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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 4

Gerald stretched out the brief trip as much as he could, adopting an old man’s shuffling gait, leaning heavily on Storm’s arm for pretended support, but the speed of his rapid-fire questions more than made up for the slowness of the pace he set. He bounced from one subject to another so fast Storm almost couldn’t keep up, revealing a quicksilver mind with a memory like a steel trap.

One of his questions, “How did people get around on Elder Earth?” and Storm’s casual response, “Planes, trains, and automobiles,” demonstrated his quick grasp of new information and his ability to comprehend and apply it. His follow-up questions about airplanes and the principles of aerodynamics rapidly escalated beyond Storm’s ability to answer.

“Look,” he said finally as they approached Krista’s house, “I was a soldier, a Marine infantryman, not an engineer. I didn’t build those things you know; I just rode around in them.”

“Yes, yes,” Gerald agreed quickly, “but since the air gets thinner the higher you go, there must be some point when this ‘lift’ you’re talking about under the wings isn’t strong enough anymore. How do you figure out or calculate wh–”

“I don’t know!” Storm fumed, interrupting him. “I’m not a mathematician either!” He ushered him in through the gate. “That’s enough questions for now. You said you wanted to pay your respects to Krista; well, we’re here now.”

The old wizard couldn’t keep the disappoint from showing on his face. “Of course, of course,” he managed reluctantly. “Perhaps another time then.” He gave Storm a hopeful look as he edged slowly out of the room.

“Perhaps,” Storm agreed. “Now go.” He waved him away. As soon as the wizard was out of sight he sank down on a nearby bench with an explosive sigh of relief.

Ralt gave him a sympathetic grin. “Now you know what I put up with when he was teaching me.”

“How did you put up with it?” Storm wondered.

Ralt gave Lorelei a mischievous, sideways glance. “Stoically.”

She gasped, then dissolved in a fit of laughter. Storm had once fallen on top of Ralt, prompting the slight wizard to ask how she put up with her husband on top of her. His answer now echoed hers that day. Storm caught the reference and just rolled his eyes, prompting her to laugh even harder.

Thomas came in, looking around. His eyes lit on Durin. “You’re back! Good. I’ve got some questions about this Captain of the Guard business if you’ve got some time.” The fake hick accent he usually assayed was missing. His voice was serious, all business.

Durin nodded. “Glad ta see yer taken’ yer new post seriously. I’d be glad ta help ye,” he smiled. He waved him ahead. “Lead on,” They left, discussing weighty matters of barracks assignments, ration allotments, and duty schedules.

Lorelei sat down beside Storm, leaning up against him. “Now what?”

“Well, there is something we’ve been needing to do,” Storm told her.

Ralt blinked. “Well, I think I’ll make myself scarce then. There must be . . .”

Storm stopped him. “No, no; stay. This involves you too.”

“It does?” they asked him in unison.

“Sure,” he shrugged. “After all, I want Ralt to be my Best Man.”

Ralt stared at him suspiciously. “The best man at what?

* * * * *

For years Storm had been convinced that discussing Earth with people on Gaia would earn him nothing but blank stares or difficulties. But since telling Ralt, Durin, and Lorelei about his true origin, he’d been put in the position of having to tell a number of other people about his background too, and without exception every one of them had been open to the idea and even excited to meet someone from what they referred to as “Elder Earth.”

As he strode through the streets of Zered with Lorelei and Ralt on his heels, he searched his memory and gradually came to the realization he’d never actually tried to tell anyone where he was from until he met his friends. Before that he’d just gotten himself into trouble when he had occasionally used some expression from Earth then fumbled and stumbled when people wondered what he was talking about.

He remembered one time in particular when a near miss from a falling tree had caused him to involuntarily gasp, “Holy Moses that was close!” Fellow guards on the caravan he was with at the time, had been curious to know who Moses was and his tongue-tied confusion had made a bad situation worse. When he couldn’t answer, they’d started making fun of him by calling him, Mad Moses.

It wasn’t a memory he particularly relished.

