Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 10

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

10. Sisters

Keiko shifted, rolling from her back to her side. Something tickled her nose. She mumbled and batted it away only to jerk awake as Haruka whined and elbowed Keiko in the stomach. The something was the end of Haruka’s braid, tickling her nose.

She flipped it over Haruka’s shoulder and rolled back onto her back. Everything was quiet. She couldn’t hear Father’s faintly bubbly snores but she could hear Mother muttering in her sleep so their parents had to be okay in the other bedroom. Strange to have separate bedrooms. Keiko was used to sleeping with Mother and Father right there, in the same room with them.

After a moment, Keiko blinked and turned to look at Haruka. She’d started out on her own futon, with her own blankets. When they set up the futons, with Shizuka’s laughing help, Haruka had been excited about the thought of not sharing a futon with anyone.

“Go back to your bed,” Keiko whispered to Haruka.

“Too cold,” Haruka mumbled.

She rolled over and wrapped her arms around Keiko’s waist. Keiko snorted but tugged the blankets until they were both covered fully. It had been a little cold to sleep by herself. Of course, it had been just as strange to sleep with just the two of them when Shizuka went off to be an apprentice. Even a year later Keiko still expected Shizuka’s whistling snores early in the night and the way she woke instantly and cheerfully in the morning.

“I’ll miss this,” Haruka whispered.

“Why?” Keiko murmured. “What? Sleeping? You sleep every night, silly.”

“No, I’ll miss having my sister right here every night,” Haruka said, far too seriously and far too awake for the early hour.

Keiko didn’t pretend that she didn’t understand. They’d had the same conversation when Shizuka left, then again when they got the news that Shizuka had gotten engaged to Nabeela. Honestly, Keiko would miss Haruka’s warmth at night, too. They’d grown up side by side, only two years apart. There had never been a time when they went to bed and the other wasn’t there.

“It won’t be soon,” Keiko whispered.

“Yes, it will,” Haruka said. “Everyone talked about how you left with Lord Ammad.”

“I left with Lady Tamami,” Keiko huffed. “And then met Lord Ammad with Rina in the garden.”

“Really?” Haruka asked, surprised enough that she leaned up on one elbow to study Keiko’s face. She giggled, poking Keiko’s forehead. “Keep making that face and it will stick!”

Keiko stuck her tongue out at Haruka, covering her mouth against laughter when Haruka copied the gesture. Giggling, Haruka cuddled back down, her face against Keiko’s shoulder. Her quiet laughter made the blankets shiver but Haruka stayed quiet enough that they wouldn’t disturb Mother or Father in the other room.

And really, that was so odd. So many of their family discussions had happened when they were laying the futon out or all settling in to sleep. Mother had told stories while gently braiding their hair. Father had given them lessons on the stars and the moon on nights when it was clear enough to sky-gaze from their bedroom window.

As luxurious as Breding Manor was, Keiko thought it was a cold, lonely place. Every single guest had a separate bed. It seemed as though no more than two people slept in any room and who knew how the servants lived? Shizuka’s letters hadn’t mentioned the servants’ quarters, only where the apprentices stayed.

“I wonder if we could see it,” Keiko murmured.

“What?” Haruka asked. She sounded sleepy again.

“The apprentice quarters,” Keiko explained. “I always wondered what it looked like. Descriptions aren’t the same as seeing.”

“No, we can’t,” Haruka said with a huge yawn. “I asked Shahzad. He said that they have two new apprentices, two boys, and that it’s their place. We can’t go see it unless they invite us but we probably won’t see much of them. They’re working with Lord Bilal.”

“Oh well,” Keiko sighed. “I just wondered if the bath was as nice as ours.”

Haruka squirmed and giggled again, nodding. They’d both had a good bath after they got back from the party, washing each other’s hair and scrubbing their backs one more time. The first bath they’d had on arrival had been rushed enough that Keiko hadn’t felt truly clean. Another bath had been just what she needed after the stress of the party.

Keiko’s private dinner with Lord Ammad, Lady Tamami and Rina had been short enough that most of the party guests had still been there when they got back. Even Shahzad and Haruka had been awake still, chatting with several other younger nobility who had listened intently to everything Haruka said.

And that was a sign of things to come. Keiko sighed, hugging Haruka. Her little sister was already far more popular than Keiko would ever be. But then, she had always been the bright, cheerful, popular one. Shizuka was the strong-willed, decisive sister and Keiko, well. She’d always been the strict one. Father called Keiko his ‘kibishi baby’ from the time she was four.

“You were popular tonight,” Keiko said.

“Mm-hmm,” Haruka agreed. “They all asked about you, though.”

“Me?” Keiko asked, much louder than she should have. She winced at Haruka’s poke, nodding for her to explain.

“They all think you’re perfect for Lord Ammad,” Haruka explained. “Well, Shahzad doesn’t. He thinks that Lord Ammad needs someone else, someone less strict. I agreed with him. I think you need someone much wilder than Lord Ammad. He’s very nice, quite handsome, but he’s not… bold. And you hang back. You need someone bold to drag you out and make you do things. Did you really go explore the garden in the dark?”

Keiko blushed so intensely that Haruka started giggling. Really, she wasn’t sure why she’d agreed to go out to the garden with Lady Tamami. Even with the lantern there hadn’t been that much to see. Well, not clearly, anyway. The moon’s silvery light had frosted the edges of leaves, had transformed mundane cabbage into magical flowers from another world. And looking back over the sound with Lady Tamami at her side had felt like the most natural thing in the world, as well as one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen.

“You had fun!” Haruka gasped and then ducked under the covers because that was far too loud. Mother grunted next door. Father grumbled.

