Armsman of Joth -2-

What happens to someone when they become the thing they most fear and loathe?

Armsman of Joth

by Penny Lane

2: Insanity


Maralin tries to make sense of the bizarre situation he finds himself in: a new body, one he would rather not have, and a new world where everything is strange and different.

Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2014 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.

24th day of Bretherin, Year 1174 since the Great Flood, continued

Oh, sweet Mother of God, no! I'm a man!

The reaction was immediate and visceral. He doubled up, his stomach trying to empty itself of its contents, mostly without success.

"Quick! Grab him, in case he hurts himself!"

Junis and Vannet each grabbed an arm and pushed Marilyn back down against the wall.

Grab him. In case he hurts himself.

It was almost too much to bear.

"Here, drink this."

It was the same mug, filled with a drink he now recognized as 'pel', whatever that was. The brew settled his stomach immediately, although his brain was still outraged. The hands that held the mug were his and the mouth that swallowed the drink was his and it was all too much to take in at once.

The Healers began cleaning up the little he had brought back. Everybody else in the room clustered round, which added to the surreal circumstances. The people were strangely dressed, as though for a film or a re-enactment meeting. The women were clothed in what appeared to be long-sleeved woolen dresses, their legs which showed from mid-calf covered in thick, crudely knitted stockings. The men wore short tunics which barely came down to crotch level, their legs being encased in thick tights. Their bodies looked distorted, as if they were all too small, although correctly proportioned.

"What is this place?" he asked, hoarsely. "Where am I?"

"You're in Falden's mansion, on the edge of Galdarin, don't you remember?" This was a man dressed in a tunic of blue and white panels. "We found you on the way out of Joth, somebody had whacked you on the head."

"Yes, yes, I remember all that," Marilyn said. "But, where are we? What is Joth and where is it? I remember -"

Marilyn stopped abruptly. She, he, remembered, all right. Only thing was, knowledge could be dangerous, even here, wherever here was. She had learned to keep her mouth shut, back in Chicago. Saying anything at all could get her another beating - or worse. After a heartbeat she, he, decided on a policy.

Everything is clear as crystal, except for where I am now. I know who I am, rather I know who I was. But what is this place? Who, what am I now?

He removed a hand from the mug and looked at it afresh. It was definitely the hand of a man. There was a mystery here and the wrong word could be dangerous - assuming he wasn't already in danger.

Best pretend that not all my memory has come back, I think. Not until I can figure out what has happened.

I appear to be a man! Since I'm not a man, perhaps I'm insane. Perhaps that bastard has finally driven me out of my mind, God knows he's made enough attempts to do it.

Perhaps I'm in a funny farm, and all this is a dream caused by all the crap they're pumping into me.

Don't be stupid. He wouldn't bother with a funny farm, he'd just dump me in some alley, that's more his style.

The Healer woman spoke, the one who had attended him previously. "You said your name was Maralin. Is that right? You are Maralin of Shicargo?"

The accent made it sound as if she said the words slightly different, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that here, in this land somehow made out of his own dreams and nightmares, the names appeared to sound normal - and acceptable. Well, so be it.

"Uh, yes, that's right."

"Do you remember much more? Do you remember how you came to Joth? What you were doing in our city?"

Maralin shook his head. "I'm sorry, I don't remember much at all. Some of it comes back but..."

The Healer nodded. "I understand. With an injury like yours it can take some time for everything to come back. Sometimes you never get it all back. Do you understand? You might never know who or where you are or how you came to Joth."

Maralin nodded. "Yes. Thank you. I have my name, and that's a start."

"Good. Now, are you safe to be left with these good people?" Junis stood and turned to Possen. "I think you'd better let him rest for the remainder of the day, he's had a considerable shock and there may be some remaining pain. I think the worst of it is over, though. Tomorrow, let him work in the kitchen, but make sure he doesn't fall or injure himself on anything."

Possen bowed. "As you wish, Mistress Junis."

