For rix_scaedu‘s commissioned prompt for more of the Baram-and-his-house-elves story.
Jaelie looked at her new possession, back at her employer, and over to her child, before going through that cycle a second time, this time smiling. “All right,” she told her new Kept, “you heard the man. Viatrix?”
“Already on it.” Indeed, she was nearly to Baram already. “Shaina,” she called out to her oldest daughter, “get those kids inside. All of them, no arguments. Alkyone, can you help Jaelie and her new pet with the walls?”
“Got it,” Aly nodded. “Jae, I’ll get the back. Take a minute, get him up to speed before he puts a spear in one of us, all right? Make him safe.”
“On it.” She pointed at a bench, one she’d made herself, that would now need hours of repair from a stray axe swing. “You. Sit.”
He sat. He didn’t have any choice, but his expression suggested he was still affronted and surprised.
“I’d get used to it, if I were you,” she advised, amused. “You attacked us. You yielded, so you get to live. Doesn’t mean that we’re gonna follow Roberts Rules of Order or the Geneva Convention… you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“I understand the gist of it,” he answered primly. “We have been living here – ah, well, I have been living here; they had been, but they’re dead now – that is, in this country, in this world, for several months. Long enough to learn the language.”
“Good for you,” she sneered. “At least you’d learned enough to say ‘I yield.’”
“It seems to have turned out to be helpful,” he answered, looking a little ashamed. “But I do not know how it is you treat your prisoners here.”
“Well,” she pointed out, “you’re going to find out. And you’re not exactly a prisoner, now are you?”
“No? Err, that is, no.” He blinked. “No, sa’Briar Rose, I am not.” He bent his head in a show of submission.
“Very good. Now. Do not attempt to cause harm to me, the other adults of this family – Alkyone, Viatrix, or our employer, Baram. Do not attempt to cause harm to any child within our property, or to the children of the four adults of this family, ever. The property, for the purposes of your orders, is bordered by the stone wall, where its foundation stands right now, on three sides, the border finished by the line of hawthorn trees in the back. Do not leave said property without the permission of one of the adults here, henceforth defined as Alkyone, Viatrix, Baram, or myself. Do not…” She continued, watching his expression sink into defeat. When she had covered all the basics, she stopped; her throat was getting hoarse. “You can call me Jaelie when the children or others not of this family are around. When it is just the adults, you will call me mistress, or sa’Briar Rose.”
She smiled at him, although she knew it did not look friendly. “You can stand up now.”
He did so, smoothing his ripped and bloody pants. “Those orders were, ah, very thorough,” he coughed, clearly checking his mind to be certain even that complaint was acceptable. Jaelie smirked fiercely at him, and he continued. “Mistress. I was under the impression that you ladies were, mmm, young, due to your speech patterns, despite your fierce and very effective combat techniques.”
“We’re all under fifty,” she agreed. “We just had a very… thorough… education. And we believe in keeping our families safe.”
“I would love to see this school.”
“I’m sure the Director would love to get her hands on you, too. If you’re very good – or very bad – I may take you to meet her.”
“Oh. Good?” he asked weakly.
“Perhaps. Come on inside. You’ll be sleeping in my room. Be nice to my kids.”
“Ah, which of them are your kids?”
“Gerulf and Vondra. They’re the ones with green eyes, if it helps.”
“Green eyes. Right.” He looked so very lost. Jaelie patted his shoulder sympathetically.
“It’s not going to be that bad. We might be half-breed kids, but we know what monsters are, and we aren’t them.” No matter what their employer was billed as.
“Thank you,” he answered. “Ah… did you mention that one of the ‘adults’ here could heal… mistress?”
“Yes.” She patted his shoulder again. “Let’s take care of that before you fall over, pet.”
“Thank you, mistress,” he mumbled.
“I don’t have that much left for him,” Viatrix told them, “but I’ll keep him from falling over for now and take care of the rest of it tomorrow. Bossman was pretty badly ripped up.”
“I saw.” She frowned unhappily. “Did you get him to lay down and rest?”
“Only through threats and bribery.”
“Ah.” She winced on Via’s behalf. “If you need some help with that…?”
“You and Aly take care of the kids – and you’ve got this one to deal with.” She poked their new Kept in the ribs. “Right, you, what’s your Name?”
“Ah.” He squirmed uncomfortably, until Via poked him again. “Sorry. My name is Aloysius, oro’Briar Rose, clearly. I was Named the Pear.”
“Fruit or torture device?”
“You’re all very well-learned for… ah, yes. Both.”
“You might want to think on the merits of a new Name.”
He coughed again. “Well. I suppose, at the moment, that’s up to sa’Briar Rose.”
“Mmn. We’ll worry about that in the morning. I’m going to check on the kids. When Viatrix is done healing you, go into the kitchen and wait for me there. If you know how to do dishes without making a mess, it’s officially now your turn.”
“Yes, mistress.” Looking more than a little overwhelmed, he sat and allowed Via to heal him.
Jaelie headed into the living room, where Alkyone had herded the kids. All the kids. “Is it me?” she asked Jaelie. “Or did our child number double?”
“And then some,” she confirmed. “Kids’ friends from school. All right, kidlings, listen up.” She let her voice rise to drill-sergeant level. “I need you to split into two groups for a moment. If your mother lives here, over here,” she pointed to the left of the room. “If your mother does not live here, over here.” She gestured at the left of the room. “Got it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” called the boy who had told Gerulf that his dad was awesome. Slowly, the kids organized themselves, with a minimum of pushing and shoving.
“Please, ma’am,” one small kid said quietly. “Don’t make us leave. It’s scary out there, with the men with wings and things.”
“Stop making shit- stuff, sorry – stuff up, Xandra,” a bigger boy scoffed.
“I am not making things ups, Thomas Hidlay!”
Jaelie eyed the girl thoughtfully. “All right, all right. Line up for me, children who are not my offspring. Now. I want each of you to call your parents and let them know where you are. You first, loudmouth.”
“Hey, you can’t…!” another kid complained. “That’s mean.”
“Calling him loudmouth? Of course I can.”
“It’s not nice, though!”
“Well, is he nice?”
“No!” several other kids chimed in, but it was Vondra who protested quietly.
“Mom, he’s my friend.”
“All right, then, my apologies, Thomas. But please do call your parents.” She snuggled Vondra while Thomas made the phone call, mostly out of apology, partially because her babies were okay. She watched the kids on the phone, hiding here because here was safe, and held her own daughter even more tightly. She’d made the right decision, bringing them here. She’d made the right decision, picking a good monster to protect them.
And learning to protect them herself, of course. She glanced at the room where Baram slept, and smiled faintly. They were safe here. Other people’s babies might have to rely on them, too, but that was okay.
One by one, the kids called home. Some of their parents answered, and told them “stay put. Stay put and we’ll come get you.” Jaelie talked to the ones who wanted to talk to her, assuring them their kids were safe, safe, sound, and would be fed and cared for until they could get there. She’d take care of them.
The ones whose mother didn’t answer, whose father didn’t answer, she hugged, and told them the same thing. And “We’ll try again in the morning.”
Because there would be a morning. She looked out the front door one last time, and murmured a Working to the grass to eat what was left of their attackers. They would not have another morning, the interlopers, and Jaelie and her family would. And that was as it should be.
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