Cadmus Vakarian squirmed uncomfortably in the stiff blue suit he wore. He knew it was tradition, that he had to wear it, but he wished turian wedding customs were less formal. He recalled that the asari and salarians allowed freedom to couples getting married, affording them the liberty to make their own choices in the ceremony. Turians still held resolutely to ancient tradition. Cadmus, of course, wouldn't have changed that fact. He was of the opinion that tradition was the foundation for duty, his core value. However, that didn't mean that an overly starched long-sleeved shirt and pants felt comfortable.
He walked stiffly to the window of his room and glanced down below. He hailed from a wealthy family, part of the upper echelon on Palaven. He'd been raised on palatial grounds and in a well-to-do mansion, but this had not produced laziness in him. He had never been babied. On the contrary, his father was a general in the military, a turian of high ideals who ruled by strict obedience. His home was run like his ship—every thing and every person in its place, including his children. Cadmus had two other siblings, an older brother and a younger sister. His brother served on his father's ship. His sister was in the Corps of Engineers, an anthropologist and sometimes archaeologist. He spotted them down below amongst the throng gathered to witness his nuptials. He felt blasé about them. His brother was thirteen years older and as such, had never figured much into his life. His sister was four years his junior, but she spent most of her time with their mother, being trained in the feminine ways of high society turians. Both his sister and brother had already married. Cadmus was the last of the siblings to unite with a spouse.
Cadmus continued to skim the garden below, the beauty of his home planet having been grown for the occasion, various bushes, trees and flowers, plus a large and beautiful silver fountain that had been commissioned for the occasion. The wedding would certainly be beautiful. He could appreciate that, even if he didn't quite feel enthusiasm for the bride.
Cadmus pulled back from the window and turned to the mirror again. He stared into his own eyes, contemplating the young, virile turian in front of him. He was twenty-eight, three years past the time most turians were married. As an unwritten rule, turians were expected to marry by twenty-five, submitting themselves to the process of becoming true contributing members of society as they began to produce children as well as service. It was true that the insistence on marriage by twenty-five was becoming antiquated, but his affluent family still held to old world ideals. So, a year ago, he'd been encouraged to consider marriage to a female turian from another wealthy family: Laelia Soranus. She was younger than him, just now twenty-four, same age as his sister. They'd been set up on family dates and those dates had been inconclusive. Laelia remained introverted and silent, and Cadmus thought perhaps resentful.
Cadmus ran a talon over the dark blue tattoo adorning his face. What did Laelia see when she looked at him? Chains? They're engagement had been announced by her parents six months ago and she had assented to it verbally. Truthfully, Cadmus had come to respect Laelia that day. She had done what duty called for, even if her feelings did not match the act. She would bow to her parents' wishes. Cadmus had agreed himself to the engagement, though he had not felt trapped. He felt nothing, really. He'd liked females from time to time, but he'd put his heart and soul into his work, not his relationships. This marriage was just another step of duty until he returned to his important work in planet security.
Actually, recently, he'd been considering an alternative to planetside service. His older brother had earned all their father's affection by choosing the life of a soldier. Cadmus suffered the fate of the middle child, passed over by his father and left alone by his mother who doted on his sister to the exclusion of all else. When he'd chosen to be a security officer, his father had voiced momentary displeasure, then let it go, throwing it off as the whims of a less ambitious son. Yet Cadmus had proved his skill, rising quickly in the ranks, already at the top of the heap. But planet security had become boring, the day in and out dutiful, but far from rewarding. That was when he'd thought about his cousin, Viator Lentinus, who worked on the Citadel in C-Sec. Tales of alien encounters and never-ending challenges from the political center of the galaxy made him curious and slightly jealous. He wanted to have those challenges for his own.
A knock sounded at his door. In a modern home, a chime would have rang, but his parents still lived in his father's ancestral home, a relic from a long distinguished past.
"Come in," Cadmus called out in his deep, resonating voice.
The door opened and his father walked in. "They're ready for you."
Cadmus drew in a long breath, nodding his head once and moving to the door. His father put a hand on his shoulder. "Today you become a true turian."
