Darid 16, 1014
“Well, let’s look at the bright side!” Leona said as she, Christian and David set foot on the beach on the west side of the island. It wasn’t the village proper, but it was where the unconverted natives were celebrating the feast of Jumbok. “At least we got Mother Isabella to swear she wouldn’t let anyone follow us!”
“Not much o’ a thing ter have her promise, I’d say,” grumbled Christian. “What’s King Arthur gonna be sayin’ when he knows that ye’ve set up direct trade with the natives? Against the will o’ the Church?”
“I’m going to tell him I did what he told me to do,” she replied. And she would hope that would be enough.
Besides, she had gone through the Church for some of the trade — not even the less-important stuff, either. It was a small contract, but even the relatively small amount of money that the Church was managing to take away from the natives made Leona’s blood boil. This just wasn’t right.
But hopefully she, Christian, David, and Gino could fix that.
As she stepped onto the sand, Leona looked around. Natives in their colorful clothes and bright white body paint (or was it tattoos? Leona still hadn’t figured that out) crowded around, talking, laughing, and joking with each other. Something that smelled very much like pork was already roasting on a spit. People greeted each other with hugs and kisses, children ran and played … it was like nothing so much as a feast back home. Maybe Brandiwine during the spring or summer or even fall, if it was a mild fall. And that was only because the feast was outdoors — it’d be like a winter Brandiwine if you moved the festivities inside. But Mother Isabella, if she’d been allowed onto this beach, would have clucked her tongue and found five or six things “wrong” with the way the natives were doing things. Why was Leona the only one who could past the differences to the similarities?
She spied Gino out of the corner of her eye, talking to an old man who didn’t seem all that pleased to be talking to him. Leona stepped forward —
“Ess’achi,” said a familiar voice.
That was Liloloa, standing next to a tall young man who surveyed Leona with suspicion and distrust. Leona smiled at him, but if anything, that only made him frown more deeply. He muttered something in the natives’ Simlish to Liloloa.
Liloloa rolled her eyes. “This Uhane,” she said, gesturing to the young man.
“Ess’achi, Uhane!” Leona replied. “I’m Leona.”
“He know who you are,” Liloloa replied. She nudged Uhane’s ribs, much like a mother would prod her recalcitrant adolescent son.
“Ess’achi,” said Uhane, giving Leona an form of the greeting gesture so abbreviated that Leona suspected it was just shy of rude. Then, without another word to Leona, he turned to Liloloa and said something else in the native tongue. Leona was not picking up the language as fast as she would have liked, but she considered herself to be quite fluent in Tone and Body Language, and in both of those languages Uhane was saying, Can I go now?
Liloloa rolled her eyes and shooed him off. “Forgive he. He do not like your people. He think you all not to be trusted.”
“Oh … well, I guess I can see where he got that idea,” Leona sighed. “But hopefully we Albionese can correct that impression?” She smiled.
Liloloa shook her head. “He a warrior. Young warriors want to fight. We have not had good fight in as long as he been alive.”
“That’s not what my father says,” Leona replied. “A true warrior, he–“
And she stopped. Because she realized that what she was about to say was probably very rude. The last thing these people needed was more foreigners coming in and claiming that all their traditions and the way they lived their lives were wrong. “Er … never mind.”
“No. No, go on.” Liloloa had turned an appraising stare onto her, and under the force of that stare, Leona felt that she had little choice but to comply.
“Well, my father says …”
There was Gino! He’d come over to her!
Leona felt herself grinning from ear to ear, but realized, once again, she was being rude. With something of an effort and a strange warmth in her face, she turned back to Liloloa. Liloloa seemed to be turning back to her at the same time. “My father says that a — a true warrior doesn’t want to fight. He just knows that sometimes he needs to.” Then Leona gulped, hoping she hadn’t ruined a trade agreement she hadn’t even made yet.
But Liloloa was grinning. “Your father old warrior. We say, young warrior, he think a good fight is one he win. Old warrior, he know a good fight one he needed to fight.”
Leona smiled, although she was having a hard time keeping focused on Liloloa while Gino stood behind her, smiling. “I think you and my father would get along very well. Just don’t call him old. He doesn’t want to admit that’s what he is yet.”
Something in what Leona said seemed to confuse Liloloa; the elder turned to Gino with a question in her eyes. Gino replied back with what Leona guessed was what she had said in the natives’ Simlish.
And Liloloa laughed. “Perhaps your father not so wise, then! Is not so bad to be old! People listen to you!”
Leona decided that laughing outright at that notion would be very rude indeed, even if Lancelot would be the first to get the joke.
Luckily Liloloa chose that note on which to end their conversation. “But I must go. Much to do. We talk later.”
“But wait — you never said –“
Too late. She had wandered off. And there was Gino.
“She won’t make any announcements until the feast,” Gino explained to her. “The day is for pleasure. Only at night can business happen.”
“Oh …” Leona sighed.
“But don’t worry about it, Princess. I don’t think she’ll say no. She wants to play you Wrightians off each other, and the people around here listen to what she says.”
