Volk came to pick her up at the first light of dawn.
He opened the door of the storage that belonged to the man who divided the inheritance, where Natir had been kept since Cahal’s death, and told her to come with him.
Natir carried Aina, who was asleep; she showed no reaction when Volk put an old blanket on her shoulders to protect them from the cold.
With eyes made of glass, she took a single look at his face before she looked away and followed him down the empty road in the village.
Not a word was exchanged the entire way. It was a very cold morning with an angry sky tainted by gray clouds, and drizzles watered Natir’s motionless face.
She saw it in the distance.
From what she knew about Volk, it was easy for Natir to guess beforehand what his resident must be like, and it was everything she could have imagined: a perfect reflection of its owner’s revulsion.
“Come on in.”
An awful scent welcomed her the moment he opened the door.
Volk’s home was a less-than-ordinary round house with a thatched roof. It was significantly larger than Cahal’s and even had a second floor, but the actual living space was about the same as Cahal’s, if not less, because the house was practically a blacksmith’s workshop.
It was messy and filled with tools, piles of wood, leather, and scraps of metal scattered all over the place. The main pillar was infested with termites, and twisted nails lay on the floor wherever she looked.
A couple of metal-heating furnaces rose from the floor. Next to each one was a barrel full of burnt cooling-oil and surrounded by oil spills, all of which were contributing to the mixture of unpleasant odors.
The wind blew from the direction of the small pigs’ barn he had outside, straight into the house, adding its own stench to the mix.
Natir felt sure she was the first woman to have the honor of taking a step in there in ages, for that the place was so filthy, the rats had long ago packed their breadcrumbs and left.
She was sleepless and feeling awful, and the sight of the rundown place only made it worse.
Avoiding her eyes, Volk motioned towards the vertical ladder which led to the top floor.
“That’s where we’ll be sleeping,” he said, “I added a second mattress. It’s separate and, um, you might want to take the little girl up and let her rest. There’s plenty of covers.”
She nodded lifelessly.
“I...um, I also installed a gate and a fence for her. Obviously she can’t use the ladder by herself so make sure to always close the gate so that she won’t accidentally fall off or—”
She cut him off, her voice stone-dry, “What happened last night?”
“Just, um, make sure you close it, and don’t forget to use the hook, it will keep the gate secure—”
“Volk… What. Happened. Last night?”
Faking affirmativeness, he glared at her, but it only made him look ridiculous.
“Aren’t you being a bit too loud for a slave?”
She carefully laid Aina down then faced him. “So what if I am?”
“Watch it, woman. Just because I’m being extremely considerate with you because you have a child, doesn’t mean you get to forget your place so soon.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I know my place just fine. I am dirt. I am a slave. But are you really my master?”
“You heard me.”
“I don’t think I have.”
“Then let me say it again.” She took a step in and glared into his eyes. “I asked: are you the head of me, really?”
Looking insulted, Volk peered at her. “Woman, did I hear you right? Did you just question my manliness?”
“I am questioning your attitude.”
“Yes. For one thing, you are yet to act like a master rather than a host—”
“If you think—”
“Second!” she cut him off again. “Three chickens is no price for this body. No, not even a fool will fall for it. But I guess that whoever schemed this joke had no other choice, did they? They had to keep it as real as possible, and since everyone seems to know exactly what a poor slob you are then they had no other choice but to work with what you can afford.”
“That was only because I’m a friend of—”
“DON’T INTERRUPT.” Her shout took him by surprise. She went on with her chest heaving in and out, “Don’t interrupt. I’m not done talking yet… Third, knowing what we both know, I can’t see you as someone who would ever dream to claim me—”
Volk walked away. “I don’t need to hear this.”
She chased after him. “Do you see yourself doing that—?”
“Come on, tell me. Look me in the eye and tell me that I’m wrong, I beg of you. No, I didn’t think so. Not unless you want Alfred to hang your head on his tree for such an unfunny joke. And finally—”
“How long have you been thinking about this, exactly?” he said, wiping his face with his palm.
“And finally, I saw how you acted back there.”
Volk tilt his head back and stared at the ceiling.
“If it was any other man then he would have danced with joy for owning a slave so cheaply. He’d be laughing his heart out and telling jokes all night about what he will be doing to me. But not you. No. Because you know better.”
He turned to her. “Look, none of that matters right now.”
“Oh, it doesn’t?”
“No, it doesn’t, because none of it makes any difference anymore. I own you now. That is a fact. It was..it was made public! What more do you want to get it into your stupid head? Shout it from the rooftops!”
