The Road To Welkin
Why I wrote the book
My first task is to explain to readers something about The Road To Welkin, because this is really a pretty unusual book. Combining science fiction (well, post-Apocalyptic fantasy) with erotica is a dangerous business, as it would seem to appeal to neither readership. It's neither wholly one nor the other. And they don't like each other.
I'm an omnivorous reader, and I was re-reading Morgan's Ancient Society and Friedrich Engels's extrapolation from it (and Darwin), The Origin Of The Family, Private Property, And The State. This brought me to an amazing contemporary book, Sex At Dawn (Ryan, Jetha).
All these tell us that the rise of agrarian "civilization" is concomitant with the elimination of early Homo Sapiens' group marriage and communalism.
As a radical, I've given up hope that we can defeat or even substantially reform capitalism; but it occurred to me that if/when capitalism implodes, we'd be left with small groups of humans needing to support and defend each other to survive. (Something akin to this is in Olivia Butler's Starseed books.) And that monogamy, gender hierarchy, and private property would be useless to survival, even a detriment.
So what was initially intended to be a different take on "adult romance" (read: explicit sex) became the story of Austerity's discovery of both communal sex and communal economics. I've read authors' claims that once the characters are established, they take on a life of their own, but never truly believed it. But that's what seemed to happen.
When I finished the book I sent it to my then literary agent, who had encouraged me to write a "Fifty Shades" kind of book. But this one she couldn't sell. "You have a book that includes gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender characters," she wrote, "and there is explicit sex throughout, polyamorous sex, group marriage, plus nascent communism. Sorry, but that's not a market for mainstream publishers." But I kept writing, and after striking out with scores of "progressive" agents, I knew I had to self-publish. it was just too compelling an idea: communality and group marriage as both a return to the ancient past and a path to a new future of humanity.
Besides Welkin, I have finished two books, but neither has the unique combination of ingredients. One, The Education of Alice Bloom, is explicitly erotic and kinky, and naturally only porn publishers were interested, and I didn't think that association would be useful long-term. I was hesitant about self-publishing it for fear it may push my readers over the edge, but it was my first attempt at writing sexually explicit stuff, and where better to begin than Edwardian London!
The other, Servant of the Goddess (unpublished), is mostly what would pass for "adult romance" – indeed, it is a tale of star-crossed lovers – a British officer and a temple singer in India during the "Raj" era, late 19th century, and the really hot sex is mostly between the two once they are together. It has a lot darker beginning, though, and scenes that are saturated with history.
First, of course, Welkin has to see if it has a market. I'll be occasionally posting portions of all three books here, so check back.
But we were talking about The Road To Welkin. Here are the first two chapters. They are pretty grim. But it's important to know the world Austerity has been imprisoned in all her life.
The Road To Welkin
From the loft of her wifehouse, Austerity Godlove could see, beyond the concentric circles of wood cabins, the north perimeter gate, one of just two entryways to Consecration. The blockhouse was a tower marking it, rising another ten feet beyond the fifteen-foot electric fence. The fence was one of the few uses of electricity permitted by the Elrons. She looked down at the hand mill she was turning. Milling flour – laboriously grinding wheat by hand – could be replaced with very little power, she thought, stubbornly. Even a pedal-powered mill would be an improvement. But the Chronicles said that hand work was godly: "The Lord despises the sin inherent in female lasciviousness, yet wondrous is the power of menial tasks to change woman's nature from slothful leisure to virtuous labor."
She paused, sweat gathering at her brow and dripping down to her Garment, the uncomfortable homespun wool shift that was required of married women. She might have removed it, had she been alone in the wifehouse. But the downstairs common room was occupied today. Half a dozen young men lounged around the wood stove, complaining idly about the scarcity of wives. She was glad that Tabitha was at the communal laundry-house, not listening to their raw conversation.
"I can't see how the Elrons need two, three wives to do their Duty on," Retribution was saying. "Chronicles says a man needs to do his Duty to be godly, but with old men taking up all the girls for their own selves, where's that leave us? I spent most of the year building that cabin down the hill, and looks like it's useless." He spat betel juice, missing the stove door, and splattering the brick hearth. I'll need to clean up after they're gone, thought Austerity, else Righteous will beat me. He'll likely beat me anyway, for something or other.
"Yeah, and the few daughters that aren't already chosen are ugly as sin," Truthfulness chimed in. "Don't make no never-mind to me," grunted Retribution." What the Lord makes available, I'll take. Hell, put a bag over her head. All she got to do is lay there."
Noah, the youngest of the six, didn't say anything. He privately thought the talk to be ungodly. He glanced around him. Retribution, the eldest, was 26, a mean face made meaner by his wiry beard and close, deep-set eyes that never had a glint of kindness. The next eldest, Determination, was a squat tree-stump of a man, his hands callused from tanning; a smoky tang followed him everywhere, so you could know he was there the minute you walked in the room.
