The Stroke of Noon 1 : To show the Imperatrix the appropriate homage
AN: About the story
Some months ago an anonymous commenter complained that the second instance of Imperator and Imperatrix Chevenga and Niku performing the act of public copulation that Arkan tradition requires on the Diem of Carnal Licentiousness every leap year, covered summarily in asa kraiya Post 062, seemed too mundane and chore-like.
Analyzing the situation, I realized that I had written it short mostly so as not to be repetitive, since it was the second time... but then, reading back, I found that the first time had been described in a mere three paragraphs and journalistically, thus, perforce, externally, in Philosopher in Arms Post 596.
I had passed up the opportunity to describe in detail, from the viewpoint of one of the participants him or herself, the most gloriously exhibitionist sex scene imaginable, not to mention convey fully the utter personality change that the entire Arkan culture undergoes during Jitzmitthra and especially on this particular four-year-only day.
I therefore promised to take that opportunity after all, adding it somewhere into the text.
But I face a dilemma.
Should the luscious, lascivious description come from the pen of Niku, writing to either a salivating Piatsri or a salivating Merao in the steamiest letter ever?
Or should it be part of Chevenga's vast memoir, hidden until the Chevengani Mental State Assessment Committee gets hold of it (see, their job isn't all bad)?
My own vote is for Niku, since, as far as I recall, I have never described the pair making love from her point of view before, whereas I have from Chevenga's (the "Marry me!" scene springs to mind).
But that's just my vote. Take the poll and I'll go with the majority.
The majority agreed with me, voting for Niku.
Remember when we were kids, and we were talking on the beach once about sex, and asking each other “Would you do it in front of other people?” And you were saying that you weren’t sure you’d be able to get it up, or keep it up, and I was saying something about how the idea of all those watching eyes on my naked skin thrilled some part of me?
We were thinking of maybe a few other people, like at a party or a war-camp fire, weren’t we? Maybe ten or, even, thirty, at the most, hmm? More than that and you should be getting paid, you said! (Laughing here.)
Well… Chevenga and I are going to do it in front of fifty thousand Arkans.
No, I am not kidding you. Stop laughing, this isn’t funny! It’s a sacred Jitzmitthra rite and as Imperatrix and Imperator we are supposed to do it!
I thought he was kidding me when it first came up. And when he asked Kallijas and Skorsas to back him up, I thought they were kidding me, too. Another Arkan-style male conspiracy against a woman, maybe trying to scare the Wild One into line. But Chevenga showed me things in writing out of the Imperial archive. It’s during the Diem of Carnal Licentiousness, the sixth day of Jitzmitthra that only happens once every four years. At noon, the Imperatrix and Imperator perform ceremonial sex in Presentation Square.
“Do you want to do this?” I asked him.
“Sitae desan,” he said. That’s semana kra in Arkan. In other words, “it doesn’t matter whether I want to.” Looking at me a bit as if he were about to bite into an unripe manolo, he said, “How about you?”
I tried to imagine it. Of course it isn’t hard to see fifty thousand Arkans all looking at me: but they’re in a sloped circle all around me, not a flat square. “I guess it isn’t any more embarrassing than killing people in front of them. And rather more healthy. But do you think you can do it? The pressure…” Of course I’m talking to a man who announced to his entire army that he had the clap without hesitation. Still, that’s not doing.
“Sitae desan.” Of course. He’s Chevenga. His people say “Jump,” he jumps; his people say “Come,” he comes. “But also,” he says. “Remember when we made love at the centre of the Ring afterwards, just to burn the last of the evil out of us? And I yelled out, ‘Where are fifty thousand Arkans when you want them?’ Well… now they are going to be there.”
He was wearing his quirky grin, but there was a bit of a gleam of fear in his eyes, too. It made him look slightly maniacal. That gets my blood running. I wanted him then and there. But this was of course at night, he was dog-tired and Kaninjer was staring at me like, ‘I know that look… no!’
I got him the next morning before Kaninjer came in. My pehali doesn’t mind being woken up straight into ecstasy.
Jitzmitthra is a moon away now and so Chevenga is planning how he’s going to observe it as Imperator. Or should I say, Skorsas is planning it, with as much fussiness and detail as if it were a pitched battle with a hundred thousand on each side, and Chevenga is approving each part when he has time to look up from Imperator work.
When Skorsas asked him in what style he wished to do Jitz, Chevenga said, “Traditional. As traditional as I can possibly do, with my wrong nationality.”
“Why bother?” I say. “We can’t pretend to be Arkans, we’re not fooling anyone, so why try?”
