Friday Fiction is hosted this week by fellow NaNoWriMo participant and talented storyteller, Sara, on her Fiction Fusion blog. Be sure to drop in, read a little, and say ‘hi.’
My NaNoWriMo novel for this year, “Draconian Responses,” crossed the 25K word count threshold tonight. I missed posting an excerpt last week, as I was furiously typing away for the first night of NaNo. I’ve been furiously typing away tonight, too, but decided I can stand another late night, and post an excerpt.
I wrestled with this scene, knowing that it’s not going to sit well with many readers, and for different reasons. Yet, it seemed far too important to shy away from it. One of the plots in the story is that, in the wake of the events on Alsafi from the story, “Empty Threats,” Peri, the pilot of the Rover Vessel “Stardreamer,” and the priestess G’Se are summoned to appear before the Colonial Council, in the Lunar city Earthrise. Following the questioning by the Council, they travel to Earth where they stay as guests of the Qi’le (Eridani) Embassy. This scene takes place their first night at the Embassy.
By Rick Higginson
G’Se lay on the bed in the dark room, staring towards the ceiling. She began quiet prayers, each of which burned out before she could finish them, and thought about what S’Bu had said. Where is my heart? Not in S’Po, and not even at the tree where I hold memorial for Solomon. It is not in teaching the children, nor standing each morning with the other priestesses for the prayers.
Peri was in an adjacent room, and she had heard him return there perhaps half a standard hour before. She took a deep breath, and turned her head towards the door. The lights in the corridor outside had been extinguished, and the Embassy was quiet.
She threw the bed linens back, and sat up on the edge of the bed. She stayed there for a moment, and then stood to walk to the door. With her hand on the knob, she hesitated briefly, and then stepped into the corridor. A few steps down, and she placed her hand on another door knob, hesitating again. Closing her eyes, she turned the knob, and entered the room quickly. She shut the door behind her, and leaned against it momentarily.
“Hello?” Peri said. “Is someone there?”
She crossed the floor to the bed, and slid beneath the linens next to him.
He shifted back quickly in surprise. “Who is there?”
She sang quietly. “It is G’Se.”
“Honored priestess, this is not proper. You should not be here.”
“It is not proper, if I take you in the manner that a woman takes a husband. I am not here to do that. Please let me stay, Peri.”
“I am confused, honored priestess.”
“Would you call me G’Se for tonight, Peri?”
“I do not understand, honored priestess.”
She slid closer to him, and reached an arm across his chest. “Since the day we left Alsafi, I have been nothing but a priestess. Would you speak with me tonight as a friend?”
“I have been your friend since that day we first met in Su’bui, G’Se, but I still do not understand what you are doing in this bed with me.”
She sighed at the sound of her name. “I miss this, Peri. I miss being held in the night as a friend. I miss being treated by someone as a friend first, and a priestess second. I miss the feel of falling asleep next to someone who cares about me, and waking up in their arms the next morning. Please do not send me away tonight, Peri.”
“What if we are found out?”
“I do not care. I will not take you tonight, and if anyone should believe that I did, it is to their shame that they will not believe me. Will you let me stay, Peri?”
He slipped his arm behind her, and she rested her head on his shoulder. “Be’tra, Peri.” She savored the warmth of his body, and listened to the sound of his breathing for a few minutes before speaking again. “I was angry at you when we left S’Po and T’Cha.”
“I apologize, G’Se, if I did something that angered you.”
“It is I that should apologize to you. I was angry, because you were taking me away from S’Po and Qi’le, and I thought it was so much easier on you, since traveling between worlds is your life.”
“That is true, G’Se.”
“I said as much to the High Priestess. She told me of your offering for the completion of the vow to Solomon, Peri. She told me what it could have cost you, and what you said to her when she asked if you would request the price of your vow to be returned to you.”
He drew a slow breath, and remained quiet.
“I did not know that your actions could have cost you this life, Peri. I did not know that, when pressed by the High Priestess, you still made the choice to put my welfare and the welfare of Peqa and H’na before your life. When you stood before the Council and took the responsibility for what we had done, I saw again that you were willing to risk the life you love for me.”
“That should not seem strange to you, G’Se. There are many that would give of themselves in the service of a priestess.”
“There are many that would take for themselves, as well, the benefits of association with a priestess. When many thought my time of mourning for Solomon should be complete, they began to suggest other men to take his place as my husband. I never felt they were offering to me someone who would take their place beside me as friend, but rather, they sought the prestige of marrying their son to a priestess who had been honored by the High Priestess.”
