you -" he turned his blazing eyes towards Tem - "might allow it to take place without comment! I will say it outright: you do not love her."

Rhysel scrambled to her feet and fled the house.

Being on the patio, away from the contorted faces and with distance between her and the shouting, helped.

But the walls were only so thick, and Rhysel could still make out the words, and she thought if she took one step out into the rain to get away from them, she might expire of misery on the spot. She contemplated a weed. She didn't touch it with her magic, only looked at it. If the last time she'd provoked her mother into a tirade was any indication, she wouldn't want to do magic for half a tenday.

Tekaal had actually shocked Allera into silence, but he'd simultaneously roused Tem's ire. "Look here, boy," Tem said. "Spontaneous kyma are freaks of nature - consult any book on the subject -"

"I can imagine nothing less relevant!" cried Tekaal. "Its appearance in print does not make it an appropriate way to refer to your daughter! She has done nothing to deserve your wife's vilification or your own neglect! She did not choose to become a spontaneous kama - for that matter, if you hadn't been about to hit her -"

"Are you blaming Tem for Rhysel?" shrieked Allera, no longer silent.

"I am blaming the both of you for causing her pain! In my country she would have been taken from you the instant you laid a hand on her and given to fitter parents who would not abuse her -"

"How dare you. We never raised our hands to her in anger," Allera began, but Tekaal cut her off.

"Rhysel has been so mistreated that I have no idea what led her to wish to come here. She claimed that she was not a victim of abuse, but the topic was confined to corporal punishment - I confess I had not believed you so twisted as to also attack her in this way - I can attribute it only to her own spectacular generosity of spirit that she is willing to set foot in your house if this persecution is what she can expect -"

"You watch what you say, boy," Tem growled.

"Tekaal!" Ryll cut in desperately. "Maybe you had better go find Rhysel and we should all calm down."

There was a silence, or maybe they were speaking more quietly.

The door behind Rhysel opened.

She didn't look around, but she felt Tekaal's arms wind around her, and she trembled where she sat until he kissed the side of her neck and began to croon a lullaby.