In Which Lill'th Is Not Given A Choice
"I am not going to marry you," blurted Lill'th immediately, drawing the natural conclusion. "I know you were that bear from earlier," she added quickly, as she could hear her mother approaching the common room, "and I'm not about to associate with magic like that, so you can take your offer elsewhere."
Eivex, apparently on a different page altogether, was speechless.
"I'm sorry if you were secretly in love with me," Lill'th went on, rather wildly, "though I honestly don't see how that would be possible, since you've never been here before."
"Oh, I—No?" said Eivex, his pasty face turning an incredibly deep shade of red. His long white hands were twitching nervously at his sides.
"Not to mention that you're probably old enough to be my father," continued Lill'th, who didn't know why she was still talking.
Fortunately for him, Eivex was saved from having to answer, as Za'allamaca, Lill'th's mother, glided into the room just then, holding a heaping load of clean washing, which she promptly dropped into her daughter's arms with an airy "Welcome home, darling" and a light kiss on the cheek. Eivex let out an audible sigh of relief and went to stand by the table in the corner.
"What have you done with my trousers?" said Lill'th, frowning down at the oddly-shaped clothing in her arms.
"I cut them open and sewed them into skirts," said Za'allamaca, flipping her long black hair over her shoulder, "so you can dress like a proper woman. Now that you are sixteen, after all."
Lill'th frowned harder. "Mother, you can't do that. Have you ever tried climbing the cliffs in a skirt? It's impossible! Also, these are so ugly."
Za'allamaca's beautiful dark eyes flashed, at once dangerously furious and wistfully nostalgic. Oh no, thought Lill'th.
"I once climbed to the top of the Black Tooth itself," Za'allamaca said in a low voice, "in the most lovely silk dress. I never faltered, not once in my long ascent. The dress is still lovely. By Loej's hands, I married your father Jacob in that dress. Pah! Do not ask me if I have climbed mere cliffs in a skirt."
Eivex, whose presence Lill'th had momentarily forgotten about, had a sudden fit of obviously fake coughing. Za'allamaca turned to him, instantly charming and elegant again, the perfect hostess. (Lill'th looked between them, feeling conflicted and emotionally whiplashed.)
"Now, sir," began Za'allamaca, "about that goat and its rainbow kids—"
"I have changed my mind," interrupted Eivex, somehow turning an even more impressive shade of red than before. He tugged at the laces on the front of his shirt and cleared his throat. "I am no longer interested in the goat. I...I would like to marry Lilith instead."
"Lill'th," said Lill'th automatically, then, "WHAT?"
Eivex smiled anxiously, showing more teeth than was strictly normal.
The spray of wildflowers sitting in a vase on the table seemed to wilt in the long, awkward silence that followed. The wooden floor creaked faintly. A small purple mouse fled the room through the open doorway.
"All right," said Za'allamaca, finally. "Let me fetch Jacob."
Lill'th dropped her pile of hideous trouser-skirts in shock as her mother glided back into the kitchen. She couldn't be serious. She was serious. She was calling Lill'th's father right now to come perform the betrothal, probably right here in the common room, with its old worn furniture and dirt-streaked walls.
How was this happening? Wasn't she supposed to at least make this choice for herself? Lill'th had been planning on probably choosing Aaron, who was nice to her and didn't smell that terrible if she really thought about it. Today was supposed to be her special day, the day that marked the beginning of her dreams coming true, and yet here she was, about to be forced into arranged marriage like some sad girl in Ayla's Fairy Tales From The Ringlands. When she'd dreamed of being married, it wasn't at all like this.
Lill'th was about to start crying when Eivex urgently grabbed her arm and whispered, "Quick, before your mother returns," which was a horrible thing to say just now, so she got angry instead, flung his hand away, and turned her back on him.
"Okay, first things first," said Eivex from behind her, "I am not old enough to be your father."
"That doesn't matter much now, does it?" said Lill'th, fuming at the streaky wall.
"Secondly," Eivex said, "I don't actually want to marry you, I just needed some way to convince your parents to let you come with me without it looking inappropriate, and it seemed—"
"Hold on," said Lill'th, turning back around. Nothing today was making any sense. "You don't want to marry me?"
Eivex's fingers started to twitch again. "Do you find odd things happen to you often?" he asked. "Nights get messed up, trees fall behind you, sparrows and cows love you, lots of thunderstorms, anything?"
"Well, let's see," said Lill'th, glaring at him. "A bear showed up as a man who's pretending to want to marry me in order to kidnap me instead, for undisclosed reasons. No, nothing weird."
"Do you like fire?" he persisted.
"What about water?"
"I can't swim, if that's what you're asking."
Eivex scratched his head. "This doesn't make sense."
"NONE OF WHAT YOU ARE SAYING MAKES SENSE," yelled Lill'th.
"There's a prophecy about you," said Eivex earnestly, "only I didn't realize it was you until just now. You're supposed to have amazing powers, and you're the one who's going to set this land free."
Lill'th threw her hands up in utter confusion and despair.
"Free from what?" she cried.