Slavery, 10

It’s a Small World, and Conspiracies Make It Shrink

Ao3 Link

“Please wait here for just a moment,” Theodore said to his guests, making to leave the room. Daniel moved to follow, but halted at a ‘stay’ gesture. Daniel stayed, working out Theodore’s intentions as he did.

These three had come to try and sell Theodore the stone that his other intruder had sold him weeks ago. Daniel had inferred from the conversation that it was them who Theodore had hired to find it for him. Calvin and his team had come armed with a story about an ambush and accusations that Theodore had been behind it, but it seemed like that wasn’t the case.

And now Daniel was left with the three of them while Theodore conferred with Benedict outside. He would want Daniel keeping an eye on the two identical stones sitting on the table to make sure Calvin didn’t do anything to them. So that was what Daniel did, staying still and standing by the table. He hadn’t been told to do anything, after all.

“How old are you?” Daniel looked up at Calvin. Not much older than Daniel himself, nor much taller, he had the tan skin tones native to the south and a pointed face that would suit a beard someday. “I’m not going to tattle on you to your master.” Daniel didn’t like him much. The way he’d used formality when talking to Theodore, like it was a weapon, was fake in a way that was grating.

And that question wasn’t helping. Calvin must have been one of those people who had a line in their head beyond which things were okay. If Daniel lied and said he was older than he was, it would be fine for him to be a slave. “Does it matter?” Daniel asked after a moment of watching Calvin, because to him it was wrong no matter how old someone was.

The smile Calvin gave him was one laced with pity and it made Daniel want to hit him. “No, I guess it doesn’t.” His two employees were standing quietly like the muscle they clearly were—though if Daniel was any judge the huge one standing beside Calvin’s chair was less dangerous than the one at the door. It was obviously Calvin’s job to do all the talking. “What’s your name?”

“Daniel.” He shouldn’t have answered that, probably. He shouldn’t be talking to Calvin at all. He wondered if Theodore had anticipated this.

The look Calvin was giving him was contemplative, almost sorrowful. “I wish I could help you,” he whispered, and what Daniel heard was I’d help if you if it wasn’t so inconvenient.

Annoyed, Daniel schooled his expression and started cleaning the wine goblets from the table. Lots of people wanted to help slaves, until they realized how much work it would be. “I don’t need your help,” he said, as politely as he could manage, moving away from the table. If Calvin was going to try anything with the stones, he would do it now.

But Daniel heard nothing, no movement from him at all. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“I’m not offended, sir.” Daniel wasn’t expecting anyone’s help. He was going to help himself. Empty platitudes annoyed him, that was all. “Slaves don’t have feelings to hurt.”

“Of course. I feel I should at least warn you—you’re not as good at hiding your emotions as you think.” Daniel very carefully didn’t react to that. “I suggest you take a second to name every emotion as you feel it. Naming things makes it easier to control them.”

“I…” Daniel didn’t need to be told that he wasn’t as good as he should be at controlling himself—but if someone who didn’t even know him could see it, then it was a bigger problem than he’d even realized. He turned back to face the room. It was clear that Calvin wasn’t going to do anything untoward. “I’m not supposed to talk to you,” he said quietly, looking at the floor again. It was a stupid suggestion, he thought. Did Calvin really think he was helping?

“Right, sorry.”

The room was quiet for the several minutes it took Theodore to return after that, for which Daniel was grateful. He kept his mind occupied with idle thoughts about the slave market Theodore wanted to buy. In order to keep doing the illegal things it was doing at the moment, the owners must have contacts with the city guard or someone important, he thought. Theodore would have to be careful to navigate around that so he didn’t annoy anybody important.

Unless he wanted to annoy someone important, Daniel supposed.

Finally the door opened and Daniel looked up as Theodore came in, looking in his direction briefly before looking at Calvin, who hadn’t moved from his chair. “I’ve summoned a friend who can verify the authenticity of the stone,” he announced. “It may take some time for him to arrive. I wonder if you’ll join me for lunch in the meantime.”

“Of course.” Calvin put his fake smile back on and stood.

“Good. I should like to hear the details of the story you told me earlier, about the hero who guarded the stone.”

“I only know the end of the story.”