"I'll come back the day after tomorrow and check on his progress. I have a call to make on Mistress Rathinda in any event. If there is any trouble before I return, you know where to find me."

"As you say, Mistress Junis."

Maralin was given a chair in the kitchen and left to watch the others work. Possen thought it was too soon to even give him anything trivial to do so all he could do was sit and watch. And think. There was a bustle in the room to get the food ready for the evening meal, made worse by the unexpected interruption. He watched with interest as the women, boys and girls peeled and chopped, cut and carved, boiled, stewed and roasted ready for their masters and mistresses to eat.

It's like I've gone back two hundred years, he thought. This is a kitchen from a frontier town, a Puritan camp or something like. Only... that carcase had six legs before they chopped it up and what were those weird bat-like things hanging up? And I don't recognize any of those vegetables. I can't think of anywhere that does all this kind of nonsense for real. I must be out of my mind.

Perhaps I'm in some Emergency Room in a coma?

Madness, madness. How can I possibly be a man? How can I possibly be one of those evil creatures? Am I being somehow punished for what I did on Earth? Is this some kind of purgatory?

One hand came up to his chest, finding only flat, firm muscle instead of soft, mobile flesh.

Gone. They're gone. I'm not me any more. But I'm me, how can I be me and not-me at the same time?

His eyes flicked down to the top of his legs, seeing thighs that were certainly not female in proportion. He shied away from what might be between those legs, putting off that inevitable examination for later - much later, if at all possible.

His mouth was dry. He searched the kitchen for Renita and waved to attract her attention, afraid to raise the soft, tenor voice he had used without thinking the past few days. When she saw and came, he kept the volume low.

"Can I have some water, please? My throat's dry."

"Of course! Poor thing, sitting like that in a hot kitchen, of course you're dry. Why don't you come through to the dining hall and we'll sit together with a drink. I'm sure Possen will allow me a few moments to attend you."

She came with two mugs of water and he stood, noticing with surprise that he was taller than most of the women and as tall as the men. The lintel of the doorway suddenly seemed lower as he walked through into the cooler room where the servants ate. They took facing seats and he gratefully took a sip from the mug Renita gave him. She cocked her head to one side.

"There's something troubling you," she said. "Something bad, I deem. Is it anything I can help with? Are you in some kind of trouble? You're not running from the Watch, are you?"

Maralin shook his head. "No, I'm not running from anybody, at least not that I remember." Though I'm glad to be away from Benny. "What is the 'Watch'? I don't know what you mean by that."

Renita looked at him with sympathy. "Poor thing, you still haven't all your wits about you, have you? The Watch is the Law in our towns and cities. They are men who go round and find the lawbreakers, the thieves, murderers and drunks, bring them in to be judged by our Lord or the local Justice."

"So you mean it's like the -" Police. No, I'd better not say anything since that might prove I have all my memory back. "Uh, I don't know," he finished lamely. "I thought I had the idea but it's gone now."

Renita leaned across and patted his free hand.

"There, there," she said. "Don't worry, I think you're on the mend now. You have your name back, and where you came from, and that's a good start. It can only be a matter of time before the rest of your memories return."

Why is she behaving like this? Men are the enemy! She sees a man in front of her, why isn't she wary? This is all so weird.

"If you say so. But... I still don't know where I am. The names of places all sound so strange and this house is nothing like I would expect to find."

Renita shrugged. "You must come from far away, then. I don't know much about far away places but I have heard they dress different and their houses are made different. Here, we have to do things the way we do because of the rains, you see. Every year the river floods and sometimes the water reaches the houses. Here in Galdarin we're raised up a little so that doesn't happen but it did in the village I was born in."

"River? What river?"

"The Sirrel, of course. That's the great river that flows through the Great Valley. Why? Did you think you knew the name?"

"Uh, no, but I think I remember hearing of rivers that do flood every year." Maralin shook his head. "The name doesn't sound like any I recognize, though."

