Xaxac awakened slowly to the rays of the midday sun darting across his face, and the cool breeze flowing in through the open window. It was the first time in a long time he hadn’t awoken hung over, but he was more reluctant to open his eyes than he had been since he arrived at the manor.
Last night had been weird. Everything about it was weird.
Now that it was over, it hardly seemed real.
He knew, instinctively, that Agalon would be gone, because if he wasn’t Xac would still be in his arms, still be curled up against him, taking in the comfort of his touch and the warmth of his body.
He had to get up. He had work to do. He wondered if he had any clothes, or if he’d have to do all of his cleaning in the nude. It wouldn’t actually matter either way, because he would be alone until Agalon got home, and Agalon had seen every part of him that there was to see.
That feeling of wrongness had dissipated, and he couldn’t remember why he had felt it at all. It had no place in what had been, otherwise, an amazing night. He had enjoyed all of it, even the part after his first glowing, intense orgasm where Agalon let him move at his own pace and play with him until he was pretty sure he had figured out how his dick worked. It wasn’t exactly rocket science. It was kind of just figuring out how to aim so he wouldn’t get hit in the face next time.
But he wasn’t bad at it, and Agalon liked him, and apparently, that was the whole point of a pleasure slave. He wasn’t going to be cleaning once the staff were let back in, and he wasn’t exactly a pet as he had envisioned himself. He was more like a toy, and that was, all things considered, a much easier job. You just had to sit quietly and look pretty unless you were being played with, and then you just had to enjoy yourself doing things that were already enjoyable.
He had hit the jackpot, and he intended to stay exactly where he was.
He had expected to be sore; Agalon had even warned him that he would be a little sore the next day until he got used to it and that the soreness would be worse until they had worked him up. Eventually, Agalon planned to put his whole dick inside him, which was less scary than he thought it would be. After the orgasm he had forgotten how to be afraid. He hadn’t remembered yet. That worried him a little.
But he wasn’t sore, at all. He felt perfectly fine. If what Agalon had done to him had hurt him in some way, which he didn’t believe, then he had already healed from it while he slept. He always healed faster than other people.
In the harsh light of day, when he was alone again and able to think clearly, everything seemed much more practical and straightforward. He had a good job. He had to do almost nothing, and he would get rewarded in ways that other people could only dream of. He was going to go into Basilglen to see the fighters and get some new clothes as soon as Agalon could trust him not to freak out and do something stupid, like try to run, and he was fairly certain he had almost gained his complete trust.
He needed to remember that his survival and wit were what mattered, not strange, stupid feelings. He couldn’t afford to hesitate like that again. He would do better next time.
He sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes, and opened them.
The door was wide open.
The door was wide open and he could see through it the closed door to the hall, the fireplace, the ticking clock, and the sofa.
That was weird. He didn’t trust that. Had Agalon had to leave in a hurry? Had he forgotten to lock it? That made no sense.
It may be that he hadn’t actually left. There were sounds coming from the room, as if someone was in there, but that someone did not sound like Agalon. Their footsteps were lighter, as if they belonged to someone who was used to moving about unnoticed, unseen. Everything about the situation, the change, made him apprehensive.
“Master?” Xac called.
“He’s done gone to work with the fighters,” an older male voice announced before a human man with short silver hair and alert dark eyes, wearing the uniform of a house slave stepped into the doorway. “Just me. I’m Lee, the butler. You OK, little man? Rough night? Or could you handle it?”
Xac didn’t really know how to answer these questions. Lee seemed to feel sorry for him and he didn’t understand why.
“I’m alright, I reckon,” Xac said and shook his head, then reached up to feel what happened to his hair if he didn’t comb it out right after he washed it. It was still soft, but the fluffiness had apparently increased to such a degree that his hand hit it a good few inches before it would have made contact with his head. That was about right. It was probably all knotted and tangled, too.
“You sure?” Lee asked, tilting his head as if he thought Xaxac was lying to him.
“I just didn’t expect to see nobody,” Xac said, “Nobody don’t usually come in here.”
“I’ve been here every morning,” Lee said as if Xac had lost his mind, “You just usually sleep right through it. Who do you think dresses and styles Master Agalon?”
