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
Somehow, making plans for a proposal weren’t the same as waiting for the proposal to happen calmly. Haruka’s bottom lip hurt. She’d bitten it so many times over the last day and a half that the skin had split and bled. It was such an incredibly long time that felt longer than anything she’d ever lived through before, even Father’s injury and all their worries about Shizuka before that first letter home had arrived.
Haruka swallowed and very deliberately did not bit her lip again. Tea. She had to make tea. The auditor was done and had presented his findings, none world-beating but many that would take far too much time and effort to fix, so he and his staff would be leaving as soon as possible. Which meant this afternoon, likely.
The weather had finally broken earlier in the day, around mid-morning. Clouds had swept in from the west, carrying warmth and water from the sea. Granted, they’d come with fierce winds but that wasn’t too unusual at this time of year. The important part was that they’d raised the temperature until the ice coating everything in Breding Town started to melt in tiny drops, then rivulets that poured down the windows and across the road on their way back to the sea.
So yes, the auditor was leaving on his boat this afternoon. So were Fatima, Zainab and Count Rafi who would be carried by servants on a special chair because his leg was too fragile for crutches. At least the surgery appeared to have been a success.
Time would tell, of course, but Shahzad and Shizuka had been quietly confident that the carefully sterilized titanium plates they’d screwed into his bones over the breaks would stabilize his leg well enough that he wouldn’t need to have it amputated. It was a procedure that was known in the capital, here and a couple of other towns in Ambermarle but it was new, relatively untried.
Count Rafi would be the first at Skagit Manor to have received it. Haruka suspected that he wouldn’t be the last. Fatima had excitedly discussed the entire process with him once he woke up, convincing him that they needed to send their doctors for fresh training in it.
“Tea?” Shizuka asked from across the kitchen where she was gathering lunch for them all.
“Sorry!” Haruka gasped, scrambling to measure out the proper amounts of powdered green tea for each cup. The water was at least properly boiled and cooled to the correct temperature. Scalding the auditor’s tea wouldn’t be a good thing.
“You’re very distracted,” Shizuka commented. “That excited to get out of the manor again? I’m sure it’s been hard being stuck inside when you prefer being out and about.”
Haruka looked over her shoulder but Shizuka’s expression seemed calm, content, not at all teasing. Kosuke’s wasn’t at all. He raised an eyebrow at Haruka, smirking while the apprentice pressed her lips together to avoid giggling.
“I’ll be glad to see the auditor gone,” Haruka said because that was true and she didn’t want to jeopardize Fatima’s entirely simple plan. “It’s been stressful with him here.”
“So desu, ne?” Shizuka sighed as if the weight of the world was on her shoulders.
And it was, really. Rina didn’t handle all the social things. She had no patience for it, no gift at it. That was Nabeela and Shizuka while Ammad and Rina worked together on the legal and administrative side of ruling Breding Manor. Everything fell on Shizuka’s shoulders.
“Is it hard?” Haruka asked as her heart pounded against her breastbone, drying her mouth and making her fingers shake as she picked up the tray. “Being the official Lady, I mean.”
“Mmm, it can be,” Shizuka said thoughtfully, smiling so gently, so happily that Haruka calmed despite herself. “But it’s worth it. I love working with Nabeela. I enjoy helping the people here. And my research is always there to distract me when I need a break. It works out. Come on. We’d best hurry. I heard the auditor say that he wants to leave before the afternoon tide.”
The hallways were so much warmer that Haruka’s shivers were noticeable. Shizuka frowned slightly at the way the teacups rattled on the Haruka’s tray but she didn’t comment. The auditor, along with his staff, Count Rafi, Fatima and Zainab, waited in the biggest sitting room, the one that doubled as a courtroom when there were big law cases for Ammad to try.
Fatima’s eyes met Haruka’s across the room. She sat next to Count Rafi who smiled ruefully from his traveling chair, leg wrapped in a heavy plaster cast with a colorful wool sock decorating his toes. Behind them, standing with her legs spread wide and a wild grin on her face as she talked to the Skagit Manor warriors who would row them home, stood Zainab. Haruka didn’t get a single glance from Zainab but that probably had more to do with the very tall and very powerfully muscled young warrior that she was talking to. He certainly seemed happy to have Zainab’s focus on him.
“Ah, thank you,” the auditor said as Haruka poured the water, whisked the tea and then passed it over with a proper bow. “Lovely.”
She made her way around the staff, then over to Count Rafi who sighed somewhat sadly at the tea. Haruka laughed despite herself. He looked so very dismayed by green tea.
“Just try it,” Haruka told him. “It’s much better when its prepared properly.”
“Well, one hopes so,” Count Rafi murmured. “Pity you said no.”
“True,” Haruka said, her heart hammering so hard that the room swam for a moment.
Fatima was next. She stared into Haruka’s eyes, licked her lips and then smiled so confidently that Haruka had to shut her eyes for a moment. It was actually happening. They were actually going to do this.
“She told you no,” Fatima said much more loudly, loudly enough that everyone in the room looked their way.
“What?” Count Rafi asked, blinking at Fatima with the cup of tea half-drunk in his hands.
“She told you no,” Fatima repeated, standing up to catch Haruka’s hands before she dropped the cup of tea to the floor where it would smash into a thousand pieces, spraying golden-green formal tea everywhere. “But she hasn’t told me no. So. Yasuda Haruka Sweet Fern, I would like to offer for your hand in marriage. These last few days have… well. I have become very fond of you and would like to never be parted from you again.”
