Chapter Sixteen: The Wedding
Over time, things slowly returned to normal in the High City. However, Adesina found herself caught up in a new source of excitement. Rina’s wedding preparations were going forward full force. At first Adesina immersed herself in the event as an excuse to avoid spending any time with Aleron. Then her interest became genuine as she watched with growing fascination.
She occasionally imagined herself in Rina’s place, and secretly placed Kendan in the part of the groom. Such thoughts were fleeting, and Adesina chided herself for letting her imagination run away with her.
Gainor updated them daily with the latest rumors of the identity of the most likely groom. Sable’s name was frequently on their lips as his prospects grew in certainty. Deasa tried to find every positive report of him that she could, to help boost Rina’s spirits. While Gainor, insensitive as ever, kept reminding them of his foul temper and ulterior motives.
Rina’s wedding dress was finished and all of her things prepared for her new home before a groom had been decided. The anxiety of not knowing was beginning to show on Rina’s youthful face. Her smiles hardly seemed sincere anymore.
At the beginning of the fourth week after the disappearance of the Outsider, Adesina sat in her room finishing up her homework. Ravi sat looking out the window, but they were barely aware of each other’s presence. She saw her friends rushing up the street and waited for them to knock hurriedly on the door, run up the stairs, and burst into her room.
“Adrie! Rina’s father just told her his decision.”
Deasa had to restrain Gainor from blurting out the name herself. “Gainor, let Rina tell her.”
Adesina studied Rina’s weary eyes, silently praying that the rumors had been wrong about Sable. Rina smiled weakly. “I am to marry Master Degan.”
She felt a rush of relief. “Congratulations, Rina.”
Rina laughed shakily. “Thank you.”
Gainor could keep silent no longer. “The wedding is to be at the end of this week, and Rina asked my father to stand as one of the witnesses.”
Adesina nodded in understanding. This was probably Rina’s father’s idea. Having a Governor stand as a witness gave the whole proceeding a greater degree of prestige. Rina’s father was always thinking about their family’s status.
The next few days blurred past. One moment they were in class, the next they were making last minute alterations on Rina’s wedding dress, then they were helping prepare food for the wedding dinner, then they were advising Rina on how to arrange the furniture in her new home. Degan’s house was surprisingly bare, even for a bachelor. A good portion of the money from Rina’s dowry was to go towards furnishing their new home.
Rina and Degan saw little of each other in the midst of all the wedding preparations, but when they did see each other, Degan treated her with a gentle sort of respect. Rina seemed pleased, and was deferential and obliging in return.
Adesina was disturbed by the lack of strong emotion in their relationship. She had been under the impression that love was a passionate sort of feeling, and that one shouldn’t marry unless madly in love. No one else seemed bothered by the couple’s feeble emotional bond, so Adesina kept her opinions to herself.
The morning of the wedding dawned warm and bright. Jelana had made Adesina a special dress for formal affairs, and Adesina pinned small blue flowers in her silver hair in honor of the occasion. The dress was pale yellow with darker yellow flowers embroidered on the bodice, and she had just finished dressing when Gainor and Deasa joined her.
Gainor’s formal dress was yellow with pink flowers embroidered on it, and Deasa’s dress was yellow with pale blue flowers. Both girls were also wearing flowers in their hair. Deasa’s dark curls held clusters of peach colored blossoms, and Gainor’s hair was accented by one large pink peony.
“Ready to go?” Gainor asked.
Adesina nodded and followed them downstairs. Jelana was busy making breakfast over the fireplace, and looked up as they entered the room. “Would you girls like something to eat before you go?”
Deasa smiled gratefully. “No, thank you. Mistress Kelby insisted we eat breakfast with Rina.”
The older woman turned back to her cooking. “Very well. I will see you girls at the Pavilion later.”
Gainor urged them out the door and down the street as quickly as decorum would allow. She was absolutely beside herself with excitement. They arrived at Rina’s house and were shown upstairs to her room. Rina was sitting in front of her mirror, trying to do her hair with shaking hands.
Deasa laughed softly and took over the task. “You are trembling like a leaf in the wind.”
“I am a bit nervous,” Rina admitted in a tremulous voice.
“Just a bit?” giggled Gainor. “You look ready to faint.”
Deasa gave her a reprimanding glare as she began weaving white ribbons into Rina’s hair. “Do not listen to Gainor, Rina. You look beautiful.”
