Chapter 20: Cynara

Wednesday, October 25, 2000

“Ugh.”  The lights flickered out with a crackle.  “Leofric!”

Eriko’s expression needed no light.  Cynara could see the tired twist of her face already, the exasperated way she looked when she dealt with her boyfriend.  She could see Leo’s cringing apology too, the way his shoulders would shrug forward and he’d try to make himself smaller.  It made Cynara want to hug him; it made her want to punch Eriko.

“It wasn’t me,” Leo protested weakly.

“It’s always you.   It was you last time, wasn’t it?”

 “Yeah, but I was Changing…”

“It doesn’t matter.  Fix it anyway.”  You could almost hear the handwave of impatience that came with that.  “You’re the zappy one, zap it.”

“Zap… what, mistress?”  Leo’s voice had the strained sound it had so often lately and a bit of electricity sparked through the darkness over his head.

“The lights, Leo.  They’re broken. Fix them.”

“Oh! Right. Of course.”  Cynara could almost see the way his face would light up.  He started muttering under his breath, and Cynara crossed her fingers and hoped, for all the good hoping seemed to do around here, that it would work.   

The light in the living room came back on, illuminating Eriko and a slightly-swaying Leo.  “I think the power is out in the whole building, but I got this suite going for a bit.”

“It’s a start, I suppose.  Well?”  She turned to Cynara.  “Aren’t you supposed to be making dinner or something?”

Cynara took a step backwards.  “I was making something for myself and Dysmas.”

Eriko sneered.  “For yourself, you mean.  It won’t hurt you any to make something for Aviv and me, too.”

“For Dysmas,” she repeated carefully.  “Because his dietary needs are part of mine, now.”

“And isn’t that just a convenient excuse to slack off.  Go on, get in the kitchen and cook.  Leo’s fixed the power, hasn’t he?”

“I don’t think –”

“Obviously.”  Eriko stood up.  “Listen. You’re the Kept, I’m the crewmate.  Go.  Cook. Dinner.”

“What’s going on?”  Cynara had never been so happy to see Dysmas.  “The lights went out for a minute…”

“Oh, Leo was doing something.”  Eriko flapped her hand again.  “And your Kept is being difficult.  She seems to think feeding herself is more important than feeding everyone else.”

“Being a blood donor on a regular basis, it does seem reasonable,” Cynara countered.  “Doctor Caitrin said…”

“Cynara.”  Dysmas put a hand on her shoulder.  “Don’t argue with my crew.  It makes me look bad.”

What?  She searched his face, looking for any sign he was joking, or any sign that this was for show.  He looked serious and disapproving, his hand more dunning than comforting.  

She swallowed. “But…”

“It won’t hurt you to make dinner for Eriko and Aviv too, will it?”

It would be more work, and it would cost her more at the Store.  That wasn’t what he was asking, though.  “No.  No, of course not.”  From some unknown place inside her, she found a smile and pasted it on her face.  “I’ll get right to it.”

“That’s a good girl.”

Cynara ducked her head.  “Of course.”  She was not going to call him master, not like Leo called Eriko mistress.  He was her boyfriend.  He was her… “my Keeper.” She made herself smile, a little thing, like she was sharing some sort of joke.  And with that smile still just barely touching her lips, she walked into the kitchen, trying to make it look as if she wasn’t fleeing in defeat.

She could cook without thought: the meat goes here, this gets cut, this gets sautéed.  She had been cooking for herself for nearly a decade already.  She needed that skill today to ignore Eriko’s jabs – not directed at her, of course; she was talking to Dysmas, joking about Cynara and Leo and how you have to remind them, sometimes, or they think they’re all that.

Right.  The steak went in the marinade.  The vegetables were diced fine.  She might think she was all that if she wanted to make dinner for herself and her boyfri… her boyf… her Keeper.

She was not going to cry.  Not where Eriko could see, not where Leo could see.  It was stupid, anyway.  He’d told her what it was all about, hadn’t he?  You Belong to me.  I take care of you, and you do what I say. It’s what being a Keeper and a Kept means.

She’d be stupid to cry when he’d explained it to her, and she’d be a fool to let Eriko know she was getting to her.  Leo… Leo she just didn’t want to worry.  So she bit the inside of her cheek until the urge to cry went away and cut peppers small, tiny dices so fine they were almost a mist.

If that was what being a Keeper meant, what being Kept meant, what else did it mean?  

She got through dinner by making lists in her head.  Eriko had said being Kept meant this; Dysmas had said this.  Aviv, who rarely spoke but ate Cynara’s food and thanked her for it, had said very little, except “We all went through it.  People who didn’t… you don’t want to know them in later years.”

Howard was Kept, although his relationship with Magnolia seemed pretty good.  Zita was Kept.  Leo… She wondered if he noticed some of the stupid orders Eriko gave him, or if he’d learned to bend around them.   She didn’t think it would make them better people.  Being Kept, she thought, a little bit guiltily, hadn’t made Dysmas a better person.  Eriko.  It hadn’t made Eriko a better person.

Hating Eriko was far safer, so she smiled at the awful woman eating her food and plotted elaborate revenges.

And the next day, after classes but before magic lessons, she slipped into Professor Drake’s office.  His walls were lined with dark wood bookshelves covered in books and scrolls and clay tablets, and his dark was a wide, dark slab with more of the same.  

The Professor himself was tall and brown-skinned, his goatee tidy and trimmed and his hair long and black.  “Cynara sh’Amika.”  He nodded his head to her.  “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

She didn’t quite know what to do, so she closed the door.  “I don’t have long, sir, but I want to know about the Law.”  Her hand went to the collar Dysmas had locked around her neck.  “I want to know everything about the Law.”

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