The story of how one prostitute changes the world.
a keeper of secrets
a seller of lies
to be yours
for the right price
Her client’s moans cut through the sounds of the Ba’keo night drifting through the open window. Hints of the Blue Sun Festival lingered in the air, beneath the clear night sky. A cold tide replaced the warm water as it lapped against the shore. They listened to the sounds of the ocean that released salt into the air, which clung to their skin and mixed with their sweat.
Buried deep between her thighs, it wasn’t her moans but the movement of her hips that revealed to Makkedah she was close to climax. Her body gave up secrets. She spoke to her in words of heavy breathing and tightened muscles, in words of ecstasy and fantasy, in words that Makkedah was paid to understand.
She split her client like a pomegranate, sucking her sweet nectar between Makkedah’s full lips. Two bodies wrestled in the most ornate tavern in the East. Breast, fingers, vulvas, thighs, hands, clits, and tongues all touching, rubbing, caressing until needs could be satisfied. She needed her client as much as her client needed her. Two very different needs. One act.
She dug and searched for the place deep within her client, a place of unspoken mysteries and unfathomable truths. She found it, tucked away with her secret desires. A grimace of pleasure spread across her client’s face. She was familiar with the way her sing-song cries gathered soft at first, hovering in the back of her throat, growing, growing, growing, until they threaten to consume her. Makkedah showed no mercy.
In a guttural halitus of moans and vocalizations, she grabbed a fist full of Makkedah’s curly black hair as her cries erupted into the darkened room. Her voice released a ragged flood of fear, pride, and joy over their bodies. The candlelight flickered to the sonic rhythms, casting moving shadows on silk teal sheets and pillows filled with peacock feathers. Makkedah drained the life from a body. A body that was nearly translucent and checkered with freckles in places that the four suns touched. She shook in spasms. Then every muscle released, and she lay quiet.
Makkedah’s fee sat upon the solid chercher vanity near the corner of the room.
“A gift” her client said when she first arrived, pulling four hundred vekel from the pocket inside her cloak. Makkedah knew better than to take it out right.
We both know why we are here.
She dismissed the money and invited her inside, holding back feelings of disgust. It was not that long ago when she was making four times this amount.
Her client entered the same way every time; her hood drawn low to hide her face, all of her body covered, with quick movements and little conversation. It seemed odd to Makkedah that her cloak was made fgest wool, commonly adorned by the poorest of peasants. She would hang it in the same exact place, remove her shoes and store them beneath the bench near her door, and fold all of her clothes as she undressed. After she was satisfied she would leave the same way each time, concealing herself completely before she would open the door to leave, as if their ritual encounters were a secret for only for the walls to share.
Now, they snuggled in an origami of brown and white extremities, mingled in a lover’s embrace. Her client’s pale white breasts glistened with sweat and she flicked her tail like a lazy cat. Makkedah stroked her skin, connecting the freckles with an invisible line. She traced her breasts, up her neck, down her shoulder, and then to her arm. She felt the rigidness smoothness of gold-colored scales woven intermittently into her skin, reflecting an iridescent glow. Her client was a Dracun. Makkedah didn’t know much about Dracuns. She had never taken a Dracun client before.
Though scales and tails didn’t bother her, Makkedah was insatiably curious to know more. However, she was not paid to know about her clients’ lives, she was paid to know their bodies. Her fingers brushed over the golden armband that she always wore. She never took it off, at least as far as Makkedah knew. She guessed that it was made in the form of an animal. Its amber eyes, like the color of her client’s, shimmered in the candlelight. She felt they were secretly watching her.
A keeper of secrets knows a secret when she sees one.
She traced her arm to her hand. Her palm had curious markings on it. Her client never discussed the raised patterns etched into her skin, like burn marks. Her markings were different from the one on the back of Makkedah’s neck. She moved her hand to touch it subconsciously. Underneath her wild mane of curly black hair, at the base of her spine, she felt it. Three vertical lines, each an inch long, had been branded into her skin with fire and black ink.
