Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Twenty-Three: Apology
The next three days were odd. That was the only word that Cadfael could come up with for them. Macario was so busy with his duties that he had no time for Cadfael outside of their official negotiations and meals. Jinhai had looked at him with an intensely suspicious expression after his discussion with Ynes behind closed doors. Apparently the servants had immediately reported the closed door to Macario, Jinhai and Hamid almost immediately.
Hamid, from what Macario had said in one of their brief non-treaty-related discussions, had slammed the door in the servant’s face. Macario had been quite visibly approving of Cadfael spending as much time as he wished with Ynes. Jinhai, on the other hand, had taken it very poorly.
Cadfael was fairly certain that was because he disapproved of unmarried people having sexual relationships, especially if there was a possibility of children occurring. It took two full days for Jinhai to stop giving Cadfael those pinched-lip looks of disapproval.
The boys didn’t appear to care one way or the other about any of that. They were frightened because Hamid had been unbearably grumpy since his so noisy ‘discussion’ with his nieces. When they came to wake him up that morning, Nanjir had confided in Cadfael that they didn’t understand why Hamid couldn’t give orders or tell people what to do anymore. Umar had nodded solemnly while plucking at Cadfael’s sleeve.
“Vla’Hamid’slom gets to do other things now,” Cadfael said.
“But he doesn’t want to,” Ochi protested, still tugging on his sleeve.
Cadfael tugged his sleeve free, offering a one-armed hug to Ochi. He smiled as Ochi cuddled up against Cadfael’s side. Taji and Umar stared up at him from their spot on the bed by his feet. All four of the boys looked at him as though he could explain it all.
“You know how vloo’Nanjir’slom is learning different things from you, vloo’Ochi’slom?” Cadfael asked. He smiled when both Nanjir and Ochi nodded. “Well, vli’Macario’bram did the same thing. From the time he was as little as you, he studied all sorts of things so that one day he could do a good job leading the harem. And when vli’Hamid’slom was a little boy, he did the same thing, too.”
“Oh,” Ochi breathed. “So someday vla’Macario’blim will be angry because vlo’Nanjir’bram gets to tell everyone what to do and he doesn’t?”
That made Cadfael laugh. “No, I don’t think so. You see, I think that vli’Hamid’bram only learned the things that he needed to know to lead. He didn’t learn other stuff, fun things to do. And he spent years and years and years doing nothing but leading. Vli’Macario’bram didn’t do that.”
“He knows fun games,” Taji said with a wise nod that was adorable on a little boy like him.
“And reads lots of fun books,” Umar agreed.
“Exactly,” Cadfael said. “I think vli’Hamid’bram is upset because he isn’t sure what to do with himself now that he’s not leading. Give him a little time, boys. Eventually he’ll get over his anger and find something that makes him happy to do just because it’s fun.”
That made the boys happy enough that they stopped clinging to Cadfael and began playing instead. Whether it was accurate was an entirely different thing. Cadfael thought that he was right but it could be something much deeper than that, including Hamid thinking that Macario simply wasn’t ready to lead or that he would do a terrible job of it. Either way, when Azizi arrived an hour or so later to take the boys off to breakfast Cadfael decided that it was time to do something. He truly did believe that his presence in the harem had made things go differently than they might have otherwise. As far as Cadfael was concerned he owed Hamid an apology.
Given that Macario was either too busy to work with Cadfael, or possibly actively avoiding him because of the potential for a relationship with Ynes, Cadfael decided that he had to talk to Hamid sometime today. Everyone had scattered after breakfast for their duties, leaving Cadfael to his own devices. Hamid and Macario had been the first to leave once again, Macario to deal with his new duties and Hamid off somewhere to sulk, apparently.
It didn’t surprise Cadfael much at all that Hamid sulked by working at things that he really shouldn’t be doing. It had taken nearly two hours to find Hamid and even that had taken asking the servants and slaves repeatedly. The little room Cadfael ended up in was on the far side of the harem from his normal haunts around the library and offices.
