Sactaren hesitates, his lips resting against my pulse at the base of my jaw, but then he starts kissing me again, his hand slipping farther into my pants. I can't move, I can't stop him, I just stare out the window, down at Rayne standing on the broken stone below, watching us. Watching me, a slave, being kissed and pleasured by my master.

"Naeven ... Naeven, stop." I push against his shoulders, my fists still clenching handfuls of his shirt, and he lifts his head, breathing hard on the side of my face.

"Lark, what's wrong?" I step back, away from the window, my already racing heart starting to thunder in my ears. How much did he see? What's he going to say? Who's he going to tell? Well, everyone, of course. This is Rayne, after all. Sactaren turns, leaning slightly on the window sill, and looks down. After a moment, he raises one hand and waves.

"What the hell are you doing?" I hiss between my teeth. Sactaren glances at me, no concern at all in his pale blue eyes as he straightens up.

"He waved at me first," he says with a shrug. I open and close my mouth several times before I manage to spit out actual words.

"But - but he saw us. Doesn't that bother you?" He frowns.

"Why should it? We can do whatever we want. I'm sure he does far worse with his lover."

"But I'm not your lover, I'm your slave!" I say, turning away and running both hands back through my bristly hair. If it was long enough to grab, I'd pull it out. I settle for slamming my fist down on the table. The bones and rocks stacked upon it rattle together.

"I thought we settled this," Sactaren says, and now he sounds angry. "I don't care what society thinks. I'm attracted to you - that's all that matters."

"To you, maybe," I say quietly. "You live up here, hidden in your tower and behind your illusions and reputation. You don't have to stand down there and see the way they look at you, like something that shouldn't even be walking on two legs--"

"Who treats you like that?" I shake my head.

"Everyone. No one. That's not the point. They will look at me differently if they know." He sighs.

"Then nobody is going to know." I turn back around as he heads for the stairs.

"What are you going to do?" Not kill him, surely. Bribe or threaten, maybe, but not-- I leap after him and grab his arm before he reaches the stairwell. "Naeven, what are you going to do to him?"

"Relax, I'll just wipe his memory again. He can't blab what he can't remember, right?" I don't know if I like that idea.

"That's not going to hurt-- What do you mean, again?" He crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the bookcase.

"He owed me a favor, years ago. After his debt was paid, I made him forget what happened." I swallow hard as a thousand memories I'd like to forget rise to the surface, one horrific flash after another. If he could just wipe them away ... "And no, I didn't hurt him, if that's what you're wondering," Sactaren says. I glance up at him. He scowls at me.

"It wasn't," I say. "I was thinking, if you could make me forget ..." Pain tightens the skin around his eyes, and then he shakes his head.

"Sorry, Lark. Old memories are different, much harder to work with. Too hard for me."

"Oh. Okay. But new memories, that's just middle magic?" He draws a slow breath between his teeth, hesitating. "It's not, is it? It's high magic."

"I can handle it, Lark. It's not a big deal." I look over at the window, framing a perfect patch of spring sky - watery blue with a single solid white cloud gliding across it.

"Let me talk to Rayne," I say. "Wipe his memory as a last resort."

"And what are you going to say to him?"

"I don't know," I say, and head down the stairs. I stop before I reach the bottom, thankfully remembering that my pants are undone, and quickly lace them back up. I straighten my shirt and rub a hand over my neck. I hope Sactaren didn't leave any marks. I don't think so, but ... my memory of the whole thing is pretty much centered on what his hand was doing, touching, stroking-- I clear my throat and take a bracing breath. At least that problem took care of itself. I think my erection vanished the moment I realized Rayne was watching us.

Loud, barking laughter greets me as I step out into the store room. Not a good sign. Rayne told them what he saw, and Schaff is making jokes about me. Well, I can live with Schaff's jokes. I just hope Kivixl understands. I walk to the doorway, hesitate, and then step out behind the counter. Rayne isn't here. I glance between the shelves and even through the doorway into the main hall.

"Missing something?" Schaff asks with a snicker. He's curled up on the ledger, as usual, his bushy red tail curled around over his paws, the white tip twitching slightly. I ignore him and step around the end of the counter, then turn to Kivixl.

