Wineberries used to make my face splotchy and itch. The reactions were worse for other people, but they were bad enough that I avoided them at all cost when I was younger. I thought of those allergic reactions of bygone years, while crossing the threshold away from the enclave’s assembly.
Bremeerson said it as if the words would keep the room from swaying, but the Sun’s Flare–as he had called the drink–was racing through my untested veins.
More to myself than the man now holding me more upright than naught, I groaned, “Not fun. Why would anybody drink this poison?”
“You downed it the drunkard’s way. It’s supposed to be sipped.”
“Don’t believe you,” exhaled outward as I studiously breathed in through my nose, “still poison.”
And then–because I really can’t hold my liquor, and that drink was horrendously potent–I asked, “Why are you helping me?”
“It was time to leave, and you offered me a drink.” Well, there was that… “Do you have a room here?”
Ha, me able to afford a room at the Hearthstead? As if I’d ever have enough coin to stay here. The clan had given me a two-way ticket on the rails. I was expected to take my rest on the ride back to Master Shenlen’s house.
Seeing me negate with a deliberately small shake of my head, he answered, “Of course not, why would they bother?”
It sounded like he knew the Black Feather clan, as well.
“Steer me towards the comfort rooms, please. I’ll be alright.”
Instead, he ignored the request and took me to his rooms. I had little time to think about being alone with the beast because I quickly found myself on the floor with my face hovering sickly over his commode, vomiting.
Then, though dry heaving because my stomach refused to acknowledge that the ordeal was over, I laughed. He had my hair in a fist chivalrously holding my rumpled braid from the bile, and all I could think was, “What a beauty I make.”
Oh, I’d said that out loud… Sighing in defeat, since it made no sense to nurse a crushed ego where none existed before, I finally lifted my face and replied with an awkwardly wry expression, “I appreciate good sarcasm.”
“So noted. Are you feeling better?”
“I think so.”
Taking a deep breath, I stood, flushed my embarrassment away, and took the damp cloth he offered.
“I’ll give you some privacy then.”
He quietly closed the door on his way out, and I washed my face, rinsed my mouth, and then rebraided my hair–thinking about the man who was not acting very beastly.
That was before I opened the door and found myself in real conversation with Bremeerson.
Without preamble, he stated, “I don’t believe your clan planned for ravishment and, most definitely, not ruination. However, all of the enclave witnessed our leaving together. By now, word of you being quite alone with me here in my rooms have filtered to the gossipmongers.”
I stared at him in horrified astonishment while he continued, “I intended it.”
“Intended?” It was more a whisper, but it felt like a scream.
“Of course. You were the most interesting commodity in that gaggle of vendors downstairs.”
A commodity?… And then my brain really engaged, shaking off the last of the Sun’s Flare, and I asked, “How do you intend to acquire?”
“Ravishment… respectfully. Ruin sours things, don’t you think?” When I didn’t answer, he continued, “Would you prefer a large wedding or a quiet elopement?”
“I… both.” It was the truth as I sat on the chaise stunned. “I’m going to marry you?”
“Yes, if you agree, though it seems like there’s little choice.”
There’s always a choice, whispered through me as I thought about this development. I was worth something to the clans, and now it seemed I was also worth something to Bremeerson… I could work with that.
“What do you gain from binding with me?”
“Access to the clans’ business contacts. They’re very insular, especially your Black Feather. They control a market I wish to explore and… exploit.”
Shifting his seated position to one more relaxed, he stated, “I like the look of you. I like your voice. You spoke with understanding the few times you were able downstairs, but held your tongue during the more idiotic rants… a useful skill.”
“What do I gain… Wait. No, what do I lose?” I asked this, instead of the other, because I’d be gaining the world beyond Master Shenlen’s walls while bound to him.
“Those chapped and cracked knuckles, the bruises that are probably always on your knees. You won’t perform any hard manual labors in my house. You won’t serve anyone. I don’t need another maid.”
“Good to know, but you’re not telling me what I really need to hear.”
“Yes. I am.”
“I mean my freedoms…”
“Did you have many to begin with?”
I didn’t want to answer the obvious. So I asked, bluntly, “Are you a bad man?”
He thought for a bit, “I have bad habits.”
“Will you hurt me?”
Again, he paused, “I’m sure, though not purposefully.” Here, he spread his hands out, saying, “I have bad habits, and my reputation is built on many truths… to varying degrees. I’m sure to offend you at some point. Take here and now. Certainly, this binding “negotiation” is offensive on more than a few levels, but…”
Looking me fully in the eye, he said, “I won’t beat you or abuse your emotions, if that’s what you fear.”
Then my mind went there, and I asked, “Intimacy and your expectations? I don’t have… much experience.”
Since we were laying everything out on the table, it seemed as fitting as any other topic. Best to get it over with.
Looking at me with an observant perusal, a sharper one, he answered, “I do… I’ll be monogamous and disease free so long as you agree to the same.”
“I didn’t peg you as so jaded a women.”
When confusion maintained its grip on my face, he laughed, “Oh, that particular rumor still persists, I see. My attentions don’t lean that way. So yes, with you.”
“Do you want children?”
It was then that I found my heart racing, awaiting his answer. He took his time, and I was scared.
“Do you want children?”
Swallowing hard, I said, “No, I don’t… I didn’t think I would have any, not as a maid.”
“What about as my wife?
“Then my answer is maybe. We’ll reconvene on the topic when we are on more comfortable terms.“
I simply nodded because despite my bravado during our conversation, that future frightened me.
Eyeing me closer, he offered, “I’ve taxed you. Where are you staying? I’ll order a lift.”
“I…” Closing my eyes, I made a choice, telling him the truth, “I have nowhere to go. The clan bought me a rail ticket back. I wasn’t expected to stay after the assembly.”
“A two day journey. They really are a bunch of bastards. I think I’ll enjoy crippling them.”
“Well then, make yourself comfortable since we’ll be sharing much from here on out.”
When I’d clinked glasses with him in front of the enclave, I should’ve realized that I was making a deal with a devil of a beast.