tagErotic CouplingsHotel Pavane Ch. 02

Hotel Pavane Ch. 02


Marija gets up so early the next morning that the stars are still in the sky. The first thing she thinks of is Ari and the night before, and the next thing she thinks of is that he's gone—her bed is empty. The guilt she was prepared to feel is replaced by shame and anger as she remembers her wanton behavior of last night and wonders whether she's scared him off. Even in this place she embarrasses herself. She feels like she can do nothing right.

She steps out on the balcony. It's very early but already the thick clouds are gathering, blown in from the north and tinted red and purple in the east by the rising sun. This may be a cheery place in the summer, but in this season it is gray and foreboding. She hears the dawn call of the peacocks in the garden followed by a woman's distant laughter. It only makes her feel more lonely. She comes inside and goes back to bed.

He comes for her at ten, startling her from a dream of Andre, which left her with a feeling of nagging unease, as if she's greatly disappointed someone. She transfers this feeling to Ari when he enters and tries to beg off their appointment, claiming she's unwell.

"I have things to show you today," he says, unbearably cheerful. "Things most people here never see—the insider's tour. I've arranged for a boat, so dress casual."

He's brought tea and croissants on a cart, but Marija has no appetite. It occurs to her that maybe it would have been better if she had scared him off after last night. She can't bear anyone's company in the morning, and sightseeing is the last thing she wants to do today.

She's better after she's had her coffee and showered. The shower itself is a miracle, hot, over-engineered, and lavish with water. She goes through her clothes, wincing at all the romantic dresses and gowns she's brought, as if she'd intended to spend all her time at a ball. She puts on a pair of jeans and a sweater, a pair of athletic shoes. It's hardly what she thought she'd be wearing when she packed for the Hotel Pavane.

The island upon which the Hotel sits is still known as Palace Island and has always been dramatically landscaped and laced with canals, moats, and pools for boating, except at the northern end, where the island rises into sheer cliffs, densely wooded and intentionally left wild. The waters are still and mirror the trees and gardens that line the shore. Swans, black and white, glide upon the surface like clouds. The waterways are especially lovely at night, when little boats, decorated with candles and lanterns, drift about in the darkness like fireflies.

It's to a misty dock on one of these pools that Ari brings Marija in the early afternoon of this gray and forlorn day. He installs her in the prow of a small boat, part canoe, part gondola—short and wide with high and decorated stem and sternposts—and settles himself in with blankets and a paddle. He pushes off and they head for the waters of Lake Pavane that surround the island.

The air is still and a thick mist rises from the water obscuring the towers of the hotel and the tops of the trees—sometimes even the banks themselves—so that they seem to float in a dream world, accompanied only by their own wake on the mirror-like water. The rose gardens and chrysanthemums they pass are mere smudges of color in this foggy world of gray and green.

"It's so still," she says. There are no other boats. The water is the color of a black mirror. "Is it always so still?"

"You've come during the misty season, and while the mists rise, yes, it is still. It's relaxing though, in its way."

"I don't think I've ever been in such a quiet landscape."

"Good. Then this will be a perfect place to talk."

"Talk about what?"

Ariel pulls in his paddle and lays it across the thwarts. "You. I want to know."

Marija knows he's talking about what he said last night, about healing her. "Oh Ari, that was sweet, but you weren't serious? You're going to be my sex therapist?"

"No," he says. "Don't call it that. A sex therapist works on a particular sexual problem. Sex is just the means to the end."

"What's the end?"

"To get you away from him and give you back to yourself. Don't you think that's a worthy goal?"

Marija looks at him as his eyes scan the shore. Last night he'd seen her in all her naked vulnerability. He'd taken her not against her will, but forcibly, taking what he wanted without asking, and it had been the best thing he could have done. His selfish desire had aroused her more than any gentle consideration would have and had thrilled her, so much so that she was surprised at the lack of shame and remorse she felt today. She'd not only enjoyed last night, but she'd had a most intense orgasm, unusual for her, and quite inexplicable.

The boat barely seems to move. It's a strange shape, unusually wide for a craft so short. The generous beam makes it very stable.

