“Storm Constantine is a mythmaking Gothic queen, whose lush tales are compulsive reading. Her stories are poetic, involving, delightful, and depraved. I wouldn't swap her for a dozen Anne Rices!” Neil Gaiman
The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure (Wraeththu Histories Series #1)by Storm Constantine
Hailed as "a literary fantasist of outstanding power and originality" by Michael Moorcock, Storm Constantine is one of the most exciting and innovative fantasy writers of her generation. The author of many acclaimed works of science fiction and fantasy, she is best known for her daring, stylish and provocative Wraeththu trilogy (The Enchantments of Flesh and
Hailed as "a literary fantasist of outstanding power and originality" by Michael Moorcock, Storm Constantine is one of the most exciting and innovative fantasy writers of her generation. The author of many acclaimed works of science fiction and fantasy, she is best known for her daring, stylish and provocative Wraeththu trilogy (The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire). The series, which chronicled the rise of a new race of seductive androgynous beings with awesome powers, was hailed as a modern fantasy masterpiece, winning an avid international following of devoted readers.
Now, with The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure, Storm Constantine returns once again to the saga of the Wraeththu with a new epic that reveals previously unknown truths about the origins of these remarkable beings.
Long before the Wraeththu assumed total mastery of the Earth and dominion over the dwindling remnants of the human race, they were a wild and passionate people, living in scattered tribes, worshiping strange gods, increasing their numbers by transmuting humans into their own kind. But all that changed on a festival night that surpassed all others, a night when the world changed forever and the Wraeththu began to realize their awesome potential.
It was a time when the archmage Thiede wove the strands of Wraeththu destiny. When two young Wraeththu hara came together to produce a miraculous new life. When Pellaz, a brash and reckless young leader, rose from destruction to take his place in Wraeththu history. And a child called Lileem found a path of passion and power that led to unknown worlds of mystery.
A tale of intrigue and betrayal, bloodshed and pleasure, dark and dangerous supernatural forces, ardent and consuming passions, The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure is a thrilling new chapter in a compelling fantasy epic.
“Storm Constantine is a mythmaking Gothic queen, whose lush tales are compulsive reading. Her stories are poetic, involving, delightful, and depraved. I wouldn't swap her for a dozen Anne Rices!” Neil Gaiman
Read an Excerpt
On the night of the last full moon before the winter solstice, the hara of the desert Wraeththu tribe of Kakkahaar cast off their sand-colored robes and dance naked beneath the stars. It is, for them, the festival of Hubisag, a pitiless hermaphrodite deity of death and dark magic. The Kakkahaar dance around a hungry fire; sparks spiral up into the darkness. Their voices utter mantras to earth and stone. Their fists clench against the sky, then punch the ground. They sway and spin and stamp. Their skins are painted with the blood of sacrifice. They have Medusa hair beneath the moon's stark light. They are proud and fierce, full of secrets and the mysteries of life, and the knowledge that they are superior among their kind.
It is the most important night of the year, when pledges are made to the god and boons petitioned for. It is not unknown for hara to disappear into the desert before the sun rises and never come out again. Hubisag occasionally takes his own sacrifices. He is not partial to prayers.
But the legends of the Kakkahaar speak of a festival night that surpassed all others. It was the night when the world changed. The world of Wraeththu. Perhaps it was when all hara, whether consciously or not, turned purposefully to approach their own potential, rather than career mindlessly along in wild, ungoverned chaos. In Kakkahaar history, two events happened on this night that brought the tribe closer to Wraeththu destiny than they otherwise might have been.
There were no omens in the sky to herald this change, nor in the entrails of vultures into which the shamans of the tribe peered so closely. There was no warning at all. No one knew that somewhere, far away, other hara of other tribes, who also believed themselves to be superior among their kind, made decisions and consequently pulled threads upon the web of wyrd. A decision. An order. A result. Perhaps without thought for how far the reverberations on the plucked web would be sensed. For those who had eyes to see. For those with eyes inside.
• • •
Ulaume was not Kakkahaar, although he lived among them. In fact, the tribe leader, Lianvis, had bought him some years back, from a traveling band of Colurastes, who had taken care not to mention exactly why they were prepared to sell one of their own into slavery. Lianvis had seen only the surface beautyhe liked pretty, sparkling thingsand had perhaps smelled a sense of danger that reminded him very much of himself. The deal had been concluded with almost indecent haste and very little bartering, which even the Colurastes had known was unusual for Kakkahaar. They hadn't cared about it. They'd simply blessed their gods in silence as the goods changed hands. Then they'd gone awayswiftly.
