414: Mercy Granting

on September 28, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Amaranth Turns Down Work

It had been a surreal evening… spending time in my submissive space left me feeling detached from anything that wasn’t Amaranth or myself. The knowledge of all the money she had tucked away wasn’t helping me to wrap my head around it any better… money that was mine, ours.

I could find no fault in her reasoning about how the platinum had ended up in there, but that aside there was no doubt in my mind that she had been the one who earned the windfall. I couldn’t have put on an erotic display on my own if my life had depended on it… or rather, even though my life had depended on it.

It wasn’t like I could argue with her when she said she didn’t want it, though. Anyway, it seemed like her own legal status was a little murkier than she’d thought. If she put a bunch of money in the bank, would it belong to her, or to Paradise Valley?

And what would all this mean, in terms of any future we might have together? I’d assumed that most of the potential pitfalls there would come from me… from my nature, from what I am, but if Amaranth was not wholly her own person then it might be that she wasn’t free to plan her own future at all.

On the other hand, maybe Paradise Valley needed an enchanter.

There wouldn’t be a lot of money there, but assuming they could tolerate me… and that I could tolerate whatever stray divine energy might be permeating the place… it could bring its own form of security.

It was something more to think about, but we had literally years ahead of us to figure it out in. There was no sense getting too worried about what a farming commune would make of our relationship when we’d already resolved to stand up to a goddess, if need be.

“You got all quiet, baby,” Amaranth said. “Well, quieter… you’re not thinking about the money, are you?”

“No,” I said. “The future.”

“Good,” Amaranth purred. “I’ve been thinking more about the present lately, myself. We’ve got our share of problems in front of us… but there’s a path through them, if only we take the time to find it.”

She smiled at me, and we both reached for each other’s hand, then walked out together.

The atmosphere in the club had changed. This had probably begun before, but it was really noticeable. There were more people, and a larger number of them were doing more than standing around and talking or watching. More little scenes were being played out all around us and it seemed like the people who weren’t explicitly doing anything were now more in character or in scene or whatever. A lot of the same faces that had looked polite or friendly were now blank or stern or commanding or adoring.

It was the people who were in obviously submissive postures that I found myself looking at… the looks on their faces were nothing like the haunted, hunted look Mercy’s half-demon slave had worn. I saw contentment, security, excitement… not all three at once, at least not in equal measure. Some of them looked more relaxed than I could have imagined feeling in a social setting, even one that didn’t involve fetish gear and public displays.

“Come on, baby,” Amaranth said, tugging my hand. “Let’s see about getting you fed and getting back to Ian. I’m sure you’ll get a chance to meet some of these folks, if that’s what you want.”

Meet them?

Amaranth simply handled it in her usual direct and cheerful fashion.

“Hi!” she said to the bartender. “Do you sell virgin blood?”

“Well, we have some,” she said. “It’s private stock, though. We have regular blood in human, elven mix, and dwarven.”

“Elven mix?” I repeated.

“Pure blooded elves don’t have a lot of reason to sell their blood,” she said. “But our elven mix is sourced to individuals who are at least fifty percent elven. Would you like to try it?”

“Um…” I said, stalling mostly to block out the surprisingly strong urge to say yes. I’d had a little taste of Steff’s blood before… it hadn’t exactly been nutritious, as far as that went, but it had been sort of interesting.

“Some people like elven blood because they think it extends the lifespan,” the bartender said. “Would you like to try it?”

“No, thank you… we don’t drink blood recreationally,” Amaranth said. “Do you think that we could make an inquiry with whoever owns the virgin blood? We might be able to come up with an interesting trade…”

“Oh, I don’t think they’re here tonight,” the bartender said. “Big crowds aren’t exactly…”

“That will be fine, Berenice,” the unmistakable voice of Mercy said. Her body caught up with it a moment later. “Javier’s a friend of mine. Give them a glass from his cask and I’ll replace it.”

“Yes, Mistress,” the bartender said.

“You should probably let me pour it,” Mercy said. “Otherwise this could get… unfortunate.”

“How about I pour it?” Amaranth said.

Mercy held the small barrel out to her, but the smirk on her face stopped Amaranth midway through reaching for it.

“If you think that flesh you’re wearing isn’t human enough to set her off, then by all means,” Mercy said.

“Be my guest, Mistress Mercy,” Amaranth said.

Mercy took the little crystal goblet and glided down towards the end of the counter with it. She popped open the cask and poured out a small amount of dark liquid. I was moving without an invitation, from herself or myself.