Cadmus perceived a rare thing in his father's eyes: pride. So, getting married made him a real turian? Cadmus didn't see the connection. Couldn't one be a true turian without marriage?
Cadmus stood in his uncomfortable clothes, face to face with Laelia. He may not have felt love for her, but he did savor her beauty. Her face was slim, a trait turian females prized. She lacked any face tattooing as females were not required to wear it. If she had, it would have been the same as his, as they came from the same colony. Her face was bent down, eyes lowered…respectfully? Cadmus hoped she refused to look at him out of submission rather than disgust. She wore the typical sleeveless red dress, falling almost to the ground. Her bare shoulders were a sign she was leaving maidenhood behind and giving her body to her husband.
Laelia's father was speaking to them about marriage and its duties and responsibilities. Then Cadmus' father spoke as well, echoing the same theme. Finally, both their fathers and mothers came forward, handing each of them a knotted cord. The cord had been weaved by their parents' own hands, a symbol of parental duty to their children. Cadmus held the red cord in his hands, then spoke loudly for all to hear.
"I take Laelia Soranus into my heart, my life and my home. I will be loyal to her as she to me. My bond will never break, my commitment never tarnish. We will exist as one cord, ever circling." Laelia looked up, though her eyes did not meet his. Cadmus put the cord over her head. It rose and fell quickly as she breathed.
Laelia now spoke, softly, but clearly. "I give Cadmus Vakarian my heart and my life, uniting myself to his flesh. My loyalty is his. Our bond will never break, our commitment never tarnish. We will exist as a single cord, ever circling." Cadmus bowed his head, making it easier for Laelia, shorter than him, to place the blue cord over his head. When he looked up, she'd turned her face away.
Their parents took their hands, raised them in the air and proclaimed them now one. Then their father's united their hands. Cadmus held Laelia's right hand. It was shaking.
After the ceremony came the celebration, formal dancing, feasting and drinking. Normally Cadmus would have relished the expensive wine purchased for the nuptials, but he found himself overwhelmed. Now that he was married, he didn't quite know what that meant for him. What would change? He'd already been gifted a home from his parents, a place not far from them, itself a respectable manor in its own right. He'd hired the staff and Laelia would have her hands full directing them. He supposed he'd follow in his father's footsteps, rarely seeing his wife unless he had to.
"Cadmus, my most hearty congratulations!"
Cadmus' mouth opened and his mandibles twitched in the turian approximation of a smile. His close friend from childhood, Arsenius Fedorian, placed his hands on his shoulders and squeezed tightly. "You've joined the ranks of the married. How does it feel?"
Cadmus shrugged. "No different than from before."
Fedorian cackled. "That's Cadmus. Not a ripple in his demeanor. Come, come, friend. I know your thoughts are deep even if your mouth is shallow."
Cadmus eyed his friend, but didn't say a word.
"I know the trouble. You need a drink." Arsenius gestured to a server who hurried over with a glass of exotic wine. "Here."
Cadmus held the drink in his hand and took a sip. It was good, but he didn't really want any. He found his mind preoccupied with thoughts further into the evening.
Arsenius noticed his hesitancy and put a hand behind his back, pushing and directing him away from the crowd to a quiet corner. "You aren't happy? Look at her. You couldn't do better, my friend."
Cadmus looked across the room to Laelia who stood among a group of female turians. She was beautiful, without a doubt. But she, too, did not seem full of enthusiasm. She was utterly reserved in her demeanor.
"I'm not unhappy with her."
Cadmus considered the dark turian with white markings in front of him. He had known Aresenius most of his life. They had played together and then trained together, conquering the required basic military training at the age of fifteen. But they had gone their separate ways when Aresenius chose a life in the military, while Cadmus applied his mind to the life of a detective. Still, their bond remained close and they met and chatted when able.
"Look, Cadmus," Arsenius encouraged, "I know your way is to say little. But I can tell something is wrong. Tell me. Maybe I can help you."
Cadmus took a breath. "It's…the consummare." He expected Arsenius to laugh in his face, but his friend had more sensitivity than that, only nodding thoughtfully.
"I should have guessed." Arsenius put his hand to his head for a moment, thinking of what to say. "It won't be difficult for you. There is an…instinct for it. You don't need to fear your ability."
