Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Thirty-Two: Royal Argument
“Excuse me?” Queen Jaleesa said, sitting up abruptly to glare at Cadfael.
“You want ‘safe’ generals,” Cadfael said just as defiantly as he possibly could when a much larger woman was glaring at him as if she’d like to beat him bloody. “You want the women who lead your army to be predictable, calm, reliable. That isn’t how wars are won, your Majesty. That’s how they’re lost. The more predictable your generals are, the more predictable their tactics will be.”
“At least they’re not thieves,” Queen Jaleesa shouted.
“Granted,” Cadfael said without raising his voice, because no matter how tired he was he wasn’t that stupid. “Not that my family are thieves, either. Granted, Great-Grandmother Anwyn was very much a thief and a pirate and one of the least responsible people the world has ever seen. The rest of us are not her. We’ve spent generations trying to fix the messes she created, not the least of which is right here. If I could go back in time and get your stolen goods back I would, Your Majesty, but I don’t have the power to make that right. No one does. All we can do is go forward from where we are.”
Ynes’ hand looked like it was hurting Anwyn’s shoulder, but neither of them said a word. Macario didn’t say anything either even though Cadfael heard his gasp and quiet moan. As Cadfael stared up at Queen Jaleesa the anger faded out of her eyes. She looked down at him and then sighed as she sat back down. He gulped in spite of himself when she leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees. It put her face entirely too close to Cadfael for his comfort, but then any female other than Ynes, Anwyn and Ula getting that close made him nervous.
“You are a contradiction, Dana Cadfael,” Queen Jaleesa said. “Prim and proper, but still able to bite a queen’s head off with your words.”
“I’m very tired, Your Majesty,” Cadfael said. “I’m much less predictable when I’m exhausted.”
“No apology?” Queen Jaleesa asked, her expression going amused.
“No,” Cadfael said. He sighed at the way Queen Jaleesa frowned. “No apology at all. You can’t have it both ways, Your Majesty. If you want to win your wars you need strong, wild, unpredictable warriors. Granted, that makes them somewhat unmanageable in times of peace but that’s just the price you have to pay for winning. Nothing is ever ideal. There are always compromises in life.”
“Valid point,” Queen Jaleesa sighed.
She sat back again, her expression unreadable as she stared at Cadfael. As tired as Cadfael was, he wished that she would either dismiss him or say something. He really wasn’t sure how much longer he’d stay awake even with all the tea and pastries he’d eaten. After a moment that let Cadfael become aware of the fact that he was swaying slightly on his stool and that he couldn’t stop it even by bracing his hands on his knees, Queen Jaleesa shook her head at him.
“I’ll ask you something even though I doubt you can answer it,” Queen Jaleesa said. “How would you win our wars?”
“Ah, superior weapons, better tactics and overwhelming numbers, preferably, Your Majesty,” Cadfael replied, raising one eyebrow at her. “How else does one win a war?”
“What do you know of fighting?” one of the women escorting Queen Jaleesa asked, her expression and voice full of scorn.
Cadfael rolled his eyes at her before hooking a thumb in Anwyn’s direction. “You have met my sister, haven’t you? Well, imagine over a hundred of us, just like her. All of them living together in the same house, getting into fights and causing trouble. That’s my family. That’s what I grew up with. I’m the odd one. I’m the one who doesn’t fit in. I’m shy, quiet, positively terrified of going out in public without guards and profoundly uncomfortable with being in the public eye. Every single one of my relatives, old and young, is outgoing, prone to getting in brawls and wildly daring whenever they see something they want.”
All the women looked at Anwyn who shrugged. “He’s not lying. He is the weird one for us.”
Queen Jaleesa shook her head as if she couldn’t imagine that. The woman who’d spoken up didn’t look like she got it so Cadfael waved one hand in Anwyn’s direction even though he knew it would make Anwyn bristle. She always hated it when he treated her as if she was nothing more than an example of how their family worked, perhaps because she was worse than anyone else in the family.
“My earliest memories are of my sisters fighting,” Cadfael said. “And my brothers, too. My first gift wasn’t embroidery supplies. It was a set of throwing knives. I grew up in a clan that acts like traders in public, but we’re warriors. We’re warriors who have hidden in plain sight so that we can get what we want. Aingeal isn’t like Ntombi. The wars are fought by specially trained women brought in from all over the country, not by one branch of the government. I learned how to fight battles as a little boy and grew up defending myself from women who thought I was fair game for their amorous interests. This is what being Dana Clan is. You’re a fighter and a trader and yes, you’re wild. You have to be wild to do new things.”
His speech made the other woman stare at him, first in derision and then in stunned confusion as he continued. Queen Jaleesa stared at him too. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Anwyn nodding confirmation while Ynes beamed at him as if he was the most perfectly incredible thing she’d ever seen. Cadfael did his best to ignore that. He really didn’t want to blush right at the moment.
Queen Jaleesa turned and stared at Ynes for a long moment, snorting at the pride in Anwyn’s face. When she turned back it was to look at Macario who started and then bowed slightly to her. His eyes were wide in the hole in his veils that let him see.
