24 The Origins of Boabissia
"And this was found about your throat as a baby, in the wreckage of a caravan, by Alars?" he asked. He stood close to her. He looked at it in the light, holding it between his fingers. It was still on its thong about her neck.
"Yes," said Boabissia.
"It was on your neck?" he asked.
"Yes," said Boabissia. "And I have continued to wear it."
"I see," he said.
"Are you acquainted with the young woman inside?" an attendant had asked at the gate.
"Yes," I said. "I think so."
"It was here she entered," said Feiqa.
"Yes," I said.
"Please come in," had said the attendant. We had entered and followed him through the gardened courtyard, with its fountains, and, on the other side of the court, across the shaded portico and into the recesses of the house.
Hurtha and I had returned around noon to the insula, after leaving the area before the Central Cylinder. As soon as we had entered through the shuttered gate into the insula's small, dim vestibule, there, in the light, the dust in it, we had seen Feiqa. "Masters," she said, eagerly, rising to her feet, moving toward us. Then she stopped short. The shackle on her left ankle, fastening her to a floor ring, saw to this. She knelt at the end of the chain. The shackle looked well on her ankle. "Masters," she said.
"Where is Boabissia?" I asked. "I thought you would have been left upstairs. "I was," she said. "But Mistress returned and fetched me. She had found something which greatly excited her. I must accompany her that I would know the place, and then, presently when you returned, lead you there."
"That is why you are chained here?" I asked.
"Perhaps, Master," she said. "But Mistress also, of course, may have thought of a slave's comfort.
I smiled. Boabissia was not the sort of person who would think of a slave's comfort. Indeed, she believed that slaves should be treated with great strictness and subjected to ruthless and uncompromising discipline.
"Why did she not wait for us?" I asked.
"She could not wait," said Feiqa. "She was in too great a hurry to get back." "What is this all about?" I asked.
"She thinks she may have found the house of her people," said Feiqa, "that she might enter, that incredible fortune might be hers, that she might be able to claim her patrimony."
"I gather it was a fine house." I said.
"I think it is probably very beautiful," said Feiqa. "I caught a glimpse of the garden within, in the courtyard, and the house beyond, a large, lovely house, with a shaded portico, when she was admitted. Whoever owns it must be very rich."
"What makes her think that it might be the house of her people?" I asked. "The tiny sign near the call rope," said Feiqa. "It is a Tau, much as on her neck ornament."
"The same form of Tau?" I asked.
"It is very similar," she said.
"Exactly similar?" I asked.
"No," she said.
"But very similar?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Some clue, then as to her origins, may be there," I said. Goreans are usually rather careful about such things as crests, signs, family emblems, and such. Sometimes such things are actually registered, and legally restricted in their use to given lines. "I really think it is possible, Master," said Feiqa.
"If all is well then," I said, "let us rejoice for Boabissia, and her good fortune."
"It looks like a fine house?" asked Hurtha.
"Yes, Master," said Feiqa.
"Boabissia will like that," he said. "She has always been a spoiled, greedy little thing. It will not displease her to be rich."
"The family, too, if there is a fine house, and grounds, and such," I said, "may be powerful and of high station."
"She will not object to that either," said Hurtha.
"Where is this house?" I asked.
"It is not far, Master," said Feiqa.
"That is interesting," I said.
"There are some fine houses in this district," said Hurtha, "particularly over several blocks. We saw some yesterday."
"True," I said. Ar, as many cities, sometimes had rather contrasting neighborhoods in surprising proximity to one another. For example, the Avenue of Turia, nearby, was one of the finest streets I Ar. Yet, behind it, reached by a crevice between some buildings, only a walk of some two or three Ehn away, was the Alley of the Slave Brothels of Ludmilla.
"Where is the key to your shackle?" I asked.
"Over there, Master," said Feiqa, pointing. It hung on a hook, where it might be convenient to tenants or visitors, near the door that led to the apartment of Achiates.
I fetched the key. I returned to where she knelt, shackled. I looked down upon her. I wondered if there would be point in having her, there, suddenly, on the floor of the insula's vestibule, before I unshackled her. She was very beautiful.
"Master?" she asked.
