In Which Reynard does not have a Collar


The woman named Elle – who, it seemed, owned him now – was slowly cutting hawthorn off of Reynard.

His life had not gotten surreal so much as it had gone back to a weird sort of reality.

“You were taught by Professor Valerian?” he tried. “And…” he spoke slowly. “You remember me.”

“You were several years ahead of me. I’m not surprised you don’t remember me.” She patted the top of his head idly. There were no hawthorn branches there, at least. “You may have spent a lot of time in other henhouses, but you didn’t ever, as far as I know, directly poach.”

Poach. Very carefully, he tilted his head so he could look her in the face. “You were Kept.”

“Isn’t everyone?”

He didn’t shrug, because she’d asked him to hold still. “It would seem so.”

“Surely this can’t be your first time under the collar.” Snip, snip went her clippers. The metal brushed against his skin, and he tried not to shiver.

“I don’t seem to be wearing a collar yet, unless you count the hawthorn wrapped around my throat.”

She chuckled, as if amused by his hedging. “I’ll fix that soon enough.”

Sometimes inside Reynard chilled. “Where are we? I mean… mistress, if it pleases you, where are we?”

“I told you already.” Snip, snip went her clippers. Reynard tried to remember. Snip, Snip. Damnit, why hadn’t he been paying attention? Snip, snip. “New Buffalo. It’s-”

He swallowed. “Please tell me it’s where Buffalo was. The irony would be so thick. I might choke.”

“And why’s that?” She pulled ropes of thorny vine away from him, the needles pulling out of his skin with unpleasant pops.

Reynard coughed. Well, he belonged to her, however that worked. “I came from Buffalo. Well, Grand Island. And then I went back after school for a couple days. It was a mess, though. Almost nothing left standing.”

“It’s still a mess. But we’re rebuilding it slowly.” She pulled the last bits of hawthorn off of him. “Don’t attack me, don’t wander off, and don’t do any Workings without permission.” She ran gloved hands over Reynard’s chest and arms, pulling a shiver out of him. “We’ll have to clean all these wounds, but we can’t do that here. Can you stand?”

Reynard hesitated. “May I move?” She’d thrown off the orders casually, way too casually for the force with which they’d hit him.

She nodded, hesitated, and nodded again. Reynard, watching her face, couldn’t guess what was going through her mind, so he worked instead on what she’d asked of him. “I think so? I think I can stand… mistress.” He shifted his weight, testing legs he couldn’t feel at the moment. He made it to his knees without wobbling, but with nothing to brace himself on, he wasn’t sure he could get further.

“Here.” She planted her feet firmly and offered him her hands. “I don’t know how long you’ve been in the box. There’s no shame in accepting help.”

Reynard swallowed a sudden lump of panic and took her arms. With her help, he levered himself to his feet. “Yes, mistress.”

“You know…” She slid her arm around his waist, steadying him. “I think you can call me Elle.”

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