Part 2: Sold
I was chained to a coffle. It was easy to guess that from the sound of others behind and in front of me. By the tug of the chains at my neck, forcing me to move in rhythm with them. I couldn’t see them. I still had the hood over my eyes. The hood that I’d laced on myself, stripping myself and pushing my red hair beneath the white leather, so confident that it would only be temporary. I couldn’t remove it. My hands were still bound behind my back, tied at the wrists.
Even if I could reach up to remove it, I would still be attached to the shuffling line of freshly made slaves, chained in place. I would still be branded with the mark of a slave, the mark of a failed applicant to the Houses of Magic. No one in the Hundred Kingdoms would help me.
I couldn’t help the tears that trickled down my cheeks as I walked forward. It wasn’t meant to be like this. I’d had Talent. I’d thought I’d had Talent. It had seemed so simple that I would be accepted. So impossible that this could happen. But it had. I had given myself into slavery, because it had seemed that one of the Houses would pull me from it in an instant. Because I hadn’t wanted to be ordinary.
Someone moaned further up the line forming muffled words I couldn’t make out through the hood, and I flinched as I heard the sound of a whip.
“Be silent!” a man’s voice shouted. “Do you think you’re going to get sympathy? You’re not innocents taken in some raid that shouldn’t have happened. You reached beyond your grasp and this is the price. You were told it. Speak and you will be gagged. Disobey and you will be whipped. Fight hard enough to hurt a free man or woman and you will suffer what all slaves suffer for such a thing.”
He didn’t need to say it. The line moved on and I moved with it. I could feel the sunlight on my naked skin. Hear people around us. Were we moving through the city streets now? How many people would be staring at us? Despising us for what we were, or what we had been? Thinking about what would happen to us next?
I was trying not to think about it. At best, I might be bought by a kind owner, who only wanted a servant or a trained clerk. At worst… I could imagine hands on my flesh, the hardness of men pushing into every opening my body offered. The image made me shudder, and the worst part was that I couldn’t lie to myself about it being only from fear.
A part of me wanted it.
“Stop and kneel,” the man who had spoken before said. I came to a halt, feeling the tug on my chains as others knelt hesitantly around me. Someone yelped as the sound of the lash came again. “Kneel.”
I knelt, not wanting to feel that pain. At least, most of me wanted it. The same small part of me that had told me how wonderful it would feel to be used, to be fucked, wondered what the kiss of the lash really felt like. Would it burn? Would it truly be agony?
Rough hands pulled the hood from my head, then reached back to undo the bonds at my wrists. Blinking in the sunlight, I could see the white buildings of the capitol forming a rough square around the cobbles on which we knelt. There was a stage there of plain wood, surrounded by men and women who seemed to be from all walks of life. There were townsfolk there and merchants, agents of nobles and a few carriages towards the back that suggested nobles themselves might be in attendance. There were some in the grey robes of the Ordinary, and a few in the more colourful robes of the Houses. Some were obviously there for the spectacle. Others… others would be there to buy.
A hand forced me to look up into the face of a man who wore the outfit of a merchant’s guard. A slaver’s guard.
“Kneel the way a slave kneels, slut. Legs apart, hands on your thighs, gaze down. Do not move or speak.”
I moved into the position he demanded, ashamed though I was to do it, afraid of what would happen if I did not. I could see that I was fourth in a long line of men and women, all naked, all chained at the neck. How many were there? A dozen? Two dozen? How many had risked the trial, to produce so many who had failed?
The guard moved along the line, and my breath caught as I saw the woman he un-hooded two places down from me. Lydia. She blinked in obvious fear and shock, tears in her eyes for a moment as she looked around the crowd. Then, even naked and chained, some of her old arrogance reasserted itself.
“I am Lydia, daughter of Tyron,” she called out to the crowd. “Anyone who buys me and returns me will be richly-”
She screamed as a lash struck her once, twice. The man who had done it was better dressed than the others. A slaver, not a guard. He took something from his belt.
“Open your mouth.” He brought the whip down again when she didn’t comply. “Open your mouth.”
