Rhys pulled his
cloak close around him as he climbed down the stairs into the MacRorie
family crypt. It wasn't just the weather, either, though it was
unusually cold and damp for the Michaelmas season. Coming here always
gave him a little bit of a shiver; he normally didn't believe in
ghosts, but in a place like this, one never knew for sure..
The Healer lit a ball of handfire and levitated it to glide just above his left shoulder. With the green-tinged light helping him, he picked his way past the resting-places of departed members of the MacRorie clan. He paused beside the small twin graves of two family members. Bringing the ball of handfire closer, he read the inscription on the marker slab that covered both tombs:
Jerusha MacRorie 876 - 888 Ballard MacRorie 877? - 888
Beloved children of Camber and Jocelyn, beloved sister and brother of Cathan, Joram and Evaine
"Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such are the Kingdom of Heaven."
Rhys remembered Ballard well. Though Rhys and Ballard were the same age, it was typically the two MacRories, Ballard and Joram, teaming up to play tricks on the young Rhys. Ballard was the one who told him stories about how the MacRorie dead returned to life on All Saints Eve and held a grand party in the family crypt; any member of the living who wandered into the crypt that night would join the dead for eternity. Rhys smiled to himself as he remembered how terrified he was as All Saints approached; he stayed far away from the crypt for about three days on either side of the feast day, just in case.
He had a little more trouble remembering Jerusha. Even at ten years old, she had been very much the young lady. Young Evaine was the tomboy of the family, running after the boys and causing her mother to raise her hands in frustration when she would come home with another injured kitten, skirts torn in pieces from climbing trees and crawling under fences. Jerusha would never allow that ? her main interest was sitting at home and trying to get Cathan's friends to show interest in her.
When the plague struck the two children, it was fortunate that Rhys and Joram were away at school; Evaine was sent to stay with her cousin Torcuill and his family. Rhys thought back to the winter's night when he and Joram had been roused from their sleep at St. Liam's and bundled into the back of the MacRorie carriage. It had been the faithful Sam'l who had come to fetch them, serving Camber and his family just as he still did. Rhys and Joram were vaguely aware that something was wrong; on that long nighttime trip home, the two held hands. That was the night their friendship really began.
Rhys whispered a brief prayer for the souls of Ballard and Jerusha, crossing himself at the end. He moved past the tomb and moved farther into the crypt; he could see a familiar glow a short distance away.
Silver handfire drifted above the tomb that held Jocelyn de la Marche MacRorie. Rhys stood and watched as Evaine knelt in prayer beside her mother's resting-place. She wasn't crying ? the time for tears had passed seven years ago.
Rhys had been in the midst of his studies at St. Neot's then. When the word came that the Lady Jocelyn had fallen ill, he had rushed to the MacRorie household to help. Lady Jocelyn had been a mother to him; truly, the only mother he had ever known. But nothing could be done; even King Blaine's own Healer, sent to help his friend and advisor Camber, was helpless against the ailment. To this day, no one knew exactly what it was that took the life of the Lady Jocelyn MacRorie; Rhys had never seen an illness exactly like it in all his Healing endeavors. Deep inside, though, he still wished there had been something he could have done to Heal her.
Evaine looked up and saw the Healer standing there. Perhaps she had sensed his thoughts. She smiled and extended her hand to Rhys. "Welcome, Rhys," she said. "Come and join me. She would not mind ? she was your mother as well."
Rhys stilled his trembling hands and knelt beside the bier. "She was a great lady," he whispered.
"Aye, she was," Evaine replied, her eyes focused on the slab. "Even after these many years, I still miss her."
Rhys took a deep breath. 'It's now or never', he said to himself.
He turned to face Evaine and took her hands in his. His hands were damp and clammy ? obviously, there were some things out of even a Healer's control. "Evaine," he said, "we've known each other all of our lives. I've always felt.that there was a bond between us. We have shared the good times, playing together, and the bad times, sorrow and death." He released one hand briefly to indicate the tombs of Evaine's mother and sister, then held both of hers again. "If you will, I want to share my joys and sorrows with you for the rest of our lives. Will you make me the happiest man on Earth and consent to be my wife?"
Evaine looked down shyly. "In all the years we spent together, growing up, I often imagined myself as your wife. Yet, I hardly dared dream that it would actually come to pass." She looked back up, her eyes misted with tears. "You have been a playmate, a confidante, a dear friend.I think it would be well to add husband and lover to that list. Yes, Rhys, I will marry you.if Father consents."
"He has already granted his permission and blessing to my request," Rhys said, happiness welling inside him.
"Well, then, there is no impediment that I can see," Evaine said, smiling a little impishly.
Rhys could think of no response to that comment.or rather, he thought of one response, but one that did not require words.
As their lips met, their minds opened to one another in their first rapport as husband- and wife-to-be. Though they had shared thoughts before, when playing as children, this was different. They held nothing back from one another, save the confidences Rhys had received from ill and dying patients, for he held those as sacrosanct as a priest receiving confessions.
He had no impression of how long they were joined, lips to lips, mind to mind, but a cramp in one knee caused him to break both unions.
"Ooof," he said, standing up and stretching his leg, "this damp does not exactly agree with my body ? it must be a sign of old age." He held out a hand to Evaine to help her rise.
"Old age, my eye!" Evaine scoffed, getting up. "More like too much rich tavern food for this bachelor ? you are getting a wife to take care of you just in time!" She turned briefly and touched her fingers to her lips, then gently touched the surface of the bier. "Sleep well, Maman," she said, "and thank you for witnessing the happiest day of my life."
"Until our actual wedding day, that is," Rhys said, also kissing his fingertips and touching Jocelyn's grave. "Have you a preference as to date?"
"Last week," Evaine said, grinning. "However, it takes time to put together a wedding ? I remember Cathan and Elinor's too well. Perhaps sometime around Christmastide?"
"Maybe Twelfth Night ? yes, that would be appropriate, if you agree."
"Twelfth Night would be perfect," Evaine replied, standing on tiptoe to kiss Rhys lightly on the cheek. "And may time move speedily towards that date!"
They announced their happy news that night at the dinner table. Joram was stunned. "No wonder you were so quiet on the way home, brother Rhys," he said, pouring wine for the family. "And truly, we are brothers now, or will be come Twelfth Night."
Camber smiled at his children; his daughter, his son, and now his son-to-be. "I will send a messenger to Valoret tomorrow morning," he said. "I'm certain Cathan and Elinor will be very pleased at the news. I shall also inform my friend Archbishop Anscom; if you approve, I would like him to perform the ceremony."
"Married by the Archbishop ? that will truly seal our fate," Evaine said, glancing at her betrothed.
"My fate was sealed many years ago, when I came to this household," Rhys said. "To be joined to this House by love is more than I could have hoped." He leaned over and kissed Evaine, their minds holding a light rapport to the chorus of glasses being raised by her brother and father.