“The end is the best part of any story, isn’t it?” Theodore asked as Calvin scooped up both stones and handed the one Theodore had already owned—Daniel kept an eye on his hand, just to make sure—to Theodore. “Benedict will show you to the dining room. I have some brief business and then I’ll join you.” Daniel took that to mean that Theodore wanted to ask him his opinion on what had happened here.

“Of course, sir,” Calvin said, oozing courtesy, and let Theodore usher him out of the room.

Once the door was closed behind him, Theodore turned to Daniel, motioning him towards Calvin’s chair. Daniel sat and Theodore did as well, watching him. “Your thoughts, Daniel?”

“He wasn’t lying to you, Master,” Daniel said, trying not to sound reluctant.

“Nor did I get that impression.” Theodore agreed with a nod. “What else?”

“He doesn’t like you, Master.”

“Really?” Theodore didn’t sound surprised, just curious. “What makes you think that?”

Daniel hesitated for just a second. “Nobody is that polite to someone they like, Master.”

Theodore looked at Daniel for a second, and then smiled. “I believe I owe you another question. Later, though, if you don’t mind.”

Daniel nodded, trying to hide his own smile. He shouldn’t like surprising Theodore that much, but there it was. “Thank you, Master. I can wait.” He was going to ask Theodore how old he was—he was mixing benign questions in with ones that were less so, so as to avoid looking too calculated.

“Did any of them say anything while I was gone?” Theodore asked. “Often people speak as if slaves aren’t there.”

“He asked me how old I was.” Daniel had considered whether to tell Theodore about their conversation, but he didn’t want to risk that Calvin would do it first.

“Did he?”

Daniel nodded. “And then he asked my name. And told me he would help me if he could.”

“Oh, really.” Theodore’s expression had tightened just a little. “And what did you tell him, Daniel?”

“That I didn’t need his help.” Daniel paused. “And that I wasn’t supposed to talk to him.”

Theodore laughed at that, his consternation vanishing. “Very well. I should go meet them in a moment—was there anything else?”

“Michele is more dangerous than he looks,” Daniel said, thinking about the dark man standing by the door.

Theodore nodded. “Likely he’s their team’s magic practitioner. Gideon can confirm that when he gets here. Which brings me to this. I have summoned him—he is a friend who also happens to be a wizard—and I need you to meet him when he arrives, and bring him to the dining room.”

Daniel nodded, wondering why Theodore didn’t get Benedict to do that. “Yes, Master.” Maybe he would ask later. He didn’t really care how old Theodore was.

“Very good. If you’ll go wait for him by the door,” Theodore said, standing. Daniel stood as well, and as they walked to the door together, he got up on his toes and gave Theodore a kiss on the cheek. “What was that for?”

“Usually you send Benedict to the door,” Daniel said, smiling a little. He didn’t want Theodore to think he was objecting.

Theodore chuckled, shook his head. “I shall see you soon, Daniel.”

“Yes, Master.” They parted ways after leaving the room, and Daniel made for the foyer. It was a huge room with a curving staircase leading up one side, leading to a hallway that looked out onto the room, with a railing. Daniel couldn’t help but idly measure the distance from that railing to the chandelier hanging down from the high ceiling, thinking not for the first time that he might be able to jump the distance if he had to. Not that he planned to or anything, but part of him kind of wanted to.

The foyer also had doors leading off in several directions, all of them open, and was full of statuary, artwork and a particularly shiny gold fountain in the centre. Daniel ignored all of that and stood by the large front doors. Maybe, he thought, Theodore wanted to keep him away from his visitors in light of the conversation he’d reported. But it had seemed like he’d already planned this. Maybe this Gideon didn’t get along with Benedict. Or maybe Theodore was just once again demonstrating that he didn’t have a clear grasp on how social rankings worked.

Either way, Daniel stood quietly and waited by the door for quite some time, thinking on that and trying not to think on his earlier conversation with Calvin. Naming things made them easier to control, did it? Daniel couldn’t help but think about that. He knew that a lot of masters renamed their slaves on acquiring them, so maybe that was why.

Maybe Theodore would have a few seconds to regret asking for Daniel’s real name one night.

There was a series of sharp raps on the door, impatient. Daniel couldn’t reach the little opening in the door that Benedict used to see out, so he just opened one of the double doors a fraction, peering out at the visitor.

