Neil, the slave-guard that wanted to buy his own slave headed into the barn while the slaver (and, unseen, Mélanie) watched and listened.
It took only a moment, a surprisingly short moment, for the shouting to start. Jasper? No, none of those voices were familiar. She moved closer, listening until she heard Neil shout in panic.
Good. She smiled a little bit. It might not be stinging bugs in his pants, but it was probably just about what he deserved.
The slaver looked between the barn and his nice warm house. She could almost see the gears turning in his head. Safe house, profits, safe house, profits.
“Hey!” The voice came from within the barn. Jasper — well, the voice Jasper had disguised his own voice as. “Mr. Slaver Man, you want to come in here before I burn this place to the ground?”
The slaver yelped. “Don’t burn it down!” He hurried inside. Mélanie, of course, followed.
Three of the slaves — well, probably slaves; they were wearing ragged clothing but no chains nor collars — were holding Neil with his own weapon. There were only eight in the barn, two more of whom immediately stepped up to grab the slaver. That left three still collared, kneeling, and looking nauseous and worried.
“Here’s the easy way.” Jasper didn’t look like himself, either. She didn’t see Kearney anywhere, but their part in it had been near the beginning of this plan. They should be off at the rendezvous spot now. “You release these three slaves here and we don’t hurt you or burn your place down.”
“You can’t do that,” the slaver sputtered. Jasper smiled. Under her invisibility, so did Mélanie.
“The thing is, I can. You’re not exactly within the law yourself here. Slavery is one of those things people look the other way about, probably because they’re all buying slaves, but every town around here, I bet you, has had someone taken and sold into slavery. Would you be very sympathetic to the slaver if you’d lost your neighbor to them?”
“But they still do business with me! They like buying fae, you know they do!”
“And? How do the fae feel about it?”
The slaver scoffed. “Like anyone cares but a few bleeding hearts. They ruined the world, let ’em serve.”
One of the fae slaves shifted and frowned. The other two didn’t appear like they were going to move unless the barn was on fire.
But one of the humans who’d grabbed the slaver – presumably human, at least – snarled. “That doesn’t explain keeping human slaves.”
Oh, good. Mélanie frowned, not that the slave or anyone else could see her. This particular bigotry just kept getting more pervasive and nastier. It wasn’t like she’d had anything to do with the world ending — and Jasper probably hadn’t, either.
The slaver shifted. “Look. I just do what I need to with a market that’s already there. You’re free to go, obviously. Just move on and let me have my life and you won’t have to worry about me.”
“I say we kill him. That solves your problem, doesn’t it?” The tall slave glanced at Jasper. “That way your fae folks are free.”
“The less deaths, the less chances anyone comes after you and the rest of the freed slaves,” Jasper countered. “You ran away, that’s the slaver’s problem. You kill him and his guards, then you committed murder, which is still illegal almost everywhere – and definitely anywhere in a two-day radius of here.”
Mélanie smiled; Jasper was arguing against murder, which she’d known he would. But she was also amused: Of course Jasper knew where it would be illegal to kill him.
The slaves shifted. “Do you know what he did to us?”
“Having talked to some of his former slaves, I have a good idea.” Jasper’s smile was his most charming and serious. “But you don’t need to be him. If you want, perhaps someone you think can be trusted to be firm and mean but not inhumane could own him for a while.”
“What? Hey!” The slaver shifted and glared. “You can’t-“
The remaining slaves looked at each other for a moment before pointing, as a unit, at one woman kneeling in the fae-slaves group. She looked up, startled, and then ducked her head back down as if frightened. Mélanie took a step forward towards her, but what could she do? A voice in her ear would probably scare her even more.
The slaver seemed to finally realize that he was stuck. He struggled in his captors’ grips, but he was being held very firmly. Jasper’s smile took on a cruel note that Mélanie couldn’t help but echo. He deserved worse than what he was getting, but that would be, as Jasper had pointed out, trouble.
“So mote it be.” Jasper’s voice, if not his smile, was solemn. “Release these slaves, slaver.”
“I – I – I release them. You, all of you, don’t kill me, you’re free.”
The slaves twitched and shook. One of them immediately bolted for the door. The woman who’d been pointed at did not.
“Now, miss, your Name?”
She was clearly still dealing with the aftermath of the release. She was pale and shaking, her hands clenched on the floor.
“Jasper,” Mélanie warned. “Give her a minute. It’s not easy, even when you hate your Owner. There’s- there’s a lot of emotional baggage.”
The slaves holding the slaver looked around in panic. “Who’s that? Who’s there?” The big guy, the one who’d wanted to kill the slaver, looked the most frightened.
“Easy,” Jasper soothed him. “That is my partner. She’s invisible to keep herself safe. And she has a very good point. Miss, would you like some water?”
The woman looked up at Jasper slowly. Her nod was nearly glacial in speed, but it was a nod. She had straw in her hair and sticking to her clothes — the room she’d been held in was an old stable, the same place where Mélanie had been chained when she’d been held here. Straw, she’d been told more than once, was as good a bedding as they deserved. Maybe better.
She rubbed her arms while Jasper filled a cup and held it for the woman until her own shaking hands could manage it. He was tender with the woman, careful. Kind. How had he ever had trouble with slaves before Mélanie?
“There. Do you understand what I’m doing?”Want more?