"Decision" (Chapter 1)
As the cold light of dawn crept across the horizon, Brixton manor came to life. Various butlers and maids were already at work; preparing breakfast, opening curtains and windows to allow the fresh morning air to seep in and of course the most important task of all: rousing the members of the noble family whom they all served dutifully. Lyon, the only son of Lord Brixton, owner of the estate, was always last to be awakened. However, at 11 years old and soon to have his first coming of age ceremony, Lyon didn't have much time left to enjoy carefree lie-ins and minimal responsibilities.
"Good morning, young master." Albert, Lord Brixton's personal aide, strode across the magnificent bedroom and drew back the curtains. Lyon groaned as daylight flooded in and penetrated his eyelids. "Shall I help you dress for breakfast, Master Lyon?"
Suddenly Lyon flushed at the thought, and snapped at his father's servant, "Of course not! How embarrassing! I'm perfectly capable of putting on my own clothes, so I'll see you there."
"My apologies, sir. I did not mean to offend you. I thought you seemed tired this morning. Very well, I shall take my leave."
Maybe Albert had been right. As much as Lyon hated his life as part of nobility, always wishing for independence, he had great respect for all the manor's servants and never even considered abusing his authority. He had matured recently, and it had been a while since he had taken such a tone with Albert. A lot of thoughts plagued the young master's mind regarding the near future, and he'd been having late nights. On his twelfth birthday, Lyon would have to choose his own personal aide, and Albert would no longer be involved with him. By the time he decided it would be right to apologise for the outburst, Albert had left the room.
"Morning, young sir." Lyon nodded his silent greeting to each of the servants he passed on his way to the dining hall. It was so much trouble always having to keep up appearances in front of the others. Lyon liked all of the servants, and didn't want to show them disrespect, but it tired him out to return the same polite and chirpy greeting to everyone. Sometimes he wished to just escape it all; flawless manners, endless studying, political meetings and even eating all the fancy food. Secretly Lyon hoped that when he made the pact with his personal aide, he would be able to order him to take him on vacation.
"Hello, Master Lyon!" The least formal welcome came from Brixton's youngest servant, and the only person in the estate Lyon ever truly considered a friend. Roy, one of the kitchen staff, had only recently received his second coming of age at 18, earning the right to wear the family crest, which he chose as a pendant round his neck. The blue eagle twinkled with the same shine as the young man's eyes.
"When am I going to be able to stop telling you to drop all the silly formalities, Roy?" Lyon always slipped into his casual and childish manner of speaking when around the kitchen boy, for he felt he had room to relax. Roy gave a sly smile in reply, and nodded his head toward the approaching Lord Brixton, and Lyon immediately snapped back into his noble posture, bowing slightly in acknowledgement of his father's presence, while Roy became almost parallel with the marbled floor of the main hallway, showing the minimal respect required of someone of his status.
Despite giving off a serious aura, Lyon's father was in fact a kind and sympathetic man, and the young master couldn't help but notice that he occasionally shared in the affection he felt towards Roy.
"Glad to see the two of you present so promptly for our morning meal. Roy, I appreciate you coming out to say good morning to my son, but isn't there work in the kitchen you should be doing?"
Although Lord Brixton had a rather average build, his voice was one fitting for good use of the manor's acoustics. It echoed brilliantly through the hall. Taking note of the Lord's gentle hint, Roy nodded and swiftly went back to his duties.
"The ceremony is only 3 weeks from today, son. We have much to discuss over breakfast this morning. Let's not make the others wait."
Brought back to reality, Lyon let slip a disheartened sigh and obediently followed his father into the dining hall.
After what seemed like months of constant rehearsing, etiquette classes, and meetings with various prospective servants, the morning of Lyon's twelfth birthday arrived. Unfortunately, what should have called for celebration was instead for Lyon a day he had been dreading for a long time. In truth, even though the ceremony was to be performed that very evening, the young master had still not made up his mind as to who would serve him for the rest of his life.
Unable to sleep, Lyon lay awake on his bed when his door was unexpectedly knocked. He had forgotten that from the turn of midnight that morning, different rules were in place when it came down to boundaries between Lyon and the rest of the manor's servants. No longer considered a child, it was disrespectful to enter the young master's room without permission, so the butler in charge of fetching Lyon had to trust that he would wake without having to enter.
"Oh...yes? Do come in." Unaccustomed to such rules, Lyon spoke with a hint of confusion, unsure of what he was supposed to say.
