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Zhennan picked up the rather large pile of unfolded clothes from the floor, full of dark colors. He walked to the door, ready to bring them to the smaller, dirtier room where all the ’workers’ would live, eat, drink, and sleep. Moving throughout the room, his face did not move an inch. He supposed he was the most known worker for normally having no expression. He would not move an inch when struck, but he would stand up for others. The nobles would laugh at him as he took hits, for the younger workers, or workers in training.
Despite being only 19, he was small. He didn’t think he would grow too much, especially in these conditions. Seeing as Zhennan was given to the Royal Family at just barely 13, he was the one to think he had the most experience, as most of the other workers had made a mistake, or had chosen to take their own lives, unwilling to live this life anymore. Zhennan didn’t blame them. He had thought about it many times, but never attempted it in concern of the younger workers, who he felt inclined to take care of, such as Reina, or Halin.
Blinking out of his thoughts, Zhennan moved swiftly and quietly towards the small room, maintaining strong eye contact with the floor. He held the large basket with both hands, fingertips turning white with the force he was using. He arrived at the small door, that was dirty with boot prints and some questionable words written on it. He opened the door, silent as could be. Immediately upon him entering, Reina looked up from where she was standing, next to the bed.
”Is something wrong, Reina?” his own voice came to him, rough from him barely using it. He didn't need to speak to any of those monsters, he could communicate without. She immediately shook her head, pulling ChenChen up from where he was sitting on the floor. He instantly voiced his dismay upon seeing this, pointing out that he should not be sitting on the dirty floor of their small room. ChenChen and Reina both looked shocked for a moment, before explaining that he had slipped and both were surprised when he had come into the room.
”Has anyone else come into the room today? Perhaps one of the higher-ups? Oh, did you make the bed?” Zhennan voiced, after looking around for a second, his tired eyes landing on the nicely put together bed. Reina quickly nodded and plopped herself onto the bed.
”ChenChen, has anybody come in asking you to work yet?” Zhennan asked towards the direction ChenChen, realizing he would not be getting an answer out of Reina. ChenChen declined any idea of that, claiming that they'd been sitting in the room since they woke up. Zhennan nodded, his shoulders relaxing from his previous thoughts about ChenChen and Reina being forced to work already.
Zhennan barely heard the two thirteen-year-olds laughing rarely, as he sat on the floor to fold the share of clothes he was given. He curiously looked at a few, not having recognized them. He was able to tell apart who’s shirt and who’s pants were whose, having been here for almost 6 years. But he had never seen these clothes, and they didn’t seem to be the taste of the people he knew to live in this area.
Instead, Zhennan pushed the clothes to the side, only to continue wondering who’s it may be while folding the rest of the clothes, into small, neat piles. He put the clothes of people he was the closest to first, in means of royalty, into the basket first, to see them first while doing his daily rounds. He stood up, stretching, his bones cracking. He only stopped when he felt a small prick of pain shoot up his tailbone, stopping as soon as it began. His nose scrunched in pain, knowing it would hurt to continue on with his chores today, but it had to be done.
He hugged both ChenChen and Reina, before squatting to pick up the basket, hoping his back would not be hurt further. He moved towards the door, asking Reina to open it for him. She complied, getting up from her position from the bed, and opening the door. Zhennan walked out, eyes peeking out into the hall, seeing nobody. Quickly, he turned around and instructed Reina to place the latch on the door when he was gone down the hall. He gave her a small smile, hugging her once more before walking straight down the hall, holding the basket close to his body.
Zhennan walked down the hall, replacing the smile on his face with no expression, what he was used to. His mind kept wandering back to those clothes. Was there a visitor? Nobody had told him though, and generally, the workers would be notified of this, and they had to know the underlying threat of their statements, that they had better not misbehave or attempt to communicate with the guest. And, of course, to obey every command. He gave a smile to another worker that he was close to, Minghao. He smiled back, and that was their interaction.
Zhennan continued walking towards the first room, which held the friendliest noble in the entire building, at least in his opinion. He lightly knocked, shifting his hold on the basket. The door opened, revealing Samuel, who Zhennan believed was the kindest person in the building. Samuel was, in fact, younger than Zhennan, but they were friends. Close friends, at that. Samuel treated Zhennan with nothing but respect, despite the fact that he was the ‘lowest of the low,’ and he was called that by many of the nobles. In fact, Samuel even called Zhennan, ‘Nannan.’ Zhennan thought this was cute, and he wasn’t given many nicknames. Except, of course, his parents. And Reina and ChenChen.
