A/N: Alright... I promised myself I wouldn't do these, but, looking back, I think it doesn't hurt to be safe than sorry: I KNOW that a lot of the customs in here are just plain WRONG according to traditional Judaism. I got laws wrong, I screwed up people's behaviors, and it overall looks incredibly like I'm trying to be offensive. I will just put in the disclaimer that A) This is a totally different world, but I kept enough terminology the same so you can tell it's supposed to be comparable to Jewish traditions, while being a different religion with a different history and background altogether, and B) Nobody acts PERFECTLY according to the laws of their culture and religion one-hundred percent of the time. Christians will take the Lord's name in vain, Jewish girls will wear jeans, and a whole slew of other things that come with being the not-perfect creature we are: Human. The characters are much the same: They are people before they are their religion or cultural stereotypes.
End Rant. Enjoy the story.
My Master's Servant
"Are you ready to follow me? Into the depths of Hell?"
"Always, My Lord."
It was no surprise to anyone, least of all the old butler Nash, when the rabbi asked for an interview with His Master one afternoon. It was furthermore no surprise that the topic was a marriage to be arranged.
"Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to see me, Excellency. This is, after all, a very urgent matter." The rabbi seated himself without being invited, but Nash hadn't intended to offer the rabbi a seat, anyway, so it was probably for the best, "Her parents are becoming concerned that she's getting old. If she remains unmarried much longer, she's certain to end a spinster."
"Yes, I can hardly imagine a twenty-year-old woman without a husband." His Master replied, coolly, holding his cup up as Nash approached with the teapot, "Two sugars, no cream." Nash filled His Master's cup so full that, as the two sugar cubes dropped in, the brim seemed to tremble holding the tea in. As soon as his task was finished, Nash returned to the corner with the table for the tea tray and remained silent. The rabbi scratched his naked chin with his two main fingers, blinking his beady little eyes as though to ask why he had not been offered a cup. Nash didn't look in the rabbi's direction – his concern was His Master.
"It is alarming, isn't it?" The rabbi had agreed, cementing Nash's opinion that the old man either was going deaf or very apt in ignoring blatant sarcasm when he heard it, "And as the Great CMC, a man respected in our community-"
'Who you thought was a lady until he revealed that he was simply DRESSING as a lady so nobody wondered why he and his butler went to synagog together like husband and wife every Dies Saturni.' Nash refrained from saying.
"...Influential in many others, and a strict observer of all 700 mitzvot, even for a convert to the Julian faith, this is why I have sought your counsel. That and the shadchan's advice on this matter..."
'Whom has never before tried to match up Milord, ever since he convinced her that he could easily slip any 'wives' poisons to make them infertile.' Nash once again held his tongue.
Nash's Master silently stared into his teacup, legs crossed under his skirt and almost mocking the rabbi with his delicate manners.
"It's only been three years since you and your... Household... came to Briston and joined our synagog, and already, there's been an improvement in the civil rights of Julian communities throughout the country. I mean, with the Imperium War and the rise of the Kaiser and how many people died under his regime those fifty-some years ago... it WAS only a matter of time before communities like ours would become an object of more public scorn... still, ours is one of the few that the attitude lingers..." The rabbi had started to sweat and stammer as Nash's Master remained supremely unconcerned and silent, toying with the handle of his cane.
"Ironic, isn't it? We live in a world where we've perfected space travel, biological engineering, and many other fields of science... yet there's still such a backwards attitude towards the things that REALLY matter... at least Briston and its neighbors still have sensible laws for it's working classes and criminal justice... but there are whole PLANETS that are allowing divorces and marriages between slaves and their masters and... well, you'd think it would be the other way around, wouldn't you – more stress on enforcing faith instead of these paganistic ideas of... of..."
"Rabbi, Lev 25:17." Nash's Master interrupted. Nash bit his tongue to keep from mentioning an old proverb about pots, kettles, and their particularly dark hue.
"Ah, excuse me, I almost forgot..." The rabbi mopped his brow, perspiring enough to make Nash wonder if it was the room or His Master's expression, "In any case... a um... figure such as yourself, who has made life so much better for us, already... it would be quite lucrative if a lucky, young girl could find herself as a part of your Household." Nash wanted to smile at the reaction His Master's indifference had spurred in the rabbi.
His Master merely sipped his tea before smiling with blinding, angelic innocence.
