A Silent Game of Spies

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Ishbel

Ishbel

Ishbel stood in the entrance to her pavilion, watching as Gobin left with his two silvers and the soiled linens from her last customer.

A curious noise caught her attention just then and she glanced over her shoulder. Just then, a figure was slipping in between the outside curtains of her pavilion.

Having a pavilion that faced the open edge of Pavilion City onto the grasses had its advantages. Ishbel had been with Gobin the longest, and so, once this set of pavilions opened up, he’d snatched them, even though he admitted he overpaid at the time. But the fresh air drifted through and Ishbel could see the sun, there was less noise….

Gobin had trusted her with the open pavilion, and most of his whores, in fact, as he said, “Where are they going to go, dressed like they are?” And he was right, covered in transparent cloth only, many of them were barely literate at all and considered this the best job they could ever hope to get.

Ishbel was barely literate herself, but that didn’t stop her from wondering what happened to Gobin’s whores once they became too old to be of interest to customers. No one wanted old, rotten fruit, as he would put it….

And how would any of them attempt escape? With what money? They would need new clothes, for a start, and where would they go? Food? Pavilion City was set a fair distance away from most towns or villages.

Not that Ishbel had ever entertained the thought of escape seriously, only played it out in her mind idly. The idea really was just fanciful at best.

The downside to having a pavilion opening up to the open air was the weather. Sometimes the sunsets were unbearably brilliant, and she needed to pull down a reed blind to block the light streaming in. And naturally, inclement weather. Gobin had her pavilion reinforced with sliding wooden doors off to the side, to protect from storms and cool temperatures. Though it was so warm year around here that cool temperatures were rarely a concern.

Ishbel’s pavilion did not, however, protect against the odd individual slipping in from the outside without paying….

Eyes wide, Ishbel immediately charged around her bed to confront the individual.

But her words died on her tongue. For it was Mister Nameless. It had been nearly six weeks. Ishbel didn’t really know whether to assign him a time table or not, but six weeks appeared to be his theme.

Nameless held on to the far side pole that supported her outer pavilion, and swung about it.

Ishbel caught him and propped him up on her shoulders. At first, she thought him drunk, but the only smell about him was not of drink, but thick and coppery….

She didn’t need a Healer to tell her that was blood.

“Oh, hells below, what have you gone and done to yourself….” Ishbel dragged him over to the side of her bed and laid him down face first on the grass mat next to it.

Mister Nameless was only slightly conscious – he patted his pocket inside his vest. “Silvers. Just – in case.”

Did Ishbel really want to take money from a man who seemed to be dying on her rug? Well… Gobin might inquire. Upon occasion, men did stumble in without checking with Gobin first, but the girls always treated them the same, silvers first.

So Ishbel delicately felt about in Nameless’s vest pocket until she found the shape of two silvers. She thumped them both onto her bed and then stared down at Nameless.

“If you get me into trouble, I’m blaming it all on you. You hear me?” she told him lowly, but Ishbel doubted he heard anything.

Ishbel squatted down on the grass mat next to him and inched his black leather vest off. Sticky blood had soaked into the back of it. Ishbel shook her head but then her jaw dropped with shock when she saw the man’s back.

What had once been a non-descript colored tunic was now drenched in blood. Not much ever took Ishbel’s breath away, but she had never seen blood like this before.

With a cautious glance at her entry, she sat down onto her knees and snagged the bootknife from Nameless’s dusty boot.

Just as she peeled the shirt up from his skin to cut it in two, he whispered, “No – I need the shirt –”

“No, love, trust me, you don’t. All it is now is a bandage, if that.”

And she sliced the shirt up from its hem to its waist, where it began dripping with blood as she held it up. The shirt separated in two with a damp rip and a small spray of blood onto her thumbs. Ishbel peeled it off the man’s back, thinking at that point that it was entirely possible he might die there on her floor.

Open and gaping like fish gills, three stab wounds oozed blood slowly. Each time Nameless breathed in, they opened, exposing raw flesh, and as soon as he breathed out again, they closed, spurting forth a small trickle of blood.

“Gods, gods, gods. Who did this to you…” she whispered, more to herself that to him.

Well. What more was there than to patch him up? He’d paid her for her silence, so she couldn’t take him to a Healer.

Ishbel rumbled around in her small nightside drawer. She had a small variety of medicines, only such for what small cuts and scratches the girls might incur during the course of a customer’s visit… but nothing quite for a wound such as this. She did have some numbing ointment, however, some sweetspice…. Ah. And the needle and thread she was looking for.

