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Snippet #17

This fascinating series is a combination of historical seafaring, swashbuckling adventure, and high technological science-fiction. Join us in a discussion!
Snippet #17
Post by runsforcelery   » Sat Dec 08, 2018 9:36 pm

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Since — as someone has pointed out — the book will be out in a month or so, and since I am sitting here in my office on a cold, rainy night — sleet and South Carolina, no less — I thought I might just go ahead and put out an additional snippet.

Especially since this is one of my favorite passages in the entire book.

Enjoy.

______________________________________________________________

And it didn’t hurt that you were—that you both were—members of the inner circle, did it? she asked herself, feeling her smile return and quirk with amusement. Both of them “knew too much” to run around with parents who weren’t members of the circle! And, God, aren’t you grateful to Him for giving you both of them? And Merlin! Maikel’s right. Sometimes, He really does reward us more deeply than anyone could deserve, doesn’t He?

“May I go show Stefyny the new colt, Mother?” Alahnah asked now, and Sharleyan shook her head.

“After you hug Aunt Nynian, I suppose that could be arranged,” she said, and Alahnah laughed.

“Sorry, Aunt Nynian!” she said, bestowing a tighter than usual embrace by way of apology. “I just haven’t seen Stefyny in forever!”

“Forever,” Nynian reflected, had rather a different meaning for someone who would turn ten—the Terran equivalent of nine—next month.

Alahnah had returned to Tellesberg with her parents while Nynian and Stefyny and Sebahstean had awaited Merlin’s return from Boisseau before following. In many ways, none of them had wanted to insert Merlin into a situation as delicate as the one in the new “United Provinces,” but Cayleb and Sharleyan had needed someone whose authority to speak on their behalf could not be questioned. That had made Merlin the inevitable spokesman to present the “Ahrmahk Plan” to Baron Star Rising and Bishop Yaupang. He’d maintained a very low profile during his time in Pauton, and so far it seemed they’d kept anyone in Yu-kwau from realizing he’d been there. Not that it looked like it made a lot of difference to Zhyou-Zhwo and his council in the end.

“I quite understand that two months is an intolerable length of time to be apart,” she said now, very seriously, cocking her head at Merlin’s goddaughter. Alahnah looked back up at her, equally seriously . . . only to dissolve in giggles when Nynian slowly arched one eyebrow in an expression she’d learned from Merlin.

“Well, it seemed like that to me,” the princess said.

“And I really do understand,” Nynian assured her. “On the other hand, neither Stefyny nor I have seen your sister in two months, either.”

“She’s not much to look at yet,” Alahnah said. Her mother clucked her tongue, and Alahnah smiled. “At least she doesn’t cry all the time anymore, though. That’s better.”

“Do you really want to go there, young lady?” Sharleyan asked. “I can always start reminiscing with Aunt Nynian about someone else and voyages. Now, let me see. Who could I be thinking of?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.” Alahnah’s immense dignity was sadly undercut by the twinkle in her eye, but then she grabbed Nynian’s hand and started tugging in the general direction of the nursery.

“Come on! Mother has her in my old cradle—the one they made for me on Destiny. The boys didn’t get to use it!”

She lifted her nose with an audible sniff, and her mother shook her head.

“Only because they were twins and wouldn’t both fit, and you know it,” she said.

“That’s not what Poppa said,” Alahnah said smugly. “He said you were saving it for your next daughter.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” Sharleyan glanced sideways at Nynian, then back at her older daughter. “Well, I think he and I are going to have to have a little talk, aren’t we?”

“Really?” Alahnah looked up over her shoulder with a gap-toothed grin. “Should Uncle Merlin bring the potato slices?”

* * * * * * * * * *

“She is a handful, isn’t she?” Merlin observed in a deep, amused voice as he stood on the palace balcony and watched Alahnah half-leading and half-dragging Stefyny towards the royal stables.

“Gets it from her mother,” Cayleb replied with a lurking smile. Then he turned to the seijin and grinned much more broadly. “I expect to be hearing from Sharley about that shortly, but she had it coming.”

