The only time Morgan had seen Seth in person had been in the library, and from a respectable distance at that. Standing in front of the cage, Morgan came to realize how small he was compared to his new acquisition, and felt glad for the steel band around his left wrist no matter how mute it was. It wasn't that Morgan was small. By any measure five feet ten inches is a good, healthy height. Seth being easily seven feet and change however, made Morgan feel tiny, and the crimson bands around Seth's wrists were suddenly much more ominous as Seth approached the bars.

Seth stopped directly in front of Tor, bowed his head and said, “Master Tor.”

Tor looked back and said “No longer. You have been sold to this man,” and indicated Morgan.

“Yes sir.” Seth turned to face Morgan and again bowed his head, saying “Master.” He only had a moment to sum up the stranger. Not a student, nor a professor. At least thirty years old. Not a laborer, which was good for Seth's prospects. Not a merchant. His new owner was some sort of Talent, that was obvious. Something well above artificer or hedge wizzard, but he didn't have the twin auras of suspicion and superiority normally found about a master magus.

Tor said to Morgan “He's all yours,” and simply walked away.

Morgan looked at Seth, swallowed once, and asked “Are you dangerous?”

“Only at your command, Master.”

Morgan thought about the answer for a moment and then yelled for the kennel master. When the man arrived Morgan had him open the cage. Once Seth was out of the cage, Morgan found he was suddenly at a loss for what to do next. He'd been around slaves in the abstract for his entire life, but he'd never actually considered owning one before. The idea was distasteful.

Seth sensed his new master's dilemma and decided to risk speaking first. “Sir, if I may, I haven't had a opportunity to bathe in a week and I must be quite offensive. Perhaps you should get me cleaned and dressed, and then dictate your standing orders for me.”

“Good idea, follow me.”

Seth fell into step behind and to the left of Morgan. Morgan really had no idea where to go, so he headed for his residence. He was intensely self conscious the entire way, while Seth seemed to radiate a placid calm, as if he were exactly where he belonged. Morgan set a purposeful pace and was surprised at the way people seemed to part for his passage. It never occurred to him that Seth was, reflexively, acting like a bodyguard and so an air of potentially dangerous protection proceeded them like a wedge. Their path led them across nearly the entire length of the campus and then beyond its low walls. The entire way Seth was building a mental map of the place, usually by snapping his head up and staring pointedly at each structure for a moment as they passed. By the time they reached Morgan's rooms, rumors had started to circulate throughout the school.

At first glance Morgan's home was just a small gate leading into an overgrown hillside, but who was Seth to judge?

Behind the gate was a long unlit tunnel wide enough for three people to walk abreast. The smell of old stone and deep, unseen water was everywhere, but the tunnel was clean and dry, dressed stone. The tunnel ended abruptly at a blank wall, but Morgan pulled a handle on the right and a balanced door swung open into the tunnel. Seth hadn't known what to expect, but a large, high ceiling room bright with natural light wasn't it. They'd clearly passed all the way through the hill and the expansive glass frontage would have made a more welcoming primary entrance if it didn't face away from the school, and the town, and if it didn't open into an almost inaccessible vale.

Seth scanned the front room as he entered the suite. The place wasn't richly apointed. Nor was it spartin. Expense had clearly been spared, but the simple furnishings were tasteful and there was art everywhere. Paintings and small sculptures placed about, sometimes carelessley, in a way that said `I made this' rather than `I bought this'. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Liane lounging on the couch contemplating some papers. She looked up as they entered and her eyes went wide.

“Seth! What are you doing here?” Liane smiled brightly.

“I am following my new master.”

“Morgan?” Her eyes shifted to the smaller man, the smile shifting to chagrin. “You bought him?” Seth marked his new master's name, since nobody had, as yet, bothered to tell it to him.

“It seemed to be the thing to do. He was stuck there in that cage and people are killing themselves to get into his last owner's books. I saw your drawings and I just followed my instincts.”

“My drawings? So that's why you went tearing out of here.” Liane put down her forgotten papers, got up from the couch, and walked over to them both. She said “Welcome to the family” and impulsively hugged Seth's arms to his side.

Seth stood there stunned, arms pinned in her hug, with no clue how to respond. Morgan was no better off, his mouth hanging open in shock.

