Wedding Bells (Interlude)
By Donna Smith
Part 1: The Itch
Astarte sat on the deck of Mia’s house, looking out over the lake as her thoughts drifted back to Kale and Kinu’s recent wedding. Such a simple but elegant affair. They had exchanged heartfelt vows with only a small group in attendance. She envied them such a thing. Goddesses did not have formal weddings—at least none she had ever known. Among her people and many peoples of the ancient Mediterranean, simply stating that you were a couple to others made your arrangement binding. Divorce was obtained just as easily. An expedient practice, but Astarte had come to think it one lacking in substance and commitment. An arm slid around her shoulder. Gilgamesh.
“What can be so serious that it makes you wrinkle your face so, Astarte?”
“Just thinking.” He sat beside her, his presence as familiar as the sound of her own breath. “What did you think of Kale’s wedding?”
“Simple, straightforward, short. The best kind of ceremony to attend.”
Astarte crossed her arms with a hint of annoyance. “Oh. I see.”
“Now you are pouting. What is wrong?”
“I am not pouting! The Great Goddess of Life, Goddess of War does not pout.” She saw the twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “Oh, very well! Perhaps I am ‘pouting’.” She stood up abruptly, pacing the deck. “I want a wedding, Gilgamesh.”
“For what reason would you wish this? By the ancient laws of your people and mine, we are already husband and wife. We have, by our actions and words, shown our friends that we are a couple. This makes our union proper and binding.”
“I know, but I want one all the same. I want this modern ceremony where couples announce their feelings and commitment before others. I want everyone to know that we are one and are unafraid to show it. I want to say it before all the gods and creatures of this or any world.”
Having or not having a formal ceremony mattered little to Gilgamesh as long as they were together, but if the notion pleased Astarte… Perhaps a large wedding would also cheer their friends to some degree. Besides, it had been too long since he had held or even attended a proper feast. “You and I do not easily express ourselves. This will be a chance to prove we are not as cold as the others believe we are. But I think that you also desire the pageantry and festivity of it all—you forget that I know you well. This wedding will provide the perfect opportunity for a grand feast. There has been too much darkness in our lives and the lives of our comrades of late.”
“You talk as if you are already planning this wedding. Do you wish it as well, then?”
“Who am I to deny the Great Goddess anything?”
“Then perhaps you will not mind one important addition to this ceremony. I would like to ask Zoe and Kento to join us in exchanging vows. I think, perhaps, their need is as great as ours.”
The thought of Zoe and Kento exchanging their vows at the same time as they did pleased Gilgamesh. Kento and Zoe were honorable warriors and worthy friends.
Zoe sat at the kitchen table with Kento. She traced the rim of her iced tea while watching Kento scarf down another sandwich. He could eat even when he was depressed. Zoe’s stomach was empty, but it was too knotted with worry for her to even nibble at anything.
Mia had just called from the hospital. They were admitting Uli again for observation. It was the same old routine. They’d keep him overnight and then release him in the morning. The doctors all knew by now that they couldn’t do anything but give him drugs for the pain. Mia had fought so hard against the idea that he was slowly dying. But now even she couldn’t ignore it anymore (see SW5:Land of H’ris to find out how Uli got poisoned).
“Kento? I know it’s only been a few months since you asked me to marry you, but I was wondering…”
Kento almost choked on his sandwich. “You aren’t…changing your mind…are you?”
“NO! Oh, no! You’re stuck with me now, mister! I was just… Do you think we could have a short engagement? I want to get married soon, with all our friends there. You know, before…” She looked down at her hands.
“Yeah. I want to do this while he’s still…”
He took her hand. “Me, too. Ok. So when do you want to do it? We could make a small wedding like Kale’s happen in no time, but I thought you wanted something bigger.”
“With Mia’s organizational skills and all the Ronins, Warlords, and Sentinels helping, it shouldn’t be too hard to get a decent wedding together in a short amount of time.”
“So what day did you want to shoot for?”
Just then, Astarte and Gilgamesh entered the room. Gilgamesh gave them one of his inscrutable smiles. “It is strange that should mention that…”
Part 2: The Joys of Shopping
A few days later
Mia, Kayura, Zoe, and Astarte walked up and down the “wedding strip” in the city. There were several shops all in the same neighborhood that specialized in wedding attire, food, decorations, and entertainment. Mia had organized the others into preparing a lot of the food and making most of the decorations themselves. They were going to save quite a bit of money that way. They were certainly enough people to help out—the Ronins, Sentinels, and the Warlords. But there were a few things Mia had to get from the stores. And there wasn’t enough time to make the most important items of all. The wedding dresses. That’s what was taking so long.
Mia’s feet were killing her. They’d gone to four bridal boutiques with no luck. Neither Zoe nor Astarte had liked anything they’d seen. Zoe had been more polite about it, but Astarte had been her usual “forthright” self. Mia took a deep breath, steeling herself as they went into yet another store. She and Kayura quickly found themselves someplace to sit. They knew they’d be there a while.
