“At the Ball”
(a scene from a Hawk novel that was never written)
Leaning against the ballroom wall, his arms crossed, Buck watched the guests in their fancy dress Earth historical costumes as they waltzed to the strains of a Strauss song. The vast ballroom oozed wealth and glamour with its marble floors, gilded walls, and crystal chandeliers. A real orchestra played in the corner.
He shook his head. Of the many Earth colonies, both lost and known, they’d visited, this had to be the strangest one for the colonists had chosen to recreate a small monarchy from the late 19th century.
The planet was chock full of castles, estates, sword-fighting gallants, and a nobility, but they had kept their technology behind the scene to protect the planet’s environment, their health, and to maintain trade with the neighboring colonies.
“A historical Disneyland for grown ups,” he muttered. “The whole damn planet.”
“Hmmmm?” Hawk replied.
Buck glanced at his friend whose full attention was on the handsome young king of this world and his dance partner, Tiber Roland, as they swayed together to the waltz.
For several years, Tiber had carried a torch as big as the Statue of Liberty’s for Hawk who had responded with polite friendship. She’d be tickled to see the look in his eyes now.
Hawk’s younger brother Ari had confided to Buck that he felt Tiber was the one to give Hawk the happiness, peace, and family he so desperately craved, and Ari was probably right. A little jealousy might nudge Hawk in the right direction toward that happiness.
"They make an attractive couple." Buck smiled with pretended innocence.
Hiding behind his alien mask of indifference, Hawk did not answer but stared ahead.
"The king has the makings of a first-class lech," Buck added.
"What is a lech?"
"A lecher. A chaser of females. A debaucher and seducer."
"I do not understand."
Buck grimaced. "I guess you can't, really. I keep forgetting your people aren't like humans in male and female relationships. Forget it."
As Hawk returned to his appraisal of Tiber and the young king, Buck continued, "When you and Tiber walked in tonight, the whole place gawked. You outdid everyone in the fancy historical dress department. You both look incredible." He studied Hawk's white Renaissance courtier's outfit with its scolloped neck and gold trim. "You should wear white or Renaissance clothes more often. You look like the handsome Prince in one of Ari's fairy tales."
As if uncertain of Buck's tone. Hawk replied neutrally. "That period of human history was one of the few suitable because of my neck feathers."
"I feel plumb frumpy in my dress uniform," Buck admitted candidly. "I'm glad Tiber found that 20th century ball gown for Wilma. She's one of the belles of the ball."
"The blue gown is most becoming." As if bored with the chitchat, Hawk gazed back toward Tiber and the king.
"And Tiber in that white Empire gown and those diamonds. Wow! She sure looks like the Princess to your Prince Charming. Or should I say she looks like a queen, Queen What's-her-name, Tiber's famous, look-alike great-grandaunt. The one who personally murdered the people who assassinated her husband, the king, and who then almost single-handedly defeated the Vargas Empire which was trying to take over this world. The Red Queen."
"Do not call the queen that. It was Queen Dia. She was queen one hundred years ago on this world." Hawk's voice became dead serious. "Do not speak so of Queen Dia to Tiber. It pains her."
"Sure," Buck replied. "I was just yacking. I guess a family skeleton isn't much fun when it belongs to your family. It's odd how much Tiber looks like that dead woman. When she first walked into the palace and all the guards and commoners fell to their knees like she really was that revered dead queen, I thought King Basil would faint."
As if questioning his words, Hawk turned his full attention back to Buck. "Such resemblance is common in Tiber's family."
"Yeah, and the bravery too. Both ladies have guts. Tiber's done a few things I wouldn't attempt when you or Ari were in trouble."
"She is our friend." Hawk slid back into his mood of pensive indifference.
Buck decided to change his tack in his unsuccessful teasing. “How does it feel to have the most beautiful wife at the ball tonight?"
"Tiber is not my mate. We only pretend to be mated so that she will not be forced into a political marriage with the king." His probing, hazel eyes stabbed Buck's, and he said stiffly, "You know this. Why do you ask?"
"I was joshing you about being jealous of Tiber and the king.” Buck sighed. “You're harder to rib than a stone wall."
"I am not jealous of Tiber and the king. My people do not get jealous."
"You haven't taken your eyes off Tiber since she started dancing with the dashing king. What do you call that?"
"She is my mate to these people. In public, I treat her as my mate. Even if he is the king of this world, he is a male with my female."
"Oh," Buck said as if suddenly understanding. "You're jealous."
"My people are without jealousy. Among unmated males and females, there is ritual in courting the chosen one. It is very. . . straightforward unlike you humans' bizarre and confusing dating.
“When we are mated, the male has absolute protection over the female. If another male touches your woman, you are not jealous. You kill him."
Buck shuddered at Hawk's unflinching statement of beliefs. The primitive bird of prey in his friend sometimes shocked him. They were brothers, and yet Hawk was more alien than he could possibly imagine. He glanced apprehensively at Hawk then at the flirting king. If Hawk were to kill the ruler of these people, there'd be hell to pay. Perhaps he'd better cut-in on Tiber's dance.
Hawk tensed and stared down his nose as if spotting prey. The king had his hand on Tiber's cheek, and he was bringing his face closer to hers.
Unmoving, Tiber appeared torn between diplomatic politeness and the desire to deck him.
"Swell," Buck muttered and grabbed Hawk's arm. "No, Hawk. No. A kiss isn't worth a war."
Oblivious to Buck's grip, Hawk broke free and strode through the dancers. Without seeming to change his pace or his direction, he crossed the room without disturbing any of the dancers, or causing much notice.
Buck charged after him but had to dodge, stop, and run to avoid the intricate patterns of the waltzers.
Hawk halted so suddenly in front of the couple that Buck almost slammed into him.
The avian tapped the king's wrist that was against Tiber's cheek and said with even decisiveness, "No. No, that is not allowed. She is my mate."
The young king turned as if to protest, met Hawk’s fierce gaze, blanched, and jerked his hand from her cheek. With a fast polite half bow, he stepped back then fled into the crowd.
Buck stared open mouthed at Hawk's polite and unobtrusive civility. He'd expected blood and guts everywhere, not Emily Post.
"Would you care to dance?" Hawk bowed gallantly.
Her long white gown swaying, her eyes twinkling with amusement, Tiber curtsied. "For my rescuer anything."
"Hawk, what... ?"
His own eyes flickering with humor, Hawk shook his head. "Humans, they will believe anything." He swept Tiber into his arms and a waltz.
“Damn, I've been had by the bird!" He'd been so busy trying to egg Hawk on that he'd ended up with the yolk on him.
Chuckling at himself, Buck went off in search of the bar and Wilma.