Home Bottle (Story)

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    Sablesword
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    “Is ‘Utata’ a goblin name, Elarra?” Wilstan Sandyfields asked.

    There were four people sitting around the table in the bachelor burrow’s kitchen. Master Tilborn, his cousin Wil, and Myrtle Greenbluff were halfling natives of the Furfoot Counties. Elarra wasn’t.

    “It’s not a normal goblin name,” Elarra said as she set the bottle back on the table. She had been holding it in both green hands, not because of its size, but because her wrists were tied with only a short tether of rope between them. Master Tilborn had tied her legs too. The shackles she’d worn for the walk here were beside her sandals at the door.

    Master Tilborn allowed Elarra sandals and shoes outside, due to her not being a halfling. Inside he made her go barefoot, due to her being his goblin slavegirl. He also had her wear a slave collar at all times – that went without speaking. Other than that, she wore a comfortable dress and bodice similar to Myrtle’s.

    “Could it be a foreign goblin name?” Myrtle asked. The two halfling men looked at her and she added, “You know what I mean.”

    “It doesn’t sound like a goblin name,” Elarra said, “and it’s not one I’ve ever heard before.” She asked her own question. “Where did this bottle come from?”

    It was a small marble-glass bottle. Brown wax sealed (and concealed) the stopper, and it had a broken blue ribbon tied around its neck. On the bottom, a word of five Eastern runes was molded into the glass. Below the runes, someone had pasted a paper label with ‘Utata’ written on it.

    On the table next to the bottle were a book and a sheet of paper, on which they had worked out that the five Eastern runes did spell Utata. Or Utatá if one wanted to be pedantic.

    “It’s a mathom from the old Dengraw estate,” Wil said. “Devden Dengraw was my fourth cousin, twice removed,” he explained for Elarra’s benefit, “and his wife Tammie was something like a sixth cousin, in a different direction.”

    “It’s not a mathom,” Myrtle Greenbluff said. “It’s a home bottle.” The halfling woman looked across the table at Elarra, and the goblin woman nodded back.

    It was Wil who asked, “What’s a home bottle?”

    “It’s a custom in the Sunlands,” Myrtle explained. “There, a baby will sometimes have a bottle made for her (or him) with her name molded into the bottom. The bottle is sold or given away, and when the baby grows up, the bottle will supposedly be at her true home.”

    “So it’s a magic bottle?” Wil asked.

    “Not magic,” Myrtle said. “It’s a divine blessing.”

    Elarra snorted. Unlike halflings, goblins didn’t make a distinction between god-magic and wizard-magic. Myrtle gave her a look.

    “Now, now,” Master Tilborn said. Elarra felt him stroke the tips of her right ear, where they projected from her hair. “Be nice, Elarra, or I’ll have to find some way to chastise you.”

    Since Master Tilborn’s ideas of chastisement involved making her even more deliciously helpless than she was now, Elarra felt a temptation to provoke it. But she stayed quiet for the sake of politeness and bowed her head in apology to Myrtle.

    “Do you want your book back?” Wil asked Master Tilborn.

    “No, you can keep it. Consider it a birthday-present. Besides, I have a thicker book back home, one with a deeper explanation of the Eastern runes.” Master Tilborn gestured at the bottle in front of Elarra. “What will you want to do with this?”

    “It’s not mine,” Wil said. “It came to my brother Kev a couple of weeks ago, and he wanted to know if it was a goblin-bottle. He’s driving a wain of odds and ends to the Silverdog Market tomorrow, and if it was a goblin-bottle he wanted to take it along.” He took the bottle from in front of Elarra and set it in the center of the square table. “Since it isn’t, let’s have some supper.”

    “Supper!” Kevkent Sandyfields said from the door of the burrow he shared with his brother Wil. “That sounds grand!” He wiped his wet feet on the inside mat. “So that’s not a goblin-bottle? Then I’ll leave it here. And let’s have supper!”

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    Kevkent returned from Silverdog Market four days later, his wain half-full of purchases he’d made for others plus a purchase he’d made for himself. As Master Tilborn settled up with him, Elarra exchanged looks with Kevkent’s newest possession: Slavegirl Jenny.

    Jenny’s height matched that of Myrtle (or of Elarra herself) and her build had a halfling woman’s usual well-filled curves. Her curly hair and the fur-wool on the top of her feet were also typically halfling, as was her cheerful round face and snub nose. But she had a complexion as dark as a typical halfling’s brown hair, and her own hair was an inky black.

    Kevkent had introduced Jenny and left the two slavegirls to get acquainted. Jenny wore a slave collar similar to Elarra’s own, and her ankles were locked in shackles similar to those that Elarra usually wore. (She was not wearing them now; Master Tilborn had decided to fetter her wrists instead, as a change.)

    “Excuse me for staring,” Jenny said at last. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone wearing such a pretty green.” Her accent was pure Furfoot Counties, while that ‘pretty green’ idiom was pure Cheetpinkiz Mountain. Goblins used it to complement a woman’s complexion, rather than her dress. (Elarra had on a yellow and brown dress today.)

