Sauna Scene


The first draft of Hour of Judgment contained a scene that is important in the long term for the Koscuisko story (especially when we get to =Blood Enemies=!  (hee hee)), but which was reluctantly discarded from the printed text as not having enough to do with the specific story to justify its inclusion.  In one memorable phrase, an editor whose judgment I Respect called it a “non-load-bearing plot element.”

The crucial point, that of Andrej’s duty to replenish the weaves that he has robbed, was tipped in to the published text in the scene in which Robert St.  Clare accompanies Andrej in observing the surgeons working on the service bond-involuntary Megh once Andrej’s portion of the operation has been completed (pages 86-87 of the novel).

Here is the original version of the scene following page 103 in the printed version of Hour of Judgment.  In this scene Andrej, having just had an interview with Garol Vogel, has completed a long day’s work in the infirmary at Burkhayden, and is ready to relax and have something to eat; Robert St.  Clare, however, has other ideas.


 “ — and here’s a sauna for you.  I’ve taken the liberty.  I’ll take your boots, sir.”

And rest-dress by implication would be waiting in the warmth of the dry sauna, with clean linen.  Capitulating, Andrej sat down on the changing-bench and started to strip.  A man was slave to his servants from one end of the Bench to the other, Andrej mused to himself.  There was no sense in arguing with people who had gone to such lengths for one’s benefit.

It felt good to wash.

The water was perhaps not over-hot, but it stayed warm enough throughout the duration of his shower; and Robert had promised him a sauna, which would serve very well for heat.  Robert declined to let him go into the sauna to dry off once he was rinsed, though.  Robert handed him a towel and took a towel of his own to Andrej’s back instead, talking all the while.

“You know.  Where I come from when someone has deprived your household of part of its wealth they’re expected to replace the loss, to make it good.  Beast for beast.  Grain for grain.  And when one of the family’s been lost to quarrel it’s one of the family missing, isn’t it?  I wonder if his Excellency’s familiar with the tradition.”

Andrej thought about it for a moment, scrubbing at his hair with the towel.  Stildyne would be at him with the trimmers at any day.  Just as well Stildyne was not here.  “I don’t believe I’ve heard it put quite that way, Robert.”  Blood-guilt was almost always answered in blood, though, wasn’t it?  On Azanry there were volumes measures thick discussing and dissecting the issue.

“Taking a man’s life is to diminish his household and his weave by so much, and the women are made poorer by it.  It can only be answered by replenishment, a back to the labor, a voice to carry the weave.  But a woman would hardly care to make her husband’s murderer the maister of her household.  Obviously.”

Well, yes, obviously.  Or else a man would logically murder a rival to obtain his rival’s wife.  There was a story about that on Azanry, the epic of Kumitaz.  Two thousand pages, give or take four hundred depending on which version one accepted as canonical.  Sixty lines of prose text on a page, scanned in precise measure to an heroic meter no longer in general use.  Andrej had read about the Kumitaz, but he couldn’t say he’d ever gotten past the first few thousand lines, himself.  He was saving it for the years of his retirement.

“A robber who’s stolen a man from the weave owes something precious in return, to replace the value of what he took.  What’s more precious to a man than his own childer?  So it takes a child of his body to make peace between weaves.  And when a man accepts blame for murder he accepts his responsibility to make the debt good.  Sir.”

Andrej wasn’t quite sure he liked that idea, in the abstract.  How many people were dead by his hand, over the years? He would be in bed for weeks on end.  He had to admit the basic practicality of the approach, though.  As long as the child wasn’t abused for its parentage the were-geld would tend to reduce further conflict in the next generation.  At least in theory.

“It’s hard to imagine a woman bending herself to embrace the man who has murdered her husband.”  Or her brother, or her father, or whomever’s assassin.  “And what’s to stop a woman from rather more direct revenge? Surely the men would all be murdered whilst they were caught up in their duty.  As it were.”

He was dried off now, and ready to go into sauna.  Robert hadn’t stepped aside yet, though.  Robert still stood between Andrej and the sauna door, holding a towel for Andrej to wrap around his waist.

Whatever for?

“Taking another’s child is vengeance enough, and a woman is responsible for stewardship.  And the child is raised as the dead man’s own get, and it’s her right to demand reparations, your Excellency.  A man is glad to be given the chance to make it right.  Else the guilt stains his weave forever, and that’s a shameful reproach to his parents and kin.”

