maculategiraffe: (Default)
[personal profile] maculategiraffe
Okay, it ain't much for such a long wait, but it's the second-to-last chapter of Maiden, and I think I've got the last chapter worked out, and then quite a bit of the next story written, which is an immediate sequel and really only separated for stylistic purposes. So.

(Also, totally unrelated, except that the song I picked to go with this entry is one of the songs on my kickass new workout playlist that is enabling me to do seven miles per workout on the treadmill [impressive for me, okay!] and contract enormous blisters on my feet without even noticing because the music is so kickass,* and another kickass song from the playlist is available as a free mp3 download on Amazon at the moment, so everybody should get it: Shout Out Louds, "Walls")

*For the record, the playlist:

"99 Luftballons" by Nena
"Crash Years" by New Pornographers
"Crying Lightning" by Arctic Monkeys
"Your Hands (Together)" by New Pornographers
"Walls" by Shout Out Louds
"The Blues Are Still Blue" by Belle & Sebastian
"Red Alert" by Basement Jaxx
"Bottle After Bottle" by the Headliners
"Dog Days Are Over" by Florence + The Machine
"You Do Run" by Cocktail Slippers
"Pandemonium" by Pet Shop Boys
"One Word" by Velocity Girl
"Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Part II" by Flaming Lips
"Conversation 16" by the National
"(There's Not Enough Songs About) Squash" by Darren Hanlon)


Sean was feeling much more anxious than he'd expected to feel the day after successfully losing his maidenhead. His mother hadn't written him back yet-- well, of course she hadn't, she probably hadn't even gotten the letter yet, but still, he was dreading her response when she learned how badly he'd behaved with Rita already, even if she did believe him about how sorry he was. Nick and Jonas were being grim and silent, and Kyle and Drew were gone, to the center Sean couldn't even think about without coming close to panic. They'd both been nervous at breakfast, and had hardly eaten; Kyle had hugged Sean goodbye, which was a pleasant surprise, but then he'd left, along with Drew and Rita, which left Sean much more alone than he wanted to be right now.

It didn't help steady his nerves when, on his way into the library in hopes of finding some soothing and engaging reading material, he collided with Carol, who administered a shock to his upper arm where he'd carelessly bumped against her.

He dropped to his knees, bowing his forehead to the floor in apology, hoping she didn't decide to punish him further for his clumsiness, not when Rita wasn't here to stop her. She might be reprimanded later for using her power against a man under another woman's protection, but that didn't do Sean any good now.

"I'm sorry," said Carol, sounding more impatient than apologetic. "I didn't mean to. Get up, you're fine."

Sean rose obediently to his feet, his knees unsteady.

"Don't be a baby," said Carol irritably. "I barely touched you. I'm sorry," she repeated, still not very graciously, as Leah suddenly appeared behind her.

"Leave Sean alone," said Leah firmly to Carol. "Go to your room and do some focus exercises."

Carol rolled her eyes and huffed off, leaving Sean trembling against the doorframe.

"Don't worry," said Leah, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "She won't harm you. She knows better."

Sean nodded gratefully.

"Especially now that you're official," Leah added, smiling. "I'm sure that's a good feeling."

Involuntarily, Sean thought of the previous night, when Rita had taken him to her bed; she'd ridden him to his climax, which hadn't taken long, and then she'd coaxed him back to hardness with the touch of her hands and her power and eventually her mouth, the very idea of which-- a woman taking a man into her mouth!-- he still found so unbelievable that he'd stiffened at once and she'd climbed on top of him again. The sight of her above him, face bright with exertion and pleasure, and the way her mouth opened and stretched into a smile when she climaxed herself, her power simmering across his skin like an invisible net of vibrations and light--

"My goodness," said Leah, laughing. "I guess it is a good feeling."

Sean blushed furiously, realizing he was physically aroused enough at the memory that Leah could tell.

"You poor boy, you're just a bundle of butterflies," said Leah, more seriously. "I don't blame you. Sit down and read a little-- it will calm your nerves. I'll make sure Carol doesn't bother you."

He smiled at her with real gratitude, and she took his hand to lead him into the library.

"Sit down," she said, gesturing him towards an armchair. "What would you like to read? I'll find you something."

"I--" Sean hesitated. "Uh-- Leah? Can I-- may I ask you something?"

"Sure," she said readily, sitting down in a chair opposite him. "What's on your mind?"

"Did the ritual, uh--" He wasn't sure how to say what he meant. "Did it-- was there anything wrong, about how it went?"

"No, honey," said Leah, firmly, but without surprise, which just fueled his suspicions. "It went just fine."

"I just-- the, um, the woman in black," he pursued, nervously, hoping Leah was as patient as she seemed. "She acted sort of-- angry. Afterwards. I thought maybe-- I--"
"You didn't do anything wrong, sweetie," said Leah. "Judith was annoyed with the magistra, not with you."

"But that means something did go wrong," Sean protested.