"That's a shame. Perhaps they use different names than we do where you come from." Her eyes narrowed. "That's strange," she said slowly. "I never thought of it until now but you speak our tongue very well, seeing as how you come from so far away. Didn't you speak different words in Shicargo?"

"It never occurred to me that I wasn't speaking English," he said, astonished. "You're right, where I come from we do use different words. Somehow I thought that I was speaking the... tongue I grew up with."

This just proves this is all a nightmare. How can I be speaking this lingo when I've always been bad at languages? A few French and Italian words, that's all, because that was what was on the menus. You can't take food orders if you don't know what anything is called.

How can I get a bang on the head and suddenly learn a new language? ...and turn up in some medieval mansion in a country I've never heard of?

The pressure was beginning to build in his forehead and he rubbed it with a hand. Renita's expression was one of concern.

"Headache come back? Poor thing. I'll go and fetch that pot the Healer left for you, that might help."

"It's not like before. I think it's because I'm trying to take in too many things at once and it's getting confusing." There was the hint of a smile. "I'm not used to thinking this much."

"As you say. Still, I'm fetching that pot."

Renita got up and went back into the kitchen, returning with the small pot and a little spoon. With her came Possen, who looked hot and harassed.

"Ah... I wonder, I know the healers said you weren't to do anything, but you're taller than I am." He gestured to a door which Maralin remembered went into a cool pantry. "Your arms are long, might you come in here and lift down a ham for me?"

The word jarred. The sense Maralin had was ham but it clearly wasn't something that had originated from any pig.

Maybe from a different animal, but cured like a ham would be?

"If I can help," he said, rising.

He followed Possen into the storage room. The cook inspected the joints hanging from ceiling hooks, finally selecting one.

"There! That one, I deem. If you can just -"

Maralin reached up, discovering that his arms easily reached the impossible distance to the meat, lifting it enough that the loop of waxed cord which suspended it came free of the hook. He brought it down and Possen immediately took it from him.

"My thanks, Dooclor - oh! I suppose I should call you... what was it again, Renita?"

"Maralin, Maralin of Shicargo," Renita supplied.

"Ah, well, Maralin, you have my thanks. Now, if you will excuse me, this must be carved for our masters. Renita, shall you return to the kitchen? They will be demanding service very soon, I deem."

"If I may give some of this potion to Maralin first, Master Possen."

"Of course, but you are needed. Since Master Stammand and his retinue came to our house we have more mouths to feed and more food to prepare."

"I understand, Master Possen."

The potion was more of a cream than a liquid but it didn't taste too bad. Renita replaced the stopper and Maralin followed her back into the kitchen, carrying both mugs. He regained his original seat and resumed watching the frenetic scurrying of the kitchen crew as they transferred things out of pots into serving bowls, carved meats and poured gravies and sauces into jugs.

This is poorly arranged, he thought. If that table was moved nearer the window, between the range and the door, they wouldn't get in each other's way so much.

I don't dare say anything. I have no business ordering these people around and they might have good reasons for doing things the way they do.

Some unseen and unheard signal was given and certain of those in the kitchen began carrying trays of food out through the door. Possen and another man went out the back and returned carrying a number of bottles of wine, which they wiped over with a damp cloth before taking through to the mansion. There was a brief lull until the servants came back with empty serving bowls and dirty plates to begin taking out the next course. Maralin considered the unreal situation of which he appeared to be a part.

This is all so crazy but there must be some sense to it, some reason. Is this all some kind of accident, some cosmic joke? Am I being punished for standing up to Benny? Am I being punished for not standing up to Benny? Is this some kind of afterlife, or have I been reborn like those Hindus would have it?

Why the fuck am I a man? I don't want to be a man!

The response came again but he managed to blunt most of it. He sat in his chair, his body shaking with a mixture of fear and fury. Fortunately, the others in the kitchen were too preoccupied to notice him or the expressions which came and went on his face. By the time that the mansion's owner and his relatives had finished their meal and the servants were able to eat their own he had worn himself out, relying on automatic responses to get him through the meal.

