TirNaCali is an alternate-history setting of mine, set in a world where the West Coast of the United States is its own nation, a matriarchal nation of magic-using lovelies who are both slave-owning and kidnap people from America to serve as slaves. It’s an entirely self-indulgent setting, but fun to write in.
This story is from a Seventh Sanctum prompt.
Life in Duchess Lemaria’s harem was not, as far as such things went, a bad life. The work, while sometimes painful and often degrading, was never onerous; the Ladies they serviced were, as a matter of course, beautiful, and rarely too rough with them; and the chances for upward mobility were certainly greater than they were in the kitchens or the fields.
The slaves of the harem were still, however, slaves, locked in their barracks at night, serving entirely at the whim of a compound full of impatient and sometimes demanding royal women, with no say in who or when they would serve. They craved the promotion, the day when one Lady would requisition them into exclusive service.
Lady Ursula had been calling for Efran’s service on a weekly basis since the vernal equinox, when he’d impressed her with a bit of linguistic talent; as they neared Yule, she’d started calling for him twice a week, and now three and four times a week. He had not only a nimble tongue but a good bloodline, and he had done his best to impress her with his abilities outside of the bedroom, in what little time she gave him to do so.
She had, as of the last few weeks, been giving him more opportunities to show off such, taking him to charity balls, a wedding, a few small business affairs. That she had been calling for another harem boy for her bed time bothered Efran not at all: Stephan was an import, a rough American. He was never going to be any sort of real competition. That position in personal service to the Lady was already in the bag.
That didn’t stop Efran from watching the boy when he came back from serving the Lady. He never looked happy about it, which was confusing – she had a light touch, a pleasant manner, and a way of speaking that made one feel, for a few minutes, almost free. Compared to some of the other Ladies they’d both served under, she was kindness itself.
Unless, Efran thought with some glee, she was only like that with him. Unless he was special, dear to her in a way some cheap ill-mannered kidnapped slave never would be; unless she was gentle with him and rough like her temperamental older sister with Stephan. The new slave was still rebellious, after all; maybe he needed heavy discipline.
If Stephan noticed the attention, he hid it well. He ignored Efran the way he ignored all of the born-Californian harem slaves, especially those with the slight stature and grey eyes that meant their blood was, however tainted, royal. The Americans didn’t like them, didn’t feel comfortable around them, and generally treated them like some sort of obnoxious yipping dog, an attitude Efran thought was funny from a bunch of badly-trained shaggy monster dogs.
Efran didn’t mind being ignored by the likes of them, though. It meant he and Flores and Wensleydale could watch the usurpers, gauge their weaknesses, and plot how to undermine them without ever being suspected of anything other than a little illicit interest in someone’s ass. (Stephan had a nice ass, but then, for overgrown hairy brutes, the American harem slaves were still universally good-looking).
What they saw, in their spying, assured them that none of the brutes were any risk to their career plans, as it were. They were angry, they were disobedient, they tried to escape, they had no poise. Sure, a Lady might like that, the way she might like a white water rafting ride or a bucking bronco, for a bit of a thrill now and then, but none of the Duchess’s daughters or granddaughters or nieces would want that sort of hassle full-time, not when they could have a well-trained Californian stud. Content in his supremacy, he went on not minding the time Stephan spent under Lady Ursula and enjoying his time on the town.
It was a tradition in the Duchess’s expansive household that all of the slaves were given a holiday around Yuletime. For the harem slaves, this was two days before Yule, a time when they could spend some pocket money on gifts they wanted to give, and were, in return, given gifs by the Ladies they served. Sometimes, they were given promotions out of the harems as part of their gift.
Efran liked Yule best of the four seasonal holidays. Shopping itself wasn’t thrilling, but wandering the mall as a group, loosely escorted by guards as intent on a holiday as they were, was luxury enough to be relaxing. Even the American slaves, he noticed, were laid back, behaving themselves. No-one wanted to ruin the day.
And, as if by magic, when they returned, there were the gifts, sitting on their beds, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with bows. “Like Christmas,” one of the American slaves commented, just like someone did every year, sounding surprised and a little resentful. Efran always thought that was the weirdest, like they’d like it better if nothing good ever happened.
Regardless of the strange faces, they all dug in to their packages like kids getting their first presents, Efran as much as any of them. He was hoping for something special from Lady Ursula, since she’d been monopolizing so much of his time for so long.
Slippers from Lady Tansy. She gave him slippers every year, the same pair. She gave them all slippers every year.
Bracelets from Lady Andrea. The chain bracelets circled his wrists like shackles, and were exactly the right size to cover rope marks. The Lady Andrea was practical in a totally different (and often more pleasant) manner than her Aunt Tansy.
Cookies from Lady Jessica, who had suggested more than once that he was too skinny, that the harem mistress ought to feed him better. A grooming kit from Lady Taima – did she think he needed to take better care of himself? He frowned at the gift and wondered if he could regift it to a shaggy American without being found out. And was there a shaggy American he felt like gifting something to? He tucked it in his sock drawer quickly, just in case.
It was followed quickly by Lady Nagida’s present, something she’d been threatening for a while, but as a Yule gift seemed doubly unfair. Maybe there’d be a key in one of the remaining boxes, and he wouldn’t have to suffer through her using it on him. There were harem slaves who liked that sort of thing; let them have the pleasure of her!
Earrings from Her Grace herself, a little more delicate than he liked, but expensive and attractive enough. They’d go with the shirt & cufflinks from last year that she loved to take off of him. And in the last package…
It was a small chest, five by five by maybe fifteen, nice wood, brass clasp. A strange size for a gift of any sort, and Efran found his heart pumping as he opened the lid.
“What the fuck is this?” He looked up – realized everyone in the harem was looking up – at Stephen, who was staring into a small box, a much smaller box than Efran’s.
“Let me see,” Flores suggested, stepping aside from his own generous pile of gifts to look at the American’s offending present. “Gods below, already?”
“What is it?” Wensleydale demanded, looking up from his own box of slippers. Efran’s pounding heart seemed to stutter, as he glanced down at his gift from Lady Ursula.
Not a key. Not a ring. A bottle of a very nice wine, and a note.
“It’s a key,” Stephen said, his voice full of frustrated disgust. “What is this, some sort of game?”
“Who’s it from?” Flore’s scarred spine was tense, and he wouldn’t turn to look at Efran.
“Lady Ursula, the bi…” Some ounce of self-preservation stopped the brute from finishing the sentence.
“It’s the key to the companion’s room,” Wensleydale explained. “It means she wants you to be in personal service to her, though the Goddess alone knows why.”
Efran barely heard. He was staring at the polite note in Lady Ursula’s precise hand.
Efran, I’ve had a wonderful year with you. But Yule is, as always, a time for renewal and change…