First Spring, 4805
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
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
“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
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.”
“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.
“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
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.
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
“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
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
“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.