The Slave’s Smile
Acacia put down the marble mortar and pestle as the door opened.
The First-Defender walked in and was quickly followed by four other
soldiers. Without a word from the First, the soldiers began opening
and shutting drawers, lifting lids, drawing back cabinet curtains.
“As per Civil Law number 5792.4 clause Beta Zed, every shop and
business is to avail itself to regular searches.” The Defender spoke to the
old man snoozing by the fireplace. The slave moved silently between
the Defender and the old man and sat on the floor beside her master.
The soldiers weren’t thorough, but there was no contraband to find,
and with the Defender in attendance, nothing could be stolen. Casually,
as if to pass the time, Hamm asked, “What kind of shop is this?”
Acacia stood, her back to her master, facing the man who had
saved her life less than a week ago. “An apothecary shop.”
He looked puzzled.
“I don’t know how to say it in Alliang. A shop of healing herbs and
“Medical?” he snarled.
“No.” She bowed her head and wiggled her toes. Silver rings
encircled three toes on each foot. An anklet sparkled and drew his gaze
higher, to the embroidered hem of her robe. “My master is a Wisdom.
He studies the art of healing. It has nothing to do with Medical
“Hmm.” He wished she would look at him.
“Naught.” A grizzled soldier beat her chest with her right fist while
addressing her First.
“Go ni’shop. I b’soon.” He kept his eyes on the slave and demanded,
“Go on to the next shop. I’ll be there shortly.” She stopped wiggling
her toes and began fluttering her fingers at her side.
“Where were you born, Slave?”
She softened her voice in response to his harshness. “On the table.”
“Table? What planet is Table?”
“The table was on my home world.”
“I don’t like repeating questions.”
She was staring at his boots as she lifted first one heel of her bare
feet and then the other.
“I was born on a table between my mother’s legs.” She glanced at
him and smiled.
He repaid her smile with a snarl. She dropped her eyes to the floor
“I can find out where you are from. There are records of everyone
and everything that come into this region.”
She shrugged slightly as if in agreement.
“I’ve never seen anyone like you.”
“We are individuals, each one. Alone in the universe, but one with
The Defender stepped back as if the scripture she quoted had
physically slapped him.
“How long have your teeth hurt?” She tilted her head.
“My teeth?” He ground them.
“Yes, First-Defender. Your teeth. They hurt. I can see it in your face
and in the way you square your shoulders.”
His nostrils flared and his cheeks turned red. “A slave who practices
“Slavery is a state of being, not a limitation of the mind.”
“You certainly know your scriptures, Slave.”
“So that honor may be served, my name is not Slave. It is Acacia.”
“Honor is given, received, and returned. My name is Hamm.” He
inclined his head as she bowed.
The old man snorted in his sleep.
“Three weeks.” Hamm turned to leave. “My teeth have ached for
With Hamm nearing the door, Acacia left her master’s side and
crossed to a cabinet filled with bottles. “Mix one part of this liquid with
two parts of water. Gargle with it two times a day.” She poured brown
liquid from a jug into a glass bottle and corked it.
Hamm hesitated, and then took the bottle from her. “How much?”
“One part to two parts water.”
“No.” Hamm shook his head and took out a payment chip.
“Your presence prevented the usual amount of loss from your
soldiers. A fair trade.”
The Defender ground his teeth again, but put away his credit
chip. “A safe journey, First-Defender Hamm.” She bowed as he left.
Hamm peeled off his goggles and beat the fine dust from his cloak
as he stepped onto the apothecary’s porch. He made the mistake of
licking his lips, and the grit from this morning’s windstorm set his
teeth on edge. The door slid open at his touch and he eagerly breathed
in the shops’ aroma. His nostrils were assaulted by garlic and pepper,
and enthralled by vanilla and green tea. Scents swirled around him and
he wished he knew the names of each one.
Several customers chatted amicably while waiting. The old man
glanced at Hamm, but continued pouring water into a small simmering
cauldron. Hamm nodded at the old man and purposefully began
examining the eaves of the store. Vines, leaves, roots, twigs, strange
fruit hung in bundles from each support beam. He couldn’t begin to
put a name on any of them.
“Dom-che. Quay niniy.”
“Ty.” Acacia entered from the shop’s rear in response to the old
“The first ingredient I will need is Serenoa repens, Acacia.”
“Yes, Wisdom.” Acacia reached into a cabinet and drew out a
basket. She took out several small reddish-brown wrinkled seeds, each
one half the size of her thumb.
The Wisdom examined each one individually, and then began to
juggle them. Acacia drew a short knife from her sleeves. As he juggled
the seeds, she snatched one back and sliced it down the middle and
plopped the halves into the cauldron. They continued until there were
no seeds left.
The customers murmured appreciatively.
“Next, I will need Echinacea.”
Acacia looked up into the rafters of the shop. She wove her way
through the customers and pointed, beaming proudly, at a something
dangling above their heads. From the ground to almost three meters
above her, she leapt and unhooked a floret and gracefully returned
to the floor with only a slight bend at her knees. The floret had deep
purple flowers surrounding a cone. She danced her way back behind
the counter, waving the aromatic dried herb as she moved. She handed
it to the Wisdom with a bow. He tsked and yanked the flowers and cone
away from the rhizome. The purple flowers cascaded around them as
the Wisdom quickly hammered the root into a pulp. Majestically, he
scooped the mash off the counter and tossed it into the cauldron.
“Assistant, we will need Urtica dioica.”
“Oh Wisdom, must I? I still have an itch, and the blisters!”
He picked up a wooden spoon and frowned at her.
She shrieked and ran toward the window. She plucked one hairy
leaf from a plant growing there. “Ow!”
“More than that, Assistant.”
“Oh, Wisdom,” she pouted beautifully. “Ow!” She plucked another
and turned to look imploringly at him.
He shook his head. “More.”
Acacia howled dramatically with each of the six leaves she picked
from the bush.
“Enough.” He watched as she dropped them into the cauldron. She
showed him her blistered fingers, imploringly. He tsked. “If you will
pluck them from the top of the stem, the nettles will not sting you.
Foolish child.” His hands reached beneath his counter and pulled out
a jar of light green salve. She grinned in relief as he rubbed her fingers
with the ointment. “Better?”
“Oh, yes, Wisdom! Your fern salve works to cure any blister, bruise,
The customers murmured speculatively now.
© Evelyn Rainey