Parallel lines

Formerly: The gardener, the faker and the little cake maker

In the city of Niealia the Aedan rule and the Eyven are slaves, but not everyone is as free as they think they are. Within both races there are laws and traditions which separate and segregate, and it is those at the summit that are often the most isolated. For those beneath, the dizzying heights are something revered, but even the greatest are not safe, especially from themselves.

Content warning: More or less everything guys, definitely an 18 plus rating on this. Homosexual (gay and lesbian) and heterosexual smut. Dubious consent in some chapters, mostly because of drug use. Drug use. Non-sexual violence. Slavery, including sexual slavery. Wow that's a whole lot of warnings, I'm going to assume from here on out that you all know what you're getting into.


– Herial

The Eyven pens of the Southern Trading Co were of a high quality. There was no heckling, no glaring, no stench of unwashed bodily fluids or infection as Marianen Herial walked down the central corridor between the glass fronted 'miniature households' that held the un-claimed Eyven. The house mistress of Hamnor house liked to use precisely because of that. Of course, some people maintained that slaves were slaves, but then most of them didn't have to maintain a house full of them, so as far as Marianen Herial was concerned they could take their opinions and keep them to themselves.

maintained a series of self-sufficient living quarters that allowed un-claimed Eyven to maintain a level of activity which kept them on a similar level with fully occupied, house trained Eyven. It allowed for a smoother transition, and generally Marianen Herial found that Eyven which came from had a higher level of initial efficiency than Eyven she brought from other companies with more 'economical' storage conditions. So as a rule Marianen Herial liked to ensure that she had enough budget to pay the small increase in price that Eyven afforded. Not that Hamnor house needed to keep a tight budget. As one of the five great houses she could have just brought the higher price slaves being sold off by lesser houses. But Marianen took pride in her job, and she took pride in the Eyven she picked. And she picked well; the last house slave she'd decided to sell had pulled in twelve thousand kies, and although the transaction had been done through a mediator, her connections told her the slave had gone to the Pwoi household. The thought brought a small smile to the woman's stoic face.

They came to the end of the corridor and stopped in front of the last glass fronted cage. This holding contained the only Eyven who were not busying themselves with the chores available to them. There were six of them, and they sat on the haunches around the edge of a coarse rug off-centre of the room. The room was tidy, but the pile of laundry they could occupy themselves with was left untouched. The chairs they could have sat on instead were empty, the kitchen they could busy themselves in was cold, and the various other activities they could occupy themselves with were ignored.

'Are you sure you want a first generation Eyven, Miss Herial?' The slave broker who had accompanied her verified as they came to a complete stop. He was not the man she usually dealt with and his attitude was polite, which just a touch of highly irritating condescension. The temptation was to come back when her usual broker had returned, but really she didn't have the time to spare to come out here again later in the week. So she nodded once, and the broker still looked like he thought her foolish, but did not press the point any further. He flipped open the folder held at his side and cast his eyes over the information contained there.

'These are the six first generations we have on site at the moment, if they don't satisfy you we can look into acquiring more based on your preferences,' he said as he handed her the folder. 'I believe there is a shipment due from the south within the next ten days. They of course will be completely unrefined, so I could enquire through other trading companies if you desire?'

Marianen cast her eyes over the assembled half dozen Eyven.

'Tell me about these six first,' she asked before she turned her eyes to the information in the folder handed to her.

'All are seasoned, except one,' the broker began as he cast his gaze over the assembled six before pointing out a stereotypically lean Eyven woman of middling years. 'She has responded well to most aspects of training so far, but you're looking for an outdoors worker, yes?'

Some Aedan thought that Eyven were all alike, but Marianen had worked with them long enough to recognise the characteristics that made them as individual as Aedan were. The obvious mistake was to linger on the grey hue to their skin, or the startling yellow tone to their eyes. But there were a range of varieties and shades which Marianen had learnt to recognise as well as she recognised differences in her own people.

First generation Eyven like the six in the pen, who had been born in the south and brought north by slavers, were different again. It didn't matter what age they were brought to serve, if they arrived aged two or twenty-two they were still considered first-gen, and for good reason. If these six had been mixed in with the others Marianen still would have been able to tell them for the first-gen slaves they were. Something as small as their preference to squat on their haunches rather than sit was enough to tell that. Then there was that fact that as a rule they were taller than multi-gen Eyven, and that first-gen Eyven held onto their dense muscle tone regardless of how active they were. Finally there was the differences in their gazes.

They turned and looked at her as a collective, a dozen eyes: of lemon, gold, hazel, amber, sunset orange and peach. It was something that even the longest serving first-gen Eyven couldn't rid themselves of. She had known first-gen Eyven brought north at six months old look at her for a moment with that same impassive dismissal that was neither deference, defiance nor fear, before their gazes dropped and they returned to the usual submissive nature.

The unseasoned female the broker pointed to was the one with rather dull hazel eyes. Her gaze remained locked on Marianen the longest and Marianen dismissed her outright. Unless she was desperate she would rather not take such a freshly minted slave into Hamnor house; they were cheap for a reason.

