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Wolf Slave 10 – Alex Ankarr
It also occurs to Penn to linger over his previous wondering about his childhood playmate. The memories are dim and distant: to recall an exact impression of Ree, to his mind’s eye, is extraordinarily difficult. He wasn’t as dark as Hotstaat: had a soft childish lineament about the face, but that was only to be expected, of course. He was extraordinarily gentle of manner: comforted Penn when he fell and cried, shared his toys and games, split candy with him and sang to him to amuse him when Penn was sick.
It seems unlikely, in the highest degree, even based on this insubstantial beginnings of an acquaintance. So Penn dismisses it from his mind, and gets on with his work. As best he can, he disregards Hotstaat’s presence in the room, except of course to be exceedingly careful not to infringe upon house rules in any way that could call down disapproval and punishment upon his head. Not that he isn’t always alert to any such infringement: one can’t be careful enough, and there’s always someone to go tattling or catch one in a crime.
After twenty minutes or half an hour or so, he’s pretty much managed to get into a rhythm of work where he’s not too much disturbed by the presence of one of the master class in the library, his direct owner at that. But he can’t disregard that presence quite entirely: every so often Hotstaat will turn a page of his journal, or murmur the vaguest disapproving ‘tut’ at some article or other, or get up and pour himself more cordial. It’s a little distracting: but Penn perseveres. He’s encountered a lot worse than that, in his time.
So as his nerves settle and his mind wanders, his attention is eventually a good deal more upon his work than upon the unused presence at the other end of the long room. That only makes it the more startling when he’s spoken to, in an exceptionally quiet moment as he is sifting through a pile of papers and enjoying the ray of warm sunlight that shines over his face in a golden benison, dustmotes drifting through it. He jumps about a mile: then catches and calms himself.
‘Come over here, Penn,’ is what his master says to him, and the meaning, as well as the speech itself, is alarming as always. But Penn does as he is bid: because that is what a slave does.
When he stands by Hotstaat’s chair, the wolf-man does not look up at him, but continues to train his attention upon his journal for a moment, not remarking further. For a moment Penn half-thinks that perhaps he imagined the instruction, is hearing things, and is almost preparing himself to creep away again to the other end of the room in embarrassment, when Hotstaat puts down the journal, and looks up at him. Measuring, his gaze is, and hooded. There’s nothing Penn can gauge from it: and in any case he swiftly averts his eyes, the better to avoid any hint of direct challenge.
‘How is your reading voice, Penn?’ his master asks, and Penn relaxes, a little, at the question. A few owners have had him read to them, before now: could be worse, could be worse. It’s half a slave’s life, to be assessing every command and telling himself that, of course.
‘Some have adjudged it quite satisfactory, sir,’ Penn replies, with temperate modesty. Better not to go boasting: under-promise, over-deliver, that’s the thing.
© 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.