3c Servitude

“My Prince,” whispered the servant.

He stood at the side of the bed and spoke softly. The Prince lay sprawled in his bed in a deep sleep. The servant looked up at the Prince Advisor who nodded curtly. The servant edged closer to the bed and whispered again. “My Prince.”

The reason why he had been elevated up the ranks of servants in the Royal Household was for his striking looks and his strong body, a steady friendliness amongst his peers, and a placid demeanour before the Royal family. Obarak had noticed him personally two years before while he had been serving Table. Noone laid claim on him, so he was given a lowly duty in the Prince’s personal retinue. Over the two years he had learned his place of personal attendant, and more importantly the favours of his master. From the slightest of clues, he knew when to step forwards and serve and when to hold back. He could tell  what mood the Prince was in as he awoke, by the way he shifted in his bed, lifted his head or swung his legs from the bed. He had also cunningly in his manner so that he avoided compromising positions which so often caught out servants, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In all his time in the Prince’s quarters, the Prince had not raised his voice against him. Amongst the small family of personal attendants, he was “the special one”, and the celebrity extended beyond that group further into the royal household so when he had errands to conduct, sending messages to other family members, acquiring foodstuffs from the kitchen, or — Salah forbid — he ever had to leave the citadel and visit the market, he was treated with respect. With patient regard, people would wondered what skill he had or what power he had with the Prince. Even with this power, his placidity came across as kindness, though there were some who envied him and took his placid demeanor as offhand or even arrogance.

It was thus unfortunate that through no fault of his own, the Prince Advisor had come to the bed chambers while he was waiting his Prince, demanding that the Prince be woken from his slumber. It was unprecedented, but he could tell from the manner of the Meherim that there was no questioning it. And so, here he was, leaning over the Prince and breathing softly over him. “My Prince.” He took pains to lean over the bed without laying a hand on the prince or disturb the bed and blew gently on the Prince’s face. The Prince stirred gently, but turned away. The servant relocated to the other side of the bed, carefully navigating the Meherim Advisor who stood in the dim light lost in thought, only the slightest crack of light through the shutters which were set, as always, on one latch removed. He closed his face to the Prince’s and blew gently, whispering “My Prince”.

The prince’s eyes opened suddenly, and they found themselves staring at one another, frozen. The servant caught his breath, fear suddenly coming to him. The Prince frowned, groaned an indistinguishable phrase and breathed in deeply as he rolled onto his back.

“My Prince’s Advisor wishes an audience with you.” As soon as he said it, he bit back on himself, clenching his fists, closing his eyes, a ball of consternation in the pit of his stomach. He had used the familiar term, “you”, a mistake he had never made in his life! The Meherim began speaking with the Prince, who reluctantly entered into dialogue which soom mushroomed into conflict. He breathed slowly and calmed himself. He had not seen his Prince express his annoyance in this way before. The noise alerted the two servants who slept in an alcove. The Prince demanded the shutters be opened. The servant who had woken him took a few steps towards the window when the Prince called out, “Not you!”. Another servant hastily moved to the shutters, removed the latch and opened the shutters, too rapidly thought the servant, the sunlight would hurt the Prince’s eyes, and in this state of annoyance it would surely anger him further. Sure enough, the Prince cried out. “You!” he said, pointing at him, “Leave me! I never want to lay eyes on you again.” There was no point averting his gaze. The Prince and the servant locked eyes, anger in one, the sure knowledge that life as he knew it was forever changed. It would be the last time they would engage. Only a handful of snatched glances over the last couple of years, when he was gauging the Prince’s mood, his wishes, his intent but had lingered too long. On rare occasions, the Prince had turned to him and their eyes would have met had he been not so well trained. He would simultaneously avert his eyes so the Prince would only see the eyes moving away. Never had it consciously provoked the Prince. Now there was no point, so the servant held his Prince’s gaze steadily.

“See to it,” commanded the Prince as he glanced to another servant and motioned dismissal.

With that, the other servant went to the door and he dutifully followed, and as they left the room, he glanced around the room that had been his home for two years, with all its furniture, the Prince’s trappings, the wardrobe of silken kaftans and robes, the wetroom with its array of perfumes, that abominable desk which the Prince Advisor’s servant pored over, and the window and balcony which afforded one of the most splendid views of the city below. He would never reach such elevation in his life, in terms of view or service.