'Any with outdoor experience?' Marianen asked looking at the folder to check for herself.

She didn't get past the first information box before her attention was tugged back up to the cell.

One of the males had risen to his feet, he crossed over to the glass and stood some two metres from it. Marianen noticed he was tall, even for an Eyven, and yet because of the distance he had left she did not have to crane her head up to meet his eyes that were palest lemon yellow.

'Perhaps, Mistress, if you are looking for a specific skill, we may help you,' his voice was low and resonating, which Marianen was used to. They had only one other first gen in Hamnor house, like most good slaves he did not speak in front of Aedan unless asked to, yet from the few words she remembered hearing from him when she had first secured him, she realised he must have already had the exotic lilting accent of his homeland trained out of his speech. The yellow eyed slave's voice was like a melody all its own, and she had quite forgotten how striking it was.

'I'm sorry, Miss Herial, this specimen was recently sold back to for retraining,' the broker hurried. 'But these are the issues with first generation Eyven I'm afraid.'

Marianen felt her patience with the broker wearing thin, 'I've run Hamnor house for ten years, this will not even be the first first-gen in the house of present, never mind the first one I have picked out.'

'My apologies, Miss Herial.'

Marianen nodded and found the outspoken slave's information box. It contained the usual material on appearance and history. He'd been brought north aged seventeen, gone through training successfully and received a reasonable kitchen hallmark. He had then moved through a number of lesser houses after short periods of service. The information sheet didn't specify why, but she could guess.

'I am seeking a gardener,' Marianen said as she looked back up at the slave, he didn't speak out of turn this time, rather he just inclined his head and waited for the rest of the information. 'Before you volunteer yourself or your companions I suggest you take note that Hamnor house gardens are not like any garden in Niealia.'

He simply nodded again.

'My last ten attendants have been killed by aflura.'

Finally a flicker of surprise flashed through the lemon yellow eyes that flicked back up to Marianen's face.

'Why would Aedan keep aflura in a domestic garden?' Marianen stared at him and he dropped his head, 'my apologies, mistress.'

'Indeed. Why is none of your concern. I have been informed that aflura are used by Eyven in the south. Therefore if you wish your insubordination to be of help, rather than just an irritation, then you may suggest someone aware of aflura management. I would rather not waste my money sending another oblivious multi-gen Eyven to their death.'

Marianen had no particular qualms with a slave dying. What she took issue with was the continued cost of replacing the dead, and impact the loss had on the other slaves in the household – unhappy slaves made mistakes. She had tried purchasing Eyven with a gardening hallmark, yet they were expensive and only seemed to delay the speed of their death, rather than cause any improvement in the garden.

Marianen did not buy slaves direct from the traders, but she knew of a few. They had informed her that they had on occasion observed Eyven managing wild aflura along the circuits of the various routes the nomads took. So it was on their word she had made the trip to today. They had not mentioned anything else about the practice, and so the undeniable flash of anger in the slave's pale yellow eyes was somewhat of a surprise.

'You require Eyven with knowledge of aflura? Do you even realise what you ask for, mistress?' The calm resonance to his voice had gone, replaced by a steely undertone of anger.

'I do not need to realise anything; I need only ask and you need only answer,' Marianen turned to the broker. 'See this one is suitably punished when I am gone.' The broker nodded once.

Inside the cage the slave simply walked away. He went back to the rug and dropped down to squat against his haunches like the conversation with Marianen had never been.

Marianen watched them, the lemon eyed slave had his back to her now. It was a small mark of defiance, but she never would have picked him even if he had offered himself up as an expert on aflura. He was a leader, it was the reason he had been sold on so many times, and Marianen had no desire to bring such an Eyven into her household. Unfortunately for him, unless he learnt to control himself, the slave's nature would end with him sold for muscle price to the factory district.

So possibly he would end up working for the Hamnor name after all.

Marianen did not let the incident draw on her attention. Eyven were sub-standard in many ways but they were humanoid after all, and even the best could be unpredictable at times. She still had four more to choose from. She looked over the two remaining women but didn't give them much thought; all Eyven were inherently tall and first-gens retained their natural strength, but from experience women died the fastest in the Hamnor gardens.

So her eyes lingered on the two remaining males. A small frown marred Marianen's face as she glanced back up to check what she had read. Her gaze skimmed over all six, and then back to the information sheet.

'Is something wrong, Miss Herial?' asked the broker. She shook her head because what she saw now matched the sheet in her hands, only it didn't match what she had seen when she had first looked over the six and noticed their eye colour. One had definitely been an unusual shade, one Marianen had never seen before. Now it was gone, and where the strange colour had been was a common shade of mustard Marianen had seen on a thousand other slaves.

The slave in question was not common in any other way, he had strikingly pale hue to his skin, almost silver in appearance rather than the usual mat grey. Such a striking feature was almost never seen in the domestic broker pens, yet it wasn't as if she had never before seen the like.

