Part 1: Fresh From Auction
Katrina said a silent prayer during the moment of silence that followed her bid. Somewhere behind her there was a rude comment that she ignored. The flies biting at any exposed flesh they could find were harder to ignore and she swatted at them subconsciously. Her nose wrinkled and eyes watered from the ammonia stench of livestock dung and the body odor of the predominantly male crowd. She was thankful that the slaves were the first items on the docket, ahead of the livestock. She was anxious to be on her way, not only because of the long trip ahead but because this place awakened bad memories.
"Going once!" the auctioneer shouted out, scanning the meager crowd for an additional bidder. He might have tried harder, thusly increasing his take but the morning was still young and there was a lot more to sell. He would be hoarse by the end of the day as it was.
"Going twice! SOLD, to the young lady holding number 23."
It was a good deal and her master would be pleased. Katrina jumped with joy and pride at her accomplishment until a wave of doubt clouded her mind, and she became frightened. What if her master did not approve? Guilt added its burden upon her emotions: she had just bought another human being.
"I had no choice," Katrina said aloud. "I was but following Master's orders."
It felt good to hear the words, even if she had to speak them to herself. It’s not her fault, it wasn't her choice. The rationalization was sufficient to suppress thoughts of guilt from her mind. The doubt, however, remained.
Katrina watched as the bailiff led her purchase from the stand. The female slave was naked, her hands bound behind her back, and a chain was attached to a large metal collar round her neck. Her papers indicated that she was 18 years of age, but from her appearance one would have believed her to be much older. Her body was frail, thin, and malnourished. Her hair had been trimmed short, but the remains were still a knotted dirty mess. Her facial features and general posture hinted at recent beauty, indicating that she came from a good family. The mark of a slave, a large S burned into her upper arm, was blistering badly and in need of attention.
Her body was weak but her eyes still flashed with defiance as she resisted her captor’s efforts to lead her away. It was a hopeless struggle, however, and the audience laughed as she lost her footing and was literally dragged from the auction ring. As she was being dragged out a magnificent stallion was being led in and the crowd’s attention shifted accordingly. Slaves, horses, cows and pigs: they were all sold under the auctioneer, just another day at the King’s auction.
"She has spirit," Katrina mused as she made her way through the crowd. Master preferred girls with spirit, they were more fun. It might mean a lot of trouble for her, but Master would enjoy that too. Katrina smiled at the prospect of pleasing her master.
"May I help you?" the clerk’s surly voice clearly indicated his annoyance.
"Purchase, lot 29," Katrina replied as she handed her bidding card through the bars of the clerk’s office. The clerk looked at her skeptically until she handed over the letter from her master. The clerk recognized the seal embossed into the parchment and his attitude changed immediately. The stories still circulated about the last clerk who failed to respect an agent from Lord Oberon. Her master had an open account at the slave auction and this purchase was well below the authorized limit. He handed back the letter and made no further challenge.
"I hope you have help, this one is a handful."
"I can manage," Katrina assured him.
A few minutes later, her purchase was escorted from the holding pen. Her eyes still burned with an inner fury but she no longer resisted. Fresh welts upon her back gave evidence that the bailiff was not as amused as the patrons. The steel collar had been removed from around her neck but her hands were still in irons.
"I'll need her hands released so she can dress," Katrina said.
"It is recommended that they stay naked for the initial trip home," the clerk advised. "Gets her acclimated to her new position a lot faster."
"Putting her on display for the voyeuristic pleasures of the townsfolk is not what I had in mind."
"As you wish," the clerk replied, and motioned to the bailiff to remove the wrist irons. The newly acquired slave slowly moved her arms in front, massaging the stiffness from them.
"Here," Katrina said as she handed over a dress. The slave glared angrily at Katrina as she extended a hand, but then let the dress fall to the ground. Katrina stepped close, grabbed both of the slave’s nipples, pinching and twisting, forcing her to the dirt as she cried out in pain.
"Listen, wench!" Katrina hissed, ignoring the cries. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. Either way, you are coming with me! If you would rather go naked, fine, but don’t blame me if your skin is burned to a crisp! We have a long walk and the sun is hot so I suggest that you put on that dress!"
Katrina hoisted her ward back to her feet and released her grip. The slave furiously rubbed the sting from her nipples. She had underestimated her new owner and now looked at her warily as she picked the dress up off the ground. It was a nice dress, with an extra lining such that underclothes were not required for modesty, extending to just below the knees with a leather lace to tighten the bodice. Definitely shorter than what would be appropriate for polite company and the neckline plunged deep in the front, exposing way more cleavage than would be considered appropriate, but it was clean and provided the basics of modesty. She ignored the lecherous eyes of the clerk as she donned the dress.
"Sandals," Katrina stated as she handed out some footwear. "We have a long walk, and there are many stones."
The new slave examined the footwear in awe. They were of fine quality, with heavy leather soles, soft calfskin uppers. Soft, wide leather laces tightened the uppers over her foot and then wrapped half way up her calf for support. She used to own shoes of this quality once, but that was ‘before’. The thought brought a single tear to her eye, which she wiped away as she knelt to fit the sandals to her feet. It was a momentary lapse as her eyes once again showed the fury that burned within when she stood again.
