Bonus Story: Coming Down In The World

on December 7, 2008 in Other Tales


Darek, youngest lieutenant of the house guard of House d’Wyr, normally kept to the upper levels of the house, but this shift he had been summoned to the throne room in the deepest part of the complex.

In the lowest levels, the ones located beneath the surface of the black waters of Lake Durak, windows of solid rock rendered invisible transformed the dark tunnels into an eerie otherworld of swirling liquid patterns. The solidity of the stone walls was easy to forget when one could look out through them and see the vast expanse of cold and unforgiving water beyond them.

Darek had always been a shrewd but daring risk taker. It was how he’d come to occupy his present positions, both within the guard and in the bedchambers of a future candidate for low priestess and matriarch. That had been no small feat. It had been daring of him to set his sights upon such a prize. It had been shrewd of him to press his suit first not with the heiress Delia Daella directly but with her nurse-turned-amakan, the venerable and beautiful Dehsah.

That combination of the daring to reach for things that should by all rights have been outside his grasp and the shrewdness needed to actually catch hold of them promised to take the young elf far in life, even as it threatened to land him in serious trouble. Every time he received a summons to the undercomplex, he couldn’t help wonder which side the coin had landed on this time.

It all came down to timing: would he achieve his ultimate success before he did total failure?

The lower levels were far from crowded most shifts, but they were all but deserted now. There was a civic processional being led around the shores of the lake, and most of the important house personnel, female and male, were in attendance.

One of those who had been left out melted out of an illusionary patch of wall at his left as he strode down the hall.

“Hello, Lieutenant,” Durilla Degra, the beloved of his own beloved’s mother, said. “We were pleased to see your performance directing the drills the other shift.”

“Were you?” Darek responded, using the plural inflection on the pronoun. “I had not realized that our Daella Degra was in attendance.”

“Oh… regrettably, she was not,” Durilla Degra said, her practiced blankness faltering just a bit.

“Oh,” Darek said. “That is truly regrettable.” He gave a small, measured bow. “Your favor honors me, Durilla Degra.”

“Thank you,” she said curtly.

“I suppose it was the goddess’s will that you and not she would be witness to the practice session, as you apparently have not been favored with the opportunity to witness the procession itself,” Darek said.

“I have duties here,” she said icily. “As do you.”

“Constantly,” he agreed, and he was on his way.

Durilla Degra d’Wyr was entitled to her wife’s matronym and the house name, but she was not of the noble line of the d’Wyri and she lacked the powerful mental gifts of that line. Otherwise, Darek would not have dared to tweak her so obviously.

She irked him, though, as she irked nearly all who encountered her.

By always referring to herself collectively with her partner, Durilla Degra had almost single-handedly introduced the concept of “The Royal We” to House d’Wyr. We enjoyed… we were pleased… we thought. She never thought or did or said anything singly, even when her amikan was nowhere in evidence.

The fact that she was left in the undercomplex during the processional was suggestive. By all rights she would be accorded a place at Daella Degra’s side, and Durilla Degra had never ceded the smallest thing she was entitled to without a fight. If she was not in attendance at the processional with her beloved, then that meant her beloved was not in attendance as herself. She was filling in for the matriarch, her living double… which meant that the real matriarch was still in the house, and almost certainly alone.

That told Darek who had summoned him, but it did not tell him why.

The wall in front of the throne room shimmered and disappeared as he approached. He did not wait for permission to enter; it had just been granted. Duala Deneira was not sitting on the house throne. Instead that was occupied by her pet, an aging six-legged purple lizard that seemed to be asleep every time Darek had cause to visit the throne room. He had never seen the thing stir or even so much as open any of its four eyes, though it was always in a different position.

From what Darek had observed, the matriarch never sat on the throne when her great-granddaughter was out somewhere being her. Whether this was some obscure point of protocol or a bit of personal superstition, he did not know and it was not his place to ask.

