A gathering of the Talassa family, at their home on Tresillia, four months after the Battle of Doom
Anakin let his eyes wander
over the assembled family. He couldn’t help wondering what it
would be like if he were able to assemble his family. Of course, he had
not as many brothers and sisters – only one brother and they
were not exactly on speaking terms. Neither were there any nephews and
nieces. He did not even know whether his parents had any siblings,
whether there were any uncles and aunts, a multitude of cousins
He could see Shura talking with Erisdela. The little girl frowned and looked as if she were on the verge of tears. Anakin could imagine that it was the usual problem, it was hard for a small girl to lose her sister and the birth of the new baby made her just more insecure. Shura had told Anakin that Erisdela had accused her parents that they wanted to replace her lost sister with the new child.
There were many relatives Anakin had not seen before, at least he could not remember them. Most of them had probably been at their wedding, he had completely lost count of their guests then. At least the days were over when he had had difficulties remembering the names of all his wife’s sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces.
Alena and Toryb, the elder twins, were busy looking after Alena’s three toddlers. The two sisters were even more in tune with each other than Lucas and Shura, it was almost uncanny watching them together, they seemed to know exactly what the other one was about to do with hardly a word exchanged.
Nikan watched his wife showing their baby to Aunt Marja and a group of people that must be Marja’s family from the Southern Islands.
Naureska, like the good hostess she was, walked around with a trolley of drinks. Anakin hoped she would come his way too. His glass had been empty for far too long.
His back hurt and he knew he should change his position but without help it was damned painful and he was determined to wait for somebody to come by. Surely they would not let him sit here on his own for very long.
Looking around to see whether he could attract the attention of somebody he knew, his eyes stopped on a guest he surely never seen before. He would have certainly remembered her.
The young woman was wearing a long, sleeveless dress of a shimmering, silky green that set off her chocolate skin. She was very thin, almost frail looking, her face had fine features and a long, straight nose and very dark eyes. Masses of long, black hair fell in thick ringlets over her shoulders and down her back. She leaned against the wall, a glass in her hand, and talked to somebody behind Naureska and her drinks trolley.
Anakin watched her for a moment, wondering who she may be, she seemed to be about his own age. Then Naureska moved on and he saw that the strange girl was talking to Lucas. There was something in the way Lucas was listening to her talking that struck Anakin as strange. Perhaps not strange, but unusual.
“Hi,” Shura said, suddenly standing next to Anakin. “Enjoying yourself?”
“Well enough.” Anakin smiled at her. “Who’s that?” He pointed to the young women, who was now listening to something Lucas said.
Shura turned around. “Cousin Rhona,” she replied. “She’s not really a cousin, her father is my mother’s cousin. She and Lucas were going out at one time.”
“Did they?” Anakin watched Rhona patting Lucas’s shoulder and saying something to him that made him smile. That was one of the unusual things, Lucas looked very serious, when most of the time he seem to be bemused by life.
“They were about thirteen and we were down at their place for the holidays,” Shura explained, turning back to Anakin. “They were together for almost a year afterwards, as much as you are ‘going out’ when you are that age.”
“Are you sure that should be past tense?” Anakin asked. He thought that there was something in the way Lucas and Rhona were standing together, closer than they would if they were just friends.
“What do you mean?” Shura turned around to look at her brother.
Rhona smiled and pushed her hair back over her shoulders. Lucas returned her smile, then they just looked at each other.
“I’ll be damned.” Shura said and sat down on the sofa, bumping against Anakin’s bad leg. She jumped back to her feet when Anakin let out a pained shout. “Oh, I am so sorry. Are you alright?”
Anakin pulled a face. “As well as one might expect,” he said.
“Oh,” Shura looked for a moment as if she herself was in pain, then she leaned over him and kissed him, making his entire body tingle all over.
“Much better,” he said, when she finally drew back. “Only slightly out of breath now.”
“Can I do something for you?” Shura asked.
“Two things, actually, help me shift a bit and I need another drink.”
Shura was by now very skilled in this task and with only a few bumps, she had Anakin sitting up on the Sofa, with his bad leg propped up on a stool in front of him.
“Shouldn’t that hand work properly by now?” she asked once more, taking at his new hand in her’s and looking at it critically.
Anakin squeezed her hand, but winced when the reconnected muscles in his wrist as usual contracted violently. “They said that it’s unusual but not unknown that it takes a while for the new limb to adapt to the body, or the other way round.”
“We should see a doctor about it,” Shura repeated.
“It’s going to be alright,” Anakin replied.
Shura sighed, the had had this discussion before after all. “I’m going to get you a drink.” Shura carefully placed his hand on the arm of the sofa and walked off.
Anakin returned his attention to Rhona and Lucas. They were still standing at the side of the Upper Hall, it seemed to Anakin that they had moved even closer together than before, talking quietly with each other.
Shura returned carrying two large glasses of the almost clear wine produced on the Southern islands of Tressilia, probably from Aunt Marja’s vineyards.
She sat down next to Anakin and handed one of the glasses to him. Putting her arm around his back, she leaned her head against hist shoulder. “Is that alright?” she asked.
“I’ll scream if it hurts,” Anakin replied.
Lucas was leaning closer to his cousin and whispered something into her ear that made her break into laughter.
