Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Thirty-Three: Impossible Hope
Cadfael stared up at Queen Jaleesa, his tired brain trying to make sense of what she’d just said. He didn’t get to ask any questions. Queen Jaleesa strode away, her women in tow. Ynes and Anwyn followed, leaving Cadfael and Macario on their low stools. Only after they’d disappeared out into the training yard where the women practiced martial arts did Cadfael turn to stare at Macario.
“Did she just say that I could propose to Ynes?” Cadfael asked.
“Yes,” Macario said so faintly that Cadfael caught his hand. “Yes, she did.”
“I can… I can have this?”
“If you want it,” Macario whispered while clinging to Cadfael’s hand so tightly that the bones in the back of his hand ground together.
“I am too tired for this!” Cadfael wailed though he kept his voice low enough that only Macario started in surprise. “I don’t know how to propose to someone. There’s specific ways to do it, rituals and things, right?”
“I don’t know,” Macario said. His eyes were laughing as he helped Cadfael back to his feet. “Truly, I do not know, vluu’Cadfael’blim. It is not something that I have ever had to worry about.”
The truth of that statement made Cadfael sigh. As the eldest son Macario never would have had to worry about proposals of any type, much less the highly unorthodox one that Queen Jaleesa seemed to expect from him. They retreated to the harem, Cadfael wishing for his kilts to hide the way his knees shook. Macario took off his veils the instant they were behind closed doors. His face was pale enough that Cadfael caught his hand and tugged him into one of the meeting rooms.
“You can…” Macario started to say and then stopped when words seemed to run out for him.
“I know,” Cadfael complained. His heart was beating so hard in his chest that his ears rang from the sound of his racing pulse. “I know! But I don’t know how to do this and my family, Mother, she’s going to have a fit. I didn’t even see how Annie reacted. She could overrule me, Macario. I don’t know if she would, but she could and then, then I’d have nothing and…”
He whined. Cadfael’s legs gave out, plopping him down to the floor of the meeting room. That seemed to startle Macario out of his shock. The veil ended up on the cushions as Macario sat down next to Cadfael to hug him tightly. They sat together, Macario gently rocking Cadfael in his arms.
“I want to stay,” Cadfael whispered. “I do. I want to stay here. I love it here. You’re wonderful. The boys are adorable. Ynes is so sweet to me. This feels like home. I want to stay.”
“I want you to stay too,” Macario whispered into Cadfael’s hair.
“Why wouldn’t she let Ynes do the proposing?” Cadfael complained much more loudly because really, what was Queen Jaleesa’s problem? “That’s how it’s supposed to work. Women propose, men accept. It overturns the natural order of the world for a man to propose to a woman!”
Macario laughed, hugging Cadfael more tightly for a moment. He let Cadfael go only to continue giggling. Cadfael stared at him. It looked like Macario was as overwhelmed by the situation as Cadfael was because he had tears in his eyes and a hand over his mouth as if he was trying to smother the laughter.
“I am sorry,” Macario managed to say.
“We are too tired for this,” Cadfael declared. “Both of us. I don’t care what is going on, we both need to get a couple of hours of sleep or we’ll be utterly useless.”
Macario drew in a shaky breath, nodding as he wiped his tears. The giggles died back to shaking shoulders.
“I agree,” Macario said. “Sleep.”
He didn’t move to get up so Cadfael stood first, helping Macario back to his feet. It would be nice to be left alone but Cadfael didn’t expect that to happen with Macario’s duties. When they encountered a servant in the hallway Cadfael glared so fiercely that the servant stumbled backwards.
“We’re getting some sleep,” Cadfael told the servant. “Both of us are exhausted. No interruptions for at least two hours.”
“vloo’Cadfael’blim,” Macario huffed even as he caught Cadfael’s hand and squeezed his fingers.
“You were giggling hysterically and my legs gave out,” Cadfael said to him. “We’re too tired to be coherent. Sleep. That’s what we need. Everything else, from your duties to my dilemma, can wait until we can think.”
