Welcome back to another Worldbuilding Wednesday! I’m doing something different with these posts. I decided to write a story and blog how I do the worldbuilding as I go. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll edit and proofread it and then publish it as normal for people to read. Onwards to the story!
So where did we leave off last week?
“Do… no, I cannot ask that,” Piyari said. Her cheeks flared bright red and she patted them gently.
“Yes, you can,” Ammad reassured her. “Whatever questions you have, you can always ask.”
She stared up at him as if trying to see straight through to his soul. Ammad stood tall, nodding confidently. No matter what the question was, he would do his best to answer it. Besides, he was fairly certain that she’d intended to ask whether Nabeela was interested romantically and that was an easy one. Of course she was. The cuddling at shown that.
Piyari nodded slowly, just once, and bit her lip. “Are you interested in me?”
Oh my, I’ve been looking forward to this bit! *big grin* Poor Ammad just had a heart attack and now Shizuka / Piyari gets to find out if he’s serious about answering all questions. And if he actually likes her, too.
It is a fairly serious question for her to ask. Ammad is the titular heir to his father’s position as Lord of Breding. There could be major issues with him falling for a girl who is basically a peasant. Granted, Shizuka has some noble blood but she was raised as a peasant. She’s not going to be considered an appropriate choice as the Lady of Breding. Almost everyone would have something negative to say about it. Ammad could very easily get skipped over in favor of Nabeela if he chose to court Shizuka. That was something that Shizuka was educated on during her training with the King and Queen.
On the other hand, Nabeela would be considered a more appropriate choice. She’s second in line for the position and thus doesn’t have as much pressure on her. Additionally, two women together would need to invite a man in for reproductive purposes. They could invite someone of higher station very easily and that would negate the problems with Shizuka’s low birth.
Classism is very much an issue in Ambermarle, even if it plays out in different ways than it would in our world.
Shizuka’s empty stomach threatened to send her running for the toilet as Ammad’s jaw dropped open. She shouldn’t have asked. She shouldn’t. Even though he’d said that she could ask anything, Shizuka shouldn’t have asked that particular question.
It was madness. Even if people thought she was pretty, that didn’t mean that they thought she was an appropriate choice for Lady of Breding. Shizuka didn’t think she was an appropriate choice. No matter what she’d learned while in training, she simply wasn’t a proper candidate to court Ammad.
“I…” Ammad said, abruptly laughing and rubbing his face with both hands. “I didn’t expect that question. I thought you would ask about Nabeela.”
“Oh, it was quite obvious that she was interested before dinner,” Shizuka said before she could think first. She winced at the amusement in Ammad’s eyes. “I am sorry, Master Ammad, but it was. At dinner as well. I think that is why Duchess Chin-Sun teased her.”
“Well,” Ammad replied so slowly that Shizuka could tell that he was marshalling his thoughts. His cheeks were quite red but his expression was ruefully amused rather than delighted or dismayed. “I do find you quite attractive. You are beautiful, no matter how you compare to the Village of Beautiful Girls.”
Shizuka put her hands over her mouth to muffle the giggles. She could hear the title, almost see it written in proper kanji. When she wrote her first letter home, to be properly routed through their Majesties to preserve everyone’s safety, she would definitely use the title. It might even make Father laugh despite his injuries.
“But I don’t… I’m the heir,” Ammad continued. He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck without meeting Shizuka’s eyes. “There are expectations.”
“I agree,” Shizuka said. “That was why I asked. I prefer to know what I am dealing with immediately rather than waiting and wondering. I worry unless I am very, very busy.”
Ammad laughed and nodded. “Then we’ll work to keep you very busy indeed. Something could develop in time, Piyari. I will not deny that. But I do not think that it’s something that you should worry about now. Your dinner is waiting. Go eat before it gets cold. Tomorrow is another day and I’m sure you’ll have a thousand things to learn.”
“Yes, Master Ammad,” Shizuka said while bowing deeply to him. “Thank you, Master Ammad.”
He bowed back, almost perfectly, and then left with a casual wave to the other slaves. Shizuka sighed with relief once the door closed behind him. She rubbed her arms as she went over to the other slaves, sitting with a little moan on one of the cushions. To think that she’d thought the trip here was long. Somehow the day since arrival seemed to be ten times longer.
“He likes you,” the shorter slave said as he wiggled around to sit up.
“He thinks I’m… pretty,” Shizuka said reluctantly. “I asked. He doesn’t think we’re a match.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the shorter slave said. He grinned widely and waved off her mild glare. “He still likes you.”
“You are pretty,” the taller slave said. He started serving them all dinner, rice and a thick curry that smelled wonderful. “Very pretty. I could easily see you attracting Ammad or Nabeela’s eyes.”
Shizuka hid her face in her hands. She wasn’t here to find a spouse. As lovely as Nabeela had been and as kind as Ammad had been, she was here to help her father and learn a new skill that would support the family better.
“Eat your food,” the taller slave said kindly. He tapped a spoon against Shizuka’s forehead, laughing when she huffed at him. “Eat. Everything is easier to bear when you’re full and warm. I’m Ayumu. This is Thunder over Mountains.”
