Archive | December 2014

Chapter Fourteen – Valran – Agree


It took Valran a moment to realize that Keldra Dre was talking to him. He blinked at her, and settled on “ma’am?” She probably wasn’t going to ask him to go around saying “what the fuck, ma’am?” He hoped.

She pursed her lips and frowned at him. Shit. This wasn’t good. “What’s wrong?”

That was a complicated question. Valran swallowed, and tried to think of an answer. “Nothing’s wrong. I was just, I…” He moved one hand to gesture, and came up against the clink of chain, which seemed to explain things to his new owner, at least in part.

“It’s a bit distracting?”

“It’s…” He stopped walking for a moment, hoping she’d stop as well. She had him on a leash, a golden leash, which would have been a lot more stressful if he’d been the only one on the street on a chain. But since they’d passed three other leashed-and-collared Servi, Valran was beginning to get the feeling that this was common. The hands chained behind the back, however, was just him.

“I’m listening.” She stopped directly in front of Valran, the leash slack between them, and watched him.

“It’s…” Valran swallowed and tried again. “It’s hard to think. It’s distracting, yes, but then it isn’t anymore, and I’m just floating.”

“Hrrm.” Keldra nodded slowly. She looked a lot like her grandmother when she did that, Valran realized, and not just because they had the same terrifying eyes. “Interesting. We’re almost there, and maybe we can explore that in depth somewhere private. For now.” She turned around and started walking again, her bare feet silent on the smooth pavement. “I said, ‘the weather is nice for this time of year, don’t you agree?’”

“Oh. Ah…” The jerk of the leash caught Valran by surprise. He picked up his pace quickly. “Yeah. It’s been very nice for the last week, I think.” Weather talk. He’d failed to miss a cue about the weather. This was going wonderfully.

“I hear we might get a bit of rain this weekend. It would be nice; the reservoirs are almost dry again.”

They were doing small talk. He could tell; she had the small-talk not-really-listening-to-herself tone of voice on. That, and they were talking about the weather.

“If we got rain before they went dry this time, it would be nice. Last year it was kind shi… unpleasant.”

“Yeah.” Her step faltered. “I remember. I was in the Third Ring when it happened, so it wasn’t so bad, but I own a business down in the Ninth.”

“You do?” He wished he could see her face. Her voice gave nothing away, nor did her ears.

“I do. I started it when I was there; it’s an embroidery place.”

“Why did you keep it all the way down there?” Should he be questioning her? She’d probably let him know if he was doing something wrong.

“It’s where the women who work for me live, and it’s easier for them than making them go through checkpoints every day. And it’s closer to where the materials are made, too.”


“Hunh?” She tilted her head, turning one ear towards him.

“It’s just so reasonable.”

“You know Inner Circlers can be reasonable, right?”

“I’ve only ever met Inner Circlers for the first time in the last day and a half. I’m still learning.”

“You’ve really neer met one before?”

“Well, I mean, once in a while I’d run into a Third or Second Circle businessman down… where I grew up… but mostly they sent agents. Nobody really wanted to get their hands dirty.”

“We all came up through the Circles or through the shortcuts. We’ve all had our hands dirty at one point or another.”

“Some people forget it easily.” He realized how bitter he sounded. “Ma’am. Sorry.”

She tugged on the leash, just enough so that he could feel it and not enough to put him off balance. “I’m going to assume you’re not talking about me.”

“No, ma’am. I don’t know you at all, ma’am.”

“That’s a good start. Since my Grandmother has determined that I’m to own you, we should probably fix that quickly.” She tilted her head in the other direction. “My apartment is here.”

The base of the building was black, shiny black marble up five feet over Valran’s head. He glanced up, following the line of the building.

“You live in the Shadow Tower?”

“I do. I grew up here, actually. I’s not as black as it looks, once you’re in it. Kengren.” She nodded at a uniformed doorman. “This is Valran Servus; he is mine.”

Valran glanced at the doorman, a tall man with purple skin and scales on his cheeks. The doorman nodded first at Keldra and then at Valran. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m on the seventeenth floor. It’s not the most luxurious apartment, but it’s nice.”

“You’…” Valran cut himself off. Now was not the time.

