“Aysun!” Inaris marched down the paved street towards the side entrance to the House, and where the other girls waited with robes. Adorned only by the dust that had filled the market square, she scoured the gaggle of courtesans till her unforgiving gaze locked on her competitor. “You spineless wench. I win the wager.”
The fear that had been in Aysun’s eyes minutes before was gone, and the haughty young woman looked down her nose as her followers wrapped a crimson silk robe around her body. “Little liar. Do you dare call me a cheat?”
“I do,” Inaris responded frankly, not missing a beat. “You saw those Easterlings and ran like a whimpering pup.”
Aysun’s face flushed with embarrassment, but she sniffed indignantly as the other girls looked to her. “The insolence at calling me a coward. I walked the whole way. Everyone here saw me walk around that corner.” Though all of their peers nodded in agreement, Inaris noted the doubt many of them failed to conceal.
Finally accepting the silk, sky-blue robe that was offered her, Inaris let the collar hang loose and cinched the sash tight. “You have always been a coward, which is why, in the eyes of the Masters, you will always be second.”
The young woman’s face turned a shade darker, this time in anger, and she gestured an insult at Inaris. “You lose the bet, you take my place serving the Masters tonight.”
Inaris shrugged as if it was nothing to ever be concerned about. “Fine.” Giving her long, platinum blonde hair a toss, she turned her back on Aysun, not giving her the reaction she wanted.
“You… You whore! I hope they bore of you!” A fate none of them wanted. “Disrespect me again and I will have the
Mistress send you to the darkest, filthiest brothel in Middle Earth!”
The spoiled, pompous…. The girls around her tensed as Inaris stopped, and slowly turned to face Aysun. Unfortunately
(though fortunate for her opponent), before the venom on her tongue could spill out, a call sounded from above.
“If you ladies have a moment,” the youngest of the Masters began in a cool tone, “you are all wanted inside. We have guests. Wash your feet, and come to the courtyard.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
All twenty-some of the girls that had been gathered outside filed into the courtyard. Sheer cloth streamers were strung between the pillars, and lush, blossoming flowers lined the walls and filled marble planters.
The line of young courtesans came to a halt in the center of the yard by their Mistress. Turning to face out, it was then that all of their unspoken questions were answered. Several of the Masters stood gathered a short distance away. With them stood several Easterlings and their servants. Inaris noted that they were the same ones that had been in the market.
Inaris retained her indifferent expression, but oh, the self control it took to keep back a wicked smirk. As the guests spoke quietly amongst themselves, she risked a glance at Aysun. The young woman was a shade paler than her usual olive complexion. She cast a glance back at Inaris, but would not meet her eyes.
Gliding forward, their regal, stern-faced Mistress moved to address them. “To put the rumors to rest, the army camped to our south will be moving West against our enemies. From among you will be chosen a select few to accompany them, and serve their officers. It is an honor, and I expect you, as my wards, to behave and perform in a manner suiting the station granted to you by being a part of this House.”
Inaris, along with the whole line of young women, bowed their heads. Remaining silent, they fixed their eyes ahead as two Easterlings and a servant approached the line. Each in turn were considered. One Easterling would tuck back a lock of hair on one girl, then lift the next girl’s chin. The second would stare into one girl’s eyes, or fix the soft collar of yet another. Some flinched, some smiled, but Inaris remained unmoving as she kept her gaze down in some semblance of submission.
Finally, it was over, and the men stepped back once more. Speaking quietly with the Mistress and their Masters, three girls, all who had flinched were selected. The rest were quietly sent away, all except for Inaris and Aysun. Called forward, it was probably the first time the girls had quietly stood side-by-side.
“We noticed you two earlier,” spoke the second Easterling, though he did not sound like one. “Quite a little competition between the two of you.” The man stepped forward and slowly circled them, testing Inaris’s blonde, and then Aysun’s black hair between his fingers. He did not walk like an Easterling. Something in her gut tugged at her, telling her that no good could come of this.
Stopping in front of Aysun, the man leaned down a little to look her in the eyes as his comrade joined him. “Hold a moment,” said the first man. “What is your name, my dear?”
Aysun smiled a bit shyly as the Easterling inspected the brand behind her ear. “Aysun, my lord.”
“Aysun? Lovely. Will you do something for me?”
The girl nodded timidly. “Of course, my lord.”
“Punch my friend here.”
Aysun looked stunned. “M-My lord?”
The first man gave her an even look. “You heard me. Strike him. That is an order.”
Her dark eyes darting to Inaris, Aysun raised her hand, and lightly slapped the man on the cheek. Electricity hung in the air.
The second man blinked, then let out a long, disappointed sigh. Reaching out, he gingerly touched Aysun’s chin. The young woman froze in place, and her eyes widened with pain. “Poor little girl. You should do what you are told.” He released her, then, and the two men turned to Inaris.
There was no hiding the shock in her eyes, but she did not recoil as the first man leaned in towards her. “And what about you? How well do you follow orders?”
Inaris lifted her chin with a prideful air. “Try me, my lord.”
The first man smirked, and the second arched a dark eyebrow. “Punch my friend.”
She turned her bright blue gaze to the second man, and while she knew it may be her undoing, Inaris did not hesitate. Her fist flew forward, smashing into the Easterling’s face. By the gods, it felt good to punch that man. He reeled back, not having expected her response. Aysun, still frozen from whatever he had done to her, stared at Inaris in horror. The Mistress smiled, the Masters nodded in approval, and the Easterlings laughed.
“Yes! Delightful! We shall take her as well.”
“You should know, she comes with certain conditions,” offered the Mistress as she bowed to the two men.
“Hmm?” The second man stopped rubbing his jaw, and reached to look behind Inaris’s ear at her brand. “I see. Well, that should not be a problem. His eyes met hers, and as his fingers lingered behind her ear a gut-wrenching pain tore through her. Cold and prickling, it raked down her limbs. Inaris tensed, but after the first second the pain quickly dissipated, and she was only aware of the power that was being tested against her.
She did not know what it was, and apparently the Easterling did not either, for he stared at her with genuine surprise. Then his lips curled in a small, cruel smile. Pulling his hand away, he lightly patted her on the cheek, and turned back to join the others as they moved to walk away.
“We would like a copy of the terms so as to not suffer you any trouble,” said the first Easterling, offering his arm to the Mistress. “Business has always been good in the past, and we would like to keep it that way.”
Their voices and footsteps faded as the group retreated. Aysun had yet to move, and Inaris considered her with a dispassionate gaze as she smoothed her hands down the front of her robe.
“I guess that means the bet is off.” Spinning on her heel, Inaris pinched Aysun’s cheek before moving to stroll away. “Have fun tonight!”