Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Fifteen: Chinwendu Rituals
Having been in the middle of entirely too many arguments that grew into hurricanes when they should have been minor squalls with his family, Cadfael sighed as he stood and went to the door. Hopefully Jinhai’s influence over the family was strong enough that this trick would work. If not, Cadfael was going to seriously think about breaking into tears and wailing that he’d ruined everything even though he didn’t like taking that tack.
“Excuse me,” Cadfael murmured to one of the slaves hiding outside the door while Macario and Hamid’s voices rose still further. “Could you bring some tea? The really proper sort that vli’Jinhai’slom prefers when there’s trouble?”
“…You want tea?” the slave hissed after a moment of staring while comments of ‘thinking with your penis’ and ‘just because you never had one that worked’ echoed out into the hallway.
“Yes, please,” Cadfael said even though his cheeks were going flamingly red. At least that confirmed that Hamid’s objections were to the potential relationship and not to the treaty.
“Truly?” one of the other slaves asked.
“Mm-hmm,” Cadfael murmured. “Vli’Jinhai’slom does do the ‘no arguing is allowed while there is tea to be drunk’ thing, doesn’t he? Every time there was an argument in Chinwendu someone pulled out tea until people calmed down.”
“Y-yes, he does,” the first slave said, nodding confirmation. “Tea. Formal. Ah, do you wish to have vli’Jinhai’wuq join you?”
Cadfael shook his head no as he tried to ignore the way that Hamid’s entirely too loudly pitched ‘pasty-skinned foreign brat’ comment carried up the hallway for everyone to hear. “No need. But if you could hurry?”
The slave dashed away, running down the hallway as fast as he possibly could without running into other people and the walls. Cadfael sighed as he shut the door to the library and leaned against it. He truly didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to hear what Hamid thought of him, or at least the things he was willing to say when furious. Worse still, he didn’t want to risk ruining everything if they didn’t succumb to the force of habit.
But there really wasn’t much of a choice. Cadfael wasn’t big enough to separate them and he certainly didn’t have the rank to tell either of them that they were acting ridiculous. The slave came back very quickly indeed with a tray holding a large tea pot and three small tea cups. Jinhai followed him for a little bit, stopping partway down the hall when Cadfael waved that he didn’t need to intervene.
“Thank you very much,” Cadfael said as he took the tray from the slave. There were even some of Macario’s favorite little snack candies, the ones made of caramel and nuts pressed into dense cookies, on the tray.
“Are you certain that you do not wish my assistance, euhi-Cadfael-du?” Jinhai asked in Chinwenduese as he drifted closer.
“I hope that force of habit will compel them to stop and breathe, aehi-Jinhai-dui,” Cadfael answered while carefully pushing the door open with his elbow, “but thank you for the support. If this does not work to calm their anger then yes, assistance would be welcome.”
Jinhai smiled so faintly and briefly that the smile was gone as soon as it formed. He bowed his head as Cadfael took a deep breath and then entered the room. Cadfael deliberately walked slowly and as grandly as possible towards the table where they’d been working. One corner was clear of papers and books so Cadfael set the tray there before working to shift the books and papers out of the way.
He then set out three of the flat weave napkins that Jinhai apparently insisted on for formal tea. To Cadfael’s surprise, he saw both Hamid and Macario start at their appearance in his hands. Cadfael saw Hamid look towards the door where Jinhai stood, hands folded over his stomach and face impassive. Macario blew out a long breath, shaking his head hard enough that the beads on the ends of his braids clacked together.
Both Hamid and Macario came over to sit at the table with Cadfael. They didn’t speak to each other or to Cadfael as he carefully passed a cup to each in turn and then ceremoniously poured the tea. Both of their faces were red and thin-lipped with anger but they held the little tea cups without gripping too hard. Macario’s shoulders were already going down and Hamid’s heartbeat at his temple dropped as Cadfael poured tea for the two of them.
It was a lovely blend, fruity and complex with a greenish tint rather than the black that Cadfael was used to back home. This was a blend he hadn’t seen since his visit to Chinwendu; it couldn’t survive more than a week or two of sea travel. He poured for both of them before offering the small plates with little bars that looked like dense cookies coated with caramel and nuts, topped with brown sugar. Jinhai’s influence on the household was obvious because when Cadfael lifted his cup of tea both Hamid and Macario followed suit, sipping in time with him. From the corner of his eye, Cadfael saw Jinhai smile and nod approval before slipping away as the slaves silently crept back into the library.
