It was close to noon by the time Lily and Iris started heading back to the house. As they walked, hand in hand, a comfortable silence filled the atmosphere around them. It was hardly the first time they had walked this way, but after confessing their feelings for each other, something about the act felt different. It felt more meaningful, somehow. They crossed the relatively short distance that led to the house clothed in serenity and contentment.
When they opened the door to the kitchen, they found Prei at the stove. She had changed out of her armor and did the cooking in nothing but an apron and her underwear, a modest white set of brassiere and panties. Her hair was tied into a neat ponytail behind her head, and her wings were tucked close to her body to prevent them from knocking anything over. When she heard the door open, she glanced up and saw Lily and Iris. Her face changed into one of slight annoyance.
“Finally. I thought you two intended to stay in there until dinner. I was going to get rid of breakfast, but thought it would be a better idea to incorporate it into lunch.”
Prei gestured at a bowl of salad on the counter, wherein there were small pieces of bacon and diced hard-boiled eggs resting in the midst of the leafy vegetables. The time that she had spent as a soldier had inculcated an aversion to food wastage in her, a fact which made Lily chuckle even as she bowed her head apologetically. Then she decided to ask the question on her mind.
“So why are you cooking lunch in your underwear, again?”
Prei replied in a monotone while continuing to stir the pot in front of her.
“It’s because I couldn’t take a bath without interrupting you two, and I didn’t want to wear a new set before washing up.”
Lily winced slightly at the minor accusation, but quickly laughed and apologised.
“Sorry, sorry. We started talking while washing up, and… we got a little carried away.”
She felt a bit of heat flush her face as she spoke. Iris reddened and began looking to the side.
Prei raised an eyebrow as she heard Lily’s statement and placed the lid on the pot, allowing the stew to simmer while she looked up from her cooking and scrutinised the two women, her eyes turning reptilian. Under her intense gaze, both Lily and Iris looked away, unwilling to make eye contact with her. Finally, Prei’s eyes returned to normal and she broke into a grin.
“You finally did it? You finally said it to each other?”
Lily and Iris blushed harder, before nodding simultaneously. Prei rushed forward and hugged both of them, squealing.
“I can’t believe it! I’ve been waiting seven years for you two to make it happen, I can’t believe that you finally did it!”
Lily listened to her daughter with some concern. Prei had been waiting seven years for them to… do that? Seven years? That was even before she had joined the knights! Where had she gotten the idea…?
“I can’t believe it took you that long to confess. I mean, you two were so obviously in love with each other, it was almost painful to watch!”
Lily sighed in relief as her hysteria subsided. So that was what Prei was referring to. All was well. Prei excitedly broke away from Lily.
“I’ve got to tell Tate! She should be in the forge, I think… she’s been waiting for this for ages, too!”
Lily stopped Prei just as she seemed to run off in search of the last member of their family. Prei regarded her with curious eyes.
“I’ll tell her myself later, at lunch. You should go wash up.”
“Eh? But lunch isn’t done yet…”
“We’ll take over. What are you making?”
Prei regarded Lily for a while and nodded thankfully, before proceeding to point out the various dishes being prepared and the stage of the cooking process each was in.
While Prei went to take a bath, Lily and Iris both put on aprons and resumed cooking.
“Seriously, Iris. Can you believe how brazen she’s gotten? That girl would never have glared at me like that three years ago.”
“Come on, Lily. That was barely a glare. She did have good reason to be annoyed. Besides, isn’t her boldness just a sign of how much she’s grown up?”
“Of course, you’re right. As usual. I do sometimes miss the younger Prei who clung to me though.”
Iris chuckled as she responded.
“If you want someone to cling to you, I’m always available.”
Lily turned bright red and returned to silently dicing the spring onions. Iris giggled and tiptoed, planting a kiss on Lily’s cheek.
They had just finished laying out the dishes on the table when Prei walked in the door, drying her hair with a wave of heat radiating from her hand.
“Ah, perfect timing, Prei. Can you go get Tate?”
Prei nodded in acquiescence to Iris’ request and walked through the house, heading in the direction of the forge, returning shortly after with Tate in tow. The shieldsmith cast a look at Lily and Iris, as if confirming something, then broke into a smile, an expression which brought Lily immense joy. Tate rarely smiled in recent times. Her face was usually a mask of passive indifference or exhaustion. The amount of work she did on a regular basis had clearly taken its toll, and she often seemed too tired to take joy in anything. To know that she still remembered how to smile brought Lily great joy, as well as great sorrow as she considered the implications of a smile being a rarity. However, her sadness was briefly dispelled by Tate’s next sentence.