Ulaume knew his people had been relieved and pleased to see the back of him. He bore little resentment. Slavery existed only in the mind. He felt utterly free. Lianvis approved of most of what he did, and actually seemed pleased when Ulaume did something that he could disapprove of, because there was very little Lianvis wouldn't do himself. From the very first moment he'd looked into Ulaume's eyes, the Kakkahaar leader had known he wasn't looking at a slave. It had been an unspoken message, which Ulaume had been very clear about in his silence. Still, they played the game of master and not-master, even though it was only a game, and a darker, more complex relationship existed between them.
The dwelling of Lianvis was a warren of canopies that looked very permanent, although hara of the tribe could dismantle it within an hour, scour the site to eradicate signs of their presence, and melt into the desert as if they'd never been there. The Kakkahaar were adept at illusion.
Ulaume had his own rooms within the pavilion, where the walls were never still, prey to the insidious breezes that breathed sand into every corner. He had a mirror that was exactly his own height and it was very old. Somehar had stolen it from the silent ruins of a rich human's house and then, sometime later, had sold it to Lianvis, once they'd realized it was actually quite cumbersome to haul around the desert. For this reason, Lianvis had acquired it at a very good price. Its glass was flawless and the frame looked as if it had been designed by an evil witch queen, writhing as it was with smirking demons, which suited both Lianvis's and Ulaume's tastes perfectly. Ulaume liked to admire himself in this mirror and Lianvis liked to watch him doing so.
But tonight, Ulaume was alone. He applied scented oil, mixed with his own blood, slowly and languorously to his supple limbs, his body swaying slightly as if he danced to a distant song. And so he did, because he was of the Colurastes, the serpent tribe, and their hearing is more acute than most hara's. It was the song of the stars Ulaume heard, the song of the moon, calling so softly. All of his senses were especially alert. He could hear the brushwood being dragged across the sand almost a mile from the camp. He could smell the first peppery tang of new flame. This night was important to him because he intended to work a potent curse against somehar who he considered had wronged him. Somehar who had been the cause of the first harsh words Lianvis had ever spoken to him. Somehar who would pay most dearly for their interference, and who would most certainly never forget the name of Ulaume, har of the Colurastes, har of the serpent people.
Ulaume stared at himself in the shadowy glass, his head thrown back, his glance haughty. He smoothed his tawny flanks and tossed his hair, which fell to his knees and possessed properties that hair normally did not have. Sometimes, he had to twist hanks of it fiercely to make it behave. Satisfied with what he saw, Ulaume hissed expressively and made a small pounce toward his reflection. Then he laughed quietly, in utter self-absorbed pleasure. "Pellaz," he said, leaning close to breathe upon the mirror. "Remember me. I wish you the greatest, most exquisite pain."
He leaned his cheek against the glass, then decided he'd had enough self-indulgence and prepared to leave the pavilion for the festival site. Lianvis would already be there, supervising the arrangements. It was supposed to be a wild night of abandonment, but in fact Lianvis planned it very carefully and made sure that nothing was omitted, left at the camp, or overlooked.
Ulaume threw a dun-colored cloak around his shoulders to cover his naked body and padded out into the night. He felt so powerful he was sure his footprints must be smoking, and the sand would turn to glass wherever he trod. Hara would see those footprints in the future and they would say to one another that they were the legacy of the night on which Ulaume of the Colurastes cursed the wretched har, Pellaz. But who was Pellaz? some might ask. A nohar.
It is almost beneath me to do this, Ulaume thought.
Self-righteous fool. Who will ever hear of you, while I, naturally, am destined to be legendary? So, I will make you legendary too, you reeking tower of piety, and you really do not deserve it. Be glad you have offended me.
Cheered by this idea, Ulaume stalked away from the camp, his cloak blowing about him. What a pretty picture of death I must make, he thought.
Other hara were also making their way to the site, although none of them approached Ulaume or appeared even to notice him. This was not deliberate ignorance, but just an acknowledgment of his status. When he led the dance this night, power would surge to the tribe from the cold distant reaches of the universe. When he sang, stars would shatter in distant galaxies. Ulaume had no friends, other than Lianvis, but possessed a horde of helpless admirers, who all feared him greatly. Such had it always been. It was one of the reasons why the Colurastes had done what they had to him. Ulaume had no time for fear. He despised it in others. Lianvis's lack of it made him worthy of respect. Only one other had not feared him. Only one. Ulaume sneered instinctively, then got control of himself. Anger was weakness. He must remain focused.
