It was one of the hottest days he could remember. So hot in fact, that the horses had to be hosed-down and brought under the shade, the labor too much for them in such weather. The workers, however, remained toiling in the fields, their lives being worth far less than their equine comrades. Most of them were bare-chested, even some of the women, finding it the only way to bear the scorching heat while they picked, planted or ploughed their way through the day and sometimes into the night.
And he, their master, watched over his tiny kingdom from the portico of his grand estate, a lavish affair not unlike a Roman temple, an ornate tribute to himself and his reecent forefathers. It was one of the few reasons he would bear such heat, to watch his diligent laborers. It was something he enjoyed, lounging on the porch, no servant by his side, no business to attend to. A glass of lemonade and the hound at his heels were all he had to distract him.
He watched the myriad of tiny ants (thats the way they looked from so far) scurry in this direction or that, bending here or there, a few dousing their selves in their watering cans, and came to a strange decision.
"Milliardo," he called to the man he knew would be waiting nearby.
"Yes Treize?" A tall lanky man came from the shadows of the main house. He was formally dressed and carried with him a militant air contrasted only by his fair face and the lush blond hair that fell about his shoulders and back. The man was, by any standards, beautiful.
"Milliardo, I think Ill ride out to the fields today, could you ready two horses?" Treizes tone was friendly but not without absolute authority.
"In this weather Treize? Are you sure thats wise?" The man still stood some feet behind Treize, having yet to be invited further.
"Yes, Milliardo, I am quite certain it is wise."
"Am I am to join you?"
"Of course, my friend. Unless you think yourself too delicate for this fine summer day?" He turned now, examining the younger man.
Milliardo, bowed his head under the gaze and corrected his posture before giving a little bow, "No sir, of course not. Ill have the animals ready in half an hour and will await you at the side entrance."
"Thank you, Milliardo." Treize replied before turning again to the view of his ant kingdom and Milliardo took it as his sign to leave.
"Nashi!" A shrill voice came over the thrashing sound of the boys tool. He stopped. A dark figure was approaching him, the solidity of it wavering, becoming transparent at times and black at others, a trick the sun often played on the eye.
"Nashi!" the man made his way through the almost shoulder-high rows of wheat, his progress slowed by the overgrown vegetation. When he finally reached the boy he knelt, breathless, hands on his knees for support, and his speech was punctuated with deep breaths.
"Nashi, . . . the Master and . . . Commander Zechs are on . . . their way. You should. . . go into the smoke house."
The boy shook his head, leaning on his scythe, "Ill be fine, Mahreem. You shouldnt worry. But he knew the big man always did, it was in his nature . . . as was Catherines. And tell Catherine I said the same." He leaned off of his scythe and raised it above his head to continue his work but swing was stopped short as Mahreem caught the handle in a large ebony fist.
"You cant take no chances, Nashi." The mans breath was back now and his voice was even. He was bigger than Nashi, a large, brawny Negro, as commander Zechs called him, and the years of work in the sun had darkened his tan skin to a deep, almost black, tone. He was a force to be reckoned with but in most situations, especially where Nashi was concerned, a kind soul.
Nashi relinquished the scythe to the larger man, bowing his head. "Im sorry, youre right. Ill go.". He wouldnt enjoy hiding in the smokehhouse for the rest of the day but Mahreem was right. He couldnt risk being in the fields if the master should happen by.
He was kneeling to pick up his other tools before leaving and didnt hear the sounds of an obese creature scurrying through the wheat. Running at an odd spedd for its heft and heded straight for the clearing he and Mahreem stood in. A second later and Nashi found himself square on his backside, a wriggling hound writing in his lap and licking at his face.
Mahreem was still holding the scythe, laughing a little at the boy and the dog and was moving to help Nashi from the ground when a deep, throaty yell was thrown at him.
"You there," it warned, "get away from that boy."
Nashi heard the voice from where he sat and stood quickly, dumping the dog to the ground, realizing what he and Mahreem must look like: a big black man standing over a fallen boy, scythe in hand. Mahreem snapped his gaze around and stood quietly, still confused by the sudden interruption.
"I said move away from him before I put you down." The speaker sat atop a prisinely white horse, framed by the glory rich gloden color of the sinking sun, only a few shades darker than his pale hair. He might have looked angelic had it not been for the pistol in his hand, aimed at Mahreem.
The threatened man in question was shaking now and had obviously not had the presence of mind to drop the scythe. Nashi heard a hammer cock.
"He was not hurting me, sir." the boy finally spoke up. "I had fallen and he was trying to help."
Teh blonde man looked wary, still aiming the pistol at Mahreems head. "Are you sure, boy?"
"Yes, sir. Im certain."
"Commander Zechs," it was the another man who spoke. Nashi hadnt noticed the man at first though now that he did he was truly sorry he had not hidden himself sooner. His masters voice gentle and melodic as he picked up the comment, "perhaps you might holster your weapon, I believe youre scaring the child."
