Yes, you read that correctly.
This is the FINAL CHAPTER of this novel!
Which means a few things.
First, it must be a Friday and I’ve decided to give you something to kick off your weekend right.
Second, there’s not going to be a new chapter up on Sunday for the first time this year. (But there will be something you’ll be interested in!)
Third, there are still a few more tales from The Kildaran which I plan to tell; these are the former ‘Interludes’ which Richard and I wrote to explain some of the more obscure references in the book. See, there’s another mission going on, parallel to this one, and these stories all apply to that. Now if we can just string them all together we’ll have another book (but my Muse is currently only listening to Kendra, and Richard’s Muse, well, that’s a mighty good question).
Fourth, it’s time for me to tell you what the background of the cover is. After all, I’ve been teasing you for seven months!
It’s a shot of the facade inside Fenway Park, taken from just behind the Pesky Pole on the first base side. I took it about 12 years ago and it was skillfully blurred into the cover you see.
Okay, so enough chatter. Cover, then final chapter, and don’t forget to come back on Sunday!
Katrina left before dinner.
“Join me?” he asked, but she demurred.
“I must fast tonight.”
“Ah. Hope that just means food.”
“And I! Until tomorrow…”
With a kiss, she was gone, properly dressed again. She carried a bouquet of flowers he‘d gathered earlier on his run. It was quiet, now. At least until he heard a familiar knock, a pattern that announced, ‘Friend coming, not stopping’.
“Hey, Ass-Boy. Got something for you.” The Chief was carrying a pair of small packages. He was also carrying heavier than usual, especially for inside the serai.
“Oh? I think, I hope, I can guess what’s in one of them, but what’s the other?”
“Depends on what you think is in the first package,” he said, settling into a chair and dropping the packages on the desk.
“Open this first,” he continued, pushing one towards Mike.
He glanced at the writing. Georgian. “Where did you have to go to get these done? Tbilisi?”
“No. Tilaneti. Short hop in Valkyrie.”
“Valkyrie? Not Dragon?”
“No. Kacey’s not talking to me right now. I’m not sure why and not sure I care, honestly.”
Mike didn’t volunteer any information. Figuring out how he screwed up would be a good lesson for the Chief, and apologizing to the former Marine would do wonders for his social skills. Survival skills, too.
“Still a haul. Thanks.”
“Not going to open it?”
“Not now,” Mike answered, placing it in a lock box in his desk.
“What’s this other one?”
“Just a little something I picked up for you. A little early wedding gift.”
“You really shouldn’t have,” said Mike, ripping at the paper, then bursting out laughing.
“No,” replied Adams. “I guess I shouldn’t have, but I did anyway.”
The two boxes of Viagra fell onto the desktop.
“I told you before, Chief,” Mike gasped between laughs. “Teenage virgins. Viagra not needed.”
“Yeah, well, I figured that since Katrina wasn’t a virgin any longer, you might just –”
“How the fuck do you know that?” asked Mike, all humor gone from his voice.
“The videos,” answered Adams.
“What videos?” Mike’s voice could have frozen helium.
The Chief began to realize how badly someone screwed the pooch, and he hoped to God it wasn’t him!
“The videos of you and Katrina? I got them in an email, thought you’d sent them, bragging.“ He backed his chair away subtly to give himself more room to move.
“You mean you didn’t know about them?”
“What. Videos?” There was barely suppressed rage in that voice now, rage that promised mayhem and bloodletting of epic proportions.
“Maybe I ought to leave?” suggested Adams, rising. “You know, places to do, things to see…”
Mike‘s hand flashed out and caught his wrist. He wasn‘t going anywhere.
“Not until you tell me about these videos.”
“Well, ah, there’s nothing much to tell.”
How the fuck do I minimize this?
“Just you and Katrina doing some, ah, calisthenics. Horizontally. And superimposed. A little captioning, some graphics added…”
“Motherfucking MICE!” Mike’s bellow shook the heavy door and rattled glasses. He’d had his suspicions, but the added details gave him the proof he needed.
“You want me to go get them? I’ll go get them. Right now. Won’t be a minute.”
And Master Chief Charles Adams, SEAL Team veteran of countless battles, skirmishes, and actions, fled.
While hunting Mice, Mike ran across Pierson.
