I read the ridiculous news story this morning about Michigan state Rep. Lisa Brown who was reprimanded publicly and forbidden to speak for a day as a result of having said the word “vagina” during a session in which the state House was debating legislation to regulate abortions. It irritated me, the silly close-mindedness of people who cannot even tolerate hearing someone speak the name of ‘lady parts’, or who, potentially worse, will use such a cheap and humiliating trick to silence their opposition.
That said, the character of Camille in the flash fiction piece below is not meant to be the ideal picture of a strong, well rounded, healthy woman. She is strong, but with a host of potential flaws. In short, she’s human. I will concede, though, that I wanted to write something today that challenged our (American’s) concepts of appropriate gender roles. Few things irritate me like discrimination, be it rooted in ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious views or gender.
I certainly won’t argue that Camille (or any other character in this story) is what men or women ‘should be’. I’ll only suggest that perhaps the problem is that we feel there are pre-defined roles for both men and women to begin with. Might it not be better to just let people be people?
That said, the prompt I wrote this piece for is from Flash Fiction Friday:
Cue: Write a story of gripping suspense, with a “ticking bomb” of some sort.
Genre: Suspense (may be mixed with fantasy, western, SF, horror… any)
Word Count: 1500
Like ‘red dead‘, this is a longer flash fiction piece, at least for me. It was fun to write, though, frankly, I’ve written more suspenseful stories. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it, political/cultural commentary and all.
You’ve heard story tellers say, “Every muscle in so-and-so’s body tensed.” Have you ever given thought to how ridiculous that claim is?
Try tensing all the muscles in your arm. Just one arm. Go ahead–try it now. It’s difficult, to say the least. You think you have every muscle tensed and then you realize that there’s that whole area around your wrist, a muscle set you don’t think about too often, and it’s as limp as one of Camille’s eunuchs. So you flex your forearm and discover that your triceps are now relaxed.
That’s one arm.
Short of magic, I’d wager it’s nearly impossible to have “every muscle in your body” tensed.
That said, when Camille swept into her chambers a full two hours early, every muscle in my body tensed. I was horizontal at the time, which I think made it easier. Also, I was underneath Horatio. We were both naked and he was in mid-thrust, so there was a good amount of tension to build on. When those double doors swung in, her heels clicking crisply on the marble tile, I gripped Horatio’s torso and rolled, taking us off the bed and landing us in the middle of a pile of pillows.
Camille never makes her bed, thank the gods. Maybe because she has six or seven of them littering the room. You stop counting after five. The decor makes it plain enough that none of these beds are for sleeping, though one does wonder what compels her to have so many ready made locations for sensual recreation. Her eunuchs attend to this chamber and her sleeping chamber, as well. Apart from the unkempt appearance of the beds, everything is in perfect order. There is always a platter of fruit, for example, on the main table. Every hour, the platter is changed out so that the fruit is always fresh. In her extravagance, Camille demands that this be kept up even when she is on diplomatic trips to neighboring kingdoms and realms.
No one is allowed in her ‘pleasure chamber’ without her permission and presence, save her eunuchs. Males with their manhood intact are only permitted when Camille feels like engaging in one of her various fetishes. I’m told her tastes are… eccentric. I don’t care to know more. Also, women are frequently a part of the festivities. Sometimes all the beds are occupied at once and you can hear the moans and ecstatic cries clear across the palace. It is, in a word, annoying.
But Camille is queen. She refuses to take a king. She feels that if kings can have concubines, why can’t she? If they want to enjoy the pleasures of power when not at war, why can’t she? If they can bed whomever they like whenever, why can’t she?
So she does.
When a male lover displeases her, or when one is caught unauthorized in her private quarters, something that happens surprisingly often, she simply adds that male to her collection of eunuchs. She is weirdly proud of them. I, personally, think she’s compensating for something.
Where was I? Oh yes, on the floor next to one of Camille’s beds in a tangled mess with Horatio.