“There you are,” Cadfael said once he tracked Hamid down to the laundry run by slaves on the far side of the men’s quarters.
“vluu’Cadfael’slom,” Hamid grunted as he helped one of the slaves wring out a sheet.
“I need to talk to you,” Cadfael announced when Hamid passed that sheet over and reached for another one. “Now, preferably.”
“I suppose it’s terribly important,” Hamid grumbled. He glared at Cadfael and then waved another slave to take his place. “Everything seems to be for you.”
Cadfael shrugged, annoyed by the attitude but not at all surprised by it. “I tend to think apologies are important, yes.”
That startled Hamid enough that he stared at Cadfael. The slaves stared, too, but only for a couple of moments. They got back to work with wringing the sheets out as soon as Hamid shook his head and grumbled something possibly profane under his breath. Hamid dried his hands and arms off on a small towel before gesturing for Cadfael to follow him out of the laundry. They ended up outside in a shady nook of the garden. Cadfael didn’t know what the vines covering their arbor were, but he cautiously checked for stingers like the Zina blossom. Hamid chuckled.
“These don’t bite,” Hamid said. “Terribly toxic to eat but they won’t sting us, Cadfael. So what’s this apology?”
Cadfael sat down, smoothing his pants over his legs. It was still strange to wear pants rather than kilts but Cadfael was getting more comfortable in them as time went on. When he looked up at Hamid there was amusement, impatience and the same grumpiness that had been there for days. Cadfael took a deep breath and then bowed from the waist in a Chinwenduese gesture of apology.
“I’m very sorry. I’m the reason Ynes and her sisters yelled at you,” Cadfael told Hamid. “I told Ynes while we were shopping that you seemed to oppose us getting closer and that it was interfering in the negotiations, which you have to admit that it was. Unfortunately, she took that to be an opportunity to shove Macario and I together in hopes that we’d become lovers, despite the fact that she’s interested in me, too. I think that, combined with the orders you changed while we were gone, was the limit.”
Hamid stared at Cadfael for a long moment before laughing as he rubbed his face. “I suppose that makes sense of the whole situation. They implied that I should stop interfering with vla’Macario’slom’s private life, and that it wouldn’t affect how he administers the household. Foolishness, in my opinion. It can’t help but affect the household when the eldest son’s mind is divided. If he wanted a romance he should have passed the duties back over to me, officially.”
“I thought you wanted to retire?” Cadfael asked, though he was well aware that Hamid hadn’t actually retired. He’d only passed over certain of his duties while maintaining an iron grip on others.
“More or less,” Hamid said with a tired shrug. “They made it clear there would be no sharing of duties anymore.”
Cadfael nodded, staring out at the gardens. They were nearly as big as the house itself, well-guarded by a wall, the huge thorny shrubs and women with enough weapons to start a small war. From the inside it wasn’t obvious, though. To Cadfael their corner looked like nothing more than a quiet part of any rich person’s garden back home. He’d always loved getting to visit homes with gardens given that the Dana had no growing things at all. A warehouse converted into living quarters simply didn’t have space or light to grow plants.
“What will you do instead?” Cadfael asked. He winced at Hamid’s glare. “I’m curious. I can’t imagine it, going from busy and working all the time to doing nothing. None of my uncles ever retire. They work until they’re not strong enough and then, honestly, they quickly age and die. The Dana seem to need to be busy all the time.”
“I truly do not know what I will do,” Hamid admitted in a much sadder tone of voice. “My work has defined me since I was a small boy. For it to be gone is…”
He gestured as if someone had just ripped his heart out. Cadfael sighed as he nodded that he understood. One of the slaves poked his head out of the door, eyes going wide when he saw the two of them sitting in the arbor. As soon as he noticed Cadfael looking at him, the slave ducked back into the building. Hamid shook his head but he didn’t stand up.
“Do you want suggestions?” Cadfael asked.
“Such as?” Hamid countered, with his chin jutted out pugnaciously.
