Heart of Stone Ch. 20bypsyche_b_mused©
20. Modern Life
The next night, Mary found herself facing the statue of the last remaining female. For a few minutes, she simply stared at the hunched figure. The others had simply been sitting or crouching. This one looked almost frightened.
"Mary," Robbie said softly. "Perhaps we should begin."
"She looks so terrified." She said, unable to take her eyes from the stone figure for a moment. Finally she pulled herself out of it. "But you're right, we should."
Mary proceeded more slowly than she had before, taking great care to free the enchantments without damaging her in some way. It took a bit longer than with the others, but finally she began to see glimmers of life in the female before her. She released the will of the others and let Robbie lead her away to wait until Aiden told them that it was safe.
They had all become somewhat accustomed to the wakings. The new one always reacted with confusion, but how that confusion was handled seemed to fall along gender lines. In response to their first sight of Aiden, the males tended to take a stance that said that they were ready to defend themselves if need be. The females took a wary, but more submissive stance. Once Aiden started to speak though, the new one usually started to relax.
No one expected the terrified scream that erupted from the female that cowered at Aiden's feet, and it was clear that Aiden hadn't expected it either. His eyes widened and he dropped to one knee. Mary could hear him speaking softly, trying to calm her, but it seemed that nothing he said worked. Esme laid a hand on Aiden's shoulder. He looked up at her and stepped back.
Mary looked to Robbie but it was clear that he was just as confused as everyone else.
Esme knelt in front of the cowering female. Mary knew the soft, growling sounds Esme was making were meant to be soothing, and they seemed to be working. The terrified sobbing of the other female had abated to soft, trembling whimpers.
Esme spoke quietly with the female for a short time, and eventually she motioned for Aiden to come forward. He moved slowly, taking care to look as non-threatening as he could.
"Wonderful, she's gone insane." Andy grumbled.
"She's frightened, as anyone would be if they awoke to find themselves in an entirely new world." Veronica said.
"It's more than that." Mary said.
"How do you know?" Quentin asked curiously.
"Look at her. None of the others responded with that kind of extreme terror." She said.
"Insanity." Andy scoffed.
"I think you made your point." Ramona hissed.
"Hush." Veronica hissed. "Something's happening."
Esme helped the trembling female to her feet. Aiden had moved closer, but he was still several feet away from her. He was speaking gently, and the terrified female began to calm. She was much smaller and more lightly built than the others, and now that she was standing Mary could see that one of her wings was misshapen, as if the bone had been broken and then not set properly. The end of her tail was missing entirely.
Kitra had begun to move a few feet behind Aiden and Esme, looking at the new female with a blend of curiosity and contempt. Her lips curled into a derisive sneer and she hurled a single word at the new female. Jerel grasped her arm and tugged her back into the shadows. Mary could hear him speaking in a scolding tone.
Finally, Aiden motioned for Mary to come forward. As she approached the new female she could see that her scars weren't limited to her wing and tail. A long, thick scar partially circled her right eye, beginning where an eyebrow would begin near her nose and continuing around to the top of her cheek. Two other lines came off of it like the rays of the sun. There was another long scar that ran from just under her bare breasts to her navel. The female began to shake again.
"Aiden?" Mary whispered.
"Mary, this is Cerex." He introduced Mary in the gargoyle language. Cerex managed a frightened smile.
"I'm pleased to meet you." Mary said. "Can I take your hand?"
"Mary, she is a concubine. For a female of your rank to touch her-"
"She isn't anymore." Mary said firmly.
"This must be discussed among ourselves-" Aiden started.
"Then discuss it." Mary said.
"You cannot just let her dictate our customs!" Kitra shrilled.
"Times have changed, Kitra. Slavery is no longer-" Meris started.
"Times? We have not changed!" She shouted.
"Meris has a point." Aiden said. "If we are to be accepted-"
"YOU have decided that acceptance is so important you would pervert all we are!" Kitra shouted.
Mary looked from Cerex to Esme.
"He will free her." Esme said quietly as the argument raged on.
"What if he doesn't?" Mary asked.
"Aiden disliked the idea of this kind of servitude, but had no way to change it before." Esme said. "Now that he has the opportunity, I am certain he will take it."