Not far from the camp, there were ruins, constructed in ancient times by humans who had possessed more knowledge than their descendents who had lost the world. The Kakkahaar had appropriated this place for themselves and journeyed to its location several times a year for specific rites. The ruins were mostly underground, but for Hubisag's festival, the ceremonies would be held outside, because the god should not be worshipped in hidden, secret places. It would be an affront to his power.
Ulaume noticed Lianvis standing beside the fledgling fire, his arms folded and his expression that of contemplation. He did not know what Ulaume planned to do and Ulaume did not intend to enlighten him, because part of the reason for his incandescent fury was that Lianvis had a soft spot for the loathsome Pellaz, even though he wouldn't admit it. It was this softness that had inspired Lianvis to upbraid Ulaume for his behavior after Pellaz had left the Kakkahaar camp. Ulaume hadn't intended to attack Pellaz physically. He'd had seduction in mind: seduction in the manner he most enjoyed, which invariably involved some kind of struggle for power. Pellaz had not been interested. He'd revealed his contempt, so what other choice had Ulaume had other than to lash out? His hair often had a mind of its own. With hindsight, Ulaume realized it might have been better not to have allowed it to try and strangle Pellaz. Afterward, Pellaz must have whined to Lianvis about the incident, because the Kakkahaar leader had punished Ulaume: first with scorn, then with silence. It had been weeks before Ulaume had won back Lianvis's favor.
Now, the need for secrecy interfered somewhat with Ulaume's desire for everyhar to know what could happen to those who crossed him, but he would work out the details of how to spread the news later. Events were still too raw to be addressed with Lianvis now. Pellaz had been gone for less than a year.
Perhaps Lianvis was now thinking of Pellaz too. He might be remembering the jet-black hair, the jet-black fire of condemnation and virtue that could shoot from Pellaz's eyes. He had despised the Kakkahaar, full of judgment and morality. Stupid, misguided, and outdated human notions. Fear hid inside it all. No true Wraeththu, he. Lianvis must not think of him. No, as a leader, he must be considering other things: his own power, how to increase it. Fair Lianvis. Fair and wicked king. His hair was the color of honey made by bees that feasted on poisonous flowers and was braided into three plaits, each of four sections of hair. Two hung over his breast to his waist, the other trailed like a serpent down his back. His face was like that of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. His pale robe was embroidered with a grimoire of arcane symbols. By any standards, he looked like a divine sovereign and knew how to behave like one. Ulaume prowled to his side and laid a hand on Lianvis's shoulder. Lianvis started in surprise, then smiled. "You fold out of the darkness," he said.
"Or into it," Ulaume said.
Lianvis took hold of Ulaume's hand and kissed it. "Work well tonight. I've a feeling we have need of it."
"You look thoughtful. What worries you?" Ulaume supposed that Lianvis's sharp, sensitive mind might well be picking up on his own intention. He must allay such suspicions.
"I am unsure," Lianvis said, frowning slightly. "There is a flex to the air tonight. A strange feeling. Can't you sense it?"
Ulaume could sense nothing but his own desire, which was strong enough to eclipse all other sensations, and smelled strongly of smoke and blood. It filled his entire being. "No," he said. "I can't imagine why you should feel like this."
Lianvis gave him a considered glance, because it was rare he could feel something Ulaume could not. "Then perhaps I am wrong," he said, in a somewhat dry tone.
"Perhaps you sense what is to come," Ulaume purred. "Perhaps we shall conjure something tonight beyond our imaginations."
Lianvis laughed. "I am not sure I would like to confront something beyond my imaginationor yours, for that matter. But for that reason, it is an idea to cherish."
Hara were gathering thickly around the fire now, which had begun to reach for the stars with more intensity, fed by tinder and intention. The high cabal of tribe shamans was already circling the flames. They dragged carved staffs through the dusty sand, marking an area of sanctity. Ulaume's arrival at the site had signaled the ceremony must begin.
Lianvis judged the moment and stepped away from Ulaume. He raised his arms and immediately everyhar became silent and still. For some moments, he appeared to bask in the hellish light of the fire, his eyes closed. Ulaume stood like a statue behind him, the hood of his cloak shadowing his face.
"Hubisag!" Lianvis called in a hollow, chilling voice. "We call to you, Father of Eternity, Lord of Iniquity, whose stride spans the abyss. We call to you. We conjure and command your presence on this, the night of your holy festival. Hubisag, we are your children, and all acts we commit, we do so in your name. Come to us now! Instill within us the might of your power and wisdom! Hubisag, come!"
