by Wendy Darling (Wiebke)
Last segment in the Rescued Lives series (Deliverance, Obstacle Course, Ripening Fruit, That Was Then, This is Now, Generation Gap).
After leaving it alone for more than a year, I’m adding on a bit more to the Rescued Lives series. I just kept having ideas about how the relationships of the three hara would turn out and suddenly I had a plot outline called “Threesome” and, well, finally time to write it, done with everything else… so…
All original characters from the series: Dera, Fafara, Tishrana, Xela, Shridan, three harlings.
Obviously the previous stories in the series, especially Deliverance and That Was Then, This Is Now. No spoilers for any specific book in the Wraeththu trilogy, but it is imagined that this entire storyline takes place after the Ascension. There are still original incepted hara, but Wraeththu civilization has stablized.
That first generation hara are different from second generation hara has become a Wraeththu cliché. I’m showing my age by even mentioning it, as by this point I have harlings of my own as well as grandharlings. Reading this, they’ll probably all say “But, Dede, every generation is a little different!” Still, the differences between first and second generation could be rather striking at times, a thought that can’t help but come to mind when I look back to the time shortly after I bore my third pearl, Devath.
The pearl had only been hatched two days before when my parents Xela and Shridan arrived from the north to visit me. A few weeks earlier I’d written them a letter letting them know I was hosting. The trouble was, I had not told them who the father was.
I was early spring as I sat the living room, Devath asleep in my arms. Fafara came in to announce my parents’ arrival. Without even thinking about it, I hugged Devath just a little tighter. Of course Fafa sensed my anxiety. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Once they see their grandharling, it’ll all be fine.” He passed his lips over mine and transferred a small dose of calming energy. “Adelna and Ilish are out there with them now. I’ll keep them entertained while you get yourself and the little one prepared.”
I thanked him and a moment later he was out the door, whistling jauntily. I looked down at my harling, sleeping peacefully. He was so small then, nothing gave him greater comfort than to find himself pressed against his hosting’s chest. It had only been eight days since I birthed his pearl and I was still tired — or as Tishrana liked to put it, “feeling lazy.” I’d sat with Devath in the bedroom or living room for most of the day.
As I rose off the couch to make for the bedroom, Tishrana entered carrying the very items I was about to go looking for. Wordlessly, he held out a harling blanket. Slowly, careful not to wake him if I could help it, I slipped Devath into Tish’s arms, where he was quickly wrapped in warmth. I took the shawl Tish had thrown over his shoulder and wrapped it around my own. “You’re worth your weight in gold,” I told him. “Better believe it,” he said, smiling as he turned towards the hallway. Pulling the shawl tight against my chest, I followed him outside.
Everyone was standing by the rose garden. The weather was slightly warmer than I imagined, and one-year-old Ilish was laughing and smiling in the arms of my hostling Xela. Adelna stood next to Fafa, who was chatting with my father Shridan. My parents had always gotten along with Fafa very well, a blessing considering he had been my second consort after Ilana, my first, had been killed. They even seemed to get along with Tishrana, another great relief since, where they’re from, a household with three hara together isn’t so common. Or accepted.
“Oh, Dera!” Xela exclaimed as soon as he saw me. Turning Ilish towards me, he raised the harling arms to wave at me. “Is that your hostling, Ili? Say hello to you hostling!” Ilish giggled and reached out for me just in time for Xela to hand him over.
Meanwhile Shridan had taken Devath, who promptly woke up and stared up at his grandfather in surprise. “Oh, what beautiful green eyes he has!” he cooed. Nothing like a harling to bring my normally restrained father to the point of goofy effusiveness.
“So much like yours!” Xela added, leaning in and stroking Devath’s cheek with his finger.
“Or like Tish’s,” I remarked, for he and I had nearly the same eye color, as well as the same red hair, which Devath also shared.
“Of course,” Xela murmured, “you two do look so much alike. Ah, well, what do you think, Ili?” he asked the harling in my arms. “How do you like having a new brother?”
