When I First Saw Red
I’d never been one for whorehouses.
When it came to carnal entertainment, the advantages of having a steady lover had always appealed to me, both in terms of cost and convenience. Having spent half of my life in barracks, camps and garrisons, my preference lay—quite literally—with soldiers, simply because of their immediate availability and reluctance to form ties that went beyond camaraderie.
Therefore, I rarely frequented brothels.
The young corporal I used to fool around with had transferred west to another unit near the Elven border, in Radvadur. Following his departure, too busy to make new arrangements, I’d hit a bit of a dry spell. Soon after, one-third of my squad had come down with the fever, which proved truly vicious that rainy season. Daily dealings with a dozen poorly, whinging lads had rid me of any amorous inclinations. Since I’d been waking up with a clenched jaw and a headache rather than a hard-on, fucking ranked low on my agenda.
The majority of my garrison religiously attended Cocks & Hens’ shag-all-you-can bargain nights, held every last Freeday of the month. Twelve silvers paid at the door stretched a long way if your stamina was up to par. If not, well, they sold famous Viah Grah powders for an extra fiver onsite.
That evening, I found myself off duty and bored. The coin, freshly received from the quartermaster’s hands, burnt a hole in my pocket.
So I came along.
Humans and non-humans of all genders, in various states of undress and sobriety, eyes glassy from lust and assorted substances, mingled in the roomy area of the well-lit downstairs bar. At that stage, it posed a challenge to tell the whores from the punters. For a bit, it looked as if the outing would turn into a drinking session for me.
“No one tickles your fancy, Sergeant Jhagán?” The pretty proprietor—a plump, mature Něssyrian—had introduced herself to me earlier, but I’d immediately forgotten her name. “Tell me your type. We aim to accommodate all tastes.”
“I have no type,” I said, tossing back another shot of plum moonshine and cringing at the burn in my gullet. One thing was clear: they didn’t fuck about with their liquor in this place.
“You’d be mine for sure,” she murmured. A coy smile showed off her dimples as she skimmed her fingers across my biceps. “Such a strapping, solid lad you are. I’d show you a grand time myself, but I stopped entertaining customers”—she lowered her voice to a theatrical whisper—“aeons ago.”
A raucous ripple of laughter rang from the wooden gallery above us, where the more pricey whores kept lodging and conducted their business. Following the source of the commotion, I looked up.
Two men and a woman had just come out of a room located on the mezzanine floor. Judging by the way the joke had them all in stitches, it must’ve been top-notch.
The highborn couple, dressed in layers of greys and silvers as the latest fashion dictated, stood in contrast with the shirtless and barefooted whore. He sported only a pair of low-slung, undone breeches, offering the world a generous glimpse of his hips and groin.
I couldn’t make out their words, but I recognised that the merry gathering held a conversation in Common Elven. It didn’t surprise me. For one, it had been the language of the nobles and courtiers since the Emperor took the throne thirty-odd years before. Secondly, the whore was a half-breed Elf.
One glance at him and my mouth went desert-dry and my shaft hardened.
I drank in the sight of him—his lean figure, luminous skin and angular eyes. The pointy tips of his ears poked through a cascade of red hair. Not copper, ginger or auburn. Not mahogany. But blood red. Intricate tattoos on the sides of his face announced his Incubus heritage on the human side. The obsolete law still called for the marking of Incubi descendants, even though their magic, inactive for centuries, had likely expired together with their demonic forefathers.
The redhead’s companions waved their farewells and made for the stairs. He leant over the railing in a nonchalant pose, his sculptured arms folded on top of the barrier. There was a note of arrogance in the way he examined the crowd below and shamelessly displayed his ethereal beauty.
It took a moment, but eventually his gaze fell upon me. At first, he seemed to glance through me. Then he stared me up and down, blatant and hostile somehow, as though ascertaining my worth. Leering at me in a downright insolent manner.
I couldn’t look away, turned on and irate at the same time. Insane as it might be, I felt the physical touch of fingers running over my body. The sensation set my flesh on fire.
Perhaps the stories told about the Incubi held a grain of truth.
Next thing I knew, his mouth set into a condescending smirk. He averted his eyes and pivoted on his heel. Before he disappeared, I observed his lush hair swish to the side and cover his shoulders and back like a fiery silk cloak.
The slam of his door felt very much like a slap to my face. I flinched. The man was a half-naked whore who earned his living on his knees and elbows. He’d just serviced not one, but two clients. The stickiness of sex, the ripe smell of it, must’ve still lingered on his skin. Yet it was I, the Sergeant with the Imperial Forces, who’d ended up appraised like a stud at a cattle market. One who didn’t quite make the cut, to cap it all. And he’d tossed his ridiculous hair at me, for fuck’s sake. A mix of rage and want lined my gut.
The owner’s snicker helped me snap out of it. “Ouch,” she said, covering her lips with her hand. A fit of laughter shook her dainty figure. “I think he likes you.”
She dropped her gaze to my crotch. “Well, damn. That’s… unfortunate.”
“How so?” I gritted out. “Who is he?”
“My main coin-bringer. His name’s Ōkkanȏ Kyatto.”
I spoke passable Common Elven, as did most members of the military stationed around the border. Ōkkanȏ meant scarlet. I snorted.
“He dislikes soldiers,” the woman said.
I adjusted myself under the table. “How much for him?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Pick someone else, Sergeant. Ōkkanȏ’s a fussy bugger. He ain’t cheap, either. But the local aristocracy can’t get enough of him.”
“How much?” I repeated in a dry voice.
She tilted her head. “Hundred and fifty silvers an hour.”
Sweet fucking gods almighty.
I sucked air through my teeth.
“He’s engaged for the next six weeks,” she added. “And I can’t see him accepting patronage from a soldier, at any rate.”
“Well, I’m sure you could convince him if you tried.” I leant in closer and eased my tone. “What if I, say, paid a thousand for a night with him?”
The glint in her eyes told me I’d chosen the right path. “Sergeant—“
“Make the arrangements.” I nodded my goodbye. “I’ll see him next Freeday.”
It turned out I did have a type, all right. A mixed-race, stuck-up courtesan I couldn’t afford was it, apparently. Wouldn’t it be fun, though, to see if the damn Elfling could still smirk while choking on my cock?
Sliding off my stool, I tried to reduce the swivel the alcohol added to my step.
The rosy-cheeked proprietor, who was still watching me, bit her lip in a transparent attempt to stifle a laugh.
I shot her a dignified look. “Yes?”
“Oh nothing, Sergeant,” she soothed, probably afraid to lose my coin to my bruised pride. “Next week, eh?”
I bobbed my head. Next week. I had things to do. Sobering up, for starters. And rubbing one out—or two, perhaps, given the way I felt all riled up.
I needed a clear head to figure out the way to attain a thousand silvers in seven days.