Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Thirty-One: Interview
“That’s… almost everything,” Cadfael said as he studied the latest copy of the treaty they’d been working on.
“I know,” Macario said, reading his copy of it over slowly. “I feel like we’re missing something, though.”
“Well, we do have to verify that the ships will have the hold space for the quantities we’ve outlined,” Cadfael murmured as he noted that detail in the margins of his copy. “And there are still questions about whether or not my family will agree to it, but I think it shouldn’t be a problem. This will work well for us.”
Macario nodded. His forehead was creased with a ferocious frown that Cadfael knew he shared. They’d been at this for eleven days straight, working from breakfast until dinner every single day. Every potential problem had been discussed in detail. They’d talked to the eldest sons of every family involved with producing the spices they would need. Cadfael had even driven himself to be bold enough to go to the women’s side for a highly supervised visit with the women who would be getting the weapons from Aingeal.
That had been nerve-wracking in the extreme for Cadfael even though all of the women had been exceptionally polite. Not a one of them had looked at him inappropriately or dared to touch. More than likely, they’d been so cautious because Ynes had hovered behind his right shoulder, glaring at everyone who got within arm’s reach of him.
She’d been so protective that Cadfael had glared over his shoulder at her. It wasn’t easy to have a conversation with someone when they kept backing away whenever you spoke to them. The glare hadn’t done much good, but he’d managed to verify that the information he’d received about the weapons requirements was accurate. That was a relief. Cadfael already knew that the smiths back home were going to question the requirements. The swords and knives requested were ten percent longer and fifteen percent heavier than anything used back home.
“What time is it?” Macario asked finally.
“Early morning?” Cadfael said somewhat doubtfully. “I think.”
They both looked out the window of the library, staring at the dark garden beyond. After thirty-two days in Ntombi, Cadfael recognized the various shrubs and trees even in the darkness. The sky overhead was shading from black to indigo blue as the dawn crept in and drove out the night.
Cadfael groaned, letting his head drop down to his arms. They’d worked through the night. It wasn’t the first time he’d stayed up all night since getting here, but it certainly was one of the less enjoyable ways to spend the evening. He much preferred the nights where he and Macario made love for hours, instead of over pouring over the treaty’s wording.
“Morning already,” Macario sighed.
“I know,” Cadfael complained. “We should have gone to bed hours ago.”
Macario laughed, brushing the fingers of one hand against Cadfael’s cheek. When Cadfael opened his eyes Macario’s expression was warm and loving. Cadfael smiled at him before capturing his hand and pressing a gentle kiss against Macario’s fingertips. Finishing the treaty meant that their time together was almost over, but Cadfael couldn’t regret the work they’d gotten done. It would benefit so many people in all three countries that Cadfael was proud of their accomplishment.
“We should get cleaned up,” Macario said. “We’ll need to present this to Queen Jaleesa before we go any further.”
“So you said a few days ago,” Cadfael sighed.
He sat up and stretched, groaning at how his back cracked and ached. The library chairs weren’t uncomfortable for shorter periods of time, but after spending all night in his seat, Cadfael’s body was protesting loudly. Macario followed suit, hissing as his neck popped audibly. They carried the copies of the treaty back to Macario’s office for his assistant to copy over one more time before making their slow, tired way to the baths.
This early in the morning only slaves and servants were there. Macario waved off the automatic offers of assistance as did Cadfael. Instead of making the others take care of them, Cadfael and Macario washed each other’s hair and scrubbed each other’s backs. It was strangely intimate in the large bathroom to focus exclusively on each other with so many other men there.
Fortunately, Cadfael was tired enough that his groin didn’t respond to the attention from Macario. They rinsed under separate showers and then soaked in the middle-hottest bath for a few minutes before drying off and going back to their respective rooms to dress in clean clothes. Cadfael smiled as he pulled on his favorite green outfit, the one with tiny Zina flowers embroidered along the collar and cuffs. Macario had presented the outfit to Cadfael just seven days ago, saying that it would be good for Cadfael to have clothes of his own instead of just the borrowed outfits.
“Dressed?” Macario called up the stairs to Cadfael.
“Coming,” Cadfael called back.
To his surprise, Macario was carrying his veils. When Cadfael raised an eyebrow at that, Macario shrugged and made a face as if it was to be expected. He waved off Cadfael’s worried expression and the way Cadfael rubbed his hands over the beautiful green top.
“You’re fine,” Macario told him. “It’s expected that I wear veils when I meet with Queen Jaleesa. You don’t need to, of course.”
“If you’re sure,” Cadfael said. “I could switch into something more formal, maybe one of my kilts.”
Macario laughed tiredly and shook his head no. “Truly, there is no need. We have time for breakfast before she arrives. When I sent the message that we were ready for her to review the treaty’s progress osh’Raisa’bram said that Queen Jaleesa was coming over this morning anyway.”
Cadfael opened his mouth to ask why, but shut it again without actually voicing the question. Even this tired, Cadfael could come up with half a dozen reasons why the queen would come to talk to her generals. It could even be Ynes and Macario’s aunt coming to visit her nieces instead of something more formal. Either way, it didn’t really matter. She would be here and they would present the treaty’s finished form for her review.
“Let’s go eat,” Cadfael said instead. “Do you think we can get some very strong tea?”
“I certainly hope so,” Macario said, yawning as he left his veils on Cadfael’s cushions. “I’m not sure that I’ll stay awake long enough to talk to the queen otherwise.”
Three cups of the darkest, blackest tea Cadfael had drunk in Ntombi helped wake him up a bit. The bitterness of it drove him to eat pastries instead of his more normal fruit and toast. Ochi and Nanjir giggled at how tired both Cadfael and Macario were, taking turns poking them in the side whenever they stopped to yawn or stare blankly into space.
