"It is clear, then, that there is some reason for the dispute
that slaves or freemen by custom are not necessarily slaves or freemen
by nature, respectively, that such distinction [i.e., between a slave by
nature and a freeman by nature] exists, and that it is expedient and just
for such a slave to be ruled and for a master to exercise the kind of rule
which befits his nature, i.e., that of a master. To rule badly, on the
other hand, is harmful to both [the] master and slave by nature; for what
is beneficial to a part is beneficial to the whole also, whether this be
the body or the soul or both, and a slave is a certain part of a master,
so to speak, an animate but separate part of the body of the master. For
this reason, the relation between master and slave, whenever they deserve
by their nature to be called such, should be one of friendship and of benefit
to both; but if their relation is not such but exists by law or is forced,
it leads to contrary results."
—Aristotle: The Politics (translated by Hippocrates G. Apostle).
Cycle back: 1317 Barley, Summer Transformation week, in the tri-year
following the death of Remigeus, in accordance with the Old Calendar (449
tri-years before the establishment of the Tri-National Calendar).
"The true master must listen to his slave."
The shout of laughter that greeted this remark rebounded off the stone walls of the receiving chamber and the ceiling-high gold doors that led to the winding stairwell. Enos, the first of the seated men to catch his breath, wiped his eyes with an embroidered handkerchief as he spluttered, "The slave actually said this to you?"
"Worse," replied Pentheus, handing his wine cup to the scar-faced slave beside him. "He said this to my brother, his own master. And he did so while staring bold-faced at my brother."
Sert gave a low whistle. Ledwin growled, "I trust the slave is dead. The last thing our landstead needs are perverts wandering about causing trouble."
Pentheus shrugged as he leaned back in the cushioned chair. "My brother judged that a beating was sufficient punishment, since it was a first offense. Truth to tell, I would say that the person who was most deserving of punishment was not the slave but my brother."
"That's a harsh comment, Pentheus," remarked Harmon as he put forward his hands to allow a slave to wipe them dry. "Surely perverseness can occur within any master's household."
"But the wise master does not allow such feelings to grow. I am convinced that most of the perverseness in our land occurs when masters fail to make sufficiently clear what sort of behavior they will abide. Many slaves who might otherwise fall into perverseness are saved in such a manner."
Ledwin snorted. "Perverts will be perverts, no matter what measures are taken early on. Besides, how far would you take this rule? If you were to don slave clothes tomorrow, is Celadon to blame?"
Another round of laughter rippled through the chamber. Smiling, Pentheus said, "I doubt that Celadon would allow the matter to grow that far."
"Allow what matter to grow that far?"
The voice came from the doorway, where the heavy golden doors were just being shut by the guards there. Harmon, who had already sighted the movement, had risen to his feet; the other seated men quickly followed.
The newcomer remained by the doors for a moment, surveying the chamber. He was in his mid-twenties, younger than any of the men who stood in a circle within the chamber, except for Sert, who had only just passed his twentieth summer. A gold sunburst surrounded by a dozen stars lay woven upon the breast of his long gown; otherwise, the newcomer looked much the same as the men who were standing, with his long hair swept back into a tie at the base of his neck, and a beard trimmed short. Unsmiling, he swung his gaze slowly about the chamber until it rested upon a tall stranger standing next to Sert.
He walked forward then, pausing only to lay his hand lightly upon the stubbly-haired head of the scar-faced slave, who had been in the midst of crossing the circle with cup tray in hand, and now was kneeling on the floor, his eyes cast down. The newcomer's gaze barely flicked down at the slave as he passed; then he had reached Sert and was saying, "You've brought a guest, I see."
"If it so please you, master." Sert gave an awkward bow. "This is Nellwyn, who is visiting my homestead this month. My father visited Nellwyn's home in Akbar many years ago, and now Nellwyn has come to see how people in the Dozen Landsteads live."
"I see." The newcomer's gaze travelled over the guest for a moment, as though he were making an assessment; then he said abruptly, "I welcome you to the Ninth Landstead, Master Nellwyn. Or are you addressed as Mastress?"
"Just Nellwyn will do." The woman's voice was soft and courteous. "And how shall I address you?"
Pentheus, who had been reaching forward to take a cup of water from a female slave, checked his motion; Ledwin gave a low growl. The newcomer, though, simply replied, "My name is Celadon. If you were to address me in the formal manner of my people, I doubt that your own High Master would be pleased."
Nellwyn looked as though she would speak, but cut her breath short and nodded. Celadon added, "I trust that you will be able to stay for the quarterly?"
"I am looking forward to it," said the Akbarian. "I have heard that there is no greater spectacle of ceremony and beauty than when the High Masters of the Dozen Landsteads meet to hold court. I was joyful when Sert told me that the quarterly meeting would be taking place at your landstead this time."
Celadon gave a grimace. "My slaves no doubt feel otherwise – all of us here have been overworked, preparing for the arrival of the other High Masters and the lesser masters. However, now that the lesser masters of the Ninth Landstead have arrived, perhaps it will be easier to finish the work." His gaze travelled back to the other standing men, lingering upon Pentheus.
"We and our homesteads are at your disposal, master," Pentheus replied. "You need only tell us what service you require of us."
Celadon nodded as he waved Pentheus into his seat. The other masters present seated themselves. The dozen slaves, who had been kneeling all this time with their heads bowed, looked up cautiously, then followed the lead of the scar-faced slave, who had just risen to his feet and was coming forward to offer wine to Celadon.
"What were you discussing when I arrived?" asked Celadon, taking the wine without looking at the slave.
"The insolence of my brother's slave," Pentheus said.
"Ah." Celadon spent a moment arranging himself upon the high-backed chair at the head of the chamber before he said, "He was quoting Remigeus, you know."
There was a long silence in the chamber, during which several of the stubbly-haired slaves could be seen exchanging glances. Then Enos said, astonishment coating his voice, "Surely not."
"The High Master is right!" It was Sert, leaning forward eagerly in his chair. "I've heard that this is one of Remigeus's uncollected sayings."
Ledwin glared at him. "You said nothing of this before."
Sert shrank back, as though he were a flower wilting. "I w-wasn't sure it was relevant."
"Sert thinks before he speaks, Ledwin," Pentheus said smoothly. "I know that is a characteristic you are unlikely to understand."
Ledwin snorted amidst the laughter. "Well, so Remigeus may have said this. What of it? I'm sure he didn't add, 'And if you should ever forget this, have your slave scold you.'"
"It could be said that any slave who did so was showing courage." Celadon's voice grew soft.
All eyes turned once more toward the man seated in the high-backed chair. Before anyone could speak, though, Celadon brushed away an offer of candied fruit from the female slave beside him and said, "In any case, that is a matter for speculation. How did this topic arise?"
Pentheus said in an even voice, "We were discussing whether it was a violation of a master's duties for him to take a bed-slave."
There was another small silence. Sert had his eyes fixed upon Celadon; without seeming to be aware of it, he had begun chewing upon one of his thumbnails. Ledwin, oblivious to the quiet, said flatly, "It's rape. To order a slave to scrub your floors is one thing; to order the slave to open his or her hole to you is quite another. Why do you think Remigeus declared that only the daughters of masters may be married by other masters? It was to prevent the ravishing of female slaves. And to deprive a male slave of his dignity is even more appalling. No true master would— Sert, what the devil do you think you're doing, waving your hand in my face?"
Sert, having given up signalling Ledwin by subtle means, pointed to one of the slaves. For a moment, Ledwin's face remained blank; then he gave a choking cough and looked swiftly toward the man in the high-backed chair.
Celadon was not smiling. This was of no significance in itself – the High Master of the Ninth Landstead rarely shared his smiles. Still, even Pentheus could be seen holding his breath, while Sert was frankly staring at the dagger at Celadon's hip. Then Celadon broke the tension by saying, "I agree with you, Ledwin."
Ledwin blinked rapidly several times. "You do?" he said cautiously.
Celadon nodded; though his voice was relaxed, his hands were tight about the stem of his cup. "Forgive me if I offend you, Pentheus, but I do believe that in cases such as that of your brother, where the slave is given no choice as to whether to be bedded, the slave has reason to feel ill-used. It is something that the High Masters have discussed, whether there is sufficient warrant from Remigeus's writings to permit the outlawing of bed-slaves. My own view is that such beddings should be permitted only in cases where it is clear that the slave consents to the relationship."
"You do not offend me, master," said Pentheus. "If it were in my hands, I would go further than you and outlaw all bedding of slaves. Why allow it in certain cases, but not in others?"
Suddenly a smile was upon Celadon's lips. "I'm not sure that you are the best person to judge this, Pentheus. You had a choice whether to bed a slave or one who was not a slave."
Pentheus chuckled softly. "I concede your point, as would my wife. But I will put another point to you: the laws of the Dozen Landsteads do not forbid a master from bedding another master."
"Are you making me an offer?" Enos asked in the sweet voice of innocence. "Truly, Pentheus, I am flattered, but—"
The remainder of his words were lost in the clamor of laughter that followed. When Pentheus could finally be heard again, he said, "Would that be any more strange than a slave bedding a slave, which happens daily? But no, what I had in mind was a master bedding a master who is lesser in rank. Why doesn't that happen more often? Why must we turn to slaves for our enjoyment?"
"That's a good question," said Celadon. "Harmon, can you answer that? You took a bed-slave earlier this year, I believe."
Harmon spread his hands wide. "Master, what can I say? It's true that I have dozens of other lesser masters under my command, and I suspect that most of them would be willing to share my bed with me if they thought it would give me pleasure – such is their loyalty. But I doubt I would receive as much enjoyment from such an encounter as I have received from the slave I chose. Pentheus, you've said it yourself in the past – that the deepest pleasure of a true master comes from protecting and guiding those who need most to be mastered, the slaves. It's no different in the bed than outside it."
Pentheus frowned. "But surely the highest duty of a master lies in giving a slave that which he requires, not in satisfying his own desires at the expense of the slave."
"Pentheus, Harmon has just said that a master receives greatest pleasure in protecting and guiding a slave." Celadon's voice was quiet again. "He was quoting you, and you were in turn quoting Remigeus. What does Remigeus say the greatest pleasure is of a true slave?"
Pentheus emitted a long sigh. "To give service. But sexual service?"
"Why not?" said Enos, his brows creased as he concentrated on the conversation. "I must admit, Celadon, that I had not thought of the matter in that light – perhaps I have been thinking of slaves' sexuality as something separate from the rest of their lives. Yet surely if they receive pleasure from serving their masters, that pleasure would turn their sexual desires toward their masters."
"I'm n-not sure that's always the case," Sert ventured.
"No, I doubt it's always the case," Celadon agreed. "But in the cases where it is true, I think it would be cruel to the slave to deny him that which would give him such great joy."
"Of course, it's easy enough for you to decide such matters, without consulting the slaves."
The words were soft and hollow through the room. In the momentary pause as everyone turned to look at the Akbarian, no sound could be heard, for the High Master's receiving chamber was located in a tower far above the rest of the castle, and the windows were beyond the torchlight of the courtyard. It would therefore have been exceedingly dark in the room, but candles lit by the slaves shimmered from every table and shelf and wall nook, casting perpetually shifting light upon the participants in the conversation. The slaves scurried about the dark corners of the chamber, bringing out food and drink as needed by the masters.
The tall woman appeared to have spoken spontaneously; now, faced with the puzzled or hostile expressions of the masters, she centered her attention upon the High Master, who once again looked grave-faced. "I apologize," she said quietly. "I ought not to cast judgment upon the behavior of people with traditions different from my own."
"How else are we to learn from people in other lands?" Celadon responded. "My duties have never permitted me to travel beyond the Dozen Landsteads' borders, and I am not one of the High Masters who deals with foreign affairs, so I am much in need of training on the ways of other lands." There was the faintest smile at the corner of his lips as Celadon spoke this bit of exaggerated self-abasement. "Is it our custom of men loving men that you object to? I know that this is not practiced in some other lands."
Nellwyn shook her head; her hands were motionless upon her dark travelling gown. "Such love is not unknown in my land; my own brother has a male lover. What is . . . strange to me is slavery."
Enos broke the silence by saying incredulously, "You have no masters in your land?"
Nellwyn murmured something to a slave offering her candied fruit, then turned her eyes toward the master who had spoken. "We are all masters in Akbar."
"That's impossible," Ledwin said flatly. "A master cannot exist without a slave. Remigeus says so."
The other lesser masters nodded. Celadon was now leaning forward, interest written upon his face, but he made no comment.
"We are taught in my land that it is shameful to receive without giving or to give without receiving," Nellwyn replied. "To act as you have – to divide the land into those who receive and those who give – would not be accepted among my people."
It was Sert who finally said, with the brightness of a man who has figured out a puzzle, "You are all lesser masters! You serve, and you are served!"
Nellwyn shrugged. "You can phrase it that way if you like. So far in this visit, I am more inclined to identify myself with the slaves than with any of the men who have taken away their rights."
At this, Ledwin growled loudly and was heard to whisper, "Pervert." Even Pentheus looked angry. Sert looked upon Nellwyn with wonderment, as though he had not known he was bringing a dangerous creature into this chamber.
