A couple of days pass. Each day there is poetry from Venlar.
You are the daughter of greatness
Dark hair falls about your neck
Kindness is the yoke you carry
Your shoulders hold all the world’s burdens
You are earth that bedews the rain itself
And then he takes her out shopping, and he’s obviously gleeful about the things he can find for his mother, and the silks he can get for Fera, although he browses the first day rather than buying, so he can send Felgin, his favourite thrall, out to find out about prices.
And the next day,
Honey is not sweet, and I am patient for you
Spices are not bright, and I am patient for you
The plough-ox frisks in the meadow and bees laze in their hives
And Orlanth is still, and I am patient for you
And a letter inside it, written small, on parchment. And beyond Mellia’s skill to read. Something about the wedding, but Jengharl does not know that her reading is still slow, and he has written as if to a scribe.
Venlar’s suggested way of keeping Mellia busy is to ask if she wishes to be escorted to the Great Hospital, as he is going to the Temple for a short ceremony that day. And can he please escort her home as well?
Mellia puts the letter in her medicine bag for safe-keeping and gleefully accepts Venlar’s escort. This way she can show him to Erna and try to tell him that she can’t read Jengharl’s letter.
The Yelmalians walk closely in the city, looking out for Venlar trying to fly her away. At the hospital he is glad to come in, promising not to breach the Temple’s peace, and letting Mellia lead him. The guards do follow, but at a polite distance now. He will not be allowed anywhere they cannot go, but at least they can guard the doors of a room where two young lovers can talk.
Erna can be sent for, although Venlar promises to wait if Mellia only asks him to. The ceremony at the Orlanth temple will not take more than an hour, and he has all day. He obviously wants her to send someone, but is not saying so. (edited)
“Well, maybe later,” Mellia tells him in that private room. “We only have a few minutes at best. I couldn’t read the letter enclosed in your latest wonderful poem.”
Venlar looks curious for a moment and then says, “Oh. That is why he asked to read it… he said it was good…” They have to talk quietly – the door is slightly ajar so that the guard outside can hear if they are getting too passionate. Venlar’s brow creases, puzzlement crinkling his scar. “Why? Why secretly?” He is smart, but not smart enough, it seems.
“Because,” Mellia murmurs, “I told him a secret I thought he needed to know. I would tell you if I thought we had enough time. You may have to steal me away after all.”
“I promise I will, if you let me,” he whispers.
The guard checks the door, and finds a young man kneeling at the feet of his bride to be, who is seated politely. Venlar’s expression is loving and yearning. All is as it should be. The door mostly closes again.
Mellia nods and whispers, “Ask Jengharl. Now I must go.”
“Let us meet your friend,” Venlar tells her. “I would like a moment more of your company. A few more. Many more.” He lets her get up, eyes staying on her.
Mellia gets up and goes looking for a lay member. “Is Initiate Erna here?”
It takes a little time to round her up, and she looks peaceful, but is holding a young baby. “Mellia, love. This one has colic. I’m walking her so the mother feels better, but really they both just need sleep and time. I have as long as you want.”
“Erna,” Mellia says quietly, “this is my betrothed, Venlar. Venlar, Erna is one of my dearest friends.”
Erna catches up with what is happening, and her eyes widen. “Oh! You! Hello! I would bow but my arms are full of baby.”
“I’ll bow for you,” Venlar says, “As befits Orlanth to a healer.” He does just that, although then he slips an arm around Mellia. “She has told me enough about you that I know your arms do good work.” Not quite his best poetry.
Mellia snuggles close to Venlar. “The House is in such an uproar that we thought we’d see you here if we could. Should we go find a rocking chair?”
“Walking is easiest, but I could rock her…” Erna glances to the door, now a little more open. “I’m not sure all the guards should follow back and forth, so rocking seems best.”
Mellia nods and leads the way to the maternity ward.
Erna sings a little to the baby on the way. Venlar watches with something like nervousness, as if babies go off when handled badly. “We have guards in case I forget myself and steal her away,” he notes, almost proudly. “We brought a lot of bronze with us, apparently most of it to weigh me down.”
Mellia chuckles. “You should have seen him arrive.”