“Don’t try to get me involved in this,” Merlin said mildly. “I’m only the godfather and unofficial uncle around here.”

“Nonsense. You are, by any measure, the senior member of the inner circle and, for that matter, of the entire human race. So, obviously, you have to be on my side.”

“You so do not want to go there,” Merlin told him. “Remember, before I was Merlin I was Nimue. Lurking gender loyalties, and all that.”

He smiled as he spoke, and his obviously genuine amusement warmed Cayleb’s heart. There’d been far too many dark places behind those sapphire eyes—still were, really—but thanks to Nynian, to Stefyny and Sebahstean, and to Alahnah and his other godchildren, Merlin Athrawes had finally learned to forgive himself. And how to be who he’d become, however he’d gotten there.

“I’m sure your essential fairmindedness and honesty will range you on the side of truth and justice—which is to say, my side—eventually, despite any lingering biases you may cherish,” the emperor said now, and Merlin laughed.

“I think I feel a bout of neutrality coming on.”

“In that case, I shall swallow my disappointment and sad disillusionment and suggest we get started,” he said. “It’s not getting any earlier.”

“No, it isn’t,” a female voice observed over Cayleb’s earplug. “In fact, some of us have supper coming up in a couple of hours,” Nimue Chwaeriau added.

“What you get for living in inconvenient time zones,” Cayleb retorted as he and Merlin left the balcony and entered the large library. He and Sharleyan each had individual working offices which connected to that library, and he led Merlin into his and pointed at one of the comfortable chairs.

Merlin settled into it with a nod, and Cayleb took his own seat behind the desk.

“All right, Nimue,” he said in a much more serious voice. “You said you have something important to tell us before we get everyone on the circuit.”

“Yes, I did,” the young woman who’d also once been Nimue Alban said from her chamber in far distant Manchyr. Her voice was . . . odd, Cayleb thought, and looked across the office at his guest. Merlin had obviously heard it, too, but he only shrugged.

“We’re here,” Cayleb said, and the others knew what he meant. The only people presently on the circuit were Nimue, Merlin, Cayleb, Sharleyan, Nynian, and Maikel Staynair. In a very real sense, this was the inner circle of the inner circle.

He waited, but she said nothing for several seconds. That sort of silence was very unlike her, and Cayleb wondered what was going on. Then Nynian, sitting in the nursery with Nynian Zhorzhet Ahrmahk in her lap, cleared her throat gently.

“Is there a reason Koryn isn’t part of this conversation, Nimue?”

More silence lingered, and then—

“Yes.” The oddness in Nimue’s voice was more pronounced. It sounded almost like . . . tears, Cayleb thought, and saw Merlin sit suddenly straighter in his chair.

“Why isn’t he?” Nynian asked with that same gentleness.

Gahrvai had become a member of the inner circle shortly after Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s execution. He’d made a lot of valuable contributions over the years since, but that didn’t explain the strange note in Nimue’s voice.

Or, Cayleb thought suddenly, why Owl wasn’t providing visual imagery of her. That could only be at her request.

“Because . . . because he’s asked me to marry him,” Nimue said finally.

“What?” Cayleb twitched upright. “That’s wonderful!” Then he looked at Merlin, saw the sudden thoughtfulness in his expression. “Isn’t it?” he finished a bit lamely.

“Speaking as someone who had the lamentable misjudgment to fall in love with another PICA—another iteration of you, now that I think about it—can I ask why that’s making you sit alone in your chamber and cry instead of dancing on the battlements?” Nynian asked. “Surely you have to know nothing in the world could make Koryn happier!”

“Of course I know that . . . for now, anyway,” Nimue half snapped. “But what about ten years from now? Fifteen?”

“If you’re thinking about his mortality, do you think that’s something that hasn’t crossed my mind?” Nynian riposted. “Don’t forget, I’m twenty years older than he is!”

“And even if you are,” Staynair said gently, “ Owl’s almost ready to begin installing the new implants.”

