When the door opened, it did so with a burst of energy. Strong footsteps resonated across the floorboards of the corridor outside, making Griffin turn to face the source of the noise and straighten his uniform nervously. The footsteps did not pause when they reached the door; one smooth movement turned the handle and pushed it inwards, and then Griffin met the eyes of his new employer.
He stood tall and broad-shouldered, and there was an air of strength about him that could not be ignored. Piercing brown eyes above sharp cheekbones gave a somewhat hawkish impression, helped along by the stern look he seemed accustomed to wearing. His hair was a dark brown and cut to fall just above his shoulders, though there was one streak of white on the left side. When Griffin had looked through the window, the Lord’s hair had been tied into a low ponytail, as was the noble fashion; now, however, it was hanging free about his face, and the impression was no less aristocratic. He had to be in his mid-forties at the least, but he seemed athletic and healthy, that white streak the only possible hint that time may have been creeping up on him.
‘I am Lord Corwin Quintus Carridon,’ he announced, after a moment of eying his new servant and assessing his health. His voice was deep and authoritative, with the slightest hint of gravel under it. ‘Jackdaw tells me you have been known as Griffin; good. Your new collar will arrive tomorrow, and until then you must stay inside. Jackdaw will brief you on your duties tonight. I shall expect you to be fully operational in the morning.’
There was a pause, and Griffin realised that he was expected to reply. ‘Y-yes, Master,’ he said quickly, only just remembering Jackdaw’s advice on how to address the Lord.
‘Good,’ Lord Carridon nodded, turning to go. Briefly he stopped and turned back, this time with the slightest of smiles. On a man with his features, such a smile could only look cruel. ‘Just remember what we are providing for you here, Griffin. Be sure that you do not make me regret my generosity.’
With a rustle of his black, finely-tailored frock coat, he turned again and strode from the room, his absence revealing the presence of Jackdaw standing quietly by the side of the door. Griffin had not even noticed him entering. Lord Carridon certainly demanded the full attention of anyone around him.
‘It seems you passed,’ Jackdaw said when the footsteps outside were no longer audible, breathing a sigh of relief.
‘Passed what?’ Griffin asked, tugging at the ruffed collar of his shirt, unused to the tightness of the fabric there.
‘The master was checking that you are healthy and… fit for his requirements,’ Jackdaw explained, seeming to have a little trouble in finding the right words. ‘He has not checked in on you for all of this time, you know. I doubt he could remember what you look like until just now. Still, it seems he was satisfied.’
Griffin nodded, but still felt somewhat confused. ‘Is he in the habit of picking up people with no identity that often? I would have thought that it was something to remember doing.’
Jackdaw hesitated; for a moment it seemed as though he would not answer, then he shrugged. ‘You aren’t the first,’ he admitted, then stepped forward a pace and spoke with more energy. ‘But there is no time for all of this. If you’re to start work in the morning I need to get you ready. First things first, you need a bath.’
‘A bath?’ Griffin repeated, raising his head as excitement crept into his tone. ‘You mean in a tub?’
‘What else would you bathe in? Of course, we’re not allowed to use the bathrooms as they’re for Master or the guests, but we have a nice copper tub just for us blue collars to use.’
‘I’ve never had a bath before. We always had to make do with a minute or so under the tap in the yard.’ Griffin’s eyes were shining, and he even managed a grin.
‘You’d better get undressed, then,’ Jackdaw said, leaning against the chest of drawers by the door with an expectant air.
Griffin stared at him for a moment; then, realising he was neither moving nor looking as if it was a joke, scratched his head a little shyly. ‘W... what, you’re just going to watch?’ he asked, feeling a little uncomfortable.
Jackdaw sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘You’ll need to lose the shyness fairly quickly,’ he replied, straightening up again. ‘But, if you insist, I’ll spare your blushes. I’m going to go get the bathtub and some hot water. Master wouldn’t like the idea of you being in a sickbed for so long without washing afterwards, so you need to do a thorough job.’
When the door closed behind Jackdaw again, Griffin still hesitated a moment before beginning to unfasten the buttons of his jacket. Getting the fine clothes off was a little easier than getting them on, and he quickly stripped down to his undergarments, laying out each piece on the bed carefully to avoid messing them up. He waited then for Jackdaw to return, not wanting to finish undressing before he was alone with his bath.
He did not have to wait long, as his fellow servant soon appeared, dragging a heavy-looking tub along the floor with the help of a rug pulled underneath it, stopping every few steps to allow the water to settle and avoid spilling it over the edges. It was only half full, and as quickly as he had appeared he disappeared again, returning with another pail of water under each arm that he quickly poured into the tub, raising a cloud of steam.
‘There,’ he announced once it was all done, brushing his hands off with a grin and only the slightest catch in his voice to indicate that it had been an effort for him. ‘Now you can get nice and clean, princess.’
Griffin half-laughed, crossing his arms across his bare chest awkwardly as the other man seemed to look him up and down. ‘Thanks,’ he said, wishing that he would go and leave him to do so in peace.
‘I don’t know what you’re being so precious about anyway,’ Jackdaw smirked. ‘Who do you think got you out of your old clothes? Believe me, I’ve seen enough of those farm labourer muscles that there’s no point in hiding them from me.’
Griffin blushed, trying to hide it by hunching his shoulders even further forward and scowling. ‘Just leave me to my wash, will you?’ he replied gruffly, refusing to relax until Jackdaw’s laughing form had closed the door behind him once more.
At last he finished undressing and stepped into the steaming water, almost drawing back immediately as the heat touched his skin. His feet went red from the temperature as he stood there, but after the fierce cold of his escape and the illness that had followed it he welcomed the scalding water. It was no lie when he said that he had never experienced a bath before, and after carefully lowering himself into the water he had no idea of what to do next. He simply sat for a while, letting the steam cover his face, until he felt almost sleepy and overwhelmed by the fog that surrounded him. At last he moved and began to use his hands to sluice water over the rest of him, slipping back and letting his legs stick out into the air in order to put his head under for a moment and get the fever sweat out of his hair. Jackdaw had at some point left a black fluffy towel on top of the dresser, and when the steam had died away and the water had even begun to cool, Griffin at last rose from the tub and began to dry himself. The bath had been enjoyable, but he was disconcerted to find his fingers wrinkled in a strange manner as he dressed again, finding a loose nightshirt in another drawer that was clearly meant for his use. Again, the black fabric, though this time of a rougher and more simple variety; again, the silver insignia on the front. He carefully replaced the uniform into the drawer above, and then after a while of idly waiting decided to begin removing the bath tub himself.
He filled the two pails as Jackdaw had done, figuring that it was too heavy to carry otherwise, and put them out into the corridor before going back for the bath itself. He had managed to get it out into the corridor when Jackdaw reappeared, no doubt alerted by the slight scraping sound the tub made as it moved along the floor, even through the rug. Together they moved it along the corridor until they reached a bathroom, with a deep-set bath in the floor into which they tipped the now dirty water. It only took a moment to retrieve one pail each and finish the job.
‘There,’ Jackdaw said, in a business-like manner. ‘Now get to bed, and sleep. You will need your rest. I will come wake you just after dawn to prepare for the day’s duties, and brief you then. There’s no point filling your head with things to think about now and leaving you with a sleepless night.’
‘Thanks,’ Griffin said as he turned to go back to his room. For a brief moment he almost thought he heard Jackdaw mutter something under his breath, but he could not quite catch it, and so dismissed it; had he heard, he may have turned back to ask a number of questions of his fellow servant.
For, with an uncomfortable look on his face, what Jackdaw had said was, ‘You might not be thanking me in the morning.’