“Happy birthday, Socorro!”
Socorro Figueroa bounced up and down as he was presented with gifts. It was early in the morning of his thirteenth birthday, and just like on every birthday, he was excited. But, even more so on this particular birthday, for this one was much different from all of those before.
Paco patted him on the back, “Happy birthday, little brother. Thirteen. That’s quite a number.”
“Yes, it is,” his mother patted his shoulders, “I still remember when I could carry you in one arm. Stop growing, will you!”
Socorro’s face heated up, “Mami!”
“You’re embarrassing the boy, Rosa,” his father laughed, “Cut him a break, it’s his big day.”
“I’m only teasing,” she kissed the top of his head, “My youngest is growing up fast.”
“Yes, he is,” Paco brushed one of his flowing, blonde locks from his eyes, “You’re an adolescent now. How does it feel?”
Socorro raised his hands, “It feels big!”
Everyone laughed. Then, Squire Lia came over and whispered something into Paco’s ear. She was a knight’s squire training alongside his big brother. Socorro was also pretty sure that they liked each other. Like, like-liked each other. The way his father and mother liked each other.
Paco nodded, then smiled at Socorro, “It looks like your birthday dinner is here. I’ll go see that it’s taken to the kitchens.”
Oh boy! Last night, his father said that he’d hired a sell-sword to catch a boar for him. Socorro liked boar. It tasted like pork and beef mixed together, and it was yummy and juicy.
Paulina placed a hand on his shoulder, “How are you today, Socorro? You must be excited.”
Paulina was his big sister. She was older than him, but younger than Paco, and she was the only one of the three with their father’s dark hair. Paco and Socorro, on the other hand, had their mother’s blonde hair, but Paco’s was much longer than his. But, while Paco also had their mother’s tan skin, Socorro and Paulina had their father’s olive. Socorro always said that Paulina was his favorite sister, but that was mostly because she was his only sister.
Socorro beamed and nodded, “I am! I’m an adolescent now! Soon, I’ll grow up and marry a pretty girl and have babies!”
Paulina laughed, “I don’t think you’re quite old enough to be planning for babies.”
“Yes, I am!”
He knew how to make babies! His father had told him about sex last year when he’d caught him touching himself in his room. It was an embarrassing talk, but he’d honestly learned so many interesting things. He said that sex was a really fun thing to do, but that if he was going to do it before marriage, then he should be careful not to make a baby, because that’s how bastards were born. He didn’t really explain how not to make a baby, but Socorro figured it shouldn’t be that hard.
Paulina rolled her eyes, “Well then, just try to hold off on it for a while, yeah? Thirteen is big, but not big enough for parenthood.”
They were then interrupted by the sound of something dragging. Everyone turned to see Paco and Squire Lia dragging the boar off in the direction of the kitchens. An eastern girl walked in and came over to them. She must have been the sell-sword.
His father nodded to her, “And, that’s dinner. Thank you, madam, it must have been quite a catch.”
“Wasn’t easy, but I got the job done,” she dusted off her hands, “Must’ve ran in circles almost a dozen times ‘fore I got in a clear shot.”
The sell-sword and his father continued to talk. Socorro turned to his sister to continue their argument, but he then noticed her looking forward funnily. He followed her gaze to the eastern sell-sword. She must have been looking at her. It was odd, though. She looked like she was looking at her the way that Paco looked at Squire Lia.
She turned to him, funny look still on her face. She nodded to the sell-sword, “Do you think she’s pretty?”
Socorro looked over at her. She had dark skin and long, black hair in braids. She had a wide smile, and leader-like, brown eyes. She was wearing cheap armor and had a crossbow slung over her shoulder.
“Yeah,” he nodded, “Sure.”
Paulina looked back at her with the same look.
“I think so too...”
“Well, thank you again for your service,” his father concluded, “Rosa, pay the girl, will you?”
His mother came over and deposited a few coins into her waiting hand.
Paulina walked over to her, “Thank you for catching dinner for us, madam. I am... truly grateful.”
