A Lady's Progress

by

Andrew Prentis

May 1986

"Father, can I have some money to buy some of that silk they've just brought in from Marno?" Kallisti stood in the doorway to her father's shop, idly nibbling at a lock of her long blonde hair. She glanced longingly at the attractively glittering jewels in the window and display cases, sparkling in the light of the autumnal sun sinking in the west. She sighed inwardly at the sight of all these beautiful trinkets, but that was all she was ever able to do. Even though her father was one of the more popular jewelers in town and was rich enough to be able to employ capable and honest staff - an expensive commodity in Urswell where the Dravidi temple and Thieves Guild could buy most people's honesty, the only jewelry she possessed was a silver hair pin and a broch she fastened her cloak with. The latter though was a clever imitation using cut glass and tin instead of diamonds and silver.

"Isn't that the most expensive in the bazaar?" her balding father squinted at her from behind the display case containing a stunning emerald necklace. He was tall and thin, so thin that he was almost cadaverous - an illness from his youth lingering for many years and ageing him prematurely so that he looked more like the grandfather of his only daughter, fifteen year old Kallisti.

"It is the best quality. The merchant let me test it and it is so smooth you can hardly feel it between your fingers!" she pinched her fingers together to emphasise the point, her blue eyes large with an innocence she found useful when dealing with her miserly father.

"I'm pleased to hear it." he grunted, refusing to look at her. She could appear so inticing sometimes that he found it difficult to refuse her. "I'm sorry my sweetness, but the bill for the guardsmen has just come in and I can't afford to give you any more than your allowance." he looked genuinely sorry.

"Daddy!" Kallisti fumed. "Whenever I ask you for anything its always the same: "Bills have just arrived...", "No customers...", "Accounts not paid...". How do you expect me to live? That pittance you call an allowance can hardly keep me clothed. The whores down by the harbour dress better than I do! Would you rather I did that? How would you like to see your "Sweetness" whoring herself eh?" she shouted. Her father glowered at her and began coughing. "Oh yes, use that old trick and make me feel guilty about making you ill again - well it won't work Daddy - it won't work this time!" and with a toss of her head, she left her father's shop, the sound of his hacking cough ringing in her ears.

The breeze off the the sea carried with it a salty tang which made her nostrils flare as she sat staring out over the Sea of Parnas to the far horizon, losing herself in the broad sweep where the ocean met the sky. Some said there was an island out there where the sky and sea became one, populated by women with wings! Old sailors tales, huh!

She stretched her legs out before her, sitting on a coil of old rope at the upwind end of the harbour, ignored by the few men about on such a beautiful day for fishing. She looked critically at her legs and knees. They were not too knobbly and her legs were reasonably shapely, but she wished she had just a little more shape higher up! Her legs, she considered, were her best feature which was why the dress she wore was a little too short for modesty. She needed something though to attract attention to herself - her bosom would not suffice on its own! The dress was quite an old one but she had resewn it so that there was less shoulder and much larger armholes, making it rather more revealing.

Kallisti was distracted from the study of her knees by the sound of someone behind her. She looked round, shielding her eyes from the sun sinking slowly towards the lofty peaks of the Kiril Mountains away in the west beyond Urswell. It was Tormal, a young man who had been paying her a lot of attention over the past few months. She had been quite flattered at first but then as she got to know him better, she found him totally bland and lacking any spark of originality or wit. His father was a moneylender in the north of town, in the better off sector and was due to inherit the business. His attitude towards money was so much like her father's that it seemed as if they had been made in the same mould.

"Hello Kallisti, what's the matter?" he smiled and sat down beside her on the coil of rope. He smelt of roses - a very nice smell but not one a man should have. His arm went casually around her back and she stifled a snarl at his intrusion.

"Not a lot." she sighed, looking back out to sea. She could feel his hand inching around her back until it came upon the edge of the armhole of her dress. He shifted his position in an apparently innocent way so that his reach was extended and his hand slipped into her dress and forward until it gently cupped her right breast. With a sigh of boredom, Kallisti raised her eyes skyward to watch a seagull ride the updraughts effortlessly.

