A wide brick of a man stood before the gangplank. Bloodshot eyes took our measure as we disembarked in pairs, dull and watery brown ones that settled eagerly on Anahita and myself.
He led us away to another man. This one was younger, fitter, and spared us a minimal glance before speaking to the first man in a language I didn’t understand and handing him some kind of paper currency.
Anahita and I were separated. I was frightened and struggled, but the new man’s iron grip was more than a half-starved fourteen-year-old could refuse.
She was wide-eyed with fear and silent as the first man led her away.
The younger man led me in another direction and I lost sight of the little girl to whom I’d become attached on the boat.
I rode in a car for the first time. My fascination with the vehicle and its noise was part genuine and part act, avoiding the strange and uncomfortable glances the new man cast in my direction when he wasn’t watching the road. Eager glances.
A house. A beautiful one. We pulled up past the gate and parked in front of the walkway leading between two columns to the front door.
He closed the door behind us after we’d made our way inside and escaped the slow drizzle.
Hands closed on my arms and pressed me against the door without warning.
His bearded face was close, too close. His breath smelled strange. I squirmed, alternating between pleading and curses as rough facial hair grazed my cheek. A tongue slid over my ear.
One of his hands slipped.
I grabbed something from his breast pocket.
My thumb slid the gold protrusion along the side to reveal a thin blade.
I plunged it into his neck. Blood coated my hand and the younger man backed away, eyes wide, and clamped a hand around the lethal "pen."
He pulled it free. Dropped it to the floor.
A mistake. The blood ran faster, staining both his collar and jacket.
He didn’t go down immediately and I knelt to scoop up the knife he’d dropped to the polished wood, now stained red, watching as he jerked and fell. The little tool was warm and slick in my hand.
I continued watching as the twitches grew weaker, blood filling his airway where it wasn’t pouring out of him. Until he stilled, finally, and until I realized that he wouldn’t be grabbing anyone else ever again.
I turned, opened the door, and ran back out into the drizzle.
I kept the knife as my hand found wallets inside pockets. As they found the pocket of a guardsman - policeman? - and I paid for my poor choice with a visit to their station.
As Zamorak walked into the station and spoke in quiet, confident tones to the other policemen in attendance, handed them more strange-looking paper currency, and beckoned to me while one of the guardsmen unlocked my cage.
No. No, an employer.
Then a tutor from whom I learned some passable English. And learned to fight in close quarters. And to use what men - and some women - seemed to find interesting in me to my advantage.
That last came in the form of words; he never touched me nor eyed me as the slavers had. I was never obligated to use the method, but he insisted it would be the most effective of all methods and nothing in my experience proved him wrong. Sex sometimes avoided killing, and it was enjoyable more often than not.
I didn’t go without pay, or shelter, or food. I also learned more from Zamorak - the call to a family by choice rather than by blood. He was a father first, then a brother as I settled more firmly into adulthood. Moia my sister. Bilrach a strangely detached but companionable uncle.
Khazard to be distrusted. Never family. He reminded me too much of the bloodshot-eyed man and the one I’d killed. The sense of ownership in his eyes wasn’t the same as those of the boat man or the bearded one, but it was there.
A slaver’s gaze.
I didn’t mind the jobs. Didn’t mind helping the man who’d…
...not freed me, but had put slack on my leash.
He let me keep the knife and gave me others.
I loved and hated him.
I got a tattoo with an English letter “N” and a bird below it from a watery-eyed Naval officer. “Never free.” I found it bitter and satisfying.
Never free. But never without my penknife.