Writing a story around dubious consent was also a unique experiment, because I didn't want to write anything glorifying rape or abuse. (See the first blog post of this blog tour for more on that!). Instead, I thought it might be interesting to make Naja, the character Arjin thinks is restricting his freedom, actually trying to free him from the guilt and inhibitions imposed upon him by his strict upbringing. I wanted to make the captor the liberator. The execution of this was tricky, though, because I also didn't want Naja to be preachy about his way of life being superior to Arjin's. His lessons are very subtle nudges as he helps Arjin figure everything out. Exploring the psychology of these characters was both enlightening and frustrating at times, but I'm so glad I got to know these guys, and I hope you'll like them too!
Here's an excerpt from The Brush Whistler's Song. Enjoy!
The layers of gauzy silk over Arjin’s face lent a hazy, scarlet cast to his odd surroundings, as if he watched the proceedings through a shifting, red mist. He shuddered despite the heat of the fabric piled over him. He wanted to avert his eyes, but curiosity, that irresistible Vice, defeated piety. Staring through the translucent, shimmering cloth, Arjin watched men he’d grown up beside unloading sacks of grain, barrels of fruit, dried meat, bolts of fabric, clayware, and metal utensils onto the smooth floor of geometric gold and cobalt tiles. Gifts, in tribute, like himself.
He wriggled his toes, girdled in gold bands. The metal bars in his nipples and navel itched, still healing, and he distracted himself by casting his gaze around the vast foyer. Refreshing, blue-gray shade draped the room, starkly different from the searing sunlight outside. Arjin felt a wave of nausea and panic ripple from the pit of his stomach and up his back. Forbidden things surrounded him: statues of nude men and women, lurid paintings, gratuitous arrangements of flowers, their petals lush and damp despite the dry heat, and mirrors. Mirrors adorned almost every wall, multiplying the sinful sights, volleying them back and forth into infinity. Despite his best efforts to resist, these illicit visions engaged Arjin’s eyes and mind; he’d never imagined anything like them and couldn’t look away.
The men finished unloading precious piles of goods, casting a final, sympathetic eye toward Arjin as they turned to depart. In response, Arjin raised his chin a little higher. They shouldn’t see him as a victim, but as a savior, and in time they would. Everyone would know his name one day, and it would be praised.
Pride, Arjin thought: the Vice he fell victim to most often. No matter how he tried to bury the evil feelings, they always surged to the surface. The High Cleric had known and had tried to beat it out of him, to no avail. He couldn’t help but feel some prestige at the task he’d been handed and would accomplish. Others should see his sacrifice and acknowledge what he suffered on their behalf. Not out of pity, but out of the respect he was due.
But they didn’t, and Arjin couldn’t break the ruse. He stood with his hands clasped, head bowed, and shoulders sloped downward, as he’d been coached to do all of his life. He had no way to measure how much time passed as he shifted beneath his coverings, his breath moistening the ruby cloth.
Finally, it came: the Ansari. Arjin had heard tales of it since he’d been a babe. While it might resemble a man, one of The Faithful, it stood outside human experience. Arjin’s people, with the blessing of the Father, had all but destroyed their vile race over a thousand years before. The Ansari that remained feared to show themselves, with the exception of this one and maybe a few others scattered around the civilized world. Arjin could see little through his veil, aside from its impressive stature and the dark clothing it wore. He shivered as it drew nearer, passing alternately from strips of shadow to shreds of warm, golden light spilling from the round windows high above them, though it still stood several hundred yards from him, at the opposite end of the vast hall.
Arjin noticed a curtain of dark hair swaying back and forth as the Ansari walked closer, in no particular hurry. He felt torn between terror at the thing reaching him, and eagerness to assess it up close and learn what sort of demon he faced. The High Cleric had explained some sort of ancient bargain allowed this Ansari to keep its lands and decadent palace of sin while its brethren had been hunted to the last member. Arjin’s people, in keeping with an archaic truce of their own, offered the creature a cache of gifts every decade. Every tenth tribute needed to be especially extravagant, hence the inclusion of Arjin in his translucent robes, painted body, plaited hair, and jeweled adornments. He made an exemplary gift. At least that was what the High Cleric hoped the Ansari would think.
Thanks for reading!
Gus's blog: http://www.booksbyeonandgus.com/