Chapter 26 Air

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The drummers beat harshly on their drums and the crowd stops dancing. Slowly they move away from the dance floor, returning to their tables until only the three couples are left. By this point Radhri is back at his table and raises his hands for silence. The crowd watches their chief intensely, the three couples standing in a straight line before him.

Eyeing each couple, Radhri smiles with both excitement and pride. He gives a speech in his native language, his arms moving gracefully above his head. At specific points, the couples respond. The elders stand at their table and chant. It starts low and grows as Radhri finishes speaking. He nods his head at the band and one of the string musicians plays a slow tune matching the chanting.

The couples circle the empty dance floor. As the string player and the elders finish the chant, each couple stands together. Ari’s eyes lock onto Tal and Indra standing at the center of the dance floor. The musicians prepare to play and the audience falls silent.

The wedding ceremony begins.

The musicians play their instruments and the couples come to life. Tal, as well as the other women, steps back from Indra, or their respective male companion, and grabs her skirt in one hand. The other hand rests on her hip as she throws her chin up. She stomps her foot in time with the music, raising red dust around her. She dances around Indra slowly, turning her hips to accentuate the skirt, making it dance around her and revealing short bursts of color from beneath.

The music quickens and the women circle the men faster, grabbing their skirts in both hands and creating shapes in the air around them. Their feet kick up as they dance. Soon they release short noises of excitement, reminding Air of birds.

The music stops suddenly and the women throw one hand in the air, holding their other out to the side, still holding their skirt. The men turn to them and take their raised hand with one of their own. The music starts again and the couples spin, stomping their feet together in time. The men rest their free hands behind their backs as their eyes lock onto the eyes of their partner.

They circle until the music grows more complicated. They release their captive hands and the men clap to the music, their feet rising from the earth as they spin and whoop with happiness. The women grab their skirts in both hands and circle the men again. As the music intensifies, the dancing moves faster and faster, creating a blur of color and dust.

When the music stops the couples are facing each other, their hands holding them close together. Different music begins and the men reach down and grab the women’s skirts. They tear them away, revealing shorter skirts. The women tear away the men’s shirts and vests, revealing their bare chests.

In the silence, the men stomp their feet and pound their chests. They chant in their native language and create their own music. The women kick the skirts away and place their hands on their hips. The men raise their arms above their heads as they stomp their feet and grab their left wrist with their right hand. This signals the women to clap their hands and stomp their feet. They chant their own verses, clapping their hands in quick, staccato patterns. One woman even makes a high keening noise before returning to the chanting. They raise one hand above their head and the other in front of them.

This signals the men to lower their arms and pound their chests, thighs, and arms. The women join in with their clapping and both sexes chant, the women’s voices picking up after the men finish and vice versa. As they stomp their feet, the couples move closer together, leaving only enough room between them to continue clapping or pounding their chests.

Watching with wide eyes, Ari feels the energy between each couple. The tension builds as the couples chant together and before she can stop herself, she reaches out for Crofton’s hand, easily finding it. She squeezes it tightly and relief fills her when she feels him squeeze back.

The men hop, slamming both feet into the ground and the women quicken their clapping. The music the women and men create with their bodies and voices is filled with more emotion than anything the musicians played. Short bursts of whoops echo from the crowd as the energy fills them as well. Women give out high keens to encourage the couples on.

The clapping and pounding stops, only the stomping continues. The men and women throw their hands at each other, not touching, but holding their hands mere inches apart. Their movements synch and the chanting changes to a joined song.

The musicians join in, carefully bringing their instruments in under the singing couples. Each couple pulls out matching sets of rings and they stop singing. The elders and Radhri take over singing with the music and after a while the entire audience joins in. The couples smile brightly and place the rings on their partner’s finger. A final, singular shout from the audience appears to finish the ceremony and the couples end the wedding with a kiss.

Indra lifts Tal from the ground and spins her as they kiss. Even when they pull apart, he continues to hold her above the earth, smiling wide enough for everyone to see his immense joy no matter how far they sat. Tal mimics his expression and kisses him again.

A loud roar rises from the raiders and everyone leaps to their feet. Radhri tries to speak over the noise, but he’s drowned out, though the couples seem to hear him as they give loud cheers and the music plays dancing music.

The crowd rushes the dance floor, most to congratulate the newlyweds, but some so filled with excitement, they need to dance it out.

The only ones still seated are Ari’s group, but excited raiders soon drag Link, Sten, and Guto to the dance floor. Vico refuses until Vesna assures him she’s fine before joining the dancing. Kemp leans close to her and the two talk quietly.

Ari and Crofton watch the dancing, afraid to look at one another. Their hands are still clasped together, but neither wants to be the first to let go.

“That was something, huh?” Crofton asks, nervously.

“Yeah,” Ari answers. “I’ve never been to a wedding, but I doubt they’re usually as fun as this one.”

“Agreed.”

By the time the last raider has congratulated Tal and Indra, the two make it back to their table. Now they sit together, not separated by Radhri. They eat and drink heartily, stealing kisses and private moments, as much as they can with the celebration still happening around them.

Eventually, Kemp and Vesna move to the dance floor, joining the rest of the celebrators. Indra and Tal, noticing Ari and Crofton still sitting and having been recharged, grab both and drag them onto the dance floor. Even Radhri manages to join the dancing, giving Indra a large hug to welcome him into the family.

The energy stays high well into the morning, the sun lightening the sky far in the distance. The newlywed couples head off to their new private tents even as a few raiders remain to dance.

Ari, Crofton, and Kemp with a sleepy-eyed Vesna tagging along stumble to their shared tent and quickly fall asleep as their heads hit their pillows.

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