"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
They are alike enough to be brothers. The same height, the same broad chest, each dangerous in his own way. One is darkness personified, menacing, malicious, militant. The other is more human, more vulnerable and all the more beloved for it. They wrestle, the contest mattering more than the outcome. Many times Iíve watched their passionate lovemaking, at times languid, gentle, at others all rage, fury and insatiable lust.
The sunlight drifting in through the open windows caresses them, turns them gold. I burn with jealousy.
Itís more than I can bear. I leave them in their own private world.
That night as my husband lays sleeping, I carry out the plan Iíve dreamed up over so many dark sleepless nights.
I drift alone through wide, drafty torchlit corridors. The chill is deep inside my bones, deep inside my heart. I will not be alone for ever. I will be free of this place, free to
chose, to live, to love.
Eyes lowered, I pass the lone guard. In courtesy, he pretends not to see me, not to know what every other living being here knows. His kindness gives me the strength to continue. The wooden door opens silently and I seal it tight behind me.
I stare contemplatively at the dark, still figure barely visible against the crisp linen sheets despite the nearly full moon. Silently I walk towards him, drawn.
Using the soft, supple straps of leather appropriated from the stables, I gently tie first one bronzed arm then another to the frame of the bed. He stirs. I freeze.
The gods damn me yet again. He awakes groggily. I can feel my one chance slipping through my fingers. No time now for the blindfold, the slow, teasing seduction bringing
him to the point of no return. Ripping the bed covers back, I pin his legs with the weight of my body, riding out the twists and bucks as he tries to free himself. His eyes are
narrowed, surprised, his teeth clenched. Every muscle tenses, fighting against his captivity. Does he realise what I want?
Iíd hoped that his pride would give me time. Time to make my own memories of that gorgeous body. Of lapping that sun-kissed skin, engulfed that weeping cock with my
eager mouth. But itís not to be. He cries out a name convulsively as my fingers first touch the sensitive skin of his inner thigh, as he struggles futilely against the straps
His lover is there, a dark ominous shadow. With a gesture, the room is bathed in the soft glow of candlelight allowing me to look on the face of my rival. There is anger, possessive anger. There is concern, barely concealed behind a thunderous scowl. There is suspicion. Last of all, there is amusement. His lips quirk up at the corners slightly.
"Iphicles - I think your wife wants something."
My husband is not amused. He glares angrily at his lover, eyes flashing. "I told you this was a bad idea."
The god laughs, his head thrown back to reveal the soft skin of his throat. "No, you didnít. You said it was something you couldnít escape. You said you didnít want anyone to drive us apart." He projects an aura of careless amusement, but his eyes are narrow, assessing us both.
"Whatís the difference?" Iphicles explodes verbally and physically, twisting and pulling futilely against his restraints. The leather creaks, strains, holds. There is guilt on his
handsome face, guilt and resentment at being forced into this intolerable position. Poor king. At least he had some choice.
"The difference.." Ares surveys me speculatively. It is not a pleasant look, it carries a sense of a merchant valuing stock. Silence fills the room until he speaks once more. "The difference is in who you married. Not a simpering little virgin, hungry for love, but a grown woman." He pauses as if searching for the right phrase. "One with experience."
I find my voice finally, breaking free of the spell of the godís melodious tones, staring at him boldly. His words offer me hope. I ignore for the moment the hot, tantalising flesh beneath me, speaking to the god as if he alone would make the decisions .
"Join me." My voice is steady, I will not falter now. I will have him. Iíll have them both.
"Youíre tired of playing the voyeur already?" He shakes his head in mock reproach. "No patience."
He knew? He knew I was watching and Iím still alive. Perhaps I have more bargaining power than I thought.
"Tired?" I shake my head in disbelief. How could anyone tire of watching these two make love?
Iphiclesí eyes widen - obviously the god hasnít previously chosen to share the news about their audience. He is more angry than before, his jaw set - yet - is that a hint of arousal at the thought? Heíd deny it if challenged but his cock stirs against his thigh. Oh yes, he likes the idea. Perhaps I can use that.
"You are both so beautiful, so passionate. I could spend hours watching you caress each other. Watch you kissing, stroking. See your bodies entwined, gently fucking. Hear the soft cries, the growls of passion and desire."
