Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 16

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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

16. Apology

Keiko’s pulse pounded in her ears as loudly as Mother’s tribe’s drums during a ceremony. Her mouth was dry as bone but the anger that had led to Keiko striking Lady Cantara had drained away, trans-forming as it left into a blood chilling realization that if she did not continue this path, if she did not fight for her right to choose her own future, she would be forced into a marriage that neither she nor Lord Ammad wanted.

It was so obvious. Whether it truly was Lady Cantara spreading those noxious rumors about Keiko and Lord Ammad or not, everyone at the wedding had accepted them as self-evident. And that could not be allowed to continue.

Mother’s many lessons on fighting, on holding blades from dagger to sword length, cascaded through Keiko’s mind. It would be better if she had a staff or naginata, at least a spear, but Lady Cantara wasn’t that much taller than Keiko. She could still stab the foolish woman or break her kneecaps.

If it came to that, of course. The longer the silence stretched, the more fiercely Keiko glared, the paler Lady Cantara and Firas became.

She could hear someone slowly making their way across the ballroom, shoes quiet as slippers but murmured apologies and requests for people to move very, very audible with the silently watching crowd. Whoever it was had better stay out of it, though. Keiko wouldn’t let anyone other than Mother or Father stop her at this point.

“You…” Lady Cantara finally said. She had stop to swallow hard when the word cracked as it came out her mouth. “If I have done something to offend you somehow then of course I apologize.”

“That is not an apology,” Keiko declared. She pointed the dagger at Lady Cantara, glaring down its length. “You know that you have offended. You know that you transgressed. You will apologize properly.”

“I’m a Lady,” Lady Cantara said, voice shaking even as she raised her chin to sneer weakly at Keiko. “You wouldn’t dare. Your parents wouldn’t let you.”

“I told her to stab you yesterday,” Mother said, amusement ringing through every word. “Frankly, I would have stabbed you rather than give you the chance to apologize. But then I was a warrior before I met my husband.”

Lady Cantara’s mouth gaped open like a fish out of water. The sheer fear in her eyes calmed Keiko’s stomach and stiffened her resolve to end this once and for all. As Keiko glared Lady Cantara looked away, towards the crowd, towards Lord Bilal and then Lord Ammad. She looked over her shoulder at Firas who tried to speak, mouth flapping, only to fail.

“Last chance,” Keiko declared.

“Yasuda Keiko.”

The cool, calm voice interrupted before Lady Cantara could do more than puff up her chest as if she was a turkey trying to impress a prospective mate. Keiko turned to glare at whoever it was only to wince. She turned fully, dagger dropping to her side, when she saw that Their Majesties’ representative was standing just out of attack range, a wry smile just barely visibly on his lips.

He leveled a cold stare on Lady Cantara before studying Keiko closely enough that her nervousness returned, shaking her knees and making her mouth go even drier. Keiko squared her shoulders, lifted her chin and stared back at him. It wasn’t what he expected, apparently, because one eyebrow slowly rose.

“What exactly is your complaint against Lady Cantara?” Their Majesties’ representative asked.

“Formally?” Keiko asked. She cocked her head to the side, watching his response. “Or on a personal level?”

“Both,” Their Majesties’ representative replied.

This time his smile was full, right up into his eyes, and in no way wry at all. Keiko snorted at that. Really, the man wasn’t supposed to show favoritism. That was his job, his duty. She shook her head to clear those thoughts out, focusing instead of Lady Cantara who sneered at Keiko as if to say ‘you wouldn’t dare’.

And that was the key with her, wasn’t it? She didn’t respect Keiko. Very likely she didn’t respect Shizuka or Nabeela, either. Everything she had done here had been terribly disrespectful. And, from what little Rina had said, she had been more than disrespectful previously with other nobles and their affairs. Both Lord Ammad and Lady Tamami disliked Lady Cantara enough to snub her. Yet she was so apparently powerful enough to avoid the consequences for her poor behavior.

Keiko turned back to Their Majesties’ representative, Lady Tamami’s dagger firmly by her side. “On the personal level, I find her rude, offensive and inappropriate. She demands interaction without according respect. On three separate occasions, including just before this confrontation, I made it quite clear that I had no desire to interact with her. She has taken that, apparently, as a challenge, rather than something to be followed.”

“Really?” Their Majesties’ representative murmured, eyes going speculative as he gazed at Lady Cantara. “Had you met her previously?”

“Never,” Keiko said. “I had no idea of her identity the first time she walked up and began talking to me. No introduction at all, no explanation of who she was or why she sought me out. She simply expected that I would dance attendance on her. And that is completely aside from her tendency to blame any disapproval directed towards her at her husband.”

