A Competent Butler Will Solve Most Problems Before They Ever Reach His Master’s Attention
I’ve been promising to finish this for way a too long, but here’s a look into a character I think a lot of people find really interesting.
The house always felt empty when Theodore wasn’t in it.
It wasn’t, of course. Theodore was only one person, and in order to keep the house running he employed a full compliment of staff, including a recently expanded security compliment. Between cooks, cleaners, guards, gardeners, drivers, and Benedict himself, the house had more than fifty people living in it. And, of course, there were the slaves.
Six of them at the moment, but the ghosts of all the others were still in the house. Not because they’d died here, with the exception of Denny, but because they’d all left a mark on the house, a part of themselves behind. Their memories haunted the house.
Or perhaps they simply haunted Benedict.
He couldn’t walk by the door to the kitchen without seeing Eddie leaning there, talking to the cooks, trying to flirt his way into some extra sweets. Every time he walked by the sitting room he heard Reg, brashly and loudly charging forward in Gronnde, unworried that he was pronouncing everything wrong. He couldn’t go into the garden without watching Jo picking flowers to put in his hair, and weave into the collar of his shirt.
Benedict couldn’t walk through the hallway on the second floor leading to the sun room without seeing Denny, leaning forward, knees off the floor as he hung lifeless from a lamp bracket.
It had nearly destroyed Theodore, Denny’s suicide. It had exposed for him, for a moment, the hurt that he was causing the slaves—Benedict couldn’t think of them as boys, he couldn’t—and he’d almost stopped. He’d almost freed all of them at once. Benedict had been drafting papers for them. And then Theodore had changed his mind, somehow convinced himself that it had been a product of Denny’s own mental state, a disease of his thoughts that couldn’t be avoided. And he’d brought Hugh back into his bed.
One of Benedict’s greatest regrets was that he hadn’t, at that time, had the strength to tell Theodore that Felix and Penn and Jo had also all taken their lives, and that they’d just done it after Theodore had freed them. And that was only the three that he knew about. He didn’t manage to keep tabs on all of them. A good number of them followed in Ian’s footsteps and disappeared without at trace the moment they walked out of the house.
And as much as it pained Benedict to watch Theodore do what he did to those slaves, it hurt him more to see Theodore heartbroken. He was well aware of what kind of person this made him. But all he could do was try, when an opportunity was there, to guide Theodore away from his more destructive habits. He’d manage it someday. He had to. He didn’t have much longer.
A knock at the door in the middle of the night had Benedict crossing to the foyer, where even in the dim light he could still see Will sliding down the banister. “It’s a city guard, sir,” one of the house guards reported, when Benedict neared the door.
“Thank you,” said Benedict, pulling the door open with his heart in his throat. He could think of no good reason why a guard would be here this late at night. No good reason, but he could think of a reason, and that reason was named Daniel.
The city guard was not a city guard but rather the captain of the city guard, an angular woman with dark complexion that many thought western in origin, but which Benedict was fairly certain placed at least some of her heritage in Enjon. Abigail Greentide strode inside, brushing snow from her shoulders. “I’m sorry to call so late. I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“You didn’t, Captain,” Benedict assured her, nodding his head. Daniel was not in the house tonight, for the third night in a row. He thought Benedict didn’t know, just like he’d thought Benedict wouldn’t notice his friend in the house. The slaves all thought they had secrets from Benedict.
Benedict was not stupid. He knew there was a good possibility that Daniel and Ozzy were out there either killing someone or plotting to do so. Having them in the house should be enough to make him lose sleep, but it was Daniel’s absence that kept him awake. And awake he would remain until he was sure Daniel was back.
“Good.” Greentide looked around, though what she hoped to see in the low light of one lamp Benedict didn’t know. “I know Theodore isn’t here, so I won’t waste any of your time. Do you have a way of getting in touch with him?”
“Of course,” Benedict said. She seemed agitated. “Is something the matter, Captain?” He sincerely, desperately hoped that Daniel hadn’t been arrested. If he’d been caught doing something against the law, he might be summarily killed. And that would destroy Theodore. He drew closer to destruction with every slave who left him, and the longer he spent with Daniel, the more Benedict was sure of that. Daniel was the last slave who was going to leave Theodore. Because Theodore was not going to survive Daniel leaving.
“Yes,” Greentide said. She withdrew a letter from her coat. “I need you to get this to him as quickly as you can. It’s important.”