“”Is the place in Greece ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered Pierson. “Although why I’m buying real estate for you…”
“Because you owe me.”
“Whatever. In any case, with their economy in the toilet, the people were looking to sell quick. We got the whole cove for the original price of one of the houses.”
Mike paused before answering.
“Should do for now. I hope she remembers her lessons and what Mother Lenka says later.”
Looking askance at him, Pierson asked, “You know what you’re gonna use it for yet?”
“Not yet. Got to track down some Mice, first. You seen them?”
“Mice? No. Should I tell them –”
“Don’t say a fucking word. I want this to be a surprise.” Mike’s grin was evil.
“…every bit and byte, or I will turn you over to Katrina and let her decide your fate.”
The Mice had been there for fifteen full minutes.
Fifteen very uncomfortable minutes.
Fifteen minutes of total silence from all four.
Fifteen minutes of the most thorough and painful dressing-down they had ever endured.
God-Boy looked like someone shot his puppy. Catrina and Elena didn’t look anywhere but the floor, though unconsciously they’d moved closer together for comfort. Even Mouse was subdued. None looked particularly contrite, though. Sorry for having been caught so soon, perhaps.
He locked eyes with each one in turn, letting them see the fire gleaming within.
Once Mike, as Kildar, had finished speaking, Mouse spoke up.
“What about our last mission? Doesn’t that count for anything? Pierson told you about it, didn‘t he?”
“Your last mission? In Dubai? Yes. It counts for quite a lot.”
They relaxed slightly.
“It meant that you’re here, instead of on the practice range.”
“Practice range?” asked Evan. He swallowed.
“Live-fire range,” clarified Mike. “It helps if the targets are moving in an unpredictable manner. Improves real-world skills.”
“You’re joking!” said Evan. “You wouldn’t waste your best operatives this way!”
He noticed the panicked looks in the women’s’ eyes and rethought his assumption. “Would you?”
“Bet me,” replied Mike, frostily. “You invaded my privacy. Worse, you invaded that of my fiancée, who just happens to be the next Priestess.”
The women blanched.
“And worst of all, you made these videos available to others!”
“It was only a joke!” said Evan, desperately. “We were playing around with some new software! We didn’t mean any harm!”
“And the videos are only in-house! They’re not on a web-connected server!” added Elena. “Only the Chief and two of the Valkyries saw them!”
“That we know of,” added Catrina
“They’d better not be on the web,” growled Mike.
“Oh, we could design a worm that would seek and destroy any of the files that got out, not that any did, but it’s easy enough, any basic hacker could do it. If it happened.”
Evan shut up abruptly as Catrina and Elena kicked his shins from each side, staggering him but, more importantly, shutting his fucking mouth.
“There aren’t,” reassured Mouse. “Right, God-boy?”
Her right fist curled in a special way Evan was extremely familiar with. Mike noticed he seemed to be more afraid of her than him. Well, given the arsenal she carried and the tools at her disposal, he probably would be too.
“Right, none at all, nope, not on the web, never happened, I never put a hack up on my distributed network in town, ow!”
Four of them.
Evan reacted very much like a mouse when facing three angry cats and a large tiger. He peed himself.
“Are we clear about this?” Mike’s voice was still Arctic. “You might think you’re the best, but there are others here who’ll give you a run for your money who’d just love to dig up some dirt on you. The Vanners, for example. And if they find anything, anything, then not only does Katrina get your sorry asses, but you’ll be detailing the Cave and any other grunt work Grez needs done. I’ll ask once again: are we clear on this?”
A chorus of meek “Yesses” met his ears.
“Good. Mouse, God-boy, you two take care of the files. Catrina, Elena, stay here. I want every bug out of my quarters, and I’m not leaving you two alone. You will remove them, and I will see you do it. Not just move them to new locations, like you‘ve apparently done before.”
“Furthermore. These rooms, my office, my apartments, are off-limits for-fucking-ever without my, or Kat’s, specific permission. You violate this rule and you will learn pain, much worse than anything you’ve ever known before. Trust me on this.”
“Yes, Kildar.” The younger two turned to go, but before they could get to the door, Mike stopped them.
“Yes, Kildar?” she said warily.
