Wednesday, December 16, 2009

186 - The proposal

Vriah let go the breast, arched her back and let out a scream as if she’d been scalded. Toto, Vriah-os, birdling, it’s all right,” said Niku, pulling her in close. “Chevenga… what is it? Are you all right?”

In the Mezem, you only plan up to your next fight, or escape attempt. We had never spoken of marriage, because that meant admitting how steep the odds were against us, for so many reasons, and neither of us had wanted to do that. I hadn’t even had the foresight to remember I could procreate.

So I had never told her what I knew of my future.

“I’m fine, I—” My tongue locked up like stone. I wanted to run away down the beach, or into the sea. I made the sign for wait. Vriah went on screaming, despite Niku both rocking and joggling her, and my hand caressing her head.

“No, you aren’t, omores, you just went pale as shell. Should I call your healer?”

“No… shh, Vriah, love, shh shh, it’s all right… Niku… there’s something... there’s something I have to tell you. In private, totally private... I’m sorry.”

The baby’s cries eased a little. “For what? You’ve done nothing.”

“You’re thinking it’s madness; don’t worry, it’s not. You’ll understand why I’m apologizing when I tell you… Not here, not now...”

“I want to know. When she’s full and asleep again, I’ll hand her off.”

“My mother would love nothing so much.” The shrieks had fallen to moans; with a little coaxing, Niku got her suckling again. We walked back to the gathering, I smiled and hand-clasped my way to my mother, and she took the baby, now asleep. I tried to pretend to myself that everything hadn’t changed in my sight, all of it a different colour underneath its disguise as the same. If she changes her mind about marrying me, what does that do the alliance? We walked away again, hand in hand, to ribald comments in two languages.

This time she led me from the beach into jungle, so thick with the song of birds and insects that it was almost irritating. Birds the colour of sapphires and emeralds and rubies, or with wild long black on white tail-feathers and thick yellow beaks, flitted from branch to branch; what seemed a flower of an eye-stabbing orange edged with iridescent turquoise turned out to be a butterfly, flapping off as we came close. The A-niah colour everything brightly, I saw, because that is what is around them.

She took me into a clearing with a circle of uncarved standing stones around a central slab, big enough for us both to sit on. “No one will hear us here,” she said, and took both my hands in hers purposefully.

“We are serious about marrying, as we weren’t in the Mezem… else I’d have told you. I was thinking I would tell you after we escaped… what I’ve told every other woman I’ve talked marriage with. Something she ought to know.” I heard my own voice, a hoarse whisper. “When I was seven, the day my father was assassinated…”

She closed her eyes to listen, a Niah custom; their feeling is that it allows fuller attention to the words. When I said, “I saw myself, dead,” they blinked open. “Young.” They fixed on me, like two arrowheads.

How young?”

My hands were trembling. What matter, I thought, if it shows? “Younger than thirty.”

She put her arms around me, but it was not in gushing sympathy, which I would have taken, but not happily, nor with the desperation of the last time; it was more, we need to touch while I think about this. Could it be, I have not changed for her? “Thirty?”

“I’ve been certain of that my whole life, since then,” I said. “You see why it didn’t matter in the Mezem. I would have told you by letter, except I wasn’t willing to commit that to paper… You want to marry me, but you didn’t know this till now.”

I see.” So calm; Niku, I wanted to say, can you thrash and scream and rail so that I know what you’re thinking? You’ve told this to how many others you wanted to marry?”

Two. In Yeola-e... when I was in my teens. I swore them to silence, which they’ve kept.” I suddenly realized, I had told her without asking the oath first.

“I’ll hold my silence on it,” she said. “So you asked them to marry so young... because of it.”

“I didn’t ask; in Yeola-e it’s the woman. I dropped very broad hints. Shaina and Etana don’t know... because our agreement is totally one of convenience, as we all know and agree on…” I’m blathering, I thought. My heart pounded, roaring in my temples.

But this doesn’t change anything, as far as I’m concerned, Chevenga. This war could kill either one of us tomorrow. Same as the Mezem, except not so evenly-scheduled. I’m the lucky one who gets to ask you.”

The world froze again. She took my face between her hands, and looked into my eyes. “I will love you always and forever… for as long as we have.” I couldn’t move; I couldn’t breathe; the world started going black and white. “Unless…” A smile pulled the corner of her lips. “You don’t really want to marry a chocolate woman? I’ll ask you again. Chevenga, will you marry me?”

Tears blinded me. Are you sure? It’s not the chance—we’re so used to the chance—it’s the certainty.”

“Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e, semanakraseye of Yeola-e, will you marry me?”

I dashed them away to see her face, but more came. You’re thinking, it’s so far away... put it out of mind... It will be here sooner than we know. The children you have by me will have no father in eight years or so. I’m used to it, and there’s no escape for me. But for you…”

“I’d rather have you for a handful of years than not at all!” she snapped. “Quit trying to wiggle out of it!” That ended my capacity for words. She pulled my head to hers and kissed me hard, while I frantically wiped under my nose so I didn’t get snot on her lips.

“You still have to answer me,” she breathed. “Or I’ll just keep asking.” She filled my mouth with her hot tongue again, and her hand slid under my kilt and into my loincloth. Her grip closed hard on my manhood. Her other hand whipped up under my shirt and clasped my swordside nipple. I could do nothing but moan and squirm.

Beside the stone slab was soft grass. She pulled me there. “Are you su—” She silenced me with a kiss again, hiked up her pareo and took off my loincloth with one yank. Pushing me back in the grass she threw her legs astride my hips and lowered herself, already dripping, onto me, seized my nipples with both her hands, and tenderly bit my lower lip. “Will you marry me?”

“I… I… ai… aigh… aigh…”

She rocked, mercilessly, then, even more mercilessly, slowed down. “Will you marry me?”

“Niku, I shouldn’t aaaaiiigggh!” She pinched me, hard, three places at once.

“Will… you… marry… me!?”

Niku, you really want—” She froze, a worse agony than anything else, and my hips thrust upwards of their own accord.

I’m going to have to tell our children I had to force a yes out of you!” she hissed. “Will you fikken marry me?

“You really mean it—” She clenched on me, then again, drawing out my yells. “Look, aiigh! when my father was killed aaaaghh!! I knew how it was for my mother ohhh no All-Spirit don’t stop…

“Will you marry me?”

“I saw how she grieved aiigghh! so young, I don’t want you aaagghh—”

“You don’t want me?”

“No, no, nooooooo that’s not what I meant aarrrrggghh does it seem like I don’t want you!?”

“Then marry me.” She stopped again, leaving me gasping, helpless.

“I know I can’t prevent the pain of those who love me,” I breathed. “There’s nothing I can do…”

“If I have to fight this hard to get a yes out of you, maybe I should stop trying so hard?” She took her hands off me and set them on the ground as if she meant to get off.

“Niku,” I whispered, blinded with tears again. “As always, you choose.”

She jammed herself back on me hard with a snarl, and grabbed my nipples between her nails again. “Will you marry me!? Do you want me!?”

“How can… I not want you?” I heard the agony in my own voice. “I just don’t want to hurt you!”

“Just give me a fikken yes or no!”

“I’m not saying no!”

“Well… then… say… YES!”

I was on fire, my body with pleasure, my mind with pain. I was going to explode with it soon. “Y… yes…”

“Good enough Ama Kalandris aaaiiiiggghhh!” She threw her head back. Her climax set a spark to mine, which felt as if it would kill me. “Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes oh All-Spirit Niku All-Spirit Saint Mother Niku Niku ye-e-e-e-E-E-E-E-SSS!!”

I didn’t think it was possible to maintain the peak of ecstasy for that long. Even before I’d been tortured, I hadn’t thought it was. It was like several, but as if they never really stopped in between, joined together. I lost all sense of time. She did too. Afterwards we lay in a tangle of limbs, limp and sweaty as fresh battlefield dead. Half-conscious, I breathed, “I’ll… marry… you.”

Fikken right,” she breathed back. I thought I’d have to club you over the head and drag you away with me.”

Try to explain that to Krero.”

“Hold you captive in a cave and feed you nothing but chocolate.”

“What a fate.”

She tongued my neck under my ear, delicately. “I like a bit of salt with my chocolate.”

“Never mind thirty, you’re going to kill me now.” All-Spirit, do I have more in me? If anyone in the world could find it, it was her. “Niku… you’re really sure—”

When she’d released my mouth, she said, “Yes. You already said yes, you can’t go back on it.”

“Niku… It seems too good to be true. I’m going to have so hard a time learning to believe it that it might take… well…”

She smiled wickedly. “A lot of proving?” All-Spirit, she’s finding it… “Always… and… forever…” she whispered, from deep in her throat. “Every… fikken… instant… we have.”

I seized her hips. I was done with holding back. I was fire and water at once, the second time, like the molten rock that roars up from the earth’s heart, fire from my loins, water from my eyes, and no boundaries between me, and her, and all the world.