Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
SUNFALL HAD ARRIVED, and night in the land of the Unsetting Sun was dim enough to keep lamp-makers in business but bright enough to allow Kami to see the men who came and went from the tavern. Alone in a narrow alley, she stood watching the lamps flicker through the slatted shutters above the Red Rooster Inn.
Silhouettes moved across the windows, sometimes in dark flashes like the shadows of birds and sometimes with a telling rhythm. As she imagined the scenes that made those shadows, Kami’s mind drifted back to her home, to the women her mother managed at her brothel.
Many times Kami had watched the women, by accident and by stealth. Before she was ten, she had seen more lust and violence than most people ever do, and was more confused about the difference. As often as she tried, as often as she had seen it, she couldn’t understand why any woman would open her door, or her legs, for a man. Some did it for coin; others claimed it was for pleasure. Kami was sure women lied about that, but why they lied was a mystery.
Kami remembered the day her mother had accrued enough to purchase the brothel from the former madam, how her room moved from the floor with the working girls to the attic. She no longer had to hear the grunts and screams and creaking beds as she tried to sleep.
She understood that her birth was all that made life as a whore acceptable to her mother—the only means for an illiterate, husbandless woman to raise a daughter. She had been proud when her mother became the owner of the largest brothel on the coast. The odd sense of pride carried her through many childhood torments, and though she was ashamed of her life, she had never been ashamed of her mother.
AVESTINE FOLLOWED KAMI after their dinner, leaving Rook at the hotel. After a short search, she spotted Kami’s small figure in an alley’s entranceway, so she crouched against the crumbling wall and observed her as sunfall arrived.
Kami was a brooding sort, complicated yet innocent. She had seen the brutality of men but walked alone at sunfall. The security of walls didn’t relax her, yet beyond walls, in the expanse of sun and air, the young woman’s fear vanished.
Avestine had noticed this difference from their first days together at Riverside, and she was already aware of the gift that allowed Kami to track her across the continent. Kami wasn’t the first Essanti to find her, but she was different, because she was still restless. She was still looking for something.
Wondering what in the alley might be so interesting, Avestine slipped to the other wall and crept closer. From her vantage point, she saw the huddled figure, and across the street, the raucous Red Rooster Inn lit up the street. Drunkards occasionally staggered from the propped open doors, and exuberant men occasionally rushed in.
Avestine studied Kami’s reactions, and still she didn’t understand what was captivating her. She moved closer until she was near the alley’s entrance, and now she could see that Kami was staring up into the shuttered windows above the inn. “Dangerous to be out alone at sunfall.”
The voice startled Kami. Defensively, she pressed back against the alley wall as she glanced around. When Avestine moved from the shadows, Kami’s surprise flamed into anger. “You’re following me?”
“You shouldn’t go off alone.”
“I needed fresh air.”
“All I smell is piss.” Avestine pushed back the hood of her cloak. “If you need fresh air in the future, let me know, so I can go with you. This isn’t Featherwood.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Not every place is as safe as home.”
Kami’s laughter punctured the hum of revelry. “Not a single day that men came and went from Mama’s. Not a single day that they demanded whiskey or bullied the girls. Never was Featherwood safe. How naïve do you think I am?”
Shattering ceramic drew Avestine’s attention back to the inn. Outside the Rooster’s door, two men had fallen over each other, giggling like children and dropping their whiskey jars.
Avestine said, “If you want to see what’s in those rooms upstairs, we probably have enough coin.” She watched Kami blush before she added, “I’m not naïve either.”
She drew Kami to her and tried to kiss her, but Kami pushed her away. Still holding her, Avestine looked down and reached a hand to her breast, but Kami pushed her away again, so Avestine stepped back. “Are you going to take off that dress or do I have to do it for you?”
“In this alley?”
“I can get us a room.”
Kami’s laugh was nervous, which excited Avestine. She stepped close again. “Show me your tits.”
Kami stumbled backward and stopped at the brick wall.
Avestine smiled, and Kami took hold of Avestine’s hands, as if she would resist, but instead she pressed them firmly against her breasts and arched into them. Avestine kissed her neck and whispered, “Do you want me to suck them?” She pulled at the neckline, but the material didn’t stretch far. She fought with the dress for another moment before stopping in frustration. “You’re going to strip for me somewhere tonight, child. Where will it be?”
“I’ll get a room.”
“No! I’m not going in that place.”
“Then I’ll kick Rook out.”
“No? You don’t say no to me.” Avestine let go, trying to fathom Kami’s contradictions. “I’ll screw you in this alley or the middle of the street if I want, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t you understand who I am? Don’t you know what I can do?”
“I just want to be left alone.”
“You don’t want to be left alone.” Avestine looked Kami over, burning with a hunger that made her skin ache and her pulse throb. She imagined Kami’s greedy body riding with whorish abandon. She clenched her teeth when she realized Kami wouldn’t satisfy her fantasy that day. Or maybe ever.
A long moment of indecision followed before Avestine stepped back. “Child,” she whispered. Her throat was tight, along with every muscle in her body. “Maybe you’re a test the gods have sent, but if that’s the case, they are testing me in a most grievous way, and I truly don’t know if I will win.”
She left Kami in the alley and walked across the street, avoiding the drunks before entering the bright barroom. A few men glanced at her, but she avoided their eyes and went to the far end of the bar.
After watching a fight, she selected one of the men and humored him with questions about his tales of treasure hunting in the Katan Ri. She nodded as he bragged and then guided him as he stumbled up the stairs.
Her request for a room without a woman left the bartender confused, but he didn’t object when she dropped a coin in front of him. When she found the right room, she pulled the drunken man onto a bed and shut the door. She had blown out the flame of the one dirty lamp, but torches outside cast heavy shadows. The man had not shaved in days, and had not combed his hair maybe ever. He smelled like old sweat and bad whiskey, but the bulge in his pants was the only thing on Avestine’s mind.
She unbuckled his wide belt and stripped off his trousers, startling him with her strength. He made himself laugh with a joke that she didn’t understand but stopped when she complained that he was limp.
He said, “Put it in your mouth.”
“Shut up.” She tugged on it. “I haven’t swallowed a sword since my father was alive.”
When he tried to rise, she shoved him back to the bed, which made him giggle. She needed to soothe the ache between her legs. After she dropped her cloak and pulled off her pants, the man passed out.
Cursing the waste, she left his inert body with disgust. She still had not forgiven Rook for his disobedience in the forest, but she knew she would. Until then, she would settle for what she could find, because she wasn’t a woman who could go without.
After redressing, she sat on the floor, leaning against the wall near the window. She unlatched a shutter, which creaked as she pulled it inward. A cool breeze made her draw a deep breath. She felt delight at the sensation. Such moments of irrational pleasure were new to her and always meant Kami was near. Kami must still be at her post in the alley.
Fantasies filled Avestine’s thoughts as she leaned against the wall and fell asleep.