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Rescue





Evelyn Danelle Weibel

Copyright © 2018 Evelyn Weibel

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1719001790

ISBN-13: 978-171900179















CHAPTER 1



Tashi limped into the dark saloon. The sickly-sweet smoke of lacchsa pipes wafted through the room; she almost gagged. She'd always hated the stuff, and didn't know exactly why she was here, except for the tip she'd gotten about a hero of the rebellion, Zaraj, snatched away in the night.

Trying to stifle her limp, she sauntered up to the bar and sat down on the bench. She rested her arms on the counter and gratefully stretched out her injured leg, which had still not recovered completely despite the medpatch and the best doctor she could afford. She suspected it had not healed correctly and it would never be the same again.

The bartender wobbled up to her. A man—unusual. She felt a sort of kinship with him just from his imperfect stride, an old injury perhaps.

"What'll it be?" he said. He had dark circles under his eyes as if he'd been up all night, and he wore a grease-stained gray shirt and an apron over his pants.

"I'll have a Noontide."

The man nodded and hobbled away to pour her a glass, then clunked it onto the bar so that a bit of foam spilled out onto the stained, pockmarked wood.

Tashi sipped the drink, and struggled not to make a face. She never drank alcohol if she could help it; she didn't know why people wanted to dull their senses, especially with something that tasted so foul. At least this was the lightest drink she could get, and so it would not make her drunk on one glass.

Tashi scrounged for a question to command the bartender's attention before it could be diverted. She had to know if Zaraj had been kidnapped; she'd been scouring the countryside for the past two days, working ever westward on the trail of vague rumors. She hoped it was not true, but there was no one else who felt that it warranted the time and effort. Just because he was a man.

If it had been her father, she would have gone to the ends of the earth for him. She had her father back, though wounded. Jet was safe at home, an infinite distance from this world. Zaraj had nothing, no one. He deserved a better fate. Now that things were settling down, the rebels were carving out a domain free of Lapparan, but it was still a bit chaotic. Zaraj had fallen through the cracks. But this district had to be one of justice—that was what they had fought for. Not least, for justice for slaves, like Zaraj. He did not deserve to be a slave; he should be hailed as a hero, just as much as the women. As much as Jet.

"So have you been working here long?" Tashi asked.

"Two years." He polished a glass. "I know what you're thinking. It's strange for a man to be in my position. But that's the good thing about being out here. A man has more opportunities, more freedom."

Some don't, she thought, though she figured that, as a man, he'd probably be sympathetic.

"How's business?"

He waved a hand. "Slow at the moment, as you can see."

A few scattered women sat at tables, smoking, drinking, conversing. There were several men as well, sitting next to women. The activity was quiet, muted, but then, it was early afternoon.

"How is it in general?"

"Good, for such a remote place. We're pretty much the last outpost before the untamed wilds."

She nodded. This dusty frontier town was her last stop; she had no idea where to go if she didn't find Zaraj here. How could one man disappear so thoroughly? It wasn't as if the west was densely populated.

"Do you have any…entertainment?"

"Oh, yes. Any bar worth anything has that. Just not at three-quarter in the afternoon. Come back at ten and five, that's when the action starts. We've got some real beauties, unlike the other bar in town."

She winced inwardly at his obvious marketing ploy. Women exploiting men was abhorrent, but they did it because they were in power; for men to have no shame about exploiting their own sex—she didn't understand it.

She leaned forward, setting her half-empty glass on the bar, and arranged her features into an expression she hoped looked eager. "What sort of entertainment?"

"Oh, all kinds. I tried to get the best possible, as far out as we are. It's why I'm the top of my game—even competing with women in the area."

She nodded. That explained what he was doing. You had to trample others down to get ahead…or at least, that was one way. Tashi had to believe that was not the only way to succeed.

The bartender leaned his arms on the bar, setting down his oilstained towel. "So, what's your pleasure? We have singers, dancers—this gorgeous creature called Masanai who does both. And then we have the more…private kind of entertainments. You can rent a booth in the back—" He waved a hand toward the door that led behind the stage—"and one of our dancers will strip for you. Then we have our upstairs rooms, where you can spend an hour with the company of your desire."

Revulsion cut through her; she fought to disguise it with mild interest. She had to admit, she had been quite sheltered—though she doubted she'd ever think this kind of thing was okay. "So, how much do these…encounters cost?"

He gave a laugh. "Encounter—that's a good one. You must come from the East."

"I did…when I was younger."

"Out here, we are a bit looser with our language, and our diversions."

That's not the only thing you're 'loose' with, she thought. In the east, they at least keep up the pretense of morality. Though even I got a hint of what went on behind closed doors, the degradation of some of those poor men, before we moved when I was ten….I thought it would be cleaner in the west. Less stifling and corrupt. In a way it is…in some quarters. Other places are filled with tyranny…still others with lawlessness. And then there are the decent, honorable people….I admit, there are still more in the west than the east, proportionately anyway.

"It costs more to bed a man than it does to just stay the night alone. In some inns it doesn't, but here—we've got top quality, and so we bill for it. Believe me, you won't be disappointed. A third of our business, in fact, comes from our beautiful young men who know how to please. They would be honored to entertain a lovely young woman such as yourself." He regarded her judiciously. "You look like you've been far, and you have some money to spare on a bit of relaxation."

She turned away so he wouldn't see the disgust on her face. Or the blush that warmed her cheeks. At least she was tan enough it was probably invisible…. She hated to think of herself in such a role, because even if she was the kind of person who went in for…that sort of entertainment, she could never imagine herself enjoying another's suffering. Because she knew this much: Most of the men were coerced. They did not choose this life. Even if they did, they were often beaten and wanted out, but their owners would not let them. If they were not slaves to start out with, they became slaves by default.


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