Wednesday, September 29, 2010

350 - Dinner Party

I sat in the same park across from Gan’s parent’s business.  Greenhills Shipping and Merchant House The letters swim in front of my eyes.  Gan and I talked it over and figured out it would be easier for the family if I came down... and there was no reason to hide so they could meet me as Minis straight off.  Oh joy. 

My guard was waiting for me to enter the building before leaving and would be waiting for me in two beads, should I be ready to leave by then.  More likely I’ll flee screaming inside a tenth.  They hate me. They must.  And this girl Gan’s sleeping with?  Why am I doing this? I’m going to get fourteenated and won’t have to worry about it any more!

This was worse than what was described in most knuckle-suckers... the ‘meeting the family’ scenes.  Most back alley trash heroes or villains didn’t have the family already to hate his shadow.  Gan peeked out the gate and grinned.  I could see that all the way across the street. He waved ‘come on’ at me.

I gulped, and the guard said, “I’ll see you in, ker.”  Here we go. I made my shaking legs raise me up and walk me over.  I had to wait for an express chair to whip past me, whistle shrilling, and then I couldn’t delay any longer.

At the gate I said, “Hi, Gan,” faintly. He flung his arms around me.

“Minakas, you idya it’ll be fine!”  The guard faded, and I inexplicably wanted her back.  Don’t be silly, you don’t need a guard to protect you from Gan’s family!

With his arm still around my shoulders, he turned me around to face the people in the courtyard, standing next to me.  His girlfriend wasn’t there yet. The older man’s hair was light brown, almost blond, and thinning, his wife dark haired, dark eye'd, almost as dark as Gannara.  The three boys with them... I could see the youngest looked most like Gan with black hair.  I felt like I was going to just melt away under their combined gazes and longed for that to happen, so I could flow away through the cracks in the stones of the courtyard and not have to keep standing there.

In Yeoli he said.  “Shadowmama, Shadowpapa, sibs, I’d like you to meet my best friend in the world,”  I didn’t have the nerve to poke him.  “Minis.”  It was so hard to not flinch at hearing my own name just spoken out like that.  Thank goodness I could manage speaking Yeoli.

Kerel,” I managed.  His shadow father stepped forward with both hands out. His shadow mama stood slightly behind, looking stiff under her calm surface - but she beamed when she glanced at Gan.

“Welcome to our house, Minis.” I took them, feeling his fingers warm through my gloves.

“Thank you, Ser... um... sorry... Ker...”

“I’m Linasika.  Tisha come say hello.”  She gave me her hands as well.

“Welcome, Minis. It is....a pleasure to meet you at last. Please, come into the shade,” as she gestured to a bench in the courtyard. She didn’t seem to be forcing the words out, but she did seem uncomfortable, and her hands trembled slightly.

“Min, this is my shadow sib, Erano-e, my shadow sib Dumaryae, and my younger blood sib, Sacherao.”  It was the usual overwhelming bunch of handclasps and I tried hard to smile at everyone.

“I’m... so happy Gan got home...” I managed.  “He was worried about me and I couldn’t convince him he should...”  Oh shen, how stupid.  Did I have to say that?

“Gan?”  That was Sacherao.  “Oh, you mean Nara!”

“Nara,” Gan said.  “That’s what the family calls me... I’d forgotten and then forgot to mention it to you.”

“Nara,” I repeated, dutifully.  I’ll never remember.  But I guess I’ll have to try.  I took a deep breath.  Best get it over with. I looked straight at his shadow parents.  I wanted to talk to Linasika but Yeolis had different ideas and I should speak to her, not him.  I made myself address his shadow mother.  “Ker Shae-Ara.  For the stress and pain my family caused yours, I owe you and your family more than just an apology but I do not know what would even begin to pay.  I am in your debt, more than I can say.  Gannara saved my sanity more than once and my life also.”

“Oh, that went both ways!” Gan said.  “There was a time when the Mahid were going to flog me...”  I saw him shiver and flung my arm around him.  “Let’s just say, it went both ways.  I don’t think we could have got out of it alive if it had been just one of us.”

“Yeha.  That time... we stood there for two days...”  It looked as though she wished to hug her shadow son but was holding back.  I let go and moved away.

Tisha’s hand covered her mouth and her eyes widened when Gan spoke, and she looked even more surprised to see me hug her shadow-son.  “I, I don’t know what to say.  This is not how I....well. This is not how I ever pictured meeting you, Ker Minis. I am so glad that ‘Nara has returned to us, and it seems like I need to thank you for that.” She moved a step towards me, stopped, and turned to Gannara and stroked his hair back off his face.

“Awww... mama...”  But he leaned into it.  “It’s all right.”

“Ker, just Minis, please. I’m just glad he’s home with his family.  I shall consider myself in your debt, nonetheless.”

Linasika said quietly “Gannara tells me that you are his brother-in-adversity, and thus family. There is no debt in family.” As he spoke, tears filled his eyes and ran down his face. He wiped his cheeks, and reached out to touch Gannara’s shoulder, as if to test his solidity.

Tisha winced slightly, but then nodded her agreement. “Gannara has told us about you and your escape from the Mahid.  Are they in custody yet?”

I wasn’t going to argue any longer about it... but they hadn’t convinced me. “Not yet.  Soon, though.  Everyone is in danger as long as they are loose.”

Tisha turned to Lin, “See, I told you that we need to keep our watch rotation. It is not safe here.”

