Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 17

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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

17. Rukhsati

Ammad stood by Nabeela’s side at the head of the great hall, the only room on all of the Breding Manor that would hold everyone that wanted to see the rukhsati. Granted, this wasn’t the final stage of Nabeela and Keiko’s wedding. There was still the wedding feast, the honeymoon, and then the procession around the province to every village so that the people could meet Shizuka and know their new Lady.

But it was the point at which Shizuka left the Yasuda family legally, becoming a member of their family instead. And that was something that virtually the entire village wanted to see, as well as the gathered nobles and family members. Everyone in the village knew Shizuka. Her medical training had given her a chance to form friendships with every single person there, not to mention a huge number of sailors and travelers she’d met as they passed through and needed medical care.

It made the great hall seem small, almost cozy. Shizuka had insisted on putting out a long red carpet to define where she would walk with her parents and sisters. Then she’d had the servants put down cushions for the children, low folding stools for older people to sit on. Behind that there were a series of risers that allowed those standing to actually see what would happen rather than having to peer around people’s shoulders. Non-traditional in the extreme but Father had granted Shizuka’s request without complaint.

“I’m going to have a heart attack,” Nabeela whispered.

“Nervous?” Ammad whispered back.

“Hot!” Nabeela complained. “This is so heavy.”

Ammad raised a hand to hide his snickers. He couldn’t blame Nabeela for complaining. Her scarlet dress was encrusted with gold embroidery and thousands upon thousands of tiny mirrors. She wore what had to be every single piece of jewelry she had on her neck, wrists, hair and ears. Over the top, she had draped a sheer green dupatta, practically a veil, with thick gold embroidery along the edge.

His outfit was similarly heavily ornamented but he didn’t have the jewelry or a veil to contend with. The traditional turban was almost as bad in Ammad’s opinion but it was a formal occasion and he did want to honor Allah as well as his family.

A drum, deep and powerful as a Shinto temple drum as big as a barrel, cut through the murmurs that drifted across the great hall. Ammad jumped. Nabeela gasped, hands fluttering for a second before she clenched them in front of her stomach. The drum beat continued in measured beats for about a minute, slowly increasing until the beats came as fast as a heart pounding after a long, terrified run. There was one great boom, then tiny clacks as the drummer set their sticks down that were shockingly easy to hear given how many people were in the great hall.

The servants opened the huge double doors to the great hall, faces so excited that Ammad felt better for the way his heart beat faster. Haruka entered first, carrying a small basket full of rose petals that she scattered along the red carpet. Her kimono was pale sea-foam green with plovers, the sleeves so long that they nearly brushed the ground as she walked. Even with her facing him, Ammad could see the edges of her obi’s knot. It had to be tied in a hugely complicated style, not that she seemed to mind its weight and size.

Next came Keiko, chin up, face stern. She had a tanto tucked into her obi above the scarlet sash. It was desperately out of place at a rukhsati but having seen Lady Tamami give it to Keiko yesterday, late in the party after Lady Cantara had left in shame with Firas, Ammad knew exactly why she wore it. That dagger declared more clearly than words that Keiko was not willing to listen to any more speculations about her availability.

And it made Lady Tamami, stationed halfway down the long aisle with Rina by her side, grinned as though Keiko was the most perfect and beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Over the last couple of days the gossip had swung from speculation about who Ammad and Lady Tamami would marry into just how much damage Lady Tamami and Keiko would do to the perennial pirates of the inside passage once they were properly married.

And Rina had become the logical addition to Breding Manor in everyone’s minds. Ammad smiled at her, chuckling as her cheeks flushed red under his very obvious gaze. She raised one eyebrow at him, nodded towards the door and then turned so she could wait for the rest of the wedding party without his eyes making her blush. Not that she stopped blushing.

“Stop that,” Nabeela murmured.

“Breathe,” Ammad countered. “I see your hands shaking.”

“Shut up,” Nabeela groaned, not loudly enough for anyone other than Ammad, Shahzad and Father to hear her.

Ammad ducked his head, laughing quietly. It was rare anymore for Nabeela to be this nervous. She’d gotten stronger over the last year, partially from taking over the duties of Lady of Breding Manor but more, in Ammad’s opinion, from Shizuka’s support.

