I’ve decided to share Fitting In here. It is still for sale on Amazon, Smashwords, iBookstore, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Diesel eBook Store and finally Sony Reader eBook Store for $5.99. It’s also available as 5″x8″ Trade Paper Back for $18.99 via CreateSpace: here. You can also buy it on Amazon here and Barnes and Noble here.
However, if you want to read the story for free, I will be putting up a chapter every Monday so all you have to do is be patient and you’ll be able to read the whole thing over time. I hope everyone enjoys the story–feel free to leave comments and let me know what you thought!
By Meyari McFarland
Ntombi Naming Conventions
Prefix – Meaning
ash – female high rank relative
ish – female high rank non-relative
osh – female same rank relative
oosh – female same rank non relative
ush – female low rank relative
uush – female low rank non relative
vla – male high rank relative
vli – male high rank non relative
vlo – male same rank relative
vloo – male same rank non relative
vlu – male low rank relative
vluu – male low rank non relative
Suffix – Meaning
bli – adored, beloved, practically perfect
bra – strong approval
slo – fond of, worth cultivating them
vsa – mild disapproval, shrug-worthy
vyu – some disapproval, not worth the effort
zi – absolute disapproval, horrible person
wu – neutral, no opinion either way
To designate whether they’re in-group or out-group:
m – add to end of suffix for in-group
q – add to end of suffix for out-group
Vli’Aravel’ziq = male high rank non relative named Aravel who is a horrible person that I hate
Vlu’Umar’slom = low rank male relative named Umar who I’m fond of and who is part of my family
Chapter One: Unexpected Journey
“You can’t be serious,” Cadfael said, staring at his father in horror. “I’ll spend the whole trip throwing up!”
His embroidery dropped into his lap, unnoticed for a moment. Cadfael’s father Deverell chuckled at him, sitting down in a rustle of petticoats and bright blue kilt. The early morning sun brightened Deverell’s sandy brown hair to a color reminiscent of gold. For the room to be so cheerful felt like a terrible betrayal, given the horrible news his father had delivered.
“Quite serious, dear boy,” his father said, patting his shoulder fondly. “I’m sure you won’t get that sick. It would be quite the adventure for you to travel all the way to Ntombi. You should get out and see more of the world. As a member of the Dana Clan it is expected that you travel and interact with people. How in the Tripartate Goddesses’ names do you expect to attract a wife if you stay inside all the time?”
Cadfael shuddered. He wouldn’t go near that one with a ten-foot barge poll. “I don’t want to find a wife if it means that I have to travel all over the world with her, Deverell. I don’t want to go out and interact with people, especially people that I don’t know. I like it here at home.”
That wasn’t strictly true. Cadfael had never felt comfortable with his family’s expectation that he be as wild and ad-venturous as his twin sister Anwyn. While she had gladly started traveling on the Dana Clan trading ships after their ninth birthday, Cadfael resisted going anywhere even after he was old enough to travel widely at fourteen. It was so much more comfortable in their warehouse turned home where he knew all the stairways and hallways, nooks and crannies.
“Like it or not, you will go,” Deverell said.
“Gavin could go,” Cadfael offered without any hope that it would be accepted. “He’s oldest.”
“He’s engaged to be married right in the middle of this trip,” Deverell said with one hand flapping at how ridiculous that suggestion was. “You know perfectly well he’s not available for trips anymore. You’re sixteen, the perfect age for this sort of thing.”
“There’s got to be someone else,” Cadfael whimpered. “Please, Father. I don’t want to go.”
Deverell sighed and patted Cadfael’s shoulder while shaking his head no. Cadfael should have expected that response. It was the same one he’d gotten for the last several years whenever he objected to leaving the house. His reluctance to travel had increased once he grew up enough for women to notice that he was maturing physically.
From the time he was twelve, women had gone out of their way to comment on his appearance, usually with lustful looks that terrified him. Random women in the street found it perfectly acceptable to walk up and talk to him. Since he turned sixteen and became an adult the advances had gotten more forward.
Many of them thought that they could touch without asking, taking his arm, caressing his neck above the high collars he preferred or even attempting to kiss him. A few had tried to slip their hands under his kilt when he’d been caught away from Anwyn or his other sisters. They’d only laughed when he protested and fought, calling him ‘as fiery as his hair’ or ‘cute when he tried to be fierce’.