Ilish, precocious even for a harling, was happy to pipe up an answer. “I like him! I like him as much as my whole brother Adelna!”
“Oh, well,” I thought, “no going back now.”
My father reacted first. “Your whole brother, Ili? What do you mean?”
“Adelna is my whole brother, but Devath is my half-brother,” Ilish replied earnestly. “No difference, papa says.”
By that point Xela had moved in. “And who’s ‘papa’?” he asked, looking at the harling and then raising his eyes to me.
Tishrana was just behind me, and as I backed up against his chest, he put his arms loosely around me. “Tishrana,” I said.
Xela backed away a step, as did my father. “I can’t believe it!” Shridan burst out. “You’ve had three pearls now, and all of them by different hara!”
Promiscuity is just as common among hara as it was among humans, if not more so. The big difference was, hara don’t tend to look on it as a sin. Aruna demands being what they are and hara inclined to feed them, using aruna for magic, healing, and power generation, promiscuity just naturally figures in.
What does not figure in, at least not universally, is the notion of being not simply promiscuous but being multiply committed — as I was. Among some tribes, it is common for hara, especially powerful ones, to have more than one consort and even to father pearls by multiple consorts. This was not what I had with Fafara and Tishrana, however. Tishrana and I did not simply “share” Fafara; all three of us shared ourselves equally. We were chesnari.
My parents apparently did not fully grasp this. I’d suspected as much, but now, Xela glaring at me and Shridan suddenly handing Devath to me, so that I had to set Ilish down on the ground, the proverbial shit had hit the fan.
“Well, why don’t we all go inside,” I entreated awkwardly, adjusting Devath’s blanket and turning towards the house. “It seems to have grown a bit chilly out here.”
Tishrana scooped up Ilish and came up beside me. “They’re not happy,” he said, using our silent bond. “No kidding,” I replied. “Just bear with me, I’ll calm them down.”
My parents didn’t follow immediately, but stood on the lawn having what was quite obviously a heated, if silent, discussion. Fafara lingered behind politely, waiting to escort them, while Adelna looked between me and my parents confusedly. I’m sure my son was wondering what was going on.
I was first inside and took advantage of the opportunity to call out for Kardaram, our cook, who appeared down the hall, popping out of the kitchen. I told him to make dinner ready in an hour, sooner if he could. Next I turned to the door, which Fafara was opening for my parents. I smiled at them, hoping to appease them, but Xela looked at me and shot with me a terse mind message: “Your father and I would like to talk with you — now.”
I scowled. “Can’t this wait?” I asked. “At least until after dinner?”
I felt Devath growing uneasy, picking up on my mood, and stroked his hair soothingly. My effort was wasted, however, as immediately my hostling had my hackles up. “No, it can’t, ” he replied. “Take us somewhere where we can talk. In private.”
Tish had already settled down on the couch with Adelna and Ilish, while Fafa had moved to the side bar to prepare some light drinks. I tapped him on the shoulder. “They’ve asked to speak with me in private,” I told him silently. “That doesn’t sound good,” he replied, not turning his head as he poured the first glass of wine. “I know, but I’ll try to be quick,” I said.
My parents were still over at the entrance, arms crossed, waiting for me. “Well,” I said out loud, “I’m going to take Xela and Shridan out back for a short chat.” I stepped across the room over to Tishrana. “Could you please take Devath for me?” Tish held out his arms but Devath squawked and make it clear he didn’t want to leave his hostling. I shrugged. “All right, he comes with me then. Enjoy yourselves, we’ll be back shortly.” Gesturing for my parents to follow, I made off down the hall.
Once in my office, all of us seated, my parents didn’t confront with me quite the questions I’d expected, although we did get around to them rather quickly.
“How long since this one hatched?” Shridan asked me.
“Only two days,” I said. “He’s big though, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” Xela agreed, “he’s fairly big. So how was the birth? Hard again?”