Truth was narrow-faced and sallow, his mouth perpetually in a grimace, his sparse beard tainted with betel juice. He was granger for the betel garden on the north slope. Betel was the only pharmaceutical plant grown by men – women took care of the healing plants and farming. In the early history of Consecration, they'd tried to grow tobacco, but it did poorly in the highlands, so it was declared anathema. Betel stained the teeth, but proved a satisfactory stimulant. Only men were allowed it, as it was unpleasant to do your Duty on a woman with foul breath.
Noah, just come of age at 17, was in his Apprenticeship, learning men's ways, passed from one Elron to the next, but mostly ending up on blockhouse duty. In theory, the perimeter fence was to keep out animals and marauding gentiles, but he knew his task was to watch the town side as well. Just last year, Charity, a 13-year old who was set to marry Elron Justice, had been caught trying to sneak out. Pretty thing, but she had to be scourged, flogged with a salt-soaked leather rope, then her legs broken. No matter, Justice took pride in doing his Duty on her regular-like, and she'd already produced a baby, a girl. She didn't look so pretty any more now, and had to be kept away from the cookhouse after she'd tried to slash her wrists.
The memory of Charity invoked the torture and death of Austerity's own mother, Cady. She had been a scientist from Welkin, on a research expedition. A large party of Elrons and Scholars, in search of wives, had ambushed them in the foothills. Vastly outnumbered, the Welkin group held their own, using superior weapons, and killing five Elrons. Cady was hit on the head by a thrown war club, fell from her horse, and appeared to be dead. Her companions seemed to think so, leaving her body where she fell, and fleeing south.
"The concussion left me unconscious," she had told Austerity, "but in the fall, my ankle was twisted in the stirrup and broken. When they brought me and the other women back, my concussion had no effect, but I was lame. I soon found myself proclaimed 'firstwife' to your father, Eleazar. Until I was pregnant with you, he raped me every day. I could have killed myself any number of ways, but instead I secretly strengthened my leg, making plans to escape once you were old enough to endure rough travel on foot. Unfortunately this was about the time Consecration was fenced, and the windmill built to power it."
"The other wives had no awareness of my medicinal skills, but when we went foraging I began to practice my craft – in secret, of course, since the Elrons regard anything concocted by a woman as witchcraft. Only you and I have used my formulas. So what I teach you must be ours alone. We might both be condemned as witches, for which the penalty is so horrible I won't tell you."
But Austerity now knew the penalty, and involuntarily shuddered.
Shaking away her tears, she refused to re-experience the terrible death of her mother. But she was all-the-more determined to get the young men out of the house before Tabitha returned. Since women could not give orders to any male beyond puberty, this would take tact. She closed her eyes and calmed herself. "Sirs," she called down from the loft, "Elron Righteous is due soon. I imagine he'd not be pleased finding a party of menfolk in his wifehouse." That was the key; the important thing was to be respectful, not offer offence.
And it worked. They exchanged looks and grumbled but left. She took a bucket of suds and a rag and climbed down to clean the hearth.
In fact, Righteous didn't come around as often. At 27, Austerity was in the prime of her fertility. She had lost three babies after Tabitha, but now she was pregnant again. The Chronicles said no man could do his Duty on a gestating wife, so she was mercifully free for at least another season. As she grew larger, he was unlikely to beat her as bad, though a casually incorrect response or a wrongful look would earn her a back-hand slap that could floor her.
No, the reason for Righteous's visits was to size up his almost-marriageable daughter. He'd not trusted Austerity, and would prowl around the little cabin, looking for clues: a blood spot on the sleeping mat, a suspicious rag hung out to dry...and he'd start planning to marry her off. A pretty girl like Tabbie could be bargained for a heifer and a dozen goats at the least. He'd likely sell her to one of the Elrons who needed a firstwife for his son, or maybe one who had an opening for a second or thirdwife.
Austerity herself was a thirdwife, so pretty she had earned her father a pregnant sow and six milch goats plus a cord of cured firewood. But pretty girls were becoming rare, what with the mutants coming on more often. Even so, where just a generation ago a girl baby with a harelip or missing fingers would have been put outside the gates at birth, now it was only mutant boys left for the critters. Unless the mutation was so abnormal – displaced eyes, say – as to be an abomination, girls were kept. That meant that the normal girls, specially the pretty ones, were at a premium.
Still, the right match would allay her fears...a gentle, hardworking man, even if he were 40 or 50. But those were few. Of Consecration's forty-odd men, the ones who had no ambitions to religious leadership were looked on as weak. They contributed to the labor pool, hunting, building and repairing fences, maintaining the windmill, turning the compost bins, smithing and making tools and weapons – work too hard or considered too skilled for women. They attended the meeting-house only for services, while the Scholars – candidates for Elron – went daily to pray and study. Which meant they learned from the patriarchs, who in turn promoted them...in due time.
