The heat of high noon beat down on the moving backs of the Lycan slaves that toiled away moving stone and rubble as they dug deep into the earth. The ringing of picks and the squeal of steel cartwheels sounded on the air that was full of dust and the snap of whips. The large group of nobles passed through the mines to see the slaves that might be available for the auction coming up soon, buying the slaves as servants or to have slaves for their own personal mines.
The nobles coughed and covered their mouth with their handkerchiefs. The women fanned themselves underneath their parasols as they walked beside the men pointing to different slaves judging them for their strength or their appearance and their graces. "They stink," scoffed one noble.
"The beasts don't even bathe," another said. Princess Carissa sighed as she heard all the things that the other nobles were saying of the Lycans. Carissa was the princess to the King and Queen of the country of Armastrith. She was in her late teens with bright green eyes and long brown hair that came down to her waist in flowing waves, her face smooth and gentle. She did not agree with the way the Lycans were treated, but she was too young for any to listen to her. So, she held her tongue and continued to walk beside her parents. She had insisted on coming along since they always left her behind on these trips; now that she was here, she wished she had stayed at the castle.
The entire group stopped and turned hearing a scream ring out from the mine. They saw a young female slave kicking and screaming as she was held by a group of four male slaves and being pulled back into an enclosed area. The guards watch chuckling and laughing as she screamed and begged for help. Carissa was about ready to run over and stop them, until a thunderous roar echoed around the mines. Behind the group a large Lycan towered up in his feral form covered black fur. His arms and feet were wrapped in cloth to protect them and a loincloth around his waist. Grabbing the Lycans, he began to pull them off of the female. "Run!" he shouted in a deep voice. The woman lay there a moment in shock before scrambling to her feet and running from the battle.
The males growled and surrounded the Lycan. The four leapt at him and changed their forms as their faces lengthened to become snouts and their hands became claws. They lashed out at the black Lycan viciously. With growls and howls of pain the five hulking wolf hybrids lashed and bit one another. The whistles of the guards sounded as they ran to the fight with batons in hand. When they came close the four backed off of the Lycan and knelt down so as not to be beaten as the black fur Lycan did the same his ears and tail low. The guards rushed the five of them, but they only attacked the one Lycan; the first blow hitting him across the brow and throwing him to the ground. The guards proceeded to strike blow after blow on his helpless body as he lay there taking the beating. Splits in his fur and skin appeared as the batons struck parts of his hide that were pulled tight against his bone.
Carissa looked at the sight horrified as the four Lycans simply walked away letting the black Lycan take such a savage beating. She ran over screaming, "Stop it! Stop it right now!" Carissa pulled at the captain's arm her eyes full of fire and anger.
"Why? He is an Ancient Blood. A freak. He isn't worth half of a sick slave," the captain laughed. The others laughed and gave a few extra strikes against him. "Come on lets go." The guards kicked dust at the Lycan as they walked away.
"If you want to buy him there will be an auction for the Lycans later today," one guard said chuckling. He laid in the mud his black fur was matted from neglect and caked with mud and the blood that ran from the now newly opened wounds, the crimson liquid mixing with the murky water on the ground as he lay there on the cool earth; the only sign of life from him was shallow and ragged breathing.
Carissa walked to the Lycan that laid in the mud her eyes full of concern. "Are you alright?" she asked knowing that he was far from it. Slowly the Lycan grunted and stood up hunched over holding his left side where three of his ribs were broken. "Don't get up! You're hurt!" she cried reaching out to stop him, but stopped short out of fear.
He looked to her with one golden eye, as the other one was sealed shut from the dried blood that came from the cut above his right eye. He smiled to her gently, his face warm and kind though his eye betrayed the pain that he was in. "I thank you for your concern madam, but I am afraid that I have no choice. If I do not return to work I will be punished," he said with a deep, smooth voice. Turning he stumbled off to his work area to dig at the stone once again using his claws.
Carissa watched the Lycan shamble off to his work with sadness in her eyes. She ran back to her parents who stood there at the back of the group waiting for her. "Why do they do this to these people? Look at them. They are thin, dirty, beaten, and humiliated. How can people let this continue?" she asked looking to them for an explanation.
