With two days before the wedding, no one was getting much sleep, Tiadrin pushing herself out of bed about an hour before sunrise, and a few more to go before everyone came over for breakfast. She let out a yawn and rolled her shoulders back, wondering how she’d ever gotten used to waking up this early. Five years ago wasn’t that long ago. Or maybe age just felt different when some years were stolen from you.
She pulled a thin robe on over her pajamas, the less-than-pleasant thought drifting as soon as it came. It was something new she and Lain and been learning from their therapist, to acknowledge uncomfortable thoughts and feel them before letting them go. It wasn’t quite in her nature, but it was getting easier with practice.
Her steps were light and slow as she went down the stairs, her senses a little more awake when she heard shuffling. Lain hadn’t been in bed when she’d woken up—maybe he had gotten a head start on breakfast?—when she turned the corner into their living room and saw him hanging up some framed sketches. Tiadrin thought they were some new ones from Callum, at first, before she came to her husband’s side and saw them in closer detail. She bit back a grin when she saw the shaky lines, the shapes that weren’t quite proportional, one of them resembling Ezran’s little glow toad, looking more like a potato with sticks stuck in it than any animal.
“Rayla brought over some of Callum’s old sketches,” Lain said as they both stepped back to look at their handiwork. “They both agreed it was only fair, since…” He gestured to the lopsided wood carvings on the adjacent shelf, and Tiadrin let out a snort.
“It’s a sweet sort of competition,” she agreed. Were you really spouses if you didn’t poke fun at each other and got the rest of the family gently involved, just a little? “And now it’s in clear view of them any time they visit.” She glanced up at her husband as he wrapped an arm around her, her smile fading when she saw the bags under his eyes. “How long have you been up?”
“Maybe an hour. Exciting things have been happening.” But Lain’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“If everything with Kyrus is still bothering you—”
“We talked, actually.” Tiadrin stared at him, and Lain sighed, taking her hand as they moved to the couch. “It was sometime yesterday evening, while we were on separate errands. He’s distracting when he’s fretting over something, so… I asked, and he went on about how this corner of the village might be too crowded, but he wants to have his new home close by anyway, so we… talked. And we decided that, while he will need his own space for his… wares, it would be more compact as a storeroom anyway, so whenever he visits, he could have that while he…” Lain grumbled. “Stays in the guest room.”
Tiadrin’s eyebrows rose. “You both agreed on this?”
“I offered,” Lain said, wincing a little. “At least the storeroom means he’ll have some financial stake here, and I know you’ll want him close by too, though I still won’t ever completely understand why , and… It felt weird, but at least he hasn’t fled the village without a word to anyone yet. At least he’s talking to you about his plans, and he’s still him , but—” He softened when Tiadrin pressed a kiss to his cheek.
“Thank you, my love.”
Lain smiled faintly, giving her hand a squeeze. “Of course,” he murmured. His expression turned serious. “But if he ever hurts you again—”
“Then we’ll deal with it together,” Tiadrin said. “Besides, even if things did fall through with him, I’ve got you, don’t I? And we have a very big family for him to reckon with now. I think he’s decided that it’s just easier to join it.”
Lain’s small smile returned. “So do I.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Want me to get the tea started early?”
“Yes please.” Tiadrin watched him with fondness in her chest as he got up and went around to the kitchen. She relaxed against the cushions as she heard the soft clanging of Lain putting the kettle on, her eyes drifting back to the corner of childhood art, rough around the edges and brimming with love.
Kyrus came down after the tea was ready, just a few hours before everyone would arrive. He paused when he saw them both at the couch, a pot of tea and some mugs on the low tea table in front of them. Lain’s face was stern in a way that both became him and made Tiadrin laugh a little for how seldom the expression was used.
“Have some tea,” Lain said, and Tiadrin’s smile grew as Kyrus took a mug and sat in the armchair across from them. All of them in the living room felt a little like the corner of first sketches and sculptures—a little messy and rough around the edges, and not without some definite faults.
And like that corner, it felt like they were all exactly where they belonged.
Breakfast had been long finished, everyone talking around the table as Lain gathered up the empty plates, when Ezran heard a knock at the door. “Were we expecting anyone else?” he asked, looking around at the table. He, Callum, Rayla, Lain, Tiadrin, and Kyrus had stayed at the table, Ethari and Runaan were in the garden, and Claudia and Soren had only just left for a walk. Everyone was around except for Corvus and Opeli, the latter avoiding family breakfasts in general (she avoided the big group breakfasts at the castle as well—her tolerance for large groups waned rather quickly throughout the day) and Corvus had taken off after a quick bite, needing to stretch his legs outside the village.
