Hope you guys enjoy the new chapter!
By Meyari McFarland
Chapter Thirty-Five: Last Night
Ynes looked at Cadfael and Macario, smiling as if the two of them together was one of the most wonderful things she’d ever seen. She nodded and stood, offering Anwyn a hand up from the floor. They took their leave, already arguing about what needed to be done and how to get it all finished before departure tomorrow. One of the servants poked his head in before coming to clean up the leftover dinner dishes. Cadfael took a deep breath and stood, offering his hand to Macario in much the same way that Ynes had done to Anwyn. Smiling, Macario took it. They walked slowly through the halls, hand in hand, neither of them saying anything at all.
There wasn’t much to say that hadn’t already been said. Right now, Cadfael couldn’t see a way to make this last. As long as Queen Jaleesa was opposed to the marriage, he didn’t have much hope of succeeding. It was possible that he could make it happen eventually but one way or the other he was going to need to leave with the ship tomorrow. This was his last night in the place that had come to be home.
For tonight, Cadfael decided, he just wanted to enjoy spending time with Macario. Apparently Macario felt the same way because they ended up back at Macario’s rooms, door securely shut behind them and no one around to interrupt their kisses. He didn’t think that anyone would interrupt them, not now, but the closed door was still a relief.
“I will so miss you,” Macario whispered once they were naked in bed together.
“No, nothing about tomorrow,” Cadfael said. “I don’t want to think about anything but you, Macario. Just you. Nothing else.”
Macario smiled and pulled Cadfael down into a kiss that seemed to last forever. His hands were warm against Cadfael’s sides, caressing him as though Cadfael was his most precious treasure. Cadfael tried to return the gesture as he found Macario’s nipples with one hand and played with Macario’s many braids with the other. They both took it slow, so slow that Cadfael could almost fool himself into thinking that this wouldn’t be the last time he’d see or touch or taste Macario.
“It won’t be,” Cadfael thought as he captured Macario’s bottom lip between his teeth. “I won’t let it. I won’t give this up. I won’t give Macario up, or Ynes, or the boys or anyone! This is my home and I’m going to claim it, no matter what I have to do.”
His sudden ferocity made Macario moan, switching the dynamic from tender to possessive. Cadfael gasped at a series of bites to his neck that wouldn’t show at all under his Aingealese shirts. He encouraged Macario until they were both gasping and moaning, rocking against each other’s bodies in a sweaty, desperate tangle of arms and legs.
“Yes,” Macario gasped with his eyes screwed shut, “Cadfael, oh Goddess yes!”
“Uhn!” Cadfael grunted as they both went rigid, warmth spilling between their bodies.
They slowly relaxed together, Macario clinging to Cadfael as if he never wanted to let go. Cadfael petted his back and traced the muscles under Macario’s dark skin. There was a way. There had to be. No matter what it took Cadfael was going to make this his home. He would never let Macario and Ynes go, even if it meant annoying people on both sides of the world and defying every tradition there was.
Cadfael slowly packed his trunk, working out with some difficulty how to fit everything into it. He was going home with so much more in it than he’d come here with. There were outfits that Jinhai and Macario had sewn for him, samples of zina silk and all the silk thread that Princess T’Kelah had given him. Somehow he’d managed to acquire a dozen gifts for the children back home, most of which the boys had helped him pick out. That wasn’t even counting the books that Hamid had given him or the new set of throwing knives that Raisa had given him after the battle at the First House.
His kilt lay on the end of the bed with his simplest shirt and vest. Three petticoats waited next to them along with his shoes. Cadfael had no intention of putting them on until the very last second. He’d had to send the boys away while he packed. Their efforts to assist him had been much less than helpful. Jinhai and Hamid had been quite helpful but they’d left along with the boys when Cadfael asked for a little time alone.
Macario hadn’t shown up at all so far this morning.
That truly didn’t surprise Cadfael. Their last night together had gone from tender to tearful about halfway through the night. Cadfael was fairly certain that Macario had been awake when he’d slipped out of bed, but he hadn’t shown it. He really wanted to see Macario one last time before he left. For Macario it was the end, and Cadfael could see how much that hurt, but Cadfael absolutely wasn’t going to let it end this way.
“I don’t want to go,” Cadfael had whispered to Macario in the depths of the night. “I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want to leave the boys, or Jinhai, Hamid, Ynes, anyone. This, I don’t want to go, Macario!”
“I don’t want you to go either,” Macario had whispered back, tears creeping down his cheeks in the darkness of his bedroom. “Unfortunately we’re just men. We don’t get a say in this. It is goodbye whether we want it to be or not.”
“I can’t accept that,” Cadfael grumbled into Macario’s shoulder while clinging to him. “I won’t. There has to be a way to make this work out.”
Macario had only sighed and held Cadfael closer until they both fell asleep. This morning Cadfael felt the same as he had last night. There had to be a way to make it work even with Queen Jaleesa being difficult about the match. Macario and Ynes had no say about this, but Cadfael did. Once all his belongings, including his jewelry, were packed Cadfael stood and went to his waiting Aingealese clothes.
Putting on the three layers of petticoats, kilt, underskirt, shirt and vest made his skin begin to itch from the heat and weight of it. They were clothes that he’d chosen back home, styles that he’d insisted on, but now that he didn’t want to go back to Aingeal they felt repellent to him. Still, they were required. Cadfael certainly couldn’t spend months on board the ship in Ntombian clothes. He’d get raped for sure showing so much of himself.
