an excerpt


Kiran Mortrei followed his mother as quickly as he could manage, not wanting to be beaten again. He had no idea what was going on, but he was in enough trouble already, he wasn't going to ask questions. He was surprised when he realized that they were at the Jinn compound, where the Artris herself lived.

Kiran was ordered to kneel outside Andrea, Lady Jinn's study, while his mother went in. He knelt, obeying silently and immediately. His mother had beaten him until his father begged her to stop yesterday, and he had no wish for a repeat. His body hurt, and kneeling on the cold stone slabs in the hallway didn't help, but a male didn't argue with a female. A proper male knew his place and stayed there.

An hour later, his mother and Lady Jinn came out, and his mother flicked her fingers at him, silently ordering him to follow. He was ordered into the back of a truck and the members of the Jinn household also got into various vehicles.

They all traveled to the village near the compound, and stopped by the square. Kiran was confused. Now what was going on? It seemed the entire village, and the people from the surrounding estates, were coming for something. Maybe there was supposed to be some general announcement.

He was surprised and terrified when Lady Jinn ordered him taken and bound to the flogging post. Deity help him, he was going to be publicly beaten. Lady Jinn was going to flog him in front of everyone because someone saw him looking at the makeup in a local store and reported his apparent deviancy to his mother. He had never even touched the stuff, never tried any of it on, he had only looked at it, wishing to himself that he could wear some of it. He knew it was an impossible wish, a usurpation of female privilege, but he hadn't thought anyone would notice his interest.

He was roughly bound to the flogging post, and sliced out of his clothes, crying out in pain when the women who stripped him made no effort to make sure their daggers didn't slice into him.

He listened numbly as Lady Jinn declared his transgressions to the assembly, and his punishment, fifty lashes. Then the first crack of the whip hit him and he screamed; he couldn't help it, he'd never felt such pain. Five lashes later, he gratefully let the darkness take him.

Something cold and wet roused him and as soon as he was found to be awake again, the lashes began again.

Over and over, pain would drive him to unconsciousness, and over and over, the lashes stopped until he was awakened, and then they would continue. Finally, the flogging ended, somewhere along the line, his body had gone numb, for which he was grateful. He was vaguely aware of movement off to the side, then the sound of the whip flicking out, and someone else's cry of pain. He heard Lady Jinn's voice again, but he was no longer able to focus on the words. The darkness took him again.

When he came to, it was night, and he was still chained to the flogging post, still naked. He shuddered as the cold seeped into his wounds. There was movement off to the side, and he struggled to turn his head. Was someone else coming to beat him?

Fingers pressed against his mouth, warning him to be silent. Then warm, thick broth was tipped into his mouth, with a whispered, "Drink quickly." He obeyed, drinking thirstily of the broth. He wished for water as well, but knew better than to ask. He quickly grasped that whoever was attending him was taking an incredible risk. He finished the broth, then his wish for water was granted, and he drank that as well, but with the nourishment came pain. He struggled not to vomit, instinctively knowing that what he was just given might be all he got.

His helper whispered very softly to him. "You will be displayed for three more days, Kiran, and all are free to abuse you, none are free to assist you. You are also disowned, you have no name, no family, no one to speak for you. If I can, I will bring you more broth and water tomorrow night." Then his helper was gone, swiftly leaving. Kiran felt tears fall down his face. So much for his mother's claims that a mother always loves her child no matter what. That betrayal was worse than any physical pain.

For two days, many in the village threw things at him, and shouted at him, and Kiran was quick to note that almost all of his tormentors were older females. Quite a few beat him some more. Most of the males he saw looked at him with pity in their eyes, and very few did anything to hurt him further, some even urged the females they were with to please leave him alone. His arms had gone numb long ago, and since he was chained to the post, eventually he had soiled himself, making his humiliation complete. The second night, his helper arrived again, giving him warm broth and cool water, then vanishing. Kiran sank within himself, letting his mind protect him from his reality.

Early into the third day of his display, an enraged voice filtered into his consciousness. "What is the meaning of this?" The voice was deep, male, and sounded vaguely familiar. Large hands gently touched him, sending incredible pain through his body, but he was too weak to scream anymore.

The voice was gentle as it spoke to him. "What is your name? How old are you?"

Somehow, he managed to whisper an answer. "My name was Kiran Mortrei. Now I have no name. I am just turned twelve."

Chains rattled as Kiran was released from them. "Return him to the chains unless you wish to join him in them, Catan," Lady Jinn's voice ordered. Catan? Catan Jinn was a Sennrojai. Why was he here? The silent question was answered by the deepest, smoothest, most comforting voice he'd ever heard, psionically. I was called.

"I'd like to see you try, Senki," Catan replied. There was such venom in his voice as he called Lady Jinn "Senki" that Kiran was surprised she didn't drop dead instantly.

