For a day and a half or so, I thought I’d be all set to hold forth here on the subject of pride, or at least to report something I could feel proud of, whether warranted or not. As it turns out, though, when I read the fine print—i.e. the contract—I realized that some changes needed to be made, and they won’t be made—or refused—until today (Monday) or later. Nothing really major, I think, but we’ll see. A contract suitable for a single-author book doesn’t always work for a multi-author anthology.
So, in spite of having been offered an editing gig that would once have represented the pinnacle of achievement to me (at least in my little corner of the erotica genre,) and still looks well worth doing, I need to seek out a different approach to the theme of pride. And, of course, the harder I seek, the more complexities I bump up against.
Is feeling proud fundamentally wrong, as we sometimes learn, or can you get away with it if you call it self-respect? Then there’s “Blessed are the meek,” and I really can’t argue with that. If “pride goes before a fall,” it’s better to be the observer of that particular dramatic scene rather than the lead character. Most of us can enjoy a bit of Schadenfreude, as long we’re not the butt of it. Still, if we can’t be proud of our achievements, where’s the incentive for achieving them?
Maybe the answer is that feeling proud of one’s achievements is okay, but the kind of pride that makes one person feel superior to most others is questionable. I’m not proud of myself—there are too many things I haven’t done as well as I should have—but I’m proud, or at least not ashamed, of some difficult things I did step up and do about as well as anyone could.
But I’d rather talk about stories than keep on with pointless navel-gazing. From the earliest legends and traditions we’ve been fascinated by stories of pride, and by no means chiefly ones culminating in a fall. Gods, heroes, royalty, people with inherent pride, bred in the bone. Pride in their ancestors, their traditions, a noble sort of pride that includes responsibility for those under their rule. We may get a bit twitchy about the classism in books like The Lord of the Rings, but we still cheer for Aragorn to take up the proud role that is his by birth.
When it comes to erotica—you knew where I was going, right?—we can get hot for confident, strong, proud characters, mostly male, it’s true, but some of us can appreciate strong, proud women as well. Wait, don’t stop reading yet! The excerpt I’m about to include has both. I do write straight sex from time to time, and I know whereof I write. This particular story was published under my alter-ego’s name, Connie Wilkins, in Hot Highlanders and Wild Warriors, edited by Delilah Devlin for Cleis Press.
This excerpt comes from near the end, so a bit of context might be in order. (I think I posted a bit from the beginning a while back when we discussed some other theme, and maybe this part as well, so apologies if I’m repeating myself.) Ardzvik is the hereditary Lady of Aragatsotn in Armenia, and Yul Dharuga is the Mongol General appointed Governor of Georgia and Armenia by Batu Khan of the Golden Horde. Proud Ardzvik would prefer to fight to the death, but to save her people she offers the fealty of her Province, previously sworn to the deposed Georgian kings, to the Mongols, so that taxation can substitute for bloodshed. At this point in the story she has been hosting Yul, and felt drawn to him, but pride is still so much a part of her that a dramatic chance encounter shatters her self-control, and rage bursts through.
A Falcon in Flight
The next morning Ardzvik rose early after tortured dreams. Never had she needed the solace of the mountain and her falcon more. Bakhshi carried her with Zepyur tethered to her leather hawking glove along trails and then trackless reaches until his mistress was sure they could not be followed, and then she dismounted, slipped the hood from Zephyur’s head, and loosed the bird to the breeze.
Today she had brought her bow in hope of flushing larger game than the falcon could hunt. Wild goats were often seen at this height, and even boar might come to root among the tubers of mountain flowers. She pulled off her leather glove and kept an arrow at the ready, but her mind was not focused as much on the outer world as on her inner one.
Why did she yearn so for a man who might well not want her, or, if he did, might value her title more than her body? And if he wanted golden-haired Leyli, how could Ardzik bear it? Their father had not wed Leyli’s mother, but he had acknowledged the child, and if Ardzvik bore no heir one of Leyli’s would be accepted as ruler of Aragatsotn. Illegitimacy was not such a barrier in the ancient traditions of this land.
It was the begetting of children that obsessed Ardzvik now, not the bearing of them. She wanted this one man and no other, foreigner, destroyer, conqueror though he might be. She had known a mare who would let no stallion mount her save the one of her own choice. The horse had broken out, gone to her chosen mate in spite of her owner’s different plan, and their offspring had turned out to be the finest the herd had ever known. Perhaps bodies knew things that minds did not.
Ardzvik’s mind might be preoccupied by her treacherous body’s needs, but her eyes caught the hitch in her falcon’s flight and her ears caught the changed sound of the bells on the bird’s ankle. Suddenly Zepyur was not hunting, but fleeing. A great white hawk more than half again her size rose over the mountain’s shoulder.
A falcon of the north! A female Gyrfalcon! Not native here, but the royal family of Georgia had possessed one when Ardzvik was a child, and she had seen it hunt. It was clearly hunting now.