“Hmm,” Their Majesties’ representative said, nodding. “And on the formal level?”

Keiko took a deep breath, glancing at Rina. Her eyes were quite wide but she grinned as if she wanted to cheer for Keiko. Lady Tamami had her hands in fists but she grinned, too. Even Lord Bilal looked hopefully while his apprentices stared at Keiko, one’s face going red as he held his breath and the other clinging to Lord Bilal’s sleeve like a little child.

“In my assessment,” Keiko said, returning her gaze to Their Majesties’ representative, “she is a disruptive influence. I do not know exactly what happened with Rina and Lady Tamami, but I know that she has caused trouble for them on matters of state. Lord Ammad mentioned similar things, perhaps on the same event, perhaps not. I haven’t questioned any of them about it as it is not my place to delve into such matters.

“However, that is not the basis of my opinion,” Keiko said, ignoring Lady Cantara’s furious hiss. “I came to Breding Manor to attend my older sister Shizuka’s wedding. From the moment Lady Cantara arrived, there have been rumors and outright assumptions that Lord Ammad and I would marry, despite our denying such allegations. Add this to completely false rumors spread about Lord Ammad and I going out privately into the garden, and Lady Cantara’s insistence that it was ‘obvious’ that a marriage would happen, and I suspect that she is the source of the gossip.”

“Gossip is just gossip,” Their Majesties’ representative said in a suitably cool and reserved tone of voice. His rapid glance at Lord Bilal, Lord Ammad and Lady Cantara’s face said other things.

“No, it is not,” Keiko said. She raised an eyebrow at him, rocking the man back on his heels. Once he nodded for her to continue Keiko bowed very slightly to him to apologize for the fierceness. “This is not mere gossip. Mere gossip would have made much of Lady Tamami and I exploring the garden together at night. Alone. It would have noted that Lord Ammad and Rina went out into the garden together. It would have noticed and elaborated on the private dinner the four of us shared.”

She snorted as a wave of excited gasps spread through the crowd, waving her free hand while raising an eyebrow at Their Majesties’ representative. He smiled wryly and nodded for her to continue. Keiko glared at the crowd until they went silent.

“There should have been gossip about Lady Tamami and me,” Keiko said. “Or Lord Ammad and Rina. Even nonsense about the four of us together in some sort of complicated four-way marriage would make more sense than the ‘gossip’ that spread. Instead, everyone at the party is completely convinced that Lord Ammad and I are ‘destined’ for marriage and that Lady Tamami and Rina are already all but married. The only person who has refused to listen, who has denied me the right to choose my own marriage, is Lady Cantara. I have no idea what her goals are, other than perhaps a chronic desire to spread mayhem, but I hold her squarely responsible for all of the trouble so far.”

Lady Cantara shoved away from the wall, leaving Firas with his back to the wall and eyes so wide that he looked as though he was about to bolt. Keiko snapped the dagger back in front of her, turning so that she could easily attack Lady Cantara if she dared to touch. Her heart pounded again but not as hard as before. Instead of fury or offense, Lady Cantara looked terrified despite her attempt to hide it with a sneer and a dismissive wave at Keiko.

“She has no idea what she’s talking about,” Lady Cantara declared. “I haven’t spread any gossip at all. She’s trying to get above her station, that’s all.”

“In reality,” Their Majesties’ representative said with a respectful bow of his head towards Keiko, “she ranks higher than you. You are the one ‘getting above her station’, not Yasuda Keiko.”

He turned back to Keiko, lips thin at the way Lady Cantara spluttered at them both. Rina made a strangled noise that could have been laughter or maybe a little scream. And Lady Tamami chuckled so evilly that Keiko wanted to glare at her. She didn’t. Instead she looked at Their Majesties’ representative while watching Lady Cantara from the corner of her eye.

“I was already informed that there may be issues with Lady Cantara’s estate,” Their Majesties’ representative said. “I will be investigating further after the wedding. Thank you for your input into my investigation, Yasuda Keiko. Ah, I would ask that you do not stab her, though. Their Majesties prefer conflicts such as this be solved without violence.”

“I won’t stab her if she apologizes properly and stops saying that Lord Ammad and I are perfect for each other,” Keiko said.

“Why should I apologize when it’s the truth?” Lady Cantara shouted. “You are perfect for him, you little idiot! Anyone can see it.”

She gasped as Keiko raised the dagger and shifted into an attack pose. Lady Cantara stumbled backwards, cursing. Keiko shouted as strong arms wrapped around her waist, lifting her off her feet for the second time. Lady Tamami laughed in Keiko’s ear, carrying her away from Lady Cantara and Their Majesties’ representative even as the crowd around them burst into excited chatter.