Somehow the long slow accumulation of oddities was beginning to come together in Andrej’s mind in a very unusual pattern.

“Robert.  Please.  You cannot mean to tell me.  It is beyond all imagining.”

There was someone in the sauna already.

“It’s her right, sir.  According to our way of things.”  Nor was Robert hastening to dispel an incorrect assumption.  This was getting worse, and worse, and worse.  “She’s come to me and claimed it, and it would have broken your heart to see how feared she is.  But it’s her right.  And her duty to her brother.”

Heart to heart, and neither rank nor Bond between them.  Man to man.  Robert knew what was right — by his own lights at least.  And Robert was asking him to do the right thing.  “If his Excellency would be graciously pleased to make allowances.  Sir.”

Was he to be murdered in the sauna by the vengeful hand of a woman bereft?

It almost seemed preferable than the alternative.

His fish, disloyal, unthinking, unhelpful, didn’t care.

For whatever unfathomable reasons of its own his fish thought the idea of a lady in the sauna was intriguing.  Fish had no sense of timing or propriety.  That was one of the great burdens of living with a fish.

There was to be no help for it but to at least speak to whomever, then.

“Very well.”  Demands were seldom made of him by bond-involuntaries, even ones so free from normal control as Robert was.  “I will see what can be done.  If anything at all.”

Backing into the sauna with a towel wrapped around his waist, Andrej Koscuisko opened the door, and turned toward the interior of the room to meet his fate.


 Andrej pushed open the sauna door with diffident reluctance, looking at the slatted floor, unwilling to raise his eyes.  Uncertain as to how to approach the task to which Robert had set him.  It was unthinkable.  He would make his excuses and leave.  There was no other solution.  He was decided.

He saw no feet upon the slatted floor, female or otherwise.

The door closed behind him.

Had Robert been having a joke at his expense?

Was there another exit to this room?

Feeling foolish, Andrej glanced from one end of the sauna to the other, still unwilling to raise his eyes.  Someone had made up a bed in the sauna, he could see that.  Layers of toweling laid down across a mattress made up of bundles of toweling held in place in the pit created by moving four benches into an open square.  Ingenious.  Unwelcome.  Andrej made a face of half-serious disgust to see it:  and a woman spoke.

“You’ve no call to geek your mou’ at me like that, Koscuisko.  I know my rights.  And I mean to have them.  You should thank me for the settling of the debt, rather.”

A young woman, but surprisingly determined; the sound of it startled Andrej into raising his eyes at last to stare in the direction that the voice was coming from.  One of the upper benches.  Sitting very properly cross-legged with the toweling tucked as modestly as any severe aunt could demand.

She had undressed in the warmth of the moderately-heated sauna, obviously enough, perhaps to spare herself the awkwardness of stripping in front of a stranger; the strands or dark hair that had escaped her braid were clinging alongside of her face, black with sweat.


The bones of her bared shoulders were so prominent as to be pitiful.  And yet her shoulders were bared for him, as if she knew how naked shoulders spoke to the fish of a decent Dolgorukij — or even his.  His fish crested beneath his towel at the sight of it, but he had to say something.  She was staring at him, waiting for a reply.  Biting her lips, which reddened.

“Robert has overstepped himself.”  Perhaps if he was firm enough he could get out of this without giving unnecessary offense to a woman who had certainly never done anything to him.  “It is really too forward.  You will excuse me, Maistress, whoever you are.  Please.  Dress yourself.  This is a mistake.”

“Your man has only done what an honest man should.”  She was not yielding to authority.  Why should she?  She was Nurail, and believed that he had murdered her brother.  There was no reason to expect her to listen to a thing he said.  “And shown himself your honest servant, who cherishes your best interest.  Don’t make this any harder than it is already.”


He heard the word, although she did not say it.

Had he not heard the same word from her brother before he died, whoever that brother was?

Andrej stepped up onto the bench that formed one side of the makeshift bed, reaching out his hand to coax her down.  She put her hand into his; it was trembling, and for her fingers to be as cool as they were in a sauna meant that she was as tense as surely ruled out any sport of surf and fishes.

On the other hand the sauna was adequately warm, but not too warm.  Robert had taken thought for the effects of exercise in extreme temperatures.  If she was sweating — as she was — it was her nerves, then.

