envied of snakes

From THE EIGHTH KING, my wuxia fantasy novel currently in progress:

Lin Gyat shrugged. “Who knows what goes on between men and women? I thought your reluctance to engage in sport with me might have stemmed from a preëxisting attachment.”

“I am unattached,” said Datang, attempting to make clear with her tone that this was not a welcome vein of conversation.

“Excellent. Well, I recognize that you were taxed last night by your exertions. It is not well to strain oneself in such circumstances.”

“Do not patronize me, Envied of Snakes,” said Datang. “I was barely warm when you begged to make camp. When I am disposed to sport with men, no little march will sap my will to do it.”

“And yet you refused me.” Lin Gyat frowned in cogitation. “I do not understand.”

“The Lotus, Envied of Snakes, is any other woman so readily swayed by your brutish proposals? I do not wish to share your bed.”

“Oh, to be sure, you may take your own bed after we cease our game; I cannot sleep in company. Ape’s Left Hand, I think you and I will get along excellently.”

“We may yet,” said Datang, “but not as lovers.”

“I, too, eschew the softer emotions,” said Lin Gyat. “They interfere with the correct execution of a man’s martial technique, in both the plain and euphemistic senses. I imagine it is the same for women. Do you know,” he said, “I do not think I have ever encountered a woman fencer.”

“Perhaps you let them see you coming,” said Datang.

“No,” Lin Gyat said thoughtfully, “for in that event, they would have attempted to attract my attention. I think you said last night you understood the origin of my style?”

“Yes, yes,” said Datang, “you are remarkably swift, as I am sure all your ‘comrades-in-arms’ inform you.”

Lin Gyat gave her a puzzled look. “No, they have not been especially appreciative of my speed on the draw.”

Datang chortled. Lin Gyat redoubled his look of puzzlement. “Indeed, Envied of Snakes,” said Datang, “it is my experience that this quality is seldom valued by women.”

“As you say. But—ah, I think I understand the confusion.” Lin Gyat was staring into the distance by this point, so Datang felt safe giving vent to the urge to roll her eyes. “In these inner provinces, and those to the east, bordering the Garden, snakes are famed for their agility—for example, I have heard tell of the furred rocksnake of Gyachun, whose poison works so quickly that its victims fall dead before they are bitten, which greatly simplifies the hunt. And, of course, the bat-eating winged asp, which moves faster than the sound waves its prey might otherwise use to detect it.” Datang had never heard of these creatures, but she nodded soberly in indication that Lin Gyat should continue. “But in Degyen from which I hail, there are no snakes of such prodigious celerity. Our snakes spend the majority of their existences torpid, rousting themselves only long enough to eat.”

“And what is their prey?” asked Datang.

“Oh, nothing exotic. Men, tapirs, sometimes tigers.”

“The Lotus,” said Datang, “the snakes of Degyen must be enormous!”

“And now,” said Lin Gyat, “you understand why women flock to a man styled Envied of Snakes.”

Datang momentarily covered her face with her hands. “My father has an expression for a certain type of torment,” she said. “’Pressing wine from stone grapes.’ I feel I now understand the idiom.”

“I am no vintner,” Lin Gyat said cheerfully, “but my brother Dargey was styled Two Stone Grapes, due to an intriguing feature of his—”

“Envied of Snakes,” Datang interrupted, noticing a certain foul taste on her tongue on saying his style, “I fear I cannot continue this conversation. The moon tugs my blood. This renders my temper unpredictable and degrades my mental faculties, as no doubt you know.”

Lin Gyat nodded vigorously in assent. “I am well versed in female physiology,” he said. “We need converse no further. And I now understand why you have reacted so oddly to my invitations. I shall patiently await the return of your ardor, contenting myself meanwhile with—”

“Oh,” said Datang, “you need not itemize your substitutions. It is well for comrades-in-arms to be separated by a comfortable span of mutual ignorance.”

Lin Gyat gave Datang a smile that seemed, somehow, as pure and sincere as a child’s. “Ape’s Left Hand,” he said, “I do not think I could dream of a finer woman than you.”

I think all I can say here is “I’m not sorry.” But, really, I might be.

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