The slave market was exhausting. Mélanie felt like she was in a constant state of panic, twitching at everyone who walked by and shivery when she wasn’t twitching. Someone was going to buy her. And if they didn’t buy her, she was going to be punished again. She’d been on short rations to save money since the last slave market, since she’d been cowering in the corner and hiding from everyone who walked by.
This time, she was chained so she couldn’t hide, and she’d been told if she hid anyway, she’d be beaten. They hadn’t beaten her yet, and she didn’t want to find out what it was like. So she smiled cautiously at everyone who walked by and tried not to look nearly as terrified as she felt.
“A little skittish, isn’t this one?” The voice, in other circumstances, might have been pleasant. In this situation, it made her lift her chin just a tiny bit and hope that she looked pleasant and buyable and not nervous or intractable.
“Oh, she’s just eager to get out of the cage and serve someone. You know how they can be.” The slave factor’s voice had too much forced cheer in it. Mélanie took a step forward – a half-step, as that was all the chains allowed for – and smiled hopefully. Maybe it would be enough.
“She looks scared out of her mind. I can’t be that frightening, can I?”
“A new situation is always a little nerve-wracking, isn’t it, sir?” There was so much oil laid onto the factor’s tone that it had to be giving the customer pimples. Mélanie certainly felt like it was making her break out.
“Bring her out here. I want to see her before I make my decision.”
“Oh, if she’s eager to be bought, she won’t make a run for it, will she? And if she’s not, well, I’d rather know before I brought her home. Bring her out here.” The customer’s voice was implacable. Mélanie couldn’t quite hide a shiver.
“Fine.” The slave factor was sulking. He opened the cage and unhooked three of the chains holding Mélanie in place before tugging her outward.
She wasn’t going to run, of course; she had nowhere at all to run. But the slave factor couldn’t know that, and neither could this guy.
His shoes looked well-kept for. He – or someone who worked for him – had oiled them, so even though they were worn, they looked good. His pants were hemmed with no ragged lines. Not jeans, but something like denim.
She kept her eyes on those shoes and those hems. It was safer that way.
“Aren’t we all, these days?” The slave factor patted what had once been a fat belly. “Aren’t we all.”
“Well, she’d eager, sir.”
“And freezing. I’ll take her. But for the price you’re asking, you’re throwing in that jacket you’re wearing. It doesn’t suit you anyway.”
“My jacket?” The slave factor took a step backwards. “This is mine!”
“And she’s going to be mine, and a large portion of my trade goods are going to be yours, and you’re going to give me the coat. Now.”
Something in his voice brooked no argument. Something in his voice, Mélanie noted from a distant place in her mind, was terrifying.
She wasn’t listening to that place. She was paying attention as the slave factor, bitching and whining the whole time, put his jacket around her shoulders and even held it for her to get her arms in. It smelled faintly of tobacco and, strangely, not of anything worse. It almost smelled clean.
“There. Now. I’m going to pay you forty pounds of trade goods. And she’s mine?”
“By the terms of that agreement, this slave is yours. Your his now.” The factor gave her a little shove.
Mélanie shook her head, trying to clear the sudden strange feelings as ownership transferred. The new man caught her by the wrists. “Mine,” he repeated quietly. “Let’s get you into that wagon and pay for you, shall we? Don’t run off,” he added, his voice so quiet she thought maybe he meant the order to be a secret. “Stay within sight of me if you can. I want to get us out of here.”
“Yes, sir.” She nodded politely at the man and didn’t even try to pull away. “Where are we going, sir… in case I lose sight of you?”
“My cart is on the far side of here, the east side, just outside the gate. Now, can you hold your head up and not look like you just got bought?”
“I – yes.” She shifted her shoulders and thought about better times, lifted her head up and pulled on a smile a much earlier incarnation of herself might have worn. She was proud. She was with someone she was happy to be with. She was clothed and her main item of clothing was even mostly clean. She could be proud for a bit.
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