Cadmus said nothing. He did not fear his ability, even though he had never committed the act. Cadmus was a turian who knew he could work his way through most everything. What he worried about was Laelia. How would she handle the consummare? If she couldn't even look him in the eye now, could she then?
"Thank you, Arsenius," Cadmus said, grateful for his friend's encouragement, even though it had not been helpful.
Arsenius grinned, mouth open, mandibles flared outward. "Enjoy her. It's one of the advantages of marriage."
The night wore on. Cadmus and Laelia saw nothing of each other, keeping to their own sides of the room greeting well wishers. When it was quite late, Cadmus' father hushed the music and signaled to Cadmus that the moment had arrived. The crowd went silent. Cadmus dutifully approached the stairs to the upper levels of the mansion and Laelia met him there, still refusing to look at him. Cadmus took her hand and they mounted the stairs side by side. She wasn't shaking now, and Cadmus was impressed by her self-control. He led her to a room far at the end of the hall. Noise filtered up from below as the party began again without them. He opened a door and gestured, letting her walk ahead. She entered slowly and sat down on the large bed.
Cadmus closed the door and turned to gaze on his wife. She continued to look down. He didn't want her to fear him. He found himself suddenly wishing he had found a female to love. The females he'd come to know worked in security as he did and they were never silent. They bore the marks of strength and vitality. But they lacked the requisite social status. Oh, there were many females of high status who had made lives for themselves in the military. But the Soranus family would never have heard of their only daughter debasing herself in such a way. Their beliefs were still old world, from a time when males dominated turian society. They still dominated to an extent, but females had earned rights and privileges. Still, the Soranus family made sure Laelia's service to the state consisted in a serene job in the Corps of Engineers, working as an assistant to an administrator in the government who was also a family friend. They had groomed their daughter for a wealthy marriage, hoping she'd move up in the social status and they'd found their chance through the Vakarian family.
As Cadmus reviewed Laelia's history, he wished they hadn't removed all spirit from her. She would be a supremely boring wife, he feared. Yet, duty called. He walked over to her and sat down next to her. He reached a hand behind her back and pulled at the ties that held her dress over her thin frame. The dress slowly released its hold, leaving Laelia exposed from the waist up. She had a beautiful figure, Cadmus thought. He reached out a hand to caress her shoulder, but when he touched her, he felt a tremor flow through her body. She was scared. He pulled his hand back. He knew what he was supposed to do. To follow tradition, he had to consummate their relationship. This was the proper time.
He paused for a moment, removing his shirt, wanting to make her less uneasy as he became physically as vulnerable as she. He then reached out his hand again and touched her shoulder. She still shook. "Don't be afraid," he spoke softly, wanting to reassure her.
"I'm not afraid," Laelia's smooth and quiet voice spoke. Cadmus knew she was lying, but did so only to retain her honor. She was trying so hard to be brave.
Cadmus kept his hand on her shoulder and used his other hand to encircle her waist and pull her body close to his. "Look at me," he said, asking firmly, but not demanding.
Laelia raised her head to stare him courageously in the face. Her blue eyes fixed on him resolutely, but Cadmus, a trained security officer, saw through the front. She was, indeed, terrified. Was it so terrible being married to him? he wondered. She doesn't even really know me. She knows facts alone. She doesn't know if I will hurt or protect her. She knows nothing about the real me.
Cadmus suddenly felt his moral motions come strongly to life. If he took her now, she'd do her duty, but his moral sense would berate him for it. What honor was there in forcing a female to your will? He had a duty now to her, to protect his wife. Yes, this was the proper time, but it was not the only time. Tradition and duty did not have to be fulfilled right here and now. He could afford his wife a momentary reprieve.
Cadmus gently pushed Laelia away. He stood, undressed completely and then lay down on the bed, closing his eyes. He heard her stand, shuffle about the room, then lay down next to him.
"Thank you," her voice spoke almost inaudibly as he drifted off to sleep.
Cadmus' eyes flickered open. The room was dark. He didn't recall turning off the lights himself. Where was he? Oh, yes, wedding, Laelia. He turned his head slightly. She wasn't on the bed. He sat up. He didn't know what to think. He partially wondered if she'd fled. But as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark room, he discerned a stunningly slim figure at the window, lit from behind by moonlight.