    Elarra hadn’t expected that, not from some one as Sunland southern-looking as Jenny. “You must be very good with languages,” she said.

    “Not really,” Jenny answered. “This isn’t my cradle-tongue – that would be a Jungle Land language – but I’ve… had strange luck in my upbringing.”

    “It’s still a gift,” Elarra said. “Your accent is perfect.”

    “I suppose it is.” Jenny shrugged. “I hope it won’t cause problems.”

    Elarra considered that. “I don’t think it will, but I see what you mean.”

    “You mean, ‘I hear what you mean.’” Jenny grinned, and Elarra grinned back.

    By custom, slavegirls were always foreigners, both in the Furfoot Counties and elsewhere. That wasn’t a problem with goblins like Elarra, who made up a majority of the slavegirls in the Furfoot Counties. As for the halfling slavegirls, almost all were ‘foreign’ halflings (if not so exotic as Jenny). Still, Elarra had heard of at least three halfling slavegirls whose native origin was an open secret. All three had spent time in foreign lands before being returned here as slavegirls, and everyone politely pretended that they were actually from those foreign lands. But it could get awkward.

    After a moment, Jenny said, “I ought to explain. I wasn’t born here, obviously, and as I’ve said, this isn’t my cradle-tongue. But it comes close. You see –” She broke off as Kevkent and Master Tilborn approached.

    Master Tilborn held ropes, while Kevkent carried a pair of keys. After Elarra’s fetters and Jenny’s hobbles had been unlocked, they had four ropes each tied around their waists, belt-style. These ropes did not restrain either of them in any way; they merely promised a future tie-up.

    Each rope had an oversized wooden bead slipped over it. “Those beads cost a pretty penny,” Kevkent said, “But they’re worth it. They have the virtue of Cymay’s Dispair on them – so don’t try to untie yourselves, unless you want to be embarrassed by their loud groans.”

    “They’re magic beads,” Master Tilborn added with a grin, and Elarra returned a rueful smile. “Now, you’re wanted in the kitchen. Be sure to leave your sandals at the door, Elarra.”

    “You too, Jenny,” Kevkent said. Except for the part about sandals. Now shoo!”

    “Yes master,” Elarra and Jenny chorused.

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    The kitchen of the bachelor burrow was smaller than the one in Master Tilborn’s house, but still large enough (barely) for a goblin and three halflings to work in. Elarra introduced Jenny to Myrtle and to Grantie Primrose. The latter was an older, gray-haired halfling woman, and an honorary great aunt to all and sundry. That included Elarra, so she was puzzled when she saw Grantie Primrose studying Jenny with a slight frown. Myrtle also looked puzzled, Elarra noticed.

    At last Grantie Primrose asked, “Would you rather I explain?”

    “Yes please!” Jenny said, clasping her hands before her.

    Grantie Primrose turned to Elarra and Myrtle. “You didn’t hear this; one must be polite, after all. So you don’t know that Jenny, here, is one of the lasses raised by Devden and Tammie Dengraw. The fifth of six, if I remember correctly.” Jenny nodded confirmation.

    “That’s where I remember you from!” Myrtle burst out. Then she blushed as Grantie Primrose gave her a speaking look.

    “We need to finish getting supper ready,” Grantie Primrose said.

    A slight gesture set Elarra working beside the old halfling woman. “You need to know more about this,” she told Elarra in a low voice. “You’ll hear stories (if you haven’t already) about the Dengraws. Stories about them being old and in debt, and about them selling their granddaughters to slavers, one by one. Now they were old and in debt, but they didn’t sell their granddaughters. Far as I know, they didn’t have any. What they did do is raise foundlings. A sorcerer-slaver named Gormac Greenstaff brought toddlers here, four of them over six years, and paid the Dengraws to take them in. Then he returned to take them back, one by one, as they reached their late tweens. He came for the last one a little over six years ago, and Dev and Tammie Dengraw died three years after that.” Grantie Primrose paused before adding. “Of old age, but without any debt. Their three sons were dead or run off to foreign parts, so their estate was divided among various nephews, nieces, and cousins. And that’s how the home bottle Wil was asking you about came into the hands of his brother Kev.”

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    After the supper for seven (crowded, even with the large table set up in the parlor) Grantie Primrose said, “I have baking to do tomorrow.” She hugged her three honorary grand-nieces – Pink Myrtle, dark Jenny, and green Elarra – before departing. The three hosts and remaining three guests then settled down to sip dessert-drinks and hold lazy conversation.

    Wil and Myrtle sat side by side on the loveseat. Elarra was tied hand and foot with the ropes from around her waist, cuddling in a stuffed chair with Master Tilborn. Jenny was likewise tied, sprawled over the lap of her Master Kevkent.

    In the comfortable silence, Elarra wondered how to ask her question. At last she decided on, “Jenny, do you have another name as well?”

    Kevkent answered for her. “’Jenny’ is a nickname. It’s short for, um…”

    The dark halfling supplied, “’G’nené,’ master. ‘Jenny’ isn’t shorter, it’s just easier to pronounce.”

    “So it is,” Master Tilborn said. “But you’re not ‘Utata’?”

