A Kind of Alchemy

by London Lampy

Chapter 21

Sam knew that he was in a carriage, he knew that the carriage moving quite fast over a paved road and he knew that there were at least two other people in the carriage with him, but as he was blindfolded and his hands were tightly bound in front of him he could gain no other clues as to where he was or where he was being taken.

Once the auctioneer's gavel had come down he had been hustled off the stage and made to wait for whoever had bought him to come and take him away. After a short while a tall man whose face was entirely covered by a blank white mask had tied his hands, led him out of the building in silence to a waiting carriage then blindfolded him before pushing him inside. He'd found that there was already a person in the carriage, a girl's voice had complained when he had fallen against a solid body as he tried to sit down. Once they had started to move he had found it hard to keep his balance with his hands tied in front of him, and the person beside him had clearly had the same problem too, leading him to believe that they were most likely bound as well. He was almost certain that the third occupant was the masked man, something about the mask with its complete lack of features bar eye holes was deeply sinister, and he tried not to picture it in his mind.

All he could do was sit and think over the events that had led him to this point. He had owed Fran, even though he didn't know it, and the debt was now repaid, that was a fact, however the more he thought about it the more he regretted going to The Empress with Ava. She had told him that he needed to do this, that there was no other way, and he had been so shocked by learning the full story he had agreed with her. It now occurred to him that Fran had chosen to make the deal with Mother, Sam hadn't asked or expected him to, they were strangers to one another at the time and the man had simply been trying to do something good. By letting himself be sold he realised that he had actually gone against Fran's original intentions, and that his friend and saviour Fran would not be pleased that he had done this. Now the heat of the moment was gone he could see how Ava had manipulated him, and he was frightened and sorely wished he could go back in time and change things.

"Any chance of untying my hands, I keep bloody falling over." The girl beside him said. "I won't try and escape or anything, promise." This was followed swiftly by the short sharp sound of something, possibly a hand, possibly a riding whip, being slapped against flesh. "Ow, fuck! I only bloody asked." The girl protested. Sam was surprised that the girl didn't sound scared, just annoyed at the situation. "What about taking the blindfold off then? It's all dark out, I'm not going to know where we're going." The slapping noise came again, and this time Sam felt a swish of air as whatever it was the girl was being hit with came down on her again, followed by another swear word from her. "You gonna hit me every time I open my mouth?" A third slap confirmed this, and after that she stayed quiet.

Soon he noticed a change, the crunch of the wheels on the road had changed to a softer swish and he could smell not the ever present smoky scent of the city, but the wet green smell of the countryside, a smell that Sam found at once familiar and strange. It was hard to judge how long he had been in the carriage for, but after what must have been at least an hours travel it drew to a halt and he was manhandled out then pushed roughly forward to make him walk.

He tried to follow what was happening to him from the sounds around him, a far off tolling bell was most likely a door bell, a short while after it was rung he heard a door squeaking open and he was pushed up a few steps and into a building. He knew that the girl was still with them because he could hear her grumbling about being pushed. Once he was inside a small warm hand that couldn't possibly belong to the large masked man gripped his elbow, and it steered him up flights of stairs and along passageways, and he realised that wherever he was it was somewhere large, but also oddly empty. He could hear no sounds to suggest that anyone else was around, and any noises that their small party made seemed to resonate in a disconcerting manner. There was also a persistent smell in the air, a mixture of dust and damp and mildew that reminded him of an abandoned cottage he had sometimes played in as a child, much against his mother's wishes.

His feet made a hollow noise that he guessed meant he was walking on uncarpeted boards, he could hear the girl's shoes tapping along behind him, joined by what he assumed was the masked man's heavy footfall, but the person leading him didn't seem to be wearing shoes at all and their bare feet slapped on the boards.

When they stopped he heard the girl indignantly say. "You'd better take these bloody ropes off soon, being tied up weren't part of the deal." Over the sound of a door being unlocked and opened.

He was then pushed forward through a doorway, bumping his shoulder painfully on it as he went, felt his bonds being undone but his blindfold was left in place, then the door slammed shut and he heard the unmistakable sound of a key turning in a lock. He stood still unsure of what he should do until the girl's voice exclaimed . "Bloody hell, you're a boy, I thought you were a girl. I think you can take your blindfold off now."

