Fear the hounds.
That's the first thing they told me at the compound. The hounds would tear you apart if you tried to run, they would follow you to the ends of the earth, they couldn't be called off. If you were going to run, you would have to want to die.
But I didn't want to die yet.
One of the beasts watched me, pacing along the fence on leash, never blinking, silent, massive. They only spoke when hunting, the howling horrible enough to make you scream. I doubt that, if I've endured all this so far no stupid dog yelping would bother me. But no one has tested it yet, and the beast was quiet.
The auction carried on, a male being walked onstage. Just a boy.
"Number 16. Big enough to carry packs, tend your livestock, able to work..."
I tuned it out, fiddling with the piece of grass in my hand. Hardly any inside the fence talk, sitting on the ground. But outside norns clamor to get their bids in, fewer on the boy than on the older man, 15, but enough to get him sold quickly. Seventeen was dragged, a woman with stripes, and it started again.
"Number 17, talented at cooking and cleaning. Bidding starts at 1300 desas."
It was too cold here. My type are always warmer, covered in red diamond patterns to regulate our temperature faster, but the others seem fine.
The woman was a quick sell too, pleading in some other language as she was led off again.
"Eighteen," the gateman said, and I look down at my wrist. Me.
He called again, and I stand slowly before he can come in to get me, walking to the gate. He holds my arm firmly and takes me to the stage, announcer brightening.
"Oh, now here's a beauty! We're not sure how she ended up on Olana, this species is originally from the Islands, but she sure is a pretty little thing isn't she? Perfect for anything you want her for fellas, and I mean anything." A wolf whistle rings out and I cringe. "We'll start at 4000, but that's generous of us, she's a rare find."
I can't distinguish voices or numbers, but the announcer picks out calls with a trained ear, price soaring within minutes. The sun beats on me, doing little to keep me from trembling, and it was more than cold that shook me.
6000, 7500, 8000…
"Come on, I'm not sure if we'll get another like this one again!"
10000, 10200 and it ended, a smug norn near the front sitting down again. I meet his eyes, memorizing him, letting my hate of all of this focus on this man. And I was taken offstage.
I was locked in another fenced yard until the auction of 20 ended, numb. It had been a month since I'd been on Olana, and years since the Islands, as they called them here. I lay on my back on the grass, watching clouds. Blue sky surrounded me for a time, peaceful and blissfully isolating.
"Ah, I wish I had the kind of money for an Islander," the gateman said wistfully. "Hasn't said a word though."
"If she's mute I'm getting half the price back," he threatened, but the gateman only opened the gate and stood over me, blocking my blue.
I fixed a glare on him, getting up with any dignity I had left, and exiting to stand in front of the man.
"Look at her, looking at you in the eyes. Cheeky little thing."
"We'll see how long it lasts," the man said, and started walking.
I looked at the hound, iron gaze on me. I didn't want to die yet.
So I followed.
They'd bound me at the exit of the auction, and loaded me into the car. It started up smoothly, rolling out and onto the road.
Within an hour we pulled into the drive, house looming to the front and large barn to the left. We passed the kennels first, eerily silent as five huge dogs watched our passing.
"See those? I'm sure you've heard about them. Bet they'd love the taste of a little exotic like you."
He stopped in front of the house, a sturdy green norn waiting at the door. She carefully kept her gaze lowered. He got out and I was left to figure out the handle with bound hands, managing to get to the door.
"Bath," he said as the green norn opened the front door.
Maybe I could figure out what was going on while he was in the tub. But the green norn steered me away, the two of us swiftly down the hall and in the bathroom before I could get a good look around.
"In you go, I'll get this off." My hands were untied, rope placed in the trash, and the water starting.
"What's your name?"
I didn't answer, green norn waiting and then moving on when I didn't.
"I was in a bit of a shock too when I came here, that sort of thing can come later."
Bubbles quickly covered my fur, green norn scrubbing down to the skin and the water cold against it.
"Awful hot aren't you? Is it hot on the Islands?"
She waited again and then continued scrubbing, the water turning darker. "We'll have to get the doctor to see you when Sir calls him. That's all you're to call him, understand? Nothing but Sir."
"And I'm Lena, if you need me."
The water crashed over my head a few minutes later, making me start to shiver again, and the bath was over. Lena dried me off with a towel, short fur fluffing slightly, the colors brighter.
