Dag’s brows drew down. Farmer customs could be so baffling. All that paper and ink and fuss over property and witnesses. He considered his own wedding cord wound around his upper arm, concealed beneath his jacket sleeve, braided by Fawn’s own hands and containing a thread of her live ground, proof of their union to anyone with groundsense.

She wore its twin on her left wrist, peeping like a hair bracelet from her shirt cuff, humming with a bit of Dag’s ground in turn. Not that any Lakewalker camp wouldn’t seize on a wedding as an excuse for a party, and not that the tent-kin on both sides didn’t mix in till you were ready to wrap some spare cords around their necks and twist, but in the end, the marriage was solely between two people, tracking its traces in their inward selves. Even if the couple should be cast among strangers, the cords silently spoke their witness for them.

“Never mind, Hawthorn,” said Whit to the crestfallen boy. “I bought Berry and me a new family book to start, and you can sign in that. ’Cause it’s ours, and doesn’t belong to these Graymouth folks.” He added to Berry, “It’s my first wedding present to you, see.” Her pale face lightened in a real grin.

Whit reached into the cloth bag he’d been toting and pulled out a large volume bound in new leather of the sort in which good-sheds kept their records. He laid it on the table, opening it to the first blank white page. Dag was thrown back in memory to the aging family book he’d seen at West Blue, three-quarters full of entries about Bluefield marriages, births, and deaths, and land or animals bought, sold, or swapped, which he and Fawn and for that matter Whit had all put their names in, as principals or witness. That volume had been the latest of a series going back over two hundred years, all carefully kept in a trunk in the parlor. The precious family books would pass in turn, along with the farm itself, to Whit and Fawn’s eldest brother and his bride.

As the fourth son, Whit was on his own. And, Dag guessed, not sorry for it now.

Fawn measured the book’s thickness, a good two fingers, and grinned. “Ambitious, Whit!” Hawthorn looked it over in approval, evidently consoled. Would the old Clearcreek family book pass to Hawthorn, then, not to Berry? It was all so backward to the way a Lakewalker eldest girl inherited the family tent from her mother.

“Hm,” said the clerk in a tone of doubt, but did not pursue his quibble.

He laid his own big book, its leather cover stamped with Graymouth’s town seal, on the table beside Whit’s, and opened it to a new page. “If I’m to make two clean copies, best we get started.” He sat at the table, drew the ink pot toward him, shot back his cuffs, selected a quill from the jar, and looked up again at Berry and Whit. “State your full names, your parents’ names and residences-or, if they are deceased, places of burial-your dates of birth, places of birth, and occupations.”

It took a few minutes to get all this down, twice. The fellow did have nice handwriting, Dag decided, leaning over for a peek. Since this caused Bakerbun to stop writing and stare over his shoulder in alarm, Dag returned to his wall space. Berry gave her occupation as boat boss, and after a moment, and fiddler; Whit, after the briefest hesitation, said not farmer but boat hand. Dag fancied he could almost hear the twang as Whit’s last tie to West Blue parted.

“Next, do you give your sworn words you have no impediments? No other betrothal, marriage, or indenture?”

They both murmured their nays, although Berry winced a little at the other betrothal part.

“Good, that’s easy,” muttered the clerk. “You came up from Drowntown, so I don’t guess you have any substantial property to worry about. I must say, Drowntown folks don’t usually bother to come up here to us for this, but that’s Drowntown for you.”

“I have the Fetch,” said Berry.

The clerk hesitated. “Flatboat, you say? Not a keel?”

“That’s right.”

“We don’t have to count flats. What about you, Whitesmith Bluefield?”

“I have my earnings for the trip.”

The clerk waved this away. “Real property. Land, a house, a building for business? Expectations of inheritance?”

“No. Not yet,” Whit amended, with a distant look. “I have a family due-share from the farm in West Blue, but I don’t rightly know when I’ll get back to collect it. It’s not much, anyhow.”

The clerk frowned judiciously.

“You should have your papa’s house and the hill in Clearcreek, Berry,” Bo put in. “You and Hawthorn.”

The clerk came suddenly alert. “Do you know how it was left? What terms?”

“I can’t rightly say. Don’t think no one in Clearcreek even knows Berry’s papa is dead, yet. He disappeared on the river last fall, see, along with her older brother, so that’s what this trip was for, mainly, to find out what had happened to ’em. Which we did do.”

A sudden spate of questions from the clerk drew out the information that the house was substantial, or at least large and rambling, and the hill, too steep for farming but where Berry’s family harvested the timber to build their yearly flatboat, was a good square mile in extent.

And no one knew for sure if Berry’s papa might have left Hawthorn’s guardianship to some other relative than Berry in the event of his death, a notion that clearly alarmed Hawthorn very much. Any records were back in Clearcreek, fifteen hundred river miles away.

“This is all very confused,” said the clerk at last, rubbing his nose and leaving a faint smear of ink on his upper lip. “I don’t think I can register this marriage.”

“What?” cried Whit in alarm, in chorus with Berry’s dismayed “Why not?”

“It’s the rules, miss. To prevent theft by runaway or fraudulent marriages. Which has been tried, which is why the rules.”

“I’m not a runaway,” said Berry indignantly. “I’m a boat boss! And I got my mother’s own brother with me!”

“Yes, but your marriage would give Whitesmith, here, some claims on your property that your other kin might not want to allow. Or if that house and hill is all left to the tad, here, as your papa’s only surviving son, he presumably owes you some due-share, but he’s too young to administer it. I’ve seen this sort of tangle lead to all sorts of fights and disputes and even killings, and over a good deal less property than your Oleana hill!”

“In Graymouth, maybe!” cried Berry, but Bo scratched his chin in worry.

“Better you should wait and get married back in Clearcreek, miss,” said the clerk.

“But it could be four or six months till we get back there!” said Whit, sounding suddenly bewildered. “We want to get married now!”

“Yeah, Fawn’s baked the cake and fixed the food and everything!” put in Hawthorn. “And she made me take a bath!”

“Something like this sort of problem must have come up before.”

Dag pitched his voice deep to cut across the rising babble of protest. “In a town with as many strangers passing through for trade as Graymouth gets. Couldn’t you just leave out all mention of the property, let the Clearcreek clerk write it all in later?”

“I should have kept my fool mouth shut,” muttered Bo. “Sorry, Berry.”

The distress from the folks assembled in the room was rising like a miasma around Dag, and he closed himself tighter against it.

“That’s what the marriage registration is for, to settle all these critical matters!” said the clerk. “Not that I’d expect a Lakewalker to understand,” he added in a low mutter. “Don’t you fellows trade your women around? Like bed-boat girls, but with big knives, and not near so friendly.”

Dag stiffened, but decided to pretend not to hear, although Remo stirred in annoyance and Barr’s sandy eyebrows rose.

The clerk straightened up, cleared his throat, and gripped the edges of the table. “There have been variances made, from time to time,” he said. Whit made an eager noise. “The fellow puts up a bond with the town clerk in the amount of the disputed property, or a decreed percentage. When he brings back the proper documents or witnesses to prove his claims, he gets it back, less a handling fee. Or, if his claims don’t fly, the woman’s kin comes to collect it, for damages.”

“What damages?” said Hawthorn curiously, but Bo’s grip on his shoulder quelled him.

Whit’s nose abruptly winkled. “Just how much money are we talking about here?”

“Well, the worth of that hill and house, I suppose.”

“I don’t have that much money!”

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