1016 words, to Rix’s commissioned continuation.
“Come.” Viatrix led the her new Kept into the back yard, murmuring what she thought of as “Addergoole Standard Kept Rules” as she went.
She didn’t look at the girl until they reached the stone circle that, in some other owner’s time, had been a back patio and outdoor kitchen. She didn’t need to; the way the orders were spun, there was little the girl could do.
When she reached the center of the circle, then, she turned. “Kneel.” A Word awoke the fire in the grill. “Give me your wrists.”
Her Kept did as she was told, although she was clearly fighting it. “Mistress… bitch.” She forced the word out with a snarl.
Viatrix found herself grinning. “Yes. Both of those. What name are you called?”
“They Called me Red Mage, but my father named me Rohanna.” She held her wrists out, but her hands were trembling. “What are you going to do to me…. you bitch?”
The swearing was twisted out of her mouth, forced out around heavy breathing and eyes that were wider than they ought to be. Via grabbed both wrists in one hand.
“You’re Mine for the next year. I want to be sure you don’t forget it.”
She could see the moment the girl’s eyes landed on her own wrists, on brand she had never bothered to heal. “You…”
“We’ve all done our time.” She muttered a Working that would shut off the pain, and made the branding in one quick motion. “And we are not monsters.”
“This way.” Baram led the boy into the house, pausing only to knock the safe-knock on the basement door. Aly wouldn’t thank him if he didn’t let her out of there as soon as possible. She was almost as good with kids as he was.
“My room.” He had the biggest room in the house, the biggest bed. It was, after all, his cave. “Yours, for six months.”
The boy fell to his knees again, his hands tucked behind his back this time. “Sir.”
It reminded Baram, uncomfortably, of the people in the trap-basement, of the time at school. “Get – no-.” He sat down on his bed with a thump. “I don’t need you kneeling. I don’t need you sirring me.”
“Sir?” The boy’s eyes went wide & he slapped both hands over his mouth. His “sorry” was muffled, what showed of his expression terrified.
Baram growled. “Come here… shit.” The boy was skittering over without getting to his feet. “Fine. Damnit.” He looked down at the boy, who looked terrified. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The boy glanced up, swallowed, and looked back down at the floor. “Sir?”
“I didn’t take you to hurt you. I took you to hurt them.”
“Sir?” This time, it was a squeak. Baram grumbled. Words were hard. Orders were harder.
He scooped the boy into his lap instead, and, as if he was touching a newborn, ran his fingers down the boy’s back. “You have a name?”
“Lots – lots of names, sir.”
“One of those, hunh?” It was an effort to remember how to be gentle, to be that careful. Baram’s girls were so tough, so thick-skinned. He set one hand over the boy’s hip. “My name is Baram.” Start with the simple things. “This is my house. The girls – they work for me.”
The boy looked at him, and swallowed. “The Black ‘Blazers called me Tommy. But… but my mother called me Kavan and my Mentor called me Wild Eyes.” He ducked his head suddenly. “Sir.”
“I can call you Kavan.” He patted the boy’s back. “So, you’re an adult?”
A snort of laughter, surprised, escaped before Kavan slapped both hands over his mouth. “Oh gods. Sir… sorry. Yes. Yes, I’m an adult. Nearly fifty.”
Baram barked out a laugh. “Older than me. So, old enough to understand.”
Another swallow, and a peek through those fingers. “Sir?”
“That there are monsters in the world.”
“Yes, yes sir.” There was no where for Kavan to go, perched on Baram’s lap and trapped, Baram’s hand on his hip holding him there. But he looked like he was trying to shrink away to nothingness.
He wasn’t a child. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t fragile, did it?
“And there are people who aren’t monsters.” He tried to sound gentle. It was hard; he had to sound like he was whispering, mostly. “And we are not monsters.”
“There are things you need to know about us.” Jaelie sat perched on the top stair of the trap-basement, Aloysius standing guard behind her. Their “guests” couldn’t make it out of the trap, not the way it was set up, but that was no reason to be incautious.
“Do I like I give a shit about your things?” The woman, Delaney, was snarling, fierce like a wild thing. Jaelie was glad she’d gone into the trap calmly, because fighting her would have been interesting. “Let us the fuck out of here and let us talk to Baram.”
“If the boss doesn’t want to talk to you, there’s nothing I can do about it. There are things you need to know about us.”
It wasn’t the first time Jaelie had given a speech like this one.
“I told you, I don’t give a-”
“Del.” The other one, Ardell, was soft and slick of voice. “Please continue, jae-”
“I’m called Briar Rose, sa’Diamondback. The things you need to know start with this: we are not on the side of angels.”
The woman, who had fallen silent for a moment, burst into laughter, fake and bubbly. “Who is, these days? I didn’t see them coming down for the war.”
Jaelie grinned, not because it was funny, but because the woman hadn’t realized she was in trouble yet. “We’re not on the side of devils, either. We’re on our side.” She met the man’s eyes, because he seemed to be paying attention.
He nodded slowly. “That’s the first thing to know. What’s the second?”
Now Jaelie was grinning. “That we are not monsters… and this isn’t where the monsters live.”
Next: There Are Always Choices.
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