“People have been coming and going for the past week,” Tiadrin shrugged, Kyrus sipping his hot brown morning potion beside her before she got up to answer the door. Her eyes widened as soon as she opened the door.
“Pardon the interruption,” came a crisp voice from outside, and Tiadrin stepped aside to allow her in.
“Master Lilen, we… weren’t expecting you.”
“I doubt you were,” she said, her voice a bit grave but not unkind. Both Callum and Rayla stood up.
“Is everything okay?” Callum asked carefully. But the elf’s eyes, sharp and creased at the corners, turned to Ezran.
“I’m afraid three of your councilmen have come to call? Your advisor and cleric apprehended them near the outskirts of the Silvergrove.”
This time, Ezran stood up. “They’re already here?”
Master Lilen sighed. “I hate to take you away from your meal, but…”
“Better now than tomorrow,” said Rayla with a scowl.
Callum set down his cup of tea. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Hopefully we’re not gone too long,” Ezran said, looking back at Lain, but he shook his head.
“Everyone will understand. Let us know if you need anything, okay?”
Ezran managed a tiny smile. “Okay.” Callum and Rayla waited for him at the door, following him as he followed Master Lilen back to the village square, and it served as a bitter reminder that there was no real break from being a king. No matter how much he had hoped that he could just be the brother of the groom for the entire month.
Just a little ways off from the center of the village was a large tree, similar to the one that made up Ethari and Runaan’s home, but there was a door at the base of this one, with little windows scattered up the trunk. Ezran touched the wood as he entered—it still felt alive, as if it had grown this way instead of being hollowed out. Parts of the interior had ring patterns along the floors and ceilings, but they didn’t have long to look, as Lilen led them to a room in the back, where three plain holding cells had been built. Opeli and Corvus were sitting near the side, and both stood up when Ezran entered. In one of those cells, the former councilman sat, a deep scowl etched into his face and dark hair cropped close to his head.
“King Ezran,” said Councilman Carlyle, springing to his feet. Ezran glanced at Opeli and Corvus.
“He brought three others,” Corvus said, “though they ran away when I apprehended him. They were waiting outside the village.”
“We’ve already told the council to keep an eye out,” Opeli said.
Rayla placed a hand on her chest. “They didn’t attack anyone, did they?”
Corvus shook his head. “No. It doesn’t seem like any of them had weapons. They probably expected to be able to speak to the Council who would agree to call things off.”
“Like Master Taredd would walk back on another decision in his life,” said Callum dryly.
“King Ezran,” the former councilman said, “I come on behalf of Katolis—”
“To complain at my brother’s wedding?” Ezran said, frowning. “How did you possibly think that would work when you’ve already surrendered what little political power you did have by resigning? And in what world did you think any of us would listen to it?”
“I didn’t,” Carlyle admitted. “But we had to do whatever we could, to keep the prince from…” He frowned. “From disgracing the kingdom.”
“Here we go,” Callum muttered. “Listen, bud, you’re fighting a losing battle. The rest of the world is moving on, with or without you.”
“I will not stand by and watch while you make a—a halfling with a claim to the throne.”
“The same way you rebuked my father’s attempts to give Callum a first born's birthright?” Ezran demanded, and Callum and Rayla slipped away hand in hand; there was no point in listening to things like this, and they knew Ezran would dole out the proper punishment. “Your time on my council is over, Carlyle, and good riddance. You and your co-conspirators will be exiled from the castle and the inner city when we return after the wedding.”
“But King Ezran—”
“We’ll keep him in custody till after the wedding,” Master Lilen said, as they tuned out the former, and now exiled, councilman. “We can wait till you and your group have a few days’ head start, before we send him out and put the barrier back up.”
“It’s okay,” Ezran said. “I don’t think they’re gonna be able to try anything.” Ezran glanced back at Carlyle; his robes and hair were disheveled. “Seems like they were a weak group anyway, to be split up so easily.”
“Soren and I can still keep a look out for the rest,” Corvus said. “Not sure where we’re gonna keep them if we find more than two, but…”
“I’ll talk to the council about that,” said Master Lilen. “But I would assume they’ve run off home if Carlyle was the leader. In the meantime, we can have Master Orym and Master Goren perform a memory seeking spell and see if the councilmen had anything else despicable planned.”
“Thank you for finding them,” Ezran said to Corvus and Opeli.
“Of course,” said Corvus.
