And now, the exciting conclusion to this great short story…
Then the shock dissipated, followed by confusion, then something Aarn could not read at all.
“But we are at different social classes. Can you afford the dowry that would be demanded?”
“Don’t concern yourself with that. The question before you is would you consider such a contract if it could be worked out?”
Shia looked directly at Aarn and he braced for the answer he feared hearing.
“Do you still wish such an arrangement after what I said earlier?”
“I am not one to change my mind so easily, but I would not have you do this if it would make you unhappy.”
“A full courting period is being proposed, right?”
“And you have no expectations beyond the opportunity to court until after the marriage?”
“That is correct.”
“Then if those things are put in writing, I would be happy to accept such an offer. Now, how do we overcome the issue of dowry? I cannot imagine your father accepting anything less than a fortune.”
“First, I am of age and do not require my father’s consent for such a contract. But in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I am not likely to be at a higher social class after today, and then the dowry is not an issue at all.”
Shia looked at her father with confusion clear on her face.
“Master Aarn wishes to give his father the marriage contract instead of our eviction notice. His father then would be honor bound to forgive our debt and let us stay. However, he believes the price would be the loss of his rights as heir to the land.”
Shia blinked and then stared at Aarn with disbelief in her eyes.
“You would give that life up? Why? You don’t even know me.”
“Because I want to know you. And to be totally honest, because I cannot become my father. I don’t have his strength of conviction, and I cannot evict you even if you choose not to sign the marriage contract.”
“Oh my god. Who are you? I have never met anyone who would do such a thing for someone else. I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t need to say anything. The money was already gone before I asked for the marriage contract. I only hope you still want to go through with the contract when I am poor and you know me. But if you don’t I will understand and we will find a way to deal with that without hurting the honor of either family.”
“Well, master Aarn. It appears that we are in agreement. Shal, call up the contract so master Aarn can review it. Shia, bring your betrothed something more suitable to drink in celebration of this occasion.”
The two women got up and carried the caf cups away with them as they left the room leaving Aarn alone with his future father-in-law.
“I am honored that you chose my daughter, but have to ask, why are you not already betrothed?”
“I was, twice. The first woman and her family were caught in a freak sunami, only her mother and unborn brother survived. The second belonged to the owner of a shipping company that we did business with. My father had a falling out with her father and cancelled the contract on a technicality. That was last year, and my parents have apparently been too busy to bother searching for a suitable wife. Likely because other parents would be leery of a contract with them now after the way father handled the last one.”
“I can understand that. But this contract will be with you not your father. Right?”
“Yes, that is correct. And you have my word, that I will not break the contract unless you and your daughter agree that it should be broken.”
“Thank you master Aarn. Now to the rules I would have you know. I don’t care who you are, or who you become, if you every beat my daughter I will find you and kill you. If you abuse her in any way, I will find you and give you ten times what you have given her in pain. If you take liberties ahead of the wedding, I will cut it off. Am I clear?”
Aarn could see in the man’s eyes that he meant every word of what he was saying. Of course none of those things would happen. Not even the liberties thing, now.
“Yes sir. You are clear. And you have my word that there will be no reason to test your resolve.”
“I certainly hope not for your sake.”
Just then Shia came back in with a clear bottle and four small glasses.
“Here we are father.”
She set the glasses down, and poured one for her father first, then one for him and finally the last two glasses were filled and she set one on each side of the table, moving over to sit next to him and claim that glass.
“Shal, we are ready.”
Then a vid unit dropped out of the ceiling and Shia’s mother came back into the room and took her seat.
“Display marriage contract for Shia and Aarn.”
And a contract appeared on the screen. Aarn immediately began reading and was pleased to see that Shia also appeared to be reading it.
Twenty minutes later, Aarn looked at Shia to see if she were finished reading it, and she nodded indicating that she was.
They had been very thorough, the parameters of the courtship were laid out in detail along with the terms of the contract and the details of the dowry they had set aside for their daughter.
“Computer, modify contract. Add 100,000 credits to dowry.”
“Contract modified. This change will require recertification by all parties.”
“Computer, transfer 100,000 credits from account BR65647832XG to Shia’s account number”
He turned to Shia and saw the shock in her face. He smiled and nodded at her. Finally she spoke.
“Press your palm to the plate to confirm.”
Aarn pressed his palm to the plate that lighted up in front of him, and Shia pressed hers to the plate in front of her.
“Identity verified. 100,000 credits transferred.”
“What was that all about? I thought you said your father would send you to the farm and this type of dowry would not be necessary. I am honor bound to object to this.”
“I did not deceive you. I am certain my father will do exactly as I said he would. This is about Shia. She said she wants to go to the university. These credits will ensure she gets the chance even if she decides I am not the man for her and the marriage contract is broken.”
“You keep speaking like such a contract can be broken easily. I assure you that is not the case. Once you commit to this, I will expect you to keep your word and honor the contract. Both of you.”
Aarn reached for his focus and calm. When it was in place he spoke with clarity and conviction.
“I Aarn a responsible and legal adult commit to the marriage contract as written. I will not break this contract under penalty of law and society unless the termination of such contract is agreed to by both Shia and her parents. So help me god!”
