Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Twenty: Dawning Realization
The trip back through the market to their carriage was much quicker than the journey out had been. Ynes set a quick pace until Cadfael huffed and stopped dead in his tracks in one spot where there was an especially nice breeze. Macario stopped by his side, concern showing in his eyes but nowhere else due to the veil. It took Anwyn whistling for Ynes to realize that Cadfael wasn’t going any further.
“What’s wrong?” Ynes asked, coming straight to him and taking his hand in exactly the wrong way for it to be friendly concern instead of romantic interest.
“I’m hot, I’m tired, my feet hurt and I’m shaking,” Cadfael announced in Ntombian because really, what else could he do with everyone watching them this way? “That was terrifying, ish’Ynes’bram.”
He dared to use the suffix for someone you strongly approved of instead of the one that only meant that you thought they were worth cultivating, despite how improper that was. They’d barely met and already Ynes was acting like he was her fiancé. Cadfael really should downgrade her suffix to ‘wum’ for neutral feelings or even ‘vsam’ for mild disapproval after that display but he couldn’t, not with her looking at him with such concern.
“It wouldn’t hurt to stop and eat something, General,” one of the guards offered as Ynes hesitated.
“I am quite tired as well,” Macario offered. “This was more rigorous than I expected when we left this morning.”
“Well, all right,” Ynes said. “Scout out a good vendor with a private room in back, girls.”
“My sister’s husband’s family has a place just around the corner,” the guard who’d already spoken said. “Various sorts of pan-fried meat and there’s a place with cool juices next door.”
Ynes nodded approval. Cadfael saw Anwyn trying to catch his eye but he ignored her in favor of staying right by Ynes and letting his sore feet affect his gait. The vendor turned out to be a small restaurant with padded benches in front and an open kitchen where women cooked delicious smelling food in huge bowls set over specially designed stoves made of heavy bricks.
The back room was quite comfortable, if divided in half by a curtain so that women could sit on one side and men on the other. That wasn’t exactly what Cadfael wanted, but once he was sitting on one of the divinely comfortable cushions with a glass of cool yellow juice in his hands it was hard to care. Macario was by his side. Ynes was busy snapping orders for food, cool towels for Cadfael’s overheated head and her guards to make sure that the area was secure.
“Are you all right?” Macario asked quietly enough that they wouldn’t be overheard in the furor, especially since Anwyn was watching their food being cooked while asking questions about what it was and where it came from.
“She’s serious about me,” Cadfael murmured to Macario. “I don’t… I don’t understand why or how, Macario. She got in a huge fight for me and there’s just no reason for it. We only just met.”
Macario chuckled and wobbled one hand in a gesture that Cadfael knew he’d gotten from Jinhai because it was pure Chinwenduese for ‘not exactly’. “Your sister has told endless stories about you, vloo’Cadfael’bram. I think that she missed you quite badly while she was away and telling stories of your personality and tastes was her way of easing her homesickness. Honestly, ash’Ynes’bram has always been fascinated by other cultures and languages. When we were still very small she would beg for tales of Chinwendu and Yewande from our parents and grand-parents.”
Cadfael nodded thoughtfully, watching Ynes. She deliberately found things to do other than come and sit in the other half of the back room. He could tell that she was trying very hard not to look at him. Every few seconds Ynes would turn as if to check on them and then snap her head around so that she was looking in another direction, giving another order. When Anwyn looked at them, Cadfael waved at her to come over.
“What’s up, Caddie?” Anwyn asked in Aingealese.
“I want to talk to Ynes,” Cadfael explained and then blushed when Macario choked. “This isn’t just flirting, Annie. She’s taking it very seriously.”
“Ah,” Anwyn said, her cheeks going red. “That. Um. Yes. Well.”
Cadfael glared at her for long enough that Anwyn straightened up and rubbed one hand through her short-cropped curls. “You knew!”
“Suspected,” Anwyn said. “Some of the women were getting pretty rude about it at breakfast, not that I told Ynes. I just thumped them for it.”
That made sense of Anwyn’s conversation with Ynes before they left this morning but it didn’t make things any easier for him. He groaned and leaned back against the cushions to glare at his juice. It would have been one thing if they were back in Aingeal. A serious suitor for Cadfael would have been welcome, especially someone as highly ranked as Ynes. More political ties at high levels would do lovely things to offset Queen Siobhan’s hatred for Anwyn.