The shamans began a low rumbling chant in an unintelligible tongue that was reputedly the language Hubisag obeyed. Out of the darkness, as if they'd manifested from the desert sand itself, a troupe of hara clad only in their own thigh-length hair, insinuated themselves lithely between the motionless lesser hara of the tribe. These were Fire Dancers, of the Pyralis level of the Ulani caste. They prowled around the perimeter of the flames, snarling, their fingers curling on the air. Beyond the circle of the congregation, drummers started up a throbbing tribal rhythm.
Ulaume stirred restlessly within the disguise of his cloak. His body yearned to burst free, now, this moment, but he must judge the right time. It was not yet. The Fire Dancers must weave the web of power before he could dance upon it himself.
The whole tribe had begun to sway in time to the hypnotic rhythm and now the dancers' prowl was punctuated by abrupt leaps and yelping cries. They spun in circles, lunging at members of the tribe, who did not flinch, but who threw back their heads, uttering ecstatic gasps.
Ulaume felt the power building up. He sensed it as smoking blue-white light emanating from the hot skins of the dancers. It too was spinning, swirling counterclockwise around the circle. The drums grew louder and faster, and the hara of the tribe added their voices to that of the shamans. The power was reaching a peak. Ulaume noticed Lianvis throw him a covert glance, as if to indicate that now was the time to join the dance, but Ulaume waited a few more precious seconds. He wanted that power to ache for him, to be taken beyond the point of no return, to demand the release of his body's energy thrust into it. His eyes were half closed and he fancied that he could perceive a gigantic nebulous figure forming from the smoke and sparks of the fire. HubisagM, he said in his mind. Grant me my boon. I will show it to you now.
With a fierce and guttural cry, Ulaume threw off the cloak and leapt forward, right into the midst of the dancers. The others went for him, growling and lashing out with their clawed hands, but Ulaume spun away from them, around and around the shouting flames. The roar filled his head. I will show you! I will show you! He conjured in his mind a picture of Pellaz, offering it up to the god like a severed head on a silver salver.
Now, my Lord of Iniquity, do unto this…
Pain. Total. Instant. Consuming. Ulaume screamed and shot several feet into the air, his body twisting in unnatural contortions. The silent petition was stilled in his mind. It was as if a fist of hard air had reached into his head and squeezed his brain. Agonizing sensations flooded through his body. Every nerve screamed in torment. Something had punched a hole in his head. His life was running out of it. He collapsed onto the ground as if he'd been thrown there.
Movement, voices, flickering light. Ulaume lay panting, facedown, on the sand, his fingers flexing weakly in the sifting grains. He felt like a rare creature that had been shot and awaited the inevitable approach of the hunter for the coup de grace. He was aware of every labored breath he drew into his body. He could hear his heart slowing down. The drums were fading away. Hara were silent around him. There was only the night and himself. Slower, slower, the heartbeat's drum. His breath was the roar of the ocean, so hard to draw it. So hard.
A flash of lightning pierced his eyes and his body jerked involuntarily. He was both blinded by the light, but also given the most intense clarity of sight he'd ever known. Pictures came thick and fast upon the mind's eye. He saw landscapes of unimaginable strangeness and wonder rush past his perception. He saw mighty cities of black stone rearing against an obsidian sky, devoid of stars. He saw the abyss, impenetrable blackness, and heard the lament of lost souls. He saw hara dancing, beautiful free movement, but their limbs were attached to shining strings, and somewhere, invisibly, a puppeteer tweaked and guided them. Now the puppets began to jerk and wriggle in strangely obscene gestures. There was no beauty to their movement, no harmonious rhythm. The puppet master laughed and it was a sound that filled the universe. Ulaume feared it more than he had ever feared anything. Perhaps it was the first thing he'd feared in his life. Was this death? Was he heading this way? No!
"Hubisag," he said in his mind, "if I have offended you, I repent me. I am your priest, your child, and I adore you. Show me how I can atone."
Thinking those words required the most effort he'd ever put into a conscious action. It was as if existence itself fought against his expression and his own life depended upon it.
Take yourself to a sacred place…
It was the words of a prayer he heard in his mind, a small echoing voice.
And another voice: Father, you have murdered me…
What he heard made no sense. He heard a horse scream. He smelled cordite. He saw blood running across sandy soil, dark blood, from somewhere deep inside. The sight of it touched him, moved him, and he felt something he'd never felt before. He didn't know what it was, but it wasn't fear. He saw the face of Pellaz, as he'd appeared when Ulaume had first met him, his eyes full of curiosity and desire. Ulaume's essence was drawn toward those eyes. This time their welcome would not turn to ice. But when Ulaume reached them, they were glazed over and dull. They were dead.
"Ulaume!" Rough hands shook his body, hauled him to his feet. Someone slapped his face hard. "Ulaume! Come out of it! Come back!"