“Very well.” Benedict did not ask what it was about. He took the letter. “I shall send it in the morning.”
“Send it tonight.”
Oh, dear. “May I ask what it is about, Captain?” Benedict normally wouldn’t. But if Daniel were in trouble, time could not be wasted sending letters.
Greentide gave him a curious look. “That’s an awfully forward question for a butler. Don’t you types usually pretend indifference?”
Benedict gave a fraction of a smile. He enjoyed Abigail Greentide. She reminded him of someone he’d known before living with Theodore. “We do,” he assured her. “But if something is very wrong, there may be something I can do in his absence that will help.”
Greentide made a noise in her throat, then sighed. “Someone wants Theodore dead. Some information came to me that a contract’s been taken out with the Empty Moon. I feel he should know about it before he returns to the city.”
Benedict’s blood ran cold. “I see. I shall send the message at once, in that case.” At least Daniel wasn’t in danger, he told himself. At least this was a less immediate problem, one he could think about.
“Thank you. I should go, before anyone realizes I’m here.” She smiled. “Can’t have anyone realizing that I’m too closely allied, after all.”
“Of course.” Benedict opened the door again. “Goodnight, Captain.”
She left, and Benedict took the letter not to the messengers, but to his room, scarcely noticing Vinnie at the wall opposite his door, humming as he waited for Benedict to give him something to do. He carefully unsealed the letter, read over the information inside. The information Greentide had seemed precise, and included the name of the person who’d taken out the contract.
Benedict sat there in silence for well over an hour, considering. And then, when it was very late, he put on his coat and went outside, through the servants’ door that wasn’t properly guarded. Cold but not feeling it, he circled the house, keeping his footprints in the snow away from the path that he knew Daniel would take to return to the house. And he stood between some trees, where Jeremiah had liked to hide, waiting.
The winter air bit at him, numbed his hands, but Benedict had been cold inside since he’d heard the captain’s warning. He was northern born and bred, a chill wasn’t going to hurt him. He stood there in the dark, waiting, for a long time. Finally, he heard footsteps, soft in the snow. “You feel like you’re ready?”
“Yeah.” That was Daniel. “I think so. It should be pretty straightforward.”
Ozzy let out a laugh as they came into view, the moonlight bright enough for Benedict to see them. He put an arm around Daniel, knocking him to the side as they crossed through the path of Bert, kicking up dirt as he practiced to become a knight. “Nothing’s straightforward. But I think you can do it.”
“You think?” Daniel asked, possibly smiling in the night. “That’s reassuring.”
“What can I say? I’m here to bolster you.” Ozzy sneezed. “Hey, I’ll meet you inside. I’m going to pee.”
“There’s a privy in the bedroom.”
“I know, it’s more fun to pee on a tree.”
Daniel snorted, looking his age as he occasionally did when he thought nobody could see him. “Fine, but I’m not warming your parts up later.”
“We’ll see about that,” Ozzy said, pushing Daniel towards the house and wandering over to the trees. He kept an eye on Daniel as Daniel went inside, unlacing his pants and letting them fall to the ground, beginning to urinate against the tree next to Benedict. “If I hadn’t started being noisy he’d have noticed you.”
Benedict nodded, though Ozzy shouldn’t be able to see him. “I have a request.”
“I’m not leaving,” Ozzy said, looking at the tree. “I’m not. You can’t make me.” He was very young. Younger even than Benedict had been when Theodore had bought him.
“I am aware.” Benedict didn’t want Ozzy to leave, in fact. It was good to have him in the house. A boy who knew how to be a boy instead of a slave. “I wish to hire you.”
Ozzy snorted, finished up, pulling up his pants. He moved around the tree and leaned against it, not looking at Benedict. “You can’t afford me.”
“You would be surprised. I am employed by a generous man and have few personal expenses.” This would be a strain on Benedict’s finances, but he would manage. He had many years of savings.
“If you say so,” Ozzy said. “This isn’t how it works. You don’t just come up to me and name someone. There’s a process, it has to go through guild leadership.” A cloud of warm air escaped his mouth. “But tell me who you want dead and when, and I’ll do the paperwork for you. As a favour to thank you for not kicking me out.”
Benedict had hoped for such pragmatism. “Emma Skyhan. In the next few days.”
For the first time, Ozzy looked right at him, eyes piercing the dark. “Just so there’s no room for error, you’re asking me to kill the noble lady who owns all the land around Merket and arbitrates its resources on behalf of the Dolovin crown, and you want it done this week.”
