Everyone has plans for Haruka’s life. They assume she’ll marry her best friend Shahzad, youngest son of Lord Bilal of Breding Manor. They assume she’s a pretty face with no mind or will of her own.
Fatima’s plans for her life had fallen apart around her ears. Her father and twin sister Zainab were at each other’s throats, no matter how Fatima tried to keep the peace.
Then Fatima’s father, Count Rafi, offered her hand in marriage to Haruka with the assumption that Haruka would be delighted to accept. After a swift, firm denial, it was up to Haruka and Fatima to craft a future together that held not just their happiness but their families’ as well.
Crafting Home is a sweet romance where patience and determination bring the rewards both girls seek.
By Meyari McFarland
Haruka hummed an old clay-pounding song that Father had taught her as a child, letting the rhythm of the song give her a strong stride up the steep hill. She carefully shifted the heavy willow basket of soap, preserves and second-hand clothes she carried as Shahzad, eyes locked on his directions, turned first left, then right, then went left again.
Which was just like Shahzad, really. This section of Breding Village was older, with narrow cobbled streets overhung by heavy Japanese-style roofs. No one bothered with street numbers or putting out house names here. They all knew each other. This part of town had been in existence nearly as long as there had been Japanese sailors crossing the ocean to trade with the native Snohomish and Salish tribes and the houses here showed their hundreds of years.
The street was rutted from generations of feet pounding the cobbles down into the mud. Every roof had moss growing on the tiles and ferns growing in the gutters. The lime-washed earthen walls were grey rather than white, darker at the base from driving rain splashing off the street, dark and as comfortable as an old quilt wrapped around you during a surprise winter snow storm.
“This way,” Shahzad finally said, pointing up the street, Bell Street for the tiny Buddhist temple and it’s heavy bronze bell at the top of the hill. “I think.”
“Mm-hmm,” Haruka confirmed. “Watch your feet on the stairs, Shahzad. It’s slippery this time of year.”
He nodded, picking his way carefully with his eyes mostly on the directions instead of his footing. Fallen pine needles mixed with large wet brown maple leaves made that a bad idea but Haruka didn’t scold Shahzad. He’d slip or not. She rather expected that he’d slip. He usually did on these trips to tend his patients, especially on rainy days.
It was raining, of course, but she didn’t mind. Instead of a harsh, hard rain that one would expect at this time of the winter, driven by wind and storms from the far north, it was a mild, warm rain that felt more like spring than days before midwinter solstice.
The warmth wouldn’t last long. Already the wind had shifted from the south to the north. Around them, the air had a chill to it that made Haruka’s breath occasionally puff out in clouds of steam. The clouds overhead moved quickly across the sky, skittering like mice sensing the cat approaching.
Behind the fleeing clouds, the sky was brilliantly blue, that cold, hard blue that seemed to glitter like frost in the early morning. The cold hadn’t hit yet but it would soon and Haruka could only grin at that. Winter at last after a fall that seemed determined to be milder than any on record.
Haruka was ready. She had heavy wool tabi that Shizuka had sewn for her, a lovely thick hapi-coat with cotton batting quilted between the layers from Keiko and her kimono was the warmest, thickest cotton one she had, the one that she’d stitched extensively with Sashiko patterns of waves, wattle fencing and cranes for last year’s severe cold. Better still, she’d topped the kimono with a lovely pair of hakama with embroidered plum blossoms that she’d made herself this year. Her nose tingled a bit from the rising chill but Haruka truly didn’t care. Nice deerskin gloves and boots kept her extremities warm enough that the cold could come if it wanted.
Besides, both she and Shahzad had hats, broad woven reed hats gifted to them by Duke Laughing Seal the last time he came through, that kept enough of the rain off that she wouldn’t have minded a downpour. Though it would have made the cobblestones extremely slippery to walk on and that was never a good thing with Shahzad’s tendency to walk into things while concentrating on other thoughts.
“You’re happy,” Shahzad said as he checked his orders and then nodded towards the alleyway that led up to unlabeled Orca Way, so named for its winding path like the curved spine of an orca breaching, dorsal fin thrust high into the air, as the street wound around the temple. “This way. I think.”
“This way,” Haruka agreed. “Then up the stairs and the client’s house should be on the right.”
