July 8, 2016 by Lyn
Blood’s thicker than the mud
It’s a family affair
They decided on not-black, which taxed both of their wardrobes. Emrys did all right with it; he had put on black slacks nevertheless, insisting that the pants didn’t count with regard to the outfit’s color, and topped them with a charcoal buttondown. Shahin had been at a bit of a loss, until she remembered an outfit her mother had bought for her: a violet mohair sweater and a violet-charcoal-and-white plaid skirt. “If you laugh at me…” she warned Emrys, but she knew it looked good on her.
“Not at all,” he murmured appreciatively. “You look lovely. Shall we go?”
“We should,” she agreed, “before I lose my nerve.” She smiled at him, though, and held his hand gently as they left.
The trip into the Village was uneventful, and Emrys led them through its bustling streets, alight with the decorations of the season. Drake’s house was situated on the edge of town, atop a slight hill – Shahin expected nothing less of him. It kept with the Middle-America theme of the town, but it was a little bigger, a little darker, than the houses around, the trees red maples and dogwoods looming red and leafless, holly lining the path with sharp leaves.
As they approached the house, another figure appeared from the other direction, turning up the path almost beside them. Agatha, clad in a plain but flattering red dress – and apparently headed their way. Wonderful. “Are you joining us this evening, Aggie?” Emrys asked, pausing a beat as she caught up.
“But of course,” the girl smiled, flashing her own cream-colored invitation. Shahin caught just enough of a glimpse to recognize it as identical to hers: Agatha sh’Regine,
You are Cordially Invited…
Beautiful. Shahin smiled brightly at the girl to cover her distaste and surprise. “What a pleasure, then.” This was going to be an interesting night. Sh’Regine? It explained so much, she pondered, and left so much more open.
“Let’s not keep the man waiting, hmm?” Agatha preceded them to the door, knocking lightly on the old oak. Gritting her teeth in a smile, Shahin followed. Like mother, like daughter. Both are imperious bitches.
She didn’t have much time for the thought, as Professor Drake answered his own door, looking exactly as he typically did in his office, except for the smile. “Agatha, Emrys, Shahin. Come in and be welcome.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Shahin murmured, Agatha’s brighter thanks almost drowning her out.
“Let me get you something to drink.” He walked them in through his foyer as he talked, taking their coats. The house was paneled in dark wood, the furniture leather – man cave, albeit a very classy, expensive man cave. The living room looked as if it took up much of the downstairs – did he a do a lot of entertaining, then? He didn’t seem the sort.
“Just seltzer for me, please,” Shahin demurred.
“Cognac, if you don’t mind,” Emrys requested. A small smile from Drake told Shahin that the two of them had indulged together before; Emrys knew his tastes.
“That sounds lovely,” Agatha agreed in dulcet tones that seemed rather unlike her. Putting on a show for the professor? Certainly not for Shahin or Emrys.
“Of course.” Drake went about his preparations while the three of them made small talk and, inwardly, Shahin kept thinking sh’Regine. Really? No wonder the Director had ignored what had happened to Kailani.
Drake brought their drinks, but he’d only set them down when there was another knock at the door, and he went to answer it. Another round of greetings – a male voice, Ambrus she realized, and another girl, a student by her tone, although Shahin couldn’t make out their words.
She glanced at Emrys, wondering if he’d heard the voice. Ambrus. His father. Their father. Who had rescued them from the dragon.
In a moment, she didn’t have to wonder. Ambrus was walking in, attired stylishly as usual, and on his arm was Mea, clad in a ruffly, ankle-length blue dress that was much more sedate than her usual choices. Emrys and Agatha turned to greet them – and Agatha wasn’t the least bit surprised, Shahin could tell. Had she been aware of the guest list? And had Ambrus merely led Mea here, or was she supposed to be his date? Emrys, for his part, looked more curious than surprised; was he wondering the same things she was? And what were they going to say to Ambrus?
She settled for “hello” for starters, although it was entirely inadequate, and a handshake that left her fingertips tingling. That had happened at the dance, too, so many lifetimes ago. Had it been a sign, even then? And why hadn’t she received a similar warning about Emrys? Or, she realized, maybe she had. She brushed her fingers against her lover’s hand, feeling the echo of the first sparks. No, there were no regrets there.