“He can’t dress himself?” Xac asked in shock. He had never considered this. Then, annoyed at himself he asked, “Wait, you been in here every day and I slept through it?”
“Yes,” Lee said, “But I was told to keep real quiet. He wanted you to sleep. Wanted you to sleep as long as you could today, too, so I tried to get some cleanin done in the sittin room, left the door open so I could hear you.”
“Oh,” Xac said, “Um… thanks.”
“Just a sec, kid,” Lee said, then turned and walked back into the sitting room. He came back a moment later carrying another uniform and tossed it onto the bed. “I hope that fits you. I had to guess.”
“Thanks,” Xac said again.
“You Abby’s boy?” He asked as Xac began to dress.
“Oh, yeah that makes sense, you know my mommy!” Xac’s face lit up, “Yeah, yeah I am! I feel like I ain’t seen her in forever. I think about her all the time.”
“She was worried about you last night,” Lee explained, “She heard your voice, knew you was downstairs. She stays worried about you. I told her you was alright. You are, ain’t you?”
“Nobody told me what my real job was,” Xac sighed as he laced up his shoes, “somebody coulda told me that. But it’s… yeah, it’s fine. I like it.”
“Last one didn’t take to it so well,” Lee said, more to himself than to Xac, staring at the place where the wardrobe used to be.
“I knew there was somebody up here before me,” Xac said, “Who-”
“Don’t ask questions like that,” Lee instructed, “The answer’s ‘Don’t think too hard on it’. You wanna survive, little man, in the position you got? You can’t think too hard on anything. You just do what he tells you, look as pretty as you can for as long as you can, and learn how to work the room. Stay quiet when he don’t want you. Look pretty and do as little as possible.”
“Can I ask if my mama’s ok? My sister?” Xac begged, “I won’t ask nothin else, but I… I ain’t seen um in so long and-”
“Don’t cry,” Lee told him, not as if he was scolding, but as if he was giving practical life advice, “What’d I just say?”
“Don’t ask questions?” Xac asked.
“Before that, what’d I say about your job?”
“Oh, uh… Look pretty and do as little as possible.” Xac sighed and looked at the floor.
“Is crying pretty?” Lee asked, and when Xac gave no reply he continued, “No, Xacy-boy, no is the answer. When you’re around them elves you keep a smile on your face and you stand up straight, you laugh at everything they say, and you make Master Agalon look good.” His face softened and he continued, “But your mama and your sister are fine. Everybody’s feelin a lot better. Nancy came back a lot nicer, and I suspect she got herself a bunch of new scars. She ain’t too happy with you tellin tales on her like that.”
“I didn’t tell no tales,” Xac argued, “She was meant to me.”
“That’s just her way,” Lee said, “Don’t pull no shit like that again. We gotta look out for each other. Don’t go runnin to Master Agalon every time somebody does somethin you don’t like. He ain’t your friend.”
Xac felt his blood begin to boil, and he snapped before he could help himself.
“He loves me!” Xac seethed.
Lee gave him a look of pity that did nothing to quell his rage, and the silence stretched between them for some time before Lee broke it. When he did, he spoke quietly and with great sincerity.
“It might make it easier on you if you believe that.” He bounced a little on his feet, in thought, “Might make it easier on all of us.”
Xac believed he had made his point, and the tension dissipated a little, though not entirely.
“Why are you still here, then?” Xac asked, “You got somethin for me to do?”
“No, boy, you got somethin for me to do,” Lee explained, “I gotta get you presentable, teach you how to act. Master Lorsan is gettin back from that summer camp military thing and you’re gonna have dinner with him.”
“In here or-”
“Downstairs,” Lee explained, “In the dinin room. This is a test. Don’t mess it up. Make it easy on all of us. Just sit there and eat your food and be quiet. Don’t get drunk out your head like you like to do. I would say you’re too little to be carryin on like that, but I guess Master Agalon made a man outta you, so you’re gonna have to grow up and act like it. That’s how the world works.”
“I don’t have to get drunk,” Xac defended, “I ain’t a drunk, I just like to drink.”