"I am not sure that would be wise, Rabbi..." He said, slowly. Nash began to straighten the china on the tray, attempting to not hear the impending argument that was none of his business, but which he could not simply walk away from.
"I was under the impression that another member of the congregation was under your employ here, Excellency..." The rabbi interrupted. His gaze traveled over to Nash's corner but he still spoke as though they were alone, "He is called... Nash, was it?"
Nash fumbled with the creamer, almost sending the little silver pitcher from the tray to the floor except he just barely caught it with his littlest finger around the handle. The cream was not so lucky. Nash determinedly kept his gaze anywhere but the rabbi and His Master, trying not to shiver at the chilly silence that pervaded the room.
"Oh, I see! In that case, inform the parents that preparations can begin immediately, and give my regards to the shadchan. Please, by all means." Nash's Master rose from his seat and hobbled over to the rabbi, "I could not be more delighted that you would consider such a thing." Arms looped at the elbow in an almost impudent fashion, Nash's Master lead the rabbi towards the door, still chirping away, "You simply must tell me when the arrangements are made – I would be honoured to host the ceremony and celebration, if not pay for the whole thing." Nash followed, as His Master ushered the rabbi out the door. He even heard the rabbi heartily jest,
"I should hope Nash learns how to be served instead of serving tea himself; it doesn't do for a young girl to get it in her head that she can order her husband around." The bolt barely fell into the latch before His Master spun on his heels, glaring at Nash with his pupil-less, gray eyes gleaming like molten silver.
"You heard." His Master barked, voice harsh and grating and wholly unlike its normal alto, "You heard what he just said."
Nash remained silent, calculating each reaction and how His Master would likely respond. Finally, he settled on, "When will you take your supper tonight, My Lord?"
His Master turned on his heel and sharply clicked out of the room. Nash merely followed, closely enough to see His Master disappear into the greenhouse. Nash simply didn't have the courage to follow past that.
It was only when the elaborate clock in the tower chimed midnight and His Master hadn't yet come out of the greenhouse that Nash realized His Master was sulking.
Nash silently pushed the door to the greenhouse open, arms full of a second coat that he knew His Master wouldn't willingly wear, but Nash carried it in, anyway. His Master was kneeling on the floor next to the potted rhubarb, poking between the jars filled with soil and compost and his cane hooked on the branches of a shrub. His waist-length, velvety black hair was tied back with a silk ribbon that was tied in a scraggly knot, except for a stray lock and the lunatic fringe that covered his forehead. Apparently, Nash's Master had been busy, as his smooth, ivory-colored hands and face were smudged with dirt and water.
Nash held in a sigh, feeling more than ever like he was the younger man's father rather than butler.
'If my hair wasn't already white all the way through, I wonder how many gray hairs he would have caused me thus far.' He wondered but held his tongue. Instead, Nash strode over the empty pots that were scattered on the floor.
"My Lord, it's growing late. You should go back inside." He draped the heavier coat over His Master's shoulders, as Nash's hand slipped under His Master's hair and pulled it out from under the collar so he could re-tie the ribbon, properly this time. His Master hadn't reacted, except to adamantly look in the opposite direction. He kept pushing aside the various pots of datura, monkshood, azalea, and ivy.
"Stop calling me that." He hissed. Nash didn't respond as His Master pulled away from Nash's helpless grip and continued with his previous task. Nash's old, green eyes never left him.
"There you are!" The delight in His Master's voice had been sincere this time. Grabbing his cane and using it as a counter-balance by hooking it on a pot, he leaned over and reached between the daphne and the mistletoe. What he retrieved was a tiny glass bottle sealed with a cork and wax that was filled with a clear liquid and labeled with yellowing paper. "Were you scared? It is okay – you are safe now. Mummy has you." Nash said nothing. His Master maneuvered through the plants to open the cabinet on the east wall and put the bottle with its fellows among the other aconitum flasks.
'I wonder who 'Daddy' is.' Nash thought, dryly, as he took this as the cue to start watering the other plants. He plucked the rust encrusted pail from the wall and filled it with just enough water to begin with the shrubs.
"You heard what that man called you today." Nash's hands paused in their work. He turned to meet His Master's gaze, only to see that His Master was staring avidly at the mayapple sprout.
'Definitely sulking.' Flitted across Nash's mind.
"My Lord?" His Master still didn't look up at Nash, but instead closed his eyes. It almost gave the impression of weariness.
