Talla's Temple Ch. 08byxtorch©
"Should I feel different now?" Talla asked.
"Do you think you should?" Inga replied.
Talking to Inga was so much like talking to a teacher. Did all older women end up like this when they talked to younger women, or was Inga chosen on purpose to accompany her? The orange-clad officer who had picked Inga seemed to have pulled her name at random.
"Well," Talla started. "I was, um-"
"Penetrated," Inga offered.
"By a penis."
"Hasn't happened before?"
"Sounds different, then. But how do you feel?"
That required some thought. She liked that this conversation was taking place in the dark on their long trek back to the Temple. It let her think more clearly when she thought her face was less visible. How did she feel? True, the actual physical feeling inside her body was still there. It wasn't as if Zhair'lo were still inside her, but the purely physical sensation that she had been - opened - and stretched was still there. Gods how she wanted that again. And on top of that there was the whole fuzzy thing the Mesh had done to her brain.
"But not in the way you expected?"
What had she expected? She hadn't known what sex was just a couple of weeks ago. She'd had so little time to think about it. And tonight she'd actually gone and done it. She'd sought out the man she wanted and ... gods, what were they talking about?
"I don't know what I expected," Talla said. "I can't remember what I thought it would be."
"You're a part of the Temple now," she said candidly. "You're one of us. You have a role in bringing the peace of the Goddess to the men -- all of the men -- of Gern."
All the men. Indeed, she'd be expected to do this over and over again with hundreds of different men. Every other woman in the Temple did the same thing. Everyone and everything was shared with everyone else.
"But, remember, you're still you," Inga went on. "You were Talla before and you're Talla now. Having sex doesn't change who you are inside."
That seemed sage advice. Talla nodded in agreement.
They were passing through Endowment's major gate. They waved casually at the guards and Talla turned for her apartment.
"Nuh-uh," Inga said. "This way."
Back to Endowment Hall?
"I'm pretty tired," Talla begged. "I was just going to go to sleep."
They'd heard the eleventh bell go off during their long walk back from the farm.
"Not on your first night," Inga declared firmly. "This way."
The meeting was coming to an end. The Sorceress of Abundance, seven of her Officers and her Second, Atreya, were gathered in a circle of chairs amid the pillars of Principia Abundance.
"Last one. Item 17 on the agenda," Atreya said, somewhat fatigued. "Zhair'lo M'han."
"Seal breaker," someone commented.
"He's ours, then?"
Proud murmurs at that thought.
"Until we test him," the Sorceress put in, quelling the sudden tide of possessiveness. "Pril, what do we have?"
"Across the Division, we have eleven sealed Virgins queued up, Mistress," a blond haired Officer responded. "One of them has already defeated three upgrade attempts."
Two failures wasn't all that unusual. Three was getting outlandish.
It took time to find the most powerful young men and you didn't dare put them through more than an upgrade every other day. The Temple meanwhile didn't like to have any woman taking more than an upgrade per month for simple reasons of safety. They pushed that limit for Virgins, on the theory that repeatedly pounding at a wall ought to break it down faster.
"Nadine, Mistress. She awaits her first Point upgrade."
"Put her on the docket tomorrow night. Let Zhair'lo have a shot at her."
"Abundance?" a dark haired woman put in.
"I looked it in to it earlier," Greta replied. "He won't be available tomorrow night."
"Virgin's Choice, Mistress. He will be busy."
"Popularity," the Sorceress said with a sigh. "We tried to quell it."
Which was perfectly untrue. It was, however, the line she and her Queen had decided to take rather than shout to the rooftops the screw up that had actually happened. If everyone thought Zhair'lo was amazing, they weren't thinking that the Division of Endowment had nearly killed two people.
"Book her the following night, then."
"Mistress," Pril nodded politely as she noted it.
"That's the end of the agenda," Atreya said.
"Good," the Sorceress responded. "The new recruits should be finishing their Initiation soon. Let us attend."
The last time she had been in this room had been the night of her Initiation. Talla supposed that this night had been an initiation of its own. It was fitting, tired as she was, to return to Endowment Hall.
"There was an Initiation tonight," she observed aloud as they entered the packed common room. It was her room now, warm and welcome. It even felt like home after the long walk back from the farm.
