Jaban 13, 1013
Tambu yawned. It had been a long night — well, every night was a long night in her line of work. But last night had been longer than most. The sun had been all the way up before they got rid of all the johns. And that wasn’t even factoring in last night’s excitement: Marigold’s brother Billy running in and giving her a message from Kata to take Daisy over to Ash’s tree. Tambu had barely been able to persuade Marigold to wait until the morning, when it was light out, less risky, and less tiring for Marigold and Daisy alike.
Tambu had already undressed and she wanted nothing more than to slip between the covers and lose herself for a few hours. But she couldn’t go to sleep. Not yet. Wei Li was talking.
“He will want an answer soon … and I am not yet sure …”
Tambu yawned again. “Fer Wright’s sake, Wei Li, I don’t know why ye’re hesitatin’. He’s a rich man, aye? No noble, but those stables make him plenty o’ silver. I’d be on that offer like a shot if it came ter me.”
“You would?” Wei Li gasped. “Why?”
“Well, let’s think.” Tambu counted off reasons on her fingers. “Ye’ll only have ter deal with the one — one! — man, ye’ll live in a nice little flat, ye’ll get all the clothes ye want, oh–and there’s the money, too. He’ll be givin’ ye an allowance, eh? If ye’re smart, which ye are, ye could put most o’ that ter the side an’ have somethin’ ter live on once … well, once ye get old an’ yer looks go, ter be blunt. Or once he dies, since he ain’t so young. Hell, if I were ye, I’d get him ter leave ye somethin’ when he goes — somethin’ nice an’ tidy, somethin’ that’ll set ye up right comfortable fer the rest o’ yer days. An’ ye say he’s nice, don’t ye? Ye say ye like him? Ye wouldn’t mind jest servicin’ him?”
“Oh, goodness, no! I–I like him very much!”
An’ maybe a bit more than that, Tambu thought. “Then what’s the downside?”
“I–I would have to leave here.”
“Ain’t that the point?”
“I would have to leave you. Marigold. Mirelle. Daisy!”
Tambu shook her head. Marigold refused to see it, but Tambu was certain that they’d already said their goodbyes to Daisy. Marigold swore she would bring Daisy back as soon as it was safe, but with Brother Tuck on the prowl, when would it ever be safe?
She wondered if Marigold had left yet. Probably not, Tambu would have heard her in the corridor if she had.
But Wei Li was looking at her in real distress, and if Tambu ever wanted to get some sleep, that was the problem she would have to solve. “Look … this Master Wesleyan can’t be with ye every moment o’ every day. When he ain’t around, ye can come visit us, or we can come visit ye. Ye might even start keepin’ somethin’ like normal hours, so ye can visit Erin more — or come by an’ see Marigold, ye know she’d be glad o’ the company.”
Wei Li sighed, but she did not reply.
So Tambu prodded further. “Look, Wei Li, ain’t this what ye always wanted? Ter set up as a courtesan? I remember ye talkin’ back when ye first came here an’ could barely speak a word o’ good Simlish!”
“I could so,” Wei Li interrupted, but it was with a smile.
“Well, true — but ye sure as hell hadn’t mastered all the … the phrases, an’ the sayins yet, and ye could be right funny ter listen ter sometimes. But I was sayin’, back then ye were always talkin’ about tryin’ ter come ter some rich man’s attention, get some money, set yerself up–”
“I never thought it would be to just one man, though,” Wei Li murmured. “That–that is not how it works in my country. To set up with just one man is risky. What if he–”
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Wei Li went white. “What was that?”
Bloody hell! Tambu scrambled off the bed. “Trouble,” she said, pushing past Wei Li, “or I’m a bloody nun.”
She hurried out of the bedroom, into the hall, and down the stairs. She reached the bottom just in time to learn that she was not, in fact, a nun.
Tambu nearly smacked herself on her forehead, but she couldn’t do that in front of Brother Tuck and his goons. Two of them were royal officers, one a captain — Tambu could tell that by the uniform — the other a du Lac guardsman, looking very much like he’d rather be anywhere else. Tambu sympathized; she wished him elsewhere, too.
“No, daughter,” Brother Tuck replied softly. “You have sinned. You have sinned very gravely. You should know better than to keep a child here. Need I remind you what happened the last time?”
