It's okay, I've been sending chapters to my wonderful CP katzhang, so I only lost about 300 words that I'd worked on since the last update. Still, those 300 words were hard to recreate. I told Chris to get me a beautiful thumb drive on a long chain and I'll just wear it around my neck constantly. He could even get my name engraved on it >:-)
Anyway, as it's Tuesday, and I haven't done this in a while, I thought I'd share the first chapter from the revamped NAMELESS
I hope you like it as much as I do. <3
The day I became a slave owner was filled with light.
Sunlight streamed through the windows of the council room, transforming the gray stone into blinding patches of white and highlighting sections of the audience with vivid color. I stood in the middle of the room with the Baroness and Estalia, a crowd of officials and heads of committees half-circled around us.
The purple robes I wore were not quite broken in yet, and I fought the impulse to smooth them down again at the belt, where both sides bunched together. We were waiting on the Baroness to announce that we were beginning, but she was chatting gaily with a woman who directed a force of servants, as far as I could tell, their conversation blending with the buzz in the room. I pulled at the front of my robes, to make sure the cloth lay straight.
“Don’t fidget,” Estalia said quietly, and I dropped my hand to my side, hiding them in my long sleeves.
A few eyes glanced my way, but for the most part no one was looking at me yet. That would change soon. My eyes happened to catch the Baroness’s, and she winked, a reminder of what she had counseled me on beforehand: we only had to put up with the crowd in the beginning, and no one would be watching me in the private examination room anyway.
With so many present for such an intimate decision there was no way it could not have been uncomfortable, but it was my duty to allow them to witness my choice. As the nation’s newest Poetess Laureate, I had dedicated my life to understanding and encouraging the hearts and souls of the people, and as the caretaker of their spirit I must allow certain invasions of my privacy. Even if that meant creating an exhibition of my first slave Choosing.
Though mine was a national appointment, and the Baronesses had jurisdiction only over their own Halls, our positions shared a similarity in that they were Empress-appointed, and life-long. I was seventeen, the youngest Poetess ever selected, and I had the rest of my life to grow used to crowds such as these. I tried to keep a smile on my face, but it kept fading. I couldn’t read the mood of the crowd; were they happy that the Poetess had been chosen from one of their own in the North Hall, and glad to attend my first Choosing, or did they resent that they were expected to watch a young girl take her first slave, scornful of my age? I had encountered that problem far too often already, and I had returned from being appointed by the Empress in her palace in the South Hall only weeks ago. The Empress was young, too, though older than I was, and I had heard it suggested that she had made a poor decision by choosing me. I raised my chin a little higher and smiled wide.
Estalia, my official Liaison, cleared her throat at my right and shifted again on her feet. It was her duty to guide me in my new role and deliver travel plans and tasks from the Empress. One of the first edicts she had given me was to return to the North Hall, take a slave, and establish a household before officially beginning my duties as the Poetess. I was a girl, but the appropriate age for a Choosing, and I needed to join the ranks of women if I was to begin leading them.
The Baroness’s conversation eventually ended, and she took a step closer to me. Her long, gray hair fell onto her light, yellow dress, and her eyes sparkled with mischief as she scanned over the crowd. She was a small woman, but could dominate a room, and when a nod from an assistant signaled the last guest had arrived, she took control of this one.
“Ladies,” she said, voice ringing to the tall ceilings. The crowd fell silent. “Thank you all for joining us today as we witness the Choosing of a first slave by our very own Poetess.” She turned and beamed at me. It was a cultural coup of sorts for her that the Poetess Laureate was selected from one of her citizens; the South and East Halls dominated us in technology, but clearly their modern ways couldn’t always trump our pastoral oneness of community. “I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that we wish you a peaceful household, filled with many daughters. May your choice be wise.”
I nodded, and we turned to the wooden door behind us, our backs to the crowd. One of the female guards, dressed in a suit of bright red, knocked on the door twice and then it opened from inside. A large woman led the way, her brown robes implying she was a Director of labor, followed by an anxious-faced assistant with an armful of files, and then a line of beings the likes of which I had never seen in my life.
Flanked on both sides by capable-looking guards, they marched forward with heads straight, for once unapologetic of their masculinity. Their practical, neutral-colored clothing distinguished them as Nameless, as opposed to the specific styles identifying slaves from Equals. Their hair varied in length, from freshly shaved to more grown out, depending on where their Division was in the grooming cycle.
I had seen Nameless all my life. Male children were given to the Nurseries and raised as workers, laboring in their Hall and maintained the surrounding villages, but their presence was meant to be muted, as invisible as their names. I had never seen them assembled in such a fashion, like cattle waiting for my selection of meat, for once intended to be seen.
I alone would choose to bring one of these perfectly-formed young men out of their Namelessness and give them the chance to become a slave, to work on overcoming their violent instincts of masculinity, the blatant countenance of which I saw shining innocently out of every down-turned face. They were perfect specimens: malleable of will, and gorgeous. Had the Nameless always been this beautiful, or was this group selected for looks in particular? It was a gesture of respect for my position, I suppose. The audience murmured appreciatively.
They marched before me in their leather work boots, almost more than my eyes could stomach. The Baroness had told me they were preparing a special group for me, but I had not anticipated this level of quality. She whispered as they filed past, bragging of their qualities: strong work ethic, loyalty, physical fitness, and aesthetic appeal. On the last quality she nudged me and raised her eyebrows in a suggestive manner, mock-implying that she was young enough to lust after such as these, and I laughed nervously at her attempt to render me comfortable. Some women found it necessary to own slaves specifically to share their beds at night, but that was not my purpose today.
As the Nameless finished forming their line in front of us and stood still, as much on display as I was, the woman in brown approached.
