“…without either, thanks much. What would I want with babies and a husband? They just give you a lot of cooking and cleaning to do. I’d rather dance.”
“Well, you can’t dance without magic,” said Jensi.
“I hope you’re not as stupid as Mad Maba,” said Tibi. “Someone told me that she wanted to be a Tavaedi so badly that when they told her she wasn’t worthy, she--”
“Kemla told you that,” said Jensi. “What if she did?” Across the room, Hadi and the other boys were apparently having a similar conversation, and reached a similar conclusion, for he sud- denly burst out very loudly, his mouth still half full, “Is that why Zavaedi Abiono is here? Is it time for the Initiation?”
This overly loud question silenced the room, and Hadi turned bright red.
All the adults in the room found someplace else to look, except Great Aunt Sullana who withered Hadi where he sat with a hard stare.
“Not my place to ask,” he mumbled. “My apologies, Zavaedi.”
Zavaedi Abiono nodded. He glanced again at Dindi, coughed again, and toyed with his pisha thoughtfully without taking a single bite. A small furry creature, Puddlepaws, noticed the undefended lunch and lowered himself into a crouch to sneak up on the pisha.
That kitten loved cheese.
“So, Zavaedi Abiono,” said Great Aunt Sullana, affecting a tone of innocent interest that fooled no one, “If an individual were not invited to join the Tavaedis, the best thing for her to do would be to marry a nice young man, give him her fields to plow, bear him children, all in all, settle down to a quiet, responsible life?”
“Er, yes, I suppose.”
“You have two nephews on the verge of manhood, don’t you? Tamio is too handsome for the likes of Dindi, but sturdy Yodigo will make a fine farmer one day.”
“For mercy’s sake, let the man eat, Sullana,” Uncle Lubo said. “Here, Zavaedi, would you like some blueberry juice? Dindi made it this morning.”
“Why, thank you...”
Dindi looked up in horror. But before she could compose a proper warning, Abiono lifted the jug to his mouth.
She covered her face with her hands, but she could still see the disaster unfolding on the other side of her fingers as Abiono sipped from the jug of soap juice. His face scrunched up and his mouth opened into a rictus of gastronomic distress. He spit out a spray of sudsy liquid.
Great Aunt Sullana cleared her throat to warn him that not even a Zavaedi would be permitted to behave rudely while dining.
“Urghrem,” Abiono said, manfully wiping his chin. “Quite delicious, I thank you. Er, Dindi made that, you say?” He glanced at Dindi before he set down the jug and reached for his pisha, now wrapped in kitten. He pried Puddlepaws off his food, which prompted the kitten to tackle his finger. “I thank you so much for the wonderful meal, Dame Sullana. I fear I must…
TO BE CONTINUED