Nashi stood quietly in the lush siting room of his masters estate. Commander Zechs had told him that he could sit where he pleased, but the pristine condition of the furniture and trimmings made him feel filthy in comparison. The clothing he wore was not the same as he had worn in the fields, but they were working clothes none the less, permanently soiled here and there, and not befitting a home or furnishings of such luxury. So he stood.
The room was very intimate, despite its scale, and Nashi found himself comforted by it. The walls were covered in a deep crimson patterned fabric that matched the freshly cut flowers scattered in vases around the room and the furnishings were various shades of a warm champagne. Commander Zechs had asked him to remove his grubby boots before entering the house and the carpet was plush between his toes. Most surprising to Nashi was how cool the interior of the house was compared to the heat outside.
He looked outside now. A long row of tall windows stretched across the far wall of the room and Nashi tried to look out, past his own reflection. The scene beyond was darkening quickly, the sky painted a dusky red with streaks of smoky violet. The sun was a hazy fireball threatening the land as it sunk into its place behind the trees. Nashi could make out tiny sparkles in the distance, the beginnings of torch lights for those still in the fields. Where was Catherine, he wondered, and Mahreem? Was he standing just outside the window, waiting for Nashi to cry out as Catherine had said he would? Nashi was suddenly overcome with a feeling of loss in this foreign place and even the intimacy of the room brought him no comfort. He stared into the blackening clouds, across the waving fields to the black outline of a small house. He longed to be out in it, grass between his toes instead of carpet, wild flowers not cut ones, and walls of the deepest crimson sky.
Am I disturbing you?
The soft voice invaded his most private thoughts and Nashi pulled himself from the view beyond the window to find anothers reflection in its crystalline surface. He turned to see his master standing in the doorway of the room.
The man was not dressed in the riding attire Nashi was so accustomed to seeing him in, but instead wore dark slacks that stretched lazily to the tops of polished black boots and a long-sleeved white shirt with a simple ruffle that started under the chin and ran down its front over the buttons. Nashi was certain the suit must have a jacket, and that the cumbersome article had been abandoned due to the warmth of the season. The man looked almost approachable.
Am I disturbing you? Treize asked again, and Nashi realized he had not yet answered.
No sir, he replied, Im fine.
Good, Treize started as he walked into the room, and stood across from the younger boy. I trust that Milliardo was pleasant in his bringing you here? He asked, looking down at the boy who was at least a foot shorter than he was, and further shortened by his lowered head, his eyes trained on the carpet.
Milliardo? Nashi questioned, not looking up.
Im sorry, I forgot. Treize apologized for his momentary lapse, Your Commander Zechs is known to the rest of us as Milliardo Peacecraft. It is the name you will regard him with while you are in this house.
Sir. Came the obedient reply.
My name, contrary to popular belief, Nashi could hear a small smile in the mans voice, is not sir. You may call me Treize.
Im sorry, sir, but I cannot.
And why is that?
You are not only my elder but my superior, it wouldnt be proper.
What is proper, Treizes voice stayed soft and even, though Nashi sensed a bit of irritation, is to look at a man when you are speaking to him. Elder, superior, friend or enemy, eye contact is common courtesy.
Nashi stared at the ground for a moment more and then reluctantly lifted his face to look full on at his master.
Treize felt a mental slap as fiercely vibrant emerald eyes stared from beneath a lush fall of reddish brown hair. From this close, the boys age seemed indeterminable. He had the features of a child but his eyes, the depth of them, the darkness around them, they spoke of a creature far older than their years, perhaps, on some level, even older than himself.
Thank you. Treize said softly, as if speaking louder might have frightened the boy off.
Nashi had no intentions of fleeing.
I cannot call you Treize, sir. It would be improper. Nashi repeated, somewhat nervous after the extended bout of silence and the mans gently voiced gratitude. The immaculate blue of his masters eyes were transfixed on him throughout this and he had given under the glare, averting his gaze to the silken ginger wisps that fell about the mans forehead. They were almost as distracting.
Then you can call me whatever you like, the smile was back, so long as it is not sir. Now lets have a seat and I will tell you why Ive brought you here.
Treize turned from the boy and found himself a chair across from the love seat Nashi stood nearest to, and settled into it comforts.
Nashi remained standing.
Is something the matter? Treize asked and Nashi made a point to meet the mans gaze before replying.
I didnt want to sit, sir. I-
Ahh-ah, no sir, remember?
Nashi swallowed, this was not easy. I didnt want to sit, your excellency, because--
Excellency? Treize nearly laughed, If only Milliardo could hear you say that. I feel he would most vehemently disagree.