Celadon, though, did not speak or move. His gaze travelled around the chamber until it rested upon the scar-faced slave, who was consulting with one of the other slaves over the removal of the cups from the chamber. The slave's gaze was carefully cast away from the masters, as were the gazes of all the slaves, yet when Celadon gave a slight gesture, the scar-faced slave responded immediately, coming to kneel at Celadon's feet. With his gaze fixed upon the floor and his voice low, he asked, "What service do you require of me, master?"
Celadon's hand brushed lightly over the slave's cropped hair as he said, "None at the moment, Brun. Thank you."
The slave withdrew without looking up. Celadon switched his gaze to the Akbarian, who was not succeeding in hiding her expression of distaste. Then the High Master looked over at Pentheus, who immediately began to rise from his place.
Celadon shook his head, waving the older man back into his seat. "No demonstration is necessary. You need only tell me: When I call you forth at the quarterly to have you present your report before the High Masters, what will you do?"
Having reseated himself, Pentheus laid his hands one over the other, in a calm fashion. "I will kneel and ask what service you require of me, master."
Celadon looked at Nellwyn and waited. She said, her voice brittle, "I see. You are trying to tell me that everyone in this land is a slave, aside from you and the other High Masters. Is this knowledge meant to reassure me?"
Celadon's fingers tightened upon the stem of his cup, but there was no other sign of his tension as he said, "I'm trying to explain that every land has a history, and what may seem barbarity to one people will seem the heights of civilization to a people who has known far worse. In the old days of the Dozen Landsteads – centuries ago – matters were exactly as you have described them. All power was held in the hands of a dozen men who enslaved the men under their care, using the more treacherous of their slaves to control the rest. That was indeed a time of barbarity, when masters cared nothing for their slaves, and slaves invariably feared and hated their masters."
"And this . . . civilization that you speak of? Which master brought it into being?"
Celadon smiled then, and the grip on his cup loosened. "No master invented
our laws, honored guest. The division of master and slave that you see
before you was invented by a slave."
Cycle forward: 1956 Clover; an excerpt from "A Concise History of
the Dozen Landsteads."
His name had been Remigeus, and he had been one of the purer and more ill-used slaves in that time of barbarity. In certain ways an innocent, he had not sought to hide his views on how the world should be run. To every slave he met, he told of the better world he envisioned, a world where the true masters sought to protect and guide their slaves, and the true slaves were happy to serve their masters. It was an idyllic image, and under the power of Remigeus's words, the idea spread like uncontrollable flame amongst the slaves.
Remigeus's master heard of the vision, of course. At first he was inclined to dismiss the matter as the silly rantings of an otherwise well-behaved slave, but when he saw how the idea took hold, not only with his own slaves, but with the slaves of the other eleven masters, his fury was swift. Remigeus died a hard death, one that was designed to teach slaves their proper place in the Dozen Landsteads.
And that would have been the end of the matter except that, while Remigeus had died, his words would not. The slaves kept his sayings alive amongst themselves, passing them on from generation to generation, never daring to speak them in the presence of a master. But of course, with so many treacherous slaves at their disposal, the masters heard of the tales being passed from slave to slave, and they brought vengeance upon any slave known to harbor such notions. Yet still Remigeus's words remained alive.
What saved the slaves in the end was the fact that the masters were not immortal. They died in each generation, leaving behind more than one descendant, and the descendants who did not inherit their fathers' rank were becoming increasingly unhappy about their lack of status in a society built in such a way that only a dozen men could be masters. When one of these disenfranchised descendants learned that Remigeus's scheme permitted the extension of mastership to a middle group of men, he brought the matter forward to the master of his landstead, who happened to be his eldest brother.
The master, unhappy at seeing a man of his brother's skill left with no role in the Dozen Landsteads, listened with interest to the sayings of Remigeus that the younger man had collected. He sent his brother out to collect the remaining sayings of Remigeus; it took the brother great effort to do this, for the slaves were disinclined to offer information that they assumed would result in their deaths. But as it became clear that the master and his brother had reverence for the words of Remigeus, the slaves poured forth their bounty. The master's brother, who was clever in the ways of scholarship, sifted through the sayings with the help of some of the landstead's oldest slaves, who had been young children when Remigeus died, and in this way a canon of Remigeus's sayings was established.
And then the master set forth to bring Remigeus's vision to reality.
What followed was a bloody war amongst the masters that lasted into the next generation, but the final result was all that Remigeus could have hoped for: his sayings were accepted as the law of the Dozen Landsteads, and all disputes were henceforth decided by referring back to his words.
Aside from the defeated masters, nearly everyone in the Dozen Landsteads was satisfied with the results. Remigeus's vision extended mastership to every man born free, with all but the dozen High Masters placed in an elaborate ranking system in which they served the masters above them and were served by the masters and slaves below them. All of the masters, including the High Masters, were given clear duties which, if violated, could result in the master being stripped of his power and made a slave. Slaves were likewise given certain duties they must perform, but no longer were their obligations a matter of each master's whimsy – it was made clear that slaves could be ordered to perform certain duties and could be treated in certain manners, but that they could not be required to behave in a manner that would bring death or destruction upon them. Any slave who was ill-treated could bring his grievance before the High Masters at the quarterly, and time proved that the High Masters, unwilling to risk bringing back the bloody civil war, would act against any master who violated the law.
And so the Dozen Landsteads underwent a radical shift from a country where only one dozen men held power to a country where all men held power to some extent. This shift had only been made possible because Remigeus did not tamper with the belief – deeply held by most of the people of the Dozen Landsteads – that what had caused suffering to the previous generations was not slavery, but bad slavery.
Cycle back: 1317 Barley, Summer Transformation week.
"Of course there remain gaps in Remigeus's sayings," Celadon said to Nellwyn as he reached the end of his explanation. "Remigeus apparently never spoke about women, so there has been dispute as to whether masters' daughters hold power in their own right and should be addressed as master, or whether they instead derive their power from their fathers and husbands and should be addressed as mastress. But for the most part, Remigeus's words have proved to be a surprisingly strong frame on which to build our law. I've asked a slave of mine what the slaves think of Remigeus – this was a slave I could trust to tell me the truth – and he says that Remigeus is still revered amongst the slaves, although the High Masters' interpretations of his words do not always receive equal reverence."
Nellwyn frowned under the dim light cast upon her by a candle that was beginning to gutter. "Were you angered to learn that?"
"Hardly. I share the slaves' opinion on this."
There was a rustling in the chamber as the lesser masters shifted in their chairs, glancing at each other. Several of the slaves looked over at Celadon and then quickly away. Nellwyn, though, seemed too absorbed in her own thoughts to pursue this matter. She said, "So the lesser masters bear a certain resemblance to the people of my country – well, that is reassuring, but it doesn't lessen my concern for the slaves. You seem to be saying that some men are born without the ability to issue commands – that they are forever condemned to a life of service."
She spoke these words in a challenging voice, but was met only by nods. Celadon said quietly, "Remigeus believed this – in his wisdom, he said that he was such a man. That did not mean he could not influence those he served – he most certainly did – but it meant that he was constructed in such a manner that it would not have been wise for him to wield power directly. Similarly, Remigeus believed that a few men are born in each generation who have the ability to command but are ill-suited to the task of being commanded. There is a range, of course – most men have some ability to serve and some ability to be served. That is why the lesser masters exist. But Remigeus said there are exceptions, and these exceptions are the slaves and the High Masters."
"And you believe this?" Nellwyn stared wide-eyed at the masters, receiving once more a round of nods. Sert's nod was vigorous.
"If I didn't believe it, I would not have spent the past five summers serving as a High Master," Celadon replied. "I would not have upheld a system I believed to be wholly false."
Pentheus's gaze flicked over toward the High Master, but he remained silent as Nellwyn said, "Very well, suppose that Remigeus was right – though it sounds to me like the sort of explanation a slave would find to justify his continued slavery. Suppose that some men are born slaves, and other men are born masters. How can you be sure which is which? What if one of your slaves were to come to you and tell you he was truly a master?"
Pentheus's breath travelled swiftly inward. Sert's face turned a bright crimson. Harmon and Enos looked at each other, raising their eyebrows silently. The slaves turned, as if by command, and began gathering together the empty vessels.
Ledwin grumbled, "That is hardly a matter for polite discussion."
"The topic arose earlier," Celadon replied, apparently the only man in the chamber who was unfazed by Nellwyn's words, though his fingers were again gripping his empty cup. "Besides, our Akbarian visitor is not acquainted with our ways. We— No, perhaps you should explain, Pentheus."
Pentheus nodded in acknowledgment of the command before saying in a grave voice to Nellwyn, "Such a condition occasionally occurs among the men and women of our land. In some cases, it is clearly willful perverseness and is best met with punishment. In other cases, though, the perverseness is thought to be an illness of the mind that can be cured. Indeed, I have often felt that such a condition is normal in the young – true slavery or mastership comes as much through training as through birth, and when the training has only just begun, it is natural that a young person would be confused as to his or her proper role in life. I think that patience should be shown toward young people who demonstrate perverse tendencies."
Ledwin snorted. Harmon chuckled and said, "You're known for your softness in such matters, Pentheus, but I think we're all agreed that some forms of perverseness can be cured and some can't. I have great respect for any master who takes the trouble to try to cure slaves who are perverse; I think it is unwise to move too quickly to the alternative."
Enos shrugged. "In theory, perverseness may be curable, but I think the best way to prevent perverseness is to make an example of slaves who fall into it. Wouldn't you agree, Sert?"
Sert was still as red as the lowering flames of the candles. "I— It's a difficult subject to talk about—"
"It's an embarrassing topic," Celadon agreed. "Still, some subjects need to be discussed, however unpleasant they may be."
Nellwyn was now sitting rigid in her chair, her hands gripping the loose ends of her gown-belt as though she wished to transform the belt into a weapon. "And this alternative you speak of?" she said in a chill voice. "Am I to guess that the alternative does not consist of giving the slave the rank he has claimed?"
Enos was captured by a fit of giggles before catching Celadon's eye and sobering quickly. The High Master told Nellwyn, "This is a matter Remigeus dealt with in his sayings, albeit briefly. He said that in cases where a master wished to serve as a slave – such a form of perverseness has appeared throughout our history, albeit rarely – then the master should be granted his wish, once it has been determined that the condition will be permanent. Remigeus believed that it is best to humor a master whose mind-illness is permanent, just as one humors a child who is convinced that wild beasts live under his bed."
Nellwyn frowned. "A half-measure, but at least it attempts to deal with the problem. And if a slave claims to be a master?"
Celadon sighed heavily. "That is more difficult. Remigeus believed that, while no master will willingly undergo the shame of debasing himself unless he is truly unable to rid himself of perverseness, the reverse need not be true – he believed that some true slaves will claim to be masters out of mere whimsy. And so Remigeus declared that any slave who claims to be a master, and who persists in his perverseness, must be given the mercy of a quick death."
Nellwyn's hands jerked in her lap; her face had settled into a frozen mask of anger. She looked over at the slaves, as though hoping they would speak, but they remained properly silent as they finished their chores.
Pentheus said, "It is a distressing solution, we are all agreed. But there seems to be no other alternative."
"Of course there's an alterative," Nellwyn said briskly. "Rid yourselves of these ranks. Or if you must have a master/slave division, let the people determine for themselves whether they wish to be masters or slaves. This 'perverseness' you talk of is nothing more than proof that men and women aren't born into mastership or slavery – they are placed there, by your laws."
"Training has a part to play as well." Celadon seemed surprisingly unmoved by this outburst. "I've known men who would not have served as good masters if they had failed to receive training in their rank from an early age, and the same is true of some slaves I've known. If they had been forced to wait until adulthood to choose their rank, they would not have been as skilled at their work as they became."
Nellwyn glared at him. "So you're saying that the unfortunate slaves who don't fit into the model world your Remigeus envisioned will have to suffer for the crime of showing that your law system is flawed. You believe that the writings of a thirteen-centuries-dead man is more important than the pain of slaves living today."
"Hardly," said Celadon. "I told you before, I don't agree with all of the interpretations of the High Masters."
Pentheus, who had been holding his breath during Nellwyn's speech, gave out a heavy sigh. With his mouth now tightened, he gestured to the female slave, who took from Celadon the cup he had been gripping. Celadon seemed not to notice; he said to Nellwyn, as though she were the only person in the chamber, "I've been concerned for some time about the very issues you raise. I fear that overturning Remigeus's system altogether would result in greater loss than gain – alas, there are masters in the Dozen Landsteads, including High Masters I will not name, who would be quite happy to seize any opportunity they could to return to the old system in which they were free to oppress others. But I would like to see the laws modified to treat perverse slaves more humanely; the condition they suffer under is not their fault. I've proposed on several occasions that exceptions be permitted to the rule that persistently perverse slaves be executed."
"But you have not succeeded in persuading the other High Masters of this," said Harmon quickly. He had been frowning throughout Celadon's speech, and Ledwin had been emitting a low rumble like a commentary. Enos looked more amused than angered by Celadon's proposal, while Sert, still blushing, had been staring once more at Celadon's dagger.
Pentheus said carefully, "It is a radical break from the past, master, and could bring about the very destruction of the law that you fear."
