I know, I’ve been MIA for much of the month. The term March Madness is a very apt descriptor, and I’m not talking about sports. I haven’t found too much time to write, but I did put this little piece together for Rachel’s March chatterbox challenge. Please excuse any rough edges; this was written on a series of cramped flights and no brain capacity for editing.
This vignette actually follows on a Beauty and the Beast re-telling novella I wrote last year. I’m planning to offer a copy to any and all interested parties. More details to come on that. Until then, enjoy.
“So Lady Jiang, what etiquette must I maintain to prevent a galactic catastrophe?”
His tone, mocking and light, shook Maia out of her reverie. She pulled her gaze away from the foaming shoreline reluctantly and found his dark eyes. They gleamed with a rim of mischief, a foreign characteristic for his usually grim expression.
She scowled. “Don’t murder anyone before the wedding.”
“I’ve hardly ever been accused of that crime.”
A smirk teased at the corner of his mouth, and Maia could tell it contained equal parts jocularity and cynicism. Dark humor tinged his statement and they silently shared a moment of painful understanding before a chorus of laughter from the beach snapped the solemnity. Maia sucked in a deep breath, the smell of sea salt and tropics assaulting her senses.
“I’m sorry, Aiden.” She bumped her hand tentatively against his in the sand. “Baba always said I tell terrible jokes.”
His fingers snaked around hers. “Nah, you have a sound wit. Just poor timing.”
She laughed and cringed at the same time. “I do, don’t I? Everything is still awfully fresh. Stars, this is why I could never be a politician.”
“I have no idea why I asked you for counsel on etiquette.”
Maia thrust her elbow towards him but he caught her arm in a firm grip. They fell into a playful tussle and wet sand caked their limbs. After a few moments, Aiden locked his hands around her wrists and gave a slight shake of his head.
“I’d rather not see us on the news later.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You already know Maris Stella so well.” Sarcasm bled through her words, but she released her hold on him. Stellan news crews were banned from the Jiang’s private beach, but they were also notorious for acquiring intrusive footage.
They lapsed into silence for a while, allowing the roar and spray of ocean water to fill the stillness.
“Actually,” Maia began slowly, “Stellan wedding tradition is wrought with ancient beliefs, mostly inherited from Old China. It’s considered bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.” Her glance skated sideways toward Aiden. “Some insist on me wearing a particular veil from olden days to protect the royal family from any sort of curse.”
His expression indicated sufficient distaste. “Strange, how a culture can’t shake its superstitions, even decades after the technology era.”
“I don’t think it’s that odd. Science can never decipher everything, and I doubt most people truly want it to. There’s a beauty in the mystery. These myths are not only embedded in culture, but in the human psyche.”
Aiden cocked his head to the side and examined her. “A princess, soldier, bibliophile, and philosopher?”
The old, private joke echoed with warm familiarity. “And you have such impeccable timing,” she mumbled, a note of complaint creeping into her voice. “Who would have guessed—Aidan Hound, a jesting man?”
He offered an almost roguish smile in return. “And what is your opinion on these irrationalities?”
“You’re just concerned I’ll wear that horrendous veil,” she grumbled, before a more thoughtful expression overtook her. “I don’t believe in the superstitions, because they’re marked with human design—too flawed, too predictable. Truth must come from a source beyond us. I think—I think truth should shock us because we would not imagine it ourselves. And yet, it would strike our souls and sensibilities with its utter veracity.”
A pregnant silence fell over them, punctuated only by the distant cry of sea birds. Maia felt her face flush from her short speech and Aiden’s gaze drifted off to the gold-scorched horizon.
“Your conviction should no longer surprise me,” he murmured softly, “and yet it does.”
She smiled tentatively, still unused to the sudden, vulnerable moments that would spring up unannounced between them.
“What do you think?”
“Terra is much the opposite of Maris Stella, though ironically, our world is behind yours in science. But Terrans largely believe technology like it’s a god. Superstitions are a relic of the past.” He paused, catching her hazel eyes. “Yet, like you, I don’t run with the popular opinions of my people. When you talk of truth—truth that speaks to human life and the universe—it must be a hard and holy thing.”
“I remember you once said truth was malleable.” Maia could not help but challenge him as the memory arose.
The corner of his mouth turned up. “As a politician, truth lends itself to creativity. As a person, I cannot afford that same mentality.” He glanced at her. “Besides, I was teasing you then.”
“I missed that subtext.”
“I haven’t the faintest idea how you could.”
The edge of her mouth tipped up into a half-smile. “Then, do you think truth is knowable?”
Aidan released a quiet groan, and as if in agreement, hi stomach growled. “Yes,” he affirmed, a tired spark in his eye, “but only after dinner.”