Fen showed Pan to a tiny square room off the main chamber with a single strip of a window, higher than his head. There was a very narrow iron bed frame topped by a thin mattress that suffered from a plague of lumps, and a square dresser of three drawers. There was also a stool and child-sized desk for self-study. No fewer than ten hooks were hammered into the wall along the bottom of the windowsill.
It was quite similar to his old room, though smelt starkly different – it was scented of mint just as the main chamber was. Pan, resisting the urge to stick out his tongue in hope of tasting it on the air, rather liked the idea of living amid such an invigorating, fresh aroma after four years of rot and mould permanently infesting his nostrils. Carrying it in, he pushed his chest under the end of the bed and set his sack-bag on the dresser, moving with a glad little bound in his step. It was amazing how near identical spaces could be rendered so impossibly different by mere smell and the personality of their owner – compared to that in Beron’s chambers, Pan thought even a Director would want for nothing in his new room.
‘Hang up the costumes you have there on the hooks, and fold everything else into the drawers,’ Fen instructed. Pan immediately stopped soaking up his luxurious new surrounds and rushed to do as he was told. ‘I’ll order new ones made once I decide how to dress each woman. You’ll likely have something different each time. I enjoy my work maybe too much,’ Fen admitted when Pan stared from beneath the window, arm cocked about to hang up his ebony tunic suit. Master Beron had reused the same five costumes over and over for Pan, five costumes that were impossible to clash with any colour or design, and had given all his attention to restoring and altering vintage dresses. He rarely designed new ones. But perhaps in his youth he’d been as bursting with ideas and energy as Fen clearly was behind his quiet, thoughtful demeanour. ‘You and the woman are an ensemble – you must compliment her perfectly. Your first assignment for me is in two days. We’ll do fittings after lunch.’
The young master left Pan to unpack. Apart from his clothes, all he had were a few books from his escort training, his first issued portfolio and pencil set, his seventeenth issued grooming set, and three photographs. The books and drawing materials he put on the desk, and he arranged the contents of his grooming set on the dresser before the mirror, stowing the empty sack-bag in the bottom drawer. The photographs he spread around the room, one on the dresser, one on the desk, and one on the tiny night table by his bed, standing the frame beside the single candle.
All three were professional portrait shots of women. The one on the dresser was his sister, Georgiana. The one on the desk was his dear friend, Claire. The one on the night table was his mother, Lilian.
Just as their faces smiled behind glass in their simple carved frames, so they were preserved behind glass, ornaments on the Shelves. All two thousand four hundred and sixty-three women, their names and birth dates shining on golden plaques. Wait, sixty-four. It was sixty-four. Claire had been placed on the Shelf just last month, an occasion that had shut down the castle, city, and surrounding wards in celebration. It had been her sixteenth birthday. Depending on her popularity, it might be as long as a hundred years before she aged to seventeen. Pan would be long gone.
Women were rare. Precious. More precious than the most flawless diamond set in pure gold. As rare as two full moons in a single month, and becoming increasingly scarce. In a population of roughly twenty thousand men (depleted from a thousand times that a few hundred years ago), two thousand four hundred and sixty-four women were now all they had. There were nineteen girl-children also, aged from two to fourteen. They too were destined to an ageless, endless lifetime behind glass.