"Did Rayne come in here?" I ask. He shakes his head.

"I don't think Rayne likes me," he says, his big silver ears drooping.

"Do you blame him?" Schaff asks. "You drew a picture of him snuggling with someone who wasn't Belaeden."

"That's not my fault," Kivixl says, glancing down at the counter. He's got a sheet of paper in front of him. "I can't help what I draw." I step closer and he pulls the paper toward him. "It's not finished."

"Oh, show him anyway," Schaff snaps, his paw darting out to cuff Kivixl on the elbow. It's hard to believe they're the same species, even though I've seen Schaff take on humanoid form. After a moment, Kivixl turns the paper and takes his soot-smudged hands away. Not finished is right. It's another picture of me, but I look terrified, and no wonder - there's a rough outline of a dagger at my throat. It looks like there's room on the page for whoever is attacking me, Kivixl just hasn't drawn him yet. I force a smile and turn the paper back toward Kivixl.

"Pretty good," I say. "You remembered all the scars this time." He frowns and glances to his right, where the first picture he drew me, the one with me and him and Schaff, all relaxing in the grass, is tacked inside an empty shelf.

"I still feel like I got it right," he says with a shrug. "I suppose I could add some scars, if you want."

"No, no, it's fine. I like it the way it is. Why don't you -" I tap the counter next to the drawing. "- finish this up. I'm going to go see if I can catch Rayne." I head for the door.

"When did it start raining?" Kivixl asks, glancing toward the window. I shake my head and jerk the shop door open. If Schaff doesn't explain it to him, I will later, but I don't have time now. Rayne could be halfway down the mountain by now, and I have to catch him before he--

"Hey, there you are." I spin around, startled to see Rayne leaning back against the side of the castle next to the shop door, his hands shoved in his pockets. I open my mouth, then close it again. I still don't know what to say. He grins at me and I feel my neck color. "I was starting to think you weren't coming down. But I guess you were a bit busy, eh?" Now my whole face burns. "I didn't mean to spy on you, but - you know - if you're going to make out in front of a window, somebody's going to see. So, who is he?" I stare at him. Did he not see Sactaren clearly? Who else could it be? "He must be new to Traxen - I've never seen him before, anyway, and I know everybody. I must admit, I'm a little ticked that you haven't introduced me, but I guess I can't blame you - a guy that gorgeous, you better keep him under lock and key or everyone will be all over him, especially Vaelen. Of course, Vaelen would be all over anyone, if they'd let him. So are you going to tell me his name, or not?" I laugh, because I suddenly know how to diffuse the situation, no memory-wiping required. Rayne gives me a strange look.

"If you'd shut up a minute," I say with a chuckle, and he grins sheepishly. "His name is Zyrren." Zyrren was a young man I knew briefly just after we'd lost the farm. He stole food from the slavers, and they cut his head off as an example to the rest of us. Rayne nods, then assaults me with questions.

"Where's he from? What's he do? What's he doing here? He's not a mage, is he? How'd you--" I wave my hands and he shuts up, surprisingly.

"He's from across the sea somewhere, I'm not sure exactly. He's a - a tailor, and he's repaying a debt he owes Sactaren." Rayne makes a disgusted sound in his throat.

"Filthy, fucking Sactaren. Just because he's a mage, he thinks he can make people do whatever he wants. You know what he takes as 'payment', don't you?" He shudders. "Poor Zyrren, at the mercy of that sadistic bastard - you won't catch me owing Sactaren anything, that's for sure - I'd die first." He looks away from me, out over the Rynnawood, and I wonder how much he does remember and how much he imagined to fill in the gap in his memory.

"Are you okay?" I ask after a moment. Rayne glances back at me, then down at the ground.

"Yeah, it's just ... that fucking mage, you know? I wish he'd leave, find some other village to tyrannize. But with our luck, another mage would just move in, worse than this one. They're all the same, you know - greedy, selfish, twisted - evil."

"He's really ... not," I say in a small voice. He isn't, and neither am I. Rayne frowns and steps away from the wall, walking around me and toward the path.