He decided not to disturb her reverie and went to lie back down, but her quiet voice spoke, sounding loud in contrast to the room's silence. "You're a good turian, Cadmus Vakarian."
Cadmus rubbed his neck. He didn't know how he should respond to the unexpected compliment. Laelia turned and walked towards him. When she reached the bed, he saw she was completely naked. He was breathless at the sight of her beauty revealed in all its glory. She put her hands on his shoulders.
"I didn't think you'd spare me."
Cadmus felt his heart beat quickly and his chest rise and fall rapidly in response to being so close to Laelia's naked form. "It wasn't right," he said clearly.
"Now it is," his wife spoke certainly. She leaned into him and Cadmus fell back on the bed as she curled her own form around his.
Cadmus breathed heavily. His brother had regaled him with descriptions of the glories of lovemaking, claiming the superiority of the act to other forms of entertainment. Cadmus had always blown them off. What was sex but a biological act? Even a simple insect could have a sexual encounter. Cadmus had no interest in pursuing sexual relations. He saw no need for the act as a regular part of his life. Now, he thought as he lay on the bed, he had been wrong.
He lay on his side, face to face with Laelia. "Was it pleasing?" she asked gently.
Pleasing could hardly scratch the surface. The very act of uniting himself to her physically had enthralled him, opened up doors into his very soul he didn't know existed. Whereas before he had felt nothing but duty to Laelia, he now felt a warm sensation at the thought of her. It seemed their act of tradition had awakened in him a heretofore unrecognized desire to love and be loved by another.
"Greatly," Cadmus answered simply, not one who found it easy to voice his feelings.
"I'm happy you found me so pleasurable."
Cadmus drew his hand up to her face and gently ran a talon along her cheek. His mandibles flared outward for a moment, then closed as he savored her smell. "Tell me about yourself. I hardly know you."
In the dim light from the window, he saw Laelia's eyes lower. "There isn't much that you don't know. My life hasn't been intriguing."
"I mean, I want to know you. Describe yourself to me." A desire to know Laelia's heart and soul had taken over his mind.
Laelia raised her eyes. "Controlled, dutiful, respectful."
Cadmus stared. "No more than that?"
Laelia's mandibles flexed. "What more do you need to know?"
"What do you like to eat? What are your favorite pastimes? Who are your friends?"
Laelia chuckled softly. "You think of me as an independent female. I hardly know my own mind. It's been my parents' for so long."
Cadmus felt suddenly sorrowful for Laelia. He may have been forgotten by his father, but at least that afforded him the opportunity to know himself. He had an accurate assessment of who he was, what he was capable of. Laelia had been putty in the hands of her parents.
"I don't want to mold you," Cadmus said forcefully. "You can think for yourself now."
Laelia reached out a hand and set it on his chest, pushing slightly and staring into it.
"What are you doing?" Cadmus asked after a moment.
"Considering the heart inside the turian next to me." She then fixed him with her blue eyes. "You are not what I thought you would be. I thought you'd drill me with rules and regulations like your father."
Now Cadmus felt he identified the source of her earlier fear. She had placed upon him the actions of his father.
"Understand," Laelia went on, "It is not that I disregard the rules of our society. I respect them and I follow them, as is right. But a life regimented by rules and absent of heart breeds a life of sterility."
Cadmus took a long breath. In one sentence, Laelia had captured his childhood and maybe hers as well. He'd been bred to be a perfect son. Failing that, he'd become a perfect security officer. He should have felt fulfilled, achieving what every turian wanted: the height of his career. But he felt only apathy.
"Rules and regulations are the foundation of society," Cadmus spoke. "They must be adhered to. But you're right. A lack of heart removes the motivation for courage and heroism and love." Cadmus thought ironically he never would have added the last quality if not for tonight.
Laelia rolled over and pushed back on the bed, snuggling into him. Cadmus put an arm around her thin frame. "You aren't your father," Laelia stated.
Cadmus nodded to himself. He wasn't his father, he knew that. Until this night, he'd always considered that a bad thing. Maybe it wasn't after all.