The slave was at an angle to her, his face remained pointing forwards, yet one of those common eyes of his flickered in her direction. They held hers for a moment, in yet another show of insubordination. Yet Marianen knew Eyven, she had trained enough before she had become housemistress at Hamnor, and it was not defiance in his look, rather affirmation of a request.

'Why is he not in the desire houses?' She pointed at the pale skinned Eyven and the slave's eyes slid back to whatever it was the group were considering in the silence.

'Eyven thirteen, zero, nine, fifty-seven,' the broker called out, and the pale skinned Eyven unfolded himself from the floor with grace that was surely unnatural. As he stood and turned to face the glass wall fully it became clear why his pale skin was no longer enough to get him work in the desire houses: a jagged scar ran down the side of his otherwise shockingly handsome face.

Marianen was almost certain as she watched him move that he was a desire slave, and as such had probably led a relatively sedentary life indoors, and yet even in the shapeless grey robe the slaves wore at rest it was easy to see the natural muscle tone his body had retained.

'Thirteen, zero, nine, fifty-seven was dismissed from Peyton house six months ago, he had served there for three years before an incident left him with the disfigurement you now see.'

'Incident?' Marianen said, and hid her surprise; if he had worked at Peyton it was no wonder his movements were so utterly flawless.

'That was all the information we were given,' began the broker. 'He has been retrained in kitchen duties, but I suspect he will go to the auction house within the next three months.' Marianen knew why; no house mistress or master would every really want a disfigured slave, even a cheap one to be hidden away in the kitchen, even one from Peyton. Or perhaps especially not one from Peyton, because what most good housemistresses wanted even less than an ugly slave, was a beautiful desire slave stirring up trouble in the slave quarters.

'When was he brought north?' Marianen asked, because she was not most housemistresses, and that look, whether from eyes of blandest yellow or startling red, had answered the question that the lemon eyed slave had refused to.

'Fifteen. He then had three years of training followed by a year in a lesser desire house. He was brought out by Peyton where he served with distinction for three years. He's been with us for re-claiming for the past six months.'

So he was twenty two. Which meant a potential forty or so years of service. Providing he didn't get himself killed like all the others.

Marianen's eyes settled behind him for a moment, the lemon eyed slave had turned. He was watching the pale skinned slave with untempered derision.

'Do you know how to look after aflura?' Marianen asked as she brought her eyes back to the standing slave.

He stared at her in silence for just a moment, and as he inclined his head she was certain she saw those flecks of red return.

And then all the chaos of hell erupted in that small box.

Marianen had been to a lot of slave houses over her forty years of life. She had dealt with first generation slaves before, and yet she had never seen the likes of what unfolded in that pen in the brief seconds between the start of the wailing and the time it took the box to turn opaque with some kind of tranquiliser gas.

A body slumped against the glass. Marianen took half a step backwards though she knew the glass to be perfectly able to withstand the force. Pale skin was pressed up against the surface, darker hands wrapped around the neck, and then both were slipping down, as the gas finally took effect.

'I'm very sorry, Miss Herial. We take events like this very seriously at , and you should be reassured that the slaves responsible will be suitably punished and dealt with as necessary.'

'Yes, yes,' Herial turned her back on the now silent cage. The slaves in the enclosure on the other side of the corridor hadn't even looked up from their duties. 'You can save the apologies and offer me a discount on the pale skinned slave.'

'Miss Herial he is already–' the young broker trailed off.

'You told me yourself that he is more than likely going to be auctioned, I'll take him off your hands now, or I'll come back and get him at an even cheaper price then.'

'Fifty kies,' the broker was somewhat surly.

Marianen snorted, 'fifteen is still more than you would get for his muscle price.'

'He has six different hallmarks, forty is still ten percent of what he should be worth.'

'All but one of which are useless, twenty.'

'He has forty five years of service in him, thirty five.'

Herial met the broker's eye, 'twenty five, on account of the bruising around his neck.'

'We don't even know if –' the broker tutted and turned on his heel. 'Very well, Miss Herial, follow me and I will draw up the paperwork.'

– Safran

Safran Drew had been very content with her lot. There were weeks where she simply scraped by; they were generally the times where she had a choice between buying the imported coconut milk she needed for her bestselling truffle or the gold dust she used on her most expensive cakes, and eating more than stale leftover pastry and the dregs of strawberry compote. The small patisserie shop she owned at the bottom of Rissel Park was not renowned, it was not the place to be seen, and the cakes and sweet bites she made were not the vogue delight of the moment.

So Safran wondered why exactly it was that Parmagritte Mellir was stood on the other side of the glass fronted display of cakes, chocolates and sweet treats.

At least she was more or less certain that it was Parmagritte Mellir. Safran didn't actually read the woman's column, but of course she knew about it – who didn't?

As the eldest daughter of arguably the foremost of the five great houses of Niealia, Parmagritte had always had a certain ability to just get things done. So really it was no surprise when her work had appeared in Niealia Daily. What had been more of a surprise was when it had suddenly disappeared, and that it had turned out the woman had snuck her work past the editor. Unfortunately for said editor the woman's writing was an instant hit, and he had been forced to reinstate her, and now he even paid her for her trouble.

