tagSci-Fi & FantasyLions of Parnatha Ch. 02

Lions of Parnatha Ch. 02


Gaius Remulus Artigro rubbed his eyes as he gazed detachedly at the files on his desk. He had been staring at them for hours, at the insistence of his advisers, and now had a massive headache. Looking up, he watched as his friend Aurus Calpernon idly twirled a metal diagram of the planets and moons. The large blond man eyed him back, shrugging.

"Dunno what you want from me, my brother. You already said you made your choice."

"Yes, and apparently it's the wrong one. Herrad insists I reconsider. Apparently the girl has a ridiculous reputation."

Aurus shrugged again. "So? You already know that, you said you talked to her. Hell, you talked to her more than any of the others." He smirked as a thought struck him. "Her tits must be glorious. I can't imagine anything else about her would hold your interest so well. Did you fuck her?"

Gaius sighed in exasperation. "No, Aurus, I did not have her. We talked, as I have said many times. I hear you got on rather well with the servants, though." Shifting through the papers on his desk again, Gaius finally stood and grabbed a bottle of port from a small table near his desk. Marching to the window, he leaned against its frame and watched the flickering lights of the city of Arthos. The sun had been set for a few hours now, and the twin moons Ula and Veros were already rising high in the cloudless sky. Sighing, he took a long swig of port.

Aurus watched him and then let out a slow, low whistle. "Rion's balls, Gaius. This one actually got to you, didn't she. You're actually taken with her."

"She's different from any of them, all of them. She's... She's intelligent, daring. She had more life in her little finger than all of those other girls combined."

Aurus belched. "Sounds like she'd make an awful wife," he commented dryly.

"Perhaps," Gaius said softly as he examined the wooden window frame. "Still, I'm willing to take that chance with this one. I want the challenge."

"You always did walk on the wild side," Aurus noted sarcastically. "So fuck Herrad. Marry the wench. It's your fucking life, Gaius. Do what you want. Your uncle will bless you either way." Gaius nodded thoughtfully, and Aurus asked, "What's this one's name, anyway?"

"Lithana Vitalis," Gaius answered with a smile. Somewhere out in the night, I had the feeling I had made a terrible mistake.

The few weeks following the viewing passed uneventfully. I concentrated on tormenting my keepers enough to earn their ire but not their punishment, and found a new hobby in reading the plays I had discussed with the guard I had met. I was reading one such play on a rather lovely spring afternoon when I was interrupted by the sound of many feet walking across the stone floor of the sitting room. I glanced up to see Romus, the head eunuch, and a small band of his fellows striding quickly in my direction. I rolled my eyes and closed my book. Obviously I had done something to upset someone again, and I stood in a huff as I prepared for a barrage of admonishment.

Romus stopped before me and nodded his head slightly, which was a very peculiar way to begin a lecture. His face was a mixture of confusion and terror, and he seemed extremely nervous, which immediately put me on edge. I stood in silent unease as I watched the eunuch shift his weight before me. Finally he withdrew a folded piece of paper from his robes and handed it to me with a pale, trembling hand.

I took it gingerly, holding it as though it would bite me. I was confused at first, and as I turned it over in my hands and saw the deep red wax and the seal of the headmistress I thought for a moment that I was being expelled from the house. I slid my finger beneath the seal and opened what I could now tell what a letter of some kind. It was ornate, the edges engraved in gold ink in intricate patterns that wove like vines around the page. I knit my brows and began to read.

IT IS DECLARED that on this day in the season of Evinistra that HIS LORDSHIP GAIUS REMULUS ARTIGRO of the royal house of THE DIVINE CASERO ASTERIA THE EIGHTH has accepted betrothal to the lady LITHANA VITALIS of the house of BALTUS VITALIS ERGRIGIO. May the lady Evinistra and her handmaids bless this union. May the Empire live eternally.

The bottom of the declaration was signed by the headmistress Germeta and her advisers, as well as someone from the household of the lieutenant general. As my eyes passed over their names I felt my knees fail me, and I fell to the floor with a gasping cry. More cries and roars erupted unbidden from my throat as I held the declaration in my shaking hands, my eyes transfixed by the sight of it. Suddenly the sitting room was filled with people as women and servants and eunuchs rushed in to find the source of the noise. I felt hands grab my arms and haul me to my feet, dragging me away. The declaration was taken from me as I was led from the room, blinded by tears, rage, and despair.

