"Now...this one here..." Behrin held his hands up in an attempt to quiet the crowd. They immediately fell silent and Behrin grinned. He grabbed the forearm of the man who'd been pushed onto the platform.
"Now, this one here is called Jeb. He's clean and set up good. Works like a horse. In fact, I had him tote my belongings down here from my settlement. He's got a strong back."
Behrin neglected to mention that Jeb, a tapped out farmer he'd had to beat into submission, had the mind of a five-year-old. And not a very bright five-year-old at that.
Jeb had been living on the outer kazoonies of Borea and Behrin had almost missed him when he'd rounded up his latest batch of slaves. If he had it to do all over again, he'd of left the son of a bitch alone. Jeb had proven to be crazier than a shithouse rat and spent the majority of his time ripping off his clothes and howling at the moon. He'd snapped the neck of one of Behrin's men like so much kindling and Behrin would have killed him then but Islinn had begged him not to so...his thoughts drifted away in a dark, disconnected cloud. He didn't hear the tentative bids being called out.
He'd shown that bitch she didn't control him even though he had spared Jeb's less than meaningful life at her request. Life? Shit,existence. But some things were worse than death and, just like bitter medicine, even a non-thinking mountain like Jeb learned there was nowhere to hide when it came time to take a dose.
Behrin had harnessed Jeb up and hooked him to a wagon loaded with supplies. Jeb had pulled it for four days and,in those four days, he'd become a lot smarter than Islinn ever would be. Jeb had learned that, once you strip away all the scary parchment, death was nothing but a gift. A gift Islinn had denied him.
Lately, Jeb had started to look upon Behrin with the hopeful eyes of a sick animal who knows who has the power to put it out of its misery. Behrin smiled a funny,soft little smile. Yes,he'd won that one with her and it had felt good. Everything was such a contest with her, like an uphill battle through quicksand. Every look, every word, every...
He covered his eyes with a shaking hand. The sun hurt. His eyelids felt like shards of glass that cut his eyes with every blink.
"All of this is almost over." He realized with a mingled sense of relief and regret. He'd won. No more attempts to move heaven and earth for a simple smile. No more distractions. No more silent poking and prodding the contents of his heart on black, sleepless nights. It would all be gone after today.
(Or lost. And where do lost things go? Do they just cease to exist once you've set them aside? Or are they found by others and given a new life? Something known to others, never again by you, and where do they go? Where do they go?)
Even Jeb recoiled from the sick,hollow smile Behrin turned on him.
"Who will throw down the first bid for this bull?" Behrin's voice was weak but it didn't matter. Excited bids erupted from all sides and he watched as one of his men kept track.
"They'd buy dogshit from the bottom of my boots at this point." He thought. He wiped a hand across his forehead and grimaced. He hated summer. He'd built his settlement in the Sorokan forest, where it was cool and shady. He only ventured out to round up villagers and sell them to their neighbors.
He studied the crowd. Jeb stood beside him and stared off like an extension of the platform. "Merchants wanting help with their businesses, farmers needing help in their fields. Slaves are the way to go." He thought idlely as his eyes skipped from face to face.
Alora wasn't hard to spot. The crowd had given her quite a bit of room even though she was under the only shade with a good view of the platform. In spite of what had happened at Fetch's, his heart gave its usual soft tug at the sight of her.
"She'd said she wouldn't come." His mind whispered. This thought was powerful enough to stand on its own. His strange and impatient fear, his bitterness at how some things followed their own path regardless and his dark obsession mislabeled love all combined together to become a coalescing force. A being within himself. He stared at her,lost.
"Uh...Behrin? Man over there bid two gold pieces for Jeb. I need to collect it and hand him over." Clive waited, nervous.
He recognized the slack expression on Behrin's face. They were on the verge of getting rid of Jeb, something Clive had been looking forward to, and now was a piss-poor time for Behrin to start meditating on whys and why nots.
"How much do you think she's worth? Behrin asked, his eyes dreamy.
"Wha...? Oh,fuck!" Clive zeroed in on what had drawn Behrin's attention. He hastily crossed himself.
"Worth?? You mean...as a slave??" Clive didn't like where the conversation was headed. The crowd shifted and grumbled in the heat.
Behrin's expression tightened. The dreamy expression was replaced with impatience.
"No. I want to hire her to work in my stable, asshole. Of course as a slave."
"Uh. Well...nothing. Who'd buy her?"
"Dosen't matter." Behrin's voice faded away as he continued to stare. "I'd never sell. She's priceless."
Clive bit back a groan of frustration. He was sweating his ass off and Behrin's face wore the expression of a kid who'd just settled into a hayloft for an unhurried handjob.