She broke the embrace and stepped back. She looked up into his eyes, crinkled her nose, and said “you need a bath.”

“Yes, Mistress” slipped out of him automatically.

“I though we had all that settled...”

He thought for a moment, and then said “uh, yes Liane,” and grinned in embarrassment.

“Come with me.” Liane said as she started to pull him by the arm. Seth looked at Morgan for permission. Morgan gave him a resigned, open-handed shrug, which Seth took as that permission, and allowed himself to be lead.

The suite was huge. The hallway had eight rooms off of it, one of which was a large windowless space with bathing and laundry tubs built into it.

“Get cleaned up and then come back out to the front room.” Liane propelled Seth through the door and walked away.

Seth went to the laundry sink. After some investigation he found that a sluice and gate let cold water into the sink, and he began quickly washing himself.

“Don't be a goof,” Liane's voice interrupted Seth mid-scrub, “use the tub.”

She came back in carrying towels and fresh soap, closing off the sluice as she passed him. He watched her stow the towels on a rack and the soap next to a large tub that several adults could occupy comfortably. She operated another sluice and hot water began filling it. She saw a look of shocked non-comprehension on Seth's face and realized she would have to give instructions.

“Let the tub fill, then wash and soak in it for a while, when you're done drain it here,” She indicated a pedal near the floor with her foot, “dry off with one towel and then cover yourself with the other and come back out to the front room.

“And take your time,” she smiled again, “I have to talk to Morgan,” and then she left.

Seth had never had a leisurely hot bath before. He'd had many quick, occasionally warm baths between his duties in his Lady's house since she liked things clean; and he'd taken his time at more than a few lakes and streams when his duties took him out into the field; but never all three at once. He was awkward and self-conscious as he got in. Soon he was enjoying himself, playing in the water like a kid. After he'd scrubbed himself head to toe he leaned back, arms along the rim of the tub, and started to drowse. Thinking to himself that a hot bath must be the essence of pleasure.

Seth lost track of time for the first time in years.

He felt a light tug on his hair and a small high-pitched voice said “Hi!” He thrashed like a startled, or perhaps guilty, fish. He looked around the room quickly but didn't see anybody.

He heard a tiny giggle and peered over the edge of the tub. Looking up at him was the smiling face of a little girl.

“Hi!” She said again.

“Hi to you little lady.” Seth said, smiling back.

Realizing that the cooling water meant that he had been in the tub longer than he thought prudent, Seth quickly got out. He stepped on the drain lever and snatched a towel off the rack. Moving as quickly as he could, he dried himself off and then secured a dry towel around his waist. During that time the little girl would periodically repeat her favorite word, `hi', and he would smile and say it back.

When he was finished he hunkered down in front of her.

Her eyes got really big, she touched the ink on his forearm and said “horsey!”

Seth brayed and snorted like a horse, making the little girl giggle again.

He stood back up and looked down at her. She stretched her arms up to him and said “pick me!” He bent back down and she wrapped her arms around his neck. He reflexively crooked his left arm to give her someplace to sit, and then stood up again. She kissed him on the cheek, then said “horsey!” again, and Seth felt a warm place in his heart open just for her.

Seth padded quietly out of the bath room and back up the hall to the main room, bouncing a little extra with each step for the little girl's benefit. Seth moved with a natural quietness, and so when the little girl said “hi!” to Liane, Morgan, and the room in general, they were both surprised to find him practically standing over them.

“I see you've met Shiea.” Liane said, craning her neck to look up at him from the couch.

“Mommy, horsey!” Shiea said imperatively.

“Do you have experience with children Seth?” Liane asked.

“None at all. My Lady had no children and my service to her kept me away from the children in the keep.” Seth apologized.

“Well, you seem to be a natural so far, let me take her from you.” Liane rose.

Seth felt a little pang of jealousy when Shiea reached down to her mother, but didn't let any of it show at all. The transfer complete, Liane excused herself and headed back into the bowels of the suite.

“I have just spent a the better part of an hour having Liane tell me exactly why and how much I can not afford to keep you.”

Seth felt the thinest cut of uncertianty in his chest.

