DargonZine 34, Issue 2

Head and Shoulders

Ober 19, 1018

“Do you really like this smell?” Racie asked.

“I do,” replied Rapinoe. “It reminds me of the woodshed at the temple where I first enrolled.”

“Woodshed?” Racie asked, her nose wrinkling. “I have never been inside a woodshed that gave me pleasant memories. What were you doing there?” She was walking just ahead of Rapinoe, swishing her mop back and forth. Her hips and shoulders swayed in time to the movement of her arms.

“I was spying,” Rapinoe replied, swishing his own mop back and forth. The unaccustomed motion was bringing sweat to his brow, which ran down his face and dripped off his chin onto his bare belly. He could see sweat running down Racie’s back as well.

“Spying?!” replied Racie with a laugh. “Who were you spying on?” Her sweat had dampened the fringes of her short dark hair, and it was plastered onto her bare neck, just above the votive letters painted in black across her bare shoulders. A single white flower, one of the last of the season, was tucked in above her bare ear.

“A woodchuck,” Rapinoe replied, flipping his mop over as he worked to allow the fragrant oil soaking the mop to better spread on the wooden surface of the large pool. Mop work was usually not on Rapinoe’s agenda, but he was always available to help out in a pinch, and the Sister had handed the mop to him instead of to the younger novices.

Racie laughed, a pleasant sound. The pair had reached the point in the tub where they had started their circuit and she stepped further out to avoid rewetting the area they had already swabbed. Her bare feet made a soft padding sound on the damp wood. “What sort of creature was this, that you were spying on it? Was it an enemy woodchuck?”

Rapinoe wiped the sweat from his brow, then wiped his hand on his bare hip. “Yes, it was an enemy woodchuck. I was spying out its movements.” He kept his eye on Racie’s hands and hips, tracking her movements so as not to collide with her or overrun her path. She was shorter than he, and he was not sure of her age. She was one of several staff assigned to clean the tubs that filled the bathhouse, and they often ended up working together on menial tasks.

“What sort of war were you waging against this woodchuck army?” Racie asked. Her movements were spare and efficient, and she was as quick as he was with the mop. It was almost a race between the two of them. As he watched her glistening body, he realized that she almost certainly had more experience with mopping than he did. His labors were usually of a different nature.

“The temple had a garden,” he replied, ”and something was stealing the plants before we could harvest them. I was set at watch to catch the creature in the act, so I hid in the shed.”

Racie gasped and stopped. She straightened and spun around, a look of shock and concern on her face. Her movement was so sudden that Rapinoe ended up colliding with her, their sweaty bodies slapping together and sticking to each other for a moment before she bounced off him. “You didn’t kill it, did you?” she asked, her hand coming to her mouth as she stumbled backward.

Rapinoe laughed and wrapped an arm around her to steady her. The oil from the mop made his grip slippery, and his arm slipped down across her back and hips. “No, I didn’t kill it,” he said as they both regained their footing. “Sister Franz just gave me some enchanted acorns and a slingshot to scare it off.”

“Did you hit it?” she asked, stepping back and wiping her hand across her backside where his arm had passed. “Did you get oil on my letters? Did you smudge me?”

“Turn around,” he said. She did, and he inspected the liturgical letters written from top to bottom across her back and thighs. He wiped some traces of oil off her, and gingerly tested one of the letters with a clean pinky. “Your letters back here are sound. How about the front?” He turned her around and looked at the script that artfully graced her from shoulder to knee.

“Nothing broken here,” she said, testing the letters on her breast, belly, and thigh.

“And yes,” Rapinoe said, “I did hit it once, square on the shanks, to send it running. Although I had to shoot four times to hit it.” He stepped back from her and positioned his mop where he had left off.

“Four times?” she asked, getting back to work with her own mop. “How long were you in that woodshed?”

“Not long. For the first three shots the woodchuck just sat there. I don’t think it even knew where the acorns were coming from.”

Racie laughed as she paced around the inside of the pool. “I can just imagine that woodchuck standing there in the garden thinking to itself, ‘where are these acorns coming from?’”

“‘And why do they smell like garlic?’”?

They both laughed, sweeping further along.


He turned to see a boy standing outside at the side of the tub where his and Racie’s robes were draped.

“What?” he answered, continuing to follow Racie.

“Brother Rimbault says that when you are done there is a toilet leaking up on the third floor.” Without even waiting for an answer, the lad spun and ran off, his own bare feet slapping on the wooden floor, black letters covering him as they did Racie.

“Enjoy the smell of the woodshed while you can,” Racie admonished, her voice lilting and playful. “The next smell will not be as pleasant.”


“Rapinoe, come here. I need you to run an errand.”

The scents of the morning, for good or evil, had long faded when Rapinoe approached the front desk. All he could smell was the humid air of the bathhouse. He racked his brain. The girl at the desk knew his name, but he did not remember hers. As he walked over to the desk, Rapinoe searched his memory for the moment he had first met her, two days earlier, when she arrived from an enclave on the far side of Dargon to work at the new bathhouse. She must have given him her name then. He remembered thinking how tall she was, and wondering how long it must take to braid all that brown hair, and admiring how she smelled of flowers. He did not remember her name.

“What do you need?” he asked, setting down the wooden box of tools he was carrying.

“Squire Gillam,” she indicated a burly youth standing beside the desk, “says that Sir Markhall left some items behind after he used the lower steam bath this morning.”

“It was a necklace, and a ring,” the squire said. He was half a head taller than the girl, which made him easily head and shoulders taller than Rapinoe, who quickly nodded in deference.

“Please go get them from the steam bath and bring them back down here,” the girl said. Rapinoe noted that she smelled like flowers again.

“Right away,” Rapinoe replied, ducking his head again, and scooping up his toolbox. “Do you know where he would have left them?”

“No,” the girl said. “Just look around … they should be easy to spot.”

“OK,” he said, and hurried off.


Sir Markhall was no friend of the cult, from what Rapinoe had heard. More than once, word had come of his squires bullying cult members in the market, and there were rumors that the knight himself had taken aim at various projects the cult had undertaken. When the large bathhouse on the wharf was built Sir Markhall himself was mostly silent, but that was likely due to the influence of Lord Arbogast, a great man of Dargon who not only was wealthy and well-connected but also was rumored to be a sorcerer of some note. Arbogast had played a major role in the building of the bathhouse, especially the side that housed the new hospital, and even a noble like Markhall would have to acknowledge the good that would bring the city. Still, Rapinoe would not be surprised to hear the knight’s name mentioned again in a negative light inside the walls of the bathhouse. It would be best to get the missing jewelry and be done with it, and him.