"You are no proper son of mine, but these are my lands, I rule here. He is still being punished." Kiran heard her, but he couldn't open his eyes, he was too weak. Although Catan's hands continued to be gentle, every touch hurt immensely, darkness licked at the edges of his mind.

"He's nearly dead, Senki. I daresay that is more than adequate punishment for whatever imagined sin he committed," Catan replied. Something was wrapped around him; it felt a little rough, but it was warm and hid his shame from view. He hoped the blood and filth on him didn't ruin it.

"He's a deviant. Such behavior cannot be allowed to spread," Kiran vaguely heard the sound of Lady Jinn's whip. "He goes back in the chains, and you've just added two days to his punishment,"

"And if he were to die in those two days, Senki?" Catan's derisive voice.

"Who cares? He'll serve as a good lesson in proper behavior, won't he?" The sound of the whip again. Kiran was so tired, he couldn't even flinch from the sound. He heard a vague grunt that must have come from Catan, then felt a jerk.

"Why don't you fight like a real woman, Senki, instead of attacking from a distance?" Catan taunted. "The boy comes with me."

The darkness swallowed everything else Kiran might have heard.

Chapter 1

Kiran walked into his apartment and kicked off his heels. The hem of his long green dress swirled around his ankles as he padded across the living room to the counter that divided the kitchen and dining room from the living room. It had been a long day, spent at one of his favorite restaurants so he could would work on the editing he'd been assigned. He found that sometimes he did better work when he wasn't at home. The light on his answering machine was blinking, letting him know he had messages. One was from a friend, a human woman that he worked with at the club, inviting him to join her and her boyfriend for lunch the next day; one was a reminder notice that he had an optometrist's appointment in the morning, and one was from Lady Jarvai, asking him to call back.

He wondered what she wanted as he took the phone with him to his favorite chair, a huge overstuffed recliner that he often fell asleep in. He looked around his living room, admiring the nice, matching, overstuffed couch and cozy chairs. He called Milossa back. "Lady Jarvai, it's Kiran."

"Kiran, are you decent?" She asked. He didn't take offense since he had long since learned that she was asking if he was clothed, it wasn't an opinion on his dress or behavior.

"Um, yes, except I've haven't any shoes on, why?"

"Well I need you here for a few, so I've asked Lucretia if she would bring you here. Grab your shoes," Milossa replied.

Kiran got up and slipped back into his heels before telling Milossa he was ready, and hanging up the phone. He'd find out what was going on soon enough. Less than a minute later, he was in the study of Milossa's home on Rimalia, a familiar place.

When he had finally healed from his wounds, he discovered that there had been several offers by various families to adopt him, but he refused them all, not wanting to be taken in out of pity. He spent a few months in Catan's care, finding comfort in that giant of a man taking care of him. He finally accepted Milossa's offer to foster him, at Catan's urging, until he was of age, and spent not quite two years under her roof. He had feared that Catan didn't want him around, but Catan had carefully drawn young Kiran into his lap and explained that Kiran needed something Catan could not provide him: Proof that there were good, decent, loving women nearly everywhere. That women like their mothers were the exceptions, not the rule. During that time, Milossa saw to it that he began his education, and got intensive therapy to deal with the abuse he'd suffered. Lady Jinn had been forced to pay reparations to him, not because she'd punished him, but because her punishment had been judged far too much for his supposed crime. On one hand, he hadn't wanted to take her money, on the other hand, he needed a way to support himself, since he was alone in the world. He hadn't wanted to depend on a stipend designed to only cover his needs. Milossa helped him invest the money so that he could live reasonably comfortably, especially if he worked to supplement his investments. When he turned fourteen, Milossa had arranged for his apartment, a nice, spacious two-bedroom apartment in a gated complex in Connecticut, since he didn't want to live on the Island. He was safe there, he had good neighbors that didn't hassle him, as well as access to a swimming pool, gym, and community room, where many of the residents gathered every night. He was the youngest resident in the complex, but they didn't know just how young.

For the most part, he lived as the humans did, except for the fact that most human males did not wear women's clothing. He enjoyed the freedom of not having to answer to anyone but himself, and rarely returned to Rimalia, except for occasionally accepting the open Solstice invitation to Milossa's. He had gone back a couple of months ago when Milossa's middle son married. Her whole family had taken him in and accepted him, which had helped him heal a lot. Since he lived and worked in the States, he had to have a surname, and Milossa graciously offered him the use of hers for legal purposes. When dealing with Rimalians, however, he still had no surname, no Clan, and he was fine with that. Milossa had offered him Nameright several times, but he'd always politely refused.

"That's a lovely gown, Kiran," Milossa said as she stood up behind her desk. "It certainly brings out your eyes."

