Chapter: #22 - Marshall's Proposal
Marshall was more than a little exasperated with Sterling, who seemed to be refusing to concentrate that morning. "Sterling,
old man ... I said C minor progression. What exactly do you
call what you just played?"
Sterling stared down at the keyboard of the harpsichord, as
if it could explain his error. "Hmmm ... a new minor
Evan laughed, from where he was tuning his new mandolin. "Let's
hope not, lads -- that cacophony doesn't belong in anyone's
"I'm not so sure." This from Marshall. "It
would be well- suited to punk rock, don't you think?"
Sterling was intrigued. "Is that what you played, in
your world, Marshall?"
"Certainly not! Heavy metal, twit. You know that."
"Didn't realize there was a difference."
Evan swore as one of the strings broke. "Most people
wouldn't think there is. You'd have to be an aficionado of
that fringe music."
"Fringe!" Marshall was more indignant by the moment.
"I'll have you know Stockholm's last album went triple
platinum. That means it sold three million copies," he
added, before Sterling could ask.
Sterling looked stunned beyond belief. "You don't mean
... three million people bought the thing? What you said?
How could there be three million people?"
"There are nine million in London alone. That's one city."
Sterling's eyes were glazing over. He was incapable of coping
with the thought of that many people. Marshall was studying
him closely. "Sterling, have you noticed that your speech
is becoming more like ours, and less like your people?"
"No, I can't say that I have. Your speech does seem simpler,
The door flew open and Lilly and Ariel entered. Lilly was
wearing a long, white gossamer robe similar to the one Ariel
wore, tied with a silver cord beneath the bust; the way Ariel's
was tied with a gold cord. She pirouetted happily in the middle
of the floor to show off the gown to her audience. "Look
what Ariel made me! Isn't it beautiful?"
The three men
grinned at her, and Marshall went to take her up in his arms.
"It's wonderful, but it shows off too much of your charms,
Lillikins. How can I ever concentrate on teaching this oaf
music, with you around to distract me?"
Lilly giggled and kissed Marshall's ear. "I think you've
lost your pupil anyway."
Marshall turned to see Sterling
seated on the harpsichord bench with Ariel on his lap, her
wings camouflaging them during their kiss. "Let's go
walk down by the lake."
Evan put his new mandolin down carefully on a small table
beside the harpsichord. "Lilly, where's Laura?"
"With Augustina. Trying to figure out where all the people
are going to go, once they arrive."
"I thought they were going to battle the Anjeles."
Lilly tried to look severe. "I meant, where they'll all
be camped, around the castle. There are so many, and they'll
all have their equipment, retainers, animals ..."
Evan glanced up at her. "You say animals as if you don't
know what they're going to be."
Lilly giggled. "I don't. Apparently not everyone rides
horses, in this world."
Evan was intrigued. "Oh? What do they ride?"
"I don't know. I guess we won't find out until they get
here. Elephants, maybe, like the East Indians."
"Let's hope not. Well," Evan said disconsolately,
"Maybe if I hang around, Valaura will come out of her
conference with Augustina long enough to say `hello' to me."
Marshall was sympathetic. "Poor old man, you haven't
seen much of your lady of late, have you?"
"I'm not an old man, you disreputable boy," was
the only answer Evan made, as he slouched towards the door,
his hands in his pockets. He had abandoned his `court jester'
costume during the days for a pair of pants he had coerced
Brindle into making him, the closest thing he could get to
Marshall grinned down at Lilly, and took
her hand. "The lake, you said? Sterling ... hey! Sterling!"
Sterling looked over at Marshall, quite obviously annoyed
at being interrupted. "What is it? I'm sick of your silly
cords and notes and such."
"You're getting a break from it -- Lilly and I are going
down to the lake for awhile."
"Good; make it a few days."
"Do you want to be able to talk to Ariel or not? This
is the only way."
"Oh, all right ... we'll see you when you get back."
Sterling abruptly turned his attention away from Marshall
and was absorbed in Ariel's cloud of white-blond hair. Lilly
laughed and pulled Marshall behind her, in the direction of
the terrace. From there, a flight of broad, stone steps led
down to manicured lawns ... in the distance, the expanse of
the lake could be seen.
Marshall and Lilly wandered slowly over the lawn, down to
the edge of the lake. There they sat in Elaine's gazebo as
the ducks gathered at the edge of the water, hoping for crumbs.
Marshall gazed with an amazement that hadn't yet diminished
at the multicolored feathers of the ducks. He wondered how
one could be such a bright blue; yet bear ducklings that were
green, purple, pink...
"Sorry, friends -- we forgot you, today. Had other things
on our minds." Marshall pulled Lilly into his arms and
buried his face in her hair. Lilly settled with a contented
"Yes, my lord?"
Marshall glanced down at her. Her eyes were twinkling. "Oh,
little vixen ... will you marry me?"
Lilly stared up at him, her small, pink mouth round with astonishment.
"I'm asking you to marry me. `What' isn't exactly a flattering
response, when voiced with such disbelief."
"Well," Lilly wrinkled her nose slightly, as if
deep in thought. "I'd love to, of course ... but I wonder
how it would be accomplished, here?"
"The same way it is at home, I presume," Marshall
"Do you? Have you noticed that the Daemona never seem
to have weddings? Are they actually married to one another?"
Marshall paused. "You know, you have a point there. I've
never even heard one of them refer to a wife or husband ...
except King Nicholas."
"Something else, sweetface. For such promiscuous people,
they don't have many children. Yet, they don't seem to practice
birth control in any form."
"Have personal experience of this, do you?"
"No, but you should," Lilly retorted.
Marshall flushed. "I think we'd better talk to Sterling
about this. I want to marry you. But perhaps we'll have to
wait until we get home."
