Ye Olde Grandma: The mortal affection
”I assume there is a point to that”, Aetius said, indicating Cecilia’s dress. During their previous meetings she’d come in her simple remembrancer robes, but tonight she was clad in a scarlet silk dress that left her arms, her back and a lot of her chest bare.
Cecilia smiled. “Perceptive”, she said. “I thought it well-suited to further illustrate the points I believe I’ll be making tonight.”
Aetius frowned. “Explain.”
Cecilia kept smiling as she glanced across the room. La Fenice
was, as always, filled with people, and though Astartes were not uncommon here, Aetius was the only one present tonight. At this hour though, the spirits had taken their toll on the patrons, and Cecilia felt certain they’d be spared most of their attention.
She’d indulged in a few drinks herself while she waited and couldn’t help but giggle as a server came over with two fluted glasses and a bottle of wine. His gaze lingered on her exposed skin.
“That”, she said to the Astartes when the server had left. “That’s your explanation.”
Aetius poured himself a drink and leaned back. Clad in a simple toga he looked every bit the magnificent hero, with skin pale and smooth like marble. Reclined as he was now, wineglass in hand, Cecilia found she saw him less like a warrior. He almost fit in, among artists and philosophers. Almost.
“I saw arousal”, he rumbled. “I heard an increase of heartbeat from that man and saw his breathing quicken. That is the carnal desire, yet no more than so. It is not, from what I’ve learned, the full extent of the mortal affection.”
The mortal affection
. He’d taken to calling it that, because the word love
already had its meaning to him. It was the bond between battle-brothers and, in particular, the affectionate fealty to their Lord Fulgrim. That made sense in his world, though it made things harder for Cecilia to explain.
“You are correct of course”, she said, “though one shouldn’t underestimate the part played by mere arousal in the greater concept that is mortal love. Remember that the next time you indulge yourself in such poetry and prose.” She smiled a wicked smile.”For the most part the author merely covets the recipient’s body.”
Aetius took a sip. “So it’s lies then?”
“No, no, no”, she laughed. “Well, sometimes.”
Aetius frowned. Cecilia drank deep while weighing her next words.
“To be fair”, she said, “such desire is for the most part a complementary factor. A man may love a woman, and in doing so he loves all that she is, body and person both.”
“We know that the server loves your body”, Aetius said. “Approach him, and he may prove to love the rest of you.” He cocked an eyebrow, unsmiling. “Correct?”
“Indeed”, she laughed. “Then again, I am looking my best tonight.”
“I noticed. During our previous meetings you evoked behavior such as that shown by the server merely once, while tonight men and women have laid eyes on you three times already.”
Cecilia coughed, barely keeping the wine behind her teeth. She looked at the Astartes before her with wide eyes, staring up at his face. His calm gaze flitted momentarily to the side, quick as lightning.
“Four times now”, he added. “You blush. Are you well?”
“I honestly never thought…” she mumbled. “I mean, four times?” She looked down at her dress, realizing that perhaps it was too much.
She resolved to plant her elbows on the table and lean on them, covering herself as best as she could. Aetius simply stared as she shifted her posture.
“It’s a strange thing, your mortal emotions.”
“So you’ve told me”, Cecilia muttered.
“Over the years I have delved into some of the finest art and poetry of the human species. By decree of my betters I have sought perfection in culture as well as in warfare. And…”
Cecilia put down her glass. “And?” she said.
“I see easily the magnificence in the statues of old heroes. My heart soars to look upon the landscapes of Chemos rendered in imagists’ paint. Even the ruminations of Karkasy are not beyond me.”
Aetius lowered his gaze.
“Yet the true meaning behind the poems and prose which discuss the concept of… of what you would name love; that still eludes my understanding. I study the matter as frequently as I can, but the words remain dead to me. They do not kindle in me the recognition as other things do.”
The subject had been hinted at during their previous talks, but this was the first time Cecilia had witnessed anything like this candour. Aetius had put his wineglass down and laid his massive hands on the table. His voice was as level as always, but she saw something new in his eyes, something haunted. A shiver ran through her and she instinctively raised her own glass to her lips. She’d had a lot to drink, in fact, and her mind had probably been dulled by it. Perhaps she’d only imagined what she saw.
“I will not lie and say that it doesn’t vex me”, the Astartes went on. “For all our talks I am still in the dark. The mortal affection seems to lie at the core of much of human existence, and yet mortals often shy away from it. As you did.”
He fixed her with a stare and said no more. Cecilia found her voice.
“You were shamed when I informed you of the looks you drew. Why is that, when the encounter with the server gave no such concern?”
Cecilia struggled with her thoughts. Once again she was reminded of how thin her dress was.
“That’s different”, she mumbled. “I can’t be thought of as easy, as some cheap...”
“Why?” Aetius interrupted. Cecilia cringed.
“There is no honour...” she began.
“It makes no sense”, he stated. “What rulings would seek to hinder you from pursuing your purpose in love and reproduction? What hypocrisy is it to condemn you if you do? Know that I shall gladly aid you if I can; I still recall everyone that found you desirable, and their names can be yours if you wish.”
Cecilia blinked. The room was spinning around her. Aetius’s massive frame filled her vision and somewhere far away someone laughed.
“No”, she whispered. “Please.” Her cheeks felt wet.
Aetius’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “Perhaps it is for the best that I do not understand. Mortals are weak, and your reasonings as well.”
“Be glad then”, she heard herself answer, “for you will never understand.”
She saw the haunted look return.