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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”
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