She checked the buffet table, visited the kitchen so she could restock a few things that were particularly low, circled around the solar collecting used dishes to take to the kitchen, unloaded the dishwasher, all with no one paying any attention to her. That was a relief, since it was allowing her to calm herself again, but she found herself wondering what next. Not that she would have anticipated anything so far, so guessing was probably a lost cause. She was pretty much on her own at the moment, since when she looked around for Flair, the girl was now apparently doing for Dagrun what she’d been doing for Sigrun earlier, and with equal enthusiasm.
“Mortal. Come here.” Eluned, the female of the tiny pair, beckoned imperiously from the tower structure she and Owain were reclining on.
Okay, whatever she does, I can handle this. I’ve gotten through everything else.
Jewel approached and, just in the interests of not looming over them, knelt. Everything so far suggested that her best bet with these fae was to say nothing until asked a question.
Both Eluned and Owain looked her over critically.
“What can you do, mortal?” Eluned finally asked.
“I’m sorry? In what context? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Owain heaved a theatrical sigh. “Can you sing? I highly doubt you can dance, since you’re built like a cow. Which lets out several other possibilities that all involve having the self-respect and decency to stay fit. Can you be entertaining? Do you have any talent at all?”
Jewel blinked, taken aback. No matter what Nikandros and Henry had done, no matter how embarrassing it was, she’d had no sense that it was malicious rather than mischievous and good-natured. Nechtan had been nice to her. The giants were invariably kind. This, though, coming from a pair that were unnaturally skinny in a way no human ever could be, struck her as simply petty.
Not that she dared lash out at them.
“My skills are in accounting and some clerical work, not in entertaining or the arts.” It was an effort to keep her voice humble.
“Oh. A secretary.”
She’d heard that before. She still hated the dismissive tone in which it was always delivered, with now no exception. Correcting them wouldn’t help, so she stayed silent.
“Then what use are you?” Eluned said. “Not young, not pretty, no interesting skills. Just a generic mongrel. The tacky outfit is appropriately bland and pedestrian. Go fetch us each a drink. And be sure you keep your proper place in mind when you get back. Mortals with talent have some value. Yours lies purely in Madame Min taking a fancy to you for some inexplicable reason of her own.”
“Oh, go sit in a rosebush,” Henry said, laying both hands on Jewel’s shoulders from behind. “Keep to your shallow little fashion girls. Wishes about being so skinny can count bones. Too obsessive to be interesting. Too fragile to be a challenge. Would rather have a gourmet meal than a salad.”
“Go find some straw to spin,” Eluned hissed.
Henry just chuckled. “Never been into babies or wannabe princesses. Be nicer to Jewel. If you’re going to be nasty, say nothing at all.”
The two small fae eyed him warily. Jewel couldn’t see him behind her, and had no idea what he was doing, but apparently he won.
“Fine,” Owain spat. “We have nothing to say to her anyway, she’s not worth it.”
Henry let his hands fall. “Go get them that drink, pretty thing. Ignore anything they say that isn’t a direct order.”
Mutely, Jewel nodded and rose, perfectly happy to be away from the spiteful little pair and wondering how she could thank Henry for the rescue. Filling two of the tiny glasses from the bottle labelled ‘honeydew’ and returning to deliver them took only a moment; neither one acknowledged her existence in any way.
Mistress waved a hand, drawing her over.
“You can sit on the edge here, dear. How are you doing?”
“Much better, Mistress.” She’d been so busy she hadn’t actually been close to Mistress in more than fleeting moments. That immense snake tail, flattened perceptibly at her hips and narrowing smoothly to a more cylindrical shape that was still of a girth comparable to two legs together, seemed to go on for miles. While the scales shimmered, they didn’t look slimy.
“Eluned and Owain said something cruel, didn’t they?”
Jewel bit her lower lip, reluctant to speak ill of Mistress’ guests.
“I know them,” Mistress said gently. “They are here because I owe them a debt of a different sort—incurring and repaying debts can be a complex matter for fae. Whatever they said, it was probably the opposite of what most of my guests would say. Nik and Henry and Nechtan, the giants and Sati, who are my good friends, are all pleased with you and like you. Alkippe informed me that you are respectful and efficient and you act with honour and courage, and for a centaur, that’s about four stars out of five. Eluned and Owain are not close friends.” She smiled. “In the human world, they live within the fashion industry. So consider the source as far as anything they say.”
“Yes, Mistress.” That seemed like an appropriate setting for them. They’d probably fit in perfectly.
“You’re doing very well. I’m glad you’ve gotten into a better headspace.” The smile came back. “It’s all right to touch me, dear. I don’t mind. Your eyes keep going to my tail, then away like you aren’t even supposed to look. It’s always more comfortable to be in my own form, no matter how accustomed I am to having legs at times.”
“I don’t want… I don’t like being rude.”
“It isn’t rude if I understand and give you permission. I would prefer that you do anything you need in order to feel at ease with me.”