She sighs, trailing her fingers in the water. "So what did you want to know?"

"About this man, the one who broke your heart. What was his name?"

Marija brings her hand into the boat and rolls over on her back. The prow of the little boat is an elaborate chair with pillows and cushions. Because of the stillness of the lake, they never become wet.

"Andre," She says. "But really, just when I was feeling better too. Do we have to, Ariel?"

"He left you?"

She sighs. "Yes. He just walked out one night, angry. He came back two days later while I was at work and got his things. It didn't matter. I couldn't afford the place without him anyhow. I had to leave."

"And why did he leave?"

She shrugs, loathe to talk about it. "We were always fighting."

"Of course. But what about?"

Marija drops her fingers in the still waters again. The smooth movement of the boat leaves barely a ripple.

"I don't know. Everything. What do people fight about? It's all so stupid. What we have for dinner at night, where we go on the weekend. Things he said, things I said..."

Ari picks up the paddle and strokes them in a new direction

"People don't fight for no reason, Marija. Either they fight because they're competing for the same thing, or because they hate each other, or because they've exhausted each other. You two didn't hate each other, so I'm going to bet you exhausted yourselves. You were with each other too much. You used each other up."

Marija smiles to hide her unease. The topic is a sore point

"It's no joke," he says. "People exhaust each other all the time. It's the curse of our age, where everyone has to tell everyone everything, be all things to their lovers. Relationships can't stand that. You should always keep something back. Never give everything to anyone. That doesn't do you any good, and believe me, they don't want it. Love's strength comes from mystery. Why do you think falling in love is so much more exciting than being in love?

Marija makes a face. "Is that my lesson for today? To just shut up and not talk to men?"

"No." He drops the subject and peers at the shoreline.

Marija turns to see that they've changed direction and are heading back to Palace island, but approaching from the north side, where the island rises and into a range of large, heavily wooded hills before plunging down into the lake in a series of precipitous cliffs. This is the wild side of the island, neither cultivated nor landscaped.

"There it is," he says, correcting the boat's motion with his paddle. "No. Today's lesson is about something else. It's about sex, how it's all around you."

"What are you looking for?" she asks, trying to follow his eyes.

He doesn't answer, just starts taking them in to shore with strong strokes of the paddle. Marija gets up on her knees and turns around so she can see where they're headed, but all she can see are the ancient willows that dip their leaves into the misty water at the base of the cliffs.

"Watch your head," Ari says, and the boat glides under the trailing leaves, strands of willow dragging over Marija's face and back. She looks up then and is amazed to see a large cave right ahead of them arching over the water. The opening is partially blocked with an ancient iron water gate. The boat glides in under the overhanging rock and Ari backs water to stop them at the very entrance. In the dark twilight he produces a cigarette lighter and lights the kerosene lantern that hangs in the stern. He passes the lighter to Marija and tells her to light the bow lantern.

She does, and then gasps as he paddles them into the cave.

The cavern is huge and vast with no walls to be seen. The black waters trail off into the far distance, and stalactites and stalagmites form a forest of columns and stumps that emerge from the water and disappear into the darkness overhead, shadowy shapes painted yellow-orange now by the lantern light. The cavern is full of them, and they fade off into the distance in a bewildering maze of pillars and arches.

"What is this, Ari? What is this place?"

"You remember 'Xanadu'? 'Where Alph the sacred river ran, through caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea."

He smiles, but the place is too profound for laughter. "This is The Cavern. The lake is fed by underground springs, very deep. They formed these caverns. Then, not that long ago by geologic time, the lake broke through and flooded them. The old dukes used this cave to supply his castle in times of war. The castle was replaced by the palace centuries ago, but some of the medieval stonework still remains. The Hotel keeps the cave a secret, but they use part of the old landing stage for a wine cellar. That's the dim light you see way up ahead. It's too dangerous down here for the regular guests. Only a few of us even know about it."

The little boat glides along in its dome of yellow light, casting weird shadows on the columns. She cannot see the ceiling, she cannot see the walls. All there is is a forest of strangely shaped columns stretching away on either side as far as she can see, as if the whole island were hollow.

