Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 18 (Conclusion!)

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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

18. Temporary Parting
Tamami licked her lips, temporarily clearing them of the raindrops that had fallen on her face as her crew loaded up the canoes for the trip home. The rain tasted salty, legacy of the sweat beading Tamami’s face. Even with the crew murmuring to each other as they worked to properly balance the canoes, Tamami could hear the rain falling on the sound around them. It shimmered like a Guji’s bells.

“There she is,” Rina murmured.

“We’re loaded?” Tamami asked.

“Almost, but that wasn’t what I was talking about,” Rina said. She nodded back towards Breding Manor. “Look.”

That was when Tamami picked out the sound of geta marching slow and deliberate down the cobbled street that led up to the dock. Tamami turned, her heart catching as she saw Keiko, clad all in indigo blue with a brilliant red umbrella, stalking towards them.

She looked powerful. Unstoppable. Intimidating in all the best ways. Tamami grinned, patted Rina’s shoulder when she laughed, and then hurried through her amused crew to the end of the dock. Even there, Tamami had people grinning at her. The locals who helped transport things onto boats and canoes looked at Tamami as if she was every bit as obvious as she felt.

“I didn’t expect you to come in the rain,” Tamami said.

Keiko snorted. “If people stayed inside when it was raining nothing would ever be done in Ambermarle. You will visit.”

It wasn’t a request and the sheer demand in made Tamami’s heart sing. She laughed and bowed respectfully, watching Keiko’s beautiful face the entire time. Keiko’s lips twitched for a moment, briefly smiling, but it was her eyes that showed her amusement. They wrinkled at the edges and sparkled at Tamami like the surface of the sound when the sun broke through the winter clouds.

“I’ll be back in a month,” Tamami agreed. “Rina should have all your lesson plans ready by then. Probably bring the big boat. I expect most of the council will want to meet you.”

“You have a council?” Keiko asked, her head tipping to the side for a moment.

Tamami nodded. “Young enough that it seemed like a good idea. If my parents had survived I likely wouldn’t have. Just a few advisors. But we’re all doing our best together. It works.”

Keiko nodded as she stared at the long, heavy canoes that would carry Tamami away from her for entirely too long. And it was too long, much too long. Ever since Keiko’s decision that Tamami would ‘court’ her, Tamami found that she wanted nothing more than to spend her time getting to know the sly personality, wicked sense of humor and sheer determination that lurked under Keiko’s strict-seeming mask.

No one that Tamami had met in life was as perfect a match for Tamami’s dreams of a spouse. Being away from Keiko was going to be painful, especially over the next couple of days. Tamami had gotten so used to asking Keiko what she thought, if they should just stab everyone, that not seeing her laughter or solemn approval of stabbing whoever it was would be heart-wrenching.

“You don’t fight in those?” Keiko asked. “The canoes?”

“Not usually,” Tamami said. “Sometimes we’ll chase pirates, track them back to their lairs, in canoes. But no, I didn’t expect to fall in love when I came here.”

Keiko’s breath caught. Her cheeks flared brilliantly red as she looked away then slowly turned back to peer up at Tamami from the corners of her eyes. She licked her lips and then held her head high, shoulders down and at the ready.

“You don’t say that very often,” Keiko murmured.

“I should say it every day,” Tamami said. “I want to shout it to the skies.”

“Please don’t,” Keiko huffed, scolding glower firmly in place again.

That only made Tamami laugh. She really did have to come back sooner. Maybe in a couple of weeks? But no, she couldn’t make the trip in two weeks. There should be a delegation from the Korean settlers just up the cost visiting and then she had several big legal cases that had to be dealt with, too.

“It’s going to be far too long,” Tamami grumbled. She brushed the rain off her face, slicked her hair back and then shook it loose again.

“Yes, it is,” Keiko agreed.

She angled her umbrella so that it covered both of them. The sudden cessation of the rain falling on Tamami’s face sent a finger of ice down her spine. Tamami stepped closer, taking in the faint smell of green tea and rice that seemed to be a part of Keiko’s scent. Keiko smiled, head tilted up so that she could stare into Tamami’s eyes.

“You’re wet,” Keiko whispered.

“It’s raining,” Tamami agreed.

“It is good for the fields,” Keiko agreed. Her lips twitched into a sly little smile. “Not so good for clothes. Make sure Rina doesn’t catch a chill.”

“Not this time,” Tamami laughed. “We’ve got hot bricks for her and she’s wearing much warmer clothes this time.”

“Good,” Keiko said.

She went silent again. It took Tamami a moment to realize that the stillness and sternness of Keiko’s expression hid her fears rising up once more. Tamami smiled, reaching out to catch Keiko’s chin with one finger. When Tamami tugged, Keiko resisted for a moment. Then she turned her head, letting Tamami meet her eyes.

And yes, there was the worry that had to be driving Keiko’s fears. Tamami rubbed her thumb over Keiko’s bottom lip. Keiko immediately smacked Tamami’s hand away, blushing so fiercely that her cheeks matched the umbrella sheltering the two of them.

“Cheeky,” Keiko huffed.

“I know,” Tamami agreed with the biggest, wildest, most obnoxious grin she could manage. “That’s why you like me.”

Keiko raised her chin to glare, lips twitching against a smile that made Tamami laugh. “That’s not the right word.”

“Like?” Tamami asked.

“Yes.” Keiko glared even harder. It wasn’t terribly effect with bright red cheeks and a shy smile blooming on her lips.

“Well, I don’t want to put words in your mouth,” Tamami murmured. Once again she captured Keiko’s face, laying one cold, wet hand against Keiko’s hot cheek. “I’d rather hear you say it.”

