Kitto - a Coda

(The Tyack & Frayne Wedding)

The Falmouth registrar was patient, but enough had been plainly enough. “You two,” she hissed, sticking her head around the door. “This is the ladies' room. We're diversity-positive here, but don't take a mile. And you're late.”

Gideon and Lee snapped to raw-nerved attention. Lee opened his mouth to apologise, but Elowen suddenly pushed upright from her pink velvet chair and shouldered between them. “They're in here because of me,” she declared. “They're late because of me. I'm pregnant.” With that she sailed out into the corridor, head held high.

She had a certain something about her, did Elowen Tyack. She felt like a storm in Gideon's teacup, compact for now, waiting to whirl into some kind of future tornado he couldn't begin to imagine. She'd left the registrar behind in her dust. She had all of Lee's dignity, but she'd iced that cake with a haughtiness her brother could never attain – because Lee would feel the effects of it, the painful blush climbing up the registrar's throat as if it were his own. Would know the history behind that sad coloration, the mottling of acne-scarred skin, the miserable years in school, perhaps, tormented by just such a flawless Cornish beauty as Elowen, who'd never bothered to tease her but simply looked down on her, a girl made of stars upon one made of mud.

Gideon was clutching Lee's hand. “That's right!” Lee whispered fervently, staring into his face. “That's what happened to her. But for God's sake unhitch from me now, love, or we'll never get this done.”

Gideon couldn't. He couldn't relinquish his hold, at any rate, or he would float skywards in a cloud of inexplicable knowledge and prophecies fulfilled. What had Lee said to in the car park, about little knitted hats and babies? Ours is coming, and soon?

He firmed his jaw, drew back his shoulders, remembered his manners, which had pulled him through many a situation where reason failed. “I'm so sorry,” he said, gently towing Lee across the ladies' room with him to stand in front of the registrar. “That was rude of us, to keep you waiting. We're ready now.”

The registrar's cruel blush faded. She’d managed to hang on to a little starlight of her own. Gideon had unhitched, but still he perceived that she loved her job, or this part of it anyway: setting the seal upon love. “That's quite all right,” she said. “But let me get this straight – I am marrying you two to each other, not one of you to that... young lady who just went out?”

“That's right,” Gideon affirmed. “Us. To each other.”

“Come along, then. I've got one more like you to do this afternoon, three mixed pairs and two ladies.”

Lee broke into a sudden beaming smile, shadows flying off from him. “What a conveyor belt!”

“Yes, but we'll try to make it special for you.” The starlight glimmered. “Every one of them's special to me.”

 

***

 

“Gid, can I tell you something about my mum?”

Gideon turned. Lee wasn't looking at him: was staring dead ahead to the flower-filled room at the end of the corridor. From here all they could see was the registrar's desk, and that lady serenely taking up position behind it, making a last check of the paperwork set out and waiting on its surface. From the invisible space to the right of the door came a kind of a concerto, the peculiar music of family, neighbours, colleagues and friends all seated, pent-up and waiting. Noisy throat-clearing from Zeke, who now the hour had come had set aside his ministerial calm in favour of a proper nervous fret. Ma's voice in anxious upraised notes of question. Where are they, Ezekiel? It's awfully late, dear. I don't suppose anything's wrong? And Zeke's deep-rumbled replies, cut across suddenly by a gigantic sneeze from Jago, breaking the tension and raising a laugh from the crowd. Gideon could just see Elowen, taking her place front-row and centre, placid now as if she hadn't been the cause of all the delay.

Lee scarcely ever spoke about his mother. Gideon opened the ears of his very soul. “What is it, love? I'm listening.”

“It's a really bad time, I know.”

“Doesn't matter. Only you matter.”

The hand holding Gideon's tightened, lacing their fingers together. “God, I love you! All right. She was massively pregnant with me when she married my dad. I don't think they'd have bothered – it was the eighties, and they were just kids themselves, out in the wild southwest – except that one of their friends had been in a car crash, and this friend's family didn't like the partner and wouldn't let him near the hospital bedside, and he found he had no rights. Cadan couldn't bear the thought of that, so they kind of pulled themselves out of their Revivalist hippy haze and tied the knot.”

“That's awful, about their friend. You, though, you silver-eyed bloody rapscallion – I should've known you had some of that out-of-wedlock fire.”

“Their wedding photos are a treat. She had the best sense of humour before she got ill. She was ready to pop, but she hired this bonkers meringue of a frock, white lace down to her ankles and cut up the front for her bump.”

“For you.”