“Thank you. That was good work in Dubai. I‘ll want to see the film when it‘s ready, with all the outtakes. We can enjoy the Mules‘ Traveling Comedy Show. But you have to remember about keeping on mission, and what your first fuck-up cost you.”
She lit up.
“You’re welcome, Kildar!”
Good mood restored, she practically skipped out the door, though her hands protectively covered her six.
Catrina and Elena were already moving purposely about the office.
“How many of those fucking things are there?” he asked.
“Total? Or in here?”
“Both.” He glared and was gruff, but not as severe as earlier. Let them think they were off the hook for now.
“Total audio, ten, video, thirteen. In here, one audio, one video.” Catrina reached behind his chair, pulled out a device, tossed it to Elena. “Of the video, three are HD and aimable, either guided or autonomous. Evan cobbled them together from the mobile sentry units so they react to body heat.”
“Only one of each here?”
“Not much of interest happened in here,” said Elena, smiling and grabbing a second device. “Most of the action was in your bedroom.”
“Lenochka, you and Catyenka will be the death of me, you know that?”
Hearing their pet names, Elena nearly purred. “Does this mean you forgive us?”
“Maybe. Later. If you get all the bugs and prove it to me, then I might possibly.”
Catrina pressed up against him.
“I know we’ve been very, very bad, Kildar. We deserve to be punished.”
Elena, pressed against his other side, said, “Severely.”
“Not right now,” he said, resisting their temptations. “Cameras and mikes first.”
“Yes, Kildar,” they chorused, and resumed working. They moved to the bedroom and busily began removing bugs.
“If we get them all, can we use the Dungeon? On God-boy? It really was all his idea, not ours. He said he’s getting bored with what he can find on the net.”
“He even wrote a script. We want to film it, but Mouse won’t let us find two volunteers for readings.”
“And practice.” Another giggle.
Mike buried his face in his palms. “I have to think about it,” he muttered.
And have a chat with the Chief, and a couple Valkyries. Wonder how many copies they made?
He shook his head, silently.
“I’ll be back shortly.” He visibly locked and alarmed his desk and went off to visit the Harem’s quarters. He’d need a few of their toys.
The Maypole was up, the Burakan taking their few hours of rest. Andrew and Jessia were in the courtyard of the serai, awaiting the beginning of their wedding ceremony. An arch of vines and flowers had been raised at the entrance.
Father Kulcyanov was presiding, with Mother Lenka assisting him. Younger acolytes of the Goddess had drawn a circle on the ground, and now four of them were placed at the four cardinal directions: Aiyana, Sephera, Illiana, and Alena. Father Kulcyanov occupied the center of the circle, clutching a rainbow of cords, and Mother Lenka stood at the south end with the couple, waiting.
Around the circle were the guests, including Mike, JP, Stasia, Jack, and even Bob Pierson. Most of the house staff had made it out, as well as men from Andrew’s platoon. Doctor Arensky managed to squeeze himself between the Valkyries, who were all dressed alike.
All in all, it would have been easier to move the ceremony down by the Tun and just reuse the same space for his own wedding. Mother Griffina had reached for her rolling pin when he’d brought it up at breakfast.
That was right out.
He’d taken his seat in a familiar throne to one side, surrounded by his harem and manservants. It was a crowded space. Every Family had sent at least one representative up, and it appeared that Jessia’s entire Family was present.
Mike internalized his sigh. He wouldn’t do anything to spoil this bride’s day. If only he could remember his lines.
At the appropriate time, and only Father Kulcyanov knew exactly when that was, for he didn’t seem to check any man-made timepiece, he raised his arms. Everyone fell silent.
“Father of All, we ask your blessing on this day and this couple as we join them in the ancient ritual.”
Mother Lenka turned to the couple.
“Before you go further, know that your lives, having crossed, have formed ties between each other. As you seek to enter this rite, these ties will be strengthened. With full awareness, therefore, know that within this circle you declare your intent to be handfasted, not only before your gathered families but before the All-Father and the Goddess as well. The promises you make today and the ties you make will greatly strengthen your union, cross the years and bind your lives together. Do you still seek to enter this rite?”
Together, they answered, “Yes. We seek to enter.”
Mother Lenka embraced them, then led them to Father Kulcyanov, where they knelt.
“Mother,” he said, his ancient voice strong today. “Do they know the full significance of what they seek?”