"This is how the world is, hun. This isn't our kingdom and if it were I assure you that we would never let something like this happen," the Queen said. She gave Carissa a reassuring smile. The Queen had a very loving face with sapphire eyes and golden hair and held up a parasol to protect her fair features from the sun.
"Why do you think we come here Carissa?" The King asked a gentle smile on his face. A thick beard covered his wise face with green eyes that watched Carissa lovingly. "It is true that even in out castle the majority of our servants are Lycans and we are extremely cautious when we have them in our home, but no one deserves to be treated this way. So we give them the opportunity to get away from here by buying them at the auction."
Carissa's thoughts turned to the Lycan from before. "Daddy…" she asked hesitantly. "Can…can we please get that Lycan out of here?"
"Which one sweetie? Did one of the smaller ones catch your eye?" The King asked looking around.
"No Daddy. The big Lycan with the black fur. The one that got really hurt?"
"Oh, I don't know about that. He looks rather dangerous," The Queen spoke up.
"How dangerous can he be? He saved that girl from having God knows what done to her. Daddy please. I saw his eyes. He isn't dangerous." She begged hanging on the King's arm like her life depended on it.
The King looked at her then to the Queen, who shook her head from behind Carissa to show her disapproval, but all it took was one last look into Carissa's bright green eyes and he melted. "Okay Carissa. Okay. We will get that Lycan for the castle," he said sounding defeated.
"Malak!" The Queen said in shock to the King. "Didn't you hear what the guard called him? Ancient Blood. I don't think that he will be safe for those in the castle."
"I heard what he said, Veronica, but we know very little about Ancient Bloods so we can't assume," he said gently. "I promise you I will make sure that he is kept in check. If you want I will segregate him from the other servants. Make him clean the stables or something." The Queen sighed but knew that she wouldn't be able to dissuade him.
Carissa hugged her father showering him with praise and love. When she released the King the three of them had to do a little walking in order to catch up with the group. They spent two more hours in the mines looking over the slaves and workers. Something that Carissa noticed was that none of the other Lycans were in their wolf form. The only one that she had seen was the one from earlier. "Dad. What is an Ancient Blood? The guards called him that, and Mom did too."
"It is said that the Ancient Bloods are the original bloodline of the Lycans. Through breeding over the centuries the Lycans have watered down their blood by taking human mates. It dilutes the blood and makes them what you see here. The Ancient Blood is from before all that. One of the blood lines that has not diluted itself as much," the King explained.
"Oh, so they are the elders of the Lycan race?"
"No. They aren't necessarily old. They just haven't bred as often as the others."
"How can you tell the difference?" Carissa was slowly getting the concept, but by just one look at the Lycan from before everyone knew he was an Ancient Blood.
"Well that is a little difficult to tell in the wild, but here it's easy. For one thing Ancient Bloods have no human form. Here, where the slaves are required to be in human under fear of punishment, if you see a Lycan in feral form he is most likely an Ancient Blood." Carissa nodded as the three of them walked into the auction house. All around the smell of perfume mixed with the sickening smell of the unwashed Lycans, while the nobles all chatted about affairs in their realms or what Lycans interested them. In the center of the hall was a large platform with stairs going off two sides with guards on all sides.
Off to the right the doors opened as a pair of guards led a line of chained Lycans into the room and up to the platform. Barely clothed as the line moved keeping their heads down as one by one they were brought up onto the stage and either bought or returned to work in the mine. Carissa sighed as she waited for the Lycan that she was looking for. It had been nearly two hours since the start of the auction and only about half of the Lycans were bought.
Finally at the very end she saw the seven-foot figure shuffling forward. Her eyes widened as he came into the light. His body was covered in chains to make it so that he could barely move. His eyes half-lidded from being so weak from the blood he had lost.
"This is our final auction," the auctioneer cried. "The Ancient Blood. Very strong and obedient, not too bright as it is with most Lycans, but a warning to you out there that are thinking of purchasing him. Due to his blood, his primal instincts are stronger; so he can be a danger. Now where shall we start the bidding?"
A man in front of Carissa cried out, "Fifty pounds!" In a more hushed tone he turned to the man beside him. "I can get ten times that for his pelt."
Carissa gasped before looking to her father. "One hundred pounds," Malak called out. Slowly the price began climbing higher and higher as the two of them fought over the price of the Lycan. In a frustrated tone Malak stood up and cried, "One thousand pounds," to finish the bidding giving a glare to the man. Even the queen gave a surprised gasp.
