Authors: Yamila Abraham
They headed off to the stairs together.
“Are you hungry?” Lysanter said.
“That means yes, correct?”
They went down the opposite stairs and then into a formal dining area with tables that were low to the floor and surrounded by pillows.
Soft music with jangly notes was playing.
He sat at an intimate table and gestured for Lenora to sit perpendicular to him.
“Dornovonian cuisine is centered around a spice made from a dried mollusk.”
He looked over a menu sheet.
Lenora was staring at him.
“How long are these games going on for?”
“And in three days you think you’re going to make me fall in love with you and want to marry you?”
Lysanter lowered his menu.
“In three days I’m going to make sure you understand that you can trust me and that I will respect you.
“You think that’s all that’s required?”
“It’s a start.
It’s what a loving marriage can be built on.
I’d like to think that I could love you, Lenora, but I’m still determining your character.
On my end of it, it matters little if I come to love you or not.
I’m one of the lucky few who can have a wife.
If I could just make you happy, then I’d be satisfied.
I’d be pleased to be with you whether I could love you or not.
On your end of it things are more complicated.
I have all the control.
You’re at a disadvantage.
You need to be assured that I won’t take advantage of my power over you.
That I would respect you.
I’m going to prove that to you, Lenora.
I’ll show you that you’re safe with me.”
Lenora’s eyes lowered.
She looked to be taking in the words as deeply as Lysanter wished.
After a while she said, “If you’re really as nice as you say—then you got saddled with the worst bride of the bunch.”
“I don’t agree.”
“That’s because you don’t know anything about me.”
“I know enough to want to protect you.”
She looked up at him without lifting her head.
Once again Lysanter wished to take her hand.
He ached to have any form of contact with her.
A Dornovonian server came and knelt his front legs on an available pillow seat.
Lysanter ordered for both of them.
The sever stole a thorough look at Lenora and then left.
“Even if you can convince me that you’re the one Dak-Hiliah who’s not a war-mongering elitist megalomaniac religious fanatic—“
Lysanter’s eyes widened.
Each word felt like a dart thrown at his chest.
“—there’s still our physical incompatibility.
You can’t charm away that reality.”
He composed himself.
“What are you referring to?”
Lenora’s cheeks flushed with the lightest touch of red.
“You know what.”
“I truly don’t.”
The server brought them two glasses of refreshment each and then left.
“Your thing!” Lenora said in a whispered shout.
“You’re monstrously huge.”
Now Lysanter felt like blushing.
Again, he composed himself.
“We’re not…physically incompatible.
He cleared his throat.
“Certainly we’re larger than human males, but this hasn’t been an issue.”
How had the conversation turned to such crassness?
This was the last thing he wanted to discuss while he was trying to reassure her.
Lenora wrapped her hands around a cup.
She avoided his eyes.
“It should be an issue.
If you actually cared about injuring us you would give a damn.”
Lysanter felt mind-boggled.
“I wouldn’t cause you injury, Lenora.”
Her whisper was sharp enough to sound like a hiss.
“I heard this from more than one of your ex-wives.
They were put in the slave colony when you guys divorced them.
The cat’s out of the bag, alright?
Lysanter rubbed his hand over his face.
“Lenora, I swear to you, those women exaggerated.
If they were injured it was due to…lack of preparation.
Such a thing is easily avoided.”
She closed her eyes.
“I wish I never brought it up.
What’s the point of even talking about it?”
“I have to talk about it because it’s not true.
You’re allowed to reject me if you think I’m repulsive or conniving.
I can accept that.
But to reject me because of a myth?
One that’s easy enough to disprove?
She glowered at him.
Now he felt cornered.
How did he intend to disprove it?
An idea shined through his mild panic.
“May I show you a picture from a Dak-Hiliah anatomy book?”
He reached into a side compartment of his hip armor.
“Not at the table.”
After lunch, then.”
“I don’t know what you think you’re going to prove.
I need to get my own anatomy book to show you what you’ll be working with apparently.”
“But I’ve never heard of any problems.
Elentinus and his new wife…he told me they…they’re extremely compatible.”
“Look, I wouldn’t bring up something like this unless it was true.
Inga and Zoya both told me this on separate occasions.
The first night they were with their husbands they were raped.
Inga was drugged, Zoya wasn’t.
It didn’t matter.
They were both…injured.”
Lysanter’s brow furrowed.
He let the silence linger.
Of course, he’d heard that was the way.
