As he walked along the hall, Ethan neared one of the female servants.  She was tending to some cleaning only a yard away from Shay’s bedroom.  Like the other women of his household, she wore a short, upper thigh-length tunic that was open on the sides and secured to her feminine form by a red sash tied around her waist.  On cue, as soon as the woman spotted Ethan, she cringed and tried to turn her gaze away.  It had not escaped his attention that all of the women who tended to the household he had taken ownership (or lordship) over a few months ago avoided him as often as possible.  Perhaps they had heard the tales of his debauchery or maybe his presence simply repelled them.  Either way, it made no difference to him.  As long as they kept his fortress in order, he could care less about their opinion of him.  Then another idea came to him.  Could it be that they feared he would hard them in some way?  Use them to satiate his sexual appetite.  No doubt they had seen the women who entered his chambers.  Heard the noises.  Wondered where they had gone from there.  Did they think they would become a victim of his bedroom games?  If so, they were wrong on two accounts.  His pleasure didnt come from partaking of the lacivious activities.  He was a voiyeur.  His arousal was in watching, and rarely did participating settle his appetite or give him the release that he craved. Second, he had a strict rule against indulging in delghts with the staff.  He wasnt much for rules but this was seemed to be important and made sense.  Why would he put someone who easily slip in and out of his chambers on his bad side?  A dose of cyanide.  A rope around his neck while he bathed.  In truth, he wondered why he still trusted Carl as much as he did.  He could easily do all those things to him and more, yet he hadnt, at least not yet.

He had noticed this particular female some time ago.  Beside her unusually small height and frame, even for a woman of her young age, her striking features begged any man’s attention.  Dark hair that was mixed with alluring streaks of honey blond complimented her deep brown skin.  But her eyes were the most alluring detail.  A rick blue, like the deep waters of the open ocean, gave a pleasant contrast to her silky mocha skin.  Except for the slim scar that lined the edge of her cheek, she was truly a unique beauty.  But there was more.  She was familiar to him somehow.  He made it a point to know the background of everyone who served under his roof, but her history only went back five years,  Where had she come from and how had she been handpicked to serve on his elite staff?  It had been on Ethan’s mind to dig deeper into this life of this mysterious woman, but other more pressing and important matters always seemed to distract his attention.  Sweeping his gaze over the woman who was doing her best to act as if she were casually avoiding his line of sight, he made a mental note that he would no longer hold off on this task.  An urgent nagging was compelling him to find out more about her and as soon as possible.  From what he had learned of Rat City, every dweller within these fenced gates was born here and died or fried here.  No one migrated to the most notorious ward on what remained of the east coast.  Except for when their food supply dwindled, the outlanders kept to themselves.  And those who lived beyond the desert in the pastures..well, a wicked smile brightened the dark recesses of Ethan’s thoughts, they would be taken care of soon enough.  Why on earth would someone purposefully take so many risks to become a vagrant in this city?

You there, he called out to her.

Without hesistation, she raised her head and dipped her head in a small bow toward his authority.

Yes, sir, how can I be of service?

This was the first time they had stood facing eachother and her reaction to this moment intrigued Ethan.  His height and stature were far greater than hers, yet she seemed unaffected by the difference.  There was no intimidation hiding within those sparkling blue eyes of hers.  Even his own men, big strong males of the best breed, seemed to cower under his direct stare.  But not her.  What else had this woman’s eyes beheld to make her so defiant and bold, even under his obvious scrutiny?

Did you see Carl pass by?

her nod was casual but there was a flash in her eyes that said much more.  Quickly, before she was able to bury it completely, he read her brief flicker of emotion.  Ethan had never been able to do that trick on cue.  Not until he and Shelise had touched minds was he able to read a thought so easily.  The skill was still very small; however, he could feel its power growing stronger.  And it was always at its height when the two of them were close together.  It was how he had heard murder in Carl’s mind even before he saw the dark threats within the pools of his tutor’s mind.

Now that he sensed that this woman had a distaste for Carl, Ethan began to think of a plan.  It was a dangerous path to venture down, but his list of allies was short and getting shorter as the eve of the full moon moved nearer.

Do you know who that woman is?  He tested her wit.

Of which woman do you speak, sir?  I have seen several enter these halls over the past few days.

He liked her quick mind, but instead of offering a small grin as was his first reaction, he scowled harder.  Better to let her know who was in control.

No games, girl.  There is only one master bedroom on this floor.  Tell me without lies.  Do you know who she is.

A spark of..annoyance?..flashed in her eyes.

The talk is that she is to be your bride.  That is all I know.

Then you that she will one day be your queen?

Instead of answering, she only nodded.

If she were, would you guard her life with your own?  It was best to test her now.  His time was hanging on the edge.

Yes, there was no hesitation, I would.  I am sworn to do so.

Ethan felt the pride in the words as she spoke them.   The defiance flashing in the core of her gaze confirmed what he had sensed.  There were no lies in that hard stare, only truth.  If it came to it, he knew that this small woman would die for Shay.  Ethan also knew it was not due to any loyalty that she felt toward him.  There was so much more to the story hiding behind the locked doors of her mind.  It was like a steel gate standing before him, and his abilities werent developed enough to push past her stronghold.

What are your duties within these walls?  He knew the answer, but he wanted…

Cleaning mostly.  Cooking, on occasion.

Not anymore.  You’re now first handmaid to the princess.

He waited for a reaction but was not surprised when none came.   Had she been expected this sudden promotion? He couldnt pull the answer out of her mind so easily this time. This woman was sneaky and cunning, that was plain to see.  She was small but he sensed that she was fierce.  He also felt great loyalty flowing through her.  To who or what he wasnt sure.  For now, he would use this to his own advantage and needs.    But he needed someone close by Shay’s side who would watch over and protect her during the times when he couldnt be there.  Now that the elders were due to arrive, his time could not dedicate as much time to her as he would wish.  Tonight would be their last in absolute solitude.  Soon the mansion would be filled with the rumbles of those who had come to celebrate this new phase with decadence, sex, and bloodshed.  Ethan clearly understood what that would mean for him, but it was Shay’s destiny that worried him the most.  Still, he hoped that somehow he could change the inevitable outcome that he was dreading with all his heart.  A heart that had been silent and unfeeling for so long, and now it trembled in fear of what was to come.  

….Makes her her personal maid servant?..but why??

Your first duty is to go and help the doctors tend to her.  The one tending to her wounds, and the other had fallen ill himself.  Snapping his fingers, he points to a guard station a little further along the hall.  Go with her.  The man laying on the floor wont be able to help himself up.

With another dip of their heads, both walked toward the direction from which he had just come.  Neither dared question his new assignments..dictation.

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