This week, I stumbled across a blog wondering if Christians could write or read erotica. I wouldn't class my work as erotica, but RT does name my books "hot." And yet, I've often slipped in scenes that might fit in anyone's inspirational. I don't think life can be sub-divided neatly into genres the way fiction can and my goal is always to write about life.
Today, on Good Friday, I want to share an excerpt from one of my books written as Diana Groe, SILK DREAMS. My hero, Erik (who won a K.I.S.S Knight in Shining Silver designation from Romantic Times) has lost the woman he loves to a harem and the ship he commanded in a supposedly choreographed "spectacle" in the Miklagaard harbor went down in flames. Erik was the sole survivor, nursed back to health by some men of faith.
On the rickety rooftop of the poorest monastery in the Studion, the foulest section of the great city, the Varangian growled in disgust. He lowered the ocular device that allowed him to watch the couple on the rooftop several blocks away, wincing at the pain the sudden movement cost him.
“Careful, my brother,” the toothless monk at his side said. “Your burns are not yet healed. The skin is fragile at this stage, but God is good. It appears you will live.”
“But I’ll never look like anything again,” Erik said softly.
The monk smiled at him, the expression one of almost childlike sweetness. “It doesn’t matter, Air-ryck.” He struggled to force the percussive foreign name through his lips. “In the eyes of the Almighty, we all look the same.”
Erik glanced once more toward Habib Ibn Mahomet’s rooftop. Even without the looking glass, he could see that Valdis and the eunuch were no longer there.
It was just as well. Seeing the woman he loved beyond his reach would only eat away at his heart the way the cursed Greek Fire had gnawed his flesh. Memories of the spectacle-turned-disaster churned his gut.
His right shoulder was burned. Scarred flesh pebbled his neck and across one cheek. Fire claimed one ear, sizzled away his beard and much of his hair on the right side, but at least it left both eyes intact.
“Your thoughts are troubled, brother,” the monk said. “A peaceful heart will help your flesh mend sooner.”
“Believe me, Nestor, my flesh will be whole ahead of my heart.”
The monk cast a glance toward the silk merchant’s grand house. “The woman is beautiful, without doubt. But be warned by the story of King David. No good can come of gazing at a woman on another man’s rooftop.”
Erik smiled wryly. Almost as soon as Erik had regained consciousness, Nestor began telling him stories to help the time pass quicker. It eased his suffering to listen to tales of wise kings who behaved foolishly and pillars of fire and sons who squandered their inheritance in a far country.
Lately, Erik suspected Nestor told him stories not to keep him amused and distracted from the pain, but to woo him gently into the monk’s faith. There was little chance of that. The Christian’s god was weak and powerless. What kind of god let himself be killed without lifting a finger in protest? A god that puny, who couldn’t even save himself, couldn’t be counted on to come to the aid of his devotees either.
“Who is Olaf?” Nestor asked.
Erik looked at him sharply. He was sure he’d never mentioned his brother to Nestor. “What are you? Some kind of diviner?”
“No, just one who listens, friend. When you were in the throes of fever, you called out the name. Many times. It seemed to give you as much pain as the burn.”
Erik had only nightmarish flashes of the time he languished on the cusp between this world and the next. Rising from the icy mists of Hel, the shade of his brother came to reproach him.
Or to drag Erik back to that cold hall with him.
“It’s a long tale,” Erik said.
“Then I’d better get comfortable.” Nestor settled next to Erik, splaying his gnarled fingers on his knees and looking at him with expectation.
In a flat voice, Erik told Nestor of his wife’s faithlessness and his brother’s betrayal. Then with more difficulty, he relived the killing, or at least as much of it as he could remember through the black berserkr haze.
“So, you have done murder,” Nestor said thoughtfully. “And yet, he was your brother and you loved him, so the memory pains you.”
Tears pressed against his eyes. He blinked them back. He never cried. Not at the funeral biers of his parents. Not even when Olaf’s body was burned before Erik was sentenced to banishment. Not over the men he’d led to their deaths in the Harbor of Theodosius. A warrior didn’t weep. Still, a tear slid down his cheek, scalding a salty path over his abraded skin. He swiped it away, heedless of the extra agony the rough touch cost him.
“Bah! Pain has made me womanish.”
“No,” Nestor corrected. “Do not be afraid to shed tears. You have earned them. The evidence of your remorse gives me hope for your soul. Even our Lord wept. Better men than you have let grief seep from their eyes.”
“I have no doubt of that,” Erik said sourly.
“You were banished for your crime and yet your punishment has brought you no peace.” Nestor seemed to be mulling over the problem as if he were a physic diagnosing a patient. “In ancient times, a murderer might be condemned to drag the body of his victim with him as punishment. Bound wrist to wrist and ankle to ankle with the decaying corpse, the killer would bear a constant reminder of the wrong done. No one could remove it till the bones loosed from their sockets and fell away of their own accord. I cannot see your brother’s body on your back, Erik, and yet you bear it just the same. O wretched man, who will deliver you from the body of this death?”
The image of his brother’s moldering corpse made him want to retch. Nestor was right. Erik bore the load of his crime in his own heart. He’d never really believed in the Christian idea of sin, but he felt the weight of his guilt bearing down on him anyway.
“There is only one thing you can do,” Nestor went on. “You must forgive your brother.”
Erik couldn’t have been more surprised if Nestor had slapped him. “Olaf is dead. Surely there’s no going back now,” Erik stood and paced toward the parapet. “Even if such a thing were possible, I’m the one who needs forgiveness.”
“You’re right in that,” Nestor said agreeably. “Yet, it is a principle woven into the fabric of the universe. In the measure that we forgive others, we ourselves find pardon. Release Olaf from the wrong he did you and you release yourself.”
Olaf’s face rose up in Erik’s mind again, as he was as a boy. A sob fought its way out of Erik’s throat and this time, not a single tear, but a torrent poured from his eyes. He buried his face in his hands and wept like a lost child. From his heart, he forgave Olaf for bedding his wife. He wiped the offense from his mind. He buried the hurt as a dog might bury a bone and resolved not to take it out and worry it again. The knot of bitterness in his chest dissolved into tiny pieces and washed away with the salty river of his tears.
He felt Nestor’s fingers on his shoulder, easing the shudder that coursed through him.
“Yes, my brother,” the little monk said. “Now you have tasted the most terrifying power of Love. The power to forgive.”
As his soul quieted in heart-broken peace, Erik decided maybe the Christian’s god wasn’t as weak as he thought.