Even the sailors that worked for his family thought they should have the right to talk to him and touch him at will. The few times that Cadfael had complained to his mother, Anwyn or Gwen, they’d told him he was being oversensitive and that he should enjoy the attention. Cadfael was still angry about the time Mother had rolled her eyes and walked away rather than helping him get rid of the overly pushy sailor.
At home, he could hide when someone he didn’t want to deal with bothered him. There were books to read and embroidery projects to work on. The family always had treaties and trade agreements for him to review for hidden problems, which let him spend time in the family library where it was quiet and safe. It was his specialty in the family, specifically chosen because it kept him out of the public eye.
He had his brothers and male cousins to stand between him and the women who thought they could take advantage of him. His sisters Gwen and Anwyn were always ready to beat up women who went too far, even if they did tease him about being dramatic afterwards. Home was safe.
The family knew to avoid him when he got in a temper over the many indignities of being an eligible young man. None of the women associated with the family’s warehouse business tried to kiss or grope him, unlike the women outside of the family. Even going to the store for lace and embroidery floss was a challenge. Cadfael had lost count of how many times strange women had blown kisses at him and followed him as if they had some right to his attention and company.
He would never understand how his older brother Aravel could enjoy going out, but then Aravel loved women’s attention and drank up their comments and touches as if they were the Goddess Chin’s blessings delivered straight to him.
“You’re sure Andros can’t go?” Cadfael asked plaintively. “He’d probably like it. He said last week that he wanted to go on a trading mission. He’s almost old enough.”
“Andros is only thirteen, Caddie,” Deverell said with a huff of dismay that made Cadfael wince. “You know perfectly well he’s far too young to spend that much time with rough sailors. The Great Goddess Tahira knows that he’d probably crawl into some woman’s lap and get himself raped. At least you know how and when to defend yourself unlike your brothers. I despair of Aravel every learning to be wary of strange women. The boy’s old enough to marry and he just cannot seem to understand that not every woman in the world is his friend. No, you’re the one the Clan chose out of all the men in the family for the trip so you’re the one who goes. This trade mission is far too important to give to someone too young or too casual to understand proper behavior. No back-talk now. Go pack your things. The ship is leaving with the next tide.”
“Why so soon?” Cadfael whined even though he could see that there was no getting out of it. “Shouldn’t I have had more warning? I don’t even know what the mission is!”
“Certainly not,” Deverell snapped as he took the embroidery from Cadfael’s lap. “Not when your mother and I know how you react to promises of traveling. None of us wanted to deal with your temper for longer than we needed to. Up. Go pack your things.”
The entire thing was massively unfair. Granted, Deverell was quite right that he would have leveled the sharp edge of his tongue against everyone in the family if he’d known about the planned trip. Cadfael was somewhat infamous in the family for his explosive temper. If only they would stop bothering him and do more protecting then he’d have fewer reasons to be annoyed with them.
Cadfael snatched his embroidery away from his step-father. It was already wrinkled from Deverell’s grip on it though he hadn’t put any fingerprints on the fabric, thank goodness. The familiar mixture of fear and anger shivered through Cadfael as he headed for the stairs to the upper levels of their home. He kicked his kilt and its many petticoats more out of emotion than worries about stepping on them. This wasn’t fair. They could have sent a cousin if Aravel was too casual and Andros was obviously too young yet. As large as their family was, there had to be someone who would be happy to go on the trip. Just the thought of being away from his familiar routine and the protection of his family made Cadfael want to cry; not that he would where people could see him.
Tears were enough of a threat that he thought about taking one of the quiet less-traveled staircases. He scowled ferociously, determinedly not rubbing his eyes as Gwen came out of an office room and froze. Her expression was so fearful that Cadfael snarled at her. (She’d always been one of his best protectors.) Still, all of the women in the family would have had to have voted to send him given that Deverell said that ‘the Clan’ had decided he needed to go. Which meant she was responsible just as much as his less supportive sisters and cousins.
“I forgot something,” Gwen said while gesturing aimlessly over her shoulder. “I’ll just…”
Cadfael growled. “I’m not an idiot, Gwen! I can tell you’re avoiding me.”
“Right.” Gwen’s eyes snapped with anger that Cadfael simultaneously enjoyed having caused and feared because he never wanted his sisters to turn on him. “Forgive me for not wanting to pick a fight, Caddie. I know how much you hate traveling.”
