Word of the Day for December 31, 2012 – compotation [kom-puh-TEY-shuhn], an act or instance of drinking or tippling together
TWO YEARS LATER…
Chapter 366: Masterpiece and Master’s Peace
Farley carried a neatly-wrapped cheese into the workshop’s kitchen and let it drop with a thunk onto the table. “Weather’s taking a turn for the nasty.”
A sleep-tousled Tupper turned from rummaging in the pantry. “A storm?”
“The one we need?”
“There’ve been too many false alarms. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t sure.”
From his usual spot looped around Farley’s neck, Nestor lifted his head, bobbing at Tupper. The young man reached out and gently tickled the snake under his chin. “Where’s Torio?”
“He’s been on the summit since… I dunno. All night probably. The sunset was promising.”
Tupper nodded. “I’ll wake Frey.”
His brother snorted. “The clouds aren’t in a hurry. You have time to toast his mush.”
Rubbing at the base of his horn, Tupper protested, “I haven’t had to do that in a long time. And he’ll want to know. There’s lots to get ready.”
Farley backed toward the door. “I’ll warn Carden, then make sure Torio doesn’t get cold feet.”
Tupper considered that for a moment before saying, “He wouldn’t go even if he could.”
“More like he can’t go until she can.”
As soon as his brother let the door click shut, Tupper crossed to the statue standing against the far wall. Freydolf had finished Dessa near midwinter, but the season had been wrong for thunder. Their spring had been filled with slow, gentle rains—good for the gardens, but not for a certain Grif’s mood. Now that summer was here, cloud-watching had become everyone’s hobby, though in Torio’s case it was more of an obsession.
“There’s a storm coming, Dessa.” Tupper knew she was listening, but the closer Freydolf had come to finishing the tempestuous heartstone, the quieter she grew. Gently touching the hands she clasped over her heart, he asked, “Why are you hiding?”
After nearly two years of painstaking work, Freydolf had coaxed a lovely person from the heartstone. She was much taller than Flox women, though not nearly as tall as Ulrica. Dessa and Farley were actually eye-to-eye, which mean she was a shade taller than Tupper. He searched her face, whose highly-polished perfection caught his own reflection. “Don’t mind his grumbling.”
When her reticence persisted, Tupper sighed and crossed the room to where Freydolf lay on his bed, one arm flung across his face. As soon as the Flox sat on the edge of the mattress, a dark eye cracked open. “Sweet-talking another man’s mountain, lambkin?”
“Come talk to Dessa.”
With a faint smile, her sculptor said, “You know I can’t hear her like you can.”
“But she can hear you.” Tupper plucked at the keeper’s nightshirt sleeve. “She thinks Torio will be disappointed.”
“All their squabbling and rowing, but when it comes down to it….” Heaving a gusty sigh Frey waved Tupper aside and swung his legs out of bed. Striding across the room to the statue Aurelius had summarily declared his masterpiece, Freydolf took her by the shoulders and rumbled, “You already know what to do, Dessa sweet. Call to him. If he’s meant to be your keeper, he’ll come to your side. It’s as simple as that.”
Farley oversaw the transfer of two gleaming black lionesses to the open pavilion in the outer courtyard. The structure’s stone pillars were Carden’s workmanship—his previous year’s project as Frey’s apprentice. Woven branches stretched over them, providing shelter from sun and rain, the handiwork of a whole family of basket weavers. In part, the addition had been made for this very day. They needed thunder to wake heartstone, but there was no reason for all those gathered to be soaked to the skin. Tarps flapped in gusting winds, and the first heavy raindrops spattered against stone. Aurelius tested the edge of his blade and inquired, “How much blood will you need—drop, dribble, or dram?”
Frey blanched, and Torio blandly asked, “Are you really so eager to impale me?”
Aurelius’s fangs flashed in time with a blaze of lightning, and Tupper’s shoulder’s hunched. Everyone else held their breath and counted, waiting for the answering thunder. When it came, Freydolf shook his head. “Too far.”
Torio tugged firmly at the brim of his hat. “The cats first, if you please.”
