Chapter 25 Air

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The night comes quickly. Bonfires and lanterns light up the entirety of the camp. The pylons from the previous night’s celebration have been torn down and replaced with long tables of food and a place for musicians to sit and perform.

The three couples to be wed join Radhri at his table, the men sitting on one side while the women sit on the other. The women wear dresses with long, flowing skirts and tops molded to their bodies, looking as though they were poured on. The men wear nice pants and shirts cut at the shoulder. Vests rest atop the shirts made of leather.

Ari, Crofton, Kemp, and the others from the caravan are seated with the rest of the raiders. They are welcomed by the ten selected to join them on their travels to the coast, but introductions are cut short.

The beginning of the celebration is signified with a small procession of the elders of the raiders. They wish the blessings of the gods on the three couples, each drinking in honor of the soon to be wed.

Once the elders sit at their designated table, Radhri stands. He speaks a few words in his native tongue, answered by the elders before he turns his attention to the rest of the crowd. “As the full moon rises in the night sky and the gods glance down from their places among the stars, we’ve gathered this night to join these souls together. Tradition now calls for the Dance of Spirit to begin.”

Waiting for this cue, one musician plays his stringed instrument, joined by another and soon a drum. Then the entire band plays together and the three couples stand. They move out towards the crowd, grabbing people to bring to the dance floor.

Tal walks right up to the table where Ari’s group is sitting and takes Crofton by the hand. Surprise fills his face and he glances at Ari, but when their eyes meet both look away quickly. He allows Tal to drag him out to dance.

A moment later, Indra holds his hand out to Ari. She stares at it before raising her eyes to his face. His expression is the usual serious expression he seems to always wear, but Ari sees a smile playing at the corner of his lips. Ari takes his hand and he leads her out to the dance floor.

The dance is freeing. As Ari tries to follow Indra’s movements, she realizes he’s not leading her, but following. She adjusts her dance and her eyes travel to each couple. Those who were brought out to dance are the ones in charge. The couples follow until she realizes everyone is dancing in similar patterns.

Watching from the table, Kemp keeps his eyes dancing from Ari to Crofton, noticing the smiles on their faces. Real smiles, not the fakes they’d been showing all day.

“Are you jealous you weren’t picked to dance?” Radhri asks, approaching the table.

Jumping at the leader of the raider’s voice, Kemp shakes his head. “Unlike those two, I have a feeling I know why Tal and Indra specifically chose them. One of the reasons anyway.”

“And that is?”

“A show of faith, so to speak. Allowing outsiders to participate in your traditions shows trust.” Kemp eyes the standing man. “A trust we humbly accept.”

Smiling, Radhri kneels down and points to Ari and Crofton. “My daughter is very perceptive, especially when it comes to those who have strong feeling towards one another. Indra informed her of the slight disagreement those two had this morning. Tal is trying to solve it.”

“I haven’t had a chance to speak with Tal privately yet, but I assume you can answer my question just as well,” Kemp says.

“What magic does Tal use?” Laughing at Kemp’s surprised expression, Radhri places a hand on his shoulder. “She’s hard to speak to about such things, simply because she only chooses to use her magic when she must. If you’re curious enough to ask me, though, I can’t deny an answer. Her magic is protection. She uses it to create protection around herself and around those she cares for. It’s the same magic her mother passed on to her and it will be passed on to her own daughter.”

“Is she the only magic user? I haven’t seen many others.”

“No, we have a number of magic users. We simply choose when we use it. But enough, the Dance of Spirit is ending and when the signal is given all are welcome to join. I suggest you ready your dancing feet, friend.”

Slapping Kemp’s back, Radhri stands and continues walking through the gathering of tables, speaking to any he passes. Kemp glances at Vico and Vesna. Both are clapping along to the music. Vesna, spying Kemp staring at her, smiles brightly, but Kemp knows there is one last thing he must do before he can ask her to dance.

As the music intensifies, the string players strumming faster and faster, the drummers suddenly slam their hands down. The effect breaks a spell through the dancing group and the pairs split. The engaged couples return to each other and those brought out to dance join together.

Ari and Crofton lock hands, both staring into the other’s eyes. They stand still, awkward as the music continues, easily changing to a more energized tune. More from the tables join in the dancing, whooping with enjoyment.

“I’m sorry,” Crofton says. “For what I said earlier. I’m sorry.”

Opening her mouth to respond, Ari hesitates. She lowers her gaze, locking her eyes on Crofton’s chest. “Some things we don’t have to tell each other. I just need to know I can still trust you.”

“Of course you can.” His chest rises and falls quickly. “I…I’ll keep my thoughts to myself, unless you specifically ask for them. I didn’t want this to come between us as much as it did.”

“You said you hated my magic. How could you not expect it to come between us?” Ari looks up at him. “And I want you to understand something. I’ve never thought you were weaker than magic users. You’re probably the only non-magic user I’d ever trust guarding my back. So get over this stupid feeling of non-superiority or whatever is happening, okay?”

Before Crofton can answer, Kemp appears and smiles at the two. “Mind if I dance with Ari for a moment?”

Crofton opens his mouth to object, but Kemp leads Ari into the dancing crowd around them. Crofton stands alone for a moment, before heading back to the table. A mixture of anger and confusion fills him and he sits down, grabbing a large glass.

“What the hell, Kemp?” Ari asks.

Leaning close to Ari’s ear, Kemp says, “Radhri mentioned Indra overheard your argument with Crofton. What argument? What did you two argue about after I left the tent?”

“Why are you suddenly interested?”

“We have to be better communicators,” Kemp says, smirking. “If I’m to understand why Crofton might suddenly think twice about helping in a fight, it better come from you.”

“He feels like we’re treating him differently because he’s not a magic user.”

“And you told him that’s shit, right?”

Glaring at him, Ari squeezes his arm tightly, purposefully digging her nails. “Of course, but he’s stubborn…and he told me something I haven’t quite forgiven him for, yet.”

“What?” Seeing the hurt and hesitation in her eyes, he leans his head to the side. “That bad, huh? Don’t tell me. This is obviously something personal between you two. But at least tell me I don’t have to keep on eye on him?”

“I promise. He won’t do anything stupid.”

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