“Compared to the suite I grew up in, I mean. Compared to the places I lived when I was climbing the Ladder, it’s heaven.”

The stairs were wide, black, and went on forever, lit from a skylight somewhere so far above it was ridiculous. Valran, who had been working on the Outer Wall for a year, found himself getting out of breath even so. Keldra took them all without breaking a sweat.

When she ordered him to kneel, Valran was grateful for the rest. He fell ungracefully down – there were no kneeling cushions in this apartment, and very little furniture at all, just one divan thick with embroidery.

He panted, trying to be quiet about it, while she paced around him in a circle. “Your name is Valran. Valran of…”


“That’s in the Seventh Ring? I was in Kestren when I was in the Seventh; that’s right next door.”

“My aunt and cousins live in Kestren.” It was small talk again, made all the more weird for having it at the backs of her knees. She seemed to realize that, and then just made it weirder by sitting down cross-legged in front of him. It made her slightly shorter than him, which made Valran try to shift himself shorter.

“It’s all right, don’t hunch yourself.” She grabbed a pillow off the couch and shoved it under herself, bringing her almost to eye level. “There. So. I know where you’re from. You know where I’m from.”

“I don’t, actually. Were you born in the Inner Circle?”

“Yeah… yes, I was. In this Tower, actually. My parents live up several stories.” She gestured upwards. “In the penthouse. They did very well for themselves.”

“I guess so.” Some things you really couldn’t ask politely, so he didn’t. Instead, he gestured with his chin at the room. “You live here?”

“I’ve only been back for a little while. I bought this apartment – the person who had owned it is in the boneyards now – and I haven’t done much with it yet.” Her shrug seemed to suggest that anything else would be more interesting. Valran couldn’t blame her, but it looked like it was going to be hard sleeping for a while. “I should hire a valet, I guess, to deal with all that stuff, but I haven’t really… bothered.”

No wonder her grandmother thought she was going to backslide! Valran cleared his throat. “I’m not going to be a very good valet. They usually come from circles further in, don’t they? And they usually have special training. I don’t have any of that.”

“No. You’re fresh out of the Outer Ring Wall, then, aren’t you? What House did my grandmother buy you from?”

He ducked his head, because he didn’t want her to know – he didn’t want himself to know – if he was blushing. “The house of Teswarnen Eshmarn, ma’am.”

“Teswar? What is rhi doing for rise… oh. Oh, that used to be Donnor Case’s House, didn’t it?”

Even he knew the name of Donnor Case. Boys and girls who sold themselves into a certain style of Servus status were often called Donnors, even now. His mother had sworn at him when he’d told her where he was planning on going: Off to be a Donnor. Didn’t I raise you better than that?

No, he supposed she hadn’t.

“Yes, ma’am. It was Donnor Case’s House for some time. Now it’s Teswarnen Eshmarn’s.”

“Ri’s doing very very well for rhiself , then.” Keldra caught his chin with her fingers and urged it gently upwards. “And are you ashamed that you sold yourself into Donnor-hood?”

“Do you wish me to be, ma’am?” The words were easy. The feelings associated with the words… were not. He looked at her eyebrows – natural, no cosmetics that he could see, and raising in question at him.

“When it comes to your emotions, I expect you to be honest with you, especially when we’re alone together. I expect you to be honest with me about everything, even if an outfit really does make me look fat. I expect you to tell me things, Valran, because I have not yet found the cantrip for reading your mind and would not use it if I had it.”

Valran twitched. The shudder accidentally pulled his chin away from her fingers, and he found himself hunched in on himself.

“Valran. Valran, I’m sorry, that -”

“You own me. You don’t need to apologize to me. You don’t need to apologize for anything. You’re in the Inner Circle.”

“This is true.” The cold tone of her voice told him he’d fucked up. “It is true, and yet I find myself wanting to apologize. And because I own you, and because I am Inner Circle, I can apologize if I want to.”

“Ma’am.” He bowed his head again. “I’m sorry, ma’am, of course you can.”

“Now, will you accept my apology for a joke in amazingly bad taste?”

“Joke… oh.” He glanced up at her face carefully. She was smiling, or at least the edges of her lips were twisted upwards. “Yes, ma’am. Yes, I will.”

