While encompassing what could become countless tasks, an escort’s job, in essence, was quite simple. Escorts were women’s servants. The masters were their managers. It was an escort’s duty to accompany women taken off the Shelf while their masters styled, scheduled, and supervised. Following their masters’ instructions, escorts helped dress their women in fine clothing and painted their faces. Shielded them as fans poured in from the wards in hope of catching a glimpse of their favourites. Attended their every need as they spent mornings however they pleased in the safety of the castle and its gardens. Stood close at hand during afternoon appointments as they conversed with rich and important men. Kept them company. Served them at feasts prepared in their honour. Assisted as they displayed their talents for rapt audiences. Stood watch by their doors as they slept. Saw them safely back to their stands once their period off the Shelf, generally a day to a week, was over. And finally, visited those with child, being their closest companion through their seven or eight months of pregnancy.
Pan had been assigned escort to two pregnant women in his time, and assisted with many others. It was exhausting. They took up so much time he’d often been required to leave them to the care of their doctors, ordered to escort other women, leaving for a few days at a time before being sent back, a slave to their whim. He’d never been so strained as when dealing with the hormonal, bloated, often thankless and occasionally violent pregnant women, but at least it had gotten him out of Master Beron’s chambers for a while, not allowed to leave their side for anything in those final weeks.
He’d seen his mother through a pregnancy, recently. His mother, whose face and body was that of a twenty-five year old woman. His mother, who had been born four hundred and fifty years ago.
He’d been escort to her many times before then, her hair, as a million specks of shining night strung and twisted into tresses, and the unearthly beauty of her voice making her very popular to take off the Shelf, though she was scheduled to be put away for a fifty year interval soon. Pan would miss her. Lilian had had as many as thirty-five sons over the years (and Georgiana, who would be one hundred and seventy-eight but for the glass), but Pan was the first to become an escort. The first of her children she’d known.
‘So you’re to become a master,’ she’d said not long before she gave birth to four tiny boys. Thanks to the heavy fertility treatment the entire population was exposed to, quintuplets were quite common and triplets the norm. Most survived. ‘Master Beron told me. He’s proud of you, Pan. I’m proud of you.’
He’d bowed, rubbing soothing lotion into her massively swollen belly, doubting his master was capable of feeling pride for anyone but himself.
Lilian had sighed. ‘I do wish you’d talk to me.’
He’d bowed again, unable to answer. Even notes, his primary source of communication, were frowned upon – any exchange had to be through his master. And when he couldn’t speak a word to Master Beron without a knife being brought to his lips, that was a virtual impossibility.
Maybe now though, Pan thought as he balanced on a stool, a team of tailors whipping measuring tapes across his exposed body and holding up fabrics for Fen to consider against his colouring (complexion of heavy dessert cream with light undertones of peach, hair thick and earthy as newly turned garden soil, and eyes two grey mornings, apparently), he would be able to speak with his mother through Fen. Georgiana, too. Even Claire. To his delight, Pan learned from the schedule Fen read out as he was pulling his simple escort uniform back on that he’d be attending Claire in a few months. The Directors must have heard of their friendship, and arranged him for her as a treat.
Her first days beyond the glass.