223: Meditating On The Future

on May 24, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Dee Is Not Dressed

Monday, Calendula 5th (Morning)

I woke up feeling very confused and very loved.

Fortunately, the two feelings weren’t related. I had no confusion about why I felt loved, not when I woke up with total darkness but with the feeling of sun on my skin. Amaranth had once again spent the night draped over me.

The confusion was because I had no idea where I was. I wasn’t in the very old, somewhat small bed I’d spent most of the past nine years sleeping in. I didn’t seem to be on the oh-so-utilitarian bed that the university provided.

The mattress was too soft. The pillow was too fluffy. The sheets were too smooth. The blankets were too warm.

Then I woke up a little bit more and remembered the shopping trip and the flurry of redecorating which had followed.

It was disorienting to wake up in perfect comfort anywhere, but even more so in a college dorm room.

Amaranth felt me stirring beneath her and woke up, too.

“Good morning, baby,” she murmured.

“Morning,” I said.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Outside our little hideaway, a dresser drawer slid closed.

“Two’s awake,” I said. “It’s probably about five or so.”

“That early?” Amaranth said. “Then we don’t have to get up.”

“That’s good,” I said, and prepared myself to drift back to sleep.

“Oh!” Amaranth said suddenly, pushing herself upright and then crying out in pain as her head hit the bed above us. “Ow!”

“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying to turn over.

“I’ve got to go,” she said, pulling the curtain back and slipping off of me and the bed. “Right now.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing!” she said. “I just need some cock. Cocks. Plural. Oh, I really hope somebody’s awake on the boys’ side.”

She was kind of dancing around like somebody who really had to pee. I remembered Amaranth had told me, the first time she’d slept over, that she might have to leave suddenly. Sex with another woman wasn’t nearly as satisfying to her needs as a fertility spirit as sex with a man, or men, and she hadn’t yet learned the limits of her appetite in that regard. Apparently, she was still learning.

“Are you going to be okay?” I asked, climbing out of bed behind her.

“Yes,” she said. “Don’t worry! I’ll go knock on Rorick’s door. He’s always up for whatever. I’ll try to see you at breakfast.” She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, then bolted for the door, nearly tripping over her own feet. She hadn’t even stopped to retrieve her glasses from wherever it was she stowed them.

“Good morning, Amaranth!” Two said. “Goodbye, Amaranth!”

“Bye, Two!” Amaranth called on her way out the door.

“Good morning, Two,” I said, stifling a yawn.

“Good morning,” she said. “Would you like to come meditate with my friend Dee and me?”

I thought about telling her no thanks and climbing back into bed, but… I felt guilty about waking her up and frightening her during the night. Also, it would be good to check on Dee.

“Okay, sure,” I said. “Just let me get dressed.”

“Okay.”

After a couple weeks of squeezing into new jeans, it was nice to have a few pairs that were nice and baggy… a little too baggy, maybe, but I had belts.

That made me think of Amaranth’s instructions. She wasn’t here now, and I didn’t know if we’d even be leaving the building, but I only hesitated for a moment before I went and got my paddle off the wall and fixed its thong onto the belt. Most people probably wouldn’t give it a second glance. They’d take it for just another weapon.

I hoped.

Two was watching me, staring at the paddle.

“Did Amaranth tell you to wear that?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Why?”

“So I remember my place,” I said. “So I remember who I belong to.”

“If she wants to do that, she should get you a tattoo,” Two said. “Or a brand.”

“I don’t think we’re ready for something that permanent,” I said. Or painful, though I didn’t say that.

“Oh,” Two said, disappointed. “Don’t you want to be hers forever?”

“I don’t want to stop being hers, but… I think it’s too soon to look that far ahead.”

“Do you think you’re ever going to give yourself to her?”

“I thought I already had,” I said.

“No, I mean legally,” she said. “For real.”

“Well, I couldn’t if I wanted to,” I said. “Only free beings can attend university.”

“But do you want to?”

I thought about it. This was the same thing I’d been grappling with myself, filtered through Two’s world view: what did we do next? What future did we have together? Where was our happy ending?

I had to admit my heart thrilled at the idea of being Amaranth’s “for real”, because as far as I was concerned, I already was. I’d given myself to her. The law didn’t recognize this kind of personal pledge, though. It was like two people having a private wedding ceremony without getting a license from the magistrate.