Shizuka gasped behind Haruka, striding over to pull Haruka away. She glowered at Fatima as if she’d just done something horrifically inappropriate. Which, honestly, she sort of had. Except that no, it wasn’t horrible, just a little bit improper.
“You’ve already gotten your rejection,” Shizuka snapped much more quietly than Fatima had spoken, hands still on Haruka’s shoulders. “There’s no need to do this publicly. You’ll only get the same response.”
“She refused my father’s very inappropriate offer,” Fatima said so calmly and certainly that Shizuka’s hands tightened and then released Haruka’s shoulders. “He offered for Haruka’s hand before anyone had met. No words had been spoken. Neither of us had any idea whether or not we were compatible. That is a very different thing from me deciding that I do like Haruka, from her deciding that we might be able to craft a home together. I am, of course, willing to court her formally if that is what she wants.”
“No!” Haruka exclaimed, blushing as Fatima’s eyes went wide. “I mean, not that. I’ve never liked all the gift-giving and formalities. It’s so silly, so expensive when what people need to do is get to know each other.”
Before Haruka could say anything else Shizuka grabbed her by the elbow and dragged her across the room to where Nabeela stood with Rina and Ammad, all staring at Haruka as though she’d grown a second head. Haruka bit back a groan, bit her lip and then winced as her split lip protested. Really, did they have to interfere?
Nabeela took Haruka’s other elbow, holding her securely when Haruka tried to pull back a little bit. Rina looked concerned. So did Ammad. She shivered, surprised and yet not surprised that her family would try to protect her. They always had. Haruka had expected it, had lived with everyone guarding over her. For the first time she hated it and wished they’d all just go away.
“We can tell her to leave,” Nabeela murmured. “You don’t have to put up with someone stalking you.”
“And this does almost count as stalking,” Rina sighed. “I knew that you’d taken on the task of entertaining them while they waited for the weather to change. I’m sorry. I should have stepped in and done it.”
“No, you were busy with the auditor,” Shizuka said as Haruka opened her mouth and then close it because they were all talking too fast for her to get a word in edgewise. “I should have done it.”
“Will you all shut up?” Haruka hissed at them.
They stared. Haruka sighed and pulled her elbows free from Nabeela and Shizuka’s hands even though Nabeela clutched at her sleeve until Haruka glared at her. So much fuss and so many whispers behind them. Who knew what rumors were starting right now and how far they’d fly?
“Why don’t you let me answer her?” Haruka said, talking low but not low enough to disguise her anger.
“Haruka?” Shizuka asked, eyes so wide that Haruka almost stopped to reassure her.
“I know what I want, Shizuka,” Haruka said. “I always know what I want and you know perfectly well that no one can make me do something I don’t want to. I’ll explain after the auditor is gone, all right?”
“You sneaky girls,” Ammad whispered, his eyes suddenly dancing with amusement. “Go on. Finish your little plot.”
Rina, Nabeela and Shizuka stared at him, then at Haruka. She shook her head at them, turned and then walked back over, that silly cup of tea still in her hands. Rather than pass cold tea over to Fatima, Haruka set it down on her tray and then bowed very properly to Fatima.
When she straightened, Haruka could see the nervousness in Fatima’s eyes, so very like that early fear she’d seen when the wind swept her in out of the cold and nearly deposited Haruka in Fatima’s lap. It faded as Haruka smiled, transforming into joy and a smile so bright that the summer sun, warm and bright and life-giving, might have appeared over their heads.
“Yes,” Haruka declared. “I would like to marry you. I didn’t think I would, not with your father and sister fighting but they’ve worked their problems out and I rather enjoy spending time with you. You’re kind and confident and strong and well. I like you, too. I can’t think of any other offer I’ve ever gotten that I’m even a quarter as interested in as I am in you.”
Count Rafi stared at the two of them, mouth open. Behind him Zainab cheered. She set of a wave of cheers around the room, including from her warriors and from the staff of Breding Manor who had somehow squeezed in or peered through the doorways. There was no hiding anything from servants, of course, so that didn’t surprise Haruka.
She grinned and offered her hands to Fatima, getting a laugh. Fatima grinned as well, stepping closer. Haruka peeked over her shoulder at Shizuka and then laughed out loud because Shizuka had buried her face in her hands as if she’d only just figured out that they’d all been set up.
When Haruka turned back around Fatima’s lips were right there, pressing against Haruka’s poor sore lip. It hurt but it was good, soft and sweet and full of the laughter that Haruka couldn’t stop. She didn’t even try. Instead she kissed Fatima back, clinging to her hands as the shaking of her hands and the pounding of her heart stilled into a joy that she’d never felt before.
“Thank you,” Fatima whispered, barely audible over the cheers and loud gossip around them.
“No,” Haruka said. She giggled. “Well, yes, you’re welcome but no. Thank you. Thank you for being stubborn, for being strong, for pushing past your fears and showing me just who you can actually be.”
Fatima giggled, moving close enough that Haruka could feel the heat of her body radiating at her like a mass heater or the sun. Haruka’s heart beat a steady beat that exactly matched the old clay-pounding songs her father had taught her years ago. They stood, nose to nose, holding hands. Fatima took a deep breath, let it out slowly, her breath washing over Haruka’s face like summer winds.
“You’re welcome,” Fatima whispered. “Always welcome by my side, Haruka Sweet Fern, my wonderful new bride.”
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