Alone, she was not wearing her hood, leaving her hair, face, and neck gloriously exposed. Darek’s beloved Dee was a strong, beautiful woman, but in his most private of very private thoughts he had often entertained fantasies about Duala Deneira and Daella Degra, the pair most of the city reckoned as the most beautiful d’Wyri women. Ranking one of them above the other would be impossible, as a quirk of heredity—and a fondness among their line for using the same men—had rendered their ageless bodies identical.

“A good hour to you, Lieutenant,” she said to him, giving him a slight nod. “Please remove your hood.”

“And to you,” he said, bowing low as he did so, exposing his pointed ears and the top of his smooth-shaven head. “And whom do I have the honor of addressing, at this very good hour?”

“Oh, do not pretend you don’t know. You have ever been able to tell us apart, Lieutenant Darek,” said the reigning matriarch of House d’Wyr. “You always can, even when no one else can. How is this, do you suppose?”

“I could not say, my matriarch,” he responded. “It is a gift.”

The truth was, it was in her eyes. The eyes of Duala Deneira were cagey and focused. Those of her otherwise identical great-granddaughter were haunted and scattered.

She was a telepath with thousands of years of experience. She knew this as well as he did, just as she knew that he would never admit out loud that he looked the women of the house line in the eyes, however briefly.

“A rare gift indeed,” she said.

“And how are you finding the processional, my matriarch?” Darek asked.

“Very enjoyable from this distance,” she said. “On the subject of viewing from a distance, Dehsah was found on the rooftop, watching the parade. Ce was eating a black plum. Do you know anything about that?”

“Dehsah enjoys the view towards the shore,” Darek said. “Did you know, Great Mother, that ce has not been to the city proper in over an octal? Perhaps if we arranged for a contingent of…”

“I have more fingers on my hands than I have had black plums in my life,” Duala Deneira said. “The guards who sent cer back inside did not even know what it was. They thought ce was nibbling on a bit of flesh. When the duty captain recognized it for what it was and Dehsah was asked from whence this great treasure had come, do you know where ce said?”

“Presumably, the Isle of Trees,” Darek said. The domed-over island, bathed in spells of sunlight and tended by blind monks, was the ultimate source of all fruit in Durakesh.

“‘I have a basket of them in my room’,” the matron quoted. “A basket. Of black plums. In the chamber you share with cer.”

“Halfkind have ever enjoyed a peculiar popularity with the monks,” Darek said. “And Dehsah is the most remarkable of the halfkind. Perhaps ce has an admirer or two, who remember cer fondly from days gone past?”

“Lieutenant Darek, you know it is simply not possible for Dehsah to truly be punished,” Duala Deneira said. “Ce has been trained and bred to take correction graciously, and so ce does, to the extent that it does not even begin to affect cer. The foundations of this house would notice a whipping before ce did.”

“I have always said that our pretty Dehsah shows a remarkable discipline in the face of discipline.”

“Nevertheless, ce must be whipped for possession of the stolen goods… however, ce cannot be punished for the actual theft of fruit from the holy island because as yourself pointed out, ce has not been outside this house since our Dee was a child,” the matriarch said. “Ce is not the thief.”

“I fail to understand the thrust of the matriarch’s speech,” Darek said. “Do you wish for me to undertake an investigation to find the rogue responsible?”

“I wish for there to be no more stolen fruit found within the boundaries of our house,” she said.

“I will circulate words to that effect,” Darek said.

“I am in deadly earnestness, Lieutenant,” she said. “Stealing from the island is a serious offense… there are limits to how much protection even a noblewoman’s love buys.”

“I can assure you, there will be no more fruit found,” Darek said. “And, what about pretty Dehsah’s punishment?”

“It is already being administered… there was no shortage of volunteers among the males of the guard for that duty. Knowing the regard with which the house rank and file regards our Dehsah, I was surprised by the sincerity of their enthusiasm. I believe there is something cathartic, for a male, to have an excuse for striking such a feminine-presenting figure. In any event, to avoid a riot I was forced to be… what is the word the faint kind use? Democratic. Ce will be occupied for quite some time, several shifts at least.”

“I see,” Darek said. He was coming up on an extended downshift once the festival on the shore was over, and had been looking forward to spending many hours in the company of the house’s greatest living treasure.