Ulaume blinked, gulped air, sucked it into his body in a powerful rush. Sound and movement hurtled back, his stilled heart raced frantically. The night was confusion and riot around him. He saw Lianvis's face before him, pinched with concern, and slumped against his body.
"What happened?" Lianvis demanded.
Ulaume raised his head, shook it slowly from side to side. The movement filled him with nausea and he had to pull away from Lianvis to vomit copiously onto the ground.
"Tell me," Lianvis said in a low voice. "I must know."
Ulaume wiped his mouth with the back of one hand. "He's dead," he said. "That's all you need to know."
• • •
Not all the Kakkahaar were present at the festival that night. Only three did not attend, and they were occupied by what formerly, in the world of humanity, would have been seen as women's work.
For nineteen hours, Herien, a young har who had been incepted to Wraeththu only a year before, had been pacing, pacing around the pavilion he shared with his chesnari, Rarn. He had spent hours weeping. He couldn't sit down. He couldn't lie down. When Rarn had tried to touch him in comfort, he'd pushed him off, his skin too sensitive to bear it. If he just kept moving, it was better, he could just about stand it. The moment he'd stopped, he'd felt as if a captive demon in his gut was trying to push his insides out. Sometimes, he had vomited until his stomach hurt. He couldn't bear the terrible weight of what pressed down inside him. He was exhausted, yet near hysterical. Eventually, he'd fallen to the floor, groaning in agony, but too tired to keep moving.
Now, the time was near and Herien lay supported on Rarn's chest, on a low bed in one of the canopied rooms. Rarn, kneeling on the pillows, held Herien beneath the armpits, while a healer of the tribe, a one-eyed har named Chisbet, peered between Herien's raised knees. The noises that Herien made were like those of a half-slaughtered calf. He was in the process of delivering a pearl, which in human terms had once meant giving birth.
Wraeththu harlings are born in leathery sacs, in which they continue to develop for several weeks. In those days, procreation was a virtually untrodden territory among Wraeththu. They still had too much to learn about their androgynous condition, before embarking upon such an essentially female aspect of their being, and were ill-equipped to deal with it. There were no women to help them, which would certainly have made the transition easier. They were alone with a frightening truth. They were no longer men and this was the most damning proof of it. And they had to cope without much-needed female support, because that was a price they must pay for taking the world from humanity.
Only high-ranking hara were supposed to be capable of inseminating a host, and Rarn was indeed a Nahir Nuri of the tribe, but even he had been aghast at what had happened, one night after too much wine and a desire to take aruna beyond its normal boundaries.
Herien was clearly terrified, perhaps because his memories of being utterly male were too close for comfort. Even in his exhaustion, he writhed and moaned, asking to die, asking for someone to kill him, asking for release. Rarn felt helpless and numb, and willingly surrendered all control of the proceedings to Chisbet, who claimed to have helped deliver a pearl before. Rarn was not convinced of thisthe occurrence being so rare among Wraeththukindbut he was prepared to overlook his misgivings. He couldn't have coped with this on his own. It was dreadful. Hideous. The mess. The stink. Was this truly necessary?
Chisbet told Herien to push, and Rarn's gorge rose. He was remembering his childhood and his youth, films and documentaries on TV, whispered conversations of female relatives. He was remembering being human and the life and culture he had chosen to forget. He didn't need this to remind him. At that moment, he would cheerfully have taken a blade to Herien's throat, even though he was immensely fond of him. Anything to stop the noise, to stop this dreadful process.
"Do something," he said to Chisbet. "You do know what to do, don't you?" His tone, by this time, was desperate, and not at all haughty as it usually was.
Chisbet had lost an eye in battle, fighting for the Unneah tribe. The Kakka-haar regarded him as somewhat unsavoury, but he was a good healer, so his eccentric and uncivilized ways were tolerated. "It's more up to him," he said. "This is nature. He's resisting it. Talk to him."
Rarn uttered a sound of despair, anguish, and revulsion. He wanted to say, "This is not nature," but of course it was. He swallowed sour saliva, trying to keep a hold on the writhing har lying against him. "Herien, you must…you must do…you must expel it." He couldn't say "push," he just couldn't.
"Cut it out! Just cut the thing out of me!" Herien screamed. "It's killing me!"
At once, Rarn drew the knife from his belt, but Chisbet's right hand shot out and clasped his wrist. "No. We cannot risk damaging the sac. There are fluids inside it."
Herien's screams had reached a diabolical pitch. His face was unrecognizable, screwed up into a tortured monkey mask.