There had to be some preservation magic in the barrel for it to just pour out like that… if nothing else, it was warmer than it had any right to be. Warm and delicious and sweet on my tongue.

I missed Mercy moving around me to go talk to Amaranth, but when I’d finished feeding… and felt a really pleasant sensation of relief spreading out through my body… they were consulting quietly at the other end of the bar.

“Baby,” Amaranth said to me when she saw that she had my attention. “I need to go discuss a few things with Mistress Mercy. Wait right there for me until I return, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. If I had been closer, I might have asked what she was up to or why she thought it was a good idea to go off with Mercy, but it would have felt horribly improper to have that conversation across the distance, and she had told me to wait where I was.

The air in the club smelled the same as it had before: all sweat and sex and blood, with magic crackling around. I closed my eyes and drank it in. The blood had relieved a need within me, but if anything, it had only awakened a stronger urge to feed.

Everything around me smelled delicious. I couldn’t do anything to block it out.

Well, I could just enjoy the smell… and I did.

I knew Amaranth was coming before she reached my side or spoke. Her scent cut through the crowd like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds. I caught another fleeting impression of her name-trace… maybe it was always there and I just didn’t notice.

“Okay, baby,” she said. “There’s a coach coming for us… the dispatcher said it wouldn’t take a minute. Let’s wait until we’re in it before you ask, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. I didn’t have to ask what she meant or why. Having a private conversation about an elf was a tricky proposition.

We stopped just outside the main floor so Amaranth could give me back my street clothes, which I put on quickly… it was so cold in the hall, I didn’t know how the hobgoblins could stand to go shirtless. I zipped up my coat and threw as much energy as I could into shielding myself from the cold. I seemed to have a bunch of it to spare… the insulating spell snapped shut around me like a bear trap, shutting out the icy draft so completely that it seemed like someone had slammed the door at the top of the stairs.

Once outside, we didn’t have to wait. A commercial carriage pulled up to the curb right as we got outside.

“So… what did she want?” I asked Amaranth.

“What doesn’t she want?” Amaranth said. “From me, though… well, she was actually offering me a job.”

“I thought she didn’t want to tempt divine wrath,” I said.

“Oh, not that… that’s what I thought she was going to be driving at, at first, but no, she wanted me to work with her half-demon slaves,” Amaranth said.

“What?” I said.

“She thinks that I might have something she’s missing,” Amaranth said. “That’s how she puts it… ‘something she’s missing’. I could think of a few things, personally. I told her no, of course… I would like to think that I could improve their lives a little by showing them the sort of kindness that Mercy doesn’t… but, well, I couldn’t give them the help they really need as long as they’re Mercy’s slaves. And I have a responsibility to you, and to myself. She’s talking about a full-time position of indefinite length… she said she’d pay me enough that I wouldn’t need to worry about school, but I’m not going to MU for money.”

“That sounds like a euphemism for slavery,” I said, remembering Mercy’s remark about not having employees.

“Well, nymphs can’t be enslaved, legally,” Amaranth said. “Which just makes that thing at the door more infuriating. She said it would be a ‘contract job’. Even if I had no other reasons to refuse, I’d want to read that contract very carefully. Anyway, it wasn’t an entire waste of time… I took the opportunity of being alone with Mercy to tell her that in future visits to the club, I’m not going to appreciate it if she bothers my submissive.”

“You… Amaranth, what?”

“What, baby? It needed to be said, and it was probably better said in private,” Amaranth said. “You don’t want her attention. A shiny coin and a bit of blood that we didn’t ask her for doesn’t buy her access to you.”

“But she’s… she’s…”

“What is she?” Amaranth said. “A member? You saw how Master Celyddon flushed when he realized he’d been disrespectful. Mercy is a law-abiding citizen, Mack. No matter how deadly and dangerous she is to people in chains that the law won’t protect from her, she can’t really do much to us. I doubt she’ll even throw any petty, lawful retribution our way… it’s in her interests for us to like her, no matter how unlikely that is. I doubt she even sees it as a slight against her. She saw an unexpected opportunity to get closer to you and she tried to take it.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said. “She seems like a bad person to underestimate.”

“I really hate to say it, but she seems like a bad person, period,” Amaranth said. Her hands twitched, clenching and unclenching at her sides. I was surprised she wasn’t digging her nails into her skin, as she usually did when she was this upset. “If she isn’t going to respect our boundaries, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to go play at the club again. Not that there aren’t other issues in that place… but then, the membership seems pretty diverse. There’s good as well as bad there. Anyway, baby, I did learn something that you might find interesting.”

