Uncle Hyena (unclehyena) wrote,
Uncle Hyena

Whores and Monsters

Another Zhanh story, written while considering rewriting all of the Zhanh stories in the first person, and therefore trying to get to know Zhanh's voice.

Whores and Monsters

When I was an apprentice, my master hammered Ethics into my head. When I asked him why it mattered, he said that someday I was going to have an opportunity to become a monster, and he wanted to make sure I turned it down. This confused me, but I always remembered it.

Military whores consume a lot of healing magic; it is a fact of life. In my regiment, this meant that they came to me. In the mornings, the regimental healers dealt with the bed-ridden which exhausted the one-to-a-platoon hedge wizards. There was also a guild-trained sorcerer for every company, but since all of those except me were newly minted journeymen who were working off indentures, and did their best to exhaust themselves with one large spell a day, they were exhausted by noon as well. Since I was the only healer in the regiment who had both guild training and an actual desire to heal, people who needed healing in the afternoon, when the ambulatory patients showed up, came to me.

Camp follower economics was an arcane and convoluted discipline. They drew pay as junior infantrymen, and they were organized into a (chronically short-handed) platoon, under the command of a sergeant-major who drew pay as an officer and claimed to have serviced more than a hundred thousand men in her day. Since the girls provided a service for which there was nearly infinite demand, a rationing program had mutated into a dizzying morass of charge, counter-charge, and gratuity. It was rumored that the whore's semi-mythical bank held more coin than the regimental payroll.

I got on well with the girls, but have never been terribly fond of patronizing whores. The system that evolved was that I flirted with the girls (which I would have done, anyway), and generally suggested that if they came by at the end of my day, I would treat them to dinner, since officer's food was better than what they usually got. In practice, this meant that every now and then, a girl would visit me for dinner, spend a few hours entertaining me, and then go back for her usual evening shift. It was all very friendly and informal, and worked very well for quite a while.

I didn't exactly notice instantly when I broke through to third level as a sorcerer; there was no flash of lightning, no comet in the sky, no heavenly choir. One morning, the first spell I cast was significantly easier and more effective than I expected it to be, and I wondered why. The second spell was similarly easy and effective, and I grew suspicious. With the third spell, I knew. I didn't tell anyone but Fiddler; the other sorcerers didn't care, and no one else would have understood. I went about my business.

I suspect that I deliberately avoided noticing that every girl I flirted with after that ended up in my bed, at least until two of them showed up for supper at the same time. They started to fight, I told them to stop, and they STOPPED. I told them to stand on one leg, and they both did. I hosted them to dinner, then walked them back to their quarters and had a talk with Sergeant Mathilda. We arranged that one of the girls would come to my tent for dinner and entertainment once a week, and then I went back to my tent. The change in circumstances made me sad.

The sadness quickly metamorphsed into something larger as the implications sank in. People who had no magical defenses could no longer say no to me. At all. Ever. I was on the cusp of becoming the monster Grezhakh had warned me about. I had no nightmares than night, because I didn't sleep at all.

Sylla showed up in the rotation a few weeks later, and then again the following week. I asked her why, and she said that she had requested it. She enjoyed my company, she enjoyed time away from the brothel, and she didn't mind losing the income from the three or four clients her time with me would cost her. I was flattered, and wasn't in a place to argue about it anyway. From then on, we spent one evening a week together.

We became friends. She helped me learn how to talk to people without accidentally giving them orders, and I taught her a bit of healing, for which she had significant talent, and a bit of magic, for which she had enough talent to become a decent hedge wizard, given time. She also developed some kind of relationship with Fiddler; I made sure that he had her consent, and then didn't interfere.

One day I was sitting in the officer's mess when the thought that I had never exercised my right to claim a soldier as a personal servant connected with Sylla. I asked some questions, talked to Sergeant Mathilda, and the healer captain, and the XO, and finally the colonel. Then I told Sylla that, if she wanted, she could combine several part time jobs - my personal servant, her duties as my "liaison" to the camp followers, and orderly for the healers - into a full time position. I told her we could add learning magical and non-magical healing, and literacy, to her duties. She accepted.

Occasionally it struck me that, if I had hired her as a servant, or an apprentice, I would never have taken her to my bed, but because she had come to me first as a whore, that always remained part of our relationship. I wondered what my old master would have thought of that.

When the war ended, the regiment was largely disbanded, though the colonel offered to keep me on as cadre. I declined; I still had an obligation to present myself to the Wizard's Guild in Khazan. I presented Sylla with three options: Go her own way, come with me, or stay with the reduced regiment as a cadre hedge wizard sergeant (I had already discussed it with the colonel). She chose the third option, and I went on my way.

I often wonder what became of her; my travels have not yet taken me back to that part of the world; no doubt someday they will.

Paul Haynie
(Start to finish!)
(Written under the title, "Military Domesticity.")
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