Even after she had led them to defeat, all those years ago? But maybe it was wrong for Leona to judge her based on that. From what it sounded like, the Travellers had been prepared for angry natives, and they had come with a lot of firepower … and more than a few people who knew just how to use it.
“Besides, today’s for fun. And I want to show you something.” Without any warning, without even a by-your-leave, Gino took her hand and started to lead her down the beach.
Leona was very sure that her heart did not skip a beat when he did that. And she was also very sure that the heat rising in her face was not a blush. She really needed to invest in something that wasn’t leather and chain mail for this heat.
When they got down closer to the waves, Leona saw that David was already there, beating one of the natives’ drums that had been set up there. He looked up and waved. Gino darted forward, letting go of Leona’s hand, and came to a rest beside a strange … well, it looked like a spit to Leona’s eyes. But there was no fire underneath. Or anything on the spit, for that matter.
Gino shooed away the young man playing in the sand and grinned at Leona. “Ever seen a limbo done, Princess?”
“Er … no …?”
“The Church banned them — said the dances are too sensual. The whole village will be dancing tonight. But nobody will mind if we practice now.” His grin was so infectious that Leona had to smile back.
“Sensual?” she asked. What on earth could they do with that spit-stick that could be sensual?
… Actually, there were probably a lot of things one could do with that spit-stick that were pretty sensual …
“You’ll see tonight,” Gino replied. “But the basic dance is pretty simple. Here — I’ll show you.”
He went around the back — well, the back from where Leona was standing — of the stick. He bopped his head a few times in time to the beat David was drumming. And then, slowly, he bent backward and started to shimmy under the stick.
Leona watched the line of his back, the arch of his chest. She glanced at the natives and the clothes they wore. And then she looked back at Gino, how he was barely watching the stick at all, and instead was watching her.
Leona swallowed. She now understood just how this dance could be so sensual. And she understood, too, that she really, really needed to get out of this chain mail.
Gino effortlessly passed under the stick and straightened in one fluid motion. “Your turn, Princess.”
“My turn? I just saw you do it once!”
“And will you have it said that a du Lac backed down from a challenge?” Gino asked, eyes sparkling.
“Oooh … that’s just mean,” Leona muttered. But she came closer to the limbo stick. Well–here goes nothin’!
She stepped forward, one shaking step after another, trying to bend her back the other way than it was supposed to go …
“Relax, Leona,” laughed Gino. “It’s not that hard.”
“Says you. You don’t have …” She patted her chest. “Protuberances to account for!”
“Protuberances? Is that what they’re calling them these days?”
“In polite comp–damn it!”
She’d bumped into the stick with her … protuberances. Leona went down. And the stick went with her.
Leona sat in the sand, the stick balanced over her lap. “You’re laughing at me, aren’t you?”
“Not at all,” replied Gino in the strangled voice of one trying very hard to make sure that he was speaking the truth. “Here.” He extended a hand and helped her up. Then he balanced the stick on a pair of perfectly matched knots much lower down. “Now, Princess … let me show you how it’s really done.”
He went back to the starting position. Leona watched him. He started snapping his fingers. Wiggling his hips. Grinning at Leona.
This was sensual, all right.
Then Gino started to dance his way under the limbo.
He bent backwards … back … he started to walk crabwise, inch by inch, under the stick …
He was bent practically double — but he was still needed to go farther — Leona’s eyes widened. How would he do it?
Then–Gino’s foot slid across the loose sand. His other foot stayed in place–then it slid–then Gino–
Thump! “Wright damn it!”
And Leona couldn’t help it. He looked so funny, pouting there, the stick balanced across his knees — she started to giggle.
“Oh, sure, laugh it up,” Gino grumbled as he stood, dusting off his butt and hosen. “I didn’t laugh when you fell.” He balanced the stick again.
“You were showing off! I was just trying for the first time.” Leona laughed. “It’s different!”
“So you say,” Gino rolled his eyes.
Leona stopped laughing. “Sorry …” Was he hurt? “Maybe it wasn’t that funny.”
Gino turned to her, surprise written all over his face. “What? Now you’re showing me mercy? You confuse me greatly, Princess.”
“I try not to embarrass people,” Leona shrugged. “Especially since I’ve been told I emasculate people–well, just men, just by looking at them, half the time.”
Gino’s eyebrows rose. “Looking at them? I’d say you have exactly the opposite effect when you look at most men, Princess.”
Leona blinked. Did he just mean … ? Of course that was what he meant. Gino was a salty sailor, wasn’t he? At least, he said he’d spent time on the sea. But … even if that was what he meant, he couldn’t, well, mean it …
Unless he did … his eyes said he–
Someone blew on a conch shell; Leona jumped out of her skin. And it was Gino’s turn to laugh. “Come on, Princess! Grub’s ready!” He grabbed her hand again and led her up the sloping sands to the long table set up on the grass.
Leona tried to hang back — how was she to know where to sit? — but Liloloa saw her and waved her forward. She sat Leona to her left, Gino to her right — to translate, Leona wondered? Or because he was her grandson?
Gino also got many dirty looks from the people surrounding them. The man next to Gino — Uhane, as it happened — even sneered and pointedly moved his chair to the side. Leona stared at him with an open mouth.