“Thank you. Now, back to the original question. Are you ashamed that you sold yourself into Donnor-hood?”

“No. No, ma’am. My mother is ashamed, but I am not.”

“Good.” She patted his knee, very much like her grandmother. “That’s a good place to start.”


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Chapter Thirteen – Taslin – Agree

“Agree. Or don’t. You have to be agreeing to it, Taslin, you know that. They can’t force you to take a Patronage.”

“But they can make my life very difficult if I do not. They can make everything unpleasant. They can lean on the owners of the pit. They can Patronize someone else and encourage them to hurt me, or just hire people to attack me.”

“That’s illegal.”

“Lots of things are illegal. That doesn’t always stop them from happening.”

“I don’t want you to take on my Patronage because I’m the lesser of three evils, Taslin. I want you to be happy with your choice.”

“Jervennon, you’ve been nothing but kind to me. You’ve given me beautiful things. You’ve sent me nice food. You have been very patient with me.”

“I don’t want to pressure you. I don’t want there to be any pressure at all.” He held up both hands, palms forward. “No pressure, Taslin Gladiator.”

“I know.” She held up her own hands as well. “I know that’s what you want.” It was crazy, but she knew it. “I understand. The problem is just… nobody else is going to be that good of a person, or as patient as you, or as understanding as you.”

“I still don’t want to be the only good choice. I want to be the best choice when you’ve had time to think about it.”

He sounded, Taslin thought, like her little brother when he’d been too long without a nap. Like he was trying to be good but just didn’t have it in him anymore.

She sighed. Big, rich, strong man that wanted to be a good boy. By some strange definition of good boy. Taslin coughed. She could handle this.

“Jervennon, I know that. I promise you, I know that. But I don’t have quite the luxury of choices that you do. I have to accept someone’s offer soon, or it’s going to end up hurting me. You have the power-”

“I don’t have any power.”

“You have the borrowed power of your mother, at least for the next year. I’m a Gladiator. I don’t have that at all. If I accept your Patronage, the others will back off and leave me alone.”

“For a year.”

“A year is enough. They’ll have moved on to someone else in that time. And besides…” She smiled at him, and hoped that it would go over well. “I like you. And I doubt any of the others would be willing to negotiate with me.” Here was where it got tricky.

“Negotiate?” He sat down and stared at her. Today, his pants and shirt were red.

She pulled up everything Vinroth had made her recite and tried to make it sound natural. “A Patronage is a contract, so it can have terms. It has to have terms, actually, but most people use the standard pit contract as written.”

“I didn’t know that. I mean, I knew it was a contract.” Jervennon put his face in his hands. “I may be ill-equipped to deal with this.”

“We can learn together, and that’s just fine, as long as you’re willing to learn with me.”

“You’re willing to put up with me?”

“Jervennon. Did you see the tunic you bought me?”

“Salny the Clothier said it was appropriate…!”

“I imagine it is. But it’s – do you have any idea how people live in the outer circles?”

“No?” Jervennon cringed. “Not really. Just that it’s more cramped, and there’s less money. I mean, I do the charity things every year with my parents. But that’s all in controlled situations and you don’t really know what’s going on.”

Taslin nodded slowly. It was hard to get her brain around that, but she could work with it. “This is the fanciest tunic I have ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. It’s lovely. But it’s so far beyond anything I’ve ever seen or owned, it’s amazing.”

“…oh…” Jervennon blinked. “Should I not have?”

“Well, if you want me to accept your Patronage, I’ll have to have something to wear, won’t I?”

Taslin held her breath while that sunk in. That could go well, that could go really poorly, that could miss him altogether…

Slowly, he smiled. “Yes, yes you are.” Once again, it looked like he was talking to someone other than her. Taslin would take it. “Do you want to negotiate things like gifts, then?”

Oh. Oh, no. “No.” She shook her head. “Gifts are just that, gifts. As you said. There’s a couple things that are in the standard contract – it says you provide my clothing, my armor, and my lodging, but those can be pretty much anything, down to and including a bedroll, a standard-issue tunic and a leather cuirass.”

“Though that wouldn’t make me look that good.”

“True.” She plucked at the silk of her tunic. “This, this makes you look plenty good.”

