Tag Archive | keldra dre

Chapter 20 – Valran – Duck

“Duck your head a bit. There, like that.” Keldra Dre’s hand rested lightly on the back of Valran’s head. “There.” She tousled his hair gently. “Keep your eyes on the floor, but keep–  here.”  Her hand went down to the small of his back, her other hand to his shoulder. “Keep your spine straight, feet solid on the floor. You’re not bowing, you’re not kneeling.”

“So it’s—” Valran steadied himself in, he hoped, the position that she wanted him in. “It’s making a show of ‘I submit,’ without any of the rest of your body agreeing with that.”

“Exactly. And for you, that’s anyone in the First Circle, and only them. For me, it will be First Circle people who outrank me—”

“People can outrank you within the circle?”

“Oh, yes. People who have been here longer, who live in the central tower, who hold more holdings than me. So, about seventy-five percent of the First Circle, maybe more.” He could hear the way her tunic rustled when she shrugged. “But for you – remember this. You do not bow to anyone outside of the First Circle. Not unless they are one of those rare exceptions who are just that honored.”

“Mm-hrrm.” Valran moved his feet a little further apart. “So, with the First Circle, I never look up, not if they’re talking to me, not if they’re attacking me…”

“If they are attacking you, they are doing harm to my house and you can do what you see fit. If they are talking to you, no. Not unless they specifically demand you look in their face and you think it’s appropriate. Remember, you take orders from me.”

“And only from you? Even—”

Her finger on his mouth startled him. She didn’t shush him often – almost never. “Even,” she agreed. “Someone’s coming.”

He nodded, silently, and set his shoulders the way she’d been showing him. Should he… He hoped she’d tell him something.

“If they knock.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “Answer the door, announce them, and then kneel next to me when I sit. Easy enough?”

He nodded, not much of a move at all. Easy was never actually the word when dealing with the First Circle. But he had to start somewhere.

“Good.” She removed her hand and, much to his surprise, left the room.

Valran – waited. He was already in the room closest to the door, and he had nothing to do to prepare himself. It wasn’t like combing his hair for what was probably the seventh time that morning would actually change anything.

Besides, it was good practice in being still. He tried out the “pleasant waiting” expression Keldra had been teaching him on the wall, and the “resting posture” on his feet – which seemed to appreciate it.

The knock on the door came just as he’d reached a pleasant, quiet state of rest. He made sure his body posture was correct and answered the door, indulging only in a small flourish as he opened it.

Eyes down, shoulders back, meant Valran saw first the woman’s chest. Light blue silk draped artfully over a rather impressive view, and the embroidery on her tunic matched the gold patterns that had etched themselves into her skin. The gold glowed, too, shimmering in a pulsing pattern that didn’t quite match her breathing.

“Kantillun Ranya, to see Keldra Dre.” Her voice was musical – disturbingly so. Valran nodded his head.  He didn’t know if she was First Circle, but nodding seemed safe.

“And my Servus, Fornal.”

“Yes, ma’am.” With Ranya at the end of the name, ma’am was a safe bet. -ya was a feminine ending. “One moment please.”

Valran turned until he was not quite back-to-them and not quite facing the door to the next room. “Mistress?” Mistress was another one of those safe bets. “Kantillun Ranya and her Servus, Fornal.”

“Thank you, Valran. Please see them in.” Keldra Dre’s voice preceded her into the room.

See them in? He didn’t know that part yet. He took another chance and gestured, as formally as he could, into the living room.

“He’s new, isn’t he?” Kantillun Ranya spoke over his head to Keldra Dre. “Well-trained already, though. I didn’t think you had it in you, Keldra.”

Announce them, then kneel beside me when I sit. He could do that. He glanced in Keldra’s direction. She shook both of Kantillun’s hands, nodded at Kantillun’s Servus, kissed cheeks, patted shoulders, and did a little four-step dance around the furniture.

Valran was never going to be able to pass as Inner Circle; he’d been caught out before they were done saying hello.

Finally, Keldra took her seat, and Valran could kneel next to her. From that position, he could watch Kantillun settle into her chair, settling little winglets (or fins) carefully against the cushions. He could watch the other Servus, Fornal, as he settled into a kneeling position by his Mistress. Somehow, the guy made kneeling with digitigrade legs look graceful.

“Of course he’s new, Kantil.” Keldra picked up the thread of conversation as if they hadn’t just waltzed through five minutes of greetings. “And, yes, he’s doing fairly well for being new – you don’t think that I’d hire a fool, do you?”

