Raizel napped for a while, only to wake to very quiet conversation circling around her. Her head was on the Raven’s shoulder, and his was resting on her head. It felt cozy, the way she’d only ever felt with –
she felt a stab of guilt. It had been days since she last thought of Amos and Emma, Emma back home without either of them and Amos probably on his way back from this same trip she was taking now.
Well, not the same trip. She found herself doubting that rational, calm, reasonable Amos might have ended up with a captive mage, several slaves, and a kitten, a favor from a spectre, a geas from a fairy…
…and a promise to a boy whore.
“Well, you’re going to have to come up with something,” hissed a very soft voice she thought was probably Cailing. “You heard her.”
“Then why did she even buy us?” complained the youngest of the men.
“Because she – no. Because her man was angered by what the Mistress was doing. Which, to be fair, the Mistress was being her best demanding irrational self. And I think that this one, the Raven, he’s very protective of New-Mistress.” She recognized the voice as the one who had been attending the woman, one who had introduced themselves as Louren. “So he wanted to hurt her, and he did. Bit now we have to deal with that.”
“Can we – can we go back? That was the youngest boy. “She doesn’t want us. I liked being wanted.”
“I,” commented Weckel,”like the idea of being free, or at least of choosing an owner. I didn’t ask to be a slave, you know. I didn’t ask for any of this.”
“What?” The youngest boy – Cory, his name was Cory – sounded mortified. “You were a prisoner?”
“Border-crosser. Did you know they have slave-grabbing checkpoints if you can’t pay the tarrifs?”
“Yes,” said Cailing. “That’s not the only place, but there’s at least three ways to become a slave that don’t involve volunteering.”
“I volunteered,” Cory muttered. “I volunteered so my parents would have money for my younger sibs, and because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I figured I’d let someone else decide.”
“I,” whispered another woman, probably Yisser, who had been a cook. “I was a prisoner. I was caught stealing, and I couldn’t pay back the fees and what I’d stolen, so they sold me to cover the difference.”
“Didn’t anyone else volunteer?” Cory was indignant. “Seriously. Our Lady trusted you. She put her life in your hands every day. And you didn’t even want to be there!?”
“Do you want to be here?” Cailing countered. “You didn’t want to be sold, did you? You liked our Lady, but you weren’t protesting when they passed you along. When she sold you just for a chance at getting our Lord back.”
“Well, of course. He is her Lord. Of course she wanted him back more than she wanted us! But this – this mistress doesn’t have any of that, she just took us to hurt her. And what does that leave us with? On a train going who-knows-where-”
“The capital.” Louren interrupted Cory’s rant impatiently. “I told you that. She told you that. You knew that.”
“But she’s from the mountains. Is she going to take us back to her mountain village? And if so, what will she do with a fine city household of slaves? We’re meant for easy work-”
“Speak for yourself, kid. You might have thought your work was easy, but my work wasn’t ever simple or gentle. Working for a clockmaker’s apprentice might be a relaxing walk in the park after that work. And besides, maybe she’ll free us.” Weckel’s voice was harsh but no louder than anyone else’s
Cory’s was even quieter now. “I don’t want to be freed,” he whispered. “I want to have someone take care of me. I want someone to tell me what to do.”
“Well, then, son, I suggest you start thinking of everything you want in a master – or that you start thinking about how you can serve the mistress you have without quite so much whining. For one thing, some of the rest of us would like to get some sleep. And for another, what are you going to do when she wakes up and finds you complaining about her? Mmm? Think she won’t paddle your bottom red on the train? Would the old mistress have had qualms about that, if you talked about her like you’re talking about our new mistress?”
Raizel wanted to open her eyes, because she wanted to see what sort of reaction Cory’d had to that. On the other hand, she was pretty sure the boy might die of fright if she did that.
She was woefully under-equipped to handle something like this. Slaves. Slaves who wanted her to tell them what to do. Well, some of them.
She stretched slowly, As if she was just waking up. The little compartment they were in went silent.
Cailing was the first to recover. “Can I get you something from the refreshment car, Mistress?”
“Raizel,” she corrected, and then thought about how habits worked. “Unless you think that calling me by my given name is going to cause you problems if you want to move on to , uh, the sort of owner that cares about that. A formal or, um. real owner?”
She had to open her eyes at the silence this time. “You… want my opinion?” Cailing asked cautiously.
“Well, like the Raven said. I’m new to this, so you’re going to have to teach me. At least as long as you want to stay with me. If you move on to someone else, obviously, you won’t need to teach me anymore.”
“But you want to get rid of us, don’t you?” Cory spat the words out. “You want to pass us on to someone else. Why did you even buy us?”