“Disturbing, maybe, but I’m really not that curious about Mercy,” I said.

“It’s not about Mercy,” Amaranth said. “The dispatcher from the carriage company? She was a Ceridwen.”

“So, it’s a surprisingly popular local name,” I said. “I knew that.”

Even sitting beside her, I could picture the way Amaranth’s face twisted up in a frown as I finished talking.

“You sure got cranky in a hurry, missy,” she said. “If wearing street clothes makes you forget your manners, maybe we need to have a conversation about your wardrobe.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” I said, dropping my head.

“Anyway, the interesting thing wasn’t that her name was Ceridwen,” Amaranth said. “I told her that I liked the name and asked her where it came from.”

“And what did she say?” I asked.

“Well, she said it was a family name… yes, I know you already knew that, baby, don’t look so impatient,” she said. “She said it was a family name, that was handed down in honor of an ancestor who fought to preserve faerie groves… probably that same woman that Ian found in the history book, I’d guess.”

“It is interesting to have that confirmed, more or less,” I said. “But that still doesn’t really explain why the family is still honoring her.”

“No, but I didn’t really want to dig any more,” Amaranth said. “She was pretty forthcoming to begin with… I didn’t want to seem rude by keeping her in the frame for longer.”

“Well, thank you for asking for me,” I said.

“You’re very welcome, baby,” Amaranth said. “And good job, thinking to say that… anyway, I’m all in favor of healthy curiosity, but I still don’t understand why this is so important to you.”

“I… I don’t really know if I can put it into words any better than I have,” I said. “I’m just trying to understand.”

“Puddy’s behavior isn’t likely to be explained by something that happened long before she was born,” Amaranth said.

“I know that,” I said. “Intellectually, I mean… but… well, I think I’d still kind of be interested even without Puddy. This is history. Before I came here… before I got all this craziness in my life… this was the sort of thing that interested me. The little untold stories, the puzzles. Anyway, I think it’s good to have something to think about that’s not so dire, you know?”

“Well, like I said… curiosity is a good thing,” Amaranth said. “But there are other things you could be focusing on. You do have actual schoolwork…”

“Which this kind of ties into,” I said, then realized I’d interrupted her. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Amaranth said. “And then there are your relationships with other people.”

“Those already get a lot of my attention,” I said.

“Well, I get a lot of your attention, baby,” Amaranth said. “But Ian kind of has to fight for it, it seems like… I mean, yes, we did have legitimate obligations tonight, but the fact that he was willing to skip his match to come here should tell you something.”

“His match?” I said, and then a memory popped into place: the day before, Ian had asked me if I could come to his match. That had been when I’d first mentioned having something to do… all of that had eventually led to my decision to let him in on what was happening at the club, but in the process I’d forgotten what had started it all.

“Well, I assumed he had one… there was an arena night on the schedule,” Amaranth said. “Did he not mention anything to you?”

“Yeah, he did,” I said. “But I forgot about it… he didn’t mention it at all when he decided to join us.”

“He probably thought you might feel guilty,” Amaranth said. “You saw how determined he was to keep you on target. I’d say it was a wise decision… you really didn’t need another distraction today.”

“No, ma’am,” I agreed.

“He really has done a lot to reach out to you these past two days,” Amaranth said. “If you really like him, baby… and I’m pretty sure that you do… then I think you need to start reaching back.”

I nodded.

“I don’t just mean tonight,” she said. “Though, the physical connection is important. He went above and beyond today… and so did you, baby. You both deserve a reward.”

“I kind of feel like I already got enough out of it,” I said. “I mean, I fucked up, right? That’s why we had to go there… because I did something stupid. And now not only did I avoid the consequences, but I got a ton of money in the process.”

Amaranth laughed.

“I hope that wasn’t the only thing that you found rewarding about this evening,” she said.

“No… no, ma’am,” I said. I blushed. “Far from it.”

“Listen, baby… I hope you don’t take away the wrong lesson from this,” Amaranth said. “You do need to be more careful about things like signing your name to something before you know all the details, and weighing risks… but the reason for that isn’t that being careless will always definitely make something bad happen. If things worked like that, it wouldn’t be so hard to be careful.”

“I guess,” I said.

