Painted Lady


The young woman lay on the pallet naked and weeping. The room she was now in was a sometime storeroom and still held several boxes and sacks stacked against one wall. A high window, not much more than a big vent really, provided the only illumination for the occupant, if of course she had had need of such.

An observer would have seen a sorry sight, wrists and ankles manacled, head roughly shorn, face dyed blue and a trace of dark blood between her legs, the girl was ill used and could expect no less in the future. Strangely, the door was not even shut. Let alone locked, no guard, her manacles were not locked to anything even. The weeping stopped only as exhausted sleep took over the girl's consciousness.

Her plight was not something that was common knowledge; those that knew either were party to it, or powerless to do anything about it. She was in fact in an out building adjoining the keep of Fujiwara Castle in the eastern land of Suzorawa. Her captors had declared her a spy before abducting her just yesterday. She had in fact been heading to the castle at any rate, but it was not a good time to be a foreigner in the war torn countryside of Suzorawa. A civil war was raging, had been for over a year and it was a bloody one at that.

Since her arrival in these lands she had seen many wonders but it was the acts of barbarism that were more deeply etched on her mind. Public executions, mutilations, a whole village put to the torch but up until yesterday her passport from the Regents office had let her travel unhindered. Then within sight of the walls of Fujiwara but apparently unobserved, she was taken by a patrol wearing what seemed to be the uniform of the Regents militia.

After a lot of shouting, much of which was beyond her understanding of the language, the captain made a decision. Blindfolded, she was led away and some time later found herself in what seemed like a barn in the company of several of the apparent militiamen. Things happened quickly when the blindfold was removed, her arms were grabbed and manacled to a post behind her and the men then took turns at her for it seemed hours.

The rapine halted only when an authorative voice commanded a halt. What followed then was as unexpected as the abduction, the head shaving was standard practice in Suzorawa for criminals of either sex and the application of dye to the head, different colours for different misdemeanours, ensured there were no short sentences! Ironically her captors had used the only dye to hand, blue, normally used to mark adulterers.

Blue eyes flashed open and quickly took in the surroundings, manacles, bruises, blood, sunlight through a small high window, a draft from somewhere behind her head. Agnetha was cold and frightened, the muffled sounds of activity in the next room coming through the open doorway doing little to calm her. A patter of small feet approached and sitting up on the pallet, knees 'neath her chin, a young boy of perhaps six or seven appeared with a tray.

Well they didn't mean to kill her just yet, the fare wasn't great but it was at least sustenance, a piece of bread torn from a loaf and a mug of water. The boy watched and waited for her to finish, then wordlessly departed with the empty tray. Two days passed without further assault, just the daily visit from the silent youngster. It wasn't to last, late on the third night two militia men woke her from her fitful sleep, and proceeded to take turns at her. It was useless to resist or protest, that had only added a filthy rag as a gag, a course bag tied over her head and more hurt.

They left her like that when they departed; it was only when small hands removed the hood that she knew that another day was upon her. As she was still trussed, her arms manacled behind her, the lad removed the gag and fed her himself, still never uttering a sound. Although once again the rape was careless and long, she wasn't further injured, maybe a few extra bruises but it did hurt like hell! Was this really how she would end her days, a whore for the castle guard half a world from home? It was a surprise when some time later, maybe an hour or so; the sound of little feet once again preceded the boy.

This time he came with a bundle of cloth and what were clearly the keys for her restraints. The boy was surely mute for he still didn't speak, instead, after freeing her from the restraints, just motioned that she should don the clothing before taking position by the doorway. She eagerly shook out the bundle, rough native work clothes, a damp rag – she presumed to clean herself with and what appeared to be a pot of some unguent. She quickly wiped herself; it was good to clean her nether regions of the results of her misuse even if it was still painful. She dressed quickly and the boy dashed back and taking up the unguent, indicated she should close her eyes. He smeared her face expertly from hairline to neck and after adding a few extra dabs seemed satisfied. From what she could tell her face was now painted white, she guessed it was some sort of theatre face paint. The boy thrust a native style hat on her head then led the way from the room.

