Hihi! Another little chapter and the plot …well, it creeps along a bit. I hope you like it! Thanks for reading! Sandy
The Stolen Child
I don't remember much of the ride to the inn. I was lucky I didn't simply wander off the path altogether and vanish into the ranks of the forever lost.
As it was I pulled up at the inn, left my horse to the stable help and was at the bar before I really began to pay attention to anything outside myself. And that probably because the inn keeper was holding a hand out for coin and staring at me as though I'd turned green or grown a second head since last we met.
"Where is your lord?"
"He's joining me in several days; I'll need a room for at least a week."
He stood silent, probably trying to decide whether to try the question again. I pulled out the money Derry had given me and let him see the flash of gold between my fingers.
"Have you a room? Or must I find another establishment?"
He named a figure and I paid, I hadn't the heart to haggle with him. He continued staring at me as I made my way upstairs, carrying my own pack. He hadn't called for Merril as I suppose a lone human wasn't considered deserving of the courtesy. Can't say I was sorry.
I dropped my pack and collapsed onto the bed, wanting nothing so much as to escape to dreams. Of course, once I was on the flat of my back sleep wanted nothing to do with me and instead I lay there stewing.
I tossed and turned, took off my clothes, pulled the shades tight to block out the light and lay there in a fine mass of self pity. The worst part was parsing the why of it, aside from my general lack of good sense. What had happened that was so hard to bear after all?
I was a free man. How perverse of me to mourn the fact and yet I couldn't seem to come to grips with it. And my first act of freedom had been to run off and sulk, leaving Derry in a mess, a fine beginning to be sure.
Once that thought lodged itself in my mind I added guilt to the self pity. And tossed and turned and fretted myself into a froth. Finally I gave up, got dressed and went downstairs in search of a drink and meal. Or perhaps just a drink.
The inn was half full, too full for me to feel comfortable there by myself. I hadn't really thought how much I depended on Derry and the others to blunt the feeling of being a curiosity here. The thought depressed me further and I halted in the shadowy entry, unable to go either forward or back.
"Waiting for anything in particular?"
I started and cursed and turned to find Merril uncomfortably close to my back.
"I wanted to order some whiskey. To take to my room."
"A bottle or a glass? Or both?"
I passed him a coin and he stood there. I passed him another and he smiled.
"I'll bring it up straight away."
I withdrew and paced my room for a bit.
He arrived with my bottle and a small plate of bread and cheese. I must have shown my surprise because he shrugged and looked a little embarrassed.
"Well, it's only common sense; I've no wish to clean up after a sloppy drunk in the morning. Eat something first and you'll be doing us both a favor."
I wondered whether he was waiting for another coin and fished one out.
He took it with a smile and I hoped I had enough money to last; I'd not paid a great deal of attention to money and costs in the past. That was another thing that would have to change.
He set the tray down on the bed side table and left, promising to stop in later to see if I required anything else. He was gone before I managed to say that wasn't necessary. Perhaps I'd given him one coin too many?
No help for it now. I sat and nibbled half heartedly at the bread and cheese and sipped the whiskey. It was smoother than I was used to and it gradually soothed my rattled nerves.
Merril stopped back in several times to replenish my supplies of food and drink and by the third visit I invited him to sit down and have a drink with me. I suppose it was partly simple loneliness and partly that I'd reached the stage of drink where just about anyone is viewed through a warm haze of sentimentality. He accepted the invitation and I let him have the glass in an attempt at gallantry.
He took it and filled it and I took a sip from the bottle.
He smiled at me slyly.
"I heard your lord will be here shortly? Is that right?"
"Good. How did you get him to free you?"
I laughed and had a hard time stopping. He looked affronted and I spoke up to forestall him storming off.
"Sorry, it wasn't my idea. He did it to keep me from discomfort."
This struck me as so funny I started giggling again and took a moment to calm down.
"I'm a little drunk, sorry."
"I noticed. He did it to save you from discomfort? Would it be too much to ask for details? If you can remember them?"
"I'm not that drunk, no need to be snide. This woman wanted to put me in a pen. Or a pit. Something like that. He didn't want me to be penned. Or pitted. So, he cut me loose."
"A slave pen I'd imagine. It was kind of him; they're not the most comfortable of places. But why do you seem so angry?"
I had to think about that. Uphill work but I tried to puzzle it out. Was I angry? I had thought I was sad. But…
"I liked belonging to Derry. Now I don't know who I am."
"You're the same person you were yesterday unless I'm missing something."
"But my life isn't the same, anything might happen."
He snagged the bottle from my hand and poured himself a glass before handing it back.
"Well, I can suggest a few nice things that might happen. If you're interested?"
