Ah man, I’m sorry guys! I completely forgot to post Novel Monday yesterday. *headdesk repeatedly* Here it is, a day late.
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Ten: Unexpected Interest
The servants and slaves in the hallway all looked alarmed when they saw Cadfael. All of them wiped the expression away a moment later as if they didn’t dare let Cadfael know how worried they were. That only emphasized how badly Aravel must have behaved. Cadfael pushed them out of his mind because as soon as the alarm disappeared the servants noticed that Macario was holding Cadfael’s hand. They immediately got covertly amused expressions, though once again they tried to hide it with somewhat less success.
Macario ignored them, leading Cadfael further into the house. To Cadfael’s mingled amusement and embarrassment, Macario kept his grip on Cadfael’s hand all the way. He could almost have convinced himself that it was because he was worried about Cadfael’s strength and stability. After all, Cadfael was wobbly and he’d all but admitted that he had been terribly sick on his way here. The thought couldn’t find safe harbor in his mind because every time one of the servants saw them holding hands they smiled much like Jinhai had.
“You prefer males?” Cadfael murmured as they passed through a door that led to a covered path with beautiful gardens on either side. There wasn’t anyone in sight so the question was probably safe to ask.
Macario jumped, abruptly dropping Cadfael’s hand as his cheeks darkened dramatically. “My apologies …”
“No, it’s okay,” Cadfael said in Aingealese in what was hopefully a reassuring tone of voice despite the way the words came out squeaky and strange. “That’s not forbidden back home or anything. It’s not considered a real relationship in most other families but men can be with men. Frankly quite a few women back home think that it’s incredibly sexy.”
He stared at Cadfael as if that didn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Cadfael shrugged. He’d always found that attitude incredible intrusive and insulting, especially since the women who had it seemed to view men as nothing more than objects that they could compete for and own. It was just another example of the ways in which women in Aingeal seemed to believe that they had the right to Cadfael’s attention, time and body without his permission or interest in them.
Pretty much no one in the Dana Clan talked that way, no matter what they might or might not think privately. Having a great-grandmother who was a pirate and smuggler meant that you tended to teach your kids to look at things very differently than the run of the mill families in Aingeal. Cadfael knew for a fact that his lessons on how to knife a woman when he was a small boy were completely unheard of in other families. He’d mentioned it once when he was attending a birthday party when he was six and the parents of the other boy had forbidden them from speaking ever again. After a moment Macario laughed ruefully.
“I must say that I don’t understand that,” Macario admitted in Aingealese.
“The women’s attitude?” Cadfael asked. When Macario nodded he shrugged again. “Neither do I. I only meant that it doesn’t offend or bother me if you do prefer men.”
“It’s not so much a matter of preference,” Macario said as they continued on their way, walking more slowly now. “First sons of a household never marry. They never father children or have sex with women. Only with men, preferably with slaves so that there are fewer issues with becoming inappropriately attached.”
This time it was Cadfael’s turn to stare at Macario in shock. “Jinhai said something like that but I didn’t realize that the prohibitions were quite that strong.”
His shudder of dismay made Macario laugh ruefully, no surprise. Cadfael couldn’t quite work out how that was an appropriate thing to do to any son. Granted, he would have been perfectly happy with that arrangement if he’d been a first born son in Ntombi but Cadfael knew very well that virtually any other male in his acquaintance would be desperately unhappy. It took Cadfael a moment to work his mind around the concept that Macario was forever unmarried and back to the apparent fact that he liked Cadfael that way.
It was very strange to have three people who liked him enough to want to have a relationship with him. The women who flirted with Cadfael back home had never seemed to see him. Ula did. She saw Cadfael, enjoyed talking to him and enjoyed spending time with him. Granted, there was no hope of their relationship being anything more than pure convenience but Cadfael had no problems with that.
