The wedding sun rose golden and accompanied by appropriately decorous white clouds. We’d barely slept the night before, staying up late while I practiced mimicking the Countess’s voice and mannerism and she told me everything she could think of about what to expect from this day. I squeezed her hand before slipping out to my own chambers, and she looked at me with unguarded terror before adjusting her expression to confident reserve for the leanyod entering the room. The first hours of the morning were a blur of preparation—make up, elegant hair, and then stepping into ornate gowns and pinning beaded headdresses. Every last one of us wore a long white veil—heavily beaded across the crown of the head and then tendrils of beadwork dripped down the silk on all sides like rainwater running off a cloak. Our faces underneath were painted white, with lips, cheeks and eyelids dusted with a red powder. I assumed, however, I was the only leanyodi who’d strapped knives to her thighs and boots before donning the purple gown.
The veil was the Countess’s only Angari accoutrement for the ceremony. Her elven wedding gown skimmed down the curves of her body, each winding branch and vine stitched in the green silk flattered her in a way entirely different from the highly structured dresses she usually wore. The diamonds in the brooch from Ilya glittered at her breast even through the veil.
Everyone, from Pontikel, to Druskin and the other guards, to the leanyodi were dressed in shades of dusky purple. The colors of heather on the moors, Brell whispered to me. Pontikel carried a small, jeweled chest bearing the necessaries for the ceremony.
Everyone was ready and waiting when the Steward came to lead the train of retainers through the Palace of Domes and over the bridge to the Palace of Spires. The Countess walked in the center of the group—a wedding tradition, and also intensely practical under the circumstances. There were crowds on the banks and in boats, eager for a glimpse of the wedding train. But nothing shot at us. I could see guards on the walls of the palaces, and mixed in with the crowd. The King had likely every single guard working today. There were plenty of those inside the Palace of Spires, also, standing at all the junctions of corridors as we walked through.
Finally, we came to the grand doors to the ballroom where we’d spent so many evenings. Even through the doors, I could hear the drift of music and pressure of a room full of souls. The Steward rapped three times, and after a beat the music changed and the doors opened from the inside. We marched into the room. I’d thought the balls leading up to the wedding had been crowded, but this was much more. Was every Angari noble, least to greatest, present? I didn’t dare look up, but I could sense the crush of people in the three tiers of balconies above us.
What a performance this day would be.
I stayed close to the Countess in the middle of the leanyodi as we made our way down the center of the grand ballroom and up to the dais where the kings and queens waited. The entire party bowed deeply, and at King Keleman’s signal we moved to array ourselves at the feet of the Angari king and queen.
The music changed again and the ballroom doors opened on the procession of elves, all in the dark blues and greens of forest shade. They, too, were veiled, and the gems in the veils winked in the light as they bowed to the royals and took their place before the Terrim rulers.
Priests came forward and offered prayers to the gods, especially Tirien. The kings stood and took turns making short speeches about peace and unity and brotherhood. I scanned the crowd and stole glances up at the balconies. There were more elves here than I’d anticipated. Quill and the others would be prowling the shadows with the help of the king’s guard, hoping to catch and root out anyone who might interrupt the opening ceremonies of the wedding day. I closed my eyes beneath my veil and tried to feel the room. It felt full, and thrumming with so much anticipation it would be difficult to feel anything else.
Finally, the kings called forward Ilya Terr and Adelheid Wuhn, and they walked out of their companies, two ghosts in long veils weaving through a sea of veils to reach one another. The image was compelling. Especially when they reached each other and clasped hands like warriors glad to meet alive after a battle.
“Will you vow?” asked King Istvan Terr.
Ilya Terr folded back his veil, revealing a face painted startling red. A tremendous concession to Angari tradition, that. He handed the glittering veil backwards without looking, his eyes locked on the Countess. “I will.”
King Keleman’s voice rang out, “Will you vow?”
The Countess lifted her veil and let it drop into Karolya’s hands as she said, “I will.”
“Will you witness?” cried both kings, and the entire company of attendants replied “We will,” and removed our veils.
The elves were unpainted, except for the one closest to Ilya, who I thought was Mihalak. The Lord and the Countess exchanged vows of fidelity, and then Pontikel and Aurel Terr stepped out of the crowd to bring them towels and a basin, and they washed the paint off their faces before the whole crowd. I tried to watch the crowd, but kept being drawn to the scene. Red paint stained the towels, which was alarming to look at, but Ilya’s eyes were alight as he beheld the Countess without make up. It was as if he hadn’t seen her last night, or for several days on the road here, there was so much wonder in his expression.
They were presented with brushes, and little pots of silver paint, and they began to paint one another gold, the color of Tirien. It was also a symbol of two different tribes becoming one, two families becoming one. The Countess was clearly better at applying face paint than Ilya Terr was, and I could feel Karolya twitching beside me. The paint would be fixed later, even without the need for disguise. When they were finished, or finished enough, the brushes were cleared away and they turned to face the crowd. A new entity, glittering with green of the elves and the gold of the Angari.
Music swelled and the Lord and Countess stepped off the dais and began the long walk back through the ballroom. The assembly saluted them, solemn and silent, as their trains fell in behind them. The opening ceremony was finished. Just a day of ceremonies and dancing and feasting left before us.