The auctioneer slammed down the mallet. "Sold!" he called out as the guards shoved the Lycan off the stage and took him out of the room. The auction was over and everyone was required to pay off their debt before leaving the auction house. Carissa headed out into the main area.
Carissa was once again horrified when she walked out of the auction house to her carriage with her mother. Hooked up to the back of the carriage was a steel cage with the Lycan's beaten form laying curled up on the floor as chains held him down with small streams of crimson dripped from the sides of the cage to the dirt. Carissa turned to protest to her mother, who simply held up her hand as a sign of silence. "It is required that they travel in a cage. Should they walk or just be tied to the carriage there is a chance they will try to escape," Veronica explained.
Carissa nodded as she slowly stepped up into the cushioned carriage and sat down across from her mother. She squirmed and shifted as the once comfortable cushions only served as a reminder of the hard steel that the Lycan would be forced to lay on for the length of their journey. With a new resolve Carissa stood up, pulled up the large cushion that rested on the wooden seat of the carriage, and left the carriage. Heading down the steps of the carriage she walked to the cage as her hesitant hands held the cushion to her chest. Swallowing she moved closer to the mass of fur and muscle; softly, she tapped on the metal cage. Shifting weakly the mass turned and a single gold orb looked to her. Carissa gingerly held out the cushion to the Lycan who seemed confused; but, slowly, and with great effort, he reached his massive hand through the bars and grasped the velvet cushion with his clawed fingers, still stained red with blood.
With a terrifying realization that the Lycan could crush her skull with a single hand she quickly released the cushion and watched the Lycan work the cushion beneath him until he was sitting more comfortably in the cage. Carissa was startled as a wooden rod struck the bars of the cage. To her right was a guard with a sneer spread across his face. "You know," he said, "You are either very brave or very stupid to get this close to an Ancient Blood, monstrous creatures that they are. This one here has killed five Lycans slaves in a single night."
"I will keep that in mind next time," Carissa said trying to walk back to the carriage only to find her path blocked by the guard's arm.
"Well, I think I deserve some sort of reward for saving your life from this beast," the guard smiled. Stepping closer he cornered Carissa against the cage. She could smell his foul breath as he closed in, his lips puckered up to steal a kiss; until, a hard slap that echoed around the mine made him step back. Carissa's hand stung with how hard she hit him, and watched as his eyes filled with rage. "You little whore!" he yelled as he raised the baton to strike her, making Carissa flinch and cover her head. The breeze of something passing by her head ruffled her hair. She slowly peek one eye open seeing the guard trying desperately, but in vain, to pull himself free of the massive grip of the Lycan that consumed the guard's hand.
Carissa ran to her mother who had stepped out of the carriage to see what the commotion was. Screaming, the guard was lifted into the air by the Lycan and brought only inches from his snout. Carissa was sure the Lycan was going to bite off the guard's head, and she wouldn't blame him. The Lycan's lips peeled back in a vicious snarl revealing a row of dagger-like fangs before at thunderous roar erupted from his throat.
The guard, pale and shaking from dear, fell to the ground in a crumpled heap as the echoes of the roar slowly faded into silence. The entire mine had stopped upon hearing the roar and for a brief moment the only sound was the slow drip of water on stone. Suddenly, whistles were blowing and guards surrounded the cage. Veronica ushered Carissa to the carriage before heading to the cage herself to complain about the guard's lack of courtesy. Carissa sat in the carriage dazed and in shock. He could have killed me, she thought. But he didn't. Why did he protect me? Could everyone have been wrong about him?
It wasn't long before the guard was taken away and the King and Queen returned to the carriage. "Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe this Lycan was a good choice," Veronica said squeezing beside Carissa.
"He is definitely different," Malak said sitting on the other side of Carissa. "You okay?" he asked as he looked at Carissa's perplexed expression. Carissa nodded in silence as she recovered. Malak smiled as he leaned back against the carriage to get some rest before they head home.
The sun had begun to set when the carriage reached the well that marked the halfway point from the mine to their home, the carriage stopped and the horses were watered and fed. The Lycan hadn't moved since the start of their return journey. Carissa suspected that the Lycan would be thirsty and had one of the guards draw up some water and pours it into a small bowl. With shaking hands she tapped on the metal base of the cage that held the mass of muscle and black fur.