“Amaria, this is our Poetess,” the Baroness introduced us.
“A pleasure, my lady.”
I only nodded at her deep bow and flattering title, my throat too dry for words. I tried to form a question, but in the lapse of conversation Amaria took charge.
“The Matchmaking Director herself personally chose this bunch,” she said proudly. “These Nameless demonstrate the closest matches to your preferences in terms of nature and skill. I am confident they are all worthy of a woman of your station. Preference of physical attributes has been left up to you,” she noted on the variety of their appearances, and I flushed hot. “Shall we begin? I have each of their folders present for your inspection, and of course you are welcome to interview them separately.”
Every woman’s eyes in the room turned to me. Only the Nameless remained silent in their stares. The Baroness had coached me on normal proceedings for Choosings, and I knew the first step to take:
I cleared my throat. “Of course. Shall we walk the line?”
Amaria nodded and lead the way to the far left, where the line began. The Baroness smiled and took my arm, with Estalia following like a dark shadow in her black robes and long, dark hair. I felt a thousand eyes at my back, but none on my face; the Nameless gazed respectfully at their feet. I tried to take steady breaths, amazed that this was actually happening. One of these men would be my life-long companion. If all went well.
We approached the immobile line and walked along it, the two guards mirroring our movements from behind a wall of bodies, as if one of the Nameless might lash out at any moment. As I studied them, the Nameless’ features came into sharper focus, and the differences in our male and female bodies grew more pronounced. They were like life-sized toys; amazing and foreign. Each wore the brown or gray garments of a Nameless, adorned only by their numbers, stitched onto their left breast. Nameless only gain a name when inducted into a woman’s household, and until then they wear and are identified by an eight-digit code indicating Hall of origin, birth year, nursery division, and division number.
In this first pass I would weed out Nameless I didn’t care for by sight, and on the second I would consult their charts and determine if their skill sets fit my desires. Most women chose to live in the gossipy, quaint villages surrounding the mammoth structure that is the North Hall, but I chose to settle my home further out in the country. With all the traveling in my future, I couldn’t be expected to maintain a house and property myself. Additionally, I was hoping to add a library, so I needed someone strong and carpentry-capable.
Amaria began to elaborate on the qualities of Nameless before us: “These are high-performing laborers. They’ve all received top marks in both physical skill and the more delicate talents; cooking, sewing, crafts. They are all well-trained trained in childcare and development and have experience in the nurseries. Any of them would serve you well. Better than well.”
There were Nameless of all shapes, sizes, and colors. They were all young, healthy, skilled, and attractive. All things being equal, I might as well spin in a circle and point. I looked at them shyly as we passed. The first was bigger than me in both height and girth, muscles bursting out from his shirt. His tawny brown hair was newly cut, his broad, honest face freshly shaved. He straightened imperceptibly as we approached, one of the female guards monitoring his actions from behind. Though he was large, he did not frighten me. I liked that about him.
“What’s his number?” I asked Amaria.
“Forty-Six, my lady,” he answered for her in a low voice, eyes still downcast, and with a swift, fluidic movement the guard flogged him once on the back with her short whip.
I gasped in surprise.
“Number Forty-Six will not speak unless spoken to,” the guard snapped. “I’m sorry, my lady.”
The astounding difference in the tone of her voice when addressing us -snarl to purr- unbalanced me. “No, no, it’s all right,” I stammered. I had forgotten that the guards could use whips on the Nameless, though slaves were immune from physical punishment. Normally. “I prefer to question them individually,” I said, and the guard accepted this with a nod, though she made no move to apologize to the Nameless she had struck.
He had not even flinched, maintaining his look of good humor. His eyes flicked towards me briefly, and I thought I saw the suggestion of a smile on his lips. Hesitantly, I turned to the next Nameless. He was smaller, yet with bolder features, and though his eyes were turned down I saw that they were blue -a coveted color in a nation of brown.
“What is your number?” I asked him.
He had a pleasant voice, low on the register, but even. His hair was very light, a rarity in this region, and he seemed older than the others by a few years. He must have been older than twenty, at least, which was unusual for a Nameless eligible for slavery. His face was freshly shaven, but a small layer of stubble had already grown. I wondered how many other times he had been considered and rejected. Was there something wrong with him, or was it simply that no woman had yet considered him a perfect match with her household?
Nothing in me reacted to him, not like the first one, so I signaled, and he was escorted back through the wooden door. Estalia tilted her head and watched after him as he was led away, and I wondered if she thought I had made a poor decision. No one had taught me what to look for in a slave. What if my personal preference wasn’t good enough?
We continued down the line. I rejected a few, for no other reason than I didn’t feel anything. Of course, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be feeling.
“Does anyone in particular catch your eye?” the Baroness asked conspiratorially.
I was about to tell her that the first was my favorite so far, when my eyes flickered further along the row of men, where I still had about half of the line left to consider. I looked across the Nameless remaining, at the beauty and talent still waiting to be judged.
The Empresses chose Poetesses for their artistic and emotional capability. The Poetess must not only be able to mine her own heart and interpret what she finds, she must be able to express it eloquently and persuasively. When the current Empress interviewed me, I told her that all my most powerful essays stemmed from a base idea, found floating magically in the ether of my consciousness. These ideas light up my mind with a very particular feeling of familiarity, and I know at once what must be done.
When I saw him halfway down the line, I felt that spark of recognition. Everything about him shone, more vivid and intense than the surrounding Nameless. I saw him like he was the only friend I knew in a room of strangers. Even now I remember how he blared into my senses.
Also be sure to check out the lj of my friend sjmaas, who is posting excerpts from her Beauty and the Beast/Tamlin retelling, entitled A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES!
EDIT: ANTEBELLUM is now known as NAMELESS