You can skip Chapter 11 without losing the plot.
Sefton lay on his back in Lady Tasiya’s bed, his wife curled against him and her head on his chest. His lady looked much smaller, he noticed, when she was sleeping, softer. She looked like the girls in the novels he’d read as a kid.
The exhaustion was pricking at his eyes and muddling his mind, making his limbs heavy and his thoughts thick. Still, he stared up at the fresco on the ceiling, the figures shadowed and impossible to make out, and thought about being married.
He held his wrists up so that he could look at the shackles, dropped his wrists to his stomach and sighed. He’d said yes, of course. It wasn’t like he’d had any choice — run off and join the bandits?
The bandits. His hands clenched into fists. They’d just let themselves in. The whole point of this set-up was that the egglings were supposed to be safe.
The egglings were safe, he reminded himself. You and Jaco kept them safe. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.
He had been training in combat since he was able to hold a weapon. They all did, boys and girls, men and women. He lifted his hands up to look at the chains again. Men weren’t allowed to fight unless they were bound into the army or protecting their egglings.
When men fight free, the world suffers. So said their nation’s charter, and their treaty with the three bordering nations. So said everyone — and yet over half the bandits were men.
The world not being fair was a truism, like water being wet, like the sky being turquoise.
He wanted to pace. When he was little, even when he was a teenager, he’d let himself out of the nursery and walked back and forth down the halls until he could go back to sleep. He’d figured out homework that way, and problems with his siblings, and the week before the wedding he’d been out there every night, pacing, trying to calm himself down, trying to tell himself it would be all right.
Right now, he couldn’t pace – couldn’t go anywhere – because his wife was sleeping with her head on his chest. It was a nice feeling, quite different from anything else, even different from those times with Isham. Sefton sighed, his breath moving Taisiya’s hair, and tried to go back to sleep.
When he woke, she was no longer pressed up against him. She wasn’t there at all. Sefton froze. What was he supposed to do, if his wife left him in bed alone? He knew this. There had to be a protocol. There was a protocol for everything. He just – right now- he couldn’t remember anything at all.
“Hey, brother-husband.” Jaco’s cheerful voice came from just beyond the bed curtains. “Come on. Time for you to head back to husbands’ territory and help me with breakfast clean-up. And then we can sit down and eat a nice hearty breakfast.” A pair of pants landed on his face. “Get yourself clothed and let’s go. The quicker we’re done with everything, the more chance there is for a nap later in the day – and you’re going to need it, after yesterday.”
Sefton slid on the pants, noting that his wrists were still not chained to his waist again, and followed Jaco mostly blindly back into husbands’ territory. It was good he was following someone, because he hadn’t been to the kitchen yet, and it was in a previously-unexplored part of the house.
The sink was full of water already. Sefton dug his hands into the dishes without being asked – Jaco’s hands were chained down, even if Sefton’s wasn’t, and he knew from watching his youngest father that basic chores could become tricky like that.
“She likes you.” Jaco sounded amused. Sefton couldn’t really fault him for that, and it was a lot better than angry or jealous.
Sefton smirked at him, risking a joke. They’d fought together, after all. “I do what she tells me to.”
“Oh, is that what I’m doing wrong? I knew it had to be something.” Jaco laughed. “Well, nothing wrong with being a good boy if you don’t have something to prove by being bad.”
“I don’t have anything to prove. And I, um. I don’t have anyone I’m missing by being here.”
“What, no special friends? No girl you were thinking of?” This time, Jaco’s question seemed to have an edge.
Sefton decided honesty was his best option.
“My closest good friend got married just a week before I did.”
There was enough information there for Jaco to put it together if he wanted to. Then again, Sefton really didn’t lose anything by him knowing.
“Oh, man.” Jaco winced sympathetically. “That’s not any fun. But at least you weren’t waiting mooning around long… wait. A week?”
Well, it was out now. Sefton nodded very slowly.
“A week. Oh, man, was your – your special friend was Isham?” Jaco shook his head. “Did your mother know?”
“Of course she didn’t! Did you tell your mother about the boys you were playing with? I mean, some of them still act like it’s horrid, and the ones that don’t, they act like it’s nothing.” He’d watched a couple of his friends after they tried to tell their mothers. “Anything between two boys, it’s always going to be temporary.” He thought, guiltily, of how easily both Taisiya and Pherishhe had handled the information. That wasn’t the norm, though. His mother, she wouldn’t have been like that – would she have?
“But if she knew, do you think she would’ve still married you to, well, to his mother? That’s got to be awkward.”
More awkward was living with Isham’s fathers, but Sefton wasn’t about to mention that right now. “I think she had a deal she wanted to make, and I don’t think what I wanted really mattered. I mean, she knew that Lady Taisiya was a good woman and that she could afford another husband. I don’t think she really thought any more deeply about it.”
Jaco shook his head. “It was hard enough for me, being separated. If it had been, if it’d been her mother, I don’t know. I might have actually managed to run away.”
Sefton swallowed his momentary horror. “I’m not like that,” he managed. “It might not be what I wanted, but I’m going to do what’s asked of me.”
“Ah, well.” Jaco wrinkled his nose. “We can’t all be good boys.”
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