The Lycan shifted slightly opening his golden eye that hadn't been sealed shut with blood. He saw Carissa and gave her a small, weak smile. Remembering the guard's warning, Carissa stayed out of reach of those dangerous looking claws when she offered the Lycan the bowl of clear water. His eye fluttered down then back up to her. "Forgive me, but these chains are keeping me from moving. I can barely keep them from crushing me right now." Carissa swallowed thinking that it could be a trick of the Lycan, so that he could kill her or threaten to if he was not released. Sensing her unease the Lycan simply chuckled. "I thank you for the gesture, but you don't have to give me anything. I am fine." The Lycan looked to the water feeling the sand-like quality of his parched throat calling out to drink.
Despite the words the Lycan said Carissa could easily see that he was lying for her benefit. Whether it was his words or the voice in her head telling her to stop being a baby, she didn't know; but, she stepped forward holding the bowl a little higher than his head with one hand as the other hesitantly slipped underneath the large lupine head of the Lycan to help lift it up. Placing the bowl against his lips she tipped the rim so that the water slowly trickled into the Lycan's mouth. Her hands shook a little causing a few drops of clear water to run down his snout before vanishing into the black fur. His throat shifted gently up and down as the cool liquid ran down his throat bringing moisture to his parched passage.
Once he had drained the bowl dry he took a satisfied breath and lay his head back down on the cool metal of the cage. Carissa stepped back her curiosity peaked. "Did...did they not give you anything to eat or drink there?" she inquired.
"Rarely. I drank from the water that pooled within the base of the mines. Not nearly as good as what you just gave me," he said his mouth flashing his row of dagger-like teeth with every word. "I was lucky to eat once a day if not once a week."
"That is horrible," Carissa whispered as her fingers ran along the edge of the bowl. "Why did the other Lycans look at you with such fear while you were in the mines?" Carissa sat down on a boulder near the cage, her green gaze looking to the black fur wishing she could see it when it wasn't all matted and covered in mud and blood. She imagined that it was a beautiful fur coat that he had shining in sunlight and smooth as it lay properly against his body.
"Because I am different," he said to her in a tone of acceptance that that was how life was. "I am not what they consider to be normal and so I am an outcast even among my own kind." His eye opened slightly showing a sliver of gold that was filled with loneliness. "But, then again. I can't blame them for fearing me when they have seen what I have become, and the horrible things that I can do."
"You are not horrible. You saved that girl and you kept me safe from the guard. Someone like that can't be bad." The Lycan turned to her with a rather surprised look on his face. 'What? Did I say something weird?"
"You...You called me someone, not something. Most don't see past the fur and snout." His voice seemed genuinely thankful of the unknown gesture of kindness.
Carissa looked down in embarrassment. She didn't know how she should take a statement like the one the Lycan just said. "Carissa," Veronica called. "Let the Lycan rest. I am sure that he has been through a lot and would like the time to recover." The glance that she gave the Lycan as she spoke showed more of a distrust of him than an actual desire for his well-being.
Carissa nodded all the same. "Yes, Mother," she said standing up and smoothing out the wrinkles in her dress.
"You are the daughter of the Queen?" the Lycan asked his golden eye going wide with a slight fear. "I am sorry, my lady. I had no idea."
"Don't be sorry," Carissa said with a smile. "It was nice to talk without all the formalities everyone in a while." She gave a small curtsey and left to sit in the carriage with her parents as they continued on their way to their home.
Carissa looked out the window to the black iron gate topped with spikes that slowly opened with a creaking hinges set into stone columns with gargoyles smiling to those that entered resting on top. The carriage began to shake from the road changing from dirt to cobblestone that covered the courtyard. Groomed bushes and trees stood in symmetrical patterns on both sides of the courtyard. The carriage stopped in front of the castle that had been the home of the family since the founding of their nation. Stepping down from the carriage the three walked up the stairs to the twenty foot high door that lead into the interior of the castle.
