Wagging Tongues Will - Part XXXIX

The day of the wedding arrived far too quickly for Charles’s taste. The week after being release from the dungeon was mostly a blur in his mind, running back and forth through Metamor, speaking to what seemed hundreds of Keepers, all the while trying to savour each and every aspect of the place that was his home. A few incidents did stick out in his mind of course, but they were few and far between.

The night before Baldwin had been buried, strange that he could now think of the condor by his name now, Charles remembered vividly what Misha had told him about Phil and that picture. Most of him had been greatly relieved to hear that Phil was once more his old self, though he had been saddened that Phil was going to leave, and was so ashamed of what he’d done that he could not see him personally. The rat understood as best as he could though, and contented himself with watching the train of carriages wind their way down the streets of Metamor towards the main gate. He’d seen the rabbit leave at least.

Thankfully, the funerals for Llyn and Baldwin were not very clear in his mind anymore. He was not so sure he wanted to remember them all that well, as they had sucked what joy there was in his heart. Only after they were both over, and the Long House itself began to be arranged for the reception did his heart beat strong with hope once more. All the Longs who were able helped with the decorations. First they had rolled out the rich green carpeting all along the Long House’s masonry, fixing it firmly in place. Then, they placed the tables as Charles and Misha had planned, enough to seat several hundred, though they knew they would not have quite that many present.

Charles remembered fondly as Kimberly and he had debated what style tablecloth to use, before finally settling upon a lovely silk filigree work, with bell and angel designs, each singing their joyous hymns. They had left those in storage until the morning of the wedding, and Charles himself had helped lay them out – Kimberly of course was busy with the ladies elsewhere.

Thick sways of vibrant colours festooned the balconies that ran along either side of the hall, and at each apex was a wreath, each decorated by white gossamer roses. They also hung on every doorway into the Long House, even the large double doors on one side that led into the kitchens. While not as large as the Keep’s own, they would suffice. Thalberg and Gregor had spent their entire mornings within them making sure that everything would be ready in time.

And along the two tables pressed flush against the sides of the hall were stacked a huge assortment of gifts, some wrapped in parchment, others just placed beneath brass or wooden cases to hide their identity. Charles had gazed in shock at the number that had been gathered, even as more of the guests stopped by to bring their own additions to the sizable treasure trove. He recalled with a bit of a laugh how Lord Avery and his two boys had come to them, Darien and Christopher so enthusiastic they nearly blurted what their father’s gift was. Avery had shushed his sons, but had been unable to hold back a bit of news of his own – they had already prepared for Charles and Kimberly a place to live at the Glen. And the squirrel was quite certain they would like it, and was not afraid to say so.

Charles breathed heavily as he thought about where he would be spending the next five months of his life. But he would be spending them with Kimberly, his Lady, and every month beyond it. He still could not believe that the wedding was already upon them. And so he continued pacing back and forth, tail lashing behind him, in Father Hough’s antechamber just off the cathedral itself. A cathedral, the rat noted, was as full as it had ever been with Keepers.

Misha, Father Hough, and the Bishop were with him, all of them dressed in their best clothes. Both Hough and Vinsah wore the traditional priestly alb with ornamental dalmatic across their shoulders. But the dalmatic each wore was inscribed with matrimonial symbols as well as the more familiar Ecclesia heraldries. While it was customary for the highest ranking priest to officiate at a wedding, Vinsah was deferring to Hough out of respect for the boy, and so the raccoon had given the white sash to the younger priest. While it did drag at his feet, Hough bore it proudly around his neck and across his chest.

Misha was dressed more finely than Charles had thought possible. His shirt was a dark green, but overtop of that was a doublet of fine deep red weave, almost the colour of a rich wine. His breeches were also this same purplish hue, and along both doublet and hose were gold and silver thread lacing through the cuffs and seams. Misha’s own heraldic emblem, a gold oak leaf with a fox head beneath, was proudly displayed upon the doublet’s right breast. Along the centre of the doublet were six buttons, alternating gold and silver.