“Yeah. She was proud of me, you see, even before I was born. She wanted to let me show. Anyway, sweetheart, the point of all of this is that I feel a bit the same.”

Gideon looked him over. “Uh-oh. Did you want the meringue?”

“No, I'll stick with my nice suit and tie. But... I don't know what went on back in the ladies' room there, but I feel like you and I are somehow... pregnant out of wedlock. As if something's taken root in the future, and I don't even know how to begin to cope with that. Oh, my God.”

“What?”

“She's beckoning to us. The registrar. It's time.”

Gideon took the suddenly-chilly hand and tucked it into his elbow. For himself, he was wildly relieved that the moment had come. If he'd had to wait much longer to take this walk with Lee into their married life, he'd have fainted, wept or thrown up. He tucked his arm against his side so that Lee was held fast, safe and tight against his strength. He took one last moment: turned to him, lifted his chin and kissed him. “Never mind the damn future. Just marry me now and we'll deal with it. Come on.”

 

***

 

Two mandatory parts to the Civil Marriage service: the Declatory and Contracting words, as cut-and-dried as their titles promised, but they were the legal stuff, and Gideon, being who he was, had made a grim promise to himself to get them right. Not just right but off by heart, and he and Lee had practised them, rehearsing them almost to meaninglessness in front of anyone who would listen. Ma had been the easy audience, nodding and smiling at every word. The two grooms' men had been a far tougher crowd, Zeke jotting down notes as if he meant to hold up a card at the end and score them out of ten, Jago losing track of what was going on and patting his pockets for his ciggies and lighter, and on one occasion absolutely getting up and wandering out of the room, leaving his nephew high and dry and Gideon half-wed.

Hilarious. Lee had doubled up and wept with laughter. Oh, hell, yes, it had all been very funny then, but despite their relatives they'd both got the words down pat and told the registrar they wouldn't need the repeat-after-me, line-by-line prompt. Worst mistake of Gideon's life, or so it felt right now in the doorway of the ceremony room. They'd even practised the walk. They fell into natural step together with Lee to Gideon's left – nearest his big copper's heart, if they'd ever chosen to analyse, leaving his equally professional right fist free to tackle all comers. Lee's hand fitted the crook of Gideon's left elbow just so. Such a light touch, normally. Today – right now, on the brink, waiting – it had turned to a grip like iron, and every word of the service had fled from Gideon's mind. He swallowed with a sound like Isolde eating a tennis ball, lowered his voice to a whisper. “Oh, God.”

Lee looked up at him. “Sweetheart?”

“I can't remember it.”

“What?”

“The lines. The vows. Any of it.”

“Don't be daft.”

“I'm not. It's gone.”

I, Gideon Frayne,” Lee prompted unhelpfully, turning sheet-white, grip tightening harder still. He glanced past Gideon to the rows of seats packed with their family and friends, and said – for some reason loudly, as if he'd forgotten where he was, “Oh, Gid. I'm scared shitless.”

The room broke up. Ezekiel leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. Ma gave a half-scandalised, half delighted squawk, and Cosmic Ray put back his head and brayed. Even poor Kitto gave a kind of hiccup and burst into snorting giggles, defying all the monsters of the world, captivity and trauma and every rotten darkness that had tried to suck the laughter out of him. The registrar rolled her eyes. Isolde barked.

Isolde? Gideon glared in disbelief at the scrawny little figure lurking at the back of the room. Daz Prowse, for the love of God, amply paid to walk the mutt along the beach while Gideon tied his knot: no dogs allowed on the premises. Gideon gaped, shot one eloquent look at him, one silent demand. How?

Darren held out one hand, Isolde's leash clutched in it. He closed his eyes. From somewhere he'd obtained a stick, not white or remotely convincing as anything other than the first bit of driftwood he'd seen. But the kid had balls enough for anything, and dangerous powers of conviction. He tapped with the stick, made an absurd mime of walking. Service dog, innit? Tough luck, Sergeant Plod – as if I was gonna miss this performance!

Gideon gave it all up. Here he was, with his terrified husband-to-be, on the brink of the rest of his life. Lee's grip was increasing to blood-stopping, bone-crushing max: he tucked it against him tighter and closer still, covered the clenching fist with his own. Would have kissed it if he could. Would have let Lee break his arm. Instead he met the registrar's eyes, received her signal squarely. Lee unfroze. Hand to hand, stride for stride, they sailed out across the room, and the laughter and chaos transmuted to a ripple of loving, unstoppable applause.

