World of Zekira Stock in Trade is a novel set in the World of Zekira. Copyright 2004 Lethe and Droppin the Fork Productions. All rights reserved, no copying for any reason.

Stock in Trade 2

Djeck wanted to know what to do with the Slaves. Always uncomfortable in terms of buying and selling them (Hard Stock law was one of his poorest subjects when he was still in school and it had never gotten any easier for him), he wished they'd just manage to ... well, manage themselves. It wasn't like the Bonder laws, which he was quite good at. He knew how to move money from one person to the next. Just, when it got to be more money than the person could actually make in the rest of their lifetime, he became a bit uncomfortable.
While his father still lived, Djeck let him take all the care of the Slaves. But now that both his parents had grown old and died, and he was their eldest, he was the one to execute their estate. He looked around with displeasure. Not because of the people he saw, but because he was the one having to do all this annoying paperwork. He was much better with people than paper.
He looked out and saw the aged Hallam, his own Slave by many years. Yes, he'd gotten into trouble again and again, and simply put he was happier when he didn't have to worry about money. He put his life in Djeck's hands, and was nearby because this was the homestead he'd helped to build. He lived here in the sunset of his days, and Djeck knew he wouldn't mind being buried here when the time came.
Djeck looked over his own children, Naadja and Khadja - both girls, and both with their own daughters attending. They were his pride and his joy, in that order: Naadja took after him in all ways save his arms, she was a well-placed Breeder among their peers, and was expected to follow her grandmother's example of extending the knowledge of these new genes their generation was starting to show. She'd learned so well that Djeck had to seek out other instructors to keep her occupied. Kaadja took after her mother Naakha, who was a beast-tuned psionicist with semi-feline features to her. Naakha didn't much care for Steeds, but she did enjoy every other aspect of animals from their environments to their uses in the field.
Naadja's young daughter Jeed was casually interested in Breeding, but had all the powers and effects of one already. Though she had never met Davali she looked quite like her, and carried a similar power to perceive the general health and welfare, emotions and state of a patient long before even asking their name. Khadja and her husband land Holder Milfee had a little powerhouse of activity on their hands in the shape of Mafek - the girl didn't sit still for more than half an hour unless there was an animal in front of her, and particularly if it was a bug. Young, too young to really inherit yet, she and her cousin were led out with some of the other children to wait it out.
He saw his extended family: sister Kraval and brother Valji, Kraval's young child Rallof and Valji's pair of Laila and Jarl. His cousins and such, and some people whom his parents had gotten used to having around in their age. All of them looked to him. He played with his lower arms' hands below the big dark desk that had been his mother's way back when.
With his upper arms, though, he shuffled the paperwork around until he was satisfied. "I'm meant to break up the possessions and stock as best I can," he announced at last. "So I guess this means I have to start asking who can and cannot legally Own, and who would be most comfortable with which properties."
The bickering went on for a little while, but not nearly so long as other families he'd heard of. And this was a blessing, because their family was quite large as far as Zekirans went. Most might have a wife and a mistress and if they were very lucky a child or grandchild to attend. Finally it was settled that along with Khadja's, Valji's family would inherit the Steed farm and several spare animals here and there, while Kraval's side would mostly maintain the clinic with Djeck and Naadja. Kraval took strongly after their mother, but with her six year old Rallof to tend to, she would be waiting to take over any real duties for a bit.
Djeck was humbly willing to take only what he thought was appropriate, portions of a homestead and land, as well as controlling interest in the clinics that his mother had established in several small villages across Curra. Others would get money, items, pets, Steeds here and there, the Slaves mostly went to Djeck and Kraval, since they had the most money and best uses for having permanent servants ... And pretty much everyone went home happy.
Hallam remained to help clean up the rooms that the mass of people had mussed up. Chairs everywhere, drinks and food of course had been served, and the bored children had had to be sequestered into a room where they weren't bothered by the droning of legalese. Hallam had never sired a child, but with working in a Breeder's home he almost felt like he had some times.