Macario nodded his agreement with that. When Cadfael turned back to the servant, his eyes were wide with surprise but his lips were pressed so tightly together that Cadfael thought he was fighting against a smile. They went to Cadfael’s room because it was closer, going upstairs to collapse together in Cadfael’s bed. Cadfael managed to braid his hair before collapsing in bed but he was much too tired to pull the clothes off.
“Clothes,” Macario mumbled as he tugged at Cadfael’s sleeve. He hadn’t stripped either.
“Later,” Cadfael replied.
He curled up in Macario’s arms, hoping that sleep would grab him right away. Macario’s breathing smoothed out and settled immediately, but Cadfael’s tired mind wouldn’t stop. He felt like a toy boat in the bathtub, battered by the splashing and games of goddess-like beings much larger than he was. Still, for the first time since he’d left home, Cadfael had hope of change.
All he had to do was reach out and take what he wanted.
The thought carried him to sleep where he dreamed that he was a toy boat and then a little boy being pushed around by his aunts because they had better things to do than soothe his fears and worries. When he woke up it was to the heat of midday making him sweat. Macario was still there, one arm wrapped around Cadfael’s waist possessively.
“Macario,” Cadfael said, nudging him.
“Mmm?” Macario mumbled. He blinked, staring at Cadfael in confusion before gasping and sitting up to stare around Cadfael’s room. “What time is it?”
“Midday, I assume,” Cadfael said as he stretched and then sat up. “Feel better?”
“Somewhat,” Macario said. He peered at Cadfael curiously. “Do you feel better?”
“I’ll feel better after I have a very long talk with Jinhai, Azizi and Dankov,” Cadfael said. He pulled off his sweaty clothes and switched to a different outfit. “I need more information before I do anything. Once I talk to them I need to talk to Ynes and Anwyn. Probably not in that order. Anwyn first, then Ynes. And then I’ll be ready to make a complete and utter fool of myself in public. Maybe. Possibly. I hope. Oh Blessed Goddesses, I’m going to faint!”
He flung himself right back into Macario’s arms. It made Macario laugh as he hugged Cadfael. They cuddled together until the heat of the day made it too uncomfortable. Cadfael pulled back, growling when he realized that his hands were shaking.
“I am going to be a wreck until this is resolved,” Cadfael grumbled. “Mother is going to have a fit if I do this. She will. She’s going to yell and I hate it when she yells.”
“She won’t approve?” Macario asked, rubbing his hand over Cadfael’s back.
“No, she’ll probably be delighted that she doesn’t have to do the negotiations herself,” Cadfael said as he flapped his hands to try and stop the shaking. “She’s just going to yell because it’s a surprise and Mother doesn’t like surprises.”
Macario laughed. They left his bedroom, Macario going to catch up on his work while Cadfael sought out the others for lunch. The kids all cheered when Cadfael entered the room. Hamid raised both eyebrows at him while Jinhai came over and hugged Cadfael as if he could already see how overwhelmed Cadfael felt.
“I have so many questions for you,” Cadfael mumbled into Jinhai’s shoulder.
“You can ask them all after you eat something,” Jinhai said. He chuckled and patted Cadfael’s back when Cadfael clung to his shirt as if he was Taji or Umar. “Come. Food will do you good.”
He tugged Cadfael over to the table, seating him next to Taji who immediately tugged at Cadfael’s sleeve. Cadfael patted Taji’s back as Jinhai served him twice as much food as Cadfael’s stomach would be able to hold. Taji tugged again.
“Vli’Cadfael’blim, are you going to marry ash’Ynes’bram?” Taji asked.
“Aaagh,” Cadfael whined, dropping his face into his hands. “I don’t know!”
“Why not?” Taji asked. “Why don’t you know, vli’Cadfael’blim?”