But this was Ntombi and Cadfael didn’t know enough about the political situation to know if it was viable. Certainly, Macario seemed delighted by the thought of Ynes and Cadfael flirting. Everyone thought he was adorable and sweet and appropriately demure. Even Hamid’s disapproval seemed to be aimed at Macario rather than at Cadfael himself.
“How did I end up with two suitors, both of whom are probably maybe possibly inappropriate except that they’re not inappropriate, Annie?” Cadfael complained.
She laughed, patting his shoulder. “Family luck finally coming out for you?”
“This is not luck,” Cadfael declared while Anwyn and then Macario started laughing. “This is insanity. I have no idea how to handle this. I’ve never had one serious romance, much less two at once.”
“Personally, I think we ought to throw all three of you in bed together and lock the door,” Anwyn said, apparently just to watch Cadfael blush. She snickered at Macario’s squeak of dismay. “Completely improper but at least people would stop speculating after that.”
Ynes came back finally with two trays covered with food. One she gave to Macario and the other she took to the other side of the curtain. Her women didn’t join them, though, most of the bench space out front was filled by them. Cadfael gave Anwyn a hard look, pointing at the curtain. Anwyn grinned and threw a mock salute at him before going to the other side of the curtain and grunting as she apparently wrestled Ynes into sitting next to Cadfael.
“I can lower the front curtain so we’re not so visible,” Macario offered. “It would only cover our side of the room but…”
“Please,” Cadfael said, grateful that they could do that much at least.
Once rolled down the curtain hid their bodies to the waist but not their feet. That let Macario pull his veil up over his head so that he could eat without problems. It was also enough to help Cadfael relax a bit despite how nervous he was about talking to Ynes. He took the plate of food that Macario gave him. It was spicy, rich and full of shredded vegetables mixed with perfectly cooked strips of some sort of meat. All of them had been coated in a thick sweet sauce that had caramelized in the cooking process, turning it into a delicious meal that Cadfael had to learn how to make. It was too good not to figure it out. He ate about half his plate before stopping to drink some of his juice.
“Ynes?” Cadfael said in Aingealese. She liked the language and it did give them some level of privacy in a very non-private situation.
“Uh, we’re not supposed to talk to each other,” Ynes said after a long delay and a grunt that had to be Anwyn punching her in the arm. Her tone was so sheepish that Cadfael grinned and Macario chuckled.
“I don’t care,” Cadfael said. “I ah, do have a question and it’s actually easier to ask it this way.”
“Oh, all right,” Ynes said, far more seriously this time. “What is it?”
Cadfael took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He wasn’t entirely certain how Anwyn would react to what he was going to say. She’d thumped women for being rude about Ynes’ attention towards him but that didn’t mean that she supported a real relationship between them, always presuming that it could be worked out. Also there was the issue of his flirting with Macario and the hopes he’d had of something more while they were there.
“Do you intend to offer for my hand in marriage?” Cadfael asked.
Macario choked on his bite of food, nearly dropping the plate into his lap. On the other side of the curtain Ynes coughed and Anwyn spluttered. It took a moment for all three of them to get control of themselves, during which Cadfael desperately wished that he’d never asked the question. It was unbelievably forward of him, if necessary for figuring out how to handle things for the rest of their stay.
“Caddie,” Anwyn groaned.
“It’s important to know, Annie,” Cadfael grumbled right back at her.
“I… don’t think I can,” Ynes said so quietly that he barely heard her over Anwyn’s obnoxious sigh.
Cadfael frowned that curtain before looking at Macario who shook his head ‘no’ and shrugged that he didn’t know. “Why not?”
“The First House still remembers your great-grandmother, Cadfael,” Ynes said. “I doubt that they’d approve my request for permission. As the General of the Armies I would need Queen Jaleesa’s permission. She’s not terribly happy about the negotiations for the trade deal. It’s only the quality of the weapons that have made her support it so far.”
