Gentle Chains (The Eleyi Saga Book 1) (9 page)

“Bathroom is through there”—he points at a different door—“but we share
it with Kevan and his trainee.”

I glance at him. “Do either of them want to kill me?”

He laughs. “No. Right now, you’re safe.” He pauses, watching me, and I
meet his gaze steadily as he asks, “Why did you hesitate?”

“He didn’t have a weapon,” I answer.

Kristoff shakes his head, anger spiking in him. “He’s fodder, Brielle.
You need to understand that, and accept it. If you hesitate every time you run
across fodder, you’ll be blood on someone’s sword.”

I bite back the urge to tell him I can’t kill the innocent or unarmed.
Because for a heartbeat, I’m not sure it’s true. What
am
I willing to do to survive? Juhan’s promise echoes through me
and I look down.

“Tomorrow Primus will assign you to trainers who match your level of
skill. They’ll work you harder than I do, but they’ll take into account what I
think.”

“And what
do
you think?” I
ask, forcing myself to focus on him and not what they’ll demand of me.

“Argot bought you with the intent of having you train his beasts. But
you will appeal to the arena. What if we gave them a show no one’s ever seen?”

I arch a brow, hooking the chair with my foot and dragging it to me.
Exhaustion tugs at me, and the thought that tomorrow will bring more savagery
makes my head ache.

“I want you to ride the draken,” he says quietly.

I blink up at Kristoff, startled and sure I’ve heard wrong. “Excuse me?”

“You’d be untouchable up there,” he explains. “And you’re strong enough,
psychically, to train them.”

I frown, interrupting him. “How do you know that?”

“I had Catelyn test your psychic strength a few days ago.”

Anger flares in me, red hot fury at the invasion without my consent.
Kristoff is oblivious, staring at me with expectant eyes, crackling with
excitement. “So, what do you think?”

“I think it’s a mad plan,” says a drawling voice and both of us look up.
A Pente with an amused smile is watching us from the bathroom door, his green
eyes warm on Kristoff. A Sinese male lingers behind him.


Kevan
,” Kristoff breathes,
and I’m shocked by the sudden spike in his feelings—love, affection, a sense of
belonging that screams
home
.

I glance between the two, and understanding fills me.

“Why don’t we give you some space?” I suggest and slide past Kevan.
“Come on, you.”

Pulling the Sinese along, I let the bathroom door slide shut behind us.
Then I stare at the slave I’ve just locked myself away with, and I hope he’s
not hiding a blade somewhere. He’s humanoid, with the inky dark skin of all his
people, and silky hair that is tied back into a long braid. Large, warm eyes
gaze at me curiously. “I’m Jemes,” he says shyly, and I relax.

“Brielle,” I say, almost choking on the name.

 
He eyes the door behind me and
then: “They are lovers?”

“Apparently,” I say dryly. He’s holding his bandaged arm gingerly, and I
motion at it, “How bad?”

“Not very. I yielded before they gave me a concussion.” He pauses, then:
“You did very well. I thought Eleyi were pacifists by nature.”

I laugh. “Being sold into slavery and branded and shipped half a galaxy
away from home will cure you of that. And I was always too temperamental to be
a good pacifist.”

He looks uncomfortable suddenly and I cock my head, going over what
little history I know of Sine. A quiet planet, not particularly vital to the
IPS, but protected by them. So how is he a slave? “Aren’t the Sinese part of
the Interplanetary Senate?”

He nods, swallowing. So he is protected by law from the slavers. I don’t
push. The details of how he came to be here are irrelevant. The fact is he is a
slave bought and branded as much as I am.

“How long do you think they’ll be?” he asks, nodding at the door.

I shrug. A yawn threatens and I blink, suddenly so exhausted I sway.
 I nod at the bed. “Do you want it?”

He shakes his head, his aura radiating quiet kindness. “You look like
you need it more.”

I muster a smile at that and tug a blanket free, throwing it to Jemes.
Hopefully Kevan doesn’t mind. Then I curl on my side, heedless of the blood
still staining my skin, tangled in my hair, and surrender to the siren song of
sleep.

 

Too soon, a hand shakes me awake.

I curl deeper into the pillow, for hazy moment lost between waking and
dreaming. Then it crashes down on me—this isn’t home, isn’t my hammock, isn’t
my brother waking me. I roll over, coming to my feet. Jemes is gone; Kristoff
grins at me, something easy and relaxed about him now. “You need a shower,
Brielle.”

I nod, and he goes into the bathroom, toying with the control panel.
“Hurry, girl. Dinner begins in thirty minutes.”

I nod again, waiting until he closes the door behind him before
stripping and stepping under the spray.

