There was a steaming bath tub, almost large enough to swim in, flanked by decorative marble swans and an enormous urn holding an overflowing bunch of lilies. He slowly eased into the water, his first bath in a month, nervous even to be hesitating at one of Annette’s orders, though she seemed unruffled. She was rolling up the sleeves of her navy blouse, up to her forearms, smiling her small smile. He saw that as she periodically did her hair colour had changed, though this time only a few tendrils of green and chocolate brown escaped the neat confines of a charcoal grey and black scarf.
Hot water soaking in, he didn’t resist as she took his head in her hands, gently sloshing water over his scalp. He felt her palm laden with something cool and viscous, a shampoo that she worked into the short regrowth of his hair. She soaped and rinsed him, using a rough white wash cloth to scrub his shoulders and down his back and belly, massaging and rubbing.
At her instruction he stood up, and she did the same to his buttocks and legs, turning him so she could reach. Splashes of water stained the front of her dress, turning the indigo darker in splotch patterns over her breasts. She left his crotch alone, but the washcloth found its way into the split between his buttocks before Annette told him to sit down again.
A heavy lather patted into his face with a brush was followed by the soft rasp of a razor as she took off his beard stubble.
“You know, I’ve shaved my father often enough, when he was dying,” Annette said to him. “I remember when I was so scared to do this, that the straight razor would slip and cut him, but he said he trusted me better than a servant.”
Phillip tried to remember which of the numerous, highly intermarried families had sired her. Sagrova, or was it Penning? The times he’d seen her it was always “Lady Harrington”, the afterthought to her heavy featured and loud presence husband, tucked back with other dignified married ladies and too young yet to have a daughter to be pushing on people.
Annette was washing the stubble and soap from him, stroking the smooth skin she’d revealed. “Haven’t lost my skill, I guess. No hair missed. Up you get!”
Other grooming followed, tooth brush, trimming his nails to the square, short shape with a file, though he’d bitten most of them off, and his cuticles too. She clucked at this, and the maid, Maya, brought her a bottle of lotion she massaged into his hands, a fruity scent that made him want to lick his fingers.
Mystified, and wrapped up in an enormous bath towel, his bare feet on warmed tile, Phillip waited and was rewarded by a neat stack of clothing, delivered in the arms of busy Maya. Gentleman’s socks, shorts, trousers that were a tad loose and a shirt that was a tad too tight. She did the buttons up on it, smoothed it out and tied a deep blue tie around his neck. Lastly there was a silk vest and shoes, that she pulled tight on his feet and deftly double knotted the laces.
“You may stand” Annette surveyed her handiwork. Her guards stood out of the way, and Maya off to the side. The 16 year old maid with a large bouffant of bubblegum pink hair was the only one who acted remotely cautious around him.
“Now we shall go to breakfast.” There was a pause and Annette coughed pointedly. By habit, Philip had his arms behind his back.
“My Lady?” The bottom fell out of Phillip’s stomach. What had he done wrong?
With less confidence then he’d ever made the gesture before, Phillip extended his elbow out, so that she could loop her arm through his. Then, though protocol usually demanded the reverse, she led him into the next room again.
There was a cloth covered table laid, now, fussily covered in ornate china and cutlery and three beverage glasses to a place setting. Another maid stood waiting with a cart laden with good things, tureens and a teapot, breakfast liquior in a cut crystal decanter, juice, and silver domed dish covers. There were two seats, embroidered cushions and hard backed cherry wood on spindly legs. Annette gently steered him to seat her, and then he stood awkwardly by the table, not sure what to do next.
“Sit down, Adam. It’s good that you are waiting for my signal.”
Phillip took his seat carefully, trying not to drag his chair too much. The smell of the food was making it hard for him to sit still.
The older maid served up a small plate of fine ground oatmeal, garnishing it with a brown sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of golden treacle, finally followed by a thick cream. First there was a bowl for her, and then one set down for him. He leaned forward in his chair, debating if he should put his face into it or pick up his spoon.
Annette coughed again.
“Wait until I begin eating. You know that.”
Only after the first delicious spoonful had passed Annette’s lips did he risk picking up his spoon and starting eating. In no time what so ever, he’d finished the porridge and scraped the bowl clean of even the least little bit left. Annette was still leisurely taking little spoonfuls. There was tea as well, which he finished in two gulps, a small gilt teacup with strong tea he gulped down in a few mouthfuls, and a water glass he drained in one long gulp.
His appetite only whetted by the starter, he watched each mouthful of food pass into Annette’s moth, knowing that she had to finish before he’d get anything else. Her lips were small but pump, her teeth marred by a slight space in the front. Annette noticed him watching and put down her spoon.
“It’s not polite to stare.”
“Sorry, my Lady!”
“I know mornings are very trying, but you could at least make an attempt at conversation.” Annette’s voice was tinged with teasing.
“Ah…” Phillip’s face took on a deer in the headlights expression.
“The weather is a popular starting place, I’m told.”
Phillip bit his lip. Being chained to a radiator below the line of the window gave him no idea of the temperature or much else about the world outside the room, for that matter.
“Or maybe you could ask after my night’s rest.”
Phillip cleared his throat. “Did you sleep well… my Lady?”
“Excellently, despite last night’s soiree. I had intended to spend another night in town, but of course there was the unexpected engagement party for Dekovic’s youngest.”
Phillip was reasonably well versed in gentle conversation, but never with someone who’d just last week held a cattle prod to his scrotum. “Really, my Lady?”
“Yes, it’s not the usual sort of schedule, but I suppose one must call it young love and put a good face on. Dear Agatha, she’s managing as best she can in the household, given that her eldest stepdaughter is the same age as she is, and I think that she’s been very discreet in tying up loose ends in regards to any hint of scandal.”
Annette finally finished up with the bowl, and the maid cleared up their places and revealed steaming hot plates of sausages and pancakes, garnished with fresh fruit in decorative shapes. A heavy country breakfast, about the amount of calories Phillip had eaten in a day for the past few weeks.
Phillip ate so fast the glutenous, syrup soaked pancake stuck in a mass in his throat and he had to gulp the fresh squeezed orange juice to clear it.
“So tell me, do you enjoy walking?”
Phillip thumped his chest lightly, voice more of a croak than he intended. “Yes, my Lady?”
“Good then, I’ve needed a walking companion for a while.”