“There ain’t no kids here,” Tambu jumped in before Marigold could say anything. Tambu remembered what had happened last time — she and Marigold had tried to stall the guards, while Wei Li ran off and warned Erin, and Erin tried to get Wulf out. But that hadn’t worked. Still, if Wei Li could run up and get Daisy, maybe–
“Stay right there,” said the captain. “I’ve got me eye on all three o’ ye. There won’t be no trouble here today.”
Damn, damn, damn!
“Ye got no right!” Marigold shouted. “We’re under royal protection, we are! All Plantsims! An’ ye’ve seen what the King will do fer us!”
“Which is why I was sure to bring royal guards,” Brother Tuck gestured to the men behind him. “You of all people should know, Marigold, that the King takes a great interest in the welfare of all children. Do you think he would stand to watch you and your …” Brother Tuck looked over Wei Li and Tambu and sneered. “Compatriots corrupt an innocent child?”
“That’s what they’re doin’?” blurted out the other royal guard, staring at the women in horror.
“No, no, not physically,” Brother Tuck replied, waving him back. “Even these women, fallen as they are, have not yet stooped to that crime. But the child would be corrupted before long, mark my words. Now. Marigold. Tell me where he is.”
“Over me dead body!”
“What will we do, Tambu?” Wei Li whispered.
Tambu wished she knew. They couldn’t leave, not with the guards watching them. Even if they could wake up Mirelle, that wouldn’t do much good. She would never be able to get out of the cellar. She needed to think, and think–
The captain caught her eye. He smiled and broadly winked.
Tambu had learned long ago not to get offended or upset by such looks. She didn’t have the right — and besides, she’d long ago learned what the looks really meant. It meant she had the power.
So she sent him her best come-hither look — and, true to form, the captain came hither.
“Well, darlin’,” he sneered, “if I knew this was how the whores dressed durin’ the day, I don’t think I’d ever come by at night.”
“Bah, don’t put nothin’ by this,” Tambu tried to laugh. Marigold was still arguing with Brother Tuck, so she wagered she had a few minutes before the monk’s patience ran out. That might be all she would need. “Ye caught me jest before I was about ter go ter bed.”
“Ter bed? Dressed like that? An’ all by yerself?”
“It’s either this, me clothes, or stark naked,” Tambu shrugged and sighed.
“Stark naked, eh?” the captain asked, leering.
Tambu replied with a sultry smile. “An’ it always seems like such a waste.” She began to play with one of the fringes on her skirt. “Goin’ ter bed with nothin’ on–an’ all by meself, too.”
“Well, I’d hate fer ye ter have that kind o’ waste …”
“Oh, I know ye would,” Tambu simpered.
“Do ye,” the captain murmured. “Well, perhaps if I come by sometime durin’ normal workin’ hours …”
“Normal hours? Why, ye disappoint me, sir.” Tambu laid a hand–barely a finger-touch–on his shoulder and drew it away. “Gettin’ me all hot an’ bothered, an’ then sayin’ ye’ll come back later? No fun, man, ye’re no fun.”
“Oh? An’ what are ye suggestin’?”
“Well … Marigold’s puttin’ up a right fuss, an’ I don’t blame her,” given that it’s her kid an’ all, “but I was thinkin’, we could make this over much more quickly — an’ much more pleasantly — if ye an’ I were ter jest … go upstairs, an’ ye could search anywhere ye liked fer that baby.”
The captain’s jaw set. “If ye think ye’ll bribe me inter leavin’ that baby here, ye’re out o’ yer mind, whore. It’s shameful, leavin’ a kid ter be brought up in this.”
Tambu had been hoping she wouldn’t get that, but expecting it all the same. She rolled her eyes. “We ain’t birthed no babies here since Imsdyn, an’ that little lad was sent right along ter the orphanage.”
The captain blinked. “What?”
“Aye. ‘Tis true,” Tambu shrugged. “Don’t know what the brother’s got a bee in his bonnet about — but there it is. No babies here.”
“Are ye jokin’?”
“I wish!” Tambu laughed. It was easy to laugh, too. She was doing it — she’d have the captain upstairs, a quick roll in the sack, and he’d walk right out of here. Then Marigold could get Daisy out as soon as the coast was clear, and–
Why had she pulled Brother Tuck to the side?
That didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. Not when Tambu had this almost taken care of! “So,” Tambu said, turning her sultriest gaze back onto the captain, “if ye an’ me will jest head upstairs …”
“Wait.” The captain’s hand locked on her arm in a grip of iron. “If there ain’t no baby, why is she,” the captain nodded his head toward Marigold — where Marigold was now — “puttin’ up such a fuss?”
“Principle, I’d guess,” Tambu shrugged. She took a step back, hoping to lead the captain with her.
“Yer lot don’t have –”
“Ye’ve got till three, Tuck!” Marigold yelled. Tambu froze. No, no, no–what are ye doin’? Turn around! Turn around an’ see what I’m doin’! “On three, ye turn inter what I am! Get yer goons out, or else, hear?”
“What?” yelped the captain, turning around and letting go of Tambu’s arm.
“Don’t even think about it, whore!”
“I am quite sure,” Brother Tuck replied, as smoothly as he could (though Tambu could see a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead), “that your–”
“THREE!” Marigold shouted. And she blew.
A cloud of green smoke — pollen, really — enveloped Brother Tuck’s head. He coughed and staggered back. “Now d’ye believe me?” Marigold shouted. “Now? Get OUT before it takes effect!”
It wouldn’t take effect. It was a harmless prank. Tambu knew that — so did Wei Li. If it wasn’t, she and Wei Li and Mirelle and Erin all would have been leafy ten times over. But it was good for scaring away troublesome johns, and, perhaps, dangerous churchmen.
“That’s IT!” yelled the captain.
“That’s assaultin’ a churchman, that is,” he grabbed Marigold’s arm and twisted it behind her back, dragging her closer to him, “an’ it won’t be happenin’ on me watch! Ye’re under arrest!”
“No!” Wei Li shouted. “It is a prank! A joke! He won’t turn into — into a Plantsim!”
“A joke?” The captain rounded on Wei Li. “Ye call that a joke? Ye heard what she said! Threatenin’ an’ assaultin’ a churchman! Ye can say what ye want about royal protection, barkie whore–”
“Let me go!”
“–but that don’t give ye the right ter break the law!” He took a pair of manacles off his belt and started to bind Marigold’s hands.
“No, no!” Wei Li shouted.
“Captain,” Brother Tuck coughed, “I’m fine. There is no need–”
“Ye can take it up with the law later, but I saw what I saw, an’ that’s an end o’ it! The lads — the whores — we all witnessed it! An’ she ought ter swing for it!”
Wei Li shrieked. Tambu couldn’t speak.
“No,” Brother Tuck coughed, “no, that isn’t–”
“Take it up with the law!” the captain roared. “Menon, Orlov — get that baby, an’ let’s get out o’ here!”
“Sir–” said the Avilion guardsman.
“NOW! Ye ain’t earned the right ter talk back ter me, Orlov, an’ ye never will if ye keep on defendin’ this trash!”
The two guards hurried for the stairs and up them. Tambu, not knowing what else to do, found herself following them.
“This is wrong,” murmured the Avilion guard — Orlov.
“It’s orders,” replied the other one, Menon. He threw open the door to Tambu’s room. “No baby here.”
Orlov reluctantly checked Marigold’s room. “Nor here.”
Tambu hung back, twisting her hands together. Daisy was in the room that used to be Erin’s, at the end of the hall. Dare she hope that–
Of course she couldn’t hope for that. They were guards, but they couldn’t be complete idiots, much as Tambu might hope they were.
So the guards flung open the doors, looked into the rooms, and pronounced each one baby-free. Then they came to the last one, the one where Daisy was, and Menon opened that door–
“Sweet Wright, what is that?”
“That” was, of course, Daisy.
She looked up at Menon and Orlov with her big, sunny smile. “Hi!”
Menon staggered backward. “It spoke ter me!”
Orlov leaned closer. Daisy smiled at him. “Me ma told me about these … these are what Plantsims look like when they’re little …”
“It’s a barkie baby? Wright above! How d’ye kill it?”
“How can ye say that? It’s a baby!” Orlov shouted. “Leave the poor little lass alone!”
“It’s unholy, is what it is!”
