Thursday, April 30, 2009

Heroes and kings

Edward Burne-Jones, 'King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid (1884)' (from Wikimedia Commons)I could look at this famous Burne-Jones picture, King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, for hours. It shows one of the romance ideals - the ultimate Cinderella story. King Cophetua, smitten by love for the beggar girl, finds her, offers her his heart and marries her. (Naturally, she says yes!)

It's the stuff of romance, even modern romance. Over and over, the rich, powerful hero 'rescues' the Cinderella heroine: the struggling artist, waitress, actress, secretary. As a myth it's comforting to the man, showing him as a powerful hero figure. Women, too, can enjoy the fantasy of being swept up into luxury - who wouldn't?

I'd love to see more role-reversal of this myth: the queen raising up the beggar lad, the woman of power showering her hero with gifts. Woman not only as care-giver or healer but as bestower.

I don't write role reversal very often, although I did have fun with the ideas in Bronze Lightning, in the relationship between Bride and her young lover.

Here's a role reversal excerpt from Bronze Lightning, where Bride the warrior woman uses her sword in a very original way.

EXCERPT.

Bride entered the house first and heard Fearn behind her draw Sarmatia into a dark corner. 'Goar's in our chamber. Tonight it's yours,' he whispered. He and Sarmatia disappeared.
Bride picked her way round the sleeping royal family and banked-down fire. She could see that the smallest room—really no more than an alcove—was open. A tall figure lurked beside the bed, dressed in loin cloth and jet necklace.
'I'm glad you chose the black amber.' Bride closed the hangings behind her.
'Anything to please. Will you bury me in it?'
So Goar thought he knew her mind. Bride unsheathed her sword, floated its point up to his left shoulder. 'There. The bead was wrong.' She arranged it with the blade tip. 'Now you've seen her, do you think Sarmatia beautiful?' The lethal point trailed down his chest.
'For a woman in man's clothes she's outstanding.'
The fool was brave. The point had reached his lights. The blade side twanged, a gentle reprimand, against the hard flatness of his stomach, and jagged along the top of the loin cloth. Goar hadn't the length of arm to retaliate as the sword stroked along his flanks. Involuntarily, his hips moved.
'Just like a man. Fickle.'
There was no mistaking the satisfaction in Bride's voice. Goar was resentful. The hesitant caresses of his Atterian girls had been nothing as deadly-sensuous as this.
Warmed by his body, the blunter sides of the rapier scraped on Goar's dark-blond leg hairs and glided upwards. Resentment sharpened as the sword mesmerized him. The point touched him intimately, through the cloth. Goar began to sweat. His breathing was like that of one of his girls, in their moment of yielding. He hated the humiliation.
'Hate? You'd kill me if you could.' Bride goaded him.
Goar began to pant. The blunt part of the blade alternated with the narrower tip in a killing parody of a woman's mouth and tongue. Abruptly, both were withdrawn. Goar swayed slightly.
'Here I am—the woman you swore you'd never bed.' Bride's mouth was dry as she dropped sword and tunic by her heels.
Goar forgot danger and his years of turning aside. He stepped forward.
'Wait!'
His potent picture of himself shattered, but Bride wasn’t teasing. Frowning, she picked up the sword and flicked back one of the bed furs. A long black shape struck at her and she recoiled.
The adder spilled over the bed, fell writhing on the alcove floor, followed by a spider. Another dozen huge spiders scrambled over the furs in every direction. Goar caught the adder's tail, whipped it onto the bed, bundled snake and spiders' nest into the biggest fur and carried it to the midden.
Returning, he found Bride almost as he'd left her, except that she'd been sick in the waste bucket. When he touched it, her hand was clammy.
'I didn't put them there.’ Goar didn't insult her by suggesting that the adder and spiders had found their own way into the alcove. 'Did the snake bite you?'
'No. We'd better find Fearn.' Bride choked, her shoulders heaving. This time, she managed to keep the sickness down. 'I don't think that gift was meant for us.' She tried to laugh. 'Unless Sarmatia brought the adder here.'
Neither idea seemed likely to Goar. 'Forget it. A bad joke.' The families had drunk a skinful tonight. Anyone could have dumped their bedfellows into the alcove while he was out at the midden. Goar squeezed Bride's chilly fingers. 'The snake's gone. You can sit down.'
She stared at him with the round eyes of a child. Men or snakes were one thing, but everyone has a weakness. Goar gave his light laugh, suddenly understanding.
'Let's make sure we've no other bedtime visitors.'
Hand in hand they scoured the tiny chamber and shook the remaining furs. Two spiders dropped to the floor and Goar pushed at Bride before she stiffened. 'Into bed with you. I'll get rid of these.'
He didn't kill them. The spiders had made a peace between him and Bride.

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