First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
Previous: Assignments and Plans
Jasper was still watching her. It took Mélanie a moment to remember what the last thing she’d said had been. Oh. Fun.
It wasn’t going to be too fun if the house ate her, was it?
She would have to worry about that later. Hopefully, the house wasn’t telepathic.
Hopefully, her boss wasn’t telepathic.
“I’d like it if you had fun,” he admitted. “That’s a better result than I hope for, but this life, I enjoy it.”
She wanted to see the yard, to do anything to move away from this sort of uncomfortable conversation. Mélanie finished her food in three bites. “Can I clear your plate?”
“You can. Eager to see the chickens and the horses?”
“I want to know what I’ll be doing. I might have fun here, but I get uncomfortable if I have no tasks for too long. You should know that about me. Sir.”
His smile looked a little more pleased than she’d expected. “That’s a good thing to know. Thank you, Mélanie.” He stood and offered her a hand. “Let me show you the haunted yard.”
“I can’t wait.” She took his hand, wondering if she ought to be worried. She was getting to the point where she couldn’t trust any of her instincts, and it was starting to be worrisome and frustrating all at once. She was going to run into some situation where she overstepped her bounds and it was going to slap her in the face.
She was almost looking forward to that. Then she’d know. She’d know where a line was, and she could back off from there.
Of course, the house might just eat her, which would, in theory, let her know something, but not for long.
Outside, the yard seemed less threatening than it had yesterday. Jasper led her to the barn, and from there into the stable. The horses looked happy well-fed and well-watered, but restless; he let them out into the pasture.
There was, she realized, an actual pasture. Or at least, something of a pasture. The house to the side of this one had a twisting bramble mess all around it, the sort that you don’t want to even think about going through, and inside that was one small house and quite a bit of very nice pasture.
“They don’t mind the house, but they do like to stretch their legs.” Jasper patted the one on the rump – as roan mare, and very cheerful looking – as she danced out into the pasture. “And the sun, and the grass, and all that. And the chickens are over here.”
She would not have thought there was a path through the detritus and mess, but once they started walking, it was clearly there. Mélanie stuck close to Jasper, still feeling a little bit uncertain about the yard. “About it being haunted….” she offered. “And cursed…?”
“The haunted is mostly the house. She’ll rattle things and drop things on intruders to scare them, or make, you know, ghost sounds. And the cursed is mostly me. Although I do have to go find out about these friends of yours. The effects are only supposed to last for about an hour. Long enough to make people go running and never come back, or at least to come back with a lot more caution the next time. Not long enough for permanent damage.” He frowned. “I’ll have to check that out. In the meantime, you have nothing to fear. The traps won’t be set off without the house’s intent, and the house likes you.”
He was not really reassuring her when it came to the idea that the house ate his Kept, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to say anything while they were still on or in or within earshot of the house. So she looked around instead. “You can see where there was a garden here once,” she offered. “We’re on a path, there’s the little edge fences, and over there, is that a fountain?”
The fountain, which was covered in leaves but might have been something like a lovely faun at one point, gave a little spurt of water. Mélanie squeaked in delight.
“Oh, I wish there was – hrrm. You know, a lot of this could be done with outward-facing illusions that didn’t mean she actually had to be a mess, you know. And then we could restore all this – or, because you don’t like to work, sir, I could do it.”
Oh shit, had she just teased her owner? She blushed and looked away, only to hear him chuckle.
“Ah, I suppose I deserved that. Mélanie, I will not stop you from working – as long as you are not neglecting the things I actually need you to do, and as long as you are working because you enjoy it, and not because you think I am testing you. I have had Kept before,” he added, probably because she was doing an awful job of keeping her surprise and guilt off of her face. “I might not have done a wonderful job with them; they might have all very politely – well all right, some of them weren’t polite about it – asked me to find someplace else for them, but I have paid some attention. And guilt-working is one of the most common signs.”
“It – ah.” She cleared her throat as her voice came out in a squeak. “It is? Sir? I mean… I mean, it’s obvious?”
“Oh, it is. But the thing is, I think that you genuinely want to help the house. So if that’s the case, then we can collaborate on some new Workings so that the house no longer has to feel like she’s itching in her skin all the time.”
“I – I would like that.” She wanted to know, badly, about those other Kept. But he seemed to want to keep his cards close to his chest. “But first…. maybe….” She had to remember she was Kept. She had to remember she was a slave. He was making this very hard. “Chickens?”
“Indeed. Right through this – oh, dear.”