I am preparing his Highness favourite tea today: a blend of carefully selected Assam leaves which I personally acquired from the market. He likes it lightly sweetened, but with no milk. The white liquid is a desecration to his tea ceremony, he says.
I turn the kettle off and pour a generous quantity of hot water onto the loose leaves. The dark fluid flows through the narrow gaps of the tea filter and its scent reaches my nose. I personally dislike the taste of this blend, but the Master is an enthusiastic supporter of dark and fuller tones when it comes to his drinks.
I delicately place the porcelain teapot onto the silver tray, followed by the teacup which has been gilded with golden streaks by wish of the Master. Next I straighten my shirt, adjust my sleeves and tighten my bowtie. Not a single crease must appear on my clothes nor a speck of dirt. The Master is very watchful of these details.
Lastly, I fix my gloves, grab the tray's handle and push it through the doors.
The mansion is enormous, with more rooms than guests sleeping in and countless corridors where a visitor could easily get lost. I am now walking through one such corridors, no windows can be seen on the walls which are instead covered with paintings of the previous owners and related figures. The only light source is the occasional candle left lit on the side of the corridor, which is meant to keep the shadows at bay.
There is over fifty servants in this manor and guests are not uncommon. Yet, no one is allowed in this wing besides me, the Head Butler, personal servant to the Master. Therefore, I do not expect to cross paths with anyone there and so I allow myself to walk at a brisk pace with the tray and the tea. Despite the darkness, I can distinguish the features of those watching me from the walls. My eyes, trained in poorly lit rooms, can see in almost total obscurity. I do not know if this is a blessing or a curse, for certain things that go on in the mansion are perhaps best left unseen.
Eventually, I reach the Master's living quarters. He is in his studio, probably reading through some of the most urgent files from work. I hesitate for just half a second, then knock on the mahogany doors separating us.
The doorknob feels as heavy as usual and I have to push hard in order to open the doors. I enter and my eyes quickly readjust to the slightly brighter room. There is a candelabrum hanging from the ceiling which spreads a bit more light than the single candles in the corridor. Still, it is rather dark compared to what the average human eyes needs to comfortably work with.
My Master does not even deign me of a single glance, but I am used to it. I do not expect him to give any signs of acknowledging my presence. I know he is aware of each and every movements of mine without need to put any effort into it.
I approach his desk with long strides. My dark shoes cover the distance in just three steps, and I am at his side. 'Your tea, milord,' I announce.
His eyes are glued to the paper he has been studying since earlier, but his fingertips tap onto the wooden table, signalling it is ok for me to pour.
I oblige, offering him a steaming cup of tea and a bow. 'It is your favourite blend today, Assam with a hint of Ceylon leaves.'
Without averting his gaze from the papers, his right hand reaches out for the cup and brings it closer to his mouth. He assesses the scent and then takes a sip. 'Sugar.'
'I have added three teaspoons, milord.'
'I wasn't asking how many you put in already.'
'My apologies for misunderstanding, milord. I will fetch you some sugar this instant.' Luckily, I have brought the sugar canister along with me. The Master appears to be rather displeased about something. I can only assume that the something is related to his work as I hand him the jar with the sugar.
He takes it with his innate grace and drops a few grains of the white powder in the tea, then he hands the jar back to me. I dutifully replace the jar onto the tray, then I speak, 'If there is nothing else your grace wishes of me, I shall take my leave.'
'How are dinner preparations coming along?' He asks and my heart suddenly skips a beat.
'Fine. I am personally taking care of that.' My answer might not carry the highest degree of formality and my tone is edging towards the unrespectful, but he does not comment on that. However, he does look up at me with his cold blue eyes as if silently questioning my answer. I feel a chill propagate down my spine as he examines me. Finally, he breaks the icy silence and his tone is warm but sinister. 'Are you unhappy with your position in my mansion?'
'I am very grateful to your Highness for allowing me to carry out my job here and for granting me the highest position among all servants,' I quickly reply with a deep bow.