“How’s it been, man?” Samuel inquired, watching Zhennan pick up a pile of neatly folded clothes from the basket that was placed on the floor next to his feet, and hand them over to him. Zhennan smiled.
“Well.. I mean, it’s been as good as it could be. Reina and ChenChen are nearing the age where I’m more worried about the higher-ups trying to train them. Into worse people, like me.” Zhennan kneeled down to pick up the basket once more, still full of more clothes, mindfully aware of the aching in his back.
”Oh, I’m sorry Nannan. Tell them both I said hey though, okay?” Samuel asked, holding the small bundle of clothes to his chest, before giving Zhennan a large smile, and hugging him around the basket. Zhennan smiled back at him and stepped back from the door, as if to signify he would be leaving. Samuel closed the door. Zhennan continued on his way, moving from door to door, delivering all of the clothes inside the basket.
Just as Zhennan was walking back to the main room with all the workers, he was tapped on the shoulder. Fear flickered throughout his entire body before it was chased away by other thoughts.
”Excuse me? Do you know where the dining hall is?” The man asked. Zhennan was speechless for a minute. The man stared at him intently, and then looked down at the basket Zhennan was holding. ”I’m sorry, did I interrupt you doing something? I got here a bit ago, but each time I was supposed to be at the dining hall, somebody escorted me.” The man quickly explained after seeing the surprise on Zhennan’s face. Zhennan cleared his throat before responding.
”Oh..no problem. Just give me a second to put this basket away. I will direct you there...what is your name?” Zhennan pondered, walking promptly after he finished speaking.
”My name is Jackson. What’s your name? Do you work here?” Jackson spoke openly, following the same pace that Zhennan himself was walking.
”Yes, I work here. My name is Zhou Zhennan. What are you at the Royal Families home for?” Zhennan asked, before stilling in front of the door. Zhennan instructed Jackson to stand there before he could answer the question, as Zhennan hurriedly crossed the from to where the baskets would be placed. He wrote off his name on the chart to signify he had completed all of his chores for the day, and continued on the way to the door. He nodded towards Jackson standing awkwardly at the door. ”Sorry, I had to write something. So, why are you here?” Zhennan asked, heading to the dining hall.
”What do you mean..? I’m the prince..?” Jackson responded, seemingly surprised. Zhennan laughed in disbelief, a smile appearing on his face. Upon seeing the seriousness on Jackson’s face though, he quieted down.
”Wait, you aren't joking? I didn't realize the King and Queen had a son. I’m sorry if I was disrespectful.” Zhennan rushed to say, afraid of any consequences there may be, though he himself thought that he was nothing short of respectful.
“No, it’s no problem.. I’ve been overseas for a while, I guess my parents have not told many people about me?” Jackson inquired, brushing off Zhennan having no idea of who he was.
Zhennan continued walking, ignoring Jackson’s open question at the end, suddenly afraid Jackson may mention him speaking so openly to the King. Zhennan wasn’t really afraid of the Queen. She was sweet, if she was free sometimes, she may have even helped some of the ‘workers’ with their work. She attempted to get her husband to lessen some of the unnecessary chores that they were forced to do. She was nice to Zhennan too, if she happened to see him being beaten, she would at least wait until it was over to help him to his room and clean him up.
She aimed to teach Zhennan basic first aid, in case they would ever need it. She was incredibly nice to both Reina and ChenChen, and would sneak toys into the room for them. They arrived in front of the dining hall, Zhennan was still completely silent. Jackson thanked him, slapping him on the shoulder lightly. He had already turned back to leave when Jackson shouted.
”I’m sorry if I confused you earlier... It was really an accident, okay?” Jackson asserted. Zhennan nodded, continuing on his walk back to the room where he would be staying until the rest were called for dinner.
Zhennan walked the direction of his room, knocking lightly on the door, announcing his name. Eventually, the door was opened by ChenChen, who peeked out slightly without unlatching it. Upon seeing it was Zhennan, he unlatched and pulled him in with as much force as his frail body could muster. Reina sat up from where she was laying