So long as Romance exists and Lochinvar remains young manhood's ideal, love at first sight and marriage in a week is within the boundaries of possibility. But usually (and certainly more wisely) a young man is for some time attentive to a young woman before dreaming of marriage. Thus not only have her parents plenty of time to find out what manner of man he is, and either accept or take means to prevent a serious situation; but the modern young woman herself is not likely to be "carried away" by the personality of anyone whose character and temperament she does not pretty thoroughly understand and weigh.
Emily Post Etiquette 1922
Olivier paced back and forth across the clay tile floor and pressed the heels of her hands against her forehead. The cheerful, festive voices that wafted in through the window set her teeth on edge.
What am I doing?
Why am I here?
Why are they here?
She stormed toward the door, glaring out into the hallway. She startled the little dark-haired girl who had just walked by, and she scurried to seek the comfort of her father's side. Olivier gave Danika an apologetic if somewhat dour look, then she glared at the big Ishvalan.
"Why?" she demanded through gritted teeth. "Why did you do it?"
Scar put his hand gently on top of Danika's head. "Go outside, little blackbird," he told her. "Go see if Auntie Naisha needs any help."
Danika left, somewhat gratefully, and Scar turned to Olivier with a dark look. "Because they are your family and you would have done them a great dishonor to take such a step behind their backs," he replied stiffly. "And if you're going to stand under my roof"—he glanced up, ruefully and irritably, at the canvas that was stretched over their heads—"and make a mockery of my people's customs and beliefs, I wanted your parents to be witnesses to it!"
"I'm not making a mockery of anything!" Olivier retorted. "Did you have to tell Mustang too?"
Scar was neither moved nor concerned. "We don't have telephones here yet. I had to radio someone to pass the message on to your parents."
Olivier clenched her fists, hoping to somehow stem the rising tide of futility. "You obviously have failed to grasp the meaning of eloping."
"If you're going to do something you think is shameful, then don't come here and do it!" Scar shot back. "Marriage is a sacred commitment and should not be treated like—"
"Andakar, my love," Rada said as she stepped past Olivier from the other end of the hallway, carrying a basket of bell peppers in one arm and some clothing draped over her other arm. She went up to her husband. "Stop upsetting yourself. Why don't you go outside while General Armstrong gets ready."
"Ready for what?" Scar demanded, flinging a hand toward Olivier. He switched to Ishvalan and growled something scathing, to which Rada replied sedately. He continued to argue, and Rada changed to a somewhat sharper tone and shoved the basket of peppers into Scar's arms. He heaved a deep grudging sigh and turned around to go out the front door, shaking his head and muttering to himself.
Rada turned back toward Olivier and smiled. "Don't mind him."
Olivier scowled sullenly. "I just can't believe he did that! After everything I did for him!"
"Oh, well," Rada said soothingly. "They are your family, after all. I would have given anything to have my family with me when I got married to Andakar," she sighed. She went into the bedroom and laid the clothes she'd been carrying out on the bed, which was something of an effort because she was enormously pregnant. When she straightened up, she pressed a hand to the small of her back and gave a little grimace. Then her features smoothed over, untroubled. "These were mine." She turned and sized Olivier up. "I'm a little shorter than you, but they should fit you all right."
Olivier gazed despairingly at the assortment lying on the bed. There was a simple dress of muslin, heavily embroidered along the bottom, the edges of the long sleeves, and the neck. There was also a red over-tunic, also embroidered, as well as a large rectangle of cream-colored cloth, which Rada picked up and draped over Olivier's head, drawing the corners under her hair behind her neck.
"There," she said approvingly with a smile. "Now you look like a bride!"
"Great!" Olivier muttered.
"I've seen some weird shit in my life," Miles remarked in an undertone. He had donned his dress uniform for the occasion. "But this has got to be the most insane thing I've ever been witness to."
Scar gave a disgusted snort in agreement. He saw no need to dress up. They stood together off to one side of the courtyard at the end of the cul-de-sac that their houses stood on, along with Damyan's house and Dejan's house. They were still under construction, but work had come to a standstill. Tables and benches had been set up in preparation for a festive occasion, and a rather mixed but highly amiable crowd was in attendance. Phillip, Sophia, Alex, and Catherine Armstrong, as well as Brigadier General and Mrs. Mustang, were sitting along with Shua, Dejan, and their family and musicians. They had arrived the previous morning, beating Olivier by a day. The wedding that they had come to attend was running a bit late, but no one seemed to mind.