“It makes you look very good, too.”

“Thank you.” She ducked her head and tried to hide a grin. He liked it. That was good. She didn’t want him to be disappointed. “Ahem. Negotiations are more often things like, like… the amount of time you want to see me away from the pit, the damage you will or won’t do to me, the medical care you’ll pay for if I’m injured.”

Taslin held her breath while that sunk in. That could go well, that could go really poorly, that could miss him altogether…

Slowly, he smiled. “Yes, yes you are.” Once again, it looked like he was talking to someone other than her. Taslin would take it. “Do you want to negotiate things like gifts, then?”

“Oh… oh.” He closed his mouth and looked thoughtful. It was an interesting look on him; Taslin thought, uncharitably, that it might be rare. “All right. That’s very practical. What about, hrrm, things like safe words?”

“Safe words?” Lansesh had used that word a couple times; Taslin had an idea what it meant, but she wanted to be sure. In this sort of thing, you had to be sure.

“If you’re getting into bondage or pain play, it’s something you use to end a scene if it’s getting in a bad place.” The words tripped off his tongue easily.

“Are you planning on doing…” Taslin swallowed. She could be a grown-up about this. She had to be a big girl about it; she had a feeling she was going to have to be a big girl about everything when it came to him. “Doing bondage and pain play with me?”

She’d seen pictures, of course, the pocket pornographic pamphlets that got passed around until they were worn ragged, and some of those had featured bondage, and blood-play, and other things of the sort. And there had been the romance novels at the Library, in which tied-up Gladiators (and sometimes tied-up Oligarchs and their hapless children) featured prominently in those publications.

But that was different than getting to the point where she was thinking about herself, herself tied up, herself gagged, helpless…

“Safe words sound lovely, if they’re not a deal-breaker for you.” She wanted to fan herself. The room was getting rather warm.

“No! No, not at all. I find limitations to be a pleasant challenge.”

He would until he found himself at the Tenth Ring Gate, at least. “Okay. So that’s all stuff you’re willing to negotiate?”

“Where I’m going to hurt you? If I’m going to hurt you? Yeah. It’s kind of like a scene, isn’t it? Just… bigger.”

“Something like that?” She thought. “And… are you willing to let me stop waiting and accept your Patronage now, before everything else gets complicated?”

“If you really think you’re ready, and you really want me as your Patron.”

“I am. And I do.” Firm voice, she could do firm voice. The one she used with her little brother and sister. “I like you, Jervennon of Cecby.”

“I like you, too, Taslin Gladiator.” His cheeks darkened and he looked her straight in the eyes. His voice got a little husky. “I think I could like you a lot.”

This was a bit uncomfortable. Taslin coughed. “Well, let’s sit down with a contract, then, and formalize the whole thing? Then, if you want,” she added a smile to gentle the way she’d yanked them back into a business transaction, “we could go out to dinner. Your treat, of course.”

“Of course.” His smile was a bit forced-seeming, but she couldn’t really blame him for that. “I know just the place. But paperwork first?”

“Please. If you don’t mind… I really would like something I could call you without losing my hair.”

“What’s wrong with Jervennon?”

“Sometimes I want to be formal. And, ah.” She felt her own cheeks heating up now. “If you’re taking my contract… it seems like I ought to.”

“Aaah. Well, we can write that into the contract, too. I suppose ‘master’ wouldn’t be appropriate, would it; you’re not really wearing my collar.”

“I wouldn’t mind when we’re alone.” She was surprised to find it was true. “But in public, that’s different.”

“Indeed. I’m not worth a ‘Lord’ yet. Hrrm. How about ‘Dar?’ It’s a term they use on Side Toenya. It means something like sir but it’s not so overused.”

“Dar Jervennon?”

“Dar Jervennon. And I’ll call you Sar Taslin.”

She bowed, because it seemed appropriate. “Thank you, Dar Jervennon.”


Sorry for the delay! Um. I  have no excuse? How can I make it up to you?

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Chapter 12 – Valran – Choose


“Choose, ma’am?” Valran blinked at the ancient, terrifying woman who owned him. The car had gone quiet for a little while, almost entirely silent, as they wended their way into the heart of New Indapala. And then… that.