Marija is spellbound. Speaking in this place seems wrong. They're in a deep and secret place, and the human voice isn't welcome. She looks over the side but sees nothing but her face staring back at her from the ring of lamplight. The water is a perfect black mirror.

"The water in this cave is very deep," he says. "There are fish down there too, big fish, living at the bottom in the darkness."

The thought of fish there in the black water does something to her, brings up some primitive emotion of fear or reverence, and she unconsciously puts her hand to her chest as if to still her heart.

"They're not dangerous. Some subspecies of catfish, blind and pale white. They won't hurt you."

He paddles on for a ways, then says softly, "This is the lesson for today, Marija."

She looks back at him. "The caverns?"

"Just wait," he says.

They travel on, keeping the light of the landing stage ahead of them in the distance. The paddle is soundless in the water; the entire cavern is soundless, though Marija can hear the slow drip of water when they pass certain spots. It is timeless; the deep unimaginable patience of nature, the black water in caves unseen.

Ari steers the boat away from the light and behind the shadowy concealment of some fused columns. He takes a rope from the boat's stern and ties it around a stalagmite that emerged from the water, then he turns up the mantles in the lanterns.

The columns flash back at them like thousands of diamonds or shattered mirrors, and Marija's breath catches in her throat.


"They're just quartz," he says. "Quartz and mica. But who would have thought? How lavish nature is with her beauty, isn't she? She just throws it away."

He turns the lanterns down and the sparkle fades. There's no current, and the boat barely moves. Ari stands up and joins her in the prow, and now Marija sees why the boat's shape is so curious. It allows two people to recline together comfortably in the prow and stern.

It's cool down here but not cold, and Ari's warmth is quite welcome as he arranges himself behind her and pulls her back against him.

"We'll wait here and let the spirit of this place seep into us. I'm not a religious man, but this is a sacred place. We respond to it on many levels."

They sit in the darkness, in the absolute silence, the only sound the distant drip of water, and Marija wonders what it is she's supposed to feel: reverence, awe. She's about to speak when Ariel puts his hands on her breasts and gently pulls her back against him. Marija holds her breath, afraid to say anything but unsure of what he means to do. His behavior is shocking but not unwelcome. It's been some time since a man couldn't keep his hands off her and she doesn't object, and his human touch is comforting in the silent darkness.

His hands don't move, but Marija starts to get excited. It's the quiet, the absence of people. She's never felt silence as a presence before, but now it exudes from the very stone and the surface of the water. It makes her want to do things, to yell or scream.

Ari's hand leaves her breast and presses against her cheek, gently turning her face back at him for a kiss, and Marija feels a surge of excitement before their lips even meet. She opens her mouth to him, eager for his tongue.

His male warmth is wonderful in this cool, dark place, and Marija feels herself opening for him as if her body is already far ahead of her. His hand slips under her sweater and finds her own warmth and softness and Marija sighs. She can't remember when a man's hand felt so comforting.

She's been slightly ashamed of herself all day, conflicted by her behavior last night, but now in this underground labyrinth of glistening towers with the black water below and around her, her hunger surfaces to a shocking degree. It's as if the still lifelessness makes their human presence all the more precious and Marija presses back against him and covers his hand on her breast with her own. There's no one else around. She's never been in a place so totally devoid of humanity and her sensual excitement seems to expand to fill the emptiness like the glow of the little boat's lanterns seeks to fill the darkness.

Ari's sitting directly behind her and the feel of his shaft coming to life and pressing against her bottom is terribly exciting. She still worries that her own capacity to respond to a man might have been damaged and it's gratifying to know that she hasn't, but more gratifying is his response to her. His ardor seems greater than her own, and suddenly the memory of last night comes back to her in physical sensations: the memory of his cock inside her and the weight of his body on hers.

Marija presses back against him. His left hand leaves her breast and travels down between her legs and she groans. She's on fire for him, as if she's been drugged. She raises her knees and lets them fall open.

Behind her, Ari laughs softly.

