of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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Merle struggled to contain herself and appear as sedate and formal as the other mus gathered in the little temple. It wouldn't do to disrupt the atmosphere of the ceremony, no matter how thrilled she was.
Nervously, Merle glanced down at her green kimono, brushing a stray bit of fur that had drifted from her pelt. It had been two day's ride to make it to Lady Ara's castle, where the nearest temple was. The temple itself was a quiet little place - it would easily fit inside the courtyard of Castle W'mefa or Castle Ara. The priest that tended it was a very, very old mus, soft-spoken and gentle. Lord W'mefa once had a temple on his own lands, of course, but it had been destroyed by the cats three years before, and the new one wasn't quite finished yet.
Nervously, Merle looked up to Xaa. He looked positively regal in his black hakama and kamishimo, and Merle was reminded that he was more than just another warrior. He was a king, once the ruler of vast lands, thousands of warriors, and tens of thousands of servants. Now, only empty villages and a ruined castle remained - but someday soon, the villages would be full of life again, and the castle would be rebuilt. Xaa glanced down at Merle, saw her nervous expression, and smiled at her reassuringly. "Everything will be fine, Merle. Relax," he whispered, so as not to bother the other guests standing nearby.
"I know... I just hope everything goes perfectly. You only get married once, you know."
Xaa smiled. "Usually - though it will be twice, for me, when you and I wed."
Merle grinned, and was about to say more, when suddenly the music began. The wedding-music of the mus was strange to Merle's ear - it was a simple drum-beat, very slow, and a small chime. She wondered about it for a moment, when, slowly, the changing-room doors opened, and Lord O'dmemet and Lady Johm'rouh stepped forth.
Merle struggled to keep quiet - it was all she could do to keep from letting out a breathy 'Wooooo...' at Johm'rouh's wedding gown. It was a pale, pale shade of pink, and had many, many layers. Perched delicately between her ears was a little, black, box-like cap with tassels, the tassels hanging down to just above her eyes. The cap was held in place with a slim silk cord tied beneath her chin. Lord O'dmemet looked quite regal in his formal attire, as well - it had several layers of black, blue and gray, and he wore a similar little cap perched delicately between his ears. Merle wondered at the significance of the little caps - she'd never seen anything like them before - but she knew from what Xaa had told her earlier that the audience must remain absolutely silent.
After a moment, Lord O'dmemet and Johm'rouh stood by each other's side, Johm'rouh to the right, and began walking up the short aisle to the small altar at which the priest waited. The guests all stood to one side in the open courtyard of the temple, separated by a low wooden partition from the aisle. On the other side, large, open windows gave a lovely view of Lady Ara's beautiful lands, like living, moving landscape paintings. Merle glanced at Lord W'Mefa and Lady Pah - Lady Pah beamed with happiness for O'dmemet, and Merle thought Lord W'Mefa looked so happy he was about to burst.
Johm'rouh and O'dmemet walked stiffly, formally, their heads erect, each stepping in time to the beat of the quiet music that wafted from behind a partition in the temple's courtyard. Merle had peeked back behind there before the ceremony began, and saw three servant-caste musicians sitting and relaxing. From their position, they could see the altar and the priest, but little else. Merle realized that was probably all they needed to see - anything else might distract them from the perfectly precise music they were playing.
Finally, O'dmemet and Johm'rouh stood before the priest, and the music stilled. They bowed very formally, and the priest bowed back. With great dignity, he lifted a small bowl of tea from the altar, and gave it to Lord O'dmemet. O'dmemet inclined his head, then sipped at the bowl for a moment. He then turned to Johm'rouh, holding the bowl out in the same manner the priest had. Johm'rouh took the bowl carefully, inclining her head, and sipping from it. She then turned to the priest, passing the bowl back to him with great dignity and formality. The priest set the bowl down gently, then rumbled a quiet blessing in his soft voice, wishing O'dmemet and Johm'rouh long life, and many children.
There was a long rattle from the musicians, and Johm'rouh and O'dmemet turned around slowly where they stood, until Johm'rouh was now standing to O'dmemet's left. The music then began again, and they slowly walked away, each step in time to the music. Finally, they stepped into one of the changing-rooms together, and closed the door behind them.
The guests quietly applauded, and Merle had struggle to resist the temptation to shout with happiness and glee, and simply politely clap, as Xaa was doing. The guests then began quietly chatting among themselves, and Merle looked up to Xaa - she had never seen him look happier. "That was beautiful! Is it always like that?"
Xaa nodded. "Yes, that is how our weddings are done. Some of the servant-caste are too poor to afford proper wedding-garments, however, and so their liege buys it for them. It's considered a great disgrace for a lord or lady to allow one of their servants to marry poorly dressed. Like the tea-ceremony, all must be perfect."
"Oooooo... And will our wedding be like that?"
Xaa smiled. "Yes - in two years."
"Oh! But I'm so short compared to you! How will I keep up when we walk to the altar?! It won't be perfect!" Merle fretted.
Xaa grinned broadly. "Xaa tehk veh'r smahl stehp."
Merle did a double-take, then
burst into giggles. She was still laughing as Lord O'dmemet and
Johm'rouh stepped back out of the changing room (having removed
their little caps), smiling to all the guests.
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