Aithne sat on the floor of the cage that encompassed a full third of the inn’s front porch and simply enjoyed not being weighed down by chains. Rorikstead, she decided, was her favorite town in Skyrim, at least so far. First, it was not one of the places she had visited with…Him (though the occurrences were less frequent and less severe after two weeks of distance, she still felt the familiar combined spark of hatred and longing shiver through her body at the thought of her former master) and, second, its blacksmith had managed to strike the chains imposed by Sutfu, leaving only the simple iron collar around her neck to denote her standing as a slave.
As a bonus, it had been that same two weeks plus another few days since anyone had shoved anything into her body. The constant ache in her ass and groin was nearly gone – only a slight feeling of nausea remained, and that usually disappeared each day around midmorning. She almost felt normal. Or as normal as one can feel when they are sitting naked in a cage with three other slaves. If only…
“…she’s been nothing but obedient since we met her, so I don’t think...ah, here she is.”
Yuf’s voice. Aithne climbed to her feet and faced the door of the cage, hands laced together in front of her and head bowed, as her mistress came out of the inn followed by an older woman wearing a distinctive, finely-made robe.
Yuf twirled a finger in the air. “Turn around, let her see you.”
Aithne complied, turning a full circle. She heard the gasp when the woman caught sight of her battered back and wondered just how bad it looked. As with her groin, the pain of the lashings had faded with time, and she only remembered the scars were there when she bent over too quickly and felt the slight stretching resistance. She completed her circle and resumed her waiting stance.
“You weren’t joking. Can we get her out of the cage? I would like to examine her more closely.”
“Of course.” Yuf gestured at the Penkeeper, a burly man with dull eyes but large muscles, who grumbled under his breath as he heaved himself off his stool and lumbered to the cage.
“No trouble, hear?”
Aithne wasn’t sure if he meant from her or one of the others, but she nodded. The door opened and she stepped through when bid, then followed her mistress and the stranger further down the porch, away from the door.
The older woman looked Aithne up and down, sucking on her lower lip as she studied the scars. “Remove the eyepatch, please."
Please? A word, a simple courtesy, but it took a moment for Aithne to realize it was meant for her. Once the idea has finagled its way to her startled brain, she reached up and pulled the rough patch up and felt a secret gratification as the woman hissed at the sight.
"By Kynareth. Stand still, dear."
Dear? Another simple word that shot through Aithne like an arrow as the older woman stepped behind her. It was a word used to denote a familiarity, a fondness. A term of endearment. The woman probably used it habitually, likely didn’t even realize she had said it, but to Aithne, it was the kindest thing anyone had said to her since…well, since she could remember, really. She couldn’t suppress a shiver as gentle fingers traced the scars on her back.
“What are you doing?” Yuf frowned, though her gaze was directed at the other woman, not at Aithne. “Whatever it is, I think it’s hurting her. She’s crying.”
Crying? Aithne reached up and touched her cheek. Her finger came away wet. She was, indeed, crying. Somehow, she had not noticed.
“I would be too, if someone did this to me. How can people be so cruel? Even slaves don’t deserve this. It’s likely too late, but let me see if I can do anything.”
And then a sudden warmth that covered her back and then infused itself through her entire body. It felt like peace, like wholeness. It was sunlight dappling the water on a summer day at sea, with the sails at full belly, when the ship felt more like it was flying than sailing. She had thought her pains had gone, but now, as the bitter aches that had hounded her every step, her every movement, since the torturous nights in the inns dissipated, she realized she had merely become used to them, had accepted their presence as normal. It took their removal to show her how much there had been. For the first time in months, she felt complete. She took a long ragged breath and marveled at the feeling.
“As I suspected, the scars are too old to be removed completely and I was not able to regenerate the eye. Still, that looks better, and there was a lot of internal damage that was, frankly, far more serious than anything external. Had we not met, you likely would have died within the month from internal hemorrhaging. You have been through the Deadlands, haven't you, poor thing? The baby is fine, I am much relieved to report, especially considering the amount of damage I felt in the ut...”
“The baby?” Yuf and Aithne interrupted in simultaneous shock as Aithne wheeled around.
“Well, yes. You didn’t know? You have been pregnant for…oh, I would say about two months.”
Aithne exchanged glances with Yuf for a moment, but the eye contact startled her back into her place. She dropped her eyes and resumed her waiting stance as her mistress answered for both of them.
“No. this is a surprise.” A pause, then, before Yuf added, “Well, I suppose that makes our agreement all the more necessary. Unless this changes things?”
“No, not at all. I stand by what I said.”
“Very well! I should get back to my flock.”
“Your flock of rabbits?”
They both laughed and Yuf nodded. “Yes. My flock of rabbits. Safe travels to you!”
“And to you.”
Yuf turned and headed toward the inn and Aithne started to follow but was forestalled by the other woman’s hand on her arm.
“No, I'm sorry, we should have told you. You’re coming with me.”
Aithne blinked as the world rearranged itself with dizzying abruptness. Several small puzzle pieces snapped together in her head, forming a new, unexpected picture.
She had been sold. Again.
Fear, trepidation, curiosity, alarm. Her head rang with a myriad of emotions but, though she was no longer the mindless thrall she had been under Him, her training still interposed itself between everything she wanted to say and ask, allowing her only her one refrain – the same one she had spoken to Yuf less than a fortnight ago.
“Yes, mistress. This slave will do her best.”
Her new mistress smiled. “I’m sure you will, dear. Are you ready to go?”
Aithne felt another burst of emotion at the second “dear” even as she blinked at the odd question – she was a slave. It didn’t matter whether she was ready or not, when the master (or mistress) said it was time to go, it was time to go. Not something she would bring up, of course – no benefit in arguing with her owner. She merely nodded.
“All right, give me your hand aaannnd…we’re off!”
Her stomach lurched as the world stood on end, then tilted. She fell off the edge of reality into a well of endless dark.
Edited by jfraser