“Just call me Scamp,” Thunder over Mountains said, laughing as Shizuka stared at them. “I like that better. We’re allowed to tell each other what our names are. Just not where we’re from.”
“Shi… Shizuka,” she replied shyly.
One thing that I always wanted for the slaves was for them to have a safe place that they could retreat to. Anyone who is in a highly public position, learning all sorts of new things, needs a place where they can be themselves without any pressure. Otherwise the situation can quickly become too much.
Thus, it’s tradition that the slave’s quarters is that place. The slaves are allowed to tell each other their names so that they can reclaim that bit of themselves that they gave up. They get to talk, complain, make things, relax. Their quarters are theirs.
All of the nobility who have been given slaves to train are expected to follow certain guidelines. There is always a separate sleeping, eating and bathing area just for the slaves. They’re provided, within reason, with whatever items they might require. The things they’re given might be old and worn but that’s something that virtually every slave would expect.
They all come from very poor circumstances, you see. Every single one has become a slave because they’re trying to better themselves and their family. It’s been proven in the past that giving slaves new things, new fabric, bowls, whatever, makes them feel as though it’s not really theirs. On the other hand, giving them old bits of fabric to piece into new garments, toys or furnishings makes them feel that it’s really theirs. The same goes for the broken dishes. They get to take something broken and make it new and beautiful.
It also promotes a sense of continuity in the slaves’ quarters, even when there’s no overlap as with Shizuka. She didn’t meet any of the previous slaves but she can see the things they made in their spare time and tell that they were happy and well cared for.
It’s all deliberate. In addition, the king and queen have people who go around the countryside on an irregular basis to audit how the slaves are being handled. Sometimes they come openly. Sometimes they do so undercover. Making sure that the slaves are well cared for is a very big deal and it’s a sign of their Majesties’ respect for a noble person that they’re given one or more slaves to train.
Among slaves, there’s an expectation of mentorship. This means that if another slave had still been in the household when Shizuka arrived, that other slave would have been expected to show her where everything was and to explain the household’s quirks. And now, with the three of them having dinner together, it’s expected that Ayumu will take charge of both Shizuka and Scamp as he’s the most senior slave of the three of them.
And yes, I do wonder if ‘slave’ is an appropriate term to use. I continually wonder about that. The social structures behind the position are so far from what true slavery is that it really doesn’t fit. And yet in this universe the term is completely logical.
Ambermarle has basically developed a system of apprenticeship and social protection for poor relations. The thing of it is, this system is completely separate from the European system that we think of when we see the term ‘apprentice’. I sort of want to keep them separate and yet I do question the decision to use the term ‘slave’.
Who knows? When I revise the story I may decide to create a word unique to Ambermarle that has the literal definition ‘slave’ with the connotation ‘apprentice’. We’ll see on that. I don’t particularly like made up words, especially when there are perfectly serviceable words that I could use instead.
Back to the story!
Now that she actually could tell someone her name she felt almost exposed by it. There had been a sort of safety in no one knowing who she was and where she was from. Shizuka felt almost as though she could do anything, be anyone, that she wanted to.
Her parents weren’t there. Neither were her sisters. Absolutely no one knew anything about her other than what Shizuka herself told them. It was liberating not being around people who’d watched her take her first steps only to fall face-first into a puddle. Instead of having an invisible weight of all those years of shared experiences Shizuka was completely free for the first time in her life.
“Pretty name,” Scamp said around a mouthful of stew.
“Chew first, please,” Ayumu groaned. “I’m sorry. He has dreadful manners when we eat late.”
“‘m hungry,” Scamp said, shrugging at Ayumu’s glare. “You know I couldn’t eat on the ship. I get terribly sea sick if I’m anything bigger than a canoe. It’s embarrassing, especially with all the sailing the Duke and Duchess do.”
The stew was very good. Shizuka sighed happily and then ate nearly as quickly as Scamp did though she made an effort not to chew with her mouth open. Ayumu’s eyebrows went up at first but then he started smiling as he ate. He served them both second plates full of rice and stew without comment. Only after Shizuka had finished eating and waved off a third helping of rice did Ayumu chuckle.
“Too nervous to eat earlier?” Ayumu asked.
“Very much so,” Shizuka sighed. “I couldn’t eat breakfast and the trip took longer than expected so I missed lunch as well. I was quite hungry, I suppose.”
She wiggled her toes under the kotatsu quilt finally relaxing now that her stomach wasn’t so empty. The comfort of the little charcoal heater under the table reminded her of home as well as warming her up. Her new clothes had helped, yes, but nothing beat a hot bath or a proper kotatsu.
“You do realize that no one will mind if you have sex with either Master Ammad or Mistress Nabeela, don’t you?” Ayumu asked.
*grin* I think that’s the perfect spot to stop this post, if not the chapter. I am at my word count limit for these posts. Next time, more fun with Shizuka exploring the possibilities with Nabeela and Ammad!
I hope that you enjoyed reading this. Please do ask questions if you have any. I like sharing my world building but writing these takes time away from writing stories that I could publish. Thus, it would be greatly appreciated if you would consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these columns. Thank you very much!