Welcome back to another Worldbuilding Wednesday! I’m doing something different with these posts. I decided to write a story and blog how I do the worldbuilding as I go. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll edit and proofread it and then publish it as normal for people to read. Onwards to the story!
So where did we leave off last week?
“Yes, indeed,” Kosuke said, switching to common tongue with a grin of pride. “Individual plates, too. Off you go.”
“Hai!” Shizuka said, singing the word just to make Kosuke grin.
He laughed and waved for her to hurry with his cooking tongs. The plates were indeed quite beautiful. Each of them was the size of Shizuka’s palm. Kosuke had put a small bit of flat bread on each plate and then covered the bread with a nice layer of smoked salmon paste. Sliced fruit had been arranged on top of that, strawberries and sprigs of mint mixed with paper thin slices of rhubarb.
The rhubarb had to honor Duchess Chin-Sun. Personally, Shizuka had never learned to like the bitter stalks but some people did adore it. Besides, it went well with the sweetness of strawberries and the saltiness of the smoked salmon paste.
By the time she got back to the drawing room, Ammad had settled down next to his father on a cushion set on the floor. Nabeela’s head came up so sharply when Shizuka came in that it was impossible to miss the interest and attraction in her eyes. Ammad studiously didn’t look at her but his hand moved not quite casually to cover his groin as if afraid that he might get an erection.
“If it please you,” Shizuka said, inwardly cursing at the way her voice wobbled, “there are snacks before dinner.”
All right then! I remember now. I need to work on Shizuka’s awareness of the potential love matches and Lord Bilal’s response to it. That plus a bit of politics from the Duke and Duchess will probably fill out the chapter quite nicely. Off we go!
“Thank you,” Lord Bilal said with just stern enough of tone of voice that Shizuka bowed her head towards him. “Duke Laughing Seal?”
“What is it?” asked the Duke without moving from his spot next to Duchess Chin-Sun. He’d wrapped an arm around her frail shoulders while Shizuka was gone, holding her close against his side.
“The chef prepared small fruit plates for everyone, Your Grace,” Shizuka explained as she knelt in front of the Duke and Duchess. She steadfastly ignored Nabeela’s approving expression. Paying attention to that would only make her even more nervous. “Bread, salmon paste, strawberries and rhubarb.”
“They’re lovely,” Duchess Chin-Sun exclaimed. “We need a chef like that.”
“I thought you liked our chef,” Duke Laughing Seal said with a huge grin at his wife.
“She’s very talented but not artistic,” Duchess Chin-Sun said as she took her plate from Shizuka.
Neither of them paid Shizuka any attention. That was a blessing. Passing Nabeela her plate made Shizuka blush brilliantly. Properly speaking she should have gone to Lord Bilal next but the back and forth movement would have been more distracting so Shizuka adjusted the order slightly.
Lord Bilal didn’t seem upset by Nabeela being served before him, thankfully. He did frown at Shizuka as if he wasn’t entirely pleased. As he leaned back he wheezed, though, making Shizuka wonder if perhaps the visit was more than he could handle physically. Ammad had a similarly concerned expression as he took his plate from Shizuka.
“Father, do you need to rest?” Ammad asked exactly as Shizuka wanted to but didn’t dare.
“I’m fine,” Lord Bilal grumbled at him. “You should try this. It’s quite good even with the rhubarb.”
The deflection attempt was less than successful as Lord Bilal coughed. It was a wet, deep cough, the sort that sounded like it came from deep inside the chest. Shizuka paused as she passed the last fruit plate to the slaves. Lord Bilal shook his head as the coughs continued. Shizuka stood and ran out of the room. Ouchi started when she ran in.
“Do you have something to stop Lord Bilal’s coughing fits?” Shizuka asked, breathless more from worry than from the run through the hallways.
“Ah, hai,” Ouchi said as he turned and rapidly rummaged through the shelves. “These. They’re hard candies, medicine, really. Go!”
