Tuesday, January 15, 2008

KoC: (Kaif & Laila) Between A Master and Slave

Kaif’s tent felt strangely foreign to him when he returned. He had been absent for barely a day, having left only the previous evening. It felt like a lifetime ago. So much had happened within such a small space of time, that he felt profoundly changed. Little less than a day ago, he would have felt grateful for the tent’s generous shade, its calm interior and luxurious light furnishings. Now, it all seemed so vain and futile to have such extravagance as silk and porcelain in a tent made for war. Irritated, Kaif fastened the tent flaps shut again.

A basin of water had been prepared for him, and fresh clothes arranged on his bed. Kaif felt impatient to get out of his uncomfortable servant’s disguise, which was coarse and itchy. The light silk leggings and shirt which were laid out for him seemed more inviting than ever. Removing the heavy tunic, he splashed his face with the cool water in the basin, regretting that he did not have the time to bathe properly.

Drying his face with a towel, he heard women’s voices beyond the tent’s entrance. He paused to listen.

“Go in now,” said a gentle, older woman’s voice. “You can wait until Lord Kaif arrives.”

The flaps were unfastened, and the two women appeared at the opening. Both seemed rather taken aback that he was present. The older one, who had spoken before, wore an astonished expression.

Laila stood very still as a gentle breeze blew her silk skirts around her legs. Her hands were folded in front of her and her eyes were to the ground. She did not dare look up at her new master, especially as they were unannounced. He could easily whip her for coming unannounced and early. She felt fear pulse through her veins as she heard Shaadiya speak.

“I am terribly sorry your highness. Shall we go and come back after you have washed and rested?” Shaadiya spoke carefully.

“No, it is quite alright. It was I who was early,” explained Kaif, reaching for the silk tunic. “Please, stay.”

Laila looked up at Shaadiya as the older woman gently nodded and squeezed her hand.

“It will be alright.” Shaadiya spoke softly only for Laila to hear.

Kaif watched as the woman reached forward and pulled the silk robe away from her shoulders. Beneath it, she wore a thin shift which bared her arms and most of her legs. Silhouetted against the strong sunlight from outside, the outline of her form was plainly visible. He could see the curvature of her waist as her arms dropped awkwardly to her sides. Her eyes stared down uncomfortably.

The chaperone gently nudged her forward and, her duty done, turned on her heel and left the tent, the flaps rustling behind her.

Laila frowned and bit her lip to keep back tears. She was alone in the tent with her new master and had no one to protect her should something happen. This had all happened before and she was deathly afraid. She did not look up at Kaif nor did she move from her spot.

She stood meekly near the tent entrance, seemingly clinging to the minute freedom offered by her proximity to the only way for escape. Her large eyes were downcast, her body suspended in a pose not unlike that of a frightened gazelle, ready to flee. It was clear to Kaif that she was terrified. It puzzled him, somewhat, to see her express her apprehension so readily. He rethought his previous conviction that she was the spy, but remained vigilant, and cautiously reminded himself that there was a very real chance that this pretty girl was the Hashshashin spy sent to undermine his position.

“You may sit,” he suggested, hoping that she might raise her eyes an inch so that he could examine them. She obeyed quickly and quietly, keeping her eyes lowered.

Kaif finished dressing as discreetly as he could. Looking to his new slave again, he examined her nervous posture. “I hope you are comfortable? You look well; I assume you have been taken care of?”

Laila did not lift her eyes from the ground as she sat down. Her hands were folded in front of her. She was a bit stunned that he had yet to raise his voice or hand at her and she was ever so tempted to look at him, though she did not dare. She weighed each question he asked carefully before she spoke.

“Y...Yes master.” She replied her voice cracking. When did she become so scared and nervous? She wondered. A long time ago she would have had a firm and strong voice. Not a scared child’s voice. She chewed the bottom of her lip to keep from crying.

“Please, don’t be afraid. Look at me. What is your name?”

