IT TOOK one hundred and fifty tadril to get out of Kandrisev. Could make it to Rendroxja. Or the Brisian Empire. Or wherever else the both of them could afford, as long as it wasn’t here. Since the war came, nowhere in Zoldonmesk was safe. Any woman with two good arms and legs would be conscripted to the Red Queen’s army when the Rosehearts passed through on their way to Chovrek, and neither she nor Osya intended to fight.
The prostitute counted out their savings, squatting on the wooden floor of the brothel’s cramped sleeping quarters. Mostly, they had saved onepieces: little rings of copper with holes punched in the middle. A trio of fivepieces—silver triangles with the same sort of hole—rested quietly under her foot so the nosy ones wouldn’t get any ideas. The true prize was a circular, silver tenpiece punched with a triangle. It grew sweaty clutched in the palm of her hand.
There they had it. One hundred and fifty tadril coins. This small fortune represented two years’ savings, but not all her own—over half belonged to Osya. They’d skipped breakfast and lunch every day and shared most dinners, which mostly consisted of a small bowl of bone broth and a slice of hard bread. Sometimes, they’d forage for berries and wild vegetables. On her nameday, Osya had gifted her a fist-sized hunk of hillwalker cheese. It was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted, but she managed to make it last three months. They mended their own dresses and shoes. Sometimes they’d mend things for the others at the price of one tadril per seam. They were rarely choosy with their clients, only refusing ones with diseases or bad reputations. Anything to get out of here before war came.
The prostitute pushed all their coins into a pile and began stringing them along a cord. Zoldonmesk was their motherland; they’d never been outside its borders, or even very many places within, but the region had never felt like home. Even less so now that its mountains were stained black with the blood of her sisters and brothers.
She didn’t understand much of what was going on, but the Upperbirths she serviced sometimes let things slip. Pillowtalk was great for learning—probably better than a fancy education. The only bit that mattered to her was knowing that the Red Queen was ransacking every settlement in Zoldonmesk for young women to fight in her war. Whatever ended up happening, she didn’t care. As long as she and Osya were together someplace that didn’t run the risk of getting both of them killed, politics didn’t matter at all. There would always be work as long as there was loneliness, no matter if they had to go to the ends of the world to find it.
She finished stringing the coins and tied the cord to the inside of her underskirt. Osya had an appointment tonight. The moment she was done, the two of them were leaving. She reckoned they could get as far as Yaroshev if they walked through the night. From there, they could decide where to go.
The Mistress wouldn’t be happy to lose two of her whores, but neither she nor Osya were the best on offer, anyway. Lately, the boys had been getting more visits. Even the most expensive girl hadn’t been called on in almost a week. It was a good thing Osya had started making them save up when she did.
The prostitute sat on her bed, folding the skirts of her dress underneath her as she did. Part of her knew she’d always miss this place, dingy as it was, but mostly she was excited to explore the world. All she’d known was her little town.
The door opened and a girl came in. It wasn’t Osya. The door opened thrice more, and each time it sent her heart aflutter with anxiety. None were Osya. They just went to bed or to bathe. Finally, finally, that sweet moment came when Osya poked her beautiful head through the door.
“Coming?” she asked with a grin.
The prostitute hopped off the bed and scurried off.
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