Zechs did as he was told and Mahreem relaxed visibly and an odd silence descended as the entire group seemed to be waiting for the older man to speak again.
Treize looked over the thin boy before him, and guessed at his age. The boy was dwarfed next to the large black man but still tall for his age. He too had been affected by the heat and wore only his boots and loose denim pants. His hair was cropped short all around his head except for the impressive forelock the swept down over half of his face, concealing one eye and sometimes the other, the hair closest to his scalp sticking to his sweat-soaked forehead. No more than fifteen, he thought, how is it that this child is working my land without my knowledge? He voiced his concerns.
"Tell me, Zechs, how did such a child come to my employment?"
The question, simple as it was, provoked a response from each member of the group. Zechs tensed rigidly, his horse noticing the action and becoming suddenly antsy. Mahreem, for the first time, looked up at his Master, eyes wide with concern, and then looked to Commander Zechs, holding his breath. Nashi looked harder at the ground, waiting.
"Commander Zechs?" Treize questioned again, he felt as if he had stumbled upon a conspiracy.
Zechs had not looked at Treize in this long moment and studied his reins as he replied. "Treize, I . . ."
"I was born here, sir." Nashi interrupted, and three heads turned swiftly in his direction. His head remained bowed as he continued, "Commander Zechs was not aware of this. I . . . I usually hide."
Treize watched the boy intently, and even in his submissive position, head bowed, voice soft, he thought him quite brave.
"Where are your parents, child?"
"They are dead, sir." The boys statement might have been about a missing hat for all the emotion it held.
"They were employed here?"
"Nashi!" Mahreem spoke up now, feeling that the boys comments were leading in the wrong direction.
"Hold your tongue!" Zechs spat at the black man and Mahreem complied, turning his gaze toward the wheat around him.
"There have not been slaves on this land for over a decade." Treize continued.
"Theyve been dead a long time, sir."
"I see." Treize replied, studying the boy with no little fascination, finding him more intriguing with every word he spoke. How long was a long time? And how had he survived so long without him finding out? For the second time that day, Treize came to a strange decision.
"Commander Zechs, "
"Help this boy gather his things and have him brought to the house before nightfall."
"Treize!" the sudden exclamation set his horse dancing again, "Surely you dont intend-"
"Milliardo." Treize interrupted, the name a command.
Zechs set his jaw before replying, "Sir."
"What does he want with you, Nashi?" Catherine stood with Nashi behind the long house that served as the workers living quarters. She wasnt much older than him but, being a woman in a harsh world dominated by harsher men, the years had worn her beyond her age. She wore a gingham dress with a simple apron tied around her waist, her reddish hair was tied loosely in a bun and wispy tendrils had escaped to tickle her cheeks.
"I dont know." Nashi replied, and was immediately taken into Catherines arms. When he spoke again, it was a light whisper into her ear. "Ill be fine. The worst hell do is send me away."
"I dont want you to leave, Nashi. Youre a brother to me." She stepped out of the embrace and held him at arms length. If he threatens you or tries to harm you, I want you to scream as loud as you can. Ill send Mahreem to stay by the house and hell listen for you. Her eyes were teary now, concern etched in her every feature.
Catherine, you cant do that. Ill be fine. He wouldnt hurt me. Nashi pulled Catherine back into a strong embrace.
How do you know, youve only met him today, he could be a maniac. her voice was nearing hysterics as she protested in his ear.
Ill be fine, Catherine, he repeated, stroking her back in an effort to calm her, and honestly, himself. I know it.
Treize was waiting calmly in his study, relaxing in a crimson high-back chair, a white Persian cat purring in his lap, when Milliardo knocked on the open door.
Come in. Treize spoke gently. He had expected the man an hour ago and had nearly fallen asleep waiting. That is, until the feline member of the household had startled him and demanded his attention.
Sir, your guest is in the sitting room. He awaits your company. Milliardos tone was sharp, clearly showing his disapproval.
Thank you. Treize returned and Milliardo turned on his heel, seemingly eager to be away. Treize called after him.
You knew about him didnt you? The question stopped Milliardo in his departure but he did not turn to face the older man, his head only lowered slightly as he spoke.
Yes, he said softly.
Why didnt you mention it?
Milliardo turned now, not stepping forward but meeting the cool blue eyes of his long time friend and employer, I did not find him until he was nearly eight. They hid him well. He had no where else to go.
That doesnt sound like you, Milliardo.
Milliardo was visibly affected, I am a hard man when the situation calls for such, but I am not without a certain amount of pity.
Treize gave an easy smirk. Are you certain thats the only reason, Milliardo?
Milliardo narrowed his gaze and replied icily. Of course, now if youll excuse me, I must tend to a situation in the fields. With that he turned swiftly and was nearly out of site when Treize stopped him with his next words.
He is beautiful, isnt he Milliardo?
Milliardo, paused only for a second before silently escaping.
Treize watched him leave and then turned his attention to the white Persian in his lap. Yes, he whispered as softly as the purring beneath his fingers, he is.