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The Slave (Free Men Book 1)

By:Kate Aaron

CHAPTER ONE



I stood silently in the farthest corner of the dark room when I was  finally admitted, head bowed, hands clamped tightly behind my back, left  wrist clasped in a death grip by my right fist, shoulders straight,  stomach flat, unconsciously presenting. It was a default gesture,  ingrained through years of habit, and punishment if I failed to comply  immediately to my master's wishes. The men talking in low voices forgot I  was there once their initially curious assessment of me was over. My  collar marked me clearly for what I was.

The cloying sweet scent of smoke wafted over me from the bubbling pipe  that a small group shared, reclined on sumptuous fabrics, swaddled in  mute light. An undercurrent of anticipation hummed in the air, making it  shimmer. Everything had a mirage-like quality, or perhaps that was my  own discomfort clouding my memories. My palms were slick, and I swiped a  bead of moisture from my upper lip with my tongue. On the other side of  those walls, the lots were undergoing their final preparations, primped  and primed for sale.

Fifteen years earlier, I had been one of them, still a boy, little more  than a child. Twelve summers had passed since my mother brought me  forth, birthed me on the dirt floor of our simple tent. We were nomads, a  small tribe that claimed allegiance to no flag but roamed the wastes of  the Samatari desert. We knew nothing of the wars that raged around us,  the political intrigues and power struggles of the nations which  bordered our uncharted home.

The soldiers were rebel forces, I later learned, traitors to the King of  Granthia to the east. They were moving west to join the lawless  warriors of the barbarian Thirsk, Overlord of all the lands which lay  beyond. All we knew was they were strangers, strangers in bright armour  that shone and winked in the light of our two suns. They'd killed my  father, my mother, my elder brothers. They'd taken my younger sister and  hadn't bothered waiting in turn, too greedy for their pound of female  flesh. One held me by my hair and forced me to watch as they abused her  until her terrified heart gave out. Even then, they weren't finished.

They left the broken corpses of my family for the birds to peck at.

A bell rang, slicing through my memories and bringing a whole host of  others to the fore. The men around me began standing, brushing creases  and crumbs from their robes with impatient hands. Head bowed, I watched  the procession of their feet as they left the room. I followed as my  position dictated, careful to keep my balance and not trip as the long  cloth of my robes swished around my ankles. At my master's compound, I  was expected to wear only the bare minimum of clothing. He claimed he  liked to admire the blue dots and swirls which adorned my body, the old  ink stains of a culture those monsters erased that day in the desert. My  tattoos were a novelty to him; they made me exotic in this land of  dark, unmarked flesh. For this trip, however, he'd insisted I cover not  only my pale, patterned skin, but also my long white-blond hair.

We were shown into the next room, where chairs were arranged in a  crescent around the Cage. I shivered a little, even in the oppressive  heat of the building. Outside, the two suns beat down on this little  outpost of the Thirskan Empire. Inside, without the respite of windows,  it was stiflingly warm. The room was in total darkness save the bright  lights focused on the centre of the Cage. I shuddered, remembering how  it felt to stand there, naked and scared, on display for who knows how  many pairs of eyes hidden by the blinding lights. The Cage's bars were  buried in the ceiling and in the floor of the raised platform on which  it stood, the only way in or out a barred tunnel leading back to the  pens below. Escape was impossible.

A few of the men took out fans, lazily wafting their faces as they  settled in their seats and waited for the auction to commence. I hung  back, knowing a seat would not be permitted to me. Instead, I positioned  myself behind Master's chair, usually vacant because he rarely  purchased new slaves, having seemingly lost the taste for them since my  mistress had removed much of the household to their mountain home,  abandoning him here in the desert.

I clasped my hands before me, chin up and looking straight forward as I  waited. I brushed the back of his seat with an index finger, rubbed the  warm, textured velvet as though seeking comfort from something that was  at least his if I couldn't have him. He rarely sent me far from his  sight. In small outposts like this one, the slave markets are slow. The  best one could usually hope for was some unexpected treasure plucked  from the desert, a creature like myself, young and scared enough to be  docile.