Safran let the woman who may or may not be Parmagritte Mellir, survey the selection of sweets on offer. She realised that the woman's hair, which at first appeared unfashionably short, was simply curled and pinned against her head in a series of ebony loops. Even Safran was fairly certain she had heard Parmagritte Mellir had a tendency to do such a thing. Then, at last, Safran's eyes caught on the sneakily subtle ribbon of navy and peach around the woman's wrist. It was almost imperceptible at the cuff of her beautifully cut stone blue suit, complimenting the peach stitching of the pretty – but definitely not Mellir house stripes – scarf she wore tied in the neck of her blouse.

'How may I help you, Miss Mellir?' Safran asked after letting the woman take a few moments to admire the display. The glass counter was edged in intricate brass work of entwined flowers which matched the brushed glass effect around the front window display. It was an extravagance that Safran had often regretted, but today she was glad of it.

If Parmagritte was annoyed at being recognised then none of it showed on her face. She made a soft puzzled sound before she looked up and fixed Safran in the darkest blue eyes she had ever had the unfortunate experience of being considered by.

'That is rather a silly question, darling; you may help by providing me with something sweet of course,' Safran tried not to fidget under the shocking intensity of that look. Then Parmagritte twisted away from the counter and stared at the opposite wall, and the long thin space that Safran had rather optimistically hoped might be full of a queue of patrons one day. 'You know what this place needs?' she didn't wait for an answer. 'Chairs, and tables, I'll have some brought for you tomorrow, and perhaps an awning?' she mused as she twisted back around. 'That might take a little longer, do you have any colour preferences? I think pink and yellow always looks rather darling.'

'Erm,' Safran found herself quite unable to think of anything to say. So she reached for a sweet and handed it to the woman. 'Try this, it's my favourite.'

'Oh, this wasn't in the box I had, what is it?' she cut herself off as she bit through the exterior of the truffle, and into the delicate mouse that filled the interior. She paused then, and her face flickered with something for a moment before she caught herself and fixed her eyes back on Safran.

'Oh goodness, that's rather too good my dear,' she took a deep breath and popped the last mouthful between her lips. 'I'm rather glad someone else didn't buy me that, it would have been quite improper,' she grinned then, full rouged lips parting as she looked at Safran as if there were some deep shared secret between them.

'I'll have six of those, and… just pick me another half dozen if you will,' Safran just did as she was asked. Parmagritte paid for her box of truffles, and then as suddenly as she had appeared, she was gone again.

The afternoon hadn't exactly been busy, and yet Safran still didn't give Parmagritte's visit much thought. As the daughter of a less than lesser house, Safran didn't really trouble herself too much with the workings of the upper houses, never mind one of the five.

So it was with some form of dawning confusion that Safran woke to the sounds of heavy banging on the delivery entrance to the shop. She dressed quickly in the cream trousers and blouse she wore for work, and pinned her hair back as she came downstairs. She'd been up since four-am, but she took an hour's sleep between six and seven while things set and settled and rose as needed. She knew there was no delivery due today, because they came on Tuesdays and Fridays, so she pulled the door open fully expecting to tell someone they had the wrong address.

The Aedan in charge of the delivery thrust some paperwork at Safran before she could get her explanation out. Behind him two grey skinned Eyven were already unloading a series of cream painted wrought iron tables and chairs from the back of one of the motorised trucks used by only the most exclusive companies. Safran's usual deliveries were by the traditional horse and cart, and it was the sight of the motor vehicle which finally jarred Safran's thoughts back to the conversation with Parmagritte.

So she signed the paperwork, and stood to one side as the two Eyven carried the furniture through her baking kitchen and into the front of the shop. She watched as they unpacked them and set them out. The two tables fit perfectly, and the style of the ironwork matched the decoration in the rest of the shop as if it had been custom made – which was of course preposterous, because it had been less than twenty-four hours.

'The two sets for the front of the house will be here with the awning, in two days' time,' said the head delivery man as the Eyven set down two large boxes on the side in the kitchen. They then proceeded to unpack a twelve piece tea set and two teapots, a coffee set of the same size, an industrial sized kettle, and a small tea cabinet, which Safran by now simply assumed was full of the tea each palm sized draw was labelled with.

Safran served her first cup of tea within the first hour of opening, to a pair of women who sat talking quietly while they shared a plate of sweets and cakes. Parmagritte didn't return that day, or the next, nor did she appear on the day when the awning – in butter yellow and pink with just the barest touch of peach in it – was delivered and installed by two grey skinned and silent Eyven.

In fact a whole week elapsed before the Mellir woman appeared again. Safran was exhausted, and she was only just able to pull a smile onto her face as the little brass bell above the door chimed for someone's arrival. The smile fell completely as she saw who it was.

'Miss Mellir,' Safran said with far more surety than she felt.

'Of course, darling, but could your complaints last until you've provided me with a selection of cakes and sweets, and a cup of smoked tea; black please,' Parmagritte said as she sat herself down at one of the tables inside. Safran starred at her, and then she simply sighed and did as she was asked.

