Levy trembled as he poled the raft closer into shore. The cedars towering above his head shaded what little sun the early winter provided, bringing a chill to Levy’s body. The water soaking his pant cuffs was cold, as was the air. It wasn’t the cold, so much, that was making Levy shiver, however, but nervousness. Finally, after almost five months, he was going to see Sarah again.
Levy still recalled that day in early summer when he had stood on the dam at the end of the lake. He could still remember the shock he had felt when the wave swept him over the face of the dam, and the look on Sarah’s face as she watched him being swept away by the flood waters. The months had dragged by, at first, as he recovered from the wild ride down river. Then, as he worked to earn enough money to make his way back north to where Sarah lived, time suddenly seemed to speed up. It has only a few weeks ago that the trader had showed him the utensils, ornately carved like the ones Sarah had in her house. Once he tracked them to the town, it was only a few days searching before he once more found the artificial lake that surrounded the island Sarah lived on.
Levy guided the raft up to the dock. He tied it to the mooring, then climbed onto the dock and ran to shore. He ran up the steep path towards the house. As he ran he called.
“Sarah!” Levy watched the slatted windows in the house above as he ran. “Sarah!”
He reached the house and ran to the door. He found it heavily latched and tied. He ran down to the workshop where Sarah made her crafts. It too was locked. He stood there, his heart sinking to his feet. Now he knew why there had been no smoke, even on those cold days while he was building the raft. Now he realized that he had not seen her boat below at the dock. Sarah was gone.
Levy searched the whole island. Finding nothing, he returned to the house. Cutting the cords that tied the door shut, he entered. A search showed that Sarah had taken all of her clothes, and all the household goods. The food was all taken as well. Levy re-sealed the house, and with a heavy heart, returned to the raft.
Levy poled the raft back to his shoreline camp. It was dark when he got there. He started the fire again, and fetched his stuff from the tree where he had stashed it. He ate a cold supper, and then went to sleep.
The next day Levy broke camp. He loaded up his horse, and began to lead it around the lake. He reasoned that Sarah had to hide the boat somewhere, as she could not leave it out in the open, nor could she take it with her. Therefore, somewhere along the lake there were marks where a large object was pulled from the water. He had gone about a mile when he spotted the trail. It led right up the clay bank, and to a small clump of trees. There, hidden under a large pile of dead branches, was the boat. Levy quickly found hoofprints, and the chase was on.
For days Levy followed the tracks, cold and wind his constant companions. Finally the tracks turned onto a small path. At the end of the path Levy found a small house. When he reached it, he found it too boarded up. A larger path led south from the house. Levy followed it down into a small village. One simple question to the local innkeeper told him what he wanted to know. One week ago, Abel, the owner of the small house, had shown up in town with his sister, Sarah. He had asked the innkeeper, an old friend, to watch his house. The two had purchased traveling goods, and had ridden west. Levy thanked the man, and started off.
Levy rode hard for a week. He stopped in the towns along the way, asking questions and buying supplies. In each town he found people who remembered a man and a woman traveling together, and through these references he managed to close to within two days of them. By that time they had changed directions, and were headed south. By that time also, however, snow had started to fall.
As Levy started into his second week of trailing Sarah and Abel, he ran into a blizzard. He rode for a day and a night solid to get to the next town. By the time he got there he was almost frozen. He spent two days in the inn, waiting for the snow to slow enough for him to travel. He used the opportunity to earn some money repairing the old town clock. By the time the snow let up, Levy was itching to be off. He thanked the innkeeper, and started riding.
Levy’s luck turned bad after that. Halfway to the next town he reached a fork in the road. He chose the southern fork, assuming Sarah and Abel would have also. When he reached the next town, however, no one remembered two recent travelers. Levy then rode to the next town, hoping that the town’s people just didn’t remember them, only to find no trace of them there, either. Heavy with worry, Levy turned back. One day out of town another storm hit, forcing Levy back to the safety of the inn. It was three days before it lifted, and by then Levy had caught cold, and couldn’t travel. When he overcame that, he headed back up the trail. The snow made travel hard, and it was a week and a half before he made the fork again. A day later he rode into the first town along that road.
Levy rode up to the inn. He tied up outside, and strode into the main hall. He found the innkeeper tending fire.