“How do you know the city better than I do when I’m the one who’s the doctor going out every day?” Shahzad asked with a little grin.
Haruka wrinkled her nose at him. She didn’t bother answering the old, old joke. Shahzad’s sense of direction remained the worst of anyone Haruka knew. He could, and did, reliably get lost rambling around Bilal Manor despite having been born and raised there. Haruka, on the other hand, never got lost no matter how much Shahzad tried to turn her around. All she had to do was look at the sun and the sky, feel the breeze on her cheeks, and she knew which way was home.
Shahzad went first, muttering thoughtfully as he stumbled over slightly heaved cobblestones or slippery spots. Or once his own feet. His bag of medical supplies nearly tripped him as he started up the worn stone stairs, each one a slab of slate as long as her arm, set to give treads that were just a hair too short for Shahzad’s boots. Haruka shook her head and followed him, nodding approval when he finally tucked the directions away and took the railing.
“I can hear you thinking at me,” Shahzad complained.
“I didn’t say a single word,” Haruka said. She laughed when he grunted. “Well, I didn’t. But I am glad that you decided to use the railing.”
Shahzad groaned. “Why do people think we’re perfect for each other?”
“Because they think that two people can’t be the next best thing to siblings without some level of romantic attraction,” Haruka said so promptly that Shahzad laughed. “Goodness, we’ve talked about that a million times.”
“Very true,” Shahzad sighed. “You’re practically my twin.”
She nodded and then willed Shahzad to turn right on Orca Way. He looked both ways, pulled out the directions and then headed right. Haruka stayed at the top of the stairs, humming quietly until Shahzad turned around and came back, cheeks burning. As he passed, Shahzad stuck his tongue out at Haruka. She grinned and returned the favor, giggling as she followed him up Orca Way towards the client’s house, just a few yards away.
It was a small house, too, just ten feet by twenty with a heavy Japanese-inspired roof overhanging a broad porch that probably doubled as sleeping quarters during the summer. The little garden, protected by a waist-high wattle fence, held scrubby cabbages, overgrown herbs and a wan little plum tree that looked as though it had never flowered once in its entire life. But there was a lovely coat of moss over the rest of the ground so it looked green and lush despite the fairly obvious black thumb of the owner. Someone, possibly a family member, had put out a shingle with the family’s name, Yasuda, scrawled in Kanji and Pakistani, side by side.
“This is it,” Shahzad murmured. “I do hope it’s not another case of influenza. We’ve had too many this year.”
“I know,” Haruka agreed. “I wish it was easier to get everyone inoculated.”
Shahzad nodded as he tied on a many-layered cotton face mask and then tied one onto Haruka’s face as well. She wiggled her nose once it was in place, nodding that it was secure enough. If there was one thing Haruka had learned while helping Shahzad in his medical practice it was that taking precautions was always a good idea. The masks weren’t perfect protection against infectious diseases but it did help reduce the chances that they would get sick.
Which, as it turned out, was a pointless worry. Shahzad knocked on the door, jumped as the occupant immediately opened it and then sighed as he saw the very large, very bloody bandage wrapped around the poor man’s hand.
“Accident?” Shahzad asked.
“Yes,” the man grunted. “Come on in. Not much here.”
“That’s why I brought supplies,” Haruka said cheerfully enough that the man sort of smiled at her.
The next hour was uncomfortable in all the ways that Haruka had gotten accustomed to in the last two years since turning sixteen. Kosuke, the owner of the unfortunately black thumb and a lovely wood-chopping injury, spent most of his time being stitched up staring at Haruka. Given his expression, Haruka would have thought that the man was starving and she was the first food he’d seen in years.
She soundly ignored Kosuke’s pointed attention. Really, it wasn’t as though she could do anything else and still be polite. Instead, Haruka looked around and decided to make his life a little bit better. Haruka started by cleaning the man’s incredibly filthy kitchen, sweeping out the ash-filled stove and washing his single bowl, plate and one set of cooking tongs. Since she had wash water set up, Haruka set to work washing the clothes Kosuke had bloodied even though they’d be a long time drying with the rain outside. Finally, as Shahzad slowly, meticulously, stitched Kosuke’s wound shut, Haruka started up a small fire in the man’s heater.