 

***

 

“Good afternoon,” said the registrar, when she next thought she'd be heard. Gideon was sure she'd witnessed plenty of strangeness in this room over time, but maybe not quite this combination of the good, the weird and the scurrilous. She surveyed the gathered clan, pausing for a long moment to examine the Prowse kid and the dog. One eyebrow went up and stayed there, but she began to smile. “Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and... others. This place in which we are now met has been duly sanctioned according to law for the celebration of marriage. Today this ceremony will unite Lee Tyack and Gideon Frayne as husband to husband. Miss Lorna Kemp, I believe you have a reading for us now.”

Lorna jumped to her feet. She was incandescent with the joy of the occasion. Her idea of wedding finery was patchwork jeans and a Rolling Stones T-shirt with the outthrust tongue picked out in scarlet sequins, the ensemble topped off with a surprisingly chic French up-do and the braided gold circlet the bridegrooms had given her. She was holding a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets but, as Gideon had predicted, she dropped this on the seat behind her and gave her knuckles a crack. “My ma says I should've used Shakespeare,” she began, grinning, and turned to glance at Sarah, whose mouth had opened in apprehension. “For sonnets and love poems and that. But I know two men who know NO fear, and rescued this poor moorland brat. So I thought I'd say in my own words, what Gideon and Lee mean to me – they turned a worm to a free bird, and it's thanks to them that I'm free. I hope that they'll always be happy, as brave and intrepid they've been. May love and joy fill up their futures – Mr Tiger and Guardian Frayne.”

Once more the guests forgot themselves. Darren launched a cackle, and a ragged tide of applause and laughter washed through the room. “Lorna Kemp,” Sarah said, blushing furiously. “You were meant to read a sonnet.”

“I know. Mine was better, though.”

“It was not. It didn't even rhyme.” Nevertheless she hauled the child into her lap and wrapped her arms around her, eyes hollow with the memory of the cavern beneath the moors. “Sorry, Gideon. I'm sorry, Lee.”

There was no need. Gideon read his own bewildered pleasure in Lee's face. But what did she call me? Not Gideon Frayne. Guardian, unless I misheard or she just made a mistake. Guardian, and with that word a future gapes wide in my head, bright and huge and terrifying, full of wonder. The moorland wind rushes so hard in my ears. My heart beats with the ancient pulse of the land, my bones become one with her stone...

“Gid?”

Lee, looking anxiously up at him. “It's okay,” he said. “It's okay, Sarah. Thank you, Lorna. We loved our poem.”

The registrar cleared her throat. “Certainly individual. Now, if I may carry on... Gideon and Lee, you are about to exchange vows that will unite you as husband to husband. The purpose of marriage is that you will always love, support and care for each other, through the sorrows and joys of life. Before you make these vows, it is my duty to remind you of their solemn and binding nature. Marriage in this country is the union of two people, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others. I am now going to ask you each in turn to declare that you know of no legal reason why you may not be joined together in marriage.”

The atmosphere in the room had transformed. Ma, seated in splendour and her very best frills between Ezekiel and Jago, front row centre, raised her handkerchief to her lips. Zeke leaned forward as if hearing a song he'd known all his life, set to a strange and ancient tune. And Gideon, who five minutes earlier would have sworn he'd be incapable of getting out a word, turned to face Lee in front of the registrar's desk. He reached out both hands for Lee's answering grasp. “I, Gideon John Frayne, do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I may not be joined in marriage to Locryn Tyack.”

Oh God, it had been easy. It had come like fire and honey off his tongue, like magic and stars, Lee's old Kernowek legal name and all. He looked into green eyes with no trace of silver in them now, because Lee was entirely present with him, none of his ghosts and echoes able to touch him here, beautiful mouth hitched up in a dreamy half-smile. Gently Gideon shook him. “Your turn now.”

“Oh. Yes. Er... Gideon John?”

“I wasn't going to use it. But... yes, I was called after my father. It never seemed good until now.”

The sweet smile broadened. Contradictory tears filled Lee's eyes. “It is good. All right, then. I, Locryn Cadan Tyack, do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I may not be joined in marriage to Gideon John Frayne.” His voice shook a little. “Cadan was always good. I just couldn't bear it... until now.”

The registrar cleared her throat. “Very well, gentlemen. Make sure you reflect these changes when you sign the register. Would you like to proceed to your vows?”

Five minutes earlier, Gideon's mind had felt like a forest after the fire. Now he said, with resonant pride and a fervour as deep as Bodmin bedrock, “Locryn Cadan, I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband. Before these witnesses, I vow to love you and care for you as as long as we both shall live.” And it was fine, fine: he was getting there, except that a flash-flood of tears had hit him from nowhere, streaming hopelessly down his face. He closed his eyes, and felt Lee put a tender hand to the back of his head, drawing him down so that their brows were touching. And in that place, that blood-bright darkness, held tight and most perfectly free, he could go on. “I take you as you are, with all of your faults and strengths, as I offer myself to you with all of mine.”