She smiled widely, “Course! Promise of pay, and I’ll kill whoever you want. Anyone bothering you, milady?”
“No,” Paulina shook her head, “But, the offer is... well appreciated. And please, call me Paulina.”
The sell-sword continued to smile, “Well Paulina, tell ya what, someone ever looks at ya the wrong way, I’ll off ‘em, free of charge.”
“Thank you,” Paulina smiled, “What’s your name?”
Paulina nodded slowly, “Gertrudes...”
Mother was looking at them suspiciously. Socorro had no idea what was going on.
Then, Paco returned, wiping off his hands.
“And, now that that’s taken care of,” he brushed a blonde lock and smiled at Socorro, “What say you and me go out for a ride?”
Socorro bounced, “Yay!”
Socorro got up in the middle of the night, because he had to go to the privy. Dinner was delicious, and there had been so much of it, now his body was punishing him for eating so much.
As he was walking down the hall, he noticed Paulina’s door opened. Maybe she was in the privy too. He started to walk past, but stopped when he noticed. Paulina was in her room. On her bed. With Gertrudes the sell-sword.
Paulina was in her undergarments, and she and Gertrudes were kissing.
On the lips.
“What are you doing?”
The two girls jumped and looked at him in shock.
“Socorro!” Paulina got up and walked over to him, “What are you doing out of bed?”
“I have to go to the privy. What are you—?”
“Nothing! We’re just—!” Paulina stammered, “Look, I-I know confused, I...” she sighed, “I’ll talk to you about it in the morning. Go to the privy, then get back to bed. I promise, I’ll explain everything. Good night.”
She closed the door.
Socorro was confused. What were they doing? Why were they kissing on the lips like people that liked each other did? He was really confused, but she said she would explain in the morning. He could wait.
When he was done using the privy, he started to head back to his room.
His mother walked up to him in her nightgown, holding up a candle, like she was searching for something.
“Hi, Mami. I was just in the privy.”
“Alright,” she nodded, “You haven’t seen that sell-sword from before around here, have you? Squire Lia says she thought she saw her snooping around.”
“Yeah,” Socorro nodded, “She was with Paulina in her room.”
“With—?” His mother stiffened. She made one of those faces that she made when one of them was in trouble.
“Go to bed, Socorro.”
She marched off in the direction of Paulina’s room.
Should he not have told her about the sell-sword? He didn’t mean for his sister to get in trouble. Now, he felt like he should have kept his mouth shut.
And, he especially knew it when he heard his mother scream.
Socorro stood off to the side ashamedly as his mother yelled at Paulina. He didn’t understand most of what she was saying, but she was scolding her for something about, ‘unnatural behavior,’ and, ‘disgracing their bloodline.’ Whatever they had done must have been serious, because while Paulina was being scolded, Gertrudes had apparently been taken to the dungeons.
Socorro knew this was his fault. He shouldn’t have told his mother about Gertrudes. He knew whatever they were doing was supposed to be between them. He should have just kept his mouth shut. He didn’t mean to get his sister in trouble.
“...own daughter is being corrupted by the Queen’s overbearing tolerance! Not in this House! I’m going to have a word with your father!”
Mother stormed off. Paulina just stood there fuming. Socorro started to cry.
“I didn’t mean to get you in trouble!” He sniffled, “I didn’t know she was going to get mad! I’m sorry!”
Paulina looked at him.
“It’s not your fault. It’s the fault of our traditionalist parents and this traditionalist bloodline,” she sighed, “I wish I could just leave. Leave this House. Leave the Llanura De Rosas. Leave and go wherever the most progressive people live.”
“You... you want to leave?... You want to leave me?”
She looked at him sadly.
“No, I don’t want to leave you, I just...” she sighed, “I just don’t know. I just don’t know anymore.”
She stormed off in the opposite direction. Socorro felt terrible. He didn’t mean for any of this to happen.
This was all his fault.
Socorro woke up to someone shaking him while he slept. He looked over to see Paulina crouched beside his bed.