Hidden by water and the sliding door, I allow myself the rare luxury of
thinking of home. Of Juhan’tr. I wonder where he is. Cautiously, I lower my
mental walls. I feel the psychic brush of the Eleyi around me, and the pain and
anger and desperation in the Others. Deeper is the primal, almost
indecipherable thoughts of the hukron and feline premtha and giant, apish garilia.
And the draken.

But not my brother. Tears sting my eyes, and I swear. Hit the command
for the soap and scrub at my skin until I feel raw and all thoughts of Juhan
have been safely stowed away.

When the water swirling at my feet finally runs clear, I step out. My
wings feel heavy and useless lying against my back, a feeling I loathe. I try
to ignore it as I rummage in my bag and dress quickly in a loose, synthetic
linen shirt and pants.

Kristoff is waiting, an expectant look on his face. I consider his
earlier suggestion as we walk through the jakta.

“Do you think I would survive the arena?” I ask him abruptly.

He glances at me sideways. “Maybe. For a while. But long enough to earn
emancipation? No.”

“Why not?”

“You’re small. Your wings are lovely but they’re an added target. You
may surprise them for a while, but eventually the other gladiators would figure
you out. And then you’d be another bloody corpse.”

“But if I try your mad plan?”

He frowns. “If you do that”—he steers me through a throng of gladiators—“technically
you’re a beastboy. Your entire job would be to care for the beasts. But you’re
also a spectacle, and the audiences and patrons love spectacle. You would be
given advantages in the arena, because your fights are riskier. But spectacles
draw patrons, and that will put you closer to emancipation.”

“How risky is it?” I ask, a little surprised by how much I’m considering
the idea.

He grins at me. “It’s not much more risky than facing three glads twice
your size. And after today’s assessment, you’ll never be
just
a beastboy. You’re too savage to keep you off the sands.”

We step into the crowded dining hall, the noise and smell assaulting me.
And the emotions—so many not held in check that I clench my teeth, trying to
ride out the suffocating wave. This is not my forte, though. All my life, I
have been surrounded by minds who lived behind walls and a brother who was
strong enough to shield us both. An ache blossoms in my chest, throbbing in
rhythm with the one in my head.

Kristoff keeps a hand on my elbow, pulling me forward when I lag, until
I find myself sitting next to him. As I force the emotions to recede, I
register a plate of food: a lump of mashed vegetable drizzled with cheese and a
thick, dark sauce, a large piece of meat still on the bone, skin crispy with
spices, a small pile of fruit, and a slice of bloody roast. Jemes is watching
me curiously, Kevan ignoring me as he talks to Kristoff.

My brother swore he’d find me. But I have to survive the jakta long
enough to let him. Determination fills me and I catch my mentor’s eye as I cut
into the roast.
 
“All right. We’ll try
your mad plan.”

 
 
 
 
 

Chapter
12

 

Juhan’tr

 
 

I WANDER THE GROUNDS idly, my wings fanning the warm air.

Who ever heard of a slave bored to death? I glance up, almost
involuntarily, searching the sky. I can’t feel her. Wherever she is, Chosi is
too far for me to feel anything other than a distant pressure in the base of my
skull, throbbing like a toothache, or a heartbeat that isn’t wholly mine, but
could never be separate from me.

I miss her. Endless afternoons of walking in gardens and lounging in
libraries and napping in the soft breeze has reinforced two things: if left on
my own, my thoughts will turn to my sister. And I miss her so much it hurts to
breathe. Tin’s been busy chasing down the slaver queen’s network, but he says
it will be a while before he’s broken her firewall. Sadi is kept busy by her
family, which is fine—it’s easier to pretend to care for her when I don’t have
to do it constantly.

A clatter of noise jars me from my thoughts, and I glance around. I’ve
wandered from the gardens, nearer to the house itself. One of the large shuttle
bay doors is open, and I glance inside.

Tinex and Brando are dancing around the open floor, silent and violent,
intent on each other as they spar with sticks, bricks, fists, anything they can
find. It’s savage and brutal and I wince as Brando delivers a vicious kick to
Tin’s unprotected side and the breath whooshes out of him. I expect Brando to
pause, give him time to recover, but the older man pushes forward, pressing Tin
down and keeping him there with a series of quick kicks. Tin flinches back, and
then a hand darts out and catches Brando’s black boot, twisting sharply. Brando
drops, rolling lithely, springing away and to his feet. But the time it
takes—seconds, no more—gives Tin the time he needs to find his feet and level a
razor sword at the other man.

For the first time, something like a smile turns Brando’s lips, touching
his eyes. “You’ve been practicing,” he acknowledges, nudging the blade down
with a finger.

Tin drops it and nods. “I said I would.”

Something flickers between them, an unspoken exchange that makes me
uneasy.

“And him,” Brando says, a very slight question in the words, as his gaze
flicks to me and away. The Senator’s bodyguard—for lack of a better title,
since none has been given to him—still has not spoken to me directly. “Can he protect
her, or is he simply a pretty game the lady is playing?”