“Oh no, much better.” Devath seemed to be struggling against his blanket so I loosened it, giving him more room for movement. “Tish and Fafa have healed me so I shouldn’t ever have any more problems.”
“You’re going to have even more harlings?” Xela asked. “Why you? Why not them?”
Their hostile attitudes were creeping back, it seemed. “Frankly, your hostling and I don’t even understand why you had this one,” Shridan commented.
“What do you mean, why I had this one?” Devath pulled on the button of my shirt and I murmured at him to stop it. “Why does one have any harling? You know I love harlings.”
“But with Tishrana?” Xela questioned. “Why not with Fafa?”
“Did Fafa make you do this?” Shridan continued. “Some sort of gesture that you accept his former lover?”
“I hate to see you being used like this,” Xela said sadly.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and stood up in protest. “What are you talking about? You know Fafa and Tish and I are chesna!” Both my parents appeared taken aback. “What, you didn’t know?”
“You never said that!” Xela protested. Shridan shook his head.
“I didn’t have to say it, did I? Come now, you know we all share the same bedroom.” Shridan rolled his eyes. “What else would that mean, father?”
He shrugged. “Xela and I weren’t sure. We thought you had an arrangement of some type. But chesna… How can that even be?”
“Easily,” I sighed. “I thought you two understood. I really did. Or at least I thought you could accept it and be happy for me. After all, I’ve got a big family, four harlings, a wonderful house, and two chesnari. What could possibly be wrong with that?”
Xela frowned indignantly at my outburst, while Shridan leaned forward in his chair, a thick finger pointed in my direction. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that!”
I couldn’t help but shake my head. There was no way they were going to convince me I was wrong; to me this argument was only about convincing them that I was right.
“Now don’t give me that look, Dera,” my father chided. “You’re not a harling and this is serious business. Xela and I are concerned for you. You’ve been away from us so long, we don’t know all that goes on in your life, and when we do find out, it’s like you’re another person, one we don’t know.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I sighed. “I haven’t changed.”
Shridan gave Xela a sidelong glance, then looked back to me. “But you have changed, Dera. Maybe you don’t realize it but you’ve become submissive. I don’t remember raising you to be submissive and neither does Xela.”
His words had me bristling with indignation. “Submissive? In what way? And why do you use the term as a pejorative?”
“Because of what I see you doing. You hosted a pearl for Tishrana, whose not your partner, but Fafara’s.”
“I just told you, he is my partner, just as much as Fafara,” I quietly insisted.
“A situation you allowed to develop only because you’ve become so submissive,” Xela suggested. “Any normal har would have put up a fight but–”
“Stop it!” I said. “I’ve told you how things are and that’s it. It has nothing to do with me ‘submitting’ to anything. It’s what I want, don’t you get it?”
“Oh, Dera, we’re sorry,” Xela responded, ignoring my question. “But your father and I have both borne two pearls each and just can’t imagine why you’d take on hosting again when you could so easily have avoided it. You should be making it more equal, like your father and I did!”
At this my little Devath finally did what I’d been expecting him to all along, which was screw up his face and burst out crying. “Oh, Dev, shhhhh, shhhhh, it’ll be over soon,” I soothed, petting his head. “Soon it’ll be all right, don’t worry.” I looked up at my parents, shooting them a look telling them to lay off the fireworks. I began to rock Devath in my arms to quiet him.
“I am not the same as you and father,” I said calmly, modulating my voice for the benefit of my harling. “I admire you both and I credit much of what I am to your guidance but apparently we must be very different. I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do. I wanted to have harlings. If you’d like me to put it completely straight to you, for the most part I’ve been soume. But you have to understand, that’s not something they’re making me do, it’s how I feel. They’re not forcing me and I’m not always that way. Even if I was always that way, so what? If it’s what I want… so why the censure?”
