In Bed With Mai Ling
Some would say that I have led a difficult life. I would say that I have survived, learnt, and as a result, I have lived.
One of my earliest recollections is that of the death of my mother. I was seated upon my grandmother’s knee as we watched the straw mat on which she lay, drawing her last rattling breaths in this world. I had no illusions about the harsh reality of death even at the tender age of three. Both my grandmother and father viewed her long illness and impending death with cold-hearted contempt. Their only thought; that there would soon be one less mouth to feed.
We had cleaned the hut and prepared the food for our meagre evening meal. Sitting in the heat we watched her rasping, sweat soaked body. An army of flies buzzed about, rising lazily away from her, only when she convulsed with another coughing fit. The heat of the Niponeese summer lay heavy about us all, dense and cloying. We waited for my father to return home, and for mother to die. There was no emotion. As I remember, we only spent the time with mother because the chores of the day were over and there was little else to do.
A fairly miserable picture for a child’s first memories, but that was just the way of it.
My mother apparently came from better circumstances than my father. A well to do family with servants and some sizeable amount of land. I either fail to remember the details or I was never told them. She fell in love with my father, for reasons best known to herself; for he is to date the most singularly unpleasant creature I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. For her folly her family disowned her and left to survive her marriage as best she could. The slum in which he made their marital home, with its diseases and hard living killed her, little by little, over the four winters that followed.
My grandmother was of the opinion that my mother had only herself to blame for her death. It was obvious to her that a woman of breeding would not last long in the slums of Nipon. She saw her as an imposition and a nuisance. Those of a more romantic persuasion may say that this story is “awfully tragic” or “terribly sad”, perhaps even romantic. Grandmother however, summed the whole sorry tale up with one old Niponeese proverb. She said “Never play leapfrog with a Unicorn”. Or as one of my girls rephrased it recently, “Don’t go out of your way to get shafted” which is possibly an odd maxim for Albion’s most successful brothel. But a little contradiction adds spice to life, and it’s the spice that makes it worthwhile don’t you think?
Grandmother later said that dying was the only useful thing my mother did for the Ling household. She never forgave her the fact that she died without bearing any male children. No Grandson was bad enough, but to leave two hungry helpless girls on her hands was even worse. My younger sister and I paid dearly for our unfortunate births, with beatings and harsh treatment from both her and our Father until we left that miserable family behind us.
My sister Tipi was the sweetest creature you could ever wish to meet. She was just a year younger than me. We looked to each other for all the warmth and gentleness we ever found as children at home. My mother was always very sick and that is all I remember about her at all, but I think Tipi must have taken after her. She was sweet natured, imaginative and full of daydreams and magic games. These were not qualities she could have gained from my father, believe me. At nights, when the Niponeese winter storms raged about our little hut, we would huddle together in bed under the thin blanket we shared, whispering stories to each other. I would do my best to stop her crying at the thunder of which she was terrified, and get her started on one of her tales. Once she began, she seemed to forget everything about the real world, be it bruises, broken bones or the violent storm raging out side. Then I could listen, wrapped in the magical tales of heroics and daring which she dreamt up from who knows where. Dragons and warlocks, magic rats and pots of nev! er ending food; she always had new and enthralling tales, and I loved to hear them. I never tired of her magical story spinning. My Grandmother however, hated them. She called her idle and useless, always accompanying such comments with the end of a broom or a slap that sent one of us sailing into the wall on the far side of the room. Tipi never cried out though; neither of us did. It was our secret defiance. Us against them, and to cry, would have been a way of letting them win. Mostly, when we were beaten, we would fix our eyes on one another staring hard and trying not to let the tears fall. It always made me wonder how Tipi could withstand being beaten with my fathers belt until she bled, yet at the first sign of thunder, become the terrified little girl which she really was.
Just before I turned seven years old my father returned from an absence of some weeks and announced he had found work for me in a village some way off from here. In reality he had spent too long with a lady of ill repute and upon failing to pay his debt to her, offered her ‘manager’ me as payment. I was told to go to sleep directly as we would have to walk for three days to reach her establishment.
Tipi and I would not be separated. Could not be. So without more than a look between us I went to the sleeping mat in the corner without a word of complaint. I waited and listened for the silent night to fall. Tipi cleverly put some of Grandmothers sleeping herbs in their food, and when darkness fell we ran.
