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Archive for the ‘The Dark Side’ Category

Reports’ consistent portrayals of miserable, victimized prostitutes and villainous madams—despite evidence to the contrary—display [prohibitionists’] tireless ideological labors to bring their real-life encounters in line with their…assumptions.  –  Nicolette Severson

Here We Go Again 

Prohibitionism never, ever changes:

…members of the New York Female Moral Reform Society…visited brothels all over New York City [in 1835-36].  They…[pretended they wanted] to learn…why women [did] sex work and [wanted] to sav[e] them from what they considered a grave sin and social ill…[like modern “sex trafficking” fetishists] members of F.M.R.S…assumed that the women didn’t voluntarily decide to become prostitutes, but that they were seduced and trafficked by men who caused their moral downfall…Those preconceived notions were [and still are] false. Prostitutes…enter…sex work because…[it pays better and is more flexible than the sex workers’ other alternatives], and for many, prostitution [i]s a temporary job.  The reformers were shocked at the high-end brothels they visited.  Fitted with refined furnishings and attractive, accommodating women, these brothels were…similar to the homes middle-class women were expected to keep…No wonder, then, that…the F.M.R.S. reformers used [stereotyped] characters to portray sex workers…[so as] to support their own belief that prostitution meant moral decay and internal misery…

The Scarlet Letter

Why do these puritans insist on pretending that the literally prehistoric practice of shaming constitute a “modern” approach to intentionally harming people for wanting consensual sex?

The City of Dayton announced a new initiative…aimed at [harming sex workers]…Called Buyer’s Remorse, the campaign will “modernize” the city’s approach to prostitution…It will make the information of anyone [in]…Dayton to [have consensual] sex “very” public [without due process], Mayor Nan Whaley said…Their names and addresses will added to a[n online] map…

I hope the first few men listed on this site have the sense and resources to sue the city and shut the site down.

Feminine Pragmatism 

Lingerie fetishist offers women a pragmatic avenue of harm reduction:

With the shutdown now likely the longest of its kind in US history, furloughed feds are turning to second jobs, side hustles, and Craigslist sales to make an extra buck.  Now one Virginia resident…asks women who “could use several dollars” to send their undergarments—in return for a whopping $120 a pop…

Of course, the amateurs are as gobsmacked as Depression-era rednecks staring up at a skyscraper for the first time.

Under Every Bed

Population 28,486:

…“Humans are the best commodity that there is,” [a prohibitionist salivated]. “Pimps and stuff will tell you that they don’t have to renew their supply, unlike drugs that they have to keep buying more…The average time a person is sold during the year is 1,000 times.”  Sex trafficking is happening throughout the state of West Virginia and in places like Wheeling…Sheriff Tom Howard [fantasized]…“Be very careful with children because it can happen, unfortunately, with the drug epidemic…Any time you see something that looks like a lot of drug activity, there’s probably some kind of human trafficking going on along with it…It happens all throughout the county”…

These people are like living caricatures of self-important hicks.  The “unlike drugs, people can be sold many times” canard is an excuse to keep persecuting members of “gangs”; see “Traffic Jam” below.

The Course of a Disease (#349) 

The Danes just keep emphasizing their disgust with the Swedish model:

Danish Social Minister Mai Mercado…has revealed that the government is looking into improving conditions for sex workers, decrying the dramatic lack of human rights in this field…sex workers don’t enjoy the same rights as those engaged in other vocations, including the right to unemployment insurance payouts and pensions…”Society demands that everyone pay their taxes, including prostitutes, so I think that we are duty-bound to ensure people have basic rights”…Mercado said…Prostitutes are required to register…as their income is taxable, a situation described by Mercado as “taxation without representation”…Citing the experiences of neighbouring countries which…criminalis[e] the procurement of sex, Mai Mercado argued that accepting prostitution instead of trying to ban it is the right approach.  “We have witnessed Sweden’s experiences.  These are really bad.  There is more violence, more insecurity, and it keeps sinking to the underworld.  There is no need for that”, Mercado said…Among other things, [the new approach] will mean that prostitutes will have the right to enroll in an unemployment insurance fund, be entitled to unemployment benefits and be able to earn a pension…

Traffic Jam (#432)

“Sex trafficking” is another excuse to persecute the same groups as always:

