Nina Part OnebyPaulUK©
I don't know how much you know about the Kingdom where I live. We are, I have to admit, a little off the beaten track, so we don't see many visitors. We also have a problem with poverty that keeps traders and curious visitors away. Even wandering barbarian hordes tend to back off when they approach our borders, figuring that the demand for plundering, pillage and rapine services (while you wait) will be higher elsewhere.
You'll find my people in the high mountains of the Jutting Peaks. There's an ancient caravan trail, which leads to the Dwarven city of Krak Lhabbia. You follow it from the trading city of Sphincter, across the brown, silty Menstrus River, then turn off and go up through the foothills past the Temple of Two Moons and the Great Stone of Fallus, where the goat people perform unspeakable sacrifices. Then there's the Forest of Kunnt and the Elven village of Cunnigularis... but enough of all this geography. Suffice it to say, you go past a lot of more interesting places before you reach the city in which I was born.
After 500 miles of bone-shaking travel, you come to the kingdon of Mammari, its capital city, Mammari and its sole landmark, the Palace of Mammari. The city used to be bigger, and the kingdom too come to that, but both have seen better days. A lot of the outlying parts of the Kingdom were sold off to pay gambling debts. The city is about all there is left.
Still, you're no more interested in ancient history than geography, I'm sure, so I'll pass directly onto my own tale. My name is Nina, and I was born in the upstairs room of the Humped Backed Beast Inn, the finest tavern in the whole city. You can be sure that is true, for ours was the only tavern left in the city, what with the drought and the bad harvests and the fact that the local water was stronger before the brewing process than it was after. There being so few customers interested in drinking at the Inn, my mother had kept the place going by offering services that required a different kind of lubrication.
I grew up in an ordinary enough way for the first twelve years of my life. Then, somewhere before my thirteenth birthday, something strange happened. My chest started expanding, rather like a slowly inflating balloon... or rather two balloons, each threatening to burst at any moment. And my legs grew longer and longer, losing their girlish fat to become slender and well-defined. By the time I was fourteen, it was as if a different person had emerged from the shell of the old, rather like a snake sheds its skin as it grows larger. It was all very strange to me. My mother, on the other hand, seemed delighted. She explained that I was "becoming a woman". She had been looking forward to this event for some time, since it meant I could share some of the "burdens" of the family business.
This struck me as decidedly odd. First, I did just about everything around the inn anyway... serving, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, carting barrels and cleaning barrels. Mother led a more subdued lifestyle, it seemed to me, away from the dark squalor of the tap room, entertaining particular patrons in her room upstairs. Now, it seemed, she expected me to do that as well.
In the late summer after my fifteenth birthday, mum started to prepare me for what she had in mind. She bought me a new dress. I say bought, although I know that no money changed hands (I did the books as well). I say new, because it was new to me. In fact, it was extremely worn, particularly at the hem of the skirt, and at the neck. And I say dress, even though we had a dishcloth with more style and better material. It hung by two flimsy straps at the shoulder, and was worn so thin that I was sure I could count the freckles on my chest through it.
"That hem needs taking up a bit," commented mum as I modelled the dress for her. "We'll cut off those worn edges at the throat as well." I looked down. The top of the dress was a long way below my throat already. I'd been wondering about sewing on a piece of ribbon or something. "No, no," tutted mother. "Take it from me, what that dress needs is pruning. Like a rose." The gardening commenced. Mum snipped at the edges of that dress on and off for most of the next few weeks. Every time it came out of the trunk, mum would hack off a little more, muttering about how things bloomed when they were cut right back. Week after week, month after month, the dress declined. By the time mum pronounced herself satisfied, the dress had shrunk to a little more than a belt. Any rose that had been subjected to such treatment would have regressed through some previous evolutionary stages.
Mum was delighted with the results.
By that time, it was almost my sixteenth birthday. As the day grew closer, mum started talking to me about some very strange stuff to do with boys, babies, birds and bees. New words entered my vocabulary, words like "thing" (pronounced with great emphasis, but in a low voice, and accompanied by a strange facial twitch). I could see that mum was trying to teach me something important, but I struggled to understand. Mum just wasn't very good at putting things into words.