'Do you have time to take a seat? You look as if you need it, darling.'

Which was a little rich coming from the woman whose fault it was that Safran had been rushed off her feet for the past seven days. Safran sat anyway, because the store was quiet. Once that would have been the norm, but not this past week.

'Miss Mellir,' Safran began again.

'Oh please, call me Parmagritte; I have enough people croon my title that you need not bother.'

'Very well, Parmagritte, I need to know how much I owe you for,' she waved a hand to encompass the table they were sat at as well as the two more outside, as well as the new tea and coffee sets that had arrived at Parmagritte's bequest. 'This.'

'Nonsense, you didn't ask for them, so why would you pay for them?'

'Because no matter how generous, I do not wish to be beholden to you.'

'Very well, darling,' Parmagritte glanced down at the plate of sweets set before her, then her gaze swept up to consider the small blackboard of prices which now included tea and coffee as well as the sweets and cakes. 'That will be six and a half kies.'

Safran sighed, because that was the price of the selection she had placed before the woman. And was more than likely less than one percent of what the furniture and supplies had cost.

'Why?' Safran asked as she stood and went back to her usual side of the counter.

Parmagritte Mellir fixed those navy eyes on her across the room, and the her full lips parted in a smile, her perfect white teeth flashing as she lifted a cake to her lips and bit through half of it. She held Safran's eyes in hers as she took her time savouring the flavours.

'Why not, darling? Why on earth not?'

– Leuan

Leuan Hamnor was a man of routine. Through routine both his personal and working life was maintained in balance, and he was able to live up to the name that had been synonymous with greatness for at least four generations of Hamnor's. The Hamnor name was of course older than that – the family register could trace Hamnor's back more than half a millennia – but it was Leuan's great grandfather who had risen the Hamnor name to be one amongst the most influential in the city of Niealia.

Leuan's father had died young, and at eighteen Luean had become the youngest head of one of the five families. Ten years later he was still the youngest, but the burden was not something which bothered him overly as his mind was well suited to maintaining the Hamnor business. There were families in the five houses which still turned their nose up at the origins of the Hamnor wealth, but it was impossible to deny the efficacy of industrialisation. Now it was only Peyton house with no presence in the industrial sector of Niealia, and well, Peyton house had always been unique.

Leuan's walk home on an evening was part of his routine. It was something which he strived to do no matter the weather, regardless of the hour at which he finished work, and in spite of the fact that he owned a perfectly good motor vehicle. Thanks to his grandfather it was a pleasant walk, the old man had brought a strip of land between the city centre and the Hamnor grounds, he had designed a public park, and then granted it to the city council as a rather selfish gift. Leuan was not inclined to think less of the man, because it was rare to see the park empty, even in winter.

There was a small cluster of shops near the park entrance that Leuan tended to use. They had always been there and Leuan had noticed them in the dismissive way of familiarity. This evening as the wrought iron gate clanged shut behind him he noticed the buildings fully for the first time in years. Not for the pink and yellow awning that would provide shade from the midday heat for the pair of tables, that along with the awning, had appeared outside some weeks ago. Rather it was for the queue of people coming out of the glass and bronze framed door. Even then, it wasn't so much the queue, but rather the people in the queue.

There were men and women, not together of course, but interspersed through the queue so completely that they may have well of been. Even that was not utterly surprising, Aedan men and women did not socialise in public as a rule, but of course at times like this it was impossible not to cross paths. Yet the men in the queue were all dressed in suits, the women in formal dresses, and there were the distinctive flashes of colour at necks and lapels which marked them out as members of recognised houses, if not quite members of the five.

Leuan found himself drawing to a stop. Not least because at one of the tables on the front, a man and woman were sat together.

His initial outrage was dampened somewhat as he realised that the person in the suit was not a man at all. She was dressed in a suit, but as she crossed her legs he realised it was a skirt not trousers, and that her short hair was not short at all, rather it had been arranged against her head to look short. Her lips were deeply rouged and she spoke animatedly to a woman of some middling house. As she spoke she waved a hand to emphasise some point, and Leuan's well-trained eyes caught on the flash of navy and peach at her wrist.

It was not as unusual as you might expect for Leuan to have never officially met Parmagritte Mellir. She was the eldest Mellir, but her brother was only a year younger than her, and it was he that worked with her father, and so it was he Leuan had met. Outside of work he rarely dealt with any of the five houses, and Parmagritte Mellir was a woman on top of that, so their paths had simply never crossed.

Her startlingly blue eyes flickered up and drifted across her surroundings, as if she could sense she was being watched. They settled on him for a moment and then something akin to a smile drifted across her lips. She said something to the woman she was with, rose to her feet and made her way toward Leuan.

She was a striking woman, her curves enhanced by the cut of her fitted blazer and the tight lines of her skirt. Her lips were almost distractingly red, on the verge of being improper. She held her hand out anyway and Leuan took it with a small nod.