The clatter of chains to the cobblestone ground announced the Lycan's exit from the cage that had held him for the duration of the trip. He shuffled forward with the heavy chains clinking together. The royal family turned together as the Lycan reached the bottom stair unable to climb them from the weight of the chains that bent him over with their weight. "This is your home now," Malak said as he always did to his new servants. "You will be given a place to sleep, food, and the opportunity to improve yourself if you work for it; but, for now you will begin as everyone else does, as a caretaker of the gardens. A name for you should be the first order of business, and I see no better person to give you a name than the one that was so adamant about purchasing you. What shall we call this one, Carissa?"
Carissa gave a glare to her father to her father at putting her on the spot as he liked to do. Seeing no way out of it she sighed thinking it over. A thought suddenly occurred to her that made her smiled gently. Lifting the front of her green gown she walked down the steps toward the Lycan unafraid; until, she was ten feet from him where her steps became more hesitant. The guards jumped a little and began to rush forward before Malak raised his hand to stop them. Carissa looking to the one golden eye that was not closed up from blood asked sweetly, "What are you called?"
"Slave four seventy-nine…my lady." He answered in his rumbling voice.
"No," Carissa said sadly at the thought that he was only ever spoken to by number. "You must have been given a name at your birth, a name that your mother or your father gave you. What is your real name?" Carissa's eyes looked into that single golden pool and saw a simple mind that you see in a child.
"Jack," he said. His eyes closed suddenly as his ears pinned down to his lupine skull. "I mean, Jack, my lady." His voice sounded fearful like he were to be punished for such a thing as forgetting to speak to her in the proper fashion. His large shape swayed side to side from the chains around his body.
"Then Jack is what you shall be called," Carissa smiled to Jack in a silent comfort to say that he was not going to be punished for such an insignificant thing. "I am Carissa. It is very nice to meet you, Jack. When you are rested I would like to thank you for protecting me earlier today from the guard." She quickly walked up the stairs lifting the hem of her dress so that she didn't step on it.
Malak nodded in approval of her method of choosing a name for the new servant, Jack. "When you have rested and recovered your strength enough to work. Zachariah will get you what you need for your duties around the castle. Do you have any questions before you retire to your bunk?"
"Yes, my lord. I have one question," Jack said, his voice tired and he was hunched over more from the chains around him that barely allowed him to breathe. "Can these chains be removed? They are quite heavy, adn I don't think I can hold myself up much longer." Malak gave him an apologetic smile before nodding to the guards beside Jack. The locks clattered to the ground as strand after strand of linked rings were removed from Jack's shoulders and body to the cobblestone. Jack let out a sigh of relief as he rolled his shoulders gently, no longer straining to hold up the weight of the chains.
"Arcon will show you to your room," Malak said, motioning to a bald servant with a ring of grey hair around the base of his skull and dressed in a butler's suit. Arcon stepped forward giving Jack a small bow, as a small bead of sweat had worked its way down from his brow to the tip of his nose before it fell to the stones. Turning, Arcon headed down an arched passage that led to the servant's quarters. Jack looked up to Carissa with a single golden eye one last time before following the bald butler down the stone walkway.
Walking down teh torch-lit hallway for some time, Jack and Arcon beegan to walk passed doors, that led to other rooms, and other servants. Jack's ears lowered and his tail drooped down as the other servants peeked out their door to see the new servant from the mines; the stares of the people made jack feel uncomfortable, and the whispers said behind his back made this castle seem as dark as the mines. At the last doo in the hall, Arcon suddenly stopped and spun around to faced Jack, making him halt suddenly and nearly crash into the small butler. "This is your room, mister Jack," Arcon said opening the door. The candles in the room were already lit and the small flame brightened the dark stone of the room. On one wall there was a wood frame holding a thin mattress wrapped in cotton linens, sitting opposite the bed on the far wall was a three drawer dresser fo oak wood. To the left of the dresser was another door that was closed at the moment. Jack stepped into the room, having to stoop under the doorway to avoid hitting his head. "The door behind you is the washroom."
"Oh, okay. Thanks," Jack said as he looked to the door not really sure what a 'washroom' was.
Breakfast is in the kitchen at six o'clock, and there is a change of clothes in the dresser, though you may have to see the tailor for something that will fit you. Is there anything else?" Arcon asked remaining polite, but his tense posture showed that he really wished to leave and spend as little time with Jack as possible. A crowd of servants began to huddle around the door in the hallway behind Arcon. Men and women all wanting to get a look at the Lycan.