“Hai!” Shizuka replied even though she was already running out of the room with the little bag of hard candies clutched in her hand.
She made it back to the drawing room very quickly but already Lord Bilal looked gray, his skin pale and sweaty as he fought against the coughing attack. Duke Laughing Seal had come over to support him on one side while Ammad supported his other side. Nabeela was carefully patting his back.
“Cough drops,” Shizuka said as she skidded to a stop in front of him.
Lord Bilal nodded and gestured with one hand for her to pass them over as he sucked in a ragged breath and then held it. He shook from the effort. When Shizuka opened the bag, she saw that they were green tea candies or perhaps peppermint, thyme and green tea candies. Either way, Lord Bilal took them gratefully.
They worked very quickly. It only took a few moments of sucking on the first one for Lord Bilal’s breathing to ease and his coughs to subside. Duke Laughing Seal patted Shizuka’s shoulder as he passed, going back to his wife. Both Ammad and Nabeela looked intensely grateful for Shizuka’s actions.
“Master, you really need to stop talking,” Shizuka said in hopefully a not too scolding tone of voice. “Guests or not, taking is bad for you right now.”
I’ve actually had these cough drops, by the way. I have no real idea what was in them. You see, my husband and I went to Japan to see the 400th Anniversary of the battle of Sekigahara. I caught a cold on the way there and thus was coughing and miserable. But there was a little gift shop at the celebration that had cough drops / candies. One of them was labeled in English ‘For Throats’ so I bought two bags.
They helped so much! I never did find out what they were but they tasted sort of like green tea, maybe Asian pears (nashi) and some sort of herbs that I never did successfully identify. I have to believe that they were a local product because I’ve never seen them anywhere else, inside or outside of Japan. Pity, that. They really were quite effective.
Is there anything more effective that Lord Bilal could take for his cough? Not really. He has antibiotics to fight the underlying pneumonia but medicine in this universe is very basic. There are herbal remedies and various sorts of folk cures that work more on the placebo effect than on actual medical merit.
Yes, there are people working on medical discoveries. The Arab world is doing better on that than almost anyone else. Unfortunately for Lord Bilal, the center of Muslim culture is half a world away across the Pacific from his home.
Some knowledge is filtering in. There is a widening awareness of microbes and how diseases actually work. Ambermarle is generally a very clean country. The people have ample supplies of water (Western Washington is a temperate rain forest) and they have advanced plumbing allowing for easy bathing and cleaning of people’s bodies, clothes and environments.
Still, Lord Bilal doesn’t have much in the way of medicine that will help him other than the little things that have been known to help for generations.
“I know,” Lord Bilal said in a raw, husky voice that made Shizuka glare even harder at him. He smiled, flapping the hand that wasn’t holding the precious little bag of candies. “Shoo. Take care of someone else, child.”
Shizuka grumbled over that, fussing with his blanket to make sure that he was warm and comfortable before going to check on Duchess Chin-Sun. She patted Shizuka’s hand reassuringly. Her fussing was at least received well by Duke Laughing Seal. He smiled approvingly at Shizuka before nodding for her to go sit with their two slaves.
It felt a little strange to just sit and watch but there didn’t seem to be much to do at the moment. Lord Bilal’s breathing slowly evened out as he sucked on his hard candy. Nabeela stood behind him for a long while before going to sit next to Duchess Chin-Sun once more. That seemed to be some sort of signal for conversation to resume.
“She’s quite the credit to your house,” Lord Laughing Seal commented as Shizuka settled next to the two slaves and tucked her feet up. “You’ve done well training her.”
Lord Bilal swallowed a laugh, holding his breath as he gestured for Ammad to explain. As Ammad grinned over his shoulder at Shizuka, her cheeks went blazingly red. It was bad enough that the other slaves nudged her while chuckling very quietly.
“This is actually her first day,” Ammad explained. “She’s only been here a couple of hours. The roads were bad enough that she arrived late.”
