Trigger Warning: All of the following are implied in the following post, though none of it is pictured or explicit: Pedophilia, underage prostitution, rape/statutory rape, slavery/sex slavery. Again, not a happy post.
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends, I found myself further and further from my home.
Tyves 1st, 1513 – Carico estate, River Sulis, Lothianshire, Albion
“Bet? What are you doing out here?” Josh asked as he walked down the stairs toward the stables where the two horses he asked to be saddled were waiting for him.
“Are you going somewhere?” Elizabet asked, without answering.
“Do you need me to stay?” He’d figure out some way to do it, if Elizabet were in trouble or having one of those feelings again. He didn’t quite know how, but he would. His “plans” for the evening could go hang, especially as he didn’t want to go at all.
“Nope. Just wondering why you have two horses saddled, there’s only one of you…” She turned toward him with a grin. “It’s a bit late for a ride isn’t it? I mean unless it’s supposed to be a moonlight ride with someone pretty.” She clasped her hands together under her chin and fluttered her lashes at him.
“No, I’m going to go throw myself on Darin’s mercy.” Josh rolled his eyes, stepping forward to smooth the saddle blanket hanging on Shade. “I’ve got–something I have to go do and I don’t want to go do it alone.” He added after a moment.
“Oh, well, it’s still with someone pretty.” Elizabet gave her best romance heroine sigh. He shook his head.
“Aren’t you too young to be noticing if my friends are pretty or not?” Josh asked. Elizabet stuck her tongue out at him.
“In case you didn’t notice, dear brother, I will be turning twelve next month. That would mean it’s time for father to step up the ol’ husband hunt. So, if society says I’m almost old enough to start looking for a future husband, I’m probably old enough to notice how your friends look.” Elizabet pointed out with that razor-sharp logic that never particularly failed to skewer him. “Besides, pretty is an aesthetic thing. I don’t think you have to necessarily want to bed someone to know if they’re pretty or not.”
“You are in an amazingly good mood tonight, Bet. Should I be afraid for snakes in my bed?” Josh teased, however it was true. Usually Elizabet was nowhere near this jocular.
“Apparently you haven’t heard then. Goody! Father is going to Camelot for a full month at court. He leaves Monday and won’t be back until my birthday, I think.” Elizabet rocked up onto her toes and did a pirouette.
“You’re not sure if he leaves Monday or if he’ll be back for your birthday?” Josh asked. Though that totally explained Elizabet’s mood. The whole household from their mother straight down to the lowest servant breathed just a little easier when Jayson was–elsewhere, especially for a long period of time, but no one more than he and Elizabet.
“He leaves Monday, I imagine he’ll be back for my birthday.” Elizabet said shaking her head. “Though if the Lord Wright were listening, a freak summer blizzard in Seryl that kept father away until after whatever Wright-awful extravaganza mother is planning to celebrate my birth would be the cream.”
“I think that’s asking a bit much, even for the Lord Wright, Bet.” Josh pointed out.
“Drat.” Elizabet sighed. “Well, maybe a rainstorm. Something that washes out a bridge or something.” Josh chuckled.
“But I’m keeping you from that something you don’t really want to do, aren’t I?” Elizabet asked. Josh nodded reluctantly. “Well, who knows, maybe it’ll go better than you expect.” She shrugged and grinned before hugging him around the waist and running off toward the house.
Outskirts of River Sulis
A hard knock on the door almost made Darin jump. He had been reading a book that Father Valen had lent him about the first Duchess of Orkney, Lady Morgause. It had been written by a contemporary of hers, but as it had been published under a pseudonym there was some controversy as to who had actually written it. The leading candidate in current analysis was Lady Guinevere. But Father Valen had told him that he thought that if the first duchess of Avilion were going to pen all about Morgause, she’d have put her name right at the front of it.
Others believed that it might have been St. Galahad, but again that was suspect, he also would have written under his own name more than likely, considering the heretical nature of some of his treatises. Plus, most of Galahad’s writings were written in such an enthusiastic, bright tone, as if there were just this wealth of knowledge inside his head that he had to share. Even as he had grown older and perhaps more jaded, certainly more world-weary, that tone hadn’t changed.
Valen had suggested, and Darin, after a few chapters, tended to agree, that it might well have been written by Lady Dindrane. It lined up rather well with some of the lady’s other writings in tone and personality, plus there were certain references that indicated that the author had had a true and honest fear of the woman. The fear that might have come from actually having lived with the woman? That was what Father Valen had thought.
He set the book on the table, unable restrain a shiver as he did it, even though he was fairly certain that it wasn’t Lady Morgause at his door.
“Josh?” Darin’s eyebrow crept up toward his hairline. “What are you doing here?” Josh turned around and offered him a smile.
“Throwing myself on your mercy.” Josh pulled his bottom lip in between his teeth and grimaced.
“Oh, Wright, what now?” Darin asked. If this is another pubcrawl, I’m staying home.
“I have to–I’m supposed to meet someone at this–pub over in Reme and–I just don’t know that I can handle meeting this person and going there on my own.” Josh said to his knuckles, which Darin noticed, even in the faint light of the moon, were whiter than usual.