“Because I have to be brave,” Cadfael sighed. He dropped his hands only to blush because everyone, Hamid included, was staring at him. “It’s not easy being brave! I’m not a brave person. I have to propose to ish’Ynes’blim and I think I have to do it publicly and I don’t even know how to propose to someone here. We don’t do proposals in Aingeal, not really. It’s something that the mothers decide and arrange, not the individuals getting married.”
Taji started giggling as he climbed into Cadfael’s lap. Cadfael hugged him for a moment before making him sit in his own chair again. Hamid chuckled at Cadfael as Jinhai patted Cadfael’s back. All of the boys giggled but they did let Cadfael eat. Unfortunately, Cadfael’s stomach was so upset from his nerves that it was nearly as bad as being on board ship. He barely managed to eat a quarter of the food that Jinhai gave him before his stomach threatened revolt.
“Off we go,” Azizi told the boys. “Let vloo’Cadfael’bram ask his questions.”
“Awww,” Taji complained. “But I want to hear!”
“You have lessons,” Azizi said. Dankov nodded his agreement behind him. “Come along now.”
They led the boys away, Taji waving to Cadfael as they left the room. Hamid chuckled and flapped his hands at both of them when Cadfael looked at the leftover food. He should eat more but Cadfael knew it wouldn’t do any good to try.
“I’ll have a tray sent to your rooms, vloo’Cadfael’bram,” Hamid said. “You can nibble on things when your stomach calms down again.”
“It’s that obvious?” Cadfael asked.
“Very much so,” Hamid replied. “Go on. Ask your questions.”
“I am not certain that I can give you many helpful answers,” Jinhai said as they left the dining room and headed to Cadfael’s rooms. “My situation was not at all like yours.”
“I just need to know how proposals are supposed to go,” Cadfael said. “I hate the thought of doing it wrong.”
“Then you do intend to stay?” Jinhai asked. From his expression, Jinhai liked the idea.
“I want to,” Cadfael said. “I mean, I can’t simply stay here. I have to go home and get Mother’s approval. It will probably take two or three years before everything is worked out but… I want to. I really do. I like it here. I like ish’Ynes’blim. And vli’Macario’blim and the boys and you and everyone. Even vli’Hamid’bram, now that he’s not being obstructionist.”
Once back in Cadfael’s rooms, Cadfael pulled out his embroidery. Having something to do with his hands always helped him calm down. Granted, he would probably have to pick out all the stitches tomorrow but that was all right. The beautiful new silk that Princess T’Kelah had given him would survive his mangling fairly well. If nothing else, the embroidery would make it seem like he was doing something productive while he dithered over what to do.
“How do proposals work in Ntombi?” Cadfael asked.
Jinhai looked up from his careful rearrangement of Cadfael’s silk, smiling at him. “In general, the female makes sure that the family of her intended approves of the proposal before arranging to meet with him in public. She will bring presents for him, silk thread, fabric or other things that he would like. Then she explains her… her best qualities, the way that she would support him. He considers it and then says yes or no.”
“And… has he met her before?” Cadfael asked, his hands going still on his embroidery.
“Generally, no,” Jinhai said. “There may have been some flirting if the two families have worked together for some time but most young men only meet their prospective wives when they receive the proposal.”
Cadfael stared at Jinhai for a long moment, wondering how in the world that could work. After a moment he sighed and shook his head. It wasn’t as though they would be spending all their time together. A wife and husband only saw each other for short periods of time. More than likely the young man would already know if he could live with the men in the household or not. They would have met many times.
“So the traditional process is of no use to me,” Cadfael said.
“I am afraid not,” Jinhai said, his voice and face sympathetic. “I believe that Queen Jaleesa has set you an impossible challenge. I do not know how you are to propose to my daughter when you could not support her nor do you have full approval from your family. You cannot even present Ynes with gifts she could use as is traditional. I am sorry, vloo’Cadfael’bram. I think that she said it only to appear that she was supporting you and my daughter without having to actually do anything.”
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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