"Lot 28: a seamstress."
She was the last slave to be auctioned. Being skilled, she was potentially very valuable to the right master, one who was able to exploit her talents to full advantage. If buyers for such were in the crowd, the slavemaster stood to take in three or four times as much as any of the other slaves.
"S'time," the slavehandler grunted, nudging her, albeit gently, almost apologetically, towards the front of the platform. This was uncharacteristic: he had barked to the other slaves, often punctuating his commands with a stroke of the crop on thigh or bottom to hurry them along.
But the seamstress was different. She was older than all the other slavegirls, for one. She was well into middle-age, although she wore it well. Streaks of gray showed in her dark hair, but it was still shiny, hanging straight and fairly long, with a gentle curl framing her face. She was not slender, but she had a pleasant figure. Which was easily seen: she wore only skimpy undergarments. This was more than the other slavegirls had been allowed, however. After all, if a buyer was looking for a bedwarmer, there had been a number of pretty enough teenage girls, and even preteens, sold before her.
But she had not been permitted to retain any hair below her waist, and the undergarments were fairly sheer, so little was concealed. Yet she retained a certain ... something about her. Not dignity exactly, but a gentle, reserved quietness, that had affected even the hardened slavehandler.
She murmured, "Yes, Sir," and stepped to the front of the platform. The slavehandler pushed a display of her work beside her; it was of high quality. The bidding began. Scattered voices rang out, hands were raised; the bidding was not as brisk as it had been for the prettier of the younger girls, but the amounts involved were higher, and they jumped. Soon only four, then three, then two voices were bidding, and the price had reached a level that was at least well into the median for a skilled slave.
There was obvious sadness on her face; not surprising, considering her circumstances. However she seemed at least resigned, calm, not looking wildly about at those bidding for her, as some of the younger girls did, or staring at the platform with tears streaming down her face as some of the others had done.
But those who looked closely could see a tensing around her eyes, each time she heard the voice of one of the bidders...
"500 Imperials, 500 Imperials," the auctioneer called out. "Do I hear 6? 6, anyone? 500 going once..."
A new voice. It almost made her look, but she controlled herself. "It doesn't matter," she told herself. But her heart was beating just a bit faster...
"700," the other bidder replied.
"Nine!" A hint of exasperation in the other; he had been so close. The price was now on the high end, even for an experienced, skilled slavewoman.
"Twelve hundred," the new bidder replied, almost a hint of ... perhaps it was contempt, in his voice. With this jump in the bid he was making it clear: no one else was going to have the seamstress. Give up.
A hush had fallen on the surprised crowd as the drama unfolded. A barely audible snarl was heard.
"T-twelve hundred going once, twelve hundred going twice, sold for twelve hundred!" the auctioneer, nearly as startled as the rest, managed to stammer out.
Tomas looked at his Master. "Fetch her for me, Tomas. And Tomas," he added, as his servant turned back towards him, "I know I don't have to say this, but still: be gentle and considerate, eh?"
"Of course, Master, I understand," he replied. And he did; he had been with his Master for many years, and he had seen what his Master had seen...
At the platform the slaves were being parceled out to their new owners. He showed his master's emblem to the slavehandler and the seamstress was brought forward, still dressed only in her revealing underclothes.
Tomas took his cloak from his shoulders and wrapped it around her. "Would you come with me, please?" he asked, rhetorically. "The Master is waiting for you."
As they walked he spoke quickly, in low tones for her ears only, "Do not be afraid. The Master is a good and kindly man." Her heart, all ready lightened to know that ... That One had not acquired her, blossomed even more into even a bit of hope. Perhaps at least she would not be abused, and would be able to be of some use in her accustomed trade.
He was tall, older, older than she at any rate, though perhaps not by much. Grave, clean-shaven, a hawk nose, bushy eyebrows. Not bad to look at, she thought, then chided herself for even daring to think it. You're a slave, she reminded herself.
"My carriage is not far. We will walk there," he said, and turned down the street. She followed, clutching Tomas' cloak about her. The Master's other two servants fell into step; one was on either side of her, and Tomas took up the rear. She wondered if this was to make sure she didn't try to escape. But somehow it only made her feel ... safe.
