When new Foremen were raised to Council, they had their pick of the slaves of the Arena and the Blocks for their first week at the Mines. One whole week, nine days, when the slaves they chose would be theirs to do with as they pleased. Anything short of death.
There were terrible people raised to Council in our time. The Slave Killer, when we were children, who was so powerful on Jawburn that not even that last rule applied to him. He only took boys, though, so we were lucky. He never had us.
Onara, who destroyed three men in her week. She ruined them, for the Arena and anything else. But she did not kill them. That was her own little cruelty.
We were taken for the week by three Foremen, ourselves. The first two, they used us hard, but we were lucky they were not the monsters Onara and the Slave Killer were. Lucky too, that we were so beautiful together that by that time no-one would ever think to separate us. Inside the Arena or out. We went to the Foremen together, and survived for it. Still. Those eighteen days are amongst the worst we have known in our lives.
The third of our Foremen, though ... was Slate.
We would have been about ... sixteen years, then? Very old, by Arena standards, for slaves bred for the games. But we only grew more beautiful with age, and we knew as soon as we saw him take the Box for the first time, knew when he saw us fight, that we would be his choice for the week. For our fame, that was the price.
We expected ... hardness. Slate ... he was not near so cheerful then as he is now. He was grey, and lined, and the ships of his trade had leathered him. He had a scowl permanently worn into his face.
*giggles a little* He still does, but you can't tell him so.
Anyway. When we were brought to him, we expected to be hurt. To be used and hurt for nine days, and the best we hoped for was to survive with beauty and fitness mostly intact. We never expected more, back then. That was all that could be hoped for, from any of our masters. But Slate ... The eighteen days we served the other Foremen were among the worst of our lives. The nine we spent with him were among the best.
He helped us. We didn't really understand how much, back then. He fed us, cleaned us, clothed us. He asked for none of the things the others did, none of the things it was his right to take. It ... confused us, because he wanted those things. We could see it in him. He'd been alone a long time, and people didn't touch him gently anymore. He wanted to have the things he could take from us. But he didn't.
He still doesn't. Even though he knows we'd give it, and in a heartbeat. We love him. It's not a hardship to share ourselves with someone we hold so very dear. But he doesn't take, or accept, except for little touches here or there, and our warmth in the night. It seems so little, to us, but it's what he wants.
He helped us. He didn't take, and he gave us things instead. Warm things. Sweet things. He read to us, too. It was the first time we'd seen books, heard stories. He had lots of stories, from the sea and the islands. He'd even been up past Selfar and Felspar, into the Central Sea. He had tales of the demons of the Black Land, and the wizards of the cold north. He told us lots of things. Let us see the world, a little bit, for the first time.
*smiles* He gave us the world, really. It was because of him that we began to think of freedom, of having something more than the Arena and blood and sand and each other. He was the first person we ever wanted, outside of each other. The first person we wanted to be near, and sleep beside, and make smile when they were sad. He didn't smile very much, you know. Nine days, and he only ever laughed for us once. We wanted to change that.
You see. When we think of helping hands, we think of him. Because he was the first to help us. The first who had the power to, and who used that power for us and not against us. He helped us, and we wanted him. We're greedy that way. So when we decided to free ourselves, three years later ... we decided to bring him with us. *grins* He had us for a week. We wanted him forever.
He came with us. He's still with us. And we can sleep beside him, and tickle him, and make him laugh. And kill anyone who threatens him, like the Foremen who didn't like him on Jawburn, and the pirates who gave him the scars on his back. *grins fiercely* We killed them, you know. One of our first paying jobs. Turns out it was more than Slate they hurt. But it was him we killed them for.
We knew how to fight, how to love, how to live and die and kill for each other. We've known those all our lives. Slate showed us how to help people. How to give to people not ourselves. And he showed us what it was like to be ... cherished. How to have something soft and warm and never fierce, never savage. *smiles* Slate gave us all that.
We don't know why he wants so little in return. But whatever he wants, we'll give to him. Always. Because he helped us, and we love him.