I raged for days, rejecting food and comfort alike, and had to be locked in my quarters. When I finally calmed down enough to be released, I was in a state of numb apathy. The congratulations of the other girls were met with sneers, and when one of my friends told me that I acted as though I was going to be executed, I asked her if it was an option. The eunuchs began the difficult task of preparing me for my wedding, but I didn't care. I was empty, cold, and unresponsive to their pleas for input. In the end, I never made a single decision about my wedding.

I waited for two long and anxiety ridden months for my wedding, which I often referred to as my death sentence. The day that it came, I was woken early in the morning to begin my preparation. The ceremony would be held in the early afternoon, and the reception party in the early evening.

I cannot say that the experience of preparation was entirely horrible. Had it been under different circumstances I would even have enjoyed myself. I was first washed, a lengthy process that involved cleaning every inch of my body with fine soaps and thoroughly washing my unruly hair. I was then rubbed in oils and my hair was combed and perfumed. My wedding gown was next, several layers of silk and linen and thin, gauzy fabrics that hugged my frame in conspicuous areas. My face was painted and my hair and extremities were adorned with ornaments and bangles. In all, I managed to cut a picture of divine beauty, an outcome that surprised everyone, myself included.

As I sat in front of a polished silver mirror, staring at the beautiful stranger in its reflection, I was suddenly aware of another presence. I turned slightly to glance over my shoulder, and smiled slightly as the eunuch Romus cleared his throat.

"Come to gloat?" I asked bitterly.

"No, Lithana," he said softly, and walking stiffly, he came toward me. He stopped a foot from me as I turned to face him, and held out a small, dark wooden box. I quirked a curious eyebrow and took the box from him. Seeing my questioning look, Romus said, "I'm delivering a part of your dowry."

I lifted the lid of the box and felt my eyes go wide. Nestled on a bed of silk was a fine necklace. The chain was bronzed with age in places, and I surmised that it must be very old. As I lifted it from the box to examine the intricate designs and encrusted emeralds and sapphires, Romus explained, "Your father left us very explicit instructions for your dowry, it seems. This was to be given to you on the eve of your wedding. His letter says it belonged to your mother, and that she wore it at her wedding."

Tears leaped to my eyes as I looked from the necklace to the eunuch, who was smiling kindly at me. "Thank you," I croaked. Still smiling, the eunuch placed the necklace around my neck and then, bowing slightly, left me alone to my thoughts.

I was transported to one of the imperial villas in a carriage an hour later. My transport was given an escort of armed guards, which amused me, and half of me wished I would actually be kidnapped. The windows were draped in linen curtains, but I lifted a corner and snuck a peek as we entered the grounds of the villa. It was grandiose, far more so than my father's estate or the maiden's home, with several stories and buildings and terraces. Gardens were interspersed amongst open courtyards and towering columned causeways. The buildings were decked in brightly colored banners and garlands, and somewhere I could hear a quintet playing for a very large group of people.

As the carriage pulled to a stop I felt my pulse rise and feared I would throw up on myself. I then thought that may very well be a good idea, that perhaps the sight of a vomit covered bride may change the lieutenant general's mind at the last moment, but I was unable to act on my plan as the door to the carriage swung open. Bright afternoon sunlight assaulted my eyes, and I was helped to the ground and quickly ushered into one of the smaller adjoining buildings.

There were people everywhere. Handmaids fluttered about me, commenting on how exquisite I looked and trying to feed me fruit and wine. I almost took a swat at one of them, but I was suddenly set upon by a priest who tried in vain to make me memorize the ceremony. I was again primped and perfumed, and when everyone was satisfied that I was the epitome of perfection, a veil was placed over my head and I was led to the temple.

The temple of Arthos was the primary priesthood in Parnatha. There were many smaller devotions to the individual gods, or groups of gods, but only the temples of Arthos paid homage to the pantheon as it was meant to be: a cohesive, single unit. As such, the temples were always extravagant and enormous, meant to house thousands and be the incarnate of perfect worship. As I entered this villa's own private temple, I could hear the shuffling of many feet and the chanting of priests and their acolytes. The little foyer in which I stood was my last refuge before I was thrust unwilling into the waiting world beyond.

