Season 1, Episode 6
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
I was lying in my bed, extremely aroused and befuddled by my dream. I wanted to find my climax and go back to sleep, but there was a woman’s voice, muffled as if by distance, saying, “Please, Maiden, do not turn me away.”
I rose awkwardly and reached for my robe, expecting fine silk, but finding only my own well-worn and modest cotton dressing gown. I remembered then that the silk robe had been part of the dream, just like the strapping young man. I could still feel his breath on my inner thigh… I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts, and opened my bedroom door a crack.
One of the palace maids stood there, a very young woman, little more than a child, pretty, with muddy green eyes and freckles.
“Maiden Yelena, I need…you…” she trailed off.
“I am sorry,” I said, my thoughts still full of sex, “but I cannot return your feelings. Despite whatever rumors you may have heard, I am not available.”
She gawked at me, her expression sifting rapidly from desperation to confusion. “What?” she said. “Oh, no, I…that’s not it.”
I stood in the doorway, waiting for her to explain. Instead, tears came to her eyes. I ushered her in just as she broke into shuddering sobs. I moved her to a chair, then stoked the embers in the fireplace and put on the kettle to boil.
By the time I handed her a cup of mild starflower tea, she had recovered herself. She took a sip, wiped her runny nose on her sleeve, and looked at me.
“Better now?” I asked.
“Forgive me, but I do not know your name.”
“So, Brinna, what is the matter?”
She looked down, blinked out a couple of tears and, for a moment, I thought she was going to begin bawling again. But she composed herself, then said, “I’m pregnant.”
I snatched the teacup out of her hands. For the second time this evening, she goggled at me. “Sorry,” I said, “this is a weak infusion, but starflower can increase the risk of miscarriage.”
Brinna reached for the cup. “That’s what I want!”
I set the teacup down carefully on an end table, next to my own. “I think you’d better tell me everything, Brinna. Start from the beginning.”
There were more tears, then she told me, in halting fragments, how she’d come to the castle only this past spring, and soon became the object of the attentions of a Lord—Lord Dycius, no less. She was flattered at first by his compliments, but things quickly took an ugly turn as he began taking liberties. He treated her protests as a come-on, and she was terrified of what he would do if she screamed or struck him. Lavish “anonymous” gifts followed each new milestone in this slow campaign of rape, and he did not hesitate to remind her of her acceptance of these gifts.
In fact, she had hidden most of his gifts, as they were so far above her means that she was terrified she would be thought a thief if seen with them. She confessed guiltily to having eaten some candied fruits and other delicacies. The poor girl referred to herself as a ‘whore’ because of a few sweets she had eaten rather than throwing them down a well. It hadn’t taken long for Lord Dycius to make his way from stealing kisses to demanding sex. It had been inevitable that she would become pregnant, and now that she was beginning to show, she was desperate.
It had been my own ruined reputation that had led Brinna to me. Among the rumors spread about the court was that I had herbs that would end a pregnancy. This is murder under Thrycaen law, and worse, it is legally defined as witchcraft. The standards of evidence for witchcraft are much more lax than for murder, so this information chilled me. In such a context, a couple of routine miscarriages coupled with a little false testimony or grief-induced self-delusion could get a woman sentenced to death.
“Brinna,” I said, “just coming to me with this puts us both in danger.”
She nodded. “I don’t want to hang, milady. But if I go home like this,” she gestured at her belly, “my brothers will beat me to death. That’s what happened to my cousin. Her little brother killed her, an’ my brothers helped.”
After a shuddering breath, Brinna continued. “An’ I can’t stay here. His Lordship doesn’t know I’m pregnant. He’s said things about what would happen if I got pregnant. I…I’d be better off dead.”
I exhaled slowly, and rose to my feet. “Very well, Brinna, I will help you.” I made my way to the kettle and drew fresh water. I had to make a new batch of tea, and starflower would be the mildest thing in it.
I was expecting the shocked silence and the renewed sobbing, but not the way she leapt upon me from behind in a hug so fierce it hurt. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou,” she babbled.
When she had calmed down enough for me to pry her off and sit her back down, I finished my preparations and began to instruct her. “This much is good for three days. You’ll have to make the second and third batches yourself. Can you do that?”
“Then tell me how long it needs to steep for.”
“Overnight, or at least until cool.”
“And when do you take it?”
“Morning, midday, and right before bed.”
“For how long?”
“Until it’s all gone.”
“And if the bleeding doesn’t slow to a little spotting, or if you develop a fever?”
“Come to you.”
“And if anything I haven’t described happens?”
“Come to you.”
“Do you understand everything I’ve said?”
“I think so.”
“Go then, and be careful.”
Brinna nodded again, collecting the still-infusing flask and the additional sachets of tea, and tucking them inside a market basket. I hoped she would be discreet enough to keep us both from the gallows.
“Oh, and Brinna, one more thing. How old are you?”
Brinna smiled a little as she turned back to face me. “I know I look young, but don’t worry. I’m an adult. I’ll be fifteen this summer.”
As soon as I’d seen her out and set the bolt, I collapsed back onto my bed. I could still remember feeling powerful, sexy, and confident in my interrupted dream. Now I felt angry, frightened, and uncertain. I did not sleep again that night.
