Miss Aida stood at the base of the staircase, glaring up at me as I descended, wearing a gown in deep green with a waistline that matched the severity of her gaze. Her arms were crossed beneath her chest and her ears lay flat against her head. When she saw me stumbling, my arms locked behind my back, her eyes went wide and she stalked to the base of the stairs, waiting.
I meant to drop to my knees as I reached the bottom of the stairs, but as soon as one hind touched the floor, my owner caught my shoulder and threw me to the ground. “Look around you, boy,” she hissed. “What do you see that’s missing?”
I lifted my head hesitantly, looking around the room. The door leading to the main hall was open, but the front door remained closed. A fire had been built in the fireplace, but no-one sat in the chairs or perched on the stools to take advantage of the heat. I ducked hesitantly, shrinking back. “The girls, master.”
“Not just the girls, boy, but my singer, too.” One of her hinds landed against my back, snapping a whimper past my lips. “Trade caravan’s past the gates, the first guards are coming off-shift, and they’ll be looking for a place to relax and spend some of their coin. Where will they be spending it? Dove Hall or the Sunrise, or maybe a nice pub with fresh ale, but oh, not the Blue Moon, and why not? Because they’re not open!”
Her hind connected again in almost the same spot, not bothering to pull her claws this time, and a blossom of pain burst across my my spine. “I’ll have you doing as you’re told in the future. Do you understand me, boy?”
“Yes, master!” The cry was instinctual, punctuated with a sob. I wanted to curl in on myself, to disappear and never return. My heart pounded in my chest, my blood running cold.
Miss Aida shoved me onto my stomach, then shifted her weight onto the hind that she planted on the small of my back, just above my tail. “Now, mayhap you’ll care to tell me what kept you, boy, and don’t lie to me; I can see what you’ve been doing.”
I forced air inside to speak. “The cook, master. He… he took so long in the kitchen and—”
The lynx’s hind rose and then landed sharply in the middle of my back where she’d kicked me earlier. “I said don’t lie to me, boy! Now out with it!”
“But master! I… I swear!” I struggled to speak, choking words past the pain. “He… he wouldn’t let me go! I got on my knees and waited for him to send me on but he… he grabbed my ears and….” In scattered bursts, I told her of the cook’s actions, the stink of his fear, the urgency of his thrusts, and then the sudden withdrawal and sullen silence afterwards.
Before I could reach the top of the stairs, I heard the rustle of Miss Aida’s gown as she knelt next to me. One paw met my shoulder, and she lifted me back onto my knees. Then both of her paws were on my the sides of my head, turning me to face her. Her eyes smoldered. “You’ll tell me true, boy,” she whispered, her voice tight. “Did all that really happen?”
I sniffed, lowered my head. “Yes, master.”
“Hmph.” She let go of me, then rose to her hinds. “Wait here.” She strode past me and up the stairs. Heated voices came down the stairs, and then Miss Aida reappeared, brandishing a small key. “Up.” Once I was back on my hinds, she unlocked the manacles, then motioned down the hall to the slaves’ quarters. “Go wash yourself.”
I bowed and started shuffling towards the hallway, then stopped and looked back. “Master?”
Miss Aida raised a brow, folding her arms across her chest again. “Yes, boy?” she asked coolly.
I ducked my head. “Forgive me, but why the change of heart?”
My owner drew in a deep breath, then heaved a sigh. “You’ll have that story another time, boy. For now, the guests’ll think I don’t know how to take care of my own if they see you like that.” She made shooing motions towards the hall that led to the kitchen. “Go on. You’ll not interrupt the girls, but take your time and be thorough. I’ll have you back here once you’re presentable to guests.”