I hate it when he gives me the stupid-partner look. “It’s the same reason I wear the white and gold, went to Anoseth in armour like Ilesias’s and do all the other ceremonies, that I’ve explained so many times,” he says. “We are so unfamiliar, they want and need the familiar. It is showing respect for their ways, as well, and allowing them to claim me as theirs. Which helps keep us in the Marble Palace. Love, we’ll be able to do whatever we want at our wedding.”
“Right.” If that ever really happens. If his sea-urchin-spine-up-the-butt Assembly ever approves it. He said he’ll marry me anyway, even if they don’t, but I’m not sure I believe him. “I guess that means a flying entrance is out?”
“Unless we can put the ten-layered gown, pyramid of gold-laced cloth and ten-man palanquin on a wing,” Skorsas says. Am I imagining it, or is that a gleeful glint in his beady blue eyes?
“I wouldn’t want you to enter as my bride any other way but flying,” Chevenga says quickly.
“Ten-layered gown? Pyramid of gold-laced cloth? Ten-man palanquin?” I spit. “Why not put me in golden chains and a cage while you’re at it?”
“It could be worse,” Chevenga says. “On the Diem of Excess Sustenance Gustatorial, I have to be dressed entirely in food. Meat all over me from the waist up all day and probably into the night… I’m going to have dogs following me for eight-days.”
The sight in my mind’s eye of him walking around the Marble Palace being trailed by a moving, barking, chops-licking white carpet of fluffies distracts me momentarily from my indignation.
“It’s to show the Imperatrix the appropriate homage!” says Skorsas.
“Or the Head Imperial Concubine,” I say. “Same deal for one of them, isn’t it?” He can’t answer, because it’s true, so he does that Arkan look-away thing.
“Love, what do I have to do to prove you are not my concubine?” Chevenga says. “Say I’ll marry you yet again? Or is it about this ceremony—shall I call it off?”
“An Imperator,” Skorsas says, with his eyes suddenly half-lidded, “has been known to do it with an alesinas… said alesinas invariably considering it the highest honour.”
He wouldn’t. Piatsri, tell me he wouldn’t! Would he? Or would he—Kall—who’s Skorsas talking about? Or both of them!!?
“Fine,” I spit. “I’ll burden myself with this... fancy encumberment. I just hope you don’t mind making public love with a woman who is sweating like a pig.”
“If you aren’t at first,” Chevenga says, with his crooked grin and his eyes half-lidded, “it is my solemn Imperial duty to ensure that in a short time you are.”
To continue from yesterday, Piat: I had Ea look it up today. It’s supposed to be a procreative ritual. Ensuring the fertility of the Empire’s fields and herds. Meaning he has to do it with a woman!
Oh, Skorsas wasn’t lying when he said Imperators have been known to do it with alesinae. But it was only two Imperators ever, and it was two of the mad ones. You know, the striped-and-spotted-cats type. And all the City priests were desperately saying extra prayers for the whole next year to appease the Gods in both cases.
“You sneaking snake,” I said the next morning after Chevenga and Kall were gone. “Not a lie in letter, but a lie in spirit!”
“Well, fine, I’m sorry,” he said long-sufferingly. “Though it’s not going to be procreative with you anyway, since you’re already set to procreate. All I was doing was trying to get you to respect Arkan traditions when performing a sacred Arkan ritual. Your personal comfort isn’t everything, you know.”
Why does the little fahkad shkavi always harp on the same thing, make as if I’m selfish about my comfort? Who doesn’t want to be comfortable? He should try being in a chest-to-toes cast for the better part of a year! Or carry a child!
The conversation always goes like more or less like this: Skorsas: “Chevenga never complains.”
Me: “Fine, but did you never notice he’s not a normal human being?” Sometimes adding, “O Enlightened Follower?”
Him: (a bit dreamily) “True. But you are going to be his wife and so should aspire to be worthy.”
Me: “I don’t give a sand-fly’s shen whether you think I am worthy, when he does.”
Then either he flounces out saying “I have made my point.”
Or, him: “It’s a credit to his extraordinary nature that he can put up with you,” and I stamp out so as not to kill him. (Though I could do neither when I was in the cast, so I’d get Ea to wheel me.)
We have an unspoken pact, I guess, to get away from each other before it becomes worse, for the sake of Chevenga. After a day or two the tension eases and we get along again, until the next time.
But this time I said, “Skorsas, I know you cannot possibly know this because you were raised among people who don’t give a sand-fly’s shen what women feel, but when we are with child, it feels to us that our personal comfort is everything. You know why? Because we are feeling it not only for ourselves, but for the child—Skorsas, a pregnant woman is no longer just herself… do you get that? We are two, and totally responsible for the fate of the second.”
