his shirtsleeve than when Dag had first met him, and Dag didn’t think it was because the cloth had shrunk with its rare washings. When his straw-blond head finally grew to overtop that of his sister Berry, he would be an impressive young man. Three more years, Dag gave it; forever, Hawthorn moaned; Dag tried to remember when three years had seemed forever.

Next, the bride herself, supported by Fawn. Fawn had spent a good long time earlier this morning with her clever fingers plaiting Berry’s straight hair, usually tied at her nape, up into Lakewalker-style wedding braids. Somewhere in the Drowntown day market Fawn had found fresh winter flowers, either local to these southern climes or grown under glass, Dag was not sure. She’d arranged all the big white blooms she could fit in around Berry’s straw-gold topknot, with ivy trailing down in the silky fall of hair behind. Her own hair she’d gathered into a jaunty horsetail at her crown, with sprigs of scarlet flowers seeming to glow against the dark curls. Climbing behind the two women, Dag enjoyed the effect. There had been no time for new bride clothes, in these hasty preparations so far from home, but there had been a lot of laundry done on the Fetch yesterday after Fawn had returned from the market with Remo. Shabby and travel-worn the whole party’s workaday garments might be, but they were all clean and mended.

As they reached a turn in the stairs and reversed direction, Fawn’s little hand gripped Berry’s in a gesture of encouragement. Berry’s workhardened fingers looked unusually cold and pale. Dag had seen Berry face down raging shoals, snagging sandbars, rough rivermen, sly goodsdealers, murderous bandits, knife fights, heartbreak, and hangings, high water and low as the riverfolk put it, with unflagging courage. Any who would dare chuckle at her pre-wedding nerves… had never faced a wedding ceremony themselves, Dag decided.

Fawn’s brother Whit, climbing beside Dag, had chuckled merrily at his sister and Dag six months ago when they’d tied their knots in West Blue. He wasn’t laughing now, and the corners of Dag’s mouth tucked up at the pure justice of the moment. No one, looking at Fawn and Whit together, would take them for anything other than brother and sister even before they opened their mouths. Both had the same dark curls and clear skin, and though Whit topped Fawn by a head, he was still a sawed-off Bluefield. More height he would likely never gain, but his shoulders had broadened this fall, as the strain on his shirt seams testified.

And, without losing his still-sometimes-annoying humor, his eyes were graver, more thoughtful; more than once lately Dag had seen him start to let fly with a witty or half-witty barb, then stop and swallow it instead. He, too, had come a long way from West Blue.

Enough to be ready for his wedding day? No, probably not; few folks ever were. Enough to be ready for all the days that followed? That also was a matter of learn-as-you-go, in Dag’s experience. But I think he will not betray her. He sent an encouraging glint of a smile down at his… brother-in-law, in farmer parlance, tent-brother, in Lakewalker terms, and thought that Whit had met the tests of both roles. Whit put his shoulders back and managed a ghastly grin in return.

Behind Dag, Remo’s and Barr’s long legs took some of the shorter uneven stairs two at a time, in step with each other. Either would likely be shocked to learn Dag now thought of them as part of his peculiar farmer- Lakewalker family tent, but Dag imagined both partners would admit to being his patrollers. As difficult as their present circumstances were, Dag was glad they had become entangled in his little band, whatever one might name it. One Lakewalker among farmers was an oddity.

Three were… a start, maybe.

They all exited the walkway into Uptown. Dag stared around with interest, this being his first jaunt up the stairs to the bluff. Today was nearly windless in the watery light, but Dag imagined that in high summer Uptown would catch whatever mosquito-removing breezes there were. The streets, better drained than those below, were not as muddy, and were laid out in tidy blocks with boardwalks lining them-more sawed-up former flatboats, no doubt. The houses and buildings looked substantial, less haphazardly cobbled together, free of high-water stains.

The people seemed not too different: boat bosses and goods-shed men, drivers and drovers, innkeepers and horseboys; some of the women seemed better dressed, if more soberly than the fancy getups worn by the girls from the bed-boats tied along the Drowntown shore.

