Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 8

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

8. Private Dinner

The private sitting room was cool, thank goodness. Set on the east side of the manor, well away from the ballroom and its hive of activity, it hadn’t had a fire made. Possibly for several days. The weather had been so unseasonably warm and dry that most of the guests had spent their time outside rather than in here or the other sitting rooms.

Better still, as far as Ammad was concerned, it was a Japanese style sitting room with a low table surrounded by thin cushions. The floor had been covered by tatami mats, giving the room a pleasant grassy smell that was all the better this evening. He set their pilfered tray on the table and gestured for Rina to set her kotatsu on the floor close to them.

“Thank you,” Rina said. “If you would pass me the teapot, Keiko?”

“Of course.”

Keiko and Rina settled down, both kneeling with their kimono and hakama, respectively, tucked close to their legs. Lady Tamami smiled at the two of them as she helped Ammad spread their pilfered food on the table. Not that it was actually stolen but Kosuke had been quite annoyed by the request for a separate pot of nihari, another of soup and then naan to soak it all up. He’d glowered at both Lady Tamami and Ammad while behind his back Rina and Keiko had calmly gathered sweet mochi, a simple cabbage salad and tea for them to drink.

It was worth it, though. Ammad smiled as he sat, legs crossed, and passed chopsticks to Lady Tamami. She bowed as she took them, glanced towards Rina and Keiko and then snagged a bit of elk out of the nihari. He grinned but didn’t follow suit.

“We’re almost ready,” Keiko huffed. “Just a moment and we’ll have tea to go with dinner.”

“Pity there wasn’t some other wine,” Lady Tamami said around her bit of elk. “Blackberry’s too sweet for this.”

“It truly is,” Ammad agreed. “But most people expect it at parties so we always serve it. We’re saving the sake for the wedding, of course. I think we have at least twenty barrels, not including the ones going to the shrine to thank the priest for his work in marrying Nabeela and Shizuka.”

Keiko settled next to Ammad, leaving Rina with the spot directly opposite him. It was probably the most appropriate way for them to sit. Rina was Lady Tamami’s relative so sitting next to her was right. Still, Ammad wouldn’t have objected even if it were massively inappropriate. Getting to watch Rina’s face as they ate was an opportunity that Ammad wouldn’t pass up. Lady Tamami seemed to feel the same way about Keiko because she smiled, ducked her head and then grinned as she tried to sneak another bite of the elk.

“Oh, just serve some out!” Keiko huffed as she batted Lady Tamami’s chopsticks away.

“Tastes better when you steal it from the pot,” Lady Tamami said.

She laughed at the looks both Keiko and Rina gave her. Ammad shook his head and set to work serving them all. As the family member it really was his responsibility. That still made Keiko blush as if she felt that it was her duty instead. Rina took her plate with a little bow and a smile that just barely peeked out at the corners of her mouth. Lady Tamami took hers with a delighted grin, especially since Ammad made sure she got a slightly larger serving.

“Good,” Rina said. Her eyes were on Lady Tamami’s plate. “You noticed.”

“That she’s not eating?” Ammad said. “Oh yes. Shizuka has been quite worried about it, actually. She wanted to send for her old instructor, the local doctor, to make sure that nothing was wrong.”

Lady Tamami groaned. “I just can’t stand buffets, that’s all. They’re revolting.”

She glowered at the nihari while angrily chewing. Rina shook her head as if she didn’t understand that at all. Frankly, Ammad didn’t either. Kosuke and the kitchen staff worked incredibly hard to make sure that the food was always fresh, hot when it should be and cold otherwise. Providing good food to their guests was so important. There was no way that they would allow the food to be less than perfect.

“I wonder if it’s nervousness,” Keiko observed. She carefully set her chopsticks down before gesturing at Lady Tamami who stared at her. “I’ve noticed that when I’m very nervous my stomach is much more unsettled.”

“It could be your anxiety,” Rina said so practically that Ammad raised an eyebrow.

“You have anxiety attacks?” Ammad asked. “I would never have guessed.”

“Yes, I do,” Lady Tamami sighed. Her glare didn’t impact Rina at all. All Rina did was shrug and eat a bit more of her rice. “It doesn’t stop me from doing anything, thankfully, but I do tend to get frightened of things for no good reason. It’s ridiculous and I honestly don’t see how it could be responsible for my hatred of buffets.”