“Good Sir! Might I have a word with you?” Levy was slightly out of breath.
“Of a certainty, young man. What might I do for you?” The innkeeper stood up straight, wiping his hands on his apron.
“Have two travelers passed this way recently, a man and his sister? It might have been some days now.”
“Any reason in particular you’d like to know?” The innkeeper eyed Levy carefully. Levy was used to such reactions, having gotten such from other innkeepers.
“I must speak to the lady of very personal matters. I’ve trying to find her for six months now, and I lost them back at the fork in the road. Have you seen anyone like what I’m looking for?”
“I’m sorry, young man, but of a truth, I’ve not seen any man and woman traveling together for almost six months. I believe you mean them no harm, and I’d like to help you, but I can not. If they came this way at all, they must have ridden right on through, as I’m the only innkeeper in town.” The look on his face was one of sincerity.
“Thank you. Thank you very much.” Levy’s whole body drooped. He was exhausted, cold, and no closer to finding Sarah than he was before. “Might I spend the night? It’ll be dark after a while; I’ve no stomach for riding further today.”
“But of course! Take your horse to the stable, while I make room for you.” The innkeeper walked off.
Levy ploddingly unloaded his horse and released him to the stable. He carried his gear to his room, and sank into a deep, sorrowful sleep.
From then on life held little joy for Levy. Town after town he stopped at, but no one had seen or heard of two travelers like Sarah and Abel. The winter grew deep, and the snow with it. He wondered if he shouldn’t backtrack, in hopes of finding the trail again, but he just couldn’t stir himself to turn back. Weeks plodded by as Levy worked his way further southwest.
It was a grey afternoon when Levy sighted the bloodmarks in the snow. The road was well trampled, but lonely. Levy hadn’t seen a traveler since morning. When he saw the crimson drops, he stopped immediately. They lay on the side of the road, in unmarked snow. He looked around carefully. Seeing no one, he dismounted quietly and examined the marks. They were drops, as if someone had cut their hand, and then shaken the blood off onto the ground. There were no other marks around, however, so Levy remounted and rode on. He hadn’t gone far when he saw the tracks leading off the road into the woods. He dismounted, and examined them. It was no great surprise to him to find copious bloodmarks in and around the tracks.
Levy sat there, torn. It would just be asking for trouble to follow the tracks into the trees, away from the public road. On the other hand, a known danger can be dealt with. It was naive to believe that someone who struck once would not strike again. Levy thought for long moments on the question. Finally it was the thought that perhaps he could help someone that prodded him off the road and along the trail.
Levy carefully stalked along the trail. For the first few hundred feet, the trail appeared normal, except for the small traces of red. Once the road faded from view, however, normality vanished. Levy was horrified to see a large blotch of blood spread across the snow. Levy quietly pulled his sword from his saddle. He looked at it for a long moment. Levy had used a sword before, but had never killed a man. Dozens of stories ran through his mind, stories of fights, stories of battles. He hesitated, then carefully slid it back into its sheath. He bent his head for a moment, in silent prayer, then continued. He didn’t have far to go. A few hundred feet further in he found a body, sprawled across the snow, a sword wound across its head. It had been stripped of everything but its blood-soaked clothes. There was no horse, although from the tracks leading away from the body the man had been mounted.
Levy stood there, shaking. He didn’t recognize the man, but death is a frightening thing even in anonymity. Finally, Levy got himself moving again. He looked around, to be sure the attackers were long gone, then began digging a grave. As the winter was already deep, he finally found a good use for his sword: breaking through the frozen top layer of sod to get to the softer soil below. Once the body was interred, Levy started following the tracks. He reasoned that the last thing he wanted was to be wondering where the murderers were.
Levy tracked the murderers for the rest of the day, and the morning of the next day. Just after noon the trail came to a stream. Levy followed the tracks down the stream. Soon Levy could see the stream was coming up to a small pond. Leaving his horse tied to a tree, he crept up to within sight of the pool. Around the pool was gathered four bandits. They were speaking in a dialect so thick Levy couldn’t understand half of what they said. They had a small fire going, and they were roasting some small game. One of the bandits got up and walked to the road, to check for travelers. Levy quietly drew back into the trees.