Freydolf hesitated. “We may only get one chance. Don’t you think Dessa deserves…?”
Shaking his head, the Grif said, “I want the guardians first, and I want Farley’s blood used to wake them.”
“Sure,” the young man agreed.
“They’ll be bound directly to Dessa,” the sculptor reminded. Much thought had been put into the attachments, since the lives of men were so much shorter than those of statues. The lionesses had been created without pedestals, but would be tethered by the will of their mistress. “They’ll obey her, not Farley.”
“But maybe they’ll be grateful,” countered the lanky sixteen-year-old. “Besides, Aurelius is antsy to pin me down. He hasn’t had a chance since he pierced me.”
The merchant reached over to flick the blue droplet dangling from Farley’s ear lobe, sending the elegant jewel swaying. “There’s no escape here, brat.”
“Aye,” Freydolf said, all business. “If the storm cooperates, I’ll wake all three. Do you have a name for this one?”
Farley glanced at Torio, who said, “That one’s Char.”
“Very good. And her sister?”
The Grif replied, “She’s Nyx.”
A few moments later, the sky turned white, thunder clapped, and Farley yipped as Aurelius did his duty.
Torio wasn’t sure he’d be able to tell when the next flash of lightning happened. Dessa’s magic blazed around them in an incandescent display that left him half-blind and half-scared. Being tied to a lump of stone had been one thing, but his mountain was no longer a featureless block. She now had a proud nose, full lips, cascading hair, and dainty fingers. More than a year had passed since Torio had dared to lay a hand on her. For reasons that were hard to explain, the act would have felt… ungentlemanly.
“Show me your hands,” Aurelius shouted next to his ear.
The Grif offered them without thinking but quickly came to his senses when pain seared across his flesh, and blood pooled in his palms. He started to jerk his hands away from the bloodthirsty Pred, but Harrow caught his wrists. “Don’t waste it. Are you ready?” His nod became an uncertain bobble, and Aurelius chuckled. “I swear, you look like I felt on my wedding day.”
“I doubt many brides cry for the blood of their grooms.”
The man’s laugh deepened, and he gripped Torio’s shoulder. “If you’ll recall, I’m blessed to call Ulrica my wife.”
The Grif smiled weakly. “But this isn’t a wedding.”
“Nay, but it’s a solemn bond that demands a lifetime of loyalty.” Brows arching, Aurelius said, “And a man should bear in mind that even the most formidable of brides is still a maiden at heart.”
“Th-this is not a wedding.”
“True, but it’s a deucedly good analogy.” Leaning closer the Pred gravely added, “And from what Tupper told me earlier, Dessa’s not crying for your blood. She’s anxious for your touch, so make it a good one.”
Torio glanced at his bloodied palms in dismay. Where should he put his hands? His gaze darted over Dessa’s form. Freydolf had heeded his request for clothes sensible for travel, so the cut of her dress was simple, falling in natural folds from the swell of her hips. However, each delicate embellishment bespoke understated elegance and patient extravagance. The heart of the thirteenth mountain truly was Freydolf Meadowsweet’s masterpiece.
Time for doubts ran out as the air sizzled with power, and a simultaneous flash-BOOM jolted everyone to attention. The sculptor thrust out his hand, and Torio bloodied the pad of his thumb. Tupper knelt under Freydolf’s arm steadying the woozy Pred as he harnessed Dessa’s jumpy magic and firmly coaxed them into the ties that would bind.
“Now, Torio,” Freydolf commanded.
Taking a deep breath, the Grif cupped his hands over Dessa, then opened them, spilling their contents. Blood slipped over black stone as he rested his hands on the crown of her head. Torio had witnessed the waking of statues numerous times, but this was his first time on the receiving end. He blinked several times to clear the frissons of magic from his periphery, then noticed that the blood had dribbled down Dessa’s face and was in danger of getting in her eyes. Catching the heavy drop with one finger, he simply oozed more onto her cheek. Swiping at it with his knuckles, he mumbled, “I’m making a mess.”