The carriage was well made, trimmed with silver; clearly the Master was well-to-do, which she all ready deduced from his willingness to pay an exorbitant price for even a skilled slave, and his clothes, which her seamstress' eye had immediately noted to be simple, but elegant and of high quality.
At the carriage one servant held the door, the others climbed on to the seat atop. Almost automatically, although she had no experience as a slave, she headed for the back step, the accustomed place for a slave to stand and hold on. But the Master forestalled her, and with a motion of his hand ordered her into the carriage. Or perhaps it was more of ... an invitation?
The carriage seats were soft, the ride smooth. She looked at him, at her lap, at him. She opened her mouth..."Later, seamstress, later," he said softly, then he leaned forward and looked into her eyes and said more intently, "But hear me, seamstress: I mean you no harm. You are safe!" then turned to look out the window. She closed her mouth, but continued to alternate looking at her lap, then at him. They rode most of the day, with only enough stops to eat. Tomas brought food and drink from roadhouses along the way. Finally they reached the Master's estate.
The seamstress looked almost in a daze at the house, a mansion really, the groomed grounds, the fields. Tomas escorted her to a room. "This will be yours," he said. "Everything you need should be here. There is a bell; ring it if you are lacking anything. I will call for you in the morning at eight. The Master will have breakfast with you then, and he desires you to wear this..." He went to a closet and opened it. There were many dresses and other clothes in it. He pulled some aside and indicated a gown.
Again her skilled seamstress' eye served her well: the gown was like the Master's clothes, elegant, simple, well-made, beautiful. But there was more. She could tell that it was made for someone of about her size. And the style would particularly compliment someone with her face, her hair. And she could tell that it had been worn before...
As she puzzled at it, Tomas bowed out the door and left her. It was late, the bed was soft, and despite the stress of the day, or perhaps because of it, soon she was asleep.
In the morning she awoke. The necessary was more than adequately appointed. After her ablutions she donned the gown. It fit better than it should have, but not perfectly. "If he wants me to continue to wear this, I'll have to alter it a bit," she thought, "But there's no time now."
There was a tap at the door. "Seamstress, are you awake?" she heard Tomas say.
"Yes, I am," she replied.
"When you are ready, just go down the hallway to the left and you will find the dining hall. The Master will be there in thirty minutes."
"I understand. Thank you ... Sir," she replied. She wasn't sure how to address Tomas.
"You're welcome, seamstress. Have a pleasant breakfast." She could hear a small smile in his voice. Then she heard his steps walking away.
In a few minutes she was ready. She stepped into the hall. Since it was early, she turned right instead of left, to see a bit more of the Master's house. Or at least some of the hall, she thought to herself; she had no intention of going into any rooms she was not ordered, or invited, into; she was a slave, after all.
The walls were richly paneled, with some fine tapestries hanging at intervals. As she admired them, she heard footsteps coming down stairs. Looking down the hall she saw the bottom of a staircase. The steps were fast, light. She recognized them as being that of a younger person. A girl, perhaps thirteen years old, came pelting down the stairs and turned towards her. She stopped short when she saw the seamstress.
She was dressed like the Master: elegant, simple, high quality clothes. But again her keen seamstress' eye served her well; or perhaps it was the mother in her: "She has no mother," she thought to herself. The girl's clothes were just that much askew, her hair just that much out of place.
The seamstress curtsied as the girl approached, and held the curtsy, as a slave should, until addressed, told to rise, or the Master (or the Master's daughter, as she assumed her to be) had passed her by. The girl skidded to a stop in front of her. "Who are you?" she demanded.
"I am your father's new slave, m'Lady," she replied, "A seamstress he bought yesterday. I am at your service."
"You're a – what?! A slave? B-but my father doesn't own any..." She cut herself off and went pelting off down the hall, shouting, "Daddy!!"
The seamstress stood for a moment. He doesn't own slaves, she thought; but he bought me. Why?!
.... There is more of this story ...