Cayleb nodded. Aside from Merlin and Nimue—and Nahrmahn Baytz, who was a special case in every conceivable way—all of the inner circle relied upon contact lenses and earplugs for access to the SNARCs, the network of heavily stealthed orbital platforms which connected them to one another and to Nimue’s Cave. The PICAs had built-in coms, although Merlin’s high-speed interface was nonfunctional, as a consequence of the hacked software which had allowed Nimue Alban’s original PICA to remain online indefinitely. Nimue Chwaeriau had been built with different software, designed by Owl, and her high-speed interface worked just fine.

None of the circle’s organic members could match that capability, because none of them had the “wetware” implants which had been standard for citizens of the Terran Federation. They could have had them, but any Safeholdian healer who saw them would instantly recognize them as neither natural nor explicable. Undoubtedly, they’d be put down as the work of more than mortal hands, and that was something none of them could risk when the jury about whether or not they really did worship Shan-wei, not God, was still out in so many Safeholdian minds.

But it had occurred to Nahrmahn Baytz that perhaps there was a way around that. He’d discussed it with Owl, the artificial intelligence with whom he shared his virtual reality. And as tended to happen when Nahrmahn got involved, everyone else’s reality had suddenly shifted.

Federation wetware would have been impossible to disguise, but only because the Federation had never seen any reason why it should “disguise” it, any more than earlier centuries of humanity had seen any reason to disguise eyeglasses or fillings in teeth. Conceal the implants cosmetically, perhaps, but everyone had them, everyone knew what they were, and no one worried about it.

Would it be possible, Nahrmahn had asked, to design a set of implants that could be disguised, even from the examination of a skilled healer or an autopsy?

Owl’s answer had been no. On the other hand, it might be possible to design implants that would be difficult for a healer to detect . . . and wouldn’t be available for an autopsy to discover. It had taken him longer than he’d originally projected, but he’d succeeded in designing an organic-based implant. One whose components would be completely internal, woven into its recipient’s nervous system and hidden by skin and muscle, and would dissolve completely within twenty minutes of its recipient’s biological death. It was remotely possible an alert healer might spot them in someone who’d suffered an injury sufficiently traumatic to actually expose his or her central nervous system, and Safeholdian surgeons did do brain surgery upon occasion. So the risk of discovery under extreme conditions would remain. But aside from a small number of “ganglia,” they would be nearly microscopic. It was unlikely a physician dealing with such a severe injury would have any time to spare to notice them, and no one who’d received Federation self-repairing nanotech would ever need brain surgery.

Owl had completed his final simulated evaluation of the new system two five-days ago and it had passed with flying colors. Not entirely to Merlin’s delight, Nynian had volunteered to be the initial human guinea pig and the two of them would be flying to Nimue’s Cave in a few days.

“I know about the implants, Maikel,” Nimue replied now. “In fact, I think that’s the main reason Koryn asked me now. I’ve been . . . I’ve been putting him off by reminding him about Nahrmahn and Ohlyvya, Merlin and Nynian. But if the new implants work as well as everything else Owl’s come up with, there’s no reason he can’t record his personality, as well, which means he can be just as ‘immortal’ as I am.”

“Then where’s the problem?” Nynian asked gently.

“He needs an heir,” Nimue said, her voice suddenly harsh and bitter. “And I can’t give him one.”

The new silence was intense, and Merlin found himself wondering if anyone else—except perhaps Nynian—heard the true, grinding sorrow in that voice. Nimue Alban had lived her entire life—and died—knowing she would never be a mother. That she would never conceive or bear a child who could only be killed by the Gbaba before she was out of adolescence. That no responsible human being would ever do that again.

Now Nimue Chwaeriau, the person who was Nimue Alban’s true heir, even more than Merlin Athrawes, found herself on a world where babies, children, were the most joyous treasure imaginable . . . and living in a body which couldn’t conceive.

“Nimue, he knows that,” Sharleyan said finally. “If he’s asked you anyway. . . .”