Opeli’s lips twitched. “We look out for our family.”
Ezran beamed, giving both of them a quick but tight hug, before going back to his brother and very-soon-to-be sister-in-law.
“One more obstacle overtaken?” Rayla asked hopefully in the hall, the cell door thin
“This is not over!” Carlyle yelled from his cell, and Ezran let out a soft snort.
“Yes it is.” He turned back to the others. “Given how intense Moonshadow elves are, I’m sure a small search party will find the couple of other conspirators by the end of the day. At the very least, they don’t present any further threat to the wedding.” Ezran’s smile softened, the weight he’d felt since the letter rolling off his shoulders. “Which is good, because I’m really excited to watch you two finally get married. And, y’know, eventually bring home a sweet kid with a claim to the throne.”
Rayla reached over and hugged him. “Aw, thanks Ez.” She pulled away, wrinkling her nose. “Please don’t ever make our kid be permanently next in line, though.”
“Yeah,” Callum said, poking him in the side. “Does Ellis want a family?”
The fifteen year old flushed. “Callum!”
“Well, does she?” Rayla smirked.
His cheeks were warm. “I don’t even—Why would I even ask that—”
“Okay, okay,” she relented, ruffling his hair and then looping her arm around Callum’s waist. “We’ll stop teasing you.” She looked at her fiancé (for two more days). “We probably should look at some leftover wedding things today. We have that big family dinner tonight.”
It was their last opportunity to have everyone fully over into the wee hours of the morning, if they so chose, as the next night was their wedding’s eve with more traditions to follow, including having the future spouses unable to see each other until the wedding. Traditionally, if they were both Moonshadow, it would be easy, the two allowed to speak and sit in their Moonshadow forms (weddings were always held on the full moon). But for her and Callum, they would have to partake in a more human tradition of not seeing each other at all.
“I think we’re done here,” Ezran affirmed. “Opeli and Corvus can coordinate with Master Orym and anyone else for us.”
“Gods bless your advisors,” Callum murmured as the trio walked to the exit together. “There is one thing I wanted to run by you. I know Opeli’s been busy putting everything together for the wedding as soon as we get to Katolis, but...” His fingers were laced perfectly through Rayla’s. “Is there any way we could push the Katolian wedding after like, our honeymoon? It’s mostly symbolic anyway.”
Ezran faltered, but nodded. “It would take some rearranging,” he said, “but honestly might work out better. The timing was going to be a little tight.”
“Thanks Ez,” Rayla smiled. “And we promise not to hold it off for too long, at least so Opeli’s head doesn’t explode.”
Ezran laughed, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yeah, no problem. We can probably push it back by a month pretty easily. Aanya will be happy—it’s a busy season for Duren. I should double back and let Opeli know, then, though.”
“Want us to go with you?” Callum asked, but Ezran shook his head.
“Nah. I can handle it. You two have fun with the rest of the day.”
“We’re gonna see you at dinner,” said Rayla.
“I know. But I know you guys wanna spend some time together before the separation, so…”
“We’ll come find you after lunch,” Callum bargained, and they left it at that.
When they did find him after lunch, Ezran was sitting with Aunt Amaya and Janai out on one of the Silvergrove benches, and he smiled when Rayla held out a hand that had been purple and bound what felt like a lifetime ago. “Come on,” she said. “We have a little bit of time for the adoraburr meadow.”
Ezran took it and let himself be tugged along. They were still a trio , after all.
They had to pack themselves in like sardines, Callum thought, to all fit in Runaan and Ethari’s dining room. Lujanne sat crossed legged on a cushion with Ellis and Ava around her, Soren and Claudia laughing about something with Corvus and Barius. Tiger the cat was curled up in her lap and Ava only looked partially tempted to give chase. Everybody else crammed themselves in around the table. His mind drifted to the Banther Lodge a few times, if only because of how much more room there would be for everyone there. Good thing they would be continuing the tradition of holidays there, he supposed.
He was quiet, content to bask in the chatter around him, the dining room stuffed but never claustrophobic when Ethari came out of the kitchen with a tray of cookies after dinner.
Soren took one look at the tray and whined, though. “What? No jelly tarts?” Ezran looked similarly put out, but he had the grace not to say anything.
“We’re saving the jelly tarts for the wedding,” Rayla told them from her place tucked into Callum’s side.
“Barius’ recipe?” Ezran asked, his face beaming in a way that mirrored the happy sort of grins he’d worn well before he became king.
