I would find out later that the dress maker’s remark about suggesting a bath was actually quite polite. In my home country it would be considered rude but as it turns out the Nordic people are quite obsessed about cleanliness and the comment is a polite way to tell someone who they are overdue for a bath. Given that I had spent two weeks on a ship with nothing more than a sponge washing, I probably was pretty rank and so after making arrangements for the dresses to be delivered to our room at the inn, we headed for the bathhouse which was the wedge like building inside the Water Gate connected to the Smith Quarter. Mya followed behind me bearing the Banner of Rosenhall over my head and I made my way to the bathhouse.
As I mentioned before, the Nordic people are obsessed to a large degree with body cleanliness. I imagine that this is because they don’t have any way of making any kind of perfume and imported perfume is very expensive. The better way to avoid a stench is simply to take a hot bath and use soap of some kind. The Nordic people had adopted this philosophy to a high degree and even the most common farmer would take a bath at least once per day. Communal baths were common and even small villages would have a bathhouse. Mya had told me all this so I was prepared to take a bath in public as this was considered fairly normal.
We have public baths were I am from but I rarely used them except when traveling as my own manor house had its own bathing pool with hot water that was pumped in from a local hot spring. It would be a rare day at Rosenhall Manor when we did not take a bath but it was usually just Mya and myself in the bathing pool although before father went completely broke, there were several maids and other servants who would join us as well. I loved baths but what I was about to find out almost caught me completely off guard.
I entered the bathhouse from the tip of the wedge closest to the Water Gate. It is a large double door that swings freely but once inside we were directed by a servant girl to take the door on the left to the women’s changing rooms. Mya had left my banner outside on one of the many holders outside the building. If a messenger was looking for me, my banner would tell them what building I was in. Mya needed a bath as much as I did so I took her with me. Besides it is always better to go with someone you know into a strange situation. The changing rooms had female servants who helped you undress and put your clothes in a spot with a number to remember whose stuff was whose. It wasn’t long before both of us were naked and after finding the door to the actual bathhouse we did a zigzag course of walls to get into the bathing room itself.
It was as I came out the door to the main bath area I realized something was very different. There were men there mingling and bathing with the women! I literally froze still and Mya almost ran into the back of me.
“Mya?” I said in a whisper.
“Sorry my lady, no one mentioned this at all.”
“So what shall we do?’
“Wasn’t you father fond of pointing out that when faced with an unknown custom, confidence is more important than knowledge.”
“Yes, your right. Let’s go.”
I then strode into the room like I belonged there. My father had practiced that with me many times so I did it automatically. I felt the eyes of all the people in the room rest on me however and I realize very quickly that this was not because of my nudity although I am sure every man did that up down look men do to women, but simply because I was a stranger. Mya followed suit and walked behind me a couple of steps with the same confidence but her oddity was she was probably the only women in the room with very short hair and small breasts. I decided to just do what I would normally do when I went to a public bath house that being to bathe as quickly as possible but understanding that bath houses are political mechanization in their own right so I couldn’t look like I was bathing as quickly as possible.
I would find out later but at this time I did not know how right I was about politics in Nordic bath houses. The real problem though was being a newcomer is I didn’t know who was who. Nakedness has a way of bring people down to a level footing. A lord, merchant and farmer all have equal status in a bathhouse and you could end up offending someone of high birth or giving too much honor to someone of low birth. Now make no mistake, I know the value of all classes and I work very hard to be appreciative of anything anyone does for me, but I don’t need additional problems from a lady who feels snubbed by me because I didn’t pay her the proper courtesies. The added dynamic of both sexes being in the same room made this even more complicated.
Thankfully, though I didn’t know it at the time, there are rules to follow. Bath house in Nordic tradition are meant only for bathing. No romantic stuff or even physical contact between the sexes is allowed. Becoming aroused, male or female, means automatic dismissal from the bathhouse. Too many times and you are gone for life which would make a Nordic person’s social life very difficult. The self-control of these people in regards to sex must be pretty high. That probably explains why the dressmaker would be in the room with me as adjustments were done on my dress and when I took it off and on and he really never made me feel uncomfortable. Nudity in and of itself was not going to be arousing to a people who regularly were nude with each other. It was going to definitely change the female-male dynamic.
I realized then that they would be more dangerous politically that I previously thought. Feminine charms would take a lot more effort to pull off so my whole observations about the low-cut dress of the Nordic women being used as some sore of leverage against men was a little off. No, what would be needed in this politically arena was to show exactly how a relationship would advantage each other politically and what that advantage was and how powerful it was were more important that the lustful flirtations of a woman or man toward the opposite sex.
So, I would have to be sharp as I walked downward into the hot water of the pool and let it sooth my tired and cramped muscles. Mya helped me bathe with some local soap of ashes and animal fat of some kind. I in turn helped her bathe and we were business like in the whole arrangement. I almost completely forgot men were present once we were soaped down. The Bathhouse actually had three pools the largest one was right as you came in the door and was actually full of fresh water which is feed by a spring of some kind. The water flowed out it and probably into the sea through some sort of pipe. The other two pools were further in and were quite hot the servants would draw from the cold pool and pour it into a large cast iron drum that fire was under and every so often some would be released into one of the smaller pools to heat them up. Bathing with soap was done in the smaller pools, then you got out and rinsed off in the larger one.
The two smaller pools were definitely segregated by sex but the larger pool was definitely for both sexes to bathe together. As I left the smaller women’s pool and descended into the much colder communal pool I found myself feeling the extreme sensation of the heat change.. The pools water was chest high on most Nordic women so it was a little lower than that for men. I found my breasts slipping half way into the water before I hit the bottom step. Mya was behind me and she found herself swimming more than wading but she didn’t mind. I dunked under to get my whole head and hair rinsed off and when I came up there was a man right in front of me about four feet away. The water hit him a little below his muscled chest and he had deep blue eyes and that long flowing corn colored hair that most Nordic people have. He was smiling slightly.
“So you’re the one who flies the Banner of Rosenhall.” he said in a booming voice, “That is a name I have not heard in a long time.”