Scar jerked his chin toward Alex, who had just let out a booming laugh at something Shua had said. "The moment he saw me yesterday, he ripped off his shirt, bellowed out 'comrade!' and threw his arms around me. Then he burst into tears."
Miles let out a snort of laughter, for which Scar gave him a mild glare. "For all his size and strength," Miles said, "Alex is very tenderhearted." He nudged Scar with his elbow. "Kind of like you."
"Hm!" Scar growled quietly, and his scowl grew deeper as he watched Shua leave the party and walk over to them.
The lanky Ishvalan spread his hands beseechingly. "Ah, don't look at me like that, Zhaarad! You should be happy for me!"
"This is a farce!" Scar told him.
"The hell it is!" Shua countered. "It was love at first sight, really it was! It just took us a while to realize it. Besides," he added with a shrug and a crooked grin. "I have to let her make an honest man of me."
Scar blew on his palm, dismissing a particularly offensive thought. "I don't want to hear about it, Shua!" he remarked in disgust and walked away.
"Ai!" Shua sighed and shook his head. He turned to Miles. "Surely you're happy for me?"
"I'm adopting a wait and see attitude for the moment," Miles replied dryly. "And so far, I haven't seen much. Are you sure this is even going to happen?"
"Of course it will," Shua insisted. "Ollie's a big girl. She can deal with this." He waved at the boisterous crowd around the tables. "I wanted them all to come anyway, so I'm just as pleased. I'm just glad I'm not the one who let the cat out of the bag or she'd be pretty pissed at me."
"It's my guess that General Armstrong is extremely pissed right now," Miles said. "And I know her pretty well."
"Oh, I don't think you know her the way I know her," Shua said with a soft, low laugh. "She's like an orange. On the outside, she's tough and slippery, but once you get past that, she's all soft and juicy and sweet on the—"
"Oh, Ishvala!" Miles exclaimed, pressing his hands against his ears. "I did not want to hear that!"
Olivier had never really had a confidante her entire life. She had always kept her innermost thoughts and feelings to herself, relying on her own instincts and intuition to make decisions. Opening up to someone else meant making yourself vulnerable. She had taken a chance and revealed more of herself to Shua than she had to anyone else in her life, and he didn't take advantage of it or make her feel like she'd given up anything. It was one of the things that really endeared him to her.
But now she felt out of her depth and she had to finally admit that she needed some advice. She had never consulted her parents over these matters and she wasn't going to start now. Her parents were treating this like a big picnic. They had brought their own tent and were having fun camping out, so it was fairly obvious that they had no idea what sort of anguish she was going through. Judging by the helpless, bemused look she saw on Miles' face when she got here, he was probably not going to be of much help either. Scar had already expressed his opinion in no uncertain terms.
She considered the young Ishvalan matron standing before her. There was something about Rada that was, for want of a better word, slightly awe-inspiring. She radiated a kind of serenity that Olivier almost envied.
"Am I being stupid?" Olivier asked in desperation. "I mean, honestly, what do you think?"
Rada looked a little surprised. "Stupid about what? About marrying Shua? Is it because your family's here?"
"It's sure not helping," Olivier admitted. She gestured toward the window from which they could hear voices and laughter from outside. "I agreed to come here because I figured it was remote enough for my family to not find out until it was over."
Rada smiled and shook her head. "Andakar seems to think you're both being foolish. But neither you nor Shua are the flighty types. Well," she added with a shrug. "Maybe Shua. But this is something he'd take seriously, and so would you." She looked intently into Olivier's blue eyes. "You must love him very much, or you would never have come here." She waved toward the window. "And if you love him that much, none of this should make a difference."
Olivier gazed morosely at the clothes on the bed. "Do I have to wear a dress?"
Rada gave a little shrug. "I'm not going to make you," she said. "But it's actually very comfortable. Vesya told me about all the fancy dresses the ladies wore at your sister's party. I'm sure you all looked lovely, but I don't see how you could have stood it for as long as you did."
Olivier gave a little half smile. "I don't either."
"Well, I'll leave you to it, then. I'll be in the kitchen if—" Rada drew in a quick breath and rubbed the small of her back, her brows furrowing. "If you need any help."
Olivier looked at her cautiously. "Are you all right?"
Rada nodded, her brows still a little pinched. "Oh, yes. I'm all right." She turned a reassuring smile to Olivier, laying her hands over her belly. "The babies are moving around, that's all."