"It's hard to believe that father of yours is finally out of the betting pool," Hallam said. "Maybe now it's safe for me to become a Worker again."
Djeck laughed and laughed...

Mafek didn't understand why her mother kept taking her away from the farm. She was a grown young lady, all of seventeen, and didn't like being told what to do or where to do it.
She especially didn't like being told that she couldn't see that nice red-skinned farm hand as often as she wanted. He was so ... well, strong and muscular, with limbs taut and a sheen of sweat over his skin. The way he talked to her told her he was much smarter than his Owners thought he was. As a Slave, of course, he would never be allowed to come visit her - but since Mafek had the family's money on her hands...
Mafek grumbled in the carriage on the way back to their own farm. "I don't see what's the problem. He's a nice man. It's not like he's trying to sully me or make you buy him or anything."
Khadja looked away, "well, at least you acknowledge that he's a Slave, Mafek."
"Is that what this is about? I thought you were better than that," Mafek snarled. She very nearly jumped from the carriage onto the road right then. She had the good sense in her head not to do so.
"... I thought I was too, but Mafek you must understand. We've enough Slaves to go around, and he would have nothing to do. I cannot arrange a breeding pair with him, his Owner isn't willing to do that."
"How do you know, you've asked her?!" Mafek erupted, and almost stood in her seat. "You're discussing my personal-"
"We discussed the fact that you quite like him, and he seems rather taken with you as well. But it would just not be practical to allow anything further." Khadja said, placing her arms across her chest in a manner which indicated she was done speaking about this.
Mafek fumed, not daring to look back to her mother, lest she say something nasty. Instead she glared outside at the landscape. Home toward Mada was always so boring, she thought. She filled her mind with images of her 'lover', Dest. He wasn't that much older than she, perhaps in his thirties if that. And considering the length of lifespan she knew she'd have, she could wait. She wasn't all that sure about him.
There had to be a way to send him a private message. She so wanted to find out what he thought they should do. He seemed so wise, and so genuine in his words. She didn't want to just vanish on him, that was certain. But how? Perhaps cousin Rallof could arrange something. He was quite good in his field, harkening back to their grandsire (and great-grandsire in Mafek's case) Jakran in his courier work. He had no intention of becoming a jockey, however, he liked cycles and airlift jets just as much as Steeds.
But could he send a private message to a Slave, that was the question...

"Why would you do this? For me? This is crazy!" Dest said, over the engine's noise. Eight years after her fateful decision, Mafek managed to convince her cousin Rallof that she needed a vehicle capable of ... well, stealing a Slave. He knew that his younger cousin was crazy, but she was also crazy in love with this Dest. What was best was that he apparently thought the same for her - and that was the only reason he agreed to help. He'd be standing before the same judge when they were caught, of course, but they could blame it all on Mafek's young idealism and all that rubbish.
Besides, it was great fun.
Dest clung on to Mafek's slender waist, refraining from screaming his head off. Mafek was grinning ear to ear, wearing a pair of Rallof's goggles that bunched her golden-green hair up all funny.
When they finally arrived at a location that Mafek had secretly bought, Rallof bid them a hasty farewell. "I've got to make sure I'm at Spim village in two hours - it's my alibi. I don't know what yours will be but," he grinned at his little cousin and her surprised friend, "good luck!"
They watched him leave on his little jumper jet, a tiny two-person platform with hoverjets and a windscreen and barely anything else on it (hence why Dest was so terrified, being the third person on a craft designed for only two...). He vanished into the distance, and would make Spim in no time. No one knew that he'd stuck a Steed out near Spim so he could have "flown" in on one. He had left Mada on his black one, found his cousin waiting with the jumper jet, headed off to steal a Slave, then would retrieve another Steed to haul the jet back later on. It was all very complex. Maybe it would make the history books or even a vid some day.
Or, maybe, Dest and Mafek would live their lives out in solitude and peace?
Probably not, Rallof thought as he zipped away. But it was worth the try.
