CHAPTER FIVE (draft)

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CHAPTER 5

The feeling of security, the harmonious serenity that washes over me in those surreal, wondrous moments is indescribable. It's as if, after months of solitary wandering, I've come home to family at long last. . . .

And my siblings can feel it too. I can tell by how Gracie has surrendered and gone limp in Devora's arms, and even Gordie has relaxed his normally standoffish body posture. Now they both cling to this amazing woman, having found an anchor . . . and for this one thing alone I am more grateful to her than she can imagine.

"I would never presume to replace your mother, nor would you want me to, of course," Devora remarks, brushing her delicately-manicured, slim fingers through Gracie's hair with unexpected confidence, and squeezing Gordie's shoulder fondly. "But I will be your second mother, in every way that counts, to the best of my abilities. This, I promise you, im saai."

The Atlanteo word saai means "children."

Again, my heart is full to overflowing with a grand emotion, and I hold my breath so as not to break down weeping yet again, but my eyes are brimming.

"Aeson—a napkin, please?" his mother says, momentarily examining my face. Aeson obliges her and offers a small box of tissue-like fabric from the nearby side table.

Devora takes one and lightly wipes my eyes, then tactfully dabs my forehead and cheeks with an amused smile. I watch her smooth and rub my skin with practiced ease, then unexpectedly dab her own mouth. She then smacks her lips and dabs them again. It's such a simple, casual act that I stare.

"Not only tears, but the cosmetic on my lips," she says with a laugh. "I fear, I've marked you, Gwen—it will not do. . . . First, I clean it off. And now I may kiss im saai without leaving a mark."

And then with absolute matter-of-factness, Devora pulls Gracie and Gordie closer and gives them ringing kisses on their cheeks and forehead. At which point I think my brother and sister blush so fiercely that all nervousness is forgotten.

Devora releases us at last, and everyone is both completely relaxed and visibly affected. She continues to smile at each of us, then glances at Aeson. "What a merciful conclusion to a terrible, long day. But—not another word about any of it, not today. I cannot stay for long, and your Father doesn't know I'm here—though he may suspect—but for once I'm not too concerned. It is over, and Gwen—the wonderful, shining, fierce, unbeatable Champion Gwen—is safe with you, at last. Not much can be done to ruin tonight, at least. Tomorrow is a different matter. . . ."

Devora pauses and takes a deep breath, glancing from Aeson to me. "Oh, my dears, the Wedding cannot come soon enough. That's when your union, your life together, will be bound by law, with all the permanent protections and inviolate status for Gwen and all of her blood relatives."

Aeson nods with a serious expression. "I'm very aware of the days."

"Thirty five days!" I say, recalling his words earlier.

"We will talk about the Wedding details, now that the burden has been lifted," Devora says, getting up. "But not tonight—tonight, Gwen, you must rest. I will return as soon as I may, likely tomorrow." She squeezes my hand, and smiles at Gracie and Gordie. "And now, im saai, continue enjoying your own young company. Nefero niktos!"

"Oh—Manala!" I exclaim, as it occurs to me to ask about Aeson's sister, before Devora leaves. "How is Manala? Is she—"

"Manala is downstairs with the others. She is fine, and much relieved that you're okay," Aeson says, with a glance at his mother who merely nods comfortably.

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