"Oh, yes! We're having twins!" Rada said proudly. She left the room, drawing the curtain that was acting as a door.
Olivier turned to stare at the clothing on the bed. It was obvious that a lot of work had gone into making this outfit, and it had probably been done without its maker going into some sort of bizarre trance. She picked up the muslin underdress, held it up to her shoulders and looked down at herself. She closed her eyes and sighed. She felt utterly foolish. She had made a decision in an entirely uncharacteristic moment of weakness, and it had gotten completely out of hand. There was a mass of people outside who were all there to watch her do something that was meant to be done with a minimum of fuss and even fewer bystanders. But that wasn't even what was making her feel so foolish. Deep down, she was just plain scared and she didn't want anyone to know. The best thing she could do was make a brisk apology to everyone, a somewhat more private apology to Shua, and make a strategic retreat.
Tossing the dress back on the bed, she left the room and went out into the front part of the house, which was a large room, a sitting/dining area. Glancing around, she saw Rada leaning against the wall with one hand and holding her other hand against her belly, in apparent distress. Olivier hurried over to her.
"What's the matter?" she asked quickly. "Are you all right? What's wrong?"
Rada shook her head and managed a strained smile. "Nothing's wrong. Can you go tell my husband that the babies are coming?"
"They are?" Olivier felt a rising panic. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm—I'm sure." Rada sucked in another quick breath. "I've done this before."
"Right!" Olivier said decisively. "I'll be right back!" She was about to turn away, then grabbed a nearby chair and set it down behind Rada, helping to ease her down on it. Then she sprinted out the front door.
Fortunately, Scar wasn't far away. He had been hovering near the front of his house, away from the crowd on the other side of the courtyard. He turned as Olivier approached him, frowning at the look on her face.
"Your wife needs you," she told him. "She's going into labor."
Scar's tawny complexion went somewhat ashen as he stared at the Amestrian general. "She's…is she sure?"
"Of course she's sure!" Olivier snapped back. "She's done this before!"
Scar's eyes swept desperately across the courtyard. "Tell her I'll be right there!" He strode away, bellowing out, "Damyan!"
Olivier would have preferred to make herself scarce in a situation like this, but she went back into the house. Rada was still sitting on the stool, looking a little less distressed.
"He says he'll be right here," Olivier told her.
Rada nodded. "Thank you." She pushed herself up and moved carefully toward the hallway.
Olivier groaned inwardly and took hold of Rada's elbow, helping to guide her toward the bedroom. Rada patted her hand, as much to comfort her as to express thanks. A moment later, Scar burst in through the front door, shouldered Olivier aside, and scooped Rada up into his arms, cradling her tenderly.
"I've sent Damyan for Dr. Marcoh," he told her, making an effort to keep his voice calm. "He'll be here soon."
He carried her into the bedroom and set her down on the bed. Olivier stood in the doorway.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked.
Scar snatched up the underdress and the red tunic that were lying on the bed and thrust them into her arms. "Go get married!" he replied curtly.
Olivier was about to make an angry retort back, but Scar had turned away, having as good as forgotten she was there. Wasn't much point now. She went outside into the courtyard, passing by a cluster of women talking animatedly. Danika clung silently to Vesya's hand, her features clouded with anxiety.
Vesya reached out to catch Olivier's attention as she walked by. "General Armstrong! Do they need anything while they're waiting for Dr. Marcoh? Did they ask for anyone else?"
Olivier shrugged. "No," she replied. "Not me, certainly."
"It's not proper!" Miles' ancient aunt was saying, rapping the ground with her stick. "It's the husband's duty to stay out of the way!"
"Well, I think it's sweet!" Naisha retorted, disregarding Zulema's snort. "And it's just like Andakar. He's hopeless at delegating."
Having enough concerns of her own, Olivier moved on. She had no particular desire to join the party at the tables, but she approached the outskirts of it to get Shua's attention. Roy saw her first.
"Everything in order in there?" he asked, nodding toward Scar's house. "Do we need to boil some water?"
"Yeah, you do that, Mustang," Olivier replied. "Then go soak your head in it." She turned to Shua. "Can I speak to you?"
"Excuse me for a moment, Phil," he said to Mr. Armstrong. "I need to have a word with your lovely daughter."
"Oh, yes, yes, by all means!" Phillip chuckled amiably and, it sounded to Olivier, already a bit tipsy. "My lovely daughter! Yes, indeed!"
Shua clapped him on the shoulder and went over to Olivier, who said quietly, "Somewhere out of the way."