"Stop calling me that." The barest of frowns creased His Master's brow. Nash watched, once again at a loss for action, "He called you that woman's 'husband.' You heard him." Nash allowed the watering can to hit the floor with a loud thump as he straightened to confront His Master.
"You say that as though it were a crime, My Lord." His Master's reply became curt.
"I told you to stop calling me that!" His Master broke the staring contest with the mayapple to shoot Nash a warning glance. Nash knew better than to reply as His Master continued, "In any case, I shall need to write down the amounts and mixtures for the little ones, but you must remind me – I have forgotten most of them." His Master's gaze returned to moving around the room, lingering on the Jasmine-Azalea.
"You have no need to remember them – I remember and care for the plants for you, My Lord."
"Stop! Calling! Me! That!" His Master's words came out from between clenched teeth, "Then, I shall have to remember them for myself from now on, will I not? No one else is allowed in here!" Nash had to pause, just the slightest, to consider this statement.
"Does that mean you're banning me from the greenhouse, My Lord?" Almost immediately, Nash realized his mistake: the glass panels of the wall behind him shattered as he barely ducked in time to avoid the trowel His Master threw at his head. By the time Nash had dared to look up, His Master was glaring at him with narrowed eyes that seemed to burn. In two limping strides, His Master crossed the floor, threw the coat Nash had given him over his head, and snarled, in the most hideous manner possible,
"You and that woman have my blessing." Then, he vanished out the door.
Meanwhile, wedding plans were laid out – the bride's parents had planned the ceremony, the dress, the invitations, the ketubah, the feast, everything.
The week seemed to fly and on the day just before the wedding, the future in-laws came to introduce the couple and settle the last few details.
"I realize that it is rather sudden, but since she's almost twenty, we just want to be sure she'll have a good match. Shadchan said that Nash would make the ideal husband: Well-employed, a good follower of the faith, well-mannered, maybe a little too old, but still healthy..." The father was an agreeable man by the name Gillan. His hair was all neatly groomed, his face as smooth as a china plate, all clothes ironed and pressed for the occasion, and he'd even brought along a personal prayer book. The mother and daughter had a different couch all to themselves. Both looked very much alike, and the prospective Kallah, Siobhan, was the very paragon of Hebian beauty with her dark hair, black eyes, and shapely features.
'No wonder My Lord has been so bitter...' The thought popped into Nash's head the moment he laid eyes on the girl. He promptly turned away to pour and serve everyone tea out of habit.
"I am sure the wedding will be wonderful." Nash's Master said as he hid behind his teacup. Gillan's reaction resembled that of a man who has been stung by a particularly big bee, but it faded quickly.
"You speak as though you won't be attending, Excellency..." The man's tone was thin, but at least sounded like he was trying to be sincere. Nash could see His Master's gaze still avoiding Nash's.
"I am afraid I shall not be able to make it. You must tell me how it goes." Nash wasn't listening to the conversation; he was listening for a pause.
"I decline the offer."
The following silence was so loud that Nash heard it echoing off anything in the room that could possibly bounce sound off its surface.
"You WHAT?" The words came from Nash's Master, almost shrill.
"I decline the offer: I cannot leave my position, I am still necessary." Nash repeated, firmly, "I shall show you to the door. We wish you a pleasant day." And he proceeded to do just that.
Upon returning to His Master's presence, Nash couldn't help but feel as though he were willingly walking into the lion's den. His Master quite willingly met his gaze this time, but there was no pretense of happy wedding blessings.
"Why the Devil did you refuse?" He demanded, glaring poniards at his butler.
Nash bowed his head and repeated what he had just told the bride and her family. His Master snapped away, furiously.
"I am not a child anymore… I do not NEED you to take care of me." Nash couldn't see His Master's face, but the bitterness and loneliness in his voice was enough that almost seemed visible.
"I didn't say that, My Lord..." Nash protested.
"Then what, pray tell, is it that you are 'Necessary' for?" His Master demanded, pulling himself up as furiously as he could. Nash blinked, remaining perfectly in place before he lifted a hand and began to hold his fingers up.
"To help you bathe in the mornings, My Lord, and to help you dress in the mornings, My Lord, and to prepare your breakfast in the mornings, My Lord, and to prepare your tea..."