I thrust her back to the floor, in a rattle of chain. "Oh!" she cried. It did not matter. She was only a slave. "Oh!" she gasped, and then was clutching me. "Disgusting," said a free woman, entering the insula, and then proceeding upstairs. I stood up. Feiqa was at my feet, gasping, shaken. Such things may be done to such as she. They are only slaves.
Feiqa reached to my foot and kissed it, tears in her eyes.
"Kneel," I said. I then removed the shackle from her fair ankle. But I then held her ankle in my hand, substituting now for the clasp of the shackle the grip of the master. She gasped. She put her head down. She knew herself held, and as a slave. She lifted her head. She looked at me wildly. She was helpless. Once more I found her beautiful. I thrust her back, again, down to the stones of the dimly lit vestibule, and pulled her by the ankle to me. Then I saw to it, as it pleased me, at my caprice, for she was a mere slave, that she must again helplessly suffer the exigencies of her bondage.
"Oh, Master, Master, Master," she said, kissing me.
"Lead us to the place Boabissia found," I said.
"Yes, Master," she said.
On the way, following Feiqa, hurrying ahead of us, we saw a female slave, stripped, carrying a heavy yoke, tied on her, supporting buckets of water. Her master was behind her Sometimes he poked her with a sharp stick, to hurry her along. Boabissia would have approved of that. She was in favor, I recalled, of stern treatment for slaves, particularly, it seemed, luscious female slaves, like the lovely nude struggling bound in the yoke, with its buckets, or Feiqa. We also saw a chain of female slaves, permitted tunics, but hooded, in neck coffle, and two slave wagons, with blue and yellow silk. This was the district of the Street of Brands.
"It is this house," said Feiqa.
"The wall is impressive and the gate is strong," observed Hurtha.
I saw the Tau near the call rope. It was indeed quite similar to that which was on Boabissia's small disk. I now recalled what Boabissia's disk had reminded me of. The resemblance, however, was not exact. There were at least two differences. That was good. The form of Tau near the call rope I had seen before, long ago, in Ar, on another street, and, more than once, at the Sardar Fairs.
"Is anything wrong?" asked Feiqa.
"Boabissia has already entered?" I asked.
"I think so," said Feiqa.
I drew on the call rope. We heard the bell jangle within. In a moment an attendant, a young man, had come to the gate. "And this was found about your throat as a baby, in the wreckage of a caravan, by Alars?" he asked. He stood close to her. He looked at it in the light, holding it between his fingers. It was still on its thong about her neck. "Yes," said Boabissia.
"It was on your neck?" he asked.
"Yes," said Boabissia. "And I have continued to wear it."
"I see," he said. "May I remove it?"
"Of course," she said. He delicately undid the thong. Boabissia smiled at Hurtha and myself. She had been there when we had been ushered into his presence. Feiqa has been put on a neck chain, just inside the gate. It was fastened to a ring, one of several there, fastened in the wall. It was sunny there. She must kneel. She must keep her head down. I gathered they did no pamper slaves in this house. We would pick her up on the way out. The fellow had greeted us pleasantly. It was almost as though he had expected us, or someone, to come. He had not, as I recalled, seemed surprised to see us. Similarly we had encountered no difficulty in being admitted into his presence, in spite of the fact that he was presumably an important man. It was a large, officelike room. There was a broad desk. There were many papers about. He was a distinguished looking fellow. I had never seen him before.
He was examining the disk in his hand.
"I think," said Boabissia, "that it may afford a clue to my identity." "Perhaps," said the fellow.
"But surely it does," she protested.
"How could I know that you did not merely find this, or buy it, or steal it?" he asked.
"I assure you, I did not," said Boabissia. "It is mine. It was on me as an infant. I have always worn it."
He regarded it.
"Is it not the same as the sign on your house?" asked Boabissia.
"It is quite similar," he admitted.
"But not identical," I said. Boabissia cast me an angry look.
The fellow looked at me, and smiled. "It is, however," he said, "what the sign was, some years ago, before its style was slightly changed."
"But that is right!" exclaimed Boabissia. "It was on me from years ago!" "Precisely," he smiled.
"I would not have known that," she said. "Had I made a counterfeit, I would have done it, not knowing any better, in your modern fashion, and then you would have been able to detect, from the time involved, that the disk was a forgery, that it was fraudulent.