The new bathhouse was usually busy by midmorning, and this day was no different. Rapinoe had already unstopped three drains, replaced a valve, and fixed two leaks. Twice he had been down to the furnace room for tools, and already his simple canvas robe was soaked. Still, his job as a handyman was more interesting than the work he had been doing before the bathhouse opened, and he was grateful to have it. If nothing else, he did not have to worry about being cold. Even in the early morning hours, before the bathhouse opened, the residual heat from the furnace kept the place warm.

Rapinoe was headed closer to the furnace now. The steam baths were built into the western side of the giant stone fireplace that formed the core of the bathhouse, and the lower steam bath was only one level above the main floor. Leaving his toolbox in the rear of the first floor office, Rapinoe headed up the wooden stairs to the western second level. Once there, he quickly walked down the elevated corridor towards the fireplace. On his left were semi-private rooms where wealthy commoners and poor nobles could soak in relative peace. On his right was a simple railing overlooking the large public tubs filled with naked commoners of every shape, size, age, and ability.

This morning the pool closest to the furnace was reserved for the entourage of Lady Samkar, one of the high ladies of the court. Women and girls also filled the pool, along with a few sons too young for school. Lady Samkar herself was seated on a simple wooden chair in the center of the pool with two female aides, using pitchers to pour hot water over each other. All the women were enscribed as Racie had been with the liturgy of the patron goddess of the bathhouse. Late the previous evening the pool had been emptied, and much of the morning had been spent washing and perfuming it for the lady and her party. Lady Samkar was an important patron of the bathhouse, and a personal friend of Lord Arbogast, protector and architect of the bathhouse. They had arrived early for enscribing, had visited the steam rooms and saunas, and now were relaxing for a bit before heading back over the river to the keep.


On the western wall of the bathhouse was a set of open floors, three high, with ranks of private and semi-private bathing rooms. Above them was a floor of offices and workshops for the staff. The steam room was the last door before the wooden wall of the bathhouse met the stone wall of the great chimneys. Rapinoe walked down the long wooden hallway with purpose.

Rapinoe was dismayed to see people clustered around the entrance to the steam bath as he approached. The wardrobe was filled with robes, and there were at least five naked people standing outside the steam bath door. They were chanting quietly, running prayer beads through their hands. Rapinoe recognized one of them.

“Sister Carlotta,” he asked, approaching the older woman, “I need to go into the steam bath and get something. What is going on?”

“We are performing a rite for the goddess today.”

“In the steam bath?”

“Why not? It is quieter there.”

Rapinoe shrugged. “I need to go inside.”

“Today is the Rite of The Martyr for Arno,” she replied quietly. “You will have to wait until we are done.”

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I need to get something Sir Markhall left in there.”

Sister Carlotta made a surprisingly impolite noise. “Him. He can wait.”

“The Great Lady urges kindness to all, even those who oppose themselves,” Rapinoe replied, a bit shocked at his own cheek, rebuking a Sister like that. Still, he was surprised at her impiety. “Besides,” he added quickly, before she could take umbrage, “I hear he is not someone we want to offend today.”

“You’re a good boy, Rapinoe,” the Sister replied humbly, “I deserved that. You are right. May the Lady smile on Sir Markhall and bless him with sweet love for her.”

“Goddess be with,” Rapinoe chanted back automatically.

“Still, you can’t go in,” she replied sweetly. “They are saying the second prayer now. No one else can talk inside. You will disturb them.”

“Oh,” he said, “I don’t need to talk. I just need to get it.”

Sister Carlotta looked questioningly over at another devotee, a younger woman who was also working some prayer beads. She shrugged.

“Thanks,” Rapinoe said, shrugging off his robe. He tossed it over a free hook in the wardrobe and pressed himself against the door. He carefully unlatched it, trying to be as quiet as possible. He slid the door open, and slipped inside.


The steam bath was lined with dark wood, and illuminated only by four small skylights. Rapinoe pulled the door closed, and stood quietly for a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The room was filled with people, all of whom seemed to be standing in rows and facing the far wall. From that direction came chanting. Rapinoe could see now why some of the devotees were outside; there was no room inside for anyone else. He considered going back down and telling the girl at the desk that she would have to wait. Then he remembered the burly squire, and decided to press on. He tried to imagine for a moment where a knight would have been, then he remembered there were steam vents on the sides of the bath. He sidled slowly toward the left wall, trying not to rub up against the listening worshippers. He reached the wall, where there was a thin wooden bench. Thankfully all the devotees were standing, not sitting. Rapinoe stepped up onto the bench. He remembered that there was a small shelf above the bench, and he found it by touch. Walking slowly and quietly down the bench, he slid his hand down the shelf. He walked all the way to the front of the steam bath without touching anything other than bare wood. The heat was stifling. For once Rapinoe was grateful that he was short, as the heat increased the higher in the room one’s nose was.

Having not found anything of note, Rapinoe retraced his steps to the back of the steam bath. Even though he had done nothing more strenuous than walking down the bench he was slightly out of breath. He was glad the rite did not require incense. He crossed over to the right side of the bath and stepped up onto the bench there. Just as he did this, the chanting at the front of the room stopped. He stood there a moment, concerned that he had disturbed their liturgy. Suddenly all the worshippers began chanting in unison. Rapinoe did not recognize the words they were saying, but his years in the cult allowed him to recognize the ritual language. He blessed himself with the customary sign and started walking forward on the bench. He got halfway there when he felt something on the shelf. It was some sort of chain. He took it and headed back for the door. He slipped out, timing his closing the door to come at the end of a verse.

Outside the steam bath the air felt cold on his damp skin, and his balls shriveled in protest. He looked at the thing he had found. It was a simple silver chain with a flat, circular, wheel-like medallion on it. Rapinoe thought this a rather poor ornament for a knight, but his was not to judge. He held it up to the light, tilting it for better illumination, and suddenly an electric shimmer rippled across the face of the medallion. He gasped, almost dropping it. He looked around quickly to see if anyone else noticed, but they were all into their prayer beads. He stared at the necklace for a long moment, then snatched his robe off the hook and headed back downstairs, pulling the wet garment on as he walked. The front desk was on the main floor below, against the wall that separated the lobby from the public baths. Rapinoe padded down the stairs and up to the desk. His eye caught sight of the girl with the braided brown locks standing alone at the desk. She was folding towels. Unlike the more formal staff in the front lobby, she wore only a simple skirt. He noted the way it was knotted at the front to hang asymmetrically around her hips, and then remembered with joy that her name was Claret. As he approached she turned, and he realized that she was also wearing a necklace; a simple dyed and braided string with a wooden bead that dangled between her bare breasts. As was customary at the start of the holy season, she also had the liturgical signets of the cult written on her shoulders and chest in black ink.