Celadon nodded. "The other High Masters agree with you on this. So I have recently made another proposal, one I have greater hope of seeing accepted. Harmon, do you recall the case you brought before the High Masters at the last quarterly, of the two slaves who had been playing they were master and slave to each other when they were alone together?"
"Of course, master," Harmon replied promptly. "I had never run across such a case during my lifetime, and I wished the High Masters' advice on whether I should punish both slaves or only the perverse slave who pretended that he was a master. I am still awaiting your word on this."
Celadon, deprived of the cup he had been gripping, drummed his fingers upon his gown for a moment before saying, "Our answer has been delayed because yours is not the first case of this sort that has been brought before the High Masters. Indeed, such role-playing has become increasingly common among slaves who seek to hide their perverseness from the world. I have recommended to the other High Masters that the law on perverseness be modified to permit such play, provided that it takes place discreetly and does not interfere with the duties of the pervert and his partner."
There was a sudden sound of pottery crashing to the ground in one of the dark corners. The offending slave, white-faced, hastened to his knees to pick up the broken plate. The other slaves scrambled to help, carefully placing themselves in such a manner that their expressions were hidden from the masters.
The masters in the chamber seemed just as shocked as the slaves. For a long moment, no one broke the silence; then Pentheus coughed and said, "Surely encouraging perverseness – whether it be willfulness or illness – is no kindness on the part of a master. I should think that it would be better to try to cure the pervert, if that is possible."
Celadon hesitated before answering, his gaze suddenly shifting to the floor between himself and Pentheus. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "If I thought all perverseness was curable, I would be tempted to take that path. But if it is not— We have been assuming throughout these centuries that perverseness can only bring evil to the Dozen Landsteads. Isn't it time to test whether it can bring good?"
At these words, Sert's face turned so crimson that it appeared for a moment as though he would melt from the heat. Ledwin opened his mouth wide, apparently ready to let loose a roar; Pentheus, seeing this, swiftly asked, "Do the other High Masters agree with you about this?"
Celadon raised his gaze from the floor finally, shaking his head. "Not as of yet. They might be persuaded, though, if some of the lesser masters spoke to them on this matter."
Now it was the lesser masters who averted their gazes, some of them turning to look toward the corner, where the slaves had finished sweeping up the broken crockery and were now returning stone-faced to their previous tasks. Again Pentheus broke the silence, and there was challenge in his voice as he said, "And if we should oppose such a revision of the law, master? Should we speak to the High Masters in that case?"
All eyes turned toward Celadon. The High Master seemed to be having trouble replying; the ball in his throat bobbed several times, and his front teeth travelled out to capture his lower lip, before quickly releasing it.
"I'm . . . not sure." Celadon's voice held a note of tentativeness that had not been present previously. "I will have to think on this. I'll give you my answer in the morning."
As though this had been a signal, the scar-faced slave moved to the doors and pulled them open. Pentheus, taking the hint, rose to his feet and said, "It is late, master, and you have much work to do tomorrow in preparation for the quarterly. I will leave you now."
The other masters rose to their feet as well, murmuring excuses. Amidst
them, Nellwyn was silent, though the anger in her face had faded, and she
gave Celadon a last lingering look, as though in assessment.
Celadon took no notice of the farewells or the departure of the lesser masters. He had risen from his chair and was standing before one of the dark windows, staring at the courtyard far below. Only as the final master was leaving did he turn abruptly. The master, catching his signal, remained behind.
The slaves were departing now, bearing the empty platters and plates and cups. Again Celadon sent out a signal, and the last of the slaves remained behind, closing the doors before retiring discreetly to one of the dark corners.
Pentheus, recognizing the slave, gave the High Master a smile before saying, "I shouldn't keep you, Celadon. I know that you must be eager for rest."
"After that?" The same tentative note was in Celadon's voice again, this time mixed with something halfway between laughter and weeping. "I'd gladly rest a thousand years from a meeting like that. And it will be like that every day until the quarterly is over."
Pentheus walked over and placed his hand upon the shoulder of the younger man. "I wouldn't worry about it. Your behavior tonight was as masterly as always."
Celadon let out his breath slowly. His clenched hand had crept up to his mouth, and he was gnawing upon his knuckles. "I wish I could be sure of that," he murmured against his knuckles. "Every time there was a silence, I thought, Now Ledwin will get up and say, 'No true master would speak such words—'"
"You startled us," Pentheus admitted. "But it's hardly surprising that a High Master would startle those who serve him. Your mind runs at higher levels than ours do; that's why you were born to your role."
Celadon gave half a smile behind his knuckles, still pressed against his mouth. "That didn't stop you from disagreeing with me tonight."
"I know that you'd think less of me if I failed to advise you when I believe you've gone astray." Pentheus placed his foot upon the low seat beneath the window and laid his arm across the raised leg. "Celadon, your words tonight concerned me greatly. I meant it when I said that encouraging perverseness is no kindness to the slave who is drawn toward this condition. You of all people should understand this."
He kept his voice low so that his words would not reach the slave at the other end of the chamber, but the slave might have guessed something was amiss from Celadon's reaction. The High Master leaned against the wall of the window-crevice and bit so hard into the knuckles that a line of blood trickled down. Celadon took no notice of it; his gaze remained fixed upon the courtyard below.
"Forgive me; I know it must be unpleasant to be reminded of dark struggles of the past," Pentheus said quietly. "But you are the best example I know of a man who was saved from perverseness because of his unwillingness to allow the condition to overtake him. I must admit that, when your father died five summers ago, I was gravely concerned as to the future of this landstead. During your first few weeks as High Master, you wavered in your decisions and seemed unable at times to issue the commands needed to keep this landstead in proper order. Yet you did not give in to your tendencies, and because of that, you have become a High Master much admired, even by those who live in other landsteads." A smile flickered onto Pentheus's face as he added, "I've heard it said that your slaves believe that you are Remigeus reborn as a master."
Celadon's voice was low when he finally spoke. "So you believe I have succeeded in curing my condition."
"I know you have." Pentheus's reply was firm. "Even at your worst, you were never a pervert, Celadon. You merely experienced an especially intense version of the struggle that all young people undergo: the process of casting aside those parts of you that would not serve you in your work. Perhaps it is true, as some slaves say, that in every slave is born a bit of master and in every master is born a bit of slave. You need not be ashamed to acknowledge that fact, since you are no longer susceptible to perverse tendencies."
Celadon pulled away from the window finally, walking slowly over to where a shelf lay in a dim corner untouched by candle-flicker. He pulled his dagger from its sheath, appeared to contemplate it for a moment, and then let it fall onto the shelf. As though this were a signal, the slave came forward and began unhooking Celadon's dagger-belt. Celadon watched him without moving.
Pentheus hesitated, but the presence of the slave appeared to inhibit him from pursuing whatever continuation of the conversation he had been contemplating, for he said nothing more than, "Well, the matter lies in your hands and that of the other High Masters. I remain curious, though, as to whether you will grant me permission to express my opposition to your proposal at the quarterly. You know I do not like to speak against you publicly, but this is a topic I feel strongly about."
"I'll let you know about that in the morning." Celadon's voice was barely more than a whisper. He was looking down at the slave, who had finished unhooking the top part of the gown and was now kneeling to finish the task.
"Perhaps you could tell me now how your mind inclines and give me your final decision in the morning."
"I – I'm not sure how my mind inclines. I will have to think on it."
Pentheus remained at the window for a moment, pushing back his long hair against the brush of an evening breeze. Then he strode forward to the center of the chamber and said, in a changed voice, "And who will incline your mind for you?"
Celadon, who had turned to permit the slave to pull the gown from his shoulders, jerked round toward the lesser master, who was standing with arms folded. "What?" said the High Master faintly.
Pentheus shook his head slowly. "Celadon, Celadon. . . . I have known for several seasons now that you have an unnamed advisor. Every time you are asked, by me or any other person, to make a major decision, you say that you will think on the matter overnight. And in the morning you present your decision as though no hesitation had been needed, in words that are not entirely your own."
Celadon, ignoring the offer of an evening gown from his slave, swallowed rapidly twice. "Any decisions made are mine alone. No one else is responsible for them."
"I did not mean to deny that, nor am I criticizing you for seeking the advice of your lesser masters; I do so myself. But this particular lesser master has so great an influence on you that I am concerned by the fact that you have never spoken publicly of his role in your decision-making. I would like to think that he has only your best interests gathered to his heart, but I cannot judge that without knowing who the man is. Nor is it easy for me to find myself fighting an invisible opponent: offering you advice myself and then finding it overturned as a result of your consultation with this master. If I knew who my rival was for your mind, I would at least be on level ground in the battle."
Celadon folded his arms, as Pentheus had done, but his gesture looked less like defiance than as though he were seeking warmth from the cold. The slave had withdrawn. Celadon stood half-naked in the short tunic that was worn as outerwear by the slaves and as underwear by the masters. Celadon's gaze fell to the ground as he said, again faintly, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. You – you're my closest friend, Pentheus."
"And you are both my friend and my master; I have not forgotten that," Pentheus said quietly. "Why do you think I have delayed so long in this matter? I told myself that, if you chose to keep secret the identity of your chief advisor, it was not my place to judge your decision. But I'm beginning to wonder how many of the proposals that you bring before the High Masters are actually yours. This wild scheme of yours to give perverts legitimacy, which you have been attempting for several seasons now to force the other High Masters to accept, through one means or another – I thought at first you were prompted only by sympathy for others less fortunate than yourself. Now, though, I'm beginning to wonder whether your invisible advisor is using this as a device for your destruction. If it reaches the point where even your own lesser masters have concerns for the health of your mind, it will not be long before someone proposes stripping you of your rank."
Celadon was hunched now, his arms hugged tight across the thin cloth against his chest. His chest was rising and lowering rapidly, and he did not look up.
"I'm sorry, Celadon. I hate to bear such terrible news to you."
"No, I'd guessed." The High Master's voice remained faint. "I knew I was taking a risk with my proposal, and that sooner or later— I had hoped, though, that I would be able to persuade at least a few masters before then."
"That has not happened." Pentheus remained in the center of the bright circle of light, eyeing the High Master. "If even I will not support you in this matter, you know the unlikelihood that any other master would. Celadon, it is reaching the point of crisis. Ledwin is unlikely ever to say, 'Celadon is not a true master,' but he is certainly at the point of questioning whether you have violated your duties as master. The last thing I want is to find myself a witness at your trial. Please, my dear, if only for the sake of the slaves whose lives you benefit through your work – withdraw this proposal of yours from the High Masters. And tell me who this advisor of yours is so that I can help you to judge whether his intentions toward you are pernicious."
Celadon's fist had crept up and was now jammed against his mouth again. "I don't know— I can't— I need to think—"
Pentheus sighed. "And you will give me your answer in the morning. Very well, talk with this advisor of yours, and tell him you are contemplating revealing his identity to me. If he is unconcerned by such a prospect, then I will have less worries about him, regardless of your decision. But if he advises you to continue keeping his identity secret . . . Please ask yourself, Celadon, what his motives are for giving such advice."
Celadon said nothing. A second trickle of blood was making its way down his fist, but it was nearly hidden by the darkness that nuzzled him. Pentheus waited a moment before saying, "Well, I will leave you to your rest. I should be getting back to my guest chamber in any case, as I'm expecting Obelia and Basil to arrive this evening."
Celadon raised his head finally. "I thought they would be with you already. I was surprised that you didn't bring Basil here this evening."
"He was delayed at the last minute, preparing a gift for you."
"A gift?" Celadon said uncertainly.
Pentheus flashed him a smile. "A gift for your slaves. He knows the way to your heart."
Celadon emitted something that might have been a laugh. "His heart is much the same. I know this landstead will be in good hands when it comes time for him to succeed me as High Master."
Pentheus had been on the point of turning toward the door. Now he paused and looked back at Celadon, whose back was bent, whose head was bowed, and whose clenched hand still pressed against his mouth. "Master," Pentheus said softly, "I will not allow them to take from you your rightful rank. That is service I will always give you."
Celadon raised his eyes again. He looked toward the older man without speaking. Pentheus bowed, then swept toward the golden doors, which had already been opened by the alert slave. The doors closed behind him with a soft thud that reverberated through the chamber.
For a moment, Celadon continued to stare blankly toward the center of the glowing circle where Pentheus had stood. The candles were so low now that only the faintest light shone in the chamber; some objects, such as Celadon's dagger, were utterly hidden by darkness. Noise came only faintly from the ground far below.
Then Celadon turned his eyes toward the slave. The man had finished lowering the bolt on the doors and now stepped forward into the remaining light of the chamber. He stopped where Pentheus had been, the light falling upon the scar across his cheek, which was shaven naked in slave-fashion. He said nothing, watching Celadon walk forward. Finally his gaze dropped, but only because the other man in the chamber had knelt at his feet.
"What shall I do?" whispered Celadon.
The slave did not reply. He had placed his hand lightly upon Celadon's
bowed head, and there was a faint smile upon his lips.
Cycle back: 1315 Fallow, Summer Death week.
Masters' children played upon the courtyard flagstones, young boys and girls making a hurried and serious consultation with each other over the conditions of the play. The decision was reached: a young boy stepped forward, looked around shyly at the adults who were watching with amusement, and knelt down before one of the girls. The boy gave an uneasy grin as the girl ruffled his hair in a masterly fashion.