    “‘Utata’?” Jenny asked. “Is that a goblin name?”

    Elarra and the others laughed. Wil waved a hand at the home bottle, now sitting on the mantelpiece, and explained how he had asked the same question.

    “I don’t know what kind of name it is,” Elarra added. “Just that it isn’t yours.”

    Jenny sighed. “I do have a home bottle somewhere. Or so I’ve been told. But it doesn’t seem to be that one.”

    Another comfortable silence. Elarra closed her eyes as Master Tilborn caressed her. The ropes on her wrists kept her from doing anything about it, and she smiled. She thought she heard a faint sigh from Jenny. Or it might have been Myrtle. Then she felt Master Tilborn pulling at her knots.

    “We need to be getting home, soon,” Master Tilborn said. “Thank you for your hospitality, tonight, and you’re welcome to come join us for second-breakfast, tomorrow.”

    “We’ll be there,” Kevkent said.

    But Wil said, “I’m afraid I have a prior obligation. But I’ll be glad to look into your pantry some other time.” He turned to Myrtle. “I’d be happy to walk you home, if you’d like.”

    “I’d like,” Myrtle said. She stood, stretched, and stepped over to hug the two slavegirls goodnight.

    A minute or so after Wil and Myrtle left, Master Tilborn and Elarra followed. Kevkent was keeping Jenny tied, Elarra noticed, and her own master had a gleam in his eye. She smiled slightly to herself as she put on her sandals and locked her hobble. She could count on his plans to be comfortable ones.

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    First-breakfast the next morning was cozy with toast and scrambled egg, and made interesting by Master Tilborn tying Elarra’s large toes together after she sat down.

    Second-breakfast started at nine-thirty by the dwarf-clock, with the arrival of Kevkent and Jenny. It took the two slavegirls a half hour to prepare the pancakes and bacon, and just as everyone was sitting down, there was a knock at the door.

    “Go answer that, Elarra,” Master Tilborn said.

    “Yes master.”

    Elarra rose and padded barefoot to the door. She and Jenny both had shackles set aside, but their masters hadn’t bothered locking them on. In any case, Elarra thought, the neighbors all knew who she was by now, and so wouldn’t be shocked to see a green goblin woman answering their knock.

    But it turned out to be a stranger. His eyes widened for a moment, and then he grinned. “Hello, Miss Wench,” he said with a short bow. “I am Tedlo Acorn, and I’ve been informed that Mr. Kevkent Sandyfields is here.”

    He was an older halfling. Not as old as Grantie Primrose, but old enough to have gray in his hair and laugh-lines in his face. Elarra smiled and stepped aside, as Kevkent came up behind her to loudly welcome Mr. Acorn.

    “I wasn’t expecting you until this evening!” Kevkent said. “There are always delays.”

    “There were delays,” Mr. Acorn answered in his mellow voice. “But I started yesterday, and spent the night at the Hen.”

    Master Tilborn welcomed him too. More quietly, but then nearly everyone spoke more quietly than Kevkent. “Elarra, set another place for Mr. Acorn,” he then said, “and then make yourself decent.”

    “You too Jenny,” Kevkent added, when the dark skinned halfling looked at her master.

    The new place was set. Mr. Acorn was seated. “No need to get decent for my sake,” he then said. “And no need for ‘Mr. Acorn.’ I’m Tedlo, or Mr. Tedlo if you insist on being polite to my gray hairs.” But he watched appreciatively as Elarra and Jenny locked shackles on their ankles and handed the keys back to their masters.

    “Mr. Tedlo is going to be your new neighbor,” Kevkent said, after the older halfling had gotten half-way through his plate.

    “I brought the papers,” Mr. Tedlo said. “That’s why I was looking for Mr. Kevkent, here.”

    “Papers?” Master Tilborn asked.

    Kevkent answered, “I’m moving out of the bachelor burrow, and buying a house out near Dogway. Mr. Tedlo’s old house.”

    “So you’re finally loosing the arrow,” Master Tilborn said.

    “Yep,” Kevkent answered. “It’ll be too far for me to stay a proper neighbor, here, but Dogway will be more convenient for my wain-hire. It’ll also let me chastise Jenny proper, without disturbing my brother Wil.”

    Elarra saw Jenny push back a smile, and she had to do likewise. Master Tilborn had ‘chastised’ her last night, bringing out some of his more elaborate restraints, and the sense of helplessness had been wonderful.

    Mr. Tedlo nodded. “I’ve got the deed and the other papers for you to sign.” After another bite, he added, “I’m not moving in with your brother Wil, though. Grantie Primrose said she’d put me up while I looked for a place of my own around here.”

    A silence followed as everyone paid proper attention to the food. When they were well into their second plates, Master Tilborn said, “Elarra, we need more pancakes.”

    “Yes, master,” Elarra said, standing up with a clink of ankle-chain.

    “We need more bacon, too,” Kevkent said. “Jenny, go help Elarra, and fry some up.”

    “Yes, master.”