Lee kissed him. That hadn't been in the script, but the brush of Lee's mouth across his enabled Gideon to open his eyes. “My turn again, I believe,” Lee said unsteadily, and the registrar, who kept a well-equipped desk for the couples who prepared with cool deliberation and turned into emotional basket-cases on the day, passed them a paper tissue each. Lee eased back a fraction, just far enough to meet Gideon's gaze. “Gideon John, I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband. Before these witnesses, I vow to love you and care for you as as long as we both shall live. I take you as you are, with all of your faults and strengths, as I offer myself to you with all of mine.”

They'd gone through it two dozen times each. They'd both feared they'd knocked out the punch from it, the impact and the power. They'd been wrong. Lee's shuddery, delicate emphasis had made the words fresh as if spoken and heard for the first time. Gideon, who like most mortals, trapped inside his own skull, had sometimes questioned his reality, felt the electrical charge of pure existence: Lee meant him, no other, and in that moment Gideon came alive to himself, from the roots of his hair to his toes. You.

The registrar emerged from her desk to stand beside them. “Well done, Locryn and Gideon,” she said, her dry tone fractionally undermined by the emotional charge in the room. “Grooms' men, will you please step forward with the rings?”

Poor Jago. He was doing much better, but he'd injured his soul almost past bearing in his battle with Morris Hawke. Like Kitto, he'd lived in the shadow of a beast. On top of that, he'd had to remember to turn up today, and hold in his mind the complexities of the exchange to come: that although he was Lee's best man, he had to give the ring to Gideon.

The ring. He stood up along with Ezekiel, frantically slapping at his pockets. “Oh, no. Na, na. A-barth Duw. Duw, harow.”

Gideon felt his jaw tighten in a mix of amusement and despair. He made an expressive face at Lee. “Care to translate?”

Lee cleared his throat. He turned a little to look at their guests. “My uncle says, no, no. For God's sake. God help me. Really, Jago? Gid only gave it to you half an hour ago.”

Hoots of laughter went up, mixed with some gasps of dismay. Ma looked duly horrified. Ezekiel, to general surprise, flashed a sudden charm-packed smile. “Knew this would happen,” he said. “It's all right, Jago. Just hold still.” He touched him lightly on both shoulders, then – with a delicate expertise Gideon wished was his own, when patting down suspects on the street – gently frisked him. Opened Jago's jacket and reached inside. “Here it is. In that special pocket-lining of yours, the one you showed me. You hand it to Gideon now.”

Jago let go one explosive breath. “Dursona, Ezekiel!”

God bless you,” Lee translated automatically, and shot an apologetic look at the registrar. “Sorry. Religious references... I know we're not meant to have them.”

“I'll overlook them, since they were in Kernowek. If you're ready, gentlemen?”

Jago and Zeke stepped up. Zeke had the easy job, placing in Lee's ready palm the open box containing the plain band they'd chosen in the strange, thunder-rattled hour before the storm had swept the goldsmith's shop away. Gideon made a deft catch as Jago fumbled his box-lid, grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Nice work, Jago.” Sobering, knocking fresh tears off his face, he turned back to Lee. “This is it, then, sweetheart. Are you ready to go?”

“With my whole heart. My whole life.”

Gideon took his hand. For a moment he just held it – the tanned, hardworking warmth of it, the calluses and the pulsing human life. Then he pushed the shining green-silver agate in its platinum band over the knuckle of Lee's ring finger and all the way down to the base, lodging it in snug-fit perfection where it belonged. “I call upon these persons present,” he said, the rest of the legal stuff, the contracting words, coming back to him in a beautiful rush, “to witness that I, Gideon John Frayne, do take you, Locryn Cadan Tyack, to be my lawful wedded husband.” He raised Lee's hand, closed his eyes tight, kissed the scar where a fish-hook had caught him. “Your turn.”

Dursona.” Lee slid the heavy gold band into place. He hauled in a sob-roughened breath. “I call upon these persons present to witness that... that I, Locryn Cadan Tyack, do take you, Gideon John Frayne, to be my lawful wedded husband.”

The registrar set her open file aside. She laid her hands on their joined ones, a gesture of sanctity and blessing also not found in the secular civil script. “Then, it is my pleasure to declare you lawfully married – and as your young friend here said, may love and joy be with you both. Dursona, dursona indeed.”