Daisy’s eyes volleyed between the two of them, her little brows knit in confusion. But she knew hate and fear when she heard it, even though she was so young. Her jaw started to quiver.
“Sweet Wright, it’s gonna–gonna–” Tambu had no idea what Menon thought that Daisy was about to do, but whatever it was, it made Menon stumble back and run from the room.
Orlov watched his partner collapse against the other wall, panting, and took a step closer to Daisy.
“If ye’re takin’ that thing, I’m runnin’!” Menon shouted, and suited the action to the word.
Orlov took another step closer to Daisy, then looked at Menon’s retreating back. “Blow this fer a game of soldiers,” he muttered, then turned smartly on one heel, following Menon …
And leaving Daisy behind.
Daisy watched him go, then her eyes turned to Tambu. Her cheeks would be sticky with sap soon. “Auntie?”
“Oh, baby — don’t ye worry none.” She darted into the room and kissed Daisy’s head. “Everythin’ will be all right. Auntie will fix it.”
She couldn’t. But she couldn’t very well tell that to the baby. Tousling Daisy’s leaves, she ran from the room, closing the door behind her, and ran down the steps.
The shouting was already well under way by the time Tambu got outside. “It were a DEMON, Brother, I swear, a DEMON!”
Wei Li heard the door open and turned to Tambu. “Tambu! They don’t have–”
“I know. Shush.”
“Are you saying,” Brother Tuck shouted, “that you saw the child and you left it in this den of sin and vice?”
“It ain’t a regular child, sir,” said Orlov. “It’s …” He hesitated. “It’s a Plantsim.”
“Ain’t no such thing as a baby barkie!” barked the captain.
Tambu rolled her eyes. These Glasonlanders were true fools. Every Reman knew that Plantsims had to have baby Plantsims somehow. How else could the government keep Riverblossia going for so long?
“A Plantsim?” Brother Tuck spit out. “A baby Plantsim? I …” He paled and stared at Marigold. “You know what?” he murmured. “You’re right, Corporal Menon. Best to leave that … thing where it is.”
“Are ye jokin’?” the captain roared. “Ye drag me an’ me men out here fer nothin’?”
“I came to see if there were any children who could be saved from this den of sin and vice — and there are not! Now, since we clearly must deliver this woman over to the engines of the law, I suggest we go!”
“Permission to return ter the Avilion barracks, sir?” asked Orlov, saluting the captain.
“Go ter hell, fer all I care!” yelled the captain. “An’ get movin’, ye!” He shoved Marigold forward —
And then they were in the wagon Brother Tuck had doubtless arranged. And then they were gone.
Wei Li turned to Tambu. “What will we do?”
Ye’re axin’ me? Tambu rubbed her head. “We’ll bring Daisy ter Ash Thatcher’s. Aye. That’s what we’ll do first. Jest let me get dressed–”
“But–but Marigold!” Wei Li gasped. “What about her? You heard what that guard said! She might–”
“We can’t do nothin’ about that. Not now.”
“What? But Tambu! We can’t–”
“We–you an’ me–can’t do nothin’ about that. Now, yer fancy-man might be able ter … Shiny might be able ter … Mirelle might be able ter do somethin’, too, once sunset comes. But ye an’ me? We’re powerless, Wei Li.”
Wei Li’s face paled, and she licked her lips. “We–we cannot be powerless.”
“We are,” Tambu snapped. “Get used ter it. An’ if ye want ter help, then ye hold Daisy, an’ we’ll both walk her down ter Ash Thatcher’s.”
“But nothin’, Wei Li. Marigold would want Daisy safe an’ sound first. After that …”
Tambu finally gave up and shrugged. “I’m out of ideas, Wei Li. But we’re in luck. It’s a good walk ter Ash’s tree. Wright willin’, we’ll think o’ somethin’.”
Wright willin’, Tambu thought. What a joke. The only thing the Lord Wright was willing to do to women like Tambu, Wei Li, Marigold and Mirelle was make their lives harder and harsher, giving them a good foretaste of hell before He shoved them into it forever.
But it didn’t matter. What was Tambu’s life but one long flip of the bird to the Lord and His servants?
Especially his servants.
Brother Tuck would pay for this, Tambu decided. One way or another — he would pay.