“She was barely in the clearing before she started to cry and yell at him.” The maid’s voice carried easily around the corner. “Just off the path, apparently everyone saw it. And he just stood there, gibbering and turning red. I would have given a week’s pay to be there.”
“And at the solstice hunt, no less.” A second voice cracked with conspiratorial mirth. “After that debacle with the Tahir girl the cad deserves it. Did you hear…”
He couldn’t listen to this any longer. How dare they talk like that? Zahi stepped around the corner, squaring his shoulders and raising his chin. “Well you weren’t there, you don’t know. Anyway shouldn’t you be–“ He looked at the folded bed linens in the maid’s arms. He had no idea what their actual jobs were, or where they might be going with the sheets. “—working.”
The younger of the maids clapped her hands over her mouth. The older looked at him eyes wide. “Of course, m’lord.” She said. That was when the shrill giggle escaped the younger’s lips. The older’s cheek twitched, unable to hold back her grin entirely.
Zahi gaped at them, heat rushing to his face. “So, go back to work!”
The maids nodded deeply and hurried away, but Zahi could hear their peels of harsh laughter echo down the hallway before their footsteps faded away. Their words rushed around in his head repeating. Did everyone know? The answer he suspected made him feel sick with embarrassment.
“Well, this is more of a problem than I thought it was.” Zahi turned at his brother’s voice. He hadn’t heard the door open, but then he’d been distracted. Adel looked up at his tall younger brother with a sigh. “I can only control their talk so much Zahi, you must try harder to manage your temper.”
“They were laughing at me.” Zahi said, not bothering to disguise the hurt. He’d never been able to hide anything from his oldest brother.
Adel placed a hand on Zahi’s arm and steered him into the office suite. The rooms were subdued luxury in rich dark woods and thick tapestries. “That’s unacceptable. I will make sure it doesn’t happen again.” He patted his brother’s shoulder and closed the door behind them.
“That’s not what I want. I just, I don’t know.” Zahi said helplessly. “I want this to go away. Ever since that horrible hunt its all people will talk about when I am around, I can’t let it lie.” Even if he’d wanted to, his temper wouldn’t let him just walk away from the whispers and laughing looks.
Adel paused for a moment, then he nodded. “You’re right.”
Zahi blinked. “What?” He was never right. Zahi had expected his brother to come up with a reason he should stop worrying about it, and then pull some strings in that quiet competent way Adel always knew how to do. Adel could fix anything.
“You’re right. We cannot just let this lie. The slander needs to be met directly, with honest force.” Adel moved over to his desk and sat. “We need to challenge the rumors.”
Zahi wasn’t following quickly enough. “A duel, Zahi.” Adel explained patiently.
“You want me to fight someone?” A year ago he’d been in this very office trying to explain to his eldest brother why he had to challenge the second son of the most powerful man in the city. Adel had quickly convinced him why Zahi had been wrong, and the matter was dropped. There was a reason even father listened to Adel.
Adel nodded and folded his hands over the desk top. “I trust you to handle yourself Zahi, you’re seventeen now after all.”
Zahi’s chest swelled. This had never happened before. “I’ll—yes. Thanks.”
“Was that what you wanted to see me about?” Adel favored Zahi with a fond smile and his younger brother nodded, broad shoulders relaxing. Adel looked towards the door. “Well then, I’ve got work to do. But I will see all of you at dinner.”
“Thanks again Adel.” Zahi left, the worries of only five minutes before completely banished from his mind. Adel thought he could handle things, so he would. This time, he’d fix his own mess.