And he nearly slammed the door in the face of the young man standing there. Surprise, Daniel thought to himself, just in case there was something to that notion. Worry. This was someone he knew, or at least someone he’d met before.

Admittedly, the man standing at the door hadn’t had as many piercings in his ears or his nose, and his hair had been shorter and not coloured with orange streaks, and he hadn’t been wearing a tunic that could have doubled as a tent or three dozen bracelets on each arm, but the long face and mismatched eyes were the same and Daniel clearly recognized Darwin.

Darwin’s eyes had gone wide on seeing Daniel as well, but before Daniel could do more than wonder what an employee of the people who’d trained him was doing here, Darwin composed himself. “You’re new,” he said with a cheeky smile. “I’m Gideon. Your master called for me.” He was talking to Daniel like he was stupid.

“O-of course,” Daniel said, stepping back and opening the door to allow Darwin entry. Darwin came in, looking at Daniel quickly and then around the foyer even more quickly, tongue coming out to play with the ring in his lip. Then he turned back to Daniel. “The Master is waiting for you in the dining room, sir,” Daniel said, keeping rein on his expression. Confusion, he thought. What was he doing here?

“Lead the way,” Darwin said, nodding at Daniel. “And what does Theo want me for today?” he asked as Daniel turned to head for a side door. “His message just said to come. He’s very imperious that way, I’m sure you’ve noticed. Treats everyone like he owns them.”

“The Master has two identical stones,” Daniel told him, figuring that it couldn’t hurt. “He wants you to tell him which one is real.”

“What, is one of them actually a sheep?” Darwin asked and then laughed. “I’m sure I can do that for him. Which one were you?” he asked, his voice dropping. “You were…Danny, right?”


“Right, Daniel.” Darwin nodded. “I’m…”

“Gideon,” Daniel told him, interrupting. Slaves didn’t interrupt. “You’re Gideon, you told me that already.”

“Right.” Darwin—Gideon smiled at him. “If it came up that you had a different name for me, Theo’d want to know why, and then he’d want to know why you know me at all, and…”

“I know,” Daniel snapped. Anger. “I’m not stupid.”

“I guess you wouldn’t be,” Gideon agreed, looking up at the ceiling. “Not to still be alive. Some of your buddies were a bit dumb. Guess it’s a good thing you got here instead of them. I’m sure our fearful leader will be happy to hear about this.” Daniel tried hard not to think of the four other boys who had been bought alongside him and then sold to people who weren’t Theodore. They’d been warned of that, that they might just go through all that and still end up a meaningless slave.

Once Daniel killed Theodore, he’d try to find the others and rescue them.

“Have you been practicing your tumbling?” Gideon asked a few seconds later, and Daniel wished he would just stop talking. Darwin had been their dance instructor, drilling them in acrobatics and flexibility. Daniel hadn’t known he was a wizard until today.

“I don’t have a lot of time to myself,” Daniel told him, trying to keep calm. Theodore would know if he was upset when he came into the dining room.

“I’m sure you must have some.” Gideon told him. “If I remember you right, you were almost okay at it by the end. Be a shame to lose that now. Besides, it doesn’t seem like you’re doing much else.” He paused. “Theo still being alive and all.”

“I know what I’m doing.” Anger, anger, Daniel thought. This wasn’t working. “I have a plan.”

“That’s reassuring,” Gideon said, in a way that suggested it wasn’t. “Do you need help?”

“No,” Daniel told him, pushing down a surge of…possessiveness. He didn’t need Gideon stealing Theodore out from under him. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“I’m friends with Theo.” Gideon smiled again. “We go back a bit. Someone has to keep an eye on him, after all. And on you too, now. Can’t have everything going belly-up because you screwed up, now, can we?”

Daniel flashed a glare at Gideon. “The only way this is going to get screwed up is if you manage to blow my cover,” he growled.

But Gideon just looked amused. “Blow your cover?” he asked, reaching out and poking Daniel in the forehead. “Someone’s a lot taller in his head than in real life, isn’t he? Careful to remember that you’re a tool, Danny—an important tool, but a tool, and tools are replaceable. And so are slaves, and that’s not a look that slaves give to free people.”

