Mater approached me on the dance floor, drawing me from Sanctus and the Accendium. “It’s time, Lunam.”
I nodded. “Go get dressed, I’ll have Sanctus watch the Accendium. Meet at the stage?”
“Like we do with every change of the season.”
She left for the far end of the building while I went back to Sanctus and asked him to watch Sam and Abby for a little bit. “I need for you, when Maria Mater shows, to follow her up to the stage with Sam and Abby. Can you do that?”
“Yes?” His brow furrowed in a question as I dashed off. It would take too long to explain. I rushed around the crowd to the stairwell. Sprinting up them, I headed for my room and rummaged through my pile of clothing to find my suit. A floor length black hooded robe with bell shaped sleeves, a wide red belt, belt pants, black boots, and a black knife. I had spent the morning polishing the intricate silver necklace that held a symmetrically balanced variety of blue glass gemstones. I pulled my hair free of its ties and parted them forward over my shoulders. I slid the hood up and clasped the necklace across the back of the hood. I tugged my hair free from the stones and finished preening. On my way out, I grabbed up a bobbin of thick turquoise thread I had not touched in years and slipped it into the my belt.
With a bit more decorum for the occasion and the costume, I emerged from my room and descended the stairs. The crowd had already gathered in front of the stage. The band had dismantled their set and Cortex was pulling the podium into place. I returned to the floor in time for Mater to walk out of the opposite section of the facility. Her outfit was the opposite of mine. White hood, brass necklace and red gemstones, a blue belt accentuated her curves, which never pleased her.
Sanctus, near the edge of the stage, looked for me over the crowd. Tempestatis and Cortex were also watching for me. I signaled to them to move Sanctus and the children up the stage. Sanctus balked at the movement until he noticed me. His state of confusion grew when he saw Maria Mater take up her position at the podium. I took the stage with her and bowed formally to her. “Persephone. Another year has passed.”
“Hades. We have Ustor to commit.” She dipped a curtsy.
She took the podium, opened up a large folio and took out her pen. She made a show of finding the page she wanted and taking the cap off of the pen. I took up my place on her right and with Tempestatis’s help, positioned Abby, Sam and Sanctus next to me. “Greetings, Caeruleum!” I drew the clamor of the crowd. The three next to me flinched at the sudden uproar, or maybe it was my stadium voice. “Thank you to those who have joined with us to celebrate the crossing of the old with the new and by greeting the New Year. Thank you to those maintaining the line between the Caeruleum and Rubrum who could not make it tonight!” I pronounced, yielding again a raucous round of applause.
“As some of you may know, we have three new people that have been harboured in the Caeruleum over the past month. You may have met them. May I introduce Sanctus, one of the three Providentia of Imperium.” I motioned to Sanctus who waived timidly as those in the audience greeted him. “Solis, one of the few Plebe in the Imperium,” I revealed to the group. Sam flicked a glance between me and the group, not sure what was going on. He had not expected me to use his new Alias. Sanctus knelt down next to the two children, his hands trembling. He translated in his halting translation between Imperian and Angelus. “And Astrum, Solis’s little sister, a liquid fire Ustor.” She slipped behind Sam when she was greeted by the Caeruleum. I understood the feeling.
“As we do every time we have someone join with the Caeruleum, Maria Mater, our Persephone, will conduct family tying claims this evening. Please consider if you would be willing to claim ties and responsibility with Sanctus, Astrum, and Solis. If they go unclaimed, they will not join the Caeruleum,” I reminded them. I motioned to Mater who took my cue and nodded.
“Sanctus?” Mater asked. Sanctus stood up from the Accendium and stepped up to her, his shoulders shaking. “Who speaks for this man? To tie his life claim with their’s as family? To guard against malignancy, to promote prosperity, to ensure the Caeruleum of good conduct?” Mater asked the formality of the crowd.
I swallowed as I looked around the shop floor at the large gathering. Almost the entirety of the Caeruleum had shown up for the New Year festivities. They would come back in tomorrow for The Feast of Hades, an all-day glut fest when we would pass out presents and visit. To my surprise, hands went up in the front rows. Praesepe. Flumen. Tempestatis. Clavis. Scriba. Goosebumps ran up the side of my face. Sanctus glanced in confusion between me and those who walked forward.
“I claim ties. I will protect Sanctus for the Caeruleum. I claim a brother,” Tempestatis spoke up first, coming forward to Mater and handing her a long strand of space blue string.