Hesitantly, Jewel laid a hand on the nearest coil. It felt dry and smooth, so she stroked gently. Not scary. Not disgusting. Interesting, actually. Surprisingly firm, and she could feel muscle flexing underneath.
“I think I feel more comfortable with you than with anyone else, Mistress.”
“I’m very glad to hear that, and I hope it continues to be true. You have roughly six hours left, you’ve lived through about half. It looks like Dagrun and Flair are done. Give her a moment to catch her breath. Could you fetch me a glass of wine? Then the two of you can check that everyone has a drink at hand. I don’t expect you to have memorized everything.”
The party went on in much that vein. Nikandros and Henry, in particular, wasted no opportunity to get under her skirt or to grope, fondle, stroke, or otherwise touch her, but she found it more flattering and fun and playful than distressing. Nechtan had her serve as eyes and hands for him again, praising her for her cooperation—though she did it, she had to admit, at least in part because there was something so compellingly arousing about being used that way. It was easier to be brave with her inner thighs wet and her clit throbbing and her vagina aching to be filled. Without Mistress’ rule, she was sure she’d have been acting much more like Flair, who irregularly but frequently could be found with her face between someone’s legs or with a penis inside one opening or another, always showing every sign of bliss. It was deeply and maddeningly frustrating. On the other hand, since Flair was so often occupied, keeping the fae supplied with refreshments and monitoring her own need for elixir and food kept her busy enough for time to pass quickly.
“Will you indulge me in an obsession, Jewel?” Sati asked, while she took a glass of wine from Jewel’s hand.
“Of course.” As eerie as Sati looked, she had been kind to her so far. Mistress had named her as a good friend. It was unlikely to be anything terrible. “What would you like me to do?”
“Step up on here.” Sati rose and offered a hand to help Jewel mount a low broad table. That hand kept her from falling when the table trembled and grew to the height of Sati’s knee. From somewhere, maybe hidden in her sari, the fae produced a smartphone, which looked highly incongruous in her night-black hands. “I’m not going to freeze you. That would be too much for you right now. But I would love to get a few pictures. They will not find their way to Facebook or my gallery site or otherwise be released onto the Internet in any form, I give you my word.”
“I don’t know how you want me to pose.” The odds of anyone recognizing her were pretty thin anyway, but fae didn’t lie. “I’m usually bad at pictures. They always look forced.”
Sati smiled. “Just work with me and trust me.” She set the phone down and wrapped both hands around Jewel’s leg, one above her knee and one below. “Bring this leg forward, just a little, just like that.”
Sati’s hands felt wonderful, cool and sure and soft, and she touched a lot more than strictly necessary. At least one hand was always in contact except when she was stepping back to pick up her camera and take pictures of whatever pose she’d arranged Jewel into. A couple of times, she walked in a full slow circle all the way around her model, holding her camera steady. Sati could talk with her hands, Jewel realized dizzily: she never had to wonder whether she was doing it right, because somehow, the way Sati touched her had more information than words ever could. The stroking all over was soothing and sensual both at once.
“I think I’d best let you get back to your other duties,” Sati said finally. “Thank you. I’ll send the best ones to your mistress, you can ask her for them if you want them for yourself.”
“I… thank you.”
Sati nodded and went back to her seat and her wine. The outside of the glass frosted as she absently picked it up, scrolling through images on her phone with the other hand.
Alkippe the centaur beckoned Jewel over to her and Nechtan and Roshanak.
“We could each use a fresh drink.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll be right back.”
Roshanak gazed at her coolly. “Of course you will, that goes without saying and therefore didn’t need to be said. Don’t start getting ideas, human, just because some of those here find you entertaining. You are not the reason for this gathering, nor are you the most important part of it. Some of us do not forget that humans are little better than animals.”
“I… I’m sorry,” Jewel stammered. Where had that come from?
“Unnecessary, Roshanak,” Nechtan chided. “Jewel has been nothing but respectful. And you speak half-truth. The timing of this gathering is certainly about her, and for at least some here, she is the primary reason to attend. You might keep in mind that Min will be less than pleased if you frighten her pet.” He smiled at Jewel. “Go get drinks for us, please, and after that, we can fetch another snack for me from the tables, perhaps?”
Jewel nodded mutely, though the smile was reassuring. She hastened to fetch drinks for them. Away from Roshanak’s irritated disdain, it wasn’t hard to let herself relax into Nechtan using her eyes and hands, and she didn’t have to linger there past delivering it and receiving his thanks in return. Avoiding looking at Roshanak, because the response to Nechtan being thoughtful was probably not something she wanted to see, she left them to their conversation, retreating to the calm safety of checking on the two giants.
Once she knew they were taken care of, and with the bitter sting of Roshanak’s words greatly reduced, she sank down on the edge of a chair. She wanted sex, with someone, anyone in reach would do. But she couldn’t, because of Mistress’ ruling. Any other reason currently felt very remote and of much less importance than her own frantic need. She’d never really considered being excessively aroused to be so serious a problem.