“He’s nothing but another slave,” I said sourly.
The sun had passed the midday point hours ago, but my head still hurt badly from the late night before. There’d been heavily spiced food at the Council festival and excessive wine, rich as bull’s blood. I’d felt lethargic all day, though that was to be expected after the overnight attentions of an enthusiastic bedmate… or three. I had a grain-trade meeting set for early evening, but at that moment I knew I probably wouldn’t turn up. It wouldn’t be the first time I had neglected my pompous Council duties as Chancellor.
And now my servants had burst into the anteroom of my private quarters and flung a jumble of bone and flesh at my feet, all of it accompanied by their excited jabbering. The noise jarred on my sensitive ears. I was in poor humor for visitors, and they should have known it. I might personally break the limbs of at least one of them, but perhaps not until I felt more physically robust.
Hul saw my look; he knew me perhaps the best. He had been with me for over a full Earth season-set, and that was quite an impressive reference for a servant of my department.
“See him for yourself, Chancellor Chariz,” he insisted. The others fell silent around him, as they were used to following his lead. “The Lady’s housemaids were taking him to her quarters, but we told them he had to be interrogated first.” He nudged at the captive on the floor with his boot. “Kneel up before the Chancellor, idiot, like I told you.”
I ran an aimless hand through my thick hair and glanced at the heap of cloth and limbs beneath me. Despite my youth, I was used to seeing groveling. I’d been appointed to a senior position in the household as soon as I reached adulthood, when many men toiled for the same honor for another twenty season-sets. I was therefore used to debasement before me. It bored me, of course—but then, there wasn’t much in life that didn’t, and Hul knew that.
“He’s still nothing but a slave,” I said.
I stepped around a chair that was piled high with official papers, and I saw one of the other servants cringe back before me. I was unusually tall for my race and strongly built, and I knew my look was angry. I wore my rich velvet cloak with the heavy neck chain of my Council position, and I knew how impressive I appeared to the lower castes. In fact, I often played upon it.
“I have plenty of slaves, Hul. Boys who groom my horses, girls who serve my food, young men who spread their gangly limbs for me at night so I can relax for a good moon’s sleep. I’m sure the Lady of the household has plenty, too, for I know for a fact her appetite is as mature as my own.”
One of my other servants flushed, and I knew then who was the Lady’s favorite this moon phase. I appraised him quickly and decided he was barely worth the effort. Maybe he would be the one I whipped in punishment for disturbing me today. He was a slender, brown-eyed youth who seemed unable to do anything but wring his hands nervously all the time he was in my presence. But then the Lady of the household—who, to my chagrin, was also my mother—was known for choosing her bedmates by quantity rather than quality. There were many who said that was one of the few traits of hers that I’d inherited. I didn’t challenge them. Didn’t it suit me to be thought of as too self-indulgent to care?
Hul sulked a little. “Believe me, Chancellor, I wouldn’t have brought you just another lackey. The barracks have been gossiping about him ever since they brought him in, and the kitchens are bubbling with curiosity. Even the Magicians are disturbed—”
His sly gaze turned to me. I knew he saw the tease of a smile at the corners of my mouth. It was a favorite pastime of mine, the baiting of the Magicians’ caste. “Yes, Chancellor. They are very disturbed.”
I sighed exaggeratedly. “So what is it about him?” I nudged the body myself with my buckled boot. The tangled legs sprawled apart, and the young man rolled on to his back on the wooden floor. His eyes darted up to catch mine, and for a second the breath caught in my throat.
“His skin is pale,” I said, my voice sounding a little hoarse. “Like a city dweller. But he has… those unusual eyes. A most unattractive combination. I see no evidence of useful strength, no hint of amusing perversion. If he’s just another tedious empath….” I turned sharply on Hul. “The Council has a flock of them already, supplicants clinging to the coattails and sucking at the cocks of the Magicians. I’ve no interest in breeding my own such sacrificial lambs.”
“No, sir,” Hul insisted, though he winced at my crudeness. He was, of course, well used to my anger, and I often made it clear I hated to waste my diplomatic talents on the lesser castes. “He doesn’t ask to join the apprentices, Chancellor. He’s something different.”