Agnetha's escape was not entirely Hiro's idea. His father was the great travelling theatre owner, Kikomo and it was he who thought the foreign woman worthy of rescue. The theatre was already departed from the castle environs some day and a half when the young woman was released by Hiro. Their or rather Agnetha's escape from the castle precinct was to be less than comfortable. The boy led his charge to the stables, currently empty of livestock and motioned to the rear of the dung cart. The young woman baulked at the idea but the boy laid some of the cleaner straw on the base and taking a deep breath she clambered up. Hiro covered her with more of the cleaner stable clearings and started to fork more on top. She heard some exchange of words and the rate of loading increased, the weight of the manure pressing down was oppressive and Agnetha prayed it wouldn't be for long.

A short while later the cart of manure left the castle grounds and around an hour later ground to a halt. Agnetha heard a catch release and suddenly woman and dung were flipped out of the cart to join an already festering pile of stable refuse. The carter left without a second look, just as well really as Agnetha was already scrambling clear.

As she stood shaking dung and picking straw from her person a good-humoured laugh broke out.

“Smelling of shit no one will be looking at you too closely.”

Startled, she looked about to locate the source of the voice, her eyes finally settling on her rescuer and a well but flamboyantly dressed native man.

Sensing no immediate threat she replied, “I guess you're right.” She finished brushing at the reluctant bits of straw. “I suppose its you put the boy up to rescuing me?”

“Sorry milady, I am remiss, my name is Kikomo and this is my son Hiro.” In a stage whisper he went on, “he doesn't talk much.”

“Thank you both, I'm Agnetha Pendenick,” she plucked another piece of straw free, “why the rescue?”

“To that you owe my son. He saw you taken into the castle; he's a curious lad so he keeps ears open for news of the gaijin prisoner. No word in the castle so you must be secret. By chance he hear soldiers talking about new whore and discovered where you were taken. Son tells father and father decides to rescue. Sorry it take so long but had to make sure my theatre was long departed to avoid authorities making connection.”

“Well my greatest thanks to both of you. Now what? You have a plan I take it?”

“Indeed I have but first you bathe, hot spring short way along road.”

With Hiro acting as rearguard, they hurried to the small spring and Agnetha now careless of body taboos, stripped and entered the warm waters. As she bathed, she took up the conversation with Kikomo.

“So this plan?”

“You have seen courtesans in our country?”

“I don't think so.”

“Good! Well you are to become one, at least temporarily, that dye on your face will not fade easily, at least three moon turns, you would stand out as a criminal at once. As a courtesan this will not be a problem, you will see why when we catch up to my caravan.”

She didn't recognise herself at all. Her face was almost featureless, only her painted lips and eyebrows broke the white expanse, her eyes cleverly painted to give her the slightly slanted appearance of the locals. Further away from her face, an ornate wig covered her abused and stubbly scalp. The clothes were constricting but not uncomfortable, the toe socks and wooden sandals strange at first but soon unnoticed.

“Hello Kikimi, or can I call you Kiki?”

Agnetha looked about for another woman before realising that Kikomo was addressing her.

“Ah! An alias, Kiki will suffice, this is just incredible, will it work, I don't speak your language well?”

“Not a problem. You will be expected to talk little and you travel in a closed palanquin.”

So it was that ‘Kiki' travelled with Kikomo and his theatre for more than half a year around Suzorawa. She had early on told her benefactor of her mission and along with the now quite talkative Hiro, they helped make enquiries but without any success. It was now almost a year since she had returned Æthelfrida to her home and she was still no closer to finding Portia.

She didn't always travel as a courtesan now, the dye having long ago faded and her hair was now grown back past her ears. Black dye solved the problem of being blonde in a land where anything other than dark brown or black hair was rare. Her grasp of the language was much improved thanks to daily sessions with Hiro and she could cope with most situations. That didn't mean that her visit to Suzorawa would end without further incident!

They were in the southern town of Kiri and she had gone shopping for food with Hiro, somehow the always attentive Hiro lost Kiki in the crowds. Agnetha , who's knowledge of the language was daily improving, asked some well dressed women if they had seen her 'brother', for that's how she now thought of him. At eighteen, the youngest Pendennick was a looker even wearing her native disguise, something which had not escasped the attention of the Mother of the local bathouse. Due to some intended confusion, the young woman, though she didn't know it, was being pressganged into life as a Geisha.