“They do, Father, for I have questioned them and can discover no deceit in them.”
“And do you still seek this handfasting?”
“Yes,” they answered.
“Then take them to the guardians to seek their consent.”
Lenka led them first to the East, Aiyana, who asked, “What seek you of the guardian of the East?”
“We seek your blessing on our union,” said Andrew.
“Blessed be this union with the gifts of Delling: communication of the heart, and body; fresh beginnings with the rising of each sun. The knowledge of growth found in the sharing of silence,” said Aiyana, wafting air over them with the waving of an ancient round shield. Lenka led them clockwise, to the South, where Sephera awaited.
“What seek you of the guardian of the South?”
“We seek your blessing on our union,” said Jessia this time.
“Blessed be this union with the gifts of Niord: warmth of the hearth and home, the heat of the heart’s passion and the light created by both to illuminate the darkest of times.” She sprinkled barley grains over them.
They were led to Illiana, standing as Guardian of the West.
“What seek you of the guardian of the West?” she said.
“We seek your blessing on our union,” they responded together.
“Blessed be this union with the gifts of Nerthus: the deep commitments of the lake, the swift excitement of the river, the refreshing cleansing of the rain, and the all-encompassing passion of the sea.” She sprinkled a few drops of water over them.
Finally, they approached Alena.
“What seek you of the guardian of the North?”
“We seek your blessing on our union,” they answered together again.
“Blessed be this union with the gifts of Skadi: a firm foundation on which to build, fertility of the fields to enrich your lives, a stable home to which you return.” Kneeling, she removed the shoes of both, getting an inadvertent giggle from Jessia as her foot was tickled.
Carrying their footwear, Lenka led them back to the center, and Kulcyanov. They knelt again.
“You have received tools from the guardians which will help you build a happy and successful union. Yet that is all they are: tools. Tools which you must wield in order to reap what you seek in this union. I bid you now, look into each other’s eyes.”
Right hands clasped between them, they faced each other.
“Andrew. Will you cause her pain?”
“I may,” he answered reluctantly.
“Is that your intent?” Kulcyanov asked harshly.
“No!” came the firm reply.
“Jessia. Will you cause him pain?”
“I may,” she said.
“Is that your intent?”
Addressing them both, he said, “Will you share each other’s pain and seek to ease it?”
“Yes,” they replied.
“And so the binding is made.” He draped an orange cord across their joined hands.
“Andrew. Will you share her laughter?”
“Jessia. Will you share his laughter?”
“Will both of you look for the brightness in life and each other?”
“And so the binding is made.” A yellow cord joined the orange one.
“Andrew. Will you burden her”
“Is that your intent?”
“Jessia. Will you burden him?”
“Is that your intent?”
“Will you share the burdens of each so that your souls may grow in this union?”
“And so the binding is made.” A greed cord was added to the others.
“Andrew. Will you share her dreams?”
“Jessia. Will you share his dreams?”
“Will you dream together to create new realities and hopes?”
“And so the binding is made.” And a blue cord was layered in.
“Andrew. Will you cause her anger?”
“Is that your intent?”
“Jessia. Will you cause him anger?”
“Almost certainly.” A laugh came from the crowd at her totally honest answer, mostly from her family. It was quickly suppressed, but even Mother Lenka couldn’t help but quirk her lips at the comment.
“Ahem. Is that your intent?” Father Kulcyanov continued as if nothing had happened.
“Will you take the heat of your anger and use it to temper the strength of this union, as a blacksmith tempers the axe?”
“And so the binding is made.” The red cord now was added.
“Andrew. Will you honor her?”
“Jessia. Will you honor him?”
“Will you never seek to tarnish that honor?”
“We shall never do so,” led by Jessia, Andrew stumbling a little over the Keldaran words.
“And so the binding is made.” Here Mike strode forward and presented a royal purple cord to Father Kulcyanov. It nearly completed the collection. Only one was left in his hand.
“Will you endeavor to maintain the purity and sacredness of this union?”
“And so the binding is made.” The final cord, a brilliant white, was placed over all the others.
“Above you are the stars; below you, the stone. As time passes, remember. Like a star, your love should burn brightly. Like a stone, your love should be firm. The All-Father and the Goddess are with you now and shall be with your always!”