Ynes seemed to think that he was the cutest thing she’d ever seen and now Macario responded to him as though he was interesting enough to risk the disapproval of his uncle. It pushed against Cadfael’s inherent belief that he simply wasn’t that attractive in ways that were distinctly uncomfortable.
“So,” Cadfael said while waving one hand aimlessly as they started walking towards his suite again if considerably more slowly, “you can’t get involved with anyone but slaves?”
“Well, no,” Macario said. His cheeks slowly went red. “The assumption is that I would never have a relationship with anyone but a slave but I am free to get involved with any male that I wish, should they be willing. It is simply that as the eldest son I rarely leave the house so I have little access to men other than the slaves joining our household. Meetings between eldest sons tend to be highly formal and focused on business rather than potential romance. There are very few opportunities for such socializing.”
Cadfael studied his comfortable borrowed slippers rather than meet Macario’s eyes. That might mean that Macario’s interest was more a matter of sudden opportunity rather than real attraction. He nodded slowly. It was a much more comfortable thought. Believing that he was actually attractive in Ntombi was well beyond the edges of Cadfael’s mental map of the world.
The building on the other side of the covered walkway held a room apparently designed for exercise. There were weights that looked very much like the ones Anwyn and Gwen used back home as well as a variety of benches and rods. He had no idea what they were used for nor did he ask. The few men there looked at the two of them first with curiosity and then with fond amusement that was firmly directed at Macario. Their looks made Macario frown before leading Cadfael onwards past a huge laundry full of male slaves, around a corner past a series of offices and work rooms where armor was being created and then to a library full of books that made Cadfael coo with delight.
“You have a library,” Cadfael whispered as he clutched Macario’s arm.
“I thought you wanted to pick out a book to read while you rested,” Macario laughed. “That’s why I brought you this way.”
“I can?” Cadfael asked, delighted. “By the Tripartate Goddesses, that’s wonderful! I’ve been reading the same two books for the last several months.”
“Feel free to borrow whichever books you wish then,” Macario said with a huge grin.
They spent about half an hour going through the books. Cadfael could have spent all day, several days. There weren’t quite as many books as back home but the entire Dana family had been collecting books since his grandmother was a little girl. He ended up borrowing two of them, a history of Ntombi written in a somewhat archaic dialect and a fanciful modern romance that Macario highly recommended. They made the return trip back to the personal quarters talking about what sorts of books Macario preferred (romances, adventure stories and religious texts) and what Cadfael preferred (virtually anything written in any language he could decipher).
“I never have had large amounts of time for reading,” Macario sighed as he escorted Cadfael into the suite that had been set aside for him. “My training to take over the household started when I was quite young. Since vlo’Hamid’blim has passed over many of his duties my free time has only decreased.”
“We start lessons when we’re six or seven years old,” Cadfael agreed. “Most children go to public schools but um, the Dana children tend to get into too many fights so we hire tutors to come in and teach our children the required subjects. Plus there are always other lessons that we need to learn for the family business. Besides, my aunts and sisters have had so many children that we have nearly a whole school’s worth of kids to teach all by ourselves.”
“Your women are that prolific?” Macario asked. “Given their sizes I would have expected that birthing was quite difficult for them.”
“Dana women are always strong,” Cadfael said with a shrug, as he couldn’t explain it. “They practically never have morning sickness, nearly always give birth to healthy babies and their birthings tend to be quite quick and easy. It’s been that way for as long as we’ve been a clan, all the way back to Great-Grandmother Anwyn. The Tripartate Goddesses blessed us that way.”
Somehow they had circled back around to the area close to where Cadfael had first come into the men’s quarters. Eventually Cadfael knew that he would have to memorize the layout, but for now he simply noted in his head that the door to his suite was up the hall from the big double doors. That would make it considerably easier for him to talk to Anwyn.