“It does not have to be difficult.”  Standing on the bench with her Andrej experienced a sudden instinctive impulse to put his arms around her, comfort her, protect her.  She was so thin.  And she was so determined.  “It can be quite easy, you dress and leave, I stay.  Or vice versa.  You need not put yourself to this.”

She was also stubborn.  And she was proud.  “It’s you I do a favor for, Uncle.  Stop talking.  Honor my brother’s memory and be reconciled to his weave.  Or carry my curse to your grave, your choice.”

Oh, so many curses.  So many murders.  She would not bend to court him; why should she?  And still she was not leaving, either.

All right.

If there was to be no other way.

Bowing, Andrej kissed the hand he still held, and led this determined young lady onto the bed Robert had made of toweling.  “Well, would you like to tell me then, about your brother?”  A poor choice for conversation, perhaps, but some conversation was better than none.  “Sit, sit.  Look, Robert has made a place for us.  Careful.”

Maybe once she started to wake to precisely what she had aimed herself at she would take fright and bolt.  A man could hope.  Settling her gently to sit on the bed with her back to the upper bench Andrej sat down beside her, and trailed the fingers of one hand from the near joint of her thumb up to the soft inside bend of her elbow, then up her arm.  She shivered.  It was not quite fearful, that shiver.

“His name was Pike Wryneck.  And his mother’s people held the Sundered Towline.”

Oh, it was her half-brother, then.  And Andrej thought he recognized the weave, by name.  He had a vague memory of a Sundered Towline.  He stroked her arm again, and settled closer, thinking very seriously about kissing the hollow of her throat.  Perhaps her shoulder.  Since she was in collusion with his fish he might as well go along with the two of them, Andrej supposed.  And he had probably murdered her brother.

His fish didn’t care.

Nor was the young woman herself leaping to her feet to flee in suddenly-realized horror of her situation, not even when Andrej tucked his arm around her back and took her into a modified embrace.  Stroking her arm.  Would nothing frighten her away?

Did he want to?

“What is your name, then.  You already know mine.”

She was not dressed, beneath her layered towels.  Nor was he.  And yet she had the advantage of more than just the name, she had the advantage in toweling as well.  She wore two to his one.  She did not seem to have as much of a figure as a woman properly ought, beneath her towel; she watched the progress of his hand with attentive suspicion as he teased the soft skin of the fold of her arm, and the bend of her shoulder, and set out to consider to stroke her breasts beneath her towel.  To find out where they were.  To find out if she had any.

“My name is Triona.  And I shall call you by your name, which is ‘butcher.’”

How could such a custom have been started, to expect a man to lie with a woman who had only well-earned hatred for him?

What was the point?

Was the point that a man would have to humble himself to her body in order to do the thing and not do injury, which would only create further conflict?

His fish was not the least bit troubled by the idea.  But Andrej was tired.  He wasn’t sure how far he was willing to indulge this idea.

“Well, then.  Triona.  You should at least kiss me.  Or else I may not be able, in the end, to follow through.”

A bit of a lie.  Perhaps not too much of one.  She clearly didn’t care for the idea; well, neither did he care to be put out to stud in this manner, as though he’d been a prize ram of some sort.

Grimacing a little with distaste — geeking her mouth at him, she would have said — she turned her face towards him.  Not good enough.  After a moment she stretched out her neck and put her mouth to his, and her lips softened.  It was a very pleasant softening.  Andrej played lip-games with her mouth, stroking her breasts beneath the towel, feeling her nipples harden against his fingertips.

He was beginning to enjoy himself.

Once he but knew where her nipples were he knew how to make her gasp and sway toward him, seeking the touch of his hand while her jaw relaxed and her mouth opened to him.  Andrej took merciless advantage, tightening his hold around her body.

“Touch me,” he suggested.  His voice sounded a little thick, to his own ears.  A little hoarse.  “Let us share some pleasure.  Come, be fair.”

Then slowly her left arm crept up around his naked back, and slowly her right hand sought out his chest.  It was a enough to stiffen a man’s fish in anticipation.  She could play the same tricks on him as he on her, it seemed, but the little scratching of her nails against his skin made him so drunk with the need for the ocean that Andrej stopped caring if he was exploiting her.  Or being exploited.