He gagged Lydia with a wooden ball, ropes coming from it to hold it firmly in place. It held her mouth open wide. Probably painfully so. What would that feel like? I could find out, of course. All I had to do was say something. Anything…
“You will find, slave,” the slaver said, “that your noble father has less interest in you now that you can give him no sons to inherit. No great marriage. Perhaps he will buy you back later, but for now, you are mine. Even Tyron the Lord of Esphere cannot interfere in this. So you will kneel in silence with the others, and when your turn comes, you will suffer ten strokes, there on the stage, before the bidding begins.”
The slaver raised his voice further, looking up and down the line. By now, his guards had unbound the others. “You will all kneel while the good people of the Great City decide if they want to buy you. You will not move or speak, for any reason.”
Just those words told me what would happen next, but they didn’t prepare me for the reality of it. They didn’t prepare me for the people who came over to stop in front of me, assessing me like I was a piece of meat. I could feel their stares lingering on my body, working their way up and down it as casually as if it were entirely normal for an eighteen year old woman to be naked and kneeling before them. A glance told me that Lydia was enduring the same. They all were, men and women.
It got worse. Hands twined in my hair, jerking it tight so that I was forced to meet the eyes of strangers. More kneaded my breasts, cupping them, weighing them, pinching them. A finger slid down lower, pushing up into me without preamble.
“Not a virgin,” a female voice said beside me. Her finger flickered inside me. “Pity.”
So many hands. So many people. Hands touched every part of me. More fingers slid inside me, circled my clitoris briefly, intruded on my anus in a way that made me wince and want to beg for mercy. To beg for something, at least. There was a part of me that still didn’t know for what.
All the others must have gotten the same. The young men must have found their cocks stroked to hardness, tested for length and firmness. Lydia must have found herself fondled while she whimpered ineffectively behind her gag. Yet in those long minutes, I might as well have been alone with those who manhandled my flesh. I was in a realm that did not extend beyond my skin. A realm that consisted just of the things being done to me thanks to one moment of stupidity.
A realm that suddenly, impossibly, contained magic. I could feel it building in me the same way it had built with Tessa, feeding into everything I felt. Changing it into pleasure even as I tried to insist that none of it should be pleasure. I leant into hands that moved over me, not daring to move, but daring that much. Hating the feeling of the power inside me, when it hadn’t come at the one moment I needed it. What use was magic now?
Eventually, finally, the auction started.
They started at the end of the line, with a curvy, dark haired, girl who I remembered as studious, always trying to be the best that she could. The people there to ‘inspect’ us moved off as the auction started in earnest, so I got to see her taken to the stage, forced to stand with her hands behind her head, and bid on. The slaver called out bids as folk raised their hands, and I could feel myself shivering as the price crept up, then stalled. Five hundred royals. I didn’t know what slaves cost, but I guessed that it was a good price. After all, she was young and College trained.
A good price? What would be a good price for me? I didn’t want to think about that, but I didn’t have a choice. As soon as she was sold, the first girl was bundled from the stage, pushed into the arms of a well-dressed man.
The next girl was petite, with short blonde hair and small breasts. Bidding on her rose a little higher than for the first, but again, she was quickly sold. This time, it was to a woman in the robes of one of the Houses. Maybe she’d been lucky. Maybe someone she knew had bought her. Maybe not. Mere minutes, and already, I was two places closer to being up on that stage. Being sold off to a stranger as just… an object.
There was a young man in front of me. They hauled him up, forcing him to stand as the girls had, legs apart, hands behind his neck. This time, the bidding seemed to be between another slaver, probably looking for College trained slaves to sell on, and a pale nobleman. The young man blanched as the nobleman won the bidding, but was dragged from the stage anyway.
Then it was my turn. I didn’t try to fight as two guards unclipped me from the coffle. There was no point. I walked as they directed me, standing in the same spot as the others, my hands behind my head, my legs apart. Even after all I’d just endured, it still felt so shaming to be stared at like that.
“Who’ll bid me a hundred for this one?” the slaver asked. “Fine tits, College trained, a pretty face… I should be asking a lot more. A hundred and fifty. Two hundred.”