Shridan opened his mouth to say something but before he did, I continued on. “I can’t believe you two. Haven’t you learned anything since you were men? I am not making myself ‘lesser’ — and being a hostling or being soume does not make me ‘submissive.’ I think it’s quite possible to be a dominant soume and I think I can be and have been. So have many hara. I’ve never passively just done whatever, I’ve consented.”
My parents both appeared mollified by this short speech — and it was a speech — and for a few moments, never of them spoke. Shridan leaned back in his chair and Xela shifted in his seat. Devath by now had quieted and I patted his shoulder as I waited to hear their reaction, hoping I would have gotten to them at last. Incredible what amounts of energy we spend appeasing the people who supposedly should love and accept us no matter what.
“All right,” Xela sighed. “I’m sorry we brought it up… but it’s just a bit of a shock.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “I should have told you… or been telling you all along.” I stood up, ready to return to the rest of the family. “Why don’t we go and have our drinks, then dinner, which should be ready.”
They nodded and stood up. Moving towards the door Xela passed by my desk and glanced down. It was the ledger to my jewelry business. “Oh, I forgot to ask,” he said. “How’s your business doing? I know you mustn’t have done anything with it lately, with the pearl, but just in general?”
My grip on the doorknob tightened as I realized how they would be reacting to my answer. “Actually, I’m going to be giving it up again, at least as a full-time profit venture. At least while Devath is small, maybe for a year or so. Like I did for Ilafa and Adelna.”
Shridan hissed between his teeth. “Dera, that is just what we were just talking with you about. You’re letting those two take advantage of you. There are two other hara here, why do you have to give up your livelihood when they could be–”
“Because it’s fine!” I interrupted. Devath was getting upset again so I kept myself from saying anything else. “Now let’s go back to the others. I don’t want to hear any more of this.”
I turned away from then and twisted the doorknob. I had always enjoyed my parents visits. Now I was wondering if I’d want them back again.
I pulled the door open, in a rush to get back to the living room, only to find my path blocked by Tishrana, whose hand was poised in mid-air, apparently caught in the act of knocking.
“What!” I snapped hastily, before I could stop myself. I did not like the idea that Tish might have been eavesdropping on my little family discussion.
“Um, sorry,” he mumbled, abashed. “I was just going to tell you dinner’s ready.” From his expression it was clear he had not, in fact, been eavesdropping.
“Thank you,” I replied, contrite. “Sorry,” I told him silently. “Problems.”
I stepped out into the hall and waited for my parents to follow on out, which Tish held the door for them. To my mind, they ignored the courtesy quite pointedly.
One they reached the living room, ahead of us, Tish kissed me on the cheek. “Poor, Dera, ” he whispered into my mind, “put upon by everyone.” He reached over and took our son. “Least I can do,” he said, to which I smiled. He was a very good father.
Shridan and Xela were both smiling and friendly with Fafara and my other sons, I noticed as I followed them towards the savoury-smelling dining room. Seating themselves at the oval table, they took the two spaces at the end, so that Adelna and little Ilish were to their right, leaving Tishrana and I to sit at the opposite end. Was this adversarial arrangement intentional, I wondered?
As I took my seat, Tish pulled the cradle over from the corner and put it down between our chairs. Devath fussed briefly, but a quick touch to the forehead from his father, no doubt filled with calming energy, was enough to settle him down, hopefully for the duration of the meal. Tish sat down and with that, we were ready to eat.
The meal went by fairly pleasantly at first, I must say. I haven’t always been good about communicating with them, but in general we got along very well and I think they were trying to live up to that past harmony, if only for the benefit of the family as a whole. They did reserve most of their conversation for Fafara and Adelna, however.
When I turned to Devath to feed him some food off my plate, spooning some mashed sweet potatoes into his greedy but smiling mouth, Tish touched my elbow. “Don’t let them get to you,” he told me silently.
Kardaram was bringing out the desert before Xela finally directed some attention to my end of the table. “So, Tishrana, how’s bookselling?”
