A Sort of Homecoming

I: The Road Home

There were those that savored the transition from bustling city to bucolic farmland. They reveled in the open fields, the vast spaces filled with nothing but what nature put there. The crispness of the air invigorated them. The quiet of rustling grasses made them thoughtful. They sight of animals grazing peacefully filled them with the wonder of life.

Then there were the ones who took a single step off of pavement and instantly began to itch and sneeze from the weeds. The quiet annoyed them, weighed on them until every little sound from the chirp of a cricket to the fall of a leaf from a tree became louder than the noise of the busiest street. Any animals they were unfortunate enough to cross paths with made the remains of last night's steak dinner rumble uneasily in their stomachs.

Dashir Revius fell squarely into the anti-farm campaign and, though he was making a great show of spouting homegrown clichés like 'smell that fresh air' and 'you can see forever out here', Alucier Maerzen was ready to join up too. He hadn't been to his hometown of Dunhaven for years. On other visits home, he would feel pangs of nostalgia as his childhood home came into view at the end of the road. Instead, as the carriage rumbled closer, he couldn't help but ponder how he had survived to adulthood living so far away from civilization.

The clichés were supposed to antagonize his traveling companion, but they were getting on Alucier's nerves enough that he stopped bothering with them. The one about seeing forever was proving to be infuriatingly ironic. Dunhaven had become a mecca of farming by virtue of having a warm climate year round. Unfortunately, that meant it also had the vice of experiencing some ridiculously hot days during the summer. Even this late in the season, the heat was well above what Alucier had become accustomed to while living in Palas. Ample sweat from his brow, in combination with the preternatural humidity, was causing his glasses to fog up. No matter how many times he wiped the lenses with the cravat of his Caeli uniform, his ancestral home loomed in the distance as a giant white blur amongst an endless green blur.

"Do you think your family would mind if I slept in the ice house while we're here?" Revius, also not a fan of the current temperature, asked. He had already taken off the cravat and gloves of his Caeli uniform and loosened the collar of his shirt. It was only the modicum of decency left over from his childhood as the son of a high-class, high-profile jeweler that was keeping him from shedding the blue overskirt and jumpsuit. "I think I'm melting out here," he added. He ran a hand through his short black hair and it came out coated in sweat, proof of his theory.

"I don't think they'll mind it anymore than they would mind a stranger inviting himself to a family wedding because he's a huge coward who needed to get out of town to avoid an angry girlfriend," Alucier shot back. He had come up with the ice house idea himself not long after their leviship had alit upon the Dunhaven dockyard and he had seen the waves of heat rising up from the ground. Knowing that the dockyard was on a higher elevation, closer to the ocean and therefore, generally much cooler than the town itself, he wasn't about to give it up.

"That's girlfriends, plural. That's why they're mad at me, remember?"

"Which strikes me as a bit like getting angry at a dog for eating scraps off another person's plate. Dumb animals can't fight their natures."

"Woof," Revius barked. "But maybe I could use that argument with them. You know, except for the dumb part."

"But that's the most accurate part."

"You wound me, friend," Revius said with much drama and indignant finger waving. "Both with your insult and your opinion that I am a stranger to your kin. I know you and Damise and you two are like, what, five percent of the children?"

"There are only seven of us," Alucier said, despite knowing how silly that sounded. With three sisters older than him and three sisters younger than him, he had heard enough jokes about the size of his family to automatically put him in a defensive position any time the subject arose.

"Uh, huh. Only seven," Revius snorted. "How do people put up with so many kids? You know, a better wedding present than that silverware set you got would have been to bring one of the night-shift girls from Tuvello's here and have her talk to your little sister. Let her explain to her how she could avoid making the same mistake your parents did while still having all the fun."

The little sister getting married was Clea, who, at the age of sixteen, was the baby of the family. The idea of her having anything to do with the women of questionable repute who worked in the bar beneath his apartment contained as much disgust for Alucier as picturing his parents partaking in the activities that were required to conceive seven children. "I'm amazed, Revius. I think you have actually managed to offend every last one of my sensibilities with that statement."