Mafek hugged her friend and told him, "I've saved enough money if it comes down to buying you off of that witch," and she noticed how much more snugly he held her after that.
"But this place? It's ... nice, but it's in the middle of nowhere."
Dest looked around them. The locale was just south of the major forest that covered the foothills of Polaen. East of Mada by perhaps two hundred miles, northeast of Spim by another six hundred. The area was well hidden, with a canopy of tall dark trees but a good dappling of sunlight lay splayed over the ground below. A temporary shelter had been brought in, but it was clear to Dest that Mafek intended them to actually build a homestead there.
"I ... notice that you didn't provide yourself with a vehicle to leave here," Dest announced after a moment of examination. "Did you bring tools, then?"
At that, Mafek skipped happily to a smaller shed, and on opening it Dest saw a variety of blades, hammers, chisels, levels... pretty much everything he'd be needing. He had built walls before - a porch for his Lady Owner, and some smaller projects. Now, would be his true test.
Mafek somehow lured animals to their shelter, small ones, which they cooked over an open fire, and might possibly use to trade their furs in a village some distance away.

"Mama! Mama!" Bawled a tiny child to Mafek. Blearily, the young woman hugged her daughter to her side.
"What is it Steffa?" Mafek grumbled.
"The big rats in my dream again... They were really close and they smelled bad and there was a man with them."
Mafek sat bolt upright in her bed, jostling Dest but he was a sound sleeper.
"Steffa sweet heart, tell me just what you saw. Quietly." Mafek said, that was their cue to go onto a private telepathic link so they wouldn't bother Dest. Steffa had always been prone to having visions, dreams which would become reality, and she was quite well tuned to the animals of this northern forest - Hern rats being one of them. Those were the type in her dream.
This was no dream. There were always people out looking for escaped Slaves like Dest. Panic gripped Mafek's heart and she held on to Steffa in a fierce hug. "Steffa, do you see the sun in your dream? Where is it?"
Steffa paused, and though she was but four years old she could sort out her own thoughts quite well. "That way," she pointed, west.
Then from Mada the danger would come. It was time to wake Dest, and tell him that perhaps that little nook up in the hills was a better place for their homestead after all. He'd wanted to move to a more secluded area before, even though they had already selected another spot to build their first real home. The area where the temporary shelter had been assembled was too small for a proper house to go up.
When Dest had been told of this news, his broad shoulders slumped. "It's going to be hard work, winter is coming on quickly this year." He got himself out of their warm bed and stretched. Mafek had never lost her fascination with him - he was so handsome and sweet and smart... She hoped that she hadn't disappointed him in any way. After all she'd chosen this life for them, not really giving him a choice at all. When he'd dressed and gathered up his tools to start working on that cavern-home, Steffa came to her mother.
"Why are you so sad, mama? Daddy's making a new house for us!" Steffa seemed so pleased to have this new place, but she still didn't quite understand the theory behind why Dest - and her mother, for that matter - were wanted by men with hern rats.

Eight years and three homes later, the law finally caught up with Dest and Mafek. Their second child, a boy they named Ked, had barely begun to walk when the snarling, baying sounds of the Hern rat patrol came from the canyon below.
"We know you're there. You must come peaceably or else we'll send the rats after you." Called a burly man - fit for tending an entire family of the huge waist-high rodents.
In the house, which was effectively sheltered from view below by the canyon wall's edge, and from above by another higher one, Mafek hugged her tiny son to her chest, while Steffa clung on to her skirt. Dest appeared with a grim face, but a calm had taken him long before. He'd been resigned to this some day. His greater worry was that he would never be allowed to see his children again.
Imagine that. Two children - young and strong, powerful and clearly smart. And his - a slave's children. Meaning only one thing to Dest. That some day, those children and he would surely be parted whether he had a say in it or not. Mafek trembled when he placed his sturdy red hand on her shoulder.
