Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Twenty-Four: Formal Invitation
“What party?” Cadfael asked, nerves already surging up at the thought of going out in public.
Macario didn’t answer as he pulled Cadfael out of the sitting room. Cadfael stumbled after Macario as he tried to figure out what sort of party he could have been invited to and why it would be this important. If it was a simple party where he had been invited to the First House to meet the Queen, then it wouldn’t be substantially different from a first son visit like the one he’d seen. There was no reason for Macario to be this flustered.
There didn’t seem to be much point in attending when Cadfael didn’t know anyone other than Ynes and Macario. Besides, wouldn’t Anwyn have let him know if parties were a potential situation for him to deal with? She usually did a good job telling him when he had to deal with public exposure. The question that had Cadfael’s heart beating faster was whether this was a way for the Queen to assess whether or not Cadfael was acceptable. That could be for the treaty but it could also be for the potential relationship with Ynes.
That was a huge concern and it would explain why Macario was upset. Not that Macario seemed able to think past his frantic worry to explain exactly why he was reacting this way. When Cadfael tried to tug his wrist out of Macario’s grip, Macario looked back at him with a nearly panicked expression.
“Macario!” Cadfael snapped in Aingealese harshly enough to make them both stumble as Macario flinched. “Slow down. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it.”
He stopped instead, giving Cadfael the chance to snatch the note out of his hand. To Cadfael’s relief, Macario finally let Cadfael’s other wrist go. Macario was shaking hard enough that Cadfael patted his elbow and began walking, not running, to the bath. The note was a simple two line message in the most imperious, and thoroughly archaic, written form saying that it was expected that Dana Cadfael and Dana Anwyn would attend a party at the First House at sunset. When Cadfael raised an eyebrow at Macario to ask why this was such a rush Macario groaned.
“It’s the First House, Cadfael,” Macario huffed. “The rulers of Ntombi! You have to be dressed properly and groomed properly and there are rituals that should be followed before meeting with the queen. It’s all but a deliberate snub to give you so little time to get ready for the party. There’s a possibility that they could decide to throw you out of the country if we don’t create a proper impression.”
“Macario,” Cadfael counted with a little sigh as he passed the note back, “I’m Aingealese, not Ntombian. They’re expecting to see me in kilts, not whatever your high formal wear is. I brought one formal outfit. Given that I don’t have the normal number of petticoats it should almost be wearable too. Otherwise I’d end up with heat stroke.”
“But…” Macario whined as Cadfael shook his head at him.
“Stop fussing,” Cadfael said. “I can’t wear your formal wear without looking ridiculous. I have our version of formal wear and all the required jewelry so we can make this work. Either way, showing up in my borrowed clothes is absolutely inappropriate. Azizi already told me that they’re actually for a twelve-year old boy, not a full adult. It’s my clothes or naked and you know perfectly well that I’m not stepping one foot outside of the baths naked.”
That, finally, prompted a laugh out of Macario. He didn’t relax very much, but the edge of his tension seemed to be blunted. When they got to the baths everyone was scurrying around, from Dankov and Azizi down to the newest slave assigned there. Even Hamid was there barking orders and marshaling the servants and slaves as if expecting to lead them into battle.
Someone had gotten pots of body paint ready in every color of the rainbow while another couple of servants were carefully laying out layers of translucent fabric that would work as lovely veils. It took Cadfael a moment to realize that they weren’t veils; they were the actual outfit that he was expected to wear.
“Absolutely not!” Cadfael all but bellowed to make sure he was heard over the chaos.
“Cadfael?” Hamid asked as he blinked at him in surprise. “What is the problem? We have to get to work.”
“I am not wearing body paint,” Cadfael declared. “Nor am I wearing those… I don’t know what they are, but if they’re supposed to be clothes I am locking myself in a closet and hiding until the party is over. No. Absolutely positively not! I’m Aingealese. We are not going to try and pretend that I’m Ntombian or some such nonsense.”
“It’s a formal party at the First House!” Hamid said with enough horror at Cadfael’s refusal that he almost winced. “You can’t go in casual clothing!”
Cadfael glared at him until Hamid was puffing and red in the face. “I brought my own formal clothing, Hamid. I just haven’t worn it.”
Hamid drew in a deep breath but instead of shouting, he groaned like a ship in a gale that threatened the keel. He looked at Macario who shrugged and gestured at Cadfael as if there was nothing that could be done. Cadfael nodded firmly because there was nothing that could be done. He absolutely wasn’t going to wear whatever the veil-clothing was and body paint was never going to happen. Ever. No matter who told him that he had to do it. His determination appeared to be fierce enough to overwhelm the fact that Cadfael was literally small enough to be picked up and forced into it. After a moment Hamid groaned and threw up his hands in dismay.
