"Ma, how did you know you were in love with Da?"
Daine froze in the process of lacing up her daughter's dress. Sarra was due to be married in just a few hours; it seemed an odd time ask a question like that. Despite herself she felt the small seed of hope that she had nourished sprout new leaves at the idea that Sarra might be having second thoughts. She wanted nothing more than her daughter's happiness, and Charley was a good man, but it created a hollow ache in her chest every time she thought of losing Sarra. Daine was learning for the first time what it had cost her mother to relinquish her from the promise she had made and allow her to return to the mortal realm to be with Numair.
Silently scolding herself, she finished lacing Sarra's dress and said, "Why do you ask?"
"I've never asked before and it seems like the kind of thing I should know before getting married."
Damn, no cold feet. Daine steered Sarra to a chair in front of the mirror and began to work a brush through her thick hair. With the parents she had Sarra had always been doomed to be cursed with unruly locks, but if Daine had anything to say about it then everything would be perfect today, even if it meant doing battle with curls that wouldn't stay where they were put.
"It took me a while to realise I was in love with your Da," she began slowly. "I didn't figure it out until I was sixteen, but I think I loved him for a lot longer than that. I tore a palace apart when I thought he had been killed."
Daine grinned. When she was pregnant with Sarra, she and Numair had decided not to tell their children of all their adventures unless they asked about them. They had seen far too many terrifying things in their time together, things that gave them nightmares. They had no wish to inflict those images on their children. But children have a way of finding out things for themselves, and little by little they had pieced together the tales of their parents' lives through gossip and stories. It surprised Daine that they had never heard of the destruction of the Carthaki palace; even now, more than thirty years later, that story was a legend in Tortall.
"Have you never heard how the Carthaki palace was destroyed with the help of resurrected animals and the Graveyard Hag?"
"That was you?"
"That was me. I thought the Carthaki emperor had killed your Da. I lost my temper."
"I'll say. So you didn't realise you were in love with him then?"
"No. I didn't realise until we were in the Divine Realm during the Immortals War. I fell off a cliff, got captured by spidrens and Numair rescued me. He thought I was dead. When he realised I wasn't he kissed me. It felt right. I knew straight away it was what I wanted."
"Even your romantic stories involve near death experiences!"
"That's the hazard of working for Jon," chuckled Daine. She set aside the brush, praying that the hair would stay in place, and began fixing delicate jasmine blossoms into Sarra's curls. "How did you know you were in love with Charley?"
"Ma!" protested Sarra, blushing and squirming until Daine tapped her lightly with the brush.
"I told you mine, it's only fair that I hear yours."
There followed a few minutes of more blushing and protesting until Sarra finally relented and agreed to tell the story. "I knew that I liked him for a while, but I didn't know I loved him until my second year in the Riders. We had to ride up to the Scanran border to investigate reports of bandits. It was tough riding because a lot of the roads had been flooded, and somewhere along the way I lost my pack. I ended up having to share a tent and bedroll with Charley. The others started to gossip so Charley left the tent, even though the other men teased him mercilessly the next morning."
"Sounds like something your Da would have done," said Daine approvingly. "By the way, never tell him that story."
Sarra stared up at her mother in confusion. "But he left the bedroll."
"That won't matter."
"But surely Da knows that…" Sarra flushed again, reminding Daine strongly of Numair during their first few weeks as a couple. "I mean, I'm getting married today. He must realise."
"Your Da goes to great lengths to live in a state of ignorance. It's the only reason Charley isn't a tree."
Daine sighed as she fixed the last jasmine blossom into Sarra's hair. Soon she would have to relinquish Sarra to Thayet, who had insisted on being the one to apply her make up. In fact, all of her adopted aunts and uncles had wanted to be involved in some way. Alanna was supervising the placement of chairs and tables, Jon was going to preside over the ceremony, Kel was currently ensuring that everybody was cleaned and dressed to her standards and George was kindly testing all the food before it left the kitchens.
Thayet would bring with her a hoard of women and Daine's time alone with her daughter would be over. After that Sarra's grandma and grandda would want to see her, and then all of her friends and adopted family, and after that it would be time for the wedding. Sarra and Charley were leaving to spend some time in the north straight after the celebrations. Who knew when she would see Sarra again?
Delaying the moment of separation, Daine said, "Do you have something old?"
Sarra nodded and produced a delicate handkerchief with "TC" embroidered in light blue in the corner. Daine guessed that the initials stood for "Thayet of Conté", and she silently thanked her friend.
She extended her feet, displaying the new shoes she had bought for the day. "But I still need something borrowed and blue," she said, frowning in concentration as she looked around the room for something that would fulfil the criteria.
Daine thought about it for a moment, an idea forming. She was sure the badger wouldn't mind. It was only for one day, after all, and she was certain that a tasty dish at the wedding celebrations would placate him. Reaching up, she undid the leather thong and removed the badger claw that had hung around her neck for more than three decades. Despite the weight of it, she didn't feel suddenly lighter. She felt vulnerable. Seeing what her mother intended to do, Sarra's eyes widened. "Ma, no! I couldn't!"
"Yes you can," she said firmly. "It's only a loan, just for a day."
Before Sarra could protest any further Daine tied the claw around her neck. It was strange: for a moment it seemed to Daine that she was looking into the past, staring at her twenty year old self. "Thank you," whispered Sarra, grasping the claw in her hand. "I'll look after it."
"Something blue," said Daine, surprised to hear her voice crack. She wasn't sure whether it was her imminent separation from her daughter or the loss of the claw that caused it. "Kit!" she called.
Kitten, who had been playing in a pile of multicoloured silk in the next room, trotted up to Daine and whistled inquisitively. Her scales were a beautiful sky blue, the colour she favoured when she was happiest. "Do you think you can stay blue all day, Kit?"
The dragonet whistled happily and clapped her forepaws. "There," said Daine. "You have your something blue."
Mother and daughter smiled at each other, and Daine realised there was so much that she wanted to say. She wanted to tell Sarra to be happy, and that she would always have a home with her and Numair. She also wanted to tell her how proud both she and Numair were, not just for today but for everything she had achieved in her life. Daine had always been known for speaking her mind but today words seemed to fail her. Before she could figure out a way to voice her feelings Thayet burst into the room, bringing with her a dozen attendants. Daine had lost her chance. But from the way Sarra stroked the claw and smiled, she guessed her daughter already knew.