While she was thinking, Drake had fetched drinks for the new arrivals, and now they were all lounging comfortably. She wondered how long that would last, though; she barely knew Mea, and small talk with Agatha was a trying proposition even at the best of times. Ambrus… what could she say to him, now?
“I never thanked you,” she began, just as Drake cleared his throat, commanding their attention.
“That’s all of us now, since Tristan couldn’t make it, and I believe Gill has dinner ready. Shall we adjourn to the dining room?”
All of us. Two cy’Lindens, a cy’Drake, and a cy’Pelletier – wait, Tristan? Ambrus, Emrys, Tristan… She frowned as they wandered to the long dining room table. Those three were all Arthurian, but…Shahin is certainly not from the Mallory.
She chewed it over as they reached their places – yes, they actually had placards and assigned seats. How quaint. Drake was seated at the head of the table, with Ambrus on his right, followed by Emrys and then Shahin; Agatha and then Mea were seated to Drake’s left. She wondered what the Professor was thinking, seating Ambrus and Emrys next to one another; was he trying for an explosion?
No, she realized as she looked again; it was a hierarchy. They were distanced from Drake by – age? Possibly, but that wasn’t why, she suspected. Rank, that was it. By Cohort, except that Emrys had been elevated above Mea for some reason; because he was Drake’s student? Or possibly just to seat him next to Shahin.
Either way, Ambrus looked no more comfortable with the arrangement than Shahin was, as he studied his son. Before they had too much time to get uneasy, dinner was served, at least temporarily forestalling the potential awkwardness. The man who served them had a decidedly piggy mien to his Changes, with floppy pink ears and a snouty nose, but he was thin, trim, and cheerful as he set a delicious-smelling plate in front of each of them. Shahin hid her smile with a sip of water, just as their host spoke again.
“A toast, before we partake,” Drake suggested, his voice carrying well in the room and demanding attention as he lifted his glass. “To the spirit of giving, and receiving. To happy days past, and joyous ones yet to come. To remembering who we are, and where we come from.”
Who we are. As Shahin lifted her glass, pieces began falling into place, clear as a picture. And there was a picture, too, on the wall, a coat of arms hung above Drake’s head – Argent; on a saltire azure a Chinese lion, passant.
Ambrus has had a son or daughter in every Cohort to date,Drake had said. Tristan could have been the First Cohort, Agatha was Second, Mea Third, Emrys Fourth – and Shahin was Fifth Cohort. And Agatha, damn her eyes, must have known – the token made more sense, placed against Drake’s coat of arms.
But the names? “Who are we, really?” she asked, once all the glasses had been lowered. “I see the pattern, but ‘Shahin’ doesn’t really fit it; neither do some of the others.”
And now that little blonde bitch was smiling at her, and nodding. She’d known everything!
“That’s because,” Ambrus began slowly, “‘Shahin’ isn’t the name I gave you.”
Sleep well, Shahin, little black mage… The memory was tucked in the box where she kept all of that horrible time, but she studied it now. “‘Little Black Mage?'” she asked. “That doesn’t sound quite like a name.”
“That’s not it,” Emrys replied, a dawning realization in his voice; had he just come to the same conclusions she had? Ambrus was answering her, though.
“Your mother, it seems, felt ‘Merlin’ wasn’t appropriate for a girl. I don’t have a lot of memories from that time,” he admitted, “but once I remembered you, I remembered naming you for the wizard.”
“Not Igraine or Morgause or Nimune… but Merlin?” She turned over the name in her mind, trying to get a feel for it.
“Merlin,” Ambrus nodded.
“And the others?” Emrys asked. He would, of course, want the whole picture.
“Trist is Trist, and you’re… well,” he shrugged defensively. “I gave you my name. It seems my sons’ mothers generally complain less? Agatha… her foster-mother chose that, I’m told. I named her Agrestizia.”
“What about me?” Mea asked quietly, wide-eyed as she caught on to the conversation; apparently she’d known the least, coming in to this.
Ambrus smiled sadly. “Your mother named you ‘mine;’ I think that’s clear enough. But I called you Morvydd.”
“Merry Christmas,” Drake announced, cutting into his food and clearly prepared to take the role of observer. “I’m sure you all have so much to talk about.”