“I found it, Claret” he said, walking up and handing the chain to her.

“Oh, good,” she said. “I saw you up there, with the elders. What are they doing today?”

“Some rite,” he replied. “Prayers for a martyr.”

“Why in the steam bath?”

“Why not? It’s quiet there.”

She shrugged, and nodded. She looked at the chain.

“Was there a ring as well?”

Rapinoe frowned. “I did not find a ring. Could he have meant that?” he asked, pointing at the medallion, which had a hole in the center.

“I don’t know. I will ask when he gets back. Thanks for your help; this was kind of important.”
“You are welcome. Can I do anything else for you?”

“Would you mind carrying these towels up to the third tier? They need them at the desk there.”

“In the service of the Goddess, Claret” he replied, smiling at her.

“Goddess be with,” she replied, smiling back.


It was three errands later when Rapinoe spotted the squire walking in through the lobby. Rapinoe was on the eastern second tier, rewrapping a wicker joint. The squire headed straight to the desk. Rapinoe stopped working on the repair he was making to watch. Claret greeted him and reached under the desk. She pulled out the chain. To Rapinoe’s distress, the squire did not take it. Claret frowned, and Rapinoe could faintly hear the stress in the squire’s words as he spoke. The squire turned and walked away, his face dark. Claret immediately looked straight up at Rapinoe. She slipped out from behind the desk and started his way. With a sinking heart he started toward her.

“This is not Sir Markhall’s necklace,” she said once she met him, worry on her face.

“Whose is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know but it is not the necklace we are looking for. Can you go look again?” she asked. “The squire was quite angry that we had not found it. Sir Markhall will be leaving town today on business for Duke Dargon, and has to have the ring, and the necklace.”

“I will go look again now,” Rapinoe said, and together they headed for the stairs going down.

“Thank you for being so helpful,” she said, her brow furrowed. “I have to go tell Brother Rimbault that we have a problem. When you find them, please bring them to the desk right away!”

He nodded, and then she hurried off. He crossed the main floor to the western staircase and headed up. At the far end he again tossed his robe over a peg. There was no crowd of naked elders standing there this time, and only a few robes on the pegs. He started to go in, then remembered how dark it was in the steam bath. He decided to take a lamp in, to help the search. There were lamps hanging in sconces on the tiers, but daylight was coming in through skylights and none were lit. Rapinoe walked down the hall, looking carefully out of the corner of his eye at the booths on his right, looking to see if any of the patrons had a fire, either of an incense burner or a brazier. He found one four booths down. He backtracked and grabbed a lantern, taking out the wick and setting the rest on the floor. He walked back to the booth where an older man sat in a tub of hot water with a middle aged woman.

“Is everything satisfactory?” he asked the man as he approached. Rapinoe bent down and blew on the coals of the brazier, touching the wick to them and lighting it. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, we are good,” the woman said, smiling politely. Like Claret, she had cult writing on her breasts, but hers were days old, faded and broken.

Rapinoe nodded and backed away, shielding his flame. He quickly set the wick back into the lamp before it could flare up and burn his fingers. He trimmed the lamp, and carried it back up the hall to the steam bath. He opened the door and slipped in.


There were a few people in the steam bath, and only one of them looked up with interest as he entered. He closed the door behind him and stood for a moment. There were still a few elders in the room, clustered at the far wall, praying. There were two men laying head to foot on benches in the middle of the room, and there was a woman and two children in the near west corner. Rapinoe repeated his route, holding up the lamp for light and carefully examining the shelf again, working his way around the woman and her young. This time he found nothing. He retraced his steps, holding the lamp close to the wall, then again holding the lamp low and looking at the floor. He was becoming worried, as the floor was not tightly built, but had slits between the boards. The lamp was not good for throwing light down between the boards. He wondered how he could better see down there to search. He looked around the room, and realized that there were also small shelves scattered among the several wooden pillars that reached up into the rafters. He moved among them, checking each, and finding nothing. Some of the occupants followed his movements with languid interest. Rapinoe paused, and addressed the two men.

“Did either of you happen to see some jewelry here?” he asked.

“No,” the one man replied. “Until you brought the lamp in, I did not see much of anything at all.”

Rapinoe nodded. He walked over to the woman. She had a small pot of oil and was rubbing it over her younger child. The older one looked up at Rapinoe with curiosity.

“Are you looking for something?” the older girl asked.

“Yes,” Rapinoe replied. “Have you seen any jewelry in here? Someone lost some.”

“No,” she replied, smoothing drops of sweat over her arms and belly. She looked at her mother and brother, who both shook their heads. Rapinoe noted with some surprise that the girl had cult markings painted on her, while her mother and brother had none. She seemed rather young to be a devotee.

“Thank you,” Rapinoe replied. He turned and walked down to where the elders were praying. He hesitated, not wanting to disturb them. Several of them looked up at him, still chanting, and looked at each other, and shrugged, looking back at him and shaking their heads as well. Both disappointed at the lack of a find and relieved that they understood his need, Rapinoe took some time and searched the fireplace wall. To his dismay, it was quite roughly finished in rock, and had many small shelves and nooks where something could be hidden. He went over it carefully, but did not see anything.

Rapinoe stepped outside the bath, perplexed. He looked over the rail and down at the desk, both hoping to see Claret and dreading to see the squire. He saw neither. Instead he saw Sister Sharonala standing behind the desk in her formal robe of white and gold. His heart clenched at the sight of the priestess working the desk in place of Claret. He looked over the public tubs and the various tiers but did not see Claret anywhere. He backed away from the railing, hoping Sharonala did not see him. He needed to find that jewelry, and soon. How could he shine a light down into the slots between the boards? He needed a mirror. Rapinoe walked back up the hall and set the lantern back in its sconce, leaving it lit, and then headed for the front of the bathhouse.