They helped her into her simple wedding dress. It was white and without any adornment.
Deasa had explained to Adesina that the white symbolized the bride’s purity, and the lack of decoration symbolized the groom’s willingness to take the bride as she is.
Mistress Kelby brought in a tray with breakfast. She hovered over them, insisting that they eat every bite. Gainor was talking too much to pay any attention to the food, and Rina looked as if she couldn’t swallow. Deasa and Adesina did their best to eat enough to satisfy Mistress Kelby’s demands, but she seemed determined to be disapproving.
By midmorning they were out the door and walking toward the Pavilion. The Pavilion was situated in the center of the High City’s largest and most ornate garden park. It was a large white tent where most of the citizens held their celebrations. Long wooden benches had been brought out for the guests to sit on, and there was a small platform on which the couple and the officiator would stand.
All of the guests were in place, and Degan was waiting next to a frail old man. Adesina, Deasa and Gainor took their seats at the front and waited for the ceremony to begin. Rina’s parents walked her up to the platform, where she took her place standing across from Degan. The frail old man began speaking in a wheezy voice.
“Friends and family, we welcome you today as we join this man and this woman in the bond of marriage…”
Adesina found herself studying the groom rather than paying attention to the rote recital of the ceremony. Degan was tall and thin, with bright red hair and light blue eyes. His sharp facial features were covered in freckles, as were what showed of his forearms.
It was obvious that both Rina and Degan were nervous, and they rarely looked each other in the eye. Adesina cast a glance over at the girls sitting next to her to see how they were handling the marriage of one of their peers. Gainor was staring raptly, hanging on every word with a wistful expression on her face. Deasa looked happy for her friend, but reservedly so. Adesina couldn’t reconcile herself to a tradition where Rina, who was barely more than a child, was required to give up so much for a marriage in which she had no say.
Mistress Kelby was dabbing her eyes, and occasionally sniffed loudly. Master Cavell, Rina’s father, seemed more preoccupied looking around the gathering to see who was there. His proud face darkened considerably as his eyes fell on someone in the audience. Adesina shifted slightly in her seat so she could see whom it was.
On the back row sat a middle-aged woman with beautiful auburn hair and rather sharp features. She was dressed in the same yellow dress as every other woman in the Pavilion, but for some odd reason she stood out from the crowd. Perhaps it was the intelligent, independent expression in her vivid green eyes.
Those eyes turned to Adesina for the briefest of moments. There was a flash of knowing, almost as if the woman recognized Adesina, and then she turned her gaze back to the couple.
Adesina also turned her eyes to the platform, but her mind couldn’t have been further away. She searched her memory, trying to think of why the woman would recognize her. It was possible that they had passed on the streets of the High City and Adesina had been too distracted to notice. Possible, but not likely.
The wedding ceremony soon concluded. Everyone got to their feet to congratulate the young couple. Adesina was surprised that it had been so short. There had been no exchanging of vows or wedding rings, only the dry little speech of the officiator.
Adesina moved forward with Deasa and Gainor to embrace Rina. They were only able to say a few words to her before her mother herded her onward. All of the guests were walking towards the Dining Hall, which was just across the park from the Pavilion. There was to be a wedding dinner in honor of the couple, and then everybody would go back to their daily lives.
Instead of following the crowd, Adesina found herself looking for the woman she had seen earlier. Her efforts proved to be unnecessary, as she found the woman at her side touching her elbow uncertainly.
“I have something to give you.”
Adesina stared at her in confusion. “Me?”
The woman nodded and beckoned Adesina to follow her. After a second or so of deliberating, Adesina joined her in walking in the opposite direction of the Dining Hall.
“Are you not going to the wedding dinner?”
The woman gave a silvery little laugh. “I was fortunate to be invited to the wedding. I do not think I should press my luck by staying too long.”
Adesina had no idea what to say to that, but the woman did not seem bothered by the momentary silence. She filled it herself after a couple of seconds. “Degan is my favorite relation, and I am his. That is why I was not quietly excluded from his wedding. He is a sweet and loving man. I am glad that he chose your friend over his other prospects. She seems a good match for him.”
Adesina frowned. “Why would you be excluded?”
The woman laughed again. “I am an embarrassment to the family. Perhaps you have heard my name. I am Mistress Faryl.”
