Posted by Darth Krzysztof
seven years ago
The sharp-faced woman cut Rayne’s ragged clothes free with an obsidian knife, tossing them into the fire, until the girl stood naked in the cold, dark room. She might be able to trick the woman, to wrest the gleaming blade from her, to make a break for it… but there was nowhere to go. She’d be found. She’d be executed. The dark man had bought Rayne from the praetors… had made her his slave. Beats being dead, she kept telling herself, but it sounded no more true now than it had in the Praetorium the previous day. Pirates and cages simply didn’t mix. Maybe the other Profiteers had been the lucky ones.
The sharp-faced woman scrubbed Rayne’s body with gritty, lightly scented sand until her skin seemed to glow pink. She had never been this clean… and now she smelled vaguely of mint. The feeling bothered her, pleasant though it may have been.
The sharp-faced woman examined Rayne’s eyes, her ears, her mouth. She clucked her tongue when she found the bugs in the girl’s hair, then rubbed a cold slime that smelled like death over her scalp and armpits. She knelt, pulled one ankle away from the other to spread the girl’s legs, and moved her hand between them. Rayne shivered as the woman inspected what she found there, raised an eyebrow, then applied another coat of slime to it.
Without a word, the sharp-faced woman stood and walked away from Rayne, returning with a folded parcel of brown fabric. She shook it out, revealing a simple dress, and said, “Put this on.”
Having never worn a dress before, Rayne eased her way into the garment; it proved to be far too long for her, just as she’d feared. The sharp-faced woman shook her head, and her hands went to her hips, hitching up the sides of her own dress. “You’ll have to go around like this for now,” she said. “It’d take years for you to grow into this old thing. I’ll have to hem it later… Master wishes to see you now.”
The dark man wants to see me. Rayne swallowed. The sharp-faced woman raised Rayne’s chin until their gazes met. She was younger than Rayne thought… older than she, certainly, but not old enough to be her mother…
“Don’t look at him,” the sharp-faced woman said. “Don’t speak unless he tells you to. Don’t lie to him, or he’ll know. Always call him ‘master’ or ‘my lord.’ Don’t move, or do anything, unless he tells you to. And do anything he tells you to.”
“Oh… okay.” If that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I do… this is your life now, Rayne. This is all you are. Hot, bitter tears rolled down Rayne’s cheeks as she tried not to break down.
“What’s your name, girl?” the sharp-faced woman asked, her voice abruptly softening.
“Rayne.” She sniffed once, hard.
The corner of her mouth tugged up in a smile, instantly rendering her visage less severe. “Rayne. Lovely name. I’m Kelira. It’s not as bad as you think. Master treats us fairly, as long as we please him. You’ll see.”
“I… thank you. Kelira.”
“Sure. Follow me.” She glanced back over her shoulder. “And don’t ever let Master see you crying.”
Rayne hiked her skirts up and followed Kelira through the manor, the stone floor stealing warmth from her bare feet. She paid little attention to the manor’s vastness, to its quiet, for fear of losing Kelira, fear of angering her new master…
They arrived in a small courtyard, a carefully arranged scene of sand and stones, cool in the night air, almost enchanting in the light of the moons. A dark-haired man in red robes stood at the courtyard’s center, turned away from the slaves, hands clasped behind his back.
“Master,” Kelira said. “Your new slave is here.”
“She may approach,” the dark man said, his voice flat and deep.
Rayne glanced to Kelira, who was already backing away. “Don’t worry,” the sharp-faced woman whispered. “I’ll be watching. You’ll do fine.”
Rayne nodded and slowly walked into the courtyard, eyes cast down, sorry to mar the sandscape with her footprints. She lost track of the distance to her master, but froze when he said: “That’s close enough. Kneel.” She did so at once, pressing her forehead to the sand and closing her eyes.
She heard him turn, heard him coming closer. “I can’t see you,” he said. “Sit up, girl.” She did so without opening her eyes. “Mmm. Yes. You’ve cleaned up better than I thought. Tell me, do you know why you’re here?”
Rayne tried to remember how to speak; when she did, her voice came out thready. “Because you bought me. My lord.” Damn it, she’d almost forgotten to say it! She tensed up, waiting to be struck, her blood thundering in her ears.
But the blow didn’t come. “This is true,” her master said. “But what I mean is: do you know why I bought you?”
“No, my lord.” It didn’t make much sense. Someone born into slavery would be more obedient. And he could surely find a more suitable concubine…
“Because of this. Open your eyes.” She saw a bit of vellum in her master’s hand, could barely see the lines written upon it:
Shun green if you can, but night’s good color
is for those of great valor.
If shades of red stand for blood the wise
Will not need sacrifice aught but a loop -
“I showed this to you in the Praetorium,” her master said, flourishing the vellum back into his sleeve. “You pretended that you couldn’t read it… but I knew better. You can read, pirate. Tell me, can you also write?”
“Some, my lord.” Her father, Tharik, had taught her to read, so he could entrust her with all his songs and stories. Tharik also told her to keep this talent secret, that she could be executed for knowing such things. Since piracy was also punishable by death, Rayne had never given it much thought… and now, somehow, one capital crime had saved her from the other.
“I see. How is your memory?”
Rayne relaxed, if only a little. “Very keen, my lord. I remember nearly everything I see and hear.”
“Truly.” His tone brightened. “What did the parchment I just showed you say?”
Rayne recited the four lines, word for word. “That’s as much of it as I saw, my lord.”
“Impressive. I believe I have use for you, girl. Do you wish to be useful to me?”
“Yes, my lord.” The alternative was too terrifying to contemplate.
“Good. Serve me well, do as you’re told, and you shall be treated fairly.” His voice flattened again. “Displease me… break my rules… give me any reason to question your loyalty, and I’ll return you to the praetors. And you will be executed. I trust you understand me.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Good. These, then, are the rules of House Marenath. You will not leave the house unless I order you to. You will only visit the places and perform the tasks I order you to. You will return here as soon as those tasks are done. I trust you understand me.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“You will not wear shoes in the house. No one will give you shoes to wear in the house. I trust you understand me.”
Not really, no. “Yes, my lord.”
She felt his fingers brush her cheek, an intimate gesture somehow devoid of all intimacy. “I may come to desire you, sexually. If I do, you will give yourself to me. You belong to me, now. No one else will ever touch you… not even you. I trust you understand me.”
“Yes, my lord.” Her pulse had quickened again. This was the meaning of Kelira’s inspection. Rayne had never made love… had certainly never thought that her first time would come under such circumstances… and the master seemed so dispassionate. What manner of desire could ever come over such a man?
“Look at me.”
Rayne opened her eyes to see his face. He was handsome, in his way, with dark, serious eyes. She tried not to stare at the mark on his upper lip, but found meeting his gaze even harder. She refused to turn away, though.
“Kelira,” the master called, not taking his eyes from Rayne’s. “What is her name?”
“Rayne, Master,” came Kelira’s reply.
“Show Rayne to her quarters. Make sure she sleeps. I will have work for her in the morning.”
“Yes, Master.” The master of the house turned and walked away, vanishing from view as Kelira reached Rayne and helped the girl to her feet. She allowed Kelira to lead her to a small room, where she lay upon a low-framed bed of straw and fell asleep in minutes.
She dreamed of the Profit sinking into green sand, twin moons of scarlet glaring down from the blackest of skies.