Their daughter's woodsy-red-brown skin contrasted beautifully with her brilliant orange-yellow hair, her huge red-framed yellow eyes looked so slightly catlike. Her grandmother's mutation, apparently. Ked was a softer shade of brown-green, and his eyes would change color in the sunlight - he so loved being out and about. But not right now. He was restless, but his innate empathy had already caught on that this was a dire situation indeed.
"We should go." Dest picked up a coarsely woven blanket that Ked slept most of his life in, and wrapped it about the boy as a cloak. He then looked about for something - anything - that Steffa had to bring with her.
A wooden toy - he knew that she hadn't played with it in a long while, but it hadn't broken in the years she had enjoyed it. She took it with her eyes cast downward, but he picked up her chin. "It's a new adventure. And think of this, Steffa, your powers are strong. You let us know so many times - we'd have been caught years before now if not for you."
She nodded, and they exited the rocky homestead.
When they'd descended the steep path down to the canyon floor, where the group of Hern rats and their tenders, as well as three other people waited, Steffa took one look at the man and simply started screaming and screaming...
Shaken, suddenly, the man had to control the rats with a tug of their short leashes. "What's got into that girl?" He asked, worried. "What's wrong with her?"
Mafek barely shielded herself and her son from Steffa's wild psionic sendings. "It's you!" She yelled, "you've plagued her dreams for a decade or more, and now here you are in the flesh!"
Steffa gripped her father's shoulders as he picked her up, she was still wailing. Her eyes were wedged shut and tears streamed down her dark face. Dest tried to calm her, but his own powers weren't nearly enough to combat this trauma.
Two of the other people nearby were all but strangers to Mafek, but Dest knew them all too well. His Lady Owner Szhe, and her head Slave Faranat. The third member of the team, Khadja.
Her stern eyes drifted over the group, wincing a bit at the sharp cries of the child.
Mafek knew that something - something bad - had to have made her this way. She never knew her mother to be so stern or angry looking. Perhaps it was just her running away with Dest. But more likely it was something else entirely.
Her mother's mind was sealed - her own telepathic power had strengthened over the years they'd been apart.
"Come along, Mafek. Slave Dest, you're going back with them. I consider this fiasco over." Khadja said flatly.
Mafek's heart skipped. "Mother - you-"
"Over," Khadja spat again, and turned. There was a hover vehicle nearby, a quiet one which none of the family members had heard come up over the canyon ridge. It was fit for several people, and another one lay a little farther away, the one which held the Hern rats and keeper.
"The children are mine," claimed Szhe, sharply. "Come. You're far too old to be crying like that, and you'll need to be trained for your work."
She demanded that Steffa be handed off to her. And though he was afraid for his life, Dest stood firmly.
"You'll not have my children. They were born Holders, and Holders they shall stay. Mafek?"
Though she was small by comparison to her partner, Mafek could still hold on to the year-old Ked on one shoulder, and take their daughter onto her other arm.
"Mafek! Give the children to their Owner. Now." Khadja said. Her voice was a warning growl, her catlike eyes narrowed and sharp.
Mafek turned. Slowly, she turned a look of outright surprise and fear into one of pure anger.
"How dare you insist any such thing?! My children are not to be bartered!"
"They already have been, miss," said the tall, overly muscled Faranat. "Now come hand them here."
Her anger turned on this Slave and manifested suddenly as a wall of painful psionic energy. He reeled, moving back a few steps and holding his hands to his head.
"You stay away from my babies!" She shrieked. By this time, Steffa's wailing had toned down to a constant whimpering, but had never stopped entirely. They were cut silent by this event.
Khadja moved forward, apparently immune to her daughter's wrathful broadcast. "Mafek, you've been found guilty of Hard Stock theft. Harboring a renegade Slave, and several other charges already. You're going to add assault to a superior Status to that?"
"He's superior to me? In what way?!" Demanded the young woman.
"... Mafek, you're ..." Khadja started, but her exterior of smooth dominance started to waver. "You are considered a rogue - less than a renegade in any courtroom. Anything they do with you now is legal. Do you understand? Lady Szhe will take care of the children as a trade for your life. That's the only option."