Before she knew what was afoot, she was in the bathouse. Now in this land, once you become a Geisha, a Geisha you remain until you are retired or die. It's a respectable living but hard, very few volunteer for the lifestyle. Nakedness or even bare flesh in public is strictly taboo, so, due to the impracticalities of wearing clothing in the bathouse, they have come up with a solution. Each Geisha is therefore ‘dressed' in a suit of tattoos, not a small butterfly or similar that a few raunchy western women might acquire, no these are major works of art covering extensive areas of flesh.

If you are thus tattooed, your life is preordained and most Geisha in Suzorawa were once a pretty girl in the market, who woke up next day marked as a Geisha. Agnetha was about to become another. The girls chatted to her, in truth it was good to have some girl talk, they plied her with tea and promised to join the search for Hiro. The room began to spin and in panic she was soon passing into a drugged sleep. Now anyone visiting a bathouse can tell that the girls tattoos are no half hour wonder, they can take several days effort by the tattooist. The subject is therefore kept drugged so they cannot feel the pain, it also keeps them out of public view for a while!

Hiro meanwhile was very worried, his Kiki had disappeared, Kikomo was at a loss, he doubted militia involvement as she now looked and acted so much like a native. Between performances the pair searched the streets of Kiri, for three days they did so asking everyone they could if they had seen the young woman.

It was late on the third evening when Kikomo got a lead, just such a girl was seen leaving the market in the company of several of the town Geishas. Feering the worst he started out straight away for the bathouse. Securing Agnetha's release would not be easy but he had a plan for that, there was one thing he wouldn't be able to do though, that is remove any body decorations they might already have given her.

“Kiki, Kiki, look, look!”

the still only semi conscious Kiki frowned at the mirror Jing Jing was holding. There was a woman on it wearing not much more than a painted dragon and flowers, hang on that face is familiar, hey that's me! She moved a hand just to confirm that, yes it was her reflection, she screamed!

When she finally calmed down, Jing Jing brought her a sedative tea, she once again looked into the mirror. She took off the robe and stared in fascinated horror at her new body decorations. Across her back, down one leg and along one arm lay a dragon, an absolutely beautiful red and gold dragon, the colours almost alive, it was huge! But there was much more. From between her legs a Koi carp leapt, the ‘splashes' so realistic she tried to wipe them away. However they hadn't finished there, the dragon free leg wore a flowered vine, big native blossoms half a span wide filled her virgin flesh and extended about her hip, across her breasts about her shoulder and down the non dragon arm ending in a bracelet of tiny cherry blossoms. She was still too shocked for words three hours later when Jing Jing asked her to help in the bath room.

Here came the next surprise for it was Kikomo in the bath seat. Kikomo however had hoped this would happen but had girded himself for multiple visits if that's what it took! He started shouting.

"Wife, wife! How come you here? I have never struck you, I give you a stipend…..” and a lot more in this vein. Kiki just stood there dumbfounded by this latest turn of events however Jing Jing ran off to fetch the Mother. Geishas must by law be single and Kikomo was relying on this straw to rescue his friend. The Mother arrived and what ensued would fill many journals but some two hours later Kiki left on the arm of her ‘husband', shamed and remorseful and owing another great debt to Kikomo. The settlement including a quantity of coin and a hasty departure from Kiri, not a problem as the theatre was due to leave on the morrow anyway. The bathouse kept face and Kiki was free if now indelibly marked as a Geisha.

So it was that Agnetha left Suzorawa with more than she arrived with and certainly a lasting reminder. When she finally parted company with her two-time saviour it was a tearful time but Kikomo promised to bring Hiro to Pendenick Manor as soon as he was able, they parted company with that thought.

It was not on a cold trail that Kiki went this time, a tall blonde woman was known in a town only five weeks distant. She left Suzorawa with some regret but also optimistic that Portia would soon be found.


To be continued.

Maddy Bell ©1995

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