He did as she suggested, looking around to find that he was in a small room illuminated by a single bare bulb hanging from the centre of the ceiling. He thought that it must have once been a children's bedroom, the walls were covered with faded peeling paper patterned with kittens wearing hats and oversized bows, and against two of the walls were pushed small wooded framed beds with bare mattresses. On the floor was an aging rug, its once bright flowers worn and dingy and an empty fireplace was surrounded by a solid fire-guard. The only other item in the room was a grey metal bucket in one corner, that he suspected had recently been placed there in lieu of a toilet.

The girl was looking out of the room's single window, she was tiny, shorter and smaller than even Fudge, he doubted that she could be any older than fourteen and he found this at odds with her confidence and fearlessness. She had long wavy light brown hair pulled straight back into a ponytail that was tied with a blue ribbon and fell down her back like a waterfall, in profile her face was round with a small snubbed nose, apple cheeks and grey blue eyes. She was dressed in a plain blue pinafore dress and simple flat shoes that wouldn't look out of place back in his home village.

"Gods, I wish I'd never got involved with this sodding malarkey." The girl said as she tried to open the window and found it was locked shut. "He said it would be a nice little earner for me, a couple of nights in some man's bed then back home, didn't say anything about blindfolds or being tied up or being taken the gods know where in the middle of the night. I'm Bonnie by the way." She said as she turned to face him.

"Hello, I'm Sam." He replied. She put out a small bony hand for him, he took it and she gave him a handshake that left his knuckles feeling bruised.

"Is this your first time? I've not seen you around before."

"My first time?" He questioned, not understanding what she meant.

"Yeah, you know, the first time your virginity's been sold. This is my third...no, forth." She frowned. "Different places of course, you don't want anyone recognising you, and if I'm honest I wasn't exactly pure the first time, if you know what I mean."

"Um...yes, it's my first time." He decided not to tell her that it wasn't his virginity that had been sold but his whole self, at least not until he knew her better.

"Yeah, it's easier for boys if they ain't actually a virgin, it's not like anyone can really tell, less you been fucked a lot recently. You don't have to do the whole chicken blood and sponge thing." She turned back to the window and tried to work the catch again.

"What do you mean?" He was finding Bonnie rather confusing.

"This." She turned back around and pulled a round sponge and a small clear bottle from a pocket in the side of her dress that did indeed look as if it contained blood. "All boys have to do is say something like "oh sir, please be gentle with me, you're ever so big and I haven't ever done this before" whereas we have to find a opportunity to dip this." She held up the sponge. "In this." Followed by the bottle to illustrate herself. "Then shove it up us. They want the proof you see, want to know that they weren't sold a pup, that I'm a one hundred percent genuine virgin."

"Oh." Sam thought this through. In its own was it was pretty ingenious.

Bonnie walked across the room to try the door. "Don't happen to know how to pick locks do you?" She asked after rattling the handle a few times.

"No, sorry." He shook his head.

"Shame. The window's no use either, even if it wasn't locked we're well high up, you'd have to be some kind of climbing expert to get out safely. Not that we should be trying to escape anyway, we won't be here long. A couple of bunk ups with whoever bought us, then back to the city we go a few pounds richer. What kind of split are you on?"

"Split?" He felt that all he could do was try to keep up.

"Yeah, I'm on forty sixty, forty to me, sixty to Mother." She pulled a face as she said his name. "Disgusting man, but if you want to make decent money in this game you got to work for him. Thing is he knows that I don't take any shit, and I've made him a small fortune over the years. How old do you think I am?"

"Fourteen?" Sam guessed.

"Ha! Look it, don't I? No, I'll be twenty three next month, I just never grew much, and if I dress like a little girl and do my hair like a little girl people think I am a little girl. It's bloody useful, I can tell you. I'm going to keep doing this for another year or two, them I'm retiring, reckon I might start looking a bit old by then. I'm already seeing a few tiny lines around my eyes and that. I'm going to start my own business then, a sewing shop I think. I've been saving my money, putting it safe and sound in the bank, not like some of the other girls do." Bonnie rolled her eyes. "Soon as they get a bit of cash they piss it all up the wall, stupid cows."

