Archive | October 2014

Chapter 9 – Taslin – Hold

“Hold!”

Her opponent fell down on his knees. “I yield. Shit, what have you been doing?”

“Practicing?” Taslin sheathed her sword and offered the man a hand up. “You’re doing well, Sethen. But you’ve got to watch that guard.”

“You’ve been here two days longer than I have.” He took her hand and stumbled to his feet. “And you’ve already got a patron.”

“He’s not my patron, not yet.” She smoothed her hands over her tunic uncomfortably. “He’s just giving me gifts.”

“You’re not that naive, are you?” He tugged on the hem of his own top – standard-issue, where Taslin’s now fit her perfectly.

“Of course not. He’s giving me gifts to buy his way into being my Patron, but he’s very insistent on the gifts being no-obligation. Besides, they’re nice gifts. You ought to consider it.”

“If you’re his type, I doubt that I am.” Sethen and Taslin, between them, exemplified two of the three sorts of Gladiator, as common wisdom had it: he was tall, broad, and built like a Ring wall; she was lean, tall, and built like a Tower.

“I haven’t figured that out yet. He didn’t even try for services for payment rendered.” She unbuckled her sword-belt and hung it on the gear rack. “I have an hour before my stage class; do you want to take a walk together?”

Sethen, in the middle of taking of his own practice-gear and armour, froze. “Taslin…”

She hissed. “A walk, Sethen, a walk. That is all.” He would have to let go of his devotion to his True Love in the Ninth Circle eventually. But Taslin would not be the one he did so for.

“Why?” He had unfrozen, at least; he was going to have to work on his surprise reactions, or he was going to get beaten to a pulp in the pit really quickly.

“Because we’re of a time coming in, we’re getting along decently, and in a place like this, we could both use every ally we can get.”

“Are you always thinking about strategy?”

And this was why she was a stronger fighter in the pit than he was, despite his unassailable front.

“Usually. Sometimes I sleep. So, walk?”

“We’re allowed to?”

“We’re allowed to do quite a bit, as long as it doesn’t interfere with our matches, our instruction, our our Patrons, which neither of us have.”

“I never imagined wearing a collar would be so free.” He grabbed two towels off of the rack and tossed one to Taslin. “Shower first?”

“Sounds lovely. Maybe I can get through it without a valet offering to wash my back.”

“I’m not the only one? I feel left out.” Too late, she remembered that Sethen had trouble with sarcasm. “Joking. I’ve been turning Vinroth down for two weeks.”

“Much to Vinroth’s dismay.” The valet walked into the sandbox, smirking. “Here, I brought you both a clean tunic for after the showers you won’t let me in for.”

“You’re so good to us, however mean we are to you.”

“I work so hard for you, and all I ask is to serve you a little more.”

“It’s entirely selfless, sure.” She glanced at Sethen, wondering if he was understanding the joking; from the look on his face, no, no he wasn’t. She toned it down a bit. “Thank you, however, for the clean tunics.”

Sethen’s expression cleared; he understood that. “We worked up quite a sweat.”

Oh, Sethen. Taslin sighed. “We did. Thank you, Vinroth.”

“It was my pleasure. Go, you two. If I can’t join you, at least enjoy yourselves.”

There was no point even given that one a response. Taslin headed off to the showers, leaving Sethen to find his own way.

She should not have been surprised – but for once, was – when Vinroth followed her. “I need to speak to you.”

“I know Sethen’s a naif. I’m not going to break his heart, jump his bones, or both.” She draped her clean tunic over the shower stall and quickly added her dirty one.

“That’s good, but that’s not what we need to talk about.” He leaned against the cedar of the stall wall, not looking at her. Pointedly not looking at her.

“I’m listening. Pass me a back brush?” This time of the day, the water would be cold. Bracing. She lathered herself up from the hand-tap first.

The back brush came over the stall wall. “If you’d just let me in…”

“What do we need to speak of, Vinroth?”

“Your would-be Patrons. Taslin, please…”

Something in his voice was not normal – and the plural on Patrons was interesting. “All right. Come in, Vinroth.” She opened the door for him, and was not as surprised as she might have been to find him already stripped down. “Now, what is it?”

He slipped behind her. “Brush.”

“If this is just an excuse…”

“Just give me the brush, Taslin Gladiator.”

“Yes, sir.” She responded to the tone in his voice and handed over the brush.

He started scrubbing her back before he spoke. When he does, it was quieter than he could have gotten away with in anything but this intimate situation. “I have been looking into your Jervennon of Cecby, and when I was looking around, I encountered two more who are interested in you. They are, mmm, less patient than he might be.”

“Who are they?”