"I can do all that by my-bloody-self!" His Master's voice wasn't quite loud enough to be shouting, but every word was spoken with such intensity that Nash almost wished His Master would shout and just get it over with.
"I never implied you couldn't, My Lord." Nash said. He knew His Master wouldn't care, which his next statement confirmed,
"Perhaps I should just fire you and then you would be without an excuse."
That was the beginning of a bad week, if Nash were to put it mildly. Over the next few days, Gillan returned to the House any number of times, sometimes with money, sometimes with blackmail, sometimes with threats. It came to the point that Nash simply stopped answering the door, instead directing the milkman and chimney sweeps to come around to the servant's entrance.
Dies Saturni came with Nash's frayed nerves starting to repair themselves, but only because he was growing used to the routine. Nash didn't go to synagogue. He was unsure if His Master went or not: The younger man was still avoiding Nash like a dying animal avoids its owner. That evening, a knock came on the front door. Nash almost walked away from it, except he heard a soft and sweet voice call out to him. Curiosity piqued, Nash opened the door just the slightest to see Siobhan standing on the front step, looking small and meek. In the end, his more gentlemanly manners won out as he opened the door and allowed her in.
"I would like to apologize for my father's behavior so far... He's just a little worried is all, but he doesn't mean any real harm." Were her first words as Nash offered her the obligatory cup of tea for guests. Nash took a seat directly across from her.
"I accept the apology, but must ask why you didn't decline the idea, first; it should be me buying a ring and drawing up a ketubah, not the other way around." Nash replied as civilly as he could under the circumstances. Siobhan at least had the good grace to look embarrassed as she sipped her tea in small, cautious drops.
"I suppose I'm a little frightened myself; after all... if I can't find a good husband soon... I'll always be a child in my parent's house and be a burden to them, especially when we have so little already..." A small part of Nash felt something close to sympathy, but not really enough that he'd actually say he felt sorry for her. Closer to the truth would be confusion.
"You could do something else with your life than marriage. Seeking an education or a career would make you more of an asset to your family than a burden, if that's truly what worries you." Nash saw Siobhan's appropriately shocked expression but continued, "It may be difficult under Briston's laws, but there are always ways to go about your goals, legally: Property, investments, marketing; if you bought and sold cleverly, no parliament law could keep you in the lower class for long. Technically, that's the role of women according to our laws, anyway – I'm sure the rabbi would be more than happy to find you a tutor."
'And I'm not technically a clean man, myself – the shadchan was dead wrong about THAT part.' Nash refrained from informing Siobhan about that.
Siobhan was quiet for a long, long moment before she finally asked,
"Are you really so important in the CMC's household? Can't there possibly be someone to take your place? Is it really so important to you to stay here as a SLAVE to that man?" Siobhan's mouth hung open as though she were about to continue – probably to suggest something out of the mitzvot of Deut – but Nash stood up a bit more roughly than was probably appropriate.
"I believe that it's far too late for you to still be out; your father must have already gathered the torches and pitchforks, by now." He replied, curtly. As he walked around to show her to the door, Siobhan shot out of her seat abruptly and caught Nash off-guard enough to press a kiss against his mouth.
There, Nash's patience ended. He struck Siobhan across the face hard enough to send her back a few steps. Then, he coldly took her by the arm and walked towards the door, almost dragging her as he did.
"You have overstayed your welcome. Goodnight."
The latch clicked and the bolt was secured. Only then did Nash look back over his shoulder and see a single, silvery-gray eye peering at him from around the corner before it disappeared.
The next morning, Nash went out to empty the dustbin and ashes and found Siobhan dead on the steps of the House. A knife handle protruded from her abdomen and a thread of blood was dried in a stream down the corner of her mouth. Out of shock, he dropped the pail of ashes with a loud clanging noise. Ash spewed everywhere, from over his shoes and pants, to the corpse's body and face. The clanging echo died out, only for a shout to rise from down the street. With a frozen sweat crawling down his neck, Nash's head swiveled to see the girl's father coming up the street, pointing at him and his mouth paralyzed in a scream.
"Murderer! Somebody! The butler has murdered my daughter!"
It wasn't too long before all the male members of the congregation, the rabbi, and Nash's Master were at the scene. With a feather duster from the House, Nash quickly cleaned off Siobhan's face for everyone to see it was, indeed, Gillan's daughter. That was when Gillan exploded into screams. Nash didn't have a chance to dust his own feet off, but he did retrieve the pail and hold it like a shield, as though to defend himself if Gillan attacked. If the man's flaring nostrils and bulging forehead veins were any indicator, he was certainly planning on doing plenty of that.