"Yes, dear." Marshall's dream of finding his way
back to Chicago seemed unreal to Lilly. For one thing, she
didn't want to go back. There was nothing for her in her world
except a job as a drudge in a greasy-spoon burger joint and
a boyfriend who was probably already in jail. Here, she was
a person of importance -- she had many friends, and ... she
had Marshall to love her. She held no illusions about his
staying with her once they returned to their own world --
rock stars don't marry girls who flip hamburgers for a living.
Marshall was looking down at her curiously. "Lilly, you
do want to go back, don't you?"
She smiled. "I know how much you want to, Marsh. But
we're doing a good thing, here. Would we ever have the opportunity
to affect the world so much, in our world?"
"I don't know ... but I do want to go back. When all
this is over, what will we do then?"
"I think there will be something ... but if you find
the way back, I will, of course, go with you." Only to
have my heart broken, she thought mournfully.
That seemed to satisfy him. "I'm definitely going to
have to talk to Sterling about their marriage customs. If
they have any, that is ..."
Lilly giggled and put her arms around Marshall, hugging him
close to her. If he was only to be hers' for a little while,
she was going to make the best of it.
* * *
"I don't understand you." Sterling frowned into
his ale. "What does this mean, `marriage'?"
Marshall realized that Sterling really didn't understand him.
This was going to be more difficult than he had imagined.
"Well ... King Nicholas referred to Queen Elaine as his
`wife'. Therefore, he was her husband. They were `married'."
But I've never heard anyone else refer to his or her mate
that way, in this place."
"Oh!" Comprehension entered Sterling's glazed eyes.
Marshall wished he wouldn't drink so much. He seemed to be
drowning his sorrows in his chased silver tankard over his
inability to communicate with his beloved. "You're talking
about a birthing contract. Only royalty need have them --
to insure the purity of the blood lines, you see."
"Then you would need one?"
"Yes, when a bride is chosen for me."
"Chosen? I thought you'd chosen your own!"
Sterling fixed his gaze on Marshall, and he suddenly seemed
sober. "You mean my little love, Ariel ... I can't marry
her, Marsh. They'd never allow it."
"Oh, lord. I thought you two star-crossed lovers were
going to be my solution to end the war. Looks like you could
start another one."
Sterling sighed and drained his tankard. "Do you mean
that everyone in your world has permanent birthing contracts?
Is ... what do you call it? `Married'?"
"No, not everyone. Only people who fall in love and want
to spend their lives together. Have children."
"Oh, a blood oath. We do that here ... couples pledge
themselves to one another; to love and live together, and
only have one another's children."
Marshall restrained a chuckle. "Yes, I can see that would
"Well, not to everyone, of course. But that's the reason
people in my position have to sign a contract and go through
a blood oath."
"How do you, uh ... select whose children you'll have?
And whose you won't?"
Sterling wrinkled his forehead, as if he was trying to figure
out the question. "I don't believe I understand you,
"Let's say you were married to Ariel, but you had a concubine.
How would you keep the girl from having your baby -- short
of infanticide, I mean?"
"I don't have the slightest idea what that means. Surely
you don't mean ... killing babies?"
Sterling was obviously horrified. Marshall said, "Well,
it has been done."
"In your world, perhaps. Why on earth would two people
go through the time and energy involved in having a baby,
only to kill it? You mean enemies killed it -- in war, perhaps?"
"No, I mean the people who had the baby didn't want it.
Really, Ster -- you're being very stupid, today."
Sterling flushed. "What you say makes no sense, so I'd
say you're the stupid one! If they didn't want the baby, why
did they have it?"
"An accident, of course."
"Accident! No one can have a baby by accident -- it has
to be decided, by consensual agreement."
Suddenly, Marshall realized why it was that Sterling had been
unable to understand what he was getting at. "Do you
mean," he said slowly, disbelievingly, "that you
only have babies here when both sexual partners decide they
want to? That if they don't both want to, the woman won't
"Of course. What other way is there? It takes great mental
concentration ... most people can't do it until they're years
older than I."
Marshall started to laugh, though he wondered just how these
people had come to be so blessed. "I'm sorry, Ster --
it's just that, in my world, things are very different. Unfortunately
"We don't have any way of controlling our breeding, except
by outside sources. We call it `birth control'. Women have
to take pills, or use devices to keep from becoming pregnant.
Some people actually become sterilized so they won't have
children. Sterilized means the sexual organs are rendered
incapable of producing the eggs or sperm necessary to create
Sterling seemed stunned by this knowledge. "How is this
possible? You have no control over your bodies?"
"I'm afraid not. Too many people leave the whole thing
to chance; that's why there's so much overcrowding in our
world. You seemed stunned that there were three million people
to buy my last album, but that's nothing when compared to
the population of a country. Even a small one. The United
States, which is geographically in the same location as The
Land of the Wand, has billions of people living in it."
"Billions ..." Sterling obviously couldn't grasp
such a large number of people. "And many of them are
born unwanted, as you stated?"
"Yes, a great many."
"Well," the boy said, "surely, when the woman
discovered she was pregnant, she could force a miscarriage.
Then the unwanted baby wouldn't be born."
"Do you mean force a miscarriage mentally? I told you,
we don't have that kind of control over our bodies. There
is a way -- it's called abortion. Unfortunately, a lot of
people think women shouldn't have the right to abort a baby
once it's conceived."
"Not have the right ... over her own body? What a strange
world you come from."
"A lot of my people resemble the Anjeles in their beliefs."
This was too much for Sterling. "Are you so barbaric,
"I guess I hadn't realized before, just how barbaric
"And yet you seem to have so many things we don't. What
Evan calls `technology'. How is it possible?"
"If I knew the answer to that, friend Sterling, I'd be
more than a rock singer. I'd be a Messiah."