First I’d been ready to stay in my nice, safe cell. Then I found out shit was about to go down (mainly around my ears) and vacating the premises seemed the wise move. Now, having spotted long tall Sally hiding in plain sight, I wasn’t sure what I should do.
I gave Marv a wave hello and got a brusque nod in return. No two ways about it, definitely a girl.
Schneed was very obviously not a fan of women. He had a kind of perverse admiration for them—especially the Queen—but he still considered them to be his enemy. He was willing to kill in order to defeat them. Why then did he have one in his cell with him?
“So, you and Marv been together long?” I asked.
“Him? Oh, he’s new. Just his luck, the day he joins up, we get nabbed.” Schneed shook his head at the poor timing.
Call me overly suspicious, but him getting caught the same day he hooked up with a new female recruit might not have been a complete coincidence. Of course, I was making assumptions without knowing the full story.
Schneed referred to Marv as a ‘he.’ There was no ambiguity about him as far as I could see, but I might not be seeing things clearly. There was only a single candle in their cell, same as mine, so the lighting wasn’t the brightest. But Marv wasn’t even slightly androgynous. He had quite pert breasts, for one—an observation I made for science—and a very feminine face.
Which led me to the obvious conclusion: ladyboy.
Now, not everyone would have jumped to this conclusion. There could be many reasons why Schneed, enemy of womankind, would have a female partner to aid him in his terrorist activities. But one thing was undeniable. Schneed was treating Marv like he was male.
And who was I to say he wasn’t? The fantasy world was full of strange creatures. Half man, half horse. Head of an eagle, body of a lion. Maybe Marv was one of those. The fabled chick with a dick. Didn’t appear much in Lord of the Rings, but probably turns up in A song of Ice and Fire at some point. Probably why it’s taking George so long to finish writing the damn thing.
Just because he looked exactly like a woman didn’t mean he was one. It isn’t unheard of. You meet a girl, get her back to your place, get sexy, get nekkid... get to know all there is to know about the Crying Game.
“Now,” said Schneed, “I’ve told you things that would be disastrous if the other side found out. I’m trusting you to keep all this to yourself.”
I nodded, although I wasn’t sure it was me he should have been worried about leaking information.
“We can’t have them knowing our comings and goings. You let a woman know what you’re up to, you can guarantee she’ll put a stop to it.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m just going to stay here and grow out my beard.”
“Good lad. That’s the one thing they can’t outdo us on. A man with a nice thick plumage on his chin knows he’s a man, and so does everyone else. I mean, look at Marv. You don’t grow a bushy bastard like that if you’re some lady.”
I did look at Marv. He had as smooth and hairless chin.
One of us was seeing things. It could quite easily have been me. Without meaning to, I found myself staring at Marv. He didn’t say anything, just shifted in his seat and avoided eye contact.
“Hey, Marv,” I called through the hole, “what’s your secret? I don’t seem to be able to grow much more than a bit of fluff.” I rubbed my chin.
“Nothing to it,” said Marv in a clearly fake deep voice. “Just man up and push it out.”
He was doing that voice women do when they impersonate men. A bit similar to the way black comedians do white guys. You sort of know what it’s meant to be, but at the same time, you’ve never actually heard anyone that sounds like that.
“So you got caught just after Marv joined up?” I said to Schneed.
“Aye. Terrible luck.”
Something was definitely going on here but I thought it best to play dumb. If he thought Marv was a man with a big beard, then I’d go along with his delusion for the time being. It wasn’t really any of my business.
The simplest explanation was that Marv was a spy. Yes, I realise that was probably what I should have guessed before going ladyboy, but I like to keep myself open to all possibilities. I’m a very open-minded person.
Marv had disguised herself somehow, in a way that obviously didn’t work on me; magic of some kind. If women were able to walk freely among the men without being detected, it would explain how they were able to scupper the men’s plans every time. Not necessarily a bad thing.
If Marv’s objective was to prevent the city being destroyed, I’d be happy to leave her to it and stay in my cosy cell. Then again, there were dangers here, too.
“What I was wondering was, if you’re so troublesome to them, why don’t they just cut off your, you know… turn you into eunuchs?”
Schneed jerked his head back, startled. “What? Why would they do that?”
Had I gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick? Didn’t they say they had eunuchs up at the palace? If they were prepared to cut off the balls of the guys on their side, surely they’d do at least that much to the ones opposing them.
“Wouldn’t it be easier for them?” I asked, genuinely curious. “It seems like it would be a lot simpler than putting you in a cell you always escape from.”