He looked around the suite Macario had assigned to him, still clutching the borrowed books to his chest. The suite was quite beautiful. There was a main floor room that Macario had explained was for entertaining women who came to visit. Given the way he blushed ‘entertaining’ must be a euphemism for sex. The wide cushion covered bench downstairs would work beautifully for more sexual forms of entertaining but Cadfael didn’t expect that he’d need to do that. Ula had duties on the ship and wouldn’t be coming up to visit as far as he knew. It wasn’t likely that he’d need to ‘entertain’ any women from Ntombi, either. Hopefully he’d be right about that.
Upstairs, he had a study, a sitting room and a bedroom with an attached private toilet. All of the rooms had huge windows covered in carved grills that allowed the breezes that swept in from the ocean to cool the rooms. His view looked out over the bay, showing him all the ships in port. Even at this distance he could see the blue Dana sails in the middle of all the Ntombi white sails. He couldn’t see the crew from this far away but it was still a relief to see their ship.
“This is amazing, Macario,” Cadfael said as he sat on one of the widow seats. The cushions were stunningly comfortable, prompting Cadfael to wonder for a moment what they were stuffed with. That would be a good trade item if it was something that they could transport safely. “Thank you so much.”
“Not at all,” Macario replied. He waved off the thanks as he sat opposite to Cadfael in the window seat. “We do want you to be comfortable while you’re here, no matter how difficult your brother was.”
Once again, Macario’s expression went completely disapproving at the mention of Aravel. Cadfael laughed quietly while shaking his head. He set the books on the cushion next to him, looking out the grill towards the sea before turning to face Macario once more.
“When I get home I’m going to pin Aravel down and demand that he tell me everything he did,” Cadfael said in Aingealese. “This is so out of character for him. You don’t actually have to entertain me, Macario. If you have work to do I’ll be fine. Just have someone let me know when it’s time for dinner and I’ll come down. I’m not the best company at the moment.”
Macario shrugged, smoothing his pants over his thighs nervously before looking out the window at the port and all the ships there. He glanced sideways at Cadfael, cheeks going dark again. “I don’t mind spending time with you, Cadfael. It’s actually nice to have someone that I don’t need to worry about for a change.”
Cadfael nodded, abruptly intensely aware that they were alone in his private rooms and that Macario was apparently seriously interested in him. He bit his lip, looking at the books for a long moment. The impulse to ask outright if Macario liked him waged war with his family’s many lectures on how a proper boy wasn’t so bold as to ask such thing, especially in the beginning of a new negotiation. Later in a negotiation was fine; just not right away on the first day.
After a moment of nervous dithering that made his stomach queasy again, Cadfael took a deep breath and gave himself permission to blurt the question out. Better to get it into the open than let his nerves get the better of him, even if it wasn’t proper negotiating behavior.
“Are you interested in me?” Cadfael asked, automatically falling back into Aingealese and then cursing at himself before repeating the question in stiff, proper Ntombian because the word for sexual interest absolutely could never be confused with ‘curious about your personality’, ‘want to learn more about you and your family’, ‘find you slightly odd and wish to poke the oddity’ or any of the dozen other potential meanings for ‘interested’ in Aingealese. “I mean, I wasn’t sure if you found me interesting as a potential sexual partner, Macario. I cannot tell for sure.”
“I do find you quite sexually attractive,” Macario said. He grinned, amused at the way that Cadfael blushed brilliantly. “To be honest, I probably shouldn’t act on those feelings. You are a guest and there are negotiations to be considered. But yes, I find you quite appealing, both in appearance and personality.”
He nodded; simultaneously relived that he’d read Macario right and nervous because he could so easily see himself developing a crush on Macario. “That’s, well, it’s all right. I just had the feeling that you were interested and I wasn’t sure. Rather than fret over it, I decided to ask. And I understand not wanting to act. I’ll only be here for around forty days or so. That’s not very long at all.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, Cadfael still nodding and Macario smiling a hopelessly intrigued smile at him. Neither of them found any words to say. There didn’t seem to be much to say on Cadfael’s side. He wasn’t used to people finding him attractive, especially so quickly after they met or more accurately he wasn’t used to people that he found appealing finding him attractive. And there were so many things that he had to think about before he’d even consider a fling with Macario. It wasn’t much of a surprise when Macario stood up and gestured at the books in Cadfael’s lap.