A brief, quizzical look flickered through Shua's eyes, but he gave a nod over his shoulder. "Over here." They skirted around the tables as he led her toward the house he shared with his son.
"It's a little early for that, isn't it, Dad?" Dejan called out with a laugh.
"Why don't you polish off another bottle and mind your own business, son," Shua called back. There was a simple wooden bench against the wall that faced a small yard between Dejan's house and Miles' house. It was just outside the view of those in the courtyard. Shua stopped there and looked down at Olivier. "Something on your mind, love?" he asked her. He smiled that particular subtle smile that cut like a razor through her resolve. "Or did you just want to get me alone?"
Olivier had to force herself to look up and meet his gaze. She had started out with every intention of being adamant and uncompromising. But she could tell by the look in his eyes that he already knew something was wrong.
"Shua, we can't—" She stopped and quietly cleared her throat. Her voice had come out soft and entirely too feminine. That was the effect he had on her. She lifted her chin and hardened her voice. "We can't do this."
He tilted his head slightly. She couldn't tell if what she had said surprised him or if it hadn't. He still kept a half-smile on his lips, but the warmth had left it just a little. "Ah." He glanced past the corner of the house toward the party out in the courtyard. "You know, none of that was my idea."
"Yes, I know that! I'm not blaming you."
"We can wait, you know. Give them a few more hours and they'll be so drunk they'll have no idea what's going on."
Olivier shook her head impatiently. "No, that's not it!" she said. "We just…" She let out an irritated breath. "This just isn't going to work!"
"It suited us well enough when we thought of it," Shua replied. "You'd go back to Briggs, I'd go back to Central, and when we could, I'd go up, you'd come down, or we'd meet up here." He tipped up her chin and smiled into her eyes. "Or did you forget all those hours in each other's arms, whispering about our future?"
"No, I haven't forgotten!" Olivier could already feel her determination begin to unravel at the edges. "But that was then! And this…this…"
"—is now?" Shua finished for her, his tone dry.
"We lost our heads! That's all!" Olivier declared. "You have to admit that!"
His gaze was gentle but it still bore into her eyes as though he could read her soul. What was is about these Ishvalans? She held her own gaze steadily, but she knew she wasn't fooling him. Finally he nodded.
"The last thing I want to do is make you unhappy," Shua said. "Of course we lost our heads." His eyes drank in her features, his fingertips brushing the hair from her face and lightly tracing her cheek. He smile grew sad. "But I lost my heart, too."
Olivier drew away a little from his touch. "I wasn't trying to take it from you," she murmured.
Shua's hand stilled near her face for a moment, then he let it fall. "Ah, well…"
Olivier's shoulders slumped. "I'm so sorry, Shua," she said quietly.
"It's all right, love," he assured her. "If I couldn't quite catch hold of your heart, you can still keep mine." He bent down and kissed her lightly on the lips. "Take good care of it for me, eh?"
Olivier couldn't think of a reply to that, and Shua didn't seem to require one. She thought that she would have felt relieved by how well he was taking this, but she felt miserable.
Shua glance toward the courtyard. "I'll explain to everyone in a bit." He gave a slight smirk. "They probably all think we've been having them on anyway."
Olivier just nodded and he left. She went to sit down on the bench and leaned back against the wall, waiting for either cries of indignation or howls of laughter from the wedding guests, but nothing seemed to change, even as the minutes ticked by. She closed her eyes and thought of how much better she would feel once she was back behind the familiar, dependable, sane walls of Briggs.
"Well, dear, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."
Olivier's eyes flew open and she turned her head to see her mother sit down on the bench beside her.
"Shua told you already?"
Sophia shook her head. "No, he hasn't said a word," she replied. "He didn't have to. I could see it in the poor man's face." She smoothed out the folds of her floral print skirt with gloved hands. "I've seen that look before. I turned your father down twice before I finally said yes. He had the same look on his face. More or less," she added with a slight smile.
"You never told me that," Olivier said, a little surprised. "Neither did Father."
"No, of course your father wouldn't have told you," Sophia replied. "An Armstrong never admits defeat. Surely he's told you that enough."
Olivier smiled a little. "All through school. All through the academy."
"I should think so. He tells that to all his children. That's why Amue and Strongine aren't here. Your father suggested they volunteer at the military hospital. They're rather good at lifting patients." Sophia smiled with maternal pride. "And they looked rather darling in their red and white striped uniforms."