“You could have warned me about this!” Cadfael wailed.
Her snort was as derisive as possible. The way she slammed the door in his face told him that no one else in the family would have any sympathy for his unhappiness with this trip. Cadfael bit his lip at the urge to burst into tears. Even if someone had been there to see his tears they wouldn’t have comforted him.
No, Cadfael would have been told to dry his tears and look at the trip as an opportunity. That it was anything but ‘an opportunity’ to him would never occur to his travel-loving family. Instead of crying, he squared his shoulders and stomped up the stairs, lifting his kilt out of his way with a grip tight enough to crush the crinoline of his petticoats.
The main staircase was suspiciously empty. At this time of day there should have been dozens of women running up and down it with records from the warehouse below. The offices above should have been filled with his uncles and male cousins as they worked to verify the inventory of what was going on this ship. His younger cousins, nieces and nephews would normally be rampaging through the missing crowd. With a ship about to go out there were no lessons. The female children were expected to help load the ship and learn what they could about the family business while the boys stayed in the offices and learned how to account for everything. Training for the kids started when they were five and six years old so that they would be ready to take their place in the business when they came of age at sixteen.
Deverell must have warned everyone before he came to find Cadfael that he was off to tell Cadfael about his trip. There was no other reason for the stairs to be so empty right now. That meant that everyone was using the back stairs that riddled the warehouse or they’d switched over to using the heavily decorated formal stairs on the other side of the house. The work still had to be done, even if they were avoiding Cadfael.
Two stories up, the house was even quieter, as was expected this time of day. The upper levels held a complicated warren of passages between the apartments that had been added to the building. Four generations of Dana women had built apartments for their husbands and children. Cadfael knew that someday the woman he married would do the same. He couldn’t see his family allowing him to marry into another clan when he was so good at treaty work and his temper was so bad that it would sour relations between the clans.
Aravel would probably end up marrying out once their mother found a wife who would love and care for him as he expected. No one, including Cadfael, expected that there was a woman alive who would endure his temper with joy. His wife would probably end up being someone brought in for alliance purposes instead of a love match.
“It’s not fair,” Cadfael grumbled. “I don’t even know what the weather is like in Ntombi.”
Cadfael glared at the dark, narrow hallways. With his fashionably voluminous petticoats, his kilt brushed against the walls on either side. Cadfael grimaced at the lace decorating the hem of his kilt and sleeves. Being excessively fashionable at home ensured that his clothes functioned as armor against random touching.
On the ship he wouldn’t have that option. It would just be Cadfael. He couldn’t wear so many petticoats or so much lace on board–there wouldn’t be any way to properly care for them. While Anwyn would be free to climb the rigging and explore the ship, Cadfael would be terrified to leave his cabin. Whenever he dared to step outside the sailors were sure to take advantage of his presence on the ship with rude comments and furtive touches. Anwyn would undoubtedly beat up anyone who groped him but that didn’t stop the molestation before it happened. He was going to spend several months practically trapped in his cabin on the ship.
The bedroom he shared with his brothers Gavin, Aravel and Andros was unsurprisingly empty. His brothers had obvious decided that they wanted to be anywhere but here while Cadfael packed. His trunk had been pulled out of the storage closet and someone, probably Gavin given how neatly everything was arranged, had laid out all the clothes he was likely to need. Aravel’s touch was obvious in his knitting and embroidery case being pre-packed and waiting. Andros had to have gone through Cadfael’s collection of jewelry because it was all arranged in sets next to his jewelry case in the same way Andros arranged his jewelry every day. Even his combs and brush had been cleaned and set out for him. Cadfael tossed his embroidery project next to the jewelry, his breath catching in his chest.
“You packing?” Anwyn asked from the doorway as Cadfael stared at it all while fighting tears.
“No,” Cadfael said.
“Caddie,” Anwyn sighed. “Come on. You’ll have fun, I promise. I really wanted you to help me on this one. It’ll be a wonderful trip, I promise.”
She came over and hugged Cadfael despite having to push past his voluminous petticoats. Anwyn didn’t even make a face at the petticoats pressing against her legs despite the fact that she often said that she thought his fondness for the latest, frilliest fashions was silly. In fact, she hugged him so hard that she nearly tugged him off his feet.
