The Auspicious Day

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The incenses, flowers and chants did nothing for the terrified maid as far as Tien Lyn could tell. For two days in a row, she parted the garlands of flowers and ribbons inscribed with faeries' script and brought water to the girl. She'd figured that she was the one to do it because as the bride she got the purifications, blessings and faery prayers in triplicate compared to everyone else.

When the girl could no longer drink, Tien Lyn washed her face. But her artless ministrations were as useless as the faery's chants.

On the third day, the maid expired.

In death, she commanded far more attention than she'd ever done in life. The entire household gathered by the toolshed, even Chong Ho who otherwise spent most of his time in his wharfside offices. A faery procession, the eight serene sisters, and twice as many acolytes joined them, led by Mother Weynala. Sayewa was not in attendance.

Serene Mother Weynala had confirmed the death and draped herself in a stormy mourning cloud. Within it, she looked darker than before and far less like a human woman. All her limbs stretched out and thinned, her head was no longer a perfect oval, but more like that of a horse. Not a single hair was left, all replaced by black seaweed, floating around her face on the unseen waves.

The faeries that accompanied her remained in their normal form, with their stretched out but essentially human bodies covered in bark, fur or scales in place of skin, with tufts of grasses, twigs and flowers sprouting wherever it pleased them.

"Do I have your permission, Master Chong Ho? Can we, the faeries, take this dead human from your house?" Mother Weynala asked.

Chong Ho swallowed and nodded.

Tien Lyn wished they were already married so she could stand next to him and share the burden of this decision. It was against custom to surrender a human body to the faeries for burial, but Mother Weynala insisted that the faery ritual was the safest way to send the maid's spirit on her journey.

The faeries started singing. Mother Weynala did not lead the chorus, only swayed to their tune focusing inward. As the hymn approached its crescendo, she opened her palms to reveal a small blue flame. The hymn grew in volume and joy, and so did the flame, until it spilled in burning drips from the Serene Mother's cupped hands. She poured it over the maid's body, and it took faster than a wildfire on the dry underbrush.

The body burned without sound, odour or smoke. Instead of falling to ash, it turned into mist and drifted away. The maid's name was not invoked in the faery's singing. When the funeral hymn ceased, it was like the maid had never existed.

Or like Chong Ho had never hired her.

Which he would not have had done if we had not come to his house with our demands and our bad luck.

Tien Lyn studied the man's resigned face looming over his crossed arms. She could not stand it.

"Mother!" she whispered urgently, "What are you waiting for? A Celestial to defy the Final Interdict and descend from the Heavenly Realm on a cloud to forbid this wedding? Let us be away from here! We must find some other way to survive!"

Dew-on-a-petal looked stricken. For a moment Tien Lyn thought that the ill omen prediction would have an effect on her, and she'd agree, but Weynala approached them with Chong Ho in tow. "Our prayers drove the ill spirits away. The malady is gone from your house. The fire sanctified earth, air, and water within. The faery law allows for the wedding ceremony to be performed on this ground on the fifth noon of the seventh full moon since the winter solstice as arranged."

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