"Do something!" Rarn cried. "He's dying!"
Chisbet appeared calm. "Come on now," he said. "You can do this. Push, Herien."
Herien uttered a final roar and his body lunged backward.
Rarn was almost knocked over, and was sure he felt the muscles in his thighs rip. Something shining and slippery shot out of Herien's body and landed in Chisbet's hands, which were held waiting. It was the size of a har's head. Unspeakable!
Chisbet's shoulders slumped, apparently in relief.
"What now?" Rarn demanded, a tremor in his voice.
Herien had gone worryingly quiet and still. His body was as limp as a corpse as Rarn wriggled out from beneath it.
Chisbet laid the pearl carefully on a cloth and then examined Herien's body. "Looks in order," he said, "but I'll need to stitch and pack him to stop the bleeding. Fetch me the hot water. I'll clean him up."
Rarn stood shaking beside the bed and couldn't bring himself to look at anything but the rugs underfoot.
"Do it, har!" Chisbet snarled. "You made this happen. You help now. You hear me?"
Rarn somehow made his limbs obey Chisbet's command. He couldn't think, couldn't absorb what he'd just witnessed.
Chisbet appeared to read his mind. "Get used to it, Rarn. This is the way of things. How else do you think our race will continue?" He laughed rather cruelly. "Be glad. You have a sonor soon will do, at any rate."
Rarn handed the materials to Chisbet: lengths of linen wadding, suture equipment, and the hot water. He glanced at Herien, whose lower parts looked as if a frenzied maniac had attacked them with a dozen weapons. Herien's eyes were closed and he did not move. Swallowing with difficulty, Rarn looked away. He had touched those precious parts, tasted them. Now they looked like ruined meat.
Humming to himself, Chisbet carefully bathed Herien's soume-lam, his female organs, and stitched up the tearing. His male parts, the ouana-lim, had withdrawn into the body to prevent damage.
Rarn glanced at the pearl. "How long will it take to…to come out?"
Chisbet shrugged. "Couple of weeks, that's all. It's not too bad. It's over. Lianvis will be pleased. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Look at this poor creature here. He's the one who's suffered, not you."
"You must be dead inside," Rarn said. "Can't you imagine how I feel? How can you say those things?"
"Easy. I face reality. This will be common soonif we're lucky."
"You enjoy it. You're perverse."
"Of course I enjoy it. It's a miracle and I'm proud to be part of it. It's you who's perverse, my friend. Think about it."
Rarn really didn't want to. It was not something he'd have chosen to be part of.
"Go and get a breath of air," Chisbet said. "I'm going to pack the wound now."
Rarn left the pavilion, grateful to escape the abattoir stink. He breathed slow and deep the cool night air and gazed at the glow in the sky, which was the festival fire. A son. Could it possibly be real? He had never felt so exhausted in his life. Even althaia, the changing from human to Wraeththu, hadn't been as bad as this, because then he hadn't been conscious. He'd gone into a coma a boy and woken up a har. This was disgustingly different. It could have been him lying there on that bed with blood and shit running out of him. Hellish injry. Such violation. Too human to contemplate for someone who believed he'd transcended humanity. It could have happened to him anytime. He'd taken aruna with other high-ranking hara. Nohar knew what they were risking. Nohar. How could such a rank visceral event result from the blissful aruna that had caused it? He remembered the night they'd made the pearl, the feeling of having transcended the flesh, of touching Heaven. The closeness of it. The bond. Herien, so trusting, so completely surrendered to love, that a part of himself, deep inside, had opened like a flower: a part that had never opened before. And a previously unused part of Rarn's ouana-lim had woken up, drawn by the alluring song of that secret inner organ and had ventured forth to enter it. In such a way were Wraeththu harlings conceived.
Rarn pressed the fingers of one hand against his eyes. His body shuddered with dry sobs. So much to learn. So much. He felt full of love and sadness. He was beginning to understand what it meant to be truly har.
• • •
In the pavilion, Chisbet finished off the wound-packing and sat back for a moment to admire his work. Herien had still not come round. Chisbet knew he'd done a good job on the stitches; the har would be fine in a few days. He changed the soiled bedding around Herien, made him comfortable, and then turned his attention to the pearl. Gently, he cleaned it. He had seen this happen only once before, among the Unneah, and that event had occasioned more upset than this one. He smiled to himself in recollection. Every har in the tribe had trembled in terror then, as if a plague had come upon them. Chisbet wasn't distressed by harish birth. He had spoken the truth when he'd called it a miracle. Until he'd seen this, Wraeththu bodies and all their pleasing accessories seemed only like ornaments. This was real and bloody. To Chisbet, it was proof that they were meant to be. New life.