"It's obvious: My daughter had told me that you had called her here, so she left last night. The two of you must have had some encounter, but because you didn't want to marry her, you killed her off to keep her quiet." Gillan accused, the words reaching the ears of everyone eager for excitement. Only the rabbi and Nash's Master remained calm and collected.
"Now, look here! It's true that she paid a call during the evening, but there was no encounter, and I certainly did not CALL for her. In any case, I asked her to leave almost as soon as she came and then didn't go out for the rest of the evening. It must have been a thief or..." Nash protested, his voice strained and almost weak as it left his throat. Everything seemed to spin and blur, his panic making him dizzy. Nash couldn't even protest when Gillan reached into the girl's pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper.
"But isn't this note from you? It requests: 'My dearest bride-to-be, please meet me at the usual place inside the CMC's house.' You two were fraternizing behind everyone's backs this whole time, and now you had the gall to get rid of her. By our laws, you two were married already, with relations like that, and now you've gone and destroyed your other half! This is proof of it!" The utter hysteria and gleeful hatred in the father's voice was sickening, but Nash couldn't even speak – the moment Gillan had said the words 'Other half' something seemed to jam in Nash's throat. He couldn't even move as other members ran off to find a constable, and nothing could silence the father's calls for justice to be done as he stormed off to follow the others to the station.
"Just a moment, Gillan." As though a switch had been thrown or the whole world suddenly placed under a vacuum, the entire packed street of the Julian congregation fell silent and parted to leave a clear path between Gillan and Nash's Master. Being the only man at two-hundred centimeters in the crowd, Nash was able to see His Master leaning heavily on his cane as he slowly followed after the retreating accuser, "You may want to leave that note here."
"But I was just going to hand it over to the authorities." Protested the grieving father, but this only served to fuel His Master's stubbornness and persistence.
"Whatever would they need that for?" His Master asked, tone almost innocent. Gillan turned and brandished the note.
"This is evidence. I'm giving this to them as proof that those two were..." But Nash's Master didn't let the man even finish his sentence before turning to the rabbi.
"Rabbi, I find that a little odd. Do you not think this even the slightest bit strange?" His Master called, and indeed, the rabbi's head had bowed, face furrowed in deep concentration and concern. Nash saw a flash of gray before His Master's eyes meet his own for the first time that week, "Nash, whyever did you not tell me that you had learned how to write?"
If the silence were any thicker, Nash could have added chips, stirred it with a spoon, and made scones out of it.
"...He... he can't write...?" Stammered the sweating, shaking father of the ex-bride. The rabbi looked surprised that nobody else had known.
"He never had that kind of education – can't even sign his own name! He might be able to read Hebian scripture for readings, but never learned basic Ingrish or how to hold a pen. Still, if a man of working class can't sign his name on a legal document, the law allows his employer sign for him. That's why I had to have Excellency present for the meetings. But, suddenly a note supposedly in his hand shows up..." The rabbi picked at the not-yet-shaved stubble on his chin as he spoke, leaving the accuser drowning in his own sweat as Nash's Master strode up to him and pulled the note out of his hand.
"Besides, you were not REALLY going to turn this in to Scotland Yard; you were going to destroy it before they could do a handwriting analysis..." He'd said, slowly, softly, silkily, "Because it was you who wrote this, is that not so?"
Gillan's whole body was shaking so badly that Nash could practically feel the ground vibrating. The whole congregation stared at the petite figure that was Nash's Master as the words floated from his lips. He wasn't even accusing, merely stating facts.
"Whatever could you have been doing, wandering around here so early in the morning, just in time to conveniently see my butler coming out with the ashes and your daughter's body on our front stoop? Your house is a good ways away and you would not have had any reason to get up so early as it would have required for you to come here." Indeed, Nash's Master was still in his nightshirt and dressing gown and most of the congregation was only half-dressed, "And furthermore, this girl was your only daughter, was she not? Would not most parents be too busy grieving, distressed over who would pass on the line, or worried for their child's soul to come to a logical conclusion?" His Master's eyes narrowed.
"But... but justice for her murderer..." Gillan stammered, even as Nash's Master's eyebrows crept towards his hair line.