…Some [things the government labels] trafficking are prosecuted more heavily than others…Sex trafficking of a minor…carries a statutory minimum of 10 years…[and] maximum…of life in prison.  [Other things labeled] human trafficking…[such as] forcing people to labor for no pay in domestic service, factories, restaurants and so on — have no mandatory minimum…federal prosecutors have behaved accordingly, prosecuting more than twice as many minor sex-trafficking cases as adult sex-trafficking and labor-trafficking cases combined…57 percent of the defendants in minor sex-trafficking cases are black — compared with 43 percent in adult sex-trafficking cases and only 18 percent in labor trafficking…The average age of a defendant in a minor sex-trafficking case is 31, while it’s 33 and 40 respectively for adult sex- and labor-trafficking cases…76 percent of defendants in minor sex-trafficking cases are male, while that’s true for only 71 percent and 59 percent of adult sex- and labor-trafficking defendants, respectively.  In other words…the [cases labeled as] trafficking…that carr[y] the highest penalties and [are] most likely to be prosecuted — are significantly more likely to be [against defendants who are] young, black and male…

Eternal Vigilance (#682)

Until prohibition is itself outlawed, decriminalization of any consensual activity is at best a temporary respite:

Tight bylaws limiting where brothels can operate in Queenstown and Wanaka have failed to stop the trade, with sex workers instead using “working girl-friendly” hotels and selling sex from homes…prostitution contributes “hugely” to the district’s economy, but those working in the industry continue to be discriminated against, mocked and marginalised.  The Queenstown Lakes District Council…has kept its towns brothel-less through restrictive and “draconian” bylaws since prostitution was decriminalised in 2003…going as far as banning them altogether in a 2008 bylaw.  The council later reviewed the bylaw because it was potentially at odds with the Prostitution Reform Act, but…[it] is still at odds with the Act…[because] brothels are only allowed to operate within a two-block zone in the town centre…They cannot be on ground level or beneath ground level or have signs advertising the business…

For Those Who Think Legalization is a Good Idea (#863)

Some helpful figures for countering prohibitionists’ agency-negating lies:

…anti-traffickers often [lie] that the majority of those who sell sex in India are forced or begin when they are underage.  The best available research, however, provides a different picture.  A survey of over 6500 female sex workers in South India aged 15 and above found that the mean age of entrance into sex work was 21.7 years.  The most comprehensive  data set included 3000 sex workers from across the nation.  Of these, 81.59% entered sex work when they were 19 years old or above and 14.53% between 15-18 years.  The Pan India Survey found that across all modes and sites of sex work in India, 79.4% of women entered the trade voluntarily, while 7.1% were forced, 2.8% were sold, and 9.2% were cheated…The term “forced” should only be used in reference to work rendered through physical force, threats, beatings, blackmail, cheating and similarly direct forms of compulsion…If financial urgency were defined as “force”, then the vast majority of the world’s workers would have to be defined as “forced labourers”.  Very few individuals are either entirely free to make unfettered decisions about their means of earning money or are entirely freed from the need to do so…

Business As Usual (#877) 

When a headline asks a question, the answer is almost always “no”:

Stormy Daniels’s July 2018 arrest…by…Columbus [vice pigs]…turned out to be…a pre-planned political stunt by vice detectives — one of whom later bragged about it to colleagues.  Daniels and two others later sued for false arrest.  Then, in August, the [gang] was again in the spotlight because a vice detective [murdered] a sex worker…after…she [resisted his attempt to rape her]…in his unmarked car.  In September, another whistleblower familiar with local strip clubs informed city officials of extortion, selective enforcement and entrapment by the vice [gang], bringing a large package of documents to corroborate the allegations…[then] the chief of the CPD asked the FBI to take over the investigation…and…on September 27, [rapist and murderer] Andrew Mitchell…was [given a paid vacation]…On December 13, the CPD put a third vice detective involved in the sting on desk duty…[and] announced that the vice [gang] will resume limited operations with a “select” [herd] of [pigs], although the FBI probe remains ongoing.  The [gang] will [supposedly] be handling liquor and nuisance complaints at after-hours clubs, instead of spending thousands on drinks and lap dances [while molesting and raping women without consequence]…

Also: “hold accountable” is a moralist shibboleth which means something like “persecute using a moralistic excuse”. It has no place in articles about genuine wrongdoers facing the consequences of their actions.