Over an hour later, Zoe came out in yet another beautiful kimono. Mia nodded enthusiastically. “That one is perfect! I love the pattern!”
Zoe frowned. “It’s beautiful, but it’s just not me. I may have lived in Japan for several years, but I don’t think I can pull off the traditional Japanese look. It’s just wrong for me.”
Mia hung her head. Why hadn’t Zoe discovered that four kimonos ago?
Astarte’s voice suddenly rang out from the back. “Of course the fabric is excellent quality. I have eyes. But it is so…so…”
Now what? “Astarte, come out so we can see you.”
Astarte emerged from the dressing room in a stunning silk kimono that draped elegantly from her body. She was obviously displeased. “Are there other garments besides ‘kimonos’ available in these clothing establishments? Forgive me. I know that this is a traditional costume for your people, Mia, but it is a shapeless outfit that does nothing to enhance my attributes. Obviously, this type of dress was originally designed by a man who wished to keep his wife’s body a secret.”
Kayura coughed to disguise the chuckle that almost escaped while Mia hid her mouth behind her hand to hide her smirks. Mia had to agree with Astarte, though. It was a beautiful dress, but it didn’t do her justice. Mia called one of the harried workers over. “Do you have something for them that’s more Western? Perhaps dresses in the American style?” The woman nodded and led Astarte and Zoe back into the changing area.
Fifteen minutes later Zoe emerged in a white off-the-shoulder number. Kayura got up to get a closer look, nodding enthusiastically. “I love the lace! And the train is so delicate, so elegant.”
Zoe sighed. “It’s beautiful, but…”
Mia waved an exasperated hand in front of her. “I know. I know. ‘It’s not you’.”
Zoe shrugged her shoulders in apology and turned to go back into the changing area. A few minutes later Astarte floated out in a magnificent dress with delicate seed pearls and sequins. It had a fitted bodice with a peekaboo lace design and a low-cut back.
Kayura smiled approvingly. “I think this dress is the one for you. You certainly can’t say that it hides your attributes.”
“On that we agree. The fit of this gown is more to my liking. I do not, however like the color or style. It reminds me too much of the vestments worn by the sacrificial virgins of Pelos. I would be ashamed to wear something that made me look so young and simple-minded.”
Mia shook her head in exasperation. It must be nice to be a guy and only have to worry about getting fitted for your standard white tux. Or, heaven-forbid, deciding whether you needed a cummerbund or not!
Back at Mia’s house
Kento sat looking at the telephone as if it might bite. He reached for it then quickly drew his hand back. Taking a deep breath, he hurriedly scooped up the phone and dialed before he lost his nerve. His mother answered. At least she would speak to him. Father would’ve hung hang up the moment he heard Kento’s voice. “Hello, Mother.”
There was a moment of silence before she answered him. “Yes?”
“I’m…uh…getting married next week. I know I’m springing this on you kind of sudden, but would you, Father, and Tori be able to come?”
Her tone was very stiff and formal. “Have you known this girl long?”
“Long enough to know I want to be with her forever.”
“I hope you haven’t done something foolish that you now have to remedy.”
“No, Mother. I’ve been a gentleman. So…um…do you think…”
“You know you’re father’s schedule is always hectic. I doubt we’ll be free.”
Kento hadn’t even told her the exact date yet. “Well, maybe Tori could make it. May I talk to her?”
“Your sister’s not here right now. I don’t know when she’ll be in.”
“Maybe I could drop by to talk to her?”
“You’ll just be wasting your time, I’m sure. You’d be hard pressed to find her with any free time. And when she’s not here, she’s at a friend’s studying or at the library. She has a very busy academic schedule and can’t be distracted. If she’s going to make something of herself, she’ll need to do better than she has been in her grades. I’ll tell her you called, however.”
Sure you will, Mother. “Ok. Well, I’d better go. Goodbye, Mother. I’ll be sending you a formal invitation in the mail. I hope you can make it after all.”
He heard the click on the other end as his mother hung up without another word. He sat there for several minutes with the receiver in his hand.
Sage had been about to enter the room when he’d heard part of the conversation. He’d slipped back around the corner to wait. He knew Kento and his parents had had a falling out over his refusal to follow in his father’s footsteps, but it sounded like they weren’t even going to come to his wedding. Sage was furious that they could just brush his friend off like that. When he didn’t hear any more voices, he stepped into the room. “Hey, Kento! There you are, man! We’ve been looking all over for you. We’ve got to hit the tux shop and get you fitted. We don’t want to wait until the last minute.” Sage pointed at the phone still in Kento’s hand. “Bad news?”
Kento finally seemed to notice him. “Huh?” He forced a smile on his face. “Oh, nothing. Hey, aren’t we supposed to be at the tux store? Why are you just standing around? Let’s go!”