He curled the fingers of his other hand, and his talons caught in her hair. Torio snatched back his hands, paling when Dessa reacted with a tiny pout.
“Her name,” Tupper prompted.
“Not sure he remembers,” Farley remarked.
Torio cut a look at his servant, but the audacious young man with the snub horn just grinned and made a little shooing motion with his hands. Peering back down into the statue’s face, he found her already searching his. Pensive face. Pleading eyes. Torio stared in awe as the wind actually took her hair and blew it across her cheek, and her skirts flapped against his legs. He touched her face, and it was soft. He whispered her name, and she smiled.
Aurelius nudged him from behind. “Show some manners, Grif. Take the lady under your wing.”
Grateful to fall back on familiar custom, Torio opened his cloak, tensing when Dessa swiftly accepted the invitation by winding her arms around his waist and nestling against his shoulder. She spoke his name, soft as a sigh in the depths of his mind, yet it pulled at his very soul.
Folding his arms around her, Torio answered the irresistible call with more confidence. “I’m here, Dessa.”
Tupper found Freydolf sitting on a blanket under Brand’s watchful eye. Several of the Meadowsweet youngsters who were worn out from excitement clustered within the circle of light cast by the redstone warrior’s lantern. Ewert’s five-year-old twins were sound asleep, their small hands clasped and their silver curls mingled together. Frey held their newborn baby sister in the crook of his arm, and Quintrell leaned against his uncle’s side, wholly absorbed in the basketful of kittens Arni had wheedled from his great-grandmother.
“You’re not dancing?” his master asked in gently teasing tones.
“Hadwin asked Chelle,” Tupper explained.
Frey chuckled. “He seems determined to conquer Floxish customs, including your folk dances.”
“Yes.” Gazing toward the whirl of music and laughter in the center of town, Tupper said, “Probably because Aggie said he couldn’t.”
“Strangest case of sibling rivalry I’ve ever seen.”
“Maybe.” After a lengthy pause, Tupper shook his head. “Probably not.”
Aurelius strolled over, golden eyes assessing the state of Tupper’s finery, his gift to the groom. The merchant pressed goblets upon Freydolf and Tupper, who gratefully raised the cups before partaking in convivial compotation. Crouching before his brother-in-law, the merchant gleefully whispered, “I found him.”
“Who?” asked Tupper.
“Kite.” Nodding toward the far end of the village square, Aurelius said, “He and Farley have hidden themselves away in your mother’s garden with Dessa. They’re trying to teach her how to dance.”
Tupper smiled. “Good.”
Pulling the corner of little Hanley’s blanket up over his shoulder, Aurelius casually asked, “How is it that there’s music in the air, yet you’re not dancing?”
Freydolf blithely interjected, “Winny cut in.”
“Did he?” In silky tones, Aurelius revealed, “There’s a longstanding tradition in Pred society of kidnapping brides. Don’t tell me you’ve let down your guard again, sprat.”
Taking a long drink, Tupper calmly said, “I think Hadwin learned his lesson too well to even pretend.”
“Aye, but I wouldn’t put it past Ulrica to….”
Tupper thrust his empty goblet into Aurelius’s hands and hurried to rejoin his new wife.
Most of Tupper’s plans for the next several days were a secret, even from Frey. All his bond-brother knew was that he’d be taking his bride on an extended tour of the galleries. Several rooms had been prepared, each beautiful in their own right. In a way, they were his gifts, hidden along the way for her to find. Places with pretty views, bright flowers, spicy candles, dry firewood, stocked pantries, and fresh sheets. Every detail was for Chelle’s comfort, for their enjoyment.
He was eager to share all his pent up secrets, so he watched for his chance. As a dance ended and couples dispersed toward seats, the bonfires, or the many refreshment tables, Tupper held a finger to his lips and casually escorted his bride away from the merrymaking.
Once they were out of sight, Chelle fanned her pink cheeks and whispered, “Is this really happening?”
Tupper nodded confidently. They’d forged a bond as sure as stone. He couldn’t see the magic, nor could he hear her voice deep in his soul, but the knot was tied. All he wanted to do was tend and strengthen the bond so there would be no doubts. This was really happening, and he couldn’t be happier. Taking her hands, he kissed her knuckles, then leaned down to whisper in her ear. The delicate point twitched against his lips.