Within his good ear, Misha sported three rings, an old wedding tradition in his family he had informed the rat. A gold ring symbolizing the bright warmth of the sun. Next to it a silver ring holding the light of the powerful moon. And the last was fashioned from iron, representing the strength of true love. Charles’s ears were too sensitive to permit such ornamentation, but he wished that for just this occasion he could have borne them as well.

Misha had also laced fine gold and silver threads all through the length of his tail, the fur bundled up almost regally within. And the end of his tail, the threads were all tied together, ending in a bright tassel that glittered in the light. Around his waist he bore a leather belt, adorned once more by gold and silver, and from which hung a jewelled dagger sheath. Rubies and emeralds sparkled in that same light, shining brightly. Upon his feet were boots of the finest leather, while on both of his paws he bore good sized rings, the one upon his right sporting an immense ruby, expertly chiselled, and whose value the rat could only badly estimate.

By comparison, Charles felt drab, though he dressed in his finest of clothes. His shirt was a rich black silk, with gold thread sewn into each hem. Over top he bore a rich green doublet, the hue darkening as it approached his waist, although along each cuff and up the middle were strips of black cloth, once more lined by the gold trim. Gossamer gold ruffles lined his collar, framing his long narrow snout. The doublet however was designed with dove tails in the back, framing his long tail, and reaching down nearly to his ankles. The material grew darker until it was black at the very bottom, but was also outlined by the gold threads.

His breeches were also of the same green material, but like the doublet, they also darkened until they turned black at his hocks. The gold trim was wrapped firmly in circles about the end of the breeches, while upon his footpaws he wore padded black gloves, with small holes in each toe to allow his claws to peek through. He bore similar gloves upon his hands. On all of his claws was an outline of gold paint. Over his left shoulder he sported a black baldric laced with gold, and upon which the heraldry of the Sondeckis had been placed, though the red of the shield had been replaced with green. And upon his forehead was a diamond shaped bit of bright green cloth marked with a golden cross, gold lace looping around his ears holding it in place.

Charles glanced back through the windows as he paced and breathed heavily. This was his wedding, and it would be starting soon. His last week at Metamor had gone by so quickly, he barely noticed it. There were so many things he’d wanted to do, so many sights he wished to remember forever, but each was as fleeting as the last. This was his last full day within the Keep’s walls until the Summer, and he wished that it would never end. He was to be wed to his Lady Kimberly, they would be together forever more. He would have her to share the rest of his life with. It was a strange thought, and he was not sure if he was more nervous or happy about it.

At Misha’s short barking laugh, the rat stopped pacing and looked to the fox. “What’s so funny?”

“If you keep pacing like that, you’ll wear a gutter in the floor,” Misha pointed with one paw, the claws each finely trimmed.

The rat nodded, but kept on pacing, his whole body wound with a strange tension. His Sondeck was oddly complacent, but still his heart trembled as if from battle. With a heavy sigh, he looked back through that window into the cathedral. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Vinsah and Hough chuckled lightly. They had probably heard and seen the scene that the rat was putting on many times before. Misha however smiled to his friend and patted him gently on the shoulder. “You aren’t supposed to. You are just supposed to get married.”

“That’s comforting.”

“Just walk straight down the aisle, and try not to fall over when you see her walk down too,” Misha suggested.

“Is that what you plan to do when you and Caroline wed?”

The fox laughed brightly then. “Something like that, yes.”

Hough fidgeted a bit in his robes, making sure the sash was straight. “Well, it should be any time now.”

The raccoon Bishop straightened his own robes out then, smoothing them with his paws. “Don’t worry Charles. I’ve married many men, and almost all of them were just as nervous as you are.”

The boy nodded. “Absolutely. I worry more about the ones that aren’t pacing like mad.”

The rat flashed the two priests a sour grin. “I suppose that is supposed to comfort me.”

“Yes,” Hough said, smiling very warmly then. That boyish grin did calm the rat’s heart though, at least a little bit. “Don’t worry, it will go faster than you realise. And by tomorrow morning, you won’t remember anything I said during the service except ‘you may now kiss the bride’.”