"Don't tell me what Sactaren is or isn't, Lark. I've known him a lot longer than you have. My mother died because of him." I watch him walk away, wanting to say something, but the only thing I can think of is, I'm also a mage. But I can't tell him that. He'd hate me, too. I sigh and head back inside the shop. They're both bent over Kivixl's drawing when I open the door.

"Find him?" Schaff asks, glancing up at me. I just nod. He flicks one ear and gives me a lazy grin. "So, you want to tell me what all the shouting was about?"

"We weren't shouting," I say, walking toward the counter. I want to see if Kivixl finished his drawing. "I didn't think we were even talking loudly."

"Not just now, earlier. Up in the tower. With Naeven. I'd swear I heard shouting." I turn away and walk to one of the shelves across the room, absently straightening the merchandise. It doesn't need much, though. Few people actually buy anything off the shelves.

"Yeah, well, maybe there was a little shouting," I say, refusing to look at his smug, pointed face. "It's none of your business, really."

"Oh, I know," Schaff says. "I was just wondering if you settled it, or if I'm going to be asked to find another replacement again. It worked out so well last time." I look over to find Schaff and Kivixl glaring at each other, but grinning.

"I believe everything was resolved quite satisfactorily, but thank you for your concern." We all turn as Sactaren steps out of the back room. Kivixl grabs his paper and slips out from behind the counter, away from Sactaren, the fur all down his neck standing on end. "Schaff, would you and -" He glances at Kivixl, but doesn't say his name. "- mind excusing us. Lark and I have something to discuss." I turn back to the shelves, my mouth suddenly dry. I wasn't aware that there was anything to 'discuss'. Schaff and Kivixl slip out, and I listen to their quiet footsteps retreat down the hall until I'm left in silence, just me and my master. "Everything go okay with Rayne?" The breath I'd been holding escapes me in a rush. That's all it is.

"Yeah, he didn't recognize you. I told him you were a tailor from across the sea named Zyrren." I glance at him, hoping I haven't made him angry. I have a knack for pissing him off, usually by accident, but today I think I lucked out. He raises his eyebrows and nods slowly.

"And now he will tell everyone that a tailor named Zyrren lives up here as well. Lark, you're a genius."

"I am?" He gives me a slight smile and steps around the end of the counter, all deliberate grace and slow seduction once again as he crosses the room toward me.

"Of course. Now, if I wanted to go down to the village for ... whatever reason, I can - Zyrren can, without ruining Sactaren's reputation. It could make for a most interesting opportunity."

"So you can pick up men in the village again?" I bite my lip. I hadn't actually meant to say that. Sactaren stops, the strangest look on his face, but only for a moment, then he puts up that carefully blank mask of his.

"Who told you I did that?"

"Something Schaff said," I say. He nods, and I watch him clench and unclench his jaw several times before he speaks.

"Ah, Schaff. I should have guessed."

"Does that mean it's not true?" I try to keep my face as passive as his, but he's had a lot more practice than me.

"Do you want it to be true?" he asks. "Do you want me to find someone else, so that I will leave you alone?" I draw breath to answer, but hesitate.

"I don't know what I want," I say. "I haven't been allowed to want in so long ..."

"It's not that difficult a question," he says between his teeth. "Do you want me to leave you alone?"

"No! Damn it, Naeven, I--" The shop door rattles, then flies open, and Rayne dashes in.

"I forgot to--" He stops, his eyes shifting from me to Sactaren and back again. Then he grins. "I'm not interupting anything, am I?"

"No," I say, walking past Sactaren, "we were done. What did you forget?" He ignores me, though, and heads for Sactaren.

"I'm Rayne," he says, holding out his hand. Sactaren glances at me.

"Zyrren," he says, shaking Rayne's hand and letting go quickly. "Nice to meet you. If you'll excuse me, I should be--" Rayne jumps in front of him as he tries to escape up to his tower.

"Hang on, you can't go yet." A flash of annoyance crosses Sactaren's face, and he draws back from Rayne. Rayne doesn't seem to notice as he turns toward me. "I forgot to tell you what I came up here to tell you - Next week is the annual Shark Festival. Since you're not from around here, I figured you wouldn't know about it, and I thought I'd invite you. It's a lot of fun - old Gidael breaks open several casks of his ale - the cheap stuff, but it's pretty good, none the less, they butcher a couple of sheep and roast them over open pits, and if we can find musicians, there'll be dancing - last year all we could find was a guy with a flute - he was good, but you can't really dance to just a flute--"

"Why's it called a shark festival?" I ask when he pauses to take a breath. Behind Rayne, Sactaren smirks and crosses his arms over his chest.

