The women wore nothing
but their necklaces
and long skeins of steam.
They were pink and giggly
from the heat of the sauna,
except for those made languid
and draped loosely along the benches.
Fuursh poured the water
onto the hot stones,
raising a fresh cloud of steam.
He recognized a few of the women --
there was Afren, a ranger,
scrubbing the back of her age-mate Lushi
who was some kind of crafter.
They had coarse knitted cloths
to lift the dirt and sweat from their skins.
Yenashen's wavy brown hair
was frizzing in the humid atmosphere.
Shrana sat behind her, carefully
stroking an ivory comb through it
to prepare for braiding.
They were both domestics,
chatting quietly about their work.
Akala, a raiser,
was telling a story about men
to Telaani, who snickered
and replied with an anecdote of her own.
They leaned together,
the soft curves of their bodies
seeming to merge in the dim light.
Fuursh waited in the rinsing area
with buckets of fresh cold water
to pour over the women as they emerged.
He loved the way they squealed and bounced
and then grabbed towels to dry off,
clean and glowing.
Treg the beadmaker had left
a bowl of felt beads --
plain spheres devoid of embroidery
and notable only for
their fiery yellow and orange coloring --
in case anyone wished to couple.
Lushi smiled at Fuursh,
her golden skin framed by a brown towel,
as she ran a fingertip around the rim of the bowl.
"I'm weaning my son Ferlan,"
she said to Fuursh,
"and I'm looking for company."
Fuursh scooped a bead from the bowl
and offered it to Lushi.
She turned it to find the slot
and then snapped the bead into place
at the center of her necklace.
Then Fuursh spread his big hands
over her backside and picked her up,
pressing their bodies together.
Lushi squeaked and clung to him.
Behind them, Afren coughed loudly
and said, "Rinse, please,"
but her eyes were twinkling.
Regretfully Fuursh put Lushi down
and went back to work pouring water.
His thoughts, however,
galloped ahead to the end of the day
and the saucy young woman
who would be joining him in his bunk.