“He’s an only child, Sharley,” Nimue said. “He’s his father’s sole heir. He says that’s not important to him, but I know it’s important to Rysel. And not just because Koryn’s his son. The Earl despises most of the alternative heirs. And even if Koryn says it isn’t important to him, even if he means it, what will he feel like in twenty or thirty years?”

“I think he’ll feel exactly the way he feels now, honestly,” Sharleyan said. “He’s not a fickle man, Nimue. He knows his own mind . . . and his own heart. And he’s not going to lie to you about what he thinks and feels.”

“No, he’s not,” Nimue acknowledged, and Cayleb heard the almost forlorn pride in her voice. “But I won’t . . . close off that avenue. He may not care about heirs, but I’ve seen him with kids, Sharley. This is a man who wants, needs, to be a father, and who’d be a damned good one. I’ll be his lover, but I can never marry him, take that away from him. I just . . . can’t.”

“Oh, don’t be silly!”

More than one of the people on the circuit twitched at the bubble—the amusement —in Nynian Athrawes’ voice.

“I’m not being silly!” Nimue snapped. “This is important to me!”

“Yes, it is,” Nynian replied. “In fact, in some ways, I think it may be more important to you for him than it is to him. For that matter, there are some . . . issues here for you, too, whether you’ve faced them all or not. And before you bite my head off, let me point out two or three things to you if I may?”

“Go ahead,” Nimue said after a few fulminating seconds.

“Thank you,” Nynian said rather more gently. “First point. I’m married to another version of you. I know why Nimue Alban knew she’d never be a mother, and I know what kind of scar that leaves. Trust me when I say that, because I truly do.

“Second point. Whatever ignorant people who haven’t tried it may think, there’s no difference between a parent’s love for a biological child and her love for an adoptive child. I’ve never had a baby of my own, either, but I do have a daughter and I do have a son, and no one could possibly love anyone more than Merlin and I love them. I never thought I’d have children any more than Nimue Alban did, Nimue, and for a lot of the same reasons, really. I wasn’t worried about the Gbaba, but I wasn’t going to offer them up as hostages to Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s Inquisition. Now you and Merlin have made it possible for me to change my mind about that, and I’m not going to sit here and watch you throw away the same opportunity you brought me. I can’t. I’m sorry if that pisses you off, but you’re going to need a better reason than that to tell the man who loves you you won’t marry him.”

Unlike Nimue, all of them could see Nynian’s face, and Merlin felt his eyes soften as he looked into his wife’s gaze and remembered a long-ago conversation with Ohlyvya Baytz. A conversation Nynian Rychtair had forced him to confront in ways he would never have imagined were possible.

And now she was doing it all over again for a different iteration of Nimue Alban.

“I . . . hadn’t thought of that,” Nimue said after a long stillness, her voice soft.

“Of course you hadn’t,” Nynian told her simply. “Nimue, you’ve had a lot of reasons to hold that door closed, including the fact of his mortality. But you’ve come far enough to admit you love him and to share his bed, sweetheart. So what about opening the door a little wider? Sharing his entire life—openly, at his side—as well?”

“I still don’t know how that would work for the succession,” Nimue said.

“Probably not very well,” Cayleb said a bit unwillingly. “Corisandian inheritance law’s not quite as bad as it was with Hektor when I adopted him, but I’m not at all sure the Corisandian peerage would accept an adoptive heir when there are legitimate heirs of the blood available. And this is one issue Daivyn couldn’t overrule them on. He could create new titles for your child—and I’m sure he’d insist on doing just that, given how he feels about both of you!—but unless the ‘legitimate heir’ is attainted for treason, he can’t arbitrarily hand an existing title to someone else. On the other hand, I think you might be wronging Rysel a bit. I think he’d care a lot more about his son’s being happy than he would about who’s going to inherit any titles after both of them are dead.”

“I think Cayleb’s right, Nimue,” Nynian said, “but it doesn’t really matter, because that brings me to my third point. Which is that the question doesn’t have to arise at all.”