“Who else’s?” said Callum. Ezran’s grin widened. “Can’t say we’ll make them as well as him, but…”
“Then I’ll just help. I’ve gotten really good!” Ezran said. “Barius has been teaching me.” The cook shot him a hearty wink over Opeli’s head. “It can be part of my best man duties.”
“Hey, what about me?” Soren piped up. “I want jelly tarts too. It can be, uh, my best wingman duties. Yeah. I helped you two get together too!”
Rayla smirked. “How’d you figure that?”
“Well,” Soren began counting off on his fingers, “when we showed up at the Moon Nexus and got you in the mud Callum went over to get you out, and, uh, you guys got to bond over us, um…” He faltered.
“You’ll get them done faster with both of us,” Soren said finally, and Rayla snorted.
“You know you could’ve just led with that,” she said.
“Well I dunno,” Soren huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “You kinda had a thing for me at the Nexus and Callum was obviously jealous, so—”
Callum and Rayla glanced at each other and then burst out laughing. Callum clutched at his stomach and Rayla wiped tears of mirth from her eyes before she spoke. “What? A thing for you? Oh Soren, you’re sweet but that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I was angry at you. And Callum was not jealous.” She leaned over and kissed her betrothed’s cheek. “He’s been the only one for me for years and he knows it.”
“But—you were giving me, like, intense eyes—”
“Probably because I was trying to stop myself from killing you.” She toyed with Callum’s scarf.
Ezran looked very red when Callum glanced over. “Guys please,” he mumbled, hiding his face in his hands.
“Come off it,” she snorted, drawing away after pecking Callum on the lips. “Callum and I are going to be married in two days. We’re allowed to flirt at the table.”
“It is their right to be disgusting,” Lain chimed in from the other side of the table. He collected Tiadrin and Ethari’s plates with a quiet thank you from both of them.
Callum chuckled and stood up. “Fine, I’ll stop being disgusting and help you with the dishes, Lain.”
“You don’t have to stop on my account,” Lain said, but he didn’t keep Callum from collecting the dishes on the other side of the table and following him into the kitchen. “If anything, I’m glad you two are so comfortable around all of us.”
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Callum asked, letting Lain put dishes in the sink first and setting his down as a small dirty stack. They both reached for soapy rags.
Lain’s smile softened. “Tia and I never really got that with my parents, is all.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Callum wet a washrag. “I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s alright. We’ve made peace with it, and I really am just happy that things can be different this time. I just wanted to let you know that.”
Callum smiled a little. “Thanks.” He started scrubbing at the plates. “It has been a journey,” he acknowledged. “And not what I expected at all... Runaan and Claudia in particular.”
“I know the feeling,” Lain said. “Tumbling out of the coin, so relieved that Tia was there, very confused at a much older Rayla being there. The war over and our daughter engaged to a human prince primal mage, of all things.”
“Yeah, I know I wasn’t exactly what you might have envisioned for her.”
“Other than the smooth skull, you’re actually a lot like what we thought. Or hoped for, anyway.”
Callum glanced up at him. “Really?”
Lain gave him a small smile. “Mmhm. You’re caring, and considerate, and you love her deeply. You understand how important family is, you’re willing to adapt to our customs and traditions. You can imagine how proud and despairing Tia was when she realized how much Rayla took after her and Runaan, too.”
Callum chuckled lightly. “She has a lot of you and Ethari, too.”
“True,” Lain said. “But you balance her well and love her even better. You deserve to have people in your life who can recognize that.”
“Thanks,” Callum said, smiling back. “I was kind of worried at first, when you guys came out. I already knew Ethari and… and kind of met Runaan? But you and Tiadrin were new, and… yeah. I didn’t know what you’d be like, or if…” He set a clean dish down. “You know how you got angry when Kyrus arrived, because of how he’d treated Tiadrin?”
Lain’s smile twitched. “Yeah.”
“I didn’t know if it’d be like that? Especially when I already had issues with Runaan, and—”
“Oh, we wouldn’t have blamed you.”
Callum blinked. “Really?”
“I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I did,” Lain said with a slight smile. “Besides, it means you take care of her.” Lain dried off another plate. “It’s what partners do. Sometimes the family we’re born into fails us, whether they mean to or not. It’s good to have the people we’ve chosen there when that gap can’t be closed.”
Callum was quiet for a minute. “Like you and your parents?”
Lain nodded. “And you and yours, admittedly. My parents weren’t there for my wedding day either.”
“Lain...” Callum pursed his lips, his chest tight.