Sage followed him out to the car, still thinking about the expression on Kento’s face as he’d sat there with the phone. Sage didn’t want to see it again. How could he help his friend? Kento had a sister? Maybe…
Zoe had the strangest feeling. She was overcome by waves of sadness. But..? She reached out mentally to her twin. “Zane?”
“Yeah. What’s up?”
“Well, nothing. I just… Are you ok?”
“I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
“I just had the weirdest feeling. I guess it’s nothing. I’m sorry I bothered you. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing.”
“Maybe I should ask if you’re ok?”
“I’m fine. Really. Maybe I’m just getting pre-wedding jitters. Oops, gotta go! Astarte’s making another scene. See ya’ later.”
Shaking herself, Zoe tried to throw off the depression that had suddenly come upon her. She had no reason to feel that way. This was the happiest time of her life. She concentrated on the task at hand—finding a dress. A smile tugged at her lips as she watched Astarte rejecting another one.
Astarte handed the dress she’d just tried on back to the saleswoman. “This garment is much to my liking, but you dare request such a price for it? Do you take me for a fool? My friend, Trace, has been teaching me much of the value of modern currency. It does not matter that I possess the necessary gold to purchase it, the price is much to high for the material and workmanship.” She whirled away from the woman to address her friends. “Come. I wish to try another establishment.”
As they left, Mia chided Astarte for being unreasonable. “The price wasn’t that bad.”
“Perhaps not. But she refused to even open negotiations with me for it. Only a fool would pay full price for such an important purchase.”
“Maybe I should take you with me next time I need to buy a new car.”
After two more stores, even the enthusiastic Zoe was getting discouraged. “We’re never going to find the right dresses. I know I’m being picky, but I just don’t see the perfect one.”
Astarte put a hand on her shoulder. “You are not being ‘picky’, as you say. You know what you want and you go after it. That is a good thing. Why should you settle for less than what pleases you—especially for the most important day of your life? We will find the perfect garments if we have to hunt through every city in this land.”
Kayura smacked herself in the head. Mia simply groaned at the thought.
“Perhaps that won’t be necessary.”
A quiet voice from behind startled Mia. No one should have been able to sneak up on her. Who? She turned. Skadi and Gudrun. (see SW4:Wrath of the Aesir to find out who they are) That explained it.
Astarte gave them a warm smile in greeting. “It is good to see you again, young goddesses. But you are far from home.”
Skadi gave Astarte a measuring look. “We heard that a certain ex-goddess was getting married and came to see it for ourselves. Is it true? And is Zoe getting married, as well?”
“Yes to both questions. But how did you know?”
Gudrun waved her hand with a flourish. “The wind carries many secrets on its back. We could not resist the impulse to see for ourselves. May we assume our invitations have somehow been misdirected?”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps I did not think any of the Norse gods would be interested in my affairs. There is no love lost between All-Father Odin and me.”
“Maybe such things do not have to last forever. In any event, the two of us are very much interested. And we come with gifts in mind. We heard that you are having some difficulty finding wedding dresses. Tell us what you have in mind and Skadi and I will make them.”
Zoe was touched. “That’s very kind of you, but the wedding’s next week. You’d never have them done in time.”
Skadi laughed. “We may not be nearly as strong as we used to be, but we do still possess some magical power. Once started, the two of us could finish both dresses in three days. Just tell us what you wish, look over our designs, and let us begin.”
“Oh! That’s…that’s…” Zoe gave Skadi a crushing hug and then moved on to Gudrun.
Astarte watched with amusement. “While I am not given to Zoe’s wild enthusiasm, I am greatly heartened by your offer. It is most generous and much appreciated. I believe Zoe is in agreement when I ask you if you would honor us with your skill.”
“We’ll get started on sketches as soon as you give us an idea of what you would like.”
“Excellent! Then this will give us more time to find outfits for our… What do you call them, ‘bridesmaids’?”
Kayura was desperately trying to think of some crisis in the Dynasty she could use as an excuse to get away—maybe a coup or a demon uprising… Mia just banged her head silently against a building.
Part 3: Night on the Town
Several days later
After the wedding rehearsal, the Ronins and Sentinels headed back to Mia’s house. Trace was the only one not with them. He hadn’t made it from the States, yet. As they pulled into the driveway, they noticed they had company waiting—Dais, Kale, Kinu, and Sekhmet.
Ryo got out of the car first. “Hey, guys! I hope you haven’t been waiting long. We didn’t know when you’d get here. Where’s Kayura?”
Sekhmet shook his head. “We have only been here a few moments. Kayura won’t be coming—she is taking care of some things in the Dynasty. Don’t worry. It is nothing serious. We’re here because Dais insists there is a tradition where the bride and groom and their acquaintances gather before the wedding to have a party to say farewell to carefree single days. This sounds rather silly to me. I believe Dais made it up as an excuse to go into the city and get drunk.”