Nashi stood sullen. The man was laughing at him, or at least smirking at his attempt at respect and formality. Perhaps he was wrong to try.
Without explaining himself, Nashi lowered himself to the floor, folding his long legs gracefully beneath him. Treize had straightened his features at seeing the boy upset and decided to leave the matter alone.
What is your name, child?
I have none.
Treize looked slightly confused. Was everything so difficult with this boy?
What do you mean? What about what the negro in the fields called you today?
His name, Nashi felt as if a chord inside him had been struck sour, he leveled his gaze and continued deadpan, is Mahreem.
Treize saw the sudden contempt in the boys eyes. So hes not all stoic formality afterall.
Im sorry. I heard Mahreem call you a name today, what was that?
Nashis flash of anger was gone as quickly as it had come, his voice was even again. Nashi. Its a foreign phrase simply meaning that I have no name.
Go on, Treize pushed, Im certain theres more to the story than that.
Nashi looked hard at the man seated across from him, a smug look painted on his perfect face. What did he owe to this man? His life was of no one elses concern. He had no reason or desire to share his history with him.
Then he remembered Catherine, sobbing at the thought of his departure. Mahreem, Meiran, Wufei and all the others who cared for him. The thought of leaving all that he knew had been a threat over his head since his birth, he could not risk the mans anger at being told no. He told his story.
I do not know what year I was born, nor do I know at what age my parents passed on. The only memories that I have are of living on this land. I know only what I have been told. My parents were slaves here and in their time it was forbidden to bare children. For that reason I was hidden. I do not know how my parents died or how long it was before I was found, but after I was, the laborers passed me around from bunk to bunk, hut to hut. All of them cared for me. All of them hid me.
An asian woman, I was far to young to know her name but I remember calling her mother, gave me the name Nanashi, and over the years it has been shortened by lazy tongues. That is what I am called today.
Treize was silent for a moment. Studying the enigma before him.
Is that why you speak so eloquently?
You claim to have lived on this land since birth, yet you speak as if you had been sent to an Academy. I have to assume it is from being raised by so many different people, different cultures, tongues and dialects. Is this true.
I suppose so, yes.
Do you read? Write?
In what language?
You know more than one?
Treize was genuinely impressed. A multilingual, literate, migrant worker. What a rare specimen he possessed.
Well, Nashi, I suppose its time we got to the meat of our business.
Nashi tensed and prepared for the worst.
In light of certain laws passed during my fathers reign over this land, you, my child, are a slave.
Nashi looked at the man suspiciously. What was this?
I am not a slave. The anger was back in his voice.
Be patient, Im not finished. Treize leaned forward in his seat. You are a slave. You have been working my fields most of your life without compensation and are here only because you were born here, it was not your choice.
I chose to stay.
Yes, but theres still the matter of compensation. Workers are paid. Beyond that, there is also the question of age.
I dont know my age.
So youve told me, but I would have to assume you could be no older than fifteen.
And there are laws in this country prohibiting the use of labor under the age of sixteen.
Nashi looked away from the man for the first time since their conversation, studying the hands in his lap. What does this mean?
It means that you may no longer work my fields lest an inspector happen by and see you in them. Treize leaned back again and threaded his fingers across his chest, preparing to deliver his ultimatum. You have two choices. You may gather your things and leave tomorrow, Nashi looked up at him quickly, a small hint of refusal spreading across his otherwise placid face, or you may stay here until you are of sufficient age to labor once more.
I will stay. Nashi replied immediately.
There is a catch, Treize continued as if Nashi had not spoken, you will stay in this house until that time. You may visit your friends but not during work hours and you may not live with them. Having you caught sleeping in their quarters can be construed by some as your being labor as well.
Nashi looked defeated.
Isnt keeping me in this house against my will, considered some form of slavery.
On the contrary, my child, you have been living off of my good graces for some time now, eating the fruit of my land, sheltered by my houses. A court system would eagerly declare me your legal guardian. Im simply looking out for your best interest.
Treize saw the indignant look creeping into Nashis features and decided his tactics were a bit on the dictatorial side.
Nashi, he began, my home is not a dungeon. You will be cared for and given the proper privacy and respect. There are far too few interesting people in my life and your presence would be a pleasure.
Nashi thought hard. The man seemed sincere enough, and he would get to see his family from time to time. It was only a year. On the other hand, this man had no right to dictate his future. He was his own person, wasnt he?
Your decision must be made tonight. Treize added.
Nashi fell silent in thought.