“We don’t always get rewarded for doing the right thing,” Amaranth said. “And we don’t always get punished… at least not automatically… when we don’t. You get more than your share of bad things you don’t deserve, as far as I’m concerned.”

“So, you’re saying I deserve two platinum and a big bag of coins?” I asked.

“I’m not saying you deserve them, but you do have them,” Amaranth said. “Desert doesn’t enter into it… I think maybe the only way you can be truly deserving of the things life gives you is by what you do with them.”

“That’s… that’s actually an interesting way of thinking about it,” I said. I didn’t agree, but I was picking my words carefully so that I could tell her that without just snapping. “But I’m not sure it’s really practical. I mean, I’ve already got the money, no matter what I do with it… so what does it matter if I’m not ‘deserving’ in how I act with it?”

“Well, think about what you could do with it,” Amaranth said. “If you put it away in a bank for when you really need it, you’ll earn interest and you’ll have a safety net… compare that to if you bought a bunch of junk with it. Or think about what it could do for your life if you used it do good works for others, versus if you spent on illicit potions or something else that could get you into trouble. Good deeds are their own reward, baby, but they can also carry rewards.”

“But they don’t always,” I reminded her.

“That’s still true,” she said. “I’m just saying, they can build on each other. You won’t always catch a break every time you do something nice, but I do believe that things tend that way, and each time is another chance.”

“I guess,” I said.

“So… are you up for this with Ian tonight?” Amaranth asked.

“You’re asking me?”

“Of course, baby,” she said.

“I got the impression you kind of expected me to go through with it,” I said.

“Well, I do expect it,” she said. “He really wants it, and I know you’ll be into it, and it frustrates me to no end how little sex you have even with my encouragement, baby… but it’s still ultimately up to you, and you’ve had a pretty emotional evening.”

“Yeah, I have,” I said. I thought about how I felt… and I had to think about it, because everything felt kind of small and understated after the highs of the club. “I’m not tired,” I said, and that seemed like a good start. “I feel okay. I mean, you know… that was kind of a big release, but I don’t think there’s any reason I couldn’t be up for a little more tonight.”

“Well… I guess the best thing to do is see what happens when we get back to the inn,” Amaranth said.

“What, are you saying you’re going to stand back and let things take their course?” I asked.

“Oh, baby, I think it’ll be better for everybody if I’m giving some hands-on guidance,” she said. “But… I’ll be taking some cues from you, definitely.”

In the end, though, we both took our cues from Ian… who was sound asleep when we got back to the inn room. He was a very sound sleeper, and kind of a cute one, too… not that he wasn’t always pretty good-looking, but there was something about seeing him like that and knowing that he could be such a powerhouse when he was awake.

He had also drooled a tiny bit… not enough to be totally gross, just enough to make the whole thing a little more heart-melting.

Amaranth and I looked at each other. She gave me a wry little smile and shrugged.

“Let’s let him sleep,” she said quietly.

We both climbed into bed and arranged the blankets a little better, and that was how our adventure ended: not with a bang, but with a whisper.


Next Time: Blood in the water.


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6 Responses to “414: Mercy Granting”

  1. tomas says:

    “I’m not saying you deserve them, but you do have them,” Amaranth said. “Desert doesn’t enter into it… I think maybe the only way you can be truly deserving of the things life gives you is by what you do with them.”

    not that Desert would enter into it… but you probably mean Deserve

    Current score: 0
    • Calia says:

      There was actually a discussion on this on the original comments for this chapter… it’s “desert” as in “just deserts”. It’s accurate, just not used often.

      Current score: 7
      • Grant says:

        Except it’s “Just desserts” for treats, and “Desert” is the place with all the sand and cacti. So there’s no real way of weaseling out of this typo 😛

        Current score: 0
        • Artemis says:

          Actually, according to dictionary.com…

          Desert

          Usually, deserts. reward or punishment that is deserved:
          Death was his desert.

          or

          the state or fact of deserving reward or punishment.

          Current score: 3
  2. WsntHere says:

    I live in the desert of West Texas, and I’ll be having rice pudding for dessert tonight. That kinda bothered me when I first read this chapter, but I’m not usually a spelling Nazi.

    Current score: 0
  3. Maesenko says:

    I found it rather amusing to see ‘desert’ appear here after I randomly read up on the phrase ‘just deserts’ a week or two back.

    It actually is one of the last bastions of the old nominal case (noun) of the verb ‘deserve’.

    Current score: 5