Beside me I heard others approach, and I saw from the corner of my eye a man decked in fine metal armor. Realizing that this was my future husband, I sniffed and turned my eyes resolutely forward.

The man sighed and shifted his weight as he came to rest beside me. "I hope you are not that truly disappointed, my lady," he said softly, the hint of a smirk resting in his tone.

The voice was instantaneously familiar, and as realization dawned on me, I turned to face him with my mouth agape.

"It was YOU?!" I hissed incredulously. Indeed, now that I looked on him properly, the man before me was the same man I had met in the courtyard at the viewing. He looked considerably more regal, however, in glowing ceremonial armor. A long, deep blue cloak was cinched at his shoulders, and an ornate sword was strapped to his side. If I hadn't been so enraged, I would have been impressed. I pointed a shaky, manicured finger at him.

"You look surprised," he replied, trying to hide a smile.

"Well you bet your ass I am!" I yelled back. I was met with hostile, disapproving stares, and the man's face looked suddenly bewildered.

"Please lower your voice, Lithana," he said in a low tone.

"I can't believe you did this to me! I told you how I felt about this whole arrangement, and you agreed with me. I even told you not to tell...well...you! And then you go and choose me? What the hell is your problem?" I managed to control my volume, but my tone was venomous.

"You intrigued me," he answered, his expression souring. He seemed taken aback by my outburst, as though it was completely unexpected, and he was unsure of how to respond. Eying me for a moment, he nodded his approval. "You do look strikingly beautiful. I am lieutenant general Gaius Remulus Artigro, and I will be your new husband this afternoon."

I felt rage seethe throughout my body, but as I was unable to act on it, all I wanted to do was cry. "Go boil your head," was my only response. Gaius grunted and placed my hand over his, and the two of us made a stately walk into the temple.

The ceremony lasted hours. We were made to stand and kneel, then stand again, then kneel. I recited my oaths mechanically, my voice quavering at times. I kept noticing the lieutenant general give me quick looks, his brow knit in what looked like concern, but I was so absorbed in my misery that I couldn't be sure. When he recited his oaths, his voice was smooth and baritone, with the clarity of one accustomed to speaking with authority. I noted that, despite the careful grooming he had undergone, his hair was still shaggy. It brought a small smirk to my lips.

After the ceremony we retired to separate quarters. I was undressed, the majority of my adornments removed, and redressed in a simpler, more casual gown and slippers. I was given a few moments to rest before I was then led from the rooms and through the sprawling grounds to a very large banquet hall. The walls were naught but soaring columns draped in curtains of silk and organza. Tiny lanterns were strung across the hall, already filled with oil in preparation for a very long evening. Low tables were arranged in careful patterns on tiled floors, accenting fine mosaics and fountains. It was an extremely lavish, extremely intimidating affair.

I was joined shortly after by the lieutenant general, who had redressed as well and was now wearing a fine kilt and shirt underneath an intricately stitched toga. He smiled awkwardly at me and nodded, as though we had just finished a business transaction and were now having dinner as an afterthought. Behind him were several other men, one of whom I immediately recognized as the tall blond I had seen fucking the servant girl. He winked again at me, and I flushed deeply.

"I hope you have calmed enough to at least enjoy the banquet," he commented softly as he took my hand.

"I doubt it. I might even throw up all over the table," I shot back with a sneer. This caused the men behind him to laugh.

"Oh, you're right about this one, Gaius," the blond one said. "She sure is a challenge, alright."

"You chose me because you think I'm a challenge?" I hissed in anger, glaring at my new husband.

Gaius, who was busy glaring angrily at his friend, suddenly grabbed my upper arm at pulled me close to him. "Look, my lady," he said in a low, even tone that sounded vaguely threatening. "I do not begrudge your anger, but your manner is frankly childish and unacceptable. If you wish me to be forced to punish you on our wedding night in front of our guests, I will do so. Do not test my will where decorum is concerned, especially not tonight. Do you understand me?" His light blue eyes pierced into me, and I fidgeted uncomfortably in his grasp.

"Will you whip me in public, master?" I spat sarcastically, and my remark was met by several snickers. I blanched slightly when the look on his face said yes.

Sighing, Gaius shook his head and lightened his grip on my arm. "You can scream at me in private after this is over, if you wish."