“Even to a slave, it still matters who they belong to,” she said, breathless with rage. “I was supposed to be Alfred’s. My place is under his roof. I earned that much. We both know I earned it. SO WHAT AM I DOING IN THIS PIGS’ BARN THEN?”
“A pigs’ barn? This is my home.”
She snapped, “TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED!”
Natir walked away right after, covering her face.
Natir signaled him to stop. She needed a moment to control herself. She sucked in a deep breath. “Volk, just tell me what happened, that’s all I’m asking from you. Otherwise we’ve got nothing to talk about and you can do as you want.”
He slapped his arms to his sides. “You heard it all yourself last night. There’s nothing left to tell.”
“You really want to play that game?”
“No, really, it’s perfectly fine, have it your way.”
Natir took a few steps backwards and then, in a burst of rage, she threw a chair out of her way and kicked an empty bucket across the room to make space.
Aina twitched and murmured inaudibly in her sleep.
“Natir? Natir, what are you doing?”
Acting lewdly, she threw the blanket she had on the floor, sat on it, and struck a seductive pose. She bent one knee up and spread her legs ever so slightly as she planted her hands behind her on the floor.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” she intoned with an inviting smile. “You are no keeper of mine, are you? No. You are my master. Isn’t that what you said? So, come on, great master. Have your way with me.” She shut her eyes and swayed her waist as her hand slid between her breasts. “Ah..do with me..as you please..fuck me..make me yours.”
She giggled. “What, am I doing it wrong? Oh, please forgive me. Here, you want me to spread my legs further? You want...you want me to strip myself for you?” She ripped her dress at the shoulder, anger taking more of a hold of her by the second. “There..there you go, BETTER? Do I look more appealing to you now? You want me to rip the whole cheap thing off? You want me to rub my body over you? IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?”
Volk yelled, “Will you stop acting crazy?”
She cracked an insane a laugh and swayed her body in every way, like a woman of the night.
“Crazy? Me? I’m crazy? I’m just a slave getting ready to welcome my proud master’s ferocious rod into my flesh, exactly like thousands of slaves do every day.” She shrugged. “What’s so crazy about that? So, you want to do it now? No? You’re a night person, perhaps? OH, WAIT!”
She jumped to her feet, acting insane. “I’ll tell you what, I just had the greatest idea, let’s fuck outside. How about it? huh?” She grabbed his hand, pulling him towards the door. “Let’s go do it on the street and show the whole world how you’ll own me.”
He drew his hand back and threw his arms in the air, yelling, “Will you cut it out already?”
Volk quickly turned his face to Aina, worried that he had woken her, and was relieved to find her still asleep. He resumed more quietly, “Look, I’m as much in the dark as you are, all right?”
“Then tell me what on earth happened.”
“I just told you, I don’t know!”
“Then why you?”
“I don’t know!”
“VOLK…” she roared then, her hand trembling with rage, she waved her forefinger in the air and hissed insanely, “Don’t try to sell me that, Volk. No. I won’t believe it, not even if you ripped out your own liver and swore on it, so don’t even think about it. There’s no way you can be in the dark about this… But maybe you’re not allowed to say, is that it?”
Volk spun around himself, pulling on his hair, refusing to answer.
“Okay. Okay, fine. I understand now.” She crossed her arms over her chest and demanded, “Tell me where to find Gull.”
His jaw dropped. “Are you crazy? Why Gull?”
“If you’re not going to tell me then someone else will.”
“Now you listen here,” he warned, overtaken by sudden rage, “Gull has nothing to do with this, and he’s not the kind of man you want to mess with. You understand what I’m saying?”
“Where’s his place?”
“Did you not hear what I said?”
“Oh, I heard you just fine. Now, tell me where to find him.”
“Do you even know what time it is? People are sleeping!”
“Volk, show me the way to his house.”
“You want to die, is that it? Who in their sane mind would risk upsetting a monster like Gull? At his best mood, he’d kill you!”
“Fine, I’ll ask around.” She rushed to the door.
“Natir!” He chased her.
“I’ll knock on every door in this whole cursed village if I have to—”
He grabbed her by her upper-arm. “Enough of this.”
Natir shook his hand off her, but he grabbed her wrists instead.
“ENOUGH! I’m telling you Gull has nothing to do with it. He knows nothing, and neither do I.”
“Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but someone there knows exactly what’s going on, for sure. And I’ll be cursed if I let this wait another hour.”
Volk had had enough. He let go of her and waved his hand.
“Whatever, do as you want.”
He fixed the chair back up, took a seat, and said with his back to her, “You’ll find him eight doors down east, it will be to your left. There’s a big broken wheel by the door, you can’t miss it. But if he loses his temper on you, remember, I know nothing about where you went off to.”