"You ought to marry, Celadon."
The young High Master cast his gaze down and shook his head. He had been watching the children until a few minutes before, but now his attention was focussed upon a line of slaves carrying his wardrobe through the narrow, heavily guarded door that led to the winding stairwell of the newly completed tower. Perhaps it was only his imagination that told him the guards were watching, not the slaves, but himself, judging their new High Master with penetrating scrutiny, reading what sort of man he was from his gestures and posture.
Celadon managed to raise his eyes; the very effort exhausted him as much as though he were a weak man trying to lift a heavy stone. To his relief, the expression of the master beside him held nothing but friendly concern.
Celadon shook his head again. "I don't – I don't see why there's a need, Pentheus. I already have an heir."
Pentheus smiled, and his own gaze switched over to the young boy who was continuing to play at being a slave. "Now I will sound as though I'm asking you to strip my youngest son of the honor you have bestowed upon him. That is far from the case – Basil is well suited to inherit your rank, and I was pleased that you recognized that fact. But there are more reasons than children to marry, Celadon. You might find it easier to bear the burden of your rank if you had a companion to provide comfort to you in your leisure hours."
Celadon found that his gaze had dropped again. Cursing himself inwardly, he forced his eyes up and said, "I'm not sure— That is, I don't think my inclinations take me that way."
He kept his eyes carefully fixed upon Pentheus as he said this, but the lesser master's gaze drifted over to the male slaves, who were continuing to carry Celadon's many formal gowns into his new residence.
"Ah," Pentheus said. "Well, I can't say I'm happy about that, but at least I can be sure you would never force a slave. So the rumors I've heard are true? You've taken a bed-slave?"
Celadon gave up the struggle to keep his gaze level with Pentheus's. "I— Yes."
"Then I wish you happiness with him, Celadon; I need worry no longer that your nights will be lonely. Now, about the upcoming quarterly—"
"I don't know!" Celadon knew that his voice sounded desperate, and he tried to modulate its tone. "I haven't decided yet. I'm just not sure . . ."
"Celadon, you have been saying that for the past month. Sooner or later, you must make up your mind about the topics that the High Masters will discuss. You cannot remain silent through yet another quarterly; no true master—"
He stopped abruptly at the approach of a slave. The man knelt at Celadon's feet; without looking up, he murmured, "Master, a messenger has arrived for Master Pentheus."
"Mm." Pentheus eyed the slave, clearly wondering whether he should be the one to chastise the slave for his interruption of the conversation. He looked over at Celadon, but the High Master did not speak, so Pentheus said only, "That will be from Druce's homestead; I asked Sert to keep me informed as to Druce's condition. If you will excuse me, master?"
He gave Celadon a formal bow for the sake of the slave who was continuing to kneel at Celadon's feet. The High Master opened his mouth, then closed it again, uncertain how to respond. This caused Pentheus to give Celadon another sharp look, but the lesser master turned away and began walking through the courtyard toward the gate, where the slave-messenger from Druce's homestead was being held in waiting by the guards.
Celadon turned back to look at the slaves. They had finished bringing the wardrobe into the tower and were now carrying a series of chairs; Celadon saw that one of the chairs was high-backed and bore the symbol of the golden sunburst. He closed his eyes.
A soft cough beside him startled him into consciousness again. He had forgotten the slave who had brought the news about the messenger; the man had evidently given up hope that Celadon would order him to rise, and had risen to his feet on his own initiative. Celadon cleared his throat and said, "Thank you. You may return to your duties."
To his surprise, the slave did not move. He was wearing the heavy tunic of an outdoor slave, and it occurred to Celadon that the man might be lingering in the courtyard in order to avoid returning to the blustery winds outside the castle walls. Celadon knew that he ought to reprimand the slave for this, but he could not seem to find the words.
Of course, he never could; that was the problem. Feeling his chest grow tight, he swung his gaze away from the slave, dealing with that trouble as he had dealt with all troubles since he took the High Mastership, by remaining silent. He could feel next to his right hand the hard sheath of his dagger, and he had a sudden wild impulse to throw the dagger onto the ground and see how everyone reacted. His gaze travelled over to Pentheus, who was deep in conversation with the slave-messenger kneeling before him. Nearby, Pentheus's son bounded up from his knees and began to argue with the girl who had been mastering him.
"Summon me to your presence."
For a moment the words did not register, so unexpected were they. Then Celadon swung round awkwardly and found that the outdoor slave was still standing beside him. His gaze was level upon the High Master.
"What?" said Celadon, convinced that this new nightmare must be of his imagination.
"Summon me to your presence." The slave's words were soft, but there was a hardness at their core that stunned Celadon momentarily. He stared at the slave open-mouthed, trying to put his whirling mind to rights.
The slave suddenly dipped his eyes and his knees. A moment later, Pentheus was beside them, saying, "It is grave news, master. Sert does not believe that his father will last the week."
"Oh." With a struggle, Celadon managed to swing his gaze away from the slave. "Well, then . . . Should I go see him tomorrow?"
"If it so please you, master." Pentheus's voice was formal; he gave a pointed glance at the slave.
"You may return to your duties," Celadon told the slave breathlessly. This time there was no hesitation on the slave's part; without looking up, he withdrew smoothly from his master.
Pentheus waited until he was out of earshot before saying, "It seems unlikely that Druce will return to consciousness, but I'm sure that Sert would appreciate receiving the honor of your presence. It is a hard thing for him to lose his father at such an age."
"Yes," said Celadon in a low voice. "I'm sure it is."
Presently he felt Pentheus's hand rest lightly upon his shoulder. "It takes time to find one's way after the death of a father and the full acquisition of one's rank, particularly when one is young," the lesser master said. "But Sert will find his way. Young masters always do."
Celadon nodded, but he did not look at Pentheus. He had raised his eyes
just high enough to see that the outdoor slave was standing by the gate,
watching him. For a moment their gazes remained locked; then the slave
turned and walked, unhurriedly, back to his duties.
In the courtyard of the High Master of the Ninth Landstead, preparations were beginning for the quarterly. Summer harvest food was being fetched in from the countryside to feed the visitors, furnishings were being brought out of storage to be placed in the newly constructed guest quarters, and a few of the lesser masters of the Ninth Landstead had arrived. They brought with them the members of their homesteads: sons and wives and daughters, lower-ranked lesser masters and their families, and slaves to care for them all. Only the highest-ranked of the lesser masters from other landsteads would come to the quarterly, but no lesser master from the Ninth Landstead would stay away, unless given duties at his own homestead: only once in a tri-year would the Ninth Landstead host the quarterly, and it was an occasion that would attract many guests.
Especially this season, following the death of the Ninth Landstead's previous High Master. Much speculation now centered upon the quiet young man who had inherited his father's rank, and those who had not yet met Celadon asked eagerly about him from those who had. The members of Celadon's own homestead met all inquiries with stony silence – which was an answer in itself. Gradually, the mood of joy changed to something more somber: a waiting apprehension, an uncertainty as to the future.
Celadon, standing at the window of his newly furnished inner chamber, could not make out the words of the far-away voices in the courtyard below, but he could guess what was being said. He looked down at the naked dagger he had been fingering. For as long as he could remember, it had been worn on the hip of his father: the symbol of the Ninth Landstead, a barbaric relic of the years before Remigeus, when the rulers of the Dozen Landsteads had held unlimited power. Even now, that power remained great: only the united vote of his fellow High Masters could oust him from his rank, and then only if given sufficient cause by Remigeus's laws. If nothing else, the division of the country's rule into the hands of twelve men ensured a certain stability. It was not easy to lose the rank of High Master.
Celadon closed his eyes and let out his breath slowly. The nights were still cool; he could smell the sweet scent of evergreens crackling in the nearby fire, which had been built by a slave shortly before. A dozen slaves were assigned to serve him in his inner chamber and the adjoining receiving chamber, but he had grown into the habit of sending them all away at night. He had the terrible feeling that they, like everyone else in the landstead, were keeping him under careful scrutiny, and though he was not entirely sure of what it was he feared they would see, he did not want to take any chances.
Which led him to wonder why he was taking tonight's risk.
He turned abruptly, throwing the dagger onto the table near the broad bed. One of his slaves had already removed his dagger belt, but otherwise Celadon was still dressed in the long gown of daytime. He supposed he would have to call back a slave to remove that as well. He imagined himself saying to his guards, "Could you fetch a slave? I forgot a command I was supposed to give . . ." He brought the heels of his palms up against his eyelids.
Through the darkness he could hear the faint clatter of hoofbeats as more guests arrived. A lesser master of his homestead shouted something unintelligible but so sharp that his words must be aimed at a slave. The fire in the chamber crackled.
Amidst all the sounds, Celadon barely heard the thump on the stairwell door. The plans for this tower had been made in his father's day: his father had wanted a receiving chamber so private that not even the guards could hear inside if they stood by the doors. So the gold doors had been constructed, and the receiving chamber and inner chamber were placed high atop a tower, far from the lesser masters and slaves of the homestead.
The end result of all this was that it was hard for Celadon to hear when anyone came to visit him. The slaves always seemed to hear the guards' knocks – the slaves seemed to know everything. Celadon sometimes wondered what sort of training slaves received that allowed them to do their work so well, but something had always held him back from asking.
He walked slowly into the receiving chamber, pushed back the heavy bolt with a grunt, and then swung one of the doors open. Perfectly balanced on its hinges, it moved under his hand with no effort. It could not have been the work of opening the door that made him suddenly breathless.
"Master, here is the slave you wished to see." The guard, one of the many lesser masters who served Celadon at his homestead, was expressionless as he spoke; Celadon was grateful to him for that. The High Master nodded, and the guard pushed the slave into the chamber. The slave was already on his knees before the door closed.
Nor did he look up as the door thudded shut. Celadon, staring down at him, wondered whether he was expected to speak the first words. Then the slave said tonelessly, "What service do you require of me, master?"
"You asked to be summoned to my presence," Celadon reminded him. He was trying to gain a better look at the slave's face to ensure that he had indeed summoned the right man, though the guards at the castle gate had seemed certain that they knew which slave he was speaking of. All slaves looked alike to Celadon, for all of them, men and women alike, had the same stubbly hair and wore the same short tunics. But he supposed that this slave was distinguishable in at least one respect.
The slave still did not look up, and his voice was low as he asked, "Master, can we be heard?"
Celadon had a sudden wild vision of being strangled by a pervert slave; then he cast the thought aside. It would not do to let himself be captured by fear. He must act as he hoped others would regard him.
"Not through these doors," he said in a voice that tried to be brisk. "But if you have concern for the privacy of our conversation, you may come into the inner chamber."
He held his breath after speaking, but the slave merely nodded and rose. The man kept his head bowed as he did so and turned almost immediately to bolt the door. Celadon wondered whether he should reprimand the slave for his unbidden action; then he wondered how he would do so. Cursing himself within as he had done so many times in the days since his father's death, he turned and walked into the inner chamber, trusting that the slave would follow.
He had a moment to glance quickly at the chamber before the slave arrived. He had not had the courage to ask any of the inner chamber slaves to make preparations, but he had done so himself, as best he could. Wine was ready to pour on the side shelf – it seemed only courteous to offer the slave fine drink, under these circumstances – and the blankets were pulled back from the bed to reveal the soft linen sheets beneath. Too late, he wondered whether that was too forward a move, and he cursed himself again. If only he could have asked someone about these matters . . . But Pentheus did not fully understand, and there was no one else he could trust.
He turned and found that the inner chamber door was closed – it had somehow been bolted without him hearing – and the slave was now kneeling at his feet once more. His gaze was fixed firmly upon the floor, and he awaited his master's word silently.
Looking down at him, Celadon knew suddenly that he could not do this. Not again, not even if the slave wanted it. It would only end as it had the last time, and every time this happened there was a greater risk that others would hear of it. And when they did . . . He tried to tell himself that it was a small matter, and that a true master was judged on higher matters than this. Yet somehow it seemed symbolic of the darkness he had entered into from the moment of his father's death.
He was tempted to send the slave away at once, but he remembered in time that the slave had requested this meeting. He wondered what the slave wanted. Celadon was not such a fool as to think it was the same as what he wanted. Perhaps there was trouble among his slaves that he did not yet know of, or perhaps the slave simply desired a change in his duties. Celadon straightened his back and tried, once more, to sound authoritative.
"You requested this summons," he reminded the slave again.
He stood staring for a moment, then began silently to curse, not himself but the guards. It was the wrong slave. He ought to have guessed it from the slave's behavior. The slave he had met in the courtyard . . . What the meaning was of that encounter he still could not guess, but that slave would not have remained on his knees this long; he was sure of it.
"You may stand up," he said, reminding himself that the slave was awaiting his order.
The slave stood, and Celadon felt a dagger thrust of shock enter him.
It was the same slave; there could be no doubt of it. He looked much like the other male slaves – stubbly-haired and clean-shaven – but down the right side of his brow was a faded scar. More than that, there were his eyes: the slave was looking at Celadon with a level gaze that no slave had ever dared cast upon him.