I was truly puzzled until he rose and slid over next to me, his hands running over my chest. I wasn't sure if I was interested or not but it did feel nice and besides, Derry was doubtless busy with something similar at this very moment.
I set the bottle aside and smiled at him.
He managed to get me more or less undressed and without much help on my part. I lay back and watched him undress. He did this slowly, drawing it out and making a show of it. Not something I was used to and I enjoyed it in a rather dazed way. He was attractive if a bit thin and in the candle light I could see a scattering of bruises on his skin.
As he slid into bed I also saw a second glint of metal, similar to the style of his collar but in my muzzy state it made no sense to me. I let the image slip away as I closed my eyes, laying back and letting him do the work.
My shame that I don't remember more of the evening, I think that I was poor amusement and I don't remember doing my share at all. I do remember the brief joy of release and then, it was morning. I woke aching and cranky, ill from drink and puzzled to find I was in strange surroundings and with company besides.
It was still dark out and I managed a candle while memory crept back into my aching head. The warm body beside me was Merril and he slept deeply enough that I didn't wake him with my stirrings. I stole the opportunity to look at him more closely.
He was not only bruised but there were thin lines of scars as well, light and hardly a disfigurement but enough to make me feel badly for not using him fairly. I hoped I'd get a chance to make it up to him, although I didn't feel half up to it at the moment.
The out of place glint of metal I'd noted earlier caught my eye again and I stealthily pushed the sheet down past his hips to examine it. I stared at it and it made no more sense to me than it had the night before. His sex was sheathed in metal of the same dull luster as his collar. It wrapped around him from base to tip and looked uncomfortable enough to make me squirm. It was anchored to a shorter tube that enclosed the root of his scrotum as best I could see. I peered at it, trying to make out the purpose; it looked like nothing I'd ever seen.
"Curious are we?"
I sat up too fast and groaned as my stomach clenched.
"Don't you dare!"
The room gradually ceased spinning and I managed to speak.
"I won't. Sorry I was just looking. Um, that doesn't look entirely comfortable."
He snorted and sat up, reaching for his clothes.
"You get used to it."
I tried to imagine that and couldn't.
"But it looks awfully confining. How do you, I don't mean to be rude but…"
"You don't. And it is, that would be the point."
I couldn't finish the sentence. In the seelie mind this was as close to abomination or blasphemy as you could get. To deprive someone of sharing pleasure was so wrong that I'd never even heard a word to describe the practice.
Merril finished dressing and sat back down, tousling my hair.
"Don't cry over it, I don't. Although if you've a mind to convert your pity to hard coin it wouldn't break my heart."
I fumbled about on the floor until I found my store of money and weighed it in my hand. I separated a few coins and held them out to him. He took them and stood.
"I have to get going, are you going to make it down for breakfast?"
"Yes. Look, Merril, I don't know what to say. I'm sorry isn't much good but it's all I have. Can I do anything more? This isn't right."
"Well, most things aren't but life goes on. Are you going to want me tonight?"
"I'd like your company but…"
"Then you'll have it, get some more sleep and I'll have extra coffee waiting for you downstairs."
I curled back up after he left but I didn't get much sleep.
I spent the next several days in a state of more or less constant agitation. I also spent a lot of this time talking with Merril. He wasn't the most comfortable of companions but he did have some good points. For one thing it was hard to work up any decent self pity in his company.
He listened to me whine with scant sympathy but he did listen. Of course the steady stream of coin from my possession to his probably helped him bear it. Having someone to listen helped more than I would have thought, especially someone with little compunction about telling me when I was being childish. Which was often.
He listened to my story of the last few weeks with growing amusement, finally going so far as to chuckle aloud. I ground to a halt and frowned at him.
"I'm glad my life is fodder for amusement."
"Oh don't get on your high horse, I wasn't laughing at you. I was just amused at your Lord Derry. He sounds a cunning bastard; he'd do well on this side of the border."
"What are you talking about? He's an honorable man and I'll thank you to remember that!"
"Calm down, it was a compliment. I mean, think about it, he managed to maneuver you into a position where he could free you without a scene and come up smelling like a rose into the bargain."
"He didn't maneuver me into anything! He only brought me along because I pushed him to and he didn't know for sure that he would have to free me."
"Ah, you forced him into it? By being rude to him at dinner? Right, pull the other one."
I couldn't reply, it was a thought that had been lurking in the back of my mind for a while. How much of this outcome had Derry hoped for? Suspected? Planned? I really couldn't be sure.
Merril smiled at my downcast face and shook his head.
"No need to look like that, as you say, he still wants you with him and apparently his household feels the same."
"And how do you work that out?"
"Why else all the presents on your leaving? Sounds like they thought you might need reassurance of their affection. And while slaves may carry weapons on your side of the border I don't think it's usual for them to have blades forged expressly for them. Think about it a bit Galvyn, that's all I'm saying."