"I have enough money to pay for-"
"No, you do not," Szhe spat. "Not nearly enough. Not even with thirteen years worth of interest added. Do you know how much it cost me to have Dest engineered? Your simple Breeder aunt never explained it to you?" Her tone was insulting enough, but the words even stung Khadja. She didn't let it show. "Dest is the result of decades of selection. And you took him from me just before I was going to be starting a project which would utilize the very features he had been bred for. In case you hadn't noticed, he's able to work any kind of land imaginable. Rocks, grassland, trees, dirt. He's a terraformer, you dolt! You cannot imagine how much more you'd have to pay to buy him!"
Mafek's eyes widened, hurt and amazed at this all. Dest tried to go to her side to comfort her, but Faranat got in his way. One look of warning, admittedly a red-eyed one from Mafek's attack, but one look and he backed away. He'd been struck many times by those powerful hands, even though it was more than a decade before he remembered clearly.
"Give them up, or they'll..." The Hern rat master started out gruffly, but couldn't finish his statement.
"Mafek, if you come with me right now, and give the children to Lady Szhe, you'll probably be given only a lighter sentence because of the children." Explained her mother. She'd obviously been over this time and again in her mind or even with lawyers. "But... They're authorized to hunt you down, Mafek," she indicated the Rat master.
"No!" Interjected Dest, "No - you can't do that!"
A glaring grey eye from his Lady almost shut him up, but Dest was ready to defend his mate properly.
"Mafek," he said, "there's always time later. Do what they ask now. I can't bear the thought of you -" He couldn't even finish the statement.
"Being eaten alive by Hern rats?" Szhe did it for him. "It's far more than she deserves. Get in the hovervan, Slave. Now. Take the children with you, or I'll allow them to be eaten as well. They are after all, my property to be dealt with as I see fit."
She turned, and held her hand up in an 'I'm waiting' gesture. Faranat took that as his cue to brave Mafek's mental burn again, which sadly she couldn't quite muster this time. Ked was handed off to his father, so he didn't much make a peep.

"Why is that girl always so quiet?" Asked one of the Bayaran of Steffa. Another shrugged and kept shoveling.
Steffa stared directly ahead as she did her work, mechanically. She held up a stone to the light, saw that it was of the right smoothness to use in a homestead, and placed it on the cart with others just like it. This back-breaking work was far too hard for most Slaves her age, but no one questioned Szhe's decision. If anything, they commended her - because it gave the girl a chance to at least be in the same camp as her father.
Ked wasn't so lucky. Since he was so young when he was Slaved, he was to be raised with a foster mother like the others among Szhe's broods, and educated to his Station. He would never know his family, nor how to use his powerful psionics. Not if Szhe had anything to say about it.
Another big rock, perhaps a little too shiny in places, was put on the cart. Steffa didn't complain that her back hurt. She never said anything about her bloody hands. Her shoulders were tired, achy. They never stopped bunching up, even when she was resting or asleep. Her catlike eyes remained focused on the stones she picked up. Her lips were sorely dry, and she would work herself to death if it weren't for the kindness of one of the older Bayaran tending the workers.
"You've got to stop this, Steffa," he said, holding out a cup with fresh water in it. She took it with the same mechanical action that her work used, and said nothing in return. When their shifts were over, she sat in the shade next to the other exhausted Slaves. They would be brought into their temporary housing when everyone else was done out there.
Other Slaves and Bayaran would mend their clothing, tell stories, or quietly gripe about their situation in this time. Some tended their wounds, yet others lay staring at the sky wishing and wanting.
Everyone knew where Steffa had come from. Everyone had tried to ask her things about the free life. Not one had ever gotten a response. The fourteen year old girl withdrew even from her father's conversations. Hardly a day went by that he did not try to converse with her, get her to talk or open up, or even act like his daughter. She simply did not respond.
Some Bayaran would taunt her and insult her, calling her stupid or slow, but those who had been there a year before when she came on with her father would silence them quickly enough.