Inga nodded. "Yep. Three or four more recruits."
What an odd thought. Three or four girls, clueless, befuddled and topless, would be stumbling in just as she had three days ago. They would feel the warm fire, watch the reflections bouncing off the bronze pieces of art on the walls and be overwhelmed both by the sheer size of the place and by the attention they received.
Talla was feeling nostalgic and let herself relax for a moment. She still had a picture in her head of herself, seen from Zhair'lo's eyes, straddling him ...
"This way," Inga said, leading her deeper in to the crowd.
Placidly daydreaming, Talla followed Inga to a bar where the older woman ordered two drinks and handed one to Talla.
"Your first night," Inga toasted.
"My first night."
Glasses clinked together. Drinks were sipped. They found their way to a hip high table convenient for leaning. Inga nodded to a pair of women on the other side of the table. Acquaintances, perhaps? The two of them nodded back and came around to say hello.
Inga set her drink on the table and said, quite mysteriously, "Up!"
Talla didn't understand what that meant until Inga put one of her hands under Talla's arm. She tried to protest while also protecting her drink. Then she realized someone else had her other arm and a third woman was helping by lifting her at the waist. They planted her feet on the surface of the table before she could even get a word out.
With her mostly preserved drink in her right hand, only her left hand was free for a gesture of indignation. Her expression of resentment - fist on hip - was drowned out in drunken applause.
"Long skirt," someone heckled from the back of the room.
"Snip! Snip!" another shouted.
Ah. Another stupid tradition that no one had bothered to mention. It must become funny, later in life, to spring such things on younger women. The Temple managed to keep so many secrets.
The room broke in to a rhythmic three-beat foot stomping.
Thump-thump-thump. Thump-thump-thump. Thump-thump-thump.
"Hey-yah!" came a chorus of voices.
From somewhere a pair of shears was handed forward until it reached Inga.
"Time to cut your skirt," she said to Talla over the din.
Talla hadn't thought to take the expression literally, but apparently that was how it was done. She didn't see any point in arguing and contented herself to rolling her eyes.
Inga held the shears up at about the height of Talla's knees and pinched the fabric of her skirt to begin cutting.
"Nyit!" came a shout from the back of the room.
The voice carried enough power in it that Inga stopped to turn and look. What she and Talla saw was enough to drain the colour from both of their faces as all of the foot-stomping and chanting ceased.
Walking toward them through the crowd was not just a group of Officers in their orange blouses, but Atreya, Second of Abundance and the Sorceress of Abundance.
It was the the last of these who had called out for Inga to stop. There was no arguing with a force that numerous and high ranking. Was this tradition somewhat outside of Protocol? Talla hoped that she wasn't in any trouble.
"Nyit te hana," the Sorceress clarified, holding up one finger.
She held up two fingers and said, "Ren hana."
Not one something, but two somethings? Talla's grasp of Temple language was not where she would have liked it to be. What was a 'hana'?
Inga relaxed, at least, and then grinned as she turned back to look Talla in the eyes.
"Yes, I forgot," she said as she tilted her head at Talla's chest.
The shears went higher then, almost to the level of Talla's crotch, and Inga began cutting the fabric away. It was about then that Talla remembered where her underwear was. It hadn't seemed particularly important until someone start slashing away at her skirt. She'd felt secretly daring. That was how she liked her daring -- secret. Ankle length had seemed so, so safe.
The stomping and chanting had started again.
Without any means of protest, she could only rotate her body so that Inga could slice away her Virgin's long skirt in to a mini-skirt.
The fabric fell to the table at her feet.
"Congratulations, Initiate," Inga said with a sly grin.
Initiate? That would require some explaining. If she wasn't a Virgin of the first rank, why wasn't she a keeper of the Fourth rank? She remembered what Abundance had said earlier, about not being able to skip ahead. Yet it was clearly she who gave the directive: not one, but two. For some reason Talla was getting the free promotion to Initiate.
The jovial crowd went back to its former state of ignoring her completely. Inga took hold of her hips -- hands to bare flesh under her mini-skirt -- to help her down to the floor.
"I seem to recall you saying that you were wearing underwear on your way out?" she asked.
