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First Spring, 4805

Fieldview Cottage

Greenton, Sweetwater, Tenth Ward

The garden at Fieldview Cottage was in full bloom, and it was positively overflowing with music. A seven-piece musical ensemble had been set up on a gazebo in the shade, and now that the somber sweetness of the wedding ceremony was over, they had switched to playing more contemporary tunes. A simple dance floor had been laid out in wood over a broad stretch of grass, and the wedding guests were in full swing, sauntering though foxtrots and quicksteps with their elegant clothes and splendid hats bobbing along and fluttering in the gentle breeze. Along the hedgerow on the other side of the garden was a long buffet table laid out with excellent nosh, and a handful of Fairy servants in neatly pressed jackets and cravats – even the ladies – stood by to serve the food to the wedding guests as they came by. Garlands of flowers and ribbons festooned the big oak tree which shaded the wedding archway where the ceremony had been, and birds chattered in the trees, sharing branches with Pixies who had come to watch the festivities.

Fenelle’s mind was a whirl. The day had been superb so far, absolutely splendid – but she was already forgetting some of the joyful moments as new ones kept popping up, fresh in her mind, and filling her with a delight she had never before known in her whole life. She leaned on the back door of the cottage, sighing happily as she looked out at everyone dancing, talking, laughing, eating, and sharing the day. Her home was open for people to come and go, but she found that everyone was very much enjoying their time in the garden, in the sunshine, basking in the joy.

She had only come in to see where Embrilar had got to, but he wasn’t in the cottage as far as she could tell. The sight of everyone she loved all in one place, enjoying themselves, was too much for her, and she found herself stopped in the doorway, her heart full to bursting and a smile on her face.

What a beautiful day!

A familiar, tinkling laugh echoed off the roof just above her head. Fenelle stepped halfway out of the door and looked up.

Tippin had thrown his head back in delight, slapping his knees as he guffawed. Beside him, another Pixie with a tiny set of brass mechanical wings was pulling faces and making hand signals with astonishing speed.

“Jo, Jo, stop! I can’t…” Tippin was laughing too hard to speak, tears rolling down his cheeks. He waved his hands at her frantically, his little bowler hat slipping back from his brow to reveal his purplish hair.

Fenelle laughed softly, the Pixie’s joy infectious. Tippin heard her, and looked down, taking to the air to see her better.

“Fenelle!” he cried. His voice cracked with laughter. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you,” she answered, smiling.

“Jo said your dress is the most beautiful she’s ever seen,” Tippin added, gesturing. Jo nodded eagerly and waved shyly from the roof.

“Thank you, Jo!” Fenelle beamed.

It was quite the gown. It was a sleek, slender, floor-length number, with tiered skirts like oversized flower petals that had been dipped in stardust, for the edges and tips of the fabric petals glimmered with beads and tiny gems that caught the sunlight. A wide silver ribbon belted the dress at her waist and blossomed into a large, intricate bow at the small of her back, and the top had flowy, delicate sleeves that hung in panels to her elbows. During the ceremony she’d worn opera length white gloves as well, but she’d long since ditched them for the freedom of feeling the sun on her dark green skin. It was too delicious a day not to.

“You look so happy!” Tippin sighed, his smile blindingly bright. “I’m so happy for you two!”

“Oh, Tippin. I’m so glad.” Fenelle tipped her head back, shading her eyes to see him better. “I’m terribly glad you’re here, both of you, and awfully glad that Embrilar’s had you as a friend through all the last while.” Tippin’s face clouded a little, his smile turning sad. “Oh! Tippin, I didn’t mean…”

“No, no, it’s all right.” Tippin gave a smaller smile, nodded, and turned back towards Jo.

“Tippin!” He paused, looking back. “I… have you seen Embrilar?”

Tip nodded, the distraction clearing the clouds from his expression. “Sure have! He’s out front on the porch, I think. Last I saw him, he was.”

“Oh, thank you! I couldn’t find him anywhere.”

