I’ll say this now, I have no idea what time it is. The sun has set, and the children of Mrs. Thalica have long gone to bed.
It should be the children of Tally and I, but right now, I know my emotional state is still unsteady. But I do not take things lightly, I made a vow to be her husband and to take care of her as my wife. Where in the marriage vows does owning a slave fall into?
Is it the richer part?
It sickens me to think that is what the money was used for. A knot cinches tightly around my gut as I imagine this poor girl used as a workhorse, unable to decline the requests made of her. Does she not fear what could come?
I say this only because I fear what could happen.
I thought I had some inkling of the kind of person my wife was, but to own a slave destroys the house of cards I have built in my ignorance. Yet, I have nowhere else to go, and it was not my attention to abandon her… I just needed to step away from the situation and try and re-establish some clarity of self, and on the matter.
I could find none.
But my promise to never leave her bed cold still stood. So I got up, dusted the butt of my pants off, and walked as best I could down unfamiliar streets in the darkness until I came across the bakery.
The door was open.
On the floor of the first floor, having been given bedding and laying in the same cool place I had when I arrived, was the slave girl of about fifteen, Jaxan.
There was a plate of food on the table. It was a lonely plate, untouched by anyone. It contained a large chunk of what I could only assume was some kind of non-fowl meat. It didn’t look like beef, so maybe it was pork or something else.
I worried for a moment about things like trichinosis, as I heard it was present in certain kind of ill-preserved pork, but I had no reason not to eat it other than the fact that I didn’t think I could stomach it.
Nausea of the situation persisted, and there was nothing to do but take the death march up the stairs and into her bedroom.
Right now it barely felt like ours.
The door was unlocked and I entered it quietly. On the ground was the bottle of wine, and passed out on the bed, was my wife, who I pretty much abandoned without even a word, in anger and frustration. I stayed in my clothes, but slipped into the bedding, having taken my shoes off beforehand.
I might not have felt like warming her body, but the bed at least, I could do as I promised.
I didn’t even have the motivation to try continuing to create the card game, I just lay there, numb, trying not to believe my wife is such a heinous person.
But I’m a man from another world living in a society which simply did not have the modern sensibilities of Earth. Was it wrong of me to push my beliefs on my wife like that? To provoke someone she considered as a mother?
Try as I might, I could not overcome my self-righteous position.
So I lay there, wide awake with my eyes closed, breathing steadily and hating everything now.
If there was even a drop of wine left in that bottle, I would have taken a sip of it to see if it would have helped any. It worked for my mother, after all.
I must have dozed off at some point, for when I opened my eyes and turned my head, it was to meet the gaze of my wife’s own sapphire blue orbs, which I didn’t want to battle wills with.
“I kept the bed warm, as I promised.”
“You are angry still?”
“Yes. And I will continue to be angry until the day the crest on that young girl is gone, and she is no longer a slave.”
“So for the next five years you will sleep there, keeping the bed warm, but not me, over something that can’t be changed?”
“It can be changed. There must be a way.”
“Why don’t you talk with her first, and see what she has to say about her choice in the matter, Gar? I won’t ask you for more than that, okay? If you want to be mad after that, then what else can I do?”
My wife sighed, and then got up, changed her clothes and went downstairs. I laid in bed for a little while longer, not wanting to do exactly what she said because I didn’t have faith in that young girl knowing any better.
But, Thalica was wrong about one thing. I wouldn’t keep the bed warm for five years. Time is precious, and so is she and the children, but I won’t subject myself to misery for five years.
I’m not whipped just because I got some really exquisite play.
All that does is cause me to have to sort through my feelings and priorities a bit more. There was a saying about when being in a certain place, one should do as the people there also do. But I just can’t change my beliefs just like that.
Taking a deep breath, and letting it out slowly, I got out of bed, still in my Earthly clothes, put on my shoes, and went downstairs to face the proverbial music.
What was waiting for me, was my wife, and the young, scrawny, effiminate-faced girl named Jaxan, gathering up her bedding, haven just woken up.
She looked at me as she held the bedding and froze in place.
This is exactly why.
Fear of compulsion.
“I would like to have a talk with you, will you take a walk with me outside?” I asked her, in a loud voice.
Instead of looking at me and answering, her head immediately went to seek approval from my wife, who was in the kitchen, sitting down on a stool and looking at me.
I pointed at the girl, and said three more words loud enough for Tally to hear.
“This is why.”
My wife sighed.
“Please accompany my husband and heed him.” She said carelessly.
“No.” I replied, again, loudly. “Remove that order, Tally.”
“I wish for her to accompany me of her own will. If not, there is no point to it, especially if you say to heed me. That’s forcing her hand directly.”
“Then what will you have me say, husband? There’s no command which I can say that will undo the crest.”
“Then, if you must, ask her if she would accompany me of her own willing choice, and speak with me not as the husband of her master, but as another person, freely if she so chooses to. Freely to reply as she sees fit, and that it is your wish for her to do so.”