"I said, do you want some beer or some wine? There's a little wine left over from their lordships' meal."

"Oh! I'm sorry, Renita, I was daydreaming, I guess."

Wine or beer? A difficult choice, and one which might mark me out if I'm not careful. In Chicago I usually drank a little wine, usually what was left over from the customers, but what does it mean if I drink wine here? Does that make me seem like someone who has airs and graces? They seem to have ranks, like in the old movies, is wine-drinking only for the upper classes? Is it even something that men do here anyway? Men like I appear to be, that is, one of the casual help in this crazy place.

Better play safe, I guess. I never drank beer before I came here but what I have drunk so far doesn't seem too bad.

"Uh, beer, I think."

"Here you are."

Renita handed him a tankard and he took a cautious sip. It wasn't very cold but that didn't seem to matter. A strong, bitter flavor with a body that promised plenty of calories.

Calories? Should I even care? Do I even know whether I would gain weight or not? I don't know squat about men's bodies, except they usually end up with beer guts, but that's from sitting around all day doing nothing but watch TV.

He took another slug and let his mouth explore the taste.

Quite a strong flavor. I can just about drink this, but it will take some getting used to. It could be very refreshing in the warmer weather.

Now, why did I think that? How do I even know there is going to be any warmer weather?

He smiled at Renita. "It's good, thank you. It tastes much stronger than what we drink at breakfast and lunch."

"What we get then is small beer, Maralin. That's just to quench your thirst without making you drunk. This is the proper drink, though I find it too strong myself." She smiled. "Master Falden allows his outdoor workers - and folk like yourself, who may only be here for a day or two - to drink strong beer in the evening when their tasks are finished for the day. It is said that it will help you to sleep at night."

"Do... folk like me drink wine? I'm not sure of your customs, you see."

She nodded. "We do, but that is usually reserved for festivals and other at-ease days in the summer months. I'll drink a little wine sometimes but I don't like the beer very much. Of course, the wine we are usually given is nothing like that the master drinks."

"I see." He nodded. "The beer will do for me, I think."

Of course, drinking beer has an inevitable result, so just as everybody was getting up to leave the table he had an urgent question.

"Uh, I have need of the bathroom, Renita."

"The bathroom?" She looked at him curiously. "What do you want to wash yourself for?"

"Uh, comfort room? John? Head? Men's room?"

One of the other men turned and said, "Did you mean the privy? I can show you the way. Come."

He followed the man outside and quickly recognized where he was being taken.

"Oh, of course. Thank you, my memory is still bad and I forgot the word."

"As you say, Maralin."

The man gestured to the door and he rushed in. Knowing that the installation was just a hole in the floor, he pulled his leggings down, turned and squatted. Remembering what had happened on previous occasions, he used a hand to make sure that the urine would come out in a suitable direction.

Wait, what? I don't have to do this any more, do I? If I'm a man now, I can do this bit standing up.

That will be strange, but men do it all the time so it shouldn't be difficult to learn.

Finishing, he wiped with some of the provided wool clippings, rose and pulled his leggings back up.

Cross that one when I come to it, he decided. I don't really want to think about what's down there, at least not yet.

Another thought came then, one that should have made itself known earlier.

These are the same clothes I had on back in the apartment!

He pulled up the tunic hem, exposing the nightdress underneath.

I'm wearing what I would be around the apartment, right down to my old nightdress. Why would that be? Is that part of the dream? Is that what I was wearing when Benny did whatever he did to me?

Shaking his head, he adjusted his clothing and left the small outbuilding.

Later, lying in the animal bedding above the stables, he was furiously thinking. Beside him, Ferrond was snoring. It seemed the... soldier? bodyguard? security man? - Maralin didn't know what - could fall asleep almost anywhere and any time. He wondered what the uniform the other man wore signified.