"Now, will you come along willingly, or do I have to force you?" The slave only glared her response.
"Very well, tie her hands!" Katrina requested. The bailiff took delight in wrenching her arms behind her back and securing her wrists with a tie that was a bit tighter than necessary. Katrina grabbed her hair and propelled her out of the stockyard, reverting to an arm hold once they were headed in the generally right direction. The roadway was initially paved with flat stones, which gave way to rutted dirt at the city edge and Katrina held tight to the slave’s arm to ensure she didn’t lose her balance and fall.
They were barely out of sight of the town when Katrina stopped their march.
"You must be very uncomfortable," Katrina observed, referring to the restraints. "How long have you been like this?"
"Since daybreak" the slave responded sullenly. Her anger had subsided some and she realized that resistance only added to her discomfort.
"We have a long way to go," Katrina advised as she cut the slave's restraints. "We will make a lot better time with your hands free."
"Aren't you afraid that I’ll run off?"
"In the King's city, running off would have caused me embarrassment, and you might possibly have found refuge. Out here, I can simply run you down, and then make you regret your action."
The slave had no doubt who would win such a struggle. The two women were about the same height, but Katrina outweighed her by at least 20 pounds, none of which was fat. Her nipples still ached from the last demonstration of Katrina's strength.
Katrina removed a flask of water and a cake wrapped in muslin from her knapsack, kept a small portion and offered the remainder to her keep, which was eaten in big, hungry gulps.
"What is your name, girl?"
"Varina," she replied softly. She was touched by the simple acts of kindness, although the fury within still burned. "Should I call you Ma'am or Mistress?"
"I am not your master, so you may call me Katrina."
"I suppose I should thank you for the dress," Varina said. "It is really quite pretty. Is it one of yours?"
"It is the standard dress that Master issues to his house slaves."
"But it is the same as the dress you wear," Varina remarked. "Are you...."
"Yes, I am a slave too," Katrina pulled the sleeve up on her own dress, reveling the S that had been branded into her skin years ago.
"I am sorry I was so rude," Varina replied soberly. This woman was a peer, and not the subject of her hatred.
"Your attitude is understandable," Katrina replied. "Now come on, we must be back before sundown." She had slung the knapsack back onto her shoulders and was walking briskly away.
"Who then is my master?" Varina had to run a bit, unable to match the stride.
"Lord Oberon?" She gasped, the words stopping her in her tracks. She felt as if she had been punched in the gut. The anger and fear she had been feeling was now surpassed by an overwhelming sense of despair.
"What's wrong?" Katrina asked in annoyance as they stopped once again.
"I have heard that Lord Oberon is cruel to his slaves!"
"I am sure that you didn't hear that from anyone who has actually served Lord Oberon," Katrina replied. "Master is not cruel."
"It is said that he beats the women regularly and for his own pleasure."
"In many cases, there is pleasure involved." Katrina said dreamily. "As to how often and for whose pleasure will be up to you."
"Like I have a choice!"
"You always have choices," Katrina rebuked. "You had the choice to commit your crime. You had the choice of slavery or prison. You had the choice to struggle or cooperate. You will have the choice to obey or not. And you will have the choice of accepting punishment and forgiveness or taking another option."
"What option?" A glimmer of hope had been restored.
"That will become evident later. We won't talk about it now." Katrina marched off at a brisk pace, allowing Varina to lag behind a few moments before she ran to catch up. Varina found that she had to run frequently to match the pace Katrina set and watch the road carefully to avoid the road apples and other hazards. The sun beat hot upon them and the dust their own feet raised swirled up and stuck to their skin and clothes. Varina longed for more of the water from the flask but it was offered only infrequently.
The road to the King's city was busy at this time of day and they shared the path with an odd assortment of wagons, horses and others on foot. Most passed by without notice, although many were obviously curious about two women traveling unescorted. A few greeted Katrina by name, wishing her well on her journey. An occasional carriage pulled by a team of horses would thunder by, expecting all others to give way. Only once were they challenged by a group of the King's soldiers. Katrina showed a paper that bore the seal of Lord Oberon and the soldiers bid them on their way.
The sun was painting a mosaic of red and orange against the clouds when they turned off the main road and into the Oberon estate. Katrina marched on, Varina plodded, the exhaustion of the long walk taking its toll. A short distance later they passed by the outer fields where they joined a procession of men and women returning from their daily toil. The field workers laughed, joked and talked of joyous things. Varina noticed that only two out of three bore the mark of a slave.
"Lord Oberon sure has a lot of overseers" Varina commented quietly, making the assumption that those who weren’t slaves were in charge of the ones that were. "Why don’t they carry whips?"
"Master uses very few, and none apply the whip." Katrina replied.
"He doesn't use the whip?"
"It is never applied in the field," Katrina replied. "For his general staff, a tribunal of peers decides what punishments are called for, which may include the whip. For house servants, Lord Oberon himself passes judgment and administers punishment."
"Then what position do the freemen hold?"
"All are considered workers, whether they bear the mark or not. Those without the mark simply have more options from which to choose.
"Why would a free man work as a slave?"