Mary turned to Cerex, who was slowly taking in the scene around her. "I'm sorry this has been so traumatic for you."
Esme translated Mary's statement and waited for Cerex's response.
"She is sorry to have caused such turmoil, and she doesn't understand why she was spared." Esme said.
"You'll discover that reason for yourself. We'll all help you." Mary said.
"ENOUGH!" Aiden roared. The arguing others fell silent, but Cerex looked as if she wanted to run away and hide again. "Cerex has her freedom. Even in our own time she should have been released on the grounds of extreme cruelty."
Esme translated quickly. Tears filled Cerex's eyes again.
"Even if that was not the case, there are so few of us that to create or maintain arbitrary divisions will only defeat our purpose. She will be given all the respect accorded to any female in good standing."
Esme began to translate, but Aiden stopped her. Mary assumed he repeated a version of the same message directly to Cerex. The scarred female began to tremble. Esme helped her sit on the stone block she'd crouched on for so many centuries. She said something to Aiden, Mary looked to Esme for translation.
"She is thanking him, and you."
"I didn't do anything." Mary said.
"You were kind to her, even after you knew what she was. I do not believe she received any kindness from anyone for many years." Esme looked at Mary more closely for a moment. "Are you feeling well?"
"I'm just a little tired." She admitted. "The last few days have been so hectic. Does Cerex want to meet the others?"
Esme relayed the message to Aiden in a way that Cerex would understand. Mary could see the uncertainty on her face. Aiden spoke some reassuring words to Cerex before he turned to Mary.
"What family sheltered her?" Aiden asked.
"Veronica's." Mary said.
"That will be perfect. From there, she will be our guide." Aiden said. Mary started toward the curious others, but Esme put her hand on Mary's shoulder.
"Let me. I will explain the situation." Esme said.
Cerex said something to Aiden. He smiled.
"She asks how long the child has been growing."
"Seven months now." She smiled, even though she knew she looked more like it had been eight months. "He's moving, would you like to feel?"
Aiden translated, and Cerex look surprised. He nodded. The scarred female held out her hand, the tip of her second finger was missing. Mary placed her hand on the side of her abdomen and held it there. For a moment, the child was still, but then he gave a hard kick. Cerex's eyes widened, she murmured something to Aiden, he smiled broadly.
"She says that he is strong."
Mary laughed softly and released her hand.
Esme returned with Veronica and then brought Mary to a wrought iron bench that was just a few feet away. Mary sat gratefully.
"Are you in any pain, or bleeding?" Esme asked quietly.
"No. My back aches, but it's been aching for awhile. I really think I'm just tired." Mary answered. She heard Kitra say something about the frailty of human females, and Jerel quickly reprimand her in the gargoyle language.
"Perhaps. Nigel is still monitoring your progress?" Esme asked. Mary knew that Nigel was spending time with Esme, at first to learn more about gargoyle pregnancy, but she had begun to teach him about gargoyle healing in general.
"Yes. He says I'm doing fine."
"Relax here while Cerex meets the others." Esme smiled and walked back to Aiden and Cerex. Calvus appeared at her elbow.
Once the introductions were finished, Esme began the task of introducing Cerex to the other gargoyles. Normally, that wasn't such a problem, but Cerex was still so frightened of others. Mary insisted she could get back to the house just fine, but Aiden wouldn't hear of that. He carried her directly into their suite. By the time Nigel knocked, she was already stretched out on the bed.
"Come in." She said.
"Mary? Are you alright?" He looked concerned.
"Fine. I think I'm just overtired. I haven't been sleeping well the past few nights." She said.
"You're not in any pain then?" He sat next to her on the bed.
"No. My back aches, but it's the same kind of ache I've had for weeks now, there's just more of it lately." She admitted.
"Alright. For the next three days I want you to stay in here and preferably in bed."
"I can't do that, I have a houseful of people-"
"Who will all understand." He said firmly. "This pregnancy is putting a great deal of stress on your body already, getting overtired isn't going to do you or the baby any good."
She shrugged a little. "Women get pregnant all the time." The statement didn't sound quite as nonchalant as she had hoped it would.