The rat laughed slightly at that, but felt his heart nearly come to a complete stop, as the organ in the cathedral began to sound a rich deep chord. The notes built upwards in an introductory fanfare, even as Hough bustled himself to the doors. Misha gestured for Charles to fall in behind him, and the rat did so, his legs feeling as if stone. Behind him was the fox, and then the raccoon. Once the fanfare had passed, Hough pushed open the double doors and stepped through, walking stately along the centre aisle of the Cathedral. The members of the congregation turned as one to watch the boy move forward, waiting for their first glimpse of the groom.

Misha had to give Charles a gentle push at the back to get the rat to start moving. But once he passed out underneath the transom and into the Cathedral itself, Charles felt a sense of confidence build in him. With each step, he held his snout high, whiskers neatly trimmed and held firmly at each side. His paws were curled ever so slightly into fists, but only loosely so. Though he kept his eyes forward to the white and green bedecked altar, he did note the familiar faces in the crowd. From the many Longs, to old friends from the Writer’s Guild. To his fellow rats off in one section by themselves, to the other knights that sat next to Saulius with them. There was Lord Avery and his family, while on the other side sat Gregor and Brennar. He even managed to find the donkey James, who somehow had sat only three rows behind Duke Thomas himself.

And then, Charles ascended the steps to the altar, each footfall coming with a new majestic chord from the organ. Turning about on his foot paws, he watched as Misha climbed those steps to stand to the rat’s left, and finally Vinsah, head bowed slightly, as he took up a secondary position behind the lectern, carrying the Scriptures in his paws.

And then, once all four of them were in place, the organ music moved into a transition, growing grander and fuller in sound. From between those same doors stepped a small mouse, Bernadette, dressed in a bright red dress, frills along each sleeve and along her neckline. The end of the dress gently drug across the floor, just covering the end of her tan-furred tail. In her paws was a bouquet of red roses, freshly grown in one of the greenhouses.

When Bernadette reached the stairs leading to the altar though, the organ music began to replay the triumphant march, more bolder and with greater sonority. Charles felt his heart beat at twice the tempo of the music, as his dark eyes peered out at the distant archway, just able to make out two figures beyond. It made for an odd paring, there was no question of that, but there was his Lady Kimberly, resplendent in a white dress made from fabric so thin even the wind could have torn it in two, being led hand in paw by Steward Thalberg.

The great alligator was stooped over, his other hand clutching a cane as he walked. Dressed as always in his bright red robes, he still managed, despite his size, to fade into the background next to the radiant lady rat at his side. Kimberly’s white dress covered her chest in a low V, though white lace and ruffles climbed up her neck, until they were hidden by the long veil that hung across her muzzle, her whiskers trimmed short enough that they could fit snugly beneath it. Around her ears were entwined tight wreaths, bursting with bright green leaves, and firm white bulbs. Her paws were covered by white gloves, and in between them she held a bouquet of white roses, bound tightly together with a thin silk ribbon.

Her foot paws were encased in dainty satin slippers, while white stockings disappeared beneath the ruffled hem of her dress. A train as long as she was tall dragged along behind her, covering her tail completely, the brilliant folds of fabric bundled along the edges nearly half-a-foot high. The only other decoration that Charles could see that his Lady wore was the simple engagement ring that he had given to her when he’d proposed only a few months before. It sparkled even brighter in the lofty light of the Cathedral, as radiant as any other decoration that he could see.

And then, before Charles realised just what was happening, Kimberly was there, climbing the steps, moving at a stately pace, her shoulders firm and balanced. Thalberg stood at he base of the steps as she climbed for a moment, his own face wistful as if remembering something long ago, and then he turned and found a seat in the nearest pew on the right. Charles held out his gloved paw to his Lady, and she took it within her own, fingers curling around each other firmly and tight.

