Seryl 24, 1014
The first call of the gulls was enough to wake Gino. He blinked in the dawn light. Something — something black was in front of him —
He’d known her hair before last night. Leona had been amazingly permissive for a noblewoman, even before last night, allowing just about anything above the belt — which meant that Gino was allowed to coax her hair from its braid and run his fingers through it as often as he liked. Even now, he couldn’t quite resist taking a few strands and running them through his fingers. So thick, so lustrous, shot through with highlights that shone blue in the right light, like stars in the night sky.
He wouldn’t wake her. Not yet. They had a lot to discuss — and they would have a busy day — he would let her sleep for now. He crept out of the bed, found his braises, and put them on. Then he perched back on top of it. Leona had turned over, facing him now, even if she wasn’t ready to wake up yet.
He still couldn’t believe that she’d gone through the aloha hipu’u with him. And he still couldn’t forgive himself for not telling her exactly what it required of her. Of them.
Then again … he hadn’t had much of a chance …
Liloloa was no fool. She knew damn well what she was dealing with in Gino: a strong reluctance to go through this with Leona. She might not understand why, since the natives didn’t have the same concept of nobility, of station, that the continentals did. Then again, she probably had a glimmering. Anybody who had ever been in love ought to know what it was like to feel that you weren’t good enough for the other person. And she knew that given five minutes alone with Leona, Gino would have tried to talk her out of it, or at least explain everything she was getting into. So she didn’t give him those five minutes. She had Leona whisked off with the ladies in one direction, and Gino carried away by the men in another direction, and Gino didn’t see Leona again until he was waiting for her at the other end of the wedding arch.
Well … “wedding arch” was the best name for it, maybe, but what they were going through wasn’t really a wedding. The aloha hipu’u was supposed to be a peacemaking ceremony, or an alliance-building ceremony. Gino supposed it wasn’t too far off from many noble weddings on the continent, which were less about the bride and groom than about the two families that were joining forces or purses or both. But there were key differences … starting with the fact that the partner from “outside the tribe” had to do a fire-walk to get to his or her partner. It was symbolic of all the strife and struggle it took to get the two tribes to this point.
Thinking back to the last few months, Gino realized he should have known Liloloa was up to something when she got Malia to teach Leona how to fire-walk. At the time he had just been happy that Liloloa was being that open to treating with Leona. Now he wondered if she had been planning this since that first kiss on the Feast of Jumbok, when the volcano had first started to rumble.
Still, even though Leona had fire-walked before, she flashed him a nervous smile as she started down the aisle, picking her way from foot to foot. Then … well, this was Leona.
She pitched forward and walked halfway down the aisle on her hands. Gino had heard his gasp join with everybody else’s. Even Liloloa looked shocked. Good — she deserved to get at least one surprise today, considering what she’d pulled on Leona and Gino.
But when Leona backflipped to her feet and came up with unburned palms held high, Liloloa had been the first to cheer. Gino could only smile. What a woman, that Leona.
And she’s all mine. That had been the first time he had dared to think that. Gino still couldn’t quite let himself believe it. Leona was a duke’s daughter. Sooner or later she’d come to her senses and realize she could do so much better than the rape-baby of a monk and a Twikkii islander. More to the point, she’d realize what a treasure she was — how lucky anybody would be to have her, no matter what that jackass of a cousin had said to her back on the continent — and she’d use her influence to get out of this marriage and find somebody who could change the world with her.
But the way she smiled at him as she threw up her arms in triumph … if Gino didn’t know better … he’d say she had found the one she wanted.
Gino took her hand and guided her those last few steps — it was a way of welcoming her and hers to their tribe. Then, as soon as Leona was under the arch, Liloloa began to speak.
She told the whole story of how they came to this point. She started when the first Traveller ships had appeared on the shore. It wasn’t a first contact with the outside world by any means; the Remans had been trading off-and-on with the islanders for almost a century, and of course the pirates of Bledavik were well-known on these shores. But the Remans thought the islands weren’t worth conquering, so they traded for what they wanted and left. The Travellers were different. They came to stay. They tried to herd the natives into their stone churches — churches that the natives knew were foolish, were tempting fate. Look at what happened to their own stone temples. They had been built to honor the gods and spirits of these islands, and the gods had destroyed them all in a single fit of earth-shaking temper.
But the Travellers had stayed. And then they showed their true colors when their clan chief, Brother Enguerrand, found a woman of the tribe and raped her. Her name was Auli’i Luana, daughter of Liloloa. And she was Gino’s mother.