“Such a lovely heater,” Haruka murmured once the fire snapped and roared inside the cob funnel. “Mass heaters are so efficient.”
“Oh, is it?” Shahzad asked, only glancing Haruka’s way. “Nice. I still wish that Ammad and Nabeela would agree to add those to the manor. It gets far too cold up there.”
“A good large one,” Haruka said. “I think that the flue goes under the floor for most of the building.”
“Does,” Kosuke grunted. He looked rather sour when Haruka glanced his way. “Better than an open fire smoking the house up. Friend helped me make it this summer.”
“Good friend,” Shahzad said. He tied a bandage around Kosuke’s hand, nodding that he was done. “Now, you need to keep that clean and dry. Send a message up if you have any signs of infection. I think it’s clean enough that the antibiotics should be enough but you can never be too careful, especially with the cold weather starting up.”
“You’ve got plenty of preserves, too,” Haruka said, holding the basket in front of her chest to block Kosuke’s pointed stare. “If you need more, do ask. We’ll send some down from the manor.”
“You deliver them?” Kosuke asked just a hair too hopefully.
“Oh no,” Haruka laughed, shaking her head and smiling despite the desire to run right out of the little house. “I just go with Shahzad to make sure he doesn’t get lost. No sense of direction at all.”
Kosuke grumbled for a second only to go quiet and still as he turned to stare at Shahzad who immediately set to work repacking his medical bag. Haruka laughed quietly, head turned away, as Shahzad’s cheeks went redder and redder. After a moment Kosuke turned to Haruka, eyes wide.
“Lord Shahzad?” Kosuke asked. “Lord Ammad’s younger brother? I had a lord stitch up my hand?”
“The same,” Haruka said, laughing in earnest at Shahzad’s groan. “Though he much prefers to be called Doctor Shahzad. He doesn’t participate in ruling Breding Manor anymore.”
“Then you’re the girl,” Kosuke sighed, his mouth twisting into a rueful smile. “That Haruka Sweet Fern that’s engaged to him.”
This time Haruka groaned. “We’re not engaged. That would be like marrying my twin brother. Heavens, I wish people would get over that.”
Kosuke immediately perked up only to glower as Shahzad shook his head no. And that, honestly, was one of Haruka’s favorite things about Shahzad. He was absolutely terrible at romance, to the point that Haruka expected him to live his entire life without getting married, but whenever someone make Haruka uncomfortable he was right there, protecting her.
“What do you mean no?” Kosuke growled.
“She’s destined for a duke or a count,” Shahzad replied. He grinned at Haruka’s choked noise. “You’ve had Duke Laughing Seal’s sons after you for two years and Count Rafi Bright Sun offered to marry you to his twin daughters yesterday. I don’t care what you think, Haruka, you’re going to marry high.”
That, at least, got Kosuke to stop staring at Haruka. He was even marginally polite as they left, bowing and thanking them both for the care. Haruka held her sighs in until it was time to tug Shahzad away from the stairs down to Bell Street so that they could take the shortcut behind the temple over to the main road from the port up to Breding Manor. With the clouds scudding south and the wind picking up, getting inside before the temperature dropped too dramatically would be wise.
“He didn’t mean to offend,” Shahzad murmured as Haruka took the lead.
“I know,” Haruka sighed. “No one does, really. They all just see my face and assume that they have a chance without getting to know me first. It’s annoying, that’s all.”
“Sometimes I wish I was interested,” Shahzad said. He smiled wryly when Haruka stared at him, shocked. “Just because then people might leave you alone.”
“If they get too bad I’ll hit them,” Haruka declared. She grinned at Shahzad’s snickers. “Keiko and Mother have done a lovely job teaching me to defend myself. It’s all right. I have more problems with peasants than nobility. I hate turning the peasants down harshly.”
“It’s easier with nobility,” Shahzad agreed. “They expect it, I think. The peasants, not so much.”
The wind abruptly wailed around them, tearing up the street to rip at Haruka’s hapi-coat, hakama and gloves. Shahzad stumbled, falling to one knee. He staggered back to his feet, staring out over the sound for a long moment. Then he looked at Haruka, looked up at Breding Manor on the hill and started to run.
Haruka grabbed her hat and then ran after him. “Wait for me! No, not that way, Shahzad! Go left! Left!”
Find This Book:
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!