“I should leave you to your reading,” Macario said.
“I… haven’t had much experience with romance,” Cadfael admitted as his ears had turned red and he could feel the blush all the way down his chest. “There’s only been a little flirting and then Ula on the way here.”
“Ula?” Macario asked, his expression going concerned.
“She’s the captain of the Wave Dancer,” Cadfael explained. “The crew thought at first that they could have, ah, access to me. Ula agreed to… well, claim me as hers during the voyage so that the crew would not attempt anything inappropriate with me.”
“I see,” Macario said with a frown that said that he didn’t see at all. “There was no intimacy then?”
“No,” Cadfael admitted much more slowly. “There was. I.”
He stopped, wondering how to explain the slow growth of his friendship and then sexual relationship with Ula. Cadfael didn’t regret it at all. Ula had been very kind and very respectful of his desires and fears but it seemed as though Ntombian society valued chastity in males. That wasn’t something that he could ask yet but from the way the people around him had reacted to Aravel versus Cadfael it seemed a reasonable inference to make.
“I did have sex with her,” Cadfael whispered. “She was kind and gentle and respectful and well, I was lonely. She’s the only person I’ve ever had sex with. It was nice. I enjoyed it. And… she’s carrying my child.”
Macario’s head snapped back, a shocked expression on his face that made Cadfael squirm.
“It’s not a problem in Aingealese society,” Cadfael said defensively. “Our families are closely linked and a woman’s child is always her child. It was a big surprise given her age. Ula didn’t expect that she could get pregnant again. She’s as old as my mother.”
“I see,” Macario said, this time with a frown that made him think that maybe he did and didn’t like what he’d heard. “I should return to my duties. I’ll leave you to your reading. Call one of the servants if you need anything.”
Macario hurried down the stairs so quickly that Cadfael had to assume that the news of Ula’s pregnancy was going to make the rounds of both sides of the house very quickly indeed. What it would do to Macario’s attraction to Cadfael he didn’t know though he hoped that it wouldn’t completely destroy the potential for something with Macario. Cadfael had gotten quite fond of having someone to hold and touch, someone to share his thoughts with. And the sex was nice too.
That made Cadfael blush for a while out of sheer embarrassment. It didn’t really matter. He had to remind himself that no, this wasn’t his normal behavior. Things would change when he wasn’t nauseous, exhausted and underweight from all the throwing up. There was nothing he could do about that, so Cadfael did his best to dismiss it from his mind. Reading his two borrowed books helped. Falling asleep helped a great deal more though that led to him being woken up a couple of hours later by four giggling little boys who looked like they’d gotten naps too. They were entirely too energetic for Cadfael’s barely conscious state.
Dinner was somewhat less energetic than lunch had been, because Azizi and Dankov made sure that their sons weren’t constantly pestering Cadfael. Interestingly, the discussion among the adults was about budgets for new armor for the army and how the construction was going on a new warship that apparently Anwyn had helped design the last time she visited Ntombi. That they would talk about such things with him present was more than likely a positive sign.
Cadfael listened without commenting much, quite content to follow Jinhai’s lead and leave the political and money matters to those who knew what they were talking about. He did note the information away in the back of his head to discuss with Anwyn when he got a chance, but that was more to give her more information to work with than from any intention to act on it himself. The evening was filled with quiet embroidery in his upstairs sitting room. Cadfael fell asleep over it twice while everyone else went about their normal routines. The third time he caught himself nodding off in the quiet of his suite, Cadfael went to bed with the intention of not stirring until someone came to wake him up.
NOTE: You can find explanations of the various prefixes and suffixes, as well as a sorta-dictionary, sorta-story on Ntombi over here.
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Or you can just wait and I’ll post the rest week by week. Sorry for the delay in posting!