"I beg your pardon young master, but I don't feel I have the right to do so, despite your most generous offer. To enter a young lord's chambers is for someone like me...well..." Lyon barely recognised through his door the voice of an older man, Edwin, whom he rarely spoke with. It suddenly dawned on him that he would be seeing very little of Albert from now on, who had been a major part of his childhood.
Sounding a little flustered, the old butler decided to skip straight to the reason he'd come to get Lyon. "Regarding the important events of today, young sir, Lord Brixton wishes to speak with you. He is waiting in the tea room, and has ordered that the two of you not be disturbed until further notice. I suggest you don't keep him waiting."
In his usual character, Lyon wouldn't have bothered responding to such a message, and simply gone to meet his father at his own convenience, but sensing the awkwardness in Edwin's voice, and with the pressure of the ceremony looming over him, he automatically flipped his nobility switch.
"Thank you for the message, Edwin, I shall be down shortly. You are excused." At that moment Lyon was glad of the door separating himself and the butler, for he felt silly speaking just as his father would. He almost expected a rehearsed reply from the old man, but instead he heard the relieving sound of his receding footsteps. Lyon let out a held breath, and willed himself to come up with someone suitably less awkward to have as his personal servant.
Sat in the peaceful space of the tea room, Lord Brixton wore an uncharacteristically serious expression. As Lyon let himself in, he didn't move from his perch. A tense silence followed, and the young master took it upon himself to sit down across from his father. His father's wise green eyes studied him for a moment, and much to Lyon's surprise, his mouth broke into a grin.
"Forgive me son, if I made you feel as though you were in trouble there. I was merely coming to terms with the fact that my child is growing up. I wish you a happy birthday." Lord Brixton produced a small silver box and handed it to his son. Lyon new already what this contained, for he had spent the past weeks preparing to receive its contents. Carefully, he clicked open the box revealing the pair of blue stud earrings and the family's matching blue eagle crest, ready to be made into a brooch or necklace of some kind, when he earned the right to wear it in six years; until then, he would have to keep it safe. The earrings, however, were of symbolic importance for that day. Upon making the pact with his life servant that evening, master and servant are required to pierce each others' ears as proof. Lyon considered for a moment that he would have to make someone his victim that night.
"Thank you, father." Lyon's gaze dropped to the floor and he sounded feeble. He couldn't tell his father that he wasn't ready to make the pact, but there was nobody else to confide in. As if reading his mind, his father spoke:
"Son, I can sense your uncertainty. Could it be that after all this time preparing you have not decided on your life servant? Do remember that whoever you choose must serve you until death, but that they should also be someone you trust not just as a loyal servant, but also as a dear friend."
Lyon thought about his father's words, and realised he had the answer to his problems. Excusing himself, he hastily made his way into the bowels of the manor, seeking out the one other person he knew he could talk to in confidence.
Surely enough, the kitchen boy was in his usual spot, tucked away in one of the many storage cupboards, his face buried in a cookery book. Lyon felt his spirits lift as he watched his friend at his best, doing what he loved. Roy noticed him and jumped up to attention, realising his mistake in not honouring the young lord's presence, but upon noticing that there was not another soul around, dropped his guard and ran over to Lyon, flinging his arms around the boy.
Even though they had known each other many years, Lyon was still surprised to receive such a friendly gesture. The cook chuckled excitedly, "Happy birthday Lyon! I don't have a present for you now, but I promise your cake will be made by yours truly, and you won't be disappointed!"
Lyon smiled briefly as his imagination was flooded with images of possible cakes Roy could produce, but it was short-lived, and his expression became serious.
Roy's smile faded too, and the older boy began to look worried. "I hope this isn't about what I think it is, Lyon." Upon getting no reply from the young master, Roy assumed he had guessed right.
"Look...I know we've known each other a long time, and I think of you as my friend, honestly, but...becoming your life servant just isn't something I'm ready to accept the responsibility for."
Of course. How could Lyon expect Roy to accept? A noble's life servant had a lot of responsibilities, including providing guidance while he grew up fully. Even though Roy was a good bit older than Lyon, it would be considered unusual for someone his age to be a life servant. Lyon quickly realised his mistake and decided to change his intentions for seeking out his friend.
"Right, of course, that would just be crazy." Lyon gave Roy an awkward laugh. "I actually came to ask you for a different favour." Roy raised an eyebrow at the young master's change of tone. "I can leave this estate now as long as someone comes with me right? How would you like to go for a ride into town?" Lyon began to feel excited at the thought of a spontaneous outing. As a child, he had had to go through several formalities before being granted permission to leave.
