Monday, July 18, 2016
September 22, early (Part 3)
“Oh boy,” Candy breathed, a smirk spreading over her face. “Looks like I got front row tickets to the show.”
“Hush,” I grumbled. I waved to both sets of men who were coming near and eyeing each other with surprise … and a touch of suspicion.
Plastering on a smile that hinted nothing at how uncomfortable I found the situation to be, I quickly made the introductions. “Nobek Oses and Imdiko Betra, this is Dramok Seot, Nobek Larten, and Imdiko Cifa. Candy, you weren’t formally introduced to Clan Seot last night, so now you are.”
“The ‘hubba-hubba’ woman,” Cifa said brightly after all five men had bowed to each other and Clan Seot bowed to Candy. “I wondered what that meant, Matara?”
Candy flushed a little as Betra snickered, but she couldn’t help but return his friendly smile. “It means you’re better looking than most.”
“Thank you, Matara,” Seot said. “You are very kind.”
Yeah, hubba-hubba is such a thoughtful, considerate thing to yell at guys you don’t know. I had to fuss over Anrel to keep from braying laughter.
“Nobek Oses, it is an honor to finally meet you,” Larten said. He seemed immediately at ease. “Your record is most impressive.”
“As is yours, Nobek Larten. I have a couple of men on my security staff who were trained by you. They are among my best blade fighters.” Oses was as friendly as a Nobek could get with another Nobek. In other words, he didn’t glower at Larten.
Betra watched Cifa greet me and Anrel with his usual effusive delight. I looked for any signs of jealousy, but Betra merely looked amused. I was tempted to remind him how silly he’s been with the baby in the past, but kept my mouth shut.
Seot grinned at me. “My clan was looking at some furnishings during our midday meal break. We wondered if we might not run into you. How is your day going so far?”
“Pretty good,” I said. “This market is really fun. I love the fountain,” I said, indicating the central feature of the second square. “And the buskers are entertaining.”
Cifa had gently relieved me of Anrel. Betra was telling him, “Wait until you hear her laugh. I mean really laugh. You’ll lose your whole day trying to make her keep it up.”
“Oh, what’s the best way to do that?”
Meanwhile, Oses and Larten were standing to one side, conversing in low tones. I thought I heard Nang’s name come up, but couldn’t be sure. The two dangerous-looking men had identical predatory expressions.
I exchanged a look with Candy. She pretended to be disappointed that everyone was getting along so well instead of fighting to the death over me.
Seot fussed with his handheld. He leaned over and muttered to Candy, too quiet for me to overhear. She blinked up at him. “Oh no, not tonight. I don’t want to intrude. But thanks. It’s very nice of you to offer.”
He nodded and finished tapping on his handheld. He put it away before giving me a smile. “I hope you don’t mind, but I made dinner reservations for you and your two shipmates—” he nodded towards Betra and Oses “—at the Fuyan.”
“Oh, that’s a great place to eat,” Cifa said, directing his comments to me and Betra. “Try the seared rizpah over sorp. You’ll love it.”
Betra’s brow creased. “Is the Fuyan fancy? Oses and I have a somewhat limited wardrobe on hand.”
“You and I are about the same size, don’t you think?” Cifa eyed him carefully and nodded. “Where are you staying? With Shalia? I’ll send something appropriate. Unless you’d rather wear your uniform, which is perfectly fine too. The owner is big on honoring men in the military.”
Meanwhile, I was touched by Seot’s gesture. “Thank you for arranging that,” I said.
“My pleasure. And if you don’t mind more casual dining for lunch, I’ve directed the Gera to hold my usual table for you.” Seot gave Candy a pointed look. “I’m sure your companions won’t mind you joining them for that.”
“Um,” she said uncertainly. I had the idea she was thinking of her depleted funds.
“It’s covered. Both meals,” he added, looking towards me.
I was blown away by the generosity. I didn’t know what to say. He was paying for me to have dinner with my current sweeties? I know he’d told me he wasn’t upset that I was spending the next two weeks with them instead of his clan, but I’d never imagined someone could be that understanding.
