She was so tired, she knew she’d sleep like a rock that evening. And in a bed, finally, after all those days of sleeping in furs on the ground. She yawned as she sopped up the gravy from her roast galdor with a piece of bread. The only problem she knew would present itself later was that no black furry head would be purring next to her tonight. She had never slept without Fiaz before, and she couldn’t remember what it was like not to have the warmth of the big black zary’andu next to her as she drifted off.
-- Are you there? -- she sent tentatively.
-- That depends on where “there” is -- replied Fiaz sleepily.
-- Hrmph. And to think, I was beginning to miss you. -- replied Emanuella testily.
-- And to think, I could still be asleep. I prefer the warmth of the sun and the music of the wind and birds to the loud noise of that room you’re in -- said Fiaz somewhat loftily. He opened his mind to her and looking through his eyes, Emanuella saw that he was sleeping comfortably in a solitary tree in a meadow overlooking Tillabeth. Nestled in a crook of the tree, warmed by the setting sun, a light wind ruffling his fur and the golden grasses around him, with the sound of whip-poor-wills announcing the coming of dusk, she had to agree. She too, would prefer to be there with Fiaz than in this drafty, noisy, dimly lit inn.
-- It’s going to be cold tonight without you next to me -- she sent mournfully.
Fiaz sent back a rush of love to her. This made her want to cry. She didn’t want to be in here with all these people, she wanted to be back at home on her pallet in front of the fire with Fiaz sleeping with his great black head next to hers.
-- Can’t you sneak in here tonight, after everyone’s gone to their rooms? -- she pleaded with him.
A mental snort resounded in her head. -- Yes, child, I’ll just walk right through the gates, past the night guards, right into the inn and up the steps into your room. No one will ever notice, that sort of thing happens all the time --
She knew it was an impossibility, just the visual picture he sent her was absurd, but none of this made her feel better.
More softly came the rebuke, -- Come now, you’re only tired. You’ve had quite a day, after all. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you’ll be fine. Once your head rests on the pillow, you’ll sleep so quickly you’ll never notice I’m not there.-- There was a pause, and then -- After all, “there” is a relative term. I am always “there” –
Emanuella smiled faintly at his using her earlier query against her. She heaved a great sigh and wished him a restful slumber. She looked around the table and realized that she had no idea what the topic of conversation was. Ander, across from her, asked lowly,
“And how is Fiaz tonight?”
She smiled. Ander was the only one who understood what kyor’rishtan was like. “Fine. Quite happy to be out there instead of in here.”
Ander nodded with amusement. Emanuella took her mug and excused herself. She’d get a final mug of cider and retire for the evening. There was that one small consolation, after all – a bed with covers and a pillow beneath a roof.
Emanuella put her mug on the wooden counter and looked around. Seeing no one behind the counter, she took a seat to wait for the bartender.
“What can I do for you, yendra?” asked the hostess from earlier in the day as she appeared from the back room.
“What happened to the bartender?” asked Emanuella with surprise. A large, burly man with a jolly look in his eye had been behind the counter all night long.
“Ah,” laughed the innkeeper, “that would be my husband. He was called away unexpectedly; else he’d be here til the last customer passed out.”
“More cider, if I may, please,” said Emanuella. At least the food was good here; this was her third mug of cider. She didn’t expect she’d like the food out where Fiaz was staying; she preferred her food skinned and cooked.
The hostess put her refilled mug down with a clunk on the bar. “Here you are, dear.” She stood back unexpectedly and scrutinized Emanuella, making her wonder if food was stuck to her chin.
Finally the innkeeper shook her head and remarked, “Land, child, whatever made you cut that beautiful hair of yours? Such curls I’ve never seen, and that color! It must have been lovely long.”
Taken aback by the personal nature of the comment, Emanuella stammered, “I – I like it short.” Too late, she realized this would not be an acceptable answer; women in this land grew their hair long, considering it a mark of beauty and status. She should have said something about having gotten sick and needing to cut it or something… she had known of people who became deathly ill often and had to cut their hair, after all.
The innkeeper clucked and shook her head. “Maybe, but you’ll never catch a husband that way.”
A husband! At her age? The idea was preposterous, laughable, absurd! She no more wanted a husband than she wanted to be shackled to a wall and imprisoned for the rest of her life! She smiled and shook her head. “That’s all right, I don’t want a husband.”
“Don’t want a husband? Whyever not?” The innkeeper was truly intrigued now.
Looking for some way to express her shock and distaste, she looked around, gesturing for articulation that eluded her. Finally she blurted, “I’m too young!”
The innkeeper laughed merrily. “Too young? Why my daughter was engaged at your age and so was I. You’re about fifteen cycles, aren’t you? My goodness, yendra, how long do you want to wait?”