They both shut up as Mori and Gentle Rain entered. Gentle Rain wore formal leathers, the many beads and embroidered sections a glorious cascade that danced around her body as she walked. He could see her as a warrior in those clothes. It showed in her every moment, in the way she held her head, in that confident smile.

Mori wore a strict white kimono, black hakama and a voluminous indigo blue haori that obscured most of his body, especially his scarred hand. Ammad wondered for a second whether or not their slow progress up the aisle was out of respect for Mori’s weak leg but no, there was Shizuka at the door, walking every bit as slowly as her family had.

She was dressed in pure white. From her pristine zori and tabi up through the kimono, obi and long trailing uchichake embroidered in white with flying cranes, pine trees and plum blossoms, Shizuka looked as pale as a ghost. Her black hair, loose around her shoulders and down her back, and her scarlet painted lips were the only dashes of color. Even her cheeks had been whitened somehow so that she appeared like an unpainted canvas, ready to take on Breding Manor colors, traditions and styles.

The Shinto priest, Takuo-Guji, came after Keiko, ringing a little instrument of gold decorated with tiny bells. It had rainbow ribbons as wide as Ammad’s hand draping yards from its hilt. They nearly burned the eyes with their brightness against the white robes Takuo-Guji wore.

Keiko moved up the aisle slowly enough that Ammad shifted his feet, heart beating faster and faster in anticipation. He couldn’t imagine how twitchy poor Nabeela was. Ammad didn’t dare turn to look at Nabeela. She’d probably swat his arm for distracting her from Shizuka.

Once Shizuka and Takuo-Guji made it to the front of the hall where Nabeela waited, Ammad stepped back, Shahzad on his right and Father on his left. They all moved as one to the right side of the traveling Shinto altar that Takuo-Guji had set up prior to letting everyone in. Shizuka’s family took the left side of the altar, leaving the center for Shizuka and Nabeela to share.

The altar was impressive, Ammad had to admit that. He wasn’t used to that sort of precision and ritual importance for apparently mundane items. Watching Takuo-Guji set everything out, carefully arranging and rearranging the precise position of the pale wood trays holding the offerings and the way the haraegushi stood, had impressed Ammad with the man’s dedication and faith. It was a very different religion but one that most of Breding Village followed. Sometime, perhaps after the honeymoon, Ammad would have to ask Shizuka, Keiko and Haruka to explain it in more detail.

Not that Shizuka and Nabeela were following only Shinto traditions in their wedding. They’d publically declared that they wanted to honor both of their religions out of all the many religions that spread through Ambermarle, at their wedding. He glanced at the crowd, smiling. Maybe that was why so many people had wanted to attend.

“Welcome!” Maulvi Sahab proclaimed as he held up the Quran and the bowed respectfully towards it. “We are gathered today to celebrate the joining of Yasuda Shizuka Running Deer with Nabeela Bilal. As they join their lives, their faiths and their futures together, they bring all of us, with our different traditions and beliefs, as well.”

He looked to Takuo-Guji who beamed and bowed first to him, then to the Shinto shrine that had been set up behind them, and then back at Nabeela and Shizuka, neither of whom winced or whined, though Ammad could see Nabeela’s skirt shaking despite the heavy embellishment on it.

“Everyone please bow slightly,” Takuo-Guji said, clapping his hands once and then bowing slightly over them. “Let us pray for the couple that they will have a blessed life together.”

Ammad, and everyone else, bowed his head as Takuo-Guji began to pray in that weird deep, dramatically growling voice that Shinto priests used. The words of the prayer were nearly incomprehensible so Ammad just waited, mentally reciting his own prayer for Shizuka and Nabeela’s future happiness. At the end of the prayer, Takuo-Guji waved his haraegushi, the paper streamer-decorated wand that purified everyone, over first Shizuka and Nabeela, then over Shizuka’s family, Ammad and his family, then over the entire crowd watching silently.

Shizuka shivered as if some heavy shawl had been lifted from her shoulders and now she was cooler, cleaner somehow. Next, Takuo-Guji carefully ‘presented’ the offerings to the traveling Shinto shrine, giving his Kami-sama sake, rice, fruit and flowers by removing the tiny caps on the sake bottles so that they were open to the air. Then Takuo-Guji prayed again, bowed in front of the shrine.