Silence follows my words and for a minute I hold my breath, not daring to look up. Then he chuckles. 'Are you really now, Victor?'
I feel rivulets of cold sweat starting to collect at the base of my neck, but I stand still, unmoving from my bent position.
'I seem to recall you complaining about this earlier. Maybe I should assign you to some other job.'
I can hear his fingers playing with his pen as he is probably looking at me from his desk. The noise is making me nervous, but this time I reply. 'If your Highness deems that to be a wise decision then I will comply with your Highness's desires.'
'My desires…are very different from what you are trying to force me to do.'
'With all due respect, milord,' I start, daring to look at him in the eye. 'I am not forcing you to do anything.'
'Your opinion on the dinner matters to me.' He sighs and crosses his legs.
'I am very sorry that this servant's views might be concerning for your Highness. Please forgive my previous comment, be it an unspoken one, it was inappropriate of me.'
'I expect an impeccable dinner service tonight then.'
I grit my teeth but try not to let it show. 'Your wish is my command, milord.'
'You may leave,' he orders, and I know I am being dismissed. Before I realise, my feet have moved out of the door from whence I came half an hour ago and once again I find myself in the almost total darkness of the corridors.
My Master has quite the peculiar tastes when it come to dinner. Or rather, he has some needs. I was not aware of this when I took the post at this mansion. At the time I was much younger, and I had just received a generous offer which I took without questioning. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
After a week or so of running errands for the cook I had noticed how strange the food orders were, but did not question it. The Master ate in his own chambers, alone, with only one servant allowed to watch over his dinner. His most trusted butler from the previous generation, Faust, disappeared under mysterious circumstances about five years ago. Rumours had it that he had ran off with some big sum of money after the Master had trusted him with it. Others stated that he had an affair with someone related to the Master and ran off with her.
Either way, that is when I was appointed as Head Butler by his Highness and came to know the horrific truth about his meals.
My head hangs low as I make my way back to the kitchen. It is a cold and sinister place at this hour of the night, and I am the one who takes care of Master's food, not the cook.
I reach for the iced compartments and open the stone door to one of them. Brownish meat stares at me from inside and I feel my stomach churn at the sight. I take out a portion, enough to feed him for one meal, and place it on the table.
The large knife I am looking for is stored in the first drawer and soon I am chopping the meat into small cubes. Next is the vegetables and then the spices I need to select. I turn the fire on, using a fan to intensify it. The pot I need to use, the same one as always, is already clean and I fill it with salty water. The meat goes in first, then the carrots, followed by the onions and then the potatoes. I stir it and wait as it boils and slowly fills the kitchen with the acrid scent which hurts my nose so much.
I look at my hands, stained in green streaks and red blots. I immediately wash them, rubbing hard with soap and the cleaning sponge. Most of it comes off, but I still feel dirtied. How long will I have to bear with this I do not know, perhaps my entire life.
I considered quitting my job, but the situation is too complex for me to disentangle myself from the Lord of the mansion. He is a businessman, he made an investment on me and he would not let me go that easily. I am honestly afraid that the story of Faust running off with money is just a cover; he probably ran off out of fear of the Master's wrath or in disgust for his position. If he made it out alive is a mystery, but I suspect the answer is no.
The bubbling noise of the water boiling the meat is disquieting. I have yet to grow accustomed to it after five years. It is more the thought of what's inside there that disturbs me rather than the way it is being cooked. Meat, or rather, flesh. Shapeless, deformed, unsightly…it is disgusting. Where was this batch sourced from again? Probably one of the many farms which are in possession of the Lord, where they breed prime meat cuts especially for him. How old was the little lamb when it was sacrificed?
The clock is ticking on the wall, it is quarter past ten and I am by all means on time with my schedule. It is a rather lonely task, that of taking care of the Master since other servants are not allowed in here. I feel the need sometimes to talk to someone, to confess the things that Master and me have been doing. Thus, it is perhaps for the best that I am alone – no one should hear of what goes on behind these thick walls. Or should they? Shouldn't the truth be revealed to the wider world so that someone would come and cleanse this place?