Taking her reaction as one of encouragement, Tormal moved closer and slipped his other hand into her dress so he could fondle both of her breasts. The seagull suddenly dipped its wings and dived out of the sky, splashing into the water to catch a dead fish floating on the surface. Something suddenly snapped inside her.

"What do you think you're doing?" she turned on him, dragging his hands out of her clothing. "How dare you touch me!" she snarled, suddenly furious. Tormal sat aghast, his mouth gaping wide in shock - this was not the way Kallisti normally reacted! "You're disgusting." she spat and suddenly her fist flashed out to strike his groin bringing a squeal of pain from him and making him double over.

A frisson of excitement buzzed through her and her eyes glittered with the light of cruel plesaure born of pent up frustration now finding release. Tormal uncoiled himself and looked at her, still clutching his painful private parts.

"Kallisti!" he croaked as she stood up, glaring down at him balefully. With a snarl of sadistic pleasure, her foot swung this time, crashing into the hands trying to protect the future generations of his family, and was rewarded by a girlish scream of pain. With a cruel laugh, Kallisti stepped over the curled up boy and sauntered off, head held high.

One of the old men mending a fishing net a little way down the quay shook his head as she passed him. "Get a little bit too "handy" did he?" he said with a knowing smile. Kallisti returned him a flashing grin and tossed her hair in the breeze, enjoying her feeling of truimph.

"Kallisti, can you come through here?" her father's voice came from outside the door to her bedroom. After her return from the harbour, she had closeted herself in her room along with her charcoals and parchment, sitting at her window drawing the people and things she saw. This was a pastime she had been doing for several years now to relieve the boredom imposed by her father's well meaning but suffocating rules.

"Coming." she called with a sigh, breaking off from the reverie she had sunk into. She could hear voices coming from her father's study where he worked on the accounts and ledgers. One voice she recognised from the whining tone and her guess was confirmed when she entered to find her father with Tormal and his father, a heavily built dark-haired man.

"So there you are." he sneered at her menacingly. A tautness grew in her stomach - a feeling that all was not as it should be.

"Is what Surac tells me true?" her father demanded angrily. "Did you expose yourself to young Tormal here and when he didn't respond to your disgusting advances, you kicked him and nearly crippled him?" Kallisti's mouth dropped open in astonishment.

"No, I did not - he's lying!" she gasped.

"I'm not, you ask the fisherman, he saw everything." Tormal whined, his voice hoarser than before.

"It is true, I spoke to him." Surac glowered at her.

"I didn't expose myself to him Daddy." she turned to him appealingly. "He started touching me...'

'No more of your lies!" Surac shouted. "I want to see her punished for this.'

"Yes you are right, she must be punished." Kallisti could not believe what her father was saying - he believed them and not her!

"Daddy no!" she wailed, grabbing hold of him. "You must believe me!" Her father refused to meet her eyes and pulled away from her awkwardly.

"Are you going to punish her or will I have to do it?" Surac stood before her, a dark shadow looming over her. Her father stepped away guiltily as Surac unfastened the wide leather belt he wore.

"Oh no please Daddy..." she sobbed, turning towards him but Surac caught hold of her arm and roughly pushed her down, bending her over her father's work table.

"Hold her." came the gruff voice from behind her as her father grasped her wrists.

"Daddy don't let him do this to me..." she tried to catch his eye but he had them closed and refused to look at her. There was a loud hissing swish as the belt swung through the air...

The night was quiet. In the distance came the sound of men laughing and singing accompanied by the occasional shill squeal of delight from a woman. That was away nearer the harbour but out here at the edge of town, all was peaceful. Kallisti lay face down on the bed, sobbing softly into her pillow, her buttocks, thighs and lower back bruised and inflamed from the beating she had recieved. What had hurt most though was her father's betrayal, not only refusing to believe her version of the story but also assisting in her final humiliation.

The sound of someone tapping lightly on her window penetrated her misery and brought her head up from the pillow. "Who is it?" she whispered, looking around for something to cover her nudity.

"Suki." came the reply. Kallisti sighed and limped over to the window, opening it to allow her tiny friend in. "I heard about what happened so I came over with this." the short dark-haired girl showed her a flask.