Eager to please, as well as honestly enthused about his business, Tish smilingly shared with them his pleasure at a recent surge in sales, thanks to some contacts that my parents had provided some months earlier. “My client base is expanding quite a bit actually. In two weeks, I’ll be traveling to Jael soon. If I can hook up with some of their presses, it will be fantastic. And if that weren’t enough, Adelna is actually going with me.”
“Oh?” Shridan asked. “As an assistant?”
“Well, that’s some of it… but more importantly, I’m trying to arrange for him to visit with some of the artists,” he explained, beaming at what was in effect his stepson. “If possible, we may try to arrange an apprenticeship. Adelna’s very gifted.”
“A credit to his parents, I agree,” Shridan said, “although I expect the artistic talent can easily be traced to Dera.”
For all it was a compliment to me personally, there was something proprietary about this statement that I didn’t quite like, and I soon found out what it was. Presentiment.
“Yes,” Xela said, “Dera’s always had a gift. It was lovely to see him grow into it as a harling and move on to becoming a jeweler, especially when he became so successful. A pity he’s had to give it up, isn’t it?”
Anger shot through me but before I could even vent it, my father dared expand on this offensive line of conversation. “It could be very good for his business, travel to Jael. Even so, I expect he’ll enjoy seeing all the art.”
I looked to Tishrana, who blinked and let his mouth open for just a moment before speaking. “Actually, Dera’s not coming with me.”
The meltdown after that came swiftly. “Oh? Why is that?”
Tishrana, not knowing of the conversation in the study earlier, answered the question honestly. “Well, we’ve discussed it and with little Devath come along, we think it would be better if he stayed here. Besides, he’s offered to help manage my business affairs while I’m away. We’ll be gone for over a month.”
My parents glanced at one another, exchanges silent words, I am sure. They pushed away their desert dishes. “Tishrana,” my father asked quietly, “could you please come with Xela and I for a little chat?”
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Devath began to cry immediately. I went to shush him but found my own eyes filling with tears as well. With a mumbled “Excuse me,” I stumbled out of my chair, scooped up the harling and abruptly left the room.
“Dera!” I heard them call — Tish, my parents… all of them!
Without turning my back, I headed to the bedroom, where I could cry in private. Before closing the door, I shouted down the hall: “Tish, why don’t you chat with my parents about what hotel they should stay in tonight before they leave tomorrow?!”
If I hadn’t had little Devath with me, I would have thrown myself down on the bed and thrashed about like a harling.
That’s what I felt like doing — hardly proper for a full-grown har of Brynie caste, especially not in front of an impressionable newborn. While it was true I had just finished hosting, that wasn’t much of an excuse. Hara aren’t supposed to be dominated by their emotions, but are supposed to be aware of them and express them as part of the whole of our being. Of course, at that moment, I wasn’t quite so reflective, although I did manage to keep myself from bawling.
I set Devath down on the bed and wiping my tears, began to pace back and forth, trying to calm myself down. He looked at me oddly, his little harling brain not so much understanding what was wrong as feeling it. After a minute or so, I sat down next to him. “I know, Dev, I’m sorry…” I said. “Your hostling’s a little upset. Don’t worry, it’ll all be better soon.”
I smiled at him rather weakly and flopped back onto the soft coverlet. I was so sick of my parents, I could hardly stand it! I hadn’t been so angry with them since my Feybraiah. They’d told me they’d never seen a harling get such a wild temper. Of course this time it was more than just powerful body chemistry taking me over, but a reaction to the utterly tactless manner my parents had been displaying since they arrived.
What was the deal with all those “little chats” they had called? And calling me submissive? And why and how had their memories been utterly wiped of all those things I’d told them about Tishrana and Fafara? Well, actually not so much told them as expected them to understand. They’d seen us all together, it should have been be obviously — at least I thought so. Now we were going to have to go over it all over again and explain it, sometime or other. Presumedly tomorrow, assuming they even stayed in town.
