Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.
I’m continuing the story of Willem and Torrey, who are struggling to keep their love on an alien world. This week the prompts were: “It had to be you” or use keys in some way or have a character bake a cake or “He was hung like...” or use a fan dancer in some way or “I thought he’d never finish” or “where there's a will, there’s a way” or “nothing but a heartache”.
Sealed in Stone #17
Willem ground his palms against his eyes, then blinked again at the paper he was reading. He could only stare at ink strokes so long before he wanted to take up a grindstone and do some real work. Protracted argument had worked to get Jayn to allow him to turn the sitting area of Torrey’s apartment—he would never think of it as his own—into a modest workshop. He could shape stone, at least, in his spare time and do small work. He’d made a vase out of a block of green onyx for Jayn. She’d pronounced the workmanship excellent and he’d last seen it sitting on her desk, holding a spray of long stemmed golden trumpets.
They’d reached a kind of equilibrium. She tried to understand him… and he tried to pretend he found any of the words on these papers interesting.
Your education should have extended beyond numbers and science. He heard her voice in his head every time he balked at lessons. It was a mistake to stop teaching you civilized arts just because you scarred your face.
She had based that decision more on an attempt to separate him as much as possible from her son, not thinking through the situation. His and Torrey’s friendship had endured, and grown, and now she was trying to remedy her error with books and tutors. Like Infida, the rotund woman instructing him now, showing him selected passages from history texts and trying to impress upon him the importance of understanding human interaction with the nom.
“Our reproduction is adversely affected when our females live inside the nom. Too many eggs release at once, too many are fertilized and implant, too many fetuses develop. Seven or eight or more is not unusual. These pregnancies do not succeed and often the mothers are lost as well.”
“So we moved outside.” He knew this part of the lesson already.
“We did. The First Mothers at Eshuun made a pact with their Queen. So many turnings ago! They made a pact to protect our women—and our men. The nomari find our men desirable. Useful. They crave males for pleasure and, during their nuptial phases, for crude copulation. All other things for which they find us useful—our contributions to their commerce and economy, our art, our prowess at innovation and implementation of new ideas—pale next to their sexual use of our men.”
“The reason we control… regulate”—his use of the word caused Infida to arch an eyebrow with approval—“access to our men.”
“Yes, yes! They cannot take our men too young, something they would gladly do if their tendencies were not restrained. They can only take our men by trading power to us for them. Alliances with queens are key. They connect us to trade routes, resources, important commodities. Food, for example. Nomari workers are more numerous and more efficient at producing food than we are.”
“Which frees us to concentrate on commerce and playing power games.”
“Power games, as you call them, are the highest level of protection for this kumbh. For all kumbhs. Playing them well is why the Bhesarim thrive where others struggle.”
And how Torrey’s sacrifice could be justified. One young man—one male—was a small price to pay for influence with Pesht’s Queen.
“And my learning this is going to help Torrey? I don’t see how.”
“You learning anything at all is debatable. The only thing you understand is building walls. Walls against knowledge are dangerous.” The way Infida lifted her chin and looked down her nose at him was not new. What was new was the sharpness of her rebuke.
Willem knew he tried her patience, though he didn’t really intend to. He held out the long piece of paper he’d worked on all night. “You told me to write out the connections between Pesht and the kumbhs. I did it this way.”
He’d sketched the many interactions with drawings and a few notations, rather than write them out. His first attempt at writing everything down had led him to scratch out too many words and ruin too much paper. In the end, the chart had been easier. He’d even put a key at the bottom to help explain the more complicated parts.
Infida peered at it through the lenses perched on her nose. Her mother had come from Eshuun, where humans tended to be weak-eyed.
“How fascinating! It seems where there’s a will, there’s a way!” She laughed and lowered the paper. “So you have been listening and reading the texts.”
“Best I could.”
“Judging by this, you have just become my best student.”
“I want to help Torrey. I just don’t see how learning any of this will do that.”
“No chart can explain the intersections of knowledge and trust. You are useful to us. We are making you useful to him. Leave that part to the Kumbharani.” She gathered up her texts, including the one he had been reading. “I think I can give you the rest of the afternoon to yourself, young scholar.”
She swept from the room, paper in hand. At least she’d relieved him from having to read more eye-numbing texts.
Taking advantage of afternoon’s good light, Willem went to his work bench. He’d obtained a small block of pristine white marble and had nearly finished working it into a cluster of starflowers just like those that bloomed on the vines around Torrey’s window. Torrey had told him on more than one occasion that whenever he saw a starflower he thought of Willem.
People had told Willem he’d think of Torrey less as the days passed, but that hadn’t happened. He missed his friend’s laugh, his kisses, the scent of his hair and the taste of his skin.
One day soon he would just die of the yearning, and then where would Jayn and her stupid lessons be?
Willem put the starflowers in a box and sealed it, to be sent along with his next letter.
Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.