And I am going to lay that precious child, at two days of age, in an ice-cold stream… no, no, better not to think about it.
He didn’t snootily raise his nose, but looked struck. “I never thought of it that way,” he said. Ama Kalandris!, I thought. Have You actually finally raised a tide of enlightenment in this bone-rigid Arkan? “That would explain,” he added, nodding thoughtfully, “why you’ve been even more bitchy than usual.”
Of course I blew my top, Piatsri… who wouldn’t? And of course he was all blinking innocence, “I didn’t say it angrily, I didn’t mean it as an insult, I just meant that’s how it is and it makes sense with what you said so I’ll have to accommodate it, truth shouldn’t hurt,” blah blah blah. The little fikker! I am so going to get him. I don’t know how, but I will. I know what you’re going to write back, since you always do, that vengeance has no place among family, but is he acting like family to me!?
Well. Not everything went quite the way we expected.
My costume… Ama Kalandris, I kept thinking, you’ve got to be kidding. It starts with this thickish silver silk-satin gown with fur trim—in Arkan heat, are they out of their minds?—with a belt holding a bunch of jewel-covered pretend kitchen-tools and this giant key. The thing weighs as much as a bag of rocks, dragging me down at the waist. “The chatelaine symbolizes the Imperatrix’s ruling over the Marble Palace,” Skorsas purrs at me. Flattering now, the little shit; as if I don’t know who runs the Marble Palace? What does he think I am, stupid?
But there are another ten layers. They’re like the traditional Aitzas bridal gear, white on the outside, getting pinker and then red on the inside, all silk-satin and not light silk-satin. “Fine, Skorsas, I get the idea, I’ll be able to put it all on just fine tomorrow!” I told him, but nooooo, he’s got to rehearse every bit of the putting-on, as if anyone’s going to see that. So that Chevenga (who is wearing hardly anything, of course, because men in Arko are always free!) can rehearse the taking-off. I feel like I’m being buried in blankets, and they’re going to keep getting piled on me until I smother. Like Arkans in Hayel—they always subject women to Hayel, don’t they?
Then it’s inside the pyramid thing, which is built so thick it’s pitch-dark inside. I wouldn’t be able to see my hand in front of my face, if I could lift it.
Chevenga takes forever, rehearsing the taking-off. All this talk back and forth, this latch here and that loop there, Skorsas reading out of some mouldered old book. “It’s like I’m back in the fahkad plaster!” I keep saying. “I’m doing this now so it’ll be faster tomorrow!” Chevenga keeps saying. “Love, you keep writhing and it’s slowing me down, can you keep still!?” He has no idea what it’s like in this. By the time I thrash my own way out of the chatelaine-gown—I’m not waiting for him to free me—I’m drenched, as if I just walked out of the sea. Tomorrow will be in the full blast of almost-noon Arkan sun, I’m thinking. What if I get so hot it hurts our child within? Why under Aba Tyriah did I agree to this?
I slept fine and woke up puking as usual. No pain that my darling menfolk, at least two of them, can’t make worse by saying, “Well, if you’d eaten some rootcrisps last night as we were telling you to, this wouldn’t happen.” That’s Skorsas. “You don’t do what will help, and then you suffer like this!” That’s Chevenga. “And make us suffer, listening to it.” Skorsas chiming in again. “It would be so easy to prevent.” Chevenga again.
I feel like making love with him in front of fifty thousand Arkans about as much as I feel like rubbing up against a slime and barnacle-covered dock piling.
It settles some as I start to get ready, and now I cram down some rootcrisps and a chocolate cup. Skorsas didn’t tell me there’s make-up, too, that it’s going to take him half a bead to do my face! “Not something that needed rehearsing,” he says breezily. Of course, because he’s so brilliant at everything. I sit there fuming, having to stay absolutely still since All Ten Gods forfend it’s not absolutely perfect, when we’re going to be on a dais with no one within ten paces of us when we do it.
I am thinking, didn’t we conquer these people? When we were the victors, why do we have to slaves to their ridiculous customs? I mean, I have nothing against the love-making-to-bless-the-crops part, of course not. We have our own version of that, and in fact so do Yeolis… you haven’t lived until you’ve gone to one of their spring love feasts. But why every detail, of the rites of the vanquished? We proved ourselves better, we should do things our way! Chevenga has said to me, “You want to destroy our four in moments, let slip a word like that in Kall or Skorsas’s presence,” and I see his point, so I keep it to myself. But right now I am thinking it really loudly. Am I wrong to be bothered that he has become more and more Arkan?