“Sanctus, will you claim ties with Tempestatis?” Mater asked him. He stared at her in horrified terror and uncertainty. I whispered her question to him and what Tempestatis was doing in Angelus. He nodded. “I – I claim ties with Tempestatis,” he worked over the words carefully as he fought with his nerves at talking in Imperian in front of so many people.
“Will the Caeruleum recognize ties between Tempestatis and Sanctus as brothers?” Mater asked the assembly.
“We will,” the crowd responded in unison. Relief washed down my spine. He was in. He was officially a part of Caeruleum. Mater continued through the tie claims that had come forward to Sanctus. Brother and sister ties ran the length until they hit Clavis. “I claim father ties,” the old man walked up to the podium and handed Mater an electric blue thread. It was not often that two adults in the Caeruleum would claim parent-child ties. Sanctus, Mater, and the rest of the Caeruleum were surprised at the announcement. “You look so confused. Tempestatis’s my son through ties. Of course, I will claim his brother ties as my own son ties,” he begrudged. Mater and the Caeruleum accepted the claim. She noted the ties in her book and took up the strands of various blue threads those who came forward had contributed for Sanctus’s ties. She knotted the end of it and laid it to the side of her folio.
She motioned for Sam and Abby to step forward. I pulled from my belt the thread I had not held in years. She flipped the pages in her ledger once more to make a notation. “Who speaks for these Accendium? To tie Solis and Astrum’s life claim with theirs. To guard against malignancy, to promote prosperity, to ensure the Caeruleum of good conduct?” Mater asked. I moved forward before anyone else had time. “I claim father ties with Solis and Astrum.” I handed her my turquoise blue thread.
“Lunam?” She fumbled her pen. The rest of the assembly quieted behind me.
I reiterated, “I claim father ties. I will guard them for the community, and guard the community for them.” A hand settled on my arm. I glanced over to see Cortex handing Mater a sky-blue thread. “I claim uncle ties with Nigrae Astrum and Nigrae Solis, as Nigrae Lunam is my brother tie.”
Medicus, Hyacinthius, and Iocus approached on the other side, handing over a deep, almost black navy thread. “Uncle tie too, Maria Mater,” he told her.
“Aunt tie through Medicus, and Mercator will claim uncle tie.” Hyacinthius handed over an almost white thread and a soft cerulean.
“Cousin tie through Mercator, Medicus, and Hyacinthius,” Iocus handed over his own pigeon blue thread.
Mater sighed and did something I had not seen her do since we had come together as co-leaders. She pulled from her belt a bobbin of blue and green twisted thread and a small pocket knife. She cut a length of it and laid it in her book. “I claim aunt ties with Nigrae Astrum and Nigrae Solis, as Nigrae Lunam is my brother tie.” Bless Clavis’s influence with taking on Sanctus. I had not expected either Mater or Cortex to come forward. I had full intentions on being Abby and Sam’s only ties.
I heard a shift behind me, and a shudder ran down my spine. I turned to find the entirety of the Caeruleum having moved forward a step. Mater, Cortex, and Medicus looked up to see what the commotion was about.
A solid inch in diameter rope of various blue threads lay on her book at the end of the evening. Mater stood staring at it and her genealogy book in morbid confusion as she tried to slot family trees. The only ones to not claim ties with Abby and Sam were those who had already stepped forward to claim Sanctus and Sanctus himself, who was prohibited from claiming ties in the name of the Caeruleum until the following season.
Sanctus had already taken Sam and Abby up to sleep as the party drew late into the night. I stood with Mater, trying to help figure the ties with her.
“Father? Really, Lunam?” She was flicking her pen in irritation.
“You’ve never had kids. What are you thinking? They’re a ton of responsibility. Why didn’t you brother tie with Sanctus?” she pressed.
I swallowed, afraid to answer.
“You’re awful fond of him, it seems,” she continued.
“Tempestatis and the rest stepped forward, so I figured it was okay. Realized I needed to get in faster if I was going father tie the Accendium,” I shrugged.
She cast a glare my way before stilling her irritated motion. “I wish Mercator had been here for it. I’m glad Medicus and Hyacinthus stepped forward for him. Hope he doesn’t mind suddenly being claimed as an uncle.”