“And I know the situations are very dissimilar,” Lain said quickly, his hair falling in front of his eyes a little. “But... I do know what it’s like to wish things could be different, anyway. In some ways, I think—and I apologize if I’m mistaken—that death, ironically, can be a bit easier and harder to grapple with in some ways.”
“It can be,” Callum agreed. His parents would have loved Rayla, he knew, but both his fathers in particular had been deeply flawed. How would he have reconciled a dark mage or vengeful king to Lain and Tiadrin? Would he have cared about trying with Runaan, and building the bond they enjoyed now? There’d been some anger and resentment at each of his parents for leaving him the way they did, but now he just mostly missed them. But with Lain’s parents still living, Callum supposed that the resentment and the homesickness were a brutal combination. “I dunno. It’s weird to have regrets over things I had no control over.”
“Weird,” said Lain, laying a hand on his shoulder. “But understandable. In some ways, I can make peace with the fact my parents will never be who I want them to be, because I’m reminded of the living proof, and it helps, that I have my own family. You, Tia, Rayla. Runaan and Ethari and Ezran. And if regrets are inevitable, as long as we can carry them without being weighed down by them, I suppose there’s no harm in it.”
Callum dried one of the dishes with a new rag. “I guess so,” he said. “But it’s a tricky balance.”
Lain joined him. “It’s a good thing you’re not the only one on the tightrope, then.”
He perked up, smiling a little. “Yeah. It is.” He set down one of the dry dishes in Ethari and Runaan’s drying rack and resumed washing another one. “Thank you, Lain.”
“Anytime, Callum,” Lain promised.
They had a lot of it left, after all.
Zym, Zubeia, and Ibis touched down the following afternoon in the middle of last minute decorations. It was the first time Rayla had ever seen Master Lilen look startled , halfway through her and Callum’s walk over to see her parents and go over any positively last minute details before they would separate for the night. Ezran, meanwhile, booked it from her side over towards where the dragons and sky mage had landed.
“Zym!” The dragon perked up at the sound of Ezran’s voice and bounded over to meet him halfway. Ezran wrapped his arms around Zym, who lowered his head to nuzzle against his shoulder. “I missed you too, so much .”
Zubeai’s voice rumbled, the ground shaking a little under her steps as she approached, Ibis walking by the front of her claws. “It is good to see you again, Ezran.”
Ezran let go of Zym, but didn’t step away as he bowed. Bait climbed up his sleeve and on top of Zym’s head, nestled in the fur between his horns and looking almost purely happy instead of grumpy happy for once. “It’s good to see you too, Queen Zubeia.” Ezran straightened, smiling. “It’s been too long.”
“We would go to the one in your homeland as well,” she said. “If we thought humans would not be afraid of dragons in the clouds.” History died slowly, after all. “But we will make an exception for your eventual nuptials in... thirty years.”
Ezran grinned. “Humans usually get married younger than forty-five, Your Majesty.”
“They do?” Zubeia had never quite been able to grasp human concepts regarding time. Yes, Callum and Rayla were getting married, but they were rushing into it like hatchlings, weren’t they, and she was happy for them still.
“Come on,” Ezran laughed. “They’ve missed you too.”
Callum and Rayla hugged Zym first, then Ibis, before the Dragon Queen herself with one of her great talons. “Hello my darlings,” she greeted. “You’ve been treating each other and my hatchling’s twinsoul well?”
“Yes,” Rayla smiled, her arm snug around Callum’s back.
“They’re okay,” Ezran said with a grin, laughing when Rayla ruffled his hair. Callum looked over when he heard footsteps rustling the grass, Ellis’ thick braids flying behind her.
“Oh my gosh, Zym is so big!” she cooed, hands cupping her face half in excitement. Zym let out a squeal before lowering his head to her so she could take his great face in her hands. “Still the cutest dragon ever,” she beamed, giggling when he licked her. “It’s good to see you too!”
Warmth bubbled in Ezran’s chest when he watched her, before remembering himself and gently tugging at Ellis' elbow (his brother and sister-in-law’s shared knowing glances acknowledged and immediately ignored).
“Ellis, this is Queen Zubeia,” Ezran said, and Ellis finally pulled away from Zym, her eyes widening when she looked up at her.
“Whoa.” Ellis gaped and then lit up like the sun. “You’re beautiful, Your Majesty!”
Zubeia blinked slowly, before letting out a pleased rumble. “You are very beautiful as well.” Ellis turned around and squealed and Zubeia almost raised her eyebrows at Ezran, questioningly, and he flushed.
