I tried to slide into the servant disguise and role again next morning, around the same time. Binshala walked in as I hefted a stack of books. “Fessas lad.” I turned to her respectfully, she was a senior servant, I reminded myself. I couldn’t have a better test of my disguise.
“How can this’ lowly one, aid ‘t exalted?” That wasn’t quite right… its too much, isn’t it?
“Who ordered that one here, to do this?”
“’t, Spark ‘o ‘t Sun’s Ray, exalted.”
She gazed around, clearly looking for me. The companions were all in their rooms and I’d have to end my charade soon so as to not being late for sword class. I shifted the pile of books as she turned back to me and I realized I had one hand up at my neck, playing with the knot on the end of my shirt-string. I dropped it and saw her notice, even as I dropped it.
Her eyes flickered up to my face, and I didn’t have my eyes down fast enough I think. She made a noise that I had never thought I’d heard from my proper nurse. It was a little like a scream but instead of being exhaled, it was inhaled. I looked up in time to see her physically stagger backward, pale as a sheet, grab onto the edge of my desk to stop herself from falling.
I dropped the pile of books and the fessas mannerisms, put my hands out to help her stay on her feet. “Nurse, I’m sorry. Breathe, if you faint I’ll not be able to catch you!”
She was making odd gasping sounds with a ‘peep’ sound… “sss…sss… Sp… a..a..rk…” she said, one glove at her throat pressed flat as if to keep her chest in place.
“Sit… sit down, nurse.” I eased her into the chair, pulling off the wig, in case someone walked in. It seemed to help. I threw it on the desk, tossed the gloves on top of it.
“Sp… sp… ark, you… you… can’t… it’s not… proper…. It’s not Jitz… Jitzmitthra… oh, Spark… no… it’s not right…”
“Nurse. It’s all right. It was a joke. I fooled you and I’m sorry. Just a joke…”
“A… joke…” She straightened up a little, her breathing becoming more normal, the frightening bluish tinge around her mouth fading. Her lips compressed into a thin line. “This one sees. This one...” she smoothed her hair back with both gloves, straightened her collar and cuffs with tiny snaps that showed her emotion more clearly than she would ever say. “Sees.” Her pallor was replaced with a flush making her cheeks very pink.
“My apologies, Nurse. It was a stupid prank to try and fool you.” She looked more mollified. “I… needed to be that fessas boy, for a reason. You might see him around now and then…My hope of Selestialis on it. I needed to lower myself like that.” By now she sat, perfectly straight in the chair, hair perfect again, hands folded in her lap. The only sign of her upset was the fading blush in her cheeks.
“The exalted…” she took a deep breath. “Again?”
“I’ll do my best not to let you see the boy again… all right? You might not. I should warn you. So I thought…”
I shoved the end of my hair in my mouth and then yanked it out. My mannerisms. I had to stop picking at myself. “Nurse, I’m sorry, I’m going to be late.” I grabbed the wig and gloves and dashed into the closet to hide everything. I unbuckled the belt of the servant’s kilt and drew it off, bundled it way, grabbed my cottons.
“Let this one assist, Spark of the Sun’s Ray, or the exalted will be late for his sword practice,” Binshala expertly scooped the tunic over my head as I struggled to pull my trousers on. She had my hair unpicked and re-braided almost as fast. “This one hears the exalted’s words, and of course is mollified.”
I looked up at her and realized that even if she were angry with me, she would never let me know in a rejin of years, should either of us live so long. She wasn’t allowed. I resolved to try and make her life a little easier from now on.
She didn’t deserve this kind of treatment from me. “Thank you, Nurse. You are a treasure and a ray of gold to me.” I never thought I would pay that particular compliment with a straight face. It was the sort of thing I had read and never realized it could be said seriously. I meant every word.
“Min… Minakas, I’m not happy with this.” Antras had his arm around me familiarly and we strolled along the Boardwalk toward Laiad Boulevard. The public house we were aiming for was Hot Metal on the corner of Laiad and Sulrisas. There were three bars where the writers, editors and pressmen gathered.
The Press was where the editors and senior writers went, Hot Metal was favoured mostly by the other writers, while the press workers usually went to Leadbetters.
I smiled up at him as if he were paying me a tremendous compliment, and batted my eyelashes at him. He blushed and his arm around my shoulders quivered. “Stop that.”
My own eyelashes felt odd and I could feel them brush my cheeks as I looked away as if I were being shy. The lash-darkener and lengthener made them obvious on my face… I’d never had to endure that. I could feel them rimming my eyes. The face paint was like a mask and the lip reddener was waxy. “It’s part of keeping me safe, Antras, just pretend. It’s Jitzmitthra for you tonight.”
He heaved a sigh, but I had my arm around his waist and I don’t think he realized he relaxed a fraction with the idea. I had had to command him to do this, so I should make it easy for him.
“You can buy me a drink… and some food.” Under the fessas wig I’d teased out a tiny whisp of hair… so thin it was almost not there, of my own length… a half-ten of strands. It was something that boys pushed, I’d seen that… so I did it…
Antras and I walked into Hot Metal and it was a dark place with curved booths and the ceilings arching down over them, making each of them seem like a broken-open egg.
There was a good number of press people in the pub already and I tried to look at Antras instead of around at the bar. It would have been out of character for the fessas I was playing.
“Oh, Ten Gods,” Antras’s voice shook.
“You got me here, safe, Antras… I’ll sacrifice in the Temple for you. It’s all right, Antras. Thisn’ is in awe of ‘t exalted one.” I switched into the accent as the server approached.
Something settled Antras down, I wasn’t sure what, but he ordered food and drink for both of us and he was all right.
He put his elbows on the table in the dark and I settled down to listen for my writer, occupying my gloved hands with the beer mug rather than ripping at my hair or clothing. It was still early enough that no one was expansive drunk yet but I hoped. I sent a quick prayer to the Ten and batted my eyelashes at Antras as the server brought a jug of beer for our table. He groaned.