Fane and Ajay stood in the hallway with Zahar, Chaitan and the other bodyguards for the royal family. The King, having answered to Chaitan’s knock and noting the congregation of men waiting on their charges, closed the door in their faces, telling them that it was private business amongst the family.
“Calm yourself, newbie. You might be a decent guard, but you suck at expectant father.” Zahar pointed Fane to the wall.
“Expectant father?” Fane stopped mid-step to try to understand why Zahar wanted him against the wall.
“You pace and leave ruts in the floor,” the old guard huffed.
Fane regarded the man with a frown. Voices on the other side of the door had not risen, but the tension seeping from them was palpable. He glared at the mahogany.
Ajay said something to him in reassurance and took up a spot next to Zahar, mimicking the older man in pose. Fane scratched at the back of his head in frustration that he still couldn’t speak the language. Shelly was off in Tri-Amritsar working on her dissertation, leaving him in the care of the bodyguards.
The voices on the other side rose. Two were female. Three were male. None were Prince Orlov. An intensity, that of an unchecked rash, burned across Fane’s shoulders. He hated angry yelling.
Something delicate, porcelain or china, crashed. “Nope. Not happening.” The soldier-turned-bodyguard pushed through a sudden barricade of bodies determined to keep him out. A broken arm and a man passed out from a headlock later, Ajay and Zahar stood in his way.
“Ya’ll really wanna do this?”
Ajay swallowed, fear glassing over his features. Zahar regarded him with cold silence before opening the door for him. “Watch your mouth in there.”
Fane, drawing a gun and taking count of the windows, stepped into the Queen’s Parlor, a regal affair of marble and turquoise. The woman in a formal red dress stood glaring over Prince Orlov who stared up at her with a blank expression from a striped couch. Photos and flowers spread out across the coffee table and floor. Shards of an expensive vase and water lay amongst the shrapnel, staining the photos.
“Are you safe?” Fane commanded an answer from his prince.
“This has nothing to do with you!” Abhi screamed at Fane as the rest of the bodyguards piled into the room.
The temperature in the room plummeted. Breath fogged in the suddenness. “And this question has nothing to do with you.” Fane’s volume promised every person in that room death.
Ishan picked up a soaked photo and stood. “Sure. I’ll be the playboy, mother. I’ll be the little jester in this family. I’m not marrying whatever woman you put in my way. I won’t show up, and you can’t force me to say ‘I do’.” He flicked the photo into the nest of petals. “One more thing. He’s my contract, mine to command, not yours.”
Ishan turned from the fuming woman and swept out of the room to the confusion of the other bodyguards. Fane and Ajay followed close behind, exchanging glances as to who was going to ask questions or stay quiet. Ajay shook his head and nodded toward Ishan to indicate they would wait on the prince to speak. Fane nodded, aware he had already overstepped boundaries.
It took a lot more of Fane’s will than he wanted to express to remain silent when they got into the elevator. Ishan’s shoulders quivered as the machinery whirred. The bell dinging sent him off at a fast clip to his apartments where he slipped in, Ajay close behind. Fane stuttered to a stop, uncertain. He had never gone into the rooms and wasn’t sure if he was supposed to follow or not.
Ajay held the door and motioned him in. Closing it, Fane took in the spread of the room. A bang of a door alerted him in the direction the prince had stormed off. The two exchanged a silent conversation of pantomimes before Ajay settled on the arm of a white couch and Fane leaned against the front door.
The sun shifted from midmorning to late afternoon, transforming the view of the palm gardens outside of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room. Fane sighed and shook his head at Ajay. He couldn’t stand there any longer. It was killing his feet.
Fane pulled out of his slouch and approached the hallway. Ajay pointed to the right of the hall, the one that would have a room looking out on the palm garden. The redhead knocked gently. “Prince Orlov? Is everything alright in there?”
“Fine. Fine! I’m alright. Just need some time to think. Send word to my amanuensis that I need to have my schedule postponed for the rest of the day. Just gonna take a nap,” came the reply through the wood.
“I had her wipe it earlier when Ajay and I went to the bodyguards’ physical. I couldn’t have you meeting with the Baron without someone available to escort.” Fane leaned against the door frame.