“Fortunately, a few minutes after you went into the bath several of Tor's people arrived, loaded down with gear, and a note from Tor saying that it was all the things you brought with you into his possession. Since that solved the immediate problem of getting you clothes, Liane agreed not to eat me for lunch.”

Morgan was wired with tense frustration. “Even though this suite is huge, there is really no room for you. With Liane's studio, Mieka's lab,” Seth noted the new name for future reference, “my workroom, the study, Liane and Mieka's bedroom, Shiea's room, my room, the bath, the kitchen, the den, the closet, and this room; we are all out of rooms. I have spent my savings, and more than I can afford out of my coming pay, so we are both going to be eating on Liane and Mieka's charity for a while.

“I sure hope you are worth all this...”

Morgan seemed to have exhausted his thoughts by the last sentence, leaving Seth unsure how to respond to this seemingly volatile moment. Thinking through the short speech Seth realized that Liane and his new master were not married as he had first thought, the so-far-absent Mieka was clearly Shiea's father, or at least Liane's consort. While he had no idea what his price may have been, clearly none of his new household were well moneyed. That went with the furnishings, but not the real estate.

“I will do everything that I can to be worthy of your investment. I will defend your person, house, and interests with my life and make utmost use of my meager skills for your betterment.”

Having survived because of, or perhaps in spite of, his aggressive curiosity, Seth decided to speak further. “May I ask why you have chosen to acquire me?”

Morgan was feeling the exhaustion which had first brought him to his rooms earlier that morning. “We'll talk about all that later, right now I need to sleep. Your stuff is over there. Get dressed. Then try to make yourself useful, but do not leave this suite. I don't know how long I'll be sleeping. Talk to Liane if you have any questions.”

Morgan got to his feet and headed off to bed.

Seth waited until Morgan reached his room and noted its location. Then he went to examine the bundle of gear Tor had sent over. Everything that he had brought to the school was there, and Seth put back on the clothes that had been taken from him at the kennels.

* * *

The habits of work found Seth and drove him back to the tub room. He looked at the towel he had worn, and the one he had dried himself with and decided to start with doing some laundry. He tracked Liane down in the kitchen and waited patiently at the door for her to acknowledge him. He watched her feeding her daughter and a protective instinct rose in him. He was puzzled to find a strange expectant feeling tinged with doom welling up in him. He didn't know where it came from. He already felt that he could find a place for himself in this strange family, but the feeling of something threatening farther off loomed over him momentarily. Then it was gone.

“Yes Seth?” Liane had finally realized he was waiting for her to speak.

“I ... thought I might see if the laundry, or perhaps something else, needs to be done.”

Liane was a naturally sensitive person, and knew that Seth was groping for a starting place in a, perhaps vast, unknown.

“Actually, I think a better place for you to start is the porch.”

Liane took him back to the main room and out through curtained glass doors onto a wide stone terrace. Early fall, and years of neglect, had visited the trees and planter boxes. A litter of dried and drying leaves covered a smattering of windblown dirt which in turn blanketed the entire scene. Ancient stone benches sat slightly askew all along the margin between stone and earth, and a disused fire-brick platform was overgrown with withered vines.

“This runs all along the south wall here but we don't use it as much as I'd like. The boys keep promising, but they never get out here and take care of it. There are some tools in there.” She pointed to a small wooden door in the outer wall. “Just do whatever you can.” She gave Seth a resigned, perhaps even commiserating look and headed back into the house.

Seth went back into the common room and traded his shirt for a pair of heavy cloth work gloves. His pants were a medium canvas that belied the wear they had already seen, and his boots were both tough and broken-in enough for the job. Re-equipped and already formulating a plan of attack, he investigated the tool locker.

He knew as soon as he tried to open the door that the pickings would be lean. He'd give two silver if anything in there had been touched in the last year. The lathe tines of the rake were rotted through and the hoe was rusted and useless. He emptied everything out of the tiny closet, spiders and all, and sorted through the mess. A reasonably serviceable broom, a reparable pair of hand shears, a small gardeners fork and trowel were the only things worth keeping. His natural fondness for tools set his head wagging slowly at the waste.

Nothing made sense here. This land, this structure, was amazing. It all spoke of money or position, but so far the people were just average in means and demeanor.

