Chapter 24: A day of gaiety

"Arise, Arovid Genius! Your fellow Craftsmen have arrived."

Arvid opens his eyes and blinks towards the sunshine streaming in through the slim, portal-like windows. He is lying in the pillow-strewn bed in the castle-like house, Anleistone. And at the foot of the bed is the young - or not quite that young - woman of his dreams, Avdyra the Stonesinger.

"Oh boy. What time is it?" "I am hardly a boy, Arovid, as I thought you knew! But it is the middle of the morning watch, and all is ready for the feast. In days of yore, there would have been your fellow disciples of the Lore and the Craft; but the days being what they are, we have assembled the Spellsingers of the village." "I've slept all evening, all night, and all morning?" "So it would seem, Arovid. Nor is that unusual; the Craft is tiring on the mind, and the first times the most so. With time, the mind learns to shield itself when singing lesser invocations." "Yeah, OK. I must have been pretty tired; I can't remember a thing from you said we were approaching the village. I don't even remember going to bed." "Nor did you. I carried you from there."

The expression on his face must have been priceless, for Avdyra burst into a bubbling laughter. "Think you that incredible, you who could have moved worlds?" "But I must weigh half again as much as you!" "That may be so; but I did not lift you with my weight." "Well, you are certainly stronger than you look." "That I may be. But truth to tell, Marisfar performed an incantation to his staff to make you light as a feather. Woodlore is particularly well suited for levitation, though you can do it too with a black stone. And with a white stone, I believe; but there is nigh unto nothing you cannot do with the Bonelore."

Arvid must look unusually sheepish, for Avdyra adds in a friendly tone: "This Craft is learnt early on by all on the Undervisity. Had not the teachers showed us almost on arrival, we surely would have learnt it from our fellow students within days. Levitation is highly valued among young people, who use it for sport." "Don't tell me you had a ball game with a strange name that you played from broomsticks!" She laughs again: "Nothing of the sort! From whence have you that thought? Mostly it was simple air dance. It is a lovable sensation. And not least did the young boys wish to see untrained girls do their first air dances! I soon learned how to bind my skirts before the dance." Her golden skin seems to take on a slightly deeper hue as she thinks back.

"OK, you'll have to show me later. To levitate, I mean, not to bind skirts." Arvid struggles to his feet, the many small pillows rolling off him as they use to do. And looking down, he discovers that he is wearing only a kind of knee-long white underpants. He stares down at himself, then at Avdyra.

"Yes" she confirms, grinning widely. "I did help you out of your clothes as I put you to bed. I am sure you would have done no less for me." She seems to be on the verge of laughing out loud, but noticing his embarassment she composes herself. "Forgive my levity, Arovid; but today is a gay day for all of our village, as would it be for all of the land if they but knew." "You have gay days?" "Most assuredly; the day after First Song is always so designated." "And, uh, like, you don't happen to be like that too?" "I certainly am, as are all of your fellow Craftsmen who are at this moment awaiting you." "OK, OK, I'll hurry."

She is gay? And all sorcerers here are supposed to be gay? That would explain why there seems to be only a few in each village. Funny thing is, the translation magic seemed to have trouble with that word. Whenever she said "gay", there was a lot of echo, as if another word tried to assert itself at the same time. Perhaps it was because she was actually not gay but lesbian, and they don't have a separate word for that.

As soon as he is ready, Arvid follows the sorceress to the hall. It is decorated with colorful flags and banners. On closer inspections, these all seem to have been around for a while, though the actual age is hard to say. Obviously First Song, or the corresponding Gay Day, is an ancient custom in Gwalawala.

Around the long table are the "Craftsmen" of the village. Marisfar and his sister are there, of course. But intriguingly, there are also others who Arvid has not known of before, around twenty altogether. He may have seen them, at least under the welcome party, but never knew that they too were wizards. They seem like ordinary people of different ages. A couple of them are fairly young, while most seem to be in the range from 30 to 60.

The guests all rise up from their seats when Arvid approaches. He wishes someone had told him about the traditions here; it could be quite easy to offend these people if they have fixed customs. However, he does not get much chance to offend. Marisfar steps forward and performs a short speech. It is so general that it's almost certainly part of the ritual; the telling clue being that there is no single mention of the Genius and saving the world, nor of his fantastic daughter. It's a kind of reminder that the Power is entrusted to us by nature and that we have undertaken to wield it for the good of all. "To heal where we may and not to harm unless we must; to give where there is need and not to take what is not given. To do for others what we would have done for ourselves."

After the declaration of dependence, and collective bowing from the audience, Vanyra sings for the supper. Or rather the brunch. She is again wearing the green and the blue stone on her chest, and Arvid guesses by now that this is more than a ritual. She is probably doing something to the food, though his grasp on the Lore is still way too tenuous to say what. Perhaps she is disinfecting it or increasing its nutritional value or some such. What was that rule again? "Green stones are growthstones, foodstones. Blue stones are healthstones, lifestones"?

Luckily Avdyra sits just beside Arvid, and as they tear into the food, he chances to ask her the thing that's on his mind. "Are all these people really wizards, or are they just, like, gay?" She smiles. "The Craft is open for all who can grasp the Lore; but not all are equally talented." "You mentioned that already. I just did not know that there were twenty wizards in this village. This place isn't all that big." "This assembly count all them who have been through First Song as were yourself but less than a day since. Truth to tell, few of them know but the simplest of spellsong. They may make a Lightstone or a torch shine, or cook dinner with a Heatstone. They may aid in singing growthsong during the planting. But none of them are truly adept. Some of them had to struggle for seasons to learn the runes that you learned in a matter of days. But I beg of you, do not confront them with this. They are honored to be here today, and be gay together with you."

Arvid cringes. "Actually, I'm not gay" he admits. He'd never thought that he would feel stupid admitting that! But she looks at him worriedly. "How come? Is it the leaving of your homeworld?" "Actually I haven't really left. But what I mean is that, well, uh. Like, I just can't help it. It is natural for me to, you know, like girls." "There seems to be something amiss with the speech magic. I cannot understand you."

Great. Now he is actually sweating. An upbringing like his doesn't exactly help. "What I meant to say is that I am attracted to women. As in, like, uh, I would prefer to sleep with them. Well, not all of them. I mean, you see, if I fall in love and such. Or marry. Not that I'm planning to marry anyone in particular. It's just that, well, that's the way I am. Perhaps it's because I come from another world." He swallows hard.

Avdyra nods thoughtfully. "You need a woman to make love to you? I understand that this could be a problem for a young man such as yourself. I can not say how we can accomodate you, though. It is a thing that is usually left to run its own course in our world." She frowns. "But you have not had much time on your hands here. We have run you hard, for our own needs are great. Thus it is our fault, in a way, that you suffer in this way. I shall see what I can do to get you relief."

Arvid stares. His throat seems to be constricted to the point where he can barely breathe, much less talk. He swallows repeatedly, until he can speak again. "Listen, it's not something that bothers me right now. I just mean that I prefer it that way. You don't need to do anything. Really. It wasn't meant like that." But she just smiles, and his hands grow more and more clammy.


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