I wrote this story in 2006, so if you think you might have read it before somewhere- you could be right! I originally posted it in a LiveJournal community called ‘thefirstline’ – the link is here if you want to read it over there: http://thefirstline.livejournal.com/98027.html#cutid1
Title: The Other Man
Genre: philosophical fantasy
Word Count: 981
Archiving: I would rather you didn’t, thanks :)
Author’s Note: How to make the best of an unpleasant society.
His voice was like water thrown over smouldering coals every time the other man’s gaze rested too long on any one person. He seemed disapproving, and perhaps he had a point, the other man thought. After all, the other man was there to purchase another sentient living creature, much as the idea of the whole thing sat uncomfortably deep in the pit of his stomach. Unfortunately, it was the only way in this country to fortify one’s manor with any kind of magic.
The other man shifted uneasily on his feet and finally asked his guide, “What is your suggestion, then? I do not know the first thing about buying slaves, but you watch this every day- I imagine you have many opinions on the subject.”
The guide’s face contorted rather like a scrunched handkerchief and he asked, “Excuse me?”
“Well, I need advice and I can think of no one with more experience.” The other man carefully avoided meeting the eyes of his guide, whose face suddenly exploded in amusement.
“You don’t get out much, do you?” The guide glanced around and seeing that the only person who was not wearing a thick metal collar was the other man, the guide said, “What kind of slave are you looking for, exactly? This one has the feeling that you have not been entirely honest.”
Startled, the other man looked up sharply in alarm.
“Don’t worry, this one will not tell. It would gain this one nothing.” The guide’s dark brown skin glowed golden in the candlelight. He walked to the banister of the balcony and indicated the three remaining slaves working below, “Those three are all very good at what they do, but each would be useless in any job but the one they have been trained for. There- that girl is a laundress, she cleans clothing. But if you were to assign her to a job mending clothing she would be unable to serve her purpose. Do you understand?”
“I-” The other man frowned, considering, “I guess that makes sense. But I’m not looking for a seamstress, I’m looking for a magic-user- if I were looking for a seamstress I would hire one, not buy one.”
“Ah, you do not think much of the system, do you? That is all to the better, you will find your magic-user more willing to help you with that attitude. What sort of magic-user are you looking for?”
“The more they can do the better.” The other man did not deny his distaste for the idea of owning another person, “I need a healer- anything else is a bonus. Who is she?”
The guide’s eyes followed the direction of the other man’s gaze and smiled, “Ah, her. She is a fortune-teller. Very popular with the children and young men. Quite stunning, isn’t she?”
“No, no. I meant, ‘what is her name?’” The man seemingly could not take her eyes from the girl.
“She is a slave, sir, and as such has no official name. Her number is-”
The other man groaned, “For pity’s sake…”
“She is called Melisahndra, born and raised here at this manor. She is the daughter of the Lord and Lady Kinterinno- a great disappointment to them, but all of those to come through this market have appreciated her prescence. She is capable of healing magic, and is in fact the only magic-user here for sale.”
“I think she will do just fine.”
“Very well, this one shall write Miss Melisahndra’s identification number down for you.”
“Actually, come to think about it, you never gave me your name either.”
“This one is called Soren.” The guide tucked his light blue hair behind an ear, the glass beads on the end of his thin braids clanking together. “You are the first to ask for names. This one will gladly sell you any of the slaves here in good confidence. It is a pity you are only looking for one.”
“What would I do with more than one? I am only willing to purchase a person because I have no choice- if I want to save my employee’s life I must have a healer for him.”
“What if you freed them once you had purchased them?” His face took on a calculating look, “You could pay them, and when an inspector or guest came to visit this one believes that all involved would gladly play a game of charades to protect your secret.”
The other man watched the young woman below as she collected the wet clothing from her companion. After a few seconds she glanced up at the men with a confused expression, her soft crystal eyes searching for something.
“She is blind.” Soren spoke almost dispassionately, and with some caution in his deep voice, “This one was under the impression that that would not matter to you.”
“I-” he looked below again, watching the woman glare up with challenge in every line of her, her hair seeming to flame in the candlelight and her fair skin disappearing into the darkness of the night. “I think it won’t matter in the slightest.”
Melisahndra’s expression became suspicious, then her companion nudged her and they both collected their baskets of clothing before walking out of the courtyard and out of sight. The one remaining slave dunked a mop in a bucket and continued washing the cobblestones.
“Now that I think about it, I do not think I have enough laundresses, nor enough cleaning personnel. Perhaps I will take those two as well if they are interested.”
“Are you in need of a manager?” Soren asked slyly, “Perhaps you will wish to purchase others at a later date?”