Chisbet shed a few sentimental tears from his remaining eye and then laid the pearl in the curve of Herien's right arm. The pearl was dark in color and strangely veined. There was a sense of life moving within it. Chisbet wiped Herien's brow with a damp scented cloth and Herien opened his eyes. His mouth trembled. He looked so young.
Chisbet stroked his face. "You're fine, my lovely. Fine. All went well. You are a pioneer, you know. You're blessed."
"Where's Rarn?" Herien asked in a slurred mumble. He hadn't yet noticed the pearl.
"Taking a breath of air," Chisbet said. "You keep that young one warm now. Cherish it as a mother hen cherishes her clutch."
Herien glanced down, saw the pearl and went rigid. For a moment, Chisbet was concerned that he'd throw it away from him.
"That's yours," he said. "Part of you. Don't be afraid."
Herien laid his head back on the pillows and began to weep, but his fingers flexed gently against the pearl. Chisbet held onto his left hand, squeezing it hard. He sighed. It was tough, growing up.
Rarn did not go back into the pavilion for over an hour. He'd needed time alone to recover, then felt guilty about leaving Herien and steeled himself to return. But whatever horror he had expected to confront, he found that even during that short time, Herien had recovered considerably. He was now propped up by pillows, sipping a hot drink that Chisbet had made for him.
Rarn stood at the entrance to the bed chamber, feeling awkward and embarrassed. Chisbet winked at him and left the room. Rarn couldn't think of anything to say. He had a ridiculous fear that Herien would blame him in some way for what had happened, and be angry about it. But Herien looked radiant, if tired.
"It doesn't hurt anymore," Herien said, wonder in his voice. "The pain's just gone, as if it was never there. I can't believe it. I'm just a bit sore now, that's all."
Rarn went to sit beside him. "You were female," he said. "For a time. It looked that way."
"We're all female," Herien said, "and male. Isn't that the point?"
Rarn grimaced. "How easy it is to ignore or forget."
"I'll never forget it again," Herien said. "I don't want to now. You should go through this, Rarn. You really should."
Rarn laughed uncomfortably. "I'm not sure. I don't think I can ever forget what you went through. I had a view you didn't, remember."
"But it was worth it. Look." Herien drew the covers back and showed Rarn the pearl, held tight against his body. "Isn't it strange? Isn't it wonderful?"
Rarn stared at the pearl.
"You can touch it," Herien said. "You can feel something moving."
Tentatively, Rarn reached out and laid his hand over the warm sac. The har-ling protected within it seemed to press against his hand. He glanced into Herien's eyes and felt faint at the sensation of total union that passed between them. Chisbet was right: this was a miracle.
Herien smiled, and Rarn leaned forward to kiss his brow. "You are beautiful," Rarn said, "beautiful and brave and strong."
"I am Wraeththu," Herien said. "Truly so now."
Copyright © 2003 by Storm Constantine
Meet the Author
Storm Constantine has written over twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction and well over fifty short stories. Her novels span several genres, from literary fantasy, to science fiction, to dark fantasy. She is most well known for her Wraeththu trilogy (omnibus edition published by Tor), and is currently at work on a new set of novels set in the world of Wraeththu, beginning with The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure (Tor, 2003). Wraeththu are magical and sensual hermaphroditic beings, who when their story first began, almost twenty years ago, broke startling new ground in the often staid fantasy/sf genres.
Her influences include myth, magic and ancient history and the foibles of human nature. She uses writing and fiction to bridge the gap between mundane reality and the unseen realms of imagination and magic. She strives to awaken perception of these inner realms and the unexplored territory of the human psyche.
Aside from writing, Storm runs the Lady of the Flame Iseum, a group affiliated to the Fellowship of Isis, and is known to conduct group members on tours of ancient sites in the English landscape, in her husband's beat up old army Land Rover. She is also a Reiki Master/Teacher, has recently set up her own publishing company, Immanion Press, to publish esoteric books, and teaches creative writing when she gets the time.
Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman series, once said: 'Storm Constantine is a mythmaking, Gothic queen, whose lush tales are compulsive reading. Her stories are poetic, involving, delightful, and depraved. I wouldn't swap her for a dozen Anne Rices!'