There were all sorts of questions that were running through his head–questions and jibes at Josh’s sanity–but somehow he couldn’t seem to make himself ask them. “It’s not–like Marcinak–is it?”
“You wouldn’t say so,” Josh told him, something flashing through his eyes to quick for Darin to read.
“Um, okay.” Darin shrugged.
“That blue suit you got, could you wear it?” Well, obviously, as the suit was by far the nicest thing in Darin’s wardrobe, even including his Academy uniform, this was no run of the mill sort of pub.
Cats – Ignisward, Santa Bella, Reme
Darin could count how many times he’d been over the border into Reme on one hand and still have a few fingers left over. If you’d asked him, going over the border in the middle of the night with a nobleman who was getting twitchier the further they went wouldn’t have been the way he’d have chosen to do it again.
Joshua had been very quiet as they rode, which, they weren’t like Severus who always had to have conversation going, but they usually weren’t this quiet. And the quiet hadn’t helped Darin any either, because it left him a good hour and a half to brood over what the hell he was doing going to a pub–in Reme–to meet with a guy that Darin wouldn’t classify as a thug, but the way Joshua said it sort of implied that he thought that whomever they were meeting probably was one–in the middle of the night.
Hopefully it they got murdered, Joshua had told someone, maybe his sister? that he was going and that he was taking Darin with him. Elizabet would probably remember to tell Sara-Beth that Darin was dead and buried in some town over the border. He hoped.
Joshua reined in his horse in front of a building that wasn’t much different than any of the other buildings on the block, light poured out from the two open archway doors on either side of an impressive wooden gate and started to dismount. Darin did the same, sliding awkwardly out of the saddle with care for the suit.
“Do you know where we are?” Joshua asked Darin, who looked back at him like he was insane.
“Reme?” Darin asked. He wasn’t so good with linking geography from a map up with physical geography and all of the towns along the border seemed to be Santa something-or-others. Josh gestured over his shoulder at the building.
“I meant what this place is.” Joshua said, crossing his arms and leaning them on his saddle.
“Nope.” Darin shook his head.
“If I told you we were at Cats would that mean anything to you?” Darin thought for a moment. It sounded familiar but he couldn’t have said where he’d heard it before or in what context, so he shook his head again. “Okay.” Joshua said before freezing like he was a mouse who’d just spotted a cat. Darin swung his head in the direction Joshua was looking in, but all he saw was a man who’d walked out of one of those archways that seemed to lead into some sort of shop.
“Isn’t that your father’s steward?” Darin asked in a low voice. Joshua nodded before dropping Shade’s reins into the hand of a young boy who skittered up. There was something odd about the boy’s face, but Darin couldn’t make out what it was in the dim light. The blonde boy obviously steeled himself with a couple deep breaths as Darin turned Reaper over to the boy as well. “Are we here to meet up with him?” Darin asked. Joshua nodded again.
“Okay.” Darin said as the stableboy lead the horses away.
“Joshua.” Masen Cox’s eyes flickered over Darin, eyebrow quirking upward.
“After you.” Joshua said, saying nothing about Darin or offering no introductions. Cox pushed open the gate into a richly appointed courtyard. There were several couches in the curved style favored by the Remans, snowy marble covered in rich red striped cushions. Seated on one of them, there were two girls, both an identical shade of blonde, but if their brows were any indications, the color wasn’t natural.
The one in red was probably ten, the other, in blue, maybe six. She turned to look up at the three men, showing that her face was as fully painted as a Gaulish belle for a fete. The red, red lips obviously not natural and the rouge on her cheeks heavy. There was fear in her eyes, he could see it, even as she coquettishly kicked her feet out.
Both girls were dressed in short dresses with what looked like ruffled breeches underneath, there was nothing wrong with the style, but there was something wrong with the whole thing, especially paired with the hair and cosmetics. He wished he could ask Joshua about it, but there was no time to for Cox was leading them toward a second gate.
In this courtyard there were more marble benches, one occupied by a woman dressed a green satin corset, chemise and petticoats. Darin shot Joshua an alarmed look as the blue haired woman stood up and greeted Cox with a kiss on each cheek. “Lord Masen.” She smiled sunnily. “Lord Joshua and–er” She stumbled to a stop when she saw Darin, to cover it she simply turned.
“Calico is waiting for you as you requested, Lord Masen, follow me, please.” Her Albionese was accented heavily and he’d have laid money that her Reman wasn’t spoken with the local accent. There was an older lady he’d done odd jobs for for pocket money who was from somewhere on the western coast of Reme that had the same sort of accent.
“Thank you, Miss Tabby.” Cox said. They passed through an arch and into a brightly lit public room that was scattered with well dressed men, drinking wine and munching exotic fruit while dicing or playing cards.
A young girl with hair the color of poppies–didn’t anyone in this place have a natural hair color?–greeted Cox the same way Miss Tabby had. She turned to lead him up the stairs in the corner of the room.