"I bet," Olivia murmured.
"Yes, we're very proud of all our children, each in their own way," Sophia went on, then gave a wistful sigh. "Today has been rather a disappointment, though.
"Sorry!" Olivier muttered. "I would have though becoming a major general was enough."
"We never expected any less of you, Olivier darling," Sophia said matter-of-factly. "But really, it's nothing to boast about simply because you're a woman. If a man can reach such a rank, it can't be all that hard. Getting married would have been an accomplishment that we never would have expected from you." Sophia took a small gold compact from her handbag and opened it up, inspecting her hair and makeup. "Apart from all that, it's been a nice visit," she said cheerfully. "It was very kind of Governor Ruhad to invite us."
"I don't think he was exactly motivated by kindness," Olivier remarked dryly.
"Nonsense, Olivier," her mother replied, frowning at the sight of a couple of grey hairs at her temple. "He's a father. I'm sure he wouldn't want to miss his daughter's wedding, either. I just wish him better luck than I've had. Interesting man. Not what I was expecting. I must remember to send his children presents when we get back." She snapped her compact closed. "I suppose you'll be going straight back to Briggs."
"As soon as humanly possible."
"Hm, yes. We may stay another day or two. I rather like it here. Shua's family is quite charming." Sophia patted her daughter's hand as she stood up. "Have a nice sulk, dear."
Olivier didn't reply, but before her mother cleared the corner of the house, she sat up. "Mother!"
Sophia paused and looked back. "Yes?"
"If you turned Father down twice, what made you change your mind the third time?"
Sophia gave a little shrug. "I suppose it was because he went to the trouble of asking me a third time. Never admit defeat, remember?" She thought for a moment. "Or maybe it was the puppy eyes he made."
Olivier's eyebrows went up. "Puppy eyes? Father?"
"On occasion, yes. In any case," Sophia added, "I haven't regretted a single moment of it."
She walked away, disappearing around the corner of the house, leaving Olivier to sit for some time, staring at the ground. The party out in the courtyard seemed to be progressing just as well without her. After a while she frowned at the bundle of clothing she was still clutching in her hands. She shook out the underdress and the tunic and folded them as well as she could, laying them on the bench beside her, making a mental note to get them returned to their owner. She couldn't very well barge in on them at the moment with a cheerful wave and a cry of thanks all the same.
Puppy eyes, huh?
Well, she couldn't accuse Shua of that. That wasn't something he would ever have to resort to. His eyes were fine the way they were. He had a nice voice, too. And he had a rakish, insightful sense of humor. And he had nice lips. She had been surprised by their smoothness. And he had long, slender fingers. And then there was…
She pressed her hands to her face. Why couldn't she stop thinking about him? Now, of all times? Every time she encountered him, he turned everything upside down. He made her do things that she always considered contrary to her nature. Like right now. She never had a problem making a decision. Now all she could do was sit there, unable to decide where to go if she stood up or even if she should stand up at all. Maybe if she started walking, she could get to the next train station by…a couple of days from now.
Music could be heard from the courtyard, probably to while away the time, to celebrate nothing in particular. A few voices joined together in song, and Olivier recognized Shua among them. He seemed to be putting on a good show, considering she had just broken his heart. She would have felt stupid plugging her fingers in her ears, but despite its cheerfulness, the song made her heart ache. That was something else Shua had done to her. She had never ached for anyone until now.
"With respect, General, I'd say you've got it bad."
With her hands still over her face, Olivier peered out from between her fingers. Standing by the corner of the house were Miles and Vesya. They both gazed at her sympathetically, which she wished they wouldn't do, but Vesya sat down next to her, her expression full of concern.
"You poor thing!" she breathed.
Olivier dropped her hands in her lap. She never had been, nor would she ever be a poor thing. "I'm fine!" she replied. She tried to sound irritable, but she didn't quite make it.
"Do you want to come inside?" Miles asked, moving to stand in front of her.
Olivier looked up at him. So stalwart and dependable. "Honestly, Miles, I don't know what I want," she heard herself admit, despising the helpless sound in her voice.
He considered her critically for a moment, then said, "General Armstrong, I'm going to talk to you for just a moment as though there is no rank dividing us, and I apologize ahead of time for any offense given."
Olivier closed her eyes wearily. "You go right ahead."
"When I first heard about this," he said, his tone less cautious and respectful than usual and a bit more big brotherly (which was funny because he was younger than her), "I thought you were either completely out of your mind"—his voice was almost sharp, then it softened—"or you were completely in love. Something tells me that it was a bit of both."