“He’s a warrior,” Queen Jaleesa said, her expression turning it into a question even though it was a statement.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Macario said. “He is. A very small, very hesitant warrior but he is a warrior. I will say that his brother vloo’Araval’ziq was far more of a warrior than vloo’Cadfael’blim is. Vloo’Cadfael’blim practices because he feels it is expected. Vloo’Aravel’ziq took great joy in practicing martial arts and sought out whatever knowledge and skills he could learn from us.”
“His sister’s taught us a lot about fighting,” Ynes agreed when Queen Jaleesa looked at her. “Both tactics and hand to hand. She’s little but she’s scrappy.”
“Why did no one tell me that you are from a fighting house?” Queen Jaleesa asked.
She rolled her eyes towards the ceiling as if asking the Goddesses to answer the question for her. When Anwyn opened her mouth to answer her, Queen Jaleesa held one hand up in a fending off gesture that made Anwyn’s cheeks go bright red. The look that Anwyn gave Queen Jaleesa was angry enough that her escort shifted position and glared right back at her while letting their hands rest on their swords.
Cadfael waited. He wasn’t sure where this was going to go. It didn’t seem like Queen Jaleesa had problems with the treaty itself. They’d worked very hard to make sure that the treaty would be fair to both sides as long as they kept to the requirements. The weapons that Queen Jaleesa would get from it were worth enough that hopefully she wouldn’t kill the deal at the last second just because Cadfael had trouble keeping his mouth shut when he was exhausted.
“You care for Ynes,” Queen Jaleesa said, once again making it into a question with her expression rather than proper grammar or tone of voice. The lack of prefix and suffix sounded utterly bizarre after so long using them.
“Yes,” Cadfael said as he blushed so brightly that he knew his face had to be as bright as his hair. “I do. A lot. She’s polite and kind and listens to me. And protective. I like that.”
“I already know how much she cares for you,” Queen Jaleesa sighed. “I still do not like the thought of her proposing to you. I do not like the thought of you siring her children. You’ve sired other children. I find myself uncomfortable with the thought of someone so promiscuous siring my nieces.”
“Just one,” Cadfael said, somehow surprised that his face could blush even harder though he still glared at the implication that he was as free with himself as Aravel. “And that was a surprise to both of us. I’d never been with a woman before ush’Ula’bram. It was… she kept me safe from the crew and made sure that no one touched me. It was, it was as though she created a harem on the ship just for me. And then she was injured in a storm, dislocated shoulder, and sleeping with me propping her arm up helped with the pain and well, after a month or so it just… happened. She’s the only woman I’ve ever been with.”
That made Queen Jaleesa open her mouth in shock. Most of her women looked as though they didn’t believe Cadfael at first but as he continued the stares changed. Instead of disbelief, Cadfael could see surprise, acceptance, and on a couple of the women, what looked like embarrassment that they’d believed that of him with no proof.
“You were a virgin before this,” Queen Jaleesa sighed. She rubbed her face with both hands. “Had the injury not happened you would have remained a virgin.”
“Probably, yes,” Cadfael said. “Ush’Ula’bram is close to my mother’s age, your Majesty. Her husband is a lot like me, short and sharp tongued. I think she missed him enough to let it happen, but at her age she never expected to get pregnant again. It was a surprise to both of us.”
“If you could do anything you wanted,” Queen Jaleesa asked with her eyes intent on Cadfael’s face, “what would it be?”
“I’d stay here,” Cadfael said with a tired little sigh. “I’d never leave the harem. I’d help raise the boys and maybe have children with Ynes if she wanted. This would be my home. But that’s not going to happen, is it, Your Majesty? I’m not what you want for ish’Ynes’blim and ish’Ynes’blim isn’t what my mother wants for me. She’d rather I marry someone closer to home that we can get a good working relationship with, someone who will bring a lot of money to the Clan.”
“And this isn’t a lot of money?” Queen Jaleesa asked in an offended tone of voice. She smacked her hand down on the treaty, making Cadfael jump.
“Well, yes, it is,” Cadfael said, confused as to where exactly the winds had shifted on him. If only he weren’t so tired. “It’s very good. I can’t just add a marriage to this treaty though. We don’t have time or permission for that. Besides, it’s rather obvious that you don’t approve of me, Your Majesty.”
He didn’t meet her eyes as he said the last bit. Whether she approved of Cadfael or not wasn’t really the issue. Queen Jaleesa disapproved of the Dana Clan and that meant that Cadfael wasn’t going to be acceptable no matter what sort of person he actually was. It was desperately unfair and as tired as Cadfael was he knew that his resentment of that showed on his face.
To his surprise, Queen Jaleesa groaned loudly. She shook a finger at Ynes as if she wanted to turn Ynes over her knee and spank her like a little girl who’d gotten into trouble one too many times. Ynes looked as confused by the response as Cadfael was. Anwyn was frowning at Queen Jaleesa as if she couldn’t figure it out either.
“Oh my,” Macario whispered behind Cadfael. His eyes were especially wide when Cadfael turned to look at him.
“All right,” Queen Jaleesa huffed as she stood and loomed over Cadfael and Macario. With her hands planted on her ample hips it was like looking up at an annoyed goddess. “You can propose. I don’t like it but I won’t disapprove. No, not you, Ynes. Him. If he proposes to you, then I’ll allow it.”
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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