Aerema: Founding of A Kingdom
Author: Artesian Different

Chapter 29
The Second After-Fact

Cloaks, ribbons, and jewels sparkled in the great hall of Aerema castle. A breeze swirled in, perpetually playing with the fur of the gathered animals. Crystal glittered, gold shone, and Ryath spoke. "Do you, Patrick Stalwart, solemnly swear to take no other mate as long as your bride does lives? Do you swear to protect, cherish, and love her - for as long as the sun does shine, wind blows, and fire does burn?"

"Of course." Patrick said in his accented, strong voice. His steel gray fur was once again well groomed and shining. He no longer looked like a vagabond or tramp, but like a knight, a chivalrous warrior. A cloak swept off his shoulders, and curled around his tail in a cascade of scarlet.

"Do you, Alexandra kàn Zenith, solemnly swear to take no other mate as long as your groom does live? Do you swear to nurture, support and love him - for as long as the moon does glow, rain falls, and water does run?"

"Yes." Alexandra answered, her tan eyes sparkling with happiness. Her crown glittered golden and amber. Her neck was wreathed with clouds of pure white, sweet-pea like flowers, all smaller than Ryath's finger tip. Interlaced with the soft white flowers were swirls of soft, golden vine, pure gold spelled by Bronze for the occasion to grow constantly, budding out new leaves every few minutes in constant regularity. A leaf tickled her neck as an insubstantial golden curl wound its way across her chest.

"Then, if there are no objections, I pronounce you mated for life. May you be as happy as the days are long, and as content as the nights are wide." Ryath pulled out a simple woven band of coarse material, and linked the two wolves front paws. Until night fell, they would walk together, side by side. The band would never be broken.

Ryath raised her hands in welcome. "All rise to meet Patrick and Alexandra kàn Zenith." The entire great hall, packed with creatures all over Kesora, rose to their variety of types and numbers of feet - a cacophony of cheers, the clattering of hooves, whirring of wings, and patter of paws filled the air. Bronze jumped up and trotted to Alexandra and Patrick as they made their way through the crowd. The crowd parted in front of him at the sight of glittering crown. I don't think I'll ever get used to that… he mumbled thanks and made his way through the gap in the crowd.

"Congratulations, both of you!" he mewed as they came within hearing distance.

Alexandra smiled. "Thanks Bronze," she paused. "Where's Sola?"

The cat looked away. "Um…"

Patrick's brow rose. "What happened?" he asked in his deep voice.

Bronze's whiskers swiveled. "What happened? Oh… nothing. " He paused as Alexandra eyed him quizzically. "All right, fine. I want to ask her to marry me tonight, but she's on the dance floor with some cat from Cremtom. And I can't dance."

A slight grin tickled the side of Patrick's mouth. Shiny white teeth glinted as he spoke. "Anyone can dance."

Bronze shook his head. "No, I really can't. Last time I tried dance was five years ago. I was so embarrassed; I couldn't even speak. With magic, embarrassment is a lot more dang…"

"Embarrassment is inability leaving the body. Really, just go and dance!" Patrick nudged him with his free paw.

"But, I -" Patrick shoved him harder, all the way out into the dance floor.

Bronze was surrounded by swirls of fur, feathers and silken scarves in a dizzying pattern. A streak of brown fur - someone's tail - flashed over his head as he ducked, then shimmied out of the spinning raccoon's way. Almost immediately, he bumped into a pair of ferrets zipping around the floor, one of which tripped over his own feet and plowed into the ground.

He apologized profusely, and helped them up. They shot him a glare and spun off again, leaving Bronze in a little circle of avoidance amidst a swirl of joyous movement. He sighed and stroked his paw across his head and down his ear. A couple of sparks shot off the tip of his ear and cracked down his claw and into his paw pads. He ignored them, and scanned the dance floor, searching for Sola and her partner. No where to be seen…

"Lord de Menthe, were you looking for a partner?" Sola's voice. He spun around, to see Sola and the Cremtom cat standing behind him. Jealousy pulled at his fur, but he flattened his back fur and uttered a pithy comment: "Uh…"

The violins finished the final quaver of music and fell silent. He cleared his throat and began again. "Um, I was looking for you, actually." Bronze said, nervously, glancing at the tan tomcat. The cat's green eyes stared back at him for a moment, then lowered respectfully.

"Why would you be doing that?" She asked, with an air of fake surprise

"Um, because I was looking for a partner." He said, then quickly clarified. "To dance with, to the next song?"

Sola smiled. "I'd love to." She turned to her partner, who had been watching silently, his face passive and unreadable. "Aphelion, would you excuse us?"

"Sure, " he said with a slight smile. "Catch up with you later?"

Sola nodded. "Definitely. You'll be in Nrael all week, right?"

"Yes, until Sunday." The band was striking up a new beat. Slower this time, more placid and gentle than the last dance. Bronze tried to place the rhythm, but had no clue what dance this one belonged to. The tan cat was still speaking. "After that, I'm heading back to Cremtom. You're welcome to come with me."

