Photo in the public domain by Jack Kurzenknabe
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Wolf Slave 1 – Alex Ankarr
When Penn goes to the market, he keeps his eyes down. There are other slaves at the market, serving their masters, anxiously consulting lengthy lists of goods to buy and carry home. Knowing just how urgent and vital it is that they make not a single error, for fear of a flogging or worse. Penn’s master isn’t like that: has never been other than kindly and tolerant of him. He is a wolf, but he can’t help that. He’s gentle, kindly, uncharacteristically academic in his tastes. But Penn keeps his eyes down at his master’s house, partly out of respect.
Out in public, surrounded by other human slaves, but also by werewolves, it’s all the more urgent to keep the submissive posture, to keep his eyes down. Wolves are intuitive, with powers that can detect a mood, a thought it seems sometimes. Who knows what one of them might see in his eyes?
Penn hates wolves.
And the news comes to him at the market, and the news is not good. It’s from another slave: not a slave of his own house, but of the villa next door. He runs to greet Penn in the marketplace, gasping for breath from the pace he’s keeping, and it’s clearly urgent enough that no werewolf growls at him for cutting into their paths, which is a small miracle in itself.
He’s set such a pace he can’t actually speak when he reaches Penn’s side, and must lean over and hold his knees, gasping and waiting for his stitch to subside. When he can speak again, he rises up.
‘Marius,’ Penn says, observing him with some curiosity and a little amazement. ‘Get your breath man, what on Earth’s the matter with you? Get your breath and speak to me.’
‘Parrin,’ Marius says, still somewhat out of breath, but managing to get the words out. ‘Your master, he’s dead. Natural causes: the cook at our house was out in the garden, taking in laundry, and she could see him pruning his roses in the great glasshouse. Then he clutched at his chest, and fell. She sent the gardener’s boy for the doctor, but it was too late by then.’ He’s apologetic: a good man, Marius, lanky, stooped, weary in his man-of-all-work role. ‘I’m sorry, Penn.’
Penn is slightly puzzled, apart from the shock of the news, which has set his blood fizzing and racing around his body. ‘Thank you, Marius. But why did you come running so fast? It’s not as if there’s anything to be done: not if he’s dead already.’
And Marius just shrugs, as if to say he has no real answer for that one. ‘Oh, you know how it is. I didn’t really think it through. You know how it goes, when a slave-owner without near relatives dies. I was concerned that you hear about it with all possible despatch.’
It’s true. A lot of things tend to happen to the slaves of a dead werewolf, if he has no near kin to claim them. Very few of them tend to be good things.
And that’s how it goes. Penn is sold at auction, when all the disbursing of old Parrin’s estate is done with and it is established that no-one wants to take Penn on in lieu of debts. (It’s a shame. Parrin had a small outstanding bill with the Hatherley pack, who have beautiful vineyards. Penn has long had a hankering to become a skilled vintner. But the bill would not cover his value: he is an educated and skilled upper slave, and Parrin was not even in arrears on his monthly expenditure.)
So he goes up on the auction block instead, to add to the value of the estate for the small number of legatees: a couple of educational charities, and a distant branch of cousins who follow some obscure sect that forbids the ownership of slaves. He tries not to be too stressed about the process, but it’s not as if it’s easy. A new owner, after he’s spent years getting used to the little ways of the last one. It’s always a complete toss-up: the owner or his family, they could be friendly and considerate charmers, regarding him as basically a servant with slightly odd paperwork. Or it could be a sadistic bastard who might drive him to the extremes of either homicide or running away via the liberation network. Both of which are pretty much guaranteed routes to an early death via swift and bloody and painful means.
© Copyright Alex Ankarr 2013 All rights reserved to the author. No inspirations for characters drawn from real-life individuals, no resemblance to real individuals intended.