I watched the sun rise with glum resignation as I slouched into the cushions of my armchair. The light crested the frozen Fircrown mountains and flooded across the cultivated hills of Thrycae before threading its way through the bare-limbed and snow-covered royal forests on the east side of the palace. Beyond the Fircrowns and to the south, two months journey by horse, lies the Maragoya peninsula, home of the Order, and my home since childhood.
I’d skirted the Fircrowns when I came to Thrycae, taking a path that led through the foothills rather than the more direct path that would have required taking a mountain pass. I rode along the main trade route on supply wagons, or I might have taken the direct route to see the mountains’ namesake, a small evergreen tree that only grows at high altitude and, despite its diminutive stature, can live for many centuries. Legend says that some of these trees are as old as the world itself. I doubt it—the very nature of life is transitory. That which lives, dies. That which grows, declines.
As the sun continued its inexorable rise, my thoughts reluctantly returned to the present. Kaye’s lessons are generally the highlight of my day, but after the night I’d had, I was dreading it. Beyond mere grogginess from lack of sleep, I had a severe case of emotional whiplash. I could still remember, still feel, the presence of the divine feminine, the aspect of the Goddess that had suffused my dream. It had been a disturbingly portentous and erotically charged dream, but it had also been an ecstatic experience.
But then there was the reality of Thrycaen misogyny and Brinna’s dilemma, like a bucket of icewater thrown on the smoldering feeling left by the dream. I knew well the hypocrisy of the court, and had heard tales of the killing of “dishonored” women in the countryside, but I’d been able to keep my distance before. I’d judged them and remained aloof, uninvolved, until Thrycae’s problems came knocking at my door.
With all this on my mind, the last thing I felt like doing was trying again to explain female anatomy and sexual response to Kaye. What did it matter if one Princeling learned the truth about sex, when his entire country was so Goddess-blighted backwards? I simmered with resentment, frankly irritated that anyone in Thrycae was having sex. My frustration impelled me to motion, and I rose from my seat and paced the room as I continued to fume.
One doesn’t hire a carpenter whose own house is falling in, or trust one’s valuables to a known thief. It was completely clear to me that no-one in this miserable little country knew how to have sex responsibly or respectfully, so they didn’t deserve it. Sexual privileges should be reserved for those able to conduct themselves with respect for themselves and their partners. It was monstrous that the so-called nobility was getting away with forcing itself upon mere slips of girls, barely adolescent, fearful, ignorant children. It was a nightmare that the burden of these rapes fell entirely upon their victims. Where was the enthroned and revered woman of my dream? And why, with all of this horror strewn about me, was I still thinking about warm breath on my thigh and imagining running my fingers though a familiar head of chestnut hair?
When I arrived at the parlor for the morning’s lessons, Kaye was already waiting for me, seated at the table with his crutches propped up beside him, and looking much too freshly-scrubbed, presentable, and interested for my comfort. While he’d always been a good student, he tended to live in a permanent slouch, as if his spine was compensating for the straightness imposed on his legs by the braces. I couldn’t help but notice that his hair wasn’t its usual tousled mess, but had been combed out and parted neatly.
His hazel eyes locked with mine, and he smiled warmly as I entered. “Yelena! I’ve been waiting for you. I was wondering if we could skip over this morning’s astronomy lesson—”
“That sounds like a good idea, Kaye,” I cut him off. “I wanted to talk to you about the ways in which a broader study of botany informs herbology. Why don’t we do that instead?” I truly didn’t feel like talking about the stars, but neither did I want to get into talking about sex—not yet.
Kaye deflated a little, but his reply was still a chipper, “Alright.”
“Now, I’ve explained before the concept of the pharmakon, the idea that the same thing can be both poison and remedy. It has to do with dosage, but also sometimes with how the medicine is prepared, the condition of the plant when harvested, and the condition of the patient.”
Kaye nodded, acknowledging the familiarity of this information.
“Moreover, there are times when something undesirable in itself can be a treatment for something else.”
“Like giving someone peekagooney root to make them vomit up a worse poison.”
“Exactly,” I said, but I was thinking about Brinna’s condition again. I must have been lost in thought for a while, because I jumped when Kaye spoke.
“Yelen? Are you tired?”
“Ah, a little,” I confessed. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Well, there’s something I want to share with you.”
“Oh? What is it, Kaye?”
“It’s about yesterday’s lesson—you know, about sex. I think I get it now.” Kaye then proceeded to describe not only female anatomy but also a number of ways of pleasing a woman with one’s tongue and hands, all in remarkable detail and with an understanding that had been completely lacking the day before. He occasionally stumbled over the vocabulary, or paused to think of how to describe something, but the image in his head was now clear and accurate, and he blushed only slightly as he described it.
I stared openmouthed at him, silent, as he continued. “So, I guess Vavo wasn’t being terribly exact, because in my dream, I never touched it directly, just over and around it. Is that right, Yelen? The pearl, er, the clitoris shouldn’t be touched directly with the finger?”
“It depends on the woman, but, yes, generally…” I paused, trying to think through surprise and exhaustion at the same time. “Wait, Kaye…what was that about a dream?”
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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