“When’s the last time you went a day without it?” Lee asked and Xac scowled at him, so he continued, “What did I say? Don’t give me that look. Smile.”
“Agalon ain’t here,” Xac said.
“Get up; eat your breakfast,” Lee said to him, “Then I’m gonna teach you how to get ready. You’re gonna have to do this every day from now on. We’re gonna do your hair and makeup.”
“Makeup?” Xac asked, because he had never heard of such a thing.
“Yeah, them elves wear it,” Lee said, as if he thought the concept was stupid, “And you’re gonna have to wear it too. And you’re gonna learn to do it. I ain’t doin it every day for you like I do for Master Agalon. I got a lot to do around here.” His face softened again, and Xac suspected he liked him more than he let on.
Xac had picked up an apple from the tray by his bedside while Lee had been speaking and devoured it. He was starving.
“Hey,” Lee said as Xac made his way through the tray, ripping the stems from strawberries and popping them into his mouth, “Can I ask you somethin? Might be in poor taste?”
“Yeah, I reckon,” Xac shrugged and sipped his wine.
“You really a shifter? That’s the rumor.”
“Yeah,” Xac said, because he saw no reason to lie about it now. “Not lookin forward to that first night when the moons are full. I’m runnin outta time. I can’t stall it.”
“Rest of us are worried about that, too,” Lee reluctantly admitted, “You can’t kill him, boy, you know that, right?”
“I ain’t never killed nobody,” Xac murmured, “I can’t… it ain’t my fault. I can’t control it. I can’t help it.”
“I didn’t know y’all was real,” Lee said. “If I ever thought about it, you ain’t what I pictured. I thought y’all would be huge folks, kinda monstery, you know? I just wanna get that out. You can think I’m awful or whatever but… I was wrong. There ain’t nothin monstrous about you.”
“Thanks?” Xac asked. He didn’t know how to feel about what Lee seemed to think was praise. It had been said in the tone and cadence of praise, but it didn’t feel like it. “I am a monster though, just not right now. Just when the moons are full.”
“Everybody wants to see it,” Lee admitted.
“I don’t know how they could,” Xac shrugged, drained the last of his wine and looked down at the empty plate, “I told Agalon he needs to chain me up and lock me up somewhere. Y’all don’t wanna be around me.”
“I reckon it’ll be alright,” Lee said, “Here, get up and let’s get you presentable.”
Xac nodded, and for the next few hours he allowed Lee to teach him, and found that he actually was quite interested in the subject. The principle goal of the lesson was to make him cuter, more attractive, by covering any flaws in his flesh and enhancing his more desirable features. Lee seemed pleased at how quickly he learned, and was altogether, if not particularly agreeable, at least considerably more agreeable than Mrs OfAgalon had been. Though he was not particularly skilled at combing out hair, and Xac was pretty sure he had ripped more out than he allowed to stay on his head. Still, when they were finished, his hair lay in its normal pattern, as soft and fluffy as ever, his eyes looked even wider on his face, his cheeks fuller, his lips plumper. He liked it.
“There’s a skincare routine that goes along with it,” Lee explained as he pointed to other jars, “take a rag and rub thisin on, and it’ll take all that off. Then wash your face real good, every night. Even if you have to wait for Master Agalon to go to sleep. Don’t skip it. It’ll mess up your skin.”
Xac knew Lee had done this before, with someone else, and he hated that he wasn’t allowed to ask about it. Who had been here? Who had carved those marks into the wardrobe? How long had they been here?
“Thank you kindly,” he said instead. “I ain’t gonna mess up no more, I swear. I’ll be real good.”
“You know I gotta lock you in here now, don’t you?” Lee asked.
“I’ll be alright,” Xac promised.
“Don’t do the cleanin today,” Lee told him, “If you’re gonna do any work, do this prettification after it. Wash your face first and dry it real good. Once you start growin a beard you’ll have to shave every day, and I’ll wake you up for it cause I gotta watch you with the razor, and son, I’m sorry as I can be but I got other shit to do.”
“You ain’t gotta watch me after you show me how to do it,” Xac said, “I can figure it out. I figure stuff out pretty quick.”