There seemed to be a strange hierarchy in this place and he understood none of it, which made the whole situation very threatening. There was some kind of war, and he was known to be a foreigner, so that wasn't good to begin with. Then there was the whole language business. What was that about? It had a good side, in that he could understand these people and hold a conversation with them, but like any visitor to another country the language wasn't everything. There were always assumptions, assumptions that could result in some very unpleasant results if extreme care wasn't taken. Like that screw-up with the bathroom, although that was just a case of remembering the right name.

Then there was the whole body thing. It was that which caused him most concern. He shuddered.

Why in heaven's name did I have to be a man? Being tossed wherever this might be is bad enough, but why me and why make me something I detest?

It is the surest sign that none of this is real and that I am either crazy or off my head on some kind of drugs.

I wonder if Benny found something new to try out on me?

Hey! I don't appear to be addicted to anything here, do I? Trust me to find an upside.

I don't want to be a man!


25th day of Bretherin, Year 1174 since the Great Flood

Firm hands held him down by the shoulders. He struggled, but it was impossible to rise.

"Easy, there! Easy."

Maralin relaxed and opened his eyes. There was the faint glimmer of daylight and he was lying on the bedding in the hayloft. Over him, Ferrond loomed, now lifting his hands from Maralin's shoulders.

"You were having a nightmare," the other explained. "It was getting rather violent. Apologies for man-handling you, but there's not a lot of room in here and you were smacking me on the arm with your fists."

"Uh." Maralin raised his hands to his face and rubbed his eyes. "Uh," he said again. "Sorry. Did I hurt you? Did I say anything?"

"No real damage. Aye, you spoke, though it was in your own tongue, I deem. Twice during the night you talked also, though you did not strike out those times." Ferrond hesitated. "It might be none of my business, but... who is Benny? Is she your wife?"

"No, she's not..."

...a woman.

What kind of crazy fucked-up world is this where Marilyn is a man's name and Benny is a woman's? I must be off my head!

" wife," Maralin finished. "Why? Did I say... uh, her name, then?"

"Aye," Ferrond replied, nodding. "Several times. Like I say, I don't know what you were talking about but it sounded like you were afraid of this Benny, whoever she was. She sounds a bad sort, all right. I've never met a woman that bad though I've heard from some of the other men that such exist. How is it you were not master of her?"

"It's... complicated."

How do I tell this man that Benny picked me out of a promising career and threw me into the gutter? How do I tell him that he degraded me so much I had no will left? That he beat me whenever he was drunk or high and that meant almost all day every day. How do I tell him I ended up a drudge who was virtually a prisoner in Benny's apartment - if you can call it that - afraid to even go down to the mailbox every day?

I can't, because that would involve too much explanation and I can't afford that right now. I'm just going to have to fake something up, but that shouldn't be a problem since this whole world is fake anyhow.

Maralin sighed. "It's... a long time in my past. I was abused when I was younger. That's all I'm going to say about it now."

"You're sure? Benny isn't the one who hit you over the head, for example? If she was in Joth and the invaders threw her out, then maybe she's with another batch of refugees. I'm assuming you don't wish to meet her again?"

Don't wish to meet Benny again? You got that damn right!

"No, no," Maralin denied. "She's from a few years back. From when I came from... wherever I came from."

"Oh, Shicargo, you mean?" Ferrond nodded. "Aye, that would be a good reason for leaving, I deem! Look, now we're both awake, I think I'll go and empty out some beer, if you know what I mean. It's early, I can get to the privy before the rest of the household wakes up."

Ferrond clambered down the ladder into the stables and his footsteps faded across the cobbled courtyard.

Jesus! It's bad enough I'm talking in my sleep now. Thank the Lord that nobody can understand me! I can't afford that kind of explanation now. Just keep my head down and try and get along until I can figure out if there's anything I can do.

How is it I can have a nightmare inside of a nightmare? This whole trip is getting weirder and weirder.

A stray thought came.

If Benny is in Chicago and I'm here, wherever here is, then maybe staying here is preferable to going back? Assuming the drugs wear off and I do go back? Do I even have a choice what happens?