“Jaxan, do you understand what my husband has asked me to say to you on his behalf?”
“For the duration of your walk, I am not your mistress nor shall you address me as such. You know my name, use it freely as you see fit to do.” My wife said dryly.
“Yes Mis… Yes.” She bowed. I took the bedding from her and dropped it right on the floor.
“Will you accompany me, Jaxan?”
“I’ll be back soon enough, Tally.”
She sat, frustrated, and merely waved me away.
I left the house with this scrawny slave girl and we took a walk. I was silent for a while, considering where I should begin, when we had passed by a certain building.
“Are you familiar with this place?”
“Yes. It’s the church of the Goddess.”
“Does the goddess have a name?”
“Is this goddess the one you worship?” I asked. I received a nod as her answer.
“Shall we go inside for a moment?”
She nodded again. Not very talkative, this one.
Entering the church, there weren’t any clergy in sight, just a statue of a body, missing arms and a head. Two large wings protruded from the back of the statue, and the rest of it was a carved dress, and bare feet.
There were pews here to sit on, so I asked her to take a seat. She did so, and then with a final sigh, I began to ask her what she wanted from all of this….
“Oh, Goddess… what do I do?”
How long had it been since I had truly prayed to the Goddess of the Oath, Fairyluna?
“Goddess Fairyluna, my Gardavan had finally returned home, but he’s changed so much. Why did you rescue him from the war, only for him to not remember anything of me, and instead be filled of strange memories of a mother and sister he never had, and having awakened strange skills, such as cooking?
Never has my husband in all the memories I have of him, ever been able to cook a single thing. Now he makes foods that I daresay are fit to be served to the royalty and nobility.
What happened when he went off to fight the war? For five years he was gone, but it is him. I tried to be sure, but the way his eyes gaze at me, the ease in my heart which I feel in his company, the touch of his hand against my skin… it is my Gardavan, yet… it is not.
I have asked the children to say nothing. I have said their father is ill, his mind unsteady because of the war. He had forgotten his name, and so I had returned it to him, that he was their father, who had finally come home. But he is of the mind that he has never known me before. That the children are of another man, of the husband I once had who left to fight in that stupid war which had no victors.
The husband who took so many years to return back to me and our children. The husband who must be aware of the feelings in his heart which still exist for me, as his wife from before, and not just as some woman who picked him up out of an alley on the verge of starvation and death. Even if his mind cannot overlap the two halves of himself back into one, I will make do with the Gardavan I have, but Goddess, please restore to him at least some of the common sense he has forgotten!
Over a slave, branded with your holy oath no less, my husband blasphemed in front of one of your holy mothers. If I had not explained the situation to her while asking for her to find me an Oathbound slave who I could trust, I fear I would have lost him again, and yet it still feels as if I have with that gaze of his which judged me so cruelly!
He spoke of wedding vows, and how he would embrace only me forever, I… almost doubted it, Goddess. I almost doubted he was my Gardavan. But it was the same thing my Gardavan did back then, choosing me alone. But the love I have always held for him tells me I must fix this thing before it is too late and I lose him again!
But how can I go against an oath blessed by you? I have always held faith in you, even when I thought all was lost. I may have stumbled once, but still, I humbly ask for your guidance! Help return to me my Gardavan!”
I began the questions I wished to ask her with perhaps the most pertinent one.
“What is so great about entering into slavery that it’s worth losing five of what might just be the most important years of your life?”
“I’ll be safe.”
“Sure doesn’t seem that way to me. You’ve already given up your safety, haven’t you?”
She looked at me curiously.
“What do you mean? I have been bound to serve the mistress. I will assist her in all the tasks she has need of me for, I will not have to worry about trying to survive on my own with no skills that will earn me coin. I will learn a trade over these five years, be fed and clothed, and when it is over, I can then feel confident that I can have a means of surviving for the remainder of my life."
"Sure sounds like that on the surface, doesn’t it?”
“Are you telling me that the oath of service between slave and master will not be upheld?”
Finally, what appeared on her face was what I wanted to see.
It was worry.
“It’s entirely possible that will be the case. I myself do not even know what will happen over the next five days, let alone five years.” I sighed, “I had thought I married an angel of a woman, Jaxan. But without a word, the good view I had of my wife was shattered instantly the moment she thought nothing of pressing you into servitude for such a duration, without even asking me what my thoughts on the matter were. Instead of an angel, I saw a filthy, greedy, cruel woman in that moment, and even I wonder if I had erred in vowing to love her forever. Because it never occurred to me that she was capable of doing such a thing. If I could not predict that she was capable of doing what I consider an evil act, to me, her husband, the person whom she is supposed to love forever, what does that speak well for you, who is just a slave with no rights to object?”
“There is the Oath…”
“And what is this Oath, exactly?”