“I am not lying! Even Kinu assures me this is true. And a trip to the city would be nice. Talpa never let us go to Earth for our own pleasure.”
Kento’s eyes lit up. “Are you talking a bachelor’s party? It’s usually just the guys, though. The girls get their own, separate party.”
Kale nodded. “I believe that is what they are called. However, I think the idea of the men going off and getting drunk and bellyaching about their up-coming nuptials is foolish. A man should celebrate his marriage with his woman at his side. And since I married in such haste…” He looked quickly at Kinu. “That is not to say I regret any of it…”
Kinu elbowed him in the side. “You’d better not!”
Kale winced. “…I missed out on the pre-marriage festivities. I am in the mood for this. That is why we are here.”
Dais nodded. “And since Dynasty gold converts very well into Earth currency, I have generously agreed to pay for this party.”
“You mean since Kayura told you to.”
Dais looked like he was actually blushing. “That, too. Besides, when was the last time the Warlords had fun?”
“That would be the last time you got drunk and made a fool out of yourself. If you’re planning to do so again, I would advise everyone to come. Dais makes a very amusing drunk.”
Dais ignored him. “Well? Is anyone interested?”
Kento practically jumped up with excitement. “I am all for that! Zoe?”
“You’d better believe it! How about it guys?”
Mia didn’t see how Zoe could still have so much energy after all the work they’d been doing lately. She and Kento always seemed to be on a high energy level. “Not me, thanks. I’m beat. I’m just going to stay home and relax.”
Ryo wasn’t up to a big crowd, either. He thought Mia’s house sounded just fine. “Count me out, too, guys. It’s been a long week.”
“Party poopers! What about the rest of you? You staying home, too?”
“And miss a chance to see Dais get drunk? No way!”
“Sounds good to me, too.”
Anubis cleared his throat. “It seems to have escaped everyone’s attention, but aren’t you forgetting that there is a legal drinking age in this country? Of all of us here, only the Warlords, Gilgamesh, Astarte, Mia, and I are old enough to go to a bar.”
Dais was confused. He looked at the Ronins. “There’s an age limit? Didn’t you tell me that you frequently went out to such establishments?”
Ryo shook his head. “Not actual bars. We go to youth clubs. They’re cool places for young people to hang out—music, dancing, mingling. But no alcohol.”
Dais looked at Sage. “But you told me you often enjoyed a few beers on the town and…”
“Um…you must be mistaken. Couldn’t have been me. Nope. I wouldn’t say something like that.” He gave Dais a “please-shut-up” look.
Astarte was confused as well. “Your country deems you legal adults for many other activities, but does not allow you this? How strange.”
Dais waved his hand in dismissal. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll give the man at the door extra money and he will let us all in without problems.”
Anubis frowned. “I don’t know…”
Sai slapped him on the back. “Oh, come on, Anubis. If there are any people more responsible than us in this country, I’d like to know who they are. We know how to handle ourselves and we’re certainly not going to do anything stupid.”
Anubis sighed. “It seems I am going to a bar tonight. If only to keep an eye on things.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Zoe went to start up her car. Mia tossed the keys to her van to Rowen. “Have fun. And please, nobody get sick and puke in my van.”
“We’ll do our best.”
Jack started to follow the others to the vehicles when Mia grabbed his arm. “Oh, no you don’t!”
“Aw, come on!”
“Don’t ‘come on’ me, Jack. The others are only a year or two from legal age, but you’ve got a ways to go yet. I’m your legal guardian now, and I’ve got to look out for you.”
“You’re killing me here!”
“You’ll live. Besides, alcohol impairs judgment, remember? How will that affect your unpredictable control of the Armor of Storms?” (see SW3:Lord of Storms for more on Jack’s problems with his armor)
Jack hadn’t thought of that. “Uh, yeah. Maybe I should stay here and play cards or something. That would be much safer.”
“You obviously haven’t played cards with Astarte and Gilgamesh.”
Everyone else piled into the Mia’s van and Zoe’s car, leaving Mia, Ryo, Jack, and White Blaze behind.
It turned out Dais was right. Give the doorman enough money and he would let anybody in. Anubis, Astarte, Gilgamesh, and Sekhmet sat at the bar, nursing their drinks. The four of them were enjoying themselves just talking. Occasionally Anubis would look around to check up on the others. Sage, Sai, and Rowen were dancing with three beautiful women on the floor, Kento and Zoe were twirling around everyone with boundless energy, and Kale and Kinu sat at a table gazing into each other’s eyes. They’d been dancing the night away, as well, but had stopped to rest for a few minutes. Zane and Dais were playing darts with two rough-looking guys who seemed to think Dais couldn’t possibly be any good since he had only one eye and had drunk three beers. They were sorely mistaken. Maybe Anubis had been wrong. Everything seemed to be going ok.
