And a bit of time passes...
The huge double doors of Victoria Vantage's ballroom thundered with the three ceremonial strikes: Strength, Faith, Wisdom, they seemed to say, and were flung open from outside. Kyrie was already on her feet, along with Urelle, as six armored figures trooped in, three on each side and halted. "Assembled of Evanwyl!" Thornfalcon's voice rang out. "Human and Artan, Children of Odin, T'Teranahm and all of the assembled races, the Saints of Myrionar greet you!"
Mist Owl's precise Elven tones continued from the other side of the doorway. "In the name of Justice and Vengeance, in the name of Truth and Wisdom, in the name of the Creator of All and in the name of all spirits that live, we bring you greetings and glad news!"
Condor and Shrike stepped forward, one from each line, and turned, facing the open doorway. "The Sword is now balanced. On the one hand is Justice. On the other is Vengeance. But between them is Choice and Judgment. A choice and a judgment have been made this day, and where one has gone to the Sword, another as stepped forward to become the Sword of Judgment itself." They extended their arms as one as a figure became visible, striding in from the darkness outside. "Evanwyl and all its people behold! This day we are whole once more, for we and Myrionar give to you – the Silver Eagle, reborn to us again as he has ever been!"
Into the light he came, the Eagle-helm shining like a beacon, the silver and black pattern like wings on the armor and cape that streamed behind, towering dramatically over all the others except Condor, twin swords on his hips, walking with a measured solemn step; but she could see the mouth beneath unable to restrain a joyous grin. She led the cheer of "Silver Eagle!", but then Urelle burst from her seat, tears streaming down her face, shouting "Michael!", and the entire room dissolved in laughter and cheers. Michael pulled off the Eagle helm and swept his little sister up into his arms. "Now, now, I'm Silver Eagle now, Uri!"
"Lad, it might be too much t' expect that your family will be forgettin' your name soon," Shrike said with a chuckle. "Most o' us haven't family, but we all had names, and still have them. Sometimes, we even use them."
"Michael… let me have a look at you." Victoria put her hands gently on the shoulderguards and just stood there silently for a moment, then embraced him hard. "Oh, dear, if only your parents could be here to see you, Michael. I know how proud they would be, as proud as I am this day."
Michael – Silver Eagle, Saint of Myrionar! – blushed and looked over at Kyrie. "What about you, Kyrie?"
She tried to say something, but settled for just hugging him so hard the armor creaked, and crying happily. "I knew you'd do it."
"That's more than I knew." He hugged her back, then looked back at Aunt Victoria. "Two parties in a week? You'll go broke, Auntie!"
"Nonsense. Your great-grandmother used to say that one should always have a party just before a great trial, because if things go wrong you at least had a party, and if things go right, you have two. And so now you have your second. And Kyrie actually agreed to dance this time instead of stand around in the corners talking with former adventurers, warriors, and priests!"
Kyrie tried not to look embarrassed. But Watchland Relion and the Saints had so many fascinating stories to tell…
"Now that we are in the home of a brother Saint," Thornfalcon said with a smile, "we are allowed to be… more ourselves." He swept off his own helmet, revealing a long poet's face that seemed naturally mournful until he smiled, a face framed by long straight brown hair.
"Indeed." Mist Owl followed suit, showing Elven features with surprising black-blue hair around a delicate heart-shaped face with eyes almost as large as his namesake's. Kyrie was startled by his beauty; Lythos had much of the delicacy of his people in his figure, but a hardness of feature that denied the possibility of beauty being a consideration.
"You won't be dancing in your armor, I assure you," Victoria said, interrupting. "Unless you intend to flatten your partners' feet." She pointed to the side, where one of her servants held a door open. "Change in there."
When some of the Saints blinked in surprise, she straightened, giving them the same glare she used to give Kyrie and Urelle when they failed to wipe their feet properly. "And immediately, if you please!"
Mist Owl looked scandalized, but Thornfalcon backed up a pace. It was the short, squat Shrike who took action."Come, lads!" he said with a chuckle, leading the way at a double-march pace. "Choose your battles wisely, or the battle may choose you."
Michael stared at her as he was half-dragged away by his new comrades, and Kyrie tried to repress a giggle – not altogether successfully.