"Thank you… but I don't think so. As much as I'd love to see everyone again, I've got too much to do here." She replied, reluctantly.

Bronze shuffled his feet, and finally Sola turned towards him. He was beginning to regret asking her to dance. It was like a weevil asking a flea to a jumping contest. He looked around the room, and spotted Patrick, grinning at him.

Sola spoke. "What dance would you prefer?"

"There are more than one?" He paused as her eyes widened. 'Um, I don't know. How about you chose?"

"Will a Boreal waltz work?" She asked.

Bronze blinked. He had never even heard of a Boreal waltz. He couldn't recognize it - let along dance it himself. "I should warn you, I'm not a very good dancer."

"That's okay. In a Boreal waltz, the girl leads." Sola explained, her eyes sparkling mischievously. Bronze twitched a little in relief.

"Oh." He let Sola orient him into the proper position, a loose hold, with tails twinning around each other. He was very conscious of the way her fur felt against his. A warm feeling began to rise in his paws, but he pushed it back. That was the last thing he needed.

The waltz was fairly simple, but Bronze tripped over his own paws regardless. Four left feet, he grumbled at himself. Sola carefully lead him around the dance floor, explaining the origins of the Boreal waltz as she went. "It's an Elven dance. It was originally invented by the queen Arielas in the first dynasty. It was considered rude to lead a noble higher than yourself, and so ladies never danced with males beneath their social status." Bronze somehow spun around. He wasn't sure how that happened. He felt a little dizzy. He nodded as she finished her explanation.

"Sola… I'd, I'd like to ask you something," he said hesitantly.

"Go ahead," she said.

"Um, I'd like to say that I've really been enjoying my Elven lessons." He said, then whistled thank you.

Sola whistled back a quavering welcome. "It was my pleasure," she added.

"I uh, really like your company, and I was wondering… " The music had ended with a pleasant flourish which drowned out the rest of Bronze's sentence. He was holding her paw still, and he could feel his paws heating up with nerves and embarrassment. "I think I -"

There was a sudden scent of singeing fur. Sola winced, and pulled her paw out of Bronze's. "Ouch!" She yelped, cradling her burnt paw

Bronze's face collapsed. "I'm so sorry! Are you okay?" He asked, as Sola rubbed her paw, wincing.

She smiled slightly, but a few tears glistened in the corner of her eyes. "I'm fi -" She stopped suddenly, staring at her burnt paw. Seared lightly into her center paw pad was "I ♥ U," She blinked at it.

"I, I can heal it for you… I'm really sorry." He looked close to tears too. He tried to control his distress. His paws were burning a charred hole in the floor.

"Maybe you'd better see it first," she said, showing him her paw.

His jaw went slack. "But how?" He carefully banished the heat from his elbow down, and examined it. She shivered. Now his paw was ridiculously cold. "I swear I didn't plan that. But, but, I do."

"You do?" she asked.

"Y-yes, I do," he replied.

"Me too," she said, smiling.

Bronze gulped. Here was the big one. The question he'd been waiting to ask.

He gathered himself.

And stalled.

He traced the burn with one glimmering blue claw. I… ♥ … U. All healed…

He drew a breath.

"Sola, will you marry me?" The question tumbled out. Hooray!

"I…" For once, she was speechless, instead of him. "Yes."

Bronze's eyes lit up. He closed his eyes, intending to pull a Queen's tiara out of the air, but before he could finish the filigree on the brow, Sola leaned in, and nuzzled him. He nuzzled her back, carefully finished the tiara, and placed it on her head.

"Thank you Bronze." She murmured. The green topaz glittered like her eyes as she moved. Suddenly, Bronze was aware that the entire room was watching them. It was very quiet.

Then the noise returned, as the guests hurried over to congratulate the King and his bride to be. "Way to go sis!" The tan cat from Cremtom patted Sola on the shoulder. "You didn't even ask me if it was okay. Not that I really mind."

Sola's ears flattened. "I don't need permission from my big brother for everything."

"Brother?" Bronze asked. Oh. That explains it.

Alexandra and Patrick finally reached Bronze and Sola. The band was hampering their movement - it was difficult to walk with three front feet. "See?" Patrick goaded. "Was I right pushing you onto the dance floor?"

"Uhuh," Bronze mumbled. "Thanks Patrick."

Alexandra smiled. "Congratulations…" Patrick and Alexandra moved away to allow the crush of well-wishers to envelop the two cats. Sola was laughing and answering a question, Bronze was glancing surreptitiously at the burn mark around his feet. A tickle of magic swept down to his feet and attempted to erase the burn. Erin squeezed in and caught his attention, so he abandoned his efforts, which were going nowhere anyway. Ryath parted the crowd and walked in to speak to the two.

Alexandra nudged Patrick. "Shame that tomorrow it's back to work…"

He nodded. "Yup. But we'll have another wedding to look forward to, won't we?"


 

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