Kale went to the bar to get a drink for Kinu. When he went back, there was a man standing next to her, speaking to her in a manner that obviously bothered her. She flinched away from him every time he leaned closer to say something. “Is there a problem here?”
“Get lost, buddy! This here lady and I were about to get better acquainted.” The man was so drunk that he could barely stand up. Kinu twisted up her face in disgust as he breathed on her.
“I don’t think so, ‘buddy’. That’s my wife you’re annoying.”
“Well she certainly didn’t act like she was attached. Lookin’ at me like that, comin’ on to me with her eyes…”
Kale put down the drinks and balled up his fist. Kinu grabbed his hand. “Please. We don’t want to cause any trouble. Let’s just go.”
“Yeah, buddy. You should listen to the little slut.”
Kinu turned and slugged the man square in the face. He dropped like a brick.
The two guys playing darts with Zane and Dais looked over to see what the commotion was about. “Hey! They’re beating up on our brother over there. Wait a minute! Aren’t you with those guys?”
“Them? Never seem them before in my life.”
One of the men grabbed Dais by the shirt. “Don’t lie to me, punk!”
Dais’s expression quickly turned cold. “No one touches my person—least of all scum like you.” He punched the man in the stomach.
Within minutes most everyone in the bar was involved in some way or the other in the altercations.
Anubis saw it all begin. And here he’d been worried about the Ronins and Sentinels starting trouble. A snowball flew past his face. A snowball? He noticed he could now also see his breath. Zane and Zoe at work. He moved to get up when Sekhmet grabbed his arm.
“You worry too much.”
“They’re not children, Anubis. Finish your drink.”
He sat down reluctantly.
A man smacked into the bar right next to Astarte. With just a hint of irritation, Astarte grabbed him by the shirt and threw him over her shoulder back into the midst of the brawl. “That buffoon almost spilled my drink.”
Gilgamesh turned to Sekhmet and Anubis. “I suggest you duck.” They moved just in time to miss being hit by a flying chair.
Gilgamesh shook his head wistfully. “Ah, to be young again.”
The four of them sat there at the bar and continued their talk. Every once in a while an object or person would fly by. After a while, Sekhmet and Anubis began to ignore them as easily as Astarte and Gilgamesh. When Anubis heard police sirens, however, he decided it was time to for them to go.
The others agreed. It wouldn’t go well when it was discovered that six of them were under-aged and the rest of them had no identification at all. The four of them quickly scoured through the crowd for their friends, extricating them from various fights. Within minutes, they were all outside heading for their vehicles. As they drove away, they could see the police pulling into the bar parking lot.
Kinu looked at Kale with his ripped shirt and bruised face. He took in her wildly rumpled hair and black eye. The two of them started laughing at the same time. Pretty soon everyone in the van was laughing. The occupants of Zoe’s car were just as amused.
Dais gingerly fingered his split lip. “If this is a typical pre-wedding ritual, I think more weddings should take place. I haven’t had that much fun in years.”
Kale pulled Kinu closer. “You’ll just have to make sure Kinu’s available, however. No party would be complete without her delicate touch.” She buried her head in his shirt in embarrassment, but she couldn’t stop laughing.
Astarte rolled her eyes. “Children!” But there was amusement in her voice as well.
Part 4: Party Crashers
Mia carried a tray out to the buffet table. Astarte wanted the guests to be able to mingle and eat before and after the exchanging of vows. She though it would make for a more festive atmosphere. As Mia approached the table, she noticed three short men in what appeared to be a feeding frenzy. “Hey! Save some for the other guests.”
The men turned to look at her, chewing vigorously with open mouths. They weren’t men at all! They were slightly hunched creatures with warted green faces and sickly yellow eyes. “Good party. Good food.” The three of them turned back to the table and continued to shovel hor d’ouvres into their drooling mouths.
Mia started to say something else to them when was interrupted by a tall dark woman with pointed ears. “Excuse me. Have you seen a jeweled box of magic dragon dung around here somewhere? I set it down for just a moment and it seems to have wandered off. Oh! Never mind! There it is!” The strange woman ran across the lawn chasing a box as it darted around the corner.
Mia dashed after her only to be cut off by a small herd of unicorns. The arrogant creatures suddenly stopped in her garden to snack on her prize irises.
The ex-goddess appeared silently behind her. “Mia, what is wrong?”
“Oh, not much. There are goblin-looking guys eating everything in sight, live presents roaming around the lawn, and unicorns eating my flowers! What could be wrong?”
Astarte frowned as she took in the chaos around her. “I am truly sorry for this. The creatures of the other realms love parties and apparently have deemed this wedding the event of the moment. I swear to you that I did not invite all these beings. I invited a distant cousin, a few gods and goddesses, and four benevolent nature spirits. That is all. I asked them not to speak of it to others, but they obviously do not understand the concept of discretion. Truly, I am sorry. I will personally see to it that all your beautiful flowers are restored and your lawn returned to its original condition.”