"That… was quite impressive, Lady Victoria," said Jeridan Relion, the Watchland. His long blond hair was bound back in a careless-seeming tail; having fairly long hair herself, Kyrie was aware of just how very much effort, and probably a little magic, went into making that simple style work without becoming a mass of tangles or an impediment.
"Not so much," Victoria said, acknowledging the compliment. "They're civilized, after all, and would be far too polite than to gainsay a woman in her own house. They just needed a bit of firmness to recognize that they were to be acting like guests rather than Myrionar's moving statues this evening."
"I am more impressed by the fact that you must have appropriate clothing waiting for them – as I am sure they did not come prepared." The Watchland's smile was warm this evening. It's odd, Kyrie thought to herself. Some days I've felt very comfortable around the Watchland, other days… he seems very cold. There wasn't anything she could put a finger on, but he did seem to go through different phases; she reminded herself to ask Urelle if she'd ever noticed anything like that.
The Saints emerged a few moments later to renewed applause, which she joined enthusiastically. Thinking on it, she realized that she'd never seen any of the Saints without that mystical, ancient, ceremonial armor that was both their badge of office and, it was said, the source of much of their power and protection against many forms of harm. What was most surprising was Condor; he can't be much older than Michael… well, four or five years older, I guess, she thought. He and Michael were almost of identical height, six foot six inches, although Condor was considerably broader across the shoulders. Shrike, Condor's constant companion, was a grizzled bear of a man, nearly a foot shorter than his friend but if anything slightly heavier, with none of it fat. She saw Condor glance at her and mutter something to Shrike, who grinned and said something back; she thought she caught the ancient word sirza.
The dinner proceeded well – she noticed that Thornfalcon in particular seemed appreciative of the cuisine. Privately, Kyrie preferred what Victoria called "Southland" cooking – complex delicate flavors that were supposedly popular in Zarathanton and other parts far south – but she knew that Aunt Vicky's "stone and sea" approach was better received here, and she had a top-flight set of chefs. And I can't complain unless I'm going to learn to do the cooking in between my religious disciplines and combat work, not to mention a little magical study, history…
She realized she'd drifted when the chiming bell-notes of a Winged Harp sounded. Oh no, the dances already? But who –
As Michael took her hand and led her out, she realized that question had already been answered. "All right, brother, I'll dance with you. But no side balcony walks for you."
He grinned, leading her in a leafwhirl dance appropriate for the music. "What, I'm not pretty enough for you?"
She laughed. "I don't want the other girls getting jealous. We've had you to ourselves up until now, right?" It was pretty much true; Michael hadn't spent any time dancing, flirting, walking, or really even talking much with anyone outside of his training.
"Well, true, but now I'm a Saint. Have to be serious and devote myself to Justice and Vengeance."
The two of them nearly stumbled – the fact that neither danced much was, unfortunately, too obvious – but she still managed a snort of laughter. "I hear that this doesn't stop Thornfalcon."
"True. I think he should've been a wandering entertainer if he wasn't such a monster with that rapier of his."
She glanced at the tall, melancholy-faced Saint with the slender wading-bird build. "He's that good?"
"Hellish. I think he could manage a cut or three on Lythos with that speed. Oh, Lythos would then carve him into a wall ornament, but he'd have been touched. Shrike, he's an Elemental. Not literally, but like living rock. You get a good swing at him and it just bounces off. Condor –"
"Condor is asking for the privilege of your sister's company to dance away the next song," Condor said over her shoulder. "If you'd be interested, Kyrie?"
She smiled, a little awkwardly. "Well… "
"Of course." Michael bowed out and let Condor take over.
For a few moments she just tried to follow; the next song's rhythm was different, and Condor was clearly not much more experienced than her, but trying hard. They settled on a dance her Aunt would have called a jink, but she preferred to call a quad-step. "Um… Condor…"
"Aran," he said quickly. "That's my name. Aran."
A nice name. "Aran. I like it. I wasn't sure the Saints kept their names."
"Well… yes and no. We're our Saint names most of the time. You understand the idea; by keeping the same names and the armor we imply the immortality of our justice."
"Well, yes, of course." It was actually more fun dancing with Condor than most boys she'd had to dance with. For one thing, he was actually taller than her by three inches, which was something that almost no one except her brother matched. And Watchland Relion, of course, but he'd never ask her to dance.