Like the bars of a prison cell.
At initiation, all lainish were branded on the back of their neck so that they could never be mistaken for citizens of Kiriath. The markings reminded the lainish, more so than the citizens, to never forget who they were and their place in society.
“When do you go back,” Makkedah wondered aloud.
Pleasantries and niceties must never reveal too much.
“Tomorrow,” she replied. A quiver rippled from beneath her client’s epidermis. Hidden secrets from hidden flesh. Makkedah knew she loved the way she touched her.
“You staying for the Blue Sun Festival?” The festival was the most profitable three weeks for lainish in the Free Isles, or the Isles of Bakiyotes. Each of the Free Isles – comprised of Ba’kah, Bu’koh, Bei’nek, and Bak’eo – hosted the festival. But Bak’eo was notorious for having the biggest and the best festival of all. Makkedah would make more money during the Blue Sun Festival than she would through the cycle of one sun.
“No.” Her client was on her back now, eyes closed.
The night was still young. Downstairs Katoa tavern smelled of ropahberry wine. Transactions of money for sex were exchange as inebriated patrons bellowed drinking songs loudly. Makkedah listened to her favorite song below:
Life gives few sensations
But can’t deny our temptations
In pints, in barrels
Just beer and no quarrels
Makes everything alright
The more you drink, the better the night
So raise your glass, drink it fast
Enjoy the night because the morrow is near
Her client was tall. Lying next to her, Makkedah’s could see that her legs stopped abruptly while her client’s continued well toward the edge of the bed. She rolled to her side and stroked her client’s hair. It was red – the color of the first sun – and short, cropped just below her square jaw. She had strong face, with lines that cut sharply to end one feature before it could blend into the next one.
“Kissed by Kalevi, the Red Sun deity,” she would often tell Makkedah. At times she would belabor the Red Sun deity, pursing together her thin lips as she tried to remedy Makkedah’s ignorance. Makkedah never understood why she even bothered. Not only was Makkedah a lainish, she was a vardo, an unsaved. According to Kiriath she had no land, no people, no language, and no god. No matter, Makkedah knew that she had a god. She served the divine vekel.
Money is power.
Without it she was nothing. Without it, she would be left to die in a world that she did not belong to. Luckily, she was a good lainish. She gave offerings of lies and sex to her god that floated up on incense laden of musk and sweat. She could trust her god. Her god had provided when the Kalevi had, in wrath, spread molten lava across half of the Kalev Kingdom. Kalve was one of the seven major kingdoms – Jhulae, Vitai, Serona, Cizan, Doxus, and Lytho – in Kiriath.
“I’ve never been to Kolev. Is it as beautiful as you?” She stroked her face but was careful to never look in her eyes. It was only when she was with her that Makkedah would try to imagine how it would be to have a real lover.
Her client sighed.
“It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Kiriath,” she continued. “I hear that it has mountains with rivers of lava and wild beasts that breathe fire from their mouths. Ships sail on a sea of glass...” Her voice trailed off.
Finally her client opened her eyes. “I must go.” She arose, dressed, and left without another word. Makkedah remembered the first time the Kalevi sent her this client. She called upon Makkedah by leaving a kanast flower at Katoa Tavern with instructions to be ready when the red sun touched the horizon. This had remained their routine through two sun-cycles. One sun-cycle was when each of the four suns – red, blue, green, and black – completed its own seasonal cycle.
Makkedah stripped the bed to prepare for her next customer. Her last client’s attitude was less than impressive; however, she was handsomely beautiful.
There are worse things.
As she bathed and oiled herself with perfume, Makkedah wondered what it would be like to buy rather than sell intimacy. She pondered this, glancing at the ‘blessing’ from the Kalevi that was still siting on her vanity.
She was gathering her fee when a heavy knock broke her thoughts.