“That’s correct,” Benedict said. He did appreciate the precision, he had to admit. A boy he may be, but Ozzy was a professional.
“That’s really going to cost you.”
“Yes, I am aware. It is very important, and given the look in your eye, I suspect you know why.”
Ozzy shook his head, looking back at the ground. “Never tell an assassin you know what he’s thinking. We traffic in being stoic.”
“I’ve never met a boy yet who could fool me, Ozzy,” Benedict assured him.
“Right.” Ozzy kicked some snow. “I’ll bring it to the guild.”
As Benedict had known he would. “Thank you.”
“You know, one of my friends is going to die over this,” Ozzy said, turning. “Our contracts aren’t public for a reason. The fact that you found out about this so quickly means someone intentionally leaked it. Someone’s going to die over it.”
“Yes,” Benedict said, watching Ozzy’s back, the way he held his shoulders. “I’m aware.”
Ozzy just nodded, and began to walk away.
“But then,” said Benedict. “You knew that when you leaked the information to the captain, didn’t you?”
Ozzy stopped. Something about him shrunk, just a little bit. He turned around, eyes wide in the moonlight. He swallowed. “It would…it would destroy Daniel.” His voice was so small, so quiet.
“I know. Please don’t feel as though you must hide in the bedroom. I know you’re there. You may come down to the kitchen and eat breakfast with the others in the mornings.” The person who suffered those consequences, Benedict thought, had better not be Ozzy himself. Daniel simply wasn’t worth throwing his own life away for. He would leave as soon as he could. That was what he was like. That was what Ian had been like too. And no matter how much he desperately wanted to tell Ozzy that, he knew Ozzy wouldn’t listen, anymore than Theodore would.
“Thank you,” Ozzy whispered.
Benedict nodded. “And please…protect him. If something were to happen, it would destroy Theodore.”
“I know,” Ozzy said, heading for the house, hands in his pockets. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
And Benedict was left alone in the cold. He waited several minutes before retracing his steps back to the house. Inside the door was Harper, bouncing a ball on his knee. Benedict returned to his room, where he lit a small fire before undressing for bed, and burned Greentide’s letter in it.
Benedict harboured no romantic delusions about Theodore. He did not think that Theodore would ever recover the love that he’d once had for a slave named Benny. That didn’t matter. All he wanted was to keep Theodore alive and as healthy as he could be.
He would tell Theodore about the rumours of a plot once he’d returned. With Lady Skyhan dead, there would be nobody to pay out the contract and it would be cancelled. And one of the people preventing Theodore from doing the work he wanted to do in the city would be removed from the scene.
Theodore didn’t need to know what Benedict’s role in bringing all that about had been. It didn’t matter. All Benedict needed was for Theodore to be healthy. And if a few people Benedict didn’t know had to die for that to happen, then so be it.
He was well aware of what kind of person this made him. Of what kind of person he was. Benedict didn’t care. He had, long ago, been given a choice, given the freedom to choose what to do with his life. He’d never regretted it, not once.
This was his life. And Benedict was not going to let it be taken away from him.
4 thoughts on “Others, 3”
Hol’ up. Just, hol’ up. You’re suggesting that Bertrand the Pervert is one of Theodore’s former sex slaves, aren’t you? You are. That’s fucked up. Wow.
😀 I am indeed suggesting exactly that! His is a very fucked up story, yet another cycle of abuse where he turned around and started doing to other boys what had been done to him as a child. Pretty sad honestly.
All of them are tragic, but this one has that extra layer where he seems fully delusional at this point, and it’s very sad. I hope he gets to actually rescue someone or save a town or something.
And it would be good for Theodore to notice the trail of suffering he’s leaving behind him, but he’s already punishing himself for Ian and it’s causing all of this collateral damage. If he starts punishing himself for Denney, Felix, Penn and Jo ( 😥 ) on top of that…
I also hope he does! I think actually having some success on his own merit would be really beneficial for him, and obviously for anyone he might help. He’s not untalented! But he does definitely use his delusions as a means of dealing with his trauma for sure.
It would also be great if Theodore could realize how harmful his everything is to the boys he abuses. He really thinks that he’s not hurting them and that he’s doing right by them when he releases them, and if he could actually see the negative impacts he was having on all of them, his self-flagellation over Ian would increase so much that he might actually do something crazy like change his behaviour!