Tippin gave another smile and a nod, then flitted back up to perch with Jo again. The tiny partly-mechanical Pixie reached out and gave him a gentle squeeze on the arm as he landed. Fenelle hurried back into the house before any of her other guests could catch her. She felt awful for a moment; she hadn’t meant to bring up the astonishing events of the last year so lightly. Surely the trauma that they had all been through had been enough, and surely Tippin was still hurting from losses. And on top of that… it was already First Spring. Justice Day wasn’t far off in the future now. Tippin’s year was almost up. A year seemed like a long time when it first began, but as the year came to a close, it really wasn’t very long a time at all, was it?

Fenelle passed through the house, her dress swishing and shimmering, and as she came into the parlor she saw the silhouette of someone on the porch, sitting on the swing and watching the road thoughtfully as the afternoon waned on. She stepped out onto the porch through the open doorway, and smiled.

“That hat is awfully handsome, you know,” she said, amused that the exquisite top hat was even still on his head, especially since he had removed his tuxedo jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves in a characteristic effort to be comfortable. “I’m so glad you’re still wearing it.”

Embrilar Ardeo, halfgene Ifriti, former Warden of the Hand and Eye, and Fenelle’s brand new husband, turned to look at her with an exaggerated display of pain.

“Fenelle,” he began, with a groan.

“No, no, I mean it,” she said, biting back a laugh. “It really is very, very handsome. Alva did such a nice job with it. I don’t know why you don’t like hats.”

“Fenelle,” Embrilar said, warning in his voice.

“I know you always say something about Sandir not liking hats either, but that’s bunk! I spoke to him an hour ago and he was wearing the most delightful bowler in a striking burgundy felt. I’m sure Alva had something to do with it, too, now that I think of it.”

“Wife!” Embrilar cried in frustration.

Fenelle stopped and cocked an eyebrow, but the word did send a little thrill through her. “Husband,” she replied. “Have you had enough of my teasing about your chapeau?”

“Fenelle, you are so beautiful, and so good, that I would suffer any amount of teasing at your pleasure,” Embrilar answered in measured tones, “but I am trying to tell you: I would love nothing in the world – not even you! – as much as I would love to remove this hat right this very second.”

Fenelle gasped, though she knew he was surely joking. “That’s horrible! Why would you say such a thing, Emby? Just take it off then, and stop being such a sludge.” She laughed, but her smile faded rapidly as she saw the severity of his expression. “What is it? What’s happened, darling?”

“Fenelle,” Embrilar sighed in exasperation. “I can’t.”

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t take the hat off.”

“I’m sure Alva would understand, Embrilar. You’ve worn it all day! And worn it splendidly. We all appreciate your style and decorum. But you must be miserable under that after all this time, just take it off.”

“Fenelle. I. Cannot. Remove. This. Hat.” His round blue eyes bored into her. She frowned.

“Whyever not?”

“Because,” Embrilar finished through gritted teeth, “Alva made it.”

Fenelle cocked her head to the side slightly, and from somewhere in the garden she could have sworn she heard a bright, cackling laugh that was awfully familiar. “Emby, are you saying…”

“She did something to it,” Embrilar hissed. “It’s stuck. I have been trying for hours to take it off, but the most it will let me do is this!”

He touched the brim a little, and the hat seemed to allow him to adjust it, cock it to one side or the other, or tip it back, or down, but it was utterly unable to be removed from his head altogether. His short dark red horns that curved up and back, gazelle-like, protruded from specifically made slots in the hat’s crown, featured rather than hidden by the hat itself. Alva really knew her stuff when it came to headwear, they all knew, but this was truly an accomplishment: Embrilar “I Hate Hats” Ardeo’s wedding topper. And now Fenelle was learning the ultimate icing on that cake: he wasn’t able to take it off.

Torn between her choice of sympathy and laughter, Fenelle laughed, then abruptly tried to change her mind and sat on the swing beside him, her hand covering her mouth. “Oh, Embrilar…”

“It’s not funny,” he insisted, his voice low. He crossed his arms tightly over his chest and sat back, brooding.

