Stamps Bonus Story
Plus ça change
Directly after Cobbled
Dagny watched the interaction between her father and the young-looking man she’d just bought, caught between her confusion and her curiosity. Her dad seemed somehow different, younger, as if she was seeing him through Melchior’s memory instead of as he was now. And Melchior – she didn’t know what to think anymore. She’d pegged him as Ellehemaei, not through any fault in his Mask, but through what her dad insisted on referring to as her nose – a sense for such things that, when young, she’d referred to as a bent smell.
She’d bought him both because of the “smell” and out of a sense of outrage. Not only was the Teeburg Market dealing in slaves, something it had never done before, but the slimy piece of shit who was selling them wasn’t giving them the common kindness you’d give livestock. She hadn’t been the only one who felt that way – Abby Denton, her hands shaking with rage, had bought a girl barely into puberty, and Gini Candor’s husband Caleb had nearly broken the slaver’s legs before three strong men had pulled him off. The slime had left town having sold every one of his slaves, and was probably very pleased with himself.
But… she’d felt a little attached to Melchior. He was young (she should have known better), and vulnerable, and needed her help. And now he belonged to her father.
He struggled to his feet, and she stopped herself from stepping forward to help him. Dad had it handled. She frowned at him, not meaning to, but both irked and confused. He had, for her entire life, told her that slavery was one of the many things he wouldn’t miss from Ellehemaei life. Why was he…?
“I’ll explain later, kiddo,” he told her, reading her face in that infuriating way he had. “Right now, I want to get Mel back to the house, and figure out what was going on.”
“All right.” She watched them sidelong as she walked the laden trike back to their house. His limp was getting worse; was it the long walk back from Teeburg, or was he playing it up for Dad?
“So. Regine,” Melchior said, the words sounding stilted and a little forced, and his “scent” off, almost burnt-smelling. Dagny frowned, not quite recognizing the feeling, but taunted by the almost-familiarity.
“Geas?” her father asked, sounding not at all surprised. Melchior nodded slowly, as if that much movement pained him, and the burning scent grew stronger. “Of course.” Dad sounded tired, as if this was an old, old fight. From what she’d heard, it probably was. “Well, don’t try to fight it now. We’ll worry about it when you’re feeling better.”
“Don’t…” He shook his head. “It’s probably best if you don’t thank me,” he said with exaggerated care. “I don’t think I’m really doing you a favor.”
“It’s not really not a favor,” Melchior argued. “And, besides, Dagny definitely did me a favor.” He twisted sideways and winked at her, his body blocking it from her father.
“I…” She wasn’t sure what to say, or even what to feel. She was still struggling with the odd betrayal – if she’d done him such a good turn, why had he fallen down in front of her father and given himself to him?
“Ah,” Melchior said sadly.
“That’s my daughter, Mel.” She’d never heard her father snarl quite that much, even when he did get overprotective. He smelled like an overgrown bear for a moment, or some giant tomcat.
As always, he seemed utterly unperturbed by her anger. “He’s older than I am, Dag.”
“And what does that have to do with the height of the pines or the sweetness of the milk?” She stole the phrase from the always-calm Ginni, wishing she could steal some of her calm as well.
“Nothing, except that I reserve the right to be an overprotective father until you’re at least fifty. And you’re not nearly fifty yet.”
“Then…” Melchior’s scent took on an overtone of flowers in spring and running water.
“Not now, Mel.” Dad glared at him with sudden fierceness, and he cowered, trying to hide his face while still supported by Jamian’s arm.
“Dad!” she repeated, getting more aggravated with the moment. “Drop the cave man routine!” She shoved her shoulder under Melchior’s free arm, glaring at her father across the contested ground of her new friend. “Come on. I’ll help you into the house.”
He stumbled and caught himself, leaning heavily on her father. “I’m okay.” She frowned at him, and he shook his head warningly.
She sighed, and stepped away. “Right. So,” she smiled her most disingenuous smile, “you knew my Uncle Vi when he was my age?”