"You did ask to see me." Celadon could not avoid emitting a note of uncertainty.
"No." The slave's voice had changed subtly; Celadon could hear again the hardness that had been there that morning. "I didn't ask. I told you to summon me."
It took Celadon a moment to think what to reply. Then, trying to match the slave's hardness with his own, he said, "If I have overlooked your insolence, it is unwise of you to remind me of it."
"It was not insolence. It was a test."
"A test?" Celadon was beginning to have the same feeling he had experienced on their previous encounter, of being dragged into a nightmare. What feeble-mindedness had caused him to bring the slave here? He ought to have recognized that this was a slave who would require the highest skills of a master to cure.
"I wanted to see whether you would do as I told you," the slave said. "And I wanted you to see as well, so that you might recognize what you are."
Panic entered him, an unreasoning panic that did not reveal its source. Celadon began to turn away, his gown swirling. "I have no time to listen to you now. Return to your duties; I will deal with you later."
"The true master must listen to his slave." The slave seemed undisturbed by this dismissal; he remained where he was, looking at Celadon.
This was too much. Celadon found himself stammering, "What – what did you say?"
"The true master must listen to his slave. Those are the words of Remigeus."
"No such words appear in his writings." Worse and worse; now he was arguing with a slave. He ought to call the guards and let them deal with this.
"Remigeus wrote nothing," the slave replied. "His writings are the sayings that were collected after his death, under the supervision of a lesser master. Whether the master deliberately left this saying out of the collection I cannot say, but the saying has continued to be passed down among the slaves, who were the first inheritors of his words. The words of Remigeus, as he spoke them to his fellow slaves, were, 'The true master must listen to his slave. The true slave must speak truth to his master, no matter what the cost.'"
It took Celadon a while to figure out an answer. He was deeply conscious all the while of the slave watching him with those level eyes. The slave – Brun was his name, Celadon remembered – had placed himself in such a manner that the firelight and the dwindling sunlight fell full upon him. His back was as straight and solid as the walls around them.
Finally Celadon said, "Very well, I am listening. And I expect you to tell me the truth. Why do you wish to speak with me?"
Brun shook his head. "You're not listening well enough. It is you who must speak the truth to me; that is your duty, in accordance with your nature."
The panic solidified then, like winter rain turning to hard ice. The chill travelled through to Celadon's bones. He heard himself say, "Let me be sure I understand you. You are accusing me of being a pervert?"
"I am saying that you are a slave."
The ice cracked; Celadon's hand swung before he had even realized what he had done. If he was effective at nothing else, it seemed he was effective in his blows: the man staggered under his slap before regaining balance. His face went suddenly expressionless.
"You fool!" Celadon's voice was close to a sob. "Don't you realize what I could do to you for saying that?"
"'No matter what the cost.' Yes, I know." Brun's voice was soft; his expression remained unreadable.
Celadon felt as though his mind was being pricked now by a thousand shards of broken ice. He would have liked nothing more than to scream for the guards and let the matter fall into their hands. But Remigeus's words – if they were in fact Remigeus's words and not an invention of Brun – gave him pause. After a while he said, "You cite the duties of a slave. So at least you acknowledge that you are a slave."
There was a pause before Brun said, "What I am is of no matter. My duty would be the same in either case."
Celadon was not unintelligent. He knew, before Brun had finished his speech, what the man was doing. If Brun declared himself a master, he ran the risk of an immediate death sentence. But if Brun merely declared Celadon a slave . . . Did the law set a punishment for that? Celadon could not remember.
Perhaps, then, Brun did not truly believe his accusation and was merely trying to find a way to safely declare his own perverseness. Feeling relief shiver through him, Celadon said, "I can see that you are troubled, Brun. Well, I am grateful to you for coming to me with your troubles rather than trying to struggle with them on your own. Have no fear that you have placed yourself in danger tonight. I will help you find the cure you need—"
"Perverseness cannot be removed in all cases. Certainly not in yours. How long have you been striving to act as a true master? How many times have you failed, how many times have you told yourself that, if you just tried harder, you could accomplish the impossible? And all the while envy has been eating at you: envy of the slaves around you, who live the life you secretly dream of—"
"Stop it!" Even as he spoke, Celadon knew that his voice was not that of a master, but of a slave being beaten. He said, in as cold a manner as he could manage, "Leave. Now. Or I'll call the guards. If you leave now, I'll forget this conversation ever took place."
"That is not an option," Brun said. "You cannot deal with what I've said by ignoring it."
"It's not your place to tell me what I can or cannot do." Celadon moved toward the door, reaching for the bolt.
He stopped, halted by Brun's firm grip. An expression had appeared on Brun's face once more: it was a look of bleak determination. "If you won't listen to me," he said softly, "then I will assert my right to petition the High Masters."
Celadon swallowed. He said, as firmly as he could, "If you tell them I'm a slave, they'll never believe you."
"A master does not endanger his slave; I would not endanger you. But a master must sometimes make sacrifice for his slave. If you do not listen to me now, I will tell the High Masters that I am a master, and you will be the one who will have to supervise my execution." Brun released Celadon and stood back.
Celadon's hand dropped from the bolt. He turned and found that his back was pressed against the door. Brun waited, his gaze unmoving.
"You can't use the threat of your death as a tool to move my mind," Celadon said hoarsely.
Brun shook his head. "All I'm asking is that you listen to the words I've spoken, and consider whether they're true. Even if you don't acknowledge the truth to me, at least acknowledge the truth to yourself."
The man had turned to face Celadon. Though he was still in the light, his back was now to the chamber and all it contained: the window, the bed, the wine-shelf, the table with the dagger upon it. The dagger sparked like a sunburst under the sunlight.
Celadon closed his eyes. The pain that had run through him for many seasons, like the pricks of an invisible enemy, had taken shape now; he could see the enemy he had been fighting. He could see the battle, he could see the odds, he could envision the end. A sound escaped his throat.
"Celadon." Brun's voice was soft. "You can send me away now, if you wish. But why do so? I'm the only person in the world to whom you dare speak. Who else could you trust with your secret, except someone who has his own secret?"
"You came here to destroy me," Celadon replied in a ragged voice.
"I came to free you from your prison. I can give you what you want."
The nightmare reached its climax then. Celadon opened his eyes, but all he could see was darkness, and at the center of that darkness, the man who had brought destruction into this chamber.
"No," Celadon whispered. "No."
Brun scrutinized his face for a while longer, his eyes as level as before. Then he bowed his head, not like a slave, but like a master acknowledging a slave's request. "Then I will leave you," he said. "I will not bother you with my presence again; I promise." He stepped to the door.
And stopped, held by Celadon's grip. For a moment the two men stood silent, eyes matching eyes, their gazes on a single plane. Then Celadon felt his knees unlock. He sank to the floor.
His gaze had already fallen by the time he felt his knees touch the ground. He stared at Brun's sun-brown legs and his worn, dusty boots; the man was utterly still and straight. It took Celadon more strength than he had known he possessed to look up finally.
Brun was smiling. It was not the smile Celadon had expected, of triumph and mockery: it was a faint smile, and there was a stroke of sadness to it. Brun reached out and touched Celadon's head lightly. "That was bravely done," he said softly.
Celadon felt the dagger-sharp shock go through him again, as it had twice before, on the first two occasions he had seen Brun's eyes. He lowered his gaze, and felt for a moment the shame that had accompanied this action all his life; then he became conscious of Brun's hand, which was now lightly brushing Celadon's hair. The shame was washed away in a wave of stronger emotion. Celadon struggled to breathe.
"Master." The word emerged as a whisper. "What – what service do you require of me?"
"Remove your clothes."
For a moment the words did not register in his mind, for he was not expecting them. Then: "What?" he said, certain that he had misheard.
"I want you to remove your clothes." Brun's voice was as matter-of-fact as it had been before Celadon knelt. His hand remained light upon Celadon's head.
His single word was transformed into a gasp as Brun took hold of Celadon's hair and pulled his head back until the kneeling man's gaze met his own. He did so in a steady manner, causing no pain by sudden movement, but Celadon had to bite his lip to keep leashed the formless sound in the back of his throat.
"Celadon," Brun said heavily, "I have told you what service I require. Do not make me repeat my command again." He let go of Celadon's hair and stepped back.
Slowly, stumbling, Celadon rose to his feet and backed away from Brun till his hip was bitten by something sharp. He looked down and saw that he had bumped into the table, where the dagger lay naked, now gleaming red under the falling evening light.
When he looked up again, he saw that Brun was still watching him. "If you're going to kill me, do it now," the other young man said softly. "I don't want to go to sleep each night after this with my back quivering in anticipation of the blow."
Celadon drew his breath in slowly and put his hand out to the dagger. Its silver hilt was warm from the fireheat nearby. He pushed the blade to the back of the table, then began pulling off his clothes, piling them onto the table in the place where the dagger had been.
It took him longer than he had anticipated. In his twenty summers of life, he had never before undressed himself; the complex hooks on the front of a High Master's gown nearly defeated him. He concentrated his gaze on them, not daring now to look up at the other man.
Brun spoke only once, when Celadon was finished and stood naked, shivering despite the warmth of the fire. The words he spoke were: "To the bed."
He went; he was beginning to shake uncontrollably now. As he lay down on his back, he tried to tell himself that this was what he had wanted at the start. He ought to be pleased that the lure of the soft linen sheets had evidently worked. But he felt as though a heavy weight were pressing upon his chest, and he kept his gaze averted as Brun came forward.
He felt the mattress move. Naked flesh slid against him. He flinched, even as he tried to ascertain whether that flesh included a hardness. He could not bring himself to look. Brun's hand touched his cheek, turning his face. The other man had raised himself up on an elbow and was looking down upon Celadon as the latter swallowed, and swallowed again, trying to moisten his dry mouth.
"Celadon," Brun said softly, "there is nothing to fear. I won't hurt you."
Celadon's gaze dropped again. Though he still could not bring himself to look in the direction of Brun's body, he could see his own body, master-pale against the sheets. The last of the sunlight had disappeared now; only firelight covered his torso and legs.
"I don't know if I can—" His voice was strangled. "I've never—"
He looked back at Brun. The other man was wearing again the smile touched with sadness. Celadon bit his lip before saying, "Iram told you?"
Brun gave a soft snort. "You should have picked a more discreet bed-slave. He told every slave in your homestead."
Celadon closed his eyes, feeling the dark pain wash over him. Brun's fingers pushed back a stray hair as the man said, "Don't worry. He merely thought you were displeased with his service. He told the others because he wanted them to know of your generosity in not punishing him. Nobody has guessed the truth."
"It wasn't his fault." Celadon kept his eyes closed. "It was my fault. I can't—"
He stopped, feeling lips brush his brow. When he opened his eyes again, Brun's face was close to his.
"It's that way for some people," Brun said softly. "Some masters can only do it with slaves, and some slaves can only do it with masters. It's the way you're made; it's nothing to be ashamed of."
His hand was still moving, stroking back the hair from Celadon's face. Celadon stared up at Brun for a moment, then whispered, "Is it that way for you?"
Brun's hand withdrew abruptly, and his body shifted so that there was now a gap between the two of them. Brun toyed with a tassel on the pillow beneath Celadon's head. He said, without looking up, "I'm not sure. The one time I had the opportunity to test the matter, the conditions weren't right."
A pause, during which the only sound was the popping of the dry log in the fireplace. Then Celadon said, "My father?"
Brun nodded, looking up finally. He touched lightly the scar upon his face, saying, "I got this when I was younger and was foolish enough to struggle when your father brought me to his bed. Fortunately for me, he treated my perverse words as the ravings of a terrified virgin. . . . He was right about the terror anyway."
"I'm sorry," Celadon whispered. "Truly, I'm sorry. I brought you here for that purpose myself. It will be just punishment if you want to—"
He stopped; Brun's fingers had descended upon his lips. The fingers drew back, and the other man said, with carefully spaced words, "I would give myself a hard death before doing to you what your father did to me. That's not why we're lying here."
Celadon let his gaze move toward Brun's body then. He saw a hand calloused and weathered, an arm darkened by the sun, a chest stripped of all fat by heavy labor, and lower down, that which he had feared most: it was lying quiescent against Brun's golden-brown hairs.
"Then why?" he whispered, looking back up at Brun's face.
Brun did not touch him this time. "When I heard Iram's tale, I knew the time had arrived when I must come to you and offer to train you. I'll give you whatever type of training you desire – but none that you do not want. That is not service I require of you."
The hand remained still on the sheets between them. Celadon reached out and touched it, then lifted the hand and raised his head to kiss it. The fingers were cracked and lined with dirt.
The hand slid out of his grasp and curled round his cheek; he looked up in time to see Brun's face descend upon him. The back of his head met the pillow as Brun's lips met his.
The lips were cracked as well. Through his half-opened eyes, Celadon could see the roughness of Brun's facial skin, stripped naked in slave-fashion. Yet it was Brun's tongue that darted to Celadon's lips, seeking entrance. Tensing, Celadon opened his mouth.
The tongue did not enter. It remained where it was, lightly licking Celadon's lips. Brun's hand held his cheek so softly that Celadon could have broken his grasp in a single move. He could feel Brun's body pressing upon him now, but still there was no hardness, only a gentle quiescence matching the softness of the tongue's touch.