Adesina instantly recognized the name as the owner of the apothecary shop in the Square. It didn’t explain how she knew Adesina, though, or why she was giving her some mysterious gift.
“What is it you need to give me?”
Mistress Faryl merely smiled. “All in good time.”
Adesina’s eyes narrowed briefly in suspicion. Her hand casually brushed against her thigh, feeling for the dagger she kept there. The feel of the metal against her skin was reassuring. “How are you related to Master Degan?”
Mistress Faryl searched Adesina’s eyes for a moment before smiling. “I am his aunt, of sorts. His father’s family took me in a long time ago. But that is not what you want to ask me.”
Adesina was a bit unnerved by how perceptive this woman was. She dropped her gaze to the grass that they were walking on. “No.”
“Then what is it?”
She briefly wondered if she was being paranoid. “I thought you recognized me.”
Mistress Faryl inclined her head.
Adesina’s frown became more pronounced. “But we have never met.”
A mysterious smile appeared on Mistress Faryl’s lips. “No, we have never met. Yet I recognized you.”
“How is that possible?”
Mistress Faryl pointed to one of the many uniform houses as they walked past. “What do you see there?”
Adesina was perplexed by the question. “A house. Just like any other house in the High City.”
Mistress Faryl sighed. “Yes, and that is what most people see.”
Something in the back of her mind told Adesina that this woman’s words would be important. “What do you see?”
Mistress Faryl’s expression became introspective. “I see pine panels taken from trees of the forest just outside our city. I see nails made by a humble blacksmith. I see whitewash that is reapplied every spring with the greatest of care. I see curtains in the window, slightly worn but meticulously mended. I see flowers lining the path, watered and weeded every day.”
She looked at Adesina to see if she understood. “I look at people the same way I look at that house, and in that way I recognize you.”
Part of Adesina wondered why this woman was telling her all of this. Mistress Faryl saw the questioning in her eyes and answered. “You have this same gift, but you do not know how to use it. Right now you only look at faces and body language. I feel it is important for you to know that you are capable of seeing so much more.”
Curious, Adesina decided to give it a try. She focused on a man that they were passing in the Square. Her initial observation was that he was getting beyond middle aged, with thick blonde hair and a matching beard. His face was rather nondescript, and his blue eyes seemed a bit dull. He wore the garb of a farmer and limped as if he had injured his leg.
She tried to see him in the way that Mistress Faryl saw the house. He wore clothes that were threadbare and patched. His face was prematurely lined from years of worry. His back slightly hunched from hard labor, and his hands calloused from much use. This was a man who had worked all of his life, never quite making ends meet.
Adesina looked even deeper. In spite of his reduced circumstances, he walked with a dignity that spoke of his upbringing in the High City, but beneath that dignity there was an underlying feeling of despair. His eyes were dim because he had lost all hope. Perhaps because of his injured leg and his inability to work anymore.
Adesina watched as Mistress Faryl walked up to the man, handed him a small purse and embraced him. The man was clearly startled, but his eyes teared up in gratitude. No words were exchanged between them and none seemed necessary.
As they walked on, Adesina asked, “Do you know him?”
Mistress Faryl shook her head. “Not in the sense that you mean.”
They shortly arrived at Mistress Faryl’s apothecary shop. She opened the door and led the way into the main room. The earthy smell of her wares washed over them. Mistress Faryl disappeared through a small door in the back of the shop and returned with a small wooden container.
She held it out to Adesina. “This is for you.”
Adesina took it cautiously. “What is it?”
“A potent healing salve. You will need it.”
The young woman’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know I will need it?”
Mistress Faryl shrugged. “The same way I knew what that man on the street needed.”
Adesina couldn’t understand this strange woman who roamed the streets of the High City doing good. “Why are you giving it to me?”
Mistress Faryl took a moment before answering. “Because I recognize parts of myself in you. We are kindred spirits: women who live in worlds made by men. It can be lonely at times, and we must stick together. Because, even though I do not know why, I know that you will need it someday. And who am I to deny anyone’s needs?”
This appeared to be the end of their discussion. Mistress Faryl turned and walked out of the room, leaving Adesina by herself.She went home slowly, thinking about everything she had been told. When she got home she put the salve under the loose floorboard in her room with the dagger Horas had given her and all of her Shimat supplies.