Turning stern again, he continued, as Mike stood behind the pair.
“The knots of binding are not made only in this place. They spread from you backward and forward, joining you forevermore. Only you can loose the cords of binding, for as always, you hold in your hands the strength, or the breaking, of this union. Now, stand.”
Mother Lenka held Jessia’s hand high in the air, as Father Kulcyanov did with Andrew’s. They handed the pair off to Mike who led them to the arch and stood before it.
“Henceforth, you are married. You belong to each other and,“ he faced the young Ranger, “You belong to the Keldara. Take the final steps together through the arch of Spring and into your new lives together.“
They did so. The assembled Keldara hooted, the Rangers applauded and whistled.
“What gifts were brought as tokens of their love?” asked Mother Lenka as they turned and reentered the arch to stand again before Father Kulcyanov.
Mike stepped forward.
“I bring these rings.” He opened a small box and removed two rings, golden bands, each with a blue garnet set into the center.
Mother Lenka took the rings and dipped them once, twice, three times in a simple chalice that was filled with, was that beer? It was!
“My own brew, of course,” she cackled to Mike, who smiled back.
She presented Jessia’s ring to Andrew.
In English, he said, “I give thee this ring, and call you my wife and companion. It symbolizes the endless cycle and neverending nature of my love for you.”
And, with some difficulty, he placed it on her ring finger. Mike almost spoke again, but sensed Father Kulcyanov’s disapproval at Mother Lenka’s impromptu line. He may be Kildar, but certain things were done a certain way. Ad-libbing was not to be tolerated.
Jessia, with Andrew’s ring, spoke next in Keldaran. “I give thee this ring, and call you my husband and companion. It symbolizes the endless cycle and neverending nature of my love for you.” Much more deftly, she slid the ring on his left ring finger.
She then leaned in and kissed him as Kulcyanov said, “With the blessing of the All-Father, I declare this union sealed.”
Everyone applauded. Someone popped the cork from a bottle of champagne and began to fill the tower of glasses by the pavilion.
Aiyana brought an oatcake to Andrew, who lifted it to Jessia’s lips.
“May you never hunger,” he said, and she took a bite.
Illiana now approached, picking up the chalice and handing it to Jessia.
Touching it to Andrew’s lips, she said, “May you never thirst,” and he sipped.
Sephera now stepped forward with a hand-made broom. She placed it on the ground before them, intoning, “This is the symbol of your hearth, and your home. May it never fray or rend.”
Alena, the last guardian, walked in, carrying an axe. While it was decorated much as the Family blades were, it was obviously new. The sigil of Two-brow was upon it, a twisted bull‘s head.
“This axe symbolizes your commitment to protect your home. May none ever separate you.” She laid it crosswise over the broom.
Mother Lenka now said, “It is our custom that the new family walk the circle three times, jumping the axe and broom on each circuit.” Hands still joined, they did so.
Father Kulcyanov, after the final jump, said, “Andrew and Jessia, please pick up the axe.”
Hands together, they did.
“Jessia Mahona, you have left your Family to join with Andrew. But as Andrew is not of the Keldara, he has not an axe of his Family. Therefore, I charge you both, take this axe and create it as the symbol of your new Family. Let the ranks of the Keldara grow, with this honorable man and woman, for it has been far too long. Time may have diminished the Families, yet we shall grow strong again with the inclusion of one such warrior.”
With that final pronouncement, Father Kulcyanov left the circle, followed closely by Mother Lenka and her attendants. The crowd closed in around the new couple. Mike took the chance to slip aside and let them have their moment, but it didn’t take long for his staff to find him.
“A new Family, eh? Wonder why they didn’t do that for Grez and me,” said Vanner.
“Maybe because you had been here for a while? Or maybe because Grez hadn’t been married before?” speculated Mike.
“That makes sense. Jessia married once, and he was killed. But she’d left her Family, and since he’s dead she’s not really a part of his family either. Where’d you get those rings, anyway?”
“I had them made for them out of some of the garnet we found in the Emir’s safe. Kind of a combat bonus.”
“A ring?” scoffed Vanner. “Not much of a bonus.”
“You didn’t tell him?” Mike said to Adams, who had snagged a mug of beer for himself and another each for Mike and Pat. His ability to find, and acquire, beer was near-legendary.