    Mr. Tedlo asked, “Did you order Elarra and Jenny to be seen and not heard? No? Then let them ask a question or two while they cook. I can see that they’re both full of ‘satiable curiosity.”

    “Go ahead, Jenny,” Kevkent said.

    Elarra looked back and saw Master Tilborn’s nod. She turned to exchange looks with Jenny. You ask first the halfling’s dark brown eyes seemed to say. Elarra nodded. She had heard mention of Mr. Tedlo during last night’s lazy conversation, and the honey on the table now reminded her of it.

    “Mr. Tedlo,” Elarra asked, “Did a wizard really teach you a spell for herding bees?”

    “Close but not quite,” Mr. Tedlo said. “It was a spell for calming bees, so that their hives could be opened without destroying them. And I learned it from old Master Gormac, who was a sorcerer rather than a wizard. He’s a human, of course, and I traveled with him a bit in my misspent youth. He was the one who brought foundlings to the Devdens, you know. Or maybe you don’t know. I can’t say where they ended up” – Elarra sensed rather than saw his glance at Jenny – “but they were all proper foreign girls. Two were from the Jade East, and you can’t get more foreign that that. Cheetpinkiz Mountain is practically a neighbor, by comparison.”

    Elarra looked back to see Mr. Tedlo grinning at her. He continued, “Ayame was a halfling girl, and the elf-girl was Oola or Ootara or something like that. They both had this golden skin, and black hair that fell straight like rainwater. And Ootara was tiny. For an elf-woman that is. Four feet and an inch is more than me, and that’s what she was when Master Gormac came back for her.”

    Now it was Jenny’s turn. “Mr. Tedlo, what can you tell me about home bottles?”

    “Not all that much, Miss Jenny. Just that you can trust it to find you, or you to find it, if you have one. Master Gormac, wherever he is now, would know more about them than I do. He knew a blessing or two, along with his spells, and he always said that that’s what made him a sorcerer, rather than a wizard. For myself, I’ve only seen two home bottles. One belonged to the elf-girl Ootara, and had a jade stopper. Gormac sealed it with wax, to hide the jade. I don’t know who the other bottle belongs to, but the last time I saw it, was on a back shelf at The Laughing Hen. That was some years ago. I didn’t ask about it when I was at the Hen last night, so as far as I know it’s still there.”

    “The Laughing Hen,” Kevkent said. “That’s the place run by Melwise and Sherry Makeworth, isn’t it? I’ve passed by it, often enough, but I’ve never stopped there.”

    “More Sherry than Melwise, from what I’ve seen,” Master Tilborn said. “I make the occasional beer barrel for them. Not many, but regular. In fact, I have a couple to deliver to them today.” He gave Kevkent a hopeful look.

    “Sorry, Til,” Kevkent said, “You’ll have to use your own cart for that. I need to start packing today, back at the burrow. And sorry, Jenny. You can’t go with Til and Elarra to the Hen because I want you to help me pack. You’ll have to trust a shifty green goblin to find your home bottle for you.”

    Elarra exchanged looks again with Jenny, and again the brown halfling’s brown eyes seemed to say you go first.

    “Jenny doesn’t have to trust a shifty green goblin,” Elarra said. “She has to trust me.”

    “Besides,” Jenny said, “I grew up with two goblin stepsisters. So I know exactly how to deal with them.”

    “I never had any halfling step-sisters,” Elarra mock-mourned, and quickly added, “Until now.” before Jenny could beat her to it.

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    They started for The Laughing Hen after second-breakfast, and arrived in good time for the afternoon munch. Elarra had never been there before. Master Tilborn had been there twice since bringing Elarra to the Furfoot Counties, but he had left her at home both times.

    Elarra reminded herself to be formal with the people here, until they told her otherwise. She smiled to herself as she remembered her first visit to the Anvil and Barrel, Master Tilborn’s usual haunt, and its contrast to her second visit the following night. Halflings who had never met a goblin slavegirl before were wary and curious, while those who had – even if it had been just the night before – were curious and friendly.

    Goblins felt the same way about halfling slavegirls, Elarra knew, and she’d heard that dwarves, elves, and dark-elves had similar reactions. Most people were just naturally clannish, which was why the only goblins allowed in the Furfoot Counties were goblin slavegirls.

    The two younger halflings in the Hen’s brew room were wary and curious toward Elarra. Mr. Makeworth was curious and friendly. He smiled benignly as he inspected the two new barrels Master Tilborn had brought, he smiled benignly as he settled up for their delivery, and he smiled benignly when Elarra begged him permission to look for the home bottle in the back room.

    “Sure you can. It’ll be on a top shelf, so you’ll need a stepladder to even see it, but there’s a stepladder right in the back room ‘cause of all the high shelves. I’ll show you the way. It’s right through this door. You can come too, Til. You’ll want to hold the stepladder.”

    Master Tilborn also wanted to unlock Elarra’s shackles before she tried to climb. Once he had done so, he held the stepladder for her while Mr. Makeworth held a candle. The back room had a little light from a high window at one end, but only a little, and Elarra found that the extra light from the candle helped.