He leaned into the hug, desperate for reassurance after everyone else had avoided him. Despite the way they usually fought, Anwyn’s hugs were comforting. Cadfael would have preferred if she offered to let him stay, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. When Anwyn finally let go, she put her hands on each side of his face so that he had to meet her eyes. It was almost like looking into a mirror save for the fact that Anwyn wore her hair short and Cadfael wore his long, though even that difference wasn’t always obvious since he wore his hair coiled into a bun on the back of his head.
“I really don’t want to go,” Cadfael whispered as he put his hands on top of hers.
“It will be fine,” Anwyn promised.
“I’m going to be seasick the whole way,” Cadfael complained half-heartedly.
“You get seasick looking at a ship,” Anwyn countered with a grin that shouldn’t be half as infectious as it was. “Once we get there it’ll be fun.”
“Your idea of fun does not match mine, Annie,” Cadfael grumbled as he sat down on the floor next to his trunk to fold and pack everything.
Anwyn rolled her eyes, but she helped Cadfael fold everything. Granted, he had to refold most of them because Anwyn’s version of folding had more to do with mashing something into a ball than with actually folding them. She seemed to approve of most of the clothes that their brothers had laid out. The only things that she put back into the closet were two of his favorite sweaters.
“I like those,” Cadfael said as she put them away.
“You won’t need them, Caddie,” Anwyn said with a grin over her shoulder. “Ntombi’s on the equator. It’s warm enough that you’ll be hot most of the time.”
“What about on the ship?” Cadfael asked with just enough whine in his voice to make her roll her eyes.
“We’re traveling along the equator most of the way,” Anwyn explained. “Once we’re past Minoo you won’t want anything warm. Besides you’ve got four shawls laid out already. They’ll work.”
As much as he would have liked to take one of the really big trunks that were twice the size he was so that he could have every comfort of home (other than home itself), he didn’t get that. The one that Gavin had brought out was one of the smaller ones about a yard long by a foot tall. When Cadfael grumbled about needing a large one Anwyn huffed and looked at her pocket watch. Cadfael glared. They could have at least given him enough time to prepare properly.
Packing everything would be difficult but Cadfael thought it was possible if he was careful. All his kilts and petticoats just fit in the base of his trunk. The shoes, vests and underthings went on the tray along with his brush, combs and what seemed like a thousand different sashes (it was only a dozen). Anwyn loaded the tray in for him since she was stronger than he was. Only then did he pack his embroidery, knitting, and a few of his favorite books. The jewelry was simple enough to load, though the small jewelry case felt like it weighed several tons once he was done. That was more his reluctance to go than reality, though.
Cadfael hesitated before latching the jewelry case. “Why me, Annie? You know I hate traveling. Why would the Clan choose me? You could have spoken up to keep me from having to go.”
“Oh Caddie,” Anwyn groaned. “What’s the problem? Everyone likes seeing new things from time to time.”
“I don’t,” Cadfael snapped at her. “You know I don’t. I’d rather stay home than go see new places like you do.”
He glared at her, not at all surprised to find that she was glaring back at him. It was stupid to pick a fight right before they left, especially when Anwyn had been so nice. She’d helped him pack and reassured him. Maybe she really did think that this trip was a treat, but to Cadfael it was just another example of how little his family listened to and understood him.
No one else believed him when he said that he truly was happy staying home all the time. He’d told Anwyn hundreds of times that he had absolutely no interest in seeing the world. Cadfael felt safest when he was in a familiar environment with people he knew and trusted. Every time they forced him to go somewhere it was excruciating. New people, new places, and strange customs made Cadfael’s heart beat faster and his fears run away with him; travel was torture, not a reward.
“The whole Clan agreed that you’re the right choice, Caddie,” Anwyn said, her jaw working as she glared at him. “This is a huge opportunity. The two of us were chosen specifically. It’s not a casual whim or punishment. We have the skills the trade deal needs. No one else can do what the two of us can, especially after Aravel’s presence on the last mission was such a disaster.”
“But why didn’t I get a vote?” Cadfael demanded, well, no, that was a whine, not a demand. “Why wouldn’t anyone tell me that I’d been chosen?”
He already knew the answer to that one. Sadly, over the last year or so home had gotten nearly as bad as being away. His sisters and brothers all thought that they knew better than Cadfael did about what he liked. When he expressed an opinion everyone ignored it at best and laughed at him at worst. About the only thing he had left that he got to get his own way on were his clothes.