She indulged his kisses, but she went traveling; and proved that she could make him gasp in turn by the light suckling of her soft hot mouth against his throat.  So intense was the sensation that he almost wished to put her away from him, he was so stiff; and had to still himself with a stern effort against his own reflexive gesture of rejection.

It was his instinct to reject too intense a physical pleasure, putting him in danger of expiring of a surfeit of caresses before his fish had left dry land.  And at the same time such pleasure as she gave him, thoughtfully, returning to him such caresses as gave her pleasure, was not to be rejected but embraced.

He slipped her towel away from her breasts and kissed her as she kissed him, trying not to think about where her slim little fingers seemed inclined to travel.  Seeking his towel in turn.  Seeking the only towel that he wore.

She showed him what she liked, what she needed, with such generosity that he no longer begrudged a fraction of his earlier resentment and skepticism, but went willingly to work to demonstrate his mastery of the lessons she attempted to convey.  Conveyed so well.

For his reward he got more distraction, but at least by the sound of heavy breathing it was more than just the one of him aroused and passionate for an embrace.

She slipped his wrap, and the towel fell away across his hip.  The stroking of her fingertips across the now-bared and seldom-so-visited skin of his hip and thigh made Andrej writhe in erotic torment.  If she should take his fish into her hand — he would be forced to speak, to reveal his fear of failure, lest he betray all of her careful handling —

Not his fish, thanks be to all Saints.  But the channel of the river against which a man’s fish properly rested, taking his stones into her hand and rolling them one by one in her strong capable fingers against her palm with utmost delicacy.  To maddening effect.

And it had been his idea that they share pleasure, was he keeping up his end of the bargain to which she had tacitly — but oh, so tangibly — agreed?

Her towel was wrapped once and half a turn around her waist.  It was awkward pulling it away, but she lifted herself away from the towel-mattress to help, which was encouraging evidence that she was engaged in the procedure.

Perhaps it was time to lie down.

She was a little uncertain about that, but she surrendered to his urging with good-will, and continued to tease his body as she lay down with the stroking of the palms of her hands, and the pleasurable scratching of her modest little fingernails, and the considered — almost playful — kisses she bestowed upon him where he least expected them.

And somehow precisely where he most desired them, discovering each time she turned her attention to some new field of inquiry that — oh, yes — that was exactly what he wanted.  And as much of it as he could get.  Gone were reservations about propriety, about her willingness, about the good taste of sleeping with the sister of a man that he had murdered in order to breed a child upon her body in atonement for his crime, to make up the lack.

All that was left was simple pleasure in her, and gratitude for her caresses she shared so generously with him, and the cheerfully ominous certainty lurking in the back of his lust-befuddled mind that if he didn’t mind what he was about he would disgrace himself and disappoint the lady.



Andrej stroked down the length of her thin flanks to find her hips, and seek for shellfish in the shallows of her ocean.  The tide was rising, true enough, and each further evidence of her arousal only aroused him further.

It wasn’t enough to stroke the swollen flesh and revel in the silkiness of slippery nectar beneath his fingers.  It was wonderful fun to surprise her with two fingers, three fingers, insinuated within her body, because she cried out loud as he stroked her, and clung to his shoulders desperately.

She had nothing to fear, Andrej knew that.  Women were not like men.  They could crest the waves time and again within the same few eights’ time.  A man could only hope to seek on steadily after his goal and hope to catch the wave, and not be left to expire in ignominious failure, thrashing about on the rocks and gasping for air.

Let her cry out, then, Andrej told himself, with firmness not unmixed with self-satisfaction.

She had more cries in her than that, and he would prove it.

The little fish he wanted was firm and stiff and brisk, but it was shy, and could not be held firmly to its place.  There was only one thing to be done with such a fishling, and that was to consume it live and whole.  It was a delicacy Andrej did not often have the opportunity to enjoy, and he was determined upon it now, kissing his way down her body to his goal as Triona shivered and touched her fingers to his head.

She was as open to him now as any man’s fish could want, and yet he was not quite sure of her, she was Nurail.  He had to take steps to be assured that her body was as ready as it could be, before he asked her to receive his own; and what better thing before a fish ran headlong into the breakers of her eternal ocean than to have a fishlette appetizer?

