Jakob stood on a dais, a smile on his face, as he presented his right arm to the priest in front of him. The trees on the roof shielded them from the sun that shone from the spotless blue sky. Despite the shade, it had gotten warm under the suit, and the heavy, green silk fabric with its golden embroidery pressed down on his shoulders.
The Priest held a golden band around his wrist, and he suppressed the urge to draw his arm away at the sudden, cold touch of the metal. The band snapped together with a clanking sound, then the priest produced a small key and locked it. Jakob looked to the woman standing next to him on the right.
She wore an intricate dress, made from several different fabrics, all dyed in a blue that rivaled the sky, interwoven with threads of copper, worn over tanned skin that made his seemed pale in comparison. Her raven hair had been done up, fixed with needles and a net, both also made of copper. Her eyes were closed in a smile, and she too held her arm towards the priest, though she presented her left. He fixed another band to her wrist, the same way he had done to Jakob’s.
Another man walked up to them, clad in the same robes as the priest, though less decorated. He kneeled, and presented a white string to his superior. Jakob’s gaze wandered from him to the courtyard, to the heavy benches made from polished granite, decorated with gold and jewels – and to the people sitting on them. Two dozen men sat there, in suits that were plain, but undoubtedly made from the most expensive materials they could get a hold of. They sat there and looked at him.
A slight twitch went through his cheek, but he forced himself to continue smiling.
He breathed in.
He breathed out.
The priest took the string, then walked behind them and up the dais. He pushed both ends of it through their wristbands at the same time, then held them towards the crowd, and finally tied them together. “Lady Neryja blessed this day with sunshine,” he exclaimed. The booming voice hurt in Jakob’s ears, but he kept his smile. “This day, it is a sign! A sign that Lady Neryja has blessed this marriage also!”
As he shouted the last words, he raised his hands from their arms. Starting with the knot, the whole string started to turn a vibrant purple, similar to the priest’s own garb. The crowd broke out in applause, an orchestra started to play in the corner of the courtyard, and servants poured out of a door, depositing all kinds of food on several tables. From his point of view, Jakob caught a glimpse of the priest putting a small, empty vial back into the satchel around his waist.
A man, sitting alone on the bench in the first row, stood up. The suit he wore was of the same color as Jakob’s, and his short, dark blonde hair sported a slight green hue. He turned to the guests, cleared his throat, and said, “It is done! I want to thank again our friends, no, our allies from Vasilfáros, for this token of alliance. Many of the folk outside, from peasants that have lost their sight of righteousness to foreign firebrands, have tried to hinder us, to drive a wedge between us, but they have failed! All of them have failed! Today is that day that history will be written, and it will be our history!” He raised a fist to the sky.
Jakob swallowed the urge to gag. He breathed in, he breathed out.
He wouldn’t throw a fireball at the Man. At least not today. While all the focus was on the Man, the priest’s assistant loosened the knot and handed Jakob the string.
The Man – Jakob refused to even think of him as his father – droned on. Jakob breathed in, and he breathed out. Something brushed against his hand. The woman next to him, or rather, his wife, had grabbed his hand, and intertwined her fingers with his. Then she leaned against him. It felt strange. Her skin was smooth, and while he had felt smooth skin before, he couldn’t place what was different this time.
He let go, and they walked through the aisle between the guests. They reached out to him, shook his hands, and congratulated him. All the while, he smiled.
The wall slid up again behind Jakob. It was silent, but he thought his heartbeat must have been loud enough to alert someone. He listened, but no one came even after a minute or so, so he took a deep breath and began to walk. The tunnel he was in led to a small pond, illuminated by moonlight shining in through a circular hole in the ceiling. Voices could be heard through it as well, talking calmly. Step by step, Jakob walked towards the exit, clutching a wooden shape tied to his belt.
Suddenly, his foot slipped. A small stone or two and a handful of dust rolled into the pond. He stood stock still, listening. Whoever was talking continued unperturbed. A small breath escaped his lips, but he interrupted it immediately. Then he continued towards the exit. A stream split from the pond, vanishing into the darkness of the tunnel, and Jakob followed its way. He didn’t dare to run.
He didn’t know how long he had been in the darkness, whether it was ten minutes or ten hours. When he broke out of the tunnel, he noted that the moon hadn’t shifted much though. He took a moment to look at the sky, at the stars, then he turned to the left and broke into a sprint.
He ran up to a forest, along its edge, until he found a trail of trampled dirt. Taking a quick look back, he followed it inside, up to a cabin standing alone between the trees. It looked almost exactly like it did last time he had seen it, over a year ago.
His heartbeat started to quicken once again as he got closer, and he knocked at the door.
Nothing happened. Was he to silent? Or maybe they were away, or even had completely left? What if someone had already found the tunnel, and were on their way here. This would be the first places to look at.
Just as he lifted his hand again, the door creaked open. Through the slit, an eye could be seen, embedded in a head covered by large scales that looked grey in the moonlight. The eye opened wide as it spottdt him.
“Yeva! Yeva it’s me,” Jakob whispered. “I need your help, now.”