Iphiclesí amber eyes are focused me, only me, for perhaps the first time since we were married. His mouth is slightly open, his lips moist as he listens to my confession. I feel
myself growing wet and move uncomfortably on his thighs, embarrassed by the boldness of my words. But now is not the time to surrender. I address myself solely to my husband. He is the one I must convince.
"I want more. I want to taste the skin that your lover touches." I bend and suit my actions to my words, tongue darting out to tease the pale skin of his hip, his thigh with
light feathery strokes. He squirms, aroused. Guiltily, he glances to his lover, his god.
The godís face is impassive. He doesnít give Iphicles any hint of what he thinks, what he should do. He gives his lover the choice. Would that I had given that sort of choice.
"Youíre to do what youíre told and thatís the end of it!"
"Thucydides is barely in his grave and already you want to barter me to the highest bidder. How can you be so heartless?" Defying my father is never a good idea but heís
caught me by surprise this time. How can anyone be so insensitive?
He ignores my outburst. "Heíll be welcome to your harsh tongue, girl. Do your duty: no more of this childishness." He glares at me, his lip curled in disgust, and stomps heavily from the room, his limp more pronounced than usual. So much for rational argument. "Cross me and youíll regret it."
I shiver and remember the last time I asserted myself with him just a few years ago, shortly before my marriage. I couldnít sit a horse for weeks. All the freedom I
experienced, all the love is draining away. Iíll do anything to get away from the old tyrant.
Corinth (Day before the wedding)
People crowd into the spacious chamber, elbowing each other to gain a vantage point. The noise of a hundred different conversations echoes back from the marble walls,
deafening in its intensity. The pungent aroma of humanity. Courtiers in scarlets and emeralds and azure, councillors in sombre black, merchants in multicoloured robes. I
begin to wonder if I should have listened to Thera when she proclaimed loud and long that my plan to see my future husband before the wedding was madness. But I canít back down now, canít let a little noise frighten me like a skittish horse. My father once said that the unguarded speech of the common man was the best guide to a rulerís character. That was just before he decapitated a man for bad-mouthing him, but the axiom still holds
true. Squaring my shoulders, I brace myself to endure the crush.
Trumpets blare and the crowd focuses its attention on the dais. The king walks in, flanked by two councillors. Gods, heís gorgeous. I can feel myself gaping at the sight and
close my mouth quickly, glancing sideways to make sure nobody is looking at me. Iím not here to look at him, Iím here to learn, to sift the grain from the chaff. Still, as I listen, my eyes drift back to that proud, beautiful face.
"Itís about time Ďe got married. ĎTaint good for a kingdom not to have a Ďeir."
"- and you know they still say that she had someone else on the side. Can you imagine -"
" - the old king would never have done that. Ah, these youngsters and their new-fangled-"
"He reckons theyíre getting bolder about it. Donít even try to hide it anymore. Still, itís good for us. A friend in high places -"
I try to locate the speaker of the last comment. I donít understand the context. Is he talking about the king? Is there a mistress? I edge closer, imperceptibly I hope.
"Friend? " snorts his companion. "Thatís a damn polite word for it. Iíd call him-" He breaks off, noticing my rapt attention and smiles awkwardly at me. "Beg pardon, didnít
mean to offend." He exchanges a glance with the other man and they shoulder their way through the crowd. They seem embarrassed at being overheard.
Though I listen for another hour, learning more than I ever needed to know about the courtís current gossip and the sexual proclivities of various highly placed nobles, that
snippet of conversation stays with me. Nothing else appears to relate to Iphicles - either theyíre afraid to talk or heís the very model of virtue.
The Wedding Night
Nervously I pace the room. Iím no virgin blushing bride. Iím a woman. I know what is going to happen. So why am I so nervous? What is taking so damn long? The door swings open and Theraís lithe figure slips into the room.
"The king has already retired for the night." Thera tries to break the news gently, leaving me to stare blankly at her. Is it a deliberate insult? I didnít want this marriage,
wanted to be left alone but my pride is stung. On the one night when I might reasonably expect my husbandís full attention, I have none. None. But the bad news isnít over yet.
"Then Iíll go to him." I wonít let him think he can ignore me. Reaching out for a robe, I wrap it warmly around me, taking comfort its softly woven folds.