“About the garnet? No. Figured you should, or not. Your call.”
“True enough. Well, Pat, it’s like this…” He passed Vanner a mug and watched as he drank deeply.
A moment later: “Holy fuck!”
Vanner did the Corps proud. He didn’t lose a single drop of beer. Though it took some time, and Grez’s help, before he closed his mouth.
The festival was nearly over. It looked like Oleg was going to lose to Vil this year, but only by the smallest margin. Of course, Vil was losing to Savo by twenty points. It had been close until the Test of Man, where Savo’d pancaked Vil three times in a row with moves which demonstrated both a serious diet of American professional wrestling and a bagful of dirty SEAL tricks.
Which only made sense, as Chief Adams had been their primary instructor in CQ combat. He scoffed at the techniques the Gurkhas were teaching. Sure, they worked for small, quick men, but what if you were the size of a comic-book superhero? That took a devious mind, and the Chief readily supplied it.
Team Mule, then, surprised everyone by taking the team banner this year. No excuses about not finishing. No dead bulls. And no smashed axes this year, either.
Everyone took that as a good sign.
Katrina was in her Family’s home, waiting. She hated missing the Festival, but it was simply easier to remain in the house than trying to avoid Mike.
Noemi had arrived in the morning with the dress. Mike was going to be so pleased! Backless, it plunged down to the base of her spine and a fraction beyond. It fitted itself snugly to her hips, and descended sheer to her feet. The front was held, barely, by a tiny halter around her neck and a satin ribbon tied below her breasts. Full, lacy sleeves reached to her hands and over her fingers, almost glove-like. The lace was formed to represent springtime, with floral designs subtly woven throughout. There was no way she could wear any panties or a bra; fortunately, she didn’t need the support. She did wear a single garter.
She couldn’t wait for Mike to take it off her.
For the third time in as many minutes she grumbled about not being able to wear her holdout pistol. There just wasn’t any room, no matter how high up she wore it, not in this dress. And it kept getting caught in her hair. Well, that at least she could fix.
Stasia had carefully instructed her, during her weeks of lessons. Even in the harem, only two shaved, but Stasia swore that it made sex better and less messy. Ever so cautiously she did it. Wouldn’t do to cut herself the day of her wedding.
With last Test had finished and the ready teams freshly rotated, the Keldara were finally gathering for the crowning of the Ondah. The horn of the Hunt was presented to the Mules by Mike and Father Kulcyanov together.
“Get me a fat boar, tomorrow, boys. I need something to hang over my fireplace,” Mike joked, but the Mules had probably taken it as an order. Whatever. Not his problem. They had a medic and a good doctor too.
The crowd then started to move down the hill towards the cooking pits, filled with more meat than ever before. He noted there were even more tables being filled with delicacies for the evening’s wedding feast too. He counted at least twelve men and women in chef’s outfits down below. Someone had even brought out a mobile kitchen from somewhere.
Had he signed for that? Likely. At least Mike knew Meller would make good use of it or it’d be moved into one of the emergency shelters.
Seeing all was well, for now, Mike sought out Adams. By the kegs. Of course.
“Ass-boy. I gotta calm down. You mind holding this?” He pressed a box into Adams’ hand. “The rings we had made up for the Fathers and Team Leaders are in there. Chips and dust for the men, gems in the family totem eyes for the leaders and Fathers. I’ll give out the ones for the staff up at the serai in a day or two, privately, so the others can feel special before they see yours.“
He looked at the setting sun.
“There’s a special medallion for Mother Lenka, too. Look, I’m gonna take a walk. Shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes, maybe thirty, tops. I‘ll be back before the torches are lit and they start the drums going to call the warriors to attend me.” He rolled his eyes at his best friend and was met with a smile, albeit one mostly hidden by a giant mug of beer.
“Don’t be late for your wedding,” joked Adams. “Tell you what, take a real walk, and I’ll get with Father Kulcyanov. See if he’ll delay things a little bit so you have the time you need. Tell him you wet yourself from nerves. Anyone marrying Katrina has a right to be nervous. He’s married; he’ll understand.”
“Thanks, Chief. You’re a good friend.”