Of course, in fairness I have to say that no-one in Mammari wasted time on education, so I can't make a big point out of the fact that mum had never explained why I could never win at pissing over the fence contests. She made sure I knew how to count money, change a barrel, make the fire and cook her dinner, and that was that. Trying to impart this curious, new information at such a late stage was beyond her. I had left childhood behind me, I freely admit, quite ignorant of a great many things.
I never knew, for example, why it was that mum went to bed every single time a customer came into the Inn. With the customer. How could she be so tired? She never did a minute of work, leaving it to me to slop out, and serve the slops to the next passer-by. Whatever this burden was that she was currently bearing on her own... well, I wasn't sure I wanted any of it.
Then there were the noises. I thought some of the men were taking liberties with my mum, getting her running back and forth fetching stuff, that sort of thing. There was a lot of huffing and puffing, and furniture being moved about, and the men would shout "Now, bitch, now!" and my mum would say "I'm coming!" I wasn't sure I was ready for all that extra humping, so I decided it was time I found out exactly what was going on. I began peeking through the keyhole of my mum's bedroom door. At last, my education proceeded rapidly.
That first time, I saw my mum sitting astride a large gentleman farmer, swatting his bare backside with a riding crop. I remember thinking how strange it was. I hadn't played Cavalry Charge since I was five. Mum was telling him he'd been naughty, which was another strange thing, because when I was naughty I had my ears boxed and was made to sleep in the wood bunker for a week. A few swats with a stick wasn't much punishment at all; the fat old farmer almost seemed to be enjoying it.
I saw many bizarre goings-on through that keyhole, and I came to understand that there were things that happened between a man and a woman that meant a good-looking girl could earn a living without sweeping, scrubbing or scouring. Through that keyhole, I learned... at a distance, I admit... the art of screwing. That is to say, I learned about what went where, for how long (as in, not very), and other mechanicals, but I didn't really understand what it was all for! It appeared to me to be just another part of the innkeeping trade.
I would have tried to share what I had learned through the keyhole with my friends, but my new shape seemed to have changed my relationship with them. The same boys who had enjoyed fighting me and racing me through the deserted streets now seemed much more interested in other games, games which involved taking off our clothes and poking each other with inquisitive fingers. It was just a freak statistical thing, I suppose, that I was the only girl in our district the boys wanted to play with. Hairy Mary and Skinny Sara Skunk were out of favour, and the other more presentable females in our peer group had drifted off as their families sold them to the palace as servants or packed them off to Sphincter to seek their fortune.
I know, I'm drifting off the subject. Sorry. As I was saying, spring arrived, and... on my sixteenth birthday... mum had me wear the dress again. Not just for a fitting this time, but in the tap room. She put up a sign in place of one of the boards across the windows, so that any passers-by could see we were offering FREA GOTZ MILK TONITE! Then she got me to wash myself all over in a small basin of goat's milk... just like Queen Clitopatra, mum said. Finally, I pulled on the dress. It was a struggle. I had added a little more to the size of my bust since the last fitting, and as she attempted to tie the bodice, large parts of me tried to escape. We pulled and pushed at the material for a while, until I realised that mum was pulling when I was pushing. She seemed quite happy for more of me to be on the outside of my clothes than the inside, so I deferred to her good judgment. The neckline was hooked over the stubby tips of my breasts, and the hem covered my buttocks only as long as I stood still and didn't breathe.
So, partially-wrapped in my finery, I tottered downstairs behind mum on a pair of large clogs with heavily built-up heels that threatened to pitch me over onto my chest. Mum said they were "sexy." "Men like that kind of thing," she added, and she laughed when I remarked that I had never seen a man wearing anything like them. "You want to see Testy Cal the Bard when he's in a funny mood!" she explained, obscurely.
There was another addition to the decor of the tap room, which I noticed when I came downstairs. Mum had found a smoke-blackened board and some chalk, and she had written my name across the top followed by the question "NAM YUR PRIIS. HOO WILL BEE FIRZT?" The names of a few tavern regulars were listed down one side. We'd had something similar when mum was left a pig by a relative who had died, and she'd auctioned it off. I noticed that the leading bidders were the same individuals who had been most active in the pig-auction. My mum noticed that they were offering roughly the same amount.