"What is it?" she demands. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all. This place is very magical, isn't it? It invokes feelings of majesty and awe, but finally they all come down to sex, don't they? When words fail us, we always have that."

He uses both hands to open her jeans and his warm hand dips inside. Marija has to stifle a cry as he finds her and begins to play with her.

"Ari! Should you?"

Again he laughs. "I doubt there's another place on earth as private as this."

The boat hardly moves. When Marija opens her eyes she can see the stone columns stained yellow by the kerosene light, soaring into the darkness. She's in a place of deep beauty and secrecy, and even Ari's hand moving between her legs seems to have some extra meaning, summoning up something dark and primal from her depths.

The boat hardly moves. Ari is kissing her now, kissing the side of her neck and her face as his hand rubs and massages her breasts and catches her nipples between his fingers. His hand between her legs is busy and coated with her wetness, and Marija's belly and hips are grinding about as if trying to dispel a sudden empty ache she feels.

His breath is like fire on her ear. "I want you to do something for me," he whispers. "I want you to take my cock in your mouth. I want you to suck it, Marija. I need you to do it."

His words thrill and alarm her. Since she's been with him she's done nothing really, only let him do things to her, and this is a rather bold first step. Still, there is something about this place that makes her not only willing, but eager—the closeness, the warmth of him, the darkness and isolation.

"Yes," she says. "Let me."

He arranges her on her knees between his legs as the boat rocks softly. The sound of his zipper is unusually loud, and there is the dull clunk of his belt buckle hitting the seat as he pushed his trousers down. Marija is on her knees, hungry to taste him. The shame and self-consciousness she feared is totally absent, as if the caverns had made her a different person.

His prick is soon revealed in the lamplight, and she loses no time in taking it in her hand and running her tongue up and down its length, loving his heat and responsiveness. She opens her mouth and takes him inside.

His gasp of pleasure echoes softly and Marija is in sensual heaven. His thickness on her tongue, the wild male taste of him. She sucks hungrily, filling her mouth with his virility as he combs his fingers through her hair and stares down at her.

His voice is as soft and insistent as the water that drips in the cavern. "Yes, Marija. Suck me. Suck my cock", and she feels a part of it too, a part of the deep, dark places, a hole in the earth meant to be filled, containing secrets and darkness..

He's so virile, his cock so full of light and life. It's like a torch upon her tongue. Marija doesn't move. She just leaves his prick sitting in her mouth, the tip edging towards her throat. Her nostrils flare. In the darkness, it's like there's nothing but this: her mouth and his prick. There's all the time in the world.

"Male and female made he them," Ari says softly, and Marija knows instinctively what he means. The creation, born from the earth, born in duality. She feels the hunger for sex as a glow deep within her, deeper than she'd ever imagined, down below the worries and doubts and beyond even the thoughts of love and affection. It's as though they're the only people in the world, male and female, and Marija feels a thrill at this recognition of her own sexual identity—she's the same as Ariel, and yet profoundly different, and in that difference lay everything that mattered.

She begins to move her head, feeling his knobby stalk bumping between her lips, and is gratified to feel his fingers tighten in her hair.

"Easy," he says. "Feel me, Marija. This isn't just for me."

She's done this before of course, but never paid much attention to her own sensations. It was always for Andre, always a matter of finding out what he liked and doing it, but Ariel now is intentionally trying not to respond, to give her no cues, and except for an occasional low moan of appreciation, it's up to her to find her own motivation and derive her own pleasure.

She's aware of the bumps and veiny ridges on the shaft of his cock, the way the wide, rounded glans presses against her throat, and the thrilling hardness, the feel of something potent and aggressive pushing at her just above the point where she can swallow him. On a sudden urge, she pushes her face forward and feels her throat close in stubborn resistance. She insists, pushing harder, feeling him touch the part of her that makes her want to gag, and she has to back off.

She pulls her head off him, gasping for breath, feeling his cock emerging from her mouth railing long strings of mucus from the back of her throat, and her sense of shame at her own lasciviousness brings her to a new state of arousal. The boat rocks gently upon the dark water as she repositions herself then slides her head forward to take his cock again, the head slithering over her tongue and down her throat.

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