Olivier looked up at him, almost grateful. "You're right, Colonel," she said. "It would have to be both."
A smile pulled at one corner of his mouth. "Are you still?"
"Both?" she asked with her own smirk, which faded. It wasn't even remotely amusing. She nodded slightly. "Yeah."
"Then why are you still sitting here?" Vesya demanded.
Olivier turned to her. "I suppose that would be the 'completely out of my mind' part," she replied. She sighed and did something her mother would do. She patted Vesya's hand. "You wouldn't get it. You've always known what you wanted."
Vesya grasped Olivier's hand in both hers. "Don't you?"
Olivier frowned slightly as though from a twinge of pain. "I thought I did."
Miles crouched down in front of her. "If you're suffering this much, then you must still love him. You're just too damn stubborn to admit it. And you're too damn stubborn to admit you may have made a mistake."
Olivier gazed at him, startled, and he went on. "You're one of the most valiant soldiers I've ever met, so why you're running scared now is beyond me." He fixed her with a stern, red-eyed gaze. "Is your heart the only opponent you can't face down?" His look softened and he stood up, giving an inclination of his head. "No offense, General."
"None taken." Olivier was just a little too amazed to be offended. Miles had never dared to speak to her like that before. Having his own command must have gone to his head. No. She smiled a little. It suited him. She sat silently for several moments, then, with a determined set of her chin, she stood up. "What's your tactical assessment, Colonel?" she asked.
"You mean, how do you go back out there and face your family without looking like a fool?"
Olivier was about to make a curt reply, but Vesya spoke up. "Leave it to me!" She gathered up Rada's wedding dress and hurried toward her house. "Well, come on!" she called to them over her shoulder.
With surprising efficiency, Olivier found herself dressed as an Ishvalan bride. Vesya added to her outfit with a head covering of cream-colored fabric with a delicately embroidered edge, tied securely over her hair. Since she had no chuva, the striped sash worn by all Ishvalans who could claim legitimacy, Vesya found a length of fabric that she wrapped securely around Olivier's slender waist. She also supplied her with a pair of soft leather slippers.
"There!" she said, stepping back and admiring the effect. She met Olivier's gaze. "Nervous?"
"Uh...I don't know. I've never been nervous." Olivier was sure she felt something. It was a sense of anticipation, but not necessarily a pleasant one, like the thrill of an impending battle. It wasn't entirely unpleasant either. "Maybe?"
Vesya smiled. This was her territory, and this time it was Olivier who felt out of place. But the other woman's smile was kind and reassuring, which was a lot more than Olivier had ever offered her while she was at Briggs. "You'll do just fine!" Then Vesya's look turned a little mischievous. "Now, don't come out until it's time. Like Dejan would say, I have to set the stage!"
Olivier followed her to the front door, where a somewhat concerned Miles was waiting. When he saw her, he broke into a smile and she found herself blushing.
"You realize this will make us related," he said.
Olivier raised a skeptical eyebrow. "A bit distantly," she added.
Miles shrugged. "As far as Ishvalans are concerned, it's all family."
"I see." Olivier rather liked that idea.
"Now you two stay here," Vesya told them. "I'll give a wave of my hand, like this…" She raised her arm and rotated her hand at her wrist in a dance-like motion. "Then you come out. This is something folks used to do at fancy betrothal parties," she explained. "All the Ishvalans will understand, and your family will probably figure it out."
She strode through the front door and out into the courtyard, and then she began to sing in Ishvalan, moving toward the tables in a kind of slow dance step.
"Mother, mother, tell me,
Ai li, ai li, lei o lei li,
Has the first rooster crowed?
Ai li, ai li o,
Father, father, tell me,
Ai li, ai li, lei o lei li,
Is the morning come?
Ai li, ai li o!
Olivier stood waiting inside the doorway with a slight frown on her face. She had no idea what Vesya was singing or what exactly it was in aid of, but Miles was grinning. "What is she doing?"
Miles let out a quiet chuckle. "She's singing about a reluctant bride. Proper Ishvalan maidens aren't supposed to be too eager."
"Really?" Olivier muttered. "Does anybody actually fall for that?"
After some initial surprise at Vesya's interruption, there was a little ripple of laughter from the Ishvalans, who sounded like they had just gotten the punch line of a joke. Olivier ventured to peer around the edge of the doorframe and out into the courtyard, as though checking for possible enemy fire. She caught sight of Shua, who stood staring at Vesya, a look of surprise on his face. She could see his eyes flick past Vesya toward the house, and Olivier quickly ducked back inside, but not before she saw the pleased grin on his face.