This is impossible!

Sensing that Ferrond's absence might be a good time to do a little exploring, Maralin began using his hands to investigate his 'new' body. His hands and arms were already familiar to him, now he realized that the shoulders were huge compared to the old body back in Chicago. The waist seemed about the same, but the chest that tapered from armpit to waist was solid with no spare fat at all. It seemed to be longer, as well. Below the waist came the biggest discrepancy, there was no width at all to the hips from which strong, parallel thighs descended.

No hips at all! Yeah, okay, there are hips but they are so tiny I'm wondering how men stop from falling over, if their legs are that close together.

A hand went down to the soft parts between the legs.

I'd better leave those alone until I get to the privy, I think.

Eew! I'm still wearing the same clothes I wore a week ago! The only thing that's been washed is my nightdress, which now seems to have become an undershirt. God! How do people ever put up with it?

Yuck. I'm stuck in the middle ages and I guess people don't know any better. Perhaps I'm better off as a man? Ooh. That means I won't have to...

That's impossible! Why did I have to be a man? I don't want to be a man!

Maralin let his head fall back to the hay, frustrated. It seemed that his revulsion at being a man battled seductive suggestions that there might be advantages to his new situation, advantages he certainly didn't want to know about in case they won out.

Marilyn had hated and feared men and with good reason. Every single one she had ever met, including her father, had treated her like dirt or worse but she had early recognized her complete inability to do anything about it. They were men, and men could do what they liked. Oh, theoretically, there were men who treated women right but she had never met any of that fabled band. Perhaps they were just fantasy creatures made up by TV executives to lull women viewers into a false sense of security, to give them hope that their situation might some day change. Fat chance!

Now here she, he, was, living out what must definitely be some kind of fruitcake fantasy. How could any of this possibly be real? Was it possible to shut one's eyes, to will oneself awake, out of this nightmare?

The bigger question was, did she want to?

Maralin hugged himself, feeling his arms against his chest and hating that they supported nothing but themselves. Groaning, he rolled over into the space left by Ferrond rising and realized that the day was advancing rapidly. He decided to rise and get to the privy before a line formed.

By the time he reached the door of the privy he found that Ferrond had finished and gone somewhere, probably into the servant's hall to find food. He shut himself in and pulled the leggings down.

These barely fit my new shape, he thought. It is lucky they are such a stretchy material. Pity about all the holes, though. Now, how do I do this?

He held his penis with thumb and forefinger and pointed. It took some thought to start the flow coming but when it did he found he could aim it accurately into the hole. At the end it dribbled to a stop and he shook the drips off without thinking. He looked around for the bucket of clippings.

Do I need these? I don't think men wipe, do they?

Who knows? I have no idea what goes on in a mens' room. Okay, I know they don't do makeup or any of that shit and they don't talk much but that's all. Why would I ever have had any need to know?

After some more shaking he decided to try without. After all, his clothes had already been worn for days, so a little more urine wouldn't make them any more fragrant, not that anyone would notice, anyhow.

But it still irked him that he couldn't wear clean clothes each day.

Now, about this little thing.

Marilyn had seen Benny's penis when both small and large but having the same thing yourself was something different. It seemed much smaller than he expected and very soft and flabby.

Now how the devil does one get it to go stiff? I have no idea. Not that I'm ever ever ever likely to use this thing on another woman.

And then there's these things.

He felt the skin bag which held his testicles, feeling them slide about inside as he probed.

Weird. They don't appear to be very sensitive, though.

On an impulse he grabbed penis and testicles in a fist and immediately regretted it.

Holy shit! Mother of God, that hurts. Oh, if I'd have known that kicking Benny in the balls would make him feel pain like this, I'd have done it every time he ever came near me.

Assuming I could ever work up the guts to do it, of course.

Fortunately the pain subsided quickly and he began to pull up the leggings, just as somebody tried the latch to the privy.

"Just a moment! I'll be right out."