“He’s a good guy. He’ll probably be excited to be an uncle. Just has to come home first. Think Mercurius will listen to reason on trade terms?” I took up Sanctus’s ties and started plating them. “Mercator’s our best merchant. He’s always scored better negotiation rates than the rest of us. He’s not trading with Mercurius necessarily. They need components for their grain silos, and they know Clavis is the best person in all of urbs Aquarum for producing them. They’ll take trade.”
“I hope you’re right. I need to have at least one of our lines quiet for once, if only to stop me from more grey hairs.” She twisted her hair back into a knot and returned to her tiny notations in her book.
“Molly?” I asked, drawing her from her calculations.
“When was our last com link with Mercator?” I couldn’t remember receiving a message from Radio about contact recently. Usually he would send it my way, but if Mercator had sent word for Mater, I might not learn about it until I reminded her.
She set her pen down to think. Her thoughts turned into minutes as she contemplated time. “Three days ago, right after breakfast.”
“Did he say anything?”
“Nothing bad. You know he goes silent sometimes when he’s schmoozing these guys.”
Unease wrapped up my spine. True, Mercator had gone silent on us a few times during negotiations, but never this long. He would have reported back yesterday evening. “I hope you’re right.”
“He’ll be fine, Lunam. Head up for bed. I’ll take this home with me and figure it out, okay?”
“Thank you for messing with that. I’ve never been able to figure out the system.”
“Solis and Astrum will be well taken care of. Don’t worry about them.”
I returned to my room, Sanctus’s necklace in hand. He had fallen asleep on his palette, his hair cascading around him in a vibrant orange pool. A shine under his arm caught my eye. I closed the door quietly and approached his bed. He shifted at the noise, coming awake with a squeak. He pushed back away from me before he fully realized where he was. I was still dressed as Hades, and having a massive black-robed shadow looming over him had terrified him. I didn’t blame his reaction. I knelt down to his height. “It’s just me, Sanctus. You’re safe; you’re okay,” I reassured him. The shake in his shoulders subsided after a minute. “You good?” I asked.
“Oh!” he startled me at his sudden outburst of realization. “I have something for you for the Feast of Hades. I know it’s early. I should wait for tomorrow, but…” He turned to search his bedding in a flurry. He found what he was looking for behind him, the thing that had caught my eye, and held it out to me. A little lion doll dressed in a formal waistcoat and trousers like the Electi of Angelus.
“Did you make this?” I sat down on the cement next to his palette and took careful possession of the little creature. It was heavy enough to sit. It had been packed with slugs and goosedown from what I could smell. Leather for its skin and donkey hair for the mane made it robust. I smiled at it, amused with the tight embroidery on its little coat.
Sanctus turned bashful and nodded. “You told me about the one your mother made for you. I wanted for you to have it back, but I didn’t really know what it looked like. I wanted to make it to say thank you. I’m sorry. I know guys aren’t really into the whole stuffed animal thing. If you don’t like it-” He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.
My throat threatened to close as heat ran beneath my eyes. I sniffed as memories of my great-grandmother’s apartment floated through my head. The smell of borscht and cornbread. “It’s beautiful, thank you.” I pulled him into me and wrapped myself around him. He went stiff under my arms at my sudden reaction. I rested my head into his shoulder as I fought with tears. “Thank you,” my voice broke, betraying the emotion I was trying to hide. He softened beneath my hold and allowed me to have a moment as I remembered too much of my early childhood.
“Lunam?” Sanctus asked with concern.
I let go of him and backed up, giving both of us breathing room. “I’m sorry that I didn’t claim family ties with you.” I fiddled with the hairs in the lion’s mane.
He shook his head. “I’m in the Caeruleum. You became father for Abby and Sam, and they really needed the family.”
“Thank you for taking care of them this evening, even after I had claimed ties. Maria Mater needed help with figuring out the ledger.” I got up and set the lion on my shelf that held my other little precious odds and ends.
“They’re good kids. Reminds me of when my siblings were younger,” he yawned. It was late.
“Really love your siblings, huh?” I changed into my pyjamas and pulled his family ties out of my pants pocket.
“I do miss them greatly.” He went to lie down.
“I have your family ties, if you want it.” I offered him the strand.
“It means I’m Caeruleum,” he smiled around a yawn, taking them from me to tie around his neck.
I climbed into my own bed and laid down, matching his yawn. “I’m glad I met you,” I told him.
“Thank you for bringing me here, Lunam.”
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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