He smiled to her beneath that veil, and he could see her smiling right back to him. The organ stopped playing then, and Hough led them all in a brief prayer, although Charles and Kimberly could barely tear their eyes from each other long enough to pray. When it was over, Hough began to recite his homily, but neither of them really heard the words. They turned to watch the boy priest as the ceremony demanded, but they kept stealing glances at each other, their minds overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. They were being wed!

Charles listened absently to Hough speak of marriage, of the responsibilities of it, and the joys within it. They heard tell of the hardships and the pleasures, the sorrows and the triumphs, and the working of Eli’s plans within them. While the boy was finishing and drawing his remarks to a conclusion, Vinsah retrieved a golden bowl from the altar, and held it out before the boy. A bright oil lay inside, and the boy dipper a finger into it.

“Where are the rings?” He asked then, and both Bernadette and Misha stepped forward. Kimberly’s assistant in the Kitchens produced the thick band of gold first, and held it before Hough.

The boy traced his fingers across the inside and outside of the ring, smearing it with oil. He then made the sign of the tree across the cool metal. “I bless this ring in the name of Eli and of his Son, Yahshua. May it signify the uniting of these two people forevermore.” He then lifted his eyes and considered the rat for whom it was intended. “Do you, Charles Matthias, under the watchful and loving eyes of Eli and his Son Yahshua, take this lady to be your wife? For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and until death dost you part?”

Charles nodded, looking firmly into his lady’s eyes. “I do.”

Hough handed the ring to Kimberly, and with an easy push, she slipped it onto his fourth finger of his left paw. After the reception they would have to replace the ring next to their flesh, but for now it rested firmly upon his gloved paw. He felt the metal between his knuckles, forevermore in place, sealing him to his beloved.

Misha then held out the slender ring, meant for Kimberly. Hough blessed it as well, tracing the oil inside and out before making the symbol of the Tree upon it. He then looked to the lady and said, his face barely containing a buoyant grin. “Do you, Lady Kimberly, under the watchful and loving eyes of Eli and his Son Yahshua, take this man to be your husband? For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and until death dost you part?”

Kimberly smiled widely then and nodded. “I do.” Her voice was firm, though there was still a trembling delight within it, one that Charles could feel mirrored in his heart. He felt that ring pushed within his paws, and then realizing what he was to do, he gripped her left paw, and slipped that ring over her finger, gently, slowly, to savour that moment. Charles thought his heart would pound from his chest, but somehow, his body remained intact, even as he pushed that gold ring firmly in place.

Hough dipped his finger once more into the fragrant oil-filled chalice. “In the name of Eli, and of his Son Yahshua, I bless these lips and these hearts,” Hough said, before tracing the figure of the Tree across the ends of their muzzles. Matthias’s whiskers twitched at the touch and the scent, but the rest of his flesh remained unmoved. His heart trembled anew though, knowing just what was to come. Hough stepped back, his grin revealed plainly for all to see now. “You may now kiss the bride.”

Matthias stepped forward, breathing in deeply, even as he raised his paws to the ends of her veil. Slowly he lifted it up, pushing it back across the wreathes over her ears. Kimberly stood, her eyes expectant, her breath held in her chest. He leaned forward then, pressing his muzzle to her own, tasting the oil as he tasted her. Arms wrapped about her shoulders even as she slipped her own underneath his, he held her in that embrace, kissing long and firmly, tasting her teeth against his own.

And then, after an eternity of savouring that single moment, Charles and Kimberly leaned back, staring adoringly into each other’s eyes. Hough let his voice ring loudly through the whole Cathedral as the congregation held their excitement within their breath, “I now pronounce you, man and wife!” The audience let loose all restraint and rose in a thunderous applause. Charles laughed slightly in his delight as Kimberly hooked her arm through his own, and they proceeded down that aisle once more, the mighty organ tolling in triumph. Those standing on the edge of the aisle tossed rose petals into the air as they passed by, and Charles could only continue to laugh more lightly and delightedly as he held his beloved’s arm tight to his side, walking with her down that aisle, married at last.

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