Monsters (#878) 

Prohibitionists know we’re right about the dangers of criminalization; they just don’t care:

…the [trans sex worker community who work in and around the] sprawling Bois de Boulogne public park in western Paris…has felt considerably less safe since the French government introduced [the Swedish model]…in 2016…as p[redict]ed, clients now regularly ask the women for sex in secluded areas to avoid the police.  In a Médecins du Monde survey conducted with nearly 600 sex workers…63 percent said they have seen their working conditions deteriorate, while 42 percent said they have experienced more violence since the law change…The Paris mayor’s office [even] shut[s] off many of the lights in the park in the evenings as a way to [intentionally increase the danger to sex workers] there…Acceptess-T, an association that advocates on behalf of trans and immigrant sex workers [says] “They are more vulnerable than ever”…

Surplus Women (#896) 

Answer: it’s a rationalization of cop behavior.  Which, admittedly, isn’t easy to tell from serial killer behavior:

Juan David Ortiz, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, pleaded not guilty…to capital murder in the deaths of four women [because they were just whores]…Ortiz [was convinced by government anti-sex propaganda that] it was his duty to clean up the streets of Laredo…so he began picking up alleged sex workers, driving them to remote areas, and then shooting them in the head…Ortiz thought [cops] w[ere]n’t doing enough to stop [adults from having consensual sex] in Laredo, so he believed he was “doing a service” by killing the women…prosecutors are seeking the death penalty because Ortiz’s “vigilante mentality” presents a “future danger to [people who aren’t whores]”…

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Every December 17th, sex workers…renew our pledge to keep fighting for a day in which our own society no longer brands us fair game.
–  “Against Violence

In the year since the last December Seventeenth, the violence against sex workers that the observance protests has grown dramatically worse in the United States, largely due to the intentional and premeditated actions of our own government.  The War on Whores, pretended for almost two decades now to be a war on the imaginary scourge of “sex trafficking”, grew to a fever pitch with the passage of FOSTA, a massive internet censorship bill intended to drive sex workers off of the internet and into the streets, where we are easier prey for cops and other predatory men.  Naturally, no one law can accomplish what a century of such laws has failed to do, namely wipe sex work out entirely; however, in the time it has taken new overseas advertising sites to appear and people to find ones that work for them, many of the most marginalized of our number were indeed driven to the streets or otherwise forced into more precarious circumstances.  But even though the unprecedented scale and viciousness of this assault on our persons and livelihood has galvanized sex worker activism and attracted the attention and sympathy of many who were previously uninterested, far too many reporters, commentators and even would-be allies continue to cede ground to prohibitionists, giving their motives the benefit of the doubt.  The great majority of articles on the subject claim that attempts to destroy our lives and incomes and silence our voices are “well-intentioned”, or that men who use oppressive laws as an excuse to literally rape and rob us “want to help”, or that the harm to whores, our clients, or families and our associates are somehow merely “collateral damage” even though every gun in this war is aimed squarely at us.  The reason for this minimization of state violence is simple: even though the number of people who support the human right to consensual sex is growing by the month, most of them are too horrified by what is going on to admit that prohibitionists, both in and out of government, are using high-sounding narratives as a cover for a systematic campaign to brutalize, impoverish and exterminate everyone involved in every aspect of the sex trade.  This jihad is no more “well-meaning” than the Drug War, alcohol Prohibition, Jim Crow or any other campaign of government violence against individuals and civil rights; it is a well-planned and well-funded program of terrorism designed to punish sexual behavior authoritarians have deemed deviant, and to break the spine of the greatest tool for the facilitation of free thought ever developed by the human race.  And until the media and our allies are willing to admit what the Whore Nation already knows, the best we can hope for is to minimize the damage and try to keep things from getting even worse.

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter may remember that on several occasions I’ve tweeted GoFundMe appeals for homeless sex workers, organized by a close friend of mine who does street outreach.  Recently, I asked her to write something for me so that in future, I can point back to it to explain who it is I’m asking charity for.  This lady is a Seattle sex worker who is well-known in our community, but prefers to remain anonymous for her activism.  If you’d like to help her out (because she does 95% of this out of her own pocket), please let me know and I’ll arrange a way for you to donate to her important work.

