Aimeé, Chapter 6

Bethsany examined herself in the mirror. "I still look pretty good. Don't you think, Lilli?"

"Yes, Miss," the tall brunette encapsulated in leather responded warmly.

"Be honest, Lilli."

"At your age, Miss, you will not bring in customers except for those with certain... desires, but no matter. I wish to have your body and health when I reach your wisdom, too."

Bethsany turned around and stroked Lilli's face gently. "You say the right things, Lilli." She kissed the taller girl gently. A knock at the door interrupted her fingers' probing between Lilli's legs. "What is it?"

One of the younger girls appeared at the door. "My apologies, Miss, but Aimeé is here."

Bethsany sighed, trying not to smile simultaneously. Loving Lilli was a privilege neither one permitted often, temptation being what it was, but she also could never pass up an opportunity for kindness with Aimeé. "Lilli, will you forgive me?"

The brunette nodded. "I understand. I need some commission today anyway."

Bethsany laughed. "Forever the opportunist. That's why I like my crew. Could you let Aimeé in on your way out?"

"I will," Lilli promised, leaving slowly. As she walked out, she held the door open, revealing the small, shivering form of the girl who came to visit every week. "Aimeé! The Gods, you must be chilled to the bone from your walk. Come in, come in, please, sit down by the fire. Page, get us something warm for her to drink. Nothing with liquor, dear, just chocolate or something." The young girl who had first peeked in to announce Aimeé's presence looked in, nodded, then disappeared. Bethsany positioned Aimeé on a short, padded stool by the fire. The girl reappeared with a tray holding two steaming mugs. "Here," Bethsany said, handing one to Aimeé. "Drink. You need it. You look positively white!"

"I am sorry to distress you so, Bethsany," Aimeé said softly. "Master Teltirray is more confident of me; he says in this weather thieves do not get out so much."

"Nor should healthy young girls like yourself!" Bethsany countered. "Besides, in winter brigands need their sustenance like everyone else and with pickings slim you make a lovely target. Be careful!"

"If any such brigand were to lay a hand on me..."

"You would what?" Bethsany grinned. "Lay them low with a bolt of wizardly power? Are you to that point, my lovely Mage's student in black?"

Aimeé blushed. Bethsany cupped Aimeé's chin and pulled it up to look into her eyes. "There is nothing to be ashamed of, Aimeé. Confidence is the first measure of any success, be it in Magic or Business or Sex. But you must know your limits, too." Aimeé nodded and sipped at her drink, shrugging off her cloak and easing to the floor before the fire.

Bethsany joined her; however under her robe there was no further clothing. "Let me tell you another story, Aimeé... of what happened to me after my rescue. Is that acceptable?"

Aimeé grinned and nodded. "Please!"

Bethsany leaned back and began.

"There, there," said my rescuer as she handed me a bowl of warm soup. "You will be all right."

"Who... who are you?"

"My name is Cyl'Dia. I am a woman of Darachmod." That last word made me look up and take notice of her, Aimeé, because I had heard of Darachmod. It was a city, rumored to be in the very mountains through which my family had been riding when the bandits had attacked. She smiled tightly. "I see you have heard of us. The legends are mostly true. Drink up. I will return in a little while."

She was gone again, and only Huna and I were left together. I held onto Huna and she let me, being the only thing in my recent life that had had any stability and kindness to it. I watched the women in the camp moving about easily, seriously; there seemed to be little humor about them. Slaughtering a camp, even one filled with spirits as ugly as Styur's, could have held no glee to them.

They were all beautiful, tall, strong. All of them wore heavy armor that hid what sorts of bodies they had underneath, but as they stripped it off they revealed tightly fitted, warm clothing that showed the shapes underneath to be very obviously female. I wasn't to learn just how female until later.

Cyl'Dia returned shortly with another woman behind her. "We are returning, so your eyes must be covered until you are trustworthy. Do you understand?"

I nodded, still frightened. She reached out and stroked the dog's head for a moment. "Huna, huh? She's a good dog. What's your name?"