“All right, fine, vloo’Cadfael’blim,” Hamid said for the first time ever with the most approving suffix for a beloved one. He didn’t appear to realize he’d used it. “You still need to get ready.”
“Absolutely, and I certainly need to bathe,” Cadfael said as he began to unbraid his hair. “I’ll need to wash my hair and get it styled, which will take at least a couple of hours unless I go outside to encourage it to dry faster. Putting it up will take forever. Plus my formal outfit has to be pressed and the petticoats I did bring need to be aired out. Probably would be good to have them starched and ironed as well. Oh, and the lace on my blouse will need some serious starching too. Oh dear, I need to talk to the people who do that. It’s very delicate and can’t be ironed at a high heat.”
Macario’s lips were twitching when Cadfael turned back to him. “So there’s still going to be a rush to get things done?”
“Absolutely,” Cadfael laughed somewhat, well no, quite ruefully. “The only difference is that there won’t be body paint and bits of fabric people can see through.”
“Fine,” Macario said. “Which outfit and how hot of an iron?”
“Every single petticoat,” Cadfael explained as he stripped down. “The very pale blue kilt and vest with yellow roses embroidered on them. Plus the lace blouse that’s currently still in my trunk, in the tray. If you have to snatch your fingers away from the iron then it’s too hot. My slippers will probably need to be checked. I’m fairly certain I brought the matching pair but they rushed me so I didn’t get to double-check everything properly before departure. If you can get those ready then I’ll take care of the underthings while my hair is drying. I have to let it dry loose to encourage the curl as much as possible.”
Hamid grunted from where he was helping gather up the little jars of body paint. “I’ll have the servants make a batch of gel for that. Should help the curl quite a bit.”
Macario nodded and hurried away as Cadfael gave himself over to the servants. They were incredibly thorough about getting his body and hair clean though after spending a week in the harem he could tell that they were rushing through some items. They didn’t bother to trim the ends of Cadfael’s hair after he waved the slave with the scissors off.
His nails were trimmed, teeth cleaned ruthlessly, and his hair, once washed, was coated in a fine white liquid that was sticky enough that he made a face. The hairdresser smacked Cadfael’s fingers away from his hair while playing with each and every curl. It took half of forever but once the hairdresser was done Cadfael had ringlets that looked like they’d survive quite well through putting his hair up.
As his hair dried, different servants worked with him to very carefully apply makeup. He questioned every bit of makeup before he allowed it to be applied. A bit of powder to even out the tone of his sunburnt nose was quite all right. It hadn’t started to peel yet but it wouldn’t be long. A thick too-dark paste to completely hide his freckles absolutely wasn’t going to happen, especially since it was a very poor match to his skin tone. When the servant tried to apply gold makeup to the corners of his eyes Cadfael snatched the brush out of his hand.
“By the Morrigan’s Hells, give me that!” Cadfael snapped in Aingealese because he really didn’t want to insult them that much and he hadn’t learned properly satisfying curses in Ntombian.
“Cadfael!” Macario gasped at his curse. Hamid looked equally startled and horrified but it didn’t look like the servants had any idea what he’d said.
“No gold on me!” Cadfael snapped in Ntombian while waving the gold-tipped brush at Macario. “No. Not happening, ever! I’m more than exotic enough as it is; there’s no need to gild the lily.”
That made both Macario and the servant laugh. They still objected when Cadfael only darkened his eyelashes enough to make them visible and added a bit of very pale rouge to his lips and cheeks. Even that much made him feel like a prostitute given the way makeup was regarded back home but it did help his eyes stand out and balance the brightness of his nose. Hamid shook his head in dismay when Cadfael declared the makeup complete.
Obviously formal affairs in Ntombi required much heavier makeup than Cadfael was used to because they all, Hamid and Macario all the way down to the slaves looked a half-second away from protesting. He rolled his eyes at their dismay and then stood to head back to his suite wrapped in a robe because there was no point in dressing when he had hair to style and clothes to put on, definitely in that order.
“Your hair,” Macario protested. “We still need to do something about your hair.”
“I’ll do that,” Cadfael told him. “I’m not risking someone else doing it. I know what’s required for our formal clothes. You don’t.”
“It’s complicated then?” Macario asked.