“I beg your pardon?” Nimue asked a bit skeptically.

“You’re a PICA!” Nynian laughed. “I’m married to a PICA, so I’m what you might call intimately—in more than one sense of the word—familiar with his ability to reconfigure himself physically. If you can transform yourself into a man, like Dagyr Cudd, do you expect me to believe you couldn’t pretty perfectly simulate a pregnant seijin? Without the minor disadvantages of things like morning sickness, I mean.”

Minor?” Sharleyan snorted. “Now there speaks an adoptive mother!”

“Details, details!” Nynian waved one hand in a graceful dismissal, then bent and planted a kiss on the top of her namesake’s head. “Don’t distract her.”

“Well, yes,” Nimue said. “I could simulate a pregnancy, but the endpoint of the process is supposed to be a child, Nynian, and simulating a delivery would be just a tad more difficult!”

“More details,” Nynian told her, but her tone was far less airy. She straightened, wrapping both arms around the baby in her lap, and her expression was focused and intent.

“Listen to me, Nimue. There are quite a few women in the inner circle now, the majority of them of childbearing age. I’m not anymore, I’m afraid, but any one of those other women would happily— lovingly —donate ova to you and Koryn. Surely you don’t doubt that! And have you actually forgotten what ‘Doctor Owl’ has already done for Zhain Howsmyn? Trust me, he has everything he needs in the Cave to fertilize those ova with Koryn’s sperm and bring the baby to term in an artificial womb. So the two of you can have children, and that child will be Rysel’s biological grandchild and heir . . . and every inch as much yours as she is Koryn’s. Nimue, love, the two of you can have as many children as you want!”

“We . . . we could, couldn’t we?” Nimue’s voice was soft, tears floating within it. “This . . . this never even occurred to me!”

“That’s because Nimue Alban would never have been cruel enough to create a child only because she wanted one so badly,” Maikel Staynair told her, his voice as gentle as Nynian’s had been. “But it’s also because you were so focused on protecting Koryn and Rysel. That’s always your first instinct, just like it is Merlin’s—to protect others, not yourself. You’re too busy creating possibilities for us to think about how desperately we wish we could create them for you. But Nynian’s right. I’m positive of that.”

“Of course she is!” There were tears on Sharleyan’s cheeks, as well, and she reached out to grip one of Nynian’s hands. “Of course she is! In fact, I’ll volunteer my ova right now, Nimue. And I’m sure Elayn or Irys—or any of us—will do exactly the same thing.”

“You would?” Nimue's tone sounded wondering, and Sharleyan laughed through her tears.

“Oh, Maikel is so right about you and Merlin!” she said. “After everything the two of you have done for us, for our world, for everyone and everything that matters to us, we finally have the opportunity to do something for you! How could you think for an instant we wouldn’t take it?”


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by ksandgren   » Sat Dec 08, 2018 11:21 pm

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Snippet! Another one today. Thank You RFC.
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by Michael Everett   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 4:32 am

Michael Everett
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Bonus snippet! Yay!

*reads snippet*

Ow! Right in the feels!