"What is it.'

"A soothing ointment - very good for bruises." Suki explained. "Lie down and I'll put it on." Kallisti did this but nearly cried out in pain as her friend's gentle fingers massaged the cool ointment into her burning wounds. Suki's parents were immmigrants from the north, which explained her dark olive complexion and slanted eyes. She and Kallisti had been friends since they were small children, the short dark Suki regarding the taller, blonde Kallisti like a goddess.

"I can't believe what Daddy did - if Mummy were still alive they wouldn't have been allowed to do that to me. She would have stopped them." Kallisti poured out her grief.

"What are you going to do now?" Suki continued to massage the ointment into her wounds.

"I'm not staying here that's for sure." she replied determinedly. "I've had enough of living with my father, he never lets me do or have anything. I wanted to get a job in the tavern but he wouldn't let me: "No daughter of mine is going to work in a drinking house like some common slut." Well, I'll show him. When I've finished he'll wish I'd never been born!'

"Well well, if it isn't Kallisti. Recovered from your indisposition yet?" one of her father's more wealthy friends met her in the bazaar some days later.

"Yes thank you Master James." she replied sweetly, smiling and fluttering her eyelashes at him. He smiled back, appreciating the view he received down the front of her dress as she leaned toward him.

"What can I do for you then?" he stepped towards her. Kallisti stood her ground and inclined her head to one side. No matter how cool she appeared on the outside, her stomach churned with apprehension.

"Well I was hoping I could do something for you." Nervously she played with the pearl pendant she had "borrowed" from her father's stock as the man looked at her again, a glint of interest in his eye.

"What exactly were you thinking of?" he asked, lowering his voice.

"Oh I'm sure you can think of something. I'll only need a little renumeration..." she pinched her fingers together and winked at him. The man grinned broadly and held out his hand to her.

"I think that can easily be arranged." he replied, guiding her away from the bazaar.

"Kallisti, where are you getting these things from?" her father gestured vaguely at the short silky dress she wore.

"I bought it." she replied offhandedly. Ever since the day of her beating several weeks before, the relationship between her and her father had grown more and more distant, much to his obvious discomfort.

"And where did you get the money from?" he inclined his head curiously.

"It was given to me.'

"Given? By whom?" he said, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"Oh, friends and people." she dismissed the question airily but inside she was tensing up, having realised that this would be the confrontation she had expected for some time.

"Friends? What for? Kallisti, tell me the truth.'

"Truth? You don't know the meaning of the word!" she spat suddenly, her long buried fury breaking through. "If you really want to know where I got the money from, I got it from your friends. I let them see what you've been dying to see for the past few years and they showed me their appreciation... They've been laughing at you behind your back for weeks!'

"You whore!" her father bellowed, his eyes blazing with anger. Stepping forward he swung his hand to hit her but she caught it and twisted savagely bringing forth a cry of pain. Releasing him, she stepped back out fo his reach. He stared at her in horror. "What have you become? How could you do this? What would your mother have said?'

"Don't bring her into this - its all down to you. If you'd believed me then nothing would have happened.'

"How dare you... OUT - I'll not have you under this roof a moment longer. Get out, whore. Earn your living on the streets where you belong! You're no longer my daughter - Kallisti is dead as of this moment. Get OUT!" he was almost screaming at the end. With her head held high, she turned and went to her room to collect her things.

"So how is life out on your own?" Suki asked, helping herself to an apple from the bag she had brought. They sat in the grass at the top of the cliffs to the south of Urswell where nobody would see them. In the months since Kallisti had been thrown out by her father, Suki's parents had forbidden her to associate with her but they still met up sometimes in secret. The spring sunshine had prompted them to make this little excursion, now the ravages of winter were far behind them.

"Its okay." Kallisti sighed, biting into her apple. She had changed quite a bit since she had left home. Her hair was elaborately curled and she now almost permanently wore make-up to conceal the shadows under her eyes as well as the sickly pallor of someone not eating regularly. It also had to conceal some of the bruises she recieved from her clients who were much less gentle nowadays than those when she first started in the business.