It was Pilbar.

"Good morning, Maralin. I'm pleased to see you about so early. How's the head?"

"My head's all right but I was told I had nightmares last night. Apparently I was hitting Ferrond in my sleep."

Pilbar grinned. "He's a warrior, he knows how to take care of himself. Now, if you'll excuse me - If you go in the kitchen there's an early pot of pel on."

"Thank you, Pilbar."

Maralin traded places with Pilbar and stared at the lightening sky.

This place is really peculiar. Even the sun goes over back to front!

He turned and looked into the still-dark portion of the sky, receiving another surprise.

Huh. That makes about as much sense as anything else in this crazy place. I mean, two moons? Come on!

The door to the servants' hall opened and Renita stepped out, seeing him immediately.

"Ah! Maralin! Good morning. Do you wait for the privy?"

"No, I've just been, thank you. Pilbar's in there."

She gestured at the door behind her. "Go in there, there's pel waiting." She walked toward him and asked, "How are you feeling? Any more headaches?"

Maralin shrugged. "Don't think so. Ferrond says I had nightmares and started thrashing about." He managed a small smile. "No permanent damage done - to either of us."

She reached him and looked up and down at him, pursing her lips.

"You've been wearing the same things ever since you came out of the city, haven't you? Those leggings have seen better days." She wrinkled her nose. "Shoveling frayen dung probably hasn't helped. Tell you what, I'll ask Loren if we can find you some fresh clothes to wear while I or one of the other girls cleans what you have on and gets them repaired. What do you say?"

"Well, thank you, but won't I be getting the new clothes dirty as well?"

"Aye, but Mistress Junis said that you're to help in the kitchens for a day or two until she knows that you are getting better. With an apron on, you shouldn't get too much on whatever you wear."

"That's true." Maralin nodded. "I'll go over to the hall, then, and have some pel. It's a bit cold standing out here."

The first couple of hours - no, bells they called them here, he remembered - were frustrating for Maralin. If he thought at all about his new body shape, and how it must work, he was all over the place, stumbling, knocking doors, letting things fall out of his grip, but if he forgot and just concentrated on whatever his immediate task was it all seemed to flow smoothly.

It must be like breathing. I do it all the time but when I try to breathe consciously it's different. If I don't think about it everything just works okay. I guess I just have to let this body do what it knows to do and not think about how it is doing it.

Especially if I'm chopping things up! I don't want to lose a finger or two.

There had been morning chores to do, stirring the great cauldron of grain porridge, fetching and carrying wheels of hard cheese, washing dirty plates, knives and spoons, and mostly these had been without incident. There had been spills but Possen had put those down to his alleged head injury and not shouted at Maralin the way he had shouted at the other kitchen staff when they did something similar. Preparations for lunch began and Maralin was slicing a loaf which had come out of the oven a bell previously.

"You have skill with a knife, Maralin," Possen remarked. "Did I hear you say you had knowledge of kitchen work?"

"I do, sir," Maralin said cautiously. "But the kitchens I once worked in, a long time ago in Shicargo, they weren't like this place. I mean, they were set up different and all the meat, the vegetables and fruit were all different as well."

Possen hesitated and then said, "If you have any kind of experience, I would not let it pass by, not now. As you know, we have extra mouths to feed," he grinned, "including your own, and your help would be welcomed."

"Well, I don't know, sir. I mean, I would like to help, but I don't know the meats or the vegetables. I wouldn't want to burn anything or cook something wrong."

Possen flicked a dismissive hand. "Oh, don't concern yourself about that, my lad. I'll tell you what you have to do, or one of the others will. I know your memory still has gaps, so if you need something naming, or you want to know how something is prepared you have but to ask."

Maralin felt his face grow warm. "Thank you, sir. What do you want me to do next?"

"Finish slicing those two loaves for our lunch and then Grif has brought a dish of fruits from the store. He'll show you how to peel and segment them and then -"

* * *

Just before lunch a woman came from the main part of the mansion with an armful of clothes. She spotted Renita and the two held a conversation, Renita pointing at Maralin. Finally she had a word with Possen, who beckoned him over to join them.