Thera shakes her head and slumped down heavily on a nearby chair, her face serious and drawn. "Heís not alone." She looks uncomfortable, unsure of how to express herself. "The rumours were true."
"Which rumours? Heís smitten with some bitch and heís snubbing me because of it!"
"HeísÖ" she hesitates as I glare fiercely at her. "Heís obsessed with Ares."
I stare at her, uncomprehendingly. Obsessed with a god? What business does a king have with religious fervour? She sighs heavily and stands, leading me to the labyrinth of
servantsí passages which honeycomb the palace. We walk in silence, following the twists and turns until we reach a doorway covered by a wallhanging.
"Look. Understand." She smiles compassionately and slips away.
Dousing the lights around me, I pull back the heavy wall covering, careful to make not a sound as my eyes adjust to the darkness. Beyond is the first of the kingís chambers, an informal reception room. An amphora of wine stands on the table, two glasses. Indistinguishable sound drifts from the bedroom. I have to see for myself.
Theyíre in bed together, furiously fucking. All I can see is Iphiclesí back, as he whispers obscenities into his loverís ear. Their cries remind me of how long itís been since I felt a man touch me, want me and I feel vaguely ashamed of myself for watching.
But all is forgotten when the man I thought was my husband shifts position, allowing me to see his face for the first time. Itís not Iphicles, but the man beneath him is. My
husband is being fucked by another man. And loving it, to judge by the look on his face.
I donít know how long I stood there the first time I saw them together. Of course, Iíd heard such things whispered about but the reality far exceeded rumour and innuendo.
Somehow Iíd always imagined such things to be more the province of men who were forced to live apart from women: soldiers and unmarried men, some kind of pale
substitute. A thousand questions ran through my head, tantalising me. How long had this been going on? Who else knew that my husband was unfaithful to me? Why did I find the sight so magnetic?
Eventually I left as quietly as I had arrived, but as I retraced my steps through the empty corridors, still I saw that vision before my eyes - when Ares moved to show me Iphiclesí rapt face. How can I compete with the love of a god? I thought long and I thought hard. Even tried to hate them for doing this to me.
But I canít.
Returning to watch time and time again, I tell myself I need to understand but deep inside I know that itís a lie, not the real motivation. I understand. I watch until I canít bear the
loneliness, the isolation anymore.
So here we are, several moons later. One wife, attempting to rape her husband. One god, answering the shocked plea of his lover. One king, trapped between the two of them. Where does it go from here?
Ares takes control. "Donít you want her?"
Iphicles shakes his head fiercely, not trusting himself to speak.
"Liar." Ares traces his hand across the flat expanse of his loverís stomach. He grins crookedly. It made him look like a mischievous little boy. Iphiclesí body moves
instinctively towards that caressing hand. "Youíre trying to convince yourself of that. Say what you feel instead."
The god leaned in close to his loverís ear and nips it sharply, his close shaven beard tickling Iphicles to judge by his reaction.
"Itís not a test."
Iphicles looks doubtful. Heís a hard man to convince. I can almost hear Aresí unvoiced sigh as he speaks more persuasively. "Youíre the King of Corinth, Iph, with all the
responsibilities and duties that entails. You must have a wife. You must have an heir."
He paused, gracefully lowering himself onto the bed, reclines on his side. An well-muscled arm supports his head as he surveys me lazily, dark eyes glinting with
emotion. "I wonít lie to you Iph: Iím a very jealous god. I donít share my toys."
Iphiclesí face flushes at that comment and he growls huskily at the derogatory reference, probably also at the allusion to there being others. He tenses once again, trying to pull himself free.
Ares laughs. "But youíre not a toy, Iph. You have certain tasks that you canít escape, just as I canít, just as Daria canít." Iím not sure I liked my marriage being described
that way but Iíll let Ares do the talking for now. For now.
"So Iím asking you to share." The godís silky voice has ensorcelled us both. We stare at each other, puzzled and then at him.
"Share?" Iphicles is looking more than a little dazed.
"Share yourself. Share your body with us both. Let us please you together." Aresí voice had dropped to a soft, seductively purr. Leaning towards Iphicles, he captures his lips and kisses him thoroughly, ruthlessly. I feel his body quiver under me at the touch of its master and remain motionless.
