Neti entered Saladin's chambers to discover absolute chaos. The old slave woman's eyes widened at the unheard of situation, Hakim was arguing with a disheveled Mele. Hakim stridently protested Mele's angry tirade while the unflappable major-domo whacked him repeatedly in the chest with a hair filled comb. The old man's voice thundered in fury at the reaction Hakim's thoughtless words had provoked. The Sultan Saladin was hanging over the edge of the balcony yelling at something.
"Enough!" Neti bellowed setting her basket down on a table with a thump.
An abrupt silence fell over the room. Guilty looks were exchanged and the combatants seem to shrink before her eyes. Mele smiled weakly and hid the comb behind his back.
"Yusuf ibn Ayyub did you say something?" The old nursemaid demanded sharply.
A guilty gasp greeted the demand. "Yes Ma'am." The sultan scrambled to his feet ducking his head and shifting his feet. He kept distractedly glancing over the balcony.
"What did you say?" Neti tapped her foot.
"Nothing that I should have," Saladin admitted sheepishly. "Neti, I am a grown man. I can curse if I want to," he blustered.
Neti's eyes narrowed. "There is no excuse for such behavior."
"But he . . . Yes Ma'am," Saladin sighed.
Men, they all become children again when in difficulty. Now they expect me to make things right. Neti sighed looking at the suddenly hopeful looks on the men's faces. "What has happened."
"It's all Hakim's fault," Mele said.
"Was not, if you hadn't been so rough," Hakim snapped back.
Neti's eyebrow raised and she simply stared at the men.
Mele closed his eyes and shook his head in disgust before flopping down onto a cushion. "I'm worse than the children. I know better."
Hakim squirmed under Neti's all seeing eyes. "It's my fault."
"What is your fault?" Neti growled trying to get to the bottom of the problem.
"I was trying to comb out the tangles in Shadow's hair . . . polish him up a bit before you got here. I didn't want you to na . . . be upset because we hadn't been taking proper care of the boy."
"And?" Neti scowled to hide the faint smile trying to curl her lips.
"The boy was squirming a bit. He was excited at the idea of meeting you," Hakim sighed.
"More like a whirling dervish," Mele put in.
"Mele decided I was taking too long and took over," Hakim studied the toe of his house slipper intently. "I tried to tell him you have to comb hair like that differently but he was determined to get it over with. Shadow was yelping and flinching and I lost my temper. Honest Neti I never would have said anything if I had known the boy would take it so poorly."
"What did you say? Where is the boy now? How did you let things get so out of hand, O mighty Sultan? You at least I expect some sense from. Mele's senile and Hakim will never be more than an overgrown child." Neti lambasted the men.
The trio talked over each other trying to answer Neti. "You, what did you say?" Neti pointed at Hakim.
"I suggested cutting his hair to make things easier," Hakim admitted. "The prophet said a man's hair should . . . " the words cut off abruptly at Neti's glower.
"Well you old fool. Hakim at least combs his daughters hair so had some concept of how to go about it." Neti walked over and took the comb away from the sheepish Mele and studied the knotted strands. "Were you trying to pull it all out?"
"I was impatient and Shadow suffered because of it." Mele admitted.
Neti turned to Saladin.
"I was busy trying to calm Shadow and get him back up here. Perhaps you will have better luck." The sultan indicated a spot below the balcony.
Neti and Hakim rushed to the balcony with Mele bringing up the rear in a most undignified scramble.
"Hakim get some of the guards and a large heavy cloth. Hold it tightly at waist height like a drum head. If he falls you might be able to catch him before he hits the ground," Mele ordered softly. Hakim nodded and hurried from the room.
"I will not allow them to cut your hair, little one," Saladin promised once more, as he leaned over the rail.
Neti grasped the rail tightly and took a quick peek over the side before leaning back with a distressed gulp. He would be one of those who climbs like a monkey. "I thought Mele said he was blind?"