If we did it legally, I’d be out of school, and would no longer be a citizen with rights and standing. Amaranth would have to make arrangements for anything I did, employment or dwelling-wise, which would probably take away from her schooling, too.

Basically, we’d both be screwed if we tried to move forward now. It really was like a couple dating in college: maybe getting married, buying a house, and raising a family was in their future, but first things first.

But when that obstacle was gone? I didn’t know. It was awfully big, awfully permanent, and it wouldn’t begin to answer the question of how our lives would fit together.

Then there was Ian. Would I still be dating him, in four years? Or Steff. Her future was with Viktor, if she could keep things together, but couldn’t I have a future with her, as well?

This was getting complicated.

Two was staring at me, patiently waiting for an answer that I didn’t have.

“It’s an appealing idea,” I said finally. “But I don’t know if that’s the right decision for me to make.”

“I agree,” Two said, nodding slowly. “Amaranth should make it.”

“No!” I said. “I mean, I really don’t know. This is the sort of thing we’ll have to talk about, when we’ve been together longer.”

“I hope you do,” she said. There was a hint of envy in her voice. Was Two living vicariously through me? “I hope you do become hers, for real.”

“What about you?” I asked. “What… what do you hope to do after college?”

“Different things,” she said. “Some days I think I would rather be a slave but some days I think I would rather be a cook.” She shrugged. “If I could be a slave who only cooked and maybe cleaned and wasn’t used for other things, maybe that would be best, but I don’t know. Some days I… I like being free. When I was a golem, I was happy all the time. I don’t think slaves are like that.”

I thought about Hazel’s plan to open an inn. At this point, that was as much pie-in-the-sky as any life I might envision with Amaranth, but I wondered if Hazel had given any thought to carrying her partnership with Two beyond the classroom. It was a nice image.

But… four years… the best laid plans of golems and gnomes, etc. It was probably best to focus on the now, for now.

“Well, you don’t have to make up your mind right away, and neither do I,” I said. “Let’s go talk to Dee,” I added, to forestall any more difficult questions.

I was more than happy to let Two knock on Dee’s door, as she was much closer to her than I was and had some precedent for knocking on her door at five in the morning.

Dee answered the door in her nightgown. Her eyes were heavily lidded and her hair was a little bit flat, but she looked much better than she had the last time I’d seen her.

“Good morning, Two and Mackenzie,” she said.

“Good morning,” Two said. “You aren’t dressed yet.”

Dee looked down at herself, and her eyes opened a bit wider.

“No, I suppose I am not,” she said. “I do not think I will be meditating today. I have spent more than enough time inside my head, alone with my thoughts. Perhaps it is time for me to experience life on the surface, instead of holding myself apart from it.”

“Oh,” Two said.

“Of course, I suppose if you are with me, I won’t exactly be alone,” Dee said.

“No,” Two agreed. “You won’t.”

“Will Mackenzie be joining us again?” she asked Two.

“Yes,” Two said.

“Please give me a few moments to compose myself, then,” Dee said, and she closed the door. When it opened again, she was dressed in her robes and cloak, and her long hair was brushed out. “I think we should probably make use of one of the work rooms on the ground floor, in order to avoid repeating your unfortunate experience in the spiritual arts building,” she said to me.

“Okay,” I said. “No complaints from me there.”

We headed downstairs in silence. I wanted to ask Dee if she was okay, but I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject. Amaranth had given very little indication of what exactly the problem had been, after their first talk, and I didn’t want to sound like I was prying.

She seemed a little out of sorts, but it was hard to say if that was mental or physical. When an elf walked, they normally seemed to glide smoothly along… an effect which was only heightened by Dee’s voluminous layers of garb. Now, she was quite distinctly walking with a gait more like that of mere mortals. It was a bit like watching a human limp.

We were already down on the first floor when it finally occurred to me to simply say, “Dee, are you okay?”

She favored me with a slight smile.

“Yes, I think so,” she said. “Thank you for asking. I am a bit weak, and my heart is torn, but I do believe I will be fine, in the long run.”

We found a lab that had enough floor space for the three of us to sit a comfortable distance away, and Dee shut off the lights.

“Would you mind hanging my cloak on the wall?” she asked me as she took the outer garment off.

“Um, no, of course not,” I said. She handed it to me and I went and hung it up on the wall.