"True," he said.
"You see!" said Boabissia to me, triumphantly.
"Yes," I said.
"He is jealous," said Boabissia to the fellow. "He is almost beside himself with envy. He only wants to see me denied my fortune, deprived of my rightful deserts."
"Your fortune?" asked the fellow. "Your rightful deserts?"
"Yes, my rightful deserts, my rightful dues," said Boabissia. "I am determined to receive them."
"I understand," he said. "I shall examine the records. If all tallies, as I suspect it will, have no fear, you will receive, as you have put it, your rightful deserts, your rightful dues."
"All I want," said Boabissia, "is exactly what I deserve."
"I shall check my records," he said. "If it is within my power, I will try to see that you do indeed receive exactly what you deserve, precisely what you deserve."
"Thank you," she said, and cast an angry look at me.
"What is it, incidentally," he asked, "that you think you deserve?" "Do you not recognize me?" she asked.
"I do not understand," he said.
"I may be your long-lost daughter," she said.
"To the best of my knowledge," he said. "I do not have any daughters, long-lost or otherwise. I do have some sons."
"Look at me," she said.
"Yes?" he said.
"Is there no general family resemblance?" she asked. I, for one, surely did not note any. To be sure, members of the same family sometimes differ considerably from one another in their appearance.
"I do not understand," he said.
"You are perhaps my uncle," she said, "if you are not my father."
"Oh I see," he said.
"Might I not be your niece, or a cousin?"
"An interesting idea," he said.
"Look at me," she said. "Look closely. What do you think?"
"You are curvy," he said.
"Curvy?" she asked.
"I think I see now," he said, "what you have come here for."
"I am seeking my identity," she said.
"And perhaps a little more?" he speculated.
"Only what are my dues," she said, defensively.
"You consider yourself perhaps the heiress to riches?" he inquired.
"Perhaps," she said. "The caravan was a large one. Doubtless my presence there, as a mere infant, suggests great affluence on the part of my people. They might even have been the masters of the caravan. Surely you yourself are wealthy. This is a fine house, with luxurious appointments, with space and splendid grounds. Surely the sign on the disk is meaningful to you. You seem to have admitted as much."
"I see," he said.
"Surely in the fullness of your honor, as I conceive of you as a gentleman," she said, "you would not wish to deny to me what I have coming." I thought that was a rather nasty thrust on the part of Boabissia. It is seldom wise, incidentally, to impugn, or attempt to manipulate, the honor of a Gorean.
"No," he said, pleasantly enough, apparently taking no offense, "I would be one of the last to deny you exactly what you have coming."
"Good," she said, rather haughtily, putting her head in the air. Boabissia could occasionally get on one's nerves in this fashion. "I believe that I am a wealthy man," said the fellow. "Too, I think it is fair to say that I have some standing in this city, and some power."
"That would be my impression," said Boabissia.
"You think there is some relationship between us?" he said.
"Yes," said Boabissia. "The disk, as you have as much as admitted, makes that clear. I invite you to consult your records."
"I gather you think you may be of my line, or of some pertinent collateral line," he said.
"Yes," she said. "I think that is altogether possible."
"If you are truly of my line, or even of some closely related collateral line," he said, "you would doubtless become overnight one of the most famous, one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Ar."
"Perhaps," said Boabissia. She drew herself up proudly.
"I think that perhaps, as you seem to believe," he said, "there may be some relationship between us."
"The disk proves it," she said.
"I think you are right," he said.
"Consult your records," she said.
"Do you truly wish me to do so?" he asked.
"Yes," said Boabissia. "Indeed, I demand it."
"Very well," he said. "It will only take a moment." He reached for a small bell on his desk.
"Let us go, Boabissia," I suggested. "We could return tomorrow."
"Be silent," she said, to me.
The man rang the small bell, to which, in a moment or two, an attendant responded. In a bit, then, the attendant, seemingly informed as to what was required, left the room. The man himself then sat behind the desk and put the small disk before him, to his right, on the surface of the desk.
Boabissia glanced at Hurtha and myself. She was terribly excited.
"Let us go, Boabissia," I suggested.
"Be quiet," she said. "It will be only a little bit," said the man. "If you wait now, it will save you a trip back tomorrow."
