In the third installment of this great story, Aarn proposes…
“Master Aarn, it is I who should be apologizing for thinking you capable of such a request. But what you are proposing now is very difficult as well.
We are not in the same social class as you are, so a large dowry would be expected in such a case. I do not have such available to me. We did put aside some things for her dowry but as you know our financial resources have been severely limited over the past few years.
I cannot imagine this being acceptable to your father. And I don’t even know if you and Shia are compatible. What if you find you don’t like her?”
“I cannot imagine me not liking her, it is more likely that she will not like me. But if we could spend, say 2 years getting to know one another, under close supervision of course. It might solve the problem even if we mutually agreed to break the engagement later.
As for the dowry, there is a distinct possibility my father will send me to run a farm after I return without having evicted you, and then the dowry you have would be appropriate. Would it not?”
The big man was confused again for a moment and then he looked Aarn directly in the eyes.
“You would risk your own financial position to do this for us? Why?”
“Four reasons. First, I cannot become my father. Much as I love him and respect him, I am not him and have no desire to become him.
Second, I really am captivated by Shia and cannot bear to see her cry the way she was crying today when she knew I was here to evict you.
Third, I believe you will pay the debt owed if we just give you the time to do so. You are an honorable man and a hard worker. That is hard to find, no matter what my father says.
Finally, if I don’t find a solution, my father will come and evict you himself and I will lose my position with him anyway.
But I can understand if you want someone better for your daughter. And I would entertain any other ideas you have that would solve the problem and protect her. I have not broached the topic with her, so if you are opposed to it, I will honor your request and stay away from her.”
“Forgive me master Aarn, I must consult with my wife for a moment on this. May I have Shia bring you another caf?”
“That would be fine sir. Thank you.”
The big man left the room and Aarn heard the back door open briefly, then he felt the house hum for a bit. The big man had turned on the privacy controls so Aarn could not hear his conversation with his wife. That was good since Shia was likely back in the house too.
“Master Aarn, dad says you want more caf? Where do you put it all?”
“Actually, I still have the last one sitting here getting cold. Would you just sit for a while and talk to me while your parents are dealing with their business?”
“Okay, what would you like to talk about master Aarn?”
“Please just call me Aarn. I am not worthy of any honorable titles. How is the weather outside? How are the boys? Anything will do, I just need to hear your soothing voice.”
“My soothing voice? My mother would say it is more like a sharp tongue. But if that is what you wish.
The weather is hot and dry as is customary this time of year. It has not changed since you came into the house.
The boys are full of energy as they always are this time of day. They don’t know why you are here, so they are playing and having fun.
Your driver asked about you. I think he is worried that we have done something to you. He will probably burst in if you don’t reassure him soon.”
“You are probably right. Just a second.”
Aarn switched on his communicator and selected the driver’s communicator.
“Just wanted to check in, we are still going over details here, will be a bit longer. Please continue to wait for me.”
Aarn switched his communicator back off and looked once more into Shia’s eyes. They were a deep green and seemed to dance with irritation that he was looking at her so intently.
“Stop looking at me that way. It makes me nervous.”
“Oh, sorry. I was just admiring the color of your eyes. That shade of green is unusual.”
“So are your big blue eyes, but you don’t see me staring, do you?”
That startled Aarn, he had always heard that his eyes were too big for his face, and had never considered that the shade of blue might be unusual.
“Sorry, I was being rude. Forgive me?”
“Nothing to forgive, just please don’t stare at me that way anymore.”
“Deal. Now you said you tend the garden, what are you growing there?”
“Just the usual, vegetables, some feed plants and a couple flowers for the house. Don’t tell me you care about that stuff.”
“No, not really. You are certainly making this conversation difficult. How about you tell me about one of the books you are studying.”
“I’m sorry Aarn, I am not noted for my social skills. Perhaps I should have my mother come in and entertain you while dad figures out whatever you sent him off to figure out.”
“I think your father wants your mother’s council on what I proposed.
Okay, let’s try this, I will talk and you can pretend to be interested. Will that work?”
“As long as I don’t have to be actually interested.”
Aarn had to laugh at the way she said that.
“How old are you anyway?”
“Just about to have my 20th birthday, why?”
“Just wondering. I just turned 22, and my father wants me to start taking over the less desirable parts of the landlord duties. Seems pretty unfair to me. I’m betting your parents are pressing you to take over some of the more undesirable parts of running the farm too.”
“Yes, but they wouldn’t send me out to evict any families.”
