Read Keeper of the Heart Online
Authors: Johanna Lindsey
“This is different.”
“How do you figure? Who was it who browbeat your father for six long months to get his permission for you to go to Kystran for some hands-on flight instruction? Who was it who fought with him, argued him down, and even challenged him and ended up having to obey his every little request for a whole month? She’d stopped challenging him years ago because she knew she couldn’t beat him, but she still gave it another shot for you. And if you think she didn’t
that that excuse you gave her for wanting to fly was a bunch of crap, then think again.”
Shanelle squirmed in her chair, feeling a dose of guilt for not having been completely honest with her mother. “That
a legitimate excuse,” she said defensively.
“Maybe five years ago it would have been,” Martha replied with a snort. “But you know, and I know, and
knows that you no longer just want to fly the airobuses to the outer districts to bring the warriors in for trading. That
to be the reason you wanted to learn how to pilot, but it’s not your reason now. Do you think your mother isn’t aware that
could have taught you how to pilot the airobuses, just as I taught you all the basics? You wanted to go to Kystran to learn how to pilot deep-space ships.”
“But does she know the real reason?”
“She’s got eyes, doesn’t she? She’s seen how you shy away from Challen’s warriors, giving none of them the least bit of encouragement. She sees how their attraction to you upsets you. And she’s seen how you close yourself up in your room whenever it’s common knowledge that one of the women has been punished by her warrior, in that particular way a warrior will punish his own woman. She’s also seen how you won’t talk to your father for weeks on the rare occasions that he punishes her in that way.”
Shanelle shot out of her chair in total agitation. “That way” for a warrior was to drive his woman absolutely wild with sexual desire. The punishment was in leaving her like that, without any hope of attaining relief. And it could go on for hours, depending on the seriousness of the woman’s offense.
Only a lifemate or lover doled out that kind of barbaric “discipline,” so Shanelle had never experienced it firsthand herself. But she had heard enough stories when women gathered to talk, about how humiliating it was, how they begged and cried, all to no effect. One of her greatest fears was that she would have to suffer the same someday but
be able to endure it. She was acquainted with too many other cultures, knew for a fact how barbaric that Sha-Ka’ani custom was, and knew that no matter how much she might love her lifemate, she would come to resent him because of it. She wasn’t like her mother, who got even with her father for punishing her that way. Her mother .. .
he do that to her—to
she cried vehemently. “Sometimes I hate him!”
“No, you don’t.” Martha chuckled. “You love him to pieces, just like he loves you. You just can’t accept that part of Sha-Ka’ani life any more than your mother ever did.”
“Then why does she accept it?” Shanelle wanted to know, and in a small, bewildered voice added, “He makes her scream, Martha.”
“Not in pain, kiddo, merely in frustration. But haven’t you ever noticed that that big father of yours is easily bruised? He doesn’t come out of one of those punishment sessions unscathed anymore, at least not when Tedra isn’t restricted from retaliating by a challenge loss.”
A challenge loss was a period of time that the loser of a fight owed the winner in service. This was usually manual labor, or a specific task. But for her mother, it was and always had been complete obedience in the bedchamber.
“They treat a challenge loss like a joke these days,” Shanelle scoffed.
“Don’t you believe it. They may kid around about it, but your mother takes all challenges seriously, because of that silly thing she terms honor. But she’s smart enough not to be governed by challenge loss when she gets the urge to break some of the rules. And you don’t see
staying mad at Challen for long afterwards, do you?”
“But she’s a Sec 1. She knows
to give as good as she gets. I don’t.”
“But that hasn’t stopped you from trying,” Martha said with some more of her rendition of chuckling. “Corth tells me you spent nearly as much time in Security exercise classes as you did in your pilot classes.”
It was true. As soon as she learned that there were ways to throw and take down large, usually immovable objects, she had insisted on finding out how it was done. It was all in the motion, in the propulsion, and in taking the object by surprise. It was a sport the Kystrani called downing, and it was very strenuous, but very effective. Only there hadn’t been time to master the techniques. She would have stayed longer in Kystran to do so if her family wasn’t expecting her home, and knew to the day when she should arrive.
“Fat lot of good it will do me against warriors,” she grumbled now, only to hear more chuckling, which was really starting to get on her nerves.
“How many times has she tossed you on your butt this morning, Corth?” Martha asked him in a purring tone.
“Three, but I am not counting.”
Even Shanelle couldn’t help grinning at his answer. Martha had given the android a sense of humor a number of years ago, and it came out at the most inappropriate times.
“That doesn’t count, Martha, and you know it. He isn’t allowed to use his strength on me, so he’s nothing like a warrior would be.”
“You’ve got me there,” Martha admitted. “That happens to be why your mother refused to teach you her own style of fighting. Because she felt it wouldn’t do you any good. But that didn’t stop you from learning on your own, now, did it?”
“And that didn’t stop her from seeing that you were taught another style of fighting.”
Shanelle made a face and dropped back in her chair. “Which won’t be worth a damn against a lifemate, now, will it, who I wouldn’t dare to hurt seriously? I can just see him now, laughing his head off, before he punishes me for years.”
“Well, Tedra didn’t know how you were going to end up feeling about warriors when she got it into her head that you should learn a warrior’s skills. She wanted you to have the means to protect yourself, particularly after you got carted off in that raid when you were only ten. Your father took that in stride, since raiding is a fact of Sha-Ka’ani life and he knew he could buy you back. But your mother nearly went crazy before it was over.”
