Gold-red sand slides under my feet.
Shrill is the song of the wedding-chimes.
The tight silver bodice pinches my breasts.
All I endure, just a little time longer.
...Almost over. A few steps more,
An hour, a day, it will be finished.
I will be free, however it ends—
Free of your cruelty, half-breed monster!
There you stand by the braying gong,
Blazing your need to the open sky.
Yes, I've known it these many long days,
And so very many times before!
All these years, linked deep in the mind...
Why did they do it, our so-proper parents?
The formal, old-style, early betrothal
Sealed with the Bonding—this Fate-cursed chain!
Kneel at the High Seat and say the right words;
Proper, formal, old-fashioned as always.
Bring your companions and pledge their behaviour...
That one! All Fates, that one I know!
I know through the Bonding, you passionate fool!
So often you've studied that face—and that body—
And felt what you would not admit to yourself.
Barred from your consciousness—but not from mine!
All Fates, help me—the unwilling bride—
Forced to feel what he will not see,
Forced to yearn where my touch cannot reach,
Burn as he burns—but not for me!
Even now, when the blood commands,
This one last affront I could not endure.
"...a most astonishing dream." Indeed!
And not my flesh you desire, but his.
You lift the mallet. Stonn whispers: "Now."
My feet move as planned, and my voice. "Kahlifee!"
How dare you give me that shocked, hurt look?
Don't you know what you've done, all these miserable years?
Trust our dear parents; the Bonding was deep.
Didn't you feel my complaints, my appeals?
Am I a mute ear, and you a deaf shouter?
Don't you yet know where you've driven me, fool?
"All is in order. She chooses the Challenge."
I choose more than that. I improve on our plan.
No, Stonn! Don't say it! ...She's stopped him. Good.
Now he'll be safe, and I'll win either way.
That Human you love, with your well-hidden passion,
Surely you'll kill him. That will destroy you—
By Starfleet court-martial, or ritual suicide,
Or our biology's unchanging law.
Doubtless that thought has occurred to you, monster.
What else could drive you to speak, through the Fires?
Beg! She will not break the rule... Yet, she could have.
What are the odds she has guessed my condition?
Stonn almost told it! The scandal!... Averted.
No need for him to risk all for me, now.
Only the coals of his fire are still burning...
Time enough passed that I know, beyond doubt.
Bring out the lirpa. Ah, the dismay!
These Humans—their faces show everything plainly.
It might have been best had you followed their custom,
Letting emotion run off from the surface...
—Better than sending your dread lusts to me!
So many times—any hour, any season—
They came without warning, disrupting my life,
Driving me frantic, and no relief possible!
Would that I were a poor man's daughter!
Would that I wore no honored name!
Would that I came of a freer, low caste,
Long since circumcised with no shame!
What Fate made me a nobleman's daughter?
It put value on my uncircumcised state.
My Channels stay tunnels, the Jewel covered over,
Past reach of any relief save Tendrils...
The lirpas slash and swing in the sunlight.
Your too-well-beloved opponent fights well.
What if he wins? Unlikely, but if...?
It is highly doubtful that he will claim me.
...And still, if he does? Human males are possessive.
I'll reveal my condition, and he'll send me home.
Home... Back to Stonn—the only one living
Who ever did give me relief from this madness...
Would that my own hand could ease me
From this chained, unsought desire!
Would I could have wed my Chosen
Before we drowned each other's fire!
Monster of lust! Your frantic blood-burning
Shunted through me! Did you think I'd endure it?
After that dream—too much—I ran mad
To the Common Arena ... and Stonn was there...
"Kroykah!" The round ends. The lirpas are gathered.
He fought very well, this beloved of yours.
But his strength has run out. I'll see you kill him.
My vengeance on both of you! Now the Ahn-Woon.
How many times have you cached your desire for him?
I'll be your lust's handy store-house no more!
At worst, you may claim me. You'll gain no relief there.
My chemistry's many days changed; it would kill you...
Yet should those Tendrils climb my Channels,
Converge on the Jewel hidden there,
I'll be lost to all but Burning!
Even worse, I will not care!
No! No! I will not take that from you!
Not after everything else you've done—
You, your strict Custom, that Human you want...
Take him, then! Break the Bond! Let me go free!
"Kroykah!" It ends. He lies in the sand.
The fever is passing. Still, you are doomed.
Dare you ask me for explanations?
How explicit can I be in public?
Words... but you understand implications.
Stonn: circumcision is allowed for his caste,
And ... "It would be the same, for you would be gone."
He almost said it:
"The woman is—"
Would that my Jewel lay bare to my fingers,
To grant me some peace when your cruel passions spring!
Would I were Bonded to one of less lechery!
Would I were anyone else but T'Pring!