“Come in,” she told the door. She looked up to see a man, tall and blonde, enter her room.
He closed the door behind him.
“Fucking bastard.” Makkedah winced as she sat down to try and cover up the black and blue bruise on her left cheek. The tall blonde man from last night not only left a fist shaped bruise on her face, but also on other parts her body that weren’t as easily visible. Her back and ribcage hurt, every breath caused pain to slice through her body like a butcher knife through the morning bacon.
“I can’t work like this.” She said to the reflection in her vanity. Two violet irises, set into thin almond eyes, leered back at her. She dabbed power gingerly onto her caramel skin. “Ow! Fuck!”
“What the hell are you doing in here?” Traer, her best friend and lainish at Katoa, cracked the door and poked his head inside. Makkedah turned and looked at him.
“Bloody hell,” he said. “Who did that?” He ambled into the room carrying a mop and bucket. Traer always woke up early to finish his chores around the tavern before breakfast.
“The one and only, original fucker,” she said as Traer inspected the damage caused by her client last night. He was an incredibly good-looking man. Originally from Jhulae, he was sold to Bakja around 15 sun-cycles ago. Like every human Jhulaen, he had long straight black hair, which he wore pulled back into a ponytail, and high cheekbones. But the most striking Jhulaen feature was their signature rectangular pupils. They were descendants of Taureans; they were of the half-humans, half-horse people. Taurens had three different ruling houses: the Centuars, the Unitaurs, and the Pegatuars. Traer stood well over six feet tall. He had a long face that matched his lanky, yet muscular body.
He cocked his head to one side. “You aren’t talking about Nylerio are you?”
“Uh no,” she lied, not looking her best friend in the eye.
“Makkedah…” he started.
“I know Traer. I know that I shouldn’t see Nylerio. But it’s not my fault. He came in unexpectedly, while I was preparing for my next client.”
She hung her head and squeezed her eyes shut so that no tears would leak through. Nylerio was a former client of Makkedah’s. He was from the one of the 15 wandering tribes, the Clerio tribe. She met him a few sun-cycles ago and he immediately become was one her regulars. Shortly after, he started to develop feelings for her, even though lainish were strictly forbidden to fall in love.
After much begging and pleading, he convinced her to partake in a secret romance. She enjoyed it at first. Then Nylerio became violent and possessive. When Makkedah broke it off, he seemed to calm down. However, more recently he had begun visiting her unannounced at work. And this last time he slipped right back into his old ways.
“One of these days he is going to kill you,” Traer said.
“And what the hell can I do about that.” She challenged him even knew that he was right. Her life was in danger.
“Dammit Makkedah, talk to Bakja about it.”
“Bakja!” Makkedah shook her head, sending spasms of pain through her body. “Ow… Have you forgotten our place, what we are? Laaaaainish.” She drew the word out long and slow, staring at her friend. “If Bakja finds out about Nylerio, he will have my head.”
“Look Makkedah, Bakja will not kill you. You are his bread and butter. You have made him rich. There is no incentive to jeopardize that. But if Nylerio can’t have you, he will kill you. Do you remember what happened Zaif?”
Zaif was a transgendered lainish that worked for Sleriod, one of the many other taverns on Ba’keo. He, too, had a forbidden lover. They saw each other secretly for years. She was going to try and buy him from his owner until she found out that he had taken another lover. She killed him in a fit of rage. Killing a lainish is not murder according to Kiriath law.
“And what if I do tell Bakja,” Makkedah said. “What the hell is he going to do? There are no laws to protect us from any type of abuse.” She sighed, a single tear slid down her cheek. “I don’t understand how we can be considered less than human… when I feel so human.” She wiped it away with the swipe of her hand. “They consider us as nothing but vessels with orifices intended for the pleasures of those with the deepest pockets.”
“This system of power wasn’t built for the likes of you and me,” Traer said softly. He stroked Makkedah’s brown curls. They sat together in the sad silence of the awful truth. The walls of the tavern never seemed so small, each day they were closing in on them, suffocating them slowly.