    Unfortunately it only helped show that no home bottle (or any other bottle) was there. The top shelf was empty, except for dust and a cardboard tag with a bit of broken blue ribbon attached. Elarra took the tag, took a step down, and scanned the lower shelves. No home bottles, and nothing that looked like a bottle. Mugs and pitchers, yes, but no bottles of any sort.

    Elarra came down and handed Mr. Makeworth the tag. She received her shackles from Master Tilborn in return, locked them on, and handed him back the key.

    “Aye, this tag is from the home bottle, sure enough,” Mr. Makeworth said. “But the bottle wasn’t there? You’re sure? Keep the tag, then. It goes with the bottle and you can return it to its owner.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Makeworth,” Elarra said.

    “You’re welcome, Elarra. And it’s Mel, or Mr. Melwise, if you must.”

    On leaving the back room, they were confronted by a matronly halfling who matched Mr. Makeworth so well that Elarra instantly knew who she was.

    “Mr. Tilborn,” Missus Makeworth said. “You’ve brought the new beer barrels? And you’re all settled up with Mel? Good.” She beamed at the two halflings.

    Her smile grew shaky when she looked at Elarra. Then she glanced down at the shackles hobbling Elarra. When she looked up again, her smile had regained its warmth. Elarra smiled back with a tiny nod of understanding.

    A few halflings felt unaccountably nervous around an unfettered goblin, even when she was a collared goblin slavegirl who they knew and liked. But when the same goblin woman was safely chained – that was completely different.

    Master Tilborn said, “This is my Elarra that I purchased under Cheetpinkiz Mountain.”

    “Purchased honest.” Mr. Melwise nodded vigorously. “Not war booty or anything. I’m sure she’ll be all respectable, Sherry.” Missus Makeworth gave him a sharp glance before returning her gaze to Elarra.

    Elarra made a curtsy: A chained-curtsy that kept her feet close together. “Good day Missus Makeworth,” she said. “I’m very pleased to meet you.”

    Missus Makeworth’s smile grew even warmer. “I’m likewise pleased to meet you, Elarra. And it’s Sherry, or Missus Sherry, if you must.” She turned to Master Tilborn. “It will take a few minutes to bring your munch-platter out. While you’re waiting, you’re both welcome to sample the keg we just tapped.” She led them to a table.

    When his wife left, Mr. Melwise said, “And that’s the importance of being decent. Ah!” He fell silent as a halfling barmaid arrived. She was one who had seen goblin slavegirls before, judging by her relaxed smile and the smooth way she set three mugs down before flitting to the next table.

    “That’s the importance of being decent,” Mr. Melwise repeated. “You womenfolk set great store by it, an’ if we menfolk didn’t go along we’d be wearing nothing but skins. Nothing but skins and furs, and wouldn’t that be a picture.”

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    For the cart-ride back home, Master Tilborn fastened a chain around Elarra’s waist, locking the free end to one of the cart’s tie-down cleats. This left both her arms and her legs free. “It can’t be comfortable to go hobbled all the time,” he’d said. Besides, this arrangement was at least as effective for keeping Elarra from running away. Not that Elarra would want to do such a thing, but it was nice to know that Master Tilborn cared.

    So Elarra sat in the back of the cart, using the fading sunlight to study the tag she’d found. The broken ribbon might match the one on Kevkent’s home bottle. She’d have to compare them to tell. Or she could ask Grantie Primrose to do a divination.

    The tag itself had two large Eastern runes written on it: The ‘number’ rune, and the fifth rune (out of sixty). From that Elarra could decipher ‘#5’ easily enough. Below in smaller letters someone had written, ‘toe ring inside.’ Nothing else.

    Elarra tucked the tag away again. “I wonder what Jenny is doing now,” she mused idly.

    “Whatever amuses Kevkent, I’d guess,” Master Tilborn said, not turning around from his driving. The cart pony, as expected, had no opinion.

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    “They’re treating you like a goblin,” Master Kevkent groused as they approached the door of the bachelor burrow.

    “But that’s good, isn’t it master?” Jenny asked brightly. Master Kevkent snorted.

    Wil had chosen to stay at the Anvil and Barrel. “To play a few games of darts,” he’d said, with a grin as good as a wink.

    “If people start treating you like Elarra, that will be all right,” Master Kevkent said. “Now wash and wipe your feet before going in.”

    “Yes master.”

    Master Kevkent had taken Jenny to the Anvil and Barrel for supper, rather than setting her to cook after a day of packing. Tomorrow they’d have to finish packing, and the next day they’d set out early to the new house. It wasn’t that far; just far enough that they’d need to make a night or two of it when they returned to visit. But tonight Master Kevkent wanted to have fun, and Jenny entirely agreed with that.

    They entered the bedroom. Jenny removed her dress, bodice, and shift, and turned to Master Kevkent for further commands. He pointed at the bed. “We’ll keep it simple,” he said.

    “Simple is good, master,” Jenny agreed with a grin.

    Master Kevkent applied four ropes to secure Jenny, wrapping left wrist, right wrist, left ankle, and right ankle, and tying the far ends to the bedposts. He adjusted the pillow under her head, for comfort, before setting his hands to the task of teasing and soothing her.