Levy quietly returned to where his horse was tied. He untied it, and started leading it westward through the trees. After a bit, he turned north again. Levy led his horse quietly to the roadside. He wanted to give the thieves as wide a berth as possible. He came out onto the path about fifty yards west of where the pool formed. Cautiously he poked his head out of the trees. The path bent, and he was only able to see the pool area. There, by the water’s edge, stood a lone figure. Levy’s heart almost stopped. It had been many months, but he still recognized the figure at the pool. It was Sarah.
Levy’s mind and heart started to race. He snatched his sword, scabbard and all, from where it was stuck into his pack. He started running back towards the pool, along the path. Sarah, oblivious to him, walked out of sight along the pool’s edge. Levy doubled his already pounding pace. As he neared the pool, he caught sight of Sarah again, alone still. She looked up in surprise, and then broke out in an astonished and delighted smile.
“Levy!” Sarah started to run toward Levy. The two met, and caught each other. Sarah started crying, but Levy had no time for a tearful reunion.
“Keep quiet! Don’t make any noise!” Levy whispered loudly into Sarah’s ear. “Let’s get out of here!”
The two turned to leave, but Levy found the way suddenly blocked. Two bandits stood there, grinning. Levy started to turn to run back into the woods, when something hit him, and he blacked out.
He came to on the ground. He started to sit up, and caught sight of Sarah struggling in a bandit’s arms. He started to get up faster, and was rudely yanked to his feet by strong arms. He was whirled around by two more bandits to face the fourth.
“Well, what have we here?” The man grinned a dirty smile. Levy never found out what the man considered him to be, for there came a hoarse yell from behind him. The bandits all turned to look, and Levy twisted around as well. There stood Sarah, watching as her previous captor struggled in the grip of a newcomer. The man was short, and dressed in black leather. His short, dark hair was the picture of perfection. He took the burly bandit by the shoulders, and shook him savagely. Then, faster than Levy could follow, the man in black lifted the bandit straight up, and then threw him in the pool, where the bandit floated lifelessly.
One of the bandits holding Levy let go, and stepped towards the newcomer. The other, finding himself alone to handle Levy, smashed Levy in the face with a forearm, knocking Levy to the ground before moving himself to take on the stranger. The forth bandit stepped over Levy as well.
Levy, cradling his aching head, watched as the first bandit drew his blade and slashed at the man with one stroke. The blow was clean, aimed right for the man’s midsection. The only problem was, when the blade reached the man, the man wasn’t there any more. With a blurringly fast move, the stranger ducked UNDER the blade, then threw himself at its wielder. The two crashed back into the third bandit, who fell. The swordsman steadied himself, then tried another swing. This the man merely blocked, grabbing the sword arm, pulling and twisting it. The bandit stumbled forward, doubled over. There was a loud crack as the newcomer delivered a savage kick to the thief’s throat. The stranger let go as the murderer fell in a heap.
The bandit who had fallen got to his feet. The black-clad man approached him. The thug stabbed at the other’s midsection, but the other twisted away, grabbing the base of the blade in his bare, right hand. The stranger pulled on the blade, dragging the murderer forward. The stranger then twisted the blade around, dragging the arm with it, and plunged the sword into its owner’s back. The newcomer released his grip as the body fell.
The last bandit had watched the whole affair from several steps back. He now drew a small dagger. He drew back his arm, and was felled by a blow to the head from Levy, who swung his sword without even taking it out of its sheath. Levy stepped back as the man in black stepped up to retrieve the dropped dagger. Levy watched in shock as the man calmly slid the blade between the criminal’s ribs.
Levy just stood there, as Sarah ran up, and embraced the stranger. Levy looked around at the four bodies. Rarely had he ever seen so much death in such a short time. His stomach started to churn, but with an effort he pushed it down. Levy stepped over the inert forms to where Sarah was hugging the man. The stranger extended his right hand. Levy took it, noticing that there were no cuts on it at all.
“Thank you. You saved my life, and Sarah’s. I’m …”
“Levy. Levy Barel. I know. I’m Abel.”
Levy reeled. He had expected Abel to be a farmer, not a vicious fighter. Still, Sarah was showing no discomfort around him. Abel released Sarah and turned to the horses. “Let us go. This is not a good place to be, anymore.” Levy followed, not having any argument.
They mounted up and started to ride. Sarah leaned over and gave Levy a hug. “I’ve found you! You don’t know how I worried!”