“Really?” Duke Laughing Seal asked. He stared at Shizuka who bowed and nodded while fighting the urge to hide her face in her hands. “Well, then, you’re a credit to your family, child. I suspect that you’ll do quite well.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Shizuka said in a squeaky voice that made everyone laugh at her.
“The roads are doing that poorly this year?” Duchess Chin-Sun asked. “I’d heard that the rain was very bad in your area but I didn’t think it was that destructive.”
Shizuka thought that the change of topic was intended to help her relax but if she’d been able to Shizuka would have waved Duchess Chin-Sun off that topic. Mentioning the roads and the flooding could only lead to the Lady’s death. That would inevitably kill the mood faster than anything else.
“That’s… how we lost Mother,” Nabeela said very softly and sadly. “The roads were so bad that they rode out to check on everyone. A bridge collapsed under them as they crossed.”
“Many villages are suffering from the rain and flooding,” Ammad agreed with a heavy sigh. “We’re… coping. All of us. It’s hard but we’re coping.”
Duchess Chin-Sun looked thoroughly horrified that her relatively innocent question about the weather had gone so awry. Shizuka pursed her lips before nodding at the plates in the two slaves’ laps. Something had to change the mood in here or it would only get worse.
“Done?” Shizuka whispered as Duchess Chin-Sun hummed and waved one hand as if trying to find something to say.
“Yes,” the taller slave said. “Help this time?”
“At least cuddles for them,” Shizuka said, nodding.
“You get Lady Nabeela,” the shorter slave murmured. “I’ll get Lord Bilal and Ammad. You get our Master and Mistress.”
They exchanged a nod and stood as Lord Laughing Seal coughed awkwardly. Shizuka gathered up the slaves’ plates, going to swiftly take the other’s plates as well. To her relief there was a servant waiting outside to gather them up. He looked a bit nervous about Lord Bilal, glancing inside and then sighing with relief that Lord Bilal wasn’t coughing.
“How long until dinner?” Shizuka whispered.
“About half an hour,” the servant whispered back. “Problems?”
“Awkwardness,” Shizuka said, grimacing because what else could she say with such little time.
Shizuka turned back and smiled to find Ammad bemusedly holding the shorter slave in his lap. The taller slave had knelt in front of Duke Laughing Seal so that he could lean into his lap and allow the Duchess to pet his hair. That, at least, gave Shizuka an idea of what she should do.
It felt very strange to curl up next to Nabeela and yet very familiar at the same time. Shizuka’s family had always hugged and held one another. She had grown up sleeping on the same futon with her little sisters. Nabeela’s arm wrapped around her back felt much like that but at the same time it was totally different.
Her sisters’ breath didn’t catch when Shizuka put her head on their shoulders. They didn’t shiver at the feeling of Shizuka’s arms wrapping around their backs. They certainly didn’t moan so very quietly that only Shizuka could hear it.
Nabeela did and it made Shizuka blush. It also made her smile shyly. She wasn’t sure what to make of Nabeela and Ammad’s attraction to her. Truthfully, it didn’t really matter. Shizuka was there to learn new skills and earn money that would help her family get back on their feet. A little flirtation along the way was nice but she couldn’t allow it to distract her from her duties to Lord Bilal and her family.
Lovely place to end this chapter! *grin*Shizuka’s started to think about romance. She’s got cuddle time to distract Nabeela with. And, better still, I have a good idea of what happens next.
I do sort of wonder whether having a major death in the family sets the wrong tone for the story but that’s something for me to consider as I work on the next chapter. For now I’m going to leave that plot thread where it is. Taking it out would take a good bit of work and it does put everyone on an uneven keel, allowing Shizuka a better chance to work her way into people’s hearts.
Next chapter I get to have a formal dinner in Ambermarle, something I am definitely going to have to research, and then Nabeela gets to deal with her strong attraction to her Piyari. Thanks for reading!
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