“Thanks,” Ishan’s voice came back muted.
“Want us to order dinner delivered?” Ajay came up next to Fane.
“Yeah. Send it in. Get yourselves some too. I don’t much feel like going out and I want the company.
“Any requests?” Fane asked.
“Surprise me.” Ishan mumbled.
Fane nodded his head back to the living room of the apartment. “What dessert his grandmother make? Gallium jam?”
“Galub jamun?” Ajay asked.
“Yes, can we order Galub jamun?”
Ajay raised an eyebrow at the man and left to the kitchenette that had an in-house phone to call down to the kitchens.
In short order a chef and prep servant arrived at the apartment with trays of fruits, vegetables, and mixings to prepare a more elaborate dinner than Fane had expected. “I thought we will order delivery.”
“This is better than delivery. That was in future tense. ‘I thought we would order delivery.’” Ajay corrected Fane’s botched effort at New Punjabi.
“Would. Got it. Thank you.” Fane watched the chef and servant in fascination. “What do the make?”
“‘What are they making?’ Some of Ishan’s favourites. I thought that was what you were asking for. Haleem, puchka, rasgulla, ras malai, borhani, and fruit salad, and galum jamun, can’t forget that request.” Ajay pointed to different dishes as he carefully pronounced the names and let Fane copy him.
“I saw these.” Fane picked out the puchka and rasgulla.
Ajay nodded. “You saw them in the street stalls in town on the way to the Baron’s house, I’m sure. There is a market there that is well known for them.”
“Mr Orlov likes street food?” Fane settled against the wall next the front door.
“Who doesn’t like street food?” Ajay countered.
“Will he come out?” Fane tipped his head toward the door.
With food spread on the small dining table and the chef and servant gone, Fane tried once more to encourage Ishan to come out. “Mr Orlov, food’s ready.”
A pair of footsteps echoed through the door. The handle turned beneath Fane’s hand. He backed up as Ishan opened the door. Hair scrunched and clothing rumpled, the prince looked like he had slept like the dead.
“Nap did you good.” Fane offered a soft smile. Ishan rubbed at an eye and yawned, following the bodyguard out of his room. Fane pulled the chair out at the table for Ishan and set about serving up plates for the prince, Ajay, and himself. Ajay watched him curiously.
“Why are you serving us?” Ishan’s throat was rough from deep sleep.
“Feels nostalgic. Probably did it when my sister was alive.” Fane shrugged, setting a plate in front of Ishan.
“You really don’t remember her at all?” Ishan picked up a fork.
“Not one bit. Her name was Melody. It was in the records. I don’t get to plate up very often and it just felt right is all. You look kinda out of it. Figured it’d save you from fumbling.” Fane sat down at the table with his own plate. “Now. Is any of this going to end badly for me?”
“No. Most of it’s sweet.” Ishan practically inhaled the haleem before he spotted the galub jamun. He stalled, fork hovering over a small orb floating in rose sweetness.
“You said your grandmother would make them? Maybe I overstepped a boundary. Thought it might make you feel better, though.”
“It does. It really does. You don’t know how.” Ishan pressed at his cheeks as he popped one of the balls in his mouth. “I miss that woman. You know she had hair like mine?”
“I was wondering where you got it. Your dad’s pretty fair, but I figured he’d be recessive to your mom’s complexion, especially by way of your siblings.” Fane tested the variety of foods and found it all mouthwatering.
“It comes up every so often on her side of my family. Grandmother, great-great grandfather. A couple cousins back further. It goes all the way back to when Persia existed. Everyone in the family all the way back kept their hair long when they got it. Mom says it’s a stupid superstition and wanted to cut it, but I would run and hide behind grandmother’s skirts every time she tried to get the hairdresser to attack me.
“I looked up to grandmother. She kept Abhi from being a jerk to me all the time and she loved when I would act out stories for her at tea time. I grew it out for her and it drives my mother nuts that I still won’t cut it. She thinks I should move on.” Ishan worked his way through the bowl of sweets before turning to the other dishes.
“Why a superstition?” Fane found the little rose-flavoured balls a bit overpowering for his taste buds. It tasted like the smell of the old women who worked at the records desk back on base.