While I tried to collect my thoughts over this unforeseen turn of events, Seot moved close to Betra and Cifa. Now they were talking as quietly as Larten and Oses. Candy sidled over to me.
“What the hell? No one can be that nice,” she whispered. “Except … well, I think maybe they are. And did you notice Betra and Oses aren’t looking one bit jealous?”
“I know,” I whispered back. “Is this some Kalquorian thing?” Another thought occurred to me. “Or maybe I’m not turning out to be what Clan Seot want after all. Maybe this is some bizarre way of saying, go find another clan.”
She shrugged. She was just as much at a loss over the men’s behavior as I was. “Well, at least they’re not beating the hell out of each other. And I’m getting a free lunch out of the deal without having to walk all the way back to the complex’s dining hall.”
While Seot and Betra continued to talk quietly, Cifa brought Anrel back to me and helped me put her back in her carry pouch. He looked at me with a note of worry. “You know, I fuss over the baby like a lunatic. I’m afraid I’ve not given you nearly enough attention when we’re together.”
I chuckled. “I’m used to her being center stage. Babies own the spotlight, you know.”
“I suppose, but you deserve as much notice. Please don’t think I’m ignoring you.” He reddened slightly. “It’s just – well, I’m an Imdiko. I’m geared to take care of others, and no one is as helpless as a baby.”
“I’m fine with that,” I said. “In all honesty, I appreciate that you put so much importance on her. That means a lot to me.”
He smiled, so sweet and adorable that I thought I’d forgive him for murder if it ever came up. It’s a sin for someone to be that darn cute.
Seot called to his clanmates. “I need to get back to the office, and I suppose you two need to resume your duties too.” He bowed to Betra. “Thank you for your time, Imdiko. If I don’t have the privilege of running into you and Nobek Oses again before you leave Kalquor, I wish you a safe journey.”
Betra returned the bow. “Thank you, Dramok. Feel free to contact us should the need arise.”
I wondered what he meant by that.
I think I got a clue during lunch. We went to the restaurant Seot had recommended, a casual open-air dining room called the Gera. It looked like a huge covered porch, the only enclosed part being the kitchen from which mouthwatering smells wafted. It was a comfortable place, the wood plank flooring covered with comfy seating cushions which surrounded large, low tables.
We ordered. I had a glass of dlas since I didn’t want to be irresponsible with my care of Anrel. The rest enjoyed the more potent bohut.
While we waited for our food, I decided to pin the guys down. “Were you and Larten discussing Nang?” I asked Oses.
“We compared notes. I wanted to make sure he had all the information I did since his clan will be around you and Anrel in the near future.” Oses said, “I still plan to speak to local authorities about the matter, as well as the Nobek of the other clan you’ll be seeing.”
I gave him an adoring smile. “Thank you for looking out for us.”
It was Betra’s turn. “What were you and the other two in such deep conversation about?” I asked.
“You.” His expression was contemplative, but pleasantly so. “They wanted to know how they could make your transition to Kalquor as easy as possible once Oses and I were gone. And to reassure me that if they eventually clan you, Oses and I will be welcome to visit as a members of the family.”
Candy shook her head as she smiled. “Again, too good to be true … but I still want to believe it.”
“You and me both. Or is there something I’m not getting here?” I asked Betra.
“They seem to be decent men,” he answered. “I feel like their main goal is to make you a priority for as long as you continue to prove compatible.”
Oses agreed. “I wanted to find a reason to dislike Larten, simply because he gets to be around you after I leave. But as far as I can tell, his record and reputation are well-earned. He’ll make you and Anrel a fine protector if you choose to make him so.”
Betra sighed. “I’m impressed despite myself. I have no doubt they’d prefer to be the only men in your life, but your needs come first. You could do a lot worse, Shalia.”
“But only if you truly love them,” Oses said.
Betra, Candy, and I stared at him. Candy was the one to tease him because she was the only one who could get away with it. “You big romantic, you,” she grinned at the Nobek.
“If you tell anyone, I’ll have to kill them,” he said with a straight face.