"Why don't you find yourself a proper job?" Suki saw through her act.

"What can I do? Father made sure I was pretty incapable of doing anything that could get me a job - apart from this one that is." Kallisti sighed, tossing the apple core over the edge of the cliff and reaching for another.

"You can read and write - and draw. There's not many people who can do that. I heard a rumour that Triad Gall was looking for an assistant.'

"Triad Gall? But he's the top Dravidi man on the town council! How could I work for him? The God of Thieves couldn't ask for a better follower than Triad Gall!'

"Is that any worse than what you're doing now?" Suki held her gaze, her brown eyes boring deep into Kallisti's blue ones. Kallisti shrugged. "He's supposed be a very generous man.'

"But he's so old...'

"Have you been that fussy? No wonder you've lost so much weight and grown so skinny!'

"Alright, you win, I'll go and see him tomorrow." Kallisti sighed, giving in to her friend's persuasion.

"No come on, let's go back and you can do it now. First though take all that disgusting paint off your face and brush your hair properly." Kallisti grinned at Suki's nagging but followed her back to town all the same.

"Em hello, I'm trying to find Triad Gall." Kallisti stood nervously before the servant who had answered the door to his home. She had changed from the revealing dress of before into a less gaudy one and had taken Suki's advice and had brushed her elaborate hairstyle out so that she looked less like a prostitute. The clerk at the council chambers had directed her to where she would find Triad's house in the midst of the respectable quarter of town to the north of the harbour.

"Master Triad is in." the ancient looking servant said, looking her up and down. Kallisti shuffled her feet nervously. "What is your name and business with Master Triad?" he added after his condecending inspection.

"Kallisti. I heard he was looking for an assistant so I came to see him..." she found the rapid flow of words tripping off her nervous tongue shuddering to a halt as she ran out of steam. Her mouth was dry and she found that she did not like this feeling of nervousness, of being out of control of the situation. Even after the experiences of the past few months, bringing her face to face with the more unsavory aspects of adult life and making her grow up very quickly, the situation she now faced was totally new and it unsettled her as if she were a child, still wet behind the ears.

"You had better come in and wait while I find out if the master will see you." the old man opened the door wider and beckoned her in. She found herself in a very well furnished hallway with three doors leading off. The walls were hung with tapestries depicting the history of the town and along one wall a polished mahogany table gleamed dully in the flickering light of the candles in a candelabra sitting on the table. The servant gestured for her to wait here while he shuffled to the door at the end of the hall and disappeared through it.

The wait seemed interminable and the quiet atmosphere of the house seeemed almost oppressive as she worried at her lower lip apprehensively. Suddenly the door creaked open again, the unexpected noise making her jump. The old servant came through and waved her to follow him.

"The master will see you." he said tersely, turning his back on her. Moving after him she found herself in a small circular room lined with books and various esoteric items, the function of which she had no idea. Sitting behind a desk in the middle of the room, piled up with parchments was the man she had come to see.

Triad Gall was a man of middle years with short dark hair greying at the temples. His appearance was not outstanding, a face one could not easily describe and very easy to forget. This nondescript appearance was enhanced by his clothing, all grey, the colour of the Dravidi religion.

The servant deposited her in the room and shuffled off. Triad was hunched over the desk and appeared unaware of her presence. After a few awkward minutes, Kallisti quietly cleared her throat to attract his attention. His head rose a fraction and he scowled at her for interrupting his concentration. With a sigh of resignation, he leaned back in his chair and spread his hands on the table.

"Well young lady, what can I do for you?" he said quietly, his voice, like the rest of him unremarkable.

"I - I heard you were looking for an assistant and..." she gulped.

"... and you thought you could fill that place?" he finished her sentence for her. Kallisti nodded, not trusting her tongue. Triad pursed his lips and nodded with her. "So, what can you do?'

"I can read and write, and I can draw." she decided to put on a show and be more forthright.

"Good, that is always useful." Triad nodded again. "What else? Do you know anything about potions?" Kallisti shrugged.

"Only the common ones for sleep and numbing pain." she replied, trying to sound confident.