Keiko nodded slowly, fussing with her chopsticks without meeting Lady Tamami’s, or anyone else’s, eyes. “If the fear had shifted, changed from a fear of crowds, then it could become nausea at the thought of eating around those crowds. I certainly couldn’t eat much. I was afraid that I was going to throw up if I put anything at all in my stomach.”

Ammad nodded as he picked at the small portions of nihari and rice he’d taken. When he was young, eating at parties had been a trial. He’d gotten so nauseous on occasion that he’d had to leave the party and just sit quietly until his stomach settled. That was something he’d gotten over before he hit his majority but Shahzad still had a nervous stomach when there were important court matters to deal with.

After a moment Lady Tamami nodded. She didn’t look as though she agreed. Her scowl could have soured wine into vinegar. But she didn’t disagree openly with Keiko. They ate for a little longer, Ammad serving both Keiko and Lady Tamami second helpings of the nihari. Rina served the tea and then poured soup for them all, gracefully pulling her sleeve back to reveal a forearm with enough muscle for a warrior instead of a young lady.

“How steep are the hills around Metchosin Manor?” Ammad asked.

“Not the gardens again,” Lady Tamami groaned.

Rina laughed. “Yes, gardens. We could do with a place to grow food locally. Lord Ammad told me that almost all the gardens have some edibles in them, varying depending on the bed what it is.”

“Really?” Keiko asked, eyes wide with surprise. “I noticed cabbage but I didn’t think there was that much more.”

“Oh yes,” Ammad said. “Mother wanted the manor to be largely self-sufficient. The trees all produce fruit. Almost all the plants are edible in one way or another. We have a true vegetable garden close to the kitchen but the staff harvest from the entire garden. It’s quite efficient, actually. We only have a few things that we buy from the local farmers. Leaves more food for people to eat and more profit to the farmers, too.”

“That would help,” Lady Tamami admitted. She sighed and shook her head in dismay. “Though the cost must have been incredible.”

Ammad shrugged, chewing his latest bite until he could swallow. It was a bit too sticky to eat so quickly. The soup was delicious, thick with spices and chunks of celery that nicely complimented the chicken. Lady Tamami took his pause as an excuse to drink the broth off her bowl, lifting the bowl to her lips in the traditional Japanese style.

“Not too bad,” Ammad said. “We took it in stages, actually. I was explaining the construction process to Rina when you arrived. The biggest expense was moving the earth around but we would have had to do that anyway eventually. The hillside was showing signs of sliding before we began work. We’ll probably expand it even further in the summer. The highest parts of the hill are still somewhat unstable.”

“So it needed to be done anyway,” Lady Tamami said, nodding. “That makes sense.”

“And Metchosin Manor needs the same thing,” Rina declared. She glowered at Lady Tamami’s wince. “We’ve already had two small slides. Something has to be done and this would work brilliantly to solve that problem plus provide food for everyone at the manor to eat.”

Keiko chuckled. She ducked her head when Ammad looked her way but only for a second. After a sip of tea, Keiko nodded towards Rina and Lady Tamami.

“They sound like my sisters and me,” Keiko explained. “We used to argue all the time about what needed to be put in our garden and what dinner should be on any given day.”

“That!” Lady Tamami said, pointing at Keiko with her finger, not her chopsticks. “That right there. That’s the major reason why I’m going to stab Waseem.”

Rina groaned. “Is he still implying that we’d be a good match? I can’t imagine being married to you. We’re cousins, raised nearly as sisters. That’s so… wrong.”

Ammad laughed. He shrugged at the looks he got from all three women. It was nice to talk to other people who were as tired of the matchmaking surrounding them. When Ammad waved towards the door, snorting, Lady Tamami nodded her agreement. So did Rina. Keiko turned and looked, a thoughtful expression that was faintly tinged by horror on her face.

“What?” Ammad asked.

“Well, we’re alone,” Keiko said slowly, thoughtfully. “Just the four of us. No one outside has any idea where we are or what we’re doing. Certainly, the kitchen staff knows that we’re eating but you didn’t say where we were going to go. And none of the guests at the party even know who we left with.”

“Oh no,” Rina breathed. She stared at the door, too, one hand drifting up to cover her mouth. “The gossip.”

“And we cut Lady Cantara so badly,” Lady Tamami groaned. Her head dropped towards her chest as she shuddered. “That husband of hers is going to make up the most malicious rumors that he can.”

Ammad frowned at all of them. It couldn’t be that bad. They’d passed servants on the way. And people had seen them leaving the ballroom. Others had seen them coming back in. Certainly some people would gossip but he couldn’t believe that it would be that overwhelming.

“People saw us,” Ammad said.