"Would it not be better justice to identify the TRUE killer? It has already been proven that someone else killed her and Scotland Yard will tell us that clearly enough when they come and identify the fingerprints on the knife. And then, there remains the fact that you KNEW it was your daughter, even though she had ashes all over her face and we needed a feather duster to clean it off to identify her." Nash's Master paused for effect, "Were you not terribly angry with Nash for turning down your daughter's hand in marriage? I was present for the whole week of harassment you put him through, after all. Let me guess: You sent her here to persuade, if not seduce, the unwilling Choson, and upon hearing that she had failed, the two of you argued and you accidentally killed her..." A loud gasp issued from the collective crowd, "Then, hid this note in her pocket to frame my butler... is that not true?"
The next protest was so easily expected, Nash hadn't needed His Master's supposed omniscience to know what the others would say.
"That's preposterous! No father would send his daughter out, alone at night! Any good Jule knows that!"
Nash could see His Master's face split into that impish grin of someone who has just watched the prey of their choice walk right into a rigged cage.
"Precisely." He said, eyes glittering, "No JULIAN father would send his precious daughter out alone, especially not for something as slovenly as to seduce a mere man..." Those piercing eyes of his were fixated on Gillan, once more, his voice lowering enough that it guaranteed everyone present would listen to him.
"Perhaps you could explain to me why you lied about that, as well... Gillan... that is a Gales name, not Hebian... the same can be said for Siobhan... then, your name comes from your father, whereas Julian families take their names from the MOTHER'S side... AND the whole marriage arrangement was backwards: You did all the proposing, all the nuptials, all the gift bearing, when PROPER traditions require the CHOSON to make the first move, just as a man has to go to market to buy his fish, rather than wait for the fish to come to him." Almost every married man in the crowd sputtered indignantly, but Nash's Master kept relentlessly on, "And LASTLY, you came to introduce the two; done in Bengali weddings in the Indies, NOT Julian traditions. If you wish to pretend to be of a certain faith, at least DO your research." All eyes fell on Gillan. Nash's Master paused to let the words sink in. Gillan's face was growing redder and redder, almost purple.
"...Tell me... who sent you? A Father? A Bishop? A Cardinal? Do not tell me the Papacy is condoning this sort of behaviour..."
A long pause filled the street, as though a spotlight had fallen on Gillan, before his anger overtook him. All anyone did was scream as Gillan's arms stretched out and his hands went around Nash's Master's neck.
Not a split second later, he was thrown five meters, courtesy of the expertly placed right hook into his stomach that Nash delivered. The wall of assembled congregation members caught Gillan from hitting the ground, but restrained him as he flailed against them. Gillan only managed to get one arm free to point at Nash's Master, whom was still massaging his throat.
"EVERYONE! LOOK AT HIM! LOOK AT THE BOY'S FACE! DON'T YOU KNOW WHO HE IS?" At his side, Nash felt His Master tense, "THAT'S THE GRANDSON OF THE GERMAIN KAIZER WHO ALMOST COMPLETELY WIPED OUT YOUR PEOPLE AND MY OWN DURING THE IMPERIUM WAR!" Nash's could feel the eyes of the whole congregation bearing down on His Master, "ITS HIS FAULT WE'RE ALL IN HIDING LIKE THIS! HIS FAULT WE'RE SHUNNED EVERYWHERE WE GO! HIS FAULT THAT MY GRANDPARENTS AND YOUR GRANDPARENTS ALL SUFFERED OR DIED THE WAY THEY DID! HE DESERVES TO DIE! MY DAUGHTER WOULD HAVE BEEN HAPPY TO GIVE HER LIFE IF SHE'D KNOWN- JUST TO SEE YOU SUFFER LIKE ALL OF US HAVE! YOU SHOULDN'T BE HAPPY LIKE YOU ARE!" Gillan's restrainers hadn't released him, but they were not utterly pinning him like they were before, "IT'S YOUR FAULT! YOUR FAULT, BOY! YOUR FAULT! YOUR FAULT! YOUR FAU-"
Nash heard several more screams as he stood at his full, towering height, strode over to Gillan, and firmly took the man's throat in his own, tanned, long-fingered hands. Gillan's voice jarred to a complete halt. Nash could see, just out of the corners of his eyes, everyone in the congregation step back.