Like so many things in this industry, it started with Kristen D’Angelo, who contacted me because her friend from Sacremento had a daughter living in Seattle.  Kristen’s friend was concerned his daughter was working on the streets and was hoping to get someone to check on her; she (let’s call her Jess) was homeless, using drugs, and working on Aurora Avenue.  Maggie and I ended up taking her out for dinner.  More than anything, she was surprised that instead of being met with judgement and Jesus, she was met by peers with compassion and kindness (along with some screening tips for seeing clients).  Shortly thereafter, I found out an acquaintance of mine had lost her housing, and she and her boyfriend were living out of their car.  I would go see her once, occasionally twice, a week, bringing lunch or dinner, and we would eat together and talk.  After a couple visits I starting meeting some of the people that they had befriended in their time on the streets.  I was struck by the situations of the women there.  To see women so vulnerable was terrifying…but I wasn’t sure what I could do.  I asked them: what do you need?  How can I help?  While I don’t have a tremendous surfeit of disposable income, I could certainly spend $100 a week buying food for people that badly needed it.  So I did.

Simultaneously, I was keeping in (more sporadic) contact with Jess.  It wasn’t long before I was heading up to Aurora once a week (give or take) as well.  Eventually I was out two or three nights a week talking to young women from Aurora to Belltown to SoDo, both in the jungle and working the streets.  I found myself out at 7pm, 10pm, or midnight walking through the city, talking to people.  Instead of being in Greenlake or Madrona, I found myself in places with appellations like the Batcave and Clowntown; I was under the viaduct and in tent cities along the highway.  Within this world, it takes time to earn trust; there are always, to this day, some women that refuse to talk to me or that I have met five times but act as if they don’t know me…and that’s fine.  For the ones that do talk, I hand out condoms and Narcan.  I bring jackets, food, toiletries, clean socks, and camping propane tanks.  I take girls to Planned Parenthood for panel tests; to emergency shelters; to drop them off at detox.  Many of them, if you asked, would not identify as a sex workers, and if you called them a sex worker, you might get punched in the face.  But, if you said, “if you give me a blowjob, you can sleep in my tent tonight.”  Well, that’s an easy yes!!  Whether they identify as sex workers or not, they know when they see me that religion isn’t coming into the conversation and I am not going to tell them what they should do or have to do.  Giving these women autonomy in their decision-making is very important; even when, in my opinion, they may make a terrible choice, it’s theirs to make and I won’t try to take that away from them.  Similarly, none of the things I hand out have strings attached; the only rules are I will not give out cash or buy drugs.

When I meet women that are open to talking, I may make some harm reduction suggestions or ask them what they need.  Much of the time, I listen.  Many of these women have suffered extensive trauma, have drug abuse issues (the desire to anesthetize a terrible situation is strong), or have mental health problems – or all three.  In addition, there is the pervasive sense of hopelessness that comes with being utterly marginalized and, in effect, thrown away by society; just having someone listen and acknowledge you can be significant.  It definitely isn’t the easiest volunteer path I could have taken.  There have been multiple calls from girls that have been raped, assaulted, or robbed.  I helped a girl that had been thrown out of a moving car by a client, and another girl that was pistol-whipped by her boyfriend.  I’ve Narcan’d people through countless overdoses (if anyone ever needs to be resuscitated – I am a fucking pro).  I’ve been hung up on by police when calling 9-1-1 for help and been told by the paramedics that they “can’t” go where they are needed.  I’ve stepped over dead bodies and had rats the size of Boston Terriers leisurely swagger over my toes.

The other side is that there are happier stories.  I paid out my own pocket for a girl to go to rehab because I believed in her when no one else did; she completed 90 days of treatment and moved back to her parent’s house in Minnesota.  That was over a year ago and she is still clean and sober.  Two girls had been living in and out of motels on Aurora and we worked together to get them into a low-income apartment; two other girls saw what they did and decided they could do it too.  I’ve acted as an advocate for a girl that was brutally raped by a prominent Seattleite; I connected her with a lawyer and could not have been happier for her when she got a ridiculously large settlement.  Money didn’t make the PTSD disappear, but it certainly put her in a situation where she could take time and heal.  Unfortunately, the stories with (ahem) happy endings are exceptionally few and far between; the emotional labor can be intense, overwhelming, and exhausting.  I’ve asked myself more than once why I’m not walking dogs at the Humane Society, and I have spent more hours than I can count crying on Maggie’s couch.  But I very strongly believe that everyone needs some help now and then; if I can help someone make a more informed decision or turn a corner, then it’s worth it.

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I don’t often do sequels to previous guest columns, but I thought y’all might want to see this update from “John Seattle”; if you haven’t read his column on Seattle’s “john school” yet, you probably should before reading this one.

