Defining Freedom, cont’d
Here is the conclusion of Ghalib’s discussion with Kaya and the rest of his inner turmoil. Poor Ghalib. If you missed part one, go read it here first.
“What were you asking about?”
He frowned and came back to stand near her. He tried to find the best way to present it, but everything he came up with sounded horrible. Finally, he blurted, “Teman is with a man.”
Kaya laughed, and Ghalib felt his cheeks burn. But before he could back away, she reached out to touch him. “I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you.” She appeared to fight with herself for a moment, then finally had control. “Though the number of men within our clan who are attracted to men—or women who like women—are very few, we tend not to worry too much about it.”
Ghalib nodded, frowning. “Thank you,” he said quietly, then bowed one more time before making his escape.
His walk to the kitchens was slow, his mind turning things over. He wondered what it would have been like to grow up with the gypsies, to be free as they were.
Despite his station in life, there were still things that weren’t done, weren’t discussed. It wasn’t the freedom to leave or travel—he could do that, if he really wanted. His sister was in good care, he had nothing holding him here.
No, it was something else.
The nobles had their slaves and were only barely hiding their attractions. The slaves couldn’t choose who they were with, but in that, they were freer than many others. There were no strictures on who they “should” or “shouldn’t” be with, as long as they followed the orders of their masters.
But, even among the other servants, Ghalib knew that who they were attracted to was not up for discussion. He’d seen the footmen and pages go after one too many maids, or talk about who they could lure into the closet or who Ghalib should try to attract.
Except, he didn’t want any of them.
He hadn’t heard of anyone being punished, specifically, for taking a lover of the same gender. But perhaps that was more because people simply didn’t. The very few who were outward about it were more or less above the law, anyway.
The rumors were, however, that anyone found guilty of it would find themselves in the dungeon. The death penalty was rare in Neyem, but that was because the dungeons were usually just as bad—or worse. At least with the death penalty, it was over quickly. The dungeons were a horrid place from what he’d heard, though thankfully, he’d never seen them himself.
Ghalib had no wish to, either.
Instead, he gave forced smiles and came up with another excuse to be somewhere else when the other pages tried to hook him up with one of the maids. He dodged the questions about when he was going to settle down and find a wife. He worked very hard to keep his eyes off of the other pages he was attracted to.
And he kept his mouth shut.
And he watched the slaves and envied their freedom, the irony of which was not lost on him. They were bound to the palace, owned by someone else. And yet freer than Ghalib in the one thing he wished, above all else, he could be free about.
As he approached the kitchens, he took a deep breath. He carefully tucked away his wishes, his longing, his needs, and passed through the door, his face concealing it all yet again.
* * *
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