“I ain’t facin no whip because you get big headed,” Lee said, “Master Agalon would lose his mind if he knew I didn’t watch you.”
“Oh,” Xac said, and thought that Lee would get mad if he asked why that particular bit of grooming was so important it had to be observed, so continued with a simple, “Ok. Sorry. I don’t wanna bother you. I don’t wanna bother nobody.”
“Good,” Lee told him, “That’s the right mindset to have. Just look pretty and do as little as possible.”
“You know about what time he gets back, right?” Lee asked, and Xac nodded again, “Then why don’t I forget to lock the bedroom door and you just remember to get back in here before he comes home? Go out and sit in the sittin room if you want. You gotta be bored out your damn mind. But remember to get back in here. I plum forgot to lock the door. It’s real easy to forget stuff at my age.”
Xac’s eyes darted to Lee’s pockets, where he suspected he kept a great many keys.
“You’re real nice to me,” Xac said softly, “Thanks. For everythin.”
Lee squeezed his shoulders.
“Be good, kid.”
Then he picked up Xac’s empty breakfast tray, walked through the sitting room, and pulled the door closed behind him.
It was infinitely better to have two rooms rather than one, in a way that cannot be readily explained to someone who has not been confined to a single room for weeks at a time. Xac had never been in the sitting room by himself, and when he was with Agalon he was so focused on him that he wasn’t able to observe it, to take it in.
The curio cabinet was full of wonders, and though Xac was unwilling to touch the glass in case he dirtied it, he was able to study the things he saw within. There were a number of documents that were likely important, as they were being displayed in frames, but they meant very little to him, as he could not read. He did like the seal on the one near the top, the same seal he saw on other things in the case: a single blooming rose surrounded by a circular border. In another frame were arranged many small golden medallions bearing the same symbol, all with different colored fabric strips that looked as if they could be pinned to clothing. Xac was almost positive Agalon had been wearing them in the painting that hung in the foyer, and he suspected that they meant something. They seemed important and were certainly pretty.
The largest thing in the cabinet took up an entire shelf, and Xac had often glanced at it, wondering what it was. It was a long, golden stick, easily taller than Xac himself, if it had stood upright, that terminated at what he knew was the top because he had seen it in the painting, in a golden hoop all inset with sparkling green crystals. The one at the bottom of the hoop where it attached to the base was much larger than the others, and more beautiful.
Xac had seen those crystals before. They were set into the earrings Agalon always wore, and the ring that Miss Hattie May tried to keep secret. They looked expensive.
Elves could work magic. Was this magic? Was Ms Hattie May a witch, as Alley had speculated?
Xac had an idea. He walked back into the bedroom and made his way to the jewelry box, then opened the bottom drawer. That drawer seemed to be dedicated to the storage of earrings, of which there were many more than he had anticipated. Agalon always wore the same green studs, but he had an entire collection in different shapes and sizes? Why? Why keep so many jewels? Why own so many?
They were so pretty.
Xac poked around, moving hoops, ornamentally carved studs, and dangling chains out of his way until he found what he was looking for. Agalon had other earrings with the same green crystals, and Xac picked up one of a pair that held three, much smaller than any of the others he had seen, arranged in a triangular pattern. He ran his thumb gently over the stones-
Something moved over him, flowed over his flesh like water, like a warm breeze, but it smelled like a garden in full bloom, and it rushed at him, pressing him down, pressing in upon him until it weighed him down. It felt as if it was pressing against his skin, against his blood, and his blood was rushing full force against his veins, trying to get out. It almost hurt, and it terrified him, so he dropped the earring back into the drawer, slammed it shut, and jerked his hand away.
The sensation was gone as quickly as it had appeared, and he tried to catch his breath.
Whatever that was, it felt as if it could have killed him. Was that magic? Humans were never supposed to use magic. Why would anyone even try if that’s what it felt like? That was horrible. He felt a little sick to his stomach, so he took the empty wine glass Lee had left him and made his way to the basin to fill it and take a long drink of water.
The cream they had put on his lips came away on the glass, so he took a washrag and wiped it clean, then paused.
Someone was in the hallway.