As soon as Vesya had finished her verse, Dejan took up the tune on his lute and began to sing while Vesya continued with her strolling dance.
"Daughter, maiden daughter,
Ai li, ai li, lei o lei li,
The first rooster has crowed,
Ai li, ai li o!
Daughter, maiden daughter,
Put on your veil!
Ai li, ai li o!"
Vesya continued with the next verse.
"Mother, mother, tell me,
Ai li, ai li, lei o lei li,
Why must I go?
Ai li, ai li o!
Father, father, let me,
Ai li, ai li, lei o lei li,
Let me stay at home!
Ai li, ai li o!
As she sang the last couple of lines, Vesya turned slowly in her dance before the assembled guests. She raised her arm and turned her hand in time to the music.
Miles took Olivier by the elbow. "That's our cue," he muttered.
"For what?" Olivier hissed.
"Just walk out there. And look demure."
"Oh, screw that, Miles!"
Feeling a bit idiotic, Olivier let Miles escort her out into the courtyard, and there was a scattering of applause. Dejan began to sing the next verse, but Shua cut in. Whatever he was singing, it seemed fairly obvious that he meant it, and the way he kept his eyes on Olivier as she approached gave her goosebumps.
"Maiden, sweet maiden,
Ai li, ai li, lei o lei li,
I am waiting for you,
Ai li, ai li o,
Maiden, sweet maiden,
Ai li, ai li, lei o lei li,
Do not break my heart!
Ai li, ai li o!
Out of the corner of her eyes, Olivier glanced at her parents. Her father seemed a little bewildered, but her mother had apparently caught on and was smiling benignly. Catherine was practically bouncing with anticipation and Alex was blubbing.
As Shua's verse came to an end, he stepped up to Olivier and held out his hands. "You really had me going there, love!"
Olivier smiled and gave a shrug, slipping her hands into his. "I was assured it was traditional," she said. "Besides, an Armstrong never admits defeat."
Shua let out a laugh and pulled Olivier into his arms, lifting her off her feet and spinning around with her. She would have decked anyone else who dared such a thing, but she didn't mind so much this time. Neither did she mind when he set her back on her feet and kissed her. She probably could have done without the howls and the laughter and the clapping, but she'd let it go this time.
"Saahad!" Shua called to Bozidar, who had been sitting and chatting with Aunt Zulema. "Do you have a few minutes?"
Bozidar rose to his feet. "I am at your service," he replied. "For want of other occupation, I was waiting for the arrival of Andakar's newborns, but that will come in Ishvala's good time. You two, I believe," he added with a slight twinkle in his eye, "have a more pressing need."
The wedding party made their way to the center of the courtyard. At some point, a fountain was planned for this spot, but for now, it was occupied by a pedestal of stone blocks. On top of the pedestal was a brass bowl with small chunks of incense, which Bozidar proceeded to light. As soon as the aromatic smoke began to rise from the bowl, the couples were led to their places. Shua stood between Dejan and Naisha, and Olivier was flanked by her parents, who had spent some time yesterday rehearsing for this event.
Bozidar began a chant and the ceremony began. Beginning at opposite sides, the bride and groom were led in a circle around the pedestal, their escorts' hands on their shoulders. Off to one side, the girls in Dejan's group began to sing quietly. They were to process around three times, and by the beginning of the second rotation, Olivier heard an odd noise at her right side. She looked down at her father and saw tears running down his cheeks and into his beard. He kept his chin up and rigid, but he couldn't help letting out a couple of little sobs. Normally, Olivier would have been horrified by such a sight, but she felt a sudden rush of affection.
"Father!" she whispered.
Phillip sniffed quietly. "I'm so very proud of you, my girl!"
Olivier patted the hand that rested on her shoulder. "Thank you, Father," she said softly. "I'm glad you're here."
The ceremony itself was simple. There wasn't much she had to do, other than repeat the vows as Bozidar translated them for her. They didn't sound entirely unreasonable, especially since Shua had to promise the same things. Bozidar concluded with what was probably something like 'you may kiss the bride," and Shua gathered her tightly in his arms and kissed her, and they might have stayed that way for a while, but Alex could no longer contain himself and he scooped them up in a beefy embrace.
"Sister!" he cried out tearfully. "Brother!"