'Miss Mellir, it's a pleasure,' he said simply.

'Please, the pleasure is mine, and given that I shall call you Leuan, you shall feel free to call me Parmagritte,' the calmness of her voice did not match the glint in her eyes.

'I see, well then, Miss Mellir, could you do me the great favour of informing me as to the occasion?' he had not seen this many men and women together outside of a desire house in years.

If she was bothered by his continued use of her family name she did not show it. She released his hand and turned to stand by his side in one flowing movement.

'It is something of a project of mine, though I confess that I'm more of a silent partner than anything else. But sometimes lending the power of ones name to something worthy has its own rewards,' she turned just her head so she was looking up at him. 'Don't you think, Leuan?'

'I find it most rewarding to lend the Hamnor name to things that further my house, but then our positions are somewhat different.'

Her response was a flash of a smile on those red lips of hers.

'Wait here a moment, if you would,' she left his side and slipped by the queue of patient Aedan. He watched through the glass front of the shop as she went behind the counter, the shop owner could clearly be seen snapping at the woman who was arguably the most powerful in Niealia. Parmagritte laughed back and helped herself to a selection of cakes and sweets. With a few words for the waiting patrons she came back out to Leuan.

If it were anyone else he would have just left. Or simply refused the small pink and yellow cardboard box she presented to him. But it was not anyone else, this was Parmagritte Mellir, and the example set by the shop owner was not one that should be emulated. So Leuan waited and took the box she offered.

'I am due at Peyton this evening, perhaps I might talk to you there? I have a favour to ask you.'

Leuan was silent for a moment. After all he had witnessed in the woman so far, her forwardness was hardly a surprise. That was not why he hesitated.

'I'm sorry, Miss Mellir, I have already used my full pass this quarter,' it was a lie he was used to saying, and one which he knew gave with unwavering confidence.

She considered him for just a second, and then she laughed. It was a bright, barking sound in the relative peace of the park.

Her teeth clamped down on her bottom lip as she stilled herself, they were startlingly white against the red.

'Oh please,' her hand rested against his arm. 'You know as well as I do that your docket for this quarter is as untouched as all the ones that have gone before it.'

The feeling was akin to panic.

She drummed the tips of her fingers against the arm of his jacket, her face was still split in that same bright smile. 'So indulge a Mellir and meet me this evening?'

Leuan looked down at the woman and despite it he did not miss the phrasing of her words: not a request at all, but an order from a member of the first house, to a member of the fourth.

Each house disputed their position of course; Pwoi liked to boast that it was first rather than second, Gratair liked to claim Hamnor's fourth, and Peyton often claimed its own ranking system all together. In reality everyone knew that Mellir was the first of the five, then Pwoi, Peyton, Hamnor, and last of all Gratair. There were subtleties within the ordering, and as the eldest daughter of Mellir she was stretching her influence somewhat. Had she just been the eldest daughter Leuan may have ignored the request. But Parmagritte Mellir, had never been "just" a day in her life.

Then there was the thinly veiled threat of her words to consider.

'Very well, Miss Mellir,' Leuan said with a slight inclination of his head, acknowledgement that he had bowed to her standing. 'Many thanks for the gift. I shall be done with my evening duties around nine, if the hour is acceptable to you?'

She laughed lightly, and gave a small wave of her fingers, as she went back towards her table, 'I shall look forward to it, Leuan.'

Leuan left, to continue the last leg of his walk home before some other interruption to his routine could be added to his day.

Hamnor grounds directly edged the park in a smooth wall of concrete broken only by a slim door. The grounds where Hamnor house was based had been in the family almost as long as the name. Yet Hamnor house itself had been significantly changed over the generations. The most extreme renovations had been done by Leuan's father and these days the house was a tribute to modernity, but it was not the architecture which made the place somewhat infamous.

Leuan did not make many mistakes, yet those he did make he was willing to admit to, and the gardens of Hamnor house were one of the mistakes he had made when his father had died. In the ten years since his death, they had become somewhat notorious. Not least because the mortality rate of his garden Eyven was around one every eleven months, making it one of the most expensive gardens in Niealia, in addition to its undisputed claim of most dangerous and exotic.

All because of the alfura.

Where Leuan entered from the park the fierce and often carnivorous plants were restricted to small species that snapped at his shoes and sent barbed tendrils out to scratch at the material of his suits trousers.

Leuan knew very little of the plants that made his garden so unique. He knew that the Hamnor garden was the only one of its kind in Niealia, and he recalled it being stunning once. Yet in the ten years since his father's death the one time masterpiece had fallen into a state of disrepair that was both ugly and dangerous. It was his own fault, because as a tribute to his father's vision for the garden, Leuan had sent the Eyven responsible for the aflura to be part of his father's death entourage. It was a decision that he had come to regret sorely as he watched slave after slave let the garden fall further into disrepair before finally falling to a plant in the west garden.

The last one had died two months ago and Leuan had despaired of Herial ever finding someone who knew what they were doing. Yet here he was stepping through the door he had not regularly used for ten years, for the fourth time that week.