"Because, after the party, we throw a few goats off the cliff to appease the shark god. You see," Rayne continues, "in a few weeks, the blue-tail will migrate up the coast to cooler waters for the summer - it's the most productive time the fishermen see all year, but there's always these sharks that follow the fish, and they get caught in nets, break lines, sink boats and kill men. We'd lose three or four every year. Then, ten years ago -" Behind Rayne's back, Sactaren mouthes the word 'twelve' at me. "- somebody gets the idea to ask Sactaren for help. I tell you, the man is a greedy bastard, taking nearly every laene we could scrape together -" Sactaren rolls his eyes. "- but he knows his shit. He went down to the water, into the water, and drew a blade across his hand, and used his blood to summon up the shark god. It was ... it was the most ... awesome, terrifying thing I've ever seen, a sixty foot shark, black as soot, with fins as white as alabaster, came right up into the bay, and grabbed the mage in its maw full of jagged teeth - dragged him right into the sea." I glance over at Sactaren, who seems to be enjoying the story.

"I take it the shark didn't eat him, though," I say. Rayne shrugs.

"Might have - I would put anything past that mage, including being eaten and surviving. All I know is, about ten minutes later, Sactaren comes walking up out of the sea, not even wet, not a scratch on him, and tells us that if we sacrifice three goats every year, the shark god will keep his people from bothering our fishermen. And so we do, and so he does, and we haven't lost a man to shark attack since."

"And this is a reason to have a party?" Sactaren asks. Rayne turns and grins at him.

"It doesn't take much to get us in a partying mood. A new ship, a new baby, weddings, funerals - you should see us when the first shipment of maegron arrives each fall - now that's a party. So anyway, are you guys going to come?"

"Us?" I ask, glancing at Sactaren. "You mean, both of us?"

"Sure, if you can get away from the mage, that is. Come on, you have to - everyone is going to be there - just say yes, please?"

"Well ... I'd like to," I say, watching Sactaren out of the corner of my eye, "but I don't know, Sactaren--"

"Owes us a night off, don't you think?" Sactaren says. "Especially after the last few days. He's a horrible, vicious, sadistic creature, but I think an agreement can be arranged."

"Good," Rayne says, smiling as he heads for the door. "I'll expect to see you there, and Zyrren, you better save me a dance. Lark's days of hoarding you away up here are officially over." And with that he leaves. For a moment, neither of us speak. I finally break the silence.

"Did you really mean that, about going to the festival?" He walks over and leans against the counter, standing not even a foot from me, close enough that I can smell the musk and herbs and smoke that has become a part of him, part of his clothes and hair and skin. I like that smell, though it makes my heart beat a little too fast.

"Do you want to go?"

"I suppose," I say, then I nod. "Yeah, I'd like to go. I've never been to any kind of party before, I wasn't even allowed to serve at parties." I reach up and touch my cheek, run my fingertips across the scars that mar my face. Not that I was anything to look at before I got them. I suppose my eyes are okay, the red brown color of good southern soil, but my nose is too big for me to be called handsome - not that anyone would. I definately don't know what Sactaren sees in me.

"Then you can go. Have fun and be careful. Don't fall of the cliff." He straightens up and walks around the end of the counter, heading for the store room.

"You're not coming with - with me?" I ask, and he glances over his shoulder at me.

"They're your friends, not mine. I have no desire to socialize with a bunch of drunken merchants and fishermen and farmers. Besides, you can tell everyone that it was part of the arrangement that Zyrren made with Sactaren - he stayed behind to you could attend. That will make Sactaren that much more of a monster, and make Zyrren a noble martyr, sacrificing his happiness for yours." He smiles, but there's little feeling to it, and then heads for his tower. I just let him go.

Author's Note: My lifelong dream has come true. Once A Slave has been accepted for publication. Watch this space for future updates and information, or visit my LiveJournal -- katicalocke.livejournal.