    “And what do you think of this?” Master Kevkent asked.

    “Mmmmm,” Jenny purred.

    “So I thought.”

    Master Kevkent shifted down to comb the tops of her feet. Setting the comb aside, he rubbed them all over. Jenny couldn’t see her soles, but it suddenly came to mind how her soles and palms were pale by comparison to the rest of her skin. She’d wondered, from time to time, why that was. Now she wondered again, briefly, before Master Kevkent’s touch claimed all her attention. His hands move up her legs, and he nuzzled her breasts, kissing them, and licking the space between.

    “Oh yes, master!” Jenny said. “Please! Thank you very much!”

    Master Kevkent responded with an amused and agreeable growl. He sat back to watch as Jenny began to pull at the ropes holding her arms and legs. Each rope had a bit of slack, and when Jenny reached the end of that slack, the sudden stop sent a shock of pleasant excitement through her. She began to pull harder and harder, as she became more and more excited in her helplessness.

    “Easy now,” Master Kevkent whispered. He stretched out beside her, applying his hands and kisses – and his feet as well, moving them over Jenny’s own feet and legs.

    Jenny stopped thrashing, but she couldn’t entirely give up pulling at her bonds. It felt too good. Soon enough she would relax in Master Kevkent’s arms, blissfully limp, but not yet. Not yet. Not when her nipples were so stiff, brushing against his chest. And not when his hands adjusted her slave collar, making her aware of it. And he was kissing her again. And he was helping himself to her. And… And… And…

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    When Wil returned home from the Anvil and Barrel, he took the bed in the guest bedroom. Jenny and Master Kevkent were both asleep by then.

    Jenny was dreaming that she’d found her very own home bottle in the kitchen. She was standing there, fully dressed, yet by dream-logic she was also still tied to the bed by the sleeping tethers Master Kevkent had applied: One rope wrapped around the left wrist, one rope around the right ankle, and generous slack on both ropes, for comfort.

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    “I beg the tickle, master!” Elarra said as she cleared away the remains of a late, cold supper.

    Master Tilborn considered that. “Six minutes,” he finally said. “I have other plans.”

    “Yes, master.” And again, “Yes, master,” with a doleful tone and drooping ears. Master Tilborn laughed, shaking his head, and Elarra found she couldn’t keep her ears down. Besides, he did have those other plans.

    The time Elarra spent stripping to her green skin didn’t count. Nor did the time Master Tilborn spent putting her into the hogtie-contraption. This was a thing of finished wood and leather that stocked Elarra’s ankles, secured her upper arms behind her back, and required her to lay belly-down on the bed. Master Tilborn set the egg-glass down where both he and Elarra could see it, ran his fingers through her hair, and turned it over.

    Elarra then felt the feather-fan dust the sole of her right foot. “Heehee heehehehee!” she giggled. Elarra loved being tickled. It was a custom of Cheetpinkiz Mountain goblin girls, and Elarra still loved it here in the Furfoot Counties when Master Tilborn tickled her.

    The feather-tips ran up and down and back and forth over Elarra’s right foot, while Master Tilborn used his left hand to tickle her left foot. He paid attention to the tops of her feet, as well as her soles, and Elarra squirmed blissfully as the delicious tickle-sensations sank in. There were occasional forays to her legs and sides as well, along with one teasing run right down her spine to keep her laughing helplessly.

    The sand in the egg-glass ran down. Master Tilborn turned it over and returned to the tickling of his goblin slavegirl. Elarra, being too well-secured to do anything else, returned to her squirming and laughing. “Heehee heehaha hehehehee!”

    “Are we having fun?” Master Tilborn asked, not pausing the twists and strokes of the feather-fan.

    “Yes master!” Elarra answered. “Heehee hahee heeheehee! Yes!”

    Master Tilborn concentrated on Elarra’s feet now, seeking out their most sensitive places and soaking them in tickles from his feather-fan and fingers. Elarra felt the tickle-sensations sink into her soles, running through her to bring out yet more giggles. The helpless giggles. As usual, the secured helplessness of Elarra’s feet – and of the rest of her – made her feel even more ticklish.

    The sand ran down for the second time. Elarra felt the tickles stop, and let out a little sigh of disappointment. “Now, now,” Master Tilborn chided. He set aside the feather fan, and Elarra felt both his hands caressing her with a comforting not-tickle. He adjusted her collar, reminding her of it as he straightened its crookedness.

    Further bindings came next. Elarra’s thumbs were tied together with a cord, and another cord hobbled her large toes. Master Tilborn measured the distance between his slavegirl’s ankles, and fussed over getting the length of the toe-hobble just right. A final ear-caress, and then Master Tilborn sat back in his chair, to watch.

    Elarra knew she could not hold still for more than a minute at a time. She tested the bonds holding her upper arms. They held, and in holding they sent a spurt of warm frustration through her. She tried her legs. The stocks kept her ankles in place and the toe-hobble felt weird and wonderful. She tried both arms and legs, and the warm frustration had a pleasant tingle to it. She pulled and struggled and smiled, unable to stop. Unable to stop smiling and unable to stop struggling; both felt good, especially with Master Tilborn watching.