“Anyway,” Ezran said, clearing his throat—he didn’t need to glance back at Callum and Rayla to know they were probably having a good snicker over this—”we’ve set up a place for you. There’s a clearing in the trees not far from here with some nearby game, too.” He placed a hand along Zym’s smooth scales. “And if you need anything, some people living close by have already volunteered to attend to you.”
“That’s very kind. Thank you.” She looked at her son, straightening a little, the warmth clear in her eyes, and gave another rumble. “Azymondias, come along.”
Zym gave Ezran’s cheek one more lick before bounding off after his mother, taking to the sky while she lumbered over on foot, moving along the outskirts of the village and away from buildings she could crush at least partially underfoot.
“She seems so nice,” Ellis gushed. “And scaly!”
“Ah, so this is the famous Ellis,” Ibis said in his even tone of muted excitement and a small smile on his face. “I have heard much about you.”
They shook hands. “And Callum’s told me a lot about you,” she said happily.
Ibis glanced at Callum, standing behind her, hand-in-hand with Rayla. “All good things, I hope?”
“All about how I love getting up two hours before sunrise to meditate,” he said dryly, but they all laughed. “But I expect you had to do a lot of late night meditation with Lujanne?” Ellis wasn’t the first human Callum had helped connect to an arcanum for nothing.
She nodded, her braids bouncing. “It was fun, though. I got to learn magic and listen to Ava howl at the moon.” She pet her wolf’s head.
“And I am very excited for the festivities,” said Ibis, still with that same small smile, although his eyes crinkled. “I have never attended a Moonshadow or a human wedding before.”
“I dunno if there’s been one in a long, long time,” said Callum. “But we’re kinda used to being the first at this point.”
Rayla patted his cheek. “Modesty is so becoming on you, my love.”
Ezran cleared his throat. “So Ibis probably wants to know where he’s staying?”
“You’ve had five years to get used to this,” Callum pointed out, and Ezran pouted. “But yes. We managed to squeeze in a spot for you with the rest of our family from Katolis, if that’s okay? You remember Soren and Corvus at least.”
Ibis nodded and followed them as they began walking towards the small guest house. “I would also be interested in seeing your mother and father again, Rayla.”
“Oh yeah!” Callum grinned. “I’m honestly surprised you guys haven’t connected earlier but...”
War made things difficult, both during and afterwards.
“I assumed they would be taking time to adjust,” Ibis acknowledged. It had still been under a year since they’d come out of the coins at all.
“Yeah,” Rayla said, “but they’ll be glad to see you.” She smiled a little. “Dad’s probably gonna want to show you all around the house now that it’s decorated. He’s very proud of it.”
“Just don’t look at the old drawings of mine they’ve pinned up,” Callum groaned, dragging a hand down his face.
Ezran grinned and nudged Ibis in the side. “I’ll point them out,” he promised in a whisper. He heard Callum let out a long sigh and saw Rayla rub his back consolingly, even if she was failing to bite back a grin. His big brother could make all the fuss he wanted, but there was a certain light in his eyes, whenever Lain would show off the pictures like an embarrassing but proud parent, Tiadrin holding back a snicker a little more successfully beside him. Ethari would join in, genuinely complimenting four-year-old Callum’s creativity, before pulling Rayla in by pointing out one of her wood carvings.
Ibis and Lain and Tiadrin exchanged grins and tight hugs and it was amazing and wonderful to see how well Callum’s old teacher fitted right into their ever expanding family. They belonged here, Ezran thought. Callum and Rayla. Family and magic and Xadia suited them, far more than the castle could; far more than it ever had for Callum in so many ways.
His throat tightened a little, even as he smiled. This was a natural part of growing up, and one he’d always expected, to some degree. He’d always known that eventually Callum would have to get married, whether for love or due to an arrangement, and go off to live with his wife to start their own family. So many things had changed, of course, but this would be the same. Siblings always ended up having to live separately, with families of their own.
Ezran had been so excited about Callum getting to marry one of their best friends that he hadn’t really thought about how much he’d miss them. They already spent a lot of time apart, but this felt… final, in a way it hadn’t before. Visits really would just be visits. Someday, Ezran would start his own family, and contact would be that much more difficult to keep.
Even though family never really said goodbye for good, maybe even the temporary goodbyes were hard, when they signalled something else more permanent. Something good, but ultimately paths that they would have to take separately. And his was here.
And it didn’t seem like Callum had even noticed .
But Ezran pushed that thought away. It was a day before his brother was getting married. He was supposed to be happy for him, and Rayla, and Ezran was. That’s what he should focus on.
