Wounded ego

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My new master sat solemnly and quietly inside the room, his round wide brim straw-hat unadorned. His face that was hidden to me the entire time was now visible. I could see exactly how young and how handsome he is.

His head inclined as I entered the room - fresh from the hot bath, wearing his change of clothes which hang loosely on my body.

I wrapped his robe twice around my torso and strapped the pants with a belt, rolling the pants a few times until I can see my ankles. His eyes landed on mine.

A waft of something delicious distracted my attention taking my glance over to the table that held a buffet of freshly cooked dish. My new master must've had them taken up to the room for him. 

My stomach turned and grumbled at little too loud, my mouth watered. I was still starved after days of not having anything to eat.  

"Go eat." My master murmured from his seat. "I had them brought up here for you. You need to eat and gain weight if I were to take you in my journey."

"Journey?" I parroted.

He smiled at got up from his chair, walking over to the table. He pulled a chair out and gestured for me to sit down. I did so without question and took the seat he offered. 

"Eat." He said again.

I reached for the chopstick for the chopsticks on the table and began eating. 

My new master dragged the chair he was sitting on and set it across the table. He watched me as I ate with his curious gaze. I made no response aware of his eyes on me, I'm not used to being watched, the only time someone ever watched me is whenever they made sure I did my chore right. 

So, this attention he gave me was a little too nerve racking. 

"Do you have a name?" He asked.

I waited and swallowed my food. "Hui."

A smooth chuckle. "That's funny, my name is Hooney. We almost have the same name. Well, the same meaning at least."

He gave me his first name while intentionally carried a small conversation. He watched me ate with interest. I stared at him as I shoved more food in my mouth, uncertain how to respond. Master Li He had always been nice, but we grew up together and there were no boundaries between us even though we were master and servant. However, I found my new master's kindness strange, very strange. Whether this was his natural kindness or he has something else in mind, I found it hard to trust people since the last couple of days.

"Are you always this quiet?" He smiled. "You hardly said a squeak the whole time."

I swallowed my food and murmured. "What do you want to know?"

"Well for one thing...why were you punished?"

"..."

My grip on the chopstick tightened, and that tension streamed through every network of my veins. I shuddered with anger and betrayal. 

My eyes coated lightly with tears as I tried to hold down the surge of rage wanting to flood out of my chest.

His gaze softened, his shoulders relaxed and leaned back from his seat. His show of calmness influenced me and my sudden rage dissolved slowly as easily as he tried to calm down around me. He spoke with easiness and softness with his voice.

"You're young, and you're pretty. When I saw your mistress, she's probably no more than five years older than you. When I saw you, even when you were covered with dried sweat and dirt, and your hair is a bundle of mess, I could tell how beautiful you are. I don't have to be a fool to know exactly why you're suffering under her rule."

"I'm not beautiful, you're a liar."

"You're modest." He flashed a grin."Where's your master?"

"He's never home."

"I see."

"..."

He clucked his tongue. "Well, I think I might've gotten myself a good deal when I bought you."

"You had no idea what you were getting when you made the purchase?"

He exhaled. "Nope, I saw a sign and I knew I didn't want to travel alone. I've purchased many slaves before and set them free, some continued to work as servants in my manors. No, I didn't know what I was getting when I purchased you. I didn't know you were a girl either." A shining flash of relief in his eyes. He must've been happy I turned out to be a woman. Being on the road with another man for a long time must result in scary and uncomfortable consequences.

I reeled my thoughts back before I got too entertained.

"Will you set me free?" I asked.

"Do you want your freedom?" He implored.

I contemplated an answer. There's no easy life after freedom. I would be free to marry whoever I wanted and perhaps, get lucky enough to find someone in a small village, but my struggle would be ceaseless and forever - never crawling out of poverty. I would die before I'm fifty and that would be a less cruel fate than endured a long life.

I bit my lip and poured my gaze into his, searching for that kindness. "Are you kind?"

His simper widened, my question was far too innocent for him. "I treat people with proper justification." He said plainly. "Do you know what that means?"

My gaze dropped. "I think, I know."

"But, do not worry. Only bad people see that cruel side of me."

He rose and walked over to his bag picking inside it. He came back with a jar of salve. He waved it to me. "Spread this on your wounds, this will soothe your skin."

I grabbed it from his hand and examined the ointment. "Thank you." I murmured and went back to eating my food.

"Go get some rest." He glanced over to the single bed in the room. I questioned in my mind whether we were to share that bed tonight. I turned red, it would be indecent for us to do so!

He saw the protest in my eyes and tossed his head back with laughter. His laugh was wild and playful. "What? You don't think I'm attractive enough?"

"aaaa..aaaa....aaah." I was lost for words how to respond.

"A lot of women will jump at the opportunity!" He added rippling with confidence.

A smile caressed my lips and for the first time, I wanted to laugh with him. Did I just offend my master? "Oh, I bet those women are dying to get in bed with you!" I said, trying to stroke his wounded ego.

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