Sex and Politics
Thelana walked like a caged battle cat about the beautiful surroundings of their bedchambers, with its twin-pillared arcades, chandelier oil lamps, and seashell shaped fountains. “Of all the spoiled brats!” she muttered. “If I ever step foot onto paved earth again, it will be too soon!”
“Hush!” It was Emma. “You’re going to get us executed!”
“Oh, honestly, I could take out these guards, and that runt Cambses, with my bare hands! The door’s not even locked, I should–”
“Patience,” Xandr interjected. “There are more things going on here than meet the eye.”
“I agree,” said Emma.
“Notice that she did not send us to the dungeons, when Cambses clearly wanted to? They did not even take our weapons. We are guests, not prisoners.”
Thelana continued to pace, bounding with uncontainable energy. “Guests that can’t leave?”
“We are being held for some higher purpose, it would seem,” said Emma. “Say what you will of the queen, but she is no dolt.”
Not listening, the girl from Ilmarinen rambled on, “I bet she sleeps on silk sheets every night! And sips from golden spoons! . . . A new one for each meal! She thinks she’s so high and mighty, but in the jungle she’d be no more than prey, no more than bait. I even doubt–”
Boot steps and a creak of door hinges and she was silenced. A guard stood beneath the arch. He addressed Xandr directly, “the queen wishes to see you, alone.”
Xandr followed the guard a short while into a vast recess, bordered by the inner walls of the ziggurat, yet open to the sky above. At its center was a rectangular pool of greenish waters, framed by a concentric hedge maze of exotic flowers. Tending to the garden was Queen Frazetta herself, as bejeweled as upon her throne. Her dress draped to the ground from the hoops at her wrists, and shimmered in the sunlight between green and blue. Her substantial breasts and pointed nipples were left bare, framed between the sarong tied about her belly and a cascade of gold necklaces. Upon seeing Xandr, she moved to a near fountain and rinsed her hands, then turned to the guard. “Leave us.”
“But, your Highness, you would be unprotected.”
“I won’t ask twice,” she commanded, and the guard backed away.
Xandr remained silent and apprehensive.
She walked toward him, and as her dress shifted he noticed she was barefoot. She smiled. “You must forgive my rudeness in the throne room today . . . I must maintain a stalwart appearance, otherwise, the guards themselves might assassinate me.”
“You sound like a prisoner,” he replied.
“I am, in a way, a prisoner of politics. It is the lament of all rulers, I believe. But it is a life I have known since birth. Why do you think the kings of old built this magnificent garden? I could never step foot beyond these walls. The untouchables would tear me apart.”
“It is a lovely hideaway. Such flowers are rarely found in the wild.”
“Do you like it? I am pleased. It is my only respite from my duties to the Empire. I come to be at peace with my thoughts. Come, walk with me.”
He followed her through a narrow passage lined by tall shrubbery, and as they were now hidden, he did not imagine anyone could stop him should he choose to strangle her. “You know,” she said, “Thetis was not always part of the Empire. This place was built centuries ago, when Hedonia was but a small city. When my great ancestor, Suppilumiuma the First, conquered it, its culture meshed with ours. They never lost their old ways though; they merely learned new ones.”
“Have you brought me here for a history lesson?”
“I’ve brought you here for two reasons that I shall shortly explain. But first, let me show you something.” She led him further, then pulled her long sleeve away to reveal a single flower, leaving him speechless. It was as large as a wild tulip, glistening with dew in the sunlight, its petals layered with oranges and violets, more vivid than any in the garden.
“By the Goddess!” he said softly, and motioned as if to touch it. “I thought they were no more.”
“Ilm–ari–nen,” she pronounced. “Nen means ‘the land’ and ilm is–”
“The flower,” he answered. “Land of the Ilms. I had forgotten just how beautiful they are. They don’t grow there anymore, I don’t believe. And they do not thrive long in captivity—they need wilderness to bloom.”
“Well, it would appear I hold one in my possession, to do with as I please . . .,” she eyed him, contemplating his features. “Take it. Offer it to your mate.”
“No, I couldn’t,” he replied. “Once broken from its stem, the ilm would begin to wilt, and . . . and Thelana would mourn for her lost country, should she behold it. Why . . . why show this to me?”
“I wanted you to see that I am not my brother. He was an overzealous fool, believing only that Hedonian customs mattered, and that in conquering all Enya, he would make of it one society. But even under centuries of control, Thetis remains little changed. Under my rule, Ilmarinen would be no differently affected. You could keep your Goddess, and go on living shamelessly in the nude, as you do. I have no qualm with your traditions.”
