When the siren died, Zuher fell to madness.
The halls were bathed in blood, and silence. Rumor said the earth itself trembled with his fury. Nothing quite matched the taste of a siren, and without his, Zuher suffered.
Still, a year passed before Zuher called him.
Every cell in his body screamed for him to stall, or turn tail and sail the other direction. Reality and logic denied such ideas, however, he with his crew set sail.
After all, it mattered little how many leagues laid between him and his master. A collared man remained collared for life, and therefore, his desires meant nothing. Only Zuher’s mattered.
Upon arrival, he ignored the curious eyes that seemed to burrow beneath his skin like nightmares, just as he ignored the loudly spoken insults and admiration. Such a strange place this country was. The hidden scars that marked him a slave labeled him as property, and they treated him as such. Therefore, no one felt the need to muffle their words. Had he been viewed as a man, their words might have at least been whispered.
“I wish he was for sale. Imagine coming home to that.”
“I heard he’s a wild one. They say he killed a noble for calling him pup.”
“I thought he was dead.”
“Nothing good will come of this, I tell ya. Best be staying away from that one.”
“You’re late. We expected you to arrive weeks ago.”
The greeting focused his attention, and he offered the doorman a lazy smile. At some point in his life, ignoring the voices became second nature. He, of course, had no desire to figure out when. That meant reflecting on memories better left buried. Still, it was a useful skill.
“The summons said return, nothin’ else,” he said. “I assumed that meant I was free ta make my way back as I wanted.”
He hadn’t, actually. The last time he’d arrived late to a summons, he’d been locked away for weeks. During that time he’d had only a single visitor, and they hadn’t been of the friendly sort. He could only pray to the gods that his master was in a good mood this time around. As if reading his mind, the doorman offered him a seemingly sympathetic smile.
“Best be going, then. You wouldn’t want to keep him waiting.”
He nodded and continued through the now open door. His gaze focused on the man seated at the far end. Within the moment, he picked up on the annoyance in his master’s otherwise relaxed demeanor. It was in the tightness of his lips, despite his cocked brow, and the way his fingers drummed the arm of his chair.
The drumming stopped. “You’re late.”
He held his tongue, not about to repeat what he’d said before. Instead, he bowed his head.
Zuher nodded, content with the words. His fingers resumed their motion, his gaze unfocused.
“Yes, well, now that you’re here, I have a new task for you. I need something.”
He always did.
“You need only ask, Master.”
Refusal wasn’t an option. He was bound by the very blood that ran through his veins. A shudder near racked his body as he recalled the last man to think death was better than service. Not a night went by the screams weren’t relived in his nightmares.
Still, as he listened to the unsurprising request, he drew tense.
His jaw locked, mind racing. This abhorrent quest rivaled all others to date. He was dancing a fine line with this. If he failed, Zuher would be the least of his worries. The gods themselves would see him punished for arrogance. Boiling alive would be a blessing.
If he succeeded, however, the future would be up to chance. A prayer to Koun near graced his lips. It took everything he had to conceal the hope flooding his system from his face. He pretended to be reluctant, to be afraid.
His body trembled with concealed excitement.
“It will take time,” he warned. “They are a cautious people. But, I will succeed in this.”
Or he would die.
Wolves hated cages, and his collar was more suffocating than any iron bars.