Ishbel’s stitches were lousy, but stitching was the last of her interests – in her time off, she preferred just to sleep. They slept whenever they could. She forced the thread through the eye of the needle. This was going to take a lot of thread….

“My friend – I’m not going to lie to you. This is going to hurt… so you just take a bit of a nap, all right, then?” Ishbel waved some sweetspice under Nameless’s nose and he fell asleep. He was too weakened from blood loss to fight her.

Ishbel saw him pass out, then dabbed the openings of all three wounds with the numbing ointment. The Healers swore it had healing properties as well, so Ishbel would use anything she had.

She poured water in each wound as well so they wouldn’t infect, and then got to work stitching.

When finally Ishbel knotted the last wound shut and sliced the thread with the knife, she sat back on her legs, exhausted. She felt the stress drain from her body. Only luck had kept Gobin from sending in a customer, and it was still early afternoon yet. She smeared the closed wounds with more numbing ointment and then let him breathe in some more sweetspice. She couldn’t have him waking up if she had a customer.

Ishbel scrubbed the inside of Nameless’s vest of blood and dressed him in that, while she stashed his bloody shirt beneath her nighttime stand. She would dispose of that the next time Gobin sent her to run an errand.

Then she collapsed upon her bed, exhausted from stress.

About a half hour later, Gobin sent in a customer. Ten minutes into rolling about on Ishbel’s bed, he stopped.

“Ay. Who’s that?”

Damn. “Who’s who?”

“’Im. Down there. On the floor.”

“Oh. Him. Don’t need to worry about him. Here, look at me, love,” and Ishbel forced his face to look at her face. She ran her hands through his greasy hair and smiled, ignoring the drop of perspiration that dropped down on her face from his forehead above her.

“Right, right.” He calmed down and started chugging along for a minute but then stopped again. “But what’s he doin’ in here? Sleepin’? Don’t want no bloke wakin’ up when I’m in here. Paid good money to be in here.”

He sat up on his knees.

Bother. “Him? He passed out. He won’t wake. But you, dear, you’re wide awake, aren’t you…?” and Ishbel ran some sweetspice under his nose.

He blinked in sudden confusion. “I – I….”

“Yes, love, I know. It’s been two hours already. You have been amazing, really,” Ishbel stood him up and dressed him quickly before he fell over.

She walked him out of her pavilion entry. “Do come back now, we’ll give it another go!” she called after him. He was stumbling down the Pavilion pavement. He waved at Gobin as he passed.

Gobin saw Ishbel standing in her entryway. “That was… quick…?” he commented.

“He’s only got half a nut-sack. He keeps trying, he says, just in case.” Ishbel smirked at Gobin. “I gave him my best, poor man, but he wanted to leave. He was too embarrassed to stay.”

“Ah – right then.”

“Here’s my linens for you. And these.” Ishbel scooped up the man’s silvers and her linen, which she’d only had to wipe her face with.

After Gobin left, Ishbel realized belatedly that, according to some of the other whores, Gobin was a eunuch – he only bathed on days that none of his own whores would ever be present. That explained why he never fucked any of them. Perhaps, Ishbel thought, she should have chosen a different excuse….

Now that was alone again, Ishbel checked on Nameless. His wounds had seeped a bit through her stitching, so she dabbed at them with one of her linens.

Soon, Gobin brought in a new customer, and Ishbel gave him the same treatment with the sweetspice that she had the prior customer.

As soon as the second man was on his way down the Pavilion, Gobin walked up and asked, “What was wrong with that one?”

Ishbel swiped her arm across her temple as if she was exhausted. “Gobin. I’m thinking he really likes the men. You know? I even acted like a man for him? Pretended to be one for him, talked like one… but he just couldn’t, wouldn’t. And he left.” Ishbel shrugged and shook her head.

“That would make explain a lot….” Gobin stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“What’s that?”

“He said he saw a man in there.”

Ishbel stared at Gobin and threw together her best act. “Really. In here. Not yet today, there hasn’t been. Gobin, do send me a real man next time, please.”

He chortled as he strode away with his silvers and her linens.

Once she was back inside, she squatted down next to Nameless. “You’ve got to wake up, come along.”

He opened one eye. “Gobin?”

Surprised, she shook her head. “No.”

Dryly, Nameless asked, “Do you treat all your customers like that?”

“Like how?”

“Sweetspice?”

“You knew it?”

“Recognized it right off. As for me, I probably needed it. As for them…. Drugging your customers… what would Gobin say,” and he clucked his tongue.

“I only do that when I have men passed out from blood loss on my floor, so you’re quite welcome,” Ishbel admonished. “What we need to do is get you to the baths.”