"Bethsany." I blurted it out as one word.

"Beth'Sany, huh?" Her voice had a curious stop indicating that she had divided my name into two parts like hers. "That's a pretty name. Beth, this is my commander, Dyn'Valas. Dyn, this is Beth'Sany, who we rescued from the centaurs."

Dyn'Valas knelt down and examined me closely. Then she smiled. "We do not kill slaves, Beth, even male ones, although we see to it that they make their way in a direction other than following us. Do you wish to come to Darachmod with us, or is there a family you want to go home to?"

I shivered. "I... I have no family. They killed them all." I managed to point down to the ruined and burning centaur village where I had spent the past months.

"All of them?" Dyn'Valas looked shocked. She recovered momentarily and said, "I understand you killed their leader rather... gruesomely."

I managed to shiver another nod. "He... he used me." I began crying, sniffling in the cold, wet of falling snow. "I wanted to get back."

She patted my head gently. "That's understandable. You want to come to Darachmod with us, then?"

I nodded. "Please."

"Cyl, make it so."

I was placed on the back of a horse and blindfolded. "Wrap your arms around me," Cyl'Dia said softly. "Reach into the jacket. Go ahead. I won't bite and it will keep your hands warm."

I did as she said, my fingers reaching in. Between my hands and her body were but one or two thin layers of cloth, and underneath it I could feel her torso. Even there her muscles were hard, rippling, strong. She was clearly a powerful woman in her own right and I envied her. I wanted to be like her.

We rode on through the day. I felt strangely at peace, Aimeé. The blindfold kept me from questioning my surroundings in any great detail and the best feelings I got at all came from Cyl'Dia, who gave me warmth and comfort and spoke to me along the way. She asked me for details of my life before the Centaurs and I gave that information freely. I enjoyed my talks with her; they meant much to me. After so many months of nothing but drudgery in the day and cruelty at night, a voice of kindness was something to hold onto.

We mostly spoke of my life. Not as if hers didn't have as much for discussing, but as if she held back on discussing it at all until we reached her city.

A hollow sound surrounded her voice and the sounds of horses. The dry, winter smell was replaced with a slight staleness and I recognized that we entered a tunnel. No-one spoke a word until the air returned to the bright coldness of winter. "Cyl'Dia, you are excused from your duties to take Beth'Sany to the chirgeon. See to it that she is looked after and then, I will find you this evening at your home."

"Thank you, my lady," Cyl'Dia replied. "Beth, you may remove your blindfold now."

I did, getting my first glimpse of the city of Darachmod. It was a large, walled square with houses scattered according to a pattern. On each wall was a large, rectangular building built up against the wall, and the houses and other buildings seemed clustered around those. The center of the town was very open. Each building was carefully regimental in construction, pleasing to the eye, ordered. Cyl'Dia led the horse into a stable where girls about my age took the horse and gave it blanketing, food, and water. "Come," Cyl'Dia said to me softly. "I will show you the chirgeon, and then to home."

The chirgeon was a kind, elderly woman who looked me over carefully, taking special care to examine my eyes, tongue, and sex. "She has suffered no permanent harm," she finally assured Cyl'Dia. "She needs proper food and a bath, however. This thinness is not natural for her."

"Senva?" Cyl'Dia asked, or at least I thought asked, the doctor. It was not a word I knew.

"No, no, not quite. A healthy middle, I think. Bengesk."

Cyl'Dia smiled and nodded, but her smile was tainted slightly with sadness. "I understand. Thank you, Chire."

"My pleasure. It was sweet to meet you, Beth'Sany."

Cyl'Dia lifted me into her arms again and Huna followed us out into the streets. We made our way into a small home off a side street. Once inside, another girl about my age came running up. "Cyl!"

"Myr!" she shouted, straining to hold me with one arm while with the other gathering the girl into her clasp. "Oh, it's so good to see you!"

"Are you... are you home, finally?" Myr asked. "Who's this?"