Cadfael nodded thoughtfully about that, drinking a bit more of his juice. That actually made a great deal of sense. The Dana family’s first visit to Tilaria had ended with them being chased out of the port because Great-Grandmother Anwyn had stolen some jewels and ceremonial weapons from the queen at the time. It had been before the unification of the continent by Ynes’ mother and aunts so their family had been able to keep trading with the Ntombians closer to Aingeal, though they’d always had to be very careful not to bring up Great-Grandmother Anwyn’s theft.
It had taken generations for them to get this far. Doing something too forward or inappropriate would certainly make things harder all around. Ynes and her sisters were taking a risk by agreeing to negotiate the treaty with Anwyn and Cadfael. Now that he thought about it, Aravel’s breezy confidence and casual personality would seem entirely too much like the stories he’d heard of Great-Grandmother Anwyn charming people until she could rob them blind.
“Well,” Cadfael sighed. “That does clarify things. I don’t want to cause problems, Ynes. You’re very nice and I enjoy talking to you but if people object to your interest I can be a bit less open towards your attentions. That might help lessen the tensions, I think.”
“You are so proper,” Macario murmured while chuckling. Ynes was chuckling too while Anwyn made little gagging noises as she always did when Cadfael was at his most particular. “The men’s side of both the First and Second Houses has no problems at all with this treaty. It’s only Queen Jaleesa and her daughters that have reservations. A better course of action would be to interact with them at some point so that they can see what sort of person you are. It would make the courtship go more smoothly, as well. I don’t think that they could disapprove once they met you.”
Cadfael looked at him, confused that Macario would push a marriage between him and Ynes when he was interested as well. It didn’t make sense at all, but there was no way that he’d ask about that when there were women around. That was a private matter between him and Macario and it would stay a private matter if Cadfael had anything to say about it.
“Would your mother accept an offer for his hand from someone so much older, Annie?” Ynes asked. She sounded honestly curious.
“Maybe,” Anwyn said. Her voice was muffled as if she was talking around a bite of food. “Depends on whether or not Cadfael really wanted the marriage or not. There have been offers before for our older cousins and uncles that were turned down. Mother and our aunts prefer marriages with love over political arrangements. I don’t think the age difference would matter that much if the two of you wanted it. Caddie would have to be very forceful about wanting it though. This is halfway around the world and that’s a long ways to go for a marriage negotiation, you know.”
“I would like to,” Ynes said in a shy sounding tone that was so unlike her that Cadfael wanted to peek around the curtain so that he could see her face. “I don’t have the freedom to make the offer, though.”
That put the helm squarely, terrifyingly, back in Cadfael’s hands. He gulped, fidgeting with his plate of food and poking the bits of meat and vegetable as if they could give him an answer for what to do next. The silence stretched for a couple of incredibly long seconds until Macario started chuckling. He patted Cadfael’s shoulder comfortingly.
“What?” Ynes asked.
“I think we just locked vloo’Cadfael’bram’s tongue out,” Macario said in highly amused Ntombian.
Cadfael tried to say something, anything, but all that came out was a strangled moan.
“Yup, tongue tied,” Anwyn laughed. “Give him some time, Ynes. He’ll work out what he wants and let you know, probably in the most direct way possible at the very last instant possible.”
“Annie, shut up,” Cadfael groaned.
The laughter came from all three of them. To Cadfael’s surprise the guards outside started laughing too. He couldn’t tell if they’d overheard what they’d said in the back room or if their amusement was for something else entirely. It didn’t really matter to Cadfael’s blush. Instead of focusing on his embarrassment or the dilemma of whether or not he wanted to take Ynes’ courtship seriously, Cadfael focused on eating his food.
Too soon he was done, as was Macario. As soon as they put their plates on the tray, Ynes and Anwyn followed suit. They were up and out of the back room in moments after that, heading back towards the front gate to the market and their carriage. Fortunately for Cadfael’s feet, they went at a much more reasonable pace this time.
“I wonder how excited the boys are for our return,” Cadfael commented when he spotted the huge carved gate to the market.
“I’m sure they’re driving everyone out of the harem from sheer excitement,” Macario chuckled. “They always enjoy getting gifts. Do let me know if they come too close to knocking you down, vloo’Cadfael’bram.”
Cadfael grinned up at him. “If they do, you’ll definitely hear about it. They’d probably hear the squawk all the way back in Aingeal.”
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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