Something boomed further along the shore, near to a warehouse that Tamami thought held barrels of salted salmon awaiting shipment further south to the capital. Keiko jumped badly, moving so close to Tamami that her body heat penetrated Tamami’s damp clothes. Tamami’s breath caught. She licked her lips before cautiously putting one hand on Keiko’s hip.

Keiko froze, head turned back towards the warehouse. She slowly turned around again, not dislodging Tamami’s hand but also not acknowledging it. Tamami’s heart pounded. They absolutely should step apart. A crowded dock with canoes waiting to depart wasn’t the place for any sort of tender moment.

Nerves was what Tamami blamed for stepping backwards. Keiko caught her sleeve, nailing Tamami to the spot. Her pulse pounded at her temple and the red umbrella trembled in Keiko’s hand. She opened her mouth, shut it, licked her lips and then laughed breathlessly.

“They’re all watching,” Keiko whispered.

Tamami stopped, only then realizing that the entire dock was nearly silent. Most of the port seemed to be quiet. She didn’t look, couldn’t bring herself to look away from Keiko’s blushing but amused face. Still, she could see Rina out of the corner of her eyes, hands clasped in front of her mouth, smiling for all she was worth.

“I, ah, I will miss you,” Tamami whispered. “So much.”

Keiko’s eyes wrinkled in a smile that barely touched her lips. “And I will miss you.”

“They’re probably waiting for me to board,” Tamami continued.

“That is not at all what they’re waiting for,” Keiko murmured, laughing up at Tamami.

Tamami started laughing, too. Because no, of course not. They were waiting for the last kiss on the shore before the great journey, that last touch and glance and word that always came in the old stories. The sheer expectation of it made Tamami want to defy it, want to step back and away, bow so formally that Rina smacked her for it once they made it back to Metchosin Manor.

She couldn’t.

Keiko’s hand still gripped tight around Tamami’s sleeve, keeping her from going anywhere without Keiko’s permission. And if that was a sign of the future then Tamami thought it was one that she would be happy to experience today, tomorrow and forever.

Someone to come home to. Someone to send her off into battle. Someone there by her side for all the boring legal debates and seemingly endless budget discussions that her council seemed to adore.

What more could Tamami ask for than someone to share her life, a wonderful, beautiful, fierce stern woman who scared grown men even though she was a tiny little thing half a hand shorter than Tamami?

“The future with you looks like Islam’s paradise,” Tamami murmured.

Keiko’s eyes went wide, her mouth dropping open for a second. Then she giggled, nodded and put on that stern, demanding mask that hid her emotions so well. Tamami grinned as she rubbed her thumb across Keiko’s cheek. That Keiko allowed, leaned into a little bit.

She tossed her head just a tiny bit, her smile going mischievous before it went serene. Keiko let go of Tamami’s sleeve, stepped back a few inches and then bowed her head to Tamami. The umbrella bobbed over them, letting rain slip down Tamami’s neck for a moment. Tamami shivered at the chill of it, the anticipation of paddling across the sound in open canoes that did absolutely nothing to block the rain.

Then all thoughts other than Keiko exploded like fireworks as Keiko caught Tamami’s collar, pulled her close and then kissed her hard and fast. Tamami groaned against Keiko’s lips, awkwardly catching the umbrella so that it didn’t fall to the dock or, worse, into the sound.

Keiko was warm and laughing, her nose a dot of heat against Tamami’s cheek. Her lips tasted of green tea, the thick foamy powdered tea that Rina favored for formal occasions. And yes, rice. None of which mattered as much as Keiko, her lips, her laughter and that strong hand holding Tamami exactly where she wanted her until Keiko was done with the kiss.

When Keiko let go, Tamami staggered. Cheers erupted around them but all Keiko did was toss her head again and smile, so strong and confident despite both of their cheeks blushing, at Tamami. She stepped back, returning Tamami to the cold rain, to the inevitable parting.

“I will look forward to seeing you again in a month, Lady Tamami,” Keiko said so formally that Tamami laughed. “I expect a new gift.”

“Oh, you do, do you?” Tamami said, shaking her head. “And what should this gift be?”

“Hmm, I don’t know that I should give you hints,” Keiko said so slyly that Rina’s snort echoed across the port like a half-swallowed laugh.

“So don’t hint,” Tamami replied. “Just tell me outright.”

That made Keiko laugh. She ducked her head for a second and then nodded.

“Very well,” Keiko said. “I expect something made by your hand. I will have something for you made by mine. Fare well. Come back again soon.”

“Stay safe,” Tamami said, her heart already starting to ache. “Will you stay on the dock until we leave?”

Keiko looked over the water, at the steadily falling rain that masked the islands and distant shore of the sound. Then she looked back at Tamami and shook her head no. Tamami grinned, rubbed one hand over her wet hair and nodded. Staying out in the cold and wet certainly didn’t make sense.

“I will be waiting for your return,” Keiko said.

She turned, gracefully, so gracefully, strolling away on her tall wooden geta. They were tall enough, inches high, that it had to be like walking on stilts when combined with the cobblestone road. Keiko walked as though she was barefoot and the road was perfectly smooth. Tamami shook her head, turned back to the others and then paused.

“Keiko!” Tamami called.

“Yes?” Keiko replied, still walking gracefully away.

“I will think of you!” Tamami called, using the oldest form of the phrase in Japanese, the one that could just as easily be translated as ‘mine’ or ‘beloved’ or ‘I love you’.

Keiko paused, looked over her shoulder and smirked. “I know. And I will think of you, too.”

Tamami laughed as Keiko strolled away, back up the road to Breding Manor, her red umbrella slowly swaying with her confident, slow steps. Their wedding, summer of course, couldn’t come soon enough for Tamami.

“Let’s go!” Tamami said to her crew. “The sooner we’re home the sooner we get to come back!”

The End

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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