That was when Liloloa knew that these were not just strange Sims from another land with odd customs and absolutely no idea how to act when they were guests in another’s home. They were uhane poino. So Liloloa began to plan. When it was clear that Auli’i was pregnant as a result of the rape, she supported her daughter as best she could. But the poino had control of Auli’i’s mind. They couldn’t force her to harm anyone else, so they caused her pain in any way they could: forcing her to remember what had happened to her over and over again, making her fear the dark, giving her terrible nightmares. As her pregnancy progressed, the poino attacked her more and more, until she gave birth and died. Liloloa’s voice cracked as she described her daughter’s face in death: it was the first time she had seen her peaceful since that awful day.
And so they had Gino, the child born of uhane poino. Tradition dictated that they throw that child into the jungle, let the gods take care of it so the spirits could never grow strong enough to do harm. But Liloloa had had a better idea: she delivered the poino child back to its poino father, and she and her warriors made war upon the poino.
They lost. But, Liloloa said, that didn’t matter anymore. Now she saw what the gods’ plan had been all along. Everybody knew that children born of uhane poino had strong connections to the spirit-world. Sometimes a shaman would take such a child from the jungle and raise it, driving out the poino from an early age in the secret way only shamans knew how to do. Usually such children became shamans themselves. That hadn’t happened with Gino, but now they would drive out the poino with love — and now Gino would keep his connection to the spirit world. And he could pass it on to his children.
The whole village cheered at that line. Leona looked at Gino, puzzled, clearly wanting a translation. But Gino couldn’t give it to her, because Liloloa had been canny — the vows started at that moment, and Gino could see he wouldn’t be allowed to delay.
Though maybe “vows” weren’t the right word. That was too Wrightian. The aloha hipu’u didn’t bind forever, it only bound … Liloloa had said “for a season,” but that wasn’t right. The aloha hipu’u was supposed to bind the two tribes together more than the two people. The two people only had to stick together long enough to have a child.
Gino did not look forward to explaining that to Leona.
But for a few moments during the ceremony, he had to wonder — would she mind? Would she be upset? She had said to Liloloa that she wanted to get married according to the Wrightian way … was that just to keep her honor unstained? Or might she …?
Want him? For real? Forever?
Surely she wouldn’t once she came to her senses … but as a woman of her word, she would feel bound to stay with him until she had that child, even if she hadn’t understood her word when she gave it. And maybe, once they had a child, that might tie them together in a way no words could do. But as soon as Gino thought that, he hated himself for it. What kind of cad was he, trying to bind a woman to him permanently by means of a baby?
Still, for a few minutes, as they held hands and exchanged rings — the rings were a symbol of love and fidelity for the islanders, too — none of that mattered. And Gino could pretend that this was for real.
And when they ended the ceremony with a kiss (another commonality between the islander ceremony and the Wrightian, although it didn’t take much guessing to realize why), Gino knew that at least this much was real: right here, right now, Leona loved him with all the fierce wildness of her lioness’s heart.
The only sticking point was Gino. He loved her; that wasn’t the problem. He had tried to talk her out of this, hadn’t he, because she deserved better? Even though he knew that Liloloa would kill the poino with fire if she had to, to save her people from the rumbling volcano, he’d tried to look out for Leona first. But the rest of it …
Gino was too much an islander to blithely assume that love always did — or always should — last forever. And he was too much a continental to begin to understand why, out of all the men Leona would meet, she would pick him.
After the ceremony, the rest of the evening was a bit of an anti-climax. There was a feast. Gino was barely able to eat a thing, and he got teased heartily for that. Half the men asked if he was a scared young virgin, if they ought to be giving him tips before he went in with Leona. Gino just rolled his eyes. And watched Leona.
Leona didn’t eat much, either, though she managed more than Gino. And she drank far more of the coconut wine than Gino did. The wine went to her cheeks and made her flush; it made her laugh louder and merrier than Gino had ever heard it. And it made her even more boisterous, something Gino would not have believed if he hadn’t seen with his own two eyes. She’d talked and laughed and joked with anyone who would listen, and when one of the women started a bawdy song, Leona had joined right in, even though she didn’t know or understand the words.
And then, when the feast was barely half-over, they had been escorted into the largest hut on the beach — Liloloa’s hut, which she had set aside for they two for tonight. Once they were inside and the door was closed, Gino took a deep breath, intending to tell Leona just what she had gotten herself into, trying to give her an out if she wanted it —
He never got a chance.
There was no mistaking that kiss: she wanted him. Bad. And Gino wanted her. She already had his collar half off before she broke off the kiss. Gino help her toss her collar off before they finished with his. Between the caresses, the clawing at every last stubborn article of clothing, every bit of fabric tossed over one head or the other, the white body paint was gone before they even warmed up.
Hell, they were lucky they made it to the bed instead of taking each other on the floor!
And when it was over … when Gino was spent and even Leona looked a little tired out, when Leona had caught her breath and Gino was wondering if he would ever catch his breath again, she smiled at him …
Gino smiled back. He reached across the pillows and grabbed her pale hands. They weren’t as soft as most noblewomen’s hands might have been. As he traced it with his thumb, he could feel the calluses from pen and sword, the scars catching her hand on the rough wood of the ship, the ghost of an ancient rope-burn.