"You confuse status with position. Some are here to be with a loved one. Others were born here, and know of nothing else. Some have been granted their freedom and chose to stay. Master works them hard, but treats them well. Most would do no better anywhere else. Now this way," Katrina motioned to the left. "We are headed to the main house."
- - - - -
"Eeewwww!" housemaid Fran remarked. "What a scrawny thing she is! Look at her, there is no meat on those bones at all! Haven't they been feeding you, girl?"
"The jail food was tasteless, but at least there was some each day," Varina admitted. "Which is more than I got before."
"And what happened to your hair?"
"I sold it." Varina explained. "It used to reach my waist. The wigmaker paid me two silvers for it."
"You can't show her to Master looking like this!" Fran declared. "Marie and I will scrub her up, and get her fed. Meanwhile, you had best go tidy up yourself."
"I am fully capable of taking my own bath!" Varina complained. The housemaid responded to her resistance by simply throwing Varina over her shoulder and carrying her off. "Hey, let go of me! Put me down! STOP IT!"
"It's best not to meet Master on a full stomach!" Katrina smiled as the housemaid bodily carried off her charge, and then went off to her own quarters. The shrieks and cries that ensued were testament to the very thorough cleaning that Varina was getting.
When they were reunited an hour later, Varina's skin glowed bright pink, evidence of a very stiff brushing. Her hair still looked as if it had been whacked off with a knife, but all the knots were out, which had apparently been responsible for a fair amount of the shrieks that had been emanating from the bath room earlier. Varina now had a new subject for her loathing, her eyes casting daggers at the housemaid.
"Oh, you have yourself a hellcat here!" Fran warned. "I hope you know what you're in for."
"I can handle it," Katrina nodded. "Come with me." Varina shot her nastiest look at the housemaid, and then followed along behind Katrina. Katrina led the way down stone walled hallways and up staircase. Stone yielded to wood on the second story and the furnishings changed from utility to ornate.
"There is a pecking order, and you had best get it straight! Gerald, the butler, is in charge of the house. Fran is responsible for general upkeep and has dominion over pretty much everything outside the kitchen. You do NOT want her as your enemy!" Katrina warned. "Cook is responsible for the kitchen, and she tolerates no one in her domain, so if you haven’t been invited in, stay out!"
"Where are we going?"
"To meet Lord Oberon."
Their path took them up two flights of stairs, down a long corridor and into a chamber that could best be described as a luxurious dungeon. Oil lamps hung, three per wall, a soft yellow light emanating from within the glass globes that shielded the flame from any draft. Large windows dominated two of the walls, which would have let light in if the sun had still been up. Thick glass set into wooden frames sealed out the evening chill. A variety of rings were set in the floor, walls and ceiling. There were several benches of differing heights, and an assortment of whips and paddles hung on display. A magnificent oak desk held a commanding position in the center of the room, and the only chair in the room was centered behind it. The room smelled of lamp oil and leather.
Two other women were already there, chatting quietly. Varina suddenly felt very cold and very much afraid.
"You bring her in from the fields?" asked one of the others. "I haven't noticed her before."
"No," Katrina replied. "No takers, so I had to buy her at auction. Varina, meet Athelia and Cali, Lord Oberon's seamstresses."
"You went to auction?" Cali remarked. "That is one place I never want to go back to! Never!"
"You must really be desperate to resort to auction!" Athelia said.
"I have my motives," Katrina replied elusively.
"I don't understand," Varina said sheepishly.
"When a position becomes available, it is offered to us in order of rank." Athelia explained. "But before you can move up, you must train your replacement. And, of course, Master has to approve. Starting from auction is such a gamble! Has Master seen her yet?"
"We have but just returned," Katrina said and then turned toward her ward. "There are two things that I want to make VERY clear to you," Katrina said. "First, it was your own actions and the King’s court that has made you a slave, do not blame Lord Oberon! The court expects Lord Oberon to see to it that they don’t have to deal with you again, and Master will not disappoint his king. Master is fair and generous in dealing with minor disobedience but he will not tolerate treachery. Never EVER lie to Master."
"Second, Master grants the house servants certain rights and privileges not normally given to other servants. He expects you to give certain favors in return. If you abuse those rights, or don’t please Master, you will be sent to the fields. If you fail to serve him in the fields, you may be sold to a less understanding master."
"Is that understood?"
Varina nodded softly, looking forlornly at the floor, the phrase 'certain favors' stuck in her mind. Beauty was but a curse to a woman sentenced to slavery. A homely girl would find herself working some menial job, where an attractive girl would end up as a joytoy to some master, at least until age stole the beauty from her. Varina had hoped that her unkempt appearance would have spared her this ultimate indignity.
"Can I skip the pleasing master part and go straight to the fields?"
"It won't be as bad as you think," Katrina consoled her.
"You brought me here to be beaten, right?" Varina looked apprehensively at all the implements of torture.
"We all meet with Master once each week," Katrina said. "My usual day to meet with Master was yesterday, when he commanded that I go to auction, and to present any purchase immediately on return. For now, you will meet with Master on my day. Once you are trained you will meet with Master alone. It is here that you tell Master of your successes and confess your failures. He will listen to your troubles, and if he sees fit, may grant you some favors. He will also administer any punishment that he deems appropriate."