“The what?” He raised himself up on his elbows and stared at her.

“Baths. Pavilion City has two natural baths here, springs. They’re supposed to be healing, but either way, you need to get those washed out, to keep infection out. And yourself washed as well, I might add.”

“And you also need a new tunic. The other is ruined, of course. I know where to get you a new one of those.”

He nodded then and told her, “Use the copper chips in my vest. Ten should be enough for a decent one.

“But these baths….”

Ishbel glanced either way outside her pavilion. No Gobin, no curious eyes….

She took Nameless’s hand and yanked him out of Gobin’s territory.

“All right. Now you can act normal. Which I don’t know yet what is normal for you, but perhaps act like these other folk…” Ishbel suggested and smiled.

Nameless snorted but grimaced at her in a ghost of a smile. She could see that he was still in an enormous amount of pain.

“Well, then, here we are –” Ishbel held open the door to her favorite place – the baths. Steam drifted toward them from inside.

“A public bathhouse. Wonderful,” muttered Nameless.

“Natural hot springs open to all bathers,” Ishbel admonished and gestured for Nameless to continue through.

Standing at the steps in the corner of the hot springs, Ishbel unfolded one of her towels and held it up between them.

His brow furrowed.

Ishbel smiled with amusement. “Well. Go on. Take it off. You don’t bathe with your clothes on, now, do you?”

Nameless glared at her over the towel barricade, then slid his boots off one by one.

She rolled her eyes upward to give the man privacy as she heard him unlacing his trousers and held the towel up a bit higher.

“You’re worried about humility? I’m impressed,” said Nameless in a wry tone. “I have a full nutsack, if you were curious, and the whole thing works just fine.”

Ishbel handed him the towel and nodded at his gest. “I might already have known that.” She smiled slyly. “How do you know I didn’t molest you while you were passed out?”

“Well, if you did, and I rose to the occasion, then I need some of that sweetspice for myself. Just a shame I don’t recall a second of it.” Nameless wrapped the towel about himself and stepped into the hot springs.

He winced once the water seeped into his wounds but immediately clenched his jaw.

“Don’t fall asleep in there,” Ishbel warned. “Can’t have you drowning. I’ll be back with your new shirt in just a bit and then we’ll dry you off.”

She chuckled a bit – for all of his objections, Nameless was sliding further down into the water, inhaling the steam, relaxing.


The clothier had raised an eyebrow at Ishbel’s purchase, given that whores rarely bought clothing, far and away men’s clothing. Ishbel told her it was a replacement for a customer for one of the other girls, and the woman’s eyes widened and she said no more.

When Ishbel returned to the baths, Nameless’s head had lolled back along the cement. She knew the feeling. If it weren’t that Gobin would come searching for her, she’d spend all day there.

But Ishbel had been gone too long already. She slipped out of her outer wrap, out of her pavilion veils, and slid into the water. Soon she had brushed her skin free of dust and swished her hair about in the water. Then Ishbel climbed out and drip-dried as quickly as she could before she donned her clothing.

She twisted excess water from her hair as she padded over to where Nameless was half-asleep and nudged him with her toe. “Time to go.” Ishbel placed his new tunic on top of his trousers and held up the towel for him again.

Nameless opened his eyes and stood up slowly. “I think my entire body is wrinkled.”

She smiled and he accepted the towel. As he wrapped himself in it, he remarked, “I see you’ve availed yourself of the water as well.”

“I have to look like I’ve been here, haven’t I?”

Nameless nodded to this. He handed her the towel, for he’d already pulled his trousers up and his boots on. As he let the tunic fall over his shoulders, he noted, “Perfect size.” He looked up at her. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I always know the sizes of my men. Occupational requirement.”

Nameless nodded a bit and then stumbled. He glanced quickly around to see if anyone had seen him.

“You, on the other hand, have an altogether different occupation, and you need an awful lot more water. And food. And rest.”

He glared at her.

“Glare at me all you like, Mister Nameless, but you should know something, I never take no for an answer. And I always get my way.” Ishbel glared at him right back until he gave up and acquiesced. “Now come along.”


Once Ishbel had fed Mister Nameless, and made him drink an enormous quantity of water, a bit of color seeped back into his face.

At this time of day, early evening, to be precise, whores in Pavilion City rarely had company. Whores in brothels were just starting their evenings, but whores in Pavilion City were winding their business day down, for merchants had left. Pavilion City did not rent rooms – there were no taverns. Merchants sold, bought, met with other merchants, whatever they came to do in Pavilion City, but by late afternoon, they were all deserting Pavilion City in droves. Many of them slept in their wagons, and many others left earlier in the day in hopes to make it the next parish, village, or town on their way.

