“Come, Taslin Gladiator.” Vinroth touched Taslin gently on the elbow. “You have fought well, and now you must deal with another sort of battle.”
She blinked at him. The guards had taken away her opponent, and a medic had bound her wounds and fed her something that was supposed to make the pain go away. It had mostly made her muzzy-headed and a little bit silly.
“No more battles today. I’m not that good, yet.”
“No, not quite, although you were quite impressive out there on the field today.”
“You watched?” It must be the medicine that made her feel warm and silly.
“I always watch. But now you must stop fishing for praise and come with me.”
“I wasn’t…” She caught the look on Vinroth’s face. “I’m coming. What’s wrong?”
“There is nothing… wrong, not exactly. But you should hurry.”
“Hurry. Right.” She grabbed a tunic off of a hook and accepted the hip-wrap the valet handed her. “Where am I hurrying?”
“With me. This way.” He passed her a thin gold cord to wrap over the hip-wrap. “You still smell a little, but in this case I think that will work for you, not against you.”
“Well, I didn’t have time to get in an argument about showering with you right now, I was busy being drugged to the gills.”
“After the fight you’ve had, you’re allowed it, I’d say. Through here.”
The route finally worked its way through her drugged mind. “Vinroth, this is…”
“Yes. Now.” He brushed his hands through her hair and smoothed her tunic, her wrap, the cord, and everything else about her. “Be polite.”
“Vinroth, I’m always polite.”
“Be more polite than always.”
“I’m… all right.” They were upstairs. There was no reason to go upstairs unless an oligarch needed them for something – or an oligarch’s servant. This couldn’t be good. But she had been primped and smoothed, she was drugged and confused, and it would have to do.
“And remember to kneel.”
“Yes, of course.” She waited until Vinroth opened the door, taking the moment to take a few breaths. That ought to have steadied her; instead, it made her more nervous.
She took three, four, five measured steps into the audience chamber, dropped to one knee, and dropped her face to look at the floor. The single glance gave her a rough impression of the man standing there: he had black hair, copper skin, and nipples that were almost black through his white top.
“I live to serve.”
“You serve the Pit. I would like you to consider serving me.” She could hear his sandals slapping on the tile floor, moving closer to her. “I have been watching you.”
“Sir.” She kept her head down. The world was swimming, a bit. She hoped it was just the medicine.
“You fight very smoothly, despite being new.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I am very impressed. You’re still young, of course, still new and growing. But you could be famous with ease.”
“You can call me by my name, you know.”
“Sir?” Oh, dear. Was he one of the famous ones? She risked peeking up at him.
In addition to the black hair, which was curly, the copper skin, which glistened, and the black nipples – which were actually black, she thought – he had astonishingly green eyes, lips the same black as the nipples – paint or nature? – and a body which was nearly as toned as a Gladiator’s, although in a much more sleek style. He was wearing the thinnest white shirt she had ever seen, and pants, also white, that were barely any heavier, as well as four earrings in his left ear and three in his right. His ears swept upwards into high points, the tips of which were also black.
“I’m sorry, sir.” She bowed her head. “I do not know your name.”
He laughed. This could be bad. “Ah. I see.” This could be very bad. “Of course you don’t. I am so used to the people who serve in the Inner Circle; I forget people outside of the Towers don’t know the families of the Oligarchs.”
The families of the Oligarchs. She snuck another look at him. He had to be at least as old as she was.
He chuckled again. “Oh, yes. In a year or two, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, my mother is going to have to send me down to the Tenth Circle, and I’ll have to live like the rest of the world. But until then, I might as well enjoy myself, no?”
“Sir.” She nodded her head lower. It seemed the safest option.
“You’re a cautious one, aren’t you?”
“I’ve been in the pit for less than a month, sir.”
“And you’ve been warned about patrons, haven’t you, or you’ve heard stories, either about the worst of the patrons or the children of Oligarchs.” His sandals slapped on the floor as he crossed the room. She held still, despite fighter’s training telling her to stand up, to get in a defensible position, to find a weapon.
He tapped her left shoulder, then her right, and then rested both hands on her head. “I understand. I’ve heard all the stories, too. You’re right to be cautious.”
“However.” His voice took on a little bit of laughter again. “If you call me sir again, I’m going to order all your hair shaved off.”
“Si… I’m sorry?”
“It would get your attention, it would remind you what not to do, and it would be visible to everyone without actually impairing your fighting ability.”
“You’ve thought this out, s…” Taslin coughed. “What should I call you, then? I have to be able to call you something.”
“My name is Jervennon of Cecby.” His hands moved back to her shoulders. “It’s lovely hair, please remember the name.”
“As you wish, Jervennon.” Taslin nodded her head. “What can I do for you?”
“For now? Accept my gifts. I don’t want you to accept my patronage yet, but you can take gifts from anyone you wish until you do accept a patron, I think.”
“You think?” She found her voice squeaking.
“I’ve never been a Patron before.”
“I’ve never been a Gladiator before.” Taslin glanced up at her possibly-would-be-Patron and risked a smile. “If you want to give me gifts, si – Jervennon – and the rules say I can, I will not turn them down.” There, that sounded sufficiently formal without sounding as if she was accepting a Patronage. She hoped.
“Who would know?”
“Vinroth will know. The valet who led me up here.”
“Within any reason, and if I know valets – I’ve known a few, let me tell you – this Vinroth will be waiting just outside the door.” His hands were gone from her shoulders, and his boots thudded on the floor. The door swung open. “Ah. Are you Valet Vinroth?”
“That is I, sir.” She could hear the swish of fabric as Vinroth, presumably, bowed.
“Tell me, as I have never been a Patron before and Gladiator Taslin never a Gladiator before, what protocol is in place for giving gifts outside of a patronage?”
“You wish to give gifts to someone… without a Patronage?” It sounded as if his eyebrows raised. Vinroth had very expressive eyebrows.
“I wish to court her into considering a Patronage.”
“Your lordship is very clever. Well, if that is what you wish, there is no reason you cannot give gifts to anyone you please, and there is no reason that an unassigned, unattached Gladiator cannot take gifts from whoever she pleases.”
“Very good. Then there are some gifts I would like you to take to her room for her, if you would.”
“You don’t wish to hand them to her?”
“No.” The change in tone was sudden. “No. The gifts do not need to pass from my hands into Gladiator Taslin’s. That can wait until the Patronage is accepted, if it is.”
“As you wish, sir. The packages?”
There was the sound of shifting material – something clanked – and then the softest of oof-sounds. “I will take this as required, sir.” Vinroth’s voice bore the slightest sound of strain.
“Very good. See that everything is proper. And you.” The boots again. Taslin’s shoulders twitched with the need to move, to watch. She did not. She held still, as if her life depended on it. “You.” His hands landed hard on her shoulders. “Look at me, Taslin Gladiator.”
She looked up at him. There wasn’t a lot of choice, when it was put that way. “Jerevnnon.” She tried to make it sound like sir.
“Understand. These are gifts. These are not payment for services. They are a token of my appreciation for your skill, and a sign of what could come, should you accept my Patronage. They’re gifts.” He squeezed her shoulders. “With no obligation, save that you look at them, and understand that I gave them to you because of the way you move in the pit.”
This was getting stranger and stranger. She nodded, carefully. “I understand.”
“That means, should they not suit you, you don’t have to use them. You don’t have to use them. They’re gifts. If you want to give them to destitute Tenth Circle children, I won’t argue. If you let you cat sleep in them, I won’t argue. If you wear them proudly, I will not argue.”
“No, I’m serious. I need you to understand that, or these aren’t gifts, they’re very fancy shackles.”
She understood, finally, that he wasn’t really talking to her. She nodded, because that was what it seemed like he needed. “I understand. I appreciate that you like my performances enough to give me gifts. If they suit, I will wear them proudly.” She risked meeting his eyes again. “I really do appreciate that you liked it that much. I didn’t think today went all that well.”
“Today was a travesty. But that was not your doing.” His hands lifted off of her shoulders. “Go. And I hope you enjoy the gifts.”
If we reach $20/month in Patreon or $25 in donations in Paypal – or a combination therof – I will post a second chapter this week, on Sunday.
If we reach $40/month in Patreon or $45 in paypal donations – again, or a combination – readers will be able to choose between an outtake or meta/demifiction now or an epilogue chapter at the end.