"Can you use a knife - a dagger that is, not a kitchen knife? Have you ever killed a man?" Triad leaned forward studying her.

"No - no I've never killed anyone." she stammered, put off by the question. "I can defend myself though.'

"Good, I don't like hiring killers unless it is absolutely neccessary." Triad sat back smiling faintly. "What have you been doing up to now?'

"I - I ..." she stuttered, ashamed of admitting her profession. Triad smiled warmly at her.

"Its alright my dear Kallisti, I know very well what you have been doing since your father disowned you." Kallisti gaped at him. "I make it my business to find out what is going on in this dear town of ours, even seemingly insignificant news such as a father throwing his daughter out onto the street to become a prostitute. You are unhappy in your work?" Kallisti nodded, not daring to look him in the face, her cheeks flushed with shame. "I think I may be able to find more suitable work for you." Kallisti looked up in surprise. "I need an assitant to help me gather information and I would quite like a young lady to keep me company and do various small services for me." he winked at her. Kallisti, despite herself smiled and blushed again. "Would you be willing to take the position?'

"Yes I would, thank you." she replied, adding a wink of her own.

"Good then. If you would like to fetch your belongings from your lodgings, I'll have the servants prepare a room for you. Oh one final question: I know you are not dedicated to any god yet, so would you be willing to become a disciple of Lord Dravidi, God of Theives?'

"Yes my Lord, yes I would." Kallisti replied, happily enthusiastic.

"No Kallisti, you may call me Triad, you are my assistant not my servant.'

The summer night was balmy and still. Distantly a dog barked but was quickly silenced with a yelp. Kallisti, dressed in grey and wearing a dark scarf over her blonde hair, crept through the shadows silently cat-like. Her destination was just ahead, a small house in the quiet residential district south east of the harbour. Stealthily she moved forward, her hand never straying far from the dagger she carried at her belt. Nobody would have believed that she was heavily armed from her outward appearance, but strapped to her thigh under her tunic was a stilletto dagger whilst under her left forearm was a throwing dagger. Even the scarf concealing her hair could be used as a weapon. A tough steel wire sewn into it could turn it into a very efficient garrotte.

Reaching the rear of the house, she crouched low, drawing her dark cloak about her. Looking round, she fixed the position of everything in her mind and rehearsed her escape route. Turning her attention to the window beside her finally, she slipped the slim blade of the dagger through the gap and raised the catch slowly and silently. With a faint click, it disengaged and the window opened to her touch.

Inside, the bed was occupied by two people, both deep in sleep. Kallisti's nostrils flared when she saw this but she controled her anger, redirecting it to the job in hand. Nimbly she climed over the window-sill and was inside. She pulled the window closed behind her so that no chance passer-by might grow suspicious. Swiftly she moved to a chest near the door and knelt down.

A movement from the bed made her freeze in the crouch. The girl occupying the bed mumbled something in her sleep and draped her arm over the edge. Kallisti allowed herself to breath again and turned back to the chest. The lock was simple and she had it open in no time at all. Triad's training over the past weeks, coupled with what the other Dravidi worshippers she had met in the temple had taught her gave her the skills to open the chest and find the bag of gold coins "safely" hidden within. She allowed herself a grin of satisfaction but then cursed herself, for the gleam of her pearly white teeth could give her away in the dark if she were not careful.

Dipping into the hoard of gold, she removed roughly half of it and wrapped it in a pouch she wore around her waist. Before she closed the chest again, she slipped a small scrap of parchment into the bag. Relocking the chest was simplicity itself and in a few moments she was outside again, closing the window afterwards.

Returning to the shadows, she slipped away quietly but the mirth growing within broke through and despite the fact that it might have given her away she began laughing. Throwing back the scarf covering her hair she recklessly strode out, laughing happily. What was tickling her funny bone was the thought of the note she had left behind - a simple letter of thanks:

"Dear Daddy,

Thanks a lot,

Love K.

xxx'

Skipping along the deserted streets, she found her blood singing in ultimate delight. Kallisti of Urswell headed north toward her new home, finally at peace with the world.


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