"When you address My Lord, you will refer to him as Excellency." Nash whispered, eyes boring into Gillan's like a hot, iron drill. The vertical scars on the corners of Nash's lower eyelids burned as though they would split open, "Is that clear?" Nash could feel the drops of cooling sweat on the man's neck, the rabbit-paced thudding of his pulse, and the terrorized trembling of Gillan's entire body as Nash kept his hands firmly around the man's neck. Finally, shuddering, Gillan nodded.
Nash released Gillan's neck. A second later, the messengers returned with a constable and Gillan and his daughter's corpse were taken away. What surprised Nash was how the crowd failed to disperse, before he heard the rabbi clear his throat.
"Nash." Nash turned to see the rabbi directly beside Nash's Master. Both of them were staring straight ahead, not making eye contact. Nash had to blink for a moment before realizing the rabbi was speaking, and, more importantly, speaking to him and not His Master.
"As representative of the congregation, I thank you on all our behalf for your assistance in this ordeal." The rabbi's voice was polite, but every bit as icy as Nash's Master had always been towards the rabbi.
"It was no trouble, rabbi." Nash replied, just as strained and stiff as the rabbi, and even more confused as the seconds passed and the sentences grew more numerous.
"I'm sure it would be acceptable if you were to cease attending synagog. And, by you, I also refer to someone else who, by Lev 13:52, is now unclean." The rabbi continued, "You needn't be concerned in that matter."
'Lev 13:52- May a man's sin be the sin of both his father and his son, and may they all be unclean for it.' Nash thought, 'I'll 'Concern' you, old man.'
"Thank you for that reassurance." Was what he actually said. One of Nash's fingers twitched as his whole hand resisted the urge to clench into a fist.
His Master didn't wait for the rabbi to say anything more before he retreated back into the House. Nash nodded his head to the rabbi and followed His Master without a word. He barely caught sight of His Master's back as the calm, collected stride broke into a run that would have fooled anyone who didn't know about His Master's bum leg. Nash followed His Master down the inner hallway that lead to the greenhouse, quickened his own pace as His Master ran faster, and almost caught His Master before he slammed the door to the greenhouse shut.
Out of courtesy, Nash briefly paused outside the door to give His Master the privacy he obviously desired for a moment. Even as he let the door rattle to announce his entry, Nash's Master didn't look up from the Jasmine-Azalea plant he was tending to.
'If he asks, just look on the bright side. Say that Lond is a dirty city and we have an excuse to move on, now.' Nash concluded, before he carefully crept over with the watering can. This plant had taken His Master three months to finally breed, even with Nash's help, and his only Jasmine plant had withered from bearing the seeds, but His Master treated it with a special care that none of the other plants in the greenhouse could ever hope to receive. As such, Nash treated it the same way.
"You lost your chance to get away from me." His Master finally said as he stood and took the watering pail from Nash's hands without batting an eyelash. Nash didn't resist, but continued to watch His Master. His face was hidden by his turned back, and even by the reflection in the glass of the greenhouse walls, Nash couldn't distinguish anything of His Master's face by the curtain of hair that hung over it.
"You could have run off with that woman and lived a happy life somewhere. You could have had a family again... had a real life instead of just being my whore." Nash was so caught off-guard that his reply slipped out before he could control himself,
"I think I would have noticed, My Lord."
"Do not deny it- that is what I have made you into now. From this point on, there is no turning back. If you are to walk with me down this path, you will be abandoning everything- your family, your past, your memories, your name..." His Master stood, not looking Nash in the eye. Instead, he stared at the glass wall of the greenhouse. Nash could see His Master's silvery-gray eyes reflected on the glass in the perfect image as though they were face to face. Even though His Master's face was almost colorless in the glass reflection, Nash could see the discoloration in His Master's eyes.
"Do you understand that?"
Nash met that reflected gaze with perfect calm.
He'd been prepared to offer words of comfort, or reassurances that His Master was not even a drop like his grandfather, as all the other times they'd been forced to move on after someone revealed His Master's heritage.
"Do you understand that?" His Master repeated, more firmly than before, "That is a simple question. Yes or no?"
Nash said nothing for a long moment.
'How long until you begin to TRUST me when I answer you?'
"You are wrong, My Lord." He finally replied, eyes locked with the reflection of His Master's gaze, "I am not abandoning anything to follow you. There is nothing that is mine to abandon, anymore than anything is mine to keep."
