Dinner was a surprisingly pleasant affair. When Serafin had entered the main dining room, she had found it to contain a great table over fifty feet across, and had, for a moment, imagined that she would be eating as in a comedy play, with the actors seated on far ends of the stage, calling out conversation to one another. She was thus pleasantly surprised when the zephyrs steered her to a side seat, sitting just to the right of the tableâ€™s head, and pulled out a chair. The strange little creatures, not quite visible but clearly present, bustled about for a few moments before Lord Alakazar arrived, then absented themselves, appearing only to bring in a dish and depart again.
Alakazar himself was pleasant and refined, but there was an odd undertone to their conversations. Serafin thought that it was as though he was courting her, rather than acting with the familiarity she would have associated with a husband â€“ or even a fiancÃ©e. She supposed it made sense, given that this was only their second meeting, but it was still odd. Flicker gamboled around the stone floor, pausing occasionally to look up at her knowingly, and she sighed and dropped him scraps of meat, which he pounced on readily. The little cat seemed normal enough, aside from a strange habit of appearing from nowhere and vanishing again â€“ but then, he was a cat.
As they lingered over dessert â€“ an exquisite iced fruit that seemed like a cross between a pineapple and a pomegranate, discussing the affairs of town that had been passed along, she remembered what her main concern had been, before coming to dinner, and tensed slightly. She thought that she had hidden it well, but Alakazar noticed instantly. â€œIs something wrong, my dear?â€
â€œNo, of course not. Everything is magnificent.â€ Serafin paused, again. â€œI justâ€¦ I was wondering something.â€ Alakazar was watching her curiously, now, and she suddenly realized that she wasnâ€™t sure how to proceed. She had brought the matter up with Maya, hoping the eldest wife might be able to help her, but Maya had simply shrugged and suggested that gods would be gods, and there was no sense worrying about it.
After it became clear that she was struggling for words, Alakazar frowned slightly. â€œAnything you wish to ask, Serafin, you may.â€
â€œWellâ€¦ itâ€™s justâ€¦ itâ€™s aboutâ€¦â€ Serafin stumbled for a word to choose. â€œWifely duties.â€
There was a short pause. â€œWifely duties.â€ Alakazarâ€™s echoing statement was carefully neutral.
â€œYes. If we are going to â€“ if you want to â€“ umâ€¦â€ She trailed off, blushing fiercely.
When Alakazar spoke, he sounded faintly confused. â€œWell, the servants handle the cleaning, and I hardly need anyone to fight on my behalf. The honor of your presence in my castle is gift enoughâ€¦â€
â€œNo!â€ She looked up, certain that he was making a jest at her expense, only to see him watching her blankly, for the first time bemused entirely out of a polite demeanor. â€œI meanâ€¦ making childrenâ€¦ withâ€¦ uhâ€¦â€ She was sure that her hair would burst into flame, she was blushing so strongly. It wasnâ€™t supposed to be that hard to discuss with your husband, was it? But then, he was practically a stranger. And a god.
â€œChildren?â€ He considered this a moment. â€œDo you think that would help?â€
This time it was her turn to stare blankly. â€œMy lord?â€
â€œMy wives have been a bit distracted, of late. Is this why? Do they want children?â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t know, I justâ€¦â€ There was a suspicion gnawing at her, but she was so far past comfortable with the questions sheâ€™d asked that it took her a moment to voice it. â€œHow do you make children, my Lord?â€
Alakazar raised an eyebrow. â€œWell, were I to have the ability, I would spin them from the infinite possibilities, drawing together Essence into a perfect Heart. I donâ€™t have that skill, though, as of yet. I am still limited to such small children as the zephyrs, who hardly count.â€
â€œMm.â€ She paused again. It was a chance to retreat, and she almost took it, but something compelled her to continue. Perhaps it was his expression, still not certain, or just a perverse need to understand him better. â€œAnd you know how humans do it?â€
â€œOf course!â€ He grew angry, for a moment, before continuing, but he didnâ€™t sound entirely sure when he spoke. â€œHuman women grow them. Like fruit.â€ He paused, before speaking again. â€œDo they need my permission?â€
For a moment, she was speechless. â€œUhâ€¦ they would need your participation.â€
He stared at her again. Mustering what she knew about sexual interaction from the talks some of the other girls had given her, she tried to explain the act to him. It took her a few tries, and he made her stop and go back more than once to explain a subsection that he found particularly interesting, with no connection to how relevant it was that she could tell. Finally, though, she had the concept explained to his satisfaction, and he sat back thoughtfully.
â€œSoâ€¦ theyâ€™ve been confused because I havenâ€™t been doing any of that.â€
â€œOr showing interest in it. To be honest, I donâ€™t know that theyâ€™re upset, exactly. Itâ€™s justâ€¦ odd.â€
â€œMm.â€ He considered his plate for a few moments, in silence. â€œIâ€™m not even certain that itâ€™s possible. Intimacy for reproduction, what an odd concept.â€
â€œHow do gods do it?â€ She spoke without thinking, but he didnâ€™t frown. He just spoke distantly.
â€œAs a war.â€
She stared at him in confusion, as he continued to speak. She wasnâ€™t sure that he was even aware of her presence. â€œWe experience intimacy in a million ways, in a million times and places and manners, which such heights of ecstasy as this world could not imagine. And yet we have never mastered such a simple thing as to join for honest joy, for true hope for the future. It is such a human conceit.â€
Impulsively, she reached out and took his hand. He looked down at hers like a foreign thing, before shifting his grip to hold her hand in return. â€œI think I prefer you being here.â€
â€œSo do I.â€ The response was almost wondering, as though he had not known what he would say until he said it. But he smiled, and nodded, and looked around the room. â€œYes, so do I.â€