    With an effort Elarra made herself hold still. But not for long. She had to test her bonds again, and again their pleasant effectiveness drove her to test them some more. The cords binding her thumbs and hobbling her toes kept doing interesting things too. They made her feel ‘witchy,’ like a captive sorceress who could only use her magic at her captor’s command. Not that Elarra was a sorceress of any sort. She was ‘able to spell a few words,’ as the saying went, just like any other ordinary person. But the thumb-tie and toe-hobble still made her feel witchy. And Master Tilborn’s bright eyes and broad smile kept her feeling loved, as well.

    Left to her own choice, Elarra would have squirmed for half the night before begging for release – and then she would have regretted her soreness the next morning. Master Tilborn would have none of that, however. He rose to untie and unlock her sooner than she expected – it was always sooner than she expected – and she felt the usual faint pang of disappointment.

    Elarra did nod appreciation when Master Tilborn made her pull on a night-slip. The nights were getting cooler now, at the start of autumn. The sleeping restraints came next. Master Tilborn was not releasing her completely. These restraints had been specially made: A locking wrist-cuff and ankle-cuff of metal and leather, sized to fit Elarra exactly and adjustably attached to the head and foot of the bed with fine steel chains. Master Tilborn alternated them each night, and tonight he locked Elarra’s right wrist and left ankle. She would not be leaving until he unlocked her again. But the chains did have more than enough slack for comfort. Slack to allow Master Tilborn to bed her, and slack to allow her to sleep happily in his arms, afterwards.

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    Elarra and Master Tilborn slept late the next morning, but not too late. They had a feast to host, before Kevkent and Jenny moved out to their new home. In Wil and Kev’s bachelor burrow, supper for seven had been a squeeze, while Master Tilborn’s home had room and to spare for a dinner feast for eight. Besides, his kitchen was bigger.

    Grantie Primrose came to see the initial preparations, left, and returned again, bringing Myrtle and an apple pie. Kevkent dropped off Jenny to help with the cooking. He returned with Mr. Tedlo as the dwarf-clock struck two, and everyone took a break for cider and pre-feast nibblements.

    Wil arrived a few minutes later, carrying the home bottle. “Am I too late for cider?” he asked.

    “Not at all,” Master Tilborn answered. “Sit down and join us.”

    “What’s that?” Myrtle asked.

    “It’s Kev’s home bottle, of course,” Wil said. He set it down on the table. “I brought it with me because Kev mentioned passing it along.”

    Kevkent nodded. “That’s right. I don’t know who it’s for, so I’ll give it so someone who might figure it out.” He looked at Master Tilborn.

    “Not me.” Master Tilborn shook his head. “Keep it, and take it with you to Shortgals. Or have you decided to rename the house?”

    Elarra stood. “That reminds me.” She started to hurry from the room, only to be brought up short by her slave hobbles. Smiling ruefully, she moved more slowly to fetch the tag from the Laughing Hen. “Look at this, please,” she said, handing the tag to Grantie Primrose. “I wanted to ask if you could cast a divination on this.”

    Grantie Primrose looked at the tag, turning it over and reading it. She smiled. “No need for a divination, Elarra.” She held the tag up next to the home bottle. The broken blue ribbons matched.

    Wil took the card and read it aloud. “‘Number… 5.’ And ‘Toe ring inside.’” He picked up the bottle and shook it. “But it feels empty. Nothing rattles.”

    “Men!” Myrtle said. “When I store a piece of jewelry, I make sure to pack it so that it doesn’t rattle.” She looked around at the other three women for confirmation.

    “Let’s open it,” Mr. Tedlo suggested. “We’ll need a knife, hot water, and a thin skewer to fish the ring out.”

    Everyone looked at Kevkent. “Yes,” he agreed. “We’ll open it. Jenny, go fetch a knife and things.”

    “Yes master. A small paring knife?”

    Elarra looked at Master Tilborn, who nodded permission. Myrtle stood as well. Not being collared, she didn’t need permission. When the three women returned from the kitchen, Jenny brought back hot water, Elarra brought a skewer, and Myrtle brought a paring-knife.

    After a suitable struggle, they unsealed the bottle and fished the toe ring out. The stopper proved to be of the same marble-glass as the bottle.

    “The stopper’s not jade,” Mr. Tedlo commented. “So this isn’t that elf-girl’s bottle. Not Ootara’s.”

    “‘Oola,’ Mr. Tedlo,” Jenny said. He waved a hand to accept the correction; keeping politely silent about how Jenny knew this.

    Elarra thought that the brown halfling slavegirl looked both disappointed and puzzled. If this home bottle wasn’t hers, and wasn’t Oola’s, then who did it belong to? And where was Jenny’s?

    The toe ring had been set in place with wax, on the bottom of the bottle. Cleaning off the wax revealed it to be a brassy red-gold. Not fine gold, but a practical jewelry-gold. The outside had a diamond-pattern decoration, and the inside had two engraved words. Everyone squinted at it as they passed it around.