"He is," Saladin hissed.
Maybe it's easier if you can't see down? Neti peeked once more before stepping back from the edge and trying to calm her racing heart.
"Boy," Neti called shakily. "I thought you were going to visit with me this morning."
Saladin and Mele looked from the shaken Neti back down at the boy clinging calmly to the flowering vine some five feet below their reach.
"You are going to hurt Neti's feelings you know?" Saladin explained. He seems safe enough where he is for the moment but how are we going to get him down from there?
Shadow rested his forehead against the side of the palace, refusing to respond.
"Smells like she even made honey cakes for you. She doesn't do that for just anyone you know," the sultan noted.
"For me?" Shadow asked faintly.
"Well she certainly didn't make them for the rest of us." Saladin breathed a sigh of relief as Hakim and the guards took up position below them..
"She doesn't like me that much," Mele grumbled.
In disbelief the watchers stared as the boy easily scrambled up the branches and swung himself across the wide gap to the balcony without a care in the world.
"Hakim come up and we will talk with the boy," the sultan ordered.
"In a moment. I will find a gardener. If the boy can do that, so might an assassin," Hakim growled before stalking off leaving a pair of guards below the balcony until the situation was remedied.
Well the gossips are certainly, right the boy is beautiful. Neti studied the youngster.
"No harm seems to be done. Go wash your face and hands and we'll start our morning over," Saladin ordered gently.
The youngster returned shortly, obviously freshly scrubbed. An attempt had been made to straighten his clothing and smooth his hair. Shadow ducked behind Saladin much to Neti's amusement.
"Neti, this is Shadow, the boy I wanted you to watch during the day," Saladin introduced.
"Hello Shadow, I'm Neti. I brought you some honey cakes for breakfast."
Shadow hesitantly moved out from behind the sultan. "For Shadow?"
"Yes, now sit down and eat your cake and I'll straighten out your hair," Neti ordered.
"Pleathe no, Shadow wath bad? the boy asked shakily while grasping his tangled curls protectively.
"Little one, what makes you think you did something wrong?" Saladin coaxed.
"Gonna cut hair . . . Not bad you thaid . . .," Shadow hiccupped.
"Must be something of his own people," Mele muttered.
"I am not about to cut your mane. I simply want to get the knots out and braid it for you," Neti soothed.
"Promithe," Shadow asked hopefully.
"I promise," Neti agreed.
The boy plopped down on a pillow and reached unerringly for that fascinating basket. Neti stared in disbelief at how easily the boy managed despite his blindness.
"He gets around very well doesn't he?" Mele offered faintly. Amazingly well . . . unnaturally well. It must be a gift from Allah. Best we avoid strangers knowing of this . . . It could get the boy killed.
"Tirdad ibn Bozorgmehr is already claiming the boy to be a Jin and that he has bespelled 'Ladin," Hakim warned quietly as he entered the room.
Worried looks were exchanged over the oblivious boy's head.
"We will have to consider this," Saladin finally said.
Neti hummed sweetly as she gently grasped a small section of hair and began working tangles out.
Neti paused for a moment when she revealed one of the boy's ears. Looking over at the sultan she raised an eyebrow. "Did you perhaps forget to tell me something?"
"No . . . he is simply a little boy that needs to be loved," Saladin answered quietly. "They suit him somehow do they not?"
Mele watched closely trying to figure out how she made it look so easy.
"Start at the bottom and do small sections," Hakim whispered in explanation.
Once the gleaming strands were combed Neti began a braid to keep the hair from becoming such a tangle once more.
"All done," Neti gently patted the boy's shoulder.
"Thank you." Shadow frowned a moment before muttering distractedly as he ran long fingers over the tamed hair. "Honor braid."
The long hair is a sign of honor? It would explain why he was so upset over the idea of a hair cut. Shorn hair would be the sign of a coward or criminal to him. Saladin studied the boy thoughtfully.