My anger rises, but Tin answers before I have a chance. “Juhan has
protected her as well as can be expected with no training.”

“So not at all, then.” Brando pulls his shirt off, wiping his face with
it. “If he cannot protect her, then he is a hindrance—another body for you to
guard. Fix it.”

He walks away without saying anything else. I watch him go, a little
irritated. “What was that?” I ask.

Tin shrugs. “Brando takes Sadi’s security seriously.”

“That’s your job, not mine,” I say, glancing at him. The bodyguard gives
me a slow smirk and I shake my head. “I’m not learning to fight, Tinex. I’m a
pacifist.”

He pauses, and I feel his hesitation before he demands, “And did that
work well for you, when the slavers came? When they stole your sister and
branded you?”

I glare at him, and he pushes me, gaining ground. His laughter grates my
nerves, and I grit my teeth. “Do you think the Ja will just hand Chosi over to
you? I saw your sister—she’s a pretty little thing, if you don’t mind wings.
I’ll bet Henri Argot doesn’t mind at all.”

He shoves a mental image at me, and I gag.
Chosi tied down as her owner…

I growl, and swing at him wildly. Tin dodges back easily and the image
vanishes. “You’re too open,” he comments, and jabs quickly at my exposed side.
The blow hits like a dull knife thrust, and I suck in a breath, the fight
draining out of me, replaced by grief and pain.

Tin crouches next to me, watching with clinical interest as I wheeze.
“You aren’t her security, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to train. I’ll
discuss it with Sadi.” I open my mouth to protest, but he cuts me off. “This
isn’t a discussion. Get off the ground.”

He pulls me to my feet and stares at me for a moment, then nods, a grim
set to his mouth as he strides away.

 
 

He brings it up as we’re having a late meal later that evening.

It’s just the four of us—Sadi, me, Tin, and Zoe. The Senator is at a
state dinner, accompanied, as always, by Brando and Larkin. I’m cutting a
poached pear into fourths when Tin clears his throat, and the girl’s chatter
dies. Sadi glances at him, questioning.

“I think Juhan should train with me,” Tin says.

Sadi cocks her head, watching me.

“It’s not necessary,” I say, my eyes pleading. If she wants, she can
order me to do this, and I am bound to. Tin’s words from earlier ring in my
ears, and the traitorous thought that maybe it’s not a bad idea surfaces. I
shake it off.

“Why?” Sadi says, spooning a bit of spicy Curandan rice onto her plate.
It makes my eyes sting, even from across the table.

“Brando suggested it,” Tin says casually and both girls tense. “I can’t
protect both of you adequately. If he’s trained, it makes my job easier, and
you
safer.”

“Do I get a vote in this?” I ask, as Sadi chews thoughtfully. Zoe shoots
me an amused—and sympathetic—look.

“Fine,” Sadi finally says, swallowing. “Drills and exercises. He doesn’t
need to spar with you or Brando. And you need to learn Common. And if you see
him, you might want to remind Brando my security isn’t his concern.”

There is censure in her voice, and warning that Tinex ignores. He nods
and looks at me. “We’ll start in the morning.”

“Good. Tomorrow afternoon, you need to be fitted for your suit,” Sadi
tells me, a smile turning her lips.

-My suit?-
I demand silently.

“Daddy is hosting a dinner next week,” Sadi says, reaching for my hand.
Even around her sister, to whom she tells everything, she maintains the facade
that she has presented to her father. And I encourage it. “I have to be there, and
you’re my consort. I need you. Besides, it’s an honor for us to be invited.”

For me, she means. Her invitation was assumed, both as Harvine’s
daughter, and as eldest lady of the house. But for an Eleyi to be invited as a
guest to a state dinner? That is something else entirely.

It is exactly what she wanted.

-Do I have to do this?-
I
plead. -
I don’t want to be a sideshow or the evening’s entertainment.-

Sadi’s eyes are steely as she smiles at me, affectionately. -
I can
hardly go without you.-

It’s a game—I have to play it out, make her believe I’m as committed as
she is. I kiss her hand. “Do you mind if I head to bed early?”

She gives a tiny nod, and I turn to go, her thoughts trailing me. -
This
is for the best, Juhan. You have to meet them to make an impression. And I’ll
be with you.-

Without pausing, I think, -
They hate me. Facing them is easy for
you—just let me get used to the idea.-

 
 

I’m not terribly surprised when she comes to my room later. It’s dark,
and I’m lying on my bed, head propped in my hands as I search for some clue as
to Chosi’s general direction. Sadi stands in the doorway, watching me, for so
long I think she might leave without speaking.

“Can you feel her?” she asks, finally.