“One of them is a Third Ring businessman who’s climbing. He’s older than you, of course-”

“Of course.”

“-but he’s handsome, clean, and relatively well-spoken. He’s got the class-conscious thing you often get with Ladder-climbers – he started out Sixth Ring – and he has already dropped Patronage of two other Gladiators.”

“Sounds charming.”

“There are worse. Like your third candidate.” He really was quite good at washing backs. “This one is a Second Ring sort who was born into it. He’s not much older than your Jervennon of Cecby – just enough to have clawed his way back up – but he has a reputation for being ruthless. Turning him down or accepting his offer is likely to be disastrous.”

“It sounds like I’m between two rocks and a soft place.”

“That’s the thing, yes. Your first one, your Jervennon, has sent you five more gifts, and he keeps insisting you take your time. Your second one will wait, but not for long at all. He wouldn’t be a horrible choice – but he wouldn’t last long, in all likelihood.”

“And that would wash out Creep Number three but also Nice Boy Number One. Of course Nice Boy is only going to last a year.”

“But Nice Boy is showering you in very nice gifts. Which may or may not last once he’s gotten the title of Patron for you; I don’t have any history to look into for him, since he’s so shiny new.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“Would you believe it’s because it’s my job?”

“No. Because I have not seen you do this for anyone else in the weeks I’ve been here. Also, you’re being sneaky and whispering.”

“Of course, if I was sneaking and whispered with everyone else, you wouldn’t have seen me do it, would you have?”

“Touché. But you still haven’t answered my question.”

“I’m fond of you. And I have ambition, as well.”

“Ambition?” She twisted around to look at the valet. “Do tell.”

He reached over head. “Close your eyes.” Before she could do anything except exactly that, he had pulled the cord, loosing a flood of cold water onto them both.

His hands worked quickly enough that Taslin had only reached for a washrag before Vinroth had already sponged her off, getting the soap off her body and scrubbing carefully at a few raw places where she’d gotten sand embedded in cuts.

“There.” His lips were very close to her ear. She hadn’t realized he was that close. “I have ambition, Taslin Gladiator, and when you get your own room and your own valet, I don’t wish to be serving as a jack-to-any-hands for the rest of my life.”

“Aaaah.” She turned, until her nose was nearly touching his. “So you want me to find a good Patron…”

“One that will let you chose your own Valet and not assign one designed to be a glorified chaperon, yes. I want you to find a Patron that will make you happy, because I like you-” He was washing her shoulders, his face almost against her neck.

“-and because you want me to like you enough to bring you with me. You’re quite a Ladder-climber.”

“Not normally something you find in valets serving Gladiators, or Valets as a whole, I know. But it’s how this particular valet feels.”

“And not just because you want to give me more showers?” She leaned back enough that she could smile at him, because she didn’t really think he was trying to worm his way into her bed. Gladiators did not usually end up free to choose their own partners all that often, for one. And the sort of person that became a valet was generally not all that interested in the carnal.

“Well…” He smiled back at her, showing his teeth. She’d never noticed how white or how sharp they were before this. “That’s a nice side effect, if it should come about.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, too. So, how do I deal with my suitors, plural, without ending up with patrons, zero?”

“Make no mistake, if it’s not Jervennon of Cecby or another of this batch, you will get a Patron. You’re good, you’re lean, and you have drive.”

“I… yes, I have drive.” She took the washrag from him and began washing his back. It only seemed proper, and she needed something to do with her hands. “Is it that obvious?”

“Mmm… oh. Oh, you don’t have to…!” He blinked at her rapidly.

“I want to. Is it that obvious?”

“Obvious? Oh, that you have drive.” His expression settled on a slow smile, although he was very squirmy still. “If you’re looking, yes. I suppose if you were blind, oblivious, or uncaring, it might not be. But I look for Gladiators with drive.” His smile had resolved itself into something normal-for-him. “They make this job worth it.”


Want more?

Become a Patreon Patron

Donate via Paypal

Review Jumping Rings on Web Fiction Guide

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.

Reviews count as $5 each; if we reach 4 (or 8) reviews, I will post a second chapter (or a chapter AND a demifiction/outtake)

Chapter 8 – Valran – Come

“Come.”

The female voice, again. Valran didn’t move.

“Come, Valran Servus. I am buying you.”

He risked looking up, now. It didn’t seem like the wisest idea, but there was something about her voice that demanded attention. So up Valran looked, into eyes like amber.

“Ma’am.” It seemed a safe bet, the way she was dressed. All those skirts – very rarely did someone who had chosen Ix dress in petal-layered skirts and pastel colors.

“You are not coming.”