"Leave, if you wish," said Boabissia.
"Why would they wish to leave?" asked the man, puzzled.
"I have no idea," said Boabissia.
"Nor do I," he said.
In a bit the attendant had returned with a large, somewhat dusty, oblong ledgerlike book. It was tied shut with a cord. It contained several pages. It was bound in leather. On the cover, though it was hard to see from where I stood, there seemed to be some designations, such as perhaps dates and numbers. "The older records, such as these," he said, "are kept here, together with duplicates of the more current records. The more current records, together with duplicates of the older records, are kept at the house."
I nodded. In that way two identical sets would be maintained, in different locations. This was not uncommon with Gorean bookkeeping, particularly in certain kinds of businesses.
"Is this not the house?" asked Boabissia.
"This is my personal residence," he said.
"You have another house?" she asked.
"Of course," he said.
Boabissia threw me a pleased glance.
"My place of business," he said.
"Oh," she said.
He untied the cord and blew some dust from the cover of the book. Its pages were yellowed.
"Do not dally please," said Boabissia.
He opened the book. He put to one side, taking it from a shallow pocket within the book's cover, a punched copper disk, on a string, rather the size of that which Boabissia had worn, and put it next to Boabissia's.
"Look!" said Boabissia, joyfully.
"Yes," I said.
The disk also had some device on it, as did Boabissia's, but I could not see it well from the distance.
"The disk," she said. "It has something on it."
"Yes," I said.
"Doubtless it is the same mark as is on mine," she said. "Perhaps not," I said.
The fellow began to turn the pages.
"Hurry! said Boabissia.
He had then apparently found what he was looking for. He picked up the disk which had been Boabissia's from the desk, looked at it, and then checked it against something in the book. He then perused the entry there. Then he rechecked the disk against the book. He then rose to his feet and approached Boabissia.
"Yes?" said Boabissia. "Yes?"
"You were right, my dear," he said. "There does exist a relationship between us, and, indeed, I think as you suspected, a most important relationship."
"You see!" cried Boabissia, almost leaping in place, elatedly, triumphantly to Hurtha and myself.
"But, my dear," he said, "it is not exactly the sort of relationship which you anticipated."
"What are you doing?" she asked.
Then, suddenly, as she cried out in surprise, in dismay, he tore her dress down to her waist.
"Yes," he said. "You are curvy."
She looked at him, startled, not daring, under his fierce gaze, to raise her hands, to lift her garment.
"The relationship," he told her, "is that of slave to master."
"No!" she cried.
"Strip," he said.
"Do so, immediately," I said to Boabissia, sternly.
Trembling she thrust down her dress over her hips, and stood then within it, it down about her ankles.
"Your sandals, too," I said, "quickly!"
Frightened she slipped from them, too. When a Gorean orders a woman to strip he means now, and completely, leaving not so much as a thread upon her body. She stood there, confused, trembling and terrified. Her clothing was about her feet. It was as though she stood in a tiny pond of cloth.
"What is going on?" asked Hurtha.
"Do not interfere," I said. "It is as I feared."
"Here," said the fellow. He indicated the book and the disk which had been within it, and Boabissia's disk. I went to the table. I looked at the disk which had been taken from the book. There was a number on it, but the «Tau on it was identical to what on Boabissia's disk. Keeping the place where lay the apparently pertinent entry I looked at the cover of the book. On it was a year number, one dating back twenty-two years, and two sets of numbers, separated by a span sign. I examined Boabissia's disk. The number on it fell between the two numbers on the book's cover. I then turned to the page to which the fellow had had the book opened earlier.
"See?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. There, at the head of one of the entries, identifying it, and correlated with it, was the number which had been on Boabissia's disk.
"The caravan in whose wreckage you were found," said the fellow to Boabissia, "was a slave caravan."
Boabissia looked at him, regarding him with horror. She then looked at Hurtha. "When you were found I was only a small boy," said Hurtha. "I did not know what sort of caravan it was. I do not think any of the Alars did. Apparently when found it was in much ruin."
"It was not traveling publicly as a slave caravan," said the man. "It was not, for example, flying its blue and yellow silk. In this manner it had been thought that we might keep secret its cargo, hundreds of beautiful females, a certain lure to the lust and greed of raiders. Our strategem, however, it seems, was ineffectual.