"But when we do get the chance to be out of armor – as we do at our own Temple, and at the houses of our own people – we have names like everyone else. We just don't say them much." A four step turn, a sidestep, another. "Would you mind if I asked you something?"
"You just did ask me something." She grinned. "But no, go ahead."
"I see I had best watch my words around you just like your terrifying aunt. I was wondering… well, actually, all of us were wondering why in the name of the Dragons themselves you chose to use a greatsword."
She laughed, slightly embarrassed but pleased that the conversation wasn't going in directions she didn't have experience with. "I'm … not completely sure myself, I suppose. I mean," the song ended, another began, but they continued without interruption, "… well… hmm… My brother went for the shorter blade because he felt the bigger blades would slow him up too much. I've always been a little faster than him, and I thought… well, I guess I wanted to prove I could handle a weapon that was too much for him."
"Ha! That was what I thought." He grinned to take the potential sting out of the words. "You aren't letting him be first if he won't fight for it. Ever."
She felt her answering smile which felt more relaxed somehow. "That's it. That's exactly it, Co… Aran."
He gestured to the other room. "And you remember my sword, so it's not like I don't have the same issue. Shrike uses that night-damned axe that looks big enough to cut down trees with a stroke, so I had to go get a weapon that looked even bigger."
She laughed. "So we're both competing with our older brothers?"
"Seems like." Up close, his eyes were a startling green, contrasting with red hair that he kept trimmed to a reasonable length. He's… really handsome, actually, and was startled to recognize that thought. It wasn't that she hadn't noticed anyone before, but the Saints were symbols, not people most of the time.
And at that moment, another voice spoke. "Condor, you cannot monopolize the time of the loveliest lady in the room."
To her utter astonishment, it was the Watchland. Even more to her surprise, Condor seemed almost afraid as he yielded his place. "Certainly, sir. My apologies."
From the Watchland's expression, he wasn't quite sure why Condor was so apologetic either. But he turned to her with measured grace and bowed. "I hope you do not object. If you do, of course, I will be off."
"Object? Um, sir, oh, no, not at all…" This is why I hate these kind of things! I'm sounding like a stuttering ninny and I'm going to end up stepping on his feet. Unlike her prior partners, the Watchland was a master of the dance floor. Which, she realized as he led her gently in a round-round, meant that he was going to make her look as though she knew what she was doing.
"I have to say I am terribly pleased to see your brother – and you – recovered as you are," Relion said quietly.
She blinked. "Recovered?"
"Perhaps it was not evident to you; indeed, it surely was not. Yet your family is one of the hearts of Evanwyl. The grievous blow you suffered seemed, for a time, to have taken your own hearts away and left only grief and anger. Becoming a Saint is not Michael's true achievement."
I had no idea the Watchland … well, watched us so closely. "You're right, sir."
He laughed softly. "Sir? Dear me, I suppose I must be that old to you."
"Old? I…" She didn't want to say anything insulting, and really, he didn't look old at all. "You… well, you've been around since I was a little girl."
"Yes. Yes, I have. That must make me a bit old in your eyes, I cannot deny it. Still, could you call me Jeridan?"
It finally dawned on her that this was not simply a social dance. The Watchland did not dance casually, although he danced often. Me?
It had never occurred to her that she would even be noticed by the Watchland. Now that it seemed to have happened, she wasn't sure what to think.
But he was waiting for a reply, so she pushed the considerations of future issues aside. "Of course, um, Jeridan."
"Thank you." He seemed aware of her discomfiture. "Is this too embarrassing for you?"
"That… would not be the right word. Confusing in a way."
Another gentle laugh. "As straightforward as your father and mother. Good. I understand the confusion. You are not quite seventeen, and I barely on your side of thirty. In many ways it would seem we have little in common. Yet appearances may be deceiving."
"Meaning no offense, sir, but you don't know much about me, or I you."
His smile had a slightly sharper edge. "The latter may well be true, but the former may not."
Before she could form a reasonable reply, Thornfalcon begged the privilege of a dance in so comical a fashion she could hardly refuse.
But at the end of the night, she was bewildered to find that the sight that stayed most in her mind was not her triumphant brother holding aloft the Eagle helm, or the Seven Saints all arrayed before them, but instead two pairs of eyes; green eyes behind a helm, smiling into hers… and the blue eyes of the Watchland, intense and somehow lonely against the darkness of the night, looking back at her as the door closed.
An interesting sequence...