She burst out laughing.
And kept laughing until she almost fell out of her chair.
No. She fell out of the chair.
Ean got up and held out a hand to help her up. She looked up at him after a moment and took his hand with a grip that ground the bones together. He pulled and after a moment of them both struggling he got her to her feet. He then released her hand as politely as he could and tried to pretend his own wasn’t hurting.
They were now the center of attention of the entire room.
That would not do. He needed to have a least a little time to put his plan in motion before gossip spread it over the entire kingdom.
“Lady Firrisskahv,” he started, but stopped when he noticed that the scales on her forehead and nose were rippling through a rainbow of colors. She was also still chuckling. Was that… No. Focus. “My lady, perhaps you would like to take a walk with me while I explain my idea in more detail?”
Danya snorted merrily when he said “plan” but nodded after a glance around the room at all the ears that were struggling mightily to not be noticed. She settled her laughter and her scales subsided into a rainbow-tinged black.
He led the way out through the front door into the bracing chill outside and closed the door firmly when she was through.
“Which way would you like to go?” he asked.
She smiled again and pointed North at the packed dirt road that lead to the train station.
Ean nodded and held out his arm for her to take it.
She snorted again, took his elbow with a light grip, and waited for him to lead.
He headed for the train, staying on the wooden walkways that fronted the buildings where he could.
After they had passed four buildings and crossed the street Danya squeezed his arm.
“Your idea,” she said.
“Are you going to laugh?”
“Only if you ask me to marry you again.”
Ean glanced at her, trying to figure out the subtext to that statement. While he wasn’t surprised that she thought getting married was absurd–he agreed–he had the impression that her amusement had less to do with marriage itself and more to do with the one asking.
“And what if I do?”
“Ha! Haha! My mother would tear her sides open laughing if she were alive to hear this. A Garagran marry a human. Oh!”
She almost stumbled with renewed chuckles but managed to stay with him.
“Well then you’ll be glad to know that I wasn’t asking you to marry me.”
“Oh no? My Tokarien must be rusty.”
“I asked you to agree to marry me. Betrothal, not marriage.”
He watched her out of the corner of his eye and saw her expression transition from mirthful to thoughtful.
“But that would be the same thing, yes?”
“Somewhat. The contract would have us agree to marry after a given period of time, assuming we both met all appropriate conditions. But you could still get out of it before the end date. It would just take a court hearing.”
“A court hearing. Those usually have consequences.”
“It’s just to make it hard to skip out on an engagement so families can lay in all the wedding plans with confidence. The judges take a dim view of breaking the agreement, but it’s far easier than getting an actual divorce.”
“We have similar things where I come from.”
She looked at Ean and he could tell she was studying him.
“What would I have to say to the courts to get out of the contract?”
“Really? Just that you had decided you couldn’t bear to marry me. And then you’d have to insist on it. We don’t have any laws that can force anyone to get married.”
“Hmmm.” Suddenly she smiled again. “And what if I decided I wanted to get married to you then?”
“Well then, you’d have to fulfill the proper conditions.”
“Like not be a Garagran?”
“No. That’s acceptable, technically. I already have a professor of theology drawing up a writ of Ahdahmik descent for you. We couldn’t even get betrothed if that was a problem.”
The offhand comment about the writ seemed to confuse her.
“It means you come from human ancestry.”
“My own family has at least one Alleji in our direct bloodline.”
She eyed him with what looked like a mixture of respect and distaste. The look vanished instantly, though.
“So what would the conditions be?”
“Mostly straightforward things. Such as having been chaste during the term of the betrothal and being able to swear to the vows with an honest heart. Also, being able to swear that you are a follower of Yahsaw.”
Ean turned them up the North road and kept walking.
“Kai. Er.” He searched for the word in Tokarien. Most anyone who spoke the continental tongue in Salshira still used Hahkaht words when discussing religion. “God.”
“Ahh. So I would have to follow your religion.”
“Yes. The Akahllis won’t marry a believer to a non-believer, and the laws of Salshira forbid the crown prince from taking a wife who denies the faith.”
“And the fact that I don’t hold your faith right now doesn’t block the betrothal from the start?”
“Well, technically you could change that, so, no. It doesn’t.”
“Hmmm.” She stopped walking, forcing him to look at her. “And what if I fulfill that condition and all the others, and decide I want to marry you when the contract says. What would happen then?”
Her straight mouth said she was serious. But no. Her eyes said she was smiling. And her scales had that faint rainbow tinge again.
Ean smiled back.
“I suppose I would have to marry you.”
“Why?” she asked. “You could just go to the judges and tell them you couldn’t bear to marry me.”
Ean responded with his best look of mock horror.
“What a terrible thing to say! I could never give a lady such an insult.”