"Was much left when the Alars came upon it?" he asked.
"No," said Hurtha. "I do not think so."
"I am not surprised," said the fellow. "The women, of course, would have been stolen. Doubtless they entertained their captors well, before being sold in a hundred markets."
"I was only an infant," whispered Boabissia.
"That may be why you were left behind," said the man.
"I could have starved, or perished of exposure, or have been eaten by animals," she said. "Perhaps they did not find you," he said. "Perhaps, on the other hand, it was not of concern to them."
"Not of concern to them?" she asked, in horror.
"Of course not," he said. "Do not forget you were only then, as you are now, a slave."
She shuddered, her eyes wide with horror.
"Do not cover your breasts," he said. "Keep your arms at your sides." She sobbed.
"It was my caravan," said the fellow. "I lost much on it. It took me five years to recover my losses."
"Your caravan?" whispered Boabissia. "What is your business?"
"I am a merchant of sorts," he said. "I deal in slaves, wholesale and retail, mostly female slaves.
"A lovely form of merchandise," I said.
"Yes," he said.
"But I was only an infant," whispered Boabissia.
"You were sold to my house in your infancy," he said.
"It is in the entry," I informed Boabissia. "Too, your slave number is in his house was the number on your disk."
"I was sold to you in my infancy?" said Boabissia.
"For three tarsk bits," he said.
"So little?" she said.
"You were an infant," he said.
"It is very little," she whispered.
"Would you rather have been exposed in the Voltai," he asked, "a wooden skewer through your heels?"
She shook her head, frightened.
"But why would I have been sold?" she asked.
"You were a female," he said. "Why not?"
The selling of infant daughters is not that unusual in large cities. Some women do it regularly. They make a practice of it, much as they might sell their hair to hair merchants or to the weavers of catapult ropes. Some women, it is rumored, hope for daughters, that they may sell to the slave trade. These women in effect, breed for slaves. Too, there is a common Gorean belief that females are natural slaves, a belief for which there is much evidence, incidentally, and in the light of this belief some families would rather sell a daughter than raise her. Too, of course, daughters, unlike sons, are seldom economic assets to the family. Indeed they cannot even pass on the gens name. They can retain it in companionship, if they wish, if suitable contractual arrangements are secured, but they cannot pass it on. The survival of the name and the continuance of the patrilineal line are important to many Goreans.
"Stand straight," he said to Boabissia.
Boabissia, frightened, straightened her body.
Hurtha made a noise of approval, pleased at seeing Boabissia under male command. I, too, I must admit, was pleased to see this, to see Boabissia obeying. How marvelous and rewarding it is to control a female, having total power over her. "Straighter," he said. "Suck in your gut, put your shoulders back." She complied.
"If it is of interest to you," he said, "I did not simply buy you. Although your mother was a free woman I had her strip, and then put her through slave paces. I would attempt to assess the possibilities of the daughter by seeing the mother, by seeing her naked and performing, attempting desperately to please. When she was reluctant, as a free woman, I used the whip on her. Thus I obtained a better idea of what I might be buying."
"Tell me about my mother, please," she said.
"She was a comely wench, as I determined, when I saw her naked," he said. "She was curvaceous, and, when she realized I would not compromise with her, moved quite well. She herself, I am sure, under a suitable master, would have made excellent collar meat. She would also make, it seemed to me, an excellent breeder of slaves."
"Was she of Ar?" asked Boabissia.
"Yes," he said. "But she was of low-caste origins, of course."
"Oh," said Boabissia.
"But she had beauty beyond her caste," he said. "Indeed, I would be surprised if she had not, sooner or later, been caught and put in a collar. She may even now, somewhere, be serving a master."
He then looked upon Boabissia.
"I was only going to offer two tarsk bits for you originally," he said, "a standard price for a female infant, but after I had seen your mother, seen her fully, and performing, and under the lash, you understand, and considered how you might have something of her beauty, I raised my offer to three."
Boabissia nodded, tears in her eyes.
"Lift your head," he said.
"Excellent," he said. "Had I realized how well you would turn out, I would have offered not three, but five, or even seven, tarsk bits for you."
"Am I more beautiful than my mother?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, "and, clearly, even more of a slave."