Mother didn’t particularly like Cadfael’s insistence on wearing the most fashionable trends, but it did display the family’s wealth when they dragged him out of the house, so she let him do it. Even their mother and the many aunts and uncles in the house seemed to think that all Cadfael needed was to get out and away from the same old thing.
“We need to get going,” Anwyn growled. Her jaw worked as she held in whatever snappish words were tangling on her tongue. “The decision has been made and there’s no arguing it now, Caddie. You’re going.”
“Fine,” Cadfael growled right back at her.
Anwyn hefted his trunk, balancing it on her shoulder with some difficulty. It seemed nearly as big as she was, but Anwyn had never cared about being too short and slim to do things like that. She grunted, managed to get the trunk in a secure grip, and stomped out of the room and back towards the main stairs. Cadfael followed, his jewelry trunk heavy in his hands.
This time the hallways were crowded with people getting ready for the trip. All of them looked away when he glared at them, from Grandmother Treva on down through to his littlest sister Erlina who clung to Deverell’s kilts as Cadfael walked by. His cousins at least called good wishes. Great-Uncle Jarmon stopped Cadfael for a hug that he leaned into desperately.
Once downstairs, Anwyn led the way through the family’s frenetically busy warehouse to the exit closest to the docks. Cadfael practically walked on her heels. The workers eyed him like he was one of the frosted sweet buns sold up the street, one licking her lips and smirking as he blushed. Several Dana sailors stood outside the main door. They whistled at Cadfael until Anwyn shouted something that had to be rude in a language that sounded vaguely like a dialect from Ingeborg. He couldn’t be sure as he’d never learned their language, much less their curse words.
They did come over and carry his trunk for Anwyn so maybe she’d been demanding help instead of scolding them. All he could be grateful for was that his oldest sister and best protector Gwen was waiting close to the door. She came along, one hand on Cadfael’s elbow as if she expected him to trip. The visible claim did keep other women from whistling or coming up to talk.
“Who’s the Captain?” Cadfael asked Gwen. As the oldest daughter she should know. Hopefully she’d even tell him.
“Ula,” Gwen said. She squeezed Cadfael’s elbow gently. “Her family has been allies with ours since Great-Grandmother Anwyn’s days. Do be nice to her, please.”
“Should be nice to me,” Cadfael muttered quietly enough that Anwyn hopefully wouldn’t hear it.
“If you play the game with her,” Gwen muttered just as quietly, “she’ll probably keep the sailors off you, Caddie. Really, do be nice. Ula’s about our mother’s age. She’d take good care of you if you let her.”
When Cadfael stared at her, wondering if Ula’s choice as Captain had been deliberate, Gwen smirked and winked at him. He blushed and ducked his head, grateful for the sailors carrying his trunk blocking Anwyn’s line of sight.
It was nice to know that they had considered his comfort at least a little bit. There was no guarantee that Captain Ula would be anything other than a horror to him but at least they’d tried. Gwen stopped Cadfael at the gangplank of the ship while Anwyn climbed up and the sailors passed the trunk over to one of the crew to put in his cabin.
“Try and have fun, Caddie,” Gwen said, fond exasperation in her voice. “This wasn’t meant as a punishment, you know.”
“I know,” Cadfael admitted. “I just wish I could stay home.”
“As miserable as you are with how you’re treated here,” Gwen said, startling him that they’d realized why he was so unhappy, “I’d have thought that getting away for months would be a relief. Sometimes you have to leave home to find happiness, Cadfael. Just give the trip a chance, okay?”
Cadfael nodded and hugged her, leaning into her for support as he and Anwyn always had. Gwen was oldest, most likely to take over as the family’s official leader after their mother Laoise passed on to the Tripartate Goddesses’ paradise. As such, she’d always been very serious about taking care of her siblings. She pressed a kiss against Cadfael’s forehead and then gestured for him to board the ship.
“Introduce me to Ula?” Cadfael asked in a panicky little whisper.
“Of course,” Gwen laughed while patting his back. “I’ll be on board until the ship sails. Everything will be fine, Caddie. Don’t worry.”
“Come on, Caddie!” Anwyn called from the main deck. She waved so cheerfully that Cadfael felt better despite the sure knowledge of how sick he was going to be over the next couple of months. “Let’s go see the world!”