I stuffed as much food as would fit, into a sack before we fled and Tipi for all her ideas of drugging our guardians, had only thought to snatch the faded silk fan belonging to our mother before she left that hut for the last time.
It was a dreadful journey for Tipi, as that night there was a terrible storm. We ran and cried through the mud and the rain dragging the little sack of food with us. Finally stopping when we could no longer walk, on the outskirts of a small forest. We made the best shelter we could as the dawn rose around the woods, and curled about each other we fell asleep, knowing we were at last free of our hated guardians. It was doubtful that he would waste time looking for us, we were free.
Although the next year was hard, it was by far the happiest we had ever been. We worked, doing odd jobs, cleaning, needlework and taking care of children often older than ourselves. Tipi began her stories in village squares. We were usually offered food as payment and a warm bed for the night. Her story telling became more fantastical with each new place we visited and once or twice her reputation preceded her, as travellers who had heard her stories before journeyed ahead of us.
I learned many things during this hard but happy summer. Such as, that poor folk are more generous than those who live in splendour and as we asked for no more than a little food and a place to sleep, we were seldom disappointed by kindly villagers who enjoyed her tales.
Perhaps we could have spent many years in this manner, if we had not discovered that autumn, something else that likened Tipi to our mother. As the days became colder and our tatty clothes provided little protection from the elements; Tipi became ill. It seems the months living hand to mouth and travelling hard were more than she could stand. She never complained. Never grumbled, but her cough became worse and it became difficult for her to get form one village to another in the space of a day’s walk. Neither of us had yet turned ten years old. We were little children, without a penny to our name and with no hope of finding lodgings before the winter blizzards set in. I was painfully aware of how frail she was. I knew that if I didn’t act quickly I she would die before the winter was out.
During our travels, I had heard of Geisha houses. These were places of entertainment for prominent businessmen. Very different from the dirty gambling halls my father had intended leaving me in. In a Geisha house, a pretty, talented girl such as Tipi would be trained in music and dancing. She would learn all the social graces and be given a good education. Most importantly of all, she would have a warm place to live and regular meals. She would regain her health and be happy.
I began to form a plan.
The Geisha House
As luck would have it we were within two days walk of Tampan Town, where the most highly respected Geisha house in all Nipon had been founded. I was determined to get them to hear Tipi tell her stories. For the next two nights I sat up and patched Tipi’s clothes as best I could. Just before we got to the village I made her bathe in the river and plaited her hair with wild flowers. She looked poor, that we could not disguise, but very pretty. I was convinced that once they heard her, the rest would be easy.
And for once in our sorry lives, it was. Three of the girls from the Geisha house were in the village with their chaperone, a gentle old lady who was delighted with Tipi. Within the week, a sort of scholarship was arranged for her. Tipi was thrilled. However, as with all things there was a price. We would at last have to separate. Yet what a small price to pay for the life of my sister. I had no doubts about my path. All of the other girls at the training school came from wealthy families, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my Tipi having less than them. So I set out to make money. Purely and simply. I needed money and lots of it. I worked furiously, as though possessed. Any job, any errand. My days were mapped out by the coins I could earn and the precious moments I could steal with my beloved sister.
One fateful evening I sneaked into the school late at night, having just finished working. I hadn’t eaten for days and was on the point of exhaustion. Before I was able to devour the lovely food, which Tipi had saved for me, I collapsed. Tipi ran and fetched the kindly old governess who I had first met all those months ago when arranging Tipi’s scholarship. When I awoke, I was terrified my breaking into the school would get my sister thrown out; Geisha houses are very strict and places within them such as Tipi had gained were rare and jealously sought after. Yet the governess was kind indeed. She had pity on us and hid me in her quarters, where I ate and slept in peace. Lotus, for that was the governess’ name, remembered all too clearly her own youth of poverty and hunger. She agreed to help us as best she could. For the remainder of Tipi education at that house she risked her own job to help us meet in secret. She also gave me lessons in reading and writing, and many of the skills in pleasure and entertaining taught at the school. Along side this she revealed to me the arts of incantation and ancestor worship, which I follow to this day.