Upon his pony, Aria, Lyon noticed the difference in age between himself and Roy was more apparent than ever. The older boy rode alongside him on an elegant mare borrowed from the stables. Lyon had to strain his neck to look up at his friend. Aria had been given to Lyon as a present upon turning seven, when he was to begin his riding lessons. He grew to love the sandy-coloured pony, though knew that he would soon be too big to ride her.
Lyon grinned at the lack of recognition he received from the townsfolk. Dressed down in his casual riding gear, and only accompanied by one young man, he was much less conspicuous than when riding double on his father's royal stallion with a whole entourage following behind. Horse and pony picked their way lazily through the streets, and Lyon had to toss an old lady a coin for the apple Aria cheekily plucked from her fruit stall. Lyon felt refreshed from such a laid-back stroll through town. The two boys had just reached the riverbank when they spotted an incident unfolding on the other side.
A young and noticeably inexperienced boy with unusually red hair was struggling to tack up a horse much taller than himself. He looked to be a little younger than Lyon. The young master was about to cross the bridge and offer his help when a large bearded man, presumably the owner of the horse, stormed over.
"Whaddya think you're doing ya little rat?" The large man struck the boy with his crop and took his horse's reins. "This is all wrong! Look at all these twisted straps! What do you think will happen if I ride her like this? Are you trying to get me killed?!" The man bellowed fiercely at the young boy, continuing to strike him with each word. Lyon had seen enough. He dismounted and passed Aria's reins to Roy, who still sat atop his mare, spaced out. Before the older boy could react, Lyon was already across the bridge.
"Wait! Lyon..." Roy sighed and carefully dismounted himself.
"Excuse me!" Lyon tried on his most authoritative voice, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't help sounding like a child.
The infuriated giant of a man spun round to face the young lord and raised a thick black eyebrow. "Eh? Who do you think you are, brat? I don't need any more kids to babysit!"
Taking a deep breath, Lyon decided the only thing he could do now was use his family name, something he hated. "I am Lyon Brixton, only son of Lord Brixton. I suggest you stop beating this boy at once or...or my father will do the same to you!" Lyon felt his cheeks redden as he realised what he'd just said.
The man laughed obnoxiously, "How ridiculous! The rich boy's daddy is coming to get me! I could snap the man in two with my bare hands! I suggest you keep your nose out of other people's business, kid. For your information, I own this child! I saved him from a life of poverty on the streets, and in return, hired him as my stable boy. He just has a lot to learn yet."
Lyon was about to snap again, when approaching footsteps distracted his attention, and a familiar voice entered the argument.
"Is this how you treat your employees?" Roy enquired, "It looks more like that boy is your slave."
"What's this?" the man sneered, "The rich boy's guard dog? I don't have to answer to the likes of you."
Roy was about to make a comeback, but Lyon feared that what this man wouldn't do to the son of a noble, he might do to one of his servants, and decided to put an end to the matter. He took the hand of the red-haired boy and began to lead him away.
"If this child is a slave, then I shall take him in as my own servant," Lyon winked slyly at the younger boy.
"Master Lyon, what do you think you're doing?!" Both Roy and the huge man began to protest as Lyon sprinted back across the bridge, hand in hand with the beaten boy. Lyon glanced back to see the man try to come after them, but Roy did his best to stop him. Aria noticed him coming back, and trotted over to meet him. Lyon helped the smaller boy onto his pony, before jumping on himself, surprised to find that Aria seemed unfazed by carrying two boys at once. Lyon silently prayed for Roy to return safely, and apologised under his breath for endangering him. Without much instruction, Aria cantered off in the direction of the manor.
After removing her saddle, Lyon let his pony out into the field and started back to the house with his new friend. Overwhelmed by everything that had happened, neither of the boys had spoken a word to each other. Before they could make it inside, however, they were met by an angered Lord Brixton.
"Where on earth have you been, Lyon?" It was unusual for his father to call him by name, and the young master was suddenly afraid of what was to come next. But the young Lord Brixton hadn't done anything wrong, and chose his words carefully.
"I wanted to take a ride into town to clear my mind, father. I didn't go alone, Roy came with me."
For a moment his father's expression calmed at his son's explanation, but once again became serious.
"That is all in good intentions, my son, but where is the kitchen boy now?"
Thinking back to how he had abandoned his friend in the face of danger, Lyon couldn't meet his father's eyes.
When no answer came, Lord Brixton turned his attention to the filthy, abused child cowering behind his son. "And who, dare I ask, might this be?"
Stepping aside to reveal the red-haired boy, Lyon allowed himself to show a proud grin. "Glad you asked, father. I've made up my mind. I'd like you to meet my life servant."