"A nice tan and red on you."
I nodded, Lena smiling a little.
"Something to eat and you'll feel a bit more like talking, won't you?"
We went further back into the house, a larger woman cooking busily, Lena showing me off and getting a plate for me.
"Pretty thing," she commented as she watched me eat. "Have a name?"
"She won't talk," Lena explained.
The purple norn frowned. "You'll need a name until you do then. Sure you won't tell us what your born name is?"
You won't know it, ever, I vowed. Not while I was a… prisoner.
"How about it?" the purple norn asked of Lena.
A couple of them floated around, but the consensus was Kai. What kind of name was that? It didn't even have an ending on it. It just left you floating out there.
Seeing my face, the purple norn stood firm. "If you want a different one then tell us your born name, but I'm not calling you Islander."
Fates, that was even worse.
Turned out the purple norn's name was Faith, like an animal's.
"Sir will want you to know your duties I guess," Lena said, seeing my empty plate. "Come on."
I got up. We went to the laundry room for a quick lesson in washing. Back again for learning to wash the dishes, then upstairs even more quietly to learn proper dusting and tidying habits.
At least it wasn't true manual labor, and no one had beaten me yet. I could be off in a field somewhere sixteen hours a day.
I motioned toward a window.
"No, we don't work outside. Though if Sir gives you a bit away from the house you should be allowed to walk within the yard."
Things could definitely be worse than this. It was like working for keep, instead of being a - prisoner.
"In fact, why don't you get some water for Faith?"
I hurried downstairs for a bucket and was out the door in a flash.
It was slightly warmer outside, sun heating me, and I could see the pump off to the side of the yard. Setting the bucket beneath the spout I started pumping. Gradually some water started to come up, brown at first so I had to dump it out, then running clearer and faster.
I nearly jumped out of my skin, I couldn't hear anything over the squeaky pump.
"Sorry!" he said quickly. He was staring hard at me, older than I was, but only a few years. I waited for my heart to slow. "Are you who Sir brought home?"
I nodded, pumping slower to hear him over it. To save any trouble I motioned at my throat.
"You can't talk?"
I shook my head, and he shrugged.
"Better than not being able to see or hear, right? Can you write?"
"What's your name?"
I wrote my new name in the dirt with my toes, his head tilting.
"Kai? I'm Torin, or just Tory. Everyone calls me Tory."
He shuffled his feet, feeling odd carrying the entire conversation. "Well, I'll see you then."
I smiled at him, waving a little as he went back.
"Got my water?" Faith asked as I hauled the bucket into the kitchen. I left it there, Lena coming to grab me for washing clothes.
"You know, we ought to get you some working clothes. Those are a little…"
I glanced down. A piece covered my chest and there was a short skirt. Everyone wore this back on the Islands, and no one cared on Olana.
"Here, borrow one of mine until I can sew something for you."
She tossed a smock at me, and I unhappily left the room to change. It felt baggy, like wearing a blanket, and didn't let as much heat escape. I guessed I needed it here.
I tossed my previous clothes in the dirty pile, grabbing a dress. I held it up.
"Ma'm is out, or she'd meet you too."
Good, enough new people for today. We washed silently for an hour to two after that, the motions repetitive and calming.
As we finished, I traced out Tory on the water.
"You met him? He's a good boy, he helps with the animals."
"No, only Sir can feed the dogs. Stay away from them."
I wanted to hear more about Tory.
"He came here a few years ago, but he's not from Olana, he was born here in Hernaire. Otherwise there's not too much else. He's a nice boy, and does well with the animals, but mostly keeps to himself. I'm surprised he said hello."
I could guess. An "exotic" like me got a second glance out of everyone.
"How'd you end up on Olana anyway?"
"Were you a slave then too?"
I blocked that word from sinking in. I traced No.
She nodded and we left the laundry room.
I headed out to the barn, wondering what kind of animals they had. It was the usual cow or two, some chickens scuttling around, even a huge horse. I touched his nose softly and relaxed some. It was peaceful here, the interior darker and close but in a cozy way. A barn cat twined around my legs, soaking up the heat I put off like a furnace.
"You like Hedas?"
I would have screamed if my throat was in any condition to do so, a month of disuse left it soundless.