After I came into the room, though, the bidding perked up a bit. As I tottered around the room on those ridiculous shoes, quite a few of the evening's patrons became quite lively. When I bent over to pick up a tankard from Throbb the Blacksmith's table, he bit halfway through his tongue, and then topped the highest bid with a loud... if somewhat mispronounced... cry. Everyone seemed to be behaving out of character.
Old Mister Stiffun, the undertaker, was the strangest of them all. He frequented the Humped back Beast maybe three times a year, and he had a wide reputation for being exceedingly careful with his money. Despite the fact that he was about 80 years old, he was as spry as a man of 75 normally. Tonight, though, he seemed afflicted with sweaty palms and shortsightedness. He kept pressing himself up very close, saying how he didn't recognise me (of course, he might just have been trying to catch a glimpse of the dress... from too far away there was no way anyone could have seen what was left of it). He also kept dropping things on the floor, and I was forever picking them up.
It was the rowdiest night I could remember. As the end of the evening approached, Mister Stiffun was the clear leader in the bidding. He had offered the priceless sum of eight silver balls... trappings from his horses' bridles, I was told. "What has he won?" I asked mum in a low whisper, watching her sweep the silver into her ample bosom. "You, dear," she replied. "You're going to give him your maidenhead."
I was horrified. I had few enough possessions anyway... what did mum mean by giving any of them away to undertakers? And besides, what was my maidenhead anyway? I'd never seen it, that's for sure. In fact, all I really owned was my ridiculous dress, and I had seen more of that thrown away than I was currently wearing. When mum used to say to me "one day all this will be yours," she always did so when she was escorting a gentleman up the stairs to her bedroom. Did this mean the bed was something to do with my "maidenhead"?
"Just go upstairs with Mister Stiffun," mum explained. "I'm sure he'll show you what he wants. There's a good girl." I was outraged. After almost sixteen years of sleeping in a rough cot, it seemed really unfair of mum to give my inheritance away.
"So! Bed-time, is it?" I wailed. Mister Stiffun's complexion became quite waxy. One of the other patrons had to stop him stumbling into the spitoon. "Just take him upstairs and let him decide what he wants," my mother muttered, irritably.
Ah! So, it was burden-bearing time, was it? I didn't think Mister Stiffun was up to a game of Cavalry Charge, but mum had provided me with a glimpse of many other games that she played with the gentlemen who went to her bedroom. I wondered just which Mister Stiffun would want to play. If he was after my maidenhead, would it involving a lot of furniture moving? I was pretty tired already. Someone made a loud remark about moving the earth, or something, and I became really worried. Farming appealed even less than being a publican.
The more I thought about the way the evening was progressing, the less I liked the idea. Playing stupid games with an undertaker in exchange for some second-hand horse trappings just didn't seem like a fair exchange. As the last moments of the auction approached, I started looking round for an alternative. And that's when I saw the Wizard.
Tumescence, the Court Wizard had stopped off at the Humped Back Beast for a brief swill of rancid goat's milk about an hour before. He wasn't what you might call a regular patron. Once every four years, tops, he would drink a tankard or two and then spend an hour in the company of my mother. It had been at least three years since his last visit. In fact, the last time he came, I had still been as skinny around my chest as I was round my waist. Tonight, he had drunk himself close to oblivion before approaching mum... I could sympathise with that... then they had disappeared upstairs for about twenty minutes. Since coming back into the tap room, he had been drinking pretty heavily, and had paid almost no attention to the loud auction being carried on around him. And it was that, instinctively, which made me decide that he had to win it. One long look into the leering, watery eyes of Mister Stiffun, and I decided he wasn't going to get this maidenhead thing, no matter what it was. When I saw the Wizard, the final piece fell into place. Perhaps I could trade it to him.