Such were my thoughts when about five minutes later, I heard a knock on the door. Startled, I sat up and brushed back my hair. I was about to call out a grumpy “Who is it?” when a second knock came and let me know that wasn’t necessary. This wasn’t one of my partners or my parents knocking, but little Ilish.
I got up and opened the door. In the hall I looked down at my son and held out my hand. “Come on,” I said. Glancing down the hall, I saw Adelna watching me, the good older brother as always, making sure his brother was all right. Inclining his head, he headed back towards the dining room.
Back inside the room, Ilish was climbing onto the bed. Devath was chattering harling nonsense to himself but Ilish was actually being quiet, somber even. I sat down beside him. “So, what brings you here?” I asked. With a hostling’s instincts, I knew he was worried about something.
“Dede crying!” he burst out. “Crying and sad!”
He had that right. “That’s true, Ili, but I’ll be better soon. Don’t worry.”
Reaching over, I pulled him to me. Just as I was going to hold him in my arms, he suddenly said, “Grandparents sad too!”
“Your grandparents are sad?” I asked. I was doubtful I’d get any real information from a one-year-old harling, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.
“Sad!” he said emphatically. “They talk. I sad too.”
“I told you not to worry. Nothing is going to change.” I hugged him and hoped I was right.
It was probably twenty minutes later when, deciding I’d simply wait it out in the bedroom until I heard something, I suddenly knew someone was at the door. They didn’t knock, but I knew it all the same. It was my parents and they were calling my name with their minds. Their mindvoice was surprisingly gentle.
Gathering up Devath, who had ironically become a bit of a security blanket for me that day, I let them know they could come in. When Ilish saw them come through the door, he popped off the bed and “hid” under the nightstand.
“Now, now, no need to hide from us, Ilish,” Xela chided gently, “though I understand why you did, Dera.” In one fluid motion, he slid down onto the bed beside me and kissed me on the forehead. “I’m sorry.”
Pulling back, he looked up at my father, who seemed similarly contrite. “I’m sorry too. We… we got a little out of hand.”
Swallowing, I pressed back a tear with the back of my hand. “I knew you’d be upset but I never thought you didn’t–”
“Hush,” Xela interrupted. “We all were thinking lots of things, but apparently we were wrong. We need to talk more.”
“Definitely!” Shridan seconded, moving to sit on my other side. “Dera, it’s not that we disagree with or disapprove of what you’ve done with your life, it’s just that we’re concerned, especially when we hear these things all of a sudden and have no idea of what’s really going on. How were we to know you weren’t letting them take advantage of your or hurt you?”
I wondered what had brought on this sudden change of heart. “And now you do know they’re not?” I asked.
Xela nodded. “I think so. Your chesnari explained. In fact, Adelna explained it too. Even Ilish had a word to say!” He leaned forward and waved to the little one. “Didn’t you? You said we made your Dede cry.”
“We had a talk,” my father continued. “And soon we saw how quick we had been to judge you. We meant well but… We didn’t mean to be so dominating.”
“Maybe you’re not dominating, I’m just extra ‘submissive,'” I joked, then held up my hand. “Just kidding. Thank you for your understanding.”
We all hugged one another then. Ilish popped out from under the table when we felt he was being left out, while Devath relaxed for the first time in a couple of hours.
There was another knock on the door and soon Fafara, Tishrana and Adelna were with us too.
“It’s peace then?” Fafa asked.
“I think so,” I said. “I mean, we’ve all been in this small room together and there’s no blood.”
“Mightn’t we go back out to the living room?” Tish suggested. “Have a civilized conversation perhaps?”
“It would be nice to finish off that cake…” I admitted, rising up from the bed. “Then maybe some wine too? A toast?”
“A toast,” Shridan agreed. “To open ears and open hearts.”
And with that, and Ilish’s battle cry of “Cake!” we were once again one big happy family. And while I won’t say I never had another spat with my parents, from that moment on, the generation gap began to shrink.