Last year, Maggie was very kind to publish my response to Peter Qualliotine’s STOP Exploitation classes.  It was written before I had completed the series of classes; the final session ended with Qualliotine giving a pep rally-esque speech in which he asked, “Are you with me?  Will you stop buying sex?”  This question was met with a long, drawn out silence broken only by my giggling when I realized what had happened.  At the time I felt as if I had thoroughly rejected the toxic messaging of his class, but that was not as simple as it seemed.  It was Wendy Zukerman’s Science VS podcast episode entitled “Sex Addiction: Are They Faking It?” that gave me insight to the need to understand better the damaging impacts of shame.  According to the podcast, the truth about sexual addiction (one of the many toxic messages Qualliotine dispenses) is that no scientific evidence supports its existence; what some believe to be sex addiction is the feeling of shame, which is why belief in “sex addiction” is strongly correlated with religious beliefs that sexuality is sinful.

The “sex addiction” myth is thus very useful for someone who is trying to shame others out of their sexuality.  In a local article, Qualliotine was described as someone who “sees patronizing prostitutes as part of a continuum of…behaviors that includes sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape.”  Through psychological manipulation Qualliotine’s message is that “the core of who and what you are as a person is that of a harasser, abuser, and rapist.”  What he calls “education” is actually based on sex-shaming in order to change behavior, a social conformity strategy very much like the thoroughly-discredited “conversion therapy” is supposed to “cure” gay people.  And even though it doesn’t accomplish what its purveyors claim, subconsciously this toxic messaging lingers, causing emotional damage and isolation in its victims that manifest in harmful ways, such as social anxiety, and despair.

There are a lot of reasons for people to have sex, and none are wrong as long as all partners give consent and treat each other ethically.  Undoing the damage caused by the lie that this is not so, that outsiders have the right to impose rules on other adults, is harder than one might think, but there are resources available; Dr. David Ley, Lola Davina, and Maggie are just a few of the writers who helped me to start the process.  But the first step is to recognize the damage done by sexual shaming even in people who intellectually know better.

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As most of y’all can probably guess, I have not been watching the Kavanaugh hearings on TV, because even if I did watch other TV news (which I don’t, and haven’t since I first started reading the newspaper around age 12, recognizing even then that it was entertainment and not news) I would certainly not watch this ridiculous circus designed to further the popular “red-blue” myth in the minds of the hoi-polloi.  I also have the word “Kavanaugh” muted on Twitter, but of course that doesn’t block tweets which don’t directly reference him.  So I was able to see and comment on this very interesting observation by Phoenix Calida:

So you know Rachel Mitchell, the woman who is going to question Dr. Christine Ford?  She’s a prosecutor with the special victims unit.  From Maricopa county.  You know, the place where sheriff Joe Arpaio worked?…The one who bragged about running concentration camps where guards tortured inmates?  And then he was held in Contempt of court for racial profiling and pardoned by Trump?…And remember when Sheriff Joe refused to investigate rape cases?  And cases where children were being sexually abused by adults?  All Bc the victims were Latinas?  That’s where this woman earned her credentials as a sex crimes prosecutor.  Rachel Mitchell is about to question Dr. Ford, an alleged rape victim.  And Mitchell earned her “credentials” working with cops who wouldn’t even investigate rape cases in their county.  How do y’all see this really turning out?

Maricopa County is, of course, a cesspool of political corruption, especially where sex work is concerned.  And Arpaio was a big Trump supporter, so one of his gang turning up in Washington to help Trump is not really a surprise.  But Phoenix’s tweets got me thinking, so I wrote this after quoting hers:

You remember Arpaio, right?  The guy who arrested newspapermen Lacey & Larkin for exposing his corruption?  The same Lacey & Larkin who were persecuted as owners of Backpage, partly thanks to the efforts of Cindy McCain, whom they exposed as a drug addict who robbed her own charity?  The same Cindy McCain, widow of John McCain, warmonger politician from AZ (where Maricopa County is) who has relentlessly demonized Backpage (owned by the men who exposed her crimes) for years?  Arizona is also the site of ASU, home of Dominique Roe-Sepowitz (who says sex work is bad because “body fluids” cause brain damage), who is paid big bucks by the McCain Institute and government cronies to do bogus “studies” designed to “prove” that “sex trafficking” was rampant on Backpage?  Funny how all of this shit begins to fit together when you follow the money and the trail of vendettas, alliances & favors, isn’t it?

