Chapter 15 - Part II

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 “I’m confused,” said Sam. “Aren’t we all men here?” His giggle was cut short by a hiccup.

“You cackle like a damned female,” said Tristan. “This will remedy your woman problem.”

“My, er, woman problem? I wasn’t aware I had one.” Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Why do I have a woman problem and Braeden doesn’t?”

“I suspect Braeden’s already taken this particular rite of passage. Am I wrong?” asked Tristan.

Embarrassment heated his cheeks as an unwanted memory flitted through his mind. “No, you are not wrong,” he replied uncomfortably.

“That bad, eh?”

“None of your damned business.”

“What are you two nattering on about? What rite of passage?” Sam demanded.

“Your virginity, Sam,” Tristan said bluntly.

Sam tripped over his own two feet, his sluggish reflexes kicking in just before his face hit pavement. “W-what makes you think I’m a virgin?”

Tristan guffawed. “Your face is the color of a tomato. I’d stake my life that the only sword you’ve ever wielded is the one beside your hip.”

“So crude,” Braeden murmured.

Ignoring Sam’s sputtering, Tristan continued, “Worry not, trainee, we’ll rid you of that encumbrance this eve.”

“H-how?” said Sam, a hint of alarm in his voice. “I’m not much good with women.”

“I assure you, these, ah, girls are a guarantee.”

“What do you mean?”

Braeden rolled his eyes. “Gods, Sam, you are an innocent. Our dear Paladin has brought us to a whorehouse.”

Tristan sniffed. “I prefer the word ‘brothel’.”

Sam’s eyes bulged, but he quickly made a show of rubbing his eyes and then yawned loudly, stretching his arms in an exaggerated fashion. “You two go on without me. I think I’m finally feeling the strain of the day. And-and I’m out of coin. I’ll just turn in--”

“Nonsense,” said Tristan. “Consider it a reward for a job well done. So far, at least.”

“I’d rather not--”

“Don’t be ungrateful, boy,” said Tristan, gripping the collar of Sam’s tunic. “You coming, Braeden?”

Sam looked to be on the verge of a panic attack, all but digging his heels into the ground as Tristan dragged him towards the brothel. Braeden wasn’t sure why Sam was so on edge – the boy was human, and an attractive one at that. The whores would likely clamor to serve him, rather than fear his touch, like they would Braeden’s. “I’m coming,” he said, tugging down on his ever-present hat.

Despite the late hour, it took only a single knock before a servant greeted them at the door. The servant was a hulking brute of a man, his broad shoulders filling the doorway and his scarred face spelling out a clear warning to any who dared cross him. Judging by the way he clenched his meaty fists as he looked them over, the servant was a bodyguard in addition to his role as greeter. “The madam’ll be wiv you in a moment,” he said after a precursory inspection, angling his large body so they could enter the building.

Braeden had to hand it to Tristan – for a house of ill repute, the interior of the brothel was quite elegant. Designed with an upper crust clientele in mind, the décor straddled the line between tasteful opulence and tawdry. The furnishings in the foyer were clearly of an expensive make, but the red and black color scheme hinted at the room’s sensual purpose. It was the artwork, however, that would have no place other than a bawdy house. Marble statues of couples in various compromising positions – some of which were physiologically impossible – lined the walls, appearing almost lifelike in the dim glow of candlelight. Incense mingled with the smells of perfume, cologne and sex.

A statuesque woman emerged through velvet curtains at the back, the no-nonsense gait of her walk and conservative neckline of her dress indicating that her wares, at least, were not for sale. “Evening, gentlemen,” she said, weighing and measuring their worth with intelligent, beady eyes. “Welcome to the House of Naamah. I am Mistress Rowena. What’s your pleasure?”

“Tonight’s a special night,” said Tristan. He fished out a handful of gold coins from the pouch at his belt. “I have coin to spend and three men in need of a warm bed.”

The madam arched a dark, penciled brow. “It's a warm bed you seek or a woman to warm it?”

Tristan grinned. “I think you know my meaning.” He jingled the coins in his palm for emphasis.

Mistress Rowena eyed the money hungrily. “Aye, I think I do. Any preferences? Special requests? Will you be together or separate?”

“Separate, definitely separate,” said Tristan quickly. “As for special requests, do you have a girl who’s good with, ah, inexperience?”

“Inexperience? You, milord?” the madam asked, both eyebrows raised this time.

“No, no, not me.” Tristan moved a few steps closer to Mistress Rowena, and leaned over conspiratorially. “The short lad with the chestnut hair. It's his first time.”

“Is there something wrong with him?”

“I can hear you, you know!” Sam said, glaring at the madam. “And there’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Of course there’s not,” Mistress Rowena said soothingly. “I have just the girl. Do you have anything against blondes?”

“N-no, I suppose not,” Sam said, his eyes on Tristan. His face was unusually pale and glistened with sweat.

“And for you, milord?”

“Brunette. Petite. Someone with a bit of fire to her,” Tristan said, frowning a little. “You’re up, Braeden.”

Braeden sighed, and removed his hat. “I’m not particular,” he said softly. “Someone who isn’t skittish, I suppose.” He turned the full force of his gaze on the madam.

She shuddered. “We don’t serve your--” she halted, glancing sideways at Tristan. “As you wish. I’ll see who I can find. I’ll have to charge you extra given your…affliction. And if there are any injuries--”

“There won’t be.”

“So you say. Alright, then. I’ll be back in a moment with the girls,” said Mistress Rowena.

Braeden closed his eyes, and willed himself elsewhere. Whatever Tristan had said earlier, Braeden wasn’t a saint. He had urges, like any other man, and he had acted upon them, sometimes in ways he wasn’t proud of. For all the boy’s embarrassment, he wished he were more like Sam, innocent and not yet jaded by the fairer sex. Perhaps Sam would be spared from the cruelty of women. Sam's whore wouldn’t cry like the girl Braeden's master had brought him for his first. Braeden had been a boy of fifteen, and the whore nearly ten years his senior. He had been shy, nervous; he knew his master had paid her well, but in his boyish pride, he had wanted nothing more than to please her. She fulfilled her duty in silence, tears streaming down her face. And when they’d finished, she had vomited, proving that none of her disgust had been feigned. He’d tried to help her, to hold her hair back as she emptied the contents of her stomach, but she’d shoved him away. “Don’t touch me,” she’d said. “I’d rather die than be touched by you again.”

A light touch on his chest shook him free from his memories. “Mistress says I’m to be wiv you for the evenin’, lovey,” the whore said.

Braeden opened his eyes and waited for the prostitute to recover from the shock. Her skin was ashen beneath her rouge and his demon-enhanced ears picked up the frantic beating of her heart.

He sighed. Some things never changed.

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