Part 3: Talon - Chapter 9

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'You're coming with me this time.' Geranium grabbed Sarti's hand as she emerged from the taxi and pulled her down off the slave platform.

The woman resisted for a fraction of a second, until instinct kicked in and she slid off the platform to stand beside her mistress. Her palms were sweaty from gripping the support bar on the ride to the slave market 'You're going to trade me in, aren't you, miss?'

'Don't be ridiculous, Sarti. Why would I do that?'

'Then why are we here, miss?' Sarti gazed up at the entrance to the market with a shudder.

It was a good question. Geranium had debated with herself for a long time about whether she should return to the market, and was almost surprised when she found herself ordering the taxi. Perhaps it was sheer bloody-mindedness: her mother would return just to show the salesman she was a woman of her word, that the deForêt-Bassyngthwayghtes were rich and stylish enough to buy as many slaves as they wished, and because she liked shopping.

Shit. Am I turning into Mother?

No, it had to be something nobler than that. Somehow, seeing the slaves yesterday had made her interested in them. Sarti didn't count—she'd lived most of her life in well-placed domestic service. But other slaves, ordinary ones who didn't have Sarti's good fortune, what were they really like? What did they think and feel?

She'd even dressed for the occasion: a blue skirt, white blouse and an expensive black wool jacket her mother had bought for her at Ushant and Sons in London for her birthday the previous year. Why she'd taken the trouble to dress up was another mystery; perhaps she'd just wanted to give Sarti something to do that morning, arranging for the AI to clean and press the clothes and making sure her mistress looked perfect in them. And the hair and make-up had taken another investment of time that Geranium usually didn't bother with.

At the entrance to the market the two sentinels were there. Again they didn't move as the door opened automatically.

The reception this time was different. Enrique Campillo was there in what looked like the same suit, but his manner was friendlier, more earnest now his customer from the day before had returned. Perhaps the scent of a genuine sale had entered his nostrils. He wore some cologne that wrinkled Geranium's nose when the first wave hit her.

Campillo ran a professional eye over Sarti, who stood shivering a little under his gaze.

'A bit old, my lady,' the salesman said. 'Has she mostly done domestic work?'

'I'm not here to trade her,' said Geranium. Why she had brought the old slave along was another mystery she didn't have time to think about. 'As you may recall, I wanted to inspect your...pens, or whatever you call them.' The man's eyes narrowed. 'Before I buy another slave,' she added.

'The slave quarters,' he said. 'Yes. An unusual request, my lady. If it was anyone less noble, I—'

'Never mind. Let's have a look.'

Campillo led the way to the back of the building.

'We maintain a gap between the pens and the showroom, of course, he said. 'As you saw yesterday, the guard fetches the stock as required. We usually don't permit buyers to view them in their quarters as it creates a security risk and tends to upset them.' He unlocked the same door as the day before, and this time they all proceeded to the door at the side of the viewing stage. Another guard was there, who stepped aside as they approached. He was a tall man who, unlike the other guards, wore no helmet. A pair of bright green eyes flashed under dark brows. His left hand, which gripped the stock of his carbine, bore a red scar, long healed but still livid. He glared at Geranium so hard it crossed her mind that she might pull rank on him and demand he treat her like the nobility she was. But the thought that that was what her mother would do drove the idea away.

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