Let me explain. Although the city of Mammari was poor, the court of our blessed King, the Magnificent Harrdon, was rich. In fact, the city was poor because the court was rich. What little wealth there was left in the Kingdom tended to migrate towards the centre, just as if it was huddling together for warmth. So, while the rest of us scratched a living as best we could from goat meat, goat wool and goat's milk, the King's Palace was an opulent repository of money, patronage and power. They say it's all relative, doesn't they? And the King and his relatives had all the money.
Those eight silver balls Mister Stiffun had bid for my virginity represented a fortune among the clientele of the Humped Back Beast. But to someone who lived at Court they would be a pittance. From past experience, I knew that the Court Wizard was a wealthy man, and a generous one. In one night, he could spend the kind of money that would keep us in goat gruel and cheese for a month.
It was getting close to closing time, but no-one was leaving. Mum was closing in on Mister Stiffun, making sure he didn't try to escape. The undertaker had no such intention. He sat in the corner, absorbing all the light at that end of the bar, watching every move that I made. I knew I had to think quickly.
Just as I was close to despair, Tumescence rose to his feet, leaning heavily on his rune-carved staff. He looked a wreck. His straggling white beard seemed too heavy for his head to hold up, and he bore the weight of the years on his arched back. Funny business, wizarding. Earlier that evening, he'd looked about twenty years old, and had chased my mum round the pantry and up the stairs faster than a goat under a landslide. Now he was a sack of skin and bones, and walked with a severe limp.
Was he about to leave? No, as with his last visit, he was preparing to sleep off the night's excesses in a fireside chair. Why, I don't know. The fire wasn't lit, hadn't been since the week before the last of the snow melted. Still, I decided to make him comfortable, and I bent down to make the fireplace more presentable. The ashes and grime were always a problem, and since there was always a big queue for the privy in the Humped Back Beast, some of our patrons used the fireplace as an outhouse. I wanted to clean off the worst of the filth, but I couldn't find a cloth. So, I took off the dress and used that.
Look, there was nothing vulgar about it. I had my back turned as I wriggled out of the dress, and there were only mum, the undertaker, the wizard and ten or twelve others at that end of the bar anyway.
I bent down to start work, and heard an immediate clatter behind me as Tumescence fell over the chair. I looked back. The Wizard was in a state of some distress. He was clutching his chest and swaying back into my mother's arms. As I turned around, Tumescence grew even paler. He stared at my chest, eyes fixed on the way my boobs were bouncing about as I moved. I tried to stop them circulating by pressing against them with my arms, but this just made Tumescence even worse. His face was now as yellow as a sheet, and he was trembling like a leaf, but after I fetched him an enervating tumbler of Thregston's Goat Groomer, he managed to beckon to my mum and point at me. I stood close by, arms crossed loosely across my chest, biting my nails with apprehension.
"W-who's the new girl, Martha?" he wheezed, his eyes still out of focus. Mum caught the tone in his voice, and her eye narrowed. How I wished she hadn't lost her glass one! "It's Nina, my lord Wizard... you know, my daughter." Tumescence tried to remember. "She lives here?" he gasped. "She was only twelve when you were last here," my mum explained. "It's her birthday today. She's sixteen. We've been having a little auction to see who would be first to..."
Tumescence wheezed, and sagged against the bar. He tried to keep his eyes on my face, but they kind of fell to my boobs, and sort of glazed over, as if he was imagining something. He started talking, but his voice was distorted by all the constant wheezing and coughing this caused. I worked out that the general drift was: "How much?"
My heart fluttered... I thought I might faint! Mum, however, was a shrewd woman, and kept her feet firmly on the ground. Well, right now she did.
"Mister Stiffun has bid eight silver bells for her," she said.
"That's right!" piped in the undertaker, who had been slithering closer towards us. "And the bidding is closed!"
"I'll give you four gold Randies for her," said Tumescence.
"Closed, I tell you!"
"Make it five."
Mum and the Wizard spat on their hands and shook on it while Mister Stiffun howled with disbelief. Mum looked mighty pleased. Tumescence pulled out a purse from a pouch on his belt, and counted out five thick gold coins. All over the bar, people sucked in their breath. An elderly thief in the snug choked to death just from the smell of those coins. Tumescence started to replace the pouch when mum pulled him up with an impatient gesture of her hand. Tumescence looked at her quizzically.