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Cythera -- Culture Clash

I'm working on the final copy edits for Cythera today. It will be out in November, so we're getting down to the end!

I thought I'd share a little piece with you, in which the depth of the challenge of Cythera's mission becomes apparent to her. This scene is perfectly work safe. I'd love to hear what you think of the characters, the world building, anything!

Cythera considered for a few moments, and then changed into her most modest gown. It was matte black and floor length, with a high neck in the front and a deeply plunging back, but a knee length half-coat of stiff indigo silk would cover the back entirely. Simply her face and hands would be shock enough for Hereu to begin with. So dressed, and with her hair simply pinned back, she ventured out in the corridor to find Hereu's cabin.

Of course, he had the nicest one, on the same deck but further back, at midship where the rooms would be the most spacious. She read the discreet marker by the door and touched her finger to the chime. Cythera was not at all surprised when the Guardian's man opened it. "Yes?"

"I thought it was time I met Hereu," she said.

He hesitated, and then nodded approvingly. "There's no point in wasting time, is there? I'll find out if he'll see you." He ducked back inside, leaving her standing in the corridor, smiling vaguely to random starcrew that passed and looking intensely awkward.

It must have been twenty minutes before the door opened again. The Guardian's man beckoned her in. "I'm sorry about that," he said. "It took some persuading."

Cythera painted a smile to her face and entered. The cabin was indeed large, half the width of the hull at that point, with three acceleration couches facing a broad screen, while behind them mirrored cabinets could hold quite a lot of things. A conversation nook of low couches covered in black fabric were bolted to the floor, which was carpeted in thick white pile. Another door led to an adjoining sleeping chamber. Cythera and the Guardian's man were entirely alone.

"He's gone in the other room to prepare," the Guardian's man said shortly. "Won't you sit down and have a drink? I'm sorry to keep you standing in the hall like that. Hereu…."

"Didn't want to see me at all," Cythera guessed. She sat down on one of the couches while the Guardian's man opened one of the cabinets, unclamping a bottle of fine honey wine and two black pottery bowls. "I suppose this is all new to him."

"It's new, but he'd best start getting used to it," the Guardian's man said, handing her one and pouring for her politely.

Cythera smiled up at him. "That bad?"

He shook his head, sinking down onto the opposite seat. "There's reasonable modesty and then…" He took a drink as if marshaling his thoughts. "I can't think how anyone imagines they're doing their child a favor to bring them up in utter ignorance. He had never seen the ocean, not even a picture, and he lived on a world that was mostly water!"

"I expect he knows the desert quite well," Cythera said. "Better than we do. If we were in his world…."

"But we're not. And if we were going to be, we'd learn as much as we could before we went," the Guardian's man said. "I've had about enough of his vapors. And there's twelve more days of it." He shook his head. "I frankly don't know how you can possibly attend to your task."

"If I do not," Cythera said, "I will go home and say that I failed. And he will be the one who suffers. I am here to make this easier for him. If he will not take what I can give, then he will not." The honey wine was very good, and she sipped again. "By the way, I'm afraid I don’t actually know your name. I can't keep thinking of you as the Guardian's man always."

He snorted. "I suppose not. Though it's what I am. My name is Orlion. Orlion Ene Pirias."

"Well then," Cythera said. She raised her bowl. "To the success of our mission."

"So we hope," he said, lifting his and drinking from it. "This war has to stop. And if this is what it takes to end it…."

The inner door opened. A young man stood there. Cythera's first thought was that he was very tall, a foot taller than she and a full head taller than the Guardian's man. His skin was the same dark honey shade as hers, his brown hair cut close to his head, but she could not see his eyes. They were covered entirely by a pair of black goggles with mirrored lenses.

Orlion came to his feet. "What in the world?"

"These are desert glasses," Hereu said. His voice was light and pleasant, with just a hint of a lilt on certain sounds. "We wear them in the blazing sands at midday, when the glare is so great that it would blind a man." He lifted his chin in what Cythera thought was defiance. "I can see nothing through them."

"By the Forge and everything upon it," Orlion sputtered. "Take those off and stop being ridiculous. The Agni aren't going to let you walk around like that!"

"I am not among the Agni yet!" Hereu said. "And if they take them from me by force, so they will."

Orlion seemed on the verge of saying that the Agni wouldn't have to because he would have already pitched them out an airlock, which couldn't improve matters, so Cythera jumped in. "But he can hear me, and that is a beginning. Orlion, if you will leave us for a few minutes?" She gave him a meaningful look.

Orlion shook his head, then put his bowl down on the cabinet surface. "As you wish, Adept."

It will be well, she mouthed, and watched Orlion leave.

As the door closed, Hereu's stance changed subtly, and he reached forward as if to find the back of the couch.

"It is a foot ahead of you still," Cythera said, and saw him wince at the sound of her voice. "Come and sit down so that you do not fall." She made no move to rise and help him. Her touch would only make everything worse.

He guided himself around the couch by touch and sat carefully, and she watched. She thought he was well made, much as she could tell with his loose pants and long coat, a fine weave of red and cream and brown patterned cloth with a wide belt of red silk folded in an intricate pattern.

"My name is Cythera," she said.

"So I have been told." His face was stiff and awkward beneath the goggles, clean-shaven and quite handsome.

"Then you have been told that I am an Adept."

Color rose slowly in his face. "I have been told that you are a wanton woman."

"Not precisely," Cythera said. "A wanton woman uses her body for her own pleasure with whomever she likes. I am an Adept, a servant of the Dancer, the Lord of Wind and Rain whose dances cause the oceans to move and the rain to fall, bringing joy to all. Without his music, the world is without growth and beauty. You may hear his song in the ocean's waves, or in the winds that carry blessed moisture and release it to green the world."

