Just a little over two weeks away! Almost there, folks. So what happens when Erybet and Sletran learn their Imdiko has a secret love?
He rehearsed what he would say to his clanmates the entire way home. It was with nervous hopefulness that he entered their quarters and went in search of the other two. He found them sitting on the balcony on weatherproof seating, silently watching the sun set over the ocean. Both wore gloomier looks than usual. Conyod hoped his news would lift their spirits a little.
The men looked at him as he came out on the balcony, murmuring greetings. Conyod went to the low wall of the balcony, but was too excited to appreciate the way the setting sun tinged the green-hued sea with amber highlights. He faced his clanmates.
He searched their eyes, as he always did these days, for a glimmer of warmth as they gazed at him. It was that bare touch of affection that kept him from completely giving up on the altered pair and running away. He found it. They still cared for him; they were simply too lost in their misery to display much of it these days.
Erybet even managed a ghost of a smile. “My Imdiko is home from work before dark for a change. This is a special occasion.”
Conyod clasped his hands behind his back to conceal their slight tremor. Undoubtedly, Sletran had already detected his nervousness, but Erybet might not have. Since it was his Dramok who had to be handled carefully in the matter, Conyod didn’t want to give Erybet any reason to refuse considering Rachel. He worried his leader would do so out of spite because of the hard time Conyod had given him over the other Mataras. The old Erybet wouldn’t have, but now…
He smiled back at Erybet. “Actually, it is a special occasion. Do you remember Rachel? My patient you met last night, the one who had just begun to speak?”
Erybet eyed him carefully. Okay, Conyod’s words had come out a little too fast, a bit too high-pitched to convey the casualness he’d planned on. But Erybet didn’t comment on that. Instead he answered, “Such a beautiful girl. Who could forget a face like hers?”
Sletran added, “She was the brave one who opposed her government. Did she speak more today?” He too was managing a hint of a smile, his gaze warming on the Imdiko.
“Much more. Govi is ecstatic over her progress.” Conyod swallowed. His next words came out in a rush. “So much so that she is to be released soon from the hospital and will be going into the lottery system. She wishes our clan to present its case for her first.”
The eyes on him widened. His clanmates exchanged a look with each other, their expressions becoming careful.
It was the Nobek who quietly asked, “You’re her primary therapist, aren’t you? Will considering her for clanship be allowed?”
“Maybe. Govi is looking into the matter and will give me an answer tomorrow.” Conyod caught Erybet’s gaze and held it. To hell with pretense. His Dramok would have deduced already how important this was to Conyod. “I beg you to consider it.”
Erybet leaned forward in his seat, his stare never leaving Conyod’s face. “You’ve had no interest in previous Mataras.”
Conyod couldn’t continue to match that intense gaze. Erybet had a look that made him feel like he could read every thought in the Imdiko’s head. He dropped his eyes. “I have a confession to make, my Dramok. I didn’t want any of the others. I only wanted Ray-Ray.”
There was a long beat of silence. Conyod could feel those eyes boring into him. Under the weight of that gaze, something inside his heart shrank. Erybet was going to say no.
Sletran spoke, giving Conyod a small reprieve from the other man’s scrutiny. “Are you in love with her, Conyod?”
Conyod looked at his Nobek. As always, Sletran regarded him with gentle strength, a look the fierce warrior reserved for him alone. It gave Conyod the resolve he needed to answer, “Yes. With all my heart. She says she loves me too.”
Erybet said, “There are two other men in this clan, men she will have to want as well as you.”
The Imdiko dared to look at his clan leader. The look Erybet gave him, one that was almost as caring as Sletran’s, allowed Conyod to take a breath.
He said, “I know, Erybet. She’s intelligent, though. She’ll see what good clanmates you’d be to her.” He hoped. “If you only get to know her, you will want her as much as I do. She’s smart and caring and courageous and perfect…”
Conyod had to pause to take a breath from the recitation of all that made Rachel wonderful. In that moment of silence, Sletran laughed. It was the first time Conyod had heard him do so since he’d returned home from the war.
“Conyod, you’ll be writing poetry next.” Sletran shook his head, but his smile was indulgent. For a moment he was so much like the Nobek Conyod had known, the Nobek he’d been overjoyed to clan with.
Maybe Erybet was right. Maybe having a Matara will be enough to snap Sletran out of his trauma. Crazier things have happened, right?
Releasing November 16