Read Choices Online

Authors: Ann Herendeen

Tags: #bisexual, #sword and sorcery, #womens fiction, #menage, #mmf


BOOK: Choices
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Book Two of Lady Amalie’s


by Amalie, Lady Aranyi
edited and with an introduction by Ann Herendeen

Copyright © July 2011 by Ann Herendeen


This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places and incidents are either products of the
author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual events, locales, or persons, living, dead, or undead, is
purely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this
publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from
the author or publisher.


Smashwords Edition August 2011


Cover image: Danielle Jacobs with T.T.























the Author/Editor


Ann Herendeen is the author of two Harper
Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander
(2008); and
(2010), a Lambda Literary
Award finalist for Bisexual Fiction. She lives in Brooklyn.






he ride to La
Sapienza was brutal, although Edwige, ‘Gravina Ertegun, declared, a
mocking smile on her face, that the weather had “held up nicely”
given the season. It was early in the first month of autumn, and
autumn on Eclipsis, even in the low-lying plains between the city
and the seminary, features a great deal of wind, freezing rain and
sleet. In our fourteen-hour day of travel, broken up, again
according to Edwige, into two “easy stages,” we had encountered all
of these conditions as we maneuvered our mounts along the narrow,
slippery, rocky trails, Eclipsis’s only roads.

You wanted this
, I told myself.
You’re the one who gave up a comfortable life in the Terran
Sector to become an Eclipsian. Nobody forced you
. But it had
happened so quickly there had been no time to think it through or
imagine what I had chosen.

Two days ago—
two days ago!
—I had
been a Terran, working as an information manager, living in a
heated apartment, rarely venturing farther than the Protectorate
Headquarters a short walk away on Terran-style paved sidewalks. Now
I was riding on an animal, a sturdy little mountain pony suitable
for a woman traveling in hilly terrain. My clothes were drenched, I
was shivering under my borrowed cloak—I who am never cold—and I was
near the end of my strength. When, late in the evening, we reached
the gate of La Sapienza, only the quick action of a sympathetic
guard prevented me from landing flat on my back in the mud as I

My one friend was gone soon enough. The
guards who had escorted us were dismissed with thanks and directed
to a hostel in the nearby town.

Once inside the great hall I was too
exhausted to take in much of my surroundings. What looked like an
enormous company had turned out to welcome me, the unique Terran
woman with gifts sufficient to merit admission to this citadel of
knowledge, but they were a blur of faces and compound Eclipsian
names. Edwige, for all her sardonic amusement at my lack of
conditioning, recognized my state of near collapse and sent me to
my assigned room. I gobbled the tray of food that had been left for
me and, peeling off my sodden clothes, fell gratefully into the
soft bed piled with blankets and topped with a quilt.

I had thought I would be too nervous to sleep
in a strange place, wondering what I had let myself in for, but I
was out before I had time to think. For once, I was in a room that
was cold enough for my body to relax, and the twenty-six-hour cycle
of the Eclipsian day gave me time to sleep out and wake up
naturally, refreshed and ready for new experiences.

Almost ready. I opened my eyes to see a
non-human being staring down at me with round, feral eyes. It stood
on two legs but slightly crouched, like an ape. It was covered with
fur in a mottled gray and black pattern, and had a long, ringed
tail like a lemur. The face was a disturbing mix of features and
expression: part cat, part primate—and part human. I shut my eyes
and lay still. Perhaps the dream would fade if I ignored it.

Do not be afraid
, the thought came
into my head. It was not really those words. It was not words, just
the thought, but the sense was clear. The ideas burbled in my mind,
more like the music of a fast-flowing stream over rocks than any
recognizable language.
I am for you,
the being

I made the connection slowly. Edwige had
mentioned something, but in the fatigue of travel I had forgotten.
The inhabitants of a seminary live like religious novices or army
recruits, every minute dedicated to scholarship and training in
their telepathic gifts.
takes energy to use, as I
had discovered during my own exhausting test that had earned me the
chance to be here. With our strict regimen, we would have no time
or strength for cooking and laundry, all the chores of daily

Ordinary human servants, who do not possess
or the third eyelids that protect them from its
effects, would be endangered by the forces of light and radiation
unleashed in our work. Over the centuries, a species of hybrid
animal was developed, with rudimentary telepathy but without
speech, something like the genetically-enhanced dogs and monkeys
used as service animals on Terra. “Aides,” they were called,
generically, and to my mind, euphemistically. Edwige had not
prepared me for the eerie combination of animal appearance and
readable thoughts.

Forgive me
, I thought to this aide.
I sat up.
I am a stranger, from Terra
… I stopped,
realizing the being did not respond to such specific ideas. It was
enough for him that I had accepted him, had understood who and what
he was. The words, even expressed mentally, were meaningless babble
to him, like the barking of a dog to me.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed and
stood up, checking quickly and, I hoped, discreetly, naked being to
naked being. There was no indication of sex that I could see
beneath the fur, although I continued to experience the creature’s
persona, for no reason I could determine, as male. Whatever its
sex, if any, the aide had no more interest in a naked human than I
had in an unclothed animal.