“I shouldn’t say... but I will let you know immediately when they are captured or killed... or Gannara can, but he won’t be coming with me to see them captured.”

“What?”  That was Gan.  “Nobody told me anything!  Are you crazed?”

“Gan, the Imperator assigned an elite unit to the problem... and they need me to draw the snakes out of their hole, that’s all.  You don’t need to go into any kind of danger... and I think you should stay here... at home... I mean, with them!

”Of course you shouldn’t go on a raid against the Mahid! You are not Darya, you need to stay here!” A flush began to creep up Tisha’s neck, and points of color flared in her cheeks.  “The war is over at last, and we need you here!”

“Mama... didn’t you say you needed to keep an eye on the fish?”  Erano-e broke in, glancing at us before looking innocently back at his mother.

“Oh! My fillets!” Tisha jumped up, ran to the door and darted into the house.

Dumaryae leapt up to follow, “Let me help you, mama,” he said and followed her.

Linasika groped for a new topic of conversation. “So, Minis, Gannara tells me that you bought a house in the fessas quarter.  How do you like that part of town?”

“I actually gave that house to my tutor.”

“Oh. You bought a house and gave it away? Kahara. And I was going to ask if you were growing a garden there.”

“Oh, Ker Linasika.  I’m a terrible gardener, as likely to rip up the vegetables thinking they’re weeds... I’m so impractical a person I once bought an extra frying pan instead of a kaf pot.  Gan-nara was fit to be tied.”

“Just Linasika, please." He smiled.  "Gannara used to drive his mother to fits when he played in her herb-pots...marching his toys through her rosemary.”

I looked at him sideways, trying not to laugh, even as Gan groaned. “Papa...”

“Shall I pour us all a glass of wine?” Linasika said, getting up.  At that point there was a knock at the door.

“Oh, that will be Fara!”  Gan jumped up and hurried to greet her.  Oh good.

“You gave away a house?” Erano-e said quietly.  “Do you have any more?”

I brushed it off with a very Yeoli wave.  “No. This girl, Farasha, have you met her yet?  Do you like her?  She’s one of the Gibyr... those wandering teachers...” I shut up as Gan brought her into the little circle of chairs and couches.

“Erano-e... this is my friend Farasha.  Fara, this is my big brother... shadow brother really... and this is my little brother Sacherao... Sach for short.  Minis you’ve met... though it was as Minakas.  His name really is Minis.”

She smiled at all of us and we all said hello with the hands... even me.  Her eyes were twinkling and I was happy to see she was wearing a shirt this time.  Linasika came back with glasses and welcomed her and went off again to fetch her a glass as well.  I was so glad to be able to sit and listen to them all begin chatting with her.  Maybe this was why Gan invited her... to draw their attention between the two of us.

I grabbed Gan’s elbow and hissed in his ear. “I shouldn’t be here!”

He grinned at me.  “Shut up.  Next I want to get Fara to meet Kyriala.  I think they’d like each other a lot.”

The thought had all the blood draining out of my head.  I sat down hard, gulping.  Farasha and Kyriala? Together? With Gan, chatting over kaf?  Oh... well... that ... that would be good.  Especially if they got to be friends, if I weren’t there. Gan’s acting like I’m trying to find out if a four would work...

Linasika returned with a glass for Fara and an extra bottle of wine. “This was a wonderful idea Gannara, all you youngsters make the house so much more full of life, and energy.” He was smiling big and warm.  He looked truly happy, looking around at all of us.  “Look at you!  All alive and hale after so much trouble!  Kahara bless us!”

Tisha and Dumaryae came back right then and called us all in to the table.  I was so glad it was fish.  I might be able to swallow something.  Compliment the cooking, even if you can’t eat.

Tisha called to Sach and Erano-e to help carry dishes.  “Since this is a rather large party I decided to serve dinner in the Arkan-style, so this is just the first course. I hope everyone is hungry!”

The fish was astonishing and I didn’t have to fight to swallow at all, creamy and perfectly cooked... a sea-faring family, of course... “Ker Shae-Ara, this is amazing!”

Linasika beamed. “My family recipe but Tisha cooks it even better than my father did.”

“Never! He was the master of just the right seasoning.” She looked pleased at the compliment.

“Oh you should have seen some of the things the Mahid tried to cook,” Gan said.  Smoothly.  Suddenly we had everyone’s attention.  “Or when they tried to milk goats.”

I had to laugh... “Those goats left a bunch of them on the ground, clutching their privates!  Excuse me, for being so crude.”

“Really?” Sach said.  “They butted them there?”

“Oh, yes,” I said.  “Then the nanny trotted right over one Mahid’s prone body, trampling him and hitting him in the head with the log she was supposedly tethered to.”  I thought I saw Tisha’s mouth twitch.  “And then she turned around and ‘baaaaaaaaahhhhed’ right in his face.”

Farasha giggled right out.  “Oh, I’ve had to herd goats before.  I can just see it!”  I threw a grateful glance at her.

“Ker Shae-Ara --”

She interupted me.  “Just Tisha, Minis, please.”

I cleared my throat like Ailadas, and Gannara smirked.  “Tisha... thank you.  I’m not used to such phenomenal cooking anymore.  Thank you for this.”

“Well, compared to the Marble Palace it’s not fancy, but there is nothing better than good food with family and friends.” I blinked and looked down, my throat suddenly knotted tight. True. I just wish I knew better how to do it. Linasika caught my eye and winked at me, just a little.

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