In all these churning thoughts, the black eel stirring up muck with his tail, I wasn’t paying much attention to what Skorsas was doing. I didn’t see what he had in his hands as he was fussing over my face, and then my hair—another half-bead!—like an artist, despite knowing perfectly well I didn’t want to sit here. I guess I was trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, like when you’re being tortured. Finally he was done. “There!” he said with a big smile, and grabbed up a big hand-mirror. “You are gorgeous—see?”
I thought for a moment it wasn’t a mirror, but an oval portrait he was holding up for a joke, of this ridiculous poseur of a woman, so fake she looked made out of porcelain and gold thread. But when I felt my eyebrows go puzzled hers—which were gold arches with bits of sparkle in them—did too, and somehow I recognized the colour and shape of my own eyes.
“Oh my Ama fikken kaina Skorsas! What the fik are you doing!? I look WHITE!”
“It’s traditional!” he said. “I got it out of the Sacred Organon of Imperial SetzaJitzmitthra Ritual--no no no what are you doing I spent A BEAD ON THAT AND WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR ME TO DO IT AGAIN!!”
What I was doing was scrubbing it off with the sleeve of the official Imperatrix’s undergarment I was already wearing. “Skorsas, I am not an Arkan woman! I am not a white woman! You are not going to make me into one as long as I live no matter how hard you try! And neither is Chevenga—he went along with this, didn’t he?”
“Of course he did, he has respect for our traditions stop stop STOP YOU’RE RUINING IT ALL SHEFEN-KAS! SHEFEN-KAS!!”
My omores came running, thinking it was an emergency. He had the bottom half of his costume on, this giant golden codpiece that’s held on by a few straps of leather around his hips. It bobbed as he ran. Skorsas started yelling to him that I was ruining his work and breaking Arkan traditions, and I started yelling to him that Skorsas was trying to make me into an Arkan, both at the same time.
I don’t know what it was, because usually Chevenga is even-handed when he’s called to arbitrate something. “No one’s trying to make you into an Arkan, love!” he said. “It is tradition, out of the book, Skorsas, you should have warned her, but Niku, it’s done—or it was—I know you’re more touchy when you’re with child, and we’ve cut you a lot of slack, but why be so childish when you can scrub it off the moment we’re done anyway? We’re supposed to be on in barely more than a bead!”
“Childish!” I yelled. “Childish!” Piatsri, I love him like life itself, but right then I wanted to strangle the life out of him. “As if you are the grown-up and you are always right! Except with Arkans—you’re fine swallowing all their traditional kakr, as if it tastes good, even though you know it’s kakr else you wouldn’t be setting out to change it!”
“Purification is kakr,” he snapped. “Jitzmitthra isn’t! You agreed to this—that means going along with all the trappings, same as I am! There’s time to do it over if you’re fast, Skorsas—I’ll help you dress her.”
“When a gale blows through Hayel you will!” I’d scrubbed maybe half of the white off, now I worked hard to get the rest. “You’re fine with kakr customs because you have the most kakr custom of all, making all the Arkan ones look like Ama Kalandris’s blessings—putting barely-born babies in ice-cold streams!”
“What!?? We’re supposed to be blessing the fertility of Arko with love in a bead and you’re clawing me for the stream-test? What kind of stupid argument is that!? Niku—did you want to fik this whole thing up from the start?”
“No, but maybe I should have! And maybe I will now!”
“You’re threatening!?” His eyes were furious now, like he was on one side of a battle and I was on the other. You see what I mean? You call that treating me like family? “You are twenty-five years old, you’ve been a warrior for nine of them, you are Woriciah Foa for Niah-lur-ana, you are in effect Imperatrix of Arko—will you kyashin kaina kevyalin ertrankt GROW THE FIK UP!!?”
That did it. I didn’t say another word, just tore the undergarment off myself, ran through the chambers to the Lefaetas Pastaias and grabbed my harness, which I hang right by the door. I heard their voices fading behind me, “My Great God, she is going to ruin the whole thing!!” “Niku, how can you do this!!?” and didn’t care a minnow’s fart. I banged the panel that makes it go up, and turned my back to the closing lefaetas doors. Chevenga could rut Skorsas or Kallijas or both of them to bless the straw-hairs’ crops, all day if he liked. I’d be in the sky.
Skorsas had filled my hair with gold threads, so I started ripping them out, still shaking all over with anger. Maybe because I’m Niah, the lefaetas lifting me fast was soothing, so I calmed down. Enough to sense that someone else was in it with me.