“He does not belong to you yet.” The rescue, as it was, came from his right. Husky, deep. The one, probably, who had asked if he could suck (which of course he could). Valran’s glance darted that way; the man’s appearance matched his voice, thick, rich, like chocolate.

“He will. It’s only a formality. But he does not obey.” She sounded amused. Valran was suddenly very worried.

“It is presumed that he obeys the one who brought him to this place to be bid on. Isn’t that right, Valran Servus?” The alto purr from the left belonged to a woman who appeared old enough to be his grandmother. She looked amused.

“Ma’am, yes. I was told to kneel here and to answer questions.”

“To be purchased. You are answering questions to be purchased.”

“To be bid on, Kitdellesta Ashna. To be bid on, and the bidding has not begun yet.” Great-grandma had steel in her voice. Well, after all, she was an inner-circler. You didn’t get to the point where you could bid on people like Valran without having a great deal of clout and steel.

“And I am bidding. And I will win.”

“That’s a matter to be seen at the auction, not to be won before it’s even begun.” The deep voice answered this time. It seemed to be down to the two of them and the woman with the amber eyes – Kitdellesta Ashna. Valran’s heart was pounding. He’d heard of the Lady Ashna. Who in New Indapala hadn’t? This, this wasn’t good.

“Well, then, let’s get to the auction. I’ve not got all day, you know.”

“And if we have more questions?” The smooth neutral voice belonged to someone who looked as smooth as they sounded, and as neutral. No hair, anywhere. Not even eyebrows. And a simple tunic, if something that rich-looking could be called simple.

“Then put your money on the table, Debbesthando, or ask your questions of someone else. The adults are talking now.”

Where was the Deputy Oligarch?

“Has it come to the bidding, then? So soon? You are all certain that this is a piece of meat you would consider owning?” Ah, there rhi was. Calling him a piece of meat. Valran dropped his head, suitably reminded of his status, and waited.

“We’re certain. Can we get on with it already?” That had to be Lady Ashna, who seemed very certain she would win. She generally did, from what Valran had heard.

“Let us begin. We set the price, of course, at the basic nine thousand skone.-”

“Nineteen thousand skone.”

Well, Lady Ashna definitely wanted him. If only he could say the same of her – not that that would matter in the long run.

“I hear nineteen thousand, do I hear twenty-two thousand?”

“Twenty-nine thousand skone.” That sounded like Great-Grandma. Valran dropped his head lower. This was going to be bad.

“Thirty-seven thousand skone.” And that was neutral voice. Thirty-seven thousand skone. If that money was going to Valran directly, the house he could buy. The gates he could open. The food he could put on a table.

“Forty-five thousand skone.” And if that was the price that he went for, to Deep Voice, his mouth was going to get stretched and broken and, likely, so were other parts of him. Forty-five thousand?

“Sixty.” Lady Ashna snapped out her bid, biting off the syllables. “Why are you prolonging the inevitable?”

For sixty thousand skone, she could have bought a car.

“Sixty-three thousand.”

“Oh, come, Ablenfeshlin Rhon, what sort of bid is that? Three more thousand?” Great-grandma was unimpressed by Likes His Cock Sucked. “Seventy-three thousand.”

Seventy three… Valran swallowed a gasp. That was… that was higher than he’d dare hope or even dream.

And they were still going. Seventy nine, eighty two, ninety two, ninety three, ninety four, ninety five…

“Kitdellesta Ashna, I own your accountant. I know for a matter of fact that you cannot afford to pay ninety-five thousand skone for anything. Now, are you going to give up gracefully or am I going to have to force you to show your cards?”

A pause. Another pause.

“You let her build it up that high?” Debbesthando sounded shocked. Valran didn’t blame rhi; he was shocked himself.

“I wasn’t bidding alone, good gentles. Not at all. Face it, he’s attractive, strong-looking, well-spoken, the Purist look is attractive, and the way he quivers when you ask him about sex is delectable. All of us want him.”

“But you’re going to end up with him, Gracnellanya Pace, aren’t you?” Smooth and Neutral sounded resigned to it. Valran…

Realized he was making fish faces and shut his mouth. Gracnellanya Pace? Gracnellanya Pace? It couldn’t be. She had to have died by now. She had to have died before Valran was born.

“Yes. Yes, I am going to end up with him, Debbesthando. And the next time you walk into an auction, you will remember this, won’t you?”

“Is everything you do a lesson?” Likes His Cock Sucked was growling. It was a rather attractive growl.

“Ablenfeshlin Rhon, you know it is. Everything I have always done was a lesson. That is how I have lasted this long. Now. My bid stands at ninety-five thousand skone. Is anyone going to debate it, top it, or call my bluff?”