"Oh, you don't have to worry about getting whipped today!" Athelia said. "Master will get his fill on me, that's for sure! I messed up BIG yesterday!"
Any response was cut short when the heavy door swung inward and Lord Oberon swept into the room. He was tall, lean and younger than Varina had expected. Katrina, Cali and Athelia all bowed their heads and curtsied respectfully. Varina glared at her new master, her eyes conveying the contempt that she dared not speak.
"Your name?" Lord Oberon commanded.
"Her name is Varina, Sir." Katrina answered after a considerable pause.
"Is she a mute?"
"I can speak!" Varina snapped.
"Have you taken to answering each other’s questions?" Lord Oberon directed this question towards Katrina.
"No, Sir." Katrina answered.
Lord Oberon examined his newest acquisition for a few moments, then stepped behind the desk and sat down. He opened one of the several leather bound ledgers and examined it briefly before speaking again.
"Cali, please step forward and present yourself."
"Good evening, Master." Cali said merrily as she stepped sharply up to the desk.
"Sir, I am pleased to report that I have made much improvement in my work. Regrettably, I am still not able to match the speed and accuracy of Athelia, and for this failure I seek forgiveness."
"There is no crime in how you place, only in how you try," Lord Oberon said. "You were whipped last week for having too smart a tongue. Has your attitude improved?"
"Yes, Master. The whipping was very effective; I still carry the marks. I know of no complaints this week, Sir."
"Let me see the results of last week."
Cali slipped her dress off, rotating slowly at her master’s direction. Brown and yellow stripes criss-crossed her buttocks and upper legs, evidence of the recent beating. While Varina cringed at the sight, the other two slaves had no apparent reaction at all.
"The marks will fade soon enough, there should be nothing permanent."
"Thank you Sir, for your mercy and expertise in using the whip."
"You have done well, I am pleased. No further punishment is necessary. Is everything okay with you?"
"I am well, Sir, thank you for asking."
"Very well." Lord Oberon dipped a pen into an ink well and scratched a note into the ledger. "Athelia, step forward and report."
Cali took her cue to retreat, while Athelia stepped sharply up to the desk but kept her face directed toward the floor.
"Good Evening, Sir. Sir, I... I regret to inform you that I have performed poorly." Athelia cried and her tears fell towards the floor
"What have you done?"
"Yesterday, due to my carelessness, I spilled a flask of green dye upon what was to be the new white spread for the dining table, ruining several weeks’ worth of work."
"How did that happen?"
"The spread was nearly finished, and I was taking it to the laundry room so that a small spot of dirt could be removed. The spread is quite large, and I was too lazy to fold it compactly, thus I was not able to see exactly where I was placing it. I did not notice the open bottle of dye on the table, which tipped when I placed the spread next to it."
"Who left the bottle of dye?"
"I don’t know for sure, and I would rather not speculate, Sir."
"Very well." Lord Oberon stated. The experienced slaves all knew that someone else would be making a confession for leaving the bottle of dye and there was no need for Lord Oberon to press for details. "Why do you cry so, I have not yet passed judgment. Are you afraid?"
"It is not the punishment I fear. My heart is saddened by the loss of what was a nice piece of work. It can be replaced, except for the cost of the material and the time of Cali and myself, but it is such a total waste. I humbly request that you forgive me for the loss, and also for my carelessness."
"Perhaps it is not such a total loss," Lord Oberon suggested. "Start again on the spread for the dining room, and find some use for the spoiled one. Now tell me how you are. Do you have you anything else to discuss?"
"I am well, Sir. I have nothing else at this time."
"Very well. You are to be punished. Prepare yourself immediately, hanging from that ring." Lord Oberon pronounced, pointing to ring secured in the ceiling.
"Yes, Sir!" Athelia replied enthusiastically. She could tell from her master's tone of voice that he was not angry, and that pleased her. Varina watched in awe as Athelia slipped out of her dress and started fastening leather cuffs about her own wrists, and then nearly cried out in horror when Athelia turned and showed that her backside was covered with nasty scars from her shoulders to just above her knees.
"Varina, step forward and report."
So engrossed in Athelia's actions, Varina didn't respond until Katrina gave her a stiff push forward. "Say Good Evening," Katrina coached.
"Good evening," Varina said gruffly. An awkward silence followed.
"Your report?" Lord Oberon requested.
"Report what?" Varina snapped back.
"This is where you confess your crimes, ask for forgiveness and accept your punishment." Katrina coached.
"My crime?" Varina exclaimed. "I stole a loaf of bread, and for this I am enslaved and sentenced to a life of mmmfff!"
"Watch your tongue!" Katrina hissed as she clamped her hand over Varina's mouth. "Or I will whip you myself!"
"That will be all, for now," Lord Oberon said ominously. "Katrina, please step forward and report."
Varina retreated, nearly tripping over the platform Athelia was moving to a position so she might reach the overhead ring.
"Good evening, Sir!" Katrina said sharply. "As you can see, I have acquired the new servant you authorized. I believe that I have met all my expectations, and I beg for your forgiveness on any deficiency I am unaware of."