“Not many,” Keiko said so softly that it was a worse rebuke than if she’d shouted.

“I truly don’t think it would matter if everyone saw us,” Rina said.

When Ammad stared, Rina made a face, gesturing towards the door. She was very careful with the gesture, keeping it small so that her long kimono sleeve didn’t flap around wildly. In addition, her other hand caught the hem, holding the sleeve away from her plate. It was such a little thing, so minor, but somehow it caught Ammad’s attention. The care implied in the gesture matched up with what he’d seen of her character so far.

“The other guests want to see romance everywhere,” Rina said. She sighed at Lady Tamami’s growl. “They do. You know that as well as I do.”

“It is a wedding,” Keiko agreed. “Every time there’s a wedding people seem to think that romance is, I don’t know, stronger somehow.”

“The kami are in love with the lovers,” Lady Tamami grumbled. “Stupid saying.”

“But one that people believe,” Rina said, frowning sternly enough at Lady Tamami that she straightened up and stopped pouting. Not that Lady Tamami probably thought that it was a pout but Ammad would certainly call it one. “So no matter what we say or do, everyone outside of this room is going to assume that something romantic happened. If not between the two of us, then between Keiko and Lord Ammad. Or perhaps between all four of us in some complicated, ridiculous way.”

Ammad shuddered. “No romance. I don’t want a romance right now. Every single person in my family insists that I need to find a spouse and frankly, I’m tired of it.”

“That,” Lady Tamami agreed, stabbing her finger towards Ammad. “We should swear to fight them all off.”

Keiko squeaked high in her throat, one hand coming up to cover her mouth. She didn’t catch her sleeve but it was shorter, less than a quarter as long as Rina’s sleeves, so it really wasn’t that much of a danger.

“We should, actually,” Rina said.

“A vow to avoid romance?” Keiko said. “Rina, don’t be so dramatic. We might actually find someone that we fall in love with. This is a broad gathering and there are many new people to meet.”

“No, not avoiding romance,” Rina said. She shifted a little on her cushion, sitting straighter while smiling at the way Ammad, Lady Tamami and then Keiko stared at her. “A vow to fight everyone that’s trying to force a match on us. So if Lord Ammad hears someone saying that he and I or Keiko and Tamami are a good match, he would interrupt and tell them to leave it alone. And we would do the same for him.”

Ammad leaned back a little bit, considering it. They were all in the same boat, all about to be swamped by ‘helpful’ people offering suggestions. Having three other people who would help push those suggestions off, who would remind the other guests that Ammad wasn’t looking for a spouse at the moment, would be very nice indeed.

“That would help,” Ammad said.

He looked at Lady Tamami. She frowned at her plate for a long moment before looking at Keiko, then Ammad, and finally Rina. Keiko bit her lip. Rina simply stared back at her cousin calmly, hands folded over her lap.

“And if we did find someone we wanted,” Lady Tamami said with a sharp gesture at the door, “and those fools out there suddenly decided that no, that’s not a good match?”

“Then we back each other up, if of course, we agree that it’s good,” Rina said. “I do want to marry eventually. I believe that Lord Ammad and Keiko do as well.”

“Oh yes,” Keiko agreed. “I certainly do. Just not soon.”

Ammad nodded his agreement.

“Then let’s do it,” Lady Tamami said. “We’ll follow our own trails instead of the ones that everyone else chooses for us. And hopefully we’ll make it through this wedding without being forced into something we don’t want.”

She picked up her cup of tea, holding it as formally as if it was sake for a toast or wine for an oath. Ammad followed suit, as did Keiko and then Rina. They all bowed their heads, silently praying, before drinking their tea in three slow, deep swallows. Ammad smiled as he set his tea cup down.

At least he wasn’t alone in this anymore.

Find this Story:

On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $14.99 TPB

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If you can’t afford to buy the story, please consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these stories. Thank you very much!

Find this Story:

On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $14.99 TPB

On Smashwords $5.99 ebook

On CreateSpace $14.99 5″ x 8″ TPB

If you can’t afford to buy the story, please consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these stories. Thank you very much!

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About meyari

I am a writer of erotica, science fiction and fantasy. I've been writing for years but have just sold my first erotica novel and am working on self-publishing my non-erotica. I love sewing, collecting dolls, reading, and a great many crafts that I no longer have time to do. I've been happily married to my husband for 20 years.
This entry was posted in LGBT Issues, Manor Verse, MDR Publishing, Novel Monday, Self Publishing, Writing Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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