And I did think about it. It made me feel a bit better, if a little foolish. But then I'd felt foolish before and never died of it.
And I would soon have a chance to question Derry about it all and that made me feel better still.
Merril and I didn't talk solely of me though, I took the opportunity to quiz him about his life and circumstances and while he wasn't totally forthcoming he did share some of his history with me.
As he did so some of the odd feeling of 'wrongness' I had about him faded. In part because I began to see a bit of his real self and in part because I could pin the cause down a bit better. He'd been a slave most of his life, his family had fallen behind on taxes and he'd been sold to pay the debt. He spoke of this with no self pity or horror, I suppose I was horrified enough for both of us. He'd had several owners, none good although he didn't spend a lot of words whining about it.
I had a hard time asking about the 'restraint' and he didn't relish discussing the situation.
"My first owner had a habit of such things. He didn't like me and sold me to someone who would continue to use it. And so on."
"The second owner didn't like you either?"
"Hard to imagine but true."
He gave me such an evil smile that I wondered just what he might have done to merit the dislike. He noticed my reaction and shrugged.
"I didn't kill him or anything, worse luck. Bastard had a cast iron stomach, who knew? Anyway, he sold me here after that and it's not much better but then, it's not that much worse either. Still, it's wearing thin and I'm worried about where I'll end up next."
"The inn keeper wants to sell you?"
"Hmm, seems to be thinking about it. He says I'm not adding much income anymore and he thinks custom would pick up with a new face about the place."
"I was wondering what you were doing with the money, you give it all to him?"
"Well, let's say he thinks so. I've managed to put a bit aside here and there."
I was a bit puzzled as to why but before I could ask he reached over and took my hand. It made me a little uncomfortable as he wasn't, aside from what he considered business, a touchy person.
"Galvyn, your coming here seems like fate to me."
"I don't quite…"
"Listen, you're seelie as they come and you say your lord is too. Surely he'd not mind if you did a bit of a good deed on your first week as a free man?"
"Well I'm not sure what…"
"Look, I've got a good bit of coin hidden away but it's not quite enough. But, with that ring you have and a few extra coins…"
"You want me to buy you?"
"Yes, it's perfect; I can pay you back later. You buy me, I leave with you and Lord Derry and you can free me later. Or let me work off my debt, either way. It won't be that much in any case, what do you say?"
"How much do you think we'll need? I might be able to cover it all in coin, the ring isn't really mine and…"
"You don't have enough in coin, maybe you could throw in the collar instead of the ring? Either is fine work and I'm sure…"
"Not the collar, I can't. How do you know how much coin I have anyway?"
"I checked, don't look at me like that, I didn't steal any."
He managed to look imploring and even though I knew it was a ploy, and a pretty transparent one at that I had to think about it. He was in pretty miserable state and I could help. I dithered a bit and Merril tightened his grip on my hand.
"I wouldn't have brought it up but my master has been talking with a slave trader and I'm afraid there might not be much time. If he buys me I could end up in the mines, or in some sidhe lords dungeon as an after dinner diversion. I promise that if you do this for me I'll make it up to you; I'll be seelie down to the soles of my feet in no time. Please?"
I knew it wasn't a good idea, I knew he was probably lying through his teeth. I knew I was going to do it anyway.
"I'll go talk to the inn keeper. First, get your coin so I can heap it all together and dazzle him with it."
"Right! You won't regret it!"
I had a sinking feeling that I would.
AN and thanks:
I noticed that Merril has a habit of growing and losing an 'r' from last chapter to this one…it's um, magic? I'll try to stick to one spelling from now on, sorry.
And the bit about Merril and his additional collar, well, unless this is the first chapter you've read of my stuff you already know I'm perverse, another sorry. I was going to make him a eunuch but chickened out. He better be grateful, the brat!
Now, on to the thank yous!
AFK! Ouch! Quit poking! Ha, poke all you want, I don't mind. Thanks for reading!
Esquirella: Thank you so much, I'm glad you like these guys, that's one of the nicest things to hear!
Silver Daratraz: Thanks, I try but I'm pretty slow usually. Working on it though!
Painted Desert: Thank you so much!
Xanthofile: I'll have to check out How to Grow Fruit now! Now we'll see if your secret powers kick in for this chapter?
Last but most certainly not least! Darwin!! Thank you so much for your reviews! I can't say enough, they were great and although it doesn't actually fit in here I wanted to mention that you were so right about Wild Hunt, I'm pulling it and redoing it, paring it down and so on! It will return when it's completed. Thanks again. And my grammar does need work but I'm going to try!
I hope I didn't miss anyone, if I did I'm sorry, I do really appreciate the reviews, they mean so much to me.