by Jane Carnall
"I don't want it," Vila said flatly.
"Oh dear," said his eldest sister, in silkily sarcastic tones. "And we went through the whole market to find something that we thought you'd appreciate -- with these tastes of yours."
"It's just not my size."
"It isn't?" said the youngest, smiling. "Not according to our observations."
"If I'd wanted one at all, it would have been smaller."
"When you're married, perhaps your wife will let you pick one yourself. But right now, you'll take what your kind sisters give you -- and be grateful. Thank us for the nice present, Vila."
His second eldest sister had always been inclined to lecture. Vila glared at her. "I don't want it, I never wanted it, as far as I'm concerned you can take it back right now, and I won't thank you for it!" His voice was rising.
Grinning, his eldest sister shook her head at him. "Young unmarried gentlemen should be less strident, Vila dear. Anyway, we can't 'take it back'." She threw the lead at him. "You'll just have to look after it. Here's the keys."
As the three of them turned to go, the youngest sister added over her shoulder, "And don't forget to bring it to supper. Mother's looking forward to seeing it."
The door closed behind them. Vila dropped the end of the lead he'd caught automatically, and moved, slow and sulky, to the windowseat. He sat down, curling up, and stared out through the glass.
"I wish you would just disappear," he said aloud.
"I would be glad to oblige you."
Vila spun around and stared at the slave. "So why don't you? Run away. I promise not to give the alarm. I don't want you."
"So I gathered. Unfortunately, dressed like this -- " with an ironic shrug, the slave indicated his leather loincloth, the only clothing, apart from the collar, that he wore -- "and with my wrists shackled behind my back, I don't think I'd get very far."
"Esther gave me the keys -- " Vila scrambled to his feet and went behind the slave, who lifted his wrists helpfully. Unlocking them was the work of a moment; Vila flung the cuffs on his bed, and shrugged. "My clothes are in the wardrobe. They probably wouldn't fit you, but you're welcome to them."
The slave went to the wardrobe and began to hunt along the rack of frilly masculine robes. "Have you got anything I could run in? I may have to."
"Either my mother or my sisters supervise everything I buy. They don't approve of feminine clothes for men. And I'm not giving you what I'm wearing now."
"And nothing but high-heeled shoes," the slave muttered. He turned, holding one of the plainer robes. "Tell me, why don't you want me?"
"Because my sisters bought you. That's one reason. The other is why they bought you."
"They discovered I like men. And once they'd got over their annoyance that I'd fallen for a completely unsuitable boy -- and got rid of him -- they thought it would be very funny to buy me an expensive male sex slave. You were expensive, weren't you?"
"Very," the slave said tersely. "They're not going to like me running away."
Vila smiled broadly.
"What are they going to do to you?"
"Do to me? You're going to be a runaway slave. I'm a completely useless son of a noble family -- they want to marry me to someone, not hamstring me, which is what they're going to do to you when they catch you."
"True. On the other hand, I cost them seven thousand crowns. Are you worth more to them?"
"A lot less," Vila said gloomily. "That's about what they're offering on my dowry, I think."
"Interesting, isn't it. They paid the same amount of money to take me away as they're offering some old noblewoman to take you away."
The smile dropped off Vila's face. "Oh yes," he said softly, and turned back to the window-seat. "I'm trying not to think about that. If you don't mind."
"I have considered the parallels between the marriage-laws and slavery many times," the slave said mildly. "They are interesting -- "
"Why don't you just shut up!" Vila snapped at him. "Get on with escaping. One thing I can do without is a sex-slave lecturing me -- I get enough of that from my sisters!"
"Well now," the sex-slave murmured, a dazzling grin lighting up his dark, sardonic face for an instant, "there's always an alternative."
"I wouldn't stand a chance. No more than you will," Vila added nastily.
"Together we might stand more of a chance than either of us alone. A freeborn nobleman accompanied by a male attendant will be less noticeable than a freeborn nobleman wandering around alone."
"Or a slave wandering around alone without any way to explain himself."
"That too," the slave conceded. He had been dressing rapidly. "Well?"
"You know," Vila said thoughtfully, wandering over to the window and opening it, "I think I might almost get to like you."
"That makes it all worthwhile."
"We can get down from here unobserved," Vila noted. "Hang on a minute."
He was back in three, pockets bulging. "Well -- " he said with a defensive shrug, "Mother always said I could have my father's jewellery when I left home."
"Somehow I don't think this is quite the exit your mother had in mind," the slave observed, breathlessly, halfway out the window.
"Oh, I don't know." Safely down on the ground, Vila batted his eyelids at the former slave. "You have to marry me now -- you've compromised my reputation." Before the other man could respond, he went on hastily, "You do realise this is impossible?"
"I foresee that somehow that will never stop us." The man grinned. "Besides -- I'm the one to be hamstrung when they catch us."
Vila patted him kindly. "Don't worry. You'll always be safe with me."
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