Chapter Eleven

Less than one week had passed before the wedding came. Anika waited in the side room of the chapel as all of the attending guests were seated. Her heart had been racing since the early hours of the morning when she gave up on sleep and paced the living room of Radu's home. There was a tightness in her chest from the anticipation of the event about to occur.

"I cannot believe this is happening." She was now pacing the tiny room waiting for her cue.

"Everyone must face their destiny at some point in their lives." Mahai entered the room slowly with an aura of pride surrounding. "Now is the time for you to face yours, with my son."

"Thank you, Mahai." She bowed her head respectfully. "I know it was not easy for you to make such a choice."

"I would not have made it if you had not brought it to my attention. And, if you had not proved to me that it had to be done." Mahai paused to collect his words. "You were brave to face the hunters and risk your life for near strangers. You were even braver for facing me." His tone grew more relaxed from the rigidness he had started with. "You have proven yourself worthy of leading our people when the time comes. Your father would have been very proud of you, Anika."

"You don't know how much this means to me, Mahai." Joyful tears crept to her eyes.

"Take care of my son." Passing his handkerchief to her, she gingerly dabbed at the droplets.

"I will. I promise you." As he bowed his head slightly to honor her, he turned to leave the room. "Mahai, I have one more favor to ask of you." Anika moved toward him to return the small linen.

"Anything." He took the handkerchief from her and folded it back into his pocket.

"Tell her you still love her." She whispered softly so only he could hear.

A half smile was the only answer he gave her as he walked from the room. His smile grew as he walked down the carpeted isle in the old chapel to join his son at the altar. A glance to Andreena showed his approval of the woman their son had been destined to be with for the rest of his life. Seeing the approving look drew a tear from her eye, and she also knew the approval was for her as well.

Anika stepped to the start of the isle and looked forward to the altar of the crumbling building. A gentle breeze drifted through the branches of the surrounding trees causing a rain of glorious autumn leaves. The falling collage of reds, oranges, and golden yellows glittered downward covering the carpet like a flower girl's rose petals. Her eyes connected with Radu's as she saw the intense love coming forth in a single tear down his cheek.

"You look absolutely beautiful, Anika." Andreena made one final adjustment to the veil and took a step back. "Radu is lucky to have you. We had nearly given up hope to ever see the other medallion." She paused to hold back her tears. "You are greater than any woman I could have wished for my son." Her arms embraced the young woman tenderly. "I am proud to call you my daughter."

"Just as I am proud to call you my mother."

"I just wanted to let you know Dorin could not find your father this morning." Andreena handed her a bouquet of beautiful red and purple autumn mums and zinnias.

"It's all right." As she rubbed the medallion between her fingers one last time, she tucked the charm safely into the bouquet. "I know he'll still be with me when I walk down the aisle."

Taking a deep breath, she paused as Andreena made one final fluffing adjustment to make sure her training was perfect for her walk down the aisle. The woman gave her one final smile before she walked down the aisle to take her place across from Mahai at the altar. As she took her stance, her eyes met with his seeing a sign of love she had not seen in several years.

Following the signal of the priest, Anika began to slowly walk down the leaf-covered aisle. A gentle breeze danced amongst the tree tops causing a cascade of more leaves to rain down on the chapel. Smiling as she sensed Obi in the leaves, she knew he approved of the choice she was making. As she reached the Altar, Anika felt like she had found a home for the first time since losing her mother. Handing her bouquet to Andreena for holding during the ceremony, she turned to Radu and took his hands.

"We have gathered here today in this sacred space to join two souls with the gods for eternity." Dorin raised his hands outward to gather the pack and bring them together with the couple at the altar. "When the prophecy was first spoken about the great leaders, no one knew who would be chosen or when they would become known." Placing a hand on each of their shoulders, he smiled proudly at Anika. "The Great Wolf of our history led the Ancestors to recognizing the births of these two souls, and I take immense honor in being the one to join the prophesied future leaders of the Lup-Suflet." He turned slowly to Radu. "Do you, Radu Chitul Dinescu, here in the presence of your pack and the gods and spirits who guide you, take this woman, Anika Lelanni Pabukin, to be your wife?"

"I do." Radu smiled as he squeezed her hands.

"And do you, Anika Lelanni Pabukin, in the presence of your ancestors and the gods who guide you, and the pack you will one day lead, take this man, Radu Chitul Dinescu, to be your husband?" Dorin grinned at her.

"I do." Anika's eyes glittered as she spoke her response.

"The rings, please."

Anika took one of the rings from Mahai and placed it slowly on Radu's finger. He smiled at her tenderly as he took the other ring from Mahai's hand. As Radu placed the silver band on her left-hand ring-finger, a howl sounded through the stone chapel. The pair turned their heads along with everyone else to see a smokey gray-haired wolf pace to stand at the center of the entryway. He howled again and bowed his head down to his paw as he kneeled before them.

"In the presence of all witnesses in this chapel and with the blessings of those spirits and gods joining us here today, I pronounce you husband and wife." Mahai nodded to the priest in approval. "You may kiss your bride."

Both Anika and Radu hesitated a moment before leaning in toward the other. As their lips met in a soft tender kiss, the small crowd clapped and cheered for the couple. One last howl of approval came from the wolf at the marriage of his daughter before Tandru faded into the shadows of the forest.