They drank the first cup of tea in silence. Both of them looked angry still so Cadfael nibbled on the caramel-nut-cookie. His groan of appreciation was anything but proper but it made Macario laugh and Hamid snort in amusement. When Hamid looked as though he’d start the argument up again, Cadfael poured more tea for them all. By the time they’d finished their cookies and their second cup of tea both Hamid and Macario had calmed significantly though neither of them looked as though they were fully calm.
“You know quite a lot about Chinwendu customs,” Hamid commented grudgingly.
“My father loves their tea and taught us all of the tea rituals,” Cadfael explained. “It’s wonderful, at least in my opinion. I don’t think I could live in Chinwendu. They’re a bit too formal and ritualized for my personality but certain customs and rituals are… soothing.”
Hamid poked at the crumbs on his plate with one finger, licking them off before sighing. “I am an old man, Cadfael. Change is difficult sometimes.”
“Change is always difficult,” Cadfael snorted. “Trust me, I sympathize. I hate changes to my routine. I could eat the same thing for every meal, do the same tasks every day and be perfectly happy. Well, as long as my embroidery projects changed and I got to read new books then I’d be happy. The same books over and over gets boring rapidly.”
That made Hamid laugh. Macario frowned at Cadfael as if worried. Cadfael nudged his leg with his toe. It was the absolute truth. He was a creature of habit. Many of his problems with his family came from his love of routine versus their love of adventures and doing something new all the time. Hamid sighed and studied Cadfael. From his expression he wasn’t quite sure what to make of Cadfael.
“Seriously though,” Cadfael said, “if you’re worried that we’re doing anything inappropriate you can always chaperone us. That’s not a problem, at least not to me. I have no desire to cause trouble while I’m here, Hamid. A nice quiet stay, a deal between our families and hopefully gaining back the weight I lost is all that I want.”
“What have you discussed so far?” Hamid asked. He waved a hand at Macario’s bristle of annoyance.
“Where the spices come from,” Cadfael said as he pulled his notes close to read off them, “how they’re produced, the quantities that they can be produced in, variations that are possible and we were just starting to discuss the various formats that they can be delivered in. I know my sisters are going to ask if we’re going to get barrels or bales, bags or boxes of spices. And we do need to make sure that they’re shipped in a way that keeps them from being destroyed by dampness on board the ships. We haven’t even begun to discuss how many swords we can supply compared to how much of the various spices yet. I suspect that will take several weeks to get to. I need a full understanding of the spices themselves before I can determine what would be proper to offer on our side.”
Hamid blinked. “Much of that is beyond our control. You’d have to talk to the actual suppliers about that.”
Cadfael nodded his agreement with that. “I know. I was thinking that it might be nice to take a trip to the market so that I could see the spices and talk to the suppliers in person. Plus I should buy presents for the kids back home. They always love it when we come back with things from faraway places.”
To his surprise, Hamid looked as though he thought that was a wonderful idea. Macario looked less pleased about the idea. Cadfael had no idea why they had such differing opinions about the trip but he wasn’t going to ask and set the two of them off when he’d only just gotten them to calm down. He looked at Hamid, smiling at the way the man stared into the distance while stealing glances at Cadfael every few seconds.
“I was given to understand that brief relationships were acceptable,” Cadfael said. He didn’t see any reason not to attack the issue straight on. Getting it into open air was probably the best choice.
“Vloo’Cadfael’bram,” Macario hissed, his cheeks going brick red.
Cadfael waved a hand at him to shush for the moment. “I will only be here for a total of forty days. If anything happens, which at this point is not guaranteed, it is destined to be short.”
“I know,” Hamid sighed, looking away truly this time, so that Cadfael couldn’t see his face at all. “I still feel it is better not to indulge in such things.”
When Macario opened his mouth to protest, Cadfael held one hand up, circling one fingertip as he realized what might be going on. Hamid might oppose their getting involved not only because it went against tradition but also because he didn’t want Macario to be hurt when Cadfael left. He didn’t have the chance to comment on that though because as he opened his mouth to ask, the kids ran into the library, squealing with delight when they saw that Cadfael, Macario and Hamid were there.
This time Umar won the race for Cadfael’s lap but only by a couple of inches. His twin Taji was right there behind him, driving Umar into the edge of the table and prompting wails for the bump on Umar’s head. Cadfael cuddled him until the wails died down into quiet sniffles. It took quite a while, during which Nanjir, Ochi and Umar settled in other laps.
“Better?” Cadfael asked once Umar had calmed.
“Hurt,” Umar complained with sniffles that were a little exaggerated now. He rubbed the bump gingerly.
“I’m sure it did,” Cadfael said with nowhere near the level of sympathy that Umar was obviously going for. “That’s why you don’t race for people’s laps.”
