Fiction: Marrying into matriarchy (from The Demon in Business Class)

WordPress doesn’t let me tag non-blog posts (the links in the header row), so without occasionally posting excerpts from my book, its potential readers can’t find me by searching. Every so often I’ll post a short excerpt here on the blog. (Especially when my family is down with flu and I don’t have time to write an original post!)
In this excerpt, Walt is engaged to Missy, heiress to an ancient witch coven. He assumes theirs will be a marriage of equals, but her family has their own ideas…
What Walt had assumed would be a late lunch was a cup of black coffee at a cheap conference table and a stack of legal documents. At least Missy had fucked him beforehand.
Walt put down the draft pre-nup. “Half my estate is a lot,” he said calmly.
Across from him, Missy’s mother, Elder Juno McCauley Devereaux; Althee Johnson Brown of the coven; Regina McCauley Everett of the clan. No one explained it but it was obvious. Coven was the company, clan the people with preferred shares.
“In an escrow account,” Althee said. She was black with freckled skin, weight on her middle age, sharp yellow eyes like a falcon. “Once you have a daughter, it becomes hers in trust, managed by you and our financial people. It’s what you’d leave her in any case.”
“But I’d have use of the money in the meantime. And the daughter might not be my daughter.” He had read it three times to be sure. “Is this customary?”
The three women looked at him but they were negotiating with each other.
“Magic comes from the goddess,” Regina finally said. She was the mid-point between June’s coloring and Missy’s, red hair, red gaunt face, big blue eyes. Unlike June and Althee her accent was Western. “Powerful magic needs a coven, but only the bloodline with the compact can lead. Clan and coven are bound to each other. From time to time, this bond is made manifest, by marrying from the sons of the coven. Tradition dictated this was of those times.”
“But the goddess sets the rules,” June said. “At the funeral for my mother, the goddess took Missy and three others —”
“Took as in possessed?”
“If you like. The goddess said the clan needed a new white page in its book. Missy found you as the goddess instructed.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Missy is old for a child-bearing witch,” Althee said. “Only Cullodena herself was older, under different circumstances. The coven must be sure there’s an heiress to keep the compact. The clan believes in their daughter; the coven has no such luxury. We need a contingency plan.”
“So, if Missy has not conceived our daughter eighteen months after our handfasting, the coven can nominate a man, not me, to father the child who I then must raise.”
“Yes,” Althee said.
“Can I bear a child with another woman?”
“Not until Artemis’s daughter is twenty-three,” Regina said. “Any child you conceive before that will be killed. Your daughter has no rivals. After that, do what you like. Even then your bastard has no claim on the estate, unless she is a member of the coven.”
“Which is how it usually goes,” Althee said grimly.
Althee Johnson Brown. Walt now saw her resemblance to the portrait in his parlor.
“All this is academic,” June said. “My daughter vouches for your strength, as does the urologist. Our thumb will be on your scale, rest assured.”
“I beg your pardon,” Walt said, “but the hostility blows like a hot wind from Ms. Althee.”
“It’s nothing personal,” Althee said. “I am simply displeased the goddess saw fit to change our arrangement.”
“Would your son have been the — original husband?”
“Not her son,” June said, “but her choice from the coven. And if you fail, it will be her choice again, of the father not the husband.”
“How would that work?” Walt said. “You already have my money, why keep me?”
“You would be handfast before the goddess. The stud would leave or he would die,” Althee said. “And I would see the first black Brigid.”
“Patience, Althee,” Regina said. “It is almost here.”
“Easy to speak of the future,” Althee said.
Walt hadn’t failed to notice all of them were black. “This is about slavery,” he said.
“Very good,” Regina said. “The clan has a debt. For four generations we kept our coven wealthy and our clan in luxury by standing on black shoulders. Sometimes on black faces. They earned the right to join the bloodline, whatever the goddess says.”
“Regina,” June growled.
“This is a mess, June. The goddess could have warned us. The coven is suspicious.”
“Thank you, Regina,” Althee said.
“This was our compromise,” June said. “If Missy has no heiress by thirty-two, the coven chooses the father. If she does, the coven chooses the daughter’s father and husband. By the time I train my granddaughter, the coven will be rebalanced. Slave and master, all one people.”
“The first Afro-Celtic-American matriarchy,” Walt said.
“The second, actually,” Althee said. “The Reeds in Montgomery are fully mixed.”
“I always forget you’re only one in a market of covens.”
They all frowned at him. “An unwieldy phrase,” June said.
“Perhaps it will grow on you,” Walt said. “Back to the rest of my life.”
“These are our ways,” June said. “If you marry in an old church you have to adopt their rules. We make it harder to do insincerely. The net effect for your life is magnificent.”
Net effect. Debt. Escrow account. It felt like his first car loan. He had haggled that too.
“I’ll think it over,” he said. He put the small sharp knife and the quill pen on top of the bowl, pushed them away. “Let’s talk in two days.”
They were surprised. Less contempt than a belief he was hungrier. “We’ll see you upstairs then,” June said coolly. “After we talk.”
No curses, no lightning. No ultimatums. That was a start.

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