So even if it took him a few seconds longer to smile when they all joked about one of Rayla’s wooden sculptures, he knew he really was happy for them in spite of it all, sitting up to compare it to one of Callum’s first self-portraits (lovingly dubbed “potato Callum”).
And if no one noticed the way his smile quivered, just a little, then he was ultimately glad for it.
It had been so long since she’d slept in her room within Ethari and Runaan’s house. She stared at the ceiling, enchanted metal stars dangling from the ceiling and glowing in the dark. Her bed felt too small and too cold now, too used to space to stretch, too used to Callum’s warmth at her side.
She really, really hated this “not being able to see each other” tradition. Especially when the presence of a full moon always made her more alert, like tonight. How was spending the night before their wedding apart one of the only traditions their people actually shared?
Rayla glanced over at her silver clock, groaning when it wasn’t even midnight yet. They would be woken around nine am for preparations. His side of the family would help her get dressed, as her side would do the same for him, bringing both sides of the moon together, symbolically, before they switched over just to make sure everything was in its proper place. Then the dance at dusk, and the actual ceremony, followed by a feast for the entire community and their families. She wouldn’t be alone with Callum, to just have a moment to themselves on their wedding day, until the festivities were over. Then it would be their wedding night, of course, but...
Rayla blushed as she swung herself out of bed and pulled on her slippers. She couldn’t remember why they’d even agreed to this tradition. Beyond it being unnecessary, she hated having to leave him alone, after everything. It wasn’t as though either of them ever slept well when they were apart.
She slipped out of her window and down the tree her childhood home had been built in, before she picked her way across the moonlit grass towards the home she shared with him. Her Moonshadow form helped her blend in perfectly. The window to their bedroom was open and slightly ajar, and she scaled the side of their home, climbing up to the window and pushing it open all the way.
Their bedroom was familiar, still mostly furnished. She glanced over at the bed, brow furrowing when she found Callum’s side empty. The sheets were slightly askew, and when she touched his side of the mattress, it was still warm. Maybe he’d gone down to get water or something?
She slinked down the stairs to see him pulling on his boots by the door, a furled letter in hand, and she placed her own on his shoulder as she let her Moonshadow form melt away. “Callum.”
He jumped almost a foot in the hair, whirling around before catching himself and facing the door again. “Rayla!” he spluttered. “What are you doing here?”
She rubbed her arm. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Callum’s shoulders eased and he reached behind to grasp at her hand. “I was just about to come over and see you. Well, not see you, but—I thought a letter might be a good compromise.”
Rayla smiled softly, her heart melting. “Read it to me upstairs?”
Callum gently tugged her behind him, and she followed him back up the stairs to their bedroom. She tried not to laugh when he covered his eyes to sit down.
“What are you doing?”
“If we don’t see each other, technically we’re not breaking the tradition.”
She sat down next to him. “Ah. Very clever. Though… Do you want to try to still keep it?”
“Of course not.”
Rayla placed her hands over his, pressing gently as she leaned over and kissed him. “How did I end up with the sweetest man in the Pentarchy and all of Xadia?”
Callum batted her hands away, opening his eyes as he did so. He sighed, smiling. “There really was no reason for us to try and keep another tradition, was there?”
“No. But it was sweet of you to put in the effort.” She curled up next to him and let her legs rest over his lap. “Now, read me the letter?”
He wrapped an arm around her waist, the other holding the letter up for both of them as he began to read aloud in the dim light. “Dear Rayla,” he began. “I know we’ve had trouble with sleeping too far away from one another since we were teenagers, but I hope you’re getting some rest anyway.” He glanced at her with a slight grin. “Tomorrow is a very big day after all, so I’m sure we’re both having some big feelings about it.”
Rayla lightly shoved him away with a hand on his cheek. “ Noo, ” she laughed, chiding, as he pulled her closer. “Awful. Where did my poetic prince go?”
Callum’s eyes turned gentle. “Do you want me to keep reading?”
She sighed dramatically. “Fine. If you must.”
“In all seriousness,” Callum said, turning back to his letter. “I thought I’d be way more nervous than I am. I still am, in some ways, mainly about the ceremony, but I also know that even if I trip over myself or forget something, I’ll be okay, because you’re there. You’re the love of my life, and,” his voice got a little thick, “I can’t wait to spend the rest of it with you. I can’t wait to marry you. We’ve had a lot of long nights, but seeing you has always felt like the dawn, and—”
Rayla looked up at him with shining eyes, tears welling in the corners. “Oh Callum,” she murmured. She took his face in her hands and kissed him softly, her lips trembling against his. “I love you so much.”