“I want to be the best Orlanth I can.” Venlar looks in awe at the rocking chair, a thing which not only has a back and arms – innovations he is used to – but also attached curves to keep a person in it moving. he might be trying to work out if he has seen one before, or might be considering where he can buy one. “All that Issaries can do is sell her things.” He squeezes her hand before adding, “All Lhankor Mhy can do is read things for her.” A glance from him. “I can love her with all my heart. And my body.”
Mellia blushes. “And I love you with all my heart,” she tells Venlar.
Enla looks up from the chair, beaming. “Did you arrive in great style?”
“I arrived in woad and road dust, with men in gleaming bronze behind me. My brother and his bodyguards – and some of mine, to be honest, but not many. I mostly brought my household thralls.” Venlar sits down on the floor, to be closer to Enla’s height, although he keeps hold of Mellia’s hand. “And then there was a vision of beauty in white, with green under it.”
Mellia tells Erna, “Mother insisted I wear one of her dresses.”
“I heard it was a fine show, but I didn’t hear the details.” Erna pats the tiny girl, who is wriggling. “There there, darling… Griping hurts, I know. You’ll be older soon.”
Mellia says, “It was splendid. I wish you were there, Erna.”
“I’ll be at the wedding.” She looks Venlar up and down with polite speculation.
“I’ll be wearing clothes then. At least, in the daytime.” Venlar fades off into dreamy thought.
Mellia comments, “Wait until you see the wedding dress. It is worth all the time I spent on it.”
Erna explains to Venlar, “She probably had to be fitted multiple times so people think she is pregnant.”
“I’ve tried,” Venlar says, and abandons Mellia’s hand to stroke down the outside of her thigh and then run a finger against her ankle. “I suppose I have to try again?”
“Not until after the wedding, sweetheart.”
“The next thing I have to do, now I’ve made you laugh, is perform a deed for you. Anything you can think of.” Then he says excitedly to Erna, “I stole slippers for her, and my father’s trickster interfered, and father saw it happen! It was so funny – I owe a favour to the trickster, but father insisted nobody ever collect, as a favour to him for not punishing. And I got the slippers. I’m a lot less clumsy as Orlanth than I am as me.”
Mellia says, “I have to think of something worthwhile. Any ideas?”
“Doing a task that women do better can be good,” Erna suggests. “Like singing the cattle in?” Townie that she is, she is guessing.
“I can sing cattle better than women,” Venlar says. “Women can’t hit the low notes.”
Erna stares, trying to work out if that was a pun. Venlar looks so innocent it must have been.
“Spinning some thread?”
“Oh, that would be a horror for me.” Venlar looks at his hands. “So yes?”
“There we go. Spin some thread for me, please.”
“I… really wish my sister was here. She’s …. oh help. Alright. I can do this.” Venlar states it proudly. “How hard could it be? Children do it. How long do you want it?”
“Hmm, a spindle full? At least enough to bind us together.”
“I will, then.” He smiles.
“For binding things, you need to twine it,” Erna says. “So you need two spindles, to make one thread.” She gives him an impish smile. “Use small spindles. Buy good wool. Get a woman to teach you.”
Mellia laughs. “I am sure you can get help, sweetheart.”
“Yes, but now I need to send Felgin to the market again. I do not know what I would do without her. But how wonderful! Orlanth, mad with love for Ernalda, takes up a woman’s task. Erna, that was well done!”
Mellia beams. “That was a great idea, Erna! Thanks!”
Erna chuckles. “What after doing a task for you?”
“After that I give her gifts. That is the proper ceremony,” Venlar replies. “Although she could demand more proof of my love.”
Mellia says, “I keep being tempted to ask for the head of Garin Melta, but that’s a bad idea.”
Erna looks astounded. Venlar tells her, “She wants the problem to be gone. She does not want violence.”
Mellia admits, “Garin was exiled, but I don’t trust him.”
“I’ll protect you.” Instantly Venlar replies. Erna just rocks the baby quietly.
“You might need to protect Varanis, which is much harder. Garin was really after her, not me.” Mellia goes on, “Although I think Varanis won’t make it to the wedding.”
“Well, she will be my kin, so I will. But on the day nobody would dare attack, and until we see her again, we will look after each other.”
Mellia smiles and kisses Venlar on the cheek.
Venlar makes little happy sounds.