Itís worse watching them this close, hearing the soft noises, feeling the warm flesh under me. Eventually Ares draw back from the kiss, breathing heavily. Iphicles watches his every move, pupils dilated with lust, as the god pulls me down to lay between them, having disintegrated the leather straps binding Iphicles with a casual wave of his hand. His warm, sensitive hands stroke me. His challenging gaze dares the king to follow his
lead. But Iphicles hasnít relinquished the struggle.
"Why do you always get what YOU want, Ares? Why do you always know best?" His tone verges on petulance.
"If I had what I wanted, King Iphicles, youíd never seen your kingdom again!" Ares snarls, losing his patience. "Thereíd be none of this waiting around and sharing your time with a thousand petty mortal concerns." He leans closer to emphasize his point, looming overhead. I hold my breath and freeze like an trapped animal. Iphicles glares back at him, jaw clenched. Itís obviously a well worn subject.
"Youíd never see Corinth again or that interfering brother of yours, and youíd spend your time waiting on my pleasure. Probably chained naked to a convenient bed
somewhere." The god licks his lips. Sounds like a fantasy heís cherished for some time now. Needs a little more detail to make it perfect. This isnít the time to get side-tracked though.
Iphicles snorts. "Not a chance, Ares. Iíd go mad in a week and you know it."
"True enough. But the point is, thatís what would happen _if_ I had everything my way." He lowers his voice seductively. "Sure you wouldnít care to try it for a week or two, Iph? Iíd be ever soÖ appreciative."
"Youíll kiss and make up with Hercules first, Ares." His humour restored by this unlikely prediction, Iphicles returns his attention to me. His guilt is either well hidden or
Ares has convinced him, for his skillful hands draw erotic patterns on my skins. Somehow I suspect itís the former. But Iím not one to question good luck. He can obsess about it later. I need this.
They take turns, at first, at driving me into a frenzy. Then it is my turn to partner Iphicles to minister to Ares. There is awkwardness but we persevere. Practice makes perfect
I wake up snuggled into Iphiclesí back. Ares is on the other side, snoring with a vengeance. Iíd be willing to lay denarii that the god arranged it this way - even when heís
asleep he canít stop manipulating everything around him. Iphicles feels me moving, opens one eye blearily over his shoulder. Probably wondering who the fuck I am. Too
early to cope with this. Sleep more.
The second time, the sun is blazing through the narrow window and Iím alone in the bed. Servants are busily removing the debris from the chamber: plates, cups, clothes. I can feel them carefully not looking at me even as they attend the king. Iphicles is discussing the business for the day with his secretary, a routine so familiar it makes me ache for Thucydides. Conscious of the eyes on us, he kisses me good morning on the forehead and makes social noises before rushing to do whatever the hell is more important than his newly bedded bride. Probably opening a new well somewhere.
Itís not important. What is important is that he has publicly acknowledged me. The marriage is consummated. My father canít control me any longer.
Several days later
Iphicles was sorting through the papers his secretary had assembled on his desk, looking for a letter heíd meant to answer when he came across the letter. It read :
IphiclesIphicles sat slowly, emotions churning.
Iím leaving. Donít bother having me brought back; we both know itís better this way. I canít stay where Iím not needed and not loved. I need be free - you need to be married. Now nobody can force you to marry again. Iím sure you can concoct some story to cover my absence. Locked up in an asylum perhaps, or making a pilgrimage to some far off country. Perhaps even that Iíve run off with a lover, that should get you some sympathy.
Sounds bitter, I know, but I think neither of us is as strong as we should be. The truth is I took the easiest way to escape my tyrant of a father; you caved in to escape the bullying of your beloved god. Now that there are witnesses to the consummation of that marriage, both of us are free to follow our hearts. Weíve made our bed - but we donít need to lie in it.
One free piece of advice. Donít let Ares push you around. Remember to give him a fight, rather than having his own way all the time. Trust me on this.
Ares would be angry he knew, blazingly angry. He hated it when the pieces on his chessboard took on a life of their own. But Iphicles vowed then and there to extract from him a promise. To give Daria her freedom, no matter what he had to do to appease the godís anger. He smiled wickedly, imagining ways of bending Ares to his will.
"I wish you well," he whispered softly. "I hope you find what youíre looking for."