And here we are with the Widow Tayl, who's wanted to marry Gris since Book One, because... bugger if I know. Maybe she thinks he's a much higher-ranking and therefore wealthier officer than he actually is? And she, a lush nymphomaniac, is wholly incapable of finding a better husband? Wait, that's right, Voltar has some barbaric matrimony laws where out-of-wedlock pregnancies are punishable by death or something. So Tayl was willing to wait for however many months it takes for a Voltarian brat to fall out of her, counting on her Grissy-poo to come home, instead of shacking up with a better alternative who either didn't know or didn't mind the child's true parentage. Though as we'll shortly see...
All this to say, it looks like marriage is a scam that is nevertheless afforded mystical qualities. The government enforces its sanctity with extreme zeal, and the public:
Late that afternoon, the marriage took place in the prison.
Lord Turn would not permit camera crews inside and they had to be content with what they could shoot from outside the courtyard gates.
The late afternoon sun made the grim old castle a dark silhouette and fell upon the countless thousands of people who covered the flanks of the hill. Priests were passing amongst them, exhorting them to pray, and the crowd sat or knelt, young and old, covered with a blanket of buzzing sound.
When the marriage priest and the friend of the bride and friend of the groom appeared at the gate, exiting, the priest made a sign that the marriage had been performed. A combined sigh of hope from thousands of throats swept down the hill like a wind.
All eyes were fixed on the highest tower now, for they knew that the sacrificial bride and the hated Gris were there, alone. Nobody from the crowd left: they knew that at midnight the wife would depart the prison. They prayed for her. Would the therapy work? Would she ever be seen again alive?
So much magic! It has to be a sacrificial bride, we can't just hire Gris a whore and let him get all that wildness out of his system a la Enkidu. We'll know whether the mystic ritual worked or not at midnight, the fated hour, that mystical moment when one day ends and another begins. The priests are there to bolster the audience's hopes for the best, and an ambulance is on hand in case of the worst.
As for the wedding itself, as a flashback shows it seemed to consist of a bunch of snacks, Gris being too numb with horror to speak, and Tayl assuring him that
"Oh, you just wait," prattled Pratia, "we'll have such fun. You won't have to work anymore, for you'll be out of the Apparatus. And all you'll have to do is simply lie on a bed and I'll throw food at you like this. Your heaviest exertions will consist of simply sleeping and (bleeping). Isn't it marvelous? Have another berry."
Maybe she wants to marry him because he's an amazing lover? Even though she met him prior to Prahd enhancing Gris with space magic? I know she's a nymphomaniac, but that doesn't mean she can't have standards.
The wedding only takes up the first third or so of the chapter, which means that the meat of this section is, of course, the honeymoon. Tayl decorates Gris' cell with fancy silks and crap, dons a gown that's "so transparent it made her nakedness an exclamation point," and then...
She was plucking at his clothes, unfastening things. Like some sort of statue, he stood there and let himself be stripped. The only motion he made was to step out of his boots and pants.
"Oooooooooh!" cried Pratia, standing back and staring. "LOOK what we have here! Oooooh! Why, Soltan, what has happened? WHAT an imPROVEMENT! Oh, Soltan, that is positively DIVINE! I never DREAMED there could be one like THAT!"
Gris looked at her with resignation.
If you haven't figured out by now, Hubbard has a weird love-hate relationship with Soltan Gris. On the one hand, Gris is the incarnation of everything the author despises about the intelligence community, and as such exists so that his cruel and vengeful creator can make him miserable. But at the same time, Gris is the book's primary viewpoint character, and the author can't resist throwing women at him. Or throwing Gris at women.
She frowned. "But I see you are not responding." Then she smiled in inspiration. "Oh, I know what will get you excited. A picture of our son. It will make you want to have another one just like him!"
Whaaaaaaat?! Okay, let's rewrite that sentence: "Oh, I know what will get you sexually aroused. A picture of our son." See? See the wrong?
The picture's all of a day old, showing a three-month-old baby with yellow hair and green eyes, like Prahd's. So the good Dr. Bittlestiffender is not just keen on enhancing his patients' genitalia without their permission, he also likes to get women pregnant and blame the child on someone else. But he's making Gris' life miserable, so he can't be all bad.
He glared at her. "This is Prahd's baby!"
"Oh, no, it's yours. There's lots of hair like that in my family and green eyes, too. Just because you have brown hair and eyes doesn't mean a thing. He's your son, all right. The registry papers show it. And now he's all legal, not even a bastard since this afternoon. Aren't you proud?"
So wait, Voltar is lethally ruthless when it comes to marriage and childbirth, but the Widow was able to get away with farting out a fatherless baby for three whole months? And it's okay to marry the woman afterward without any repercussions? And they obviously don't make any effort to ensure that the married couple is the same couple that produced the child?
This is not a rewarding avenue of inquiry. There is no logic, only the demands of the plot.
She dragged him over to the inset bunk and through the gauze.
The guard was watchful as he stared into the cell across the sights of his blastgun.
The white curtains that hid the bed were moving.
Aw, Hubbard, see? You went through that effort to put Gris' bed in a little niche in the wall so he could hit his head, and now we're wondering how two people could properly copulate in his cramped little bunk.
Pratia's robe was thrown out of them and hit the floor. Her voice was reproving. "Come ON, Soltan. This is no time to be shy."
The guard was very watchful as Pratia's voice said, "Now, now, Soltan. Don't be naughty. You've been living in all this stone. Use it as an example."
Cold, lifeless, unmoving, bleak, rough, dry stone. C'mon, use it as an example.
A bird lit on the cell window ledge and listened. Pratia's voice was a little strained. "Well, I suppose it is the lot of women to do all the work."
The guard frowned.
"Oooooooh!" cried Pratia as the startled bird stared. "What QUANTITY!" The bird flew hastily away.
Lucky bird. Things around a mating Soltan Gris have a tendency to explode.
They immediately - no cooldown or anything - get right back into things, but Gris notices Tayl staring at something on the ceiling above him. He looks back and sees a true-to-life, three-dimensional, full color, photograph of
Gris suddenly began to scream.
He leaped out of the alcove. The curtains caught at him and he felt he was being seized.
His screams rose to total volume!
He was wrestling on the floor with the curtains!
Coitus interruptus via simulacrum of nemesis. Gris is gonna need some real therapy after this.
Guards pounded in! Now he knew they were after him.
His screams battered the walls and sliced down the passageways. They tore out the window and into the night.
Outside, a moan rose from thousands of throats.
The camera crews went tense.
The ambulance started its motors.
Alarm gongs racketed in the courtyard!
A tense throng, in agony, watched the ponderous doors swing open.
A team of medics rush in with a stretcher, presumably one that flies instead of rolling on wheels, but among them is an actor with a blood bag. So when they emerge with Tayl, the crowd sees the "sacrificial bride" under a sheet, accompanied by a "TORRENT OF BLOOD!"
Pandemonium count +1.
The crowd hits the gates, the guards shoot over their heads to try and keep order, the ambulance takes off, the chaos is "ALL ON HOMEVIEW FOR THE WHOLE OF THE CONFEDERACY!" And in the back of that ambulance is Madison, who congratulates a perfectly-fine Tayl on her performance. The former widow can only gush about how "ENORMOUS" her husband is, and how she can't wait "to get my hands on him again." Madison's ridiculously convoluted effort to go after Heller has just clanked another step forward.
All in all, everybody wins. Madison does his PR thing, the Former Widow Tayl gets a husband, Gris gets laid, and Hubbard watches Gris get traumatized. And naturally, Gris' troubles are only starting.
Back to Chapters Two and Three