Kiran looked at the floor length skirt. He had a penchant for long sleeved, floor length gowns. They looked like costumes for old films from the forties, and were extremely formal for this day and age, but he didn't care, he liked them, so he wore them. Even at work at the club, he wore feminine clothing, women's jeans, and long-sleeved blouses. It had taken him a long time to accept that he wasn't a deviant because he liked women's clothes and makeup. He wore his light brown hair in a long, layered cut that looked smashing when it was all curled and done up, and was long enough to be all brought up in a bun or ponytail, out of his face. "Thank you, Milossa," he said, blushing. "So why am I here?"

She smiled, perfectly willing to get right to the point. "I received an offer for you today, and I thought it best to discuss it with you," she answered as she sat in one of the cozy chairs, inviting him to sit in one as well.

Kiran was surprised. "I thought I made it clear that I would not entertain any offers for me," he replied, confused. He had long been disillusioned by the subtle marriage mart. He had played the game when he was younger, serving at Island festivities, trying to show his domestic skills as well as his looks, and was very rarely approached, and even if he was, it wasn't long before she lost interest. Sensing his loneliness, Milossa and a few others had made a discreet effort to find a good wife for him. One or two had even introduced him to other young men that they thought might make a good husband for him, but with no luck. Most of the time it had been, "Hi, nice to meet you, maybe I'll see you around." He had been no more interested in them than they'd been in him.

"I know, but it's been a few years since we talked about it, and to be honest, most of the time, those who bring it up, don't want a husband who cross-dresses. It's easy to discourage them, because they don't realize that just because you're nameless, doesn't mean you're desperate," Milossa answered. "The young woman in question, however, genuinely doesn't seem to care. She is aware that you aren't interested in marriage but she would still like an introduction. I'll be honest and tell you that she is in a certain need for a husband, she has recently come to be Artris of her Clan, and has certain responsibilities. And your initial status as first-born son of the ruling line of a Clan is of great value to her, despite your Namelessness, since it means you aware already aware of the responsibilities she now bears. She asked me for permission to court you, and I explained that it was your permission she needed. She didn't seem put off by that either, so I thought I would talk to you,"

Kiran thought about it. He was lonely sometimes, but not enough to want to put himself at risk. On the other hand, would it really hurt him to be polite and at least let the woman introduce herself? He looked at Milossa for a long time. She and a few others had taught him that most women were decent, caring people, unlike the ultra-conservative, narrow-minded idiots he'd been raised by. He decided he could be polite. "All right, I'm willing to meet with her, but only with you around."

Milossa grinned. "Decided it wouldn't kill you to be polite, huh?" she teased gently.

He smiled back. "Something like that."

"Well, she's here still if now is all right with you," Milossa offered. He nodded, so she picked up the phone and contacted the woman.

They spoke quietly, catching up on things while they waited for the woman to walk back to Milossa's house. Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on the study door and Ernest, Milossa's husband, ushered the young woman in. She was pretty, Kiran admitted to himself. She had long brown hair kept back in a neat braid. She was tall, about six feet to his five-six, with pretty, brown eyes, and appeared to be in her late twenties. She looked him over and he wondered what she really thought of the effeminate-looking male in the long green dress and matching four-inch heels, with his hair curled and makeup on.

"Kiran, this Marsila Kensii. Marsila, Kiran," Milossa introduced them. She looked from one to the other, with a slight hopeful expression.

"Hello, Lady Kensii," Kiran said politely, but didn't offer his hand. He didn't like to be touched. In her favor, she didn't try to reach for him; he did like that.

"Hello, Master Kiran," she said. Marsila did have a soft, pleasing voice, but if Milossa was hoping he would fall in love on sight, he was going to have to disappoint her.

Milossa managed to get them making small talk, but while he liked her well enough, he wasn't attracted to her, and had no interest in being courted by her. Finally, he just shook his head. "I'm sorry Lady Marsila, you seem to be a decent woman."

"But you're not attracted to me," Marsila said with a smile.

Kiran shook his head again, with some regret. "No, I'm not. It's not that you're not lovely, but…" he left off with a helpless shrug. "And I don't think you're attracted to me, either…"

Now it was her turn to give an apologetic shrug. "I'm afraid not. I'm sorry. I had hoped…" Marsila gave him a smile. "You've very lovely, and clearly intelligent, but…"

They smiled and left it at that. Maybe they would become friends, maybe not, but at least there were no hard feelings. Marsila thanked Milossa for arranging the introduction and Kiran for his time, and went about her business.

He, Ernest, and Milossa sat down and had tea while they talked a little more before Milossa contacted Lucretia again and asked for her to take Kiran back to his apartment. It turned out to be a pleasant evening.