Fairly well. Valran studied his knees. That was pretty close to damning with faint praise.

“I didn’t think that you’d hire a Servus at all. You were always against the idea, when we were in school. What was it you said?”

“‘Any woman who thinks that a Servus is going to give her what she needs is a fool, and  worse than a fool, a self-delusional child who’ll never actually belong in the Inner Circle.’ I remember, Kantil. I was there.”

“So was I, Keldra. So good to see that you’ve come down to earth with the rest of us self-delusional fools. And does he give you what you need?”

“Oh, well, I suppose he will.”

If the first answer had stung, this one stabbed. Valran swallowed hard.

“Then why did you get him, Keldra? The Donner Servus don’t go cheap.”

“And how did you know he was a Donner?” There was a sharpness in Keldra’s voice that Valran didn’t like. He focused on his breathing, on his stillness. It wasn’t all that hard to hold perfectly still. Was it?

“You haven’t changed his clothes that much yet, Keldra. He looks like a Donner. He moves like a Donner. Face it, if you’ve not had him bent over your bed yet, you’re wasting your money.”

“Well, you know I’ve never had all that much interest in that sort of thing. But my grandmother thought I could do with something like him, and, well, here he is.”

The sting of something like him had just hit when Keldra’s eyes raked over Valran. The look was a shopkeeper seeing a broken piece of merchandise, a lover disappointed with her partner.

Valran kept his eyes down and his back straight. What else could he do?

“Do you think I should put him in something else? Silk like you have your boy in, maybe? Or that fine linen they just imported from South Detterot?” Her hand brushed over his shoulder, an intimate touch. “Or maybe… nothing?”

Nothing?

Valran caught a breath right before it became a noise. It was enough to stay within the bounds of propriety – good Servi didn’t talk unless talked to, not in public – but not enough to keep Kantillun Ranya from laughing at him.

“Oh, Keldra, he doesn’t like that at all. Do it, do it. I mean – for every day, with that complexion, you should dress him in that lovely linen and, maybe, the Flow-fabric that your uncle’s place creates. Smooth lines. Make him look businesslike and yet indulgent – it suits you. Having him so very nearly human suits you, too.”

It did? Valran glanced up, moving nothing but his eyes. His mistress was looking very thoughtful.

“You know, Kantil, you have a bit of a point.”

Please not about the nudity.

Keldra stroked Valran’s shoulder again. “He might look lovely nude – but that’s the sort of thing you would do, wouldn’t you? And as he is, exactly as he is – he looks more honest.”

“And you’ve always been about the honesty, haven’t you?” There were so many layers of sarcasm in that question, Valran thought he needed a shovel to find the bottom.

“Of course I have.” Keldra’s answer, on the other hand, was bare. Naked, like she wanted Valran. “What do you think, Valran?”

“Ma’am?” He’d been looking up again, so he caught the briefest glance of Kantillun Ranya’s face. He imagined his looked almost as shocked as hers, but he couldn’t seem to get it under control.

“Linen? Flow-fabric? Soft silk?”

Something about her tone of voice was strange. And she was looking straight at him. Valran cleared his throat. “If it pleases you, Mistress, I like linen.”

Keldra smiled, just a tiny expression, but a nice one. Because he was watching her so carefully, Valran noticed when her eyes flickered over to Kantillun Ranya, and because he was listening for her responses as well, he heard the slight intake of breath.

“He’s got a lovely voice, Keldra… and he sounds like a professor.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Keldra’s hand landed once again on Valran’s shoulder. “Linen would do well for you, I believe. Properly tailored, it will make you look even more exotic. And I like that about you.”

“Thank you, Mistress.” Valran bowed his head, but not before he caught another flicker of expression on Keldra’s face. “You do me honor.”

“There is a great deal of honor to go around.”

Kantillun Ranya cleared her throat. “The day is getting late, and Fornal and I have an appointment with a Fourth-Circle hairdresser to do something about this mess of his. It’s been nice seeing you, Keldra.” She didn’t really sound as if she meant it, but, then again, that could be how Inner Circle people just sounded all the time.

“It’s always nice to see you, Kantil.” Keldra sounded just as flat. “Do please stop in again. If you send your boy ahead to let me know you’re coming, I could have refreshments ready.”

And that sounded like an Eighth-circle granny telling her children to give notice before they visited.

They were playing some sort of game – but what sort? How did normal Ladder-climbers ever understand all this?

They didn’t, Valran realized. Most people from the Outer Rings never made it this far in, not climbing normally. And if they did, they would be marked for the rest of their lives as outsiders.