He walked from his Prince’s room, left his quarters, the royal wing, making his way down to the common levels, almost in a daze. But as he walked alone, a voice arose in his head. Opportunity now. For a little while he was alone, ahead of the storm which was issuing from the Prince’s room. Only once the current issue had been resolved and things had settled, would the Prince’s instructions be passed along the servants and result in action, whatever that might be, demoted to the kitchens perhaps for he could not even service the Table anymore, nor enter another royal family branch. His fall from grace would be hard. But for a while he was free, another servant doing his duty, walking through the quarters of the Royal House unimpeded. Now an image in his head, the Prince Advisor, but instead of anger or any form of energy at this figure, a positive forwards direction was evoked from him — opportunity now. Before he knew what he was doing, he found himself at the Meherim compound, winding his way to the Prince Advisor’s room. He did not knock on the door for he remembered seeing the Advisor’s servant waiting for him outside his Prince’s room when he was dismissed. Odious little toad of a thing, spineless, a smudge of a person. He had been in that room on a number of occasions. To the advisor, to the meherim generally and certainly to any of the Royals, he was furniture, invisible as any chair or table is seen so many times it is not seen, just used. He baulked at the smell of the room, ignored the untidiness, and strode quickly to the “Still Chamber” where he had witnessed the meherim conducting his sorcery. There, he snatched up what he was looking for and stuffed them into a small pouch hanging from a wall hook, and as he left the Meherim’s chambers, he grabbed a travelling robe hanging from a hook nearby, which crackled dustily in his hands from disuse.

He did not pause on leaving, walking back up through the citadel, through the kitchens, across the back courtyard and the barbican. One of the four guards half-glanced at the scarring on his lower arm which testified to his place in the royal household, but it was his plain servant attire and manner which was enough to see him through the gates of the barbican, over the bridge and the dry moat and out into the city at large.

He kept walking through the bustle of the streets, lost himself in the market bazaar with its hundred sellers calling out their wares, amid the throng of buyers, and found himself caught in the slow current of merchants preparing to leave the citadel. On his way, he transacted one of the things he had taken from the Prince Advisor’s Still Room, and procured a deep leather satchel, a belt and knife, a number of dried foodstuffs, a wide brimmed hat and a walking staff. By the time he was at the city walls which divided the inner well-to-do from the external riff-raff, donning the meherim’s old travelling robe, he looked more or less like a mendicant meherim. The disguise had the effect he wanted, as the Imperial guards — more lax than those at the Citadel — turned away quickly when they saw him. It was wise to avoid dabbling with the Meherim, their shifty secretive ways was something which evoked distrust, and the only reason they were not outwardly shunned was their service.

He avoided the direct route to the West Road because the Winged Guard swooped low over the caravan of people there, partly to draw wonder from visitors and to impress them with the security that was expected in Terabiz, a portal city to the Urb hub. Instead, he wound his way through the poor quarters stopping at a small square edged by an inn and stables. For the first time in his life, he ordered a drink for himself, careful not to reveal the tattoo on his forearm, and in a back corner of the common room, took stock of his situation. He poked open the pouch and saw the glistening reflections from within. Garsu crystals. The Prince Advisor would be furious, of course, but he had not taken them all. He would still be able to conduct his business; if he had been greedy the Meherim would stop at nothing to have them returned immediately. As it was, the search would begin a little delayed and with slightly less pitch than fury, and when his absence was noted together with his missing robe, it wouldn’t take the Meherim long to connect up what had happened. This day-cycle he was a trusted servant in the Royal House of Tolose, attendant to the Third Prince Obarak, an hour later, he was a fugitive. This treasure of garsu crystals was all he had in the world, but it would be enough to live a good life if he could get far enough away from Terabiz. First he had to strike out to the west to the Reaches, then north or south so he was outwith the Toloese district. Or perhaps he could use the crystals himself? He had the experience of the Prince in his own mind as he mirrored him, there was learning there. He rubbed his forearm thoughtlessly; before he made a mistake and reveal it accidentally, he needed to rid himself of his family scaring. And the disguise would not last, he concluded, so he inverted the robe. The beer was warm, he felt its effect of confidence on his feelings, and in the midst of his thoughts he considered his place if it was not as a servant to the royal household, the disguise as a meherim, and his name. It had been so long he had heard anyone call it out to him, he could hardly remember it. He tested it in his mind, which recalled distant memories of childhood. The time for reminiscing would come, but not now, while he was still within a stone’s throw of the city walls. He tested his name with his voice. “Ood.” Sounded alien to him. “I am Ood.”

With his name, the garsu crystals, a satchel of food, hat staff and travelling robe, he was Ood, servant to his Prince who must not be named, trusted with the important mission of bearing his stash of Garsu crystals to a distant Meherim monastery, a monastery he had heard mentioned, the monastery in Padley, of the Seven Valleys in the Outer Reaches of Gal. Ood replayed the voice that had come to him, the journey which he had embarked upon. Here was providence, here was divinity. He was being led by a divine force. He could feel it, aware of his own thoughts and feelings, receptive in the air and in the warmth of the sun and everything brought to light around him. He had wondered why his life had a special character to it, how things had come easily to him, the confidence he had been born with. Now he felt a new found confidence. He had been touched, and was now being directed. It was not his will. Something was guiding him, and into their hands he gave himself. Wherever he was led, he would follow. It wasn’t a hard switch to make. He had been selfless in his service to the Prince. His life was now in the hands of a greater power, and the feeling of it was inspiring.