Starting with the shears Seth visited each planter box and quickly cut and sectioned the overgrowth, not bothering to carry it away once it was free. The remains of decorative plants run amok interwove themselves with the weeds and windblown opportunists. The soil underneath had been sucked dry of nutrients, leaving a dense crusty plaque of dust in the stone basins.

Seth looked at everything as he worked. The stonework was old but unflinchingly sound. The high hills and subtle sharpness of the walls of the vale would make it damn hard to get into the place, while the shape of the land afforded a sense of openness. And the glass, it was everywhere. But when he looked into the rooms there was just stuff, the cheap everyday items of a small family.

After he had visited, pruned, and generally cut free each of the planters he started in with the broom, systematically sweeping the dirt and debris to the far edge of the flagstones. He was part-way through his third pass, digging weeds out from the cracks in the massive stonework floor when he noticed the light was getting ready to fade. He was on his knees, straightening up to stretch the kinks out of his back when he realized that he was looking straight into Morgan's room.

Morgan was asleep on his back, his head upside-down, lolling over the edge of his bed. He had clearly been exhausted since he was above the bedclothes and still fully dressed. Seth really hadn't thought about his future when he had served his Lady. That, in turn, had been replaced by the general dread of sitting in the cage and being owned by a place more than a person. Now he was staring at his new world, in there on that bed, and for the first time he wondered what kind of person this stranger was. He wasn't good at reaching out. He'd never really had to before, and nothing felt permanent any more. The whole thing was paralyzing.

For a moment panic rose up from the hidden places, freezing Seth in place. Seth's entire life was hazards, disasters, and violence. Now he was what? gardening? Morgan was probably his same age but he was so... young. This wasn't right. It wasn't safe. There was no way this innocent would be able to protect himself, let alone Seth, from the fate that haunted Seth's every action.

Seth stared through the window, arms hanging loose at his side. He just knelt there watching Morgan sleep for a while. An air of soothing earthiness seemed to surround the sleeping man. His short-cropped hair was a deep lustrous brown with tiny glints of finer blond hair showing through. His skin was fair from spending too much time indoors, but had the unmistakable gold and olive-slate undertone that promised it would brown instantly in the sun. Morgan's hopelessly mixed ancestry was in no way contradictory to the subtle ubiquitous clues about how he lived his life. The room was casually messy and had no hangings or art that might tie him to any particular station or heritage. He was a prime product of the long bland mixing of both blood and culture that the anonymous masses both suffered and enjoyed.

But there were no wards. No armor. No walls. With all this glass facing a ground floor patio it was like even mundane precautions were utterly absent. The doors here didn't even have locks. Was it possible there really was no danger?

Everything here was absurd. This couldn't be right.

A blurry frame of overcast late afternoon light crept slowly up Morgan's face from hairline to chin. The simultaneously spreading and dimming light slowly penetrated Morgan's sleep while Seth knelt there lost in contemplation. Morgan's face slowly squinched up as the setting sun burrowed into his dreams. Morgan's mobile features, made ridiculous by the temporary lack of eyebrows, dragged an epic grin up out of Seth's deeper reaches. The panic fled. There was the briefest sense that things might be good here.

Morgan opened his left eye to the sun and Seth shifted slightly to cover Morgan with his shadow. Morgan refocused on Seth and caught and shared his grin without knowing why.

When Morgan moved the spell of the moment was broken. Seth bowed his head in deference and turned back towards his work. His grin shifting to a slight grimace. There was no point in assuming that this man would even think twice about him once he had what he wanted.

* * *

Dusk overtook Seth quickly, and he headed back inside.

Liane was in the front room playing with Shiea when Seth entered, the tiniest corner of his mind envied them that. Just as that feeling nudged him, Liane looked up and saw Seth was bare-chested and bright red. She sprung to her feet and squealed “Seth!”

Seth froze, guilty and embarrassed for his envy, and feeling his moment of wellbeing shatter.

“You were outside all that time with no shirt on? Are you insane? You must be burnt to a crisp!”

Seth bowed his head, sheepishly relieved. Was that it? Concern? For him? “No lady, uh, Liane, I don't burn, or tan. At least I haven't yet.”

As he stepped out of the ruddy sunset and into the common, Liane saw the deep redness that had panicked her washed away by the even light from the lamps. Under the ink his skin was still the same even, healthy white it had always been.