"Myr'Dia'Nan, meet Beth'Sany. We found her with the centaurs as their unwilling slave."

"Unwilling?" Myr seemed to recoil. "You mean, they didn't give you a choice?"

"Slaves don't get choices," I sighed.

"Some do," Myr assured me. "I do." The revelation that Myr was a slave frightened me. That she was Cyl'Dia's slave stunned me. The fear in me grew immense and suddenly I was fighting Cyl'Dia, slapping at her. But she still wore the protective padding that went with her armor and I was doing little more than getting her attention. She dropped me, however, in my squirming, and I retreated across cluttered room to kneel against the wall by the fire. I expected Cyl'Dia to confront me, but instead Myr did. "Wait, you don't understand. I want to be here."

I looked up at her, disbelieving. "You... you want to be here?"

Myr nodded, smiling in unmistakable pleasure. "Cyl is my beloved, Beth. But I have not the will or control to be a good and equal lover, Beth. Someday, maybe, I will, but until that day I... I accept her yoke of power. Maybe I never will."

"That's not right," Beth said.

"Oh?" Myr asked. "I am not a child anymore." She blushed, looking ashamed. "But I do not want to be unprotected. Cyl'Dia gives me protection. I agree to that."

"And punishment?"

"If I have been bad, yes. I could leave Cyl at any time, but I'm not sure what I would do if that happens."

Cyl'Dia stood behind Myr, stroking the younger girl's hair with her hand. "You're getting there, Myr. You are confident in your slavery, at any rate." She looked up at me. "Some women, such as Myr, want someone to push them into adulthood. Others simply find their pleasure in another's power and stay there all their lives. And some, like myself, find our pleasure in being that source of pleasure."

"And having your wants met," Myr said.

"That, too," Cyl'Dia smiled. "I expect none of this, Beth'Sany, from you. You are my guest until the Spring. You can be whatever you want... except lazy, I suppose. Whether for my reasons or your own, you will have to aid in the carrying of food and water, cleaning, and chopping of wood. I hope that's acceptable?"

I nodded, still a little frightened by the revelation that Darachmod, the city of women, still kept women as slaves. "I understand what is necessary," I said.

"Good," Cyl'Dia replied. "Now, let me show you your bed. You'll be sleeping in Myr's room, an arrangement she does agree to, right?"

"Oh, yes!" Myr replied, grinning. "Easily!"

"Good. Then you get her bedding ready. I have to go meet with Captain Dyn'Valas." She stood up again and left, taking a long-coat off the rack as she did so.

"Now, come with me," Myr said. "And I'll show you to your room."

The house Cyl'Dia lived in was a large space broken up into rooms by taut expanses of white cloth stretched over frames of wood. They let light through easily, and I could see shadows and the flickering of lantern light from those rooms that had them on the backdrops of the cloth. Some of the frames slid to allow passage. Through one, Myr led me down a short hallway and into another room with such a frame. Inside, the room was large enough for three or four people to sleep in comfortably. She had a chest for her possessions. I had to step up to get in, though, because the floor of the bedroom was a wooden platform raised almost a foot and half off the floor. "I'm sure Cyl will get you one of your own. Now, wait here while I get you some bedding. It's sure to get colder yet."

Myr left me alone for a moment, for the first time since my rescue at the hands of these women. I stopped to take stock of my situation, feeling disoriented. I was alive; I had people who seemed safe enough. I had a sense of comfort for once that was unlike any other. Myr returned with a bundle of cloth that hid her face from my view until she dropped it on the floor. "Fhew!" she sighed. "Heavy. And now we have to get the metal, too."

"Metal?" I asked.

"I'll show you," she assured me. "Come. I'll need help with this."

I followed her into another room with more large chests. "There." She opened one chest and handed me some metallic slats, about three feet long and five inches wide, a little less than an inch thick. We made several trips of these back and forth to the bedroom. "What are these?"