She turned to look at him. “What did you say?”
He smiled and kissed her cheek, then traced letters into her palm. ‘S – E – C – R – E – T.’
Chelle’s brows arched. “You’re keeping the secrets you tell me a secret from me?”
Tupper kissed her nose to tease her, then kissed her lips because he could.
Weddings changed things, but they hadn’t changed Chelle much. Catching the hand that had strayed to her waist, she pressed it firmly into her palm. “Tell me!”
‘S – H – O – W.’
Curiosity piqued, she asked, “You have something to show me?”
So many things. Such good things. Too many to explain. Showing really would be better. ‘C – O – M – E,’ he begged.
Tupper nodded, luring her toward the forest where Graven waited.
“Where are we going?”
‘H – O – M – E.’
“Home,” Chelle breathed, a soft look in her eyes as she trustingly twined her fingers with his.
And so Tupper Meadowsweet adapted a Pred tradition to suit his purposes and kidnapped his own bride, carrying her back to Morven long before the festivities surrounding their wedding day drew to a close.
A few days later, Freydolf was sitting up alone in the balcony, ignoring the book open on his knees in favor of staring morosely into the dead embers of the fire. A soft knock sounded against the door frame, and when Tupper slipped out of the shadows, the Pred started guiltily. “You’re not due back for four more days,” he said. “Is anything wrong?”
“No.” The young man gazed intently at him. “I missed you.”
Frey rubbed awkwardly at the back of his neck, suddenly very conscious that he’d been skipping baths. “You shouldn’t interrupt your marriage week.”
Tupper knelt before his bond-brother. “I’ll go back before Chelle wakes up.”
Searching for something to say, the Pred ventured, “You look happy.”
“Yes.” Tupper’s hand lightly touched Freydolf’s knee. “You look sad.”
His shoulders hunched. “I suppose I am… a little. I missed you, too.”
The Flox stood and took away Freydolf’s book, carefully marking the page before setting it on the table. Holding out his hand, he said, “Come with me.”
Tupper’s lips quirked, and he said, “Not far. How long since you slept?”
“Melina made me take a nap with Hanley yesterday.”
“Good.” The Flox led Freydolf down into the workshop and folded back the big bed’s covers.
He submitted with more grumbling than grace. “Are you mothering me, lambkin?”
Tucking the man in, Tupper said, “It’s my job. It always will be. Did you forget?”
Freydolf smiled halfheartedly. “Forgetting things is why I need a servant in the first place.”
“If you forget to take your bath tomorrow, I’ll drag you out to the horse trough.”
Tupper sat beside him and took his hand. Soon, he began humming snatches of a tune, and the sculptor recognized the stone song he’d taught the lad during their first weeks together. Freydolf’s heart ached, but the pain was sweet. He so clearly remembered when this lad was barely taller than his boots, with bitty nubs barely peeking through his curls. Standing on a bucket to reach the sink. Chasing chunks and chippings across the floor as they fell. Taking on a man’s responsibilities in order to keep one lonely Pred alive. And now Tupper was a man, with curling horns and a calm demeanor.
“You stayed,” Freydolf murmured.
“Promised I would.”
After a long interval, he whispered, “Tupper?”
Tightening his grip on the lad’s hand, he confessed, “I’m glad you came.”
Author’s Note: And with Dictionary.com’s final Word of the Day for 2012, this story reaches its conclusion. Thank you to those of you who’ve been with me all the way along. Your comments and compliments were so encouraging. Will there be a sequel? Undoubtedly. I also have several side stories and a serial planned. When will you be able to read them? Only time will tell.
Galleries of Stone, Copyright © 2012 – 2013 Christa Kinde, all rights reserved. Abscond Not! This story is mine to tell. Do you know someone else who might enjoy Galleries of Stone? By all means, tell them about me and my blog! You can learn more about my impromptu tale here and here, and don’t forget to visit the gallery, where story art abounds.