The price crept up. I kept my gaze down, so I couldn’t see who was bidding, but I could feel the competition starting to build. It went past the five hundred of the first girl, then past seven. I caught myself hoping that it would go higher, then stopped myself. What did I care if a slaver made one coin off me, or a thousand? I was still being sold.
In the end, it wasn’t quite a thousand, but eight hundred and fifty royals still seemed like a small fortune. The slaver gripped me by the hair, moving me forward to where a man in the grey of the Ordinary waited. Was this my new master? He was in his thirties, handsome enough I supposed, dark haired and square jawed. Even so…
He slipped a leash around my neck, cutting off that thought.
He led me through the square. A few eyes turned to me as I passed, but most of those there could not care less that a naked young woman was moving through their numbers. The man led me in the direction of the carriages, but it wasn’t until he opened the door to one that it occurred to me that he might be bidding for another.
“Here she is, Lady,” he said, pushing me inside. “I will see to the other.”
“Very good, Henri. Kneel there, girl, before me.”
I knelt, but not before I’d managed to glance at her. That glimpse was enough to steal my breath away for a moment. She was older than me, probably nearly forty, but still blonde haired and exquisite in all the ways another woman could be exquisite. She was fine featured, but there was a strength behind that fineness, a piercing intelligence to those blue eyes. Her body was clothed in the richest silks, and they clung to the curves of her body tightly enough that in that moment I wanted her as I had wanted nothing else before. I could feel the stupid, traitorous magic rising up just at that, mirroring my desire.
She smiled, and I knew she’d caught me staring at her. I looked at the floor, knowing that I might be beaten even for that if she was cruel enough.
“Oh, look at you, you beautiful girl.” Her voice was like honey, but there was a core of steel there too. “Look at me. Look at me.”
“Good. Stay looking at me while Henri attends to the rest of our business. I want to watch this.”
She turned to look out the carriage’s window, but I did not dare take my eyes off her. Somehow, I knew that she would know if I did so, and that she would punish me for it. So I knelt there helplessly, staring up at this oh-so-beautiful woman and shivering with the thought of what might come.
Away in the distance I could hear screams. Not cries, not yelps, but full blooded screams as they whipped Lydia. Bidding must have followed, but I could not hear it, and I certainly could not see. I could not take my eyes off the woman in front of me. I would not have now even if she had not commanded me.
“There,” she said at last. “The prize we actually came for. Tessa did well to spot you, though.”
The word was out of my mouth before I could stop myself. I choked it back, looking at her in something approaching terror.
“You’re beautiful when you’re frightened, Jana,” she said. “Come here.”
I went to her, and she pulled me over her knee like an errant child, pulling on my hair so that I gasped.
“What is it that you think I’ll do? This?”
Something, her hand, struck my bottom hard enough that I yelped. A second blow followed.
“Answer me when I ask a question.”
“Mistress. Mmm, how polite. For now though, I’ll be happy with just ‘Lady Amelia’.” She pulled me until I was bent back enough to see her face. “You poor, foolish thing. Throwing yourself at the trial because you felt the first hint of Talent. Did you want it? Did you need to be one of them that much?” Another blow, stinging, raising heat. Raising more than that. “Answer me, Jana.”
“Yes, Lady Amelia.”
“And then, when none of the seven Houses chose you, how did that feel?”
I swallowed. “Like my world was falling apart.”
“All the others out there will have felt the same,” she whispered, her mouth just an inch from my ear. “All desperate to be chosen. Or so certain that they would be. And they were not. Just as you were not chosen by the seven Houses.” She paused long enough to kiss my ear. “I have news for you though, my pet. Maybe news you will curse, in time, but also something most do not get…”
She kissed me, and I had never been kissed like that. Not by a man, or a woman. Her mouth claimed mine utterly, and the power within me rose to it, leaving me gasping as she parted from me.
“The Eighth House chooses you, Jana.” I opened my mouth to speak and she shoved something into it. A gag. “Oh, I know you’ll have questions, but those can wait. You can wait.”
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story continues in The Eighth House 3: Questions