"Sleeping slats," she replied. She pointed to a spot of floor where wooden slats the same size as the metal ones we had carried were laid into the floor. With a knife she pried them loose and tossed them aside, fitting the metallic ones in one at a time. "Heat flows through metal much easier than it does through wood, see?" She said. "At night, before bed, we place coals on the floor underneath in these." She held up a metallic pan with a lid. "These put out heat that flows up into the metal, and then into our bodies, so we stay warm."

I did not understand. "Does the heat know where the metal is?"

"I don't know," Myr said. "It's magic to me." I nodded. "Come, let's put the wooden slats away and get two more coal pans for you. One for your legs and one for your shoulders. That's about where they should go. There are traps in the floor for you to put them down. See?" She pointed. I did. We gathered the slats and put them away. By the time we were completing our duties, Cyl'Dia returned.

"I see you two are almost done. Good. Myr, take one of the chests for Beth." She sat down on the steps of the bedroom. "I have good news, Beth. It is the opinion of our Captain that you may stay here as long as you desire, but it is also her opinion that that will not be forever. As long as you provide your fair share of work, however, you are welcome here in whatever position you wish to fulfill."

I nodded, unsure of what to say or do next. Cyl answered that for me by holding her arms out. "Come and hug me."

Which I did, gratefully, throwing myself against her and feeling those protective arms wrap around me. I was still frightened, Aimeé, still scared of a future without my family, a future I did not know. One that hardly seemed to lead to where I am today!

That night, as I settled down to sleep, I was to get my initiation in another woman's arms. I had anticipated Cyl'Dia being the one. Yes, I think anticipated was the correct term. I wanted to make love with her, truly. I know that I was misunderstanding my need for protection, my joy at being saved, with the painful sensuality Styur had awakened within me, and I wanted to share myself with Cyl the only way I had known how for month.

But no, it was Myr who started that. That first night as I lay in my bed I was haunted by memories of the dead Styur, fearing his return from the grave, the touch of his ghost, come searching for the girl who stole his sex.

I must have made noise because I remember fighting a hand on my shoulder only to wake up and find Myr kneeling by my bedside in only her nightclothes. "Beth! Beth, you must wake up!"


"Beth, you're having a nightmare! Wake up!"

I finally came to my sense, sitting up and taking stock. I was still in the same place; most of the lights were banked low and I could barely see. Only one lantern was lit fully, and that in the front room with the tables and kitchen; suffused through several layers of cloth it barely lit Myr's features.

I managed to speak. "I... I was remembering the Centaurs. It was... horrible."

"I can't imagine. Forcing you to be something you are not." Myr shook her head. "Do you want someone to be with you for a while?"

I thought about it, then nodded. "If you want to stay with me, I'd like that."

"Good," Myr smiled. She walked back to her bedding and grabbed her pillow and a blanket, pulling them over to my side of the room. The pillow fell down by my head, and then the blanket covered me. I didn't even know what to say as she crawled into bed beside me; this was not what I had anticipated. Almost immediately I warmed to her presence, literally and figuratively. The softness of her body pressed against mine, even through our two layers of bedclothes, put me at ease. Here, at least, was something I was familiar with, the feel of a woman's body. I snuggled up close to her out of instinct.

Her hands wrapped around me, touching me. I held onto her close, and much to her disappointment, I'm sure, I fell asleep against her.

When I awoke, she was still lying against me. Her eyes were closed, and her mouth was open. I could see her tiny pink tongue filling her mouth, her upper teeth clearly exposed and just the lower ridges visible under her full lips. Her breath was ripe, as is everyone's in the morning, male or female. Trust me on that one, dear.

Extracting myself from her grip carefully, I rose and dressed in heavier robes, then made my way to the front of Cyl'Dia's home to stoke the fire back to life. As I was moving wood into the stove for warmth, Cyl'Dia herself came out into the living room. Instead of wearing clothes, however, she came out naked, her nipples pointed and crinkling in the cold December air. "You've started a fire," she sighed, smiling. "Bless you, lovely Beth. I saw that you and Myr had gotten closer than I anticipated last night. Was that a practical or a friendly thing?"