Revius took it in stride. "You mean I haven't offended you like that before? We've lived in the same flat for six years and I know what I'm like."

He then went into a litany of prior acts that would have caused a nun of Jichia to burst into flames upon hearing it. Alucier purposefully blocked it out. The ability to ignore Revius, a thick skin and thicker bedroom walls had all come in handy during those six years. He hoped the rest of the Maerzen clan would emerge similarly untainted after this week-long visit was over.

The one member of his family he would have to worry about the least in that regard was his oldest sister, Damise. She had visited Alucier in Palas not that long ago and had held her own against Revius. In other words, she had flirted with him just as much as Revius had flirted with her. The two had gone to some effort to make Alucier uncomfortable with the situation but he knew they were only teasing him. Damise wasn't a naïve farm girl by any stretch, but she was also a woman of standards, one of which was to never become involved with any of his friends. Revius had a similar standard about the sisters of his friends, though his carried the disclaimer 'unless she's really, really good looking'.

Damise waited for them now at the gate that marked the entrance to the estate proper. She waved at her brother and, after making sure Alucier was paying attention, winked at Revius. She wouldn't be Damise if she didn't needle him somehow.

"You just couldn't wait to see me, could you?" Revius asked her.

"I didn't know you were coming, genius," she laughed. "Really, Alucier, does he follow you around everywhere you go?"

"When he's fleeing the wrath of women scorned, he does," Alucier said.

"Tsk, tsk, Revius. Trifling with the hearts of the fairer sex and then hiding behind my brother? I just might get the right idea about you."

"Really, Damise, you're just as insulting as Alucier. I think I need to find a nicer Maerzen sibling."

"You mean a less observant one," Alucier muttered.

Damise laughed again in agreement. "Unfortunately, you're out of luck. Clea and Rinell are the only ones who'd fall for that charm routine and I can assure you their men folk would not."

The threat of angry husbands and boyfriends wasn't that new to Revius. It was another concept that caused him to stop and reflect. "So, wait…are you telling me that there are non-sarcastic, non-cynical Maerzens?"

"Believe it or not," Alucier said. "Of course, Clea and Rini are also the only ones without brown hair and bad eyesight and since Mother is a redhead, we think she might be keeping a secret from Father."

"Ah," said Revius, "So your mom would like me…"

Alucier shuddered as, for the second time, Revius managed to do major damage to his increasingly frail sensibilities.

Damise didn't take it much better. "As charming as that sounds, especially as you just hit on me, I doubt Mother would be in much of a mood to deal with young lotharios. In fact, Lucier, that's why I came out to meet you. I thought you deserved a warning. With her baby getting married off, the two children who haven't taken the plunge have been weighing heavily on her mind."

If only that was a recent development. Most Asturian men were settled down by the age of twenty-five and it had been a few years since Alucier had been able to truthfully tell people he was that age. His mother liked to point out in her letters that 'people' were talking about his continued bachelorhood, but never gave any of those people specific names. The names she gave him were sweet, lovely and decidedly female names that could only be improved by switching the family name to Maerzen. He did have it better than Damise. She was approaching her mid-thirties and when a woman went unmarried for so long, 'people' started screaming. Sometimes, they pointed too.

The frightening thing to Alucier was that Damise had built up a strong armor against all comments on her private life. For her to wait outside like this to warn him, their mother must be really be in a mood – which meant more than matrimony was on her mind. "She's talking about grandchildren, isn't she?" Alucier sighed.

"What grandchildren? You mean the ones her good daughters have given her or the poor, poor grandbabies that her bad daughter and bad son are failing to produce?"

"See, this is why it pays to be me," Revius said, poking into their business. "My mother has zero expectations of me ever settling down and having kids. Well, legitimate ones, anyway."

Alucier tired to think of something – anything – to say to get Revius to shut up and behave before he met the rest of the family but his mind was preoccupied with the question of why he ever let him come along in the first place.

The answer was more criticism than explanation. It was the word 'stupid' repeated over and over and over again.

Author's Note: I'm trying something a little different this time. Instead of having a one-shot with multiple scene breaks that takes me forever to finish and post, I thought I'd spit out several small chapters instead. Preferences?