Mia softened. Astarte really did look extremely embarrassed and remorseful. “Well… It’s only going to be for a few more hours. Maybe I can deal with it for that long. Could you just keep these ‘things’ from completely destroying the grounds or the house?”
“I do not need to get ready for a while yet, so until them I shall be vigilant. Perhaps the others will assist me.”
Within minutes, the Ronins and Sentinels were patrolling the area to keep incidents at a minimum. Astarte terrified everyone in her wake, Ryo and Jack broke up an elf-orc fight, Sai and Zane put out someone’s fire-breathing pets, Trace recaptured several runaway presents, Anubis threw out a couple of Astarte’s drunken ex-boyfriends, and Sage and Rowen stopped some obnoxious trolls that were harassing the fairy women.
One of the women sashayed over to Rowen, a brilliant smile lighting her face. He was unable to take his eyes off her. She was a petite blonde with such delicate features. Long, sunny hair moved freely about her face and shoulders in the light afternoon breeze. Her skin almost glowed a golden yellow. Like a sunbather reveling in the feel of the sun, he basked in her warm essence. It made him feel so alive!
“We were in no real danger from them, but thank you for your chivalrous rescue none the less.” She touched his arm.
Rowen put his hand over hers without thinking. She seemed to melt into his touch. His voice, when it came, whispered from far away. “Who are you?”
“I am Aria. I’m here to sing for the wedding. Would you like to hear a little sample?” She placed her other hand on his chest, her long fingers delicately tingling him where they made contact.
Astarte grabbed Aria from behind and spun her around—away from Rowen. “No, he would not! And neither would anyone else. I would rather consign myself to the lowest pits of Hades than have you sing at my wedding, Dayling! Begone! And leave my friends alone!”
Aria smiled condescendingly. “As you wish.” She walked away with a seductive little sway, returning to her friends.
Astarte saw the way Rowen continued to stare after Aria. He was smitten. That was not a good thing. She took his arm, gently moving him further away from the fairy woman. Astarte gave Aria a warning glance out of the corner of her eye. Aria merely shrugged, turning her attention to the satyr standing next to her.
Rowen’s eyes still trailed after Aria, trying to memorize her every feature.
“She is mesmerizing, is she not my young friend? It is as if she glows from within. But such unearthly beauty is best admired from afar.”
“What do you mean?”
“She is a dayling—a type of Sidhe or fairy folk. Relationships between Sidhe and mortals of the kind you are contemplating rarely end well for the mortal. Mortal lives are so fleeting that they…” She smiled slightly, chagrined. She sometimes still forgot that she was now mortal, too. “…we tend to put so much of ourselves into what we do. Sidhe find this interesting, but it is all a game to them. They live so long that few things are new to them, so they must find amusement where they can. Humans are often unpredictable and provide them with a brief release from their boredom. But the novelty wears quickly. They dally until the amusement is gone, and then they, too, are gone. Do not think that you would be her last or even her exclusive love. Do not in your wildest dreams suppose that she would ever be willing to share your short mortal life with you. She would enjoy your company until you became too serious, too predictable, too fawning and then she would seek out the company of others. I know Aria. She is typical of her people in this. I do not say these things to hurt you, but rather to keep you from hurt. Heed the words of someone who knows these things. Find a mortal woman to share your heart and life with. Aria will only bring you pain.”
Rowen nodded and went the other way to join his friends, but he kept looking over his shoulder to catch glimpses of Aria. The Sidhe woman did everything to catch his eye with flirtatious glances.
Astarte shook her head sadly. She had warned him. What else could she do? He was a grown man—she could not forcibly tear him from Aria’s side if that is where he wished to be. But no good would come of it. Of that she was certain.
Part 5: Down the Aisle
Mia shook her head furiously. “You’re aren’t seriously going to wear that dress, are you?”
Astarte spun in front of the mirror. “Why not?”
“You and Zoe have thrown tradition out the window on almost everything concerning this wedding—a western wedding for Zoe and Kento, no officiating person at all for you and Gilgamesh, a rambunctious American reception, no kimonos, no thank you gifts for those in attendance…”
“Why should we give presents to the guests? Sharing our happy moment should be gift enough for them.”
“…and now you want to wear that? It’s so…so…”
Skadi and Gudrun tried not to giggle as they rushed around getting Astarte ready.
“And our friends say that I am a prude. Do not trouble yourself. I may yet wear the green outfit. It was good of Skadi and Gudrun to make two dresses for me. I simply could not decide. And before you say that I am not traditional, it may interest you to know that the green one you prefer is less traditional than the red and gold. The green is loosely based on an old Arabian design, but the red and gold is almost an exact copy of a noblewoman’s dress that was popular long ago in the lands I walked.” She spun around again. “Perhaps I will wear the green. That color looks better on me today. Unfurrow your brow, Mia. You worry too much about such small details. Go join your friends.” She shooed Mia out of the house.
