Oira giggled. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine having a lady begging me. I can't think what to do." She paused for another giggle. "If I can even still call you a lady."

Tecia rose to her feet. "You can if you help me keep this a secret. You could get a lot out of life by having a noblewoman helping you."

Oira grinned at her. "First, hide me in your room for today. I want time to think of what's possible."

"Yes! Yes, definitely. We can make that happen. But I must get cleaned up before the handmaiden comes around to wake me."

"Show me your room. I'll hide in there. You go on down to the kitchen and clean up."

Tecia almost bristled. The whore was giving her orders? But then it finally sunk in, exactly how things stood. She adopted the downcast eyes she'd seen so many whores wear when looking at her. "As you say."

Teshia found fresh water in the kitchen and frantically washed her face and her flower while brewing some tea to share with Oira. She rushed the cleaning and the brewing, then scurried back out of the room. As she did, she heard voices outside the door on the far side -- the cooks arriving to relight their cookfires. She was just in time.

She made her way back to her room. Closing the door behind her, she found Oira sitting on the open window sill.

"I see what happened," the girl said, waving behind her toward the tree branch. "You went out into the night and naturally some men took you for a whore."

"May I offer you some tea?"

Oira smiled when she realized Tecia was going to observe the necessities, and accepted the tea. She took a sip and grimaced. "You didn't do much of a job."

Tecia fought back the rage that threatened to rise at Oira's effrontery. "I was a bit rushed."

The prostitute giggled. "I imagine. So, tell me, why did you go out in the night?"

Tecia shrugged. "I don't know."

Oira shook her head. "Come now. Aren't you going to 'do anything for me'?" She added, almost as an afterthought, "If I don't tell your husband, that is. So let's hear the true answer."

Tecia took a deep breath, flushed bright red in her cheeks, and summoned the courage to talk about it. "I... I know ladies never want this. I guess I'm a bad noblewoman. But... well... I wanted to get stuffed."

Oira's eyebrows went up. "So you actually WANTED what happened?" Then she giggled. "You like it."

Flushing thoroughly red, Tecia nodded, then came over to sit on the bed in front of Oira, who was still on the windowsill. "What am I going to do?"

Oira patted her head. "For now, I'll hide under the bed until the handmaiden comes. When she comes to wake you, send her for water for a hot bath. Once she's poured it, she'll go away until you call, and I'll come sit with you and we'll talk about the future."

The first day, nothing happened. Oira spent the time hiding in Tecia's bedchamber, and Tecia went on about her life.

But at night, Oira gave her no choice: Tecia went outside again. Or rather, Teamora did. She used that as her name when she was pretending to be a public woman. She had a harder time finding custom, so far from the market district, but still she managed to get stuffed a couple times. It was hard to admit it to Oira, but she came back disappointed. She had wanted more.

But the next day, Oira had a different idea. She made Tecia hide under the bed in the morning. When the handmaiden came in, she simply dressed Oira instead of Tecia, all the while bowing, scraping, averting her eyes and deferring to "Lady Naywin."

Apparently, the resemblance between the two was even stronger than Tecia had believed. She'd first hired the whore because they looked alike, and Lady Naywin knew her husband enjoyed girls who looked like her. But to actually have the whore taken for her... she wanted to get out from under the bed and slap the handmaiden.

That night, Oira didn't even have to confront her about it. Tecia went willingly into the night, and came back in the same state she had on her first night out.

When she clambered back into the room in the pre-dawn hours, Oira explained the future to her.

"You can stay here long enough to talk to me," the whore -- former whore -- explained. "But then you need to be gone before dawn."

Tecia gasped and sputtered. "What? Don't be silly, girl, I have to bathe, I have to dress, I have to prepare myself for..."

"Whores don't dress," Oira replied, cutting her off. "And they bathe in night houses."

"I am not a..."

"Yes you are."

Tecia stared. Her mouth hung open and she simply stared at the girl she had hired three days ago. What the girl was suggesting...

"Forever?" The word trembled out of Tecia's quivering lips.

"Well, until you get too old to make money at it anymore. Then you'll retire. Maybe along the way you'll make enough money to become a night house mistress..."

Tecia didn't say anything, so Oira made it clear.

"I got used to everyone calling me 'Lady Naywin' yesterday. It wasn't any harder to pretend than I thought it would be. If I didn't understand some point of etiquette, I just kept my mouth shut and people assumed I was just stupid. No one would ever even conceive of the idea that I wasn't a noble. So I'll just become Lady Naywin. You can go back and be Oira. After all, you seem to like the life. Why would you even resist?"


The former public woman wouldn't let her finish. "But nothing, 'Oira.' Get back to Peach Spice before someone realizes you're still here after the man who hired you sent you away days ago."

Tecia wasn't so easily deterred, however. "But the only reason I've been letting you give commands these last few days is to keep you from telling my husband, because he'd turn me away and make me a whore if he knew. If you send me off to be a whore anyway, I've got no reason to listen to you anymore."

Oira nodded. "Technically, that's true. I thought about that today while I was riding with Ladies Ilson and Everso. But here's why you'll listen anyway:

"You're a prostitute now, whatever you do. If you go along with my plan, then I take your place, you take mine, and we both live happily ever after. If you won't go along with it, I'll just tell your husband. I lose nothing, after all. As Oira, I'm already a ward of the King. I can't fall lower than that.

"But you'll quickly become a ward of the King when your husband doesn't want you anymore. AND you'll have to endure the very unpleasant confrontation that would come along with him finding out. Either way, you're at Peach Spice tomorrow, taking care of merchants' guards and the rest of the mob that's in town this week for the festival.

"Your way, I'm there with you, and that's your only consolation. My way, you avoid being screamed at by your husband and being humiliated in front of the Ilsons and all their other guests. Plus, your son back at Naywin Keep still has a mother, and doesn't have to deal with the idea that his mother is now a prostitute. If I know anything about how nobles raise their children, he'll never know the difference. He's probably seen a hired matron far more than he's ever seen you."

Tecia sat through the whole speech in silence, realizing that Oira was correct in all points. "You would really do that? Give my secret away even though you got nothing from it? Just to destroy me?"

"But you see," Oira replied, "I do get something from it. By being willing to do that -- and I am -- I can convince you to let me stay here and become Lady Naywin."

The whore -- former whore -- paused and smiled at the new whore. "So, Oira, best head on back to Peach Spice. My husband enjoyed your company, but he has a girl from Ilson's harem to keep him entertained now."

The former noblewoman dropped the outline of a curtsey without a dress to tug at, and then met her replacement's eyes one last time before she climbed out the window into the night.

As she left she said, "Don't call me Oira. My name is Teamora."

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