He turned to face Hurtha and myself. "Gentlemen," he said, "I must thank you for returning this girl to me."
"It was not really our intention to do so," I said. "She is surely herself primarily responsible. She saw this place, and, eager to inquire as to her antecedents and connections, entered of her own accord."
He turned to Boabissia. "And you have now satisfied your curiosity, haven't you, my dear?" he asked. "You have now learned what you wished to learn. You have now discovered your antecedents and connections, so to speak, and your exact place, or, perhaps better put, your exact lack of a place, in civil and social relationships."
"Yes," she whispered.
"But she has been with you, as I understand it," he said, turning to us, "and surely it is in your company that she came to Ar."
"Yes," I said.
"I thought perhaps it had been a joke on your part, something to amuse you, that you had let her enter here alone, first, before your arrival."
"No," I said.
"Nonetheless," he said, "surely some gratuity is in order, for abetting her return." "None is necessary," I said.
We looked at her.
She was still maintaining a position of slave beauty.
"What do you think she will bring?" I asked.
"The market is depressed," he said. "Much of it has to do with the rumored affairs at Torcadino, the purported advances of Cosians, the crowding in Ar, the influx of refugees. But I would think, even so, she might bring two silver tarsks."
"A fine price for a girl," I said.
"I think she will bring that, even in the current markets," he said.
"I had not realized Boabissia was so valuable," said Hurtha.
Boabissia glanced at Hurtha, startled.
It is not unusual, of course, for a fellow to take a woman lightly, or for granted, until he learns of her interest to others, for example, what they are willing to pay for her.
Boabissia looked away from Hurtha then, swiftly, not daring to meet his eyes. She reddened in a wave of heat and helplessness from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes.
Similarly, it is not unusual for a fellow not to think of a given woman in a sexual manner, or as an object of extreme desire, but when he sees her stripped, and as a slave, that changes instantly and dramatically.
"Please," she begged.
"Be silent," I said.
She was beautiful, and her life had changed. She must learn to endure slave scrutiny. Later she would perhaps learn to revel in it, brazenly.
"I had thought," said the fellow, viewing her, "that the caravan had been a total loss. I see now that I was mistaken.
She stood before us, viewed.
"I lost a mere infant," he said. "I am returned a beautiful slave." She choked back a sob.
"Some gratuity, or reward, is surely in order," he said.
"None is necessary." I said.
"But consider the savings I have effected on feed alone," he said. "Come now," I said. "Table scraps and slave gruel are not that expensive."
"I insist," he said.
"As you will," I said.
Boabissia regarded me with horror.
"You are more than generous," I said.
"Indeed," said Hurtha, approvingly. In my palm lay a silver tarsk. I put it in my pouch. Boabissia moaned.
He then reached to the small bell on his desk, and shook it, twice.
"I assume," I said, "in the light of the special circumstances of her case, she is not to be treated as a runaway slave."
"No," he said. "Or, certainly not at present, at least." Then he looked at the girl. "You do understand, however, do you not, my dear, the typical penalties for a runaway slave?"
She nodded, numbly.
"Excellent," he said.
"If I may be so bold," I said, "I would advocate a certain modest latitude, at least for a day or two, in her initial training. You must understand that she has, for many years, regarded herself as a free woman."
"Interesting," he said.
"Too," I said, "not only has she regarded herself as a free woman, but she has behaved as one, and has affected the airs of one."
"That is very serious, my dear," said the man.
At that moment a lithe, sinewy fellow entered, doubtless in response to the sound of the bell a few moments earlier. He whose office it was gestured toward Boabissia. Her hands were drawn behind her, and braceleted behind her back. "But she did not understand she was not free, really," I said.
Boabissia pulled against the bracelets, weakly.
"She came here unveiled," said the man.
"True," I said. "But the Alar women do not veil themselves."
"She thought she was an Alar?" asked the man. "She was accustomed to thinking of herself in that way," I said. "But she should have known from her body she was not of the Alars," he said. "She is not a tall, strapping woman. Look at her. She is short, and luscious, and cuddly, and exquisitely feminine. That is the body of a woman of the cities or towns, and, if I may note the fact, it is a typical slave's body."
"True," I said.
"And what was her attitude toward female slaves?" he asked.