The wood in the front half of the bath house was more carefully finished than the wood back by the public baths. From the top of the staircase Rapinoe could look down into the lobby, across the marble floor there. He gazed a moment at the image of the goddess, a larger-than-life statue of a naked woman, her perfect parts covered with spring wheat, holding a staff and cradling an infant. Pleasant aromas drifted up to him, reminiscent of Claret’s perfume. He did not see her anywhere there. Two patrons walked up the stairs and passed him, the woman of the couple letting her eyes linger curiously over him. Suddenly Rapinoe felt his nakedness, standing at the top of the stairs without his robe. It was less that he was without his robe — that bit of cloth was off and on all day depending on his task at the moment — as it was that his work brought him less often to the more polished areas of the bath house. It also did not help that he, unlike almost every other adult in the bathhouse, had no cult writing on him. His skin was completely blank. He walked gingerly further toward the front of the building, passing a number of private chambers as he went. He came to one where the door was open, and he looked in. Two women were inside in white cult robes, one with a silver sash and one with a green sash. A third woman was laid out on a narrow table, nude save for a towel across her legs. All three looked over at Rapinoe as he glanced in.

“Latera,” Rapinoe said, “would you have a mirror I could borrow?”

“A mirror?” The woman with the silver sash turned away from the other two and stepped over to where some toiletries were arrayed on a small cart. “I might. Let me look.”

Rapinoe stepped up to the other two women. He could see that the woman on the table was having cult script drawn on her skin. Fine tracings in ink looped across her chest, belly, arms, and thighs, shining wet in the dim daylight from the skylights.

“What are you up to, Rapinoe?” she asked, lifting her head curiously.

“Someone lost some jewelry in the steam bath,” he said, “and I think it may have fallen down between the boards. I need a mirror to shine a light down in there to look.”

The two women nodded sagely in agreement. The one standing, with the green sash, looked over Rapinoe’s chest and traced a line across it with her finger.

“You should stop in here later,” she said, “and I could write your vows for you.” She looked quickly around at his backside. “You don’t have any at all,” she said with mild surprise.

“I’m always accidentally rubbing them off, Loran” Rapinoe said. “I wanted to wait for a quiet time when I wouldn’t break them.”

“If you are too busy in the day, we can do it in the evening,” the woman on the table said, her finger tracing a line down his thigh.

“I can do that, Berae,” he said. “I would need to come up after I am done with Brother Cantrall’s sermon.”

“It is important to keep the goddess’s words on our hearts and on our bodies,” Loran said. “I will be painting some of the new girls tonight … you could come up and get done with them.”

“Is Claret one of them?”

“No, I did her already. Why? Did some of hers rub off already?”

“No, I was just wondering. I forgot her name this morning, so her name was on my tongue.”

“Talk to Elder Sansit. He is good for helping you learn how to remember names.”

“I will talk to him.”

“Will this one work?” Latera said, walking over and holding out a small bronze mirror.

“I think so. Thanks!”

“Good luck,” Latera said, rising up on tiptoe and kissed him on the top of his head. Loran repeated the gesture, reminding Rapinoe that all three were taller than he was. From the table Berae gave his hand a quick squeeze.

“Goddess be with,” the three chorused as he walked out.

Mirror in hand, Rapinoe crossed to the eastern side and retrieved his tools. He then hurried back to where he hung the lantern, then carried it and his tools back to the steam bath. Outside on a wooden bench the mother and her two children were seated. The mother was helping her youngest put on his sandals while the older child, already shod, held the trio’s robes. She smiled and nodded as Rapinoe set his tools down and slipped into the steam bath.


Rapinoe got down on his hands and knees with the lantern and mirror. Using the mirror to reflect the light of the lantern, he tried to probe the spaces between the boards next to the benches on the wall. The mirror worked well to aim the light, but the slots were deep, and there were a lot of them. He worked as quickly as he could, moving across the boards in his reach, then moving down. More than once he spotted something down in the slot, but in every case it was just small bits of litter. He kept moving, backing down away from the door. The elders were still praying, and the two men seemed to be asleep. Rapinoe kept at it, making slow progress. He was two thirds of the way to the fireplace wall when the door opened.

“Rapinoe?” Claret whispered.

“Yes,” he said, getting to his feet and going to the door. She beckoned him out. “Sir Markhall is downstairs,” she said. “He is very upset. He needs that ring and necklace. Any luck?”

“No,” Rapinoe said. “I am still searching. Did they figure out who owned that other necklace?”

“Sister Sharonala says it belongs to Lady Samkar. It is one of her special charms that she wears. It was made by Lady Dargon herself, and it is very valuable, and it is good that it is found. Now we need to find Sir Markhall’s necklace.”

Hey,” he said, an idea striking him. “Can you help me?”

“What do you need?” she asked.

“Can you hold the lantern for me?”

“Sure,” she said.

Together the two of them re-entered the steam bath. Rapinoe went to where the lantern sat on the bench where he had left off.

“I am searching the floor, and I am using this mirror.” he whispered, holding up the mirror, “to shine the lantern down into the slots in the floor. If you would hold the lantern for me, I can search faster.”

Claret nodded, and they both got down on hands and knees. Claret pushed her braids over one side of her neck and held the lantern up with one hand while holding herself up with the other arm. Rapinoe nodded and started searching again. As he moved she followed. It wasn’t long before sheets of sweat were rolling down her skin. She paused to untie her skirt. In the orange light of the lamp Rapinoe could see that the lines on her breasts were indeed new. She slipped the skirt off and laid it on the bench, and he could see that, unlike Racie and most of the other women in the cult, she still wore her pubic hair, trimming it instead of shaving it. Relieved of the garment, she smiled quickly and leaned back down toward him with the lantern. Her necklace swung below her neck, and Rapinoe could see that the bead on her necklace carried the name of the goddess. He took the mirror and went on with his search. Working together they moved much more quickly, and were able to search both sides of the room. They found nothing.

“I’m going to have to go tell Brother Rimbault that we don’t have them,” she said as they reached the fireplace wall on the far side. The elders had finished and left, and only the two men remained. “I don’t know what he is going to say.”

“I will stay here and keep looking.”

She surprised him with a quick sob. He suddenly felt very helpless and confused. He hesitated, then touched her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her hands over her mouth. “I’m new and Sister Sharonala can be a bit intimidating. I mean, Brother Rimbault is nice enough, but I … I don’t know what they will say.”

“It’s going to be OK,” Rapinoe said. She put her own hand on top of his hand, nodded, then turned for the door. He watched her go, then got down on hands and knees and started searching the center of the floor, moving across from one side to the other. It was only after he found her skirt on the bench that he realized she had left without it.