He felt the air shimmer and knew the finality of those words as he spoke them. Then he turned to face Shia as she spoke the same words modified to include him in the statement about breaking the contract. She spoke with the same focus and commitment he had used, and again the air shimmered and he felt the finality of the pronouncement.
He took her hand in his and turned to face her parents. They quickly spoke the words they were required to speak to commit to the contract. But this time while he felt the finality of their commitment, the air did not shimmer.
“Place your palms on the panels in front of you to complete the contract.”
Shia released his hand reluctantly to place her hand on the table in the indicated panel as Aarn did the same on his plate. Shia’s parents had already done the same.
Contract signed and sealed. Do you wish to waive the right to a period to rescind?”
“Yes, I wish to waive that right.”
Aarn was just a heartbeat ahead of Shia in his response, but the parents were not so quick.
“Master Aarn, are you certain. This will be final even if your father evicts us and we drop another class.”
“Yes, I am certain, my oath is my bond and I already gave that freely.”
“Very well. We wish to waive that right as well. Seal the contract and file it.”
“Contract sealed and filed. No right of rescission.”
Then the vid unit slid back into the ceiling and Shia’s father raised his glass.
“Master Aarn, I am proud to welcome you into our family. Shal and I wish you and Shia a very long and happy marriage after a suitable courtship period. Praise be to god that he has sent us such an honorable man to join with our daughter.”
They all touched glasses formally and then took a sip.
“Thank you sir. I am honored to be welcomed into your family. Please dispense with the honorary title as we are now family and such is inappropriate among family members. To my new parents and to my beautiful betrothed I wish a long and happy life filled with prosperity and honor.”
They touched glasses formally again and again took a sip from the glasses.
“To my betrothed, thank you for honoring me and my parents. It will be my great pleasure to share this courtship and marriage with you. May we all have a long and fruitful life blessed with children, love and prosperity!”
They touched glasses a final time and emptied them as custom required.
Then the big man stood up and Aarn stood quickly to join him.
“Thank you for joining us in this contract and for all it means to my family as well as yours. Now to the business end of this. You may begin the courtship by contacting Shal at least two days before any proposed date. You must give us the rest of the week to make arrangements with our family before beginning the courtship. Are those terms agreeable?”
“I would wish for it to begin sooner to be honest, but I understand the need to coordinate with your family. Those terms are acceptable to me.”
“Excellent. You may say goodbye to your betrothed in an honorable and acceptable manner and we will look forward to seeing you in the near future.”
Aarn turned formally toward Shia who rose to her feet smiling. He reached out and grasped her hands pulling each to his mouth separately and kissing each gently.
“Thank you for accepting me. Goodbye for now. I will call to arrange our first date as soon as it is acceptable to do so.”
Shia smiled sweetly and drew one of his hands up to brush against her cheek.
“I will count the minutes between now and then.”
“Okay, that’s enough you two.”
And Shal pulled their hands apart and led Shia away.
“Thank you son. I wish you luck with your father. I will hang around the house for the next couple of hours in case he wishes to summon me.”
“Thank you! I will need luck I think. But I am confident, my father will not put you out now that there is a contract between us. He is dedicated to the contract and it’s meaning in society.”
“I hope you are right, but know that we will keep the bargain whatever he chooses to do. We did not decide to say yes to keep this farm. We said yes because you demonstrated the commitment and honor that we want in a husband for our daughter.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate that.”
Aarn walked out of the house feeling 10 feet tall until he saw the traveler and knew that the moment of truth was upon him. Still, there was a good sign as he looked in the distance and saw a double rainbow on the blue sky.
Wow, that is beautiful. It has got to be a good sign. A double rainbow on the day I sign my own marriage contract. Regardless of how things go with my father, that has got to be a good sign for the marriage contract.
He smiled to himself and then got into the traveler and spoke only one word.
The driver wanted more information to fill in his report, but he was not willing to risk angering the heir to the company he worked for, and Aarn made it clear he was not planning to speak about things.
The driver nodded and turned the traveler back toward the family home at the top of the hill.
All the way home, Aarn struggled with the various ways to tell his father that he had not only not evicted the family but had signed a marriage contract to be wed to their daughter.
“Sir, your father wishes you to join him in the study when we arrive.”
That’s not good news. He probably checked as soon as we left the farm and saw that the eviction has not been formalized. Hopefully he has not done anything rash yet. Crap, what if he did?
The traveler came to a stop and Aarn got out, examining his feelings. It surprised him to note that he was not afraid. He had made his decision and he was comfortable with the decision he made regardless of how his father reacted to it.
Well then, I guess I might as well go on in and get this over with.
Aarn walked in the house and headed straight for the study, barely even taking the time to respond when the housekeeper welcomed him home.
He was a little surprised to see the door to the study open and his mother inside speaking to his father as he entered.
“…felt it too, I know you did.”
“Ah, my rebellious son returns. Close the door so we can have some privacy.”
That’s not a good sign, but why did he not send mother away first?”
He turned and closed the door then pressed the privacy button next to the door before turning back to face his father and mother.