But since meeting his friends he’d had to tell the Mayor of Breckinridge and one of his guards about his origins, he’d had to tell Thomas and Krista, and this morning he’d had to tell Gerald too. Instead of being skeptical or suspicious, every single one of them had been intensely curious to know more about Earth. If he was honest with himself, most of his problems talking about Earth came from himself, not them.

His impulsive decision to ask Ralt to be his Best Man must have triggered something in the back of his mind. While he hadn’t reached any concrete conclusions yet (another Earth saying, he realized), he decided he didn’t want to hide it anymore, come what may.

“The best man at what?” Ralt asked yet again, hurrying to keep up with Storm’s long strides.

“It’s an Earth custom,” Storm answered absently, putting his ruminations aside as he tried to remember where the jewelry merchants had their shops. Prior to accepting the job with Sodan, he’d only been through the city twice, and both times he’d only gone as far from the main gate as the open marketplace where the caravans hawked their goods to the local merchants and vice versa.

“That’s what you keep saying,” Lorelei objected, “but you won’t tell us what custom you’re talking about or what it has to do with me.” Like Ralt, she was hurrying to keep up with Storm, but her longer stride made her task easier than his.

“I’ll tell you as soon as I . . . AH HA!,” he exclaimed. “There it is! I knew I’d remember it if I saw it. Come on,” he said excitedly. He led them into a mid-sized store whose only sign said Javan’s Jewels.

Ralt and Lorelei shrugged helplessly at each other as they followed him in. They found him already talking to the owner, Javan Cuthbert, a stout bespectacled man.

“I remember you,” Javan was saying. “You came through here as the Captain of the Guard for Wagonmaster Rogar – a couple of years ago wasn’t it?”

“About that,” Storm agreed readily. He was busily scanning the gems, necklaces, bracelets, rings, tiaras, pendants, earrings and other items laid out in their cases. Two huge guards, swords at the ready, stood behind the owner watching everyone with suspicious eyes.

“But you didn’t tell me you were a Ghibbore,” he grumbled. Krista’s announcement to her people that Storm was a Ghibbore had made the rounds of the entire staff within the hour, and they, in turn, had spread the news far and wide around town.

“News travels fast,” Ralt noted.

Storm left off looking around for a moment. “Don’t take it personally, Javan. I didn’t know it myself until just recently. There! That’s what I’m looking for,” he said, pointing a display case full of rings. “Can I see those?”

“These are blanks,” Javan said, unlocking the case. “I guess you’re looking for a custom ring?” He laid a wooden case full of rings on the counter-top. It was full of plain gold and silver rings laying on a plush red cloth. A few of them had a single gem already mounted, but that was it. “With these as your foundation, I can add anything you want to them, engrave them, inside or out. I can enlarge them, shrink them down in size, customize them any way you want. Just let me know.”

Storm flashed him a quick grin. “They’re fine the way they are, Javan. Now be quiet,” he said, picking out two gold rings and a thinner one with a small diamond on it.

He turned to Lorelei.

“We’re married according to Biqah customs,” he began, “as well as what’s called ‘common law’ marriage on Earth, but that’s not the traditional way we do it on Earth.”

Everyone in the store froze at his mention of Earth, staring at him in rapt fascination.

Lorelei took a moment to adapt to the change in subject. Where was he going with this? “Alright,” she said slowly. “But like you said, we’re married according to Biqah customs.”

“Of course we are,” he agreed quickly. “But I want you to have want a big formal, Earth-style wedding, the kind every woman dreams of.”

She blinked.

“Okay.” A slow smile began to form. “And what is a big formal, Earth-style wedding?”

Dead silence descended on the shop as everyone left off what they were doing to watch and listen to the Ghibbore who seemed to be claiming he was from Elder Earth.

“Well, when a man meets a woman he wants to marry, and he knows she wants to marry him, he goes out and buys three rings; an engagement ring and two wedding rings.” He put the two plain rings aside and held up the ring with the diamond on it. It sparkled in the sunlight coming in through the windows. “The diamond symbolizes purity,” he explained. “The man goes to the woman and gets down on one knee.” He dropped to one knee in front of her.