Some time later, Rapinoe’s back, knees, and palms were aching and he had still only covered half the floor. The two men had woken up, and had sat and watched him work for a while before silently leaving. He stood and stretched, wiping the sweat from his chest and belly down across his perfect parts and then down his legs. He thought about the lack of drawings on his own chest and regretted his minor falsehood with the three girls earlier. It was true he did not want to have damaged script, but deep down he knew that was a weak excuse. In truth he did not know why he had held off so long to get the blessing painted on his skin. Their absence made him feel unworthy, yet he just had not managed to present himself for the rite of written blessing. Feeling naked, even in the dark, Rapinoe blessed himself with the sign of the goddess, then walked back up to the fireplace wall, holding the lantern up to shine into the nooks and crannies. He wished he were taller. He noted some lines scratched into the surface of one of the stones. He grinned when he realized it was a graffito of a rat. The grin faded when he remembered his task. He got back down on his knees to continue looking, and had not gotten far when the door opened again. It was Claret. She slipped inside.


“Did you find it?” she asked, her voice tight.

“No,” he said, still kneeling. She walked up to him, looking down. He held up the lantern, and it cast a strange, ominous light up into her face, throwing her shadow up among the rafters.

“Rapinoe,” she said, then paused. “Rapinoe, Sir Markhall is saying that maybe someone stole the jewelry. He is very angry.”

“Stole it? Who would steal it? I mean, maybe someone found it and just does not know how to return it. Maybe …”

“Rapinoe,” Claret interrupted, “Sir Markhall is talking like he thinks maybe you stole it.”

“ … me?” Rapinoe opened his mouth again, to protest, and closed it again without saying anything. Suddenly he felt very, very naked again, the kind of naked that mere clothing could not cover. Despite the heat he could feel his balls flatten completely against his crotch. “How … why … I …”

“He is really upset. He even suggested that maybe I was involved. I …” she put her hands over her face. Rapinoe felt his stomach twist with helplessness. He had nothing he could say. He lay his hand on her foot. After a moment she emerged again.
“Rapinoe, he is sending for Arbogast now.”

The name of the patron of the cult, the powerful and mysterious man who led the building of the bath house and who protected the cult with his influence, drove all the breath from Rapinoe’s lungs.

“Let me go explain the situation,” he said. “It’s all just a misunderstanding.”

She nodded. The flickering light glinted off moisture on her face that could equally have been tears or sweat. He got up and together they walked to the door. Outside the relative cold gave him goosebumps.

“Arbogast is a good man,” Rapinoe said. “He will listen.”

Claret stopped suddenly in front of him and he bumped into her. He looked up at her face and saw her staring, shocked, at the floor below. He stepped to the rail and followed her gaze and was equally shocked to see two men in full traveling gear standing with lances at the desk below talking to Sharonala. Rapinoe felt Claret grip his arm tightly. Below, Sharonala pointed up towards them, and the two men turned to look up. Claret pulled Rapinoe in front of her, like a shield. As her forearms brushed against his back Rapinoe could feel gooseflesh on her skin. Almost as one they both turned and hurried back into the steam bath.

“What do we do? What do we do?” She whispered urgently, still clutching his arm.

“It’s here … we’ll find it,” he said, going back to where he had left off. He dropped to the floor and took the lantern. She followed him, and he held it up to her. “If you help …”

“They hang thieves,” she said in a high, tight voice. “They hang thieves. I watched …” Fear choked off her words. 

He could see Claret’s lips moving but he could not hear anything but the blood rushing through his ears. A vision of horror flashed in his mind, he and her, standing naked before a jeering crowd, nooses around their necks, with no one listening to their pleas. His own throat closed in sympathetic terror. His hand holding up the lantern began to shake, and Claret’s shadow began to leap and lunge across the wooden beams over their heads. Suddenly, Rapinoe looked straight up. The image of Claret standing beside the squire came into his head. He straightened.

“Claret, how tall is Sir Markhall?”

“What?” Claret asked. Urgency gripped him, and he pushed up to his feet, looking straight up.

“How tall is Sir Markhall?” he asked again, looking up at the rafters just above their heads.

“He is very tall,” Claret said, following his gaze.

Rapinoe leaped up on the bench nearest him, and reached up for the rafter. His fingers fell just short of it. Suddenly Claret was standing on the bench beside him, her right arm wrapped around his shoulder, pulling him into her, her left arm straining upward. Using him for support and standing tiptoe she reached as high as she could. In that moment Rapinoe learned three things. First, he learned that, in a moment of stress, modesty was a secondary issue.  Second, he learned that the bead on the necklace she wore between her breasts did not feel good when pressed hard against his cheek. Third, he learned that on tiptoe she could only reach halfway up a rafter.

“Put me on your shoulders,” he said. She dropped back down and stared at him for a moment, then nodded. She jumped down, and then bent down, back to him. He swung one leg over her shoulder and set his hands on her head. He paused, uncertain if this was the best way to mount her. Not waiting for a signal from him, she straightened up before he could decide, dragging him upward with his other leg trailing down her back. Rapinoe levered himself up and swung his other leg over her shoulder. He steadied himself on her head, her braids smooth and hard under his hands. He had a moment of panic as his perfect parts had gotten trapped under him, and there was an awkward moment as he fought to free them, their mingled sweat both helping and hindering the effort. Then she spun around and lurched forward, and he reached up and clutched at the rafter.

“I have it,” he said. He steadied himself with one hand, and ran the other along the top. He immediately ran a large splinter right into his palm. With a yelp he pulled it out, then forced himself to probe again, more cautiously. He looked around the room, seeing with new eyes by the orange light of the lantern.

“Move over towards the center,” he said. “Towards that bench.” Together they moved, following the rafters, towards the benches where the two men had been lying together. Rapinoe moved his hands rapidly, steadying and searching. She held his legs under her arms. He could feel her slowly sinking under his weight. He was about to suggest they switch places when his finger suddenly touched something cold. He recoiled for an instant before clutching wildly around. His hand fell on something hard and metallic, and he grabbed it.

“You found it?” Claret asked.

“I found the ring,” he said. “Or at least a ring,” he corrected himself. His hands were frantic, looking for the additional piece. He searched further, checking all the way to the center support pole where the rafter ended.

“Go back,” he said. Claret grunted and reversed direction and he searched all the way back to the wall. Beneath him Claret was sinking lower, and his hands could barely manage the stretch.

“Let me down,” he said, and she was already bowing forward. He slipped over her head and tumbled to the floor, never losing his grip on the precious find. He came to his feet and grabbed the lantern and mirror. Moving to the spot directly underneath the rafter, he shined the light directly down into the slits between the floorboards.

“I see it!” he remarked after a moment. “I see the necklace! It fell down inside this crack.” He shoved his finger down into the slot, but it was far too narrow. “I need to go get one of my tools. Come on.”