Something stirred within Celadon. Without conscious intention, he reached out and wrapped his arms around Brun's back, pulling the other man closer. Then, finally, the tongue entered, exploring his mouth with the same mixture of strength and gentleness: it was as though Celadon was being held by a thunderstorm that could tear him to pieces but leashed its strength voluntarily.
Another stirring came, stronger than before. Celadon gave a whimper.
Brun drew back immediately and spent a moment assessing Celadon before a smile travelled onto his lips. It was stronger than the smiles that had come before. He reached out and touched Celadon's face again.
"Tell me what to do," Celadon said hoarsely. "Please."
Brun traced the line of Celadon's beard. "For now," he said, "I want you to relax." He bent down and kissed the hollow of Celadon's neck.
The kisses continued, each one lower than the previous one. Brun was halfway down Celadon's chest before Celadon realized what was going to happen. Then his breath gasped in. He said with quick uncertainty, "Master?"
Brun raised his head and smiled again. "Relax, Celadon. I told you, this won't hurt." And he lowered his lips onto Celadon's body once more.
A cool breeze ran through the chamber: it brushed past the disused wine cups, kissed the forgotten dagger, thrust at the bolted door, and stirred up the glowing embers. Celadon, snuggled under the blankets to avoid the chill, thought to himself that it was time for a slave to rebuild the fire. He wondered how he should go about doing it.
He turned his head. Brun, seemingly immune from the cold in the manner of outdoor slaves, was sitting with his bare chest above the blankets, stroking the head that lay upon his lap, and smiling into the darkness. As Celadon looked up at him, Brun moved his hand so that his fingers stroked the outline of Celadon's beard once more.
"I don't understand," said Celadon. "You wouldn't let me do anything."
Still smiling, Brun wound Celadon's long hair around his fingers. "Next time will be for both of us," he replied. "This first time I wanted to concentrate my thoughts on helping you past your fear."
"But I'm supposed to serve you! If you're truly my master—"
Brun released the hair and smoothed it back from Celadon's face. "Last autumn the harvest was bad. When we ran short of food before spring, who was it that starved himself so that his inner-chamber slaves would have enough to eat?"
Celadon shifted his gaze down to the musky-smelling hair on Brun's chest. "I didn't know you knew about that."
"Every slave in the homestead knew about it. That was when the rumors started that you were Remigeus reborn as a master." Brun reached down and pulled Celadon up into his arms, carefully tucking the blankets around him as he did so. "Until that time I'd only pitied you. That was when I began to love you – when I saw how hard you were trying to be a true master."
A lifetime crashed upon him then, like a wave gradually gathering, ignored until the moment that it crushed him. He was barely aware of himself sobbing in Brun's arms as Brun made soothing sounds and brushed his hand across Celadon's hair.
"I've tried," Celadon gasped out in a choked voice, like a drowning man trying to speak. "I've tried over and over. Pentheus told me this was just temporary, that I'd become a master in the end – I've tried to believe him. But everything I do: issuing commands . . . protecting and guiding others . . . even looking straight into the eyes of masters . . . It's as though I'm a fish being asked to perform a complicated dance on land. I can't do it any more – I can't keep pretending I'm a master—"
"Celadon." Brun's voice was quiet, but the hardness of it shocked Celadon out of his tears. He raised his head and looked up at Brun, who was staring into the darkness once more. Then the other man released him and slipped out of the bed. Naked, he walked to the fireplace and knelt down, reaching for the poker. He stirred a few of the coals into life, saying, "Does this make me a slave?"
From where he sat, Celadon could see only Brun's back. He tried to catch a glimpse of Brun's expression and failed. "No," he replied.
"Perhaps it's my face, then – perhaps I should grow a beard . . ."
Celadon felt wild laughter growing within him. "That wouldn't make any difference. You're a master, without or without a beard."
"Are you sure of that?"
As Brun spoke, he slid round on his knees, and as he did so, something changed in his posture. His body bent like a pliant branch under wind; his hands took on tentative motions as they folded over each other; and when his eyes flicked up for a moment, they were as blank as a tablet waiting to be written upon. Celadon felt his breath jerk in.
"Am I a slave?" Brun's voice was soft, tentative, matching his body in acquiescence.
"No," Celadon said uncertainly. "You look like one, but—"
He stopped; Brun had raised his eyes again, and now the fire within them could be seen. Brun smiled, and as he rose, the pliant branch solidified, becoming an oak trunk that did not waver under the heaviest blows. As Celadon watched uneasily, Brun reached forward and plucked from the table the dagger Celadon had abandoned there.
Brun walked forward. As he slid back into bed, he placed the dagger in Celadon's hands, folding Celadon's fingers firmly over it. Celadon stared down at the bright blade a moment before saying, "You think I can do that? Find a way to pretend I'm a master?"
"If I hadn't found a way to pretend I was a slave, I'd be dead by now," Brun said matter-of-factly. "It's harder for you, because it's not in your nature to shape your life on your own – it takes a master to tell a slave he must act as a master. So that is the service I require of you, Celadon: that you act in such a manner that others will believe that you are a true master."
Celadon fingered the dagger, tracing the outline of the sunburst upon it. "Will you show me how?" he asked in a low voice.
"Of course. It's not so hard, once you understand the technique. The easiest way to do it is to find someone of your assigned rank that you want to model yourself after, then ask yourself in each situation, 'How would this other person act? How would he speak?' Just choose a master you admire."
Celadon lifted his gaze from the dagger. "That's easy."
Brun smiled as he took the dagger from Celadon and laid it aside. "You'd best not take your cues entirely from me. I haven't lived my outward life as a master, and there are certain facts about mastership I may not know. Perhaps I can learn them from watching you play this game."
Celadon stared down at Brun's hand, which was folded over his. "But that's all it would be, a game. Now that I know what I am, I can't help but feel that it would be better to accept this entirely. If I told others I'm a slave—"
He halted as Brun's hand gripped his tight. Brun's other hand turned his face, forcing Celadon to look at him. "No," Brun said firmly. "You don't know what you're saying, Celadon – you've never lived as a slave. If nothing else, I will not see you an object of shame in the Dozen Landsteads. Do you understand what I require of you, Celadon?"
Celadon nodded, trying to turn his face away. Brun's hand forced his face around again as the man said heavily, "Do you understand, Celadon? Answer me properly."
Celadon swallowed, trying to steady his breathing. "Yes, master. I'll give you the service you require. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to oppose you; please don't be angry—"
His voice faded as Brun's lips brushed his lightly. Still holding his cheek, Brun said softly, "I am not angry. I am protecting you. And the best way I can protect you is to keep anyone from guessing what you are. That's why I'm here – in order to guide you."
Celadon stared down at the base of the hand still holding his cheek. "You'll still be my master?"
Brun's thumb stroked the border of his beard. "I have been your master since the moment you knelt to me. Nothing short of death will break that bond between us."
Celadon felt a shiver go through his body, and he drew the blankets up to his chin, not moving his face from where it was held by Brun. "You said earlier I was brave – but you were the one who was brave. I might have killed you for telling me what I am—"
Brun's hand withdrew abruptly from his face. When Celadon looked over at him, Brun had shifted his gaze to the dying fire. After a moment, Brun said, "I thought you would."
Celadon stiffened. Brun turned immediately, as though in response to a plea, and smiled. Reaching out to touch Celadon's face again, he said, "I would have died as a master, if that was what it took to help you to self-knowledge. But you surprised me: I had not expected you to be willing to undergo the pain of being truthful with me. I used to envy the other masters, who were born to their proper rank, but no longer. None of them have the joy and honor of being served by you." His fingers ran lightly across Celadon's cheek as he said softly, "I will not fail in my duty to you, Celadon. I swear that to you."
"I—" Celadon could feel the tears pooling up behind his eyes again. He bent his head and kissed Brun's palm.
Brun's hand lingered across his lips for a moment; then his master said briskly, "Dress yourself."
Celadon raised startled eyes to him. "But—"
He stopped, warned by Brun's changed expression. Quickly he left the bed and walked round till he reached the table where his clothes lay. He fumbled his way into them, remembering just in time to leave the gown untouched. Then, shivering as he stood in the cold room dressed only in the clothing of a slave, he waited.
"Kneel by the hearth."
He did so, staring down at the flagstones near the red-black embers as Brun walked forward to him. The floor was cold and painful under Celadon's bare knees.
"Now," said Brun from above him, "I am going to teach you to build a fire."
The surge of feeling that went through him then threatened to wash him into the ocean. He had to close his eyes for a moment before he dared look up. With his heart beating hard, he said, "Thank you, master. Even if that's all you teach me tonight—"
Brun smiled, his hand trailing across Celadon's hair. "By no means. You have a great deal more to learn before dawn."
The continuing surge of joy within Celadon trickled its way to the depths of his being. Celadon found that he was smiling. Lowering his gaze, he reached forward to the pile of twigs beside the fire and began to follow Brun's instructions.
Not until later did he realize that he had ceased to feel shame when
he lowered his eyes.
Cycle forward: 1317 Barley, Summer Transformation week.
"Shall I . . . ?"
"No. Finish it this way." Brun's voice was husky; he sat on the edge of the bed, leaning back with his eyes closed. After a moment, he opened his eyes and said, "Celadon . . . Are you touching yourself?"
"Do so. And shift your position so that I can watch you."
"Yes, master." Celadon's voice was breathless this time. For a few minutes more there was silence, then Brun gave a sharp gasp, followed, after an appropriate interval, by a heavy sigh. When Brun spoke again, the huskiness was replaced by languor.
"Come up here."
Celadon obeyed the order without speaking, sliding onto the space of the bed between Brun's legs. Arms enfolded him; Brun's lips touched the side of his neck as Brun's hand travelled down to where Celadon's hand had been a short time before. Celadon gave a soft moan and settled back.
After a long while: "Try to relax."
"I'm sorry, master."
"No need to apologize." Lips softly brushed Celadon's hair. Celadon laid his head back upon Brun's shoulder and closed his eyes. Under his cheek, a blood-vein throbbed steadily.
"Do you believe that dreams tell of past lives, or of future ones, or of the current life?" Brun murmured presently. Without awaiting an answer, he added, "I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt that the quarterly was taking place in your hall, and I was standing on the platform with the other High Masters, wearing your sunburst gown and your dagger. An argument had broken out amidst the lesser masters as to who was the person in the Dozen Landsteads who was most loyal to his master. Eventually I stood up and ordered in a loud voice that my bed-slave be fetched.
"You arrived, and I commanded you to demonstrate your duties to the others present. Without hesitation you knelt at my feet, unhooked the bottom half of my gown, and did what you have just finished doing. There was silence in the hall as you performed your task, but when I looked over, I saw that Pentheus had brought down this bed from the tower, so I commanded you to lie stomach-down upon it, and I took you there, before all the masters and slaves. And afterwards, everyone agreed that you were the most loyal person, slave or master, in all the Dozen Landsteads. . . .
"Do you know the part of the dream I enjoyed most?"
Celadon was beyond words. He shook his head within the nook of Brun's neck.
"What I enjoyed most was when I commanded you to reach the climax of your pleasure, and you obeyed me." Brun's lips moved to Celadon's ear, and he ended in a whisper: "Do that for me, Celadon. Serve me."
Celadon cried out then, jerking within Brun's arms and hand, arching his back as the spasms ran through him. He was still shuddering when Brun pulled forward a cloth from the nearby table and wiped him clean. Brun's other hand ran down his back, gentling him.
The courtyard lay still now. The only sound drifting through the open window was the faint trickle of midnight rain and the far-off clatter of boots as guards made their rounds. Pulling his sweat-damp face from Brun's shoulder, Celadon said, "I'm sorry I took so long."
"It hasn't been an easy day for either of us."
For a space of time, Celadon looked upon Brun, who was staring into the darkness at the end of the chamber. Then Celadon slid from the bed and went over to the shelf nearby. He poured wine, placed it on a tray, and came over and knelt by the bed, as he had been trained to do. Brun took the cup from him with a smile, gesturing him back into the bed. Celadon climbed up, holding the wine he had poured for himself.
"You do that so gracefully it's as though you were born with the knowledge," Brun commented as he placed his arm around the other man.
Celadon gave a soft laugh. "It wasn't that way the first time, when I dropped the tray, and wine splattered all over you. You were terribly patient with me."
"It helped that I remembered my own training." Brun leaned back against the pile of pillows as he spoke. "At least I knew that, in your case, the day would come when the task was utterly natural to you."
Celadon fingered the cup, staring down at the blood-red wine. After a while, he said, "I shouldn't have had you help the outdoor slaves with the preparations for the quarterly. At least when you're serving in the receiving chamber, you can treat your slave duties as a form of mastership over me."
"It does me good to spend time with the slaves," replied Brun between sips of wine. "Inner-chamber slaves are notorious for acting master-like to other slaves. If it ever reached the point where your bed-slave acquired a reputation for arrogance – with all the subsequent damage that would do to your reputation – then I would consider our first meeting five summers ago a tragedy. It is only luck that has allowed me the privileges I have."