“What did you two do last night?” Hamid asked as Cadfael slowly consumed his third sweet pastry.
“We finished the treaty,” Cadfael explained. “Took all night, but we only have one or two questions left.”
“Ah,” Hamid said. “And here I thought it was something more entertaining.”
His expression was just disapproving enough that Cadfael blushed brightly, even though Hamid had stopped blocking them entirely after having power removed from his hands. Macario just snorted at his uncle, shaking his head and shrugging one shoulder as he stirred more honey into his fourth cup of tea. Jinhai took the honey away before Macario could stir a fourth spoonful into it.
“Nothing that exciting,” Cadfael said. He firmly ignored the boys’ giggles. “Just finishing the work I came here for.”
Before the boys could do more than look at Cadfael with sudden alarm, one of the servants came in. His eyes were wide enough Cadfael knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. He pushed his pasty aside and drained the dregs of his tea so that he could stand and brush himself off. Cadfael’s hair was not quite dry so he let it stay loose for the moment.
“Queen Jaleesa is here,” the servant told Macario. “She is eager to discuss the treaty with the two of you.”
“Let’s go,” Cadfael sighed.
“Agreed,” Macario said.
Queen Jaleesa was wearing another of those incredibly dyed lengths of fabric this morning. Instead of purple as she had been wearing at the party, this one was rich burgundy with a heavily embroidered hem. The embroidery was so thick that the fabric stood up on its own where the draped edge of the garment had swung away from her legs when she sat down. Cadfael could see tiny mirrors and bits of gold embroidered into the design as he and Macario approached.
“You do love looking at clothes, don’t you, little one?” Queen Jaleesa chuckled as she waved for them to sit in front of her on the low stools someone had brought.
“Yes, your Majesty,” Cadfael admitted with a blush. “The embroidery is quite lovely, you see, and I do love doing embroidery.”
Queen Jaleesa laughed at that, nodding as if she’d expected that answer. “Tell me of this treaty, then. What has been agreed upon?”
Cadfael glanced at Macario, but he made a ‘go ahead’ gesture with one hand. Anwyn was bouncing on her toes off to the right, Ynes at her side. Neither of them looked as though they were going to speak up. That made Cadfael gulp, but he could do this. He would be doing this when they got home again, and to an audience more likely to ask ten thousand highly pointed questions. It wasn’t very likely that Queen Jaleesa would object to the treaty’s final form. His aunts and cousins were likely to try and tear it to pieces just to make sure it was the strongest treaty possible.
“This is what we worked out,” Cadfael said as he passed the Ntombian language version of the treaty to her.
It took about an hour to go through all the details of the treaty and all the questions that he and Macario had worked on. Queen Jaleesa’s questions were general, brief and easily answered even with Cadfael’s exhaustion making him stumble over his words on a regular basis. Throughout it all, Anwyn kept her mouth shut. He saw her open her mouth to say something a couple of times, but Ynes put a hand on Anwyn’s shoulder each time, keeping her from interrupting.
Cadfael wasn’t sure why Anwyn wasn’t speaking up. She knew all the details just as well as Cadfael did since they’d consulted on everything as the work progressed. Some days they’d talked about the treaty two or three times a day just to make sure Cadfael wasn’t negotiating them into a bind. Only once he’d covered the full treaty did Queen Jaleesa frown at him.
“No marriage to seal the treaty?” she asked.
“Your Majesty,” Cadfael said with every bit of the annoyance and exhaustion he felt at that moment, “I don’t have the authority or the time to negotiate a marriage on top of this. We need to head home soon or we’ll be caught in the worst of the fall storms.”
She blinked at him, for the first time visibly surprised.
“There truly isn’t time for that, your Majesty,” Cadfael said. “I don’t deny that I would love to marry Ynes, but that’s something I’ve been told is impossible. The last I heard you, had explicitly forbidden Ynes for asking for my hand.”
Queen Jaleesa nodded. “I have.”
“May I ask why?” Cadfael asked.
He knew it was stupid to push the issue. You didn’t push royalty, especially not when they had final approval over the biggest treaty the family had gotten in two generations. Even more especially when this was the heir to the queen that your great-grandmother had robbed. But Cadfael was exhausted to the point that his eyes were burning and the food he’d eaten was a lump in his stomach. The two people that Cadfael had come to love were sitting and standing next to him, but he was forbidden to have them for anything other than a brief period of time.
“That’s why,” Queen Jaleesa said, gesturing to Cadfael.
“I don’t… understand, your Majesty,” Cadfael said. He rubbed his tired eyes and sighed. “Perhaps I’m being stupid given that I haven’t slept all night, but I don’t understand what the objection is.”
“If you marry Ynes,” Queen Jaleesa said, “then my greatest general’s children will have your blood. They will be wild. I’ve interacted with three generations of your family, Dana Cadfael. Even though you are by far the most responsible and reasonable Dana I’ve met, there are still moments where you do wild, unpredictable things. I do not like that. I do not want my nieces to be wild women.”
Cadfael glared at her, quite aware that he was vibrating with outrage. He should shut his mouth and bow his head. Saying anything further would be stupid, especially given that Queen Jaleesa had outright said that she didn’t like the Dana Clan’s tendency to fight every battle as though their ship was being boarded by pirates. For one moment Cadfael thought that he might keep his mouth shut, but from the corner of his eye he saw Ynes look away with a heartbroken expression and then Macario let out a tired, defeated little sigh.
“I would think that you’d want to win the wars that your family’s started, your Majesty,” Cadfael snapped, his anger abruptly as strong as anything he’d ever felt back home while miserable and lonely.
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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