Astarte quickly scanned the crowd, discovering to her dismay that a large group of Nordic-looking people were congregating around the buffet table. A middle-age-looking man among them turned slightly. Astarte could see his face more clearly. Odin. She turned back to Skadi and Gudrun. “What are they doing here? I did not invite them! You are more than welcome—even your father and grandmother. But not Odin or the others.”
“You must speak to Zoe on this matter. I believe she invited them.”
“Zoe?” Astarte sighed. “Her heart is much more generous and forgiving than mine. If they had tried to kill my brother, I could not be so. If this is her desire, then I shall bear it for her sake.” An enigmatic smile turned up the corner of her mouth. “But there is no reason I have to bear their presence with perfect grace. Your people, especially your grandfather, Odin, are extremely modest, are they not? I think the red and gold dress will look better on me today after all.”
Gudrun smiled in return. “I think you enjoy shocking people. I think the red and gold dress will be perfect.”
Skadi smirked. “I’m sure Grandfather will love it.”
Zoe was in another room of the house, already dressed. Kayura was checking her own outfit in the mirror. Zane had just come into the room.
The temperature dropped fifteen degrees. Kayura looked annoyed. “Zane! This is a short-sleeve dress. I’m freezing!”
Zane ignored her. “Zoe! Are you nuts? What are they doing here?”
“You know who! The Norse gods! You invited them didn’t you?”
“Well, you did say you didn’t want any more quarrels or misunderstandings with them. And we both agreed to let them live at the estate Uncle Ulmer left us in Norway. I thought this would help smooth things over.”
“I was smoothing things just fine with them half a world away. I don’t want any problems with them, either, but I’m not quite ready to hang out with them at parties. They tried to kill me!” (All this happened in SW4: Wrath of the Aesir)
“I know that. But it was all a misunderstanding—a lot of blind hatred and bitterness that festered for too long. I’m trying to make peace. Besides, how are you going to see more of Skadi if you don’t make up with her family?”
“Skadi? What makes you think…” What was the use? Zoe knew. He’d been talking about Skadi a lot since he’d met her. They’d even managed to “run into each other by accident” a few times. Yeah, right. Norway to Japan. Zane gave up. He couldn’t stay mad at his sister long. Her intentions were too noble and it was her day. He also really did want to see more of Skadi. If Zoe wanted to invite Odin of all people, how could he tell her no?
“Now, Zane. Go out there and make nice.”
“I’ll go out there, but I’m not going to schmooze with them. At least not until I’ve had enough alcohol.”
Fifteen minutes later, Kento stood at the altar, holding his breath. Zane stood at his side. He’d never forget these moments for as long as he lived. And he’d especially never forget Uli. He wished…he wished a lot of things. But he’d have to be content with the wishes that did come true.
Mia walked down the aisle and took her place to the side. Then came Uli. He walked down the aisle with a pillow as ring bearer for Zoe and Kento. Ryo watched him with pride and more than a little sadness. He was so skinny and pale. He’d slept all day so he’d be able to do the job right. He really was a junior-Ronin—maybe braver than the rest of them. He was fighting so hard even though everyone had practically given up. He looked up at Mia. She had tears in her eyes. He was sure she was thinking the same things.
The bridal march started to play. Everyone stood up as Zoe entered the room, escorted by Anubis. She was beautiful. She’d forsaken the traditional western white for a dress in shades of blue. It looked sort of Middle-Ages princess with poofy shoulders and long sleeves. (click to see the dress)
As the preacher spoke, everyone looked around the room, taking in the unusual assortment of guests. Ryo noticed Sage wasn’t there. Where could he be? Just then, he saw him slip into the end of the row with a dark-haired girl. She looked way too young to be his date. Who was she?
“…and now Kento and Zoe have their own short vows to share with one another.”
Kento sucked in a deep breath and took Zoe’s hands. “You’re the first person who ever really saw me. Not Kento, the dumb jock or Kento, the clown. But Kento, the artist, the dreamer, and especially, Kento, the man—the man who is so totally in love with you.”
Zoe smiled tremulously, certain she was dreaming and hoping she would never wake up. “When we first met, I was lonely, confused, and scared. You were the one who gave me support. You gave me strength. And you gave the insecure little girl inside me the courage to become the strong, confident woman who is so totally in love with you.”
“Let those whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder. I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
Sage and Sai gave Kento several loud whistles as he and Zoe kissed longer than usual.
Zoe and Kento stood aside to make room for Astarte and Gilgamesh. It was then that Kento noticed the young girl sitting next to Sage, waving excitedly at him. His sister, Tori. His eyes misted over as Sage gave him and Zoe a “thumbs up”. Zoe looked at Kento and winked. She was in on it. He crushed her in a bear hug as happy tears streamed down his face.