“It is funny,” she corrected him, putting her arm through his and snuggling closer to him. He begrudgingly put his arm around her. “It’s a lovely wedding present, for you, me, and for Alva,” she chuckled. “And I’m surprised by this only to learn that you weren’t surprised by it.” She poked his cheek with one finger. “You know Alva well enough. You should have known.”

Embrilar growled, but sighed through his nose. “Yeah. I should have known. I really, really should have known. Ugh, it’s so stupid! I just want to take this stupid — very lovely, thoughtful gift off of my head so I can enjoy the rest of the party. I’m not even wearing my jacket anymore – I look ridiculous!”

“Since when has that ever stopped you, my love?” Fenelle smiled up at him. “You look ridiculous most of the time you’re in social situations without a hat. So how is this different?”

Embrilar growled again, displeasure in every line of his frown. “It’s not,” he admitted reluctantly.

“It’s not,” agreed Fenelle. “And I’m sure everyone is thrilled to pieces to see you in a real hat for once. What a special day!”

She laughed softly, and kissed his cheek. He warmed to her touch, and turned his head quickly to catch her mouth before she pulled too far away. He kissed her, and it was both sweet and sultry. He had a way of doing that so keenly that it made her squirm and swoon, a little more obviously than she’d have liked. When they broke apart, he was smiling at her, his finger trailing along her jawline.

“Hey,” Embrilar said. “Hey, you.”

“Hello,” Fenelle answered, blushing. “Hello. Are you having a good day? Other than the hat,” she added, glancing at it.

“Yes,” he answered, relaxing. “It is a very, very good day. Are you? Having a good day?”

Fenelle thought about the music, the dancing, the food, the guests, the smiles and tears the day had already brought, and she felt the shimmering beauty of her gown, and she smiled at him wordlessly.

“Yeah,” he agreed, smiling wider now. “You are, aren’t you. I’m very glad, my dear.” He kissed her nose lightly and settled back on the swing, resting his head alongside hers.

“It’s a perfect day,” Fenelle sighed, happily. “And look! We’re even stealing a little time alone to ourselves before the end of it all. You were so sure we wouldn’t be able to sit quietly at our own wedding.”

“I was,” agreed Embrilar. “So it is. I’m glad we can just sit a moment together.”

They fell silent, watching the birds fly from tree to tree across the road, and watching the wind ripple through the tall grasses and the plants in the field across the way.

“I can’t think of anything that would make this day better,” Fenelle said after a few moments, contentment settling over her like a fine mist.

“Ah,” Embrilar said, “I’m glad, love.”

There was a note in his voice that Fenelle recognized. She felt a twinge of regret as she realized what it was.

“You didn’t just come out here alone to hide because of your hat, did you,” she said.

Embrilar grunted quietly.

“It’s about Owin, isn’t it.”

Embrilar stiffened, then relaxed again and nodded, his head bumping gently against hers. She squeezed his thigh with one hand, a gentle touch.

“I’m sorry, my love,” she murmured.

“It’s… it’s all right,” he said, his voice quiet. He paused. “She said she’d be back.”

“I know she did. I remember. And I asked her… I told her that she’d need to, she’d have to come back. For whatever was going to happen. Remember?”

Embrilar nodded, holding her a little more tightly.

“Emby, if she doesn’t come back today… and she may not… she may yet come back another day. Somewhere down the line. You know?”

“I know, I know, there’s… there’s just no telling with her, with where she went. There’s no way to know for sure, and that’s that. I just… wish…” He hesitated. “Tippin’s almost out of time.”

“Oh darling,” she murmured, curling closer to him on the swing. He squeezed her gently in his arms, sitting in fretful silence a few more moments. “I’m sorry. I understand what you mean. I’m just glad Tippin is here at all, today.”