“Oh, I don’t need refreshments. So nice of you to see us.” Kantillun Ranya executed some sort of bow, while next to her, her Servus did something far simpler. Then again, Fornal had probably been born, like Valran, to some outer circle. “Do enjoy your day.”

And finally they were gone. Keldra closed the door, and counted, her lips moving but no sound coming out.

Valran counted along. When they had reached a hundred, she turned to him. “All right. Stand up, stand up. As I was saying – you take orders from me, and only from me. Anyone else trying to tell you what to do is, in effect, trying to tell me what to do.” She smiled, fierce as a bear guarding her cubs. “And very few people here can tell me what to do.”

Chapter Sixteen – Valran – Here

“Here.” Keldra Dre stood up and strode away from Valran. He swallowed until his throat no longer felt too dry to speak again.

“Here, ma’am?”

“Stay there.” She called it over her shoulder; if Valran hadn’t been so confused, if his legs hadn’t been falling asleep, he would have been grateful. As it was, he held still and hoped it was the right thing to do.

She left the room, closing the door behind her. Where was she going? She came back a moment later, carrying a pile of cloth. Borrowed from another apartment? And  if so, why?

“The pants they sell you in are nice for being on the auction block, but that’s about it.” She dropped the pile of cloth next to Valran’s leg. “Can you stand without assistance?”

“I believe so, ma’am.” He hoped so.

“Good. Stand up, then, and put these on.” Something clicked, and his wrists were free.

“Yes, ma’am.” It turned out he could stand, although it took a little effort to balance on ankles that were asleep. Having hands again helped. “If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am…”

“You may ask anything, when we’re alone together.”

“Why are you having me get dressed?” He dropped the auction-block pants to his ankles and took a heartbeat to be naked in front of her. He stole a glance; her eyes were on his face. He looked hurriedly back at the floor and reached for the pants she’d given him. “I thought, well, considering where I was sold from…”

“Of course. But you were given to me as a gift; I didn’t go off buying a Servus for myself.”

A lump was forming in Valran’s throat. “Of course, ma’am. I’m sorry to presume.” The pants were opaque, comfortable, and very soft: probably not workman’s trousers, then, unless even that was different in the Inner Circle.

“You look nice in proper clothes.” She gave the leash a light tug, enough to remind Valran she still had him tethered. “Let’s show you the rest of my place, and then we can discuss plans.”

“Rest? Plans?” He followed the tug, although his ankles still felt numb and fat. What was he supposed to do with his hands? He tucked them back behind his back.

“Oh.” She turned to look at him, then looked around the sparse apartment. “I haven’t bought much furniture, but this is supposed to be the sitting room.”

Valran tried for a question and, in the end, just closed his mouth with a snap.

His… His owner, he should get used to the idea… His new Mistress glanced back at him, with a look that said she knew exactly what he was thinking.

“I just climbed the Ladder, remember?” Her voice shifted so suddenly. Now she sounded sympathetic and, more than that, she sounded like home. Like someone from the Seventh Circle. “I know what it’s like, down in the outer circles. I know this is a lot to take in.”

“You grew up here, though.” He gestured with his chin, meaning here, the Shadow Tower, here, the Inner Circle. “It’s got to be at least a little familiar to you.”

“At least a little. And if I could get used to the Tenth Circle, you can get used to the first. This way.” She tugged again on the leash, pulling him towards a door.

Valran followed, on her heels as much as his heavy feet would allow. “I will try, ma’am… what?” She had inexplicably started giggling. “What, ma’am? Mistress?”

“It’s just so absurd. The leash. The ma’am-ing and the mistress-ing. Like I know what to do with a Servus. Like I know what I’m supposed to have you do.” She leaned against the door and tugged hard on the leash, pulling Valran towards her.

He had a split second to decide what to do. He could fall into her, of course. Or he could catch himself.

He caught himself, one hand to either side of her shoulders, letting most of his weight land on his hands and his body press against hers. “If it’s any consolation, most honored Keldra Dre, I don’t have any clue what you’re supposed to do with a Servus, either.”

“It doesn’t come with a class?” Her hand was snaking up the leash towards his collar, and her other hand had landed on his hip.

“I’ve been told some houses teach their Servi. Teswarnen Eshmarn’s House does not, or, at least, they didn’t teach me.”

The hand on the leash reached his collar, and she dropped the leash entirely to grip the collar. Valran was both pleased and a bit worried to find that she was smiling. “Then I suppose we’ll have to learn the whole thing together.”

