These are the relevant references from the Books where Favors are mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
A free woman, in swirling robes of concealment, veiled, appeared before me. "Accept my favor, please!" she laughed. She held forth the scarf, teasingly, coquettishly. "Please, handsome fellow!" she wheedled. "Please, please!" she said. "Please!"
"Very well," I smiled.
She came quite close to me.
"Herewith," she said, "I, though a free woman, gladly and willingly, and of my own free will, dare to grant you my favor!"
She then thrust the light scarf through an eyelet on the collar of my robes and drew it halfway through. In this fashion it would not be likely to be dislodged.
"Thank you, kind sir, handsome sir!" she laughed. She then sped away, laughing.
She had had only two favors left at her belt, I had noted. Normally in this game the woman begins with ten. The first to dispense her ten favors and return to the starting point wins. I looked after her, grinning. It would have been churlish, I thought, to have refused the favor. Too, she had begged so prettily. This type of boldness, of course, is one that a woman would be likely to resort to only in the time of carnival. The granting of such favors probably has a complex history. Its origin may even trace back to Earth. This is suggested by the fact that, traditionally, the favor, or the symbolic token of the favor, is a handkerchief or scarf. Sometimes a lady's champion, as I understand it, might have borne such a favor, fastened perhaps to a helmet or thrust in a gauntlet.
It is not difficult, however, aside from such possible historical antecedents, and the popular, superficial interpretations of such a custom, in one time or another, to speculate on the depth meaning of such favors. One must understand, first, that they are given by free women and of their own free will. Secondly, one must think of favors in the sense that one might speak of a free woman granting, or selling, her favors to a male. To be sure, this understanding, as obvious and straightforward as it is, if brought to the clear light of consciousness, is likely to come as a revelatory and somewhat scandalous shock to the female. It is one of those cases in which a thing she has long striven to hide from herself is suddenly, perhaps to her consternation and dismay, made incontrovertibly clear to her. In support of the interpretation are such considerations as the fact that these favors, in these games, are bestowed by females on males, that, generally, at least, strong, handsome males seem to be the preferred recipients of such favors, that there is competition among the females in the distribution of these favors, and that she who first has her "favors" accepted therein accounts herself as somewhat superior to her less successful sisters, at least in this respect, and that the whole game, for these free women, is charged with an exciting, permissive aura of delicious naughtiness, this being indexed undoubtedly to the sexual stimulations involved, stimulations which, generally, are thought to be beneath the dignity of lofty free women.
In short, the game of favors permits free women, in a socially acceptable context, by symbolic transformation, to assuage their sexual needs to at least some small extent, and, in some cases, if they wish, to make advances to interesting males. There is no full satisfaction of female sexuality, of course, outside of the context of male dominance. I wondered what the free woman whose favor I wore would look like, stripped and in a collar. How would she look, how would she act, I wondered, if slave fires had been lit in her belly. I did not think she would then be distributing silken scarves to make known her needs to men. She must then do other things, such as putting a bondage knot in her hair, offering them wine or fruit, dancing naked before them, or kneeling before them, whimpering and whining for attention, licking and kissing at their feet and legs.
"I see that you, too, have accepted the favor of a free woman," I said.
"Yes," he said, grinning. The favor he wore was different from mine, both in border and color. In the game of Favors, of course, the favors are supposedly unique to the given woman, in pattern, material, texture, color, shape, decoration, and so forth. If they were not unique in this fashion they could not act as practical counters in the game. Similarly, of course, they would be less efficient in manifesting the results of the deeper competitions involved, those competitions in which women desperately strive against one another, each to prove themselves more desirable to men than the others. Each woman desires to he more pleasing to men than the others. This is significant. It is in their nature.
"It is interesting to me that free women play the game of Favors," I said.
"It gives them a way of flirting," he said. "Too it gives them an opportunity to put themselves, in a way, at the mercy of the male, to engage in petitioning behavior, suing for his indulgence. In this it is not difficult to see a form of symbolic submission, a making of themselves dependent on his will. Too, of course, it gives them a way of testing their desirability and publicly proclaiming, or advertising, it."
"Luscious, vain creatures," I observed. I myself had earlier speculated along these lines. To be sure, the game of Favors, like most games, customs and practices, was undoubtedly complex and multiply motivated. Too, sometimes things take on additional meanings and values as they are enriched in a historical tradition or more deeply or variously interpreted in different contexts.
"It also, of course, gives them a way of establishing rankings among themselves," said the officer, "which is probably about the best they can do until they find themselves enslaved, put naked on blocks and priced."
"I agree," I said. That certain games, such as that of Favors, provided a mechanism for establishing desirability rankings among females, something in which they seemed much interested, seemed clear.
"I see that you have won the favor of a free woman," said a man.
"What?" I asked. I thought he referred to the free woman, she who had just disappeared among the revelers.
"That," he said, indicating the silken favor in the eyelet of my robes.
"Oh!" I said. "Yes, it would seem so." I looked at the favor. I had forgotten it.
"Paga?" said he, extending his bota.
"Surely," I said. We exchanged swigs of paga.
"It must be nice to have won the favor of a free woman," he said.
"I and a few hundred other fellows," I said.
"That particular favor," he said.
"Alas," I said, "even there I fear I am but one out of ten."
"One out of fifteen," he said.
"Oh?" I said.
"Yes," he said.
I shrugged. The game of favors can be played with any number of favors and contestants, but the usual number of favors distributed is ten.