There were a couple of smocks already hanging on the pegs, apparently for general use, and I was careful to make sure that Dee’s cloak wasn’t touching any of them. I wasn’t sure why. It just seemed wrong, like dragging a flag along the ground.

I realized as I took my place on the floor that I was trying to help restore some of the dignity her ordeal seemed to have cost her. Seeing Dee wake up crying had been unnerving, and now watching her totter around like some kind of… well, like a human… was more so.

“Before we begin…” Dee said, her head bowed low. She trailed off, saying nothing, and smoothing out her robes without any real necessity.

The silence stretched on. Two said nothing, but just sat there with a look of infinite patience on her face. I looked at Dee, who had to be aware of my gaze but showed no sign of it.

“Yes?” I prompted. It took a couple tries to get out.

“Nothing,” Dee said. “Never mind.”

“Okay,” Two said.

“I did not have friends, back in my home,” she said. “Not proper friends. Not equals or peers who could give their friendship freely. Not that anybody here is my equal,” she added hastily, “though in any sense that is recognized by the society around us… that is to say…” She cleared her throat. “You are under no obligation to associate with me in any way, and you choose to do so. I treasure that. I treasure you.”

“I treasure you, too, Dee,” Two said.

I nodded, and hoped it showed my appreciation. I didn’t know what to say.

“As we are friends, I would like to ask you a rather personal question,” Dee said to Two. “I hope you will forgive my impertinence.”

“Okay. I do.”

“Forgive me for asking, but during your former life as a servant, did you love your master?”

“Yes,” Two said.

“In your opinion, did you really love him, or did you love him because it was your duty and nature to do so?”

“I really loved him because it was my duty and nature to do so,” Two said.

“I see,” Dee said.

“Um… what’s bothering you, exactly?” I asked her. “If I can ask.”

“Certainly you may. There is apparently a school of thought, which Shiel elaborated to me on Friday afternoon, that true consent cannot exist across a power gap,” Dee said. “That if a member of a serving class yields willingly to a member of a ruling class, that willingness must be discounted, because it is impossible to divorce their actions from the larger context.” She looked at me, her eyes seeming to pierce directly into my soul. “What do you make of this theory, Nymph’s Toy?”

“Um… okay, granted that maybe your culture’s a little bit… rigid,” I said, thinking it through as I spoke. “But where are you going to find two people who are exactly equal, even up here? You might as well say that if I’m strong enough to have my way with somebody, they couldn’t consent to me, and if they’re rich enough that they could buy my services, I couldn’t consent to them.”

“I see,” Dee said.

“Do you have a relationship with a servant?” I asked. “I mean, it’s not any of my business…”

“I raised the subject,” Dee said. “You may ask what you wish, and I may answer what I wish. As it happens, I do. As it also happens, anybody with whom I could have a relationship is necessarily of a lesser social standing than myself, as the only ones in the house who outrank me are my own mother, the matriarch, and their consorts. If I admit the absolute truth of Shiel’s hypothesis, then it seems I am a tyrant no matter what I do. However, I cannot deny that my pretty Dehsah would be in no position to refuse me.”

“Um, wouldn’t you know if she didn’t reciprocate?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t know what the protocols are for that kind of thing, but if you’ve been… intimate… wouldn’t you feel it?”

Dee gave a single slow nod.

“We have shared minds as well as bodies on numerous occasions,” Dee said. “I was aware of Dehsah’s attraction to me before I began my pursuit.”

“Then I don’t know what the problem is,” I said.

“The problem is, I now have doubts,” Dee said. “Doubts which will not be erased by mere logic.”

“Isn’t the fact that you have doubts about it a pretty good sign that you’re not being a ‘tyrant’?” I suggested. “I mean, that seems to be a pretty good sign, to me.”

“So, in your estimation, the fact that I feel guilt should exonerate me of that guilt?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

Dee said nothing for a long time, and I had nothing really to add.

“I love Dehsah,” she said abruptly, as if she had come to a decision. “I think—I pray—that the mistake was not in starting this relationship but in not discussing these issues when we did.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and let it out. “It seems I was, as friend Two would put it, mistaken. Perhaps I do have something upon which to meditate this morning.”

With that, we began. She helped guide me down into a state of deep concentration, as she had before. It was both focusing and relaxing. There was a space inside my head that was deep and dark and quiet, like the basement, or to a lesser extent, like my little bunk bed nest. I didn’t think I’d be able to find it on my own, but Dee knew the way.