Callum grinned at her, his eyes crinkling. “I love you too,” he said. “But I’m not done.”
She rolled her eyes and pulled away after stroking her thumbs once over his cheeks. “Alright,” she said, but she didn’t go as far, resting her head on his shoulder and sitting a bit more in his lap.
“But seeing you has always felt like the dawn,” he repeated, and Rayla wiped at her eyes, “and loving you has always felt as easy as breathing. Even when it was hard or I could barely actually breathe at all. It was easy. Even on days when we struggled more than others. Even when we made mistakes and had to learn things the hard way, I was always grateful to be going through it with you. And even when we were torn apart, by suffering, or war, or...” Callum sighed and rested his forehead against hers. “I always knew our new broken pieces would fit together just as perfectly as the old. I love you. I’m so excited to spend my life showing you more than I already have.”
Rayla let out a hoarse, teary chuckle. “I don’t know if I’m ready for what you’ve written for your vows after that,” she puffed out.
“I’ll probably be a mess when I say them,” he smiled. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering at her cheek. “We’re gonna be married tomorrow,” he breathed.
“We are.” She toyed with his scarf. “And I will also be a mess when saying my vows to you, Moonshadow propriety be damned.”
Callum looked at her. “Are you nervous?” he nudged.
Rayla shook her head. “I’ve loved you since I was fifteen years old,” she said. “And I knew when I fell that I would never fall for anyone like this ever again.” She took his hand and intertwined their fingers. “Tomorrow is just going to make it official.” Her voice sombered. “It didn’t always feel like we would make it here.”
They had been through so much, grief and separation and worry and so many close calls. Neither of them had ever lost sight of the miracle.
“I know.” He ran his thumb over hers. “I always hoped we would, though.” He gave her a small smile. “I guess sometimes I get to be right.”
Rayla let out a soft chuckle. “You’re usually right,” she said.
“Wow,” he said, cocking a grin. “Can I get that in writing?”
“Shush. But you are,” she admitted. “I thought, when I first came to the castle, that I knew who I was looking for. I thought I knew who I was. I didn’t have a clue. And...” She squeezed his hand. “I like who I am, now. The person I’ve become because of you.”
Callum’s eyes shone in the dark. “When we were still kids, I told you that you were the most amazing person I’d ever met. It’s still true. It always has been.”
Rayla kissed him again briefly, her forehead resting against his when she pulled away. “And you’re the most amazing person I’ve ever met, so we’re evenly matched.” Her eyes rested on his face. “I love you, Callum.”
“I love you, too, Rayla.” They held each other’s hands. “I really do.” He chuckled when she yawned a bit though, some of her sleepy breath wafting over into his nose. “Is it okay if we both fall asleep here?”
Rayla nodded, drawing away a bit as they curled up on the bed together, over the sheets with their hands interlaced. “It’s fine,” she said, nestling next to him with her eyes closed. “What’s one more tradition broken?”
He laughed softly, smiling at her before he glanced at their clock. Almost nine minutes past midnight. “We’re getting married today,” he said, his smile widening. “Are you ready to become Katolis’ first elven princess?”
“Mmhm. And the King of Katolis’ first elven sister in law.”
Callum grinned. Ezran had been a little quiet lately, but there would be a chance to talk to him tomorrow before the ceremony. “Oh yes, you and Ez can have a good time making fun of me together for the rest of our lives.”
“You know it.” Rayla opened her eyes, the tips of their noses touching. “And you’re ready to become the first fully fledged human member of the Silvergrove?”
“We can’t have given Master Taredd a heart attack over nothing.”
She poked him in the chest. “And your heart?”
He took her hand again. “Already yours, love.” Rayla beamed at him and ran her finger over his engagement ring as he grinned back at her. “And I’m pretty sure I stole yours a while ago, Miss I Kissed You First.”
She hummed and let her forehead press into his neck. “I know you’re teasing me,” she murmured, “but I only kissed you because I felt safe, you know.”
Callum raised her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I know. I feel safe with you, too.”
“Safe enough to step on my feet.”
He shot her a look. “Now who’s being a tease,” he whispered, smiling as he pulled her closer and tickled her sides for a moment. Rayla squirmed and then settled against him as he tucked her head under his chin and kept his arms around her, both of them relaxing now that they were where they belonged. “I love you, Rayla,” he murmured.
“I love you too, Callum.”
When sleep finally overtook them, only the moon bore witness.