He was an underlord of some sort, my master, and when some difficulty in  a neighbouring village called him away, he'd ordered me to attend the  auction at Otiz in his stead. "You know what I like, Tam." I had smiled a  little, proud I was being trusted with this responsibility even as I  was consumed with sadness that he wanted another slave at all. Couldn't I  have been enough?         

     



 

I swallowed the lump in my throat as he caressed me. I knew he needed  more slaves-the mistress had taken so many, his compound could barely  function, and if he were to host any official engagements, he needed a  full complement of staff. I chose instead to be proud of his trust in  me-not that I would run away, for I had nowhere to go even if I wanted  to. His collar marked me as his property, and a runaway slave is not  treated kindly by those who capture him. But he was trusting me with a  big decision, with spending large sums of his money. The last time I had  been here, I hadn't even known what money was.

‘Boys were valuable,' that's what I'd heard the soldiers say. That's why  they kept me, why they didn't harm me. I'd be worth more. More what,  though? My family had taken what they needed from the desert, and even  that inhospitable environment provided enough for us to live by. There  was only nothing when you didn't know where to look.

A metallic door clanged open, and from somewhere within the bowels of  the building, a thin wail rose bare moments before the first lot was  prodded into the Cage. He stood petrified, blinking in the strong  lights, blind to the men around me, who all sat a little straighter and  began to take notice. They were wealthy men; only the highest owned  pleasureslaves. Governors, underlords, maybe even a general or two. Some  were younger than my master, most considerably older. They were of all  shapes and sizes beneath their robes. Some were no doubt cruel, sadists  who would delight in humiliating and hurting their new acquisition,  breaking his mind as surely as they would break his body. Some were  cruel; some merely looked it.

Lot One was probably in his early teens. His colouring marked him as a  son of one of the Northern kingdoms, probably a trader's child sold to  pay a debt. Stubborn vestiges of puppy fat clung obstinately to his  stomach, thighs and buttocks. His hair was shorn, his genitals  shrivelled up towards his pelvis. He was trembling fiercely, hands  cupped protectively before him. Tear tracks streaked his cheeks. Crude  comments reach my ears from the other men, and I winced inwardly for the  boy, knowing his immediate future looked bleak.

The bidding began, apathetic as he was only the first lot, nothing  special at that. I kept my hands clasped firmly before me. He would not  please my master.

The boy was sold for a paltry sum to an older underlord, obscenely fat. I  hoped he'd be lucky, that his new master lacked the will or the  capacity to do anything other than spoil and pet him, but I doubted it.

The next lots came and went: boys of all nations, some sickeningly  young, as I had been, some almost men. Those would be harder to train,  accustomed too long to their freedom. The bidding began to heat up,  competition breaking out between the members. Still I had seen nothing  that would please my master.

Raised voices and the smart crack of a whip caused us all to pause,  staring at the entrance of the Cage with renewed interest. There was a  long wait, and then the lot strode in. The men around me tittered, their  fans flapping faster as they looked at the offering. He was older than  the others, I judged at most only five years younger than myself,  probably less. He was Granthian, no question. No other race had their  peculiar combination of jet black hair and emerald eyes. Eyes which now  gazed haughtily forward, uncowed, unflinching. The tight muscles packed  over his lean frame marked him as a soldier, and a fit one at that. As  he turned I saw the long red lash of the whip striping his back.

The man beside me nudged his neighbour, sniggering unpleasantly. The  lot's head jerked towards the sound, green eyes narrowing. His fingers  flexed at his sides, arms loose but ready, I was sure, to fight tooth  and nail to defend himself. I was amazed he was here, that he was  considered suitable slave material by anyone. But then I listened to  what the men around me were saying, and the hairs on the back of my neck  rose in horror at what they wanted to do to him. He wasn't a slave, he  was a trophy-something beautiful they wanted to possess only to see how  much he could endure before he shattered.

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