But not even Dest would talk about Mafek. She had not been allowed to come with them, as a Slave herself - Szhe insisted that she be tried as a criminal and she wanted nothing to do with criminals. She of course never said what the outcome of that trial was. Information like that was kept from her Slaves, naturally. It wasn't their place to worry about such things.

"He didn't mean to! It was an accident!" Cried a Bayaran of his brother. "She never says anything! He didn't know she'd care!"
Though he was growing a bit past his prime for the job, Faranat was still Lady Szhe's enforcer, still well-muscled and sleek, and looked upon the Bayaran who'd raped Steffa. His gruff voice carried in the barracks. "Did not mean to take the girl by force? Excuse me but last I heard, one's meant to ask before doing any such things, and getting a response is rather important don't you think?"
Other people muttered, 'didn't think she'd mind?' 'he'd always been randy.' 'served the girl right for not protesting.' and 'if it was me, I'd have slugged him good.'. Faranat glanced around, and the various Slaves and Bayaran silenced themselves.
"She hasn't deserved any of this," he announced, "and I'd consider your brother to be permanently bonded, boy. This kind of thing isn't looked upon well by our Lady."
The brother of the offending man stood in complete sickened silence. They'd been bonded because their deadbeat of a mother had blown everything they owned on a losing Steed, and then gone out and killed herself. Leaving them with the bill - and now this?
But Faranat was already outside with Steffa in his arms being carried out to the infirmary. He wouldn't hear any protests or complaints, he was clearly on the 'girl's' side. The girl in question was now a middle aged woman - and had never said more than one or two words in the entire time she was Szhe's Slave.
"Caught him in the act, I did," he told the healer present. "Felt compelled to head to the barracks."
Faranat told him how he'd been walking by the new paved road and felt something tingling, just the edge of something amiss. Headed toward the barracks, and caught the Bayaran named Xemai as he was pinning Steffa to her cot and in the act of forcing her to comply with his sexual desires. He'd immediately broken the younger man off her, passing him off to several concerned Slaves nearby, who took him off to another area for the time being.
"Well it was a good thing you did, then," the Breeder said, nodding. "Lucky for the girl."
"I knew he was going to do it," said a hoarse voice - clearly female, and clearly Steffa's. "So I told you to come. I needed you to help me, and you came."
While the healer stood in confounded silence, Faranat seemed a bit more knowledgeable about it, and sat down next to her.
"This is the most I've ever heard you speak, Steffa," he said. "I knew you were a foreteller - your father spoke highly of your abilities, that's why you weren't discovered until later. But... Why didn't you try to avoid it, if you could see it?"
Steffa's red-lined yellow eyes met his, the first genuine contact they'd had in decades. "My power only tells me what will happen, not how to try avoiding it. I'd seen you, when I was little. And that bitch Szhe," though she did not pause, the healer and Slave both took in sharp breaths, "and the stone grounds. I've only ever seen things that really wind up happening. There was no point in trying to change it. I could not if I tried."
"Now that's kind of -" The healer began to say something idiotic, and Faranat stopped him.
"Even if she had protested, you think he'd have stopped? I think not." Faranat said, grimly, to the healer. He turned back to Steffa. "You'll stay here for a while. We'll take care of Xemai, and I'll recommend that he not be kept here. Perhaps not with female Slaves at all."
Steffa nodded, then went a bit more vacant as she usually appeared. Faranat told the healer he'd stay up with her, if the Breeder had places to be. He watched Steffa's eyes cloud over as if in deep memory - but more likely they were merely hiding the pain she was in.
She'd been through a lot. In her fifty five years as a Slave she'd seen many things. Her brother Ked sold off and never seen again. Her father literally worked to death changing the rocky soil into rich brown arable dirt. If her mother was still alive, who knew? Surely Steffa would know, Faranat had a feeling that the young woman would just ... change, if that happened. She never spoke, not even to acknowledge Lady Szhe's instructions. At first, Szhe would punish her for not responding, but then simply realized that the girl was hardly protesting - she was doing her work and didn't say anything because she was trying to drown out reality.