"If it pleases you, master," I replied. Gaius frowned and then led me into the hall to resounding applause.

I sat stiffly on the edge of my bed, my hands folded in my lap as I apprehensively watched the entrance to my chambers. After the banquet, which had been decidedly awkward for both myself and my new husband, I had been ushered to the private apartments that we would be using for the next few days. Servant girls had dressed me in a provocative, gauzy shift and had perfumed my skin, preparing me for my wedding night. Around me were lit candles and garlands of musky scented flowers. The scene, one that should have excited the blood of a virgin bride, made me sick to my stomach.

I had at first determined that there would not in fact be a wedding night, that I would simply harangue Gaius until he got fed up with me and left. A thought had then crept into my mind as I recalled the grip on my arm and the threat in his voice. What if I resisted, but it didn't matter? What if, despite what I had thought about Gaius before I knew who he was, he would simply take what, for all legal and spiritual purposes, now belonged to him? The idea set fear into my heart, and had made me oddly complacent. And now I waited for him from where I sat on the edge of my bed, practically trembling.

There was suddenly a knock on the door frame outside, and the silk curtains were lifted aside at one corner. Lieutenant General Gaius Remulus Artigro stepped stiffly through the doorway, letting the curtain fall closed behind him. He was still dressed in his kilt and toga from the banquet, and he looked decidedly tired and grim. He looked me over momentarily, an slightly pained expression on his face, and slowly entered the room. I stood as he neared me, and ran a hand over the front of my shift. The air was so thick with tension that anyone watching may well have thought the scene would go wonderfully in some Parnathan play.

Gaius stopped a few feet from me and continued to stare at me, as though he was unsure what to say and trying to impart his ideas remotely. I crossed my arms and decided that there was little other choice but to launch into what was weighing on my mind.

"I told you I didn't wish to be married."

He nodded stiffly, his jaw set. "You did, yes. You said you didn't want to sign yourself over to someone who doesn't deserve you."

"And you agreed with me."


I eyed him with a raised eyebrow. "And do you think you deserve me, lieutenant general?"

"I hope to," he replied simply.

I blinked a few times, shocked by his soft, honest reply and unsure of how to continue my little tirade. All I could think of to say was, "Why did you pick me? Tell me the truth, was it for sport? Did you think perhaps you could break a strong-willed woman--"

"I chose you," Gaius interrupted, "because I had never met another woman like you. You were exactly opposite those other pretty butterflies who flitted around that viewing. You had, have, life, fire, a scary amount of intelligence."

"You chose me because I scare you?" I couldn't help but be amused, and it showed in my face.

"I respect you, Lithana." He sighed and ran a hand through his shaggy black hair, his eyes looking tired. "When this decision to choose a wife was thrust upon me, I determined that, as I was unable to fight it, I would make absolutely certain that whomever I picked would be of quality mind and heart. I went to the viewing looking for something kindred, and I found you." Slowly, he raised a hand and ran his fingers along my shoulder and upper arm. I shivered involuntarily.

"Wait, are you saying that you didn't want to marry either?" I was floored by the idea that, like me, he had been forced into accepting the will of another.

"Yes, I suppose. No. I don't know." His hand traveled slowly down my arm, causing the skin to raise up the little fine hairs that covered it. "I had always wanted to marry, but at this particular juncture in my life I was...unprepared. It wasn't at the forefront of my mind." His hand had now reached mine, and he took it and raised it to his lips, kissing my fingers. "I apologize for deceiving you, my lady, but had I told you who I was, I doubt you would have said another word to me." This he said with a smirk.

I was almost certain he could see me shifting slightly, as he brushed my fingertips with his lips. I had never been touched like that before, and certainly never kissed. The other girls in the maiden's home would sometimes pleasure each other, or with the servants, and sometimes a eunuch would involve himself. I never participated in their antics and orgies, however; frankly the idea of intimacy intimidated me, though I'd never admit it.

I felt myself blushing as I was suddenly aware that Gaius was letting his gaze appraise me. The shift I wore didn't leave much to the imagination. My small breasts were framed by the draping fabric, my small pink nipples clearly visible against the sheer fabric. The curve of my hips and my thighs was visible in the flickering candlelight, and I felt extremely naked.

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