    Jenny received it last. “‘Utata,’” she read aloud, “in those Eastern runes. And ‘G’nené’ in normal letters. G’nené. That’s me! But who is Utata, then?”

    Elarra noticed Master Tilborn frowning at Jenny. Kevkent and Mr. Tedlo noticed too, and frowned at Master Tilborn in return. But Elarra recognized her owner’s thoughtful frown.

    “Wait a moment,” Master Tilborn said, standing up. “Elarra, fetch a pencil and a sheet of paper.” He left the room, returning with a thick book. “I told you I had a thicker book,” he said to Wil as he opened it. “Not here… not here… not here… Ah! Here. A table of the Eastern runes, with transliterations. Our five runes are U, t, a, t again, and á with an accent.”

    “Utata,” Mr. Tedlo said. The others nodded, but Elarra noticed Grantie giving Master Tilborn a sharp look, as if she had her own suspicions.

    Master Tilborn wore a smug expression, as he looked around his audience. “But here on the next page…” He flipped to it and began to read, “‘Some tribes in the Sunlands and Jungle Lands use an alternative transliteration of the Eastern runes, given in the table below.’ Elarra, do you have your pencil ready? Our five runes are G’ with a stop, e, n, and é with an accent. G’nené.” His expression had gone from smug to triumphant, and he half-bowed to Jenny. The halfling slavegirl smiled to split her face, while at the same time being on the edge of tears.

    “Try on the toe ring, Jenny,” Myrtle said.

    “Yes,” Kevkent approved. “Try it on.”

    Jenny bent down. The ring fit perfectly on her second toe.

    “Very nice,” her master approved. He put his arm around her, and she leaned toward him.

    Grantie Primrose raised a glass of cider. “And here’s a toast, to a foundling who found her home.”

    “Not quite yet,” Kevkent said. “She still hasn’t seen Utata House. You’ll find your home bottle there,” he added to his brown slavegirl. He winked. “Along with a certain amount of chastisement for the trouble you’ve caused tonight.”

    “Thank you master,” Jenny said. “I look forward to it.”

    Myrtle asked, “Utata House?”

    “That’s what I’ve just decided to rename it,” Kevkent said. “There are two other ‘Shortgals’ houses I know of, and a burrow too. I don’t want to be confused.”

    “To Utata House, then,” Mr. Tedlo raised his glass. “And to Jenny going home.”

    ——————=O+O+O=——————

    Master Kevkent lit a lamp for the first time in Utata House. The master bedroom still held a bed, or they would have been spending the night at the Naked Emperor, but it looked rather barren otherwise. As did the rest of the farmhouse: Mr. Tedlo had taken his furniture when he moved out, and Master Kevkent’s household goods were still packed in the wain. In the barn, in case of rain, with the cart ponies stabled there as well.

    A quartet of halflings in their tweens had shown up to help with the ponies – actually to do the work while Master Kevkent and Jenny watched. It had been a very long drive. Master Kevkent had paid them partly with coin and partly, afterwards, with supper at the Naked Emperor. That tavern looked to become their local haunt. It wasn’t the same as the Laughing Hen or the Anvil and Barrel. Instead, the three taverns were similar like siblings, or at worst like first cousins.

    Tomorrow morning, the quartet would return to help with unpacking, in exchange for more coins and a second supper at the Emperor. One item, however, was already in the house: Jenny’s home bottle was there, still in the box they’d found to protect it for the move. The tag was still packed in the box with the bottle, and the toe ring was still on Jenny’s second toe.

    Master Kevkent tilted his head toward the home bottle’s box. “We’ll find a proper place for that tomorrow.” He set the lamp down and yawned. “By Dee, I’m tired.”

    “Shall I build a fire, master?” Jenny asked. “It looks like it will be clear tonight, after all, and I think it will get chilly.”

    “I think you’re right,” Master Kevkent said. “Go ahead, and then slip into your night-shift.”

    The bedroom had a small heating stove, replacing an older fireplace. One of their helpers had filled the wood box. By the time Jenny finished lighting the stove, Master Kevkent was ready for her, dressed for bed and holding a pair of ropes in his hands. Smiling, Jenny sat on the bed and extended left arm and right leg for her sleeping-tie.

    “I’ll have to get you proper bed chains,” Master Kevkent said as he wrapped her wrist and ankle. “Like the ones Til has for his Elarra. With locking cuffs sized to fit you exactly.”

    “I’d like that, master,” Jenny said. She watched as Master Kevkent tied the loose ends to the bedposts and made sure she had enough slack for comfort. Then he rose to put out the lamp that was now out of Jenny’s reach.

    “For tonight, this will have to do,” he said. “Can’t have you running off, ‘specially when I’m feeling too tired to chase after you.” Slipping into the bed, he pulled Jenny close and pulled the blanket over them both.

    Jenny relaxed into the warmth of her master’s body. She was too tired to try to run away tonight, even if she wanted to. And it would be a supremely silly thing for her to do. She was in a house. A house with her own home bottle in it for the first time since forever.

    But it was nice that Master Kevkent cared.

    (fin)

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