Shanelle didn’t like being reminded of the most terrifying experience in her life. It should have been no more than a simple raid, with nothing for her to really fear. The leader, Keedan, merely wanted a shipment of gaali stones in exchange for her return, which he was sure to get. But one of Keedan’s warriors by the name of Hogar hadn’t been quite right in the head. Hogar liked to hurt people.
Shanelle had had to ride with him for a day, and with the gag over her mouth, no one had heard her screams as he viciously twisted and pinched her everywhere he could reach. He’d only inflicted bruises on her, but the terror of what he was doing combined with the pain had made her faint four times. And she had had a deep, unreasonable fear of pain ever since.
But she had never told anyone what Hogar had done, not even her mother when she was safe at home again. She had been too ashamed of her own cowardice to mention bruises that had faded by then.
Martha didn’t know she had stirred up unpleasant memories, however, and she was still making her point. “Tedra also couldn’t stand the thought of your being helpless someday against a brute who decided he wanted to claim you despite Corth’s being there to protect you. Corth is ample protection, but not against a warrior wielding a sword. He can get chopped up just like the real thing.”
Shanelle put a hand over her eyes, but that wasn’t going to put Martha off. She knew all this. There was no refuting it. She
like her mother in so many ways, but in one way they were glaringly different. Her mother had been born a fighter, a physical fighter, and she absolutely loved to take on men, her lifemate in particular, though she never had a chance of beating him and knew it. But Shanelle didn’t like to fight with anyone, physically or even verbally. The former type of fighting led to pain, and the latter was frustrating beyond belief, because you couldn’t argue with warriors. They didn’t get mad and they rarely ever conceded on any point.
Tedra had insisted she learn how to fight, though. Instead of teaching her her own style of hand-to-hand combat, which worked fine on other worlds but was next to useless against barbarians, Tedra had decided that Shanelle needed to learn how to use a sword. This was an unheard-of notion on Sha-Ka’an for a female to have because there was a Kan-is-Tran law, still in effect, that didn’t allow women to use weapons. That hadn’t stopped Tedra, however. It had taken two whole years, but she had finally got Challen to agree with her by simply demanding, “Do you want
daughter at the mercy of some warrior who will walk all over her just because he can, someone like Falder La-Mar-Tel?” Falder happened to be someone whom Challen had never liked or gotten along with, so that did it. And once Challen had agreed, there was nothing Shanelle could say.
But Shanelle had hated all those lessons. She hadn’t
any part of them. She might have finally got over her fear of a few bruises—her determination and her downing class had seen to that— but she hadn’t back then. And she’d still rather run away than use a sword, rather use her wits if nothing else would do. She hated confrontations, period, and this one she was having with Martha was a prime example. You couldn’t argue with or get the better of a Mock II computer any more than you could with a Sha-Ka’ani warrior. Both were extremely stubborn and both were utterly undefeatable.
“Maybe what you’ve learned of downing will come in handy someday—”
“Go ahead and say it!” Shanelle snapped. “On another world it might come in handy.
on my world.”
“Well, you knew that,” Martha said reasonably. “That’s why you wanted to learn it, because you don’t intend to stay on your world much longer.” Shanelle just covered her eyes again, but this time it got a sigh out of Martha. “Tedra said it more than once, that she did you a disservice by raising you to her way of looking at things. You don’t hear other Sha-Ka’ani women objecting to the way things are, do you?”
“But she did raise me differently. And I know that the women on other planets aren’t treated the way our women are. Even on Kystran, if a couple living in double occupancy has a disagreement, they
about it, with the one in the wrong ending up feeling tons of guilt, which is more than enough punishment as far as I’m concerned.”
“But did you find a male there that you would want to share sex with? You’re twenty years old, and your mother has given you her wholehearted approval to make up your own mind about sex, to go for it as soon as you find you want it, whether your father would approve or not. So did you find it?”
“You farden well have all the answers,” Shanelle grumbled. “You tell me.”
“All right, kiddo, but you aren’t going to like it. Sha-Ka’ani males may frighten you, but not because of their size. Their size is something you happen to appreciate, and in that respect you’re just like your mother. In your case, it can’t be helped. You were raised among them. They’re the only kind of men you are accustomed to. In fact, if a man
a good deal over six feet tall and twice as wide as you are, you won’t be the least bit interested in him.”
“There are hundreds of planets that I am now capable of visiting, Martha. Are you going to tell me that in all those other worlds I won’t find any other men with a little extra height and a little extra brawn?”
“Sure you will. So let’s look again at what you’re objecting to on your own world, the way warriors deal with their women when they break the rules.”
“It’s demeaning, humiliating—”
“But absolutely painless,” Martha cut in. “There are worlds where lawbreakers are still executed. Worlds where they are still imprisoned for life. There are some worlds where the skin is whipped off their backs. And some worlds where advanced means are used to inflict excruciating pain without leaving a single mark. And that’s just a few of the little niceties you’ll find out there when you go hunting for your ideal mate. In comparison, what the Sha-Ka’ani do can only be considered merciful and harmless.”
“There are also worlds out there that aren’t so violent, worlds that don’t have so many ridiculous rules either.”
“You’ve been raised not to break the rules. Challen saw to that. So I don’t know what you’re really worried about.”
“Yes, you do, and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
As usual, Martha listened only to what she wanted to hear. “Did you ever wonder why your mother puts up with those punishments you’re so terrified of, that and everything else that she still objects to on that world?”
“Because she loves my father.”
“There’s that, yes, but there’s also the fact that he knocked her socks off the first time she saw him, and he continues to knock them off every time he takes her to bed. To have something like that to look forward to for the rest of your life is worth putting up with a few things you don’t like. And maybe what
don’t like isn’t even as bad as you think it is.”