‘Of course not, you’re not doing anything wrong,’ Fen had replied with a laugh, Pan’s spine stiffening resentfully at the lighthearted sound. ‘You’ve got entirely the wrong idea, though I am glad you feel comfortable enough to raise such an issue with me. No doubt that was difficult for you.’
Pan’s instinctive fear at questioning his Master diminished far more readily than it might have a few months before, and he even managed to be little pleased—he’d made Fen glad. But recalling how abashed he’d felt as his Master had so casually revealed Pan’s problems to their women, the issue at hand quickly reclaimed his attention.
It’s my business, Pan protested, notebook, pencil, and mop handle precariously juggled. They don’t need to know about anything like that. They don’t want to know.
‘I disagree,’ Fen said. ‘Stop trying to mop and write at the same time, it will never work. Sit down for a moment.’
Making Pan sit beside him, Fen had explained his theory, that offering personal information about their silent escorts might improve escort-women relations. ‘We know everything about them. It’s hardly fair that they don’t know their escorts when they spend most of their time with you.’
But they’re not meant to know us. We’re escorts, not men. Near soulless servants.
‘Did Master Beron say that?’ Fen had asked disapprovingly.
Not soulless, Pan amended, embarrassed and frightened of Master Beron finding out he’d caused Fen to criticise him, but our opinions, disposition, none of it can get in the way of serving our women.
‘You wouldn’t let yourself get in the way. I see no need to act soulless, none at all. Other escorts don’t. I didn’t. And I don’t recall you ever doing so, not working for me.’
Maybe not, but the women still are not meant to know us. It’s not just Beron—we’re told so almost every week.
‘I know this. And again, I disagree. Of course I want you to be professional,’ Fen had said reassuringly, seeing how confused Pan was, ‘but I also want you to be you. A smile every now and then won’t break them. Quite the opposite, I think.’
Could you at least tell them something else? Pan had pleaded as Fen directed him back to his mop.
‘It’s not as though I’m going into detail … all right,’ Fen conceded at Pan’s imploring gaze. ‘I’ll tell them something else about you if you tell me exactly what to say without your notebook.’
Pan had tried for ten minutes, gripping the mop hard as he swirled it about the floor, wringing it almost dry, but he couldn’t force himself to form even one complete sentence, the thought of needing several of them too daunting. ‘Like … rain,’ was the most coherent phrase he managed. Though Fen praised his effort, and said it was nice to know he preferred rain over sunshine, he couldn’t describe him as “like rain” to a woman.
‘Are you just filling in for Rein?’ Jacyntha asked as she ate the toast, cream cheese, and scrambled eggs Pan had fetched. She ate with more eagerness than most other women Pan had escorted, who nibbled daintily and set their teacups down without a sound whereas Jacyntha’s cup clattered against her saucer. Pan smiled, reminded of Claire.
‘For now at least,’ Fen nodded. ‘But if everything goes well, we may be made more permanent.’
Handing her a warm towel to wipe her hands and taking their trays away, Pan helped Jacyntha don her morning dress—a modest cascade of cream lace and soft fawn cotton—as Fen talked her through the schedule Pan already knew so well. She was pleased Fen had allowed her so much time to practice her archery. ‘I barely had one session to prepare with Rein. But if I’m shooting this morning, why am I in this?’ she asked, lifting her arms as Pan adjusted her fitted jacket. ‘I won’t be able to raise my bow.’
‘There’s a meeting at eight with the Directors running the fiesta,’ Fen explained, selecting shades of rouge and eye shadow from two enormous palettes. ‘All women competing are expected to be there, and some photographs may be taken. We were instructed to dress you well. It shouldn’t take long,’ he promised when Jacyntha pouted, a meeting clearly the last place she wanted to be when all she had was two days. ‘You’ll have your bow back in your hands before you know it.’
‘So, are you ready to win this tournament with me?’ Jacyntha directed at Pan as he applied a very light coat of makeup, brightening her rather pallid face to match her more effervescent disposition. ‘After one hundred and … it’s only been six months since I last left the Shelf, hasn’t it?’ she questioned Fen. ‘No schedule changes?’
‘No changes,’ Fen said, Pan ducking away so his Master could examine, and if need be adjust, his handiwork. At his satisfied nod, Pan sat on the edge of the lounge and bolted down his cooled breakfast. ‘You’re very much on schedule.’
‘Well, after one hundred and twenty-two years, this is it,’ Jacyntha decreed. Determination burned in her eyes, replacing what had been good-natured sunshine. ‘I have a good feeling. With a new Master, and a new escort? This is a fresh start. It’s an auspicious day, I tell you,’ she said, facing down Pan on the lounge as if expecting him to challenge her.
Pan swallowed his mouthful of eggs with difficulty and inclined his head, glad he could not point out that according to her files, Jacyntha had had a new Master and escort almost every fiesta.
Jacyntha gave a short nod, satisfied.
‘This tournament will be mine.’