"Unaware of?" Lord Oberon queried. "Are you not aware that you are responsible for your charge? Are you not aware that you are supposed to be her teacher? Are you not aware that you are responsible for her failures? Was it not made clear to you that you would be punished alongside and in her place during her training period?"
"Yes Sir, I am aware of these things."
"Then can you testify that her conduct met with my standards?"
"No, Sir, I cannot."
"She failed to properly report, and did not accept punishment. Do you consider this proper behavior?"
"No Sir, I do not."
"Then explain yourself, explain to me so that I can understand."
"Sir, with all due respect, she has not received any training in these matters, having arrived barely in time to be presented to you now. She is still ignorant of what is expected, and therefore she should not be considered guilty of disobedience. She has not been assigned duties, so she has not failed to perform. There was nothing, other than her disrespect in front of you now, that needed to be reported."
"The journey home must have taken hours. You didn't spend that time educating her?"
"You are correct, Master Sir," Katrina replied sullenly. "Our pace was fast and the day was hot. I feared that time spent talking would haves slowed us down and parched our throats. I should have placed your concerns first, and for that failure I beg forgiveness. I also beg forgiveness in her place, as the failure is mine, not hers."
"Very well. How are you today? Have you anything else?"
"I am very tired, Sir. I acknowledge my failure, Sir, but I beg for your mercy."
"Why Katrina, this is most unlike you! Why do you ask for mercy?"
"Sir, I had but a few hours of sleep, as I was half way to the King's city before the dawn, and have traveled far. My body aches from the journey. I fear that punishment will make it very difficult for me to carry out my duties."
"Why were you traveling so early?"
"The auction started in the morning, and I did not want to miss out on any of the selection."
"You were authorized a night's lodging in town. Why did you not use it?"
"I needed to complete my duties, including today's, before I left."
"It should have been an easy ride. Are you unwilling to press your mount to a trot?"
"I did not have authorization for a horse, Sir."
"You walked, and managed to arrive in time to register for the auction?"
"My load was light; I ran most of the way, Sir."
"Impressive. But still you showed a lack of planning. You should have requested a mount. It is your duty to request what is needed."
"Yes Sir, I am sorry, Sir." Katrina chose not to admit that she was terrified of horses and would rather have walked. "I recognize my failure, and for the failure of my charge. I beg that you will forgive me."
"You will be punished," Lord Oberon assured her. "I agree with your concerns for your health. Punishment will be deferred. Return to me when the ache is gone from your body."
"Yes Sir, Thank You Sir!" Katrina replied in gratitude.
"And now, my dear Athelia, it is time to pay the consequences," Lord Oberon announced.
Athelia, who was now hanging entirely from her wrists, watched nervously as her master approached the wall where the whips were hanging. She breathed a sigh of relief when he passed by the buggy whips and selected a heavy flogger.
"Thank you, Sir." Athelia said.
Lord Oberon nodded his response, acknowledging his understanding. He drew the whip back, paused for just a moment, and then swung violently at her buttocks. Athelia whimpered slightly, while her body swung to and fro from the force of the impact. Again the flogger crashed down upon her buttocks, eliciting a bit more vocal whimper. The next blow caused her caused her legs to flail, which twisted her entire body around so that now her front side was presented to her master.
Athelia closed her eyes in anticipation of what came next, a glancing blow across both breasts. Her head snapped back in reaction, but the scream came not from her lips but from Varina's. Athelia's breasts turned initially white, then were quickly mottled by a confusion of red stripes.
"Shhhh," Katrina whispered. "You must remain silent!"
"This whip bothers you?" Lord Oberon asked of Varina. "Then I will select another."
Athelia glared angrily at Varina as her master exchanged the flogger for a long handled crop. It wasn't the worst of what could have been selected, but it was bad enough. The whip whistled through the air, impacting her buttocks with a crack. Athelia cried out briefly, her body jerking in uncontrollable spasms. An angry red wheal appeared in the spot where the whip had landed. Her body had swung around again so that her front side faced her master. Lord Oberon lightly tapped the whip against her breasts, then down her belly, and finally against the mound of curly hair covering her pubis. Athelia tipped her head back, eyes closed, teeth clenched and waited.
"You may go now," Lord Oberon said to Varina, Katrina and Cali.
"Yes, Master," Katrina and Cali recited in unison as they started backing toward the door. Katrina reached out and pulled Varina along, closing the heavy door behind them, cutting short a vocal scream from Athelia.
"I thought you said he wasn't cruel!" Varina complained.
"That is what I said," Katrina agreed as she led the way to a narrow staircase that led up. Oil lamps were spaced far apart, providing just enough light at the farthest reaches to safely find your way.
"You don't consider that cruel?" Varina asked as she navigated the narrow stairway.
"You will soon understand," Cali replied. "In the hands of a cruel man, a whip can cut your skin, break your bones, and hurt you all the way to your soul. In our Master's hands, the whip may mark you for days, but doesn’t touch that which is really you."
"You must learn to trust Master, accept what he offers you, and not complain." Katrina added. "If you put your faith and trust in him, he will return that faith and trust in you."
"Like when he allows you to go to the King’s City unescorted?" Varina asked.
"That is but one of many examples." Katrina stopped at a table that held a number of candles set in pewter holders. She lit three off a nearby oil lamp, handing one to Cali and Varina.