"Sorry!" he said again, dropping the feed bag in a corner. I watched the muscles in his arms even though I knew I shouldn't. Well, it was only fair, he was watching me too. I put off even more heat at that thought, the barn cat purring louder.
"Do you need something?"
I shook my head, tapping the horse's nose.
"You ever ridden?"
I shook my head furiously, Hedas had to be nearly twice as tall as I was and there was no way I could steer him.
"I've got to get him out to plow anyway. Sir's gone out and Ma'm's gone, who'll see us?"
He moved past me to open the stall, Hedas clumping out. His shoulders were as tall as my head, and dappled silver. One brown eye watched me cautiously.
"Come on, you'll love it."
So I let him help me up. I felt twenty feet tall up on the animal's back, Tory behind me. The barn door was open and he steered us out with his legs, the horse picking up speed as we got to clear space.
I grabbed onto its neck as we bounced along, Tory leaning on me a little and circling the field once, which took a while. He got off first, helping me down, and I staggered as my legs straightened out.
I grinned, Tory grinning back until Hedas grunted, ready to work.
"We'll do this again, okay?"
Sir came back with a doctor, and I was back in the house by this time. I was taken to a spare room with the two of them and Lena.
"Got an Islander?" the doctor asked, making conversation as he set up shop.
"Hope she's worth it."
He checked my teeth, my coat, my skin, hands, feet, arms, legs, ears, eyes, everything.
"Check her throat."
"She hasn't said a word since the ship got her."
The doctor looked at me quizzically. "Not talking huh?"
What was so important about speaking anyway? I was getting along just fine without it. I was able, I just didn't want to.
He had me stick out my tongue, peering down my throat. "Nothing looks amiss down there. Sometimes the trauma of being sold does it, they come out of it eventually."
"She's awfully hot Doctor," Lena said quietly.
"Part of her breed. They live on tropical islands, and their digestive systems use heat to break down food more than enzymes or anything else. A cold Islander is one that's ill."
See, no need to say anything. Most norns figured things out for themselves.
"Thank you for your visit Doctor," Sir said as he finished. Very quickly it was the two of us left in the room, Lena showing him out.
He leaned against the wall, door closed, watching me. I kept my eyes on him, hardly blinking, suddenly on edge. There was something calculating in his gaze, something malevolent.
"So. You don't want to talk to me?"
I didn't move, sitting rigid on the edge of the bed.
He shifted his weight, taking a step forward. "I hope you know there are so many much, much worse places than this. Where they sleep outside on the dirt. Where they don't eat every day." He was getting closer, "Where they're beaten. Where they're…" He was less than a foot from me now, and I hardly dared to breathe. He smiled a little at my terrified face. "Are you afraid of me?"
The smile vanished, and he had my shoulders, shaking me, "Answer me!"
I resisted a scream and he had his lips pressed hard against mine, teeth mashing together. I couldn't move, forced hard into the mattress, squirming to get away.
"Talk to me now? Little – !"
I slipped out from under him, throwing open the door and out of the house in a heartbeat.
Hedas didn't fuss as I huddled in the clean corner of his stall, only sighing heavily as I sobbed. Still no sound came out, maybe I really had gone mute by now.
Faith had protested as I streaked through her kitchen, shouting after me, but I couldn't even remember what she'd said.
Coming closer was whistling, barn door rolling open a little as someone came in. A feed bag fell with a thud.
The music stopped abruptly, and I was just as surprised. It had come out all cracked and quiet, like a ghost.
I coughed suddenly, half-choking on tears, throat burning. "Tory."
His feet moved, Hedas lifting his head as the stall door opened. "What're you doing in there?"
I broke down, unable to meet his eyes, and he came in.
"What's the matter?"
I shook my head, mouth shut tight, silent again. He sat next to me, concerned, and I leaned on his shoulder, crying hard. Carefully, like he was afraid I'd push him away, he put his arm around me.
"Guess you'll tell when you're ready," he said softly.
I touched my bottom lip gingerly, pulling my finger away bloodied. I must have bit it or something during… it.
He saw it too, catching my chin to get a better look at it. "Not busted, at least." But he didn't let go, fixing on my eyes.
And this time our teeth didn't smash together, Tory smelling like hay and the sun, and it felt like healing instead of hurt.