All four of the kids looked at him as if he was crazy on that point. Macario laughed into his hand while Hamid grinned. Cadfael could see that he wasn’t going to win the argument. Frankly, he didn’t want to. They were adorable and Cadfael enjoyed spending time with them no matter what happened with the treaty or with Macario. He pulled Umar a little closer for a hug that made him sigh happily before looking at Nanjir and Ochi.
“Why were you guys here?” Cadfael asked.
“Oh!” Ochi gasped, waving his arms wildly until Hamid caught them and made him stop. “Lunch! It’s lunch time and we wanted to know if you and Macario are coming because it’s more fun when you’re there.”
“You don’t get mad when we spill things,” Nanjir agreed.
“It was just that once,” Taji wailed as if he’d been teased endlessly about it.
Cadfael laughed and stood, Umar still held in his arms. Macario chuckled and scooped up Taji for a hug. Hamid followed them, holding Nanjir and Ochi’s hands. It was a better lunch that Cadfael had expected. For whatever reason, Hamid’s attitude towards Cadfael seemed to have eased quite a bit. It might have been the reassurance that Cadfael liked routine as much as Hamid did but he suspected that it was the children’s presence that had moderated his attitude. Then again, every so often he looked at Macario and Cadfael with a vaguely nasty smile so maybe it was the thought of the two of them going out together in public that had softened Hamid’s resistance. There was apparently something there that Cadfael wasn’t aware of.
During the meal Macario discussed the kids’ lessons and plans for the afternoon. It wasn’t until the very end that Macario casually asked Hamid if there was anything he needed from the market in the next few days. As soon as the word ‘market’ came out of his mouth all four of the kids exploded with requests. Azizi and Dankov tried to get the boys to sit down but weren’t successful at all.
“Candy!” Nanjir yelled as he bounced in his seat.
“No, no, muji fruit!” Ochi tried to yell over his twin.
“New flyer, Uncle Macario!” Umar yelled while tugging on Macario’s sleeve since he was sitting next to Macario.
Taji tried to climb over Cadfael’s lap. “No! Get spice sticks, Uncle Macario! Spice sticks!”
“Enough!” Macario bellowed over the boys. He glared at them one by one until they quieted and sat down properly. “It’s a business trip. Cadfael and I are going to do research, not to do fun things. We will not be buying you treats, especially not if you behave in this fashion.”
“It was almost Dana of them,” Cadfael said with a grave nod that made all the adults hide smirks and snickers.
“Awww,” all four boys said in unison.
Taji clung to Cadfael’s sleeve while giving him a heartbroken expression as though he’d just been destroyed. Umar whined. Nanjir and Ochi both pouted at Macario as if he’d just unfairly punished them for someone else’s mistake. Their reactions made Macario sigh and rub his forehead. It was all Cadfael could do not to laugh out loud. It was so much like home that not laughing was a true challenge.
The rest of their lunch was much quieter. As soon as the boys were done eating Azizi and Dankov herded them away from the table to go wash their hands before their next round of lessons. Cadfael waited until they were gone before he started laughing. Macario glared at him. Hamid raised an eyebrow. He waved a hand at them until the laughter subsided enough that he could talk again.
“Oh dear,” Cadfael snickered, “that was too much like home. All that was missing was girls asking for new play swords and knives and my Uncle Daire asking for yet another new set of slippers.”
“…He needs lots of slippers?” Macario asked after a few moments spent blinking at Cadfael in surprise.
“Very flat arches and twisted toes,” Cadfael explained. “He always has trouble with his feet so he wears soft silk slippers as much as possible. We can get the boys something, you know. Shopping for them would give me ideas of what to buy for the kids back home.”
“Granted,” Macario chuckled as he stood and gestured for one of the servants to clear the table. “But I’d rather that it was a surprise than that they think that they can order me around. When did you want to go?”
“Sooner is better than later,” Cadfael said. “Tomorrow? At least in the next few days. The sooner I have the information from the spice suppliers the sooner we can begin to properly work on the treaty. I assume you have actual work to do this afternoon.”
Macario nodded, glancing at Hamid. The glance was more of a glare that was met by a matching glare from Hamid. After a moment they both looked away, Hamid towards the garden outside and Macario at Cadfael. There didn’t seem to be much that Cadfael could do to smooth things over between them so he didn’t comment on the tension that had once more bloomed between them. Or maybe it had always been there and Cadfael’s arrival had brought it to the forefront. Either way, it wasn’t his problem to solve.
“I’ll contact Ynes and tell her we want to go out,” Macario said. “I have no doubt that Ynes and your sister Anwyn will want to join us.”
“Annie miss a chance to roam through a market?” Cadfael said with a little snort of amusement. “Not likely. Let me know when and what’s appropriate to wear and I’ll be ready.”
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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