“Garden,” Lady Tamami said, going out the door that Lord Ammad held for her, still carrying Keiko by the waist.

“Put me down!” Keiko shouted.

“No, not going to do that,” Lady Tamami laughed. “Not until you’re far enough away that you can’t throw the knife.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Keiko said, glaring over her shoulder at Tamami. “This isn’t a throwing dagger. It wouldn’t work.”

Lady Tamami’s face lit up with unbridled glee. She chortled as she carried Keiko out of the ballroom and out into the garden. Outside, rain drizzled down, more mist than actual raindrops. The roof hung over the garden by several yards, supposedly protecting them from the rain but it didn’t work in reality. Instead the misty-rain drifted over them, settling like dew on Keiko’s face, kimono and Lady Tamami’s dagger.

“There we go,” Lady Tamami said as she set Keiko down. “No running straight back in there to stab her.”

“She deserves to be stabbed,” Keiko declared.

Before Lady Tamami could reply, probably laughing and sly if her expression was anything to judge by, Haruka dashed outside and all but knocked Keiko over with a hug. Shizuka was right behind her, both of them avoiding Lady Tamami’s dagger with the ease that was appropriate to people trained by Mother on blade safety. Mother and Father came right after them, both smiling, as did Lord Ammad, Rina, and Nabeela.

“You’re back!” Haruka squealed.

“I haven’t been anywhere,” Keiko said, rolling her eyes.

“No, but you changed after Father’s accident,” Haruka said, finally letting Keiko go. “Now you’re back to yourself again. I’ve missed you terrifying people!”

Lady Tamami burst out laughing, leaning one hand against the closest window frame as she laughed until tears ran down her cheeks. Mother nodded her agreement, smiling so widely that her crooked teeth showed and she hardly ever did that.

“You two are so suited for each other,” Rina sighed. “Goodness, together you’d terrify the pirates and raiders into sailing away entirely.”

That cut Lady Tamami’s laughter off cold. She glared at Rina as if she’d just cursed out Amida Buddha to his divine face. Keiko studied her, flapped her fingers at her sisters and then held the dagger out to Lady Tamami formally, balancing it over her palms while bowing slightly.

Lady Tamami bowed before taking it just as formally. Keiko waited until Lady Tamami had it back in the holster and then grabbed her courage with both hands. She’d already told the entire nobility assembled at Breding Manor to leave her alone on romantic matters. It looked as though Lady Tamami hadn’t realized yet why.

“You will court me,” Keiko announced, raising her chin to stare imperiously at Lady Tamami.

“Wait, what?” Lady Tamami asked, staggering a little as if Keiko had just slapped her.

“You will court me,” Keiko repeated. “We will be married, not in the spring or the fall. Certainly not winter. Perhaps in late summer, before the apples ripen. I expect gifts. And a detailed explanation of what duties you handle and what I will handle. I prefer to learn how to do things before I begin doing them.”

Rina started snickering, leaning her forehead against Lord Ammad’s shoulder while clinging to his arm. He grinned at Keiko as if she was the most amazing person he’d ever seen, except no. That wasn’t true. His little glance at Rina’s bowed head held far more awe and wonder, more love, than anything he directed at Keiko.

Shizuka and Haruka, on the other hand, stared with nearly identical expressions on their faces. They both looked as though they’d just seen a fish crawl out of the river, put on kimono and begin selling udon noodles door to door. Which was silly. Mother had done the exact same thing to Father and look out well their relationship worked. Sometimes you had to stop hoping and take action, no matter how many knots your stomach tied itself into while Lady Tamami stared.

“Gifts?” Lady Tamami asked, her voice considerably higher than normal.

“Gifts,” Keiko agreed. “Your dagger is very nice but I prefer proper single-bladed tanto. About an inch shorter, as well. Oh, and blue wrappings on the hilt and sheathe. I usually wear shades of blue. Also I’m making you a cotton kimono and hakama set, indigo dyed. Women’s style, just to see if Rina’s right about people’s expressions when you wear it. Which you should for the rukhsati. I should have time if I enlist Haruka’s help.”

This time Lady Tamami’s dumbfounded stare faded away into the sort of delighted grin that Father used to have every time Mother challenged a rude male traveler to combat. Lady Tamami laughed, not like Rina’s helpless giggles or Father’s approving chuckles, but a loud blast of joy that made Keiko grin.

“As you say then,” Lady Tamami said, bowing very deeply to Keiko, so deeply that you would have thought that Keiko was the Queen or the Queen Mother. “I look forward to it.”

Find this Story:

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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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