"Yes, human women get pregnant and give birth to human children without incident every day in every country on this planet. A pregnancy like yours has never happened before. You're doing very well, but why take risks when they aren't necessary?"
Mary sighed, she knew he was right. "What am I going to do up here all alone?"
He smiled. "Who would you like to visit with?"
"Veronica, Caroline, Ramona, Robbie, you." She smiled a little.
"I'll be stopping by anyway. None of the gargoyles?" He seemed surprised.
"Well Calvus will be here when Aiden isn't. I'm not sure how Aiden feels about having too many of the other males in here. I'm sure Esme will come though."
"I think that will give you quite enough excitement. I want you to rest, not move the party up one floor." He laughed softly.
"Alright, I'll try to be good." She smiled a little. "Nigel, did you happen to notice Cerex's wing?"
"I did. I can only imagine what she suffered. I've never seen any of the gargoyles as barbaric before, but that..." He shook his head.
"From Aiden's reaction I don't think that was normal. I ask because I'm wondering if it could be fixed."
He thought for a moment. "I don't know. It might be repaired cosmetically, but I'm not sure if it's possible to repair it so that she can fly again. I'm not sure she would even trust anyone enough to let them try to fix it."
"I hope she will eventually." Mary said.
"Then I'll hope you're right. I hate to think of anyone going through life so terrified all the time." He got up. "I think I'll leave you to your resting for the moment. Is there anything you want from the kitchen?"
"Some of Aiden's tea, and if there are any Brussels sprouts left over from dinner, a bowl of those."
"Funny, I've never met anyone who likes Brussels sprouts." He chuckled.
"You still haven't." Mary smiled a little. "I hate them but they're what I want more than anything else in the world at this moment."
He chuckled. "I'll let Maureen know."
After her snack, Mary took a shower. When she was combing out her hair, she heard the balcony door open.
"Aiden?" She called.
"Yes, dear one."
She opened the door a little to see if there was anyone with him. When she realized there wasn't she came out into the room in her nightgown. He bent down to deliver a soft kiss.
"What's that?" She asked, pointing at the wooden bowl in his hand. It wasn't a vessel she recognized, though whatever was in it had a very pleasant aroma.
"It is a calming lotion Esme made for you." He set it down next to the bed.
"That was quick. I've only been up here for a couple of hours." Mary smiled and leaned over the bowl, drinking in the scent of lavender and chamomile.
"She had it prepared already. She tells me that human females are often uncomfortable in the later stages of pregnancy. If she had known how uncomfortable you were, she would have given it to me before now."
"To you?" Mary asked.
He smiled a little. "Yes." He started to undress.
"I don't think that's what Nigel had in mind when he told me to stay in bed." Mary smirked.
He laughed and tossed his garment aside. "You misunderstand. Undress."
Mary looked at him for a moment and then pulled the nightgown off over her head. She held it in front of her body he situated himself on the bed with his back resting against the headboard. He smiled and patted a spot between his legs. Mary moved awkwardly, but she finally sat down with her back to him. He took the nightgown away and pulled her back against his chest.
For a few minutes, he just held her with his arms and his tail, and Mary found that alone to be a little slice of heaven. Eventually, he reached for the bowl and took some of the lotion onto his hands.
"Esme says that this will make your skin tingle to begin with, but it should be pleasant." He started massaging the lotion into her shoulders. The warmth of his hands and her skin was making the smell of the lavender even more intense. A pleasant tingle radiated out from where his large hands stroked her skin, and a deep relaxation followed. Mary closed her eyes and sighed softly.
"She could make a fortune if she bottled that." Mary murmured.
Aiden's hands moved down her arms. "I think that Nigel has spoken to her about the other lotion she gives you. She is reluctant to embark on such a venture."
"I'm not surprised. Every time he sees me he says he's never seen anything quite like it. Why is she reluctant?" Mary noticed that each time his hands moved over her skin the tingle returned, but much more softly.
"We have never needed or desired anything material. The earth provides the majority of what we need, and during the time of alliances, those we protected provided the rest in return for what we offered. Commerce in the way that humans conduct it is not an activity we ever saw a need for." He positioned Mary's arms out to her sides.
She squirmed a little when he began to apply the lotion to her breasts, but the relaxation quickly returned. She let her body go limp again. "There was trade with other clans, though."
