The whole barn seemed to be holding their breath — even the slaver, who had stopped wiggling in his captors’ arms. Do you understand what I am doing?
You’re turning things on their head, and it’s impressive. Mélanie stayed quiet; she was holding her breath, too.
The woman nodded, cleared her throat, and nodded again. She tried one more time; Jasper handed her the water again.
After a long sip, she worked her throat. “M- Manyari. Called the Sparkle.” She ducked her head again.
“Manyari, the Sparkle, I am honored to meet you. I am Jasper, du’Fox-Crazy. Will you take ownership of this man who sought to imprison you?”
The words were pretty and formal and flowed somehow. Mélanie took another step forward. She wanted to know why everyone had picked this woman. What was it about her?
“Why me?” It seemed Manyari wanted to know the same thing.
The big slave spoke up. “You’re kind, but you’re strong. You’ve put up with more than the rest of us, and I know you’ve been here longer. You have the most right to him, and I think you can handle him. I don’t think you’ll torture him — Jaco would.”
Nobody protested; Mélanie wondered if Jaco was the one that had run off.
“But I don’t think you’ll be easy on him either.”
“Besides, you actually kind of like the house,” added one of the ones holding the guard. “Someone ought to get all this. I mean, as long as you’re not going to continue to run a slaving operation.”
“No! Gods, no, no.” She looked sick at the very idea. “Unless..”
Everyone stepped forward. Jasper held up his hand. “Let her talk.”
“Unless,” she whispered, “there used to be places for people who wanted to belong to someone else? You know, before everything ended?”
Jasper laughed. It was a loud thing in the silence of the barn. “Yes. Consensual slaving. That’s not a bad idea. There are some people who want that protection. I assume you’d use the proper contracts and the proper safe-guards and oaths and all that?”
Mélanie considered it while Jasper talked. People who wanted to belong to someone else. She’d heard of it. She was pretty sure she’d met a few. “Right of refusal on the Owner, and an escape clause,” she added in. “And something like a credit check. I mean, the Owner needs to prove that they can support the slave, and needs a reference that they’re not a serial killer.”
Everyone was looking at her. “What?”
“You’re still invisible?” Jasper offered carefully.
“Serial killer?” asked one of the slaves.
“Credit check?” asked the former slaver.
“Yes, yes, yes.” Mélanie frowned, although she realized they couldn’t see her. “Why not. If you’re going to be handing people over into a situation where they have little to no power, you should make sure that the situation is a good one.”
“Responsible stewardship.” Manyari tasted the words. “Yes. But first — first is — mmm.”
“Recovery?” the slaver whispered.
“Recovery. You.” She pointed at him. “You belong to me.”
“I – shit. Yes. I belong to you.” He went limp in the former slaves’ arms and they released him.
“And that’s our cue. Manyari, we’ll be back to talk to you later. We wish you luck. The rest, let’s clear out of here. If you don’t have a place to go or you need someplace for the night, follow me. I have a perfectly nice haunted house that could use the company.”
Some of them chuckled, nervously, uncertainly. A couple seemed to be following Jasper. A bunch of others were milling around.
Mélanie sighed. Jasper was so smart until he wasn’t.
“If you have family in walking distance that you trust, or friends, the same, go to them,” she told the milling slaves. Former slaves. “If you just want to be on your own and think you can survive fine, good. Head north or east. Otherwise, follow Jasper.”
Jasper looked in her direction strangely.
“I’ll explain later,” she murmured, dropping the words almost in his ear. That was such a useful Working. “Let’s get home, okay?”
“Yeah.” He looked around at the lost-looking former slaves. Only two of them had left. The rest were looking at him as if he was the answer to everything. “Come with me,” he told them, “if that’s what you want. It’s going to be a bit of a walk, but then I think we’ll all fit in the wagon.”
He reached out into thin air; Mélanie reached out and took his hand. Together, they led their little group out of slavery.Want more?