Quietly, Mike made his way out of the crowd. He made full use of his ability to blend with a crowd and soon was making his way away from the chaos around the Tun.
“Where’s Mike going?” asked Nielson, who had noticed Mike‘s departure.
“He needs a walk,” explained Adams. “Nerves.”
“Don’t blame him,” agreed Nielson. “I’d be scared shitless, myself. Did he say where he’s going?”
“No, but it won’t be far. I told him I’d buy him an hour. Hope he doesn‘t fall down. Katrina and Stasia‘d kill him if he messes up that outfit.”
“And what an outfit it is.”
The two grizzled warriors shared a laugh and returned their attention to the beer.
Mike found his feet leading him to Katrina’s room, his hand knocking on her door.
“Enter,” she called.
He opened the door to a very surprised Katrina.
“Michael? What is –“
“We need to talk.”
“We will, very soon.”
“About the wedding.”
In a small voice, Katrina answered, “Oh.”
He sat heavily in a chair near her.
“I’ve been thinking –“ he began, but she cut him off.
“I agree,” she said, simply.
This threw him off his guard. “What?”
“Yes. I agree. Whatever it is, Michael.”
Now he looked at her askance. This wasn’t Katrina, but before he could ask, she continued.
“As you reminded me, we are handfasted – betrothed – engaged. Whatever you say, of course I will agree.”
Now he could see the glint of humour in her eyes. Good. That might make the next bit easier.
“Uh-huh,” he said. “Sure. Pull the other one.”
She grinned at him, laughing. “Oh, Michael, you looked so serious!”
“I really do need to talk to you, Kat.” The tone of his voice sobered her.
“But there is no time to change anything!”
“There is if we say there is. They can’t exactly start without us, can they?”
“Well, no,” she admitted, and he interrupted her there.
“Then shut up and listen.”
He paused a beat before continuing.
“Good. You know I’ve been, let’s say reluctant, to go through with this wedding. Not because I don’t want you!” he added hastily. “But because of the repercussions for the Valley.”
“And what you said to me before, about the handfasting. That’s correct? That the ceremony is just a formality, but in the eyes of the Elders we are married?”
“Ye-es,” she said, drawing the word out. “The intention is taken as the deed, for most couples. There are specifics duties and rituals of the Kildar and Kildaran which are, ah, impacted by the formalities, but, yes. On the whole.”
“Then we’re going to skip the wedding. For now.”
The storm clouds rolled onto Katrina’s face, and Mike hurried his explanation.
“For now. You are still going to be, hell, maybe you already are, the Kildaran. Nothing is going to change that!”
The storm receded slightly.
“And you are, by the gods, going to be spending your nights in our bed. As you said, fuck traditions. I’ve been turning tradition on its head since I came here, and I don’t see any reason to stop now.”
“So why not wed?” asked Katrina.
“Call it a gut feeling. I think that there would be issues, problems, that we can’t even imagine yet, if, no, when we wed.”
“But we talked –“
“Yes, we did, but I just think…” He sighed. “Look. One of these days, when I’m not the first person they call when shit hits the fan, when I don’t have to chase after nukes and chemical weapons and nerve gas and who knows what the fuck else, when there aren’t terrorists out there with a personal grudge against me and who don’t care who gets in their way, or maybe just when my knees can’t take one more hard morning’s training, then we’ll do it officially. We’ll have the right and proper ceremony, or maybe just you and me on a beach somewhere saying some words to each other, I don’t know. No matter what, though, I promise you: that day will come. It’s just not going to be today.”
Katrina sat and processed this, examining his words. Eventually she nodded.
Eyes down, she said, “Yes. I do agree, Michael. It will be as you say.” Then she lifted her head. “But you will be my Kildar.”
“Yes,” he agreed.
“And I will be your Kildaran.”
“Yes,” he said again.
“You will listen to me and we will do things together, as much as we are able.”
“Yes,” he agreed again.
“And you will be in my, no, our bed every night.”
“Yes,” he agreed with enthusiasm.
“And you get to tell the Elders and Mother Lenka.”
“Oh, no you don’t. No.”
“It is not my decision, Michael –“
“No. But we will do this together.”
“In all that we do. That starts now.”
“Yes. That is right.” Now she smiled. “I think Mother Lenka will not be surprised, but the Elders…?”
“They will shit.”