“Don’t,” said Gino.
“But they …”
“It’s complicated …”
Leona raised one eyebrow at him. “It’d be a lot less complicated if you would explain a thing or two.”
Gino shook his head. “Not here. Not now.”
“The feast of Jumbok is not to speak of such things,” agreed Liloloa. Leona looked at her in some surprise. “The feast of Jumbok, it is for good things. Happy things. Not for uhane poino.”
“Uhane?” asked Leona, looking at the man so named.
“She means evil spirits,” Gino muttered. “Uhane means ‘strong spirit.’ And poino … evil.”
Leona stared at him. Evil spirits? Who–what–where was the evil spirit? She couldn’t possibly mean Gino, could she? Gino had said that she wouldn’t accept him as her grandson, but surely she didn’t think that he had or was an evil spirit … did she?
Gino sighed. “It has to do with my father. And … how he and my mother … met, you might say. And how my mother … wasn’t given much of a choice in the matter.”
Leona’s eyes widened. “Oh. I–I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Gino asked. “You weren’t there. And if it hadn’t happened — well, I wouldn’t be here.”
That was not what he thought, not really. Maybe he meant the part about there being no need for her to be sorry, but she could still see the smoldering anger whenever he talked about his father. Even if that crime meant Gino’s existence — well, it didn’t mean that Gino had to forgive him for it. Not in Leona’s mind, anyway. Clarice and Angelique might not have existed if Bors hadn’t been such an utter ass, but they didn’t have to forgive him for being one.
But Gino didn’t want to talk about this. So Leona changed the subject, and they talked, a lone island of what Leona was starting to think of as continental Simlish in a sea of islander Simlish. They talked of the sea, and their travels, and all the places Gino had been, and all the places Leona wanted to go after this voyage.
And when Liloloa stood up — long after it had become fully dark — Leona was oddly disappointed.
She started to speak. Leona did her best to listen to the rolling, musical language, trying to pick out words that she knew. She heard the word for “good” a few times. And her new word for evil. And … and there was nothing else she could make out. Leona looked helplessly at Gino.
“It’s … political-ese,” Gino replied when he saw Leona looking at him. “You know. Lots of words. Little actually said.”
Liloloa stopped in mid-speech and glared at Gino. Everyone — even stiff Uhane — laughed. Apparently Leona was not the only expert in Tone and Body Language.
Liloloa rolled her eyes, then she kept talking. The natives listened, rapt, several nodding along. They also looked long and hard at Leona. Leona did her best to smile at every gaze that met hers — and more than a bit to her surprise, plenty of other Sims smiled back.
Then Liloloa said something that made a cheer come up.
“What’s she say?” hissed Leona.
“She just said she wants to get rid of all the Wrightians from the islands,” Gino murmured.
“Oh, no …”
“Don’t give up. It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Gino shrugged. “It’s not like your lot is trying to invade.”
Well, that was a point …
Liloloa kept talking. Then — with no warning that Leona could detect — she grabbed Leona’s hand. She hauled her up — the older lady had surprising strength — and held her at an arm’s length. Then, with great solemnity, she kissed Leona on both cheeks.
“Kiss her back!” Gino hissed. Leona did so.
First there was a gasp that spread around the table. Then one woman — the blonde woman Leona had been seated next to for the whole space of the feast — slowly stood up. She started to clap.
The rest of the natives quickly joined in, standing and clapping. Gino and Christian and David stood too. Even Uhane joined the rest of the group, though his clapping was slow and sullen.
“What just happened?” Leona asked Gino.
It was Liloloa who answered. “We friends now. Partners. We trade — and we no trade with Church!”
The “no trade with the Church” bit was going to get her into trouble sooner or later; Leona knew that. But the first bit. “Gino!” Leona shouted. “Did you hear that?”
“Aye, I heard.”
“And it’s all thanks to you! Oh, Gino–“
As for what she did next — Leona wasn’t sure what she had been thinking. But it sure felt right.
Leona had never kissed a man like this before. She’d had a few crushes. She and Elyan had also tried kissing once — she thought he was six and she was nine at the time — but never like this. There’d never been this kind of sudden passion, not on Leona’s part. And — she was pretty sure no man had ever responded like Gino had.
So when Leona stumbled back and the silence crashed in around her — it was deafening. “Oh, Gino …”
Everyone was staring at them — everyone. Except Uhane, pointedly looking away. Liloloa was watching them especially hard, and her eyes were calculating and appraising.
But Leona couldn’t look at any of the rest of them. She could only look at Gino. She could only watch as he brought a ginger finger to his lips, touched them, then stared at the hand as if he had never seen it before.
“Gino … I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have –“
Gino stared at her as if he’d never seen her before. “Princess?”
Leona gulped. “I’m sorry–“
“I don’t want to hear that.”
And then he showed her why.
And when the other natives cheered — when even David and Christian sent up a loud holler — and even when the very ground under Leona’s feet felt like it started to tremble …
It all felt so natural, so right, she never thought to ask later if anyone else had heard it, or felt it. She doubted they would have.
Because none of them had Gino. And in that moment, nothing else mattered, but that Leona did.