Levy returned her embrace awkwardly, afraid he was going to pull her from her horse. “I was looking for you, too. I…kind of left in a hurry.” Why do I feel so awkward all of a sudden? thought Levy. All this time I’ve been looking for her, here she is, and now I don’t know what to do! “You were looking for me then?”
“Yes. After you got washed away, I couldn’t rest until I knew what happened, so I packed up and went to my brother for help.”
“How did I get ahead of you? I know we didn’t pass on the road…”
“We stopped at a friend’s house just after the big fork. We spent over a month there before moving on.”
“Well, I’m glad we found each other. We…need to talk.”
The three of them eventually camped for the night. Levy found himself sleepless, however. All he could think of was actions in the fight. Finally he sat up, running his fingers through his hair. He put on his shoes and squatted by the fire. He turned at a sound behind him, only to find Sarah stepping up beside him. She kneeled down beside him.
“What’s wrong? Couldn’t sleep?” She herself had that soft look that told Levy he had awoken her.
“No. Something is bothering me. Something I did today.” He poked the fire with a thin branch.
“If you mean that fight at the pool, there was nothing else to do. Even Abel was fighting. Normally Abel wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Sarah rubbed Levy’s shoulder.
“That’s fine for Abel. But what about me?” Levy paused, gathering his thoughts. “I first found signs of that group yesterday. There was blood on the road, and a trail leading into the trees. I followed the trail, thinking it was the best action. The blood got heavier, and I drew my sword. Then I started thinking. Who am I? What was I going to do with that sword?” Levy huddled down closer to the ground, and Sarah put her arm around him. “Could I rely on myself to fight off someone? And what gives me the right to decide that my life is more important than someone else’s? I could only come up with one answer: I put the sword back. And yet, when I saw you standing there, by the pond, with those murderers all around, the first thing I did was grab my blade.”
“You wanted to protect me. Anyone would have grabbed a weapon.”
“Yes, but what had changed? I was still the same man, I hadn’t changed. No one had appointed me as judge over those men. What good are all my fine truths if I only use them when it’s convenient?” Levy looked at Sarah. “And yet…I couldn’t have let them hurt you…”
Seeing the expression on his face, Sarah spoke. “We all do what we think best at the time. Sometimes we regret it later, but it’s done. We just must live with it, and go on.” She stood, and started to go.
“Wait.” Levy took Sarah’s arm and eased her back down “We’re alone now, probably the last chance we’ll get for a while. I want to talk to you.” Sarah remained silent, so Levy continued. “After I was washed down the river, I spent a long time recovering. Not only did I have to get well, but I had to pay off my debts to those who nursed me, and earn enough money to buy a horse and some stuff. Then, the first thing I did was go down to Dargon, to an old friend of mine.”
Levy paused. He felt so unsure of himself, he didn’t quite know what to say next. Sarah just sat there with questioning eyes. Levy stood up, and stepped over to where his pack stood. From it he took a roll of leather. Sarah stepped up beside him and put her hand to his side, as if to stabilize him. Levy led her back to the light.
“I asked him if I could go through the old records. He allowed me, and so I looked all through the old records, and I found this. It’s the family crest that we had before we got our present one.”
Levy unrolled the leather. On it was inscribed a colorful image, a family crest. Sarah gasped.
“…but that’s…that’s MY family crest!”
She looked at him, suddenly expectant. Levy stood, feeling panic coming on. He knew what he had planned to say, but now he wasn’t so sure he wanted what he had planned to ask for.
“What’s so interesting that it must be discussed at night? Night is for sleeping, not talking.” The two turned to see Abel approaching. He too looked like he had been awakened from comfortable sleep. He squatted by the fire, warming his hands.
“Levy couldn’t sleep. He was thinking about that fight today.” Sarah laid her hand around Levy’s shoulder.
“I know how he feels. If I hadn’t been told what to do, I would feel the same way.”
Levy looked down at Abel. “What do you mean?”
“I saw, in a dream, a man telling me I would meet bandits along the way today.” Abel’s voice lowered. “He said that I was not to let them live. I have no authority to take life,” Abel paused for a moment, “but the one I serve does. I only kill for him.”