Miss Tabby turned to Joshua. “Lord Joshua, please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you–or your guest.”
“A glass of wine perhaps.” Joshua said. “But that’s all at this time, thank you.” Joshua indicated with his head the nearest table to the door and Darin sat down. Josh following suit a moment later as Tabby went off, probably in search of that wine.
“Joshua, is–is this place what I think it is?” Darin asked, watching the brightly haired employees hurrying through the public room, a young woman or young man would come to the bottom of the stairs and one of the richly dressed men around would follow them up the stairs.
It wasn’t that they were in a brothel that set the hair on the back of Darin’s neck on end. He’d been in a few brothels before, though never outside the public rooms, it was everything else about the place…
Joshua nodded and glanced away at the table top. As before, he felt about five billion questions piling up, but he couldn’t voice any of them.
Then the boy–the one that Darin had thought was just a stableboy, came running into the room–in the bright light he could see that like the girls in the atrium–the boy’s hair was bleached blonde and his face was painted. He headed up the stairs at a run and a moment later, a stick thin man dressed in the black robes of a judge stood up and headed for the stairs.
At first, Darin thought maybe the man was going to “meet” the young man who’d just come down, hair dyed a brilliant teal, but the judge walked past him and went up the stairs in the wake of boy.
Darin was going to be sick in about half a second. “I am so sorry, Darin.” Joshua said from across the table, though it was quiet enough that probably only Darin heard him.
“How–,” Joshua looked around at the other men, the ones who didn’t seem to respond at all to the idea of a graybeard and judge going upstairs with a boy that age, and Darin’s question fell off.
“I didn’t–I thought, look, we’ll–talk about it later. I–I promise, later.” Joshua’s hands shook and Darin could only nod. Then Josh started talking about a lecture that was supposed to happen the next week at school and Darin fell into the pantomime that everything was all right as if it had all been rehearsed ahead of time.
Shrine of St. Betsy, River Sulis, Lothianshire, Albion
After they’d left the brothel, they’d ridden back to Albion in silence, but given that Cox had been just ahead of them on the road, Darin guessed there wasn’t a lot that Joshua would be willing to say. It was only after they’d parted company–if you wanted to call it that–Joshua hadn’t said more than two words to the steward the entire time–with Cox that Joshua thawed any at all.
“I couldn’t handle going there by myself again.” Joshua said after they settled onto one of the secluded benches near the back wall of the shrine.
“Do you go there often?” Darin asked.
“More often than I’d like.” Joshua admitted. “It’s one of Cox’s preferred places of recreation–they don’t offer the right sort of services here in Albion.”
“Okay, but you’re the nobleman, he’s the steward, why do you have to go with him to some place you don’t even want to go?” Darin asked. “Can you just tell him no?”
“If he were an ordinary steward, probably. If he didn’t work for my father, maybe. But he is my father’s steward and that means I’m stuck.”
“Wait, your father knows about that place? He knows that Cox takes you to it?” Darin said, his brain feeling broken at the thought.
“I wouldn’t be surprised that he knows where Cox takes me and that he knows exactly what happens there.” Joshua clenched his fists. Darin stared at him as he flexed his fingers.
“And your father, he just lets him?” Darin gaped.
“I’m keeping Cox out of trouble.” Joshua leaned back into the bench.
“If I’m with Cox then if we somehow get caught there, it looks like he’s there with me, not me there with him. It’d all get laughed off if I’m there fucking some whore. Cox is a grown man and married, it’d be a terrible scandal.”
“Good.” Darin crossed his arms over his chest and scowled. “And those kids–they work there? How in Wright’s name is that not illegal as hell?”
“There aren’t any laws in Reme about children working in brothels.” Joshua told him. “It’s generally assumed that everyone disapproves of making whores out of children. But as far as the constables are concerned, the boys and girls who work there aren’t whores, they’re runners and work the stables and turn the spit in the kitchen.”
“Joshua,” Darin paused. “That kid-the one with the teal hair? He couldn’t be as old as we are. How is that legal? They weren’t even pretending that that boy was a stableboy! And I’m pretty sure that the girl that Cox went upstairs with is probably the same age as Vivianne Finessa.”
“If you’re buying slaves–and most of the workers there are slaves–they’re the kids of conquered territories or people who have relatives who in some way did something treasonous, it’s not that hard to convince the slavers to put seventeen on the slave bills than thirteen or fifteen for a little extra compensation.” Joshua looked as disgusted as Darin felt with a whole bunch of added bitter.
“But seventeen is still underage.”
“Here in Albion, it’s different in Reme.” Joshua sighed. “There you only have to be seventeen to work a brothel. I know.” Joshua put a hand on Darin’s arm and sighed. “I know. If it were here in Albion, I’d go picket outside the counsel chamber until the place was closed down. I would. But things are different in Reme, I’ve heard it too many times to doubt it.”
“And worst of all my father just looks the other way. Maybe–someday–when I’m Baron of River Sulis, I can put the right kind of pressure on them, get the place closed down. It won’t make it up to those kids–but–maybe…”