Most Pavilion merchants closed up their wares and retired to their own pavilions after nightfall, just as any other market.

So Ishbel felt a little safer with Nameless in her pavilion now that it was early evenfall. With luck, no one else would enter.

Ishbel had lit a few lanterns and a candle or two, but otherwise, let the twilight settle her pavilion for the night. Nameless lay on the grass mat next to her bed, with a blanket and a pillow.

Propping her head up on her elbows, she looked down at him from her bed. “So… are you going to tell me how you got those knife wounds?”

“No.”

Ishbel hated curiosity. “Are you going to tell me why you got them?”

She thought she heard him smile down there on the grass mat.

“No.”

Ishbel frowned. “What about your name, Mister Nameless. Are you ever going to tell me your real name?”

“No.”

She dropped her head into her pillows. What an irritating man! She rose her legs up at the knees and dangled them around with boredom. Then she asked, “Are you ever going to tell me anything at all?”

“How about, you ask an awful lot of questions for pillow talk.”

Ishbel’s mouth fell open. “You. You. You are really a – a rogue.”

She heard him chuckle.

He raised an upright palm in the lantern light. “I try….”

“That’s it. That’s what I’m going to call you. Rogue. That’s your name from now on. Rogue.”

Rogue? Not something better, like Champion, or Conqueror?”

Ishbel’s eyes narrowed. “You should be lucky I’m not calling you dead.”

He ignored that and was silent for a moment. Then he swiveled his head around to face her.

“What have you heard here? Since I was here last?”

Ishbel recalled their original agreement and looked thoughtfully down at him as flipped through the last several weeks since she’d seen him.

“Ah,” she held up a finger. “Soldiers.”

His brow furrowed over his gray eyes. “Soldiers. How do you mean. What kind, who?”

“Not for certain, that’s the odd thing. I know soldiers, they’ve all got their hair cropped and such. These soldiers, as who’ve been passing through, they’re not in uniform. None of them, at all. Oddest thing. My guess is, Stordish.”

That got his attention. “Stordish. Why would you say that?” He propped up on his elbows.

Ishbel shrugged. “I know my complexions by now. Fucked a few by now –”

“Don’t say that.”

Ishbel smiled faintly. “All right, as you say. But I know the Stordish boys, and some of these soldiers were Stordish.”

“Why, were they wearing the same colors as Storden, or…?”

“No, but…” and Ishbel trailed. She cast her eyes to the side. Finally, she said, “I recognize a Stordish tattoo when I see it. There is only one country in the Land as tattoos the head of a bloody pig on themselves….”

“It’s a boar’s head, Ishbel.”

“A boar is still a pig, Rogue. If it squeals like a pig and fucks like a pig, it’s a pig.”

He looked very much as if wanted to say something to that, but thought better of it. Then he said, “All right, so just Stordish soldiers, possibly?”

“Others, but I can’t tell. They’re soldiers, in small groups, threes and fours, sometimes larger, but never in uniform. I don’t where they’re headed or which way they’re leaving for. And I don’t know what country they’re from, which usually I’m pretty good about. They don’t look Eastern, not really, I will say that much,” Ishbel mused.

“And also, a lot of lumber.”

His grey eyes studied her. “Lumber. What do you mean, lumber?”

“I mean, Rogue, lumber. Trees. Lumber.”

He rolled his eyes. “I know where lumber comes from. Are you sure it’s lumber and not – sandalwood, or – cedar perhaps?”

Ishbel narrowed her eyes. “Do you think I’m new to this place? Look where I live. Look where I’ve been living for the last several years. I know sandalwood, I know my cedar. And I know the smell of fresh cut lumber straight from trees. I’ve no idea why it’s here, don’t know who’s selling or buying, or where it came from. But there’s been lumber passing through.

“Also,” Ishbel suddenly remembered. “Horses. A lot of them, too. They had to build on extra stalls. No idea why, or what types of horses. Maybe for Royals, breeding or such. But there’s been a lot more horseflesh in the City of late. Can’t tell you any more than that.”

She looked down at him. His eyes were closed. Ishbel listened – and she knew a man well enough to know when he was asleep for his breathing was soft and even.

Good. The gods knew he needed the rest. And she certainly did – that bloody man had turned her day upside down.

Ishbel took in a deep sigh and closed her eyes. In just instants, she was asleep.

But when she woke in the morning, all traces of him were gone… even the shirt she’d stashed beneath her nighttime table… and two silvers lay curled in her hand.

“Damn Rogue….” she murmured.

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