"She held herself immeasurably superior to them," I said. "She despised them. She hated them, and held them in great contempt."
"Quite appropriately," he said. "And how did she behave toward them." "With arrogance," I said, "and she enjoyed treating them with great cruelty." "I see," he said. "You may kneel, my dear."
"Did you never suspect, my dear," he asked, "that you were a slave?" "I did not dream I was imbonded," she whispered.
"But you were," he said.
"Yes," she said.
"It is an interesting case," he said, "a female who has been a legal slave unwittingly since infancy, and has only now, in the past Ehn, discovered her true condition."
"Yes," I said.
"But I fear, my dear," he said, "that you have somewhat misinterpreted my question."
She raised her head, regarding him, puzzled.
"I asked if you had never suspected that you were a slave."
She put down her head, reddening.
"Answer," he said.
"Are you speaking of legalities?" she asked, angrily.
"I am speaking of something far deeper and more profound than legalities," he said. "I do not wish to answer that question," she said.
"Speak," he said.
"Yes," she said, "I have suspected it."
"You have been a slave from the moment of conception," he said.
She put down her head.
"Split your knees," he said. "More widely."
She complied. But then she looked up, half in defiance, half in tears.
"Yes," he said, "from the moment of conception."
She put down her head again, and sobbed.
"Leash her," he said.
The fellow who had come in, responding to the summons of the small bell, snapped one end of a long slave leash on Boabissia's throat. The leash is long to permit it being used in a variety of ways, for example, for binding the female or, looped, or loose, for giving her the encouragement of the whistling leather, or, if desired, the administration of more serious lash discipline. She looked up, frightened, knowing herself leashed, and on such a leash. Her eyes met those of the owner of the office.
"You came here," he said, "seeking to find out who you were. I trust you now know. Similarly, you came here to find riches, to seek your fortune. I trust you are now satisfied with the riches you have found, slave bracelets and a leash, though, to be sure, they are not yours, and with your fortune, that which so avidly sought, which proves to be total bondage."
"Please," she wept, suddenly. "I did not know!"
"How demanding, how preemptory, and arrogant, and suspicious, you were," he mused.
"I am sorry," she said. "Forgive me, I beg you!"
"How insistent you were," he said.
"Forgive me," she said.
"How fearful you were," he said, "that you might not receive your dues, your just deserts."
"Forgive me!" she begged.
"Lift your head," he said. "Higher. Higher!" She looked up at him, her head far back, the leash on her throat. "I think I promised you that you would receive exactly what you deserved, exactly what you had coming."
"Please," she said, trembling naked before a master.
"You will receive exactly what you deserve," he said, "and then even more. And you will get, my dear, not only exactly what you have coming, but that, I assure you, and then a thousand times more."
"Mercy, please," she begged, in her helplessness.
"And then," he said, "you will be sold."
"Please, no," she wept.
"It is amusing," he said, "that you held slaves in such great contempt, and treated them with such cruelty, for such is what you were all the time, and as such, revealed, in your full truth, you will now live."
She sobbed, helplessly.
"It is interesting," said the fellow, looking down at the distraught beauty, kneeling before us, almost beside herself with confusion and fear. "I have not seen this female since she was an infant. I remember tying the slave disk, with her number on it, about her tiny neck, opening her blankets that she might be exposed to me while doing so. Now, look at her, a beautifully developed, superbly desirable female slave."
"She is indeed beautiful, and desirable," I said. I had never seen Boabissia look so lovely. To be sure, I had not before seen her truly was what she was, a slave. Slavery, putting a woman in her place in nature, returning her to where she belongs, considerably increases her beauty.
"Who would of thought," he said, "that that infant I bought for only three tarsk bits would have grown into something this marvelous. I am sure that I will be able to get at least two silver tarsks for her."
"Doubtless," I said.
"An excellent investment," he said.
"I agree," I said.
"You need not now keep your head in high-harness position," he said to the girl. She moved her head. He stepped back a bit. She looked at him, frightened, his. "It has been a long time, my dear," he said, "but you are now home." She put down her head, sobbing. She had been returned to her master.
"Stand," he said to her.
"You know what to do with her," he said to the fellow who held her leash. "Yes," said the fellow.
"Do it," he said.