This time Ammad understood a bit more of the prayer and it was much what he would have expected given the occasion; instructions to love and cherish your spouse, how blessed marriage was, and that the wedding would bring both families together, not just Shizuka and Nabeela. And really, he did have to ask Shizuka or Keiko who Amaterasu-omikami was. He should at least know the legends and stories that Shinto-Buddhist people in the district followed. Perhaps he could convince Rina to explain it in detail for him.

He ducked his head to keep his smile from being seen as Maulvi Sahab followed the prayer with a long reading from the Quran about the duties of spouses towards each other that felt at least a year longer than it should. People shifted their feet in the crowd as he talked. One small child towards the back started crying only to be gently hushed by its parents. Outside, rain began to fall, drumming on the roof as it brought life back to their parched fields.

Then, after Maulvi Sahab finished his reading, Haruka and Shahzad set down specially embroidered cushions for Shizuka and Nabeela to kneel on. Fortunately they were inches thick, nearly as thick as Ammad’s hand was long, so their legs probably wouldn’t go numb before the wedding was over. Ammad was fairly certain that his feet were going to ache once they were done and Father’s back and ribs had to be an issue. He still had problems when he had to stand for too long at a time.

The ceremony finally began to move again as Takuo-Guji brought out a low tray that had three carefully stacked shallow sake cups, a tiny silver sake pot that looked more appropriate for tea than alcohol, and two branches of sakaki with glossy green leaves that had been decorated with more paper shide strips. He set the tray in front of Shizuka and Nabeela, clapping his hands and bowing to the entire crowd, not just to them.

“Everyone, please bow slightly as Yasuda Shizuka Running Deer and Nabeela Bilal drink the sacred San San Kudo, three sips from three cups of sacred sake to signify their union in holy matrimony.”

Shizuka went first, sipping from the top cup, carefully holding it in both hands. Then Nabeela took it, holding her sheer dupatta away so that she could sip as well. They repeated it twice more, Nabeela giving the cups back to Takuo-Guji to stack while Maulvi Sahab stood behind him beaming, the Quran clutched to his chest as if he couldn’t help but show his joy for them. He even helped Takuo-Guji finish the ceremony by moving the tray and then bouncing on his toes as Takuo-Guji ceremonially removed the food offerings.

And really, Ammad thought, peering at both Shizuka and Nabeela’s faces as Takuo-Guji directed everyone to make one deep bow to the altar, he wasn’t the only one. Shizuka had tears in her eyes and Nabeela’s hands shook so badly that her whole dupatta trembled. A wave of excited gasps, giggles and shuffling feet swept through the hall as Shizuka and Nabeela stood.

They turned to face each other, Shizuka carefully lifting the dupatta over Nabeela’s head so that they looked at each other as spouses for the first time. Shizuka smiled, tears starting to fall, as she took Nabeela’s hands.

“Oh no!” Nabeela breathed, leaning in and then jumping as Shizuka stood on her toes to press a kiss onto Nabeela’s lips.

“Oho!” Ammad shouted and laughed.

His shout echoed with a least half of the people watching. The rest cheered and applauded. A few towards the far end of the great hall whistled and someone, hidden in the back of the crowd beat a hand drum in celebration. Shizuka laughed, ducking her head as if she was blushing but the makeup she wore hid it from view. Nabeela grinned, brushed Shizuka’s tears away and then tugged her, Takuo-Guji and Maulvi Sahab on their heels, down the long red carpet, hand in hand.

Ammad followed, letting Shizuka’s family and Father go first. He ended up by Keiko’s side. Even her smile was stern but it went joyous as they passed Rina and Lady Tamami. Rina ducked her head, lifted it after a moment to stare into Ammad’s eyes and the nodded for him to go on.

“I need to learn about Shinto,” Ammad murmured to Keiko.

She looked up at him, her dark eyes amused while her mouth was pursed into a prim little frown. “Yes, you do. Quickly. Rina deserves a wedding just as lovely as this.”

And wasn’t that the perfect thing to make Ammad’s steps down the aisle after Shizuka and Nabeela seem as though he walked on air. Sometime, perhaps within a few months, it would be he and Rina doing this. And then, after the ceremony, he would have Rina by his side for as long as she wanted, hopefully for the rest of their lives.

“I can’t wait,” Ammad whispered as he looked over his shoulder at Rina one last time before exiting the great hall. She laughed quietly and flapped her hands at him to go on. Ammad nodded. “I can’t wait.”

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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