“I am the grandson of the priestess Se’Ana, and the great-grandson of the priestess Y’La, both of whom were honored multiple times by more than one High Priestess. Even before we were honored by the High Priestess, there were those who also sought the prestige of joining their daughter to my family. I never wished to be a prize. I wished only to travel to the stars.”
“Do you fear that is why I am here tonight, Peri?”
He was quiet for a moment, and then reached his other hand across to her face. With a tentative touch, he placed the tips of his middle and ring fingers against her cheek. “The day we were honored by the High Priestess, when you met me at the Terminal and we went to the Temple, I thought about Solomon. I thought as we walked side by side, speaking as friends, that I was experiencing a small sample of his life, and for a few moments, I envied what he had shared with you. When we stopped in T’Cha before this journey, and Peqa walked out from her ordination, wearing the robes of a priestess, I felt as proud as if she were my daughter, and wondered if Solomon could see her through my eyes. At that moment, I wanted that life, but I cannot have both it and this life. I will not be as my father, and leave my family to grow without me while I travel the stars.”
“You were the first man to call Peqa ‘honored priestess,’ Peri. Solomon always said he hoped he would be the one to have that distinction for both Peqa and H’Na. If her father could not be there for that, I am at least glad it was you.”
“I suppose it was a fair exchange. I had wished my mother had come when we were honored by the High Priestess, but it was your mother who blessed me afterwards and stood in the place of my mother.”
She reached her hand up and reciprocated the touch on the cheek, fighting the urge to use the middle and index finger. She allowed the two fingertips to linger on his skin, and felt a warm flush go through her skin as she struggled with the temptation to place all her fingers on his cheek. I told him I would not take him as a woman takes a husband, but it has been so long. How easy it is to slip from wanting only the warmth of a friend, to wanting the touch of a husband again. With a feeling of disappointment, she returned her hand to rest across his chest.
His free arm went across her shoulder, and he clasped his hands together behind her. She settled into the embrace, determined to remain satisfied with being held as a friend. “Peri, could we stay here one more day? Priestess S’Bu mentioned a trail through the forest to a lake nearby. I feel the need to find the peace of the trees around me, before the journey home.”
“I think the priestess and her husband could be persuaded to tolerate us for one more night, G’Se, though if she learns that you came to my room in the night, she might post guards to preserve proprieties.”
She gave a gentle laugh. “She might force me to marry you, since she considers you as her own family.”
“My grandmother would be angry, if I returned as a husband, and my wife did not present herself first according to the customs.”
“The way my mother speaks of you, I believe she would consider that she had already given approval of you.”
“If you take another husband, G’Se, you should take one that will be a proper husband for a priestess.”
“Will you ever consent to be a husband, Peri? Or will the stars always be your comfort?”
“As I said, G’Se, I am a Rover, and I will not be an absent husband. A woman of Qi’le needs a husband that will fulfill all that is required of him, including being there to care for the home and children.” He gave an amused grunt. “If I ever have any B’sela dreams, I will board Stardreamer and leave for the other side of the Archipelago as swiftly as I can.”
“You would refuse even a B’sela for this life? Yet, you were willing to sacrifice this life for me, Peri.” She rose up a bit, and turned her face towards his. “What if the B’sela were with me? Would you still refuse, even though you have already been willing to give up this life for me?”
“After three daughters, G’Se, I do not think you still retain the trait required for a B’sela.”
“I am teasing you, Peri. You have twice shown that you were willing to accept the consequences for helping us. I could not ask you to give up that which you willingly risked for us.”
“And what have you risked tonight, G’Se? You say that this is not improper, but could this not cost you the robes?”
“I wonder, sometimes, if it would be better if I just found another trade to practice.”
“You were born to be a priestess, and I was born to be a Rover.”
“I do not know what would have happened to us, if you had not become a Rover and come to Alsafi when you did.”
“I wish I could have brought Solomon with us as well, G’Se. I would have liked to have known more about him.”
“I have spent many nights wishing he had come with us as well, but I do not believe anything would have saved his life that day, Peri. I believe now that his final purpose in life was to prophesy to the people of Alsafi. The Most Honored Mother of All does not allow judgment without first sending warning, and She did so through Solomon.”
“Do you believe there will be judgment, then?”
“Yes, Peri. It was in the words the Council did not say, and it is already in motion. I cannot say how I know this, other than to think that God revealed this, and I pray that I am wrong.”
“And you think you should not be a priestess? If you think that God is revealing things to you, G’Se, then perhaps She is doing so to remind you of your calling.”
“Perhaps, Peri, but for tonight, I still wish to just be a friend.”