"Alex!" Olivier snapped. "Put us down right now!" She might be feeling a bit more benevolent toward her family at the moment, but she had her limits.
The sun had gone down, but the party was still in full swing. Olivier was feeling rather mellow, mostly from the halmi, supplied by Shua, and the wine, supplied by her parents, but also from the realization that she'd not only gotten this ordeal over with, but it hadn't been all that bad. Even being paraded around perched on Shua's shoulder while the men sang something boisterous wasn't so bad.
Later in the evening, Scar emerged, bearing a newborn baby in each arm. The music, singing, and chattering had drowned out their first cries as they entered the world. A great fuss was made over them, and Olivier was just as glad to let them steal the spotlight. Babies were something other people did, but curiosity finally overcame her, and fortified by another glass of wine, Olivier sat down next to the new father.
"Congratulations," she felt obliged to say.
"You, too," Scar replied with a rare, if slight smile.
Olivier gazed out at the assembled guests and let out a sigh. "Dear God, I'm related to all these people now!" she remarked. "Well," she added, "not Mustang, thank God." She gave Scar a slight nudge with her shoulder. "I'm even related to you now."
Scar gave her a sidelong glance and nodded. "So you are."
"And now you're related to my family!" She let out a slightly tipsy snort of laughter. "I'd love to see you at our next family reunion. We can make fun of all my crazy relatives. Sorry. Our crazy relatives. Bring the kids! It'll be great!"
"I think I'll forgo that particular pleasure."
"Fine." Olivier shrugged and smiled. "At least I'll have a husband I can actually show off and my hideous cousins will stop asking me when I'm going to get married."
"I hope that isn't why you got married," Scar said sternly.
"Oh, lay off, will you?" Olivier grumbled. "I got married because…" She had to pause and think for a moment. "I got married because I met a man who had the strength, tenacity, and sheer balls to get through all my defenses, and he did it without making me feel...diminished," she concluded with mild surprise, as though the thought had only just occurred to her.
Scar laughed quietly and gave a nod of approval. "I suppose there are worse reasons."
"You threw that fight, didn't you?" Olivier asked.
Shua gave an unconcerned shrug as they walked down the corridors of Briggs toward the general's quarters. "Of course I did," he replied. "You told me not to embarrass you in front of your men. I made it as near a thing as I could, didn't I?"
Olivier gave a half smile. "I suppose."
"The men enjoyed our little exhibition, and you're still firmly established as the invincible commander of Fort Briggs." He grinned. "Everybody's happy." He looked at her as she walked beside him, and he reached to take her hand. "I certainly am," he said.
Olivier looked up at him. "Are you?"
Shua nodded. "Deliriously."
"Mm-hmm. Aren't you?"
As of a few days ago, what Olivier would have described herself as was nervous. Not only was she going to spring the fact on her men that she had gotten married, she was going to be introducing her husband to them. She did not want to think about what sort of fantasies her men had about her. Buccaneer had once intimated (under duress) that many of them did. The man who finally was able to turn his fantasies into reality would have to be someone rather out of the ordinary. They had gazed upon him with awe and wonder when she revealed him, and she felt rather proud.
The sparring match had been Shua's idea, and Briggs practically shut down for a space of time. He fought at his flashy best, showing off the whole time but still putting up a formidable challenge. There was lots of clanging of steel against steel, a sound Olivier loved and didn't get to hear enough of. When it looked like Shua was finally getting the better of her, he gave her the briefest of openings, one that only she would have noticed, and she took it. He had won the respect of her men and, as he said, she had firmly retained her supremacy. The fact that he could have beaten her was a little scary and rather exciting.
"Yes, I rather think so," she replied.
Shua arched an eyebrow. "Oh, rather?"
Olivier lifted her shoulders with a little smirk. "I don't get delirious about anything."
"Well, then," Shua said, a thoughtful look on his face. "I must not be doing my job."
"Oh, you're doing just—hey!"
Shua bent down and slung Olivier over his shoulder, striding down the corridor toward her room. He gave a trio of astonished soldiers a salute as they passed. "Carry on, men!" he told them.
"Shua! Dammit! Put me down!"
"Quiet, woman!" he replied. "I'm about to make you deliriously happy."
Olivier struggled in his grip, trying not to giggle in front of the troops. "I'll divorce you!"
Shua swung the door of her room open and gave a wicked laugh. "Oh, I doubt that very much."
When I got married, my dad started to cry when he led me down the aisle, so I had to put that in.