And in case you hadn’t noticed, while this big show of “us vs them” was going on, Congress almost-unanimously passed the biggest war-advancing military spending bill in history, and the House passed a bill which expands the PATRIOT Act using “sex trafficking” as an excuse with solid support from both of these supposedly-deadly-enemy parties.  But please keep watching the fireworks and pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

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Every so often, a sex worker or client who has been caught by the trickery of predatory cops asks me for a recommendation to a sex-worker-friendly criminal defense attorney, and usually I’ve been able to help them.  But recently, I decided that rather than doing this piecemeal, it would make more sense to compile a list.  I realize that this process will probably take some time, but it will never be finished if I don’t at least start, so for the past week on Twitter I’ve been asking for attorneys willing to take such cases to send me their contact info.  If you are such an attorney, you can submit the info in the comments below or by replying to my tweets, but the best way would be to send me an email by clicking this linkHere’s the page so far; even if you see there’s already a name in your state please don’t hesitate to submit your name as well; the more we have, the better.  And if you’re not a lawyer yourself but know one who belongs on the list, please ask that person to send their contact details to me!

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It’s been over a year since I wrote a new story, but this one has been slowly growing in my head since late autumn of 2014, and it finally came forth week before last.  I’m just going to tease you with the beginning; if you want a copy, you can either buy it on Kindle or get a PDF copy by becoming a patron of my blog.  If you’re already a patron, you should’ve received a copy one week ago today; if you didn’t, please let me know.

Dane retrieved his knife from the body of the dog and began to carve as many choice cuts from the carcass of the wild cow as he thought he could eat before they spoiled; it wasn’t that much, but he figured he’d be in Korneg within a few days anyhow, and then he could buy all the food he wanted with the gold & furs he’d taken from that trader he ambushed last week.  The job was easier than he had expected; he congratulated himself on having had the good sense to let the dog pack do most of the work of butchery before he started picking them off from the top of the ruined tower.  He knew they’d be back soon, once hunger overcame fear of the rifle; still, half a dozen precious rounds were a good trade for an equal number of big, thick steaks.  It had been a long time since he’d had beef, since that excellent roast in Westover; maybe he should’ve stayed there longer.  But Dane was a cautious man, and he figured it probably wasn’t wise to stay in any city after he’d killed, even though she was just a whore; sooner or later the local warlord’s peacekeepers would’ve figured out which of the transients currently in town had done it, and his career would’ve come to an abrupt halt at the end of a rope.  Or something both much worse and much slower, if the harlots’ guild had caught him first.

Still, it had been a good stay while it lasted, and a profitable one; besides the rifle and ammo belt, some fairly-new boots and a little gold, he’d managed to steal a good horse on the way out.  That put Korneg within reach; though he was a strong walker, no human could outrun a hungry wild dog pack.  And since it was high time he left the Valley, that was now a necessity rather than just a preference.  He’d heard talk of Korneg for years…of its wealth, of the succulence of its foods, of the impregnability of its walls…and of the powerful queen who ruled it.  He had always wanted to see it for himself, but though Dane was no coward, he was also no fool; he knew that no matter how soft its beds or its women, he could not stay in Korneg long before his way of life put a price on his head.  Still, it guarded the only known safe pass to the Cities of the East, and that meant he had little choice but to visit it if he wished to remain free and alive.

The next few days were unremarkable except for the rain, but even that was a blessing because it meant plenty of water for both him and the horse in a season when good water was usually a concern.  It also meant he’d be that much harder to follow, in the event some bounty hunter had picked up his trail.  So all in all, he was in an unusually good mood when on the next clear day he spotted the stone pillars marking the edge of Korneg’s territory, despite the fact that they made him vaguely uneasy.  They were unlike anything he’d ever seen in his three decades of life:  five times as tall as a man they were, carved in the likeness of two huge serpents which coiled around and around until they ended in heads whose baleful eyes stared down at him, glinting like purple gems in the early afternoon sun.  It was obvious that they were intended as a show of power, and the display was a successful one; even in the heart of Ghezhel, mightiest city of the Valley, there were no comparable monuments.  There was an engraved tablet at the foot of the one on the right, but that was of no help to Dane since he had never learned to read.  However, the road beyond was well-built and well-maintained; he knew he couldn’t be more than a few days from the city wall, and he might even reach a trading post before nightfall.  So he set aside his disquiet and rode on, steadfastly resisting the gnawing urge to look back to see if the stone guardians were watching him…

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