Liane was amazed, even shocked. She was naturally dark but she knew that five hours on a white stone terrace, even with the overcast, would burn her bad enough to need a doctor or healer. Someone with Seth's milk-white skin should be near dead. She reached up and tentatively touched his shoulder top, still expecting him to flinch in pain. There simply was no burn.

“Strange...” She let her hand drop. She went back towards her seat, then noticed Seth hadn't moved. He was waiting for her permission, or instructions. She turned to face him, put her fists on her hips, and waited right back at him. With his head bowed his long black hair fell forward and obscured most of his face.

It had been easy to be bold to a stranger from behind bars. But here and now anything might be a risk. Things, feelings, they were changing too often and too fast. He glanced up from the floor quickly and then back down again without moving his head. Then looked up and met her gaze as best he could through his hair. She kept her pose, lifting one eyebrow at him, and kept waiting. What was the right move? Finally he lifted his head, not all the way, but far enough to satisfy Liane.

Sternly, without yelling, Liane started, “I will not stand for...” Seth ducked his head down again.

“No, you look a me.” Seth looked back up at her, hunching his head down and shoulders up protectively. No clue what was really happening and no yardstick of similar experience to measure the moment.

“I will not stand for that behavior in this house. It's too damn much work to have you demanding my attention for your every move. I expect to be able to relax in my own home, so you act like human being in here, got it?”

“Yes lad..., uh Li.., um, yes ma'am.” Seth was stuck, he didn't know whether to move, or stand, or what.

“Well? Do whatever you were doing before I stopped you. Go on... scat!”

Seth, on the edge of bolting, went quickly back towards the bath room. That hadn't been where he was going, but it was the only other place in the house he really knew. Walking down the hall he yanked his gloves off and wadded them up in his fist. As he entered the bath room he threw them as hard as he could at the sink then sank down against a wall. Everything was already so different here. Nothing was what it was supposed to be. There was nothing to fight, no threat to guard against, no endless list of work that needed doing.

Seth rested his elbows on his raised knees, head bowed, left hand on his collar and right hand at the bridge of his nose, pinching back a sting that threatened tears. Water splashed in the tub and Seth sprang up to ready himself to fight, and cracked his head on the underside of a stone shelf instead. In that moment between impact and pain, Seth recognized Morgan. Still no threat. Seth made a fist in his own hair to fight the coming pain and went back to sitting on the floor, defeated by the situation.

Morgan, oblivious to Seth's situation, had innocently ducked his head under water just before Seth had reached the bath. Seth's almost graceful rise, ending as it did with a teeth-gnashing thunk, didn't even have a chance to startle Morgan before it set him laughing. Seth joined him. His own laugh somewhat thickened by the growing threat of tears for each of confusion, embarrassment, and pain.

Morgan looked down over the edge of the tub. “Are you all right?”

“No.” Seth groaned, caught between laughing and crying.

Morgan got out of the tub and wrapped himself with a towel without bothering to dry himself. He squatted down next to Seth, dripping water all over him. “Here, let me look at it.”

Morgan pried Seth's hand away from his head and saw blood.

“You're bleeding, I better get Liane.”

“No... please don't, she's really mad at me.”

“All right, let me see what I can do.” Morgan was a powerful adept, but healing had never been his strong suit. He reached inside himself for healing energies and then out towards the gash... and missed. Failure was what he half expected would happen, so he pulled himself back from the flow of power.

Morgan shifted to the more mundane but reliable approach. “We better wash that out so that I can see how bad it is.”

Morgan led Seth to the sink, and then opened the sluice. With the lightest touch of his mind, he made a slight adjustment of the heating spells, turning the pouring water blood warm.

Sitting Seth on a small stool, Morgan made him lean his head back over the sink.

It took Morgan a while to find the cut. He had to keep rinsing the blood away while trying to separate the right bunch of hair. By the time he found the cut the bleeding was already beginning to slow. The cut was smaller than he thought it'd be. Scalp wounds can be extra bloody that way.

“Here, that's not so bad.” Morgan got a washcloth off a shelf, “keep pressure on it, and rinse this out every so often and I think it'll stop bleeding in a few minutes.”