Not that he’d ever had any difficulty finding a sheath for his sword. He could walk into the male barracks at any time and find a willing enough partner among the younger recruits. They got the job done, but he preferred something with breasts.

“Do you know why I send my descendant out in my place, Lieutenant?” Duala Deneira asked abruptly.

“Because she looks so much like you?”

“That’s why the deception works, not why I do it,” Duala Deneira said. “You must not think at my advancing age that I have any great fear of dying. I have outlived children and grandchildren… even one great-great-grandchild. I would not look unfavorably on the chance to get to know them all better. But as matriarch, I must think of the good of the house… and while the death of my Daella would be devastating to me, that is where the tragedy would end. On the other hand, if I were to die… she is flesh of my flesh, but she serves the house far better as a decoy than she would as a leader.”

“As the matriarch says,” Darek said.

“You disapprove of my decision to put my descendant in harm’s way?”

“You are my matriarch, but she is the mother of my amikah,” Darek said.

“And so you show her the respect she is due,” Duala Deneira said. “But nobody is due the matriarchy. No one deserves such power, and few deserve the burdens that come with it. It is a post one can only be found worthy of holding in retrospect, and I have no hope of being judged favorably if I allowed it to devolve onto my soft-hearted, soft-headed descendant.”

“As the matriarch says,” Darek repeated.

“I feel that flutter of hope in the corner of your heart,” Duala Deneira said. “Do not be so quick to assume, Lieutenant, that I am announcing my favor for your beloved. Tell me, guardsman… would your passion towards Delia abate any if you knew she was destined never to become matriarch?”

“How bluntly shall I speak, Great Mother?” Darek asked, using the honorific inflection.

“Completely.”

“If you have no intention of stepping aside, given the candidates for your succession, then the question of that succession will, necessarily, be decided in your absence,” he said.

“Naturally.”

“That being the case, Dee may descend to the throne, whatever your wishes may be,” Darek said.

“This is true,” Duala Deneira said. “And it is also true that Dee is young. She may yet grow to be a better choice than my great-granddaughter.”

“And her other half,” Darek said.

“Too bold, Lieutenant,” the matriarch said.

“My apologies,” Darek said, bowing low. “Was I to be done speaking bluntly?”

Duala Deneira sighed.

“You have hit upon the problem,” she admitted. “Absent Durilla’s influence, Daella could be a passable if unremarkable guardian of the house. As things stand, she would be matriarch in name alone while that woman held the real power. What do you think that would do, to the trajectory of your career?”

Darek said nothing.

“Daella is petitioning me again for the right of generation,” Duala Deneira said. “Motherhood is a blessing, but she has three living children already and while she dotes on them, she scarcely spares any of them a thought when they are out of her sight. Nevertheless, I have already granted her permission, contingent on a single condition.”

“What is the condition?”

“That she accepts the goddess’s judgment,” the matriarch said. “If she is blessed with a fourth daughter, she will accept that she is not meant to have another son and she will wait to be reunited with the one she has already borne. Just how long she’ll be willing to wait is an open question, but if she is impatient enough, well… that’s one problem solved, isn’t it? Oh, don’t give me such shocked thoughts, Lieutenant… if she cannot find peace and happiness in this life, why should I stand between her and the next? I have lost better descendants than her already.”

“So, am I to provide the service in her pregnancy, then?” Darek asked.

“You know Durilla arranges for her wife’s brief alliances with men,” Duala Deneira said. “You would know better than I if she might seek you for that position. But in a manner of speaking, your services are so required. It is not likely that Daella’s entire maternity would pass with no need for her services as a double. For the deception to continue, we must remain as twins. Do you understand me?”

“I… think it might be safest if the matriarch explained her meaning fully,” Darek said.

“You are by all accounts quite a skilled lover,” she said. “I wish for you to give me a child.”

“I see,” Darek said.

“You cannot tell me you have never thought of such a thing before.”

“Not safely, no,” he agreed.

She laughed.