“Ilmarinen is lost,” he replied, “nor could it ever be, under foreign domination, no matter how benign. Ilmarinen is not Thetis. You cannot depose one ruler for another. We had no kings, no queens. We were free. And do not think that in baring your bosom to me, you might win my favor.”
She laughed, fingering a nipple as if noticing it for the first time. “Oh . . . did you believe the Queen of Hedonia would expose herself for just such a reason? You’ve let slip your ignorance! For the highborn ladies of Thetis . . . this is a traditional garment.”
She stepped closer now, enough for him to feel her breath. “But if you so desire, I could strip this off, and you your kilt, and we could see where it would lead us.”
“As you are not Ilmarin,” he replied, “I believe it would take us where I do not wish to go.”
She persisted, pressing her bosom against his, “Why do you resist, when you can take me here and now, in the garden? No one will see. It would be quick, and meaningless. Or do you not believe in pleasure for pleasure’s sake?”
Already he could feel the lust swelling in him, but remembering Thelana, he pushed her away. “Keep as you are! And I will do likewise.”
“Do you think me chaste?” she answered, clawing playfully at his chest. “I am a queen! And I am bored of the stock from my guards. I yearn for flesh seasoned in battle, for a rare, Ilmarin breed.”
“You’re nothing but a whore!” he exclaimed, throwing her back.
She smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” Righting herself, ironing the creases in her dress, she continued as if nothing uncommon had taken place. “On to the subject of Thetis. This city has always been ruled by a monarch. It was not difficult, therefore, to assume the status of queen, after all other heirs were done away with, of course.”
“There were others?” he asked.
“Naturally. But they were unfit to rule, and so I had to make certain arrangements, you understand?”
His eyes narrowed. “I do.”
“Never could I have imagined that the governor of Thalassar would challenge me!”
“And by what right does he claim authority?”
“By divine right! Recall that Hedonia is a theocracy, so my idiot brother tried to convert all the colonies, to worship Hedonian gods, to worship Sargon. Under Hedonian law, it is Sargon who rules the Empire. The High Priest acts as the mouth of Sargon. So after the death of my brother, the governor of Thalassar proclaimed himself as the new High Priest, and the colonies devoted to Sargon followed him! It is an outrage!”
“And so it comes down to war with Thalassar, is that it?”
“No,” she replied. “War might still be avoided. According to law, the position of High Priest must be selected, upon the deathbed of the former, and for this my ancestors have been selected for generations. To thwart the governor’s claim and ensure legitimacy, I intend to carry out my own ritual, pronouncing me both queen and high priestess. But to do so, I need two things: the sacred scrolls upon which the laws of my Empire have been set down, and a sacred relic, the Trident Scepter of Sargon. The High Priest, as a symbol of divine authority, carries it always. Perhaps you have seen such a relic?”
“I believe I have. It was the top of the staff carried by Urukagina, a small trident with golden prongs in a circle.”
“Then you must retrieve it for me, and the scrolls.”
“Why not fashion your own?”
“Impossible,” she said. “The scepter is from the time of Suppilumiuma, and has all the weathering of time. A forgery would appear to be just that, and if the governor were to attain the true scepter, I would be made to look illegitimate. As for the scrolls, there have never been copies made, as it is considered blasphemy to do so, and even the magistrates of Thetis, who know it by word, could never write it in the exquisite calligraphy of my great ancestor.”
Xandr thought carefully, assessing the consequences of his answer. “. . . Should I obtain the scepter and the scrolls for you, would you make peace with the merquid?”
“Impossible. The citizens are so filled with dread and hatred that not even I can abate it. Should I even suggest peace, they would mutiny against me.”
“Then loose the merquid child to the sea.”
“You still dwell on that? Strange where your loyalties lie . . .” She sighed with resignation. “Very well, if his execution has not been carried out, he will be freed. But you did not come here as an ambassador for the merquid, did you?”
“No,” he replied.
“A campaign to the Dark Side would be costly, but may also prove profitable, and an empire is not an empire if it is not expanding.”
“Make me this oath, then, to do as you have spoken, that should you break it, the fate of Thetis will be as that of Hedonia.”
“I swear it. I swear to Sargon, and to all the gods, may their wrath not fall upon me.”
“Tell me then: what must I do?”
“You will go with Cambses and a party of fifty men, and return to the city, to the ruins of Hedonia. Seek out the place where Urukagina died and bring back the sacred relics.”
“And why not send Cambses alone?”
“Because you, Batal of Legend, managed to bring me the head of the Dark Centaur. That tells me you are a man above others, and it is just such a man that I need. What was once a capital is now a graveyard, where a hundred thousand angry spirits reside, drowned in a single, terrible moment, without the proper rites of cremation to send them to the next plane. The ruins are cursed. Of all the parties I have sent out to retrieve the relics, none have returned.”