The Torcher’s Tale
By Leonard C Suskin
We stopped six days later at Newshire, another coast town renamed by the Roi. Kahn seemed aggrieved, but I was secretly glad; I still carried in my heart those lessons from wheels ago about the Roi’s great culture and the Aleph’s sneakiness and cheating. Not to mention that no Roi had ever torn my robe and called me a “torcher”. I was sure that we’d do well here and that it was a sign of better things to come. Also, coming into town as a man had other privileges. With a leering wink, Kahn took me to a smallish building near the edge of town while he left Sariq to unload the camels and set up camp. He discreetly passed a small bundle of coins to the gaudily dressed woman who greeted us in the parlor, then turned to me with a knowing smile.
“You have a choice. There are some young Aleph-ya girls and some Roi who followed their traders here.“
I swallowed dryly and looked from the woman to my uncle. “The Roi”. I croaked. More money changed hands, and with a slap on the back and a wink I was sent to a bedchamber. Her skin was paler than desert sands, her hair the color of sun-bleached camels, her nipples a surprising pinkish color. She knew tricks with her fingers and lips and tongue that I knew I would never experience again. Afterwards she traced the lines of my biceps with one fingertip.
“You must be very brave to travel the desert. The bandits don’t scare you?”
“Bandits?” I chuckled. Talking was easy; it almost made me forget I was with an unclad woman. “You must be confusing this with wherever you came from; there’ve never been bandits here.”
“That’s not what I heard,” she answered as her fingers curled around my upper arm. “I heard that the sneaky lemonsuckers were ambushing you big, brave sandwalkers, but you’re too brave and strong and noble for them.”
I smiled. “We are brave and strong,” the spirit of the Ifrit rose within me, filling my loins with flame. I grabbed her arms and pinned her beneath me. “Let me show you just how strong.”
I was a man.
On my way out I was surprised to see one of our women. She turned away from me and walked deeper into the building, her eyes downcast. I suppose she must have felt shame.
On my way out of the brothel I met Nale. He saw where I’d been and gave me a wink. “Enjoying what the city has to offer? You naughty hawk.”
I felt my cheeks flush, but couldn’t relax my smile. “So… how goes business thus far?” It felt very manly to be walking out of a brothel and discussing business.
“The dunes shift, but the sand is the same. The Roi have taken everything over, but the same Aleph merchants we used to sell to are working as clerks now. So we get a smaller price for the same goods from the same people.” He shrugged. “Camp is just outside of town. Let’s head back.”
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