Whatever pre-ceremony jitters Max had were completely obliterated by the organ’s opening chords. He hoped Uncle Adrian was similarly calm as they marched to the altar, approaching from the right (facing the congregation). The altar was covered in a deep blue cloth with light blue trimming. On top of the altar stood a brass lantern, unlit, next to which stood a small burning candle. Standing in front of the altar was the Priestess of Mara, Mother T’Adril, clad in an elaborately-embroidered deep blue robe. She had dark hair, framing a middle-aged Dunmer face. She looked at Max expectantly, though he knew exactly what to do. He placed himself squarely in front of her, and with a respectful bow, presented the Writings to her with both hands. She received them in the same way, and with a cheerful wink, dismissed Max to stand with his Uncle in front of the altar, facing the congregation.
By then, the initial organ fanfare had ended, and the organist began a graceful wedding march. From his place to Uncle Adrian’s right, Max managed a quick look around, recognizing Aunt Teri’s family on the left, his own family on the right, plus various other people he knew scattered here and there. As the organist played, Max quickly forgot about everyone in the pews, for gliding slowly, gracefully up the aisle was Aunt Teri, followed by Cari, holding the train of her aunt’s gown. Max was astonished. He almost didn’t recognize Aunt Teri with her hair done up, without her glasses. And Cari was wearing the most beautiful dress he’d ever seen, with fancy stitching and shiny pearls all up the front. Her usual ponytail was gone; she’d had her hair done as well, highlighted by a bright, flowery crown. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He didn’t even want to blink for fear of missing something!
As she trailed her aunt up the aisle, Cari was too busy concentrating on her task to recognize many people in the congregation. While she was aware that people had turned to look at their procession, she only saw them from the corner of her eye. Looking straight ahead, she became aware of Uncle Adrian, his kindly face beaming at his bride and his new niece. Despite having to share Aunt Teri with him, Cari really was fond of the man. But standing with him was that skeever Max, and he was staring right at her! What was he looking at? Was something wrong with her dress? Was her hair disheveled? She felt a sickening rush of self-consciousness as she arranged her aunt’s gown at the altar and presented the rings to the priestess. Mother T’Adril received them with a smile, whispering, “Cari, you look so cute!” Cari felt better after that, and moved to her place just to Aunt Teri’s left. She spotted Max standing calmly next to Uncle Adrian. What’s he up to? Cari thought. I’ll have to keep an eye on him.
“Good afternoon everyone!” called Mother T’Adril, stepping from behind the altar. “A joyous day for all who witness this union, consecrated by Lady Mara.” Looking over the congregation, she continued, “A new life together, a lifetime of tomorrows, with Lady Mara’s blessings.” Turning around, she faced the wedding party. “Who here will light the flame of love to bless the couple before us today?”
Just as she learned in the rehearsals, Cari replied, “I, Cari Ayalu, will light a flame for the sake of my aunt, Teri Ayalu.”
Max answered also: “I, Max Sundberg, will light a flame for the sake of my uncle, Adrian Lindström.”
Mother T’Adril passed small wooden tapers to Cari and Max. “Then let it be so. Light the flame of love for those you love.” Max and Cari stepped forward, and in turn, lit their tapers from the small candle on the altar, while the priestess opened the lantern. Inside were two wicks sharing a small reservoir of oil. Cari lit one wick, then stepped aside to Max could light the other. The lantern burned brightly with a bluish flame. “One fuel, two flames,” said Mother T’Adril. “Two flames, one light. Let us bear witness to the light while we can still comprehend it!”
This was the cue for the organist to begin a hymn, which started with this chorus:
Let us then be joined together
As one, all bound in love
That we receive with gratitude
From Lady Mara above!
The hymn was a long one, eight verses, and the wedding party stood facing the altar throughout. Cari looked at her Aunt Teri. She’s so beautiful, she thought. It’s like she’s being made queen, and Uncle Adrian is her prince consort. I want to be like her if I ever marry. She gazed past Aunt Teri and Uncle Adrian, her eyes resting on Max. But not to him! Eww! So obnoxious!
Max, for his part, figured the whole point the hymn could have been revealed in a verse or two. Still, he was glad to be there. Looking at his uncle, he felt a swell of pride. Everybody says what a great catch Aunt Teri is. Maybe one day I’ll be as lucky as Uncle Adrian. Glancing right, he spotted Cari. Was she looking at him? She’s really smart, he thought, but I’d always have to watch my step around her.
Cari and Max knew from the rehearsals that the Writings would come after the hymn. The wedding party turned to face the congregation, while the priestess moved in front of them. “To consider the nature of marriage,” began Mother T’Adril, “let us consider Lady Mara’s teachings on the nature of love.” Picking up the Writings book, she began to read: “What is love? Is it kindness? Yes, and more. Is it charity? Yes, kindness, charity, and more. Love is patient and humble, and endures beyond our understanding.” The text continued for several more paragraphs, after which Mother T’Adril delivered a homily that tied the Writings to Aunt Teri’s and Uncle Adrian’s future together. Her talk went on for some time, and Max had to make an effort to keep still. He looked around the congregation to see if anyone was a bored as he was. Similarly, Cari entertained herself by examining how every guest was dressed.
Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for arrived. Mother T’Adril finished her speech and moved back to the altar as the party turned to face her. Looking directly at Aunt Teri and Uncle Adrian, she said: “It was Mara that first gave birth to all of creation and pledged to watch over us as her children. It is from her love of us that we first learned to love one another. It is from this love that we learn that a life lived alone is no life at all. We gather here today, under Mara’s loving gaze, to bear witness to the union of two souls in eternal companionship. May they journey forth together in this life and the next, in prosperity and poverty, and in joy and hardship. Do you agree to be bound together, in love, now and forever?”
“I will, now and forever,” said Aunt Teri.
“I will, all my days,” said Uncle Adrian.
Mother T’Adril smiled. “Under the authority of Mara, the Divine of Love, I declare this couple to be wed.” She winked at Cari as she continued, “I present the two of you these matching rings, blessed by Mara’s divine grace. May they protect each of you in your new life together.” Aunt Teri slid one ring on Uncle Adrian’s finger, then Uncle Adrian did likewise for his bride. After embracing briefly, the couple turned to face the congregation, followed by the children. “May I present to you,” concluded Mother T’Adril, “Fru Teri Ayalu-Lindström and Herr Adrian Ayalu-Lindström!”
As was traditional, the congregation erupted into applause, though Max noticed Uncle Adrian’s boss, a bearded bear of a man he’d met once before, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief! The party had to move quickly after that to exit the chapel. Aunt Teri and Uncle Adrian stood at the head of the procession, with Cari and Max behind. Mother T’Adril brought up the rear as the organ resumed a triumphant recessional, and the whole party marched, none too slowly, out of the chapel and into the courtyard where a battalion of photographers were waiting.
For both children, the next few moments were a bit of a blur. Pictures of the couple. Pictures of the children. Pictures of the couple and the children. Shouted congratulations and compliments as the guests filed out of the chapel and were herded to the reception hall a few blocks distant. Finally, the wedding party reassembled to make the journey themselves. They began their walk through the Historic District, leaving the chapel quiet and empty, save for the chapel manager, who found a nice calm-me-down bottle in the vestry, and, hidden behind a discarded sweater on a chair, a Talking Vilja doll.
Note: There are three photos used in this installment. The interior of the Lady Chapel is from my personal collection. The other two are from Pexels, which is an excellent site for stock photos. Credits are as follows: The lantern photo was created by Burak K, while the chair at the end of the story is based on a photo taken by Karolina Grabowska.