"Practical. She warmed me and kept the nightmares away."

"I see." Cyl opened the door and with a staff knocked some snow from the roof into a bowl, then placed the bowl on the fire. "In that low set of drawers to your left, Beth, you will find a drawstring bag with some strong-smelling herbs in it. Bring it here."

I did as she requested, not sure yet of my position in the household. She poured some of the herbs into a smaller bag and tossed the bag into the warming water. The bittersweet scent of the herbs filled the front room and. "There. If the smell of taba doesn't wake Myr up, she must surely be dead." She was correct; only minutes later Myr came running into the front room and fell to her knees by Cyl's side, placing her head in Cyl's lap. "See?"

"What?" Myr asked, looking up.

"I was telling Beth that the smell of taba was a Myr- summoning spell."

Myr smiled. "It does smell good."

"Yes. Myr, fetch us cups."

Myr did as she was told, pouring drinking mugs full of the strange liquid. I drank it; it was strong in flavor, bitter and hard to swallow without honey to aid the taste, but I did drink it. It made me feel much more awake, banishing the sense of sleepiness that went with waking up.

"Beth, Myr, please get dressed. We must introduce Beth to the council, make arrangements for her staying, and the like. And, I think I would like a bath today. Myr, you may join me, and Beth, if you feel you would like to you may as well."

"What... what does that mean?"

"I'll explain," Myr said. "Come, dress."

The council consisted of six crones, really, who examined me and determined by some criteria I was not privy to that I could stay amongst them. It was all very formal, a passing about of swords and a handling of spears and a singing of flutes and all that. Nothing I was really interested in.

She led me to one of the buildings along the wall of the city. Women passing us, all wrapped as tightly in robes and cloaks and warming jackets as we were, nodded as we walked by, smiling contentedly. We walked into heavy granite halls and through a swinging door. Inside, the heat hit us quickly. "In here," Cyl said, pulling me into a closed room off the side. "Undress."

I hung up my cloak, and Myr began undoing the belt about my waist. I helped back, and Cyl watched with amusement as we competed gigglingly to see who could take whose clothes off first.

"Okay, girls," she said. "Come with me. Myr, behave. I know how much you enjoy the baths but this is Beth's day."

"Yes, Miss," Myr said, pouting and grinning simultaneously.

The "baths" were six round, wooden tubs, each over five feet tall, steam rising from them. Women lazed in them slowly, sometimes splashing, some very affectionate to one another. "We discovered these when we took over this city; at the time a tribe of barbarians were using these hovels as caves. No, we did not build this place, although we have turned it into a paradise." Cyl grinned as she walked around one of them. "Come," she said, holding out a hand. I followed her and walked up the steps she indicated and climbed into the water of the tub. Five other women floated in the water with Cyl, Myr, and me. After spending the day feeling as if I was freezing, the intense heat of the hot spring water soaked through me straight to the bone. "Beth, come meet the others," Cyl said, interrupting my momentary appreciation of their "paradise."

I looked up as she introduced them. She gave a name for each one, but none of the names "stuck" to me; I didn't catch the names very well at all. It didn't matter. They nodded, and I nodded back.

At first, all I did was soak, allowing the heat to pour into me. But after a while, motionlessness became boring. I'm a person who feels the need to move, Aimeé. So I did, opening my eyes and looking at the seven women who shared my tub with me. All of them were beautiful and all of them were strong. I felt safe here; I felt as if nobody would touch me the way Styur had touched me, at least not without my permission. That made me want to be touched, though.

I didn't have to wait. A hand touched my thigh briefly, then slid away. From the light motion on water I recognized it as Myr's. I smiled at her and she blushed. She eased through the water until she sat next to men, then whispered in my ear "Do you want me to?"

Suddenly I was afraid to say yes. Although I did want her to, I didn't know how to tell her. I'd never been taught how. Cyl saved us both by leaning over and whispering in my other ear, "You have permission to say 'Yes.'"