“Sorry, bad turn of subject. I have been thinking a lot lately of what it would be like to just leave and try to make it on my own. I have a small savings and could probably buy a small farm or something.”
“You farming? Don’t make me laugh. That’s hard work, something you never had to do in your life. Besides, with that skin, you would burn to a crisp after just one morning of running a plow.”
The disdain in her voice actually hit him like a knife. And Aarn winced.
She apparently noticed and immediately showed fear in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I did not mean to imply you were not capable of working. Only that farming might not be the best choice for you.”
The fear in her eyes made Aarn’s heart sink. Perhaps the idea would not work after all. She feared and hated him. Surely her parents would not agree to such a match for her.
“No, you spoke your mind. And if I’m honest with myself, I can see that you are right, about the farming anyway. I apologize for having insulted you by suggesting I could do the work you do.”
Shia sat there quietly with tears gathering in her eyes again.
“I’m sorry, I should not have asked you to sit here and entertain me. I was being selfish just wanting to be near you, when it is clear that you just want to be as far away from me as possible. Please feel free to go back to your chores or whatever you wish to be doing.”
“I’m sorry. Please don’t take it out on my family because I can’t control my tongue. Please, I will tell you anything you want to know. Ask me a question, I will answer. Please master Aarn.”
“You can go, I will not hold anything against you or your family. My apologies for taking up your valuable time.”
Shia got up still looking a little concerned as she turned to go away.
“Shia, remain this concerns you as well.”
Aarn jumped to his feet at the sound of Shia’s father’s voice.
He turned to face the voice and saw both her father and her mother coming back into the room, but he could not read the expression on their faces.
“Dad, I fear I have insulted master Aarn and he may not want me here.”
Now there was concern on the man’s face as he turned to look at his daughter.
“Did you apologize?”
“Yes I did, but I don’t think he really accepted my apology. I’m sorry dad.”
And she started crying, making Aarn’s heart hurt.
“Please stop crying, I never wished to hurt you in any way. Forgive me.”
The big man stepped in and hugged his daughter as he looked at Aarn with concern on his face.
“There, there sweatheart. Whatever it is, we will handle it. Calm yourself. It will be okay, I promise.”
“Master Aarn, do you wish to take back your offer?”
Aarn thought about saying yes, but it still was the only way to protect them that he had come up with. He could pretend to court her for a year until they got back on their feet and then figure out a way to break it off retaining their honor.
“No sir, it is still the only path I can come up with. But she may not wish it. I will do whatever you wish me to do, sir.”
“Thank you master Aarn. I am in your debt however this goes for the concern you have shown for my family.
Shia, Shal, please have a seat. Master Aarn, please sit as well and we will discuss this as adults and see what we come up with.”
“Thank you sir.”
Aarn sat back down, certain that they would ask Shia and not certain he could hold his emotions in check if she said what he believed she was going to say.
“Shia, this concerns you directly, so I need you to put away your tears and listen. Let me know when you have your control back.”
“Master Aarn, would you like a warm up on your caf?”
It was only then that Aarn noticed Shal had a pot with her. He quickly chugged his cold caf and held out an empty cup.
“Thank you ma’am, I believe I could use another cup.”
She started to pour and looked him in the eyes as she did so.
“Master Aarn, please accept my apology for my earlier outburst. You can imagine what I thought you were suggesting. But I should have known you were a better man than that.”
“It is me who should be apologizing to you and your family for choosing my words so poorly. You had every right to react the way you did. It is a credit to your honor that you feel so strongly and are so willing to fight for your family.”
“Thank you for understanding master Aarn.”
“What are you two talking about? And how does it concern me?”
“It is a private matter Shia, but if you are back in control of your emotions, your father and I have something to ask you.”
“I am back in control, mom. Sorry.”
“Shia, you know what our situation is with the farm. Master Aarn here was sent by his father to evict us for non-payment of the lease. It is their right, and we are prepared to move and find another lease, likely with a smaller plot that I can manage on my own.
So, please consider that matter resolved as you consider what we ask you next. Okay?”
The tears were threatening to come rolling out again, but to her credit, Shia fought them back and then answered.
“Yes dad. If you say that is what we have to do, I am prepared to start packing. What else did you want to ask me?”
“We have been lax in our duty and have not found a suitable husband for you after your betrothed passed away three years ago. Master Aarn has asked your mother and me if we would agree to a marriage contract, with full courting period, fully chaperoned of course. Would you be willing to consent to such a contract?”
The shock was clear in her face, and Aarn could not read her face at all as she sat there for an eternity absorbing the question.