“Careful, Mel, that question is loaded and the safety’s off.”
“Thanks, Jame’.” He smirked widely, seemingly unconcerned. “I knew Yngvi when we were all in school.”
They were finally at the small house she shared with her father; she hurried ahead to open the door for them, and then dashed back to unload the trike of its bags. “Was he really a priss?” It seemed so unlike her gruff, hard-handed uncle.
“We were all a lot younger back then.” He sank gratefully onto the couch. “Really, really young, and naïve. And of course, that was back before the War.”
Before the War always sounded a little mythic to Dagny, like “once upon a time,” but with less fairy princesses (and more evil witches, the way her father or Cay told the stories). She looked at him again, trying to fit that into her impression of him. The War had been almost forty years ago.
“I told you he was older than I am,” her father said quietly, watching her face. She stuck her tongue out at him.
“That’s different. You guys, you talk about ‘before the war…’” she sighed. “You and Cay and Uncle Vi, and the old folks down in the town square. Caleb Denton’s over fifty, and he barely remembers what things were like, but when you guys get going, it’s like it was yesterday.”
“Luke used to get like that, remember?” Melchior asked softly. “Luke and VanderLinden would get drunk at the end of the year, and start talking about life back before the Revolutionary War, and sometimes, if he got really, really drunk, Solomon would throw in something.”
Jamian nodded. “And it felt like they were lording it over us, how much longer they’d lived, that the whole world had changed since they were kids.” He turned to face her, smelling like the air just after a thunderstorm. “I’m sorry, kiddo.” He shrugged uncomfortably. “I know how they must have felt now, like they’d gotten left behind when the world moved on. But…”
“Yeah,” Melchior shook his head. “They at least got to see it coming. Our world changed practically overnight. One day, I was making a pretty good living selling insurance, the next day the city is overrun… seemed like just the next day, we were fighting a war.” He smiled at Dagny, but his smile smelled of bad blood. “It will happen to you, too, miss. One day you’ll look up, and you’ll realize no-one within twenty miles remembers what life was like when you had to barter a loaf of bread and some boots for slaves.”
She sniffed again, trying to ignore his words. Not all of them lived to be ancient, after all. Neither he nor she could know if she would.
“That smell…” her father said, sniffing the air.
“You… oh, piss.” It wasn’t her “nose” sending her the scent of putrescence, it was a real meat-and-blood smell. “Melchior, your leg.”
“Yeah,” he said ruefully. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that.”
“Why?” she stared at him, confused, even as her body was moving forward without her, gently pushing him down until he was lying on his side on the couch, his bad leg propped up carefully on her lap.
“Since you told Jame’ not to worry about it yet.” He grimaced as she began to pull his pants leg up.
“Just until we were inside and he was less likely to run off trying to kill the slavers.” She frowned warningly at her father, and then looked back at the leg in her hands. “Mel, your pants are stuck to the wound.”
“I’ve got it.” Grimacing, he laid his hand on his hip and began murmuring under his breath. Slowly, the fibers of the pants dissolved from around the half-healed gash just above his knee.
Her father hissed angrily. “Fuck! Mel…”
“A hamstrung slave is less likely to run,” he answered, though his voice was tight with tension. “How bad is it?”
“It’s infected,” Dagny answered softly, “and the infection is spreading. Dad…?”
“If you can track down the infection, kiddo, I can get rid of it,” he assured her. “Mel…”
“I know.” He nodded his head grimly. “It would look pretty suspicious if I was up and walking fine.”
“I’ll clean it out. And I can make it look like it was a much less bad injury than it was… like the slaver missed the tendon.”
He shook his head. “What about the others? That poor girl…”
Her father’s face had a bit of grim satisfaction to it. “Funny. People don’t seem to get hurt so badly around Teeburg as they do in other villages.” He set his hands over Dagny’s on his friend’s leg. “Steer me in, kiddo.”
With a murmured series of Words and a sense of properness and contentment to match her father’s expression, Dagny sunk her consciousness and his into the wound.
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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