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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