She desperately wanted to know what they were doing, why she was pretending to be something she wasn’t, but it wasn’t like it was the first time she’d had to pretend. Mélanie let that lazy little smile grace her lips and swept her gaze over the place like she was slightly too good for the sleazy little slave pen and everyone in it.
“Very good,” her new owner murmured, and Mélanie nearly lost the act.
“Sir,” she replied, in the same quiet tone, “if you make me giddy…”
“Ah, my apologies. You’re new, and it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone new. We’re nearly there, just this little crowd of toughs…”
The little crowd of toughs was five very tall, very broad, very creepy looking men and three collared men, all of them smaller than the free men but none a single bit less creepy. Mélanie pretended to consider the collared ones for sale – she wouldn’t have bought any of them, except maybe that one with the handlebar mustache, and he needed a bath – and then the thugs themselves. The shortest of those might have been nice, but he would have fought the collar forever, and she was not generally a fan of such things.
The cart brought her back to herself. It was just that – not a carriage or a wagon but a cart hitched to two big draft horses. She looked it over and did not show anything, because she was practicing not showing anything at all.
“Up on in,” he urged her, and lifted her in just as he said it. Mélanie didn’t have time to complain or even to wriggle before she was sitting on the bench seat of the wagon.
“It’s not a limo,” he said dryly, to – well, she wasn’t showing anything, so she didn’t know what he was responding to, but he did. “But it will get us where we’re going. And it doesn’t stick out.”
“Yes, sir.” What else was she going to say? Well, there was the obvious question. “Where are we going, sir? And… why…?”
“Why were we leaving in such a casual hurry? Because there are people there that think I owe them money, and it behooves me to not be looking flush. They won’t demand you in payment, but they might think if I’d paid for you I must have other liquid assets… you see?”
“I… see. And, ah…” His openness made her brave. “Do you owe them money… sir?”
“No. Well.” He clucked at the horses and got the cart going down the road. “That’s open to a certain amount of interpretation.”
“As in, you think you don’t, but they have reason to think they do?” Oh, returned gods, he was going to turn around and sell her back.
He laughed. “No, no. As in they think that I owe them ‘rent’ for crossing over their property line, and I think if they can’t stand there and collect their tolls, it’s not their land. And the deer wasn’t even on their property…”
“You’re a poacher!” She was horrified to find she was delighted.
“Guilty as charged, although I like to think that mostly I just take things that other people have forgotten or ignored. And certain people do think their borders extend further than they really ought, by any measure except their own pride and arrogance.” He grinned at her. She found that she was looking at his face, that it was a handsome face, if a bit scruffy and with an interesting scar across one cheek, and that she very much liked his grin.
She also found that she was grinning back at him.
“This sounds like a very interesting profession. But… you didn’t poach me.”
Now why had she said that? Oh, for that waggle of eyebrow. “Or did I?”
“… Did you?”
He leaned back on the bench seat and laughed happily. “No.” The laugh slid away. “Unfortunately, it’s precious hard to steal slaves and almost impossible to steal Kept. So, instead, I stole the goods I used to buy you. Some here, some there, but I hope that slaver doesn’t try to sell them in the local market. Well, okay, I don’t actually hope he doesn’t try to sell them, because he’s an asshole and deserves everything he has coming to him, but there’s a possibility I might need that market again.”
“Okay.” Mélanie took a breath. “So. You walked into a slave market past people whose taxes – tolls, extortion – you haven’t paid, bought a slave with stolen goods – did you steal the goods from those thugs? – and walked back out. Right?”
“Exactly. I didn’t steal the goods from those thugs; those came from a different set of thugs altogether. But you have the basics right. So, hello. My name is Jesper Lune. In certain circles, I’m called Fox-Crazy.” He held out his hand to her.
She had to be dreaming. Things this weird just did not happen in real life. “Hello, sa’Fox-Crazy. My name is Mélanie; I’m called Shadows at Dawn by certain people. And… you just bought me. Why?”
“Because I liked the way you looked.”
“Shivering and terrified?” She wrinkled her nose at him. “I’m not sure that’s a compliment.”
“Not that part. They had to chain you up to make you comply. You weren’t broken, you weren’t ready to be obedient.”
“…you just risked murder or worse to buy a slave that wasn’t ready to be obedient. Are you aware, sir, that you make no sense?”
“You see, that’s the fun part.”
This entry was originally posted at http://aldersprig.dreamwidth.org/1298583.html. You can comment here or there.