He followed me to the bathroom, apparently
expecting to help, waiting outside the door while I used the
toilet. Last night I had been thankful merely to know that
something resembling an old-fashioned Terran bathroom was connected
to my bedroom, that it was mine and did not have to be shared with
anyone else. This morning I was more demanding as I examined the
fixtures of the bathtub.

No falling water
. The aide had come
in silently behind me, confirming my suspicions with his answers.
Wash in pool
. He drew a bath for me, from separate hot and
cold taps, mixing the water with a hand that had the fingers and
opposable thumb of a chimpanzee and the retractable claws of a

I bathed quickly. When I emerged, wrapped in
towels, the aide was gone along with my clothes, all except the
boots, and a wood fire had been started in the hearth. I huddled as
close as I dared, shivering in the room that was otherwise

The aide returned soon, carrying an outfit of
Eclipsian clothing, which he helped me into. The underwear alone
was amazing: a camisole, although with long sleeves, and several
underskirts, all made of a soft material I had never seen before.
It was linen, I learned later. The items were clearly handmade,
pieced together with seams of tiny, even stitches. Despite being
underclothes, they were edged with embroidered designs of Eclipsian
plants, the leaves, flowers and seedpods realistically depicted in
colored threads.

For outer clothes there was a long skirt and
a tunic top of soft wool, woven in a complex pattern of green and
purple. The linen sleeves of the camisole extended past the woolen
sleeves of the tunic and turned up in a cuff. The ruffles of the
underskirts hung down to my ankles; the overskirt was slightly
shorter. Since most outer clothing is wool, abrasive to the skin of
the light-sensitive ‘Graven, the soft underwear must protect the
entire body. That delicate needlework did show, at the cuffs, and
at the neck and hemline.

The garments fit me well, better than many of
my Terran clothes, and were far more comfortable. Without stretch
fabrics, nothing was binding or constricting. Surely the clothes
could not have been made for me on such short notice. While
perfectly clean, they had a worn look, with some frayed edges and
places where an unraveled seam or a tear had actually been sewn
together again.

The aide was unable to answer so many
unspoken and specific questions.
From a little one
, he
thought, waving his paw in a direction that could have been the
next room, the next floor or the town. He did not recognize us
humans by name, and if he had a name he never shared it with

No doubt I would find out about the clothes
soon enough. In the meantime I was grateful that I would not stand
out in my old Terran clothes, and—I had to smile to myself at the
unexpected necessity—that I would be warm. The natural materials
breathed, while the multiple layers insulated against the cold. The
fire had taken the chill off the room, but the small panes of the
windows were still opaque with frost.
I’m here
, I thought.
Living in the real Eclipsis now

I was eager to see myself in my new
incarnation, but there was no mirror, not even in the bathroom. The
aide picked up on my frustration, unsure of what I wanted. I tried
to tell him, but it’s difficult without language. Finally I thought
of my meager baggage, the pack with identification, credit card and
makeup I had taken with me when I went to the ‘Graven Assembly for
my test. The ID was gone, but the other stuff was still there. I
dug the little hand mirror out and showed it to the aide. He
growled, modulating between bass and tenor, like a tomcat warning
off a rival, and shook his head.

I sighed. Mirrors must be rare on Eclipsis,
although the private quarters I had seen in ‘Graven Fortress had
had them. At least I could paint my face. I opened the makeup kit,
picked out foundation, eye shadow and liner, eyebrow pencil and
lipstick, and started in. The aide didn’t like this. He hovered
over me, growling continuously, the fur on his neck and shoulders
bristling like a mane. I gave up and put the makeup and mirror

The aide extended his claws and reached
toward the kit, hooking out the comb, using it and the claws of his
other hand on my short hair, still damp from the bath. His touch
was gentle although his movements were quick and his thoughts
impatient. When he encountered tangles he worked through them,
restraining his rather graphic desire to snip them out with his
teeth. He inspected his work when he finished, seemed satisfied,
and opened the door for me to leave.

I hesitated for a moment in the corridor, and
then moved confidently in the right direction, toward the stairs
and down to the great hall. It was easy to sense the others waiting
to greet me. At the doorway I took a deep breath and stepped

There were about fifteen people, far fewer
than it had seemed to me last night, overwhelmed then by fatigue
and the strangeness of my situation, but more than enough for me to
be apprehensive now. Despite the early hour the room was not
bright; the narrow windows were set high in the wall. Yet everybody
had their third eyelids showing, as if to proclaim their gifted

It was hard for me to lower my own eyelids by
choice, and I smiled with shyness, lowering my head and waiting for
a cue. Eclipsis, a foreign world, separated not simply by distance
from Terra but, in a way, by time as well, would be certain to have
established formulas of speech between guests and hosts, newcomers
and veterans. Although Edwige, insisting I use her first name from
now on, had assured me that in La Sapienza titles and social rank
were disregarded, I was convinced that if I opened my mouth, an
expression would come out that broke the rules of courtesy, getting
me off to a bad start.

BOOK: Choices
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