The three sat in silence for a moment, than Levy returned to his bedroll, his thoughts only on what Abel had said. Sarah followed him, silent. Abel was still by the fire when Levy fell asleep.
The next day the three saddled up, and continued southwest. Travel was safer, but the weather got worse. The trio had only gotten a few days down the road when another heavy storm stopped them. Once more Levy took the opportunity to repair the town clock.
Levy stood inside the old town hall, staring at the mechanism. It was a water-powered clock, and over a hundred years old. Like many of the time pieces in the area, it had been built by a wandering group of clockmakers. Few people knew how to set it, and no one knew how to fix it. Levy had studied clocks under one of the best clock makers in Dargon, but even so the workings of the device appeared intricate and mysterious. Sarah had accompanied him to the hall, and she now sat near one of the many lanterns, watching him.
Levy hefted a broken cogwheel. “This has to be the key. Every other cogwheel is in place. But where does it go?”
“Look for an empty spot.” Sarah hugged a blanket closer around her damp shoulders.
“I have…there aren’t any. Maybe this is a spare or something.”
“Then it wouldn’t go anywhere. Maybe something else is wrong.”
“Clock makers don’t leave spare parts. Everything has a place, so therefore this has a place. But where?” He set the broken wheel down, and picked up a replacement he had cut in the village smithy. He started walking around the device, examining the mess.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll find where it goes.” Sarah’s voice was quietly confident. “Levy, what was it you were going to tell me, that night, after that fight by the pond?”
Levy stopped for a moment, without looking at her, then continued his search. “I wanted to show you that I had found your family crest, and that we are actually related.”
Sarah got up, and started to follow Levy as he circled the clock. “For some reason that doesn’t surprise me. You remind me a lot of my father.”
Levy stopped and looked at her. “I do?”
“Yes. You’re both so confident, so good at making things work, making things happen. When I’m with you, I think of him.” Sarah’s voice softened at the mention of her deceased father.
Levy looked up at the mechanism as Sarah looked away. Suddenly his eyes widened. “Ahah!” He ran around the clock, grabbed a stool, and then ran back. He placed it on the floor in front of a particularly large gear, and climbed onto it. He stared intently upwards for a moment, then sagged. “No, there’s already a gear under there.” He climbed back down.
Sarah looked at Levy for a moment. “Do they put gears underneath other gears?”
Levy turned and looked at her. “Yes, they do. Why?”
Sarah led Levy around to the other side of the clock, and pointed upward. Levy followed her finger. There, high above the floor, was a large gear. Sarah grabbed one of the lamps from the floor, and shone its light upward. There, just visible between the gear’s teeth, was a stout rod.
Levy seized the ladder, and climbed up. He took the gear he had made, and carefully levered the larger gear out a bit, exposing the rod. He then carefully slid his gear onto the post, meshing its teeth with the larger gear’s second, inner set of teeth. He had to tug on another, large, spoked gear to make the new gear fit, but it did, dropping cleanly into place. Levy then jumped down, and released the power shaft brake. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, the clock moved back into motion. Levy grabbed Sarah in a big hug, which she returned.
“It works!” Levy held Sarah at arm’s length, looking into her eyes. “However did you see that?”
“I was studying the movement too, when you asked for that light before, and I just saw it. I was wondering what it was for, but didn’t know until you told me about that other, hidden gear.”
Levy looked at her for a moment. “Sit with me, please.” The two sat of the cold wood floor. Levy took Sarah’s hands in his. “Were you ever betrothed to anyone?”
Sarah looked confused. “What does it mean to be betrothed?”
Levy swallowed, his arms starting to tremble. “We you ever promised to anyone in marriage?”
Sarah’s eyes sparkled. “No…”
“Will you marry me?”
Sarah only paused a moment. “Yes.”
The two sat there for a moment, then fell into each others arms.
It was a sunny spring day when the three finally rode into Levy’s village. The first place they stopped was at Levy’s father’s house. There he presented his bride-to-be to his parents, thus completing the first step of the ritual of marriage. The next step was to ask the village Elder to marry them. As Levy’s father was the village Elder, they didn’t have far to go.