Perhaps her reality was far worse than Faranat could imagine. If she could see people doing things... Her own ability had allowed their family to elude their captors for the better part of a decade - so why not now? Why did she feel that she deserved this treatment?
Faranat realized he'd gone totally soft for her. She was a pretty young woman, but not even half of his age, and he felt ... well, he felt far more than grandfatherly toward her. While it might not be true that she deserved to have been attacked, she certainly had a sort of appeal that even an aged man like he could appreciate.
"You get some sleep," Faranat instructed, and then lifted her chin to hope for another glimpse into her eyes. "I'll be here. Don't dream about bad things, Steffa. Only dream of good things."
She blinked, and said, "I dream of freedom, just like any other forced Slave. You've never known it, so you wouldn't have this fear. This ache."
Though he wanted to seek truth in the depths of her eyes, it was his turn to look away. Concern folded his white-grey brows together. "... My family has always served. It is all we know. I wonder what it was like to run free and only answer to your parents call, instead of the demands of a Lord or Lady. Lady Szhe has always -"
"That bitch can rot in the sea. She took my father - she sent my mother away forever, and she sold my brother. What kind of woman can do that? Barren iced-over brute."
Faranat's eyes grew very wide indeed.
"I would never have thought that a woman who'd never spoken two words in fifty years would have such a vocabulary," he said with half a grin. Steffa looked back up, eyes brighter with a bit of anger and hate, but then changed to a suddenly bemused look.
She started to laugh - but it turned into a wailing sob. Faranat remained by her side, until the mid morning of the next day, hugging her and singing old songs to her in a quiet, broken voice.

"He probably has quite a lot of good working years in him, so don't look at that age group and think he's not worth having." Said Master Hwroo to the crowd as they looked over their pamphlets. "He's quite docile now but he'd been used for more dangerous work in his youth, and is very well trained. He has done exceptionally well in personal service in his later years."
The Membayar running this Hard Stock auction for Lady Szhe's estate looked over the few things that he knew about any of her Slaves. The Bayaran had been raised immediately when she'd died, as per the law, but the Slaves had to be sold to cover any other expenses. Since she had no family of her own, she'd willed a number of things to he and his company, which was kind of her. But she'd also stipulated that when she died, if some project or other was not finished - it be destroyed and not given off to some 'undeserving Holder'. That was a great pity, Hwroo thought, since that big stoneworks in the scrub desert she owned had almost become the best quarry site on all Kiran.
He'd thought about ignoring or changing that portion of the documentation, in fact. But... Instead he chose to ignore the 'destroying' part, and simply let the property go untended. There would be no point in honoring her wishes when he knew they were purely out of spite.
"But this Slave is quite elderly," said one younger Lord of Faranat. It was true, he wasn't doddering yet, but he was rather old, and starting to look it. He looked rather offended, as well.
Mostly because he'd been expected - by the other servants and Bayaran anyway - to have Inherited something, or at the very least been Raised to Worker for his long service to the Lady. That too, was something Hwroo didn't understand about Szhe's wishes. She really was a genuine cold article.
So perhaps it was a good thing she couldn't have had children.
Hwroo turned his attention on Faranat, and then to the young Lord. "Well, then Lord Bex should probably move along to the younger stock. There are dozens of useful ones, so if this one does not please his eyes perhaps another shall." The Master was quite good at making these upstart Owners feel good about themselves - at the same time as insulting them. Of course, most Lords were good at the opposite, regarding their Membayar counterparts like him.
Faranat didn't like the idea of being put into an auction, especially one like this. He was a personal bodyguard, a servant who was meant to be close at hand to things private - not to be suddenly sent to a kitchen or made into a butler. Szhe had trusted him with such personal actions that he truly wondered what had gotten into her when she wrote her will. It must have slipped her mind that when she was young, and he barely younger, they'd even become lovers for a moment.
