At this age, the monsters were cute, Keeps-Low had to admit. It stared up at him with large sparkling eyes, tiny monkey claws twisting about the Argonian’s chains as if they always had to be gripping something. He held out a claw to it, and it stared at him trustingly, even reaching out to tug on the tip of his claw with a mischievous glance.
And then the monster’s sire swooped down and interposed itself between Keeps-Low and its offspring. The Dunmer leveled a withering glare at him. “Hands off, skeever, or I’ll buy you for guar food.”
“It came to me,” the Argonian said tiredly, knowing his answer to the Dunmer wouldn’t matter. It rarely did.
The little monster giggled, thinking it all a game, and its crested father cast it a fond smile despite himself. His eyes hardened as he looked back at Keeps-Low.
“How did you get caught?” the Dunmer asked.
“Perhapss I was bred in a Dunmer sstables,” returned Keeps-Low.
“Kagouti shite,” said the Dunmer. “Argonians bred away from their tree gods go crazy, worth crap as slaves. So I’ll ask you again, scale slop. How did you get caught?”
Keeps-Low told him the truth. “I wass raiding a Dunmeri caravan with my sscale-brothers.”
“So you deserved what you got, aye?”
Keeps-Low didn’t answer.
The Dunmer laughed regardless. “If you aren’t bought by the time I come back, maybe I will. I could use a lizard with experience.”
It wasn’t a typical thing for a Dunmer slave owner to say, and Keeps-Low stared at him as he sauntered off, collecting the toddler on the way. Experience for what exactly?
Not that there was any accounting for the motives of the monsters. The toddler squirmed in its sire’s arms until it was peeking over his shoulder. It grinned at Keeps-Low and waved goodbye.
“Any luck hiring extra hands?” Nidalave looked up as she heard Thyadras’s long stride on the gangplank. She smiled and bent down as their toddler squealed in delight and came running to her, stumbling over the planks.
“Not my first choice,” muttered Thyadras. “Damn Eels are snatching up all the good contracts. Found this shite, though.” He gestured to the Argonian trudging along at the end of chain.
“Thyadras.” Nidalave’s voice was low in disapproval. “A slave?”
“It’s that or nothing. And I’m not looking forward to running the Summerset blockade without a good hand on point. Someone has to take Sam’s place in the rigging.”
“It’ll have to do,” said Nidalave with a sigh. “So what’s your name, Argonian? Ever sailed a ship before?”
“Thiss one is known as Keeps-Low,” hissed the Argonian, keeping its eyes on the planks. “No, I have not.”
Thyadras sneered and stepped close to the Argonian, nose to nose. “Well this one is known as your captain, so you’d better work until your arms fall off, or I’m throwing you in the drink with an anchor tied to your tail. Learn fast or ship out!”
Nidalave groaned, and gave her husband’s hoop earrings a sharp tug. “what he means to say is welcome to the crew.”
“I said that, didn’t I?” said Thyadras with a sniff. He unlocked his end of the chain and threw it at the Argonian, expecting the lizardman could take care of unraveling it from his wrists and ankles himself.
The Argonian blinked with an audible click, and brought his head up to consider the Dunmer couple. “I have heard of abolitionist groupss,” he said warily, “but never would I imagine House Dunmer to belong to their rankss.”
“Abolitionists?” Thyadras spat off to the side. “Bunch of lowlifes. Don’t get me wrong, mud-licker; I’m freeing you because I need you, not because I’m some high-minded idealist. You’ll work your tail off or you’ll get the lash.”
“It doesn’t hurt there is no way off a ship at sea,” said Nidalave with a smirk.
“We are docked now,” pointed out the Argonian, casting a glance to the gangplank.
“Imagine that,” said Thyadras sarcastically.
Nidalave gave his earring another warning tug, her eyes not leaving the Argonian’s face. “Whether we have a good working relationship is up to you, lizard. What my love says is true. Slave, free-mer, we all share in the ship’s fortunes, be they good or bad.”
Keeps-Low held up the chains. “Then why are thesse not on me if you have not freed me?”
“Easy!” Thyadras laughed cruelly and flung the Argonian a coil of rope. “You can’t climb to work the sails with those on your feet. Now get up there!”
Keeps-Low hadn’t missed Nidalave’s wink. Nor had he failed to capitalize on the Dunmer’s offer several years later, when Thyadras’s former first mate had found himself shanked in an alley.
But he watched many other Argonians come up from the belly of the pirate ship, bound for wherever good coin would bring them. He had watched, and said nothing. Good or bad, all shared in the ship’s fortunes.