I kind of regretted that we hadn’t done this more often, but of course, the confrontation with Gloria on the way to the last session had done something for my enthusiasm for the exercise.

Then, there had been everything else that happened.

When we finished, and Dee brought me back to a full awareness of my surroundings, I had two questions for her.

“Would you mind if I joined you every day?” was the first.

“Not a bit,” she said.

“Is there any chance we could do it later in the morning?” was the other. “Like six, or even six-thirty?”

She took longer to answer that.

“I can’t think why not,” she said. “The cycles of the hours mean nothing to me in and of themselves. I chose an early time so I would encounter fewer people and avoid the sun, but if we remain within the confines of Harlowe, neither of those are a real concern.”

“Great,” I said. “Thanks. Thank you, Dee.”

She bowed, lower than I would have guessed possible considering we were still seated cross-legged on the floor.

“You are very welcome,” she said. “Will you be taking breakfast now?”

“It’s still kind of early,” I said. “And I think Amaranth is probably still working off her backlog… so, I’ll probably grab a bath.”

I was hoping Feejee would either be asleep in the tub, or better yet, back in her room.

Dee sighed.

“I greatly enjoyed my baths with Dehsah,” she said. “As we are a lake house, water was never in short supply for us, but we were frequently reminded what a luxury we were afforded, and that heightened my appreciation of the experience greatly. Of course, I could not dream of making use of the public bathtubs here,” she said. She stopped, as if she’d just startled herself somehow. “Or maybe I could,” she said. “What exactly prevents me?”

“They’re actually less public than the showers,” I said. “I mean, you get your own tub and there is a curtain.”

“I suppose they would be,” Dee said. “Thank you.” She bowed again. “You’ve given me some things to consider. I would like to join the rest of you for breakfast, if you let me know when you are going.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

When I got upstairs, I checked the bathroom and discovered that I was in luck: no Feejee in sight. I hurried back to my room, gathered up my bath stuff as quickly as I could, and headed back to the tub.

After a night bundled up with Amaranth, an hour’s meditation with Dee, and a long, hot relaxing bath with peppermint foam, I was more than ready to face the day.

New week, fresh start… just like Amaranth had said.


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8 Responses to “223: Meditating On The Future”

  1. Psi-Ko says:

    I feel the need to add a (Cue impending disaster) here…

    Current score: 6
  2. Arkeus says:

    It’s heart-wrenching to see how all those characters who love each others so much are all utterly unable to escape their bias that other people should think the exact same way they do. Two is almost always my fav char because of her progress is comparatively much faster than the other chars, but she also began from a much lower point, which was evident in this chapter.

    As for Dee… Well, good that you are finally thinking about this, but i really hope you don’t take what Mack is saying anywhere near seriously.

    Current score: 0
  3. Holodrum says:

    I’m not sure that I understand your meaning very much Arkeus. What did Mack say that Dee isn’t supposed to take seriously? That Dark Elf society is rather rigid? That no two people can be in exactly the same social standing, and that true consent and even love might be possible if they aren’t equal? That the girls room baths are more private than the showers?

    Current score: 1
  4. P says:

    That feeling guilt exonerates you from the action that caused the guilt.

    Current score: 0
    • J says:

      She didn’t say that. Dee did.

      Mack implied that it is unlikely that someone is a tyrant if they feel guilt stemming from the allegedly tyrannical actions. This is also not always true, but it is not the same thing as what you said.

      Current score: 4
      • Anon says:

        It’s the same logic that people have been using as evidence that Mack is not, in fact, inherently purely and irredeemably EVIL.

        And the same logic the priest used when that golem asked if he had a soul…

        In each case, it’s not absolute proof, but it’s a pretty decent indicator.

        Current score: 4
  5. Leila says:

    I was just thinking, what does it feel like for Amaranth when she needs sex. Is it like getting hungry, or…?

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      I would think it’s probably like feeling horny… But more so. It might be similar to what animals feel when they are in heat – though we have no basis for comparison. Of course Mackenzie describes her reaction as being similar to someone who needs to pee. Since Amaranth doesn’t ever need to do that, she might get the same feeling to mean she needs sex instead. In all likelihood it’s something of a combination of all the above.

      Current score: 2