“It seems that way, ma’am. I will eagerly learn whatever you wish to teach me.” He tried a smile – enough to say “look, I’m not a servile worm,” but not enough to ever suggest he was making fun of her.

Facial expression nuances weren’t something he had the most experience with – if she’d asked him to build a wall, he’d have been on much firmer ground – but he had spent some time practicing non-harmful expressions when he’d found himself the skinniest and above all most far-too-human-looking of the workers on the outer wall.

Whatever his face was doing, it seemed to work for Keldra Dre. Her smile broadened. A squeeze of his ass came at the same time as another tug on the collar. He almost stumbled but followed the pull without resistance – directly into her, into her waiting lips and the spread of her legs.

His new pants were thicker than the old ones, but still not heavy enough to conceal his sudden interest. No matter; pushed up against her the way he was, she would have known anyway.

Her lips were sweet, and kissing, at least, was something they both knew how to do. She gave him no escape, holding him against her with both hands, until he moaned, the sound sliding muffled and unasked-for from his lips.

Then, and only then, she loosened her grip on his collar and his ass. “I like that noise.”

“I am…” He turned his head and coughed until his voice no longer sounded like a pubescent boy’s squeak. “I am pleased to have pleased my Mistress.”

“Would you like to please your Mistress… this is a bit silly… would you like to please me more?”

His breath caught. “Yes. Yes, I would. I don’t know if anyone’s told you this recently, but you’re beau…” not enough, and not what he wanted to say anyway. “Uh. Enchanting. Beautiful, and your voice, and your scent…”

“You are a poet, Valran.”

“I’d love to be.” He nuzzled her shoulder. “You don’t know how to do this? How to be an owner of a Servus?”

“No. But I imagine we’ll come up with something.” She opened the door behind her, freeing his ass to do so, and tugged as she fell backwards, pulling him with her. “I do, on the other hand, have some idea about sex.”

“Sex.” He hadn’t meant it to come out like a prayer, but it did. “Yes. Me, too, I mean… I mean, yes, I know how… fountains. Damnit.”

She was chuckling. Was that a good thing? “Sex.” Her lips found his neck, just above his collar. “With women?”

“Uh.” He peeked up at her. “Sometimes? Not many women work the outer wall…”

“Mmm, indeed. I recall. I was quite popular for a while there.”

“You…” No, those weren’t the thoughts he needed right now. Valran swallowed, and then swallowed again. He was thirsty, he realized, although this need was a far second to the topic actually at hand. “That is not sex, not really.”

“Not properly, no.” She was breathing against his neck, and then she was biting, small bites, just enough to make him twitch. “Come here, Valran.”

He couldn’t get any closer to her with clothes on, what… oh. The tug on the leash led him further into the room, and Valran finally got a look around.

“Is that…” His voice failed him. “Is that a bed? For how many people?

“At the moment, it’s for me. Although I would like to share it with you, as it’s far too big for one person.” She patted the springy surface. “It came with the apartment. It might have been built into the Tower; I think there’s spells in it.”

“Spells.” Valran swallowed. “There’s spells on the bed?” If you could call that thing a bed.

Keldra Dre tilted her head and studied his face. He tried to drop his eyes but found he couldn’t until she looked away, down his body. Her hands, so hungry a moment ago, were still on his hip and his waist. “Valran, I believe you’re going to have to explain something to me.”

Shit. “Yes, Mistress? What can this one explain to you?” When in doubt, grovel.

He tried not to think about where he’d first heard that advice. Thinking about it wasn’t helpful right now. He needed to think about groveling, and about Keldra Dre, in front of him, her eyes on his face again.

“You are afraid of magic.”

“No, ma’am. Mistress, I am not afraid of the flow.”

He said it levelly, with no quaver in his voice. Valran was a bit proud of that.

“But you are afraid.”

He hesitated.

“Do not lie to me.” She had not yet raised her voice, but that was clearly both a reprimand and an order.

Valran bowed his head. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m not afraid so much as I’m cautious.”

“You’re barely changed. You’re not…” She stopped as an unbidden sigh escaped his lips. “I imagine, with those ears, you get asked that a lot.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“And?”

“I’m not a Purist. I’m really not. I just don’t want to become a Fountain, either.”

“There’s a broad swath of difference between being a Purist and turning into a Fountain, you know.”

“If you’re properly educated and cautious. Mistress.” He kept his eyes on the edge of that ridiculous bed. How soft was it? How many people could she fit in it… would she fit in it?

“Aaaah.” She brushed the back of her hand over his cheek. “I begin to understand.”