With the first round of formalities out of the way, the festivities could start. It wasn’t often the son of an Elder got married, and especially not one as well known as Levy. Elders were rich, and could throw good celebrations, and Levy had many rich friends, who could also throw good parties. Further, everyone in town liked Levy, and they all contributed to the festivities. Finally, after word got south, to Sarah’s relatives, many of them came north, and they were rich, and they brought a lot of food, drink, and gifts. By tradition, the couple had to wait a two months between announcing their engagement, and actually marrying. Most couples hated that time, for it seemed to drag on so. Levy and Sarah never even noticed it. By the time all the gatherings were over, it was time to prepare for the actual ceremony.
The morning of the wedding found Levy walking up the path to his father’s house. He was dressed in his formal, tribal dress, dark red wool with brightly colored bands of needlework. Tradition had mostly spared him, as the groom, from any wedding day rituals. He was grateful for that, having spent the morning alone, preparing himself mentally. As he neared the house, however, joyful squealing told him Sarah might not be so solitary. He walked up to the door, and knocked. His mother opened it, but did not come out, standing instead in the entrance.
“What do you want, Levy?” She was in a good mood, but seemed to be restraining herself.
“I’d like to speak to Sarah, if I can.” He tried to peer inside, but his mother held the door even closer shut, only allowing her head to show.
“Levy!” Levy could hear Sarah calling from within. Her voice was followed immediately by intense giggling, and then by a delighted shriek. The window beside the door exploded with a shower of warm, soapy water. Levy stepped back, barely avoiding getting wet.
“I’m sorry, you can’t see her until the wedding. We’re giving her a bath right now.” From inside the house came more giggles, followed by splashing, laughter, and the sound of someone getting slapped, somewhere.
“Uh, OK. Tell her I love her.” Levy tried once more to peer inside, in vain.
“We will. Now scoot.” His mother pulled her head inside, and closed the door, leaving Levy to head off for the barn, where the wedding was to take place.
Levy found his father talking with the village fathers. He greeted them all, and they all wished Levy well, and then he and his father took a walk, to talk.
“Are you ready, Levy?” Eli was also wearing his formal clothes, which in his case were rather bulky.
“No. Were you?”
Eli laughed. “No. I don’t think you can be. Sometimes I think only married people should get married. I mean, it’s the most important thing in the world, and we leave it to total novices.”
Levy laughed. “I suppose. Well, this is it. As long as I can remember I’ve looked towards this day, and now it’s here. And I’m so nervous I’m shaking.” He held out a quivering hand, and his father laughed at the sight. Levy dropped the arm back to his side. “It’s silly. After all, Sarah’s just a woman. She isn’t going to hurt me; she loves me. Why else would she marry me?”
“Right. Just remember to treat her like that. You have to live the rest of your life with her…start it right.”
They arrived back at the barn, having walked a big circle around the yard. By this time the guests had started arriving. Levy and his father, as per tradition, greeted them at the door. As the barn started to fill, noon crept up, and soon Levy was sweating under his wool clothes. It wasn’t all the heat, however.
Soon it was time for Levy to move to the front of the barn with his father. Mattan, Levy’s younger brother continued greeting the guests. With nothing else to occupy his time, Levy started to shiver in earnest. He stood in one spot, not moving, rehearsing what was to follow in his mind. His feet almost left the floor when he heard the shout from outside.
“Here comes the bride!”
Levy turned to face the open door. People crowded in the way, but they soon parted. There, leading the wedding party, was Sarah. She was clad in her clan colors, also red, but a brighter shade. Tradition was kind to her, allowing her a muff to hide her hands in. Levy’s felt as if they were going to fall off, they were so awkward. Sarah was smiling, a nervous, but beautiful, smile. Seeing her, all alone in front of her party, facing so many people, many of whom were strangers, Levy felt for her, and, finally, stopped shaking.
She joined him at the front of the crowd. He took her, and for the first time, publicly kissed her. The crowd started chanting the word ‘Amonta’, an ancient word meaning ‘lovers’. As the tempo and volume increased, they parted, and then Levy leaped onto the platform with his father. He reached down, and helped Sarah up as well. They turned and faced the chanting but expectant crowd. Levy raised both arms and shouted.
“Listen all you people!” The words rang out above the chant. The people, expecting this, immediately stopped. “This day I take this woman, with her permission, as my bride! If there be any challenge to this, speak now!”
There was no answer. Levy hadn’t expected one, but had there been one, he felt ready to accept it. “Then she is mine, and I am hers, forever!”