"What did he mean when he said that you would be punished alongside and in my place?"
"While you are in training, your failures are my failures and I will be punished for them as well. In addition, if you don't accept your punishment then it will be applied to me, effectively causing me double."
"You can choose to accept?"
"One of those options I spoke of earlier." Katrina explained. "By asking for forgiveness you are accepting any punishment Master deems appropriate. If you don't seek forgiveness, Master won't punish you. However, you will not be forgiven. The more you do that, the farther away from Master you become. Soon you would be excluded from his house, and eventually, you will be sold to another master who may not be as kind as Lord Oberon."
"So I am to blame for you getting a punishment, and I made it worse for Athelia," Varina said sadly. "For that I am sorry, but don't expect me to grovel to any master."
"I cannot claim to know Master's intentions, but I am confident that Athelia would not have left the room without a taste of the crop, or worse, regardless of your actions." Katrina said. "As for me, I am quite happy that Master granted me mercy and allowed me to wait. It is much more enjoyable when Master is not otherwise engaged. I will wait till the night after next."
"Cook's night," Cali observed. "He certainly won't be busy then!"
"Cook can be an obnoxious brat, but you would think she was a saint when she speaks to Master. And when she does confess to something, she begs for mercy!" Katrina giggled. "But Master allows her to get away with it because she can feed an army in a moment’s notice a feast fit for the king!"
"Yep," Cali agreed. "A privilege extended to the truly talented."
"Here, this will be your room, mine is the next one down."
"Wow," Varina remarked. The room was small, about 4 four feet wide by 8 feet deep. The far wall was actually the ceiling and sloped downward. A small dormer window looked out into the garden, although the slope of the roof made the ceiling very low at the wall such that one would need to kneel to comfortably look out. There was no glass but wooden shutters fit tight to seal out the cold, or could be opened if a cool breeze was desired. A wooden framed bed with a straw filled mattress was pressed against one wall, leaving just enough room to walk along side. Varina noted that her feet would need to be towards the window otherwise she would bump her head on the ceiling. A chest of drawers sat at the head of the bed, and next to it a rack that held duplicates of the dress she now wore and a night shirt. On top of the dresser was hairbrush, a wash basin and a pitcher of water. She was relieved to see that there was a chamber pot stowed under the bed, as it would be a long walk during the night to visit the outhouse. Varina noted that there was no mechanism on the door that would lock it from the outside. It was a room, not a cell.
"I have never had a room to myself. This is far better quarters than I expected for a slave!"
"Master treats you as more than just a slave," Katrina told her. "And he expects more from you than he would from a slave. Don't disappoint him, and you can be very happy here. Now please, we will have a busy day tomorrow, and you will be more of a burden than help for some time. We need to rest."
"You haven't told me what my responsibilities will be."
"You are to learn my job, which is house goods accounting."
"House goods accounting?" Varina asked.
"In charge of ordering all the supplies needed to run the household."
"It means you’re responsible for everything that isn't here when it's wanted, even though no one ever told you it was needed!" Cali piped in. "Anyone can blame you when they don't complete their task on time. You watch, next week Athelia will complain that she doesn’t have the material she needs for a new spread! That's why no one wanted your job!"
"Pay no attention to her!" Katrina advised. "I'll wake you in the morning. Sleep well."
"Good night", Varina called out as she watched Katrina disappear into the next room. She didn't know how she could possibly sleep; her mind was far too busy trying to make sense of her new life. It was a life of contradictions: she was a slave, yet she had choices. By law, she could have no possessions, yet here she had more comfort than she ever had before. The slaves could expect to be whipped regularly, yet saw no cruelty in the action. It seemed impossible, and most of all, it seemed far too quick before she was being shaken awake.
"Wake up," Katrina urged. "We have much to do."
"Uhg," Varina moaned. The previous day's journey had left her stiff. "Good lord, my body hurts!"
"Your lord's name is Oberon," Katrina said sternly. "You will always speak of him with proper respect. You will address him as Sir, Master or My Lord and refer to him as either Lord Oberon or Master. Courtesy and respect is expected at all times. Not taking your punishment is up to you, and reflects on you alone. As my charge, your disobedience and improper respect reflects on me, and I will have none of it! Now get up!"
"Okay, okay," Varina grumbled. "It was just an expression!"
"You are not to wear your dress to bed," Katrina continued to scold. "There is a night shirt on the rack if you are cold, along with several of the standard dresses. Here," Katrina said as she pulled a dress from the rack. "You are to wear a clean one each day. Leave the dirty one on the bed, housemaids will collect it each day."
Varina stood holding the dress for a few moments, expecting Katrina to leave.
"Come on, don't get bashful on me now," Katrina urged. "You had better get used to the idea of everyone in the household seeing you naked, because it is going to happen. No question about it!"
Their day started with the best meal that Varina had eaten in many months. The servant’s dining room was full of cheerful banter, which lifted Varina’s spirits even though she didn’t join in. Thus far, her slavery under her new master had been nothing like what she had anticipated. If it were not for the thought of Lord Oberon using her for his sadistic pleasure it would have been downright pleasant.