I looked in her face; she smiled at me patiently. I turned to Myr and said, whispering, "Yes." Her eyes alighted as she closed the distance between our faces, her lips pursed slightly to reach out to mine. They touched...

I tell you, Aimeé, I shall never forget that kiss. Nor the feel of her hand as it glided over my body. I nearly fainted with pleasure. As her palm cupped my breast, I felt other hands reach out and surround me. Slowly these women lifted me until I no longer rested against the wood of the tub, but instead lay in their arms, across their out-stretched legs. I didn't have to move, Aimeé; like a rag, their hands touched me, stroked me, warmed me and relaxed me.

I felt their soft, feminine hands, so unlike the cruelty of the Centaur Styur who had mistreated me for so months. Myr's sweet lips grasped my own lower and pulled playfully, the smile in her eyes and mouth unmistakable. I could see... she liked me, Aimeé, and she was happy to have a new friend like me. We kissed again, my senses roiling from the loving touch still swirling about me.

I didn't know what to say. "Don't say anything," Myr whispered in my ear, as if hearing my thought. Her lips kissed me yet again; this time I closed my eyes and wished on her kiss, wishing for a future like this, one with pleasures unending.

Her mouth opened just a little and I felt shocked as her tongue touched my lips. I didn't know what to do. It pressed gently between them, as if seeking entrance. I finally let her in, parting my lips just a little. If I had been shocked before, it was nothing like this, Aimeé! The... the intimacy of it, the unbelievable pleasure of it, is still indescribable.

I became shocked into action at the feel of warm, slim hands sliding between my thighs. Myr's hand was still cupping my breast as her mouth and mine caressed one another in small, playful circles. I reached out with both my tongue and my hands, reaching out to caress her tongue, pressed my hands against the bodies of women I did not know. Their hands touched back; I felt reassuring fingertips glide along the backs of my arms and up over my shoulders. When Myr stopped her kiss the smiled down at me, I looked around quickly at the women who surrounded us. They were all different; some were old and some were young, some looked so soft and others so hard, Aimeé. They were all women, and they were all here to love me.

I'm sorry; I guess I get carried away. It's hard not to, even for me, even after all this experience running a brothel. They were all beautiful, Aimeé, and I think that's why I run such a wonderful brothel-- I know how to get beauty out of a woman who wants to be beautiful, no matter how she comes to me. I know how to see it and how to enhance it. And I know whom to show it to.

As they touched me, the hands became bolder. But always Myr, Cyl'Dia's slave, was allowed to lead the way. Her hand over my teat slid down my belly and over my furred mound, sliding over and cupping my entire cunt the way it had my breast. This, strangely, didn't surprise me so much. I was ready for it, for since this had begun I had been longing for it. Craving to be touched there, touched by someone who had given me permission to give permission for it, and would respect me if I took that permission away. I craved... love. Does that make sense, Aimeé, to be given the authority to give permission and to take it away? It was truly a first for me. I looked around at the faces of the women again, some smiling, some intent, and finally I whispered, again, "Yes. Yes, Myr. Yes."

Her eyes glowed as one finger slid down between the lips of my cunt. I could feel those thick walls touching her finger, grasping her. I imagined they were trying to pull her inside, and I could feel that she wanted to go, for her finger bent at the knuckle and suddenly it slid into me.

I found myself holding my breath and closing my eyes, seeing nothing and doing nothing but feeling, Aimeé, feeling that finger slowly slide into me. Not like Styur, not one monstrous blunt cruel weapon, but a gentle finger, one that knew the insides of a woman because it belonged not only to a woman, but to one I was desperately losing my heart to. The finger touched me inside, touching me in places where no gentle touch had ever been. It turned slowly, feeling me thoroughly, learning me inside and out. As she touched me, I heard a soft motion of water and felt warm breath above my mouth. I opened my eyes. Myr hovered above me, and then she lowered her mouth and kissed me again.