I am so looking forwards to getting the book...
~~~~~~

I can't write anywhere near as well as Weber
But I try nonetheless, And even do my own artwork.

(Now on Twitter)and mentioned by RFC!
Animal Crossing Dreams at 6E00-00F5-2891
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by Dauntless   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 5:34 am

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great snippet
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by Isilith   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 7:20 am

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Dang it, there's a lot of dust in this room for some reason.
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by Keith_w   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 8:55 am

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Thank you for this 2nd snippet this weekend RFC.

I must, however, disagree with:
That’s because Nimue Alban would never have been cruel enough to create a child only because she wanted one so badly
Millions of people create children because they want to be parents. Certainly my wife and I did. We just as certainly did NOT do it because we wanted or needed an heir as neither of us is a noble or a scion of a family of wealth. We did it because we wanted children. We wanted little us-es to love and cherish and raise, hopefully to be good people. We did it out of love.
--
A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by Direwolf18   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 8:56 am

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Woooo! Thanks RFC! I was suspecting something along these lines would happen, although I personally had figured OWL had Nimues DNA sample and would be able to do some fun genetic engineering.
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by elaineofshalott   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 9:35 am

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Keith_w wrote:Thank you for this 2nd snippet this weekend RFC.

I must, however, disagree with:
That’s because Nimue Alban would never have been cruel enough to create a child only because she wanted one so badly
Millions of people create children because they want to be parents. Certainly my wife and I did. We just as certainly did NOT do it because we wanted or needed an heir as neither of us is a noble or a scion of a family of wealth. We did it because we wanted children. We wanted little us-es to love and cherish and raise, hopefully to be good people. We did it out of love.


I think you are ignoring the circumstances. Any child Nimue Alban had had would have been doomed to die before reaching adulthood. Merlin has said repeatedly that even when Nimue was born most responsible people had stopped having children. It was suggested that Nimue's mother had circumvented agreed upon contraceptives and that is why her parents' marriage fell apart.
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by runsforcelery   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 11:31 am

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Keith_w wrote:Thank you for this 2nd snippet this weekend RFC.

I must, however, disagree with:
That’s because Nimue Alban would never have been cruel enough to create a child only because she wanted one so badly
Millions of people create children because they want to be parents. Certainly my wife and I did. We just as certainly did NOT do it because we wanted or needed an heir as neither of us is a noble or a scion of a family of wealth. We did it because we wanted children. We wanted little us-es to love and cherish and raise, hopefully to be good people. We did it out of love.


Love is sort of the point here. Nimue would have loved children, but she wasn’t selfish enough to have a child who would never have lived beyond 10 years old and would have spent the time she did have on a planet where everyone around her knew they were all going to die. The talk about heirs here is all about love, too; her love for Koryn which won’t foreclose his opportunity to father a child when she sees no way her machine body can bear one. She hides part of her grief for her own sterility from herself by worrying about how his father would react to not having an heir, but that is largely avoidance on her part because the entire subject is so painful for her because this is something she consciously renounced a thousand years ago ... out of love.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: Snippet #17
Post by FriarBob   » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:03 pm

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runsforcelery wrote:
Keith_w wrote:Thank you for this 2nd snippet this weekend RFC.

I must, however, disagree with:
*********quote***********
That’s because Nimue Alban would never have been cruel enough to create a child only because she wanted one so badly
*********/quote***********
Millions of people create children because they want to be parents. Certainly my wife and I did. We just as certainly did NOT do it because we wanted or needed an heir as neither of us is a noble or a scion of a family of wealth. We did it because we wanted children. We wanted little us-es to love and cherish and raise, hopefully to be good people. We did it out of love.


Love is sort of the point here. Nimue would have loved children, but she wasn’t selfish enough to have a child who would never have lived beyond 10 years old and would have spent the time she did have on a planet where everyone around her knew they were all going to die. The talk about heirs here is all about love, too; her love for Koryn which won’t foreclose his opportunity to father a child when she sees no way her machine body can bear one. She hides part of her grief for her own sterility from herself by worrying about how his father would react to not having an heir, but that is largely avoidance on her part because the entire subject is so painful for her because this is something she consciously renounced a thousand years ago ... out of love.


I think most people will get what you meant, but obviously some will not. It was an act of love to not create a child that you knew would die at an age that it could barely even understand what death even was.

It's the circumstances that change what would otherwise seem an act of selfishness into an act of love. For that matter, part of I Cor 7 was in many was a prophecy of the fast-approaching persecution that would make people who had wives (and children) at greater danger. For those people sometimes (not necessarily always, since they also were not guaranteed to be caught and tortured/executed/etc.) it was an act of love to spare each other the potential risk and pain.

It's obviously way too late to amend the text to make that more clear, but I wish one of the copyeditors had suggested it because it probably would have helped with clarity for some.
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