Is this my fate, to die at the hands of a client over a sick and twisted idea of love?
A few sun-cycles ago, Makkedah decided that she could no longer live like this. Instead of living, she was dying everyday. She began extensive research, talking to any and every lainish that she saw. The information that she had learned had given her a sliver of hope, and she had held tightly onto that ever since then.
She scanned the room and listened to the movement in Katoa. It sounded as if everybody was busy making breakfast or preparations for the day. “Traer,” she said, motioning him close. She whispered in his ear, “I have a secret. Promise not to tell?”
Traer knelt down. “Promise,” he said, and they did their special handshake they invented when they first met as teenagers, long ago.
“I am going to escape this hell,” she whispered. “I am leaving after the Blue Sun Festival. I’ve been saving every vekel possible for some time now. I heard that in the Enchanted Cizan Forest, lainish can get their mark removed. For a hefty price of course.” Traer stared at her, brown eyes wide and mouth open. He searched her face for signs that she was joking.
“Come with me,” she continued, “I have enough for both of us to leave. We can earn more money along the way, saying that we are traveling through Kiriath to market Katoa.”
Traer was speechless.
“I never wanted this life. I refuse to die like this.” Makkedah touched her friend’s arm. She could feel his raw physical power woven between his tendons, muscles, and bones, coursing through his bloodstream.
He finally spoke, pulling away. “Do you think anybody wanted this life? Like most lainish, my family sold me to pay off a debt.” Makkedah was surprised at the anger in his voice. She hadn’t meant to upset him.
“It’s a cruel world,” he continued, “but at least we aren’t starving. In fact, we are lucky to be at Katoa. Bakja is a strict and evil man but he is simple. He loves money. And because of that we are the most successful lainish in all of Kiriath.” He stood up, shaking his head.
“What you are suggesting is madness.” He looked around and lowered his voice, realizing his anger had begun to boil over. “Don’t you think that if there was such a place for lainish to have their remarks removed, that all of us would be doing it? And don’t you think that the Council would know about it? Don’t you think that they would shut down and imprison anyone that could possibly be doing that?”
The Council was a body of representatives that presided over the matters of Kiriath. They worked in the twin city, East Anox, in the Doxus Kingdom. The Seven Kingdoms elected three representatives every seven years to sit on the Council. The Free Isles and each of the fifteen Wandering Tribes – Xyndgyl, Clerio, Mahae, Sophron, Amaris, Tandru, Iromaphtr, Haphrex, Nadroj, Senoj, Rotcaw, Eiram, Ellenahc, Ivikeon, Prastèn – were allowed one each. The Council was created in the aftermath of the War of the Seven Kingdoms, aimed to keep a lasting peace. In the First Time, Kiriath was nearly destroyed by a world war.
All the kingdoms were at war, externally and internally. It was during this time that the Kingdoms were divided in many different ways. Each kingdom suffered its own internal battle while trying to wage a war against the others. It wasn’t until Kiriath was nearly destroyed, and almost all of its inhabitants left dead or dying, that the Seven Kingdoms finally declared The Great Peace. The Council was created to usher in the beginning of the Second Time, thousands of sun-cycles ago.
“Think about it, that doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“Don’t you think I asked myself all of those questions already?” Makkedah whispered back. She was irritated at Traer for assuming that she hadn’t thought this plan through. “But that’s why it’s in the Cizan Forest. The Council’s influence there is weak, almost non-existent. It’s been that way since the Second Time.” She stood up to face her friend. She could see that his mind was as boxed as his rectangle pupils.
“Don’t waste your time dreaming of impossibilities,” Traer said to her. “We will never be free. Deal with it.”
She reached up with both hands and held his face gently between them. He had a strong jaw and beautiful red lips. Crows feet had already begun to form around his eyes. The years were taking a toll on his outward beauty.