A touch of makeup to his eyelashes, cheeks and mouth made him look less washed out. Cadfael frowned and added a touch more to emphasize his eyes and make himself look strong, determined. His chosen jeweled hairpins secured his braid on the back of his head for the first time since their arrival. When Cadfael looked at himself in the mirror he looked strong and ready for whatever may come his way.
That was good. That was what he wanted. Looking the part had always helped him play the part, no matter how nervous he was inside. To his surprise, Cadfael’s stomach wasn’t as upset as he’d expected it to be. It hurt a bit, but he didn’t feel like he was going to throw up. Only once he was completely ready did Cadfael call the servants to carry his trunk downstairs and outside to where Ynes and her sisters were waiting by the front door.
To his stunned surprise Queen Jaleesa was there with both of her daughters. Her dress today was black as night, covered with tiny mirrors embroidered onto the surface. It made her look even more intimidating than normal. Cadfael took a deep breath, the unfamiliar constriction of his vest making it hard to draw air in.
He could do it. Queen Jaleesa was here. No matter how much she wished Cadfael to be to afraid to ask for Ynes’ hand, he could do this. All his life he’d wanted a home like this, a place where he belonged and fit in. All he had to do was speak up for himself and what he wanted.
Cadfael paused at the door to see how he should approach Queen Jaleesa and Ynes. Anwyn had on her ‘being polite even though I want to smash heads’ expression on. Her hands were clenched into fists behind her back. If she stood any straighter Cadfael thought that she’d hurt her back. Ynes had a hopelessly depressed expression that she was trying to hide behind a weak smile. Efia and Faiza looked absolutely identical as they glared at Queen Jaleesa. Raisa spotted Cadfael by the door to the men’s quarters and winced.
Her wince drew Queen Jaleesa’s attention to Cadfael. From the blank expression on Queen Jaleesa’s face there wasn’t any personal animosity about her refusal to allow Ynes to propose. She almost seemed to apologize for it all as she nodded very slightly to Cadfael. He glared back at her, squaring his shoulders and striding straight over with enough determination that Queen Jaleesa’s expression switched from blank and faintly apologetic to distinctly alarmed.
“Queen Jaleesa,” Cadfael said as he waved at Anwyn to shut up and stay out of it. “I formally request Lady Ynes’ hand in marriage. I come from a powerful clan with many resources, as shown by the treaty we’ve arranged to supply your army with weapons. While I can’t support her, an alliance with my family would benefit both the Second House and Ntombi.”
There was total silence for a long moment as every single person in the area stared at Cadfael. Only after a moment did he realize that he’d all but shouted the proposal so everyone all through the central part of the building had to have heard him. A second later Efia and Faiza whooped with delight while Princess T’Kelah groaned and slapped one hand against her forehead. Ynes’ whimper was quiet enough that probably no one but Cadfael heard it.
“You’re a male,” Queen Jaleesa replied in a near shout so that she could be heard over everyone else’s expostulation. “You can’t propose. You weren’t supposed to do it!”
“I can, too!” Cadfael shouted at her over the cheering coming from all the women of the Second House. Even some of Queen Jaleesa’s women were cheering for him. “You said that I could. I’m not Ntombian, your Majesty. I’m Aingealese, and all Aingealese males are the legal equals to females. I’m the only one who gets to say who I marry and I want to marry Ynes.”
He waved at the women, trying to hush them so that he could hear Queen Jaleesa and Ynes. They were the ones who mattered, not anyone else. It took a moment and Queen Jaleesa raising one closed fist for everyone to be quiet, but once they did the silence made his stomach roil for the sudden attack of nerves.
“You… support this marriage, Dana Anwyn?” Queen Jaleesa asked, turning to Anwyn who grinned defiantly at her.
“Yes, I do” Anwyn declared. “Caddie’s an adult male. He gets to choose his own bride. Our mother will support it fully.”
The silence around them deepened as Queen Jaleesa turned back to Cadfael and Ynes with such a disapproving frown that Cadfael worried that she’d refuse the proposal out of hand, despite how miserable it would make all of them. She could, after all. It was obvious how much she disapproved of the idea, even though she didn’t disapprove of Cadfael himself. He bit his lip and clenched his fists in his kilts despite the threat of wrinkles. Queen Jaleesa took in his expression and the way he clutched his kilt and sighed.
“You barely know her,” Queen Jaleesa said. “You would leave your home and family and move halfway around the world for a woman you have only just begun to know?”
“I know enough,” Cadfael replied and inwardly cursed as his voice shook. Having this many women staring at him, hanging on his every word was terrifying. “I know more than most men would when they accept or deny a proposal. I don’t want to go back to Aingeal, Your Majesty, even though I know I have to. I want to live here, in her house as her husband. I want to be Macario’s brother-husband, help raise Nanjir, Umar, Taji and Ochi. I want to be a part of life here, not back home in Aingeal. I love my family, but I love Ynes and this place far more.”
“Truly?” Queen Jaleesa asked so quietly and gently that total silence fell. People even seemed to stop breathing.
“I fit in here far better than home, your Majesty,” Cadfael said as he nodded and blessed his kilts for hiding the way his knees were shaking. “Please. I want Ynes as my wife more than anything else in the world. Getting to marry her would be a blessing from the Goddesses.”
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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