Eli stepped forward and joined their hands. “Inasmuch as there is no challenge, I now pronounce you man and wife.” As the two embraced and kissed, the roof rang with the massed shout of ‘Issi!”, another ancient word that meant ‘two, yet one’.
Eli turned to step off the platform, when something hard and heavy brushed up against him, almost knocking him over. He looked up, to see a short stout man standing between him and the kissing couple. The man was wearing shiny, black leather, and had immaculate, short hair.
“Listen to me, now, all you people!”
Levy and Sarah looked up startled. This wasn’t part of the ritual. Sarah gasped in shock.
“Abel! What are you…”
She stopped in amazement. Abel’s eyes were shining brightly from within. Levy stared at him as well, as a silence fell over the crowd.
“Mark this day well! Mark it for many years! For I tell you a great thing!” Dead silence reigned in the building. Abel’s words echoed off the walls. “Of this union shall come a child, a man child, and he shall do many marvelous things! He shall be of great renown, and shall be a blessing to many people!” Abel blinked then. Instantly his eyes were a normal, dark brown. He looked out at the assembled crowd, who were all staring at him. He paused, momentarily overwhelmed. The brief inspiration that had led him to the platform was finished, and now it was just him. Then he opened his mouth, and yelled what seemed to be the right thing to say. “So let’s celebrate!”
The celebration continued well into the night, and would continue for weeks to come. A delegation had arrived from Lord Dargon himself, bringing enough food to feed the mass of people well for a dozen days. The newlyweds, however, as most newlyweds do, had other, more pressing business, and left shortly after dark.
Levy and Sarah arrived at their new home just as the fireflies started to come out. There they found a fire burning, their bed neatly made, and the traditional nightfruit resting on a bare table. Together they sat on the bed, and, as per tradition, together bit into the red fruit. They then broke into soft laughter as the juice ran down their chins, something that, if it wasn’t traditional, was at least common.
Levy leaned forward and licked the juice off Sarah’s chin, ending with a kiss. She reciprocated. They ate the rest of the fruit, and kissed again.
“It’s finally over. We’re married.” Levy embraced Sarah firmly.
“At last.” She ran her hands over his back.
“You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this.”
Sarah chuckled sultrily. “Oh, yes I do.”
Just then came a knock at the door. Levy frowned, then got up. He walked over to the door, and opened it. There stood the Ariel’s, neighbors from a mile away.
“We wanted to congratulate you!” Abe Ariel shook Levy’s hand vigorously, and his wife gave Sarah a hug. “We’re going home now. See you tomorrow!”
They then walked off into the dark. Levy and Sarah looked at each other, and then laughed. Levy shut the door, and they walked back to the bed. Levy grabbed Sarah and pulled her down on top of him. She squealed happily, and then started kissing him. Levy kicked his shoes off, and with his feet pulled hers off as well. She slid down beside him, and they embraced tightly. Then there came another knock at the door.
Levy got up. I hope this doesn’t get to be a habit, he thought. At the door there stood John, a fellow apprentice at the smithy.
“Just wanted to congratulate you! And you too, Sarah!”
“Thank you, John. Have a good night.” Levy watched while John disappeared into the dark, then shut the door.
A few minutes later two more people walked up to the door. It was two more neighbors, from across the next creek. It was a harried Levy that opened the door, and a rumpled Sarah that accepted a hurried embrace. The neighbors didn’t seem to notice, however, and left cheerily. A few minutes after, when yet another family stopped by to give their congratulations, it was an empty house they found.
Levy held Sarah’s hand as he led her down the path to the quiet brookside. There they found a small meadow, far from any houses. There they spread the still-warm blanket, and there they lay down.
After they kissed, Sarah whispered to her new husband. “You’re a wonderful, wise man, Levy.”
“You’re a wonderful, beautiful woman, Sarah.” He kissed her. “What do you think your brother meant by what he said?”
“I don’t know.” She kissed him, caressing the back of his head. She lay back, on the blanket. “He said we’re going to have at least one child.”
Levy leaned across her. “At least one.”
Sarah put her arms around his neck. “How many children do you want, Levy Barel?”
“A thousand!” He started kissing her neck.
“Well,” she answered, smiling broadly, “we’d better get started!”