Yet all of the time I worked, driven by the desire to see Tipi in the riches she deserved. I worked, fought, bought and sold. I did anything to earn money. Anything. I soon discovered that the lessons that Lotus gave me, set me apart from the average homeless child in that area. I began to make use of this as best I could. That’s when I discovered my own talent. I too was an entertainer, just of a different variety to Tipi. It wasn’t long before I was employed at very favourable rates by just such an establishment as my father had intended to sell me to. Ironic I suppose, yet I found strength in it. Instead of belonging to a whore house, a possession, with no life of my own. I was their most prized employee, and all my money went to benefit my beloved sister. I continued with any other work I could get outside of the brothel, and with my lessons from Lotus. The days were long and the work often disgusted me. The madam of that brothel was a cold-hearted tyrant but she paid. She paid gradually more and more. That was my reason for existing. My sister and I would never be hungry again.
Fortune smiles on us
As Tipi’s education continued over the years, she became more beautiful, graceful and talented. The Geisha house were very proud of her, she excelled at all her lessons and was a diligent and talented student. A delight to teach was what Lotus repeatedly told me. I was bursting with pride. My sister was a success, respected and loved. At the age of twelve she was about to begin work as a geisha, her prospects were wonderful. She would be able to take her pick of important, rich young men as lovers or even as a husband if she chose.
As for me, I was building an empire of my own. From the bordello where I worked, I learnt how to run such a business. While living rough in Tampan Town I had made, if not friends, then contacts. There is a certain amount of loyalty between those in the same desperate situation. Enough loyalty, that I was able to oust the existing madam and run the place for myself. I was thirteen now and life had taught me all I needed to know about being ruthless, and hardened. Yet I had also learnt more than enough about being mistreated and what it can mean to receive a little fairness or even a helping hand. So where the old madam had kept a number of girls against their will, for menial duties and low paying clients, I gave them a choice. They could earn their keep willingly and be given a fair wage and the same treatment as anyone else who worked for me, or they could leave. There had been various penalties imposed on these unfortunate girls in the past if they tried to leave. They might be beaten, or even have their faces slashed or vicious dogs set upon them. This rule of terror ensured that all the girls did as they were told. Despite their abject fear they really had no where else to go to anyway; having arrived there much the same way as my father had intended for me.
To be offered the choice of freedom or a wage of their own, seemed to earn me their loyalty and undying love. Not one of them left.
The other working girls, those who had previously been paid, were a different story. Some were still fond of their former madam, some were jealous of my new won position. Most were older than me and resented my youth and were insulted by the fact that they were offered the same terms as the girls who had formerly been little more than slaves. But I saw no reason to offer them anything different. They could work for me by choice and be treated equally or they could leave.
All but two of them left. Soon those that had left, left town too. A wise decision. As I can’t have any threat to my business, or my girls.
Over the next four years my business flourished. Still hard work, but far more financially rewarding. Some of the girls saved enough to get a little education and set up their own businesses in Tampan, weaving or selling sweet cakes. There was never any shortage of willing young girls to take their place. The reputation of my house spread. It began to be mentioned in the same breath as the Tampan Geisha House. While this was wonderful for business, it bought with it unexpected problems all of it’s own.
The Geisha house, or those who invested money in it, were none too pleased that it was associated in any way with my business. They felt it demeaned and lessened the tone of the highly regarded institution. My connection with Tipi was unknown to anyone other than Lotus. A secret I was glad of when taking over the Bordello, as my sisterly love could have put her in perilous danger, had any one found out. Now I was doubly glad, as the suggestion that I leave town became hard to ignore. I had to hire guards for my girls every time they wanted to leave the premises.
Lotus and Tipi did their best to warn me of each new plan being hatched. Yet how could I plan to destroy the Geisha house without in some way damaging Tipi, and her career? My nights became sleepless as I wrestled with the problem desperately trying to ensure my girls were protected from the thugs the Geisha house were using to intimidate us.
Exodus from Nipon
It was my good fortune at this point to make the acquaintance of a group of travelling mercenaries, led by the Ronin I’seeyou U’SeeMe. The combined effect upon these soldiers of discovering a group of attractive whores in need of help, and the fact that we could actually pay well for their service was profound. We instantly had the most devoted protectors. Our initial show of strength was enough to quieten things down, as the financiers of the Geisha house reconsidered and tried to decide on their next move. I’seeyou and his men busied themselves by collecting outstanding debts owing to my business and we awaited the Geisha house’s next move. However, political events outside the business affairs, which we were so wrapped up in, were soon to overtake us all.