Hopefully it was Lee. He said he had a lot to do, and if he had come back in, he was a breath of fresh air in the loneliness of this place.
But what if it was Agalon? What if he had arrived home early for some reason?
Xac rushed to the bedroom door and slammed it shut just as the door to the sitting room creaked open. Xac leaned heavily against the door and listened. He hadn’t touched anything, had he? He hadn’t moved anything in there? He didn’t think so.
It sounded like Agalon. It was the same solid, heavy footfalls, the same breathing pattern, the same-
No. Not the same voice. This one was much lighter, much more youthful. He didn’t sound any older than Xac himself.
“Dad!” The voice said again, sounding angrier, “You in here? I just got off the carriage. That I rode here. By myself. Just got home.” He huffed, then spoke harshly, apparently to himself, “Yeah you ain’t here. Of course you ain’t here. I ain’t been here in a month, you ain’t seen me but a week between school and camp. Why the hell would you care that I’m back? Asshole.”
Xac hopped back when he heard the heavy footfalls marching for the bedroom door, and tried to take the stance he had seen on the other slaves when they weren’t serving. Jimmy popped into his mind, and he tried to mimic him with one hand in the small of his back and the other fisted over his heart.
“Dad!” A voice demanded as the door flew open, “Are you in here?”
It was the boy in the painting. He had Agalon’s long blond hair pulled up into a neat bun on the top of his head, and he was still wearing a traveling cloak. He was, as Xac had suspected, about the same age as him, and when he saw him the rage drained from his face and was replaced with a look of shock and alarm.
“I thought you was dead,” he said.
“Um,” Xac had no response prepared for such an accusation, and had to take a second to formulate one on the spot, “No. Not dead. I… I mean, I don’t reckon.”
“Did he get a new one? Are you the same one?” The boy asked.
“I… don’t know,” Xac admitted, “I’m Xaxac OfAgalon. I’m Master Agalon’s pleasure slave.”
“Well goddamn,” the boy said, “Glad you’re alive.”
“Thank you?” Xac asked. “I’m glad you’re alive too, sir. Who are you?”
“Is daddy here?” The boy asked him.
“I don’t know, sir,” Xac said, trying his best to be polite, “Who’s your daddy? Is Master Agalon your daddy? If he is then he ain’t here. He don’t never get back until it starts gettin dark. He goes to take care of the fighters. I watch the windows. It’ll be a little bit.”
“You watch the windows?” The boy said as if that was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, “Thesis’s glowin eyes.”
“I’m sorry,” Xac said, because he thought he had made some sort of social mistake.
“Of course he ain’t here,” the boy huffed, “Why the hell would he be here? He don’t never care about nobody but himself.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Xac said, quietly and with pleading eyes. “He’s always been real nice to me.”
“Don’t let him fool you,” the boy scowled. “Come in here a minute. I’m gonna get a drink. I need a drink. Been on the road all damn day. Been trainin for a month at the capitol. I’m fuckin tired.”
He turned and walked into the sitting room; Xac followed as far as the doorway.
“I’m not supposed to leave, I don’t think,” Xac said.
“You’ll be alright,” the boy said, then he opened the door, walked into the hall, and Xac heard the sound of a bell, followed by the boy’s shrieking. “Lee! I need a drink!”
Lee had apparently appeared in the hall, because Xac heard his response.
“Master Lorsan, you know that you’re too young for that. Your daddy would tan my hide.”
“My daddy can go straight to hell,” the boy, apparently named Lorsan replied.
“Be that as it may,” Lee said calmly, “I won’t be involved in it.”
“Fine!” Lorsan snapped, walked back into the room and slammed the door, “He’s a rubbin alcoholic. It ain’t like I won’t find somethin.”
Xac watched him move to the writing desk, tear open the middle drawer, and rifle through it. He came out less than a second later with a flask, snapped it open, took a long drink, then held it out for Xac.
Xaxac looked around tentatively, then back at him, staring with his giant brown eyes, rifled with indecision.
“I know he gives it to you,” Lorsan said, “Come here. Have a drink with me.”
Xac took slow, tentative steps into the room, reached out his hand, took the flask, and took a long, slow drink.