“If you keep staring at someone else’s property, you’ll end up just like them.”
Ghalib ibn Ahmed turned to look at his friend, eyebrow raised. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’ve seen you watching them. But they belong to the malik and he will not like you looking at his property.” Sadiq turned to pick up one of the pillows from the floor where they’d left it and put it back on the bed.
“Our malik is not like that,” Ghalib argued. “He is fair and good.”
Sadiq snorted. “Really? You believe that? He is just like his father.”
Ghalib scowled. “Have you been around him? Have you heard him speak?”
Sadiq looked uncomfortable. “No,” he admitted. “I have not. But I have heard the other servants talk. The man has three — threepleasure slaves. How can he be good and fair if he is also greedy?”
“Greedy?” Ghalib asked. “What makes that greedy? I believe he genuinely cares for them.”
After picking up another couple of pillows and arranging them with the first, Sadiq shook his head. “You can not care for that many at once.”
“I am not so sure of that. I have seen him with them. He is either a very good actor, or he cares for them.” Ghalib shrugged. “Either way, he is not about to consign me to pleasure slavery simply for looking.”
Sadiq shook his head. “Why do you look, anyway? There is nothing special about them, aside from being beautiful.”
“They are beautiful. But… they are fascinating,” he said with a blush. “And I have served them a few times. They are good men.”
“Good men?” Sadiq asked, scoffing. “They are slaves for a reason. They are criminals. Thieves. Never mind that one is a gypsy.” The face Sadiq made had Ghalib’s blood boiling.
“What do you know of them? Truly? Have you been where they were? Have you survived what they have survived? Teman is a good man. I have served him. He cares about people, is kind. And doesn’t talk about them,” he finished pointedly.
Sadiq blushed. “Why are they fascinating?” he asked, obviously deflecting the conversation.
Ghalib frowned, trying to think of how to put it in words as he finished arranging the pillows. “They have a… grace… to them. They serve, anyone who requests them, yet they hold onto this grace, this beauty. Teman, especially. He was a gypsy, so free. And yet he chose to come back here, turn himself in, stay a slave.”
Sadiq raised his eyebrow. “You sound like you admire him.”
“I do,” Ghalb said, shrugging again. “I can not imagine giving up freedom like that.”
“I think he must not be right in the head, if he did that. Why should he?” Sadiq shook his head. “I wouldn’t. I would have been long gone.”
“It is rumored that he loves the malik. That His Highness loves him back.”
“Stories,” Sadiq said as they left the room and started along the hall. “Just stories some of the serving girls made up because they love fairy tales.”
Ghalib frowned, but didn’t argue. “I must see to Qadi Adel’s rooms. I will see you later,” he said, at the end of the hall.
“I am expected to clean the amir’s chambers. Don’t go looking at any more slaves. I’m convinced you’ll end up there,” Sadiq warned, but Ghalib shook his head.
“You are the one who is not right in the head,” Ghalib said, with a laugh. He turned away and hurried toward the stairs to the guest wing.
Ghalib had served in the palace for four years. His mother had died while giving birth to his little sister and his father had found himself on the wrong side of a game of cards. In need of money to pay his father’s debts that had come to him, he’d found himself at the back door of the palace, looking for work, his infant sister, Naila, in his arms. He’d heard rumors that able-bodied boys could join the guards, but when he’d arrived, he’d been told that he was too young.
However, a woman from the kitchens – he would find out later, her name was Safiya and she was the head of the kitchen servants – took one look at him and Naila and let them in. Naila had been taken by Safiya and placed with another woman in the kitchen who had recently lost her own child. Ghalib kept an eye on his sister and every time he saw her, she seemed to be a happy, healthy child.
Since being a guard yet was out of his reach, he’d started as a serving boy with the vague idea of joining the guards later, when he got older. But despite his best efforts, he’d found he had no talent with a sword or bow. Even being tutored by Captain Darius himself didn’t seem to help. The captain had tried very hard to teach him, but he just hadn’t been able to pick it up.
So, Safiya had taken him into the kitchens, in an attempt to teach him to cook. But like the guards, he’d had no talent for that, either. His best efforts had produced… little more than burnt bricks and absolutely nothing edible, much to Safiya’s amusement. He was as useless in the kitchen as he had been in the guard barracks.
He didn’t think he could happily work as a servant like that for the rest of his life. He wanted to do something more, though he’d shown no talent for anything. So he’d kept up with cleaning and simply serving in any way he’d been told. He’d managed to pay his father’s debts and he was comfortable with his work.
But he was restless.