Emanuella could do nothing but gape. She wondered why she was so shocked, she had of course known all about women here marrying so young… but she had never applied the idea to herself!
“Well – “ she wasn’t entirely sure what to say – less than a cycle ago she was a freshman in high school, in a life where early marriage was frowned upon… let alone wanting to marry and have children! “When I meet the right man, I’ll marry him,” she replied resolutely, proud of her reply. It expressed her true feeling and it reveal to the innkeeper her age.
The innkeeper smiled, amused, and said, “Oh, put your chin down, girl. Every girl wants that nobleman with a purse full of gold to ride through the village some day. The important thing to remember is that he may not come. Or, if he does, he may be the merchant’s son or the blacksmith’s apprentice.” She smiled wisely and moved down the bar to help another customer.
Emanuella thought that through for a minute. Then she realized that the innkeeper was making fun of her! Irritation bubbled up inside of her, borne of humiliation and embarrassment. She thought of leaving the bar and just going to bed, but the thought of that bemused smile at her expense left her sitting there until the innkeeper returned.
“I’m not waiting for some dream man to come and sweep me off my feet,” Emanuella said. She thought of Gabriella’s calm demeanor and struggled to emulate it. What was the good of spouting off at this nice woman when all it would do was make her seem more of a child than the woman already supposed her? She took a deep breath. “Where I come from, we wait a little longer to get married so that we don’t marry the first young man who – who winks at us. We wait until we are old enough to make a mature decision on – on things that will affect the rest of our lives.”
“And what does a young girl need to know? She just needs a man who can provide for her and for their family. That doesn’t take cycles’ worth of consideration, yendra,” replied the innkeeper.
“No, but who’s to say the first young man a girl is attracted to will be able to provide for her? He may turn out to be a drunk, or he may beat her and the children, or he may be shiftless, leaving her to do what little she can to provide for the family. He may even leave her altogether. Wouldn’t it be better to wait until you recognize these things as important rather than just marry the first young man you can’t take your eyes off?” asked Emanuella. She knew by the look in the innkeeper’s eyes that she knew of women who had married the kind of men Emanuella had described. But the innkeeper said only, “And what of love?”
“You can love someone when you’re nineteen just as easily as when you’re fifteen,” Emanuella said. Or fourteen, she thought, in her case.
The innkeeper nodded. “What you’re saying makes a certain sense, of course, and it’d certainly be nice if it were that way, it’d solve a lot of problems. But I truly don’t see your parents abiding by this. When it comes down to ten mouths to feed or nine, you may be sure your father will marry you to the first available young man. Your parents will know even better than a young girl who is a better match for her, and it usually doesn’t have much to do with love or the girl’s opinion on the matter. Such is the way of things, after all.”
Emanuella opened her mouth to reply, but a shadow fell over the bar and the thunk of an empty pitcher next to her made her look up. It was Dar.
“What can I do for you?” asked the innkeeper.
Dar smiled amiably at her and then at Emanuella. “Looks like we need some more cider, please, destra,” he said respectfully, using the term for wise matron.
The innkeeper smiled at him and then, so that Emanuella could not mistake her meaning, she raised her eyebrows conspiratorially and glanced back at Dar as she left with the pitcher. Emanuella rolled her eyes.
"What was that about? Did I miss something?” Dar leaned against the bar and looked down at Emanuella.
“Oh, we were just discussing whether tall men really had any brains or not. You being so tall and all, well, I guess not.” She smiled sardonically.
Dar glared at her and shook his head. The innkeeper returned with a full pitcher and a smile for Dar. After some more pleasantries had been exchanged, Dar left and the innkeeper fixed an eye on Emanuella. “Now he’s a good catch. He seems like he’d be worth rousing up some interest in,” she noted pointedly.
“Ha! Not after you get to know him. Only thing he’d be worth rousing up is a yawn,” Emanuella yawned herself. She thanked the innkeeper for the cider and the conversation, remembering to call her destra, as Mr. Perfect had remembered to do, and told her friends she’d be going to bed.
As she climbed the narrow stairs, she reflected on her feelings about Dar. It was terribly childish of her to continue treating him so badly… it had become such a habit for her that she had to control the urge to sneer or glare at him when she was around him. She really should make an effort to be more mature around him, but old grudges died hard. Emanuella snorted to herself as she closed her door. Even here, in this new world, he excelled at everything, it all came naturally. She was reluctant to admit that he did a good job as the leader of their little party, though it was true. But even this did not make her have to like him.
As she settled back into her bed and pulled the furs up around her chin, relaxing into the pillow, she felt a distinct twinge of guilt. Finally, she sighed. She was going to have to start being nice to Dar.