Sam found a little of Bonnie's confidence rubbing off on him, she'd done this before and she didn't seem scared, just annoyed at being first tied and blindfolded, and now locked up. He sat down on one of the small beds, the frame creaked slightly under his weight and it was so low that his knees came almost up to his chest. Bonnie stood in front of the window and used it as a mirror, with the sky dark outside save a small slice of a moon that could be no more than a couple of days off new her reflection was clear. He watched her as she removed the ribbon, shook her hair loose, combed it through with her fingers then retied her ponytail a little higher and tighter. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all, maybe the person who had bought them might not want to keep him for good, maybe he'd just have to spend a night with him then he'd be sent back home with Bonnie, that wouldn't be too bad. He could go back to Fran's if he'd have him back, Fran's debt to Mother would be paid and life could go on as normal. He was thinking about how much he was looking forward to the possibility seeing Ed again when the door was unlocked and pulled open. Into the room came two men, one was the tall blank masked man, still wearing his mask. The other was much smaller, he only just came up to the masked man's shoulder and he was carrying a wooden tray, on the tray was a teapot, a thin trickle of steam coming from its spout, and beside it a plain china cup. Sam thought that he could detect a dark, bitter smell coming from the pot, he didn't dwell too much on this however because he was too busy staring at the small man carrying it. He was dressed in very worn and patched shirt and trousers that looked like they had originally been made for a much larger person. His skin was a golden brown colour, his hair was pulled back off his face and worn in a long tight single braid, but it was neither his skin nor his hair that fascinated Sam but his eyes. They were unlike any he'd ever seen before, they weren't human eyes, they reminded Sam of cat's eyes except that they were a bright gold apart from a single black slit pupil in the centre. The man's face didn't quite look human either, his cheekbones were a little too high and sharp, the angle of his chin and jaw were slightly wrong. Sam thought that he looked like he might be in his middle years, but it was hard to tell, and when the man opened his mouth to speak he saw that his canine teeth were both a bit longer and more pointed than was normal.

"Master wants you to drink this." The words were directed to Bonnie and he had a heavy accent that Sam couldn't place. The golden eyed man held the tray up to let the tall one pour the liquid from the tea pot into the cup. As he moved the light from the naked bulb caught his hair and where it reflected it flashed blue like a magpie's wing.

"What is it?" Bonnie asked suspiciously, seeming more interested in the contents of the cup than the unusual looking man. "It doesn't smell good." She wrinkled her tipped up nose.

"Drink it." The masked man said, placing a large hand on her shoulder, and Sam noticed that his nails were split and lined with dirt and his accent was local, his voice harsh.

The girl took the cup then tried a small, experimental sip. "Ugh, it's bloody disgusting." She screwed her face up.

The tall man wrapped his hand tightly around her thin upper arm, Sam thought it looked painful but she didn't wince. "Drink it all." He growled.

Bonnie nodded and took a longer swig, draining the cup's contents. She coughed and retched twice but didn't bring anything up.

"Now it's time to meet the Master." The tall man said to Bonnie, taking the cup out of her hand and placing it back onto the tray.

"What about me?" Sam risked asking. He didn't much want to be taken to meet the house's Master, but neither did he want to be locked up in the small room alone.

"He only wants the girl tonight, you are to stay here. You're for another day, and another purpose."

Sam spent several hours lying on one of the small bed, sometimes dozing off then waking again with a start. At one point he dreamt he was was back in his basement bedroom in Fran's house, and the awful realisation of where he really was only crashed in when he opened his eyes. He was alone and afraid and he wanted to go home. He thought over the masked man's words about him being for "another day and another purpose" but he couldn't guess what they meant, except that it was not going to be anything good.

The only way he had to measure the passing time was by the colour of the sky beyond the window and when the very first signs of dawn began to appear he heard footsteps coming from outside the room. The door was opened and the golden eyed man led Bonnie inside by the arm. She seemed unaware of where she was, her eyes were glassy and the small man had to push her shoulder to get her to sit on the bed, but once she was down she curled into a ball and lay on her side. The ribbon was gone and her hair was hanging loose and tangled around her face, her lip was cut and bruised and on one side of her blue dress was a dark stain that looked liked it could be blood. Once the small man had left the room and locked them in again Sam got to his feet and went over to her, kneeling beside the bed he tried to take her hand but she pulled back from him in fright.

"Go away...go away." Her voice was slurred, she tried to push him but she seemingly had no strength or coordination and all she managed to do was paw at his chest.

"I'm not going to hurt you." He said as softly as he could.

"No...no more." She sobbed, covering her face with her hands and crying with long juddering moans that made her whole body shake.

Sam backed away to the other bed, partly not wanting to upset her further and party out of pure fear. If the man who had bought them had reduced the experienced, capable and confident Bonnie to that, what was going to happen to him when his time came?

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