Leah sighed. "I can't talk to you about what happened inside the circle, Sean. If you really want to know, you should ask the magistra. But it's nothing to do with you."

Sean felt that if something had gone wrong with the ritual where he'd been deflowered by the magistra, it most certainly was to do with him, but he'd already been argumentative enough. He bowed his head.

"Let me find you something nice to read," said Leah.

She got up and disappeared between two shelves, to return after a few moments with a thick leatherbound volume. "You might find this interesting."

"Thank you," said Sean, accepting the book and looking at the title: The Origins of Power.

"You're welcome," said Leah, as Sean opened the book and started to read, or at least try to read; the book wasn't actually very interesting, mostly ancient history, and he had too much else to worry about. He had no idea how long he'd been staring at the same sentence about ministers of God in Salem when a hand on his shoulder nearly scared him to death; he looked up to see his protectrix smiling at him in apparent amusement. Leah was nowhere in sight.

"It's only me," Rita said, and handed him a letter. "This just came."

Sean's heart leaped and twisted in his breast as he recognized his mother's handwriting.

"May I--" he asked Rita, and she said, "Of course."

He broke the seal and opened the letter, his hands trembling-- there was more than one page-- and read:

My dear son,

When I first knew you were going to be a boy, I was full of sadness and grief. Not because I couldn't love a boy, my beautiful Sean, but because I knew I was going to love you, and I knew I could only keep you safe for so long, and never completely. Your father cried over you when you were born, and so did I. We loved you so much. And we agreed, on that day when you were born, never to have another child, because if it was a girl we would have to honor her over you, and if it was another boy we would have to be afraid for him as we were for you.

I am so proud of your courage, my dearest and only child, and I am so proud that you have submitted to all the terrible things you have suffered with a meek and humble spirit. I was afraid you would let suffering make you rough or bitter, but you did not, and you are as sweet and dear as the boy I have remembered. And I am more than proud that you have pleased the magistra with your good behavior. She is so gentle with you and speaks so highly of you to me, I know she has forgiven you for any disobedience. If you show her the same submissive respect and devotion as your protectrix that you always showed me as your mother, she can never have any cause to be dissatisfied with you, though you must accept any discipline she visits on you meekly and gratefully, understanding that discipline is one way a protectrix helps a man in her care.

I fear my own discipline was too rare and not firm enough, because I never wanted to hurt you. That was my mistake as your mother and your protectrix, because the power of Gaia is pain to men, but it is a pain that brings understanding, of your place in the world and the reverence and obedience you owe all women. My unwillingness to teach you in that way was a weakness in me, and it was my fault you went to the center, where you suffered far more terribly to learn the same lessons I failed to give you. But I have been punished enough in the last two years, and I have cried out in my heart to the wise and mighty goddess who watches over us all, and begged forgiveness for my failures as a mother, and mercy for my innocent child. And Gaia heard me, my darling, and redeemed you from your suffering, and brought you back into my life, by way of the magistra. I can ask nothing more of the goddess except that she favor you with the ability to help your protectrix to a daughter, and for this I pray night and day.

If Gaia does not favor you in this way, though, and if the magistra's wish is to withdraw her protection from you for that reason, I know the magistra will not be so cruel as to send you again to a place where I cannot find you and help you. My power is small, and if you displease your protectrix I cannot save you, but she is merciful and will forgive you for small faults if you show her how great your desire is to be a good and humble servant of her womb.

May the goddess continue to watch over you and show you her favor, my precious son, as you strive in all ways to please the wonderful protectrix with whom she has blessed you. May the magistra see in you the sweetness of spirit that brought me such joy when you lived in my house, and may she care for you as tenderly as could be wished even by,

Your loving mother.

When he was finished, Sean swallowed and offered the letter back to Rita, who said, "I won't read it if you'd rather I didn't."

"I don't mind," said Sean, and Rita took the letter and read it silently and without any visible change in expression. When she was finished, she handed it to Sean again.

"Come with me," she said, and he rose to obey.

Rita led him along a few unfamiliar turns to a door that led outside, into unexpectedly bright sunshine that made Sean blink, then across a grassy green lawn into a stand of trees that cast a dappled and shifting shade in the slight breeze. Rita sat down on a patch of leafy, twiggy dirt and motioned to Sean to do the same; he did so, awkwardly, still clutching his mother's letter tightly in his hand.

"Leah tells me you have questions about the maidenhead ritual," Rita said. "She says you noticed Judith wasn't entirely happy, at the end. Let me explain."

Sean nodded, not sure why she was volunteering an explanation she obviously didn't owe him, but glad she was; if something had gone wrong with what might have been the most important ritual of his life, he was anxious to know what.

"You probably understood," said Rita, "that the business of directing power into the dagger was to show my discipline. Before entrusting a maiden to a woman, the tradition is that other women must approve her control. It started in the first years of the power, when it became clear that it was a risk to men, women losing control. You-- men-- when you lose your maidenheads, your sensations, your energy, when we pick up on it, can get very intense. It can feel, to us, as if we're in danger. There can be-- if the woman doesn't have good control-- there can be accidents. Casualties."