I was lost to her completely. Our kiss was probably the most passionate yet, a total abandonment of myself and my dignity. To Neret with my dignity, Aimeé, one should not be reserved in moments like that. The women slowly lifted me to the water's surface, and as Myr slid down my chin with her kisses I leaned back and closed my eyes again. Someone placed their hands under my head, holding it above water that I might breathe.

Myr's warm kisses touched my neck and finally, for one brief moment, enclosed the nipple of my breast. Then she vanished beneath the water. She reappeared between my legs, parting them slowly with her hands to open me, expose me.

And then, as if the pleasures before had not been enough, she kissed my mound. At first, I felt the breath of her nose against my skin, and the press of her lips to my pubic hair, and finally the touch of her tongue against my lips. I moaned aloud once more as her mouth pressed to my folds, opening me, exposing me for her tasting. I thought I would die, and die happy, at that moment. I felt heat flood my groin and fluid flood my channel, neither water nor menses. I merely wished for more.

She gave me what I wished for as her tongue pressed and opened, licked and demanded. The women held my legs open. Not against my will, but because of it; I had given my permission to Myr, almost to do what she would, and they were here to assist in that permission.

It was simply... indescribable. I am an old woman now, Aimeé, and still I cannot forget that night. Her tongue pressed in deepwards and downwards. I wished for more. She found those places in my body that few men can, where the pleasure is simply far too much for even an old body like mine to withstand.

She gave me everything I wished for. When I climaxed, Aimeé, I screamed so loud every woman in the room knew what transpired in our tub if they did not already. The women held me, restrained me, kept me from kicking Myr or myself, from hurting any one of them.

Myr ceased her kisses, picking her head up to appraise me. I reached out for her, my hands trembling without knowing what to do next. She was just out of reach, and my hand slid down her water- slicked skin, for just a moment touching her breast. She tapped the arm of the woman to my right, and they slowly lowered me back into the water, releasing me.

I grabbed her and held her tight, and then, finally, I cried. Not like I had the first night when Dyn and Cyl had spoken to me, but total, utter abandonment to tears. It was the most important moment of my life, Aimeé, because it taught me the most important lesson I had ever learned; that to leave an old life behind, one must cry it out. One must put it into tears and squeeze it from the body.

Myr held me, and finally all the women closed around us, arms linked, bodies holding. Among the seven were girls as old as I to crones many decades my senior. All held me, all touched me. And finally, finally, Aimeé, I was finished.

Myr petted my hair gently. "Are you well, Beth'Sany?"

I nodded. "Yes, Myr. I am. In your arms, I am."

"Mistress Cyl?" Myr asked, her tone confused.

Cyl'Dia reached down and petted both our heads. "Beth'Sany, you are accepted, and you may stay a friend in my household forever if you so need."

Blinking through the tears, I didn't know what to say, other than "Thank you." I reached out for her, and she allowed me to pull her into my embrace. Warrior, slave, and refugee. I imagine we made a strange household, even then. But for me, for Cyl, and for Myr, it was to be a working, loving house for many years.

Silence reigned in the small parlor room for a moment. Aimeé seemed to realize it was her turn to speak. "What happened to you and Myr?"

Beth's smile was tinged with an intense sorrow. "That is another tale for another day, Aimeé. Not even the next lesson, but the one beyond that, I will tell you of sadness that not even love can save." She stood up slowly. "I see I have managed to pull one of Master Darynn's tricks. I have kept you much past your usual appointed time simply because rather than a lesson, I chose to tell you tales. Come, on with the cloak; although the snows have stopped it is still very cold out."

Aimeé followed Bethsany's directions, collecting up her lesson books and pulling on her cloak. She looked up at Bethsany. "Thank you."

"Nonsense, child. It's my job. That it is all true simply makes the telling seem richer. And it's good that this old sack of bones relive her happinesses once in a while. Good night, Aimeé. Give my regards to Master Darynn when you see him later this week."

"I shall. Good night, Madame Bethsany."