“I’m sorry, I got lost in my own thoughts. There’s a choice to be had for you, you see. There’s Keldra Dre, the reason that I bought you. There’s that, anchoring her here in the Inner Circle. It won’t be easy, not in the least. It will work you in a way I don’t expect you thought you’d be worked when you knelt and took the collar – especially not that collar, with that contract, from that person.”


“Remember what I said.”

“What the fuck, ma’am?”

“Much better. Which ‘what the fuck,’ Valran?”

A very good question. He summarized as concisely as he could. “Choice?”

“Ah. Well, as I was saying working with Keldra Dre is going to be difficult. If you feel that it’s not the sort of challenge you want, well, I have other granddaughters.”

Valran cleared his throat. This was a trap. It had to be a trap. “Ma’am, when I knelt for the collar – when I applied for the right to kneel for the collar – I was giving up choice. That’s what you do. You choose to sign over choice to someone else for ten years.” He knew she knew this. How could anyone in the Circled Plains not know it? “I don’t get to choose.”

“And so I should dictate for you when to shit, when to eat, when to sleep, what to wear, what to say?”

“I knew that was a risk, ma’am.”

“But you didn’t know that being forced to actually make a decision about your life again would be a risk, is that what you’re saying?”

There was something lumpy and unpleasant in his throat. Valran swallowed again. “Ma’am. Um. Yes, ma’am.”

“And here I am, having not even gotten you home, having paid a ridiculous amount of money for you, and I’m making you make choices.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Please stop.

“One choice, Valran. You’ve made so many choices to get here. You can make one more.” She took his chin in her steely hand. “I’m ordering you to.”

Valran swallowed. “Ma’am. What’s the second choice?”

“My granddaughter Zarthennelya. She’s a bit older – she took the long route back to to the Second Ring – very successful, and very driven. She will have very clear expectations of you, very pointed demands, and making choices will not be one of your problems.”

“Zarthennelya Sestya?” Valran swallowed. “Your granddaughter is Zarthennelya Sestya?”

“If your sentence begins with ‘your grandchild is…’ and ends with the name of someone you have heard of, there is a good chance it is true. I only have… ten, I think… living grandchildren, but even some of those who didn’t live managed to become famous first.” She gestured that away as if she was talking about some point of gossip. “So, those are your choices. Keldra or Zarthen. They’re both lovely women. Neither of them will abuse you. Neither of them will be the best stepping-stones to a First Circle seat, but that would have been Kitdellesta Ashna, and you might have come out of it with gladiator’s scars.”

“I could live with scars.” He’d expected scars.

“One hopes. That being said, Valran, I need you to choose. I’m going to shut up now, and Liknirrun is going to drive us the last block home while you think about it. And when we are out of the garage, then I need you to give me an answer, and I will call one of my granddaughters.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Valran stared out the window at the Inner Circle. It should have been an awesome sight – the remains of ancient buildings, changed into something new and beautiful, the roads that were still smooth-paved, and wide enough for two cars to pass – and there were, indeed, cars on the road, more than one at a time. The waste of fuel!

There were people walking, too, of course, dressed in rich, bright colors in tunics fitted smoothly to their bodies and very nearly transparent, pants that flowed so long they touched the ground, hats and headscarves and belts. It wasn’t gaudy – he’d expected that, from a couple of the Inner Circle teens he’d seen come through – it was simply rich.

Of course, that was the definition of Inner Circle. And for ten years, he’d be living somewhere almost as rich. Keldra Dre or Zarthennelya Sestya? The newly-returned or the hardened businesswoman. Making choices will not be one of your problems. That was what he had pictured, wasn’t it? Your job will be to anchor her here, in the First Circle. Not that. Not being someone’s grounding rod, someone’s connection to a society he couldn’t even imagine.

She is having trouble adjusting. How did you have trouble adjusting to wealth? Especially if you’d grown up with it.

She is very successful, and very driven. People like that drove everyone around them. It would not be an easy ten years. But it wouldn’t be an easy ten years either way.

How did you have trouble adjusting to wealth? To warmth and safety? What made you want to go back?

Scars? Or an erratic and insane owner? Driven and successful? Or someone who had made the climb up the Ladder in record time?

