Lilavati awoke to find Manas at her back, as usual. She sat up, wincing as she pushed herself up. She glanced down to see an angry red mark on her left wrist where the bracelet with her tiger charm usually was. She frowned, and patted around the bedding for it. Her hand encountered the braided silk and she pulled the bracelet out from under the blanket. She gave a sigh of relief as she confirmed the tiny tiger was still intact.
She went to put it on but the burning mark on her wrist made it impossible. She slid it onto her right wrist instead and stood. She lit the fire under the brazier and started breakfast. She frowned, looking at the light she could see through the tent. She opened the door slightly and saw that the sun was farther up than she expected.
“Great Lady, are you and the Great Lord ready to leave so soon?” Ludger asked as he turned away from the few servants already loading supplies into a cart. “We’re not quite ready to break down the camp. Most people are still getting up.” He laughed. “The storm kept too many of us awake.”
Lilavati joined in the laughter. “No, we are not prepared to depart this place yet. I was confused by the amount of light. I am not accustomed to rising past the normal time.”
“No one is, which is why it’s amusing to me,” Ludger said. “Just let us know when you’re ready and we’ll get your things into the cart.”
Lilavati stepped back inside the tent and sealed the door. She turned around and was caught in her beloved’s arms. He kissed her passionately. “My katali,” he murmured, tangling her hair in his hands.
“Sikha,” she whispered, pressing against him. She could feel his desire and it sent fire through her blood.
He pulled back abruptly, chest heaving. He wasn’t wearing his binder and she could see that the curse marks had actually retreated a little. What he’d gained during the incident with Theda and her assassins was gone.
“I can’t do this,” he muttered. “I want you so badly, but the Twelve will add to our already considerable difficulties if I take you without being properly married.”
“Call for the acolyte,” Lilavati said. “Once you dress.”
“Why?” Manas asked as he started bathing.
“What if she has the ability to do the ceremony to bind us together?” Lilavati asked. “Must we have all of the trappings of the celebration? Or might we not do it in private, with only a few to witness it.”
Manas turned to face her, eyes wide. “You’d marry me here, now, with no celebration, no grand ball or feast. It would just be the two of us and what witnesses the acolyte requires.”
“I need no such things,” Lilavati said, her cheeks heating as she pulled on one of her Northern gowns. “So long as I am able to be bound to you, that is all I wish.”
Manas finished dressing and strode out of the tent. He returned a short while later with Ludger and the acolyte. “Ariane, I have a question for you,” Manas said. “I know you haven’t taken your final vows, but I also know that there are things you can do even without them. Are you able to do the ceremony that marries people?”
Ariane blinked. “I believe so,” she said. She gasped. “You wish me to wed the two of you here, now. To do it outside a temple, on unconsecrated ground.”
“You don’t need that to perform a wedding ceremony, Ariane,” Ludger said. “I’ve seen plenty of weddings take place with a preester in fields, village squares, and even places consecrated to foreign gods. You can do it here in this tent.”
“You’d need at least one witness,” Ariane said.
“That’s most likely why he brought me here,” Ludger said. He turned a speculative eye on Manas. “I have a feeling I know at least one reason you’re doing this.”
“There are many reasons why I wish to wed my katali,” Manas said. He swallowed hard. “One of them is the Halls of the Damned.”
Ludger nodded. “Ariane, marry them.”
Ariane pursed her lips. “I don’t know though. This isn’t the normal way of doing things.”
“You’ll learn that the ordinary methods of doing things don’t matter in my domain,” Manas said. “Nor do they matter in my company. I do as I please, within the limits placed on us by the Twelve. If this is permitted by the Twelve – which it seems it is – then I desire you to do this.”
“As you wish, Great Lord,” Ariane said with a sigh. She drew a contract out of her belt. “Ludger, you should read this and make sure it’s right. I’ve only ever written a few of these for the High Preester and I’m not entirely certain hers were correct.”
Ludger took the velum from her and read what was written. “It’s all in order, Ariane,” he said. A light flashed and the velum glowed blue for a moment before the light faded. “And now it’s not bespelled.”
Ariane smiled gratefully. “I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt the Great Lord and the Great Lady,” she said. She turned to Manas and Lilavati. She looked Lilavati straight in the eye. “Do you wish this as well, Great Lady?”
“I do,” Lilavati said in a ringing voice.
“I’ll skip the usual homily on the sanctity of marriage,” Ariane said. “You two seem to understand each other far better than most couples do.”
Manas glanced at Lilavati. “We’ve learned a lot about each other in these past few weeks.” Lilavati nodded her agreement.
“The Twelve don’t look favorably on those who choose violence and anger to enforce decisions in a union. You must use words and reason to get your point across. Never let your faith in each other and in the Twelve waver. Hold tight to each other, in both dark times and light. Let nothing break your bond, not even death.” She frowned, closing her eyes and mouthing the words. Then she smiled and opened her eyes once more. “May the Twelve bless your union with love, light, laughter, and peace. May you find yourselves granted with the children you desire and the life you wish. So mote it be.”
“So mote it be,” Manas murmured. Lilavati did the same. All three of them signed the contract.
“It’s done, Great Lord,” Ariane said. “You and the Great Lady are now wed.”
to be continued…