The Graymouth town clerk’s office was not the front room of some villager’s house, as Dag had seen back in tiny West Blue, but a separate building, two stories high, built of sturdy brick probably floated downstream from Glassforge in far-off Oleana. Fawn pointed out the brick to Hod, who grinned in recognition and nodded. The Fetch’s party clumped up onto the porch and inside.

Berry and Whit had ventured up here the requisite three days ago to register their intent to wed and to secure an appointment with a recording clerk-the town employed several, Dag understood. The big, busy room to the right of the entry hall had to do with boats and the shipping business; to the left, with land records. Berry and Whit both gulped, grabbed each other’s hand, and led the way upstairs to a smaller, quieter chamber.

The rather bare upstairs room held a writing table by a window and half a dozen wooden chairs pushed back to the wall, not quite enough for the crew of the Fetch. Hod saw that Bo took a seat with Fawn and Berry. Dag rested his shoulders on the wall and crossed his arms, and Barr and Remo, after a glance at him, did likewise.

The wait was neither long nor uncomfortable, at least not for Dag.

He wouldn’t vouch for Whit, who kept readjusting his shirt collar. In a few minutes, a man carrying a large record book and a sheet of paper bustled in. Dag judged him maybe a decade older than Whit or Berry; he might have been a cleanly goods-shed clerk working up to owner. He looked up to see Dag, and stepped back with a small uh. His eyes flicked down over the hook that served in place of Dag’s left hand, to the long knife at his belt, back up to his short-trimmed if still unruly hair, and across again to Barr and Remo with their more obviously Lakewalkerstyle hair and garb. Both Remo’s long, dark braid and Barr’s shorter tawny queue were decorated for the occasion with ornaments new-made from shark teeth and pearl shell.

“Ah,” the clerk said to Dag, “can I help you fellows find the room you’re looking for? There’s a marriage registration due next in this one, the Bluefield party.”

“Yes, we’re part of that patrol,” Dag replied amiably. He gave a nod toward Berry and Whit, who popped to their feet, smiling nervously.

The fellow Dag took to be the clerk tore his gaze from the Lakewalkers to glance at his paper and say, “Whitesmith Bluefield and Berry Clearcreek?”

Both ducked their heads; Whit stuck out his hand and said, “They call me Whit.”

“I’m Clerk Bakerbun,” said the clerk, who shook Whit’s hand and, after a brief glance at Fawn, nodded at Berry. “Miss Clearcreek. How de’ do.” He laid his big book out on the table. “Right, we can begin. Do you each have your principal witnesses?”

“Yes,” said Berry. “This here’s my uncle Bo, and that’s my little brother Hawthorn.” Both rose and nodded, Hawthorn tightly clutching his raccoon, which made a noise of indolent protest.

Whit added, “Yeah, and this is my sister Fawn and her husband, Dag Bluefield.” His gesture taking in Dag made the clerk blink.

“I’m sorry, I thought you were a Lakewalker,” said the clerk to Dag. He looked up into Dag’s gold-tinged eyes. “Wait, you are a Lakewalker!”

Whit raised his voice to override the inevitable spate of questions: “And these here are Hod, Remo, and Barr, all friends and boat hands from the Fetch, which is Berry’s flatboat out of Clearcreek, Oleana, see. They’ll sign as witnesses, too. She goes by Boss Berry down on the river, by the way.” He smiled proudly at his betrothed. Berry usually had a generous grin beneath wide cheekbones that made her face look like a friendly ferret’s; now her smile was stretched thin with nerves.

The clerk looked at Hawthorn, who grinned back more in the usual Clearcreek family style. “Ah, um… this youngster looks to be well under twenty years of age. He can’t be a legal witness, not in Graymouth.”

“But Berry said I could sign. I been practicin’!” protested Hawthorn.

He undid one arm from under the fat and sleepy raccoon and held up ink-stained fingers in proof. “And now that Buckthorn and Papa was killed last fall, I’m her only brother!”

“I did promise he could,” said Berry. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry, Hawthorn.”

Bo added gruffly, “Oh, come on, let the little feller sign. It won’t do no harm, and it’ll mean the world to him. To both of ’em.”

“Well…” The clerk looked nonplussed. “I don’t think I can. It might compromise the validity of the document should it be challenged.”

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