Sean nodded again. The idea that men getting hurt during sex might be because of women feeling frightened intrigued him-- it seemed so upside down, but in view of world history, maybe it wasn't so crazy. Men used to be able to hurt women.

"So the tradition started," Rita continued. "The woman shows her control, directs the power into the dagger, and then she gives herself the cut, so that the body has time to absorb the adrenaline reaction before she touches the man. It's a safeguard. If the control isn't good enough, the witnesses stop the ritual."

She looked at Sean, who looked back, hoping his face illustrated his interest and comprehension.

"But Judith noticed that I was-- touching you-- you know, to--" Unexpectedly, Rita blushed. "To-- arouse you. With my power. She hadn't seen that before. And she, well, she didn't approve. She felt it was too dangerous, that I could easily have-- slipped-- and hurt you."

"But you didn't," said Sean.

"No," Rita agreed. "The witnesses could tell you weren't in pain, so the ritual went ahead, and it was fine. Judith simply felt she ought to address the issue with me. I've been blessed with an immense degree of power, and it could-- for the men under my protection-- if I'm not careful--"

Sean, listening and watching her face, saw, to his utter astonishment, two tears slip from her eyes and down her cheeks as her voice broke and stopped.

"Magistra?" he whispered, and she looked up at him, smiling as more tears slid down her face.

"Sean," she said, and a warm, tingling sensation awoke in the skin of his lips for a moment, then faded, as if something invisible had kissed him.

Sean pressed her hand slightly between his fingers, feeling himself begin to tremble; the intimacy of the touch, of the gentleness of her power caressing his lips, was almost too much to bear.

"You like that?" she asked softly, and it happened again, the shimmer of heat on his mouth, longer and more intense this time, so that he opened his mouth involuntarily, trying to kiss back.

Then she leaned forward and did kiss him, sliding her arms around him and kissing him thoroughly on the mouth. He quivered inside the circle of her arms, letting her lips and tongue caress his, moving only to give her better access. When she pulled away, there were still tears on her cheeks, but no more were brimming in her eyes.

"I come to this place to pray," she said softly. "I need to pray, now, for guidance. Did your mother ever pray in your presence?"

Startled, Sean nodded. His mother had prayed while holding him before, about him and for him, but it had never occurred to him that he might be present while a magistra prayed. The idea was frightening, like the idea of being inside a cast circle, but Rita hadn't let any harm come to him in a circle yet, and he didn't think she'd have proposed praying near him if she'd expected it to hurt him.

"Then," said Rita, "you know you must be silent while I am speaking to my holy mother. And you must be still while I listen for her voice."

Sean nodded again, licking his lips nervously. Rita closed her eyes and placed both her hands, palms upward, on her knees.

"Holy goddess," she said, and her voice had the same soft, reverent quality that Julia's acquired when she prayed, a tone strange to hear in a woman's voice, though common enough in a well-behaved man's. "I believe you have given Sean into my care, to end his suffering, and that of his mother, who loves him so dearly. I thank you for honoring me with this responsibility, and I thank you for Sean, for his sweet spirit and his will to obedience and devotion. I ask for your guidance as I teach and protect him."

There was a long silence, during which Sean watched her face and waited patiently. Finally she spoke again.

"Mother," she said, and almost before she had completed the word, two more tears spilled from her closed eyes and down her cheeks. "Mother, I made mistakes with Kyle, terrible ones, and I still don't really know-- what they were. I need you to help me understand, so that I don't make the same mistakes with Sean. Please don't let me make the same mistakes with Sean. It doesn't matter whether he gives me a child or not. What matters--"

She opened her eyes and reached out to Sean, who held very still as she laid one hand on his head and took his hand with the other. Then she closed her eyes again and continued, "What matters is that I be the instrument of your will in his life. You've given him to me. I don't want to disappoint you this time. Please help me."

She was quiet for a very long time then, still with one hand on Sean's head and the other clasping his hand. Sean tried to breathe steadily and quietly and not move a muscle to disturb her.

"So mote it be," she said at last, and took her hand off Sean's head, opening her eyes. She still held Sean's hand.

"I need to tell you something," she said quietly. "But it's very important that you don't tell anyone else. I could enforce your silence, but I think I can trust you not to speak of something when I tell you that it's in confidence. Am I right? Can I trust you?"

Sean started to nod, and then, feeling that the solemnity of her question needed more of an answer than just a gesture, said, "Yes, magistra. You can trust me."

"Good," said Rita. "I need to tell you-- but not here. Inside. I'll cast a circle, for privacy, and so I can show you something."

"Show me what?" Kyle asked warily, his back against the closed office door, as Emily paced out the steps of her circle in the center of the floor.

"Something I'd wager Rita never showed you," Emily answered. "You need to know what happened to our sister. Viviane."

More Daughterverse!

Date: 2010-07-25 06:02 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] eileenlufkin
Yay! I'm looking forward to the reveal.


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