Behind Glass (section fifteen)

‘I’d like you to speak with your physician this week,’ Fen said as Pan filled a silvered teapot from the whistling kettle, and poured strong black tea into their cups. Pan was spared responding immediately, as there was a knock at the door. He went to accept their breakfast tray, busying himself slicing pears and filling bowls with thick, milky porridge. Feeling Fen’s eyes on him, Pan kept his head down, focusing on his knife.  But he tried to give a reasonable response.

‘But … next … not … until …’

‘I know your next session’s not scheduled until next month,’ Fen said as Pan gulped, unable to finish.  ‘Still, I’d like you to go this week – I’ll have Lyre informed myself.  There may be time on Friday evening after the performance, once Amy has gone to sleep.’

‘Meant … classroom …’

‘Stay an hour longer today and on Wednesday, that will suffice.  Your health is at least as important as time in the classroom.’

Pan placed a wide, shallow bowl filled with porridge topped with blueberries and thin crescents of pear before his master, setting the spoon beside it so it made not the smallest clink against the table top.  ‘Yes … Master … Fen.’

‘And you don’t have to wait for me to finish, eat,’ Fen told him, and Pan quickly got to spooning hot porridge into his mouth, sitting stiffly on the lounge opposite.  ‘We have much to do today.’

In the dining hall, escorts served their masters and only ate after they left, re-joining them after a hastily shovelled down, usually stone-cold meal.  He’d never eaten in Beron’s quarters, and though he had several times with Fen, Pan couldn’t grow used to the very familiar relationship Fen sought to build with him.  Of course, he liked Fen very much.  But he was his master.  Trying to treat him so but also as someone more – like a guardian, or a perhaps even a friend –  only made him confused, unsure precisely where he stood with the man.

When they had consumed their last spoonfuls, Pan tidied up their used dishes, left them on the low table just outside the door, and began to sweep the floors, wanting to finish some chores before his bath. Fen took his portfolio and burrowed a cozy space for himself in the corner of the lounge, starting to critique and adjust sketches.  He needed three new gowns and three accompanying suits made for that week.  One set was almost finished, a dazzling ensemble of red satin and cloth of gold.  One had been begun last night – he was meeting with the tailors in a little over an hour to check their progress.  But for the last he hadn’t even finalised a design.  Still, he instructed Pan to summon a third team of tailors once he’d bathed. Fen would be done by the time they arrived.

Sundays were generally busy times in the castle.  It was the one day when women were never taken off the Shelf.  Occasionally a woman scheduled to be removed on a Friday or Saturday might be kept off over Sunday (though it was rare) and of course pregnant women remained un-Shelved to allow their children to grow unhindered, but Sunday was a day reserved for masters and escorts to focus on preparation for the coming week.

Pan’s official schedule that week resembled the following:  Sunday – two sessions of classroom study, chores for Fen, and as many meetings, fittings, and classes with his master as it took to complete their preparations;  Monday and Tuesday – escorting Miss Jacyntha Jenner, one session of classroom study, and two meetings/classes with Fen; Wednesday – shelf duty until lunch time; two session of classroom study, a meeting with Fen, and finishing the chores he didn’t complete on Sunday; Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – escorting Miss Amy Rice, cleaning and taking an inventory of the three escort common rooms, five meetings with Fen, two classroom sessions, and now a meeting with his physician.  If he had any free moments, Fen had already instructed Pan to send every size 10 and 12 gown and the silk gloves and stockings to be freshly laundered, then to polish the silver tea set and spoons, candelabras, all the jewellery stored in the three crystal cases, Fen’s mandolin, and if his elbow wasn’t too stiff and there was still time and polish available, all the door knobs and locks.

And that was only the official schedule.  Meetings times could randomly change.  Pan could be asked by his master (or any master, for that matter) to do any number of errands or tasks at any moment.  Fittings could run overtime.  Instructors could fail to arrive for class.  If another escort fell ill, he might be asked to take over their duties.  An emergency load of laundry might have to be sent with very specific instructions to be washed – Beron had required this service an uncanny number of times, the dresses he restored sewn of rare and peculiar cloth, and their unusual adornments – clinking jewels, fringe, and feathers – made washing the garments a novel challenge every time.  Only when Pan was doing what his job title suggested did the schedule remain solid.

Things rarely went awry while he was with a woman, every appointment, rehearsal, lunch, presentation, and party progressing with no problems to speak of.  It was so for most escorts.  Merrick’s theory was that everything else in the castle was so disorganised to maintain equilibrium, as women could be shown nothing less than a perfect time, every time.  ‘And if anything went wrong, it’d be on our heads, not our masters’,’ he said fervently late that morning as they finished labelling their diagrams.  Their Biology of Women instructor circled the desks and made corrections in a carrying voice so others who had made the same errors could erase them, and he could avoid repeating himself.  ‘I think I’d prefer to clean every bathing hall and every toilet in the castle every single week until I become a master myself than become known as the escort that failed his woman.’

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