Celadon nodded. "I know. I keep thinking about all of the other perverts that must be out there, who aren't as fortunate as us. Sert's a slave, I think, though I don't think he has realized it yet. I keep wanting to tell him, but I can't figure out how to do so without revealing our secret. And what would I tell him? 'Find a slave who's really a master, and risk his death and your public shame'? It's harder for a lesser master to hide perverseness than it is for a High Master. It would be like . . . like asking him to be bedded at a quarterly."
"Ah." Brun lowered his cup. "My dream disturbed you?"
Celadon shook his head. "No, the dream was about giving me honor, not shame. The trouble is, in the Dozen Landsteads, any public mention of perverseness is a matter of shame. And it ought not to be that way."
"So you've been telling the High Masters for five summers now," remarked Brun. "They don't seem to be listening to you. And Pentheus is right: it's reaching the point of danger."
Celadon looked over at Brun, whose worn, scarred hands were resting lightly upon his cup. The firelight that burnt low as the night stretched its shadow over the homestead burnt sparks into Brun's eyes, which were staring up at the gilded beams of the ceiling.
"You gave me permission to take steps to try to help the others who are like us," Celadon said.
"You didn't need my permission, Celadon," Brun said quietly. Without moving his gaze, he reached his hand over to Celadon's and began tracing the line where the cut of Celadon's teeth had made its mark earlier that evening. "I've always told you: if you wish to appear to be a master, you must act like one. I'll advise you, but the final decisions on your work as a High Master are yours – unless you place yourself in danger. That's when my duty requires me to step forward."
Celadon stared down at his cup, the wine within his stomach suddenly churning. He said in a low voice, "I know that your duty as my master requires you to protect me. But master, there are hundreds of others like us out there, living in fear and in less fortune than we have found. I need to help them—"
"It would be pleasant if you could help them," Brun agreed, his hand still firm upon Celadon's. "It would also be pleasant if we awoke into a world where we could tell everyone who we truly are. Celadon, I was willing to indulge your dreams as long as you remained safe from danger, but no longer. You heard Pentheus tonight: if you proceed any further, it is likely that the masters will guess what you truly are."
He stopped; Brun had given him a look such as closed his throat. Celadon found that his hands were shaking. He pulled himself tentatively from Brun's grasp and hurriedly set aside his remaining wine, then turned to take the cup that Brun proffered him.
The other man pushed away the blankets and stood with one swift, forceful move. He gestured, and Celadon rushed to collect Brun's clothes, which were lying at the foot of the bed.
"Must you go?" he asked as he pulled the tunic over Brun's head.
Brun nodded. "The preparations for the quarterly will continue through the night. I could say that you'd kept me with you tonight, but it would make the slaves think less of you, that you'd slept in luxury while they were laboring on your behalf. Better that they respect you for sacrificing the use of your bed-slave tonight." He turned his gaze downward to Celadon, who was painstakingly tying Brun's boots. After a moment, Brun broke the silence by saying, "Very well. What did you wish to say?"
Celadon finished tying the boots, carefully slipping his finger between one of the boots and Brun's calf to ensure that he had not tied the boot too tight. Brun had taught him many niceties such as that, details that made Celadon often feel as though his own work were that of an artist who took the highest care with his creations.
Finally Celadon sat back on his heels. Without looking up, he said, "I have been thinking that – that perhaps I should tell the others the truth about myself."
The silence was as deep as a cavern. Celadon sought to fill it with a rush of words, saying, "I wouldn't endanger you, master – I'd lead the others to believe that you're a true slave and that I've kept you with me all this time in a continued effort to be a true master. And if the new law passes, which protects perverts who act on their perverseness in private—"
"The law is opposed by your own lesser masters; it will not pass." Brun's voice was as colorless as clear water. "If you tell the others the truth, you will suffer the punishment prescribed by Remigeus: you will be forced to live as a slave."
Celadon raised his face finally, tilting his head backwards so that he could look up at Brun. What he saw was not reassuring: the other man's expression might have been molded out of the same solid stone that upheld the tower. In a voice as rigid as the castle walls, Brun said, "No. I forbid it."
He had no opportunity to speak further. Brun swept past him and pulled back the bolt of the door that, out of excessive caution, they always kept barred when they were alone together. Stumbling to his feet, Celadon hurried forward, but Brun had already reached the door to the stairwell by the time Celadon caught up with him. He was no more than a shadowy figure in the moonlit chamber; Celadon could barely see him as he grabbed Brun's arm, saying, "Please, let's talk—"
"There is nothing for us to speak of." Brun spoke in a flat voice. "I will not allow you to endanger yourself."
"But all I want is to live as what I am!"
His master turned. Celadon heard him release his breath, long and hard. "Very well," Brun said in a tight voice. "If you wish to do this, let us do it properly. Wait until the quarterly begins, then announce to the world that you are a slave. Listen to the masters as they laugh and mock you. Hear the words of contempt spoken by the other slaves. And then go and do what I am about to do: place yourself under the command of men who will never give you a choice, never turn to you for advice, never do anything but give you order upon order upon order, until every part of you that was ever alive turns into ice and is frozen forever, because you receive none of the warmth of making your own choices in life. Is that what you want, Celadon?"
Celadon stood without moving in the fireless room, his hand still clutching Brun's solid warmth. He said in a small voice, "Yes."
Brun's arm was stiff under Celadon's hand; his voice was silent. Feeling his breath catch as he spoke, Celadon said, "Master, you don't understand – it's different for you. For you, freedom is making your own choices. But for me, choice-making is a prison. I don't know the best choices to make – I never have – and every day I must play-act that I am something I'm not. It's so heavy a weight . . ." He swallowed and said in a steadier voice, "I could continue doing that if I must – you've taught me how. But I think that, if I tell the others the truth about myself, it might shock the High Masters into passing the law I've proposed. No High Master has ever admitted to being a slave during the history of the Dozen Landsteads; my words could make a difference to the lives of perverts, present and future."
"You say that you wish to live as a slave, yet I have already made clear to you that you must withdraw your law proposal, and you refuse to obey me." Brun's voice was as quiet as it had ever been.
"Only in this one small matter – I'm sure I'm right about this. If you'd only listen to me—"
"I have done with listening to you." Brun's voice was still quiet. "The matter is shut. You will do as I have commanded you."
It was too dark; if the chamber had been lighter, he would have known what was about to happen and would have had time to brace himself. As it was, he cried out like a child as he felt the blow of Brun's palm strike his cheek. Only his hand upon Brun's other arm prevented him from falling. He let go quickly and tried to gather his thoughts together. He could hear his half-suppressed sobs breaking the silence.
"You . . . will. . . obey." Brun's voice was like heated lead upon him. "I have not trained you for five summers, only to have you turn into a willful, perverse slave who disregards orders the first time his fancies fail to match the greater knowledge of his master. You don't know what it's like to live as a slave, and I will not allow you to enter into that terrible knowledge. Do you understand what I require of you, Celadon?"
"I—" He could speak no further; his face felt as though a flame had been struck against it. He pressed his knuckles against his lips, trying to push back the sobs.
He heard Brun give a low curse, then step away from him. The other man pulled open one of the great gold doors, saying as he did so, "You wanted it this way, Celadon – just remember that." And then the room was filled with light, torchlight from the landing of the tower stairs—
—and Brun was suddenly on his knees. Beyond him, gazing with narrowed eyes upon the scene before him, stood Pentheus.
Celadon's mind was still moving sluggishly, like water trapped below ice. For the space of a minute, the High Master could do nothing but stare at his lesser master. Then, instinctively, his hand flew up to hide the mark that he knew must be clear upon his cheek.
In the next second, he realized the mistake he had made. Pentheus's eyes narrowed yet further, and the older man's gaze switched down to the scar-faced slave who knelt at his feet, his head bowed.
Celadon heard himself say, "I thought you had gone back to your guest chamber."
"No," said Pentheus slowly as he looked down at the slave. "I thought I would serve you better tonight if I waited to see who visited you in your chamber." His gaze rose slowly toward the High Master of the Ninth Landstead, who was still standing with his hand upon his left cheek.
Suddenly Pentheus's voice was brisk. "Master, I would like to borrow your slave."
"My slave?" said Celadon faintly, as though unsure of who was being referred to.
"Yes, I have need of him tonight. I trust that you have no objections."
As he spoke, he gestured. Brun rose to his feet, his gaze still fixed upon the ground, and turned his head in the direction of Celadon, as though seeking his master's permission. Celadon, biting his lip, spoke no word and made no gesture, but the scar-faced slave, as though he had received the needed orders, turned back to the lesser master and began to follow him down the stairs.
Celadon did not move. He saw the torchlight in the stairwell flicker; he heard Pentheus ask a terse question; he heard Brun's reply.
The true slave must speak truth to his master. That much of being a
slave, Brun appeared to have mastered.
In the courtyard of the High Master of the Ninth Landstead, preparations were being completed for the quarterly. Guest houses had been furnished, the kitchen was stocked, the stables were newly swept, and even the slave-quarters had been scrubbed in preparation for the many visiting slaves who would be crammed into that place. Now all that was left was the hall, and an argument had broken out amongst the lesser masters of the homestead as to the proper placement of the platform upon which the High Masters would stand. Was it better to follow tradition and have the platform face east or to take into account the undoubted fact that tradition had shown that anyone standing on a platform so placed would be blinded by the morning sun?
One of the slaves assigned to construct the platform unwisely tried to offer his thoughts. He was met with a cuff to the head and quickly stole back to the ranks of the silent slaves, who gave him knowing looks. One of them pointed up toward the tower under whose shadow they stood; the meaning of the gesture was obvious. Any slave here who was foolish enough to speak unbidden to a master would be best off taking his thoughts to Remigeus reborn as a master. There the suggestion might actually be welcomed.
The latter-day Remigeus, curled up on the windowseat in his tower, saw the gesture and winced. Ducking his head, he stared down at his pale, delicate hands. He had been ashamed of his hands once – they were not slaves' hands – but Brun had put a stop to that shame one night when he had made a slow catalogue of Celadon's body parts, touching and kissing each part as he recited its virtues. The very memory made Celadon grow warm; then he remembered, and his body returned to chillness.
A thump sounded upon one of the gold doors. Celadon decided that it must be a guard. Pentheus would not knock – not now. Celadon gave a wordless cry that could be taken for permission to enter; then he fell silent as the door opened to reveal Pentheus.
Frozen where he sat like cool water that has chilled under the moon, Celadon watched the lesser master close the door behind him, bolt it, and walk forward. His face was unreadable. He was within arm's reach when it occurred to Celadon that he ought to be kneeling. He began to slip from the windowseat, but Pentheus caught hold of him and held him where he was. Pentheus's grip was tight upon his shoulder. Celadon stared at the lesser master's boots as he swallowed and swallowed.
Pentheus spoke finally, in a low voice. "I'm sorry, Celadon."
His voice was filled with pity. Celadon closed his eyes as he whispered, "It is I who should apologize. I ought to have told you."
"It's clear why you did not. All the congratulations I gave you on not being perverse . . . My words must have been like daggers piercing the depths of your being. Little wonder that you spoke of this to no one but your bed-slave."
The first blast of fear hit him then, like a dry, hot wind. He opened his eyes and said quickly, "It wasn't Brun's fault. He did as I wished."
Pentheus made no reply. Leaning over Celadon, he shifted his gaze to the courtyard below. There, Celadon saw when he looked, the argument had been resolved between the lesser masters. Orders were being given, and the slaves were marching into the hall, though from the look on the face of the slave who had objected, the wrong decision had been made. The slave gave a quick glance up at the tower before disappearing through the doorway to the hall.
Celadon looked over at Pentheus. The lesser master's gaze had not moved, and so Celadon looked down again, to the only remaining inhabitants in the courtyard: a group of girls and boys playing master and slave amongst each other. Nearby stood a tall youth. Pentheus's youngest son was too old for such games now, but he shouted encouragement to the children as a smiling boy was forced to his knees.
"Odd," murmured Pentheus. "One's memory of childhood grows stronger as one grows older, yet I had never thought about those games, nor about the fact that I always volunteered to be a slave. 'In every master is born a bit of slave . . .' No doubt that is the method I and many other masters have used to satisfy the slave portion of us so that it could be put aside in adulthood. It had not occurred to me that, for some masters, such play might be the necessity of a lifetime."
He looked over at Celadon, who was sitting with his arms tight about his chest, his head bowed, and his eyes raised just high enough to see Pentheus's face. The lesser master smiled suddenly. "Yet I have seen for myself the results of your bed-play: the transformation you have made from a young man who was imprisoned by perverseness to one who can confine perverseness to games played at night with his slave. During the daytime you are what you have striven to be, a true master. And what man, seeing you at your work, would quarrel with the means you use to achieve that goal?"
His face grew grave. Stepping back from the window, he said, "Master, if it so please you, I will speak to your fellow High Masters in favor of the law you have proposed; I believe I can convince the other lesser masters of your landstead to join me in this matter. And I apologize for my obstinacy in not recognizing your wisdom before now."
It took all the effort he had – it was always harder to do this when Brun was not within view – but Celadon folded his hands lightly upon each other, sat up straight, and looked Pentheus directly in the eye as he said, with masterly firmness, "Your loyalty means much to me, Pentheus."