“Oh goodness, yes,” Cadfael said. “Braids and loops and more decorative hair pins than you probably own, I’m afraid. It will take more time than anything else, frankly.”
“We’d best get started then,” Macario said so grimly that Cadfael snickered at him. He glared at Cadfael. “There isn’t much time before you have to go.”
“How long do we have?” Cadfael asked.
Macario looked out the window at the position of the sun and then shook his head in dismay. “Only a couple of hours, vloo’Cad-fael’blim. I’m not sure that we’re going to make it.”
“…we’ll make it,” Cadfael drawled.
Macario clapped a hand over his mouth to stop himself from bursting into laughter when they entered Cadfael’s suite. The boys were waiting. They erupted in a thousand questions at once that were incoherent while Azizi and Dankov tried to keep them from tackling Cadfael. Jinhai was there, too. He was busy carefully shaking out Cadfael’s freshly starched and ironed petticoats. He did it with such a puzzled enough expression at how they worked that Cadfael laughed in spite of himself as he nodded his thanks to Jinhai.
“No, no questions right now,” Cadfael told the boys. “I’ll let you watch me get ready but only if you’re quiet and don’t touch.”
“Awww,” Nanjir complained. “We wanted to help.”
“No,” Cadfael declared. “I have to do it just right so no helping. Macario and Jinhai can help. You four can watch but you must, must, must be quiet and still. Agreed?”
The boys looked at each other and nodded as seriously as if it had been a real trade deal. They actually did stay quiet as Cadfael carefully arranged the top half his hair in loops and coils on the back of his head with the rest in a surprisingly well-behaved fall down his back. Jinhai was a great help in getting the lower half of his hair to form proper ringlets.
The many jeweled pins and combs he used to pin his hair up made Umar coo and twitch as if he wanted to look at each and every one but he stayed with his brothers. Nanjir looked more curious about the many braided and coiled sections Cadfael arranged on his head. Jinhai looked as though he approved of the hairstyle once it was done but Macario had his head cocked to the side as if he couldn’t decide if he liked it.
“Anything crooked?” Cadfael asked while carefully studying his reflection in a hand-held mirror from home.
“Mmm, just this,” Macario said. He carefully re-pinned one section before nodding. “That’s better. Clothes?”
“Underclothes first,” Cadfael sighed. “Then everything else.”
He had Jinhai and Macario help him into the loosest pair of drawers that he’d brought, followed by the thinnest undershirt he had. Every single petticoat followed until Cadfael felt like he was wearing a cloud around his knees. The lace blouse, nicely pressed with not a single scorched spot, followed. Cadfael couldn’t help but be glad that he’d lined the lace for modesty’s sake. Back home he would have worn an undershirt but it was much too hot for that here. At least the lining would keep him from exposing his nipples to everyone who glanced his way.
The finest sash that Cadfael had went on top to stabilize the blouse and petticoats. It also worked wonderfully to smooth down the petticoats over his hips so that the pleats of his kilt would fall properly. Then it was time for the pale blue kilt with its elaborate pleats, fussy lace and long embroidered sash. After that he reluctantly put on his lightest but tightest embroidered vest. Several pounds of jewelry followed for his wrists, ears and neck, leaving Cadfael feeling as though he’d added at least two stone’s weight.
“Wow,” Taji breathed once Cadfael carefully put his slippers on by feel alone. He’d forgotten that they needed to go on before petticoats. “You look so different, vloo’Cadfael’blim.”
“I feel hot,” Cadfael sighed. “And heavy. I got used to the comfy casual clothes you wear here.”
Umar giggled at that. “Hugs before you go?”
Cadfael looked down at the kilts surrounding him and then held his arms out as if trying to reach beyond them and failing. That made every single one of the kids burst out laughing. Dankov joined them in laughter while Azizi snickered. Jinhai shook his head and covered his grin with one hand as Hamid elbowed him and snorted. Only Macario looked sad about that so Cadfael smiled ruefully at him.
“Formal wear is formal wear,” Cadfael sighed. “It’s always terribly uncomfortable to wear. Do you think they’re ready or will I be waiting for them? I don’t want to sit down any more than I have to. Ruining the pleats would be a tragedy after all this work.”
“Let’s go check,” Macario replied with another check at the window. “They’re probably waiting. It’s going to be a huge party so the crowds outside the gates will be enormous. It will probably take quite a while to actually make it to the front gate.”
“Lovely,” Cadfael sighed. “Oh well, at least when I get home I can take all this nonsense off. Time to go be proper at people.”
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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