“What do you mean a jar is missing?”
He flinched at the fury that rode that voice. He hadn’t served Qishir Xitlali long but it had been long enough to teach him that certain tones spelled out a danger none were safe from. And while he hadn’t taken whatever this all important jar was, he did not doubt that he would be the one made to suffer for it.
“A jar is missing, my Lady. I do not know how. The door was locked just as it was when I–”
“Find it, you incompetent fool! We need that jar!”
I’m definitely going to suffer for this.
That was, after all, his purpose as a slave: to bear the brunt of his Mistress’ ire, her happiness, her confusion, and any myriad of other emotions. Granted he hadn’t chosen this line of work like all his fellows within the slave caste had, like all within the slave caste were supposed to, but escape was an impossibility for him. Not that he hadn’t tried. But it had taken only one failed attempt to teach him that he was going to die wearing his chains.
So as much as he wanted to hide from the anger in that voice, he stayed where he was with his cheek pressed to the floor, hands clasped behind his back, legs tucked under him. The examination position was the only one he hated out of all the slave positions. Mainly because the draftiness of Xitlali’s pleasure chamber brushed cool air across his exposed nethers and made him shiver in a way that was wholly fear-based. It reminded him of when he’d been taken, captured in the early mornings of the second year-month, when the frosts were more snow than frozen morning dews. Reminded him of when the raiding party came, when the Lady Elder fell before them all, sacrificing her life to defend them in the only way she had left to her. But it hadn’t mattered. His hamlet had been slaughtered, leaving him as the only survivor. Though for all he had lived, he did not live freely.
But living enslaved is preferable to dying as a free male.
“Aye, my Lady. I shall do so immediately.” A door closed in the distance with a finality that rattled his bones.
Though when Xitlali came round the corner to find him exactly as she had ordered him to be hours before, he wondered if his assessment of living enslaved was better than dying whilst free was wrong. Wondered as the Qishir stalked towards him, as her rage shifted into something calmer, more focused, if he would have been better off dying along with the rest of the hamlet that cold, dark morning.
“Ahh, Jerald. Just who I needed to see.”
Her tone made him twitch, closing his eyes as he sent a prayer to whatever god still listened to those trapped in the middle of this ageless war for the strength to survive whatever new horror the Mad Qishir had in store for him.
And when the first searing blast of pain bloomed along the length of his spine, his scream shaking dust from the walls, he wished for death for the first time in two hundred years. Only Death didn’t answer him.
I Hear you.
But something did, something strong and steady and calm and he clung to that presence, to the words it spoke that only he seemed able to hear. Clung to it like a drowning man clings to a life raft tossed into the waves from a passing ship.
I Hear you, you are not alone.