“Paulina?” He rubbed his eyes, “What’s going on?”
“A lot. Socorro, I’m leaving.”
That woke him up.
He looked at her with wide eyes, “You... you’re leaving?”
“Yes,” she nodded, “With Gertrudes. And, I want you to come with me.”
“I want you to come with me. Socorro,” she took his hand, “I freed Gertrudes and I’m running away with her. We’re going to be sell-swords. I want you to come with us.”
She looked down, “We come from one of the most conservative Houses in the realm. What me and Gertrudes did... there’s nothing wrong with it. We did absolutely nothing wrong. But, mother and father refuse to believe that,” she looked back up, “I refuse to live in a place where I can’t be who I am. I need to be able to be myself, and I can’t do that here. That’s why I’m leaving. And, I want you to come with me, because I can’t stand the thought of them plaguing your mind with thoughts of what’s right is wrong,” she smiled at him, “We’re not going to leave forever. You can’t run from your problems, that never works. But, I need to be able to be free. We need to be able to be free. Socorro. Come with me.”
Socorro thought about that. Mother had been so mad at Paulina. If Paulina did nothing wrong, then his mother had been mad over nothing. He loved his parents, but if they were going to be mad at Paulina for whatever it was about her that she was...
“How...?” He started to ask, “Where...?”
“...Where do sell-swords live?”
Paulina laughed, “Wherever. Come on. Get dressed and let’s go.”
Socorro missed his bed.
He had been out in the wild with Paulina and Gertrudes for a few days now, and it had been both good and bad. Gertrudes had given him a spare sword and armor that she’d had, and he’d already killed a few animals for food. Since he was a sell-sword now, that meant that he might have to start killing people too. He didn’t know if he could do that...
Other than that, he had eaten, slept, and gone to the privy in some very interesting places. Some good, some bad. Once when he was peeing, a snake had pounced at him and tried to bite his pipí off. Thankfully, it had missed.
Now, he was sitting out here in the woods at night with Paulina and Gertrudes around a campfire.
“So,” Gertrudes asked, “How do you like being a mercenary, kid?”
Socorro shrugged, “It’s fun. But, I miss my bed.”
The girls laughed at that.
Gertrudes turned a smile on Paulina, “And, what about you, gorgeous? How are you fairing?”
“I’m having fun,” she smiled back, “But, being with you, how could I not?”
They kissed on the lips again. They did that a lot. And, they made lots of noise in their tent at night. Socorro was still confused.
“Think it’s time you explained us to your brother?” Gertrudes stated after noticing his confused look.
Paulina looked at him, “Yeah, your right. Okay, here goes nothing,” she got up, walked over, and sat next to him, “Do you know what love is, little brother?”
Socorro nodded, “It’s when two people like each other a lot and they kiss and stuff.”
“That’s right,” she sighed, “Now, Father and Mother would have you believe that romantic love is something that only a boy and a girl can share. But, that’s not true. That’s far from true. Sometimes boys love boys, and girls love girls. There are people, like our parents, who believe that that’s unnatural. It may not be as common as a boy and girl loving each other, but it is completely normal. I need you to understand that.”
She looked across the fire and smiled at Gertrudes. Gertrudes smiled back.
“...You love Gertrudes, don’t you?”
She nodded, “I do,” she turned her smile on him, “I love Gertrudes. And, I do believe that she loves me too.”
“Got that right, gorgeous!”
Paulina snickered at that. “We’re two girls, and we’re in love. Now that we’ve talked, do you think that’s unnatural?”
Socorro shook his head, “No. It’s new to me, but... if you love each other, then that should be all that matters.”
Paulina hugged him, “That’s right. Thank you for understanding, little brother. I love you.”
“Ew! I’m your brother!”
Gertrudes laughed across the fire as Paulina nudged him.
“Not that kind of love, stupid!”
Socorro laughed too.
He finally understood everything now. His sister and Gertrudes were two people—who just happened to be both girls—that loved each other.
As long as they loved each other, that’s all that mattered.