"Um...no, I understand," Jack said not wanting to look stupid. A washroom? What is 'breakfast'? and a 'six o'clock'? Jack thought to himself as the servant closed the door shooing off the other servants to their rooms. Too tired to wet his curiosity of what was behind the other door, he moved to the bed laying on the matress. He chuckled a little as his legs hung off the end of the bed and the groans of complaint from the wooden frame. Not finding a comfortable way to sleep on the small bed, Jack pulled the matress onto the stone floor. Patting the candles out with his hand, Jack fell asleep quickly in the dark room that was now his new home.
Carissa sat on the window seat looking out the open window at the country side that started at the castle walls and rolled on to the horizon, with the sound of horses below in the corral prancing about. She brushed through her long brown hair that draped over her shoulder to rest on the light blue, silk nightgown, the teeth of her ivory brush working out the tangles in her hair. Her mind wandered, as she stared out the window and her hand idly brushing, to Jack who was now downstairs in the servant's quarters. She prayed that the other servants were treating him well and didn't exile him as he had been in the mines. The look that he gave her at the well still haunted her. That look of completely loneliness.
A gentle rapping came at her door, pulling her from her thoughts. Come in," She said as she adjusted her nightgown out of habit. The door opened and Malak stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. "Good evening, father."
"Come now Carissa," Malak said sitting on the seat across from her. "We are in private now. No need to be so formal." Carissa nodded slightly as she looked to her father. She knew what he was here to talk about, it was the written all over his face. He would bring up the same conversation that he had brought up since she turned seventeen. "Have you though about what we discussed last week?"
Carissa sighed looking down. "I have the same answer that I did last time. I am not interested," she said slightly annoyed at the repetitive talk that they had.
"Carissa, you are of marrying age, and need to find someone to marry. What is wrong with the suitors that have been here?"
"They are either snivelling little brats that can't last a minute without a servant waiting on them hand and foot, or they are so full of themselves that they don't even take the time to know me," Carissa said, her face reddening in her frustration.
"What about Talor of Roaric? He was nice, come from a strong line," Malak said trying to change her mind.
"Oh, yeah he was great," she answered sarcastically, "until he got a spot of dirt on his putrid green cloak and started crying in the courtyard."
"Okay, not the best example. What about Dante of Capurn?"
"The man has more muscle than brains, and he spent the entire time here looking at his reflection and flexing. I thought you would want someone that had a mind to take your place."
"I will admit that he wasn't the brightest of the suitors that have come here. Devani of Marcs?"
"He...likes men, Dad," Carissa said with a questioning look.
"Alright I may be grasping as straws with those two. But, what about..."
"Dad," Carissa interupted, raising her hand to silence him, a habit that she picked up from her mother. "I don't want to marry a bafoon simply for the sake of marriage. I want what you and mom have."
"We had an arranged marriage," Malak chuckled.
"No. The love that you have between the two of you. I want that."
"Carissa, your mother hated me for the longest time after we were married. She married me only because it was her responsibility. It took a lot of work for me to even get her to say good morning. Our love didn't truly blossom until you came along." Malak patted her knee softly.
"Yeah, I know. But, that is what I want. Besides, do you really want some snobby idiot for a son-in-law?" Carissa giggled.
"You do have a point there," he said smiling. 'There is going to be a ball soon. We are inviting all the neighboring kingdoms to attend as well as the nobles. There are going to be a lot of suitors. Promise me that you will at least give them a chance?"
"I can't promise that, Dad. But, I will try. I know Mom has been on your back about it." Carissa puffed up a little and put on a comical frown while shaking one finger at her father to impersonate her mother. "You need to get that daughter of yours to choose a man. you can't keep spoiling her like you do all the time." She let out her bell-like laugh, unable to keep up the act while her father joined in letting out a deep rumble.
"Yeah, that is about right. But honestly, I want to see you happy," he said kissing her gently on the forehead. 'I want to see you with a husband and happy. Good night sweet daughter." mala left the room, giving her a warm smile just before the door closed.
Carissa smiled as she pulled back the silk sheets of her bed and slipped in. Blowing out the candle so that only the silvery moonlight illuminated the room. She sighed contently as she drifted off to sleep.