My head hurts.

That's no great matter. At my age, it's a rare day that something doesn't hurt. What troubles me much more is the circumstances of my injury, the wrongness all around it:

In the last day or so, I've fallen in with smugglers, beaten a man senseless for threatening and hurting two young girls, then defended that man from death, only to be ambushed by him and see him shot down. All of this while fleeing from the Law, more organized criminals, and – worst of all – Reavers. Urban legends of the cannibalistic madman come to life.

And then there's the woman who's tending my injuries. This isn't nearly as distressing, of course. But it is strange.

I've read in the histories that people used to go to war over religion, back on Earth That Was. I hear tell that Christianity was no better than the rest and worse than some – forgetting to Love Thy Neighbor in the name of forcing everyone else to follow your Word…that's human nature for you, however you try to ennoble it. As they say, the only true Christian died on the Cross.

Since leaving Earth That Was, there's a lot less of that. There's room for everyone to walk their own Path, and besides, there's other things to fight over.

Christianity, especially my order, has made a particular peace with Buddhism. It's how you get Shepherds like me, who preach the Gospel and meditate on our rock gardens.

But this woman gently cleaning the blood from my brow with the same basin and cloth she uses for her own bath…she and all of her colleagues are part of a much older tradition than either.

Most of the world see registered Companions as grand ladies, educated and accomplished and refined. And they are that, in my limited experience.

Some see them as whores like any other. Technically true, I suppose, though such people tend to have a contempt and revulsion for "common" whores that I don't share. Pity, perhaps. Companions don't deserve contempt, and they don't need pity.

Neither view, kind or cruel, captures the whole truth.

The truth is no secret, though most people don't know it. They know that Companions live in temples and are led by priestesses, but they never stop to think what those titles might mean.

The Shepherds know, and it leads some of the angrier among us, the ones who enjoy giving the sermons about sin and hellfire instead of mercy and redemption, to beat their brains out against the brick wall of public opinion, trying to convince people that grand, refined, usually kind ladies are evil. Of course, they think of themselves as martyrs all the while, when mostly all they get are funny looks.

Companions are sacred harlots. Priestesses of Astarte, Queen of Heaven on ancient Earth That Was – a goddess of love, among other things. Just like the priestesses did back then – just like I hear tell every woman did at least once in her life, as a rite of passage – the Companions take money (great lots of it, I'm told) as an offering to Astarte. Then they make their own offering, their sacred ceremony of desire and union.

Of course, most of their clients don't realize any of this, any more than they mean it as a prayer when they holler "Oh, God".

So what do I think of all this? What do I think of this woman that the religion I've devoted my life to considers to be both a sinner and a heathen? Who lives a life that my Path considers to be sinful, but that hers considers a life of devotion? Do I think less of her? Do I worry what people would say or think, that I associate with her and accept her aid?

What do I think?

I think that I'm glad that I brought her dinner and didn't give any sermons, because I know that she'd still be tending me now, and I'd be deeply shamed to accept her kindness after offering condemnation.

I think…

As she wipes my blood – and, without comment, a few tears – away, and offers me her gentle wisdom, I think about how my Savior, divine in essence but human in every other way, had his own moment of weariness and confusion. And when that happened, the one who soothed his brow and comforted him was a whore.