Late one night, Tipi arrived at my door. For the last year, she had been the lover of a very high ranking politician. She had just received word from him that she must flee the area as the war which had been raging in the east of country was about to escalate and spill over into the South. A surprise attack had been planned on Tampan the following night. If it was successful, not a man, woman or child would be left alive, not building left standing. We hurriedly discussed our plans. Tipi wanted to join her lover near the coast where he said they would be married. However, it seemed to me that this forced evacuation could be a blessing in disguise. For some time now I had been collecting rare and precious goods. The cellars of the brothel were full of Niponeese works of art and delicately embroidered silks. I had heard that such things were in high demand in foreign lands and I could more than triple my money if I would but make the journey. Tipi was more than self-reliant these days and though it was painful to think of such a lengthy separation, I knew that our paths must separate soon. I decided to pack up all that could reasonably be carried of my store, and make for the coast. Any of my girls who wished to accompany me were welcome to join the adventure. I’seeyou and his men also agreed to join me. We alerted the whole town to the danger, but only a small number believed us. Those who ran the Geisha house were influential within the village and we had little time to spend in convincing them of their folly. Tipi and Lotus came with us though. We made for the coast where she was to meet her lover. The Ronin protected us on the dangerous journey to the coast where I planed to hire a boat our journey to new lands. On reaching the Port of Ping and discussing our plans with Tipi’s lover he begged us travel as an official trade delegation for his government. Times were hard in Nipon and successful trade routes could prove vital if the war continued for much longer. He put at our disposal a fine ship and all the provisions we needed for the long journey. It was also very clear that he loved Tipi dearly, he vowed to defend her with his life, and to this day he has given me no reason to believe otherwise. Tipi and I said our sad goodbyes. That very day I set out for new lands with my hired mercenaries, a handful of working girls and a ship full of priceless goods.
In my silk robes and hand embroidered sandals, standing on the deck of that fine ship the beggar girl of ten years ago would never have recognised me.
The new Bacchus Brothel
We sailed for some months before reaching land, where we bought more supplies. I was able to sell many of my goods for excellent prices as all the merchandise was rare to theses people and highly sought after. We continued in this manner for some time, stopping at any land which pleased us and spreading the word of the gracious Niponeese empire and it’s riches as we went. In the year 1096 we came to a green and fruitful land called Albion. We were looking for a suitable realm in which to stay for some time, as the sea and its adventures were beginning to grow tiresome. In seeking a likely resting place from our journeying, we heard of a cult called the Bacchus Bastards. Their love of carousing and pleasure interested us greatly and laden down with a quantity of toxic Niponeese alcohol called Sake, we set off to find this pleasure-loving group.
Upon meeting them we were welcomed heartily and treated with respect and generosity. Because of our similar love of pleasuring the senses, the christened us the Sake Bastards. A great honour, we all felt. One girl in particular I became firm friends with; a beautiful fun loving creature by the name of Ehlahnah. She had been raised as a prostitute of Bacchus and thoroughly enjoyed her work, but was at present without a madam to arrange work for her.
Well, with the love and hospitality we were shown and an offer like that, how could I refuse?
Almost three years later, the girls who have worked for me so diligently I consider my family. Ehlahnah, whom I met first of all and set up trade with in 1096 is now with child and has decided to leave off working for a time while she cares for her new born and the general upkeep of one of my houses. Xantalia is still doing a rip roaring trade, for which the Bacchus coffers are no doubt grateful, and the quietest of us all, the lovely Minoo is keen to make her mark on he paying public once again this year. They have all helped to ease the pain of separation from my beloved sister. The recent addition of a personal bodyguard for the brothel, a skilled female warrior mage of the Watchers of Darkwood has been a blessing. And I have high hopes for our two latest recruits. A young girl by the name of Miss Candy Cane and a Cat Pooka whom Remy seems to have befriended, but who will I’m sure prove very popular with the beast men.
Any who read this and don’t know of either myself or my girls, come and visit. We would all be pleased to see you. The fuller your purse the better.