Yet, do I want the world to be rid of me and my Master? His fall would automatically bring forth mine, but that is not why I am holding his back. Deeper ties run between us and I cannot yet cut them. Even when my conscience as a human tells me I should.
Even when I look inside the cooler and I see eyes staring at me, empty and dead. Fingers, toes, little feet, noses, everything from inside to outside, is stored in the cellar. Brains are a special treat, preserved in vinegar, they are consumed occasionally. But the most gruesome parts of minced meats, knotted guts tied together, and pressed nerves are for daily meals and those make the most common appearance in my nightmares.
They seem to be mostly from children, given the sizes. Easier to breed and too much of a cost versus gains once they get old enough. Besides, the Master has a special preference for sweet and soft meats.
I sigh and repress a shiver, never had I thought that I would end up working for a human-eater monster in the guise of a nobleman. Yet, there is not much a mere servant can do and he himself cannot change his diet. Even if it is monstrous, this Master of mine is still my Master and I have to obey his orders.
Thus, I check up on the broth and it is almost ready. Just a few more minutes and I can take it off the stove. It is late enough for dinner, but not too late that the Master would be angry with me. I hurry out of the kitchen and head for the main dining hall, where I know he will be waiting for me.
'You are late.'
'I sincerely apologise, I had to make sure the broth was properly cooked, milord. If you would like to take a seat, I will serve you dinner.'
My Master does not reply and adjusts himself into one of the chairs next to the table. I take the ladle and serve him a full plate. My expression is impassable, my hands steady, yet my eyes betray my emotions. He is not pleased by my aversion to his food.
'Sit,' he orders.
I look up surprised, questioning his intentions.
I obey, dumbfounded.
He takes his plate and places it in front of me. 'Eat.'
I jump up, heart in my throat. 'Master!' I protest.
He stares at me with a blank expression. Slowly, I sit back down, thinking of ways I can try to talk myself out of this, but failing to come up with any good ideas. 'I don't think it would be appropriate of me to eat your dinner, milord, there is just about enough food for you here.'
'You can have a sip, I am not avaricious.'
'I thank you for your kindness, but I would rather not risk getting sick. My system is different from yours.' I glance at him, feeling the temperature drop by one degree or two. Unexpectedly, he laughs. Yet it is a cold and raucous laugh, the kind which would make all of one's hair stand up on their scalp.
'You wouldn't get sick for just one spoonful of broth.' His eyes are gelid; I do not understand why he would want me to perform such an act if not merely for abusing the power he has over me as a form of revenge for my previous behaviour.
I cannot do it, though. No matter what his rights on me are, I cannot eat fellow humans' meat. 'My Lord, I have to confess that the meal is incompatible with my tastes and I would not be able to stomach it. If you would be so kind to drop the subject…'
'Have I given you the impression of being kind?' His tone was not one bit warmer and, if possible, it had dropped even more.
'There have been a number of occasions…'
'Enough. You are a human and I am your Master. I do not want to repeat myself.'
I stare at the plate in front of me, stomach sealed in an iron grid. I clench my fists, one of them is holding the spoon he gave me. I breathe in and close my eyes shut, waiting for the worst things to happen.
He sighs, 'And here I thought I had finally found someone a bit more amenable.'
Suddenly my eyes shoot open. 'Is this how Faust died?' I ask before realising.
His eyes widen, shock clearly showing on his face. 'No.'
He takes the plate back, as well as the spoon, and starts eating the food in silence. 'It would have been a waste on you anyway.' There is a slight hint of disappointment and I swallow down, but I am relieved. He doesn't speak for the rest of the dinner, until he is done with the food. Then he gets up and moves to the sofa near the fireplace.
I start cleaning up, but he calls my name. 'Pour me a glass of wine,' he orders.