"Your world," Hereu said quietly. "Not mine." He leaned forward on his couch. "Your gods do not love our world, and they are fickle and frivolous. They give us nothing. We worship a Lord purer and simpler, the Third Lord who began the universe and who will end it. We have nothing to learn from you."

"But I have much to learn from you," Cythera said. She put her head to the side. "Tell me your stories. Tell me of the Third Lord."

Hereu frowned, his forehead puckering beneath the goggles, and she wished she could see his eyes. "You ask for my stories so that you can deceive me."

"I ask for your stories so that I can understand you."

He shook his head. "That’s the same thing. You want to do unspeakable things to me."

"I want to make love to you kindly and gently, so that your first time will be a thing of pleasure rather than a thing of horror," Cythera said. "You know what the Agni Empress wants from a sealing with you. I hope to make it easier for you. If you understand better, perhaps your life will be happier thereafter."

For a long moment Hereu said nothing, and then he shook his head as if bewildered. "You would take the meaning from it. You would leave me nothing."

Cythera blinked.

"They are she-raptors, the Agni. Is that not true? The Guardian thinks that they will tear me limb from limb, that they will use me cruelly until I am beyond speech and thought, and that when the she-raptors have rendered me beyond help, I will die." Hereu lifted his chin. "And so it will be. I am the sacrifice. I am wreathed for the fire. I am prepared to die for peace."

She sat speechless, her bowl in her hand.

Hereu shook his head. "I am prepared to die for peace," he said quietly. "It is abhorrent to the Third Lord that men should kill one another out of greed or spite or envy. If by my death I may save the lives of others, this is what we are called to do, all of us who are children of the Third Lord. We do not live for ourselves. We live for the good of all the people, of all who are human. I come robed not as a bridegroom but as a sacrifice." He put his hands together. "Do not try to lessen what I must do by corrupting me. Let me go pure to the fire."

Cythera put the bowl down with a clatter and stood up. "Then I will take my leave," she said, her voice choking.

"Thank you," he said, and his smile was beautiful, looking up at her with blind, mirrored eyes.

Cythera opened the outer door, rushing out into the corridor, and it closed behind her. She turned toward her cabin and collided with a black clad chest. Hands caught at her as she stumbled.

"Cythera?" She looked up, blinking the water from her eyes, and Athain's face changed. "What did he do to you?"

"Nothing. Only spoke. That is all that he will do." Her fists opened against the placket of Athain's uniform, her voice sounding off-kilter even to herself.

"I thought you were his lover," Athain said. His hands were steady under her elbows, familiar and sane.

She shook her head. "If only it were that simple! No, mine is the hopeless task of…." She stopped. "I don't even know. Of preventing that stupid boy from making his own life miserable. Of destroying a beautiful soul for political necessity."

"You're very upset," Athain said.

"Well-guessed!" she said, shaking her head. "Athain, I don't…." And now she was overly familiar, without composure to a man she barely knew, a guest of years before. "I’m sorry. What are you doing here?"

He looked perplexed, as well he might. "It's my ship," he said.

"I mean why are you in the hall?"

"I was going to see the Prince-to-Be and pay my respects, as one does to a high ranking passenger," Athain said. "But now may not be the time."

"At least he will look at you," Cythera said. "Without wearing goggles." She winced. "It's to avoid temptation and keep his mind pure."

"I see that looking at you could lead to impure thoughts." Athain's mouth twitched as though he might smile. His expression was balm to her.

"So could looking at you," she said without thinking. But it was true. She had thought him handsome seven years ago, but time had only improved him. There was a lightness to him now, even with the responsibilities he carried, that she had hoped might return in time, a mischief in his eyes, a lively intelligence. Grief rested more lightly upon him. He was a man who knew himself, knew the limits of what he was capable, and had done the unthinkable and gone beyond. He was no young bull wreathed for the sacrifice, but the priest who waited, sickle in hand.



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 10th, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC)
*is intrigued*
Sep. 12th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
I'm glad!
Sep. 10th, 2013 06:00 pm (UTC)
That poor boy.
Sep. 12th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
It's going to be a long, strange voyage....
Sep. 11th, 2013 02:24 am (UTC)
"Grief rested more lightly upon him. He was a man who knew himself, knew the limits of what he was capable, and had done the unthinkable and gone beyond. He was no young bull wreathed for the sacrifice, but the priest who waited, sickle in hand. "

Sep. 12th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
*grin* I thought you'd like that. I expect you'll like Athain quite a lot.
Sep. 11th, 2013 05:20 am (UTC)
This is gonna be interesting. Can't wait!
Sep. 12th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I hope you enjoy it!
Sep. 15th, 2013 07:10 pm (UTC)
Hm. Hm hm hmmmmm. You are bringing the extremes together, eh? The ascetic Desert God and the sensuous Goddess, both beautiful, both inspiring different kinds of human ecstasy from their devotees. Makes me think of Dionysus and Apollo (if Dionysus were female), or any of the Gods of the Book and the Great Goddess. Interesting!
Sep. 16th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
Definitely the extremes! And there's the third piece too, Athain's piece -- the Queen of the Void.
Sep. 16th, 2013 07:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, THAT's interesting. I didn't see that so much in this excerpt, but that would be very juicy to add to the mix. Sort of like bringing forward the Tao, if I understand you correctly.
Sep. 17th, 2013 02:42 pm (UTC)
The Queen of the Void is very much in the vein of the Morrigan or the Queen of the Dead, or some cross of them suitable to a spacefaring society. She's Athain's patron, as a star captain.
Sep. 18th, 2013 07:20 am (UTC)
Ah, unexpected. But fascinating! I'd be happy to read more! :-)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )