The bell sounded.
Tristan braced himself. Visits to his cell were becoming increasingly traumatic. “Come in,” he called, shifting his breakfast dishes into a dark spot, cursing softly that the room had no corners.
Sally entered, wearing a demure primrose pants suit. She had, for the briefest of moments, toyed with putting on something really sexy and using this mission to claim Tristan for herself. But self-control and a sense of honour had come into play, somewhat belatedly, and her conscience had nudged her into the pants suit.
“Sally. What can I do for you?”
“Hello, Tristan.” She looked lost, Tristan decided. “Well, it’s rather difficult.”
She walked across to the window and looked out, struggling to find the appropriate words. Why was it, Tristan wondered, that all his visitors made a bee line for the window?
She turned and faced him. “Tristan, there’s something you’ve got to understand about Arianne,” she blurted. “She’s... she’s a sensitive girl, and she hasn’t had a lot of luck with men. Or a lot of experience, for that matter. And she feels she’s in over her head with you.”
“In over her head? What do you mean?”
“She’s very frightened of what you... think of her. She thinks she’s ugly.”
“Well, not ugly, exactly. But not pretty. Not like the other girls you’ve known. The ones with... perfect bodies.”
Tristan said, “What is this all about?”
“Tristan, when she shouted at you yesterday, she was very upset. About Wen and Jerrold. And... and she was confused. About her feelings for you. And she doesn’t understand about... about... men.”
“I see,” said Tristan, faintly amused by Sally’s advocacy. “And you do?”
“Yes!” said Sally brightly. “Well, that is...” She didn’t want to be sidetracked. She wanted to finish putting her case, and, looking at Tristan in his tight-fitting nano-suit, she wanted to be done before her resolve crumbled. “Tristan, don’t be mad at her for what she said.”
“I’m not,” Tristan avowed calmly.
“You’re not?” Sally smiled. “Oh, that’s good. Because Arianne, well, she really... needs you. But she’s too dumb - or whatever - to admit it.”
“I understand,” Tristan said. “I think.”
“You do?” Sally brightened visibly. “Well, in that case, I guess my work here is done. See you around.”
She skittered nervously out of the door, leaving Tristan wondering if such an incestuous community as the abbey of Thelema had an effect on the sanity of its inhabitants.
Arianne prevaricated for most of the day. As the afternoon wore on, she returned repeatedly to her wardrobe, pondering as never before what she should wear. And time and again her hand hovered over the same gown, an elegant white linen robe with a cape about the shoulders, and incorporating a belt of soft relf leather. It had belonged to her mother, and she had worn it twice, to grand balls. It seemed somehow excessive, yet her heart told her it was the right thing to wear.
She pulled it off the rail, and began to put it on. She studiously avoided the mirror until she was fully dressed, then turned to appraise herself. Her eye ran critically over her reflection, and she heaved a sigh. For good or ill, she was, she decided, as presentable as she was ever going to be.
Evening was falling. She took the long walk to Tristan’s cell, ignoring the startled yet admiring looks she drew, and the stifled whispers she heard behind her back. She was trying to plan exactly what she was going to say to excuse her outburst and put her friendship with Tristan back on an even footing.
Friendship? Was that what it was? Sally had used that other word, and she had acknowledged it as being the right one. But she told herself that Sally had caught her off guard, and that until Tristan manifested similar feelings - which was, she felt sure, likely to be never - well then, friendship was what it was.
She was shocked to find herself outside Tristan’s door with nothing planned in the way of things to say. How should she begin? Should she make some apology, or simply carry on as if nothing had happened? If that was the plan, would he not wonder why she was dressed to the nines? She reached for the bell-pull, then sharply retracted her arm. Perhaps she should go back to her room and change, put on something less formal, something that was more the normal Arianne. Perhaps she should go for a walk and get things properly sorted out in her mind. But she couldn’t stand the thought of more stares and whispers as she strode the corridors like an errant ghost.
After all, perhaps he wasn’t there. Perhaps he had gone out for the day with Temmar. Perhaps...
She rang the bell.
“Come in.” The voice sounded welcoming.
She entered. Tristan had positioned himself in front of the window, staring out with his hands clasped behind his back. Damn. Why did he have to do that?
He turned to face her. He was smiling. She liked his smile, it seemed very genuine. She smiled back and took a few steps into the middle of the room, then stopped short.
“Hello, Tristan,” she smiled. “Am I disturbing you?”
“Not at all,” said Tristan. “In fact I was sort of expecting you.” He took a pace towards her. She took a pace backwards.
“After Sally came by this morning.”
Sally. Of course. She had done what she said she would, she had paved the way. Had he, then, been waiting all day just for her to come?
“You look particularly lovely,” he said. Her thoughts were so far away that she almost didn’t hear what he said. Almost.
“Thank you,” she replied sweetly. “I was just on my way to the refectory, and I thought I’d drop by and see how you were.”
Tristan twitched an eyebrow. “It’s a bit of a long way round, isn’t it, from your room to the refectory by way of here? Besides, I thought you never ate in the hall. And certainly never dressed like...”
“Tell me,” she said, painfully conscious of blushing. “Wen and Jerrold. If they’d had the nano-stuff, they’d still be alive?”
“Absolutely,” Tristan assured her, startled by the abrupt change of subject.
Arianne took a step towards him. She heaved a deep, melancholy sigh. “We’ve been pig-headed, thinking we knew better than the rest of the Dynasty. I’ve been very stupid.”
She looked so dejected. Tristan took another step towards her. “Don’t blame yourself,” he reassured her. “It’s what you were brought up with.” Very gently, he reached out and put his hands on her arms.
She looked at him. “It’s all right,” she said. “I know what I am. Pig-headed is my middle name. I get it from my father. And I know what they all call me here: ‘Proud Arianne’. It’s true, I deserve it.”
“I think everyone here respects you enormously.”
She moved closer, no longer keeping herself at arm’s length. “Do you think so?” she asked. “Maybe you’re right, but I tell you, I’d happily trade all their respect for a little bit of love.”
He was very close now. “I think I might be able to help you out there.”
She looked up at him, not quite believing. She breathed, “Do you?”
Their lips met, and suddenly she was swept up in a crushing embrace, swamped by the breakers of his passion as they rolled over her, sweeping her off her feet.
Before she knew it, they were on his bed. He flipped her shoes off and began fiddling with her buttons, raining hot kisses down on her eyelids, her mouth, her neck and shoulders as they became exposed.
His boldness, his brazenness took her breath away. He began flagellating her nipple with his tongue until her whole breast thrummed like a sail, and all the while he worshipped her flesh with his fingers, exploring, peeling away her clothing and laying her bare like a ripe fruit. He was probing her most private parts, and she wanted him to. She wanted the utmost intimacy, she wanted him to know her inside out, for she knew that they were to become one.
Somewhere, somehow, he shed his clothes, and he began to enter her, inserting just the tip of his penis, slowly, teasingly. She reached behind and grasped his buttocks, shoving him in. She wanted him to go hard down on her. And he did, building to a frenetic rhythm.
And it began for her, wave upon glorious wave of sensation, building to a crescendo. She was reminded, curiously, of her elementary physics lessons, the old party trick with the magnet and the iron filings: she could feel the lines of force radiating out from some focal point deep within her abdomen. It was exquisite beyond anything she had ever known.
And still it built. Her nails raked across his back. Her body went into spasm, twitching, jerking, bucking, as his hips ground and grated against hers and she struggled for breath. He thrust with ever greater intensity, until at last she let loose a bestial, ululating groan and they climaxed together.
She lay at last with her head on his shoulder, panting. It was as if a lifetime of tension were oozing out through her pores. She mused that half the abbey must have heard her cry, but she wanted them to know of her triumph, and, if possible, to share in it.
Eventually, the aftershocks diminished, until all that remained was a warm tingling in her groin. And the memory, which would never fade.
Presently Tristan said quietly, “We’ve missed dinner.”
She smiled indulgently at this typical maleness. “It’s okay,” she murmured. “We can call room service.”