"Um, yeah. I forgot them."
"Forgot them in his room - or outside somewhere?" she enquired further with a gentle tone.
Talla looked away.
"Listen," Inga said seriously. "I'm not going to rat on you. Just don't get caught doing it outside, all right?"
Talla looked up in to the older woman's eyes and nodded.
Inga the teacher was back again.
"It's like urinating in an open field," she explained to Talla firmly. "It's the sort of thing beasts do. We are better than beasts. Understand?"
"Good," Inga said. She took a deep breath and her expression brightened. "Let's finish our drinks over - "
A loud gong was struck, interrupting Inga in mid sentence. Talla recognized that sound from just three days before.
"New recruits," Inga observed.
As deep as they were inside the giant hall, they couldn't see the entrance where the new girls would be standing, topless as Talla had been, wondering what was going to happen to them next.
A voice echoed off the ceiling, announcing names and Disciplines. Talla strained to hear but the only thing she was even halfway confident about hearing correctly was the name 'Eletta'.
Not enough sleep.
Not up to standard.
Sex took a lot more out of him than masturbating ever had.
Nevertheless, Zhair'lo was up at the crack of dawn to wolf down a serious breakfast. It was a man's hunger he felt, not a boy's. Was that the sex or the labour?
"Tired, huh?" one of the older farm hands, a man named Kurran, mocked him in a kind fashion.
He could feel colour rising in his cheeks.
"Ah, Zhai-Zhai," Kurran said as he mussed up Zhair'lo's hair. "There'll be more of those nights."
Zhair'lo sincerely hoped so. He felt like he'd been stunned by the whole experience. He was worried he might have missed something in doing it so quickly -- or maybe in lying there staring at the sky for so long. He would have liked to do it again. When could he see Talla again?
"Do they come often?" he asked.
"Depends," Kurran said as he cleared the table. "When you're young, they come more often than when you're old. If you do your job, they definitely come more often. If you get lazy -- well, they don't come so much."
He tried to remember how often women had come by night to visit the blacksmith but found his memory quite fuzzy. He still hadn't quite summoned his wits about him.
Was hard work the requirement? He determined then and there to work quite hard. That meant getting out to the stables.
Talla, on the other hand, felt quite energetic.
She stepped out as early as she could. She really didn't want to be quizzed by Lara and Salee. She had no idea how to tell them what had happened -- or even what parts she wanted to share.
After picking up a light breakfast at the closest cafeteria, she went to Endowment Hall to get her assignment. Kara had drilled that in to them during their orientation. If a woman didn't have daytime work or her term expired, she was to go to Endowment Hall -- not the Offices -- for a new assignment. Visits to the Offices were for night time assignments only.
The morning sun had already evaporated the dew off the grass by the time she got there. It was going to be a hot day. The cool shade of the Hall was a welcome relief.
"I'm here for an assignment," Talla told the Acolyte behind the desk.
The woman searched through a stack of files.
No question about it; they kept things up to date.
"Nursery," the woman said curtly as she handed Talla a card with a date on it. "Four weeks."
What in the names of the gods was a 'nursery'?
"Yes?" the woman replied impatiently.
"Where would that be, Mistress?"
"Goddess's Triangle. Right across from the entrance to Sweetness. Can't miss it."
"Thank you, Mistress."
The Acolyte waved her away so she could serve the next woman in line.
Across the hall, side by side, a woman in blue and another in orange watched Talla walk away.
"Initiate, then?" Shanata casually asked Atreya.
"We discussed it at length," Atreya replied.
Shanata hadn't failed to notice the red streak across the flesh of her senior's chest. The crossing pieces of fabric of which her blouse was comprised covered her breastbone as long as she wasn't moving, but observant eyes could catch sight of the scar as her clothing shifted. As a consequence, Shanata didn't buy the 'Zhair'lo as hero' theory that was going around.
Atreya had been punished. That told the true story. It had been a screw up. Of that Shanata had no question. But was shoving Talla up to Initiate more of the same face saving nonsense?
"Upgrades come from the gods," Atreya said, stating one of the axioms of the Temple. "Whatever else we accept about that night, we must accept that."
