Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, a romantic fantasy from author Foz Meadows, forthcoming from Tor Books on July 26, 2022.
Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.
Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.
With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.
Byzantine politics, lush sexual energy, and a queer love story that is by turns sweet and sultry, Foz Meadows’ A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is an exploration of gender, identity, and self-worth. It is a book that will live in your heart long after you turn the last page.
Accepting the dismissal, Cae rose and left. For once, his sisters refrained from comment, heading off to Laecia’s apartments without stopping to importune him with their opinions—though Riya, being Riya, still cast him a sly look. In stolid contrast, Raeki offered a brusque farewell, then promptly hurried off in the opposite direction, eager to begin his investigations. Keletha, of course, remained behind, continuing in conference with the tieren.
Which left Cae alone, wondering how in Ruya’s grace he was going to explain the situation to Velasin.
He mulled his options en route to the infirmary, though in truth, the decision didn’t take long. Even if he’d had a knack for subtlety, there wasn’t time for it, and Velasin struck him as someone who’d been lied to enough already. Taking Keletha’s advice to heart, Cae resolved to speak as plainly as possible, to answer any questions Velasin might have, and to accept it with good grace should the tiern reject his proposal, though he hoped it didn’t come to that. In Cae’s observation, mistrust was poison to marriages, even dispassionate ones, and for all he’d hoped that his eventual political marriage might also be something of a love match, in his practical heart, he’d assumed at the least that his partner would be someone he could rely on; who would come to rely on him in turn.
Keeping this in mind, Cae nodded to himself and entered the infirmary. Except for Markel and Velasin, the beds were empty, and despite the earlier presence of multiple junior healers, Ru Zairin Ciras seemed to be working alone, thir attention focussed on the myriad contents of the room’s medicine table. Though thei looked up and acknowledged Cae with a respectful glance, thei didn’t rise, continuing thir measurement of substances which were doubtless of great medical significance, had Cae been able to identify them. Taking this apparent disinterest as a sign that both patients were in no immediate danger, Cae approached Velasin’s bed, noting as he passed that Markel was fast asleep.
Velasin, however, was only drowsing, and at the sound of Cae’s footsteps, his head lifted from the pillow. Moving slowly, so as not to startle him, Cae pulled up a chair and sat at a respectful distance from Velasin’s bedside, waiting quietly as the tiern blinked himself back into wakefulness. He looked a little better than before, though still plainly exhausted: the whites of his eyes were bloodshot, the circles beneath them dark, the hooded lids drooping. He lay atop the blankets, freshly washed, shaved and dressed in borrowed Tithenai clothes, his own evidently having been taken for cleaning. The looser fit suited him, Cae thought, then promptly wondered at his own opinion.
“Hello,” said Velasin blearily. “What day is it?”
“Saintsday, the twentieth of Kidae,” Cae replied. And then, when Velasin still looked confused, “The year is 1409.”
“Yes, thank you, I’m not quite that addled,” Velasin said waspishly. With a little effort, he levered himself upright, so that his back was resting against the headboard. He blinked, belatedly registering Cae, and something shuttered in his expression. “Do you have need of me, tiern?”
Something about the question irked Cae, though he couldn’t have said what. “Isn’t it possible that I’m just here to check on you?”
“I don’t know. Is it?”
Just in time, Cae recalled that actually, he wasn’t there for politeness’s sake alone, and bit back his native retort. Instead, he sighed. “It’s not, as it happens, though I’d ask you to believe that I’m still concerned for your well-being.”
“I’ll consider the prospect,” Velasin muttered. “What is it you want, tiern?”
“I want you to marry me.”
“That hardly seems a new development, or else I wouldn’t be here.”
“It’s not—it’s not what you might think,” Cae said, hating his own sudden awkwardness. “In Tithenai custom, the legal marriage is always a brief act, and usually private. There’s often a smaller marriage-gathering a little after the ceremony, to introduce the new spouse to local friends and family, but we don’t usually hold a full celebration between both clans until a month or so afterwards, to show that the marriage is working. But I’m told the Ralian way is different?”
“You could say that,” said Velasin. He seemed a shade paler than before, his fingers twitching against the sheets. “I’ll confess, I’d thought I might have more time. To, ah. To acclimate, I suppose.” He tried to smile, but it was forced, and just a little fearful. Inwardly, Cae winced.
“May I speak plainly, tiern?”
“I’d be very grateful if you did.”
“I’m concerned for your safety,” Cae said, bluntly. “The attack today, the fact that it was apparently carried out in my name, the prospect that there might be others who threaten you—it unsettles me. As my, my husband—” He stumbled a little over the word, surprised by how intimate it sounded. “—you would be more secure, legally speaking, than as my betrothed, and though it’s a smallish sort of shield, I’d hoped it might prove a deterrent. Ordinarily, we’d wait a week or so before formalising the union, a sort of… a sort of courtship, I suppose, in which we’d get to know each other, called a grace period. And if you’d truly prefer it that way, I won’t object; I want to respect your wishes. But under the circumstances, I thought it might be better—”
“Yes,” said Velasin. “I see.” He looked… resigned wasn’t quite the word for it, though it came close. Withdrawn, somehow, yet also a little fey. He glanced across the room at Markel, and just for a moment, his expression became complicated, sad. “Your surgeon gave him a sedative,” he said, softly. “To help speed the healing. I’m told he’ll likely sleep until after sunrise.” He turned back to Cae, his features smoothing into practiced blankness. “Does this brief, private marriage of yours require much walking? I can manage a little distance, I think, but I’m under strict orders not to pull a second set of stitches.”
“We can have the justiciar and the official witnesses come to my apartments,” Cae said, then promptly corrected himself. “To our apartments, I mean. Damn.” I’ ll have to get used to that.
Velasin opened his mouth, but didn’t speak. Instead, he glanced away, swallowed—and then, without any further discussion, swung his legs over the bed and stood. “Lead on, then,” he said, with only the barest shake in his voice. “Let’s see these fabled apartments.”
Cae hesitated, studying him. “You can lean on me again, if you want.”
“I’ll manage alone.”
“I’d prefer you didn’t,” Ru Zairin interjected, without looking up. “Pride supports many things, tiern, but seldom injured legs.”
Velasin looked like he wanted to argue, but lacked the strength for it. “As you wish,” he said instead, and stayed where he was as Cae, who’d learned an early respect for healers, moved to prop him up. Though requiring less help than before, Velasin still leaned heavily on him, and Cae marvelled anew at the sheer contrary stubbornness of the man. You’d almost think he likes being hurt, he thought to himself, then promptly dismissed the notion as uncharitable, and therefore unhelpful.
As they reached the infirmary’s threshold, the tiern stopped and turned, forcing Cae to do likewise. Jaw working soundlessly, Velasin looked again at the sleeping Markel, but when he spoke, his words were directed at Ru Zairin.
“When he wakes,” he said, steadily, “tell him… gods, I don’t know. Just tell him I’m sorry, will you?”
“Of course,” said Ru Zairin, blinking. The healer was clearly bemused by the request, but Cae thought he understood: the way Ralians conceived of marriage, and as close as the two of them were, both master and servant would doubtless have expected Markel to play some significant part in things, which opportunity was now denied him. Almost, Cae was tempted to say that he’d still get his chance, the public celebration having ample scope for such gestures, but given Velasin’s tiredness, he thought the details of that event could wait.
Instead, he remained silent, waiting until Velasin moved to lead him out into the Aida.
Excerpted from A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, copyright © 2022 by Foz Meadows.