The lesser master smiled. "Hereafter, I will consider myself lucky if I match the service given you by your bed-slave. There are few slaves, you know, who would have followed the commands you gave Brun without taking advantage of the situation. Yet Brun only spoke honestly to me because you had already decided to do so; it is clear that he would otherwise have died a hard death rather than betray your secret." He reached out and touched lightly Celadon's cheek, where the mark had already faded. "I would suggest that you not order him to punish you again. That is asking too much of a slave. But in all other respects, I think that you can safely make use of him for your bed-play – and I will endeavor to serve you as well as he has in protecting your secret."
Celadon managed to stop himself in time from swallowing. Using all the training he had received, he continued to sit straight, with his head high and his eyes locked upon the master before him. He nodded to acknowledge Pentheus's words, and then, suddenly afraid that his training would break, he gave the slight gesture that indicated dismissal.
Pentheus did not seem offended. He smiled again and bowed, then walked from the chamber in the assertive stride that came naturally to him and to every true master of the Dozen Landsteads.
Celadon had his head bowed before the doors closed. He stared down at the children in the courtyard below; the boy who had been playing that he was a slave was now taking his turn as master, striding back and forth in a walk very like Pentheus's. Celadon bit his lip and closed his eyes. Through the darkness he could feel the heat of the morning sun beat upon him.
He heard a sound and opened his eyes with a jerk. Brun stood over him, looking down at him with his fiery eyes. Celadon felt a shiver run through him, and he tried to slip from the windowseat onto his knees, but like Pentheus, Brun caught hold of him. For a moment, he did nothing but keep Celadon imprisoned within his grip; then he let go and gestured. Celadon slid over on the windowseat to make room for him.
Brun sat down with a sigh, leaning back against the wall of the crevice like a much-belabored slave. His gaze met Celadon's again, and this time Celadon looked down, staring at Brun's rough hands. "Why did you lie to Pentheus?" he asked in a low voice.
"I didn't. I told him the truth: that I acted as I did at your request and for your sake. He filled in the rest of the story in accordance with his own beliefs."
"But he thinks the way I act with you is a game! The way I act with everyone else, that's the game . . ."
He stopped abruptly, his brow creasing as though in concentration. In the silence that followed, Brun said, "I know that you would have preferred that I told him the entire truth—"
"No." Still caught in concentration, Celadon replied in a firm voice; then he looked up at Brun, and his tone shifted. "No, master. I – I've altered my mind about that."
"Oh?" Brun raised his eyebrows as he leaned forward.
Celadon's gaze dropped. "Yes, I – I had time to think, while I was waiting for Pentheus to return. I sat here thinking about what it would be like to live my life as a slave hereafter. About how, from now on, all choices in my life would be made by others. And you – you were right. I didn't really understand what it would be like to live as a slave."
"That's not what you want?" Brun's voice was too quiet for any emotion to be read in it.
Celadon's gaze flew up to him; his expression held surprise. "It's what I want more than anything! To be able to follow, to be given commands, to know that I'm valued for my ability to serve, not for my ability to think of things for other people to do for me . . . It would be a glory, it would—" He stopped, swallowed, and said, "But I hadn't thought about what it would mean for the slaves and lesser masters of this landstead. If anything happened thereafter that my intervention might have affected, I wouldn't be able to help them. I wouldn't be able to help you. If your life was in danger, I wouldn't be able to protect you. I hadn't thought of that."
"To protect others is a master's duty."
"Yes." Celadon's gaze fell. "I'm sorry, master, I know I shouldn't worry about such things. I know that the fact that you commanded me to abandon this idea ought to be enough. If you—" He looked up at Brun, whose face had turned hard, and his voice faltered. Staring down at his own clenched hands, Celadon whispered, "If you no longer wish to receive my service, I'll understand."
Down below in the courtyard, the trumpets sounded; the first of the visiting High Masters had arrived. Brun glanced briefly out the window, then looked back at Celadon, whose head remained bowed, but who was peering up through his lashes. A single tear had traced its way down Celadon's fair skin into the hair of his beard.
Brun did not move. He looked down at the slave before him, his eye travelling over the trembling body, as though for the last time. Then he said, in a matter-of-fact manner, "Pentheus will support your proposal now?"
"Yes, master." Celadon's voice was faint. "And with his support, I think the law will pass. He – he won't tell anyone about us, I'm sure of that. If you want to continue as we have . . ." His voice trailed off.
Celadon bit his lip. A second tear trickled down, following the path of the first, but he did not raise his head, nor did he make any sound. He had been trained to take even the worst punishment without protest.
Brun reached out and wiped the tear-path dry with his thumb; as Celadon lifted his head, Brun captured the other man's cheek in his hand. "Make your proposal at the quarterly," he said quietly, "and if it passes into law, command me to be brought before you. And there, if it so pleases the High Master of the Ninth Landstead, I will tell all present the full truth about us."
Celadon's blood beat hard through the veins in his neck; his chest had ceased to rise and fall. "The dream," he whispered. "That's what it meant."
"So it would seem." Brun let his hand fall from Celadon's cheek. "I would prefer that you wait until this new law passes, not only for the sake of those who will benefit from the law, but because I want it to be your choice alone whether you take the rank of a slave. Whatever your decision in that may be, you may count it as service to me."
Celadon stared at him, his tears forgotten. "I don't understand."
Brun looked down at the courtyard again, noted a line of slaves bringing forward a board for the platform, and winced as he saw the direction that the board was facing. "I see that the lesser masters are making you face east again. The fools. The outdoor slaves have been talking about it all week, trying to figure out how one of them could find a way to sneak up here and suggest to you that the platform be moved. They wanted me to talk to you, but I was too absorbed in thoughts of you. . . . You weren't the only one who failed to understand what it's like to live in one's proper rank, Celadon." He smiled at his slave.
Celadon was so absorbed now in what Brun was saying that he failed to lower his gaze, but the other man seemed not to mind. He said, "I forgot what Remigeus said about listening to one's slave – the worst error I could make as a master. I remembered my duty in that regard only when Pentheus asked me how you had received that mark on your cheek, and it came home to me that, for the first time in my life, I alone had the power to determine my own future, as well as the future of my slave. It was a weight heavier than I had ever held, and it made me realize how great a burden I've required you to carry all these seasons. Little wonder that you should dream of having your burden eased. . . . But in the same moment, I realized something more important."
Brun's gaze drifted back to the scene in the courtyard below: the slaves carrying in the platform boards as the lesser masters crowded about the newly arrived High Master, assisting him in his arrival. Brun's smile faded as he said quietly, "I have been trained since my childhood to serve only one master, to focus all my thoughts on one man. And so, when I took you as my slave, all my thoughts were centered upon you – I thought of nothing except protecting you alone. I didn't realize that this was the result of my being raised as a slave – that if I were a true master, my thoughts would be turned toward others besides you. But you . . . you were trained as a High Master, and so it isn't surprising that your conscience has driven you to try to help the other slaves and even the masters. A true slave would have thought only of serving me, but you've wanted to do more."
Celadon tore his gaze away from Brun then, saying, "I'm sorry, master. I'll try to serve you better in the future; I'll try not to think of the others; I—"
He stopped as Brun touched his cheek again, urging his head up. The other man said solemnly, "Did I say I was angry?"
Celadon swallowed and made no reply. Brun released him, saying, "Others tried to change the desires you were given by birth; I compounded the error by trying to change the desires you were given by your childhood training. Yet it's clear enough what this odd mixture of birth-desire and training-desire has done to you, and who am I to tamper with the results?"
"Pentheus said something like that," Celadon whispered.
Brun smiled. "It's kind of you to put it that way. You might have said, 'A true master would have recognized this from the start.'"
Celadon sighed, feeling the cool morning breeze make its way across his body. Below, the young children had given up their game of master and slave and were scampering about the courtyard willy-nilly, exploring the activities of the masters, weaving in and out of the line of the slaves, heedless of which direction they took. Looking down upon them, Celadon said, "Nellwyn believes that all people have – or should have – equal desires to serve and be served."
"We know that's not true."
"It's certainly not true of me – I want more than anything to serve. It's what feels most natural to me. But I'm wondering – do you think she could be right that all of us are born as lesser masters? That there's at least a small part of me that is a master? If she's right . . . I think it would be easier for me in the daytime if I could look at it that way. I wouldn't be playing a game, pretending to be something I'm not. Instead, I'd be taking my small bit of mastership and expanding it as far as I could possibly take it. If – if that was acceptable to you, master," he added faintly, turning to look at Brun.
Brun was not looking at him; his gaze remained fixed upon the courtyard, following the trail of outdoors slaves. After a while, he replied, "Remigeus said that."
"More or less. I'm surprised I didn't recognize it before. But come to think on it, Remigeus was an odd sort of slave. It's hardly surprising that he died a hard death at the hands of his master."
Celadon bit his lip, uncertain what to reply. Brun said without looking his way, "Anyway, we don't need a thirteen-centuries-dead slave to tell us the truth in this matter – it's clear enough from what has happened during this past night."
"How so, master?"
Brun looked over at him then, raising his eyebrows as he did when Celadon failed to learn a lesson properly. Celadon stiffened and tried to concentrate his attention on the words coming next, that would show him his error.
The lesson was simple and clear; his master's lessons always were. Brun slid out from the windowseat and ended up on his knees before Celadon, his head bowed.
"Because you have been the true master overnight," he said quietly, "teaching me that which I did not know. And I ask your forgiveness for my slowness in receiving tonight's training."
Children's voices echoed through the air; masters shouted orders to slaves; the slaves were silent. Brun knelt motionless, his head bowed in the manner that he found so hard. Celadon reached out, touching Brun's head lightly, and then his cheek, and then Celadon had slid out from the windowseat and was kneeling beside Brun. Which of them moved first to take the other in his arms neither could remember afterwards.
"I still need you as my master," Celadon said, his voice muffled by Brun's shoulder.
"I know," Brun said softly. "And whatever may happen at the quarterly – even if the worst should happen and we are separated – that won't change. Our bond will never be broken."
Celadon raised his head to look at Brun. "Not even by death?"
Brun smiled. "Perhaps not even by that. We may meet in our next lifetime."
In the courtyard below, all continued as it had for thirteen centuries, masters and slaves dividing into groups natural to their ranks, with no sign of obvious perverseness marring the majesty of the quarterly. Only a visitor from Akbar, frowning, provided evidence that all was not well in this place, but she would soon travel back to her homeland, and all would return to normal. Tradition would continue: slaves would be true slaves, and masters would be true masters.
As though in proof of this fact, a bed-slave emerged from his nightly duties in the tower and took his place beside the other slaves. At the same moment the High Master of the Ninth Landstead began giving his lesser masters crisp orders for a change in the placement of the High Masters' platform. The commands were obeyed without hesitation. And so life continued as before in the Dozen Landsteads, and not even the whispers of the slaves surrounding the bed-slave gave the masters any warning that their world was about to change.
Cycle forward: 1956 Clover; an excerpt from "A Concise History of the Dozen Landsteads."
His name had been Remigeus, but when he was reborn in the fourteenth century he chose to take the name of Celadon. As Celadon, Remigeus completed the work he had started in the days of barbarity, not the least of his accomplishments being a formal alliance between the Dozen Landsteads and Akbar, which helped to make clear to the people of that time the deficiencies in both types of government.
Paradoxically, although Remigeus/Celadon was the author of the most famous and innovative law of the fourteenth century, permitting the transfer of rank under carefully defined conditions, he himself chose to remain in the rank he had been assigned as a young man, that of High Master. Since he made no secret of the fact that he was by nature a slave, his sacrifice, more than anything else, served to break down the previously rigid notions of master and slave and provide for a more complex understanding of human impulses toward service and mastership. By the fifteenth century this understanding had developed into the sophisticated psychological theory originally known as "master/slave desires," but renamed "master/servant desires" in the following century, when nonconsensual service was abolished in the Dozen Landsteads. This theory is widely acknowledged to be the Dozen Landsteads' highest contribution to the world.
In all his great works of the fourteenth century, Remigeus/Celadon was assisted by his first master, who had elected to be reborn as a slave named Brun in order to atone for his past errors. The love of Celadon and Brun, and the manner in which they served as a model for later generations of servants and masters, quickly became the stuff of legend, and it is sometimes hard for scholars to ascertain which tales about Celadon and Brun are from the original period.
Art historians, though, have provided reasonable assurance that the most famous saying of Remigeus dates from this period, for it was before the death of Remigeus/Celadon that the Dual Duty Plaque, which now appears on the walls of every homestead in the Dozen Landsteads, began to be spontaneously produced by the slaves of that time. In its earliest form, the plaque was no more than rudimentary scratchings made by slaves who were only just beginning to dare the boldness that would result in their sixteenth-century emancipation. But in all other respects, the Dual Duty Plaque looked as it does today. Below is a reproduction of the oldest plaque to have survived.
Caption: On the left side, Remigeus/Celadon, identifiable by his "master's beard" of the fourteenth century, proclaims, "The true slave must speak truth to his master, no matter what the cost." On the right side, a clean-shaven Brun responds, "The true master must listen to his slave." Below the portraits are inscribed words from an anonymous fourteenth-century source: "In every master is a slave, in every slave a master."