"Master Falden has graciously consented to providing you with some more clothes," he explained. "It is not seemly that you continue to wear the same clothes every day, especially as they have become dirty and worn. Take these things, Maralin, go into the store-room there and try them on. You have time to do that before we must needs take things through for the Master's lunch."

"I should bathe..."

"Not now, there is no time. Go!"

Inside the store-room Maralin gratefully shucked off the clothes he had been wearing for four days straight and heaped them on the floor. The bundle he had been given included an undershirt, a tunic, tights, a pair of soft house shoes and a narrow length of cloth the others called a 'sash'. The undershirt was of some very closely woven material, but thick enough that it would afford more warmth than the nightdress.

The tights were less closely woven but included feet and fitted his new shape rather better than the leggings had done. In truth, the leggings, holes and all, had been too warm to wear in the hot confines of the kitchen. The tunic was short-sleeved, but again that was fine - provided he spent most of his time indoors. It was more coarsely woven but for some reason the material didn't rasp against his skin.

They always said that men don't have such sensitive skin. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

He looked down, in the dim light from the store room window, at the arm that issued from the tunic sleeve. Idly he ran a finger along the fine hair, not expecting to feel anything but being surprised by the result.

Now that is sensitive! Perhaps we had it wrong all along. I always thought body hair was like that of a cat or dog, little feeling at all. These are more like sense hairs, like a cat's whiskers perhaps.

His hand moved to his head, running his fingers through the shortened hair.

Funny, that doesn't work with head hair. Why?

Realizing that he was daydreaming, he picked up the heap of old clothes and went back into the kitchen.

"Where's that sash? You've left it behind!"

Renita went into the store room, collected the sash and brought it out. Facing him, she held out the sash.

"Lift up your arms!"

She wound the sash twice around his waist and tied it off at the left hip, like all the others, he noticed.

"There! Now you look proper. Master Possen?"

"Aye, he'll do. Give those dirty things to Binny and get some plates. The Master will be wanting his lunch!"

* * *

Through the afternoon, during the preparation of the evening meal, Maralin worked in the kitchen and became familiar with the ways of food preparation in this strange world. He learned of chizzen, freehee, gallin, koonklis, malm and vaytris, fruits and vegetables, also of brifilis, ganifilis, gavahkan, pakh and vikhanis, all meat animals, although some details were still obscure. He saw ways to prepare vegetables, roast meats, slice joints and whip cream to decorate the fruit desserts.

During this period he became aware that the detail was being absorbed but not discarded, his memory seemed to be much better than before... he came to wherever here was. There was another idea which had been bubbling away in his mind since the morning, and it surfaced when he once again had to go outside to use the privy.

Two moons... perhaps I have this all wrong. Perhaps this is like some wild plot out of one of those lame sci-fi movies, where people end up in other people's bodies.

This isn't Earth. There's no way that those six-legged... gavakhan and vikhan came from Earth. But pakh seem to be four-legged, what's that about?

So where am I? Why am I here? And why am I a man?

Pilbar emerged from the mansion and saw Maralin.

"Oh! Are you about to go in the privy?"

"I was, but you can go first if you like. It's not urgent."


When Pilbar came out Maralin said to him, "My memory's still got holes in it. What are those two moons called, again?"

"Two moons? You mean three, don't you?"

"Three? I saw two this morning, that's all, and I was reminded that I'd forgotten the names. Three moons?"

"Aye, of course! The biggest is Kalikan, which goes around once a month. The next is Annis, which goes round every seven days - a week, that is - and Tiede is the smallest, it goes around three times each day. Look! There it is now."

Maralin looked and saw a speck of bright light which visibly moved against the evening sky. His bladder made any extended observation impossible. He turned to Pilbar with a wave and "thanks" and entered the privy.

This is madness. Madness!

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