They held their breath, waiting, but neither Mother nor Father seemed to wake up. For the first time, Keiko wished for solid walls between their rooms instead of delicate paper shoji screens. Even though the shoji where comfortingly familiar, just like home down to the little paper patches in the shape of cherry blossoms, an actual wall would let them talk without waking their parents.

But then Keiko almost wanted to talk to Mother and Father about last night. Her vow with the others to fight against matchmaking efforts felt strange this morning. How could Keiko do anything to protect a Lord and a Lady? And certainly Rina had more rank than Keiko did. Or at least it felt like she did, no matter what Rina said.

“I need to study everyone’s lineage,” Keiko huffed.

“I already asked Shahzad,” Haruka said, wiggling until she was cuddled practically on top of Keiko. “What did you need to know?”

“Where do we rank?” Keiko asked. “Against… well, everyone.”

Haruka giggled against Keiko’s neck, her breath gusting in warm, wet little blasts that made Keiko laugh and pretend to struggle. They both subsided after a second or two, Haruka with her arm around Keiko’s waist and Keiko playing with the end of Haruka’s braid.

“We’re right underneath Lord Bilal, Lord Ammad and Lady Nabeela,” Haruka said. “Not because of Shizuka but because we’re related to the Queen, Duke Jumping Deer and Duke Kenichi.”

“Oh dear,” Keiko sighed. “So, I actually outrank Lady Tamami? And Rina?”

“Rina, yes,” Haruka said so definitively that Keiko just accepted it as a fact. “Lady Tamami, not quite. You’re very, very close to the same rank with her. I would be just under. Shizuka is just over. It depends on if you consider Metchosin Manor as more important or less important than Breding Manor.”

Keiko bit down on her lip to keep from groaning loudly at that question. She wasn’t sure you could make that comparison and be fair about it. Both families were important politically and for trade. Both had a huge amount of contact with outsiders. Many ships that came to trade stopped at Metchosin first and Breding next. The only real difference was that Metchosin was more strongly militarized than Breding. It had to be to deal with the threat of pirates raiding from the north.

“I didn’t realize that,” Keiko admitted.

“That’s because you don’t want to be here,” Haruka said. She snorted and hugged Keiko harder when Keiko started. “You don’t. Mother’s quite worried about it. They want to stay here, Keiko. Father’s gotten more and better treatment here than he ever did back home, even with Shizuka’s apprenticeship. He could teach and Mother already applied for a job with Lord Bilal.”

Keiko shut her eyes, stomach clenching.

No. She didn’t want to stay here. It was too big, too different. She didn’t know everyone and there was nothing for Keiko to do. No matter what was true for the rest of the family, Keiko knew that she would never be comfortable in this grand, cold place.

But it didn’t look like Keiko had much of a choice in the matter. If Mother and Father truly intended to move here then all Keiko could do was cope with that decision. Perhaps she could get a job in the kitchen. That would, possibly, keep her away from the guests that had to come through all the time.

“I suppose I should apply for a job, too,” Keiko sighed. “Kitchen, maybe?”

“You’re too high ranking for the kitchen,” Haruka said, sitting up on her elbow to stare at Keiko as if that was the most scandalous idea ever. “Maybe like Mother with administration but even then it would be better if you worked with Lord Ammad or Nabeela. Probably Lord Ammad. He needs someone to help him. Shahzad’s taking care of most of the paperwork. Lord Ammad deals with the guests and political matters.”

Keiko hid her face behind her hands. Anything but that! She didn’t want to work on politics or law. Taking care of more social matters like greeting guests would be fine. Keiko was good at that. But making judgments and interpreting the law, handling treaties and political matters was something that Keiko absolutely did not want to do.

“I’m not good at that!” Keiko hissed through her hands. “I’m not!”

“Well, Nabeela and Shizuka are handling the social things you like,” Haruka said apologetically enough that Keiko dropped her hands. “That’s really all there is. Unless you marry someone else and then it all changes and I don’t want it all to change! I’ll miss you if you go away.”

She hugged Keiko so tightly that it was hard to breathe. Keiko didn’t care. She hugged Haruka back just as hard. Everything was about to change, had already changed. It had all started to change with Father’s accident but it felt like the change kept accelerating until nothing would ever settle down.

Keiko sighed, petting Haruka’s hair and gently tugging the braid just as she used to do when they were really little. The world needed to stop changing. Or at least make sense again. There didn’t seem to be anything that Keiko could do other than muddle through the confusion and fear. It wasn’t like that either would go away.

Fear. Keiko smiled, thinking of Lady Tamami’s admission that she was anxious, too. It seemed strange that such a bold, adventurous woman would have that sort of anxiety but she did. She probably wouldn’t have any problems accepting this sort of change, anxiety or not.

“You’re smiling,” Haruka whispered.

“Hmm, just thinking of something Lady Tamami said,” Keiko murmured. “She has anxiety attacks, too. She doesn’t let them stop her. She said that she just stops, breaths deeply, and then goes on doing whatever it is that frightens her.”

“You should try it,” Haruka instantly said. “It might not work but if it does it would help.”

“True,” Keiko agreed. “All right. I’ll try it today. Well, once it’s time to get up. I think we should get a little more sleep. It’s still very, very early.”

Haruka giggled, nodding. “Do I have to go back to the other futon?”

Keiko grinned and hugged her. “Of course not. How could I sleep without your hair tickling my nose?”

They both smothered giggles, squirming until they were comfortably cuddled together. Keiko smiled as Haruka’s breathing smoothed out into sleep almost immediately. She would try it today. She wasn’t sure what the plans were for today other than that there were meetings and signing of papers to be done, but she would try to just breathe and deal with her fear. And maybe, just maybe, if she did, she’d see a trail to the future that didn’t fill her with dread.

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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