“Why did you even buy us?”
“Kid,” Weckel sighed, “you are going to get yourself and everyone else in a world of hurt. Would you stop that?”
“Come here. Cory, right?” She had no idea what she was doing. Did it show?
“Cory. Mistress.” He was only a couple seats away from her; he settled on kneeling on the floor in front of her.
The Raven was either still asleep or faking it to see what she’d do. She put both hands on his shoulders and looked down at him. “Your Mistress made me angry. Your former Mistress. She treats people like things. I’d had enough of that already, and I haven’t been on the road that long. So I took away the people that were letting her think of people as things. It was, uh. I didn’t think that long about it. And that was dumb.” She steadied herself. “I said you had to teach me. So. What would your old MIstress do if you talked to her like that, and why?”
“What do you mean, why… Mistress?” His voice dipped from angry to scared by the end of the sentence. “She would probably have had Weckel take the strap or paddle to me. Or have Yisser feed me one of those potion concoctions…”
“And why,” Raizel repeated. She had plenty of little siblings. She could keep repeating her question for hours until she got an answer.
“What do you mean?” Cory asked again. “Because I…” He trailed of “Because I was disrespectful, Mistress.”
“Because,” Weckel offered, “if you allow disrespect, it tends to grow. And the most obvious way to punish disrespect is with pain or with, ah. well, Pain. So that everyone knows that the Mistress is not tolerating such things.”
“So that’s the obvious answer? A slave mouths off and you beat them?” She knew people who treated their children that way.
“I don’t think Weckel brought the paddle, Mistress.” Cory had begun to sound worried.
“No,” Weckel growled, “but I brought my belt, and that will work just fine.”
“Hold.” Raizel looked between them. “Cory. Do not speak for the next half an hour. Not one word. Understand?”
He opened his mouth, closed it, and nodded.
“I – I took ownership of you -” that didn’t sound any better. “I took you from your Mistress because I was angry. That’s a horrible reason to change anyone’s life. If any of the rest of you want to go back, at the first train stop, I’ll buy you tickets back. I will. That’s why I need to know what you want. So we can decide what comes next.”
“We?” Cailing considered that. “Cory has one good point. I like being valued, and I haven’t been on my own in a long time. But with the Master gone, I don’t want to belong to our former Mistress anymore. Can you find me someone who will value me?”
“I can do that.” She wanted to say try, but she was doing more and more things she didn’t think she could. “It might take me some time. Weckel?”
“I just want to go home – but I’ll, that is, uh. I want to stick with you until you’ve settled everyone else, if you don’t mind, miss.”
“Oh!” She looked at Weckel; he looked both nervous and certain. “You want to protect them?”
“Better to say keep them out of trouble, I think, miss. They’re – well, you’ve seen. They don’t think much about what they’re doing, because they’ve always had someone else pushing back on them”
“Speak for yourself,” Yisser complained. “I can take care of myself.”
“Yisser.” Weckel’s voice was full of affectionate exasperation. “You might have been a prisoner and not a volunteer, but remember what happened the last time you had to go to the other side of the city? I’ll watch after you.”
“Oh, you will, will you? And who will watch after you, who can’t cook anything without turning it to char? You’re going to need me to chase after you and feed you, or you’ll waste away to nothing.”
“And neither of you can clean at all,” pointed out Penna, who up until then had been quiet. “The messes you leave… Face it, we work well together and not all that well apart. We’ve all gotten very used to having a team.”
A team. Raizel leaned back, looking at the Raven, who had opened his eyes but so far had not spoken. Louren had gotten in on the argument, too, while Cailing and Cory were staying quiet.
Raven raised his eyebrows at her. “Missing your family?” he asked quietly, under the noise.
“Yeah.” It seemed strange, but she was. “Missing being part of a team.”