“Nanjir likes your stories of your childhood and the history of Ntombi,” Cadfael said thoughtfully. “Why don’t you write them down? One of my great uncles has done that. The books he wrote are fascinating to read.”
Hamid jerked his head up in surprise at the suggestion, staring at Cadfael for a long moment before shaking his head that no, it would never work. Cadfael stood up and put his hands on his hips. He obviously wasn’t half as fierce as he wanted to be because Hamid laughed under his breath while trying to hide it behind an upraised hand. After a moment he stood too, still chuckling as if he thought Cadfael was adorable. When Cadfael headed back into the building Hamid tried to return to work only to have Cadfael snag his sleeve so that he couldn’t escape.
“No,” Cadfael declared in the most familiar forms, “you have to see for yourself.”
“You have one with you?” Hamid asked. He pulled his sleeve free but followed Cadfael down the hallway.
“Mm-hmm,” Cadfael murmured. “It’s in Aingealese, of course. Can you read our language?”
Hamid wobbled his hand in front of his face, fingers up instead of horizontal as the gesture would work back home. “Somewhat. I would not claim to be fluent, but I can read Aingealese if I take it slowly.”
They passed Macario carrying a stack of trays full of what Cadfael thought were vegetables for the kitchen. Several servants were with him, each carrying their own stacks. Macario stared but didn’t comment on the two of them walking together, but Cadfael could tell that it was a hard won battle for him to control his tongue. They got several more rounds of people staring which amused Hamid and progressively annoyed Cadfael so that by the time they reached his quarters he was fuming. Really, harem or not, they didn’t need to make their need to gossip about his comings and goings quite that obvious.
Hamid stared at the slender book that Cadfael gave him. He sat when Cadfael gently shoved him towards the cushions along the wall. Cadfael went and asked a servant to bring them some tea and a light snack, smiling that it came back quickly enough that someone had to have notified Jinhai that he and Hamid were working things out. By the time he brought the tray back into the downstairs room Hamid’s lips were moving as he read the book.
“Oh, thank you,” Hamid said as Cadfael brought the tea and little cakes over. “For a foreigner you do have very good manners.”
“Thank you,” Cadfael chuckled. “I try not to be quite as obnoxious as the rest of my family.”
He watched as Hamid alternated between reading and sipping his tea, eventually getting his embroidery to work on as he waited. Even with the slow speed of Hamid’s reading, he worked his way through the little book quickly. Cadfael wasn’t surprised by that. It was in diary format, filled with stories that his great-grandfather had recorded of his life with his great-grandmother Anwyn. The other family history books that his uncles had written were more formal, which might appeal to Hamid’s personality more, but Cadfael didn’t have his copies of them with him.
“This is fascinating,” Hamid murmured. He moved his fork as if to take another bite of the cake he’d already finished. “Ah. Hmmm. Perhaps I should borrow it?”
“You’re perfectly free to,” Cadfael said, grinning at him. “There are other histories that my uncles wrote but they’re rather more formal. I didn’t bring those with me but I could probably have copies made and sent to you if you’d like.”
The offer made Hamid smile and nod. “I would appreciate that, Cadfael. I would not have thought of something such as this.”
He carefully closed the book, setting it onto the tray before standing. Hamid took it and left, a bounce in his step for the first time since Cadfael had met him. Cadfael chuckled and shook his head. He may have made things worse between Macario and Hamid temporarily, but hopefully this would help smooth things over once again. Just as he started to close the door Macario came running up with a note in his hand.
His expression was as frightened as Cadfael had ever seen, prompting Cadfael’s heart to start beating faster from sheer reaction. Macario didn’t give the note to Cadfael. All he did was grab Cadfael’s wrist while panting as if he’d run across the house. Given that he had been working in the kitchens when Cadfael last saw him, he may have run all the way through the halls.
“You’ve been invited to a party at the First House tonight, vloo’Cadfael’bram,” Macario gasped. “Baths, now! We need to get you ready, and there’s so little time.”
“What?” Cadfael gasped.
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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