After breakfast, as Aler had promised, the other castle girls took charge of Hala and Jas. They all wore blue cloaks over their castle-shifts, as Hala now learned the strange, pretty garment was called.
“You shall have one tomorrow evening,” said Yura, kindly, “to cover your belt.”
“Must we wear our belts for the rest of our lives?” Jas asked.
Yura laughed. She had come to fetch Hala and Jas from the table where they had just finished their cold mutton, bread and cheese. It was a simple repast, Hala realized, but she had never had so much upon her plate, nor so much time to enjoy it.
“No, sister,” Yura replied. “Only your first year or so, until you learn to control your pull and it lessens.”
“Lessens?” Hala asked.
Yura nodded. “Once you have been mastered the first time, it grows very much weaker, though the knights say that your fire does not become lower. No one knows exactly why that is.”
“But…” said Jenin, who had been introduced to Hala as “First Sister,” and who Yura had said was chambered with Sir Gol, knight of the first bench—though of course Hala had no idea what that meant. All eyes—and now all the castle girls had gathered round, apparently knowing that when Jenin and Yura came for the new girls, it was time to assemble—seemed fixed on Jenin.
Jenin looked about as if to assure herself that her sisters all attended her words. “But most of us think it is because once a knight has possessed you, your fire is bound to him in some way.”
Many of the crowd of girls nodded respectfully, but Yura said to Hala and Jas, pretending to be confidential though of course all the girls were listening, “Jenin knows, for we have discussed many a time, that this notion doesn’t explain why we give as much fire to any knight who masters us.”
Jenin smiled indulgently, and seemed about to make a well-worn reply. But Hala couldn’t contain her apprehension. “Any?” she squeaked.
“Yes,” Jenin said, “you will understand soon. But our bodies are for all the knights of the castle. When our chambered knight lends us to another for mastering, or a lord wishes to master us, we must obey, and go where we are told so that we may be properly punished and enjoyed. It is the will of the spirits, so that we can be made pure.”
Hala looked around at the gathered group of girls. Many of them had bowed their heads, and Hala remembered what Mistress Qual had said the day before about the proper place for a castle girl’s eyes being the floor. You will understand soon. Oh, how Hala wished that were true.
“At any rate,” Jenin continued, “I believe, as Yura knows, that when a knight first masters us, he does it in the name of the king, and so truly our fire is bound to the king, and through him to the realm.”
Now Hala could not help reciting, from the Book of Hazeran, “One king, one man, one realm, but many wicked girls for whipping.”
Jenin nodded approvingly. Jas said, aghast, “But that saying isn’t about real girls… sister said it is about binding the sheaves of grain, to ensure a fair harvest!” Jenin and Yura looked at her sympathetically. Jas turned red. “Are they all like that?” she asked.
Hala thought of the many, many passages of the Book of the Sages that referred to men and women: comparing, contrasting, describing the way men should exercise their authority, in order to please the spirits. She shared Jas’s horrified curiosity—surely all the sayings couldn’t be about… that thing in the mastering chamber.
But Yura nodded. “Yes,” she said simply. “All of them. That is why it is so good that we are here in the castle, where our naughtiness can be turned to good, through the great deeds of the knights—in the mastering chambers and out in the world, when they send their power—the power they draw from our wanton fires—into the realm.”
“Come,” Jenin said. “It is time.”
She and Yura formed up a long procession of all the girls, with Hala and Jas at the very end, and Yura and Jenin at the front. A blonde girl with her hair in braids, who stood just in front of the new girls in the double file, turned and said quickly to Hala and Jas, “Don’t worry, when we start singing. You will learn the song very quickly.”
And then Jenin did begin to sing. The song was a responsorial, like the ones that Hala knew from the house of the spirits back home in Thornwall: Jenin and Yura alternated chanting the verses, and the rest of the girls joined in at the refrain, as they processed out of the refectory to—according to what Aler had said—the Hall of the Spirits.
Sages three and spirits all, went the refrain, bless the chambering in your hall. As the blonde girl had said, it was very easy to pick up, and also, Hala thought, very lovely—especially sung in the two-part harmony that sent delicious, innocent chills down her spine. It made her shiver more, to think that everyone was singing about her and about Jas. It also made her feel terribly guilty about kissing Jas in the night, and the way they had rubbed their bound cunnies against one another’s thighs, and touched each other’s breasts, desperate to come despite the leather belts that should have reminded them to be good, for their lord and for their king.
The verses concerned the symbols of maidenly purity that Hala knew so well from the Book of the Spirits. Jenin sang, “These girls’ roses come to bloom. Grant them knights to pierce the gloom.” That must be a reference to Sage Gader’s saying, “A girl’s pure rose shines like a lamp in the darkness, to light the way for her lord’s footsteps.”
Yura sang, “These maidens’ legs will part this night, and each girl know a man’s true might.” Was that an allusion to Sage Fedan’s saying, “The power of a man must command his wife?” Hala felt a deep blush overspread her face as she sang the refrain,
Sages three and spirits all, bless the chambering in your hall.