'Yes, My Lord.' I promptly waltz over to his place and offer him a dark red liquid inside a glass. He sips from it while the flames dance in the fireplace behind me and make my shadow curl on the floor.
'Do you find me disgusting?' He asks me after a while.
I do not reply immediately. It is true that I am repulsed by his eating habits, to the point that my best lying skills cannot hide the feeling whenever he questions me. Nevertheless, he is my Master and I serve him wholeheartedly. I accept him for what he is, even if it sickens me. 'I do not…'
'Do not lie,' he burst. Part of the wine reaches the fire and sparkles fill the air nearby. 'I can tell what you are thinking…don't just assume that because you obey me on most days, I trust you to not backstab me when I am least expecting it…'
'Master I would never…!' I throw myself onto the floor, standing on my knees just before him. I reach out for his hand, to reassure him, but he pushed mine away.
'Do you want to know what happened to Faust?' He asks with a humourless smile.
I swallow again, unsure if I want to know. Seconds stretch into minutes before I reply. 'I am not Faust.'
'No, you are not,' he agrees, and his eyes somewhat soften. His hand reaches for my dark blonde hair and slowly caresses it. My body reacts to his touch, almost involuntarily. I feel my heart speed up and suddenly I am too warm, especially in a butler's suit.
He must be feeling it too, because he loosens his tie. Then he takes a hold of my hand and removes my glove. His fingers skim over my skin sending shivers up my spine. I tense, looking up at him, unsure of what he wants. His expression is pensive as if he is lost into his own thoughts. Suddenly, his eyes narrow.
'You would not eat.' I feel my hand being harshly pulled by his and my whole body moves in response. I cannot react fast enough before he immobilises me next to him. Our legs are locked, and he holds the small of my back with his hand. He is still studying my fingers, it seems. Then he twists my wrist and bites on it.
A muffled whimper escapes me despite my best attempt. I can see the red from my blood staining my forearm and his lips as he licks and sucks on the wound.
He opens his eyes and looks at me, they are glimmering a dangerous violet light. Without a word he pushes me against the back of the sofa and switches our positions so that he is now holding me pinned down below him. He lets go of my wrist and I grasp for air just before he crashes his lips on mine. I feel the metallic taste of blood into my mouth. My blood.
He is demanding with his kiss, his tongue subduing mine in a domineering fashion. His left hand is squeezing mine in a tight lock while his right claws sink into my hip. He interrupts the kiss to let me breathe and looks at me with ravenous eyes, then he smiles. 'Definitely not Faust,' he says and then descends to lick the skin on my neck. I shiver, partially in excitement, partially in disgust. The pressure I am feeling from him is overwhelming, almost as if I am about to be devoured. My heart is beating fast and my eyes are wide open, I am attentive to his every move.
He bites on my neck, not strong enough to draw blood, yet enough to leave a mark. I am aware at that moment of how easily he could rupture my jugular. The thought of being food to him frightens me. I know he gets high on my blood, that is the main reason why I was chosen as Faust's replacement five years ago. He has told me so.
He has told me many things over the past few years. Of how he longs to hold me, how he yearns to possess me. How my boyish form reminded him of a flower not yet ready to be plucked. He has been waiting he said, all these years. And he has been using me: as his servant, as his lover.
My body is used to his touch, so I start to slip out of consciousness. I wonder if this is how it would feel, if he were to consume me. Flesh and blood, that is what he craves. The former I have been offering to him in the shape of stews and broths for the past five years, the latter I have been providing myself whenever he has been needing it.
He gets off me when he is done. Leaving me to fix my own clothes and the emotional mess that I have become. His tastes are repugnant, but his touches are not. He is a monster, but I cannot condemn him for it. I am afraid of him, and yet I also want to protect him.
He glances at me, his gaze still heated. 'Would you let me, if I were to ask, would you let me devour you?'
I hesitate, just for a moment. There is no logical explanation to what follows, because my body has already surrendered to his, even if my mind has not. And yet, I reply, 'Yes, Master.'