Katrina was amazed at how easily Varina adapted to her duties. The docket at the auction had indicated only that Varina could read, it had not indicated how well. Katrina was pleased to discover that not only were her reading skills superb but her math skills were excellent as well. The ability to multiply in her head made the inventory process go quickly: 6 bottles in each row times 7 rows is 42 bottles. The last girl Katrina tried to train for this job counted each bottle, one at a time.
"You have done this type of work before," Katrina commented.
"I helped my father in his shop," Varina replied. "It is not very much different. This is not too difficult; this job should have been easy to fill."
"Inventory of the storeroom is the easy part," Katrina advised. "The hard part is finding and purchasing the special requests and anticipating what will be needed."
"Our work has gone quickly, we are done with our chores for today," Katrina announced. She was pleased, as she had expected the process to take longer than usual due to the need to train the new slave. "Let’s go see who might need our help."
Varina would rather have found some place to relax, but followed her mentor without complaint. They found Athelia in the laundry room, working in the nude and up to her elbows in a vat of green dye and cloth.
"Master wants it green now?" Katrina asked, making mental note to buy more green dye.
"Nope, need to make a new white one for the winter celebration." Athelia replied. "But a green one will be good for the spring festival. At least it will be all one color now."
"Master took your clothes away as punishment?" Katrina joked.
"No, Master didn’t do that!" Athelia snapped back. "I’ll be damned if I am going to get green dye on anything else. I could sure use some help wringing this out. Here, take hold."
Katrina and Varina grabbed the end of the fabric as Athelia handed it out and started twisting the cloth to force the liquid out. As they worked, Varina couldn’t help but notice the numerous marks that covered her body. Of special note were a dozen fresh welts across her buttocks, each originating a bruise that spread out covering her entire buttocks.
"They’re not as bad as they look," Athelia said as she noticed Varina’s gaze. "I bruise pretty easy."
"I’m so sorry," Varina replied, the sorrow evident in her voice.
"You should be sorry for how you spoke to Master," Athelia said. "You owe the apology to Master, not to me."
"I owe him nothing!" Varina declared. "My only regret is that I made it worse for you, that he punished you with the whip."
"Oh, heavens no!" Athelia insisted. "The flogger and the crop were just for fun. The real punishment was with the cane."
"Fun for Lord Oberon." Varina said sourly.
"Look, I deserved to be punished," Athelia explained. "If Master wants to get a little enjoyment out of the process, then I am willing to provide it. I gladly give Master anything that is mine to give. And after Master finishes with the whip and chooses to engage in some carnal pleasure, well, that just makes things even better. "
"I can't blame you for surrendering under the whip," Varina said sarcastically. "But I would rather work in the fields."
"You know not of what you speak!" Katrina hissed as she yanked Varina's hair, snapping her head back.
"Don't blame her," Athelia said. "This must all be hard for her to understand. I am almost done for the day, and plan on nymph duty next. She can accompany me and we can talk. It might help if I explain a few things."
"As you wish," Katrina replied.
- - - - -
The dyed cloth had been hung to dry and Varina followed Athelia towards the garden. The sweet fragrance of jasmine dominated the square, which had numerous walking paths that wandered through exquisitely manicured lawns, exquisite flowers, statues of naked goddesses and fountains bubbling water.
"Dare I ask what Nymph duty is?"
"An optional duty some of us do to please Master. We will be decorations in the garden."
Athelia stopped at a closet and exchanged her dress for the most exquisite lace wrap Varina had ever seen. The fabric did little to hide her body's features, however.
"I would rather be beaten!" Varina said when a similar wrap was offered to her.
"If you choose not to wear it, one of us will, and Master will enjoy that, but it is not an item for barter," Athelia said as she returned the wrap to the rack. "Today you are here on my request and I take responsibility, but in the future do NOT linger in the garden if you are not here to please Master."
"Master requires you to walk the garden naked?"
"No, not requires." Athelia said as she stopped to smell a group of roses. "You are not required to come to the garden at all, but if you do it is expected that it is for Lord Oberon’s pleasure. I do this because I want to please Master, not because it is demanded."
"It is the same thing," Varina argued. "You please him so he won't hurt you."
"Master has never hurt me in a way that I object to, only punishes when it is deserved, and I have been thankful for Master’s mercy every time." Athelia spread her arms, allowing the gentle breeze to catch her wrap. With the lace wrap billowing behind her she ran through the garden like a ballerina doing Grand jeté leaps across the stage.
"You don't consider those scars on your back to be hurt?" Varina said as she jogged along to keep up.
"Lord Oberon did not cause those marks." Athelia explained as she continued to stroll through the garden, the wrap covering her but hiding nothing. "I called another man master then, and I thank Lord Oberon for saving me from certain death."
"I was a street urchin from as young as I can remember. As a child, I found shelter at the tailor's shop, where I learned to sew and received room and board in exchange for being worked nearly to death. Things only got worse when I reached puberty and the tailor wanted more from me than just free labor." Athelia spun, smiling as the wrap lifted and spread as she twirled.
"His wife became jealous, and I was accused of stealing and arrested. It was my word against hers, and my words were worthless." Athelia continued both her story and her playful moves about the garden.