“Something about understanding people’s feelings. That if you cut it, that you would no longer understand the people around you. I didn’t like that idea. I know at a certain point I quit believing it, but then she passed away and I wanted to keep her memory alive in a small way.” Ishan polished off his plate and went back for seconds, commandeering the serving bowl of the galub jamun.
Silence fell on the table as they all selectively worked on a bowl of food they had designated as their personal favourites.
“What do you want to do with the rest of the evening, Mr Orlov?” Fane finally broke away from the ras malai.
“Wanna play a multi-player with me?” Ishan set his bowl aside and wiped his mouth on a fine linen napkin.
“What do you have in mind?” Fane followed the man to the living room.
“You’d probably wipe all my high scores into the bin if it’s a first-person shooter. How are you with driving?”
“Ajay will kill us both in something like that.”
“Then fps it is and we gang up on him.” Ishan pulled out 3D Nurvo Gear helmets, gloves and booties from a cabinet and set up the lighthouses.
“Ajay, we’re shooting you.” Fane waved the man over.
“I told Shelly we’re gaming. She said she’d pop into the server to play.” Ajay set away the last of the plates in the sink and joined the men in the living room.
“You like her?” Ishan broached the subject.
“Maybe. I think so? I don’t know. She’s demandy and head strong. My mother and her would get along. I’m not sure I could live with that.” Ajay slipped his booties and helmet on and hissed as the electric pins connected up to his nerves.
“I’d take it right now,” Ishan sighed and shoved his helmet on his head.
“Hey, I’ve never used one of these.” Fane pulled on the gloves and helmet. “Ow. I doth protest!” The pins connected up to his nerves and set a flash of fire through the metal in his body. A screen terminal flickered onto the headset before landing him in a lobby with Ishan and Ajay. Or, at least, who he assumed was Ishan and Ajay and a little white mouse woman. “Shelly?”
Ishan pointed up to Fane’s upper right corner. “You need to touch the mic button to connect. She says she’s hearing you through mine.”
There Fane found the settings dial and flicked through it before coming back to the characters in the lobby waiting on him.
“Ishan. Are you a high elf?”
“It’s what all my tabletop game friends said I looked like, so I tend to play a wizard elf.” Ishan smirked.
“And Ajay? Are you really a half-orc?”
“Yes. Rage and resistance are awesome.” Ajay flexed, making Shelly giggle.
“Wait. So what am I?” Fane looked down at himself.
“Uh…?” Ishan walked over to Fane’s avatar and circled him. “Ajay, what is he?”
“Oh! Oh! I know what he is!” Shelly’s voice echoed through the speakers.
“You need to fix your mic, Shelly. It’s not clear yet.” Ishan held a hand to one of his long ears, the ear pixalating around it.
“This better?” Her voice came in clear.
“Yep. Now, what is he?” Ishan did another circle.
“The old manuals would have called him a genasi. Oh, what do they call them in the new edition? Lampmen? No, that’s stupid. Anyway, he’s a half djinn. What’s the bet on what his class is?” Shelly pulled out an orb from an invisible storage space and held it out to Fane.
“What is this? How do I hold…? Oh, that’s weird.” Fane’s gloves registered a weight of about twelve pounds to his muscles.
“You’re a bard?” All three of Fane’s partners exclaimed in confusion.
“What? Is that bad? What’s wrong with a bard? What’s a bard?” Fane poked at the ball in his hand until a screen rotated around. “‘Bard. Support of the team through music, dance, or other shenanigans that empower other players.’ Am I still able to use ammo?”
“What we’re going to hop into, yeah. You ever fight a dragon?” Ishan’s smile was malicious.
“Let us learn, tiny grasshopper.” Ishan pointed to a wall in the lobby where a series of game titles sprawled across in chaotic colour disarray. A light hovered around a box and Ishan snapped, selecting the tile.
Fane found himself in a grassy field. Calming acoustics flitted about in the background.
“Welcome to Carmadoon, my home away from home. An MMORPG that I run a guild in. Let’s go see who else is online and see what you can do for tanking a boss. I want to have the guild hall give you a level assessment.”
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
If you would like to tip the author, check out the following buttons: