For @daHob’s offline prompt.
“Cotswald told me I’d find you here.”
Caleb glanced up from his book, refusing to jump, refusing to look nervous. Marianne was not the enemy. Next to him, Cye was having less of an easy time of it. “We weren’t hiding.”
“Clearly not well enough.” She sat down near them. “You weren’t at dinner. The Lady Mother noticed.”
“I wasn’t hungry.”
“That works for you, does it?” She pulled a couple rolls out of her pocket. “I know Cye’s mom will make sure you don’t starve, but you have to leave the library for that.”
“I like the library.” He took the offered rolls anyway, and passed one to Cye. “Thanks, Mare.”
“Hey, I like to look out for you, when I can.” She pulled three cookies out of her pocket and shared them around. “She’s on a rampage, you know.”
What was new? “Cotswald was looking for Simeon.”
“He wasn’t at dinner either. Probably why she noticed you weren’t there.”
Caleb winced. It was one thing to be invisible, another thing to have your nose rubbed in it. “Does this have something to do with Baroness Jacoba’s younger daughter?”
“That squinty half-wit? For everyone’s sake, I hope not.” She filled her mouth with cookie for a few minutes, and they all sat in passably companionable silence.
“Me, too,” Cye offered shyly after a moment. “Your ladyship.”
“You, too, wha… oh, Jacoba’s daughter? Why’s that?”
“She beats her slaves. Not all of them, I mean, but her companion.” Unspoken, because they all knew it: if she beat her slaves, would she beat her husband’s slaves? Would she beat her husband?
Marianne looked grim for a moment. “Thank you for that information, Cye,” she said gently. “I’ll lean on our Lady Mother, if she is talking to Baroness Jacoba about something other than land rights.”
“Thanks, Mare,” Caleb murmured quietly. It would probably be Simeon and not him, if it was anyone, but still…
She smiled crookedly at him. “I owe you two, for what you did with Michel ó Gwydion at that dance last month. And besides,” she added, when both of them flinched at the memory, “you’re my kid brother, Caleb. And you’re his, Cye. I have to look out for you two.”
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“Have you seen your brother around here?” The majordomo had his someone’s-getting-in-trouble face on and his face twisted in a scowl. Caleb gave him an innocent smile. “Simeon? No. I haven’t seen him all day.”
“Hrmph. If you see him, tell him to come find me. Your lordship.”
The ‘lordship’ was brusque, cursory, and entirely insincere, but Caleb didn’t mind. He nodded at the man, and let him storm on his way out.
Caleb wouldn’t be in his brother’s shoes for anything – either of his brothers. Their mother was constantly on Simeon to do better in school, to be nicer to the young Ladies he met on her whim, to clean up and look nicer all around. And Cye…
“Is he gone?”
Both Caleb’s brothers were half-brothers. Simeon shared a mother with Caleb and a father with their sister Marianne. Caleb, on the other hand, shared a father with Cye, whose mother was the head cook.
“He’s gone. I’d ask what you did this time, but he was looking for Simeon.” Cye had only been serving above-stairs for a couple weeks, but some things didn’t take long at all to learn.
“Her Ladyship is on a ramp… I mean, she seems like she’s in a bad mood.” Cye tugged on his slave collar uncomfortably; like Caleb, he was going through a growth spurt, and nothing fit. “Seems like it runs in the family. When I saw Lord Simeon earlier, he was pretty cranky, too.” He eyed Caleb carefully. “Everyone but you.”
“Well, someone has to be in a good mood,” Caleb shrugged. “Besides, shit flows downstream, and by the time it reaches me…” It was divert it or let it hit Cye and the other slaves. But saying that would just make Cye uncomfortable. He shrugged. “Not so much left, since it’s all over Marianne and Simeon.”
“Must be nice, being the youngest,” Cye murmured. He was still getting the feel for what his half-brother-slash-Master would put up with, and Caleb was still getting a feel for how much he could let his new responsibility get away with, so when the younger boy flopped across the bed, they both eyed each other uncertainly.
“It has its advantages,” Caleb allowed. “Mostly invisibility.”
“Doesn’t sound that different from being a slave.” He sat up, cross-legged, clearly uncertain about the lack of reprimand.
Caleb shrugged. “There are advantages,” he repeated. As long as he kept his nose clean, he could look after those beneath him… like Cye. It wasn’t much of an advantage, but it was something. It was almost a purpose in life.
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