“I guess it’s rude to watch them,” Shura said, “but they are really sweet, don’t you think?”
“Hm.” Anakin looked around the Upper Hall but apart from him and Shura nobody paid any attention to the Lucas and Rhona. At least half of the guests were busy looking after the assembled children and the others were talking, probably catching up on the developments since the last family gathering, which had been some cousin’s wedding. Anakin could not remember which cousin got married, but he had still been in hospital at the time and had not been able to come.
“Do you think we looked that cute when we started going out?” Shura asked.
“I was hoping we were still looking cute,” Anakin replied. “Even though I find it hard to think of me as cute in any circumstances.”
“Oh, you are dreadfully cute,” Shura said.
Anakin had to grin. He really could not think of himself as cute, he was far too tall for that word. Cute was something he would use for small things.
“So how are you today?” Naureska asked Anakin. She had left the drinks in the care of her husband.
“Fine,” Anakin replied, but his wife said, “His hand is still not working properly.”
Naureska picked his hand up, and like her daughter looked at it with a critical expression on her face. “It looks as if it was mending fine.”
“It is fine – au!” A stab of pain shot through his arm Naureska squeezed his wrist lightly.
“You should see a doctor,” Naureska chided. “That is not good.”
“I have been trying to get him to a doctor for weeks now.” Shura told her mother, “ever since we came here.”
“I’ll get a doctor to come here,” Naureska replied. “There has to be a specialist for prosthetics in Five Castles. – You really should take better care of yourself, young man.” She smiled at him and with a friendly pat on her daughter’s head, walked on to talk to her younger daughter Kyrela.
“Oh, they’re holding hands,” Shura whispered urgently as soon as her mother was out of earshot.
Anakin turned back to his brother-in-law. He did feel a bit like a voyeur but it wasn’t as if he were prying through a window.
Rhona had taken a step away from the wall against which she had been leaning. She was standing so close to Lucas, that he had to look up at her. She wasn’t much taller than he was, or perhaps, Anakin thought, she was wearing high heels. They were standing very quietly, both an obviously forgotten drink in one hand, their other hands joined between them.
“This is so romantic,” Shura whispered.
“Why don’t they go somewhere a bit more quiet?” Anakin asked.
“They will,” Shura replied. “They will.”
Anakin leaned his head against Shura’s. This was a facet of his brother-in-law that he did not know. Lucas had had his girl-friends but the his relationship with those girls Anakin had met had always seemed to be something that Lucas approached with the same light-heartedness with which he did everything. Now he seemed to be almost unnaturally serious.
Lucas said something to Rhona and she burst into laughter again. It wasn’t all serious romantic business after all. Both suddenly seemed to remember their drinks, and moving slightly apart, they finished them and then moved away, in between the other guests where Anakin could not see them anymore.
“He’s a fast mover isn’t he?” Anakin asked.
“Well, you could say, he’s been taking twelve years,” Shura replied. “And I can assure you that nothing untoward is going on. Not yet anyway.”
“Are you sure?” Anakin could see Rhona’s head moving towards the door but then Nikan’s massive bulk blocked his view.
Shura sat up and looking at him with a mournful expression on her face. “With that many children and parents and people in the house, there is no place where you can really have privacy,” she said with a sigh. “All you can do is kiss.” She leaned forward and kissed him generously. “It’s something but always makes me want to have more.” She grinned and sat back.
“You’re not the only one.” Anakin whispered into her ear.
“I hope we aren’t disrupting anything?” Lucas asked, appearing as out of thin air, in front of the sofa, with Rhona standing next to him. They were not holding hands. Rhona was actually holding both her hands behind her back, as if she was hiding something.
“No,” Shura replied. If she was as surprised as Anakin was she did not show it.
“Rhona and I were thinking of getting some air,” Lucas explained, “and thought you might want to come along.”
Anakin was on the verge of saying no, the prospect of having to maneuver through the crowds and down the stairs and through the lot in the Lower Hall just seemed to be too much of a hassle. His leg hurt too.
“We thought this might help,” Rhona said. She pulled her hand out from behind her back, holding a large, green cushion that for some inexplicable reason seemed to try to escape towards the ceiling.
“What on earth is that?” Shura asked, grabbing hold of the cushion before it could escape Rhona’s grip.
“The world’s first replusor cushion,” Lucas explained, and added in a conspiratory undertone. “We just have to hope Nikan is not intending to use his hover car just now.”
“Lucas!” Shura hissed at her brother.
“Come on,” Lucas said, and Rhona added, “you don’t want your husband to miss out on a nice walk? He needs a bit of fresh air.”
Anakin actually was more worried whether he should trust that ‘repulsor cushion’ not to throw him off when he sat on it. But it would be nice to go outside, and Lucas and Rhona seemed to have gone to some trouble to make this. Though, they had been out of the room for hardly more than a minute.
“When did you make that?” he asked Lucas.
“This morning,” Lucas replied.
“Well, if that’s the case, I hope you calibrated it for my weight,” Anakin stated.
“I can assure you it’s perfectly safe.”
“Then, let’s get going.”
With the help of Shura, Lucas and Rhona they managed to sit him on the floating cushion, and more importantly keep him on it, while they pushed it through the crowded room and despite some difficulties savely down the stairs, through another crowd of people in the lower hall and out into the sunshine.
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