Was it Shanata's imagination, or had Atreya made a subconscious gesture at her chest? Indeed. What had the woman in blue 'accepted' for her part in that debacle?
"We can not be permitted to question this any more than we could question a woman's choice of Discpline," the Second finished firmly.
"But a rank is not achieved merely with in-Discipline upgrades."
"So she needs the rest of the upgrades that go with her ranks?"
"That was our decision, yes," Atreya said.
"But an Initiate of Abundance gets at least one upgrade in Point or Strength. So why is she an Initiate?"
"I agree," Atreya said. "But the long standing tradition has been that rank -- and clothing -- change when the in-Discipline upgrade is transferred."
"So she achieves second rank -- Initiate - because she has two upgrades in Abundance, but - "
"But she's not a Neophyte because she doesn't yet have the other upgrades of an Initiate."
Shanata shook her head in confusion. That meant that when Talla got her Initiate's upgrade -- in Point or Strength - the fact that she already had her next upgrade in Abundance would make her a Neophyte?
"This sounds like one of those arcane rulings we get out of the Judges in Form," she told her superior.
"I won't disagree," Atreya said. "But I defy you to come up with something better."
Shanata let out a breath in resignation before shrugging her shoulders and turning back to the drawings laid out before them.
"We don't need you here," a woman explained to Talla when she arrived at the nursery.
There were pregnant women there. She'd been told about pregnancy, about how babies were made and how they came out. Within the Temple, she'd seen a few mildly pregnant women. But she'd never seen women so heavy with child -- and so many of them in one place.
And there were children. Really, really tiny children. Talla ogled. These little ones were absolutely helpless. They couldn't even walk.
"Never seen a baby before, I take it?" the woman asked.
"No, Mistress," Talla replied as she stared. She wasn't even sure of the woman's rank. Her clothing was orange but unconventionally practical. It was always safe to add the honorific.
"Well, there you go," she said with a wave of her hand. "Now you've seen a baby."
So tiny. Talla took a few steps to look at one sleeping in a small basket.
"That little boy is ten days old."
Talla touched his cheek with her fingertip.
"What is his name?"
"S'tek", the woman replied. She seemed faintly amused at Talla's reaction to the baby.
Some day they would expect her to produce children. It was every woman's duty. Some day something like this would come from her.
"Like I said," the woman continued, "we don't need you here. You were supposed to be assigned to Dorm 3 up the hill."
The children's dormitory. That was a relief. The prospect of caring for a baby frightened her. She wasn't ready for that.
"Here, give me your card," the woman said. She scribbled something on the card. "Just tell them Shar said you could pass and they'll let you through Sweetness, all right? Now hurry up. You're needed over there."
She had been assigned incorrectly. It was the first sign of disorganization she had ever seen.
Zhair'lo was taking a break from pitching hay when the messengers came. The days had been getting hotter. It was getting close to the height of mid summer. Soon the Temple would start sounding the heat bell in the afternoon. An hour in the shade would be a relief. For now, he and Kurran took breaks to rehydrate themselves whenever they needed it.
It was while they were standing next to the well that the messengers arrived.
"Message for Zhair'lo M'han", one of them said.
He had never seen these two girls before. They were both wearing bikini tops and the shortest version of the white skirt. And they were slim, like Talla had been before her upgrade.
Zhair'lo was keenly aware of the fact that he was standing almost exactly where Talla had tackled him.
He was also aware, as he had never been before, how physically close he was to having sex. Two pieces of clothing. Hell, one piece of clothing. There was no real need to remove the skirt. She could sit on the edge of the well and he could just -
"Thank you, young ladies," Kurran said wisely.
"You've been Summoned before?" one of them asked Zhair'lo.
"Ye-yes," he stammered, trying to look her in the eyes and speak properly. He was out of breath for some reason.
"Good," she said. "Then I needn't remind you to be on time."
With which insult both girls turned and jogged away. Zhair'lo remained standing there, staring at their retreating forms for some time. Their legs were so lean and muscular ...
There was mirth in Kurran's voice when he spoke. "Changes things, dunnit?"
"I never realized -- that -- I just - it's right there," he pointed at the retreating girls. "The whole time, it's been right there and ..."