His Master's gaze lingered in the glass. His eyes still glowed with fierce heat, but it was tempered and calmer somehow.
"Not even God? You claim that you will not be turning away from him, even by following in the footsteps of a damned man down the path of sin?"
"I have not turned away from God." Nash saw His Master's gaze harden on him, "He is by my side, even as we speak."
Nash broke with His Master's gaze enough to bow down on one knee, as though before an altar.
"I will be by your side, if that is what you wish of me My Lord. If you lead me to God, just to shake your fist at him, I shall follow and do the same. You are my shepherd." Nash's gaze remained lowered to the floor, "And I am your sheep."
"You are a fool is what you are." Nash lifted his head again, only to be met with His Master's gaze- calm, but something else stirring under it, like the brewing of a storm behind peaceful clouds. From his place on the floor, Nash could almost see the faint scar on His Master's forehead, hidden by his bangs, which only served as a reminder to who His Master really was. Nash said nothing, but after a moment, His Master extended a hand. It was as though he intended to touch Nash's face, but stopped short, blocked by some invisible barrier that forbade even the barest brush of skin. That was to be expected. His Master was the Great CMC, while Nash? He was a mere butler.
Still, there was something in His Master's eyes. Something that told Nash His Master so very wanted to press and break that wall of class and titles and taboos and there was nothing to stop him except for his own hesitation. A strong hesitation it was, as His Master's hands moved a little to outline the contour that matched the shape and curve of Nash's face. He could feel His Master penetrating him with those eyes and filling him as though he was being utterly consumed and warmed with the heat of another being's heartbeat. If Nash closed his eyes, he could imagine a whispering, lingering, tingling sensation on his skin that made goose pimples rise on the sides of his throat, over his shoulders, and all up and down his arms. As it was, his eyes were open and locked with His Master's glowing, silver gaze.
He wondered if His Master felt something similar, as Nash steadfastly kept his gaze as unswerving as loyalty he had always vowed. Did His Master feel as though he was being wrapped up in a familiar embrace or enfolded within a never dissipating warmth? Did His Master smell and taste that mixture of sweetness and bitterness in the space between them, as though the very air was moving to carry a message from Nash's lips to His Master's? Did His Master see the gleam in Nash's eyes that sought to touch the matching gleam in His Master's eyes? Nash knew better than to ask and the question was never answered.
Nash could feel the heat from the very ends of His Master's fingers, as well as the tiniest changes as they moved away and towards his face with their trembling. Finally, His Master pulled his hand away in resignation. His half-lidded gaze was still fixed on Nash's face in regret and understanding, yet at the same time, a kind of sweet, soothed satisfaction. Regret and understanding of the knowledge that they were both damned, no matter what he did, satisfaction that he would not be damned alone, soothed because it didn't matter right now, and so very sweet because there was nothing to fear, for there was someone beside him. Nash knew- he had studied His Master's eyes that well.
"Sheeps are fluffy. Your hair is too stringy and short." His Master said, at last. Nash allowed himself a small, fond smile and took the invitation to rise to his feet again.
"It's early yet, My Lord. Perhaps some more sleep would be best?" Nash suggested. His Master's eyelids only slightly drooped, but it was a clear signal that Nash was right. No more words were spoken as they left the greenhouse and climbed the stairs to the bedchambers.
"Thank you for saving me, My Lord." Nash whispered.
"...I never shall break you of calling me that, shall I?" His Master said, slowly. Nash blinked, not expecting this response, but shook his head.
"No, My Lord. You shan't." His Master stopped in his tracks to think about it for a moment.
"...At the very least, could you remember to call me by NAME every so often?" His Master asked, quietly, as though someone were forcing him to admit that he wanted this request granted. Nash blinked, taken aback for another moment, finally smiling.
"I think I can manage that much, My Lord."
His Master turned a little, calmly meeting Nash's gaze with a small smile of his own.
"I would like, somehow, if you could tell me what YOUR real name is." He whispered. Nash knew his surprise had shown on his face, but it quieted, quickly.
"If I ever can remember it, I assure you that you shall be the first to know, My Lord."
"...I wonder how she must have died... the knife wound showed no signs of clotting or healing and could only have been made after she was dead... so something else must have happened..."
"Perhaps it was just the will of God."
"Are you ready to follow me? Into the depths of Hell?"
The words had come out whispered, pleading.
"Always, My Lord."
For he was His Master's servant.