Lorelei bit her lip to hold back quick tears that were threatening to form.

“He takes her left hand, like this,” he continued, his actions matching his words, “and says, ‘Lorelei Abeytu, I’m Storm from Earth and a Ghibbore of Gaia. I love you and only you. Will you marry me and spend the rest of your life with me?’” He paused, waiting.

She nodded violently, not trusting herself to speak.

He smiled. “When she says ‘yes’ he puts the ring on her ring finger so all the world will know they’re engaged to be married.” He stood up and she flew into his arms. After a long moment applause broke out in the shop. A buzz of conversation engulfed the room about his ringing proclamation that he was from Elder Earth.

Embarrassed and aware of what he’d just done, he grinned and waved for them to stop. “That’s just the engagement,” he protested. “We still have to get to the wedding.”

Lorelei was wiping her eyes. Ralt silently handed her a kerchief. She nodded her thanks and dabbed at the tears running down her cheeks. “What’s the wedding?” she snuffled. “And the other two rings?”

He scooped them up. “Plain gold rings, wedding rings; these are exchanged during the wedding ceremony,” he explained. “We’ll exchange traditional wedding vows the way we do them on Earth – I’ll write them down – and you put my ring on my finger and I put your ring on your finger. We both say, ‘I do,’ and we’re married.”

“I do what?” she asked, regaining her composure.

“You’ll find out when I show you the vows,” he replied. “But first we have to get a pure, white wedding dress for the bride, and a tuxedo for the groom.”


He waved a hand in the air. “You’ll see. But the best man stands beside the groom, holding the rings until it’s time for them to be exchanged. That’s where you come in, Ralt.” He looked at him hopefully.

Ralt bowed slightly. “I would be honored, Sir.”

Lorelei looked up at him. “Do you have bridesmaids on Eld . . . on Earth?”

He chuckled. “Oh, boy do we ever! I’ve seen weddings with seven or eight at a time. The one closest to the bride is called the Maid of Honor.” From the corner of his eye, he saw Javan scribbling furiously in a journal. “And after the wedding, the bride wears her wedding ring and engagement ring together, with the wedding ring on the inside, closest to her heart, or so they say.”

“It sounds lovely,” Lorelei smiled. She kept glancing at her engagement ring.

“Good. Oh! And just so there’s no misunderstanding,” he added glancing around, “on Earth each man has only one wife and each wife has only one husband.” In for a penny, in for a pound, he figured.

A shocked murmur ran through the shop. Polygamy had been the norm on Gaia for centuries. It was only with the recent upsurge in popularity of the Lord of Light that monogamy had begun to be practiced with any regularity.

Lorelei smiled like the cat that ate the canary. “So you’re mine and mine alone?” she purred, already knowing the answer.

He slid his arms around her. “That works both ways you know.”

She kissed him lightly. “Done and done.” She turned her head. “Javan? Wrap him up. I’ll take him.”

Laughter rippled through the room.

Javan smiled. He plucked the wedding rings out of Storm’s hand. “Shall I put these in a box for you?”

“Sure thing.” He turned back to Lorelei. “The groom isn’t supposed to see the bride in her wedding gown until she walks down the aisle. Think you can handle getting it?”

“Can a woman handle buying a wedding dress?” she laughed. “Maybe you should ask the sun if it can handle shining.”

He cowered in mock fear. “Okay, dumb question. Alright, go see about your dress while I get my tux.” He paused in thought. “We should get this done several days before the council meeting. How does three days from now sound?”

“Heavenly.” She kissed the tip of his nose then skipped out of the store.

He paid for the rings without arguing over the price.

“I ought to give ‘em to you for free,” Javan said as he counted the money. He glanced at the growing crowd in the store. “Once this story gets out, people will start wanting to get married the Elder Earth way with rings. I might have a lot more customers before long.”

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