“No, no, no,” he insisted. “They only castrate the ones who volunteer for the army. I mean, they’ll try to convince you, lie through their teeth, and for some men it is actually worth it, but as long as you don’t sign up, they’ll leave you alone.”
“I don’t understand. What do you mean ‘worth it’? Why would anyone volunteer to have their balls removed? What’s the upside?”
“Oh, there are many advantages to taking up the Queen’s colours.” He scratched at his beard. “Job security, for one thing. No more worrying about getting married and having a family. All your decisions made for you. No jealousy or needless violence, apart from when you’re ordered to kill, obviously. The perfect life for the confirmed bachelor, really. I thought about doing it myself when I was younger.”
He sounded almost sorry he hadn’t taken the plunge.
It seemed very unnatural to not value something as basic as sexual desire. I myself had always downplayed sex as not the most important thing in life, but that was mainly because I never had access to any.
Even now, I still believed obsessing about sex was retarded and just a way to control people—to sell them things, blackmail them, seduce them, trick them—but that didn’t mean I thought it would be better to get rid of it completely. And the idea someone would gladly give it away was pretty messed up.
“Don’t you think it’s possible the Queen tricked you all into thinking it’s not a bad thing? Because I can assure you, it is a bad thing, and you not freaking out about it is freaking me out.”
Schneed looked confused. “Nobody’s making you do it. Why should you care what another chap decides to do with his jumblies?”
Which was a fair point. Not my business if someone wants to make a lifestyle choice I wouldn’t want to make. As long as I wasn’t affected, live and let live. And yet...
“You got to remember,” said Schneed, “they still need us. Heh, if they went around slicing bits off without anyone’s by or leave, who’d be left to take care of their needs between the sheets, eh?” His face took on a strange leer. “They still need men to do the dirty deed.”
I hadn’t considered that side of things. There were women in charge. They had their eunuchs to fight for them. They still needed men to make babies.
“They have husbands?”
“No, not husbands. Nothing like that. They don’t like men hanging around the palace. No, they just ship in some studs every couple of months. Quite wild goings on, so I hear. Never been invited myself.”
“These studs, they’re just used for sex?”
“Not what I’d call sex, exactly. They’re milked dry and then sent back home. Just the fluids they want.”
So, not studs in the 70s, hairy chested, medallion-wearing sense. More like a prize racehorse’s seed wanked off into a jar and then spooned into a ladies hoo-ha. Very romantic.
All things considered, it was still a fairly benign way to treat your semen suppliers, if a little clinical. Then again, I didn’t know what ‘milking’ entailed. Frankly, I didn’t want to know.
“That’s the thing about the Queen. She’s firm when needed, flexible when it suits her purpose. The devious witch.”
“So nobody has to become a eunuch?” I felt like it was worth confirming this detail.
“You want to, you can. You don’t want to, you don’t have to.” Schneed made it sound very reasonable. “Of course, there are some circumstances where it’s forced on someone, but those are very rare.”
“What kind of circumstances?”
“Criminals, deviants, sexual offenders, magic users. That sort of thing. Can’t say I disagree with her on those. Right, Marv?”
Wait a minute. Magic users? I could use magic. I’d been thrown in here because they thought I was some powerful wizard. Did that mean…
“Why magic users?”
“It’s unnatural, isn’t it? I mean, it’s okay if the Queen dabbles a bit, she’s the Queen after all. But you can’t have people walking around, meddling with dark forces. That’s just dangerous. No, I’m with Her Majesty on that one. Cut off their goolies, I say!”
Did they think magic came from your testicles? That didn’t explain how women were able to do magic. Or why the Queen got a pass. These double standards were outrageous.
“Does it happen very often? I mean, where a wizard gets his, you know, balls removed?” I didn’t even like saying it.
“Oh, not often. Last one was a street magician. Nice chap. Kids loved watching him make coins disappear. He seemed quite happy afterwards. A bit quiet, but fine otherwise.”
A shiver ran down my spine. The Queen, as far as I could tell, had it in for anyone who could do magic, even if they were just tricks.
“Was that your card?”
“Yes. You’re under arrest. Take off your trousers.”
Madness. I could do magic. Real magic. I had no wish to join the Brotherhood of the Baggy Pants.
One side wanted to relieve me of the only two friends I had left. The other side was willing to destroy an entire city to get what they wanted. It was an unforgivable act of terror that could not be allowed to happen. And the city thing didn’t sound like a good idea, either.
“Erm, this escape plan of yours, you said you had room for one more?”