“Congratulations, you two. Certainly took you long enough. I thought you two were never going to make the leap to becoming a couple.”
Lily blinked, surprised. Just like with Prei, Tate had managed to discern what had happened without needing them to explain. How had they known? Iris vocalised the question that was on both their minds.
“Eh? How did you know? Actually, how did Prei know just now, too?”
Tate chuckled softly.
“I’m Lily’s shield. I’m supposed to protect her from both physical and emotional harm, and to do that I’m attuned to her emotions. She’s been over the moon with happiness since she entered my detection radius. Well, happiness and embarrassment. Not very hard to make the connection.” Tate’s smile widened into a grin. “Besides, even without taking my attunement into account, the two of you have an atmosphere around you know that screams ‘lovers’.”
Iris and Lily turned bright red again for the umpteenth time that day, then broke into laughter, with Prei and Tate joining in. After the laughter had subsided and they had wiped the tears of laughter away, Tate reached within her pocket and pulled out a small wooden box.
“I knew this day would come eventually, so I had these prepared. The materials weren’t cheap, but I think it was worth it.”
Lily’s eyes widened in surprise. She slowly took the box from Tate and opened it.
Within the box, resting side by side on a velvet cushion, were a pair of rings. They were almost identical in design: a white gold band with Tate’s signature ornate flower patterns etched into it, the etchings lined with the dust of some precious stone, which had been powdered and magically recombined into a single piece that fit perfectly into the lines on the ring, creating a smooth surface that seemed to meld gold and stone together into a single, cohesive piece.
There were only two differences between the two rings: The first, the colour of the jewel that lined the etchings – one was green as the leaves in Spring, one was red as the fires of the forge. The second difference was the name etched on the interior of the band in flowing cursive. The white-and-green band bore Lily’s name, and the white-and-red band bore Iris’.
Lily looked at Tate in disbelief.
“You made these?”
“Yes. I wanted to include a fitted stone in it, like traditional designs, but the two of you aren’t the type to wear stones on your hands. Impractical. So I decided something like this would suit you better. So there’s still a stone, but it’s in a form that won’t get in the way. I picked the stones to match your eyes. Or, well, I did, but apparently Iris now has differently coloured eyes. Sorry about that. The red one is ruby, the green is emerald. I hope you like it.”
“Like it? It’s amazing! Can we really have these?”
Tate raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, your names are etched into them, so it’s not like I can give them to anyone else.”
Lily closed the box and rushed forward to hug Tate, pulling her close.
“Thank you. Thank you so much. I can’t believe that you put in the time to do this. I can’t thank you enough. I…”
Tate patted Lily’s back with a smile, interrupting the tears of joy that were threatening to fall from Lily’s eyes.
“Aye. Thanks are nice, and I always appreciate a good hug, but isn’t there someone else you should be hugging right about now?”
Lily pulled away from Tate and nodded, blinking away the few tears that had barely started to form, and turned to Iris, box in hand. She fixed her gaze on Iris, her eyes conveying an implied question. Iris nodded quickly, her face alight with expectant joy. Wires extended from Lily’s arm to hold the box, leaving her hands free. She took Iris’ right hand in her left, and recalled the words she had heard spoken in her younger days.
“Iris, with this ring, I bind you as my bride, as part of me. I vow to love you, to cherish you, to make you smile. I vow to live for you, to hold you in my heart always. No matter what I shall face, even if it be death, never shall I abandon you. Thus, I bind you.”
The wires deposited the green ring into Lily’s waiting hand. Lily gently slid it on to Iris’ finger, where it rested snugly, a perfect fit. Then, Iris took Lily’s right hand in hers, and repeated the vow.
“Lily Voirgaire, with this ring, I bind you as my bride, as part of me. I vow to love you, to cherish you, to make you smile. I vow to live for you, to hold you in my heart always. No matter what I shall face, even if it be death, never shall I abandon you. Thus, I bind you.”
She plucked the red ring from the box, and slid it over Lily’s finger. A perfect fit.
With the informal ceremony thus complete, Lily reached her hands behind the head of her newlywed wife and pulled her into a deep kiss, earning the smiles and applause of Prei and Tate. After pulling away, Lily touched her forehead to Iris’ and closed her eyes, whereupon both of them spoke in unison.
“With this, we are one.”