"Barter, yes. For the things that could not be made within the clan. There was no set cost of an item though, it was based on need or want. If both parties were satisfied with the deal, the trade would be made. Esme is uncomfortable wading in to your more complex economy." His voice was soft. His hands lingered longer on her breasts than they had on her arms and shoulders. That was fine with Mary.
"It's a different world, though."
He started to rub the lotion over her swollen tummy. "Calvus has been trying to convince her of that. Now that Cerex has been awakened, I am not certain that adjusting to a new economy will be her top priority."
Mary was silent for a few minutes, both enjoying his touch and the deep relaxation that followed, and trying to frame the next question. Relaxed as she was, she didn't want to offend him.
"Ask." He murmured.
"The question that has been on everyone's mind since Cerex woke." He said. His tone hadn't shifted, and there was no anger in his words. For the first time, his hands stopped moving. Mary looked up at him.
"Were all concubines treated so badly?" She asked.
"No." His hands started to move again. She could hear the edge of anger and disgust in his voice. "In fact, I have never seen one that was so brutalized. If it were not for the fact that her owner was leader of his clan she would have been released. Now you and then others think we are the demons we appear to be."
"No, that's not-"
"You were all horrified, I saw your faces." He said. His hands had stopped moving, he just held her close.
"Well, yes we were." Mary admitted. She turned a little more toward him. "I don't think any of us were expecting what we saw. I know I was shocked because you've always been so kind to me. I know your customs are different, but I guess I never saw them as violent for the sake of violence."
"They are not. Even when we are violent with each other there are strict rules that govern what can and cannot occur. In most cases, even when death was an acceptable outcome it did not go that far. Violence to another outside of those narrow settings was always punished in some way. To treat another like that, I cannot even begin to imagine it." He kissed Mary's temple. "Turn and face me so that I can reach your back."
Mary turned slowly and let him guide her so that her spread legs rested over his. He pulled her forward gently, so that her body was closer to his. When she leaned forward to rest against him though, she felt as though she couldn't breathe.
"Wait, that's not good." She backed away again.
"Are you in pain?" His hand rested on the side of her stomach.
"No, it feels like the baby is pressing against my diaphragm that way. Maybe if I lay down." He helped her move back and then arranged the pillows for her. Mary settled into the little nest he had created for her, her back facing him.
"Is that better?" His hand rested on her hip.
"Much, thank you."
"Good." He kissed her shoulder lightly, and started to work the lotion into her back and down to her hip.
"Did Cerex say why he did all those things to her?"
"He injured her wing after she attempted to escape. The rest he did for his own pleasure." He said. Even without looking at him, Mary could tell that the words left a bad taste in his mouth "I have never seen such depravity, nor can I understand how inflicting such extreme injuries on a female one is supposed to protect can bring pleasure. Even in all my anger at Bergit, the punishments I inflicted were meant more to humiliate her than injure her. They left no permanent mark and I would have been horrified if they had."
"Protect?" Mary asked. If she hadn't been so relaxed she would have turned to look at him. "I didn't get the impression that concubines were very well-cared for."
"Not in the same way that a male protects his mate, no. There is an obligation though, much like the one Jerel has to Kitra. At the very least, the laws of decency apply." He said. His hands moved down over her leg to her foot.
"Esme said you disliked the idea, even before." Mary said.
"She is right. I disliked the idea of one female be lesser than another for something that she had no control over. If one proves herself less worthy than another through her own actions, that is something different."
"Have you told Robbie all of this?" She asked.
"He has not asked." Aiden said. "None of the others have asked anything."
"Maybe they don't know how. You said yourself that they were shocked. Maybe they're still processing it all."
"Can you turn onto your other side?" He asked.
"Yes, if you'll move the pillows." Mary said. She sat up slowly and he rearranged the pillows so that she could be comfortable on her other side. Once again, he started at her back and worked down to her hip, chasing the tension from her muscles. For a few minutes, silence reigned.
"You think that speaking to Robbie will help the others understand?" He asked.
"I don't know, but I'm pretty sure they're probably already asking him questions." Mary said.
"I will seek him out after you fall asleep." He said. His hands moved down her other leg, banishing tension and ache as they went.