I don’t want to answer. This woman bought my servitude, my obedience,
but she has not bought my sister. With effort, I push back my irritation,
reminding myself that Sadi is trying to present the Eleyi in a different light,
a light that could help us. Fighting her won’t help me or Chosi’le.

“It’s complicated. I can feel her soul, but not her thoughts. She’s
there, but too far for me to hear anything or pass on my own emotion. I just
know she’s alive.”

“Does that help?”

“No. Yes.” I shrug. “I suppose. It would be worse to not even have that,
but it’s so little, it’s hard to be grateful.” I sound bitter, and Sadi winces.

She steps into the room, coming to sit on the bed next to me.

I want her to leave. But I need her, and it’s a rare opportunity to find
Sadi alone. I scoot to one side, and she stretches out, curving around and into
me. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to train.”

-Then why force me? You know I’m a pacifist.-

She sighs
. -Because not everyone will care that you are free, or my
consort. They will see an Eleyi and think of the slavers. Just a little
training with Tin can prevent you from being taken again.-

I twist to look at her. -
But this isn’t Tin’s idea. Why does Brando
care so much about your security?-

There it is again, the flash of yearning that she can’t quite hide
before I feel it. If I were weaker psychically, I wouldn’t catch it. Sadi
shivers. “He’s been on Daddy’s staff for ten years—since I was thirteen. I grew
up with him, and for most of that time, Brando worked with my security. For
years, I had a team of bodyguards, but Brando was the one I preferred.”

“Why isn’t he still?” I ask, and she flinches. She sits up, abruptly,
and I run a hand down her arm, letting my presence soothe her, lulling her with
the belief I care. I drop my mental walls and let a tendril of longing wrap
around her. Make myself say, “Don’t go. Please. Forget the question.”

Indecision flickers in her eyes, but she slowly settles back next to me.
We stare at the darkening sky, the tiny blinking lights of shuttles whipping
by, past the estate and into the bright lights of the city. I haven’t ventured
into it. Tomorrow will be my first time leaving the estate grounds. “Tell me
about the kidnapping.”

Her gaze darts to mine. “I didn’t realize you knew about that.”

I shrug. Even on Eleyiar, we heard of the kidnapping of Senator
Harvine’s daughter. Especially on Eleyiar, which has always had the goodwill of
New Earth’s favorite politician.

And it’s been on the surface of her mind for a few days.

She shudders, a deep breath, but there is relief in her, a heartbeat of
gratitude that I am not pursuing the topic of Brando. I file the information
away for later use.

“It was right after Daddy was elected to the Senate. Everyone knew it
was coming—abolitionists from every planet were supporting him, and slavers
were screaming for his head, but the fact is that Daddy has always been popular
on New Earth, and when the seat opened on the IPS, it was just a matter of time
before he was elected. But the slavers knew he was going to be staunchly
against slavery, arguing specifically for Eleyi rights. They made threats—they
sent comm mail, bombs, and warnings to the press. Daddy knew that if he held
his anti-slavery position, they’d come after his family.” A proud smile turns
her lips. “But he never caved to terrorist threats, and he wasn’t changing his
ideals just to protect me or Zoe. He hired Brando and a team of bodyguards. Brando
was actually a low ranking one.”

“What happened?”

“Daddy proposed a bill limiting IPS funds to any slave owners, which hit
most labor unions hard. It was gaining a foothold in the Senate. Everyone said
it was going to pass. I was snatched from my boarding school at night. They
killed one of my bodyguards, and left Brando stunned—I think they thought he
was dead.” She smiles, a bitter smile. “He tracked me. I don’t know, even now,
how he did it—he won’t tell me. But I was with the slavers for almost a week,
and we were in deep space, and then he was there. I was being drugged, so I
don’t remember much, but I remember Brando carrying me through the halls of
their ship. I remember him covered in blood, telling me not to look, stepping
over dead bodies, and taking me home.” Her voice is soft, her psyche so full of
emotion it makes my head ache, and I almost tell her to stop. “We came home and
Daddy put him in charge of my security, even though he was only five years
older than me. And no one has ever come close to hurting me since then.”

She smiles, a weak smile, and I see what I
feel
leaking from behind her mental walls. Surprise and knowledge
spins through me, and I shove it down before Sadi recognizes it in my eyes. She
gives herself a little shake, sitting up on my bed, one leg crossed under her.
“So that’s that. Do you think we can get lunch while we’re out tomorrow? It
could help, to see us out and about together.”

Dully, I nod. Without warning, she leans forward, and brushes a kiss on
my cheek, soft as butterfly wings. I force myself not to flinch from her as she
whispers, “Good night, Juhan.”

After she is gone, I glance out the window, pulled by soft voices
drifting on the night. The Senator is home, walking toward the house in deep
discussion with Larkin. Trailing them, his eyes on the windows, is Brando.

Sadi loves him. That much is obvious from her words, her silent flashes
of yearning.

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