If Ms. Delaney noticed Zahra’s injuries, she didn’t mention it. No doubt she knew all about it though; the incident had drawn quite a crowd. Maybe something was embellished here and there – as news usually was. Lying in her bed, blinking at the dark that night, Zahra touched the side of her mouth gingerly. It didn’t sting as much but it still hurt some. She took a deep breath and rolled over.
That big man in the street had taken one look at her and determined her life for himself – useless, uneducated, unclean creature. He would have beaten her to death, she was sure. Or maybe she was just exaggerating. Who knew? If Phillip hadn’t stepped in…
She smiled a little, stretching the scab on her lip as she did so and hissing quietly to herself. They hadn’t interacted much after that morning. He had retreated to his rooms in the day and in the evening, he had gone out with the family. When they returned, their guests were nowhere to be found. It was none of her business, she told herself.
Although, she might have liked to thank him for being so brave. Not many people would stand up for her, as she well knew. Not many more would check up on her either. He had done both.
And that little bit of kindness had made her more grateful than she could ever express in words. That was why she was smiling and not for any other silly reason. She was a woman grown and didn’t have the luxury of indulging in strange fantasies. He might be a little bit different but he wouldn’t just suddenly abandon convention and indulge in a romance with a servant – and a black one at that.
Maybe he only wanted a dalliance – like Mr. Galagher did. Like her former master and kidnappers before him, there were those among the foreigners that merely wanted a warm body to satisfy their desires, no matter their skin colour or status.
That thought gave her pause. If Phillip wanted her, he could take her – and nobody would stop him, not even the stern Ms. Delaney. That certainly brought things into perspective. She was not safe even around him. She could not trust his motives. She had to remind herself of that fact.
It seemed she was in a land beset by monsters. There were stories amongst the servants that resembled Mary’s. Recalling the young nurse’s tale made her shudder. Monsters in the night, strange noises, people with unexplained ailments, disappearances and murders… it should essentially just be ignored as meaningless gossip but the more she heard, the more she began to doubt her own assurances.
The world was still vast and strange. What else could be hiding out there – just out of the notice of humankind?
And if those monsters scared her, worse still were the ones that surrounded her. Disguised as people, these ones would have no qualms about taking a life they didn’t value. They would torture and maim and murder without a care. Her people believed that all life was sacred. Even the hunters’ chant contained the words “sacred life”. It was a prayer to the Creator to thank them for providing their meal. Even in war, every warrior had it ingrained in them.
That last thought only made her think of Hadi.
She curled herself up in a ball full of melancholy. She did not cry now when she thought of him, although her heart grew heavy. Would he have protected her from the monsters? He certainly would have tried, her brave warrior…
The real question was, could she protect herself?
“Hello? Phillip?” A hand waved in front of his face and Phillip snapped back to the present. Lucas shook his head and leaned back regarding his friend.
“Unbelievable. Here I am, pouring out my heart and soul to my friend and he’s not even listening. What’s got you so pensive all of a sudden?”
Phillip sighed. The only thing on his mind was what had been on his mind for the last week – the dark skinned servant with her golden brown eyes. Every time he had seen her she’d been ducking out of the way, rushing off to this duty or that. She looked like she was healing well at least. But she still bothered him. He had never once considered looking for a wife among the serving class. Not that he was particularly inclined one way or another, but this girl was something else.
When the thought had occurred to him, he’d been taken aback. A wife? Was he seriously considering marrying this girl when they’d barely exchanged five sentences between them? That couldn’t be it. And so he was deeply mired in thought and certainly not about to apprise his friend of the situation. Lucas was a great many things but he was no big fan of humanity, and Phillip really couldn’t blame him.
Lucas’ fingers snapped in Phillip’s face once then twice and Phillip blinked. He at least had the decency to look chagrined.
“Honestly… One would think you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. What’s got you all confused? And don’t go wandering into your own thoughts again.” Phillip chuckled. He loved Lucas as a brother but some things he wouldn’t understand.
“Nothing in particular,” he said picking up his glass of brandy, “I was wondering if the harvest was going on well without me.”
“You know, you really do have a capable and trustworthy foreman, even though he is human. There aren’t many of those.”
Phillip nodded quietly and Lucas rolled his eyes.
“You are also aware that I wasn’t born yesterday, I hope. Is this about that girl? The one Paul and Vinnie brought in not too long ago? I’ve seen you watching her.”
Phillip’s gaze shot up, his fingers tightening slightly on his glass.
“I’ll have to admit she’s rather pretty. Her fiery hair and that brilliant smile would stir any man’s blood I suppose.”
Phillip was confused for a moment but suddenly caught up. The girl, Rose and her friend, (named something after a month, he remembered) had been together more often than not. Those ‘looks’ Lucas had been noting could as well be for one or the other. It would never occur to him that it was Rose herself that had caught his attention. He cleared his throat and took a swig of his brandy.
Saying nothing was the safer option. He was aware of the differences in class, if not the outright differences in species. Then again, if he couldn’t tell his best friend, who could he tell?
Just a little longer, he told himself. Lucas clapped him firmly on the shoulder.
“Hey!” he said with a laugh.
Phillip laughed and set down his glass.
“You know, I haven’t seen you this hung up over a girl since… well ever. Are you considering her as a candidate, I wonder…?”
Phillip laughed again and rubbed the back of his neck. The first answer that came to mind disconcerted him. It was a resounding “yes.” But the reasons for his disconcertion were paltry. The only thing that really mattered for the moment was when he would get to speak with her again.
His chance came the next day as he strolled into the library looking for some information on the Continent for a debate he was having with Lavinia. She had gone off to bother Paul for information and he was determined to find some information that would settle it once and for all. He had just shut the door behind him and was heading to the first shelf when a sound off to his right made him turn to look.
And there she was, startled and a little awkward. She bobbed a curtsy with her hands held behind her back, something he found a little strange. Roberta Delaney ran a tight ship and Phillip was, by now, quite familiar with some of the customs. In particular, the one of curtsying with hands firmly clasped in front of oneself – which led him to believe she may have been hiding something.
He cleared his throat and headed for one of the shelves not completely out of her view. She backed up a little awkwardly and he saw her put something down behind her. She was trying to be as quiet as possible so he stifled a laugh as she grabbed her cleaning supplies and, with another curtsy, left the room in a great hurry.
He regretted the loss of her company but he had probably startled her – maybe she was doing something she shouldn’t have? He went over to the shelf she had laid something on and saw the book leaning against the others.
Could she possibly have been reading? Education was not for everyone and those that could afford it didn’t end up working in a household as a maid. How had she learned? A slow smile spread on his face as he picked up the book and flipped through the pages. Maybe she had just grown curious and flipped through a random book? He couldn’t say – but he was intrigued even more now.
When he was done winning his argument against Lavinia, he would seek her out and maybe get some answers to the growing questions building in his mind.