And Gino didn’t care. No — he loved every last one of them. How many other men likely to find themselves in bed with a Duke’s daughter could say that?
So he kissed her hands. Leona laughed and drew closer to him. They didn’t make love again — Gino was a bit too exhausted for that — but they kissed and held each other, and Leona laid her head on his shoulder, and it wasn’t long before she was asleep. Gino would follow her soon enough, but he took a few moments — just a few moments — to watch her breathe, and push back her hair from her face.
And just before he went to sleep, he thought to himself, My Lord — this could work …
Leona was stirring. That brought Gino back to the present. To the real world.
“Mmmmmm …” Leona yawned and her dark eyes blinked open. “What — what time is it?”
“Dawn,” Gino replied.
“Oh … good …” Leona yawned as she sat up. “We don’t sail until no–” She stopped, staring at Gino’s braises. “You’re dressed? No fair!”
“It’s a little chilly to be just lying here with nothing but the clothes I was born in, princess,” Gino chuckled.
“Chilly? It is no–” Leona stopped, shivering as a chill blast of wind from off the sea blew in through the cabin walls. “Never mind,” she muttered, hopping out of bed and collecting her own underwear — which, Gino noticed, had managed to end up in all sorts of interesting places. Gino just leaned back and enjoyed the view while it was there to enjoy.
Then Leona climbed back into the bed.
“What?” Gino asked, trying to laugh. “Not going to be up and at ’em this morning, sailor? Don’t you have a thousand things to do before the ship sails?”
“I figure I’m allowed to be lazy on the morning after my wedding,” Leona said, and then she blushed. “I mean … that’s how I’m thinking about it …”
Gino swallowed. “Leona …”
“It’s not crazy, is it?” she asked hesitantly. “To think that we could … really be married? I know we’ll have to make it official later, but …” Leona shrugged. “I … I’ve never felt about anyone the way I feel about you, Gino. You’ve probably had a lot of girls tell you that …”
“No,” Gino replied. And it was true. He’d stayed well away from romance, and for the most part, what experience he’d had up to this point had been bought and paid for. You were much less likely to end up like Brother Enguerrand if you realized that some urges were natural and normal and were best dealt with as they came along, in a way that did minimal harm to others.
Leona snorted. “You’re joking.”
“I’m not. And I don’t know what you see in me, princess. Aren’t there men beating your door down back in Albion?”
“Most men tend to run the other way from me,” Leona sighed. She fiddled with her ring.
She’d said that before. Gino didn’t understand it. If he could see what a gem she was, why couldn’t anyone else? Once again came the rogue thought — This could work. I want her. She wants me. Damn it, we make each other happy!
But not yet. Not until she knew just what she had gotten into. “Leona … about the aloha hipu’u …”
“What about it?” Leona pushed some of her hair away from her face. “Isn’t it over?”
“No … not really.” Gino swallowed. “It–it’s not over until …”
Leona nodded for him to continue.
“… we have a baby …”
Leona stared at him. “What.”
“I tried to tell you yesterday–but you–and Liloloa–”
Leona was staring at him — then she stared at her perfectly flat stomach. “Gino! I can’t stay here until I have a baby! I need to get back home! And there’s no way I’m bringing an infant on board a ship!”
“What? No, no! Liloloa wouldn’t try to keep you here.” That was the quickest way to bring trouble with the Travellers — and if Gino knew how Liloloa’s mind worked, she’d much prefer for the Travellers not to know about this until it was too late for them to do anything about it.
“Oh.” Leona leaned back, thinking. “Well … if we’re married … we’re going to have babies eventually, aren’t we?”
“… Are we?” Gino asked, and he wasn’t sure what he was asking: Are we married? Are we going to have babies?
“I hope so,” Leona replied. She reached for his hand. Gino met her halfway.
Later, he would always think of that moment — when they held hands and Leona smiled at him — as the moment when they were truly married. Not the ceremony of the aloha hipu’u. Not later that day, when they were safely out to sea and Leona grabbed Christian, David, and the cabin boy for ten minutes and had Christian conduct the quickest wedding ceremony ever seen by Sims — it took him longer to enter it into his log than it did to conduct it. Not even any moment during their numerous consummations of the union. Because it was at that moment that Gino realized he was in this, really in this, and Leona was in it too. And though they had a hard journey ahead of them, they were in it together.
That was why he took that hand, used it to turn himself over, and started to kiss Leona. Maybe that was why she welcomed him so–who was he kidding? She welcomed him eagerly because that was who she was. His lioness was as fierce in making love as she was in making war. She’d probably been waiting for him to make a move since she woke up.
And even though they both had a thousand things to do that day — even though the Caliburn would sail at noon — Gino obliged his princess.
Because they were married now, and this was what married couples did.