How did you have trouble adjusting? Was it simply because there was nowhere left to climb?

“We are here, Valran.” The light had dimmed, the car had pulled into the garage. Valran had closed his eyes at some point, but now he opened them again.


“This is my home. Well, this is the garage for my home; my home is above it. Have you decided?”

It was going to have to be Zarthennelya Sestya. His ambition, his need to climb, needed someone stable. The scars weren’t going to be a problem. Being given orders wouldn’t be a problem.

“Keldra Dre, ma’am.”


“Very good.” Gracnellanya Pace was smiling at him. That was both relieving and terrifying. “Very good indeed, Valran. This way.”

An order. An easy order to follow. Valran followed the woman out of the garage, into a… a foyer, right? Some sort of antechamber, at least… and then into a sitting room, or what he assumed had to be a sitting room. There were chairs in it, at least, and a place to sit.

Also places to kneel, which he supposed made sense. “Kneel here.” She gestured at a cushion, one that was heavily embroidered and nearly thick enough to be a footstool. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Valran knelt. He spent a moment shifting into what he thought was the most perfect position, hands behind his back, back straight, looking at the floor, and then he closed his eyes.

He did not realize he’d drifted off until there was a hand on his shoulder. “Valran. Boy, it’s time to wake. It’s been a long day for you, hasn’t it?”

That wasn’t Gracnellanya Pace. He peeled one eye open cautiously. From those ear-points and that curly hair, it was probably the driver. “Liknirrun?”

“That’s me, son. Now, Dame Pace and her granddaughter are almost here. Sit up straight, son, and look like you know what you’re doing.”

Valran straightened hastily and smoothed the thin material of his pants. “Is it that obvious?”

“Considering where you’ve come from, it didn’t really need a sign on it. You’re not the first Ladder-jumper to come through here, and you likely won’t be the last. Our Lady isn’t dead yet, at least. Don’t give me that look, boy. There are places that train Servi for things like this, but they’re not the rule and those aren’t the sort of Servi that the Lady likes, either. Now, her granddaughters might have other ideas about it, but that’s yours to figure out, isn’t it?”

The man talked faster than the wind blew. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, hands behind your back, like that. Chin up. You’re proud of what you’re doing, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” No, sir.

“And here they come.” Liknirrun stepped backwards until he was standing against the wall. Some trick of vepó or the light blended him right into the shadows there until it was as if he’d never been in the room at all.

Footsteps sounded on the wooden floors. Valran sat up a little straighter, put his chin out a little more. Gracnellanya Pace walked into the room, followed by a woman two inches taller and a century younger.

If this was Keldra Dre, than in some ways, at least, Valran had lucked out. The woman was beautiful, from the upturned tip of her nose, to the long straight tips of her black-and-blood hair, to the upswept tips of her ears (which bore a startling resemblance to those of Liknirrun, almost-curly at the top and cresting over the top of her head) to the bare painted-nails tips of her toes and fingers.

She was wearing a rather simple tunic – it wasn’t shiny like silk, so probably linen or cotton – embroidered in the same blood red as the fabric, over a skirt that didn’t touch her knees, done in the same style but in black. Valran didn’t know anything about fashion, but he’d seem women dressed similarly in the Seventh Ring. On her, it looked beautiful, and it gave her skin an iridescent reddish cast.

“Is this him?” She squatted down in front of Valran until she was looking him in the eyes – no, he realized, not really looking him in the eyes but looking at his eyes. “You know, Grandmama, you don’t have to do this. I’m going to be a good girl and not embarrass the family any more. I promised my father.”

“I’m not worried about you embarrassing anyone. I’m too old for that nonsense.” With a wave of her hand, the old lady dismissed reputation and social standing. “What I’m worried about, Kel, is your happiness.”

“Do you think he’ll make me happy?” Something in her gaze shifted, and she was no longer looking through Valran, but to him.

“Well, dear, I think that’s up to the two of you. But I think it’s possible you could make each other quite happy. If, in the process, you happen to irritates some of my would-be rivals, let’s just say your grandmamma wouldn’t mind that at all.”


Sorry for the delay! Um. Post-Nanowrimo haze?

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Current Review total: 2