“It was the pledge I made to the Goddess. As I would be a household slave, I asked for the conditions to be as I requested. That my master would feed me, clothe me, and teach me a trade that I might be able to take care of myself afterwards. In exchange I would serve dutifully for five years. The oath was made and the crest drawn upon my skin. If the oath is broken, there will be a punishment to the master…”
“I see, so all that matters is that those three conditions are met.”
She stared and me and answered affirmatively.
“Well that’s not so bad. Were those all the terms of this Oath?”
“So, as long as your are fed, it doesn’t matter if they are rotting scraps. If it is clothes, then a simple pair of socks will do. And if it is a trade, that’s also easy… your body can be taught how to please both men and women in the bedroom. Certainly there is always room for employment at a brothel afterwards.” I laughed wickedly, “This is all, of course, along with your daily beatings.”
“But… the Oath?”
“Where have I spoken of violating a single word of it. Rather, isn’t it great? For the next five years all of that and more wicked things can be done, provided there is something for you to eat, wear, and learn!”
“But Gemma, she said she would find me a household where…”
“Where… my master would… fulfill that oath…”
Was it dawning on her yet.
“And therein lies but one of the many problems with slavery. Without due diligence in knowing how the Oath can be both met and twisted, you are now looking at five years… of hell. The safe future you speak of… where is it?”
She began to tremble.
“Would that my wife ordered you to warm the bed in her place during her moon, you are prepared for it? That your belly would grow plump with a child from the activities you would not be able to refuse, you are prepared for the hardships that would come after? I’m curious… what status does a child born of a slave have when born between master and slave? Or perhaps a better question, between someone your mistress has designated you to warm the bed of, for I will certainly not be your master, and responsible for you. Does the thought of being a slave still evoke such a safe feeling? Then of course there’s another matter…”
The blood drained from her face, turning it pale. Her lower lip began to shake.
“What happens to Jaxan, the beaten, abused, ruined former slave who has been fed nothing nourishing, wearing nothing but socks, learning how to warm a bed as a trade skill, and who has become plump with child more often than the mistress she served? Five years is a long time, and it would be easy to find yourself walking away from your servitude with three children, no virtue as a woman to speak of, and a lifetime of looking forward to that same hell being a continuous thing in your life every day from then on, until your weakened broken body and mind… finally breaks. The family you spoke of being a part of as a slave, is dissolved after five years. There is no more obligation on the part of your mistress to treat you as such, not that she ever did by allowing such things to happen for so long a time in the first place, now is there? With the oath fulfilled to the words you spoke of it exactly, and not so much the intent behind the words, will you be able to ask your goddess for justice if you harbor a grudge because of your own mistake in choosing to be a household slave? And what of the parents who have raised you this far? A child who so readily cuts ties with those who have raised her… unless they are as cruel as the mistress which awaits you… have been rewarded for all the years you were alive, fed, clothed, and taught… with the finality of having no child at all left in the world.”
“Y-you… would see these things… done to me?”
I shook my head.
“No. I would never feed, clothe, or teach a slave anything. That is a privilege for humans. But an apprentice? One who of her own volition that can think and judge for herself the paths and circumstances she should best walk and strive to achieve… I would welcome as family. Every day there would be foods that even the nobles would search for would on the table you eat at. You would be dressed nicely in an ever increasing wardrobe, not wanting for any coin either, for a wage would be paid daily, and the things that I could teach this apprentice… It wouldn’t be enough to say that she might even be a scholar when the apprenticeship is over, which she would be free to end without penalty, whenever she so wishes. She is even free to choose whose bed she warms, or doesn’t. Perhaps the great love of her life will come into the bakery one day, and because she is not a slave, she will not have to suffer in agony not being able to lose them, but look forward to a lifetime of fortune and pleasure as their partner eternal.”
“Your master however, is not me… but her. A woman who until recently worked like a slave herself baking plain brown bread before the sun came up every day without rest, barely making a coin she could spend on something frivolous for herself to be happy, struggling to raise two children on her own left behind by a husband who went off to war and never returned.”
Then I patted her leg.
I stood up and stared at the armless, headless statue of the Goddess Fairyluna.
“Goddess of the Oath? More like the Goddess of the Grand Deception!”
I turned my back to the statue after my irreverence, and that’s when all hell broke loose. It felt like for a moment I was atlas, but without nearly the strength required to hoist the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I felt an intense pull of gravity on my body, and soon found myself dropping to one knee, though I could withstand it to a degree. It felt like a certain training room used by the golden-haired protagonists in a fighting animation I used to watch as a kid… and as an adult. I never really grew out of watching that one.
“How uncouth. Me, a Goddess of Deception? That a Traveler thinks of me in such low esteem… it wounds Me deeply.”
A shriek from the pew where Jaxan was sitting.
“You’re the Goddess?” I struggled to utter those words.
She laughed melodically.
“I am Fairyluna, Goddess of the Oath.” She introduced herself, the very name she used brimming with some kind of power. “And I am also the same one who brought you here, Earthling.”