“Well, I know you did not execute the contract I asked you to execute this morning. Suppose you tell your mother and I what you did do for three and one half hours today.”
The moment of truth. Which do I tell him first?
He pulled in his focus as his father had taught him to do when his words would be significant. Then opened his mouth and began to speak.
“Father, I could not evict this family from their home. They have been good tenants who just came on temporary hard times. I did speak to them, and they expected me to evict them and were prepared to leave. But it was the wrong thing to do, and I won’t do it.
So I talked with them and got to know them, and that just confirmed my belief that eviction is wrong in this case. It would be different if they had traditionally done just enough to get by and finally decided to test the contract by not bothering to keep up with the required production rates.
This family has always worked hard to produce as much as is possible with the land we have given them. We should be searching for ways to help them have a larger farm, not trying to kick them out of this one. It is just good business to keep people who want to succeed and have proven they know how to succeed.”
“Not to mention people who have cute daughters. Am I right?”
“She is very attractive, but that is not the reason I believe we should not evict these people.”
“Okay, so how do you propose we stay in business if we allow people to not pay their leases?”
“They will pay the lease, they have pride and honor and would not have it any other way. They just need time to recover. Besides, they are paying the majority of the lease this year. They are only a couple thousand credits short. If we allow them to pay say half next year and half the year after I am certain they will break their backs making sure we get paid.
Then we don’t lose a good lessor and we get our money. If we evict them, we are writing off the debt because they will never be able to repay us if they are forced to move to a smaller plot with a higher cost per acre.
In addition, we will be taking on the significant risk of someone who is used to working a smaller plot trying to manage this one. Likely we will end up evicting 3 or 4 before we find another family who will be able to sustain.”
“Your argument is well founded and equally well presented. But what you don’t seem to remember is that our reputation has a lot to do with the production of other lessors as well. If I let this go, how long do you think it will be before we have another farmer saying they need more time, and since they heard we would give it to them they didn’t work their tails off to prevent it.”
“Well, there is an answer for that too. You can tell them that this was an exception you made for your in-laws at the request of your son.”
His father started to respond then just stood there with his mouth open. But his mother was very quick to react.
“So that’s what you committed to with such fervor. Oh my god. Tell me all about it. Did she say yes? Well, of course she did or you would not have made a power commitment. Oh my god. How long have you been planning this?”
His father finally recovered.
“Well that would work I suppose. Hell of a long way to go just to save a farmer with a cute daughter though.”
And his father came over and gave him a big bear hug throwing Aarn off his balance. He had not expected that.
“Congratulations son. Congratulations!”
Aarn nearly fell from the weakness in his knees when his father let him go.
“Yes, congratulations. I must meet her, what is she like? Detail, details.”
“Give the boy a break dear, he is not a girl, probably just felt the urge and popped the question. We are much simpler creatures we don’t plot these things for years and plan them down to the last detail.”
“Mother, I’m afraid Father is right. I have known her for a while and have been watching her come home from school every day for some time never daring to hope that she might still be uncommitted. When I learned today that her betrothed had passed away three years ago. I asked her parents for a marriage contract.”
“And how did such a topic come up when you were there to evict them?”
“After talking to her for a few minutes while her father made himself presentable. It occurred to me that she was a bit too old to still be unmarried. So I asked her parents, father. I did it poorly, but I asked.”
“That takes some guts, boy. I’m proud of you. And her father did not kill you on the spot. That speaks to character as well.”
“Yes sir, it does.”
Aarn noticed his father activating the comp unit and typing in a destination. Seconds later he heard the voice of Shia’s father.
“Kirn, I understand you and my son have reached agreement on a marriage contract. Is that true?”
“Yes, sir. It is true. Master Aarn is an honorable and good man. You should be proud of him.”
“I am. I am also proud to hear that he has found a woman that belongs to such a good family. Thank you for welcoming him into your house and treating him with respect.”
“Sir, he earned every bit of respect he got in my home.”
“Thank you just the same. By the way, he tells me that he believes you are the best person to be farming that particular parcel. In fact he was urging me to try to find a way to give you a little more land to farm.
Would you be interested in taking on the north slope of the west valley just south of your current plot? That would increase your land by about 20% and the lease would go up accordingly.”
There was silence on the other side of the line for a moment.
“Yes sir, I would be honored to take on that additional land. With that, I could probably pay you back for the shortage this year at harvest time next year.”
“Well, I will add the land to your lease, but you will have to accept that the shortfall this year is a gift from me for your agreement to the marriage contract. I cannot have people thinking that I am soft.”
Again there was silence for a moment as the big man absorbed what was being said and Aarn needed that time to absorb it as well. Who was this man? His father had never given away a credit to anyone.
“Yes sir, your terms are acceptable as long as you are willing to accept a corresponding gift when I have sold my crops next year.”
“Agreed. The matter is closed then. Please say hi to your wonderful wife and this daughter I am hearing so much about.”
“I will sir. Please do the same for me. I am honored to know you sir and blessed to have your son join my family.”
“The honor is mutual. Good day.”
His father closed the communications line and looked at Aarn.
“At last, my son has become a man. I am proud of you son. You will do well when you take over the property.”