First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
Once again, Mélanie was in the wagon, this time back in the front. Once again, she was leaving the House behind. She waved as they left; two of the shutters on the second floor clacked back at her in what she was going to assume was a wave.
The horses seemed to like the trip to town. Their ears were pointed forward and their clip-clopping hooves seemed happy, like they were going someplace they knew and liked.
Jasper caught Mélanie looking more than once. “You can still talk to them if you want,” he encouraged her, the third time he’d smiled at her as she’d turned away blushing. “They like the apples the carter in town feeds them, I think, but I don’t really talk well to them.”
“I can?” She leaned forward happily and muttered a Working, slipping into their contented minds. They liked going this way. This way came with happy places. They was way easy, and the Human was happy when he left here.
She chuckled. “Aw. They like you, I think. They like you being happy.”
“I like them, too. They’re good horses – and they weren’t happy where they were before.”
Mélanie was startled into a snort. “You stole them?”
“Of course I did. Well, technically, I cheated their owner out of them. They hang horse thieves in this area.”
“But not horse cheats?” It even sounded funny. She giggled; the horses nickered back at her.
“Well, the thing is, by the time he noticed that he’d been cheated, it was far too late and I was far too gone. And I cheated him by cheating someone else and cheated them by cheating someone else, so by the time they sorted it out, nobody wanted to pay back anyone else and I was long gone.”
Her chuckle stopped. “You must cost people a lot of money. A lot of income…. a lot of work.”
He glanced over at her. “I, well. I try to generally target the greedy and the mean, like the slaver that was holding you before I got you. People who have been nasty to those around them.”
“Generally.” Some part of her brain was muttering at her to shut up and leave well enough alone. The rest of her was having none of it. “But what about when you don’t?”
“Dear Mélanie, are you trying to convince me to go honest?”
“I don’t know,” she answered, both honestly and trying to tease him. “I hear that it involves a lot of work.”
“Oh, dear, and I’ve heard that you enjoy that sort of thing. You might actual be trying to get me to go honest.”
“Oh, but I like me doing work. And you seem to have enough of that for me as it is.” Mélanie smiled, enjoying the banter, but the question was still chewing at her. “I like work, “ she repeated. “I’ll do more work if you’ll try hard not to steal from nice people, or from people who really need everything they have. Farmers,” she added. Watching the horse’s ears helped her stay calm and not think too hard about bargaining with her owner or the way that she was making something like demands of him.
He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it and closed it again. Mélanie winced and focused on the way the horses were walking, a happy and upbeat pace. They weren’t worried. She had no reason to be worried.
“This means a lot to you.” He was speaking slowly. Suddenly, she considered being worried.
“It does,” she agreed. “It means a great deal to, uh, that…” She had been doing so well! “That people aren’t punished for being kind to strangers?” she offered. That was barely a fraction of it – but it was a fraction of the problem.
He stared at her for a long time. She found herself wanting to squirm and instead made herself sit still. She wanted to look away, but he was looking for something, maybe? Looking at her face as if he was expecting to find some sort of emotion or feeling or explanation there.
“I had never thought of that,” he mumbled, when she thought he had memorized the pores and moles and flaws in her face. “I never thought about how it looked when they believed me. I mean, I really do try not to scam people who are good people, but I don’t, uh. I don’t try as hard as I should, I think. If you follow?”
“I follow,” she answered carefully. “I can’t – I won’t tell you want to do. Sir.” Maybe she ought to remind him that she Belonged to him? He started acting like she was in charge and everything got a little strange. Like he was afraid that she’d leave.
He’d had a lot of Kept leave him. Maybe he really was afraid of it.
She cleared her throat before he could answer and added, “I won’t, uh, I won’t want to leave you because you’re a thief. I already knew that. I just – I might get a little difficult?” It was frightening to even think about being difficult. That was what bad slaves did, and she was enjoying not being a bad slave too much. “I might tell you a lot that I think you’re doing something wrong?”
She was completely thrown off when he laughed.Want more?