Camille was followed by two eunuchs. I could tell from the voices that one was Vernand. His oddly authoritative squeal distinguished him immediately. The other didn’t speak.
“Your Worship, you should have stayed with the counsel. They need your guidance.”
Camille huffed. “They need their backs whipped and their heads shaven if they think I’m going to marry. This kingdom does not need a king.”
Vernand cleared his throat. “Need? No, Your Grace. But the people are simple. They do not understand your femininity combined with strength. It confuses and confounds them. They long for a leader they can follow into battle.”
“We are not at war!” Camille burst out.
“Not at present, Your Worship, but we hear of grumblings in the West. The people fear invasion. The counsel only wishes to quiet those fears with a structure the people have come to expect.”
“Six years,” Camille said. “Six years I have been queen. No famines. No wars. No one starves or dies in battle. I have attended to the duties of leadership as well as any king in the four lands, and still these people, this idiotic counsel want a king. Will nothing satisfy them but testicles?”
Vernand clucks his tongue.
Horatio squirmed underneath me. When we fell from the side of the bed, he landed on bottom, poor dear, and hardly made a sound. But the position and my weight appeared to be getting to him. He wheezed and I put a finger to my mouth to remind him of the importance of silence.
Camille and Vernand paused for a moment.
Finally, Vernand spoke: “Your Grace, please. I am not one to correct you–it is not my place–but may I suggest that such vulgarity only further confuses the counsel and the people. They wish to see you as a lady.”
“A lady can’t fuck?” she asked.
Horatio contorted his body to try to move from underneath me. He managed to use the bed, pushing against the frame for leverage. I rolled to my side, falling between him and the bed, and he flopped from the pile of pillows onto the floor. As he did, his skin, moist with sweat from our exertions, slapped against the tile.
“Who goes there?” Vernand demanded.
Horatio hung his head and motioned for me to remain still. He stood and walked around the bed toward the open area in the middle of the room where Camille and Vernand were talking. “It is I, Horatio,” he said with a flourish. He could be so debonair.
“Horatio?” Camille exclaimed. “In my chambers! Uninvited? How dare you! How dare you eavesdrop on the queen!”
Speaking to the silent eunuch, Camille cried, “Tomack, bring your dagger. Horatio wishes to join my squad of eunuchs!”
Horatio spoke with confidence. “Your Grace, please forgive me. I must have fallen from the bed last night when we finished. I’ve been asleep on the floor until just now. Your beautiful voice woke me, and I thought it, at first, a dream. When I realized where I was, I immediately declared myself and came forward. I do not wish to offend you, my liege.”
Vernand scoffed. “Your Grace, he has likely heard all our talk. Perhaps the counsel has placed him here! Best to castrate him, in keeping with your laws, and imprison this…usurper. These are difficult times, Your Worship. His flowery words are like poison!”
“Vernand, I could not hurt the queen if I wanted to. She is the light of my life. All day long, I dream of nothing but pleasing her in whatever way I–”
“Enough.” It was Camille. Her voice was hard and tired. “Vernand, you go too far suspecting Horatio of treason. He’s a fool, but not that ambitious. However, you are right. I cannot afford leniency. Not in these times, elsewise the entire kingdom will think me nothing more than a weak-willed harlot. Horatio, you have made me happy for the last time. Tomack, bring your dagger. Let’s be done with this.”
“Your Grace, please!” Horatio begged. “Do my years of service mean nothing?”
Camille spoke more gently. “Horatio, I must. The walls of the palace have ears, and worse, mouths. Word of this incident will spread. If I don’t treat you as I do any other, I will have given my political opponents all they need to start a revolt. Now is not a time when I can be merciful. I could not pardon even my own brother, were he here. I certainly cannot pardon you.”
Hearing her firm resolve, I decided I’d had enough. I stood. Vernand gasped. Tomack froze, his dagger already out. Horatio sighed and Camille only closed her eyes.
“Here I am,” I said. “Your own brother. Let us see the truth of your words, my Warrior Queen.”
A single tear traced the outline of Camille’s cheek.