“I find your thoughts towards me flattering,” she said. “I hope you do not fear Delia’s reaction?”

“No, no… she’s utterly conventional in that regard,” Darek said. “She would be shocked if I refused you.”

“Then from where comes this hesitancy?” she asked. “I had not intended to bear another child, but since circumstances have so dictated, I could scarcely ask for a better match. You are of my line, are you not?”

“My mother was a soldier, but Degra Daura was her grandmother, matriarch,” Darek said.

“So, my child would have my blessings twice over,” she said. “Yet I sense the prospect fills you with a very unaccustomed sensation… is that fear?”

“Great Mother… I am accounted a good lover, yes, but what you ask of me… well, it sort of falls beyond the realm of my expertise, doesn’t it?” he admitted.

She laughed.

“No worries, Lieutenant,” she said. “I have had a man or two in my time, and though you may be younger than any of them were, some of them were equally inexperienced. I know the route well enough to guide you down it. In any event, you will need to get accustomed to this sort of thing. The more you excel in the course of your duties… as you did leading the drills before the procession… the more you will be called upon to contribute to maternity, and the less time you will have for dallying in the barracks. By the time our Delia returns from her self-imposed exile, I expect you will be quite the seasoned professional… and more than ready to give her a daughter.”

Darek swallowed.

“As you say, matriarch,” he said.

She smiled.

“Practice those words,” she said. “I will be calling for you when the shift turns.”


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7 Responses to “Bonus Story: Coming Down In The World”

  1. pedestrian says:

    The self-sacrifices that a god-king must endure!

    Current score: 0
  2. Anonymoose says:

    Has it ever been explained how genetics work in the Muniverse? If it’s anything like the real world, I have to wonder about the long term effects of what appears to be multi-generational incest, assuming I read this right.

    Current score: 4
    • Predator says:

      Not only do they have immense amounts of magic at their disposal, but they also have the literal and actual blessings of a divinity upon them. Most likely, they don’t have to worry about that kind of thing.

      Also, they aren’t human, even a little bit. Perhaps their genetics are sufficiently different that they don’t have to worry about genetic anomalies from incest.

      Current score: 4
      • BlackWizard says:

        Well I wouldn’t go QUITE that far. As far as genetics go, in a lot of ways this is like the Star Trek universe. In that although they are different species they would have to share the same genus in order to be able to interbreed with other species.

        Current score: 2
      • Athena says:

        Cheetahs are in danger of dying out because of a population bottleneck a few centuries (iirc) ago, which means the current descendants are too inbred to properly survive. Are you saying cheetahs are *not* sufficiently different from humanity?

        Trust me, the principle of – and necessity for – genetic diversity has to do with the facts of genetics and natural selection, not their content.

        The divinity, especially being one of intricacy… that I can see being a significant factor in mitigating the damage of incest. Several generations of space also helps mitigate the incest thing, and though it pretty clearly says Darek is related to the matriarch, it’s also pretty clear that it is at a remove of several generations (the actual maternal line of d’Wyr doesn’t seem to have such a benefit, but that is likely where the divinity comes in)

        Current score: 1
  3. nobody says:

    The actual question is if genetics even exist at all.
    D.N.A. may not exist to be part of reproduction at all.
    It could work by an entirely different process without involving genetic biology.
    That would be almost necessary to explain the “all sapient species can interbreed” detail without unreasonable statistical probabilities being ignored.
    It also fits with science being fictional in universe – unless Gnomes notice what they can get away with(clock and piano already acknowledged in story so far).

    Current score: 4
  4. Jechtael says:

    “And it is also true that Dee is young. She may yet grow to be a better choice than my great-granddaughter.”
    Isn’t the matriarch the grandmother of Dee’s mother? Thus making Dee her great-granddaughter (and the only one of her generation allowable as heir)?

    I wonder why Dehsah didn’t say the plums were a gift from the above world that had a stasis spell to keep them fresh. …assuming they were the plums Dee thought to send her, and not a statistically implausible coincidental basket of plums. I hope I’m not missing something about elven protocol that has already been mentioned or even explained.

    Current score: 3