The one thing every man had to do before he could take a wife was build a wifehouse. Chronicles said it had to be done with his own labor, though that commandment was routinely evaded by the Scholars. Scholars got extra rations, and could use them as barter for work. Retribution, for instance, had a brother who was a Scholar, and everyone knew he had himself contributed minimally to the new cabin. Austerity thought of his being a possible husband for Tabbie, and shuddered. She had an impending sense that whoever got her daughter was likely to be stern and brutish. But she could think of nothing to be done about it.
Tabitha balanced the heavy load of wet clothes on one shoulder as she trudged home from the wash-house. A handful of younger men were coming downhill as she went up, and she kept her eyes lowered, knowing they were looking. Her loose smock blew in the spring breeze, raising her skirts to show the curve of her calf, and freeing the ribbon tie from her pale yellow hair.
She pushed open the door and deposited her basket on the work table. Her mother was finishing cleaning the hearth and looked up briefly. Then she shook her head, looking closer. "Tabitha!" she said, her voice tremulous. "What, Mama?" "Your smock...look!" There was a large blot of blood on the lower back. Austerity rose and came round the table to hold her, suddenly sobbing; Tabby could feel her chest heaving. Then she ran her hand over her eyes, and stood back, panting, but with an air of urgency. "Daughter, go and change. Put a rag between your legs so you don't drip on the floor, and let me have your gown. Quickly now, your father may be around any minute."
"Does this mean I...I have to marry?" Tabitha was filled with mixed emotions. Pride, because now she was a woman. Fear, because that meant she could be claimed, and would have to move to her new husband's wifehouse. "Did anyone at the washhouse notice?" her mother asked. "Not as far as I know," said Tabitha. "But there were boys on the way home, and they were watching me." "We'll talk later," Austerity said. "Get cleaned up. Quickly, now."
Austerity rinsed off the fresh blood in drinking water. How to dry it? She burrowed into the basket of wet laundry, folded the shift, and added it to the middle. Then she took the basket over to the line hanging above the stove. It was too early in the year to hang things outside. She began unfolding items and adding them to the line, casually adding the tell-tale shift to the rest.
"Mama..." Tabitha was in her good smock. "How come I didn't notice? I didn't feel anything." "No," agreed Austerity, "you don't usually the first time. Sometimes, later, though, you get cramps. Every woman's different – some don't hurt so bad, others have to take to bed. There's an herbal tea, chamomile, that helps some. But if you feel up to it, activity is the best, something that moves your body, like walking or hoeing weeds with a long hoe." The Chronicles were against any tool that wasn't used by hand, but the menfolk didn't spend much time in the fields, and probably didn't care, except for the Elrons.
It wasn't five minutes before Righteous flung open the door. Obese and burly, with a full beard and deep-set, dark, piercing eyes, his shirttail out from the climb uphill, he stood in the threshold breathing heavily, his thin lips set. "I hear there's good news. I'd expect you'd have told me," he said in Austerity's direction, but his eyes shifted to Tabitha. Austerity was helpless. "It only just happened, Father," said Tabitha. I didn't even know till I got back from the washhouse."
"Well, I reckon that's of no import now. The fact is, I got good news. Elron Judah was asking about you. He made me a good offer – two milch cows and his sow's next litter." Tabbie's eyes widened. "But he has three wives already!" Righteous grinned, showing his two missing teeth and a blackened stump. "Not for long," he grunted, spitting a cud of betel out the door, then closing it behind him. "His secondwife Blessed is about done for. She's coughing blood, and won't last another day."
"He beat her to death!" Austerity blurted. "The man's an animal." She instantly regretted it, but a split-second later Righteous's right fist caught her left cheek, hurling her back against the stove. His left hand moved to follow up the blow, but she evaded it, ducking back toward the wood stove. "You will learn to rule that devil's spawn of a mouth, by God," he said, and lashed out again with his left, missing her head, but catching her on the shoulder as she fell, hard, against the stove, her low back hitting the hot iron so hard she screamed. She landed on hands and knees, the pain unbearable. Then his foot lashed out and met her tailbone, shuddering her entire body. Something between a sigh and a groan escaped her lips as she crumpled to the floor. "Mama!" cried Tabitha, running to her. "You're bleeding."
Righteous pushed her away. "This is her own doing, the sin of slandering a messenger of God." He knelt beside Austerity, and clasped his hands. "Create in this unvirtuous woman a clean heart, O Lord; and renew the rightful submission within her, in accord with thy Word, as given us in The Chronicles." He paused and looked at Tabitha meaningfully. "This is the result of your sinful mother's failure to keep her rightful place. If she loses this child, it is by her actions, not mine."