Even Elentinus had raped his first wife Sasha.
This was exactly why he’d never married.
The server came and presented them with the first course.
Neither spoke while the plates were set before them.
“If…if this doesn’t suit you…there are other selections.”
Lenora clutched a spoon and swallowed a mouthful of soupy brown gelatin.
“I’ll eat whatever.
I need my strength to compete tomorrow.”
Lysanter replaced the cloche over his own dish.
He drew a long breath and then said, “Do you know why the Dak-Hiliah attacked Earth?”
“You needed women.”
She resumed eating.
“Do you know what happened to our own women?”
This made her pause.
She shook her head from side to side.
Since the nodding signified yes, Lysanter assumed this meant no.
“The Dak-Hiliah are ruled by two bodies.
The seven-member High Council where Nayjoor and Elentinus hold seats, and the druids, particularly the druid in the holiest seat.
The High Council governs our public lives.
The druid in the holiest seat governs our private lives.”
“I heard some stuff about this when I was in the army,” Lenora said.
“That you’re religious zealots.
You use your druid’s will as an excuse to justify conquering thousands of innocent worlds.”
Lysanter felt stung inside.
“You think such horrible things about us.”
“Isn’t it true?
Don’t your prophecies or whatever say you’re supposed to be the rulers of the universe?”
And yet he couldn’t argue this.
appointed by the gods to rule the universe.
“People like you love to use religion as an excuse to oppress others.
It puts you on this higher moral ground.
It lets you delude yourselves.”
“We don’t oppress others, Lenora.”
She shook her head again.
“But it’s true.
We’re noble conquerors.
If you’d gone with Vivian you would have seen how prosperous Dornovonia is.
Thousands of aliens immigrate to our slave worlds.
No one’s oppressed under our rule.
With Earth it was different, but that’s what I wanted to explain to you.”
Their server rolled a tray with two more courses for them.
He removed the plates they’d finished with and left.
Lenora raised her cloche to find a meat pastry.
This looks less slimy than that last stuff.”
“I said you didn’t have to eat it.”
“I didn’t say it tasted bad.
It was just mushy.
Go on with what you wanted to tell me.”
Lysanter dug into his own food.
“The druid in the holiest seat becomes the living embodiment of the god who’s fated to rule us during that druid’s lifetime.
Most of our gods are kind.
A few, unfortunately, are evil.
We’ve just finished an era of 135 years under the druid Shindray, who was possessed by a misogynistic god.
When he came into power we had not expanded our boundaries for 40 years.
Shindray said the stagnation was due to Dak-Hiliah women gaining unprecedented influence in the empire.
He ordered Dak-Hiliah to men reclaim their manhood by subjugating their wives.
They’d been contaminated by the mercy, indecision, and hesitation of women and had made the empire weak.
Men were to see women as enemies who sought to destroy their character.
Women were ordered to remain in their homes and to restrict their occupations to mothers, housekeepers, and courtesans.
Men were to regard them as hostile servants and beat them for any minor infraction.”
“Both men and women of the time despised these new rules.
It caused a horrific economic downturn on our home worlds to lose half our work force.
It was the catalyst that forced us to rely on robots for labor.
Despite this, my people followed the druid’s decree.
We knew that it was our dark time and had to be endured with the same conviction as the decrees from druids during our prosperous times.
The men subjugated the women as ordered.”
“So what did they do?
All kill themselves?”
“The women rebelled by only having male offspring.
This is what led to the collapse of our population.
Earth had the only beings we could find who were compatible for breeding.
Our population had declined so severely that we were desperate to conquer you.
It was a horrible war and a despicable thing to allow the Instajants to invade you.
Most Dak-Hiliah feel this way.
No one’s pleased with how you were conquered.
That’s not how we wished to come into power.”
Lenora stirred her food.
“The druid Shindray died last year.
Our new druid, Pakpo, is possessed by a benevolent goddess.
Pakpo has decreed that the rules Shindray made about Dak-Hiliah women do not apply to human women.
Rape, punishment, enslavement, all these things have been forbidden.
You would be marrying me during the new era, one where all the harsh decrees have been eliminated.
You’re not going to be treated the way those ex-wives were.
I could treat you like a person, rather than a possession.
This is part of the reason I’ve finally considered taking a wife after all this time.”
Lenora looked to be concentrating in the silence that followed.
“Elentinus said some gibberish about this.
I didn’t know what he meant.”
Elentinus, Lenora, I beg you to include our titles.”