Andrej found her minnow, waiting.  Glistening in the uncertain light, hard and pink and pearly, tasting of salt.  Triona was talking to him, now, but it was not in words, and he had better things to do than try to answer her.  He had a little minnow, here, and it was so nice in his mouth, against his tongue.  Almost like a berry, and not a fish, but whoever heard of such a hot and throbbing little berry, or a berry that was salt in its sweetness?

This was a particularly nice one.  Andrej had never yet met a minnow that he had not liked, but this one was so frisky that it tried to run away even as it sought his attention eagerly.  Half-wild.  Friendly and kindly disposed toward him, but full of such a wild excess of energy that the taste and feel of it was almost electrifying.  He set his teeth, carefully, at the base of the minnow’s tail, to keep it where he wanted it to suckle at his will; and Triona sobbed aloud, and wrapped her two hands into tight fists in his hair, and forgot to call him “butcher” after all.

He hadn’t had his supper.

He was hungry.

A minnow was a little fish, quite small, and it was some time before Andrej could satisfy his appetite.  Its taste was very rich, that was true.  But it was so sweet that he could not get enough of it, and in the end it was only the aching of his own fish against his belly that called him away from his self-indulgent feast to seek the ocean like a decent man in hopes a young fish might come of the quest.

It was awkward, straightening himself out, and he didn’t really want to leave the minnow.  It took many last-minute parting kisses, as he rearranged, and finally Triona herself took firm control of the situation and reminded him of what he was about.  It didn’t seem to surprise her that she would be the one to labor; Andrej was glad of that.

As ungallant as it might seem to ask the lady to bring the ocean to the fish there was a certain difference in the physical strength of the body of a Dolgorukij and that of other women, and the best way to be sure of avoiding injury to one’s partner was to set her astride and ask her to post as she liked best.

There was something to be said for a bed made out of towels.

It was easy to find padding enough for comfort’s sake.

Andrej curled his hands around Triona’s buttocks, liking the feel of that soft warmth against his palms; but then Triona, sitting on his lap, set his fish to its test of mastering the passage to the sea:  and Andrej stopped hearing, stopped feeling, stopped knowing anything at all in the world except the heat and closeness of her embrace, the warm taut grip her body took on his eager fish, the transcendent sensation of having his fish stroked and kissed and kissed and stroked — and all at once — and all over — and over, and over, and over again, as his fish sought the ocean in her body.

It was not an easy passage.  The way was strait, and he had to go carefully, but as he retreated and advanced again to find his way it became easier by degrees so that he could get nearer to his goal at every pass.  Triona leaned over him with her weight on her arms to either side of him, her head flung back and her eyes staring, crying as they went forward together and kissing him from time to time when she could spare a thought.  It was very charitable of her, to spare a thought.  For himself Andrej could no longer think of anything at all but the ocean.

He could see it.

He could smell its awesome living deeps.

Its warm blue waters rose above his head in towering waves, and welcomed his fish into the immortal mystery of the sea.

Triona called out a name, not hers, not his, her brother’s name, called on the spirit of her absent dead in the moment of her uttermost extremity.

And in that moment Andrej drowned.

The rapture of the undertow took him, and pulled him under.  The ocean flooded him body and soul beneath the irresistible force of its massive waves, and washed him head to foot and back again in ecstatic bliss.  Overwhelmed his consciousness.  Swamped his thinking mind beneath a vast unfathomable realm of sun-dappled sea-beds and gently soothing breezes.  Submerged him in unimaginable deeps of pure joy and complete fulfillment, every promise he had ever made his fish answered and satisfied.


Moving slowly, moving underwater, Andrej pulled layers of toweling up over Triona’s body where she lay beside him panting.  Trying to catch her breath.  She needn’t bother, Andrej knew.  She was drowned.  Her breath would not come back until she’d floated to the surface again.

He cradled her to him for warmth, for companionship, in gratitude for what she’d given him.  Covering them both up with towels.  He didn’t want her to get cold.

And may the holy Mother grant the child to you, if that is your wish, Triona. 

He couldn’t quite tell if he actually said the words or not.

And when he woke up it was Robert to help him up and out of the now-disordered nest and into his rest-dress, and thence to supper.

He wasn’t hungry.

He’d had a lovely fish-course, and sweet minnow.

He ate his supper and went off to bed, and slept as though he’d never been Inquisitor.