Zepyur twisted and dived, eluding her pursuer again and again, but the other gained ground each time. Ardzvik shouted and raised her bow. Something moved below on the mountainside, but she had no time to look. Zepyur dived again, opening space between herself and her pursuer, and Ardzvik’s arrow sped sure and true—until another’s arrow met it in flight, and both spun together toward the earth.
Arsdvik whistled for her bird and quickly donned the hawking glove. Another whistle, yet more piercing, came from somewhere below. Zepyur soared to her mistress and perched, quivering, on the thick leather gauntlet. The white intruder glided down past the man whose dun horse raced up the steep slope, to land on the arm of a second rider following more slowly.
Yul Darugha gave a roar in a language Ardzvik did not understand, though the words were clearly curses. She swiftly hooded Zepyur, stroked her feathers to calm her, and set her to perch on a rock in a sheltered hollow, tethered to a wiry shrub. Bakhshi grazed nearby, the sounds of his browsing familiar enough to reassure the hawk.
Ardzvik advanced toward the approaching man, another arrow at the ready. Her heart still pounded from her sudden terror for her hawk, but fear had transmuted into a glorious, intoxicating fury.
He leapt from his horse, bow in hand, and ran toward her, coming to a sudden stop as she raised her own weapon in warning.
“You…if you…when I saw that it was you…” His deep voice cracked. “If you had killed my gyrfalcon, with my falconer as witness…” He stopped for breath. “I would have had no choice! You know that!”
“I aimed between them to distract your bird,” she retorted in a cold rage. “If she did not veer off the next arrow would have found her heart. And if your arrow had killed my falcon…”
“I aimed between them as well,” he said, his voice steadier now.
Ardzvik clung to her anger, reveled in it, allowed it to spark from ice into fire. “For the sake of my people I surrendered my province, but this is my own land! Here I will stand and fight!”
Yul Darugha’s eyes lit with a flame that was not anger. He set down his bow and shouted a command to his falconer waiting below. The old man shook his head doubtfully but moved away with the gyrfalcon on his arm and was soon out of sight.
“So there is a she-wolf in you after all! When I first saw you I thought--I hoped--but I could not be sure.”
“A she-wolf?” Ardzvik’s laugh was scornful. “Look higher. My name means “eagle” in the old tongue. I am Lady of Aragatsotn, and more. My mother’s line is said to be of those warriors from the lands beyond the Black Sea called Amazons by the Greeks.” True, only the oldest grandmothers said this, but Ardzvik still felt it to be true. “I will defend my own!”
“I see in you that warrior girl who haunts my memory.” Yul spoke now not as the Mongol Darugha but as a man who needs no title between himself and the woman he desires. “It is she I dreamed of, before last night, and then it was you. The only prize worth winning.”
The heat of Ardzvik’s anger flowed effortlessly into arousal, but she did not forsake her proud stance. “How can you be so sure of me? Was she not naked, that warrior girl?”
He stepped forward; she stepped back. Her own hand drew the rough tunic over her head and loosed the drawstring of the men’s trousers she wore for hunting. Her strong, slim body stood bared to the summer sun, and to his burning gaze.
Just as he reached for her she stepped forward into his embrace, rejoicing in the rumble deep in his chest and the arms far stronger than her own that raised her up off her feet to crush her against him. His mouth pressed hard on hers, then moved into the hollows of her neck and over her shoulders in a frenzy of hunger for her flesh. When he lifted her yet higher to taste her firm breasts, she gasped and cried out and forced his head and mouth ever harder against them.
At last, needing more, and yet more, Ardzvik scrabbled at the jerkin of overlapping leather disks that left his muscular arms bare but kept her from rubbing against his chest.
“Are you more shy of the sun than I?” she panted. In seconds his clothing was heaped along with hers. They rolled together atop this pile or onto nearby tufts of harsh grass, scarcely noting the difference.
At first Ardzvik rode Yul, her long dark hair flailing across his body as she savored the exquisite joy of easing inch by inch onto his great length and breadth. Men were more like stallions than she had ever dreamed! Then he growled low, lurched atop her, and thrust deep and hard. Her hips arched upward to take him in still deeper. Her passage gripped him, yet let him slide in its wetness just enough to drive her to a peak of intensity close to madness. Sounds burst from her that were not words, and from him as well, until all she could hear was her own voice rising in a cry of triumph, her body wrenched by joy.
But Yul, she saw, when she could focus on anything outside herself, was braced above her on stiffened arms, face twisted, jaw grimly set, the cords of his neck standing out like tree roots. “I must…” he forced out the words. “I would not get a bastard on you!” He struggled to lift his great weight from her, to withdraw.
“Then you had better wed me!” Ardzvik cried. “I will have now what is mine!” Need surged in her again. She dug her hands into his clenched buttocks, gripped him close, and tightened her inner walls about his hardness until he had no words at all, only rough groans accelerating into a mighty roar. That sound, and the hot fierce flow of his seed, sent her into a second spasm of joy.
So there you go. Pride and Passion. Excuse me while I go change the title of my post, which wasn't quite as alliterative as this one.