...And perhaps that moment was it, he thought back while the Master began selling some of the field workers and stone quarry hands. Perhaps it was when she was forced to realize she didn't need to protect herself from an unwanted pregnancy - that she started to hate her Slaves so much.
Yet there would always be a spark of love in him, for his cold Lady. Faranat was almost embarrassed to admit it. Especially now. There was no need to defend her actions - she'd said and done whatever she felt like and now was having her final laugh at them all. Suddenly he felt like spitting on her grave.
When someone shouted, "How much for the cat-eyed one?" Faranat's attention sharpened back onto the auction. Steffa had largely turned back into her sullen, vacant self after a while. She would come to him, privately, to cry or to laugh or even to share her body willingly. He had been greatly flattered then, and was prouder of himself now for never having told Szhe.
"Welllll, this one is a bit of a quandary - she's a solid worker, nice muscularity - but the notes have it that she won't speak."
"Won't or can't?" Someone else asked, and Hwroo checked his notes.
"Says won't. Has been known to. But as I said, she's documented as a hard worker. Doesn't complain either."
Muttering ran through the assembled buyers. Faranat stepped with his typical confidence from his slightly sequestered area, to the ground. And the muttering stopped - then became quite heated.
"With respect, Master," Faranat said, "Steffa is ... a very special woman."
The Membayar was able to curb his tongue, but several of the Owners and High Holders in the auction area didn't, and said things like 'special to you' and 'servant to a servant' but they ignored them.
"She is very well Bred, even though her paperwork will not show that. She is descended from Beast masters and strong psionics run in her family."
Carefully, Faranat glanced at Steffa whose expression did not change - but he felt a strangely familiar tingling. He knew she would rather have him running things, than any stranger from some agency.
"She has been known to foretell the future - for her own self, not for others," Faranat looked at the young Lordlings thinking they could somehow control it for themselves, "And she does show a strong connection to wildlife when it's nearby."
"You're saying this is a Tuned Slave?" Someone said, and her long fur-covered ears and silken coat of downy yellow fur gave her away easily as an Animal Master herself.
"I cannot say whether she is tuned so strongly as to become your equal, BeastMistress," Faranat said.
Through this all, some of the Lords and High Masters were concerned that Master Hwroo wasn't properly controlling the auction. But then again, he wasn't a Lord - he was merely a Membayar - and didn't have the proper skills to put this old Slave in his place.
The Animal Mistress came forward, and bowed a bit to Hwroo, asking, "may I see her closely?"
"...Of course," Hwroo said, standing aside. The line of Slaves went on in clumps for half a Unit, gatherings of field workers and quarrymen, and a house full of personal Slaves, they were all rather well behaved, but most didn't want to be there at all. But they all knew the penalty for trying to run away. Look at Steffa.
The mutated younger Animal Mistress - gathering her own set of stares and mutterings when she came to the line of Slaves - looked or tried to anyway, at Steffa's eyes.
"It's okay," she said softly. "I can feel your anger and pain. Your friend is quite loyal to you," she gently looked away and at Faranat, who hadn't quite heard it from his distance. "Would you like to come with me, and see what you could do with your abilities? I can see they've been sorely neglected for many years. But that could change easily."
Steffa swallowed and blinked, looking back up at the brown-red eyes of her buyer, and said, "only if he comes with me," in a low voice.
"Of course. I can do that."
The woman turned on her oddly shaped heel (she was for all the world, an upright yellow-colored rabbit. No one had seen such a thing around here in Aakal.) and went to pay for the pair. That was all she wanted, really, now that she could do so legally, the Animal Mistress wanted to flex her own buying power.
She wasn't all that good at deciding how to command the Slaves, some Lady or Lord noticed. She was rather soft about it. Asking instead of telling them, to come to her side when the transaction was finished. How simple of her. Those strange Animal Masters were just not quite cut out for this ownership deal, were they? Well, not in the proper ways at least. If they required Slaves to run their homesteads while they did more important things, of course, that was one thing. But...
Steffa clung on to Faranat's long and somewhat bony arm, as they left.