Together they moved to the door. In the light of day the ring showed its finery. It was finely figured, and there were letters inscribed on it. Rapinoe’s illiteracy extended far beyond the cult’s own writing, so he did not bother trying to read it, nor did he need to, for it was immediately obvious why the ring was so important. Carved into the face was the insignia of the Duke of Dargon. Sir Markhall was traveling on the authority of the Duke himself.

“Here,” he said, suddenly nervous to be holding so much power in his hand. “Take this.” He pushed the token into Claret’s hands. “This is probably what they really want. Take it to them, and I will get the necklace.”

“Won’t it look suspicious if I only bring one?” she asked.

“We found the necklace,” he replied. “We just need to retrieve it. Go, buy me a mene, and then I will bring the necklace down.”

Claret turned and rushed down the wooden hallway. Rapinoe grabbed a long, thin probe from his toolset, along with a hammer and hatchet. Quickly, he lay the probe across the head of the hatchet and with a few deft taps bent the tip of the probe into a hook. He took the modified tool inside. It took him a long, uncomfortable mene to find the necklace again. He hooked one of the links and lifted. The necklace lifted just a thumbsbreadth out of its hiding spot and then hung up, slipping free from the probe as it did. Rapinoe’s heart skipped a beat. He carefully hooked a link again, and lifted the necklace until it again hung up. This time he took it in his free hand, and then with the probe began to tug and push on the trapped segment. It freed up for another dozen links, then hung again. More prodding yielded still more of the chain, until another snag grabbed. This one did not yield to simple prodding. Rapinoe considered just pulling the chain free, but feared that the metal would break, and then Markhall would have a genuine gripe against the cult. Stalemated, Rapinoe pondered his next move. His legs started to cramp, and he carefully threaded the probe through a larger link and used it to hold the chain in place.

Rapinoe headed back out to his toolset. As he opened the door the sound of loud voices came up from below. He looked over the edge and saw the two men with lances escorting a larger man as he strode out of the main bath area, shouting loudly. Back at the desk, Arbogast was standing with Sharonala, conferring. Claret was nowhere to be seen. Rapinoe hunkered down at his toolset. He pondered what to do, then pulled out a thin chisel blade and went back inside.

Peering down into the slit with the lamp and mirror, Rapinoe carefully examined the parts of the necklace he could see. After a long mene of looking he thought he could make out what looked like a lump in the chain, turned slightly sideways away from alignment with the slot. Keeping a careful grip on the parts of the chain already freed, he gently lowered the chain down, then slipped the thin blade down and carefully guided the medallion back parallel with the crack. It took a few tries, mostly because Rapinoe was taking great care not to mar the jewelry, and finally the chain slipped free. A quick glance showed the lump to be a thicker link inset with jewels. Rapinoe tucked the precious cargo into his fist and heaved himself up onto his feet.

Rapinoe quickly returned his tools to their home, then grabbed his robe and the toolbox,  and hurried down the hallway with the necklace in hand. As he went he carefully examined it, looking for scratches or dents or warping. To his great relief it looked whole. Looking over the railing, he was surprised to not see anyone at the front desk. Further away, near the door leading to the lobby, he saw Squire Gillam standing guard over what looked like luggage. Rapinoe hurried down the hall and over to the front desk, wondering if Claret or the Sister were busy below and behind it. He stepped around to peer behind the desk. Nobody was hiding there; the desk was abandoned.

Rapinoe set his robe and toolbox down and stood behind the desk, scanning the rows of balconies above and across the wooden pools below, but nowhere did he see the three faces he needed. He was almost ready to go look for them when he glanced down and saw, lying in a small wooden box, on a shelf underneath the desk, the necklace he had first found. On impulse he went to lay Sir Markhall’s necklace there also, then realized there were other empty small boxes on a shelf further below, so he put Markhall’s necklace in its own box and set it beside the first. He stepped back to look at the two objects lying side by side, pondering the wisdom of just leaving such mischievous things unattended. He found his back against the shelving that held the towels for the front desk, and to his dismay he felt it move. He steadied it with one hand and turned to examine that shelf. It was loose. He knelt down and looked underneath it. The shelves were supported by four pegs inserted into one of a column of holes drilled into the walls of the shelf, and he saw that one of the pegs that supported the shelf was barely hanging in a hole that had splintered.

Looking around, Rapinoe still did not see Claret or any of the others. He hesitated. He wanted to do something quickly with the necklace, but there was no one around to give it to, and he did not want to leave it unattended. After a moment of dithering he decided to stay put. Since he was there anyway, he might as well be useful. Rapinoe quickly shifted the towels off the loose shelf to other shelves, and also emptied the shelf below it. Pushing his toolbox and robe into a corner, he lay on his back and quickly moved the front of the shelf up one notch, pulling the pegs out and replacing them one higher. The pegs in the back were harder to reach. The shelf was long and deep, and he slipped inside. The damaged hole easily yielded its peg to the next hole up, and he spun to fix the last peg. That one was a bit more sticky, and Rapinoe had to rest once while pulling it, his arms not used to the uncomfortable angle. He finally did get that peg pulled, and settled the shelf into its new place. That done, he lay on the shelf for a moment, resting.

As he lay there in that small dark space, he recalled the conversation with Racie that started the day, and his mind wandered back to his stint in the woodshed. He had just enrolled in the cult, there at that local temple. He really did not know what the cult was about, beyond what the yearly festivals had taught, but he was small for his age, and his mother was worried he would end up working for a poor master who could not afford to care for Rapinoe properly. She had taken him to the temple and had presented him at the door. The Sister who met them was friendly, about as old as his youngest aunt, and from the door came strange aromas both sweet and mysterious. Rapinoe felt ashamed that he would be taken in by the cult to work simple jobs while his taller brothers labored at proper apprenticeships, but his mother had been adamant and had his father’s blessing. Rapinoe had not grown much larger than he had been back then, but he had learned a lot about how to keep the Sisters and their clients happy, and his time in the woodshed had come just before the eldest Sister recommended him to Arbogast to be taken to the larger bathhouse being built to serve on its staff. For the first time, Rapinoe had felt a glimmer of pride, and worth.

Rapinoe was about to slide himself out of the dark shelf to complete his work when someone stepped in front of the shelf opening. It was immediately obvious by the heavy boots this was not a cult member. Rapinoe froze. The person stopped, standing still for a long moment. Almost against his own volition, Rapinoe leaned quietly forward, peering upward. The figure was massive, a large man in his prime. Rapinoe could not see the face, but by the cut and styling of the clothing it could only be one person: Sir Markhall. Markhall was looking down at the shelf where Rapinoe had laid the necklace. Rapinoe could hear the man breathing. After a moment, a gloved hand reached down to touch the box containing the second necklace Rapinoe had found. The hand then lifted, and in a single swipe, the gloved hand shifted ever so slightly and swept up both boxes and vanished upward. The boots strode away, leaving Rapinoe suddenly relieved, aghast, and after a moment, infuriated.