“I am already free – right here.” Makkedah smiled, pointing to her head. “I am only waiting for the moment where my body can catch up. And no laws, or chains, or brandings can stop me from doing that. Because I can’t…I can’t pretend to live while I’m really just dying. I rather die to live.”
Traer stepped back from the woman in front of him. He knew that Makkedah had a wild heart. She had always been this way, bucking the system and causing trouble. She was always finding a way to break the rules, as if rules were made for breaking.
“We play a part Makkedah. I’m not saying to keep your head down, or not to try and change the system in the ways that you can. You are who you are for a reason.” He embraced her, feeling the heat of the organ that pumped this defiance through her veins. “You are the most successful lainish in all of Kiriath. You are successful in ways that lainish have never been. You have already changed so much. Why can’t you be satisfied with that?” He stood back.
It hurt Makkedah to look at him. “Because,” she said, whispering her most dangerous truth. “I want more. I want to be equal.” She felt the weight of her words in that moment, the impossibility of her desire.
Traer realized that he couldn’t help her; he simply shook his head. He didn’t pity her. In fact, he wished he could save her. For her to gamble for more than she could ever have was for her place the highest bet in a game that was already rigged against her. She would lose, and she would risk everything, only to lose everything. Traer knew this undeniable fact. But, he loved Makkedah dearly. He wished that he could make her understand. He didn’t want life to destroy her.
“Please,” he said turning to leave, “don’t drag me into your false hopes. Life is already hard enough, and I can’t risk getting in trouble for the mirage you are chasing.”
He left her standing there. Makkedah was shocked by the reaction of her best friend. Traer had always been more careful than she, and she loved that about him. But she couldn’t stay here. Not when she believed that there was a better life.
But what is ‘better’?
Traer thought their life was better than other lainish, which was absolutely true and valid. But Makkedah thought that it was better to be equal to a citizen of Kiriath. They understood ‘better’ in very different ways.
Give him time. That was a lot to process. Maybe he will come around…
She hadn’t planned on telling him this far in advance. She knew that it would have to be a spur of the moment decision for him or he wouldn’t do it.
She took a deep breath and resumed the activity of putting makeup on her damaged face.
“Breakfast is ready,” Henlè shouted up from downstairs.
He and his twin of Renlè, were both lainish bought from one of the Wandering Tribes. Bakja owned an eclectic mix of lainish, seven total: Traer, from the Jhulae Kingdom; Henlè and Renlè, from the Prastèn tribe; Paivon, from the Vitai Kingdom; Zufu, from the Cizan Kingdom; and Daxmaris, from the Doxus Kingdom.
And then there was Makkedah. Nobody knew where she was from. She was the only person in all of Kiriath to have violet eyes. She didn’t know how she ended up on Ba’keo, much less at the door of Bakja’s tavern. All she remembered was that nobody dared to look at her. They all thought that she was a demon or an evil spirit. Bakja was the only one who dared to take her in. He saved her. Then he made her a lainish.
“Coming,” Makkedah yelled back.
She gathered her things, moving ever so slowly. She would have to visit the Healer right after breakfast, before the tavern became busy. She wouldn’t have time to do her chores, which would make Bakja angry. She would probably be punished. But right now, her primary concern was to make money. She needed to be ready for tonight.
She heard short little footsteps ascending the stairwell.
Fuck. I forgot to pay him.
Bakja entered the room, breathing hard from the incline. The people from the Isles of Bakiyotes were easily recognizable. All of them were less than the height of 3 ½ feet. Typically, they were blonde and were always the most successful with business affairs in Kiriath. ‘A Bakiyoten victory’ alluded to the phenomenon that triumph followed every venture they became involved in. However, unlike almost all Bakiyotens, Bakja was not just shrewd, he was sadistic.
“You are late on your payment to Bakja.”