Gilgamesh entered and stood in front. The pastor moved off to sit down. Astarte and Gilgamesh were going to exchange vows between themselves without anyone officiating. Nor were they exchanging rings. Kayura walked down the aisle and moved off to the side next to Trace.
The music began. Astarte stepped out of the house to the shocked stares of everyone but Gudrun and Skadi, who merely smiled conspiratorily. Gilgamesh started laughing. This was Astarte. He could imagine her no other way—nor would he want her to be. In one hand she carried a staff twined with flowers, symbolizing life. In the other hand she carried her sword, symbolizing war. She wore a long red dress trimmed in gold. Gold armbands circled her arms like snakes. Her red hair was elaborately coiled and braided atop her head. And the top of her dress, as was the ancient style, curved around and under her breasts, completely baring them to the world. (I didn't draw this dress,but click here to see the green one she almost wore)
Odin was horrified. He remarked in a voice that was louder than polite. “It is plain to see why they called her the Harlot of the Mediterranean.”
As she passed him in the aisle, she whacked him with her staff. “How clumsy of me. Terribly sorry.” She smiled sweetly and kept going.
Mia smacked herself and rolled her eyes heavenward. All the guys were staring like idiots. Kento covered his eyes and tried not to peek. “I’m not looking. I’m not looking. I swear, I’m not looking!”
Zoe pried his hands off. “You might as well look and get it over with.” She leaned closer. “Don’t worry. I’ll show you mine later.”
With that in mind, Kento didn’t have any trouble keeping his eyes on Astarte’s face.
Gilgamesh got on one knee before Astarte. “Astarte, Daughter of the Sky. My Goddess, my Warrior. You found me in madness and despair and brought me back, a better man. You added your strength to mine to slay our enemies. You brought solace to my broken spirit. But only in battle did I feel worthy of you until the day you showed me that your heart beat for mine with a warrior’s strength. All that I am, all that I have is yours. My heart and weapons are yours to command.” He bowed his head to her. She had Kayura hold her staff and sword. Then she placed her own hands over his as he held the axes. He stood up.
Astarte took back her staff and sword and knelt before Gilgamesh. “Gilgamesh of Uruk. My King, my Warrior. On the field of battle you were always at my side, your strength and cunning joined with mine against our enemies. I was a fool who kept you close in war and pushed you away in matters of love. And then I almost lost you and could not bear such a loss. All that I am, all that I have is yours. My heart and sword are yours to command.” He handed his axes to Trace so he could place his hands over hers on the staff and sword. She stood up.
Sai elbowed Rowen. “Do you believe these two? Even when their getting married, they’re thinking about going into battle. I know slaying my enemies always makes me feel romantic.”
Rowen was staring at Aria across the aisle. “Did you say something?”
“Never mind.” He turned to Sage who just shrugged.
The preacher returned to the podium. “I now present to you, Mr. And Mrs. Kento Rei Faun and Gilgamesh and Astarte.”
The crowd erupted in a thunderous round of cheers.
This story is lighter fare—a little fluff. Most importantly, it is a bridge of sorts. It expounds on certain issues already in play and sets up some new elements.
1) Uli’s illness has obviously progressed. It will all come to a head in the next epic-length story I do, Darkchild (and no, Uli is not the Darkchild).
2) Aria’s introduction is very important. Although she will never be an integral part of the stories (and will probably only appear briefly in one more Interlude story), her presence will significantly alter the lives of several characters (her effect will be first felt in Darkchild, but will really be important in Tempus).
3) The legal drinking age in Japan is 20. I don’t want to box myself into a corner by giving the characters definite ages, but to my thinking Mia, Gilgamesh, Anubis, and Astarte are the only ones among the Sentinels or Ronins who are legal age (I always was of the opinion that Mia was one or two years older than Ryo).
4) I don’t know much about how Japanese cities, especially shopping areas, are laid out. So just pretend there is a wedding strip.
5) I read somewhere that a traditional wedding kimono with all the accessories can cost upwards of $5,000. No wonder Astarte wanted to negotiate the price!
6) If any of you are thinking that I borrowed some of the wedding scenes from Xander and Anya’s wedding on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, think again. I had the rough draft for the parts about the weird guests and presents probably two weeks before they even aired any commercials for that episode (for those who don’t watch Buffy, Buffy’s friend Xander was going to marry an ex-demoness named Anya. A lot of strange creatures showed up for the wedding bearing live, sometimes tentacled, gifts).
7) I read somewhere that traditional Japanese wedding are more solemn with a quiet reception following. The young people party later. It also said that the bride and groom give presents to the guests commensurate with the value of the gift each guest gave them. I didn’t want to get any of the traditional details wrong, so I gave Zoe, Kento, Astarte, and Gilgamesh more unconventional ceremonies.