The plants hissed at him, they snapped barbed leaves and unfurled suckered tendrils, they let out clouds of coloured mists, or flecks of sparkling dust, or simply released beautifully pungent bursts of scent. Had he been the plants' preferred prey he was sure the effects would have been either toxic, or very alluring. As it was, with them all cut back to a manageable level, it simply created a rather pleasant aroma and a pretty effect in the air as he went. Which were of course the main reasons for putting up with the fierce little plants.

Over the past week, since the garden had become somewhat passable in places, he had taken to spending a half hour walking the more well-tended paths and enjoying the aflura. This evening that was not to be. Leuan marched through the paths and up the half flight of stairs to the main door of his house.

Hamnor house was set out over two levels these days, the kitchens and slave quarters were all on the ground floor, Leuan's living and guest quarters were all on the first, so that the rooms could have the best views out over the garden and down towards the city centre. Herial's office was also on the main floor, and he strode down immaculate and well lit corridors, through doors that were pulled silently open for him by almost imperceptible slaves as he approached.

'Good evening, sir, how may I help you?' If Herial was surprised by him turning up at her office then she did not show it.

'I shall need the car this evening, Herial; my presence is required at Peyton for nine.'

'Very well, sir, I'll have your super brought forwards to seven thirty, will you prefer a light snack?'

Leuan sighed, because he would not prefer a light snack. What he would prefer would be to eat his regular evening meal and spend his evenings how he wished, namely reading on his chosen topic of the moment; the Crish civilisation.

'I'll take a bath as well,' he said instead. 'And please request my loan from Yarren library be extended; I've not had enough time as I would have liked of late.'

'Very well, sir. And shall I send word to your secretary to push back tomorrow morning's appointments?'

Leuan's teeth made a sharp clacking noise as he brought his jaw together in a single burst of irritation. Herial was correct to make the suggestion; the drugs used at Peyton left him agitated and inefficient, he would likely sleep little this evening and still feel the effects of them at work tomorrow morning, yet he would not get through a session without them.

'Do it,' he said simply. 'I may as well take breakfast late as well,' with that he waved his housemistress back to her work and left to his own quarters.

When he got there two Eyven were silently laying out the table in the small sun room usually reserved for breakfast and light snacks. Through in his private chambers another Eyven was laying out a pair of outfits for him to choose between, and a fourth was drawing him a bath. The water was stained opaque by oils and moisturising whatnots that Leuan didn't really care for.

He had lived with the overpowering scent of the untamed Aflura of his garden for ten years. Yet he had grown oddly accustomed to their unique balance, and the emulation of it in oils jarred against his senses these days. He stripped and dropped into the water either way, because that was what was expected of him.

– Parmagritte

Parmagritte had expected Leuan to refuse her. Truly he could have. If they had both simply been the eldest children of their houses then Parmagritte would have pulled rank, but they were not, she was the eldest Mellir child, but female and so not the heir, whereas Leuan was the head of his house. He was also renowned for his absence from not just Peyton, but all desire houses in Niealia. So she was surprised that he had simply agreed, and instead she had expected a note from his informing her that he could no longer make the appointment.

No note had come. So here she was in Peyton, sat in the one of the numerous private rooms of the foremost desire house in Niealia.

The room was lush and luxurious. Parmagritte had her choice of silk lined chairs, the lighting was pleasantly low, plates of snacks and small mouthful sized treats were arranged on tables, and flavoured teas filled their air with their sweet steam. Parmagritte tried one of the cakes, and decided that they were not nearly as good as Safran's.

At the door she had handed over two passes from her docket, one was one of the numerous half passes that allowed her the company of Eyven. The other was one of her four passes a year, it was the one that meant Leuan would be allowed to share a private room with her, or more specifically it meant that as two Aedan of childbearing age, they were free to have sex. Like rumour suggested of Leuan's own docket, Parmagritte's full passes had also been untouched until this evening.

This whole situation was a touch ridiculous, even for her.

Then the door opened and Leuan Hamnor was let in by a stunning beautiful Eyven woman. Yet even Parmagritte was more inclined to look at Leuan.

He was a striking Aedan. He was tall for their race, and out of the hard lines of the three piece suit he had been wearing earlier, Parmagritte realised he was much more slender than she had thought. Like her he was dressed in the intricately patterned silk robe traditionally used in desire house meetings. The shimmering silk was of the mustard yellow of Hamnor house, and the detail was picked out in the vivid teal that usually accompanied it. It was secured around his narrow hips with a ribbon of the same shocking blue.

'I apologise for my tardiness, have you been waiting long, Miss Mellir?' In the low lighting the lashes that rimmed his chocolate brown eyes looked like they had been painted. Parmagritte found herself oddly jealous of their length and fullness, and the way they enhanced his surprisingly handsome eyes. He took her hand in his, and she was somewhat astonished to realise that if she had found men appealing at all, then she would have not minded Leuan Hamnor.

'No not at all,' she kept her voice low as he returned her hand, and chose another of the chairs to sink back into. From the shadows somewhere an Eyven appeared to offer him tea. 'What kept you?'