Rapinoe was so shocked to see Sir Markhall, a noble, a knight, commit an act of petty theft that he started to shiver. He lay in the dark quivering for a very long moment before impulse took him and he wriggled out of his accidental hiding spot. He sprang to his feet and looked over to where Markhall was walking away. Rapinoe started to open his mouth, to challenge the man, then realized that his common voice would have no standing to accuse the nobleman of any act, fair or foul. Rapinoe stood paralyzed, watching as the knight stopped by the luggage, then turned to the squire. Because of the distance and general noise of the bathhouse, Rapinoe could not hear clearly what Markhall said to the tall lad, but Rapino heard the word “necklace”. The squire glanced over at his master briefly, nodded, then went back to whatever he was watching. The knight bent down and slipped both boxes into his travel bag. Markhall then strolled through the door into the lobby and out of sight.

Rapinoe had missed his opportunity to challenge the noble thief, but a different impulse now seized him. He took a strong, confident step toward the knight’s luggage, then stopped. He wanted to steal the necklace back, to retrieve for the lady what had just been stolen. Then he stopped, immediately overwhelmed. The squire still guarded the luggage, Rapinoe had not seen exactly where the small boxes had been placed, and Rapinoe did not even have on any clothes at all to mark him as temple staff. The latter felt less transgressive and more just naked, given the task ahead. An idea struck him. He tossed his robe on, and grabbed two towels off a shelf. Rapinoe held the folded towels ahead of him in his hands as he forced his feet to walk forward towards the guarded luggage.

Rapinoe’s mind split in two as he walked. Half was nattering about the difficulty of finding the small wooden boxes inside the knight’s luggage while the other half was whining in terror about the prospect of facing the squire, trained from childhood in fighting and fed until he towered over normal-sized adults, much less someone as short as Rapinoe. As he walked closer, Rapinoe noticed the squire’s gaze seemed fixed steadily on something in the distance. Tracking the direction of the tall youth’s eyes, Rapinoe realized what the object of the young man’s attention was. Sitting on the edge of the nearest wooden pools was a young woman, a local adherent who visited the baths frequently. As were all those who bathed in the pools, she was clad only in verse, and her wet skin glistened in the light of the skylights above. An idea bloomed in Rapinoe’s head, and was immediately attacked as foolhardy by both sides of his brain. Faithfully, however, Rapinoe’s feet continued to pace, and in a moment he was there at the luggage.

“Peace, Squire Gillam,” Rapinoe said smoothly with a deep nod as the squire turned to face him. “Here are two towels for you and your master, should you wish to dally here as you wait,” he said, then slowly turned to look at the pool, and the woman. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the page turn to look in the desired direction. As he did, Rapinoe threw a quick glance back at the luggage. He immediately saw that there was a large leather pocket riveted to the outside of the luggage. Rapinoe did not wait for the squire to respond. He stepped over to the luggage and began to set the towels on top.

“No,” the squire said, turning back toward Rapinoe. “Don’t put those there.”

“Ah! My apologies!” Rapinoe said, then intentionally fumbled both towels down into a heap on the floor. “I am sorry, I did not know,” he said, kneeling down and flipping the towels up, rapidly folding them. As he did so he used the motion to momentarily cover the leather pocket and flip up the lid. Sure enough, there he saw the corner of a wooden box. Glancing at the squire, Rapinoe saw that he was again staring at the woman. Another fake fumble and a few more flips of the towel covered a quick snatch and tuck, and then Rapinoe was walking back toward the desk with both towels concealing a hard stolen lump.

Rapinoe fought hard with his fear to avoid turning and looking behind himself. He reached the desk uninterrupted. He carefully replaced the towels, reaching inside to pull out his snatched treasure. To his dismay, he only found one box. He surreptitiously laid it back on the shelf where it had been earlier and opened it. There lay Sir Markhall’s necklace. Rapinoe straightened, quivering again, then turned back to the shelves and began putting the towels back in place, all the while his mind spinning. He had thought to grab both boxes, but had only managed one, and the wrong one at that. He needed to think now. What was his way forward? What could he do next? His plan had completely unraveled. As he stood there with his back to the pools he felt more naked than he had felt all day, even though he was actually clothed. It was then that he saw Sister Sharonala and Arbogast walk past the desk.

Rapinoe froze. He had been caught! But no, Arbogast and Sharonala walked right past the desk and went instead to the squire.

“Hello, my son,” Rapinoe heard the old man say. He opened his own mouth, to hail Arbogast and warn him of … what? What could he even say? What was the nature of the threat that they all faced here? And it was too late anyway, for Arbogast was still talking. “Where is your master? I have something for him.”

“I am here, Arbogast,” a voice answered from the lobby, and a moment later Sir Markhall strode through the door. Rapinoe simply stopped breathing. In his own mind he quailed at the sight of the tall warrior while simultaneously fuming at the insulting omission of any honorific for the patron of the bathhouse. “What do you have for me?” asked Markhall.

Arbogast turned theatrically to Sister Sharonala, who held out her hands, and in them was the ring Rapinoe had found earlier. “Through some effort we have found your jewelry,” Arbogast said.

“Ah!” Markhall said, just a little too loudly. “Excellent.” He bowed slightly to Sharonala. “You are too kind. As you can imagine, that ring is very near to my heart.” He reached out his hand and took the ring as Sharonala offered it to him. The squire stepped up beside him, and Rapinoe’s heart froze. In the squire’s hand was the other wooden box. Without even looking, Markhall handed the ring to the squire, who opened the box right in front of the others, revealing for all to see the Lady Samkar’s necklace. The look of astonishment on Sharonala’s face was matched only by the look of shock on Markhall’s, and the growing anger on Arbogast’s.


The sun was long set, and many lanterns were lit when Sharonala walked into the room on the second floor where Rapinoe lay on the table, Latera drawing cult script on his hip and Berae rubbing his shoulders. Sharonala still wore her gold sashed robes, and carried a dark glass bottle. Rapinoe started to rise but Berae held him down, and the older woman shook her head in dismissal and smiled. She turned to the other table in the room, upon which lay Claret.