He stood near the doorway catching his breath, his round belly heaving up and down in labored movements. He was a charlatan, pretending to be exquisite in fine linen when it merely covered the stench of terrible hygiene, sordid manners, unkempt hair, and soft features that were eternally red from too much ropahberry wine.
“I know. I am sorry.”
She went over to her armoire and pulled a key from her pocket to unlock the door and retrieve a small pouch. She counted out the vekel she owed him, returned the pouch to its safe place, and locked it again. She was careful never show Bakja how much money she made even though Feybak, the tavern bookie, tracked of all the lainish’s earnings. But Makkedah had brokered a secret arrangement. She paid him on the side in exchange for him to keep some of her highest paying clients off the records. She exchanged sex for black majik to ensure that her money could never be found by anybody but her, dividing up her earnings and hiding them in various places all over her room.
“I had a rough night last night,” she said, handing him most of the money that he thought her body had made for him.
Bakja peered at her face. “What does Bakja see,” he grabbed the front of Makkedah’s cotton dress, yanking her down roughly to examine the bruise. Up close, she could see the remnants of breakfast in his disheveled beard. It was the rule for him to eat first, before everyone, then the staff, and last the lainish.
“What is Bakja’s number one rule?” He thrust a stubby finger in her face. She noticed the dirt under his fingernails and marveled at the discovery; the lazy bastard never did anything.
“Make the clients happy,” she answered, without skipping a beat.
“And,” he demanded.
“…to make Bakja money,” she added. His breath was foul, but Makkedah didn’t dare to turn her head, fearing she’d upset him further.
“Exactly,” he released her dress and retrieved a satin damask handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his hands. “Dirty lainish,” he muttered to himself.
“If Bakja hears that you are not performing to Bakja’s expectations, you will be punished.” He smiled coyly at Makkedah, eyeing her breasts like a hungry wolf. He looked her up and down, consuming every inch of her exposed skin.
The thought of the last word made her sick. She knew exactly what ‘punishment’ he was already envisioning in his twisted mind. She watched him as he counted her payment in front of her. He was disgusting. He was vile. He was vicious. But he was the closest thing that she had to family, and she hated him the most because of that.
Count all you want you little fucker.
Bakja suddenly looked up at Makkedah, squinting his eyes, as if he had heard her thoughts. “Bakja is missing some money.”
“No,” she shook her head, but tried to speak softly. “Remember we agreed that if a lainish had to see the Healer because of what a client does, then they take that out of their fee.”
“Bakja never agreed to such a thing.” He threw the statement at her.
“We talked about it last week.” She tried to keep her voice small but steady. “Remember, after Paivon had to spend three days at the Healer’s?”
“Are you calling Bakja a liar?”
He interrupted her. “Does Bakja need to remind you of your place, lainish?” He spit the out the last word like it was venom on his tongue. “Bakja has become too lax with you ungrateful,” his voice was a rising tide of greed and furry, “worthless, lainish.”
He turned around and walked over to the door. Makkedah’s heart sank; she knew what was coming next. Bakja closed the door and turned around to face his prey.
“Bakja must break you,” he said, smiling a toothy grin as he took a wide stance. “This,” he said motioning around, “is Bakja’s house.”
She closed her eyes as she heard him unbutton his pants. She tried to conjure images of happier times in her mind, like the day that she and Traer swam naked in the hidden cove he discovered by accident. They had snuck out, without permission, giggling like school children the entire way, until they plunged their naked freedom into the salty ocean. They spent the day floating in the tranquil tide, knowing that when they returned they would be severely punished. It was worth it, a small price to pay for the illusion of liberty.
But even her fondest memory could not help her now. Eyes still closed, she heard his movement. She knew he was taking out his flaccid penis. She knew that it would smell of sweat and grime, the smell of rotten horror and a reminder of her death that she had lived for far too long. Her skin crawled but she pushed the feeling deep down inside of her, into the vault of tragedies she had learned to lock away a long time ago.
He called her name.
“Never forget,” he said, “Bakja is the master. Bakja owns you.”