Seth pressed the warm, wet towel against his split scalp. Morgan shucked his towel and got back into the tub. Seth turned around to lean over the sink. He noticed his gloves clogging the drain and fished them out with his left hand. Silence descended and Seth went back to feeling like an idiot.

Finally Morgan said, “So why is Liane mad at you?”

“I'm not really sure.” Seth said, forgetting himself and his station, he proceeded to tell Morgan about the brief encounter in excruciating detail, leaving out only the moment of envy.

“That not really anger but, I see her point. None of us in this house come from money or high station. Having someone hanging on your every word, literally waiting on you, is kind of intrusive. It's like having someone staring at you. It'll make you tense.”

“I've spent my life serving Lady Korane. I knew her well enough to know when to move and when to wait. To everybody else I am just a slave, and I've lived the habits of a slave all my life. Now Liane wants me to suddenly be someone else. I don't think I know how.”

“Is how you acted with Liane the same as how you would have acted towards Lady Korane.”

“No. I knew my lady so well that following her will was second nature to me.”

“Treat Liane like you would have treated Lady Korane.”

“It's not that simple, my Lady was like a mother to me, and I served her so long that I knew her needs almost as well as she did. If I knew Liane as well as I knew my Lady, things would have gone very differently. If Liane had known me as well as my Lady had, she wouldn't have stopped me and nothing would have happened at all.”

“That makes sense I suppose.” Morgan stopped to think, and Seth rinsed out the bloody cloth and re-applied it to his head.

“How about this,” Morgan continued, “why don't you just treat all of us like peers instead of free men.”

The thought was appalling. “That would not be appropriate.”

“None of us in this house would mind.”

And that idea didn't even make sense. “I didn't even treat my Lady as a peer, and if others see that kind of familiarity from me it would harm your reputation and possibly get me killed. Besides, you are my lord and master. I couldn't serve you if I treat you like an equal.”

“Points taken. How about this, you treat every member of this house, except me, like an equal when you are in this house, or otherwise in private with them.”

“Yes sir. Except as ordered sir.” As the pain and embarrassment subsided Seth began to remember his place, he'd have to figure out what those orders really meant as he went along. He'd never really had peers. Fear or station had always been in the way.

“Okay, now as for myself, don't `sir' me too much in private. My name is Morgan, use that.”

“Yes Morgan.” At least that didn't feel so strange, even a first name could be formal.

“Uh, and sparingly... Address me in the familiar or informal okay? I need to be relaxed to do my work, that formal nonsense makes me feel like I'm someone else.”

Seth felt himself touch a corner of familiar ground. Lady Korane charged him much the same way for much the same reason. It was something he could do, something normal.

“I was body guard and personal assistant to my Lady. Should I fulfill these roles for you also?”

“Sure. But I don't know how much guarding I need, and don't be too obvious about it.”

“What about the rest of your household.” Seth rinsed his rag again, satisfied to see that there was much less blood on it this time.

“This isn't `my household.' Liane, Mieka, and I have been friends since we met as freshmen. We threw our lot in together early on. Then they got married and had Shiea. We are like a family, but there is no rank between us. Except that Liane seems to run things around here more than anybody.” Morgan chuckled at that inside joke.

Seth checked the rag again. “I've stopped bleeding.”

The sluice suddenly ran cold so Seth closed the gate.

“I'll need to be shown around your affairs to learn my duties, at your convenience of course, Morgan.”

“Sure.” Morgan settled in for a soak and Seth dismissed himself.

* * *

Back in the main room Seth began to look through his stuff for an appropriate change of clothes. He studiously ignored mother and child, unwilling to revisit any feelings about anything whatsoever.

Liane came over and apologized to him. “I'm sorry about before. I wasn't really angry at you, I was just trying to make my point.”

“I understand Liane, Morgan explained it all to me.”

“Oh really?” Her tone was hard for Seth to guess, but he looked her in the eyes and saw a gentle humor there that explained everything.

“This stuff can't stay here, and I can't have you changing in the front room all the time.” Liane looked back at the rest of the suite. “Morgan bought you, he'll have to live with you. You're in his room from now on, I'll show you where it is. Move your stuff in when you get the chance.”

“No need, I know where it is Liane.” He quickly repacked his gear, lifted what had taken three slaves to deliver as if it were nothing, and took it all back to his master's room.