"I had no formal education and the tailor would not vouch for my training. The crime was small, the amount of the fine was tiny, and my auction starting bid price was way low, but I had no money and no one to come to my aid. Stealing from an employer is a stigma; hence I was a cheap slave. Cheap slaves go to cheap masters. I became menial labor to an impotent and incompetent merchant who took out his sexual and financial frustrations with a cane."
"One day Lord Oberon called upon my master to conduct some business. I was serving wine when the drunken oaf knocked it from my tray directly into Lord Oberon's lap. I was blamed, of course, and master proceeded to beat me with his walking cane."
"Master suggested that Lord Oberon take his turn with the cane, but instead Lord Oberon suggested that I could be punished more thoroughly at his own estate in his own time. Lord Oberon paid master a generous amount for me and brought me here. Had I not been brought here I would have been beaten to death that night, I am sure of it."
"I never knew peace and security before I came here. The first fifteen years of my life I lived in fear, usually cold and hungry, and never knew if I would even live to see the next day. The last fifteen years I have been kept warm, with a roof over my head, been fed well, and I can make good use of the only talent I have: sewing."
"Tell me, when have you last strolled in such a garden?"
"Never." Varina admitted. "Master does not mind that we use it?"
"You become part of the decoration, for Master’s enjoyment." Athelia explained. "We take turns, when the weather is fair. Here comes Master now. For my sake, please be respectful!"
Varina was thankful for Master's arrival as it eliminated what would have been an awkward moment. Athelia's story had touched her heart and softened her thoughts of her new master. She watched as Athelia struck a seductive pose as her master approached.
"Athelia, you are looking, uh, rather green today!" Lord Oberon joked.
"I dyed the cloth, as you suggested, Sir." Athelia replied as she curtsied. Varina followed suit although she avoided eye contact.
"Green or not, you are as lovely as ever," Lord Oberon exclaimed. "Varina, you are looking much better today."
"A night’s rest and a good meal has done me well, My Lord," Varina responded in a tone that was far more respectful than the day earlier.
"Katrina spoke highly of you a few moments ago. The last few attempts to find her replacement did not work out so well. It pleases me to see her so encouraged, and she really deserves her freedom. Good day, ladies."
Athelia and Varina curtsied again and continued their leisurely stroll of the garden. Varina had not expected kind words and praise from the man she had spoken so rudely to the day before. It set her mind at ease, and Varina enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the garden immensely.
"What did Lord Oberon mean by ‘Her Freedom’?" Varina asked once they were alone again.
"Katrina has a lover who is waiting for her. As soon as she can find a replacement, Lord Oberon will allow her to buy her freedom."
"Katrina is lucky to have a lover who can afford such a payment."
"He is not buying her freedom, she pays for it herself."
"How is that possible?"
"Lord Oberon pays wages to all his workers," Athelia explained. "Freemen are paid a fair and reasonable amount, slaves are paid less, and master claims most of the payment as reimbursement towards your purchase price. It takes time, but you can earn your freedom."
"How much time?" Varina asked excitedly.
"Depends on how much Master paid for you, he expects to be reimbursed."
"I suppose it takes a long time," Varina said sullenly. "Otherwise you would all be free."
"Many of those who work the fields are," Athelia replied. "Cali hasn’t been here very long, and so far she has sent as much as Master allows to her family. Cook saves her money, for what only she knows. Maria and Fran could buy their freedom if they wished. I could have bought mine years ago, but I have no place else to go. Master enjoys the privileges the law allows and keeps only slaves in his house. I prefer to stay in Master's house so I have never sought my freedom."
"You mentioned that there had been several others before me, what became of them?"
"Oh, nothing bad!" Athelia assured her. "Master found use for them outside of his house, and none have suffered as a result. If the position truly doesn’t suit you then you too will be found a new position. But please, give it a chance. For Katrina."
"No one has spoken of Lady Oberon." Varina observed.
"There was one, years ago. It is said that she was infertile, the result of an illness that later claimed her life. While she still lived, Lady Oberon bid her husband to use a slave for what she was unable to provide."
It was an accepted practice, Varina knew. The Oberon bloodline must go on, and it is better to find a surrogate than to face divorce.
"And you don’t mind your body being used so?"
"This body belongs to Lord Oberon." Athelia corrected. "It is his to use however he wishes. I am honored that he enjoys looking at it and isn’t disgusted by the scars I carry. Once the mark of a slave was burned into our arms we were forever excluded from the company of polite gentlemen and fair ladies. It matters not to me what others think. You must understand that the law allows a master to use a slave in all ways, he does not need your consent. Lord Oberon is very kind and only engages in carnal activity with the slaves that are willing. That said, if you are not willing you had best have some other quality that he desires or he will find a more accommodating house slave. Cook is, well, cook and would not be easily replaced. Housemaid Fran is, shall we say ‘involved’ with the carriage master and Lord Oberon respects their relationship. Katrina is saving herself for the lover who waits for her. I was certainly not a virgin before I came here and I have no problems pleasing the man who cares for me so. I am not ashamed to admit that I get pleasure from the sex as well. I really do not mind the punishments. In fact, I often enjoy them."
"It is nearly time for dinner," Athelia declared, and their conversation ended.
End of part 1:
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story continues in Oberon 2: The Glass Wright's Daughter