“Arbogast was pleased that the issue with the jewelry was resolved so well today,” Sharonala said. “He told me to be sure to reward you for your hard work and quick thinking.” She held out the bottle.

“Thank you, Sister,” Claret replied from the table where she sat as Loran painted lines on her back. She carefully reached out and took the bottle. “I will be sure to bless the goddess, and share this kind gift with those who also worked to find the jewelry.” Shew paused. “If I may ask, Sister, what will happen with Sir Markhall?”

“Goddess be praised, he did not escape with Lady Samkar’s amulet,” Sharonala said. “When Arbogast confronted him, he surrendered it, pleading ignorance.” Heads were shaken all around. “He will be less eager to cause mischief for a while, I think. Meanwhile,” Sharonala said, kissing Claret on the cheek, “may the Goddess bless you,”

“May the Goddess,” replied Claret, and the other four echoed the phrase. Sharonala gave Rapinoe’s bare foot a gentle squeeze as she walked out.

“All done,” Loran said, putting down her brush. “Give it a moment to dry.”

“You work so fast,” Latera said, carefully laying down a thin line of black ink that swept in an ornate curve from Rapinoe’s right hip to his left. “I still have three stanzas to write.”

“I can help,” Loran said, coming over to Rapinoe’s side. He looked up at her, then at Latera.

“You both look so tall, from down here.” He admired the graceful scrollwork that graced both of them from shoulder to thigh.

“You are short enough that even I look tall to you,” said Berae, leaning forward to look down at him, giving him a clear view of her own body art. He could feel the warmth of her body as her legs pressed down on the crown of his head.

“It is a good thing you are small,” Claret said, coming to the foot of the table and beginning to massage his feet. Her hands were warm and gentle. “Otherwise I could not have carried you on my shoulders.”

“If I were bigger then I would have just carried you on my shoulders,” he replied, smiling. She smiled back, and for just a moment it felt to him like the sun arose early.

“Or maybe you could have just gotten a ladder,” suggested Berae. They all laughed.

“Praise the goddess you found his necklace when you did,” said Latera. “He certainly did a lot of shouting when he came to get it. Imagine what he might have done if you hadn’t found it.”

“Lord Arbogast certainly was not happy with Sir Markhall,” Berae added. “At least he was not angry with you, praise be.”

“Praise the Goddess!” They all said together, smiling in relief and satisfaction.

Claret took the bottle Sharonala had gifted her and left. Rapinoe watched her leave, staring blankly at the empty door. It was less than a mene before Loran and Latera finished their work.

“Now you are ready for the season,” Latera said, proudly examining her work.

“Thank you for your work. May the Goddess bless you,” Rapinoe said.

“May the Goddess,” Latera replied, with an echo from the others. She turned and began to gather her brushes. “Have a good night, Rapinoe.”

“Good night!” the others chorused, busy with their own cleanup.

“Good night,” Rapinoe replied, slowly sitting up. He sat there for a moment, watching them bustle around him, then he swung his legs over the side of the table and hopped down. Gathering up his robe, he walked out into the hall. He paused as he dressed, pondering how anticlimactic it felt to just walk away. Where had Claret gone to? Was she going to share some of that bottle with him? And what of Markhall? Rapinoe wondered if the Goddess would want him to tell someone, to reveal what he had done, but after the tumult that followed the discovery and confrontation at the front desk earlier he was not sure what good would come of revealing his part. He looked back into the room, then shook his head and headed up the hall. Walking under the stairs he slipped up the hallway that led out of the bathhouse proper and down to the dorms. His quiet footsteps did not echo, and the long hall was silent, lit only with a few lamps.

“Rapinoe,” he heard as he approached the door to his dorm. He turned back to see someone approaching him. For a moment he thought it was Claret, but it was Racie. She was wearing the simple robe of her station, similar to his own, but with a red string tightening the waist above her hips. The simple flower of that morning was gone from her short hair, and she instead wore a festive diadem woven of wheat straw and holly leaves. She was staring intently at him. Wordlessly, she took his hand and gently led him up the hall, away from his dorm, watching each way to see if they were still alone. Puzzled, Rapinoe let her tow him into a dark meditation alcove. She drew him in and quietly closed the door. She sat on the simple bench, pulling him down beside her. In the tight space he could feel her warmth, and she smelled sweet, like honey and cloves. For a long moment there was silence.

“I saw what you did today,” she whispered.

Rapinoe’s chest tightened. He could barely see in the dim light that filtered into the alcove, and he had no idea what her face could tell him. Explanations and excuses flooded his head, and he opened his mouth, but she continued.

“I was watching you,” she whispered. She leaned in closer, her breath heavy. “I was watching you while I worked, from the balcony. You were talking a lot with that new girl …” Her voice tightened a bit at that. “You and her and Sister Sharonala were coming and going and I was wondering …” She paused again for a moment. “I saw when you came down to the desk. I wondered why you were hiding there.” He opened his mouth to explain but she kept talking, “I was going to go down, to see … to see if you … if you needed anything.” She stroked his forearm, and he was surprised to feel her hands tremble. “Then I saw Markhall come, and go.” He noted the lack of honorific; this time it felt less objectionable. “I had no idea what was going on.” She paused, her grip tightening on his arm. “He stole the Lady’s necklace, didn’t he?”

Rapinoe felt a quick shock, and an urge to flee, but he knew Racie, and he suddenly felt he could trust her. He nodded silently and she continued again.

“You did something, didn’t you? You did something that made him reveal himself, without even knowing it. Didn’t you?”

Rapinoe paused, then nodded again. To his great surprise, he found himself engulfed in soft arms, with kisses on his cheeks. He stiffened for a moment, then started to relax just a moment before the kisses ended.

“You are very brave, Rapinoe,” Racie said, a hitch in her voice. “No one else knows, but I do, and the Great Lady knows. You will be rewarded, you know that, right?”

After a long breath he replied. “Yes,” he said, and was rewarded by another warm embrace and a long kiss. Her cheeks were wet.

“Your secret is safe with us,” Racie whispered, and then the door opened and she was standing silhouetted against the dim nighttime lantern light. She paused, then turned back. “And you did smudge some of my letters this morning, by the way.” She hitched up her robe and extended one bare leg, her free hand tracing lettering up her thigh to her hip. “Maybe … maybe tomorrow you can help me fix them.” She stood there a moment, then was gone. Rapinoe could hear her soft, rapid footsteps fade up the hallway. After a moment a door opened, then closed. He sat there for a long moment, listening to the darkness, then got up and stepped into the hallway. It was empty. He headed for his dorm, and sleep.


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