The chickens were excited when Mélanie went out to feed them, clucking away at something. Mélanie tensed, worried she was going to find something strange in the pen again — but it was only one of the rescued former slaves, clucking back at them. He jumped when Mélanie approached.
“Oh, sorry! I just– I used to be in charge of the animals–“
“If you want to feed them and get the eggs, I’d appreciate it. I’ll go turn the horses out into their paddock then.” If they were going to have company long-term – and House seemed to think they would – they might want to think about getting a rooster around and hatching some more chickens. “The food’s kept right over here, in the barn.”
“Sure, I can do that.” He seemed far too happy to be given something to do. Mélanie wondered if that was what she’d been like, before. Before. She found herself smiling at the thought. Before Jasper, before the House. “Ah. The cottage – it seems very. Um. Friendly?” He shifted a little as he gathered up a scoop of grain. “I’m not complaining! I just have never lived – stayed, I mean – in a friendly house before. It even closed the curtains for me when the light was in my eyes!”
It was not that long after dawn; it must have been the very early rays that had gotten to him. “She is very friendly,” Mélanie agreed, “and a very kind hostess. I find it helps to think of her that way — as a hostess one just doesn’t see much.” She patted both horses and opened their stalls out to the paddock. “I used to think she was haunted.”
“I’d heard stories,” he admitted. “There was a house somewhere around here that ate people. But this house–“
Mélanie glanced back at the house. It looked bright and shiny; the yard was clean and they’d repaired the broken hinge on the gate. “This house will protect her own fiercely,” she warned him. “But she’s not going to hurt you.”
He eyed her for a minute, as if trying to decide how serious she was. After a moment, he cleared his throat. “You talk about the house as if she’s a person.”
“She is.” Mélanie hadn’t been sure for a while, but she had no more doubts. “She is a house-shaped person. And she’s family to us, to Jasper and I. So be kind to her.”
He looked between the grain-bucket in his hands and Mélanie. “Is it because you’re fae that you can talk about this so calmly? Magical houses? I mean, magical rescue, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth or anything, but magical houses? Are the horses magical too?”
“No, although we’re not sure about the odd-looking chicken thing.” Mélanie smiled at him. “It might be being fae. It might be simply living around it. You know, when you live next to a beautiful sight, sometimes your forget how impressive it is? Like that. I’ve been living in the House for a while now, and she takes good care of me. Sometimes she throws towels at Jasper when he’s being — stubborn. So we have a comfortable working relationship,”
“It’s got to be being fae.” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I — I appreciate everything you and Mr. Jasper did for us, for me, but I don’t know if I can stay.”
“And that’s fine too. Nobody has to stay.” She had a feeling she might be repeating that for a while. “Nobody’s obligated to us for anything. But you can stay. Or we can help you get set up with what you might need to leave.”
She was, she realized, offering Jasper’s hard-stolen goods. But it seemed like the right thing to do.
The man, whose name she still had yet to get, was staring at her in open confusion. “You’re supposed to be offended or something. I don’t know! Put out that I don’t like your nice crazy house –“
“She’s not crazy!” Mélanie struggled to get her voice back under control. “She’s not at all crazy.”
“Sorry, I didn’t even mean that, I mean, that it’s – a little crazy to have a house that has a personality?” He looked more than a little taken aback, even though he’d just told her she was supposed to be upset.
Mélanie snorted. “Okay, yes. Yeah, it’s a bit crazy, if she didn’t really, but – okay.” She snorted again and let herself give in to the giggles. “Okay, I see your point. But she’s not crazy.”
He held up his hands, but he seemed to have relaxed a bit. “Okay, okay. The house isn’t crazy. But you don’t mind if I don’t want to stay?”
“I’m fae.” Mélanie had never thought she’d be able to say that so simply and so calmly. “I’m used to people being a little upset or disturbed by that. But most of the time, when they’re disturbed, they — well, they paint nasty things on your lawn or burn down your barn — try to, at least — or you end up being a slave for a while.”
He winced. “I was – I was wondering about that. There’s some sort of – tell me if I’m overstepping, okay? – some sort of magical thing that makes fae stuck in slavery?”
“It’s called a Keeping or a Belonging or Ownership in English,” she agreed. “It’s a magical bond, like the way -” well, in for a penny, in for a pound. “-fae can’t break a promise. Similar force. One fae can Own another if they consent.”
“‘Agree or die’ or ‘agree or we stab you with burning pain’ tend to be their methods,” she pointed out wryly. “So it’s about as much as you consented to a collar.”
“… Okay, I see your point. But wait. You said one fae can Own another. So what about the slaver? I thought he was jut another human? I mean, a monster, but a human monster…. no offense.”
“None taken.” She winked at him. “I’m not a slaver or a monster. Urm.” She chewed on her lip. “It’s uh. People with some fae blood. Enough that the Laws sometimes work for them — things like that — and they don’t Change, uh, get funny ears or tails or wings, but they end up being able to Keep something. Frankly, they’re often the worst.”
“Worst? I mean, the slaver was a pretty awful monster, but—“
Mélanie sighed. She didn’t really want to get into comparative politics with someone who was still a little freaked out by the idea of fae. “Because they’re not raised with any idea of responsibility to the Law, sometimes only some of the Law works on them, and, ah, they don’t understand how the whole thing of having someone Belong to you is supposed to work. So they treat it like mind control and a slave collar.”
“But… isn’t it?” He finally got around to feeding the chickens, who had been clucking at his toes for a few minutes.
“I thought that too.” Mélanie leaned on the fence. “But there’s an emotional component that sticks, whether or not your Keeper, your Owner is a good person –“
“Someone can Own someone else and be a good person? How?”
“By remembering that they’re a person.” Mélanie knew she was smiling. It felt warm just thinking about, much less talking about. “By remembering that the bond has an emotional component and remembering to handle your Kept carefully. Sometimes, ah.” She cleared her throat. “By being hit in the head with numerous napkins by a helpful house.”
“Wait – he. You? He…?”
“He bought me. Yes. He bought me, and he’ll free me when I’m ready to be freed, and it’s complicated and personal.” She opened the gate for him. “And I’m happy.”
She paused, looking back at the House.
“Very happy.”Want more?
But: I invite you all to tell me of any things you feel need wrapping up in, say, an epilogue.