“So am I,” Embrilar said, nodding, releasing her a little bit so she could sit upright again. “I’m very grateful he’s here. I’m glad everyone’s here, hell! Sandir, Felix, Alva… the Captain and his husband… and also Caspher and Cindra.”

Fenelle studied her husband’s face. His mother, Lady Luminessa Ardeo, had made a distinct effort to not be present at their wedding, but that didn’t bother Fenelle at all. Lady Luminessa was terrifying, flat out, and if she wanted nothing to do with Fenelle, well, that was fine by her. She knew that Embrilar had hoped for his father – well, stepfather, technically – Mephanis Ardeo would be there, but he hadn’t turned up. It was likely he had business to attend to, though Fenelle couldn’t think of a specific need that would cause him to miss his son’s wedding day. Either it was very important business, or Luminessa had forbade him to go.

But Embrilar’s siblings had come, and they seemed to enjoy themselves a great deal. His parents aside, he was right – everyone who mattered to them was here, except for Owin Bolard.

Less than a year prior, at the climax of the unusual mysteries and adventures they had all been caught up in, Owin Bolard had been given an opportunity to do something that every single living person had thought about at one point in their lives but none that Fenelle knew of had ever truly done. Owin had left the city of Ammingrad, and walked through a door in the Border wall, out of civilzation and into the wilderness of the unlivable and unexplored Outer Dairswyn. It prickled gooseflesh on Fenelle’s arms just thinking about it; she shivered.

Embrilar squeezed her gently. “What is it?”

“Nothing. Just suddenly chilly,” she lied.

They sat quietly again, staring out at the field and the plants and the birds. It would be easy to imagine Owin striding out of the tall grass, her dapper bowler askew on her head, a smug look on her face and a perfectly tailored suit hugging her curvy form. Or perhaps with ragged clothes, rearranged and reworked as she had been trekking through wilderness; perhaps instead of a lorgnette she had a machete, and her jeweled earrings and brooches had been replaced with scars and tattoos to commemorate her wild adventure in the outside.

It would be easy to picture it. Not so easy, though, was for it to actually happen, for her to actually show up out of the blue like that, after nearly a year of being gone.

I’ll definitely come back, Owin had said, as confident as anything, her smile gleaming in the moonlight when they’d all said goodbye.

Fenelle felt a sorrow in the pit of her stomach. She doubted very, very much that Owin would be able to come back, even if she truly wanted to. The wall was very high, very secure, and if she survived the outside and came knocking to be let back in, she was sure that the Guardians would have a thing or two to say about it, and perhaps even if they let Owin back into the Inner Dairswyn, they would probably never let her back out into society again. No doubt they’d keep her hidden away for study and interrogation – though what Owin would have seen and experienced, Fenelle could not even begin to guess. All she knew was that the Guardians would probably want to know about it, and they would probably not have any moral quandaries whatsoever about holding her captive somewhere secret, and not allowing her to go traipsing around Ammingrad, free as you please, with only herself to account to.

“It’s all right,” said Embrilar, his voice more even now. “It’ll all be all right.” He unwound his arm from her and stood up, stretching his back a little. “Shall we go mingle, then? Our people – nay, our adoring public awaits!” He offered her his hand.

“Oh goodness,” Fenelle scolded, chuckling. She took his hand and he helped her up to her feet in one smooth motion. “I don’t know about an adoring public… but I do know that I adore you,” she finished, looking up at him with shining eyes.

He smiled back at her, a faint blush dashing across his own high set cheekbones. “And I adore you, my darling. I’m so glad that today is such a good day.”

“So am I,” Fenelle sighed. “I am remarkably happy.”

“I do remark,” Embrilar said immediately, “you are very happy.”

She gave him a playful shove. “No more puns, for Dair’s sake! Let’s go dance.”

“Fenelle, I thought you’d never ask!” Embrilar answered, batting his lashes at her.

Fenelle laughed, and tugged on his arm, leading him back through Fieldview Cottage out to the garden, where the band had just struck up a waltz, as though it were just for them.

Fin.