There was a flicker of movement and I struck out reflexively, only to miss. It glinted silver in the bright sun as if fell, then struck a small stone with a clink. What the-? Curious, I bent over to investigate. A silver penny? Who would waste that much money as a distraction? A hand closed over my nape, confirming the answer as it occurred to me.
Quent divested me of my knife and gun and tossed them just beyond my reach. That was a first, usually he left me my weapons. At least he didn’t toss them in the nearby brook and ruin the gun.
“I am tired of fighting with you. This time you will not fight, but lie there like a good boy and talk to me like a reasonable intelligent being.” He pushed me down flat, and then sat on my back to make sure I couldn’t move easily.
He had taken any struggle out of the picture for this time with his order, but it occurred to me that I had come to enjoy the challenge of our tussles more than I wanted to hurt him. I wondered at the revelation that I had ceased to wish to kill him. Why was that? He was a monster. I was supposed to want to kill him. Except… I didn’t. I had trouble picturing him being a threat to humans, other than me and I didn’t really mind that. He was too careful not to hurt me or too mannerly, despite his annoying pushiness. My mind stuttered as I realized what I’d just thought. I didn’t mind him being a threat to me? I didn’t mind him holding me still and drinking from my veins? But- But- No, I really didn’t mind. I went cold at the thought. When had that happened? Had he been right when he’d said-?
“You know I want you to be my helot.”
“I know.” I acknowledged, surprised my voice came out calm instead of shaking as badly as I was inside.
“You know I could force you to accept.”
“I know.” I acknowledged.
“But I haven’t.”
“And I won’t.”
“I appreciate it.” I really, really did.
“But I need an answer.”
I had no answer to give him. I really had none. I watched an ant crawl inches from my nose, carrying a piece of something I couldn’t identify while the silence stretched out.
Quent sighed. “I’ve been patient for two years.”
“I’m not good at being patient.”
I had no answer for that, either. It was self-evident that he was not a particularly patient creature.
He sighed again. “What’s your name?”
“Boy Noname.” I answered bitterly. I hated my name, hated that I wasn’t important enough for someone to bother giving me a real name.
“Don’t be facetious.” He reprimanded impatiently.
“I’m not. That’s my name. I was abandoned as an infant. Raised by a widow who didn’t want anyone mistaking me for her real son.” I didn’t really begrudge the widow that. Having a child out of wedlock was a terrible social stigma, even for a widow.
“Oh.” He patted my shoulder awkwardly.
“I wasn’t asking for sympathy.” I pointed out dryly.
“It bothers you, though.”
Of course it did. “Not as much as my inability to overrule my body’s extremely odd reactions does.”
“Oh.” He sounded as if that hadn’t occurred to him before. “I guess that it is a little unusual, isn’t it? My parents’ helots don’t have it. But I know for a fact that Mr. Zennepfig’s helots do. He’s very proud of it. Well, I guess that’s not really a good example, since most of us suspect he trains the reaction into them, but they are some of the most eager to please helots I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m not exactly eager to please!” I snapped in irritation.
He sighed beleaguredly. “I wasn’t attempting to compare you to them. It was merely an observation. But I like your reaction. It’s quite useful to me, and I don’t think it makes you odd. I think it makes you the perfect candidate as my helot. I need a helot. And you need, well, your body needs a master. Can you tell me truthfully that you dislike it when all you can do is relax and obey?”
I hesitated, then told him, “It frightens me. I’m not a slave or a bondservant, and I don’t want to be, but when I’m like that I have even less choice. Even if it’s something terrible, that I am screaming against doing, I can’t disobey. All it would take is once to turn me into something unforgivable.”
“But do you dislike it?” he persisted.
In truth? I half loved it. Hated it, yes, but half reveled in it as well. “No…” I whispered.
“Do you really think I’d do that to you? Give you an order like that?”
Did I? I didn’t doubt that he was capable of it, but I had seen no indication that he was the sort who actually would ever do so. “I guess not.”
“Such a rousing proclamation of confidence.” He noted drily. “I swear I will never give you that sort of order when you cannot disobey if you agree to become my helot.”
I sighed. I hoped he was about done with this conversation, because it was hitting a lot of sore spots and I was more than ready to be done with it.
“I might be able to give you some protection from having that reaction to others if you become my helot.”
“Really?” That might almost be worth giving my life into his hands.
“I think so. Some, anyway.” His tone was uncertain.
“Well, that’s really convincing.” I said ironically.
He was silent for a long moment, and then sighed. “Fine. I understand. I’ll leave you alone after this. But at least let me give you a respectable name before I go. You can allow me that much, can’t you?”
I choked up, unable to answer and nodded jerkily. No one had ever offered before, and I didn’t really think his question was a request. The irritation in his tone had made it more of a declaration of intent.
“‘Blade’. I think that suits you very well, given how many times I’ve had to dodge your blade. And…” He looked around for a moment. “‘Brook.’ We were near this brook when we met. For meeting and parting. It seems appropriate. ‘Blade Brook.’” He stood up and turned to look down at me. “I’ll miss your tasty blood, Blade. Good bye.”
He bent unhurriedly to pick up the silver penny.
I grabbed it, then scrambled to my feet out of immediate reach, the silver penny clutched tightly in my fist.
“Hey! Give it back!”
I shook my head, eyes wide with nervousness and chest heaving from the same. This was a gamble, and not one I was sure I should make.
His eyes narrowed ominously, true temper showing for the first time.
“You’re required to pay your helot, aren’t you?” I asked hurriedly.
Quent’s narrow look shifted to surprise. “Yes. One is required to tend to his or her helot’s well-being. Are you declaring yourself to be my helot?”
I met his gaze full-on. “Yes.”
His face blanked in surprise. He blinked a few times and then nodded. “Alright. Take your shirt off.”
I did, then turned around at the directing motion of his hand.
“Bow your head and relax.” He was very careful not to touch me, to let me do it myself, a clear choice on my part.
I liked that he understood me well enough to not ask if I was sure. Of course I wasn’t sure. If he’d asked that, I would have tried to kill him again, and I’d have been deathly serious about it.
His sharp fangs slid into my back, and a sharp chill radiated out from the spot, almost painful in the summer heat.
I panted, fighting to stay relaxed, fighting my body’s unexpected slide towards the victim state, fighting my own panic at having asked for this. I didn’t notice that he’d lifted his head until he spoke.
I moved away and started lacing up my shirt again. “Because you gave me the one thing that not one of all those good folk I know ever bothered to give me.”
I turned to stare at him, but there was only honest confusion on his face. I wondered if he’d get it if I waited long enough, so I waited. When I bent down to retrieve my weapons, he ventured,
“If a silver penny-”
“I’ve had silver pennies.” I interrupted. As a soldier, my pay was monthly, and sometimes it was given as a silver penny rather than in farthings and half-pence.
“If you mean a choice, surely you’ve been given choices before.”
“No, not a choice, Quent.” It was the first time I’d used his name, and the surprise and pleasure that lit his eyes was worth having used it.
I held his bemused, dark brown gaze for a long moment, then relented.