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Storm's Wraeththu series is one of the best narratives to come, different from the rather tiresome panorama of Tolkien's imitators. After the enchanting, bewitching first Wraeththu trilogy we hoped to see more of these beautiful characters. And now, Storm gives us an expanded and enlarged perspective of the Wraeththu world. In the first trilogy we shared the POV's of individuals - Pellaz, Swift and Calanthe, destined to become rulers.In Wraiths we see the point of view of the average hara, represented by naive Flick. We witness the tragedy of the murder of Orien (set in a nearly Kafkian athmosphere) through his innocent eyes. Meanwhile, the death of the soon to be reborn Pellaz is sensed by an Ulaume who shall let go his Shambleau mode for the gentle caring of Lileem, cruelly abandoned in the desert. Flick and Ulaume will meet at Pell's old cable farm. Here they will save and recover what remains of Pell's family, Mima and Terez. Gentleness, charity, respect for the less fortunate: I think that beneath a gothic neopagan veneer, a very Christian sensibility inhabits Storm's soul. We witness the somewhat ambiguous Seel's political career, his obsession whit Cal, his strange behavior in Imbrilim and Galhea, when he treats poor Flick quite ignobly.Finally, We marvel at the otherwordly flight of Lileem (one of the best moments of the book). Here we're shown a grand panorama of the Wraeththu geography and history . From the desert tents of the Kakkahaar, the soda lakes of Saltrock, the haunts of Ricardo House, the river who bring Flick,Lileem,Mima and Ulaume to the house of Forever, so rich in memories; and the shining towers of Immanion, the mystical haunts of Shilalama...It's a wonderful vista of a world as superbly detailed as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
Unlike some other online reviews I've read so far, I didn't read the original Wraeththu trilogy as a teenager, but rather as an adult. I think this at least in part explains why my reaction to this book is so very different than theirs. While those reviewers express disappointment and a feeling that the 'magic' is gone, I on the other hand feel that Storm Constantine has breathed life into the series and written a novel which although different from the original, is a wonderful complement and furthermore surely the beginning of yet another wonderful trilogy. In reviewing Wraiths, some have voiced complaints about the narrative and the way it uses the third person rather than the original books¿ first person. They seem to miss the point, as Wraiths is the first volume in a new trilogy that presents the history of the Wraeththu, not the diaries of the Wraeththu elite. The book employs the third person to show a more complete picture of the Wraeththu world. Set in a time period which stretches the length of most of the original trilogy, Wraiths offers fresh perspectives on those events previously described from the first-person narrative. We learn that things are not always what they seem and that one har's perspective on events may be limited. As for those complaints about Wraiths lacking the 'magic' of the original books, I have to say I disagree with that as well. It's true that Wraiths is different than those books, but then again the shift in feeling is quite appropriate given that this new trilogy is a history not the musings of individual hara. Wraiths sets before us a world without the distortion of all the fuzzy gauze of the original books. To me, it's as if those books are stories told from within a dream, but in Wraiths we have the actual, solid world that has materialized over the years. Let me go on to the parts of the book I loved. First off, it might not be some people's cup of tea, but I was blown away by the first chapter which features a death and a birth. Absolutely gripping stuff that is really profound and signals a change from what was Wraeththu WAS to what it becomes from that point forward. After that, the interweaving storylines were fascinating and I loved seeing the way the characters came together and then developed their personalities and relationships over time. There are some new characters who turn up as well as old characters like Ulaume, Flick and Seel who we see a lot more of. We also get a whole cast of characters in the 'dehara,' a god/goddess system Flick discovers and which exists as a product of the collective Wraeththu soul. There are lots of fun, juicy scenes in the book, like Flick and Ulaume going to a party at Forever which takes a serious left turn. And Seel's scenes certainly contain some major shocks!
The number of humans is dropping rapidly but no species has stepped forth to claim planetary superiority. The hermaphrodite Wraeththu are on the verge of being the next master race adding to the reduction of the human populace by ¿converting¿ captured males into their species. The Wraeththu celebrate the Festival amidst their tribe, but this year is different as the tribes begin to realize what they can become. The desert tribe Kakkahaar exiles a member Ulaume. In his solo travel, Ulaume finds an abandoned infant Lileen, whom he takes with him. Soon the Wraeththu follow, as Lileen is a special individual who defies the accepted normal order of the race and its Gods. Ulaume vows to keep the baby safe. This novel takes place somewhere in the middle of the previous Wraththu trilogy. As such events and references that previously occurred will prove confusing to newcomers. To obtain a full savoring of this complex tale, read the others first. Different individuals looking back in time tell the tale of THE WRAITHS OF WILL AND PLEASURE. This makes for an interesting complicated perspective that at times seems convoluted yet really works if the reader keeps in mind that an individual brings their interpretation to the mix. Storm Constantine provides a powerful look at several key players from her previous trilogy that her fans will appreciate as the Wraththu universe keenly expands. Harriet Klausner