He sipped at his tea, considering her from over the golden rim of the cup.

'I could not find my docket,' he answered at last.

Parmagritte stared at him for a moment, and then she laughed, and the strange tension was broken.

'Surely ten years of the things are difficult to misplace?' she chuckled.

'You presume because I do not frequent Peyton, that I do not frequent any other house?'

Parmagritte stifled a chuckle as she reached for her own tea. 'I think that if the head of Hamnor house frequented anywhere other than Peyton, for ten years no less, then that house would be rather renowned by now.'

He inclined his head a little in concession.

'So have you invited me here out of concern for the succession of the Hamnor name?'

The laws that governed reproduction in Niealia made succession somewhat convoluted. To keep population numbers low, Aedan of sexual maturity were legally allowed to have sex four times a year. If the female got pregnant, then that was it, and she was banned from full passes for the rest of her life. These days there were options to remove fertility which resulted in your quarterly docket being reinstated. A woman could still have sex after she had given birth, just only with Eyven, in desire houses like Peyton.

It was a situation made all the more complex by the fact that most Aedan were genetically disposed to be desireless.

Males were different; they had the same genetic issues, and were still restricted to four times a year, but they could have as many offspring as they wished. As a result, succession went through the male line, and if Parmagritte had sex with Leuan and their union produced a child, then that child would take the Hamnor name.

'Actually, I wished to talk to you about your garden.'

Leuan surveyed her through eyes that were like tempered chocolate in the low lighting. He put his cup down and reached for a small sweet, and he bit through it, all while he watched her.

'And you could not have spoken to me about this elsewhere?' His eyes gave nothing away, but as he finished licking sugar from his fingers, his hand dropped to dust over the silk that covered the elbow of his robe.

Parmagritte leant forwards through the half-light, and finally she noticed the blown out pupils that his dark irises had concealed. She knew most Aedan men needed the drug, somehow because of what she knew about him, she had thought that Leuan would be like she was; exempt from the need.

She realised her mistake as an Eyven woman slid silent out of the shadows to run her hand down the opening of Leuan's robe. A man appeared for Parmagritte, his hands skimmed lightly across her shoulder blades, a pleasant sensation but nothing more. His mouth connected with her neck, and he was clean shaven enough, and sufficiently gentle that if she closed her eyes she could imagine it was a woman's lips, and feel the dark stirring of desire in her hips. As a woman, of course desire was preferable, but not necessary to perform the act, and it was that comprehension that made Parmagritte realise why Leuan had taken the drug.

Parmagritte opened her eyes, and saw Leuan's fixed on the man behind her. With another man in the room, the woman whose hand disappeared beneath the hem of his robe didn't exist for him.

Parmagritte smiled, because it was one thing assuming from rumour, and another quite completely to see for herself. She turned to the Eyven at her back, avoiding the lips he tried to press against hers as she did.

'Fetch someone ready to receive a man, and a woman for myself,' the Eyven stopped his ministrations instantly, nodded once and left silently through one of the concealed doors in the room. Leuan's eye followed until he was gone, and then they drifted back to Parmagritte somewhat listlessly.

'He was not to your liking?'

'Mmm,' Parmagritte let a little shudder of contentment hum between her lips as she watched a fresh pair of Eyven step out from behind Leuan. The male was slender but definitely male, the woman was deliciously curvaceous for an Eyven. 'I prefer women, and he was not suitable for you.'

'You…?' Leuan's question was cut off as the slender Eyven boy appeared before him and stepped up onto Leuan's chair, so his knees were either side of the Aedan's lap.

The woman stopped before Parmagritte and she waved her to get on with it, because Parmagritte was oddly fascinated by the men.

Parmagritte had had sex with men; it did very little for her, and she found their bodies boring. But watching these two men together was captivating. They were both clearly male, yet both were oddly pretty; their slender bodies were not dissimilar to the usually svelte Eyven women. Leuan's pale fingers pressed into the flesh of the Eyven's ass, holding him in place as his other hand disappeared between his cheeks. The Eyven had his head tipped back exposing his throat and soft whispered bleats came from his lips. Then Leuan was parting the yellow silk of his robe, there was flash of dark flesh, and then that was buried inside the slender slave, and both of them looked equally enraptured.

Parmagritte realised with some surprise that the gasp of desire she felt as a mouth lowered over the folds of flesh between her legs, and the warmth in the well of her hips, was mostly from watching the two men, rather than the ministrations of her own slave. she settled back in her chair, parting her legs to give the Eyven woman better access as she let her eyes linger on the rare show.

Even if she learnt nothing of the Hamnor gardens, this was certainly worth the effort.

A/N: So yeah this is very different to the other stuff I've posted. I think it'll take a bit of getting in to, but I couldn't find a way to introduce everyone and set the scene other than to just do it, so I hope people are patient enough to let things settle down.

To begin with chapters are going to be weekly. If you want to know why then check out my livejournal (ht217) where the curious can be informed or bored to death, up to you.