This was madness.
Ean sat in the office of the chief pastor, and notary, of Sara’s Rest, a wizened old Lilta partriarch named Finaha Tirlintir, and felt the insanity of what he was about to do. The sensation was only increased by the concerned looks the little old man was giving himself and Danya, and compounded by the fact that all of Finaha’s warnings were accurate.
“Prince Tavarin, Lady Firrisskahv…” Finaha looked between them again, his eyes and ears focused in, “Are you both certain you wish to do this? I understand your reasons, and I do not believe what you intend is evil under the circumstances, but it will anger a great many people.” He set his attention entirely on Ean. “Possibly, if I may be so bold, including your father, Prince Tavarin.”
Possibly was understating things. Certainly.
Ean shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
Before this moment the betrothal had just been a plan that he and Trin had come up with. Now, however, with the contract filled out and on the pastor’s giant white kren-wood desk, lacking only four signatures to make it binding, the situation was very very real.
There would be consequences.
Ean glanced at Danya and saw that she was pointedly not looking at him. However, there was a stiffness in her posture that pointed to a great deal of worry. Also, was that a greenish tinge to the scales on her forehead?
Those scales were no encouragement. She was other, and not anything he could fully understand or control.
Was this the right choice?
Yasaw, please give me wisdom and faith.
Ean prayed inside, crying out, while the tension in the room thickened. He heard a squeak of wood and realized it was coming from Danya’s chair, possibly having something to do with her white-knuckle grip on the arm.
“I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Danya was no sheep. Was she?
Ean remembered his first sight of her, when she was staring at Telensgrove, filled with such longing.
Then he remembered the giant armored creature eating a whole cow, daintily, but with deadliness written in every powerful line of her form.
Danya is no sheep, Attah. She is a total stranger to us.
He looked at her again, and caught her looking back. Her irises, like amber backed with beaten gold, only emphasized how different she was.
Yet the fear he saw in them before she looked away denied those differences.
A stranger, Attah. Even if she feels fear.
Could he go against his own people for a stranger?
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”
Ean flinched as those words woke up from his memory. So similar to “love your neighbor as yourself”, but even broader. No need to question who was meant by “stranger”.
Danya fit the description perfectly.
Yet what about the rest of the people in the land, whom he also had a responsibility to keep safe?
Was Danya in more need of protecting than them?
She was certainly more dangerous. She was a Garagran, and even if she didn’t know what that meant, Ean knew the ancient language and what it translated to.
Damnedest of the Damned.
Universally the most feared creatures on the planet.
And she was no exception to their ways.
He had heard her curse by Nk’draks’sil, which, added to what she was and her aristocratic speech and bearing, meant she was almost certainly a follower of the Scales, teachings of pure evil.
She called no one by name but Trin and Pennet, not even him, possibly because she didn’t consider most human names worth knowing, and even those she seemed to like she kept at arm’s length and viewed with suspicion.
She had as much as told him that she considered him a lesser creature than herself when she laughed at the idea of marrying a human, which meant his life, or the life of the other townsfolk, or the lives of any of the people in Salshira, probably weren’t as precious to her as those of another of her kind. And Garagrans were notorious for not valuing the lives of others of their kind.
All that together, and she was still capable of murdering thousands if she suddenly found the desire. Probably more so now that she had eaten well.
And one more thing. Trin insisted that Danya was lying to them on something significant. Perhaps many things.
She looked closer to an enemy than a stranger.
Ean bowed his head.
“‘If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,’” Ean said. “‘And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning embers upon his head, and Aihay will reward you.’”
The words sank home in the tension like a sword into a pane of glass, sending it into pieces across the floor. Across the desk the old man sat up straight and smiled so wide his eyes almost disappeared in his wrinkles. Next to Ean, Danya jumped and looked at him… guiltily?
“Whatever Lady Firrisskahv is to this country, as long as she lives here peacefully I will defend her and see that she receives just and good treatment, even if it means I have to anger my father and everyone else.”
The old man nodded.
“Such fire,” Finaha said. “It’s good to see that the Tavarins are still throwing heirs that will follow Kai boldly.”
He pushed the contract across the desk toward Ean, along with a fountain pen and an ink-cloth, then called in one of the church deacons who had been waiting outside to act as a witness.
Ean took the pen and signed his name on the line for groom, then pressed his right thumb on the ink-cloth and put his thumbprint next to his signature. It might destroy it completely, but he would trade his name for Danya’s safety.
Danya glanced at him again, her face once more an indiscernible mask, then took the contract and added her own signature and thumbprint to the line for bride.
The witness followed, and finally Finaha took the contract and added his own signature, thumbprint, and official seal as a notary of Salshira.
He looked up at them and said solemnly,
“Prince Ean Tavarin, Lady Danya Firrisskahv, you are betrothed.”