“I do believe you’re not supposed to tell anyone that it’s a bluff.” Having given in, Smooth and Neutral – Debbesthando – seemed to be enjoying rhiself.

Valran envied rhi; he certainly wasn’t enjoying anything at all right now.

“Does it matter?” Likes His Cock Sucked wasn’t having much fun either. Ablenfeshlin Rhon. Valran should remember the name.

“You are all fools.” Kitdellesta Ashna huffing out a complaint was something to be heard. Valran struggled against a shiver. “You’re going to let her…”

“Oh, be real.” This from one of those who hadn’t spoken at all during the bidding. “You’re letting her, too. Really, when she wants something, who has the nerve to get in her way?”

“She can’t live forever.”

“You’d be surprised how long someone can live.” Debbesthando stood up and, much to Valran’s surprise, bowed. To him. To the Servus kneeling on the floor. “Good luck, Valran Servus. I imagine you will need it.” Then, and only then, rhi bowed to Kitdellesta Ashna. “To you, ma’am, I wish you luck in finding exactly the proper servus to lick your feet.”

“I could ruin you.”

“But you won’t.”

Rhi bowed one more time, to Gracnellanya Pace. “And to you, Gracnellanya Pace Attrishish Latnerran, I wish you the best of luck in every endeavor. ‘May you live as long as you wish and love as long as you live.’”

“I didn’t know you for a poet, Debbesthando.”

“Many things are still unknown about me. But I would offer you this advice – he is young, and he has spark. He could be your ally in ten years, or he could become the one that topples you.”

“This ancient carcass is still fairly intelligent. But I thank you for thinking of me, Debbesthando. Good luck in all that you do. High walls and a warm hearth.”

“Safety for your sleep and moderation in your vepó.”

Did all Inner Circlers say goodbye for hours like this? Valran had thought he was smooth with his speech, but this was excessive.

No, they were done. Smooth and Neutral bowed one more time and left. Likes His Cock Sucked stood, bowed, muttered a few words of good-bye, and left.

That left Great-Grandma, Terrifying, and the few who had not bid at all.

“Will you bid higher?” Great-Grandmother sounded like a Gladiator in the ring, urging her competitor on.

“You know I will not. What will you do with him, Gracnellanya Pace? Surely you’re past the use of him.”

“I wouldn’t prepare my place in the bone fields yet.” She stood. “If my bid is uncontested, I will take him.”

“He is yours upon receipt of payment.” The Deputy Oligarch stepped forward. “Stand, Valran Servus, and prepare yourself to enter service with Dame Gracnellanya Pace Attrishish Latnerra.

“Ma’am.” He rose, bowed, and rose again, keeping his head down and his gaze firmly on the floor. This was, he had to admit, not exactly what he’d pictured when he’d thought about a life kneeling in service.

“Come, Valran Servus.” Great-Grandma – his owner – held a hand in front of him. “My valet will pay. You and I, we need to have a conversation.”

“Ma’am.” He took her hand, hoping it was what he was supposed to do. She could kill him with a thought. She probably wouldn’t, but very few people would be upset if she did.

“If I may…?” She tilted her head to the Deputy Oligarch.

“Of course. Enjoy him, ma’am.”

“I entirely intend to.”

Oh, good.

She was holding his hand with a grip that was, perhaps unsurprisingly, very strong. He couldn’t have backed away if he wanted to.

He’d known there was no backing out when he sent in the application. He’d known it when he bent knee. He’d known it when he rode past all the gates of the city save the last. It was one thing to have known it, however, and another to feel her grip on his hand like the cage closing behind him.

“Relax.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t think that’s possible.” Had he just said that? She was chuckling, oh, good. Probably good.

“I take it you’ve heard of me?”

“I don’t think there’s anyone on the Circled Plain who hasn’t, ma’am.”

“I would say ‘I’m not all that scary,’ but I’m going to try not to lie to you.” She kept walking as she spoke, so Valran did as well. This was a hall of the Deputy Oligarch’s complex that he hadn’t seen, but, then again, he hadn’t seen much of it yet.

“Thank you?”

“I like you.” The sun looked unbearably bright as they stepped outside. Another car awaited – although this time it was less of a surprise. She’d just spent ninety-five thousand skone on him, after all.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Now, in.” She gestured at the back of the car, and, of course, he slipped in. “And we’ll talk about the service you will be doing for me, Valran Servus.”


Want more?

Become a Patreon Patron

Donate via Paypal

Review Jumping Rings on Web Fiction Guide

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.

Reviews count as $5 each; if we reach 4 (or 8) reviews, I will post a second chapter (or a chapter AND a demifiction/outtake)