Laila jumped a little when her master told her not to be afraid of him. When he told her to look at him, she closed her eyes, then she opened them and took a deep breath. A slave wasn’t supposed to look at their masters. That had been drilled into her mind and her soul. However, a slave was also to obey its master’s wishes. She was did not want to break any of the rules of slavery. So, she very timidly lifted her dark eyes up towards her master’s.

“Laila,” she said in a frightened voice, half expecting him to pull the whip out on her. He returned her gaze firmly, but made no move to strike or punish her.

“Laila,” he repeated, certain that the name was given to her by a slave master; not her own. But Kaif did not press further. If she was a spy, then she was a reluctant one. If he won her confidence, he needn’t fear for his life.

“You look different,” he said, holding her gaze. “Dark of eyes yet fair of skin. How did you find yourself in the Holy Land?”

Her new master was not the only one who had noticed that she was different then most of the women in the harems and the Holy Land. She lowered her eyes back to her sandals and twisted her fingers in her lap.

“My master was a Templar Crusader who took me here with him and sold me to the slave trader.” She spoke truthfully. She was not used to speaking so much and she was a little surprised that her new master had not raised his hand at her yet.

“But you were not born a slave? Do you not yearn for freedom?” asked Kaif, hoping that the boldness of his question would not further intimidate her.

Now, Laila stared at her master with a stunned expression on her face. No one had ever asked her if she yearned for her freedom. Of course she wanted her freedom more then anything else in the world. She wanted to be home, in Glastonbury with her family and friends and her people. She wanted her life to make sense again. She knew that would never happen and once again she weighed her answer carefully before she spoke.

“I…I…I b.. Believe every slave yearns for freedom sir.” She stammered out and looked back down at the trim of her sandals. She was going to be beaten for sure now.

“I would give you freedom if I could, Laila,” said Kaif. “But it is not in my power. If I had a caged bird, who had been taken so far from her home that she had no chance of flying back to it, would it not be cruel to abandon her into the desert?” Kaif paused, watching her brown eyes widen.

“But even though you will be confined to my tent now, you are free to do as you please within it. You will find it a lonely home at worst—my duties with the siege will mostly prevent me from visiting during the day,” he finished, feeling that the less time he had with her, the less likely it was that she would gain any information which could compromise his position. But, while he wanted to distance her from himself as much as possible, he could not deny the logic of keeping her near, to watch her more closely. He doubted he could trust himself, however, not to fall prey to the girl’s fragile gaze and meek manners. He was already surprised at himself for having gone so far to comfort her. He was not so insensitive as he thought.

“The Sultan awaits my presence at the siege,” said Kaif, rising. “I must prepare, excuse me.”

As he stood up, his eyes fell upon the mantle of silk which the girl had entered wearing, lying discarded near her feet. He moved nearer, reaching for the garment, feeling it was unfair that he was fully clothed and she was not.

She seemed to draw away instinctively as he came near, but Kaif stopped, not wishing to be any nearer than necessary. He leaned down, offering her the robe. “I think you will feel more comfortable with this.”

His offer was met with a stunned expression and a moment’s inaction. Kaif had to dangle the garment before Laila gingerly reached for it. He turned around to allow her to dress herself, and to make himself ready to report for duty.

When he next turned around, he saw that she had retreated into the far corner of the tent, hiding her face behind her knees, the silk mantle of pale gold obscuring all but her uncertain eyes. He knew that those eyes had been watching him cautiously, because they had darted quickly towards the silk cushions around her, focusing on the delicate silver thread embroidery on them. The robe was wrapped tightly around her body, and she clung to it as though it might protect her from a lascivious master.

“I am not your last master,” he said, trying to adopt a comforting tone. “And whatever you experienced in his service, I doubt you ever will in mine.” He paused. “I see far too much fear every day. I would rather not see that same dread reflected in your eyes.”

It seemed to take Laila forever to work up the courage to speak. “I will try not to disappoint you, master.”

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