Daniel held his glare in place for a few more seconds before closing his eyes, breathing and imaging stabbing Gideon in the face. It took him a few seconds, but he managed to wrestle his anger into place, and made his face go blank again before opening his eyes. “I’m terribly sorry, sir. Please forgive my impertinence.”

“That’s better. Stay on that note and you’ll do just fine,” Gideon said, smiling again.

They were coming on the dining room, the doors of which were open. Daniel mentally sent an acknowledgement upwards as they passed through the doorway, putting on a little smile when his eyes came to rest on Theodore, who was in the middle of saying something to his three guests. “My friend owns the Crown, as I said, and I know that two pieces were rumoured to be in the collection of a Lord Ferrise, but his estate was plundered by a dragon, so heaven only knows where they ended up.” Theodore looked up from the table, smiled at Daniel. “Ah, Gideon. Thank you for your prompt visit.”

“Anything for you, Theo,” Gideon said, grinning as he approached the table. “Your new buddy tells me you have a toy you need checked out.” He snatched a stick of bread from the table and bit into it as he rounded to stand behind Theodore. “That it?” he asked, and Daniel saw that Theodore had the stone on the table with him.

“Indeed,” Theodore said, seemingly amused. “Though I’m told this one is a fake, and that Calvin here has the original.”

“And you don’t want to pay unless you’re sure,” Gideon said, nodding. “Fair. Let’s see them, then.”

“It’s best,” Michele said, looking at Gideon warily, “to compare them with each other. You should see pretty quickly that one is a copy of the other.”

“Alright, hand it over, then.”

Calvin picked up the second stone from the table beside him, and made as if to hand it over the table to Theodore before pausing, glancing over his shoulder at Daniel and, his posture reading conviction, reached out his hand to pass it to Daniel instead.

Theodore nodded Daniel over and Daniel held out his hand, letting Calvin drop the stone into it with an unreadable look on his face. Confusion, Daniel thought, reflecting that in a way, naming his feelings was making it easier to suppress them, at least. Daniel trotted around the table and held out the stone to Theodore, who didn’t take it but nodded at Gideon and held out the other stone in his own hand.

Gideon hummed a little to himself as he wiggled his hands, sticking out his tongue again. “Yep,” he said after a second, nodding at the one in Theodore’s hand. “That’s a piece of junk right there.” As he spoke, the stone in Theodore’s hand faded from purple to ordinary stone-grey.

Bemused, Theodore looked down at the rock in his hand. Daniel wondered how much he’d paid that thief for it. “Alas,” Theodore declared. “A very expensive piece of junk.”

“Sorry,” Calvin said. He didn’t sound sorry.

“Near as I can tell, it was no fault of yours, Calvin.” Theodore sighed, slipped the stone into a pocket, and pulled out a key, which he held out for Daniel. “Gideon, I’ve another stone I should like you to check the authenticity of, since you’re here anyway. Why don’t you sit and eat while Daniel goes to retrieve it?” He smiled at Daniel, giving him a nod of dismissal. He didn’t take the purple stone, which Daniel took to mean he wanted it put away in the desk drawer.

“Well, I’m not going to say no to free food,” Gideon said, waving a hand at the far wall where some more chairs were sitting, making one slide over to him so he could sit in between Wesley and Theodore. “As long as I’m not interrupting.”

“I was just telling my friends about the Sea King’s Regalia,” Theodore said, as Daniel moved away. “You know the story, don’t you?”

“Sure. Lots of people say he was a wizard, you know.”

The rest of the conversation was lost to Daniel as he left the room, trying not to sigh. Relief, he thought to himself, heading towards Theodore’s bedroom. He noticed the hallway was empty and, with a brief moment of hesitation, increased his pace to a near-run, tumbled into a cartwheel from which he sprang into a backflip that he landed with only a little imbalance.

“Almost okay at it,” he grumbled, looking around again to make sure nobody had seen before continuing towards the bedroom.

The red stone turned out to be real, and even as Daniel asked Theodore his age later that day, he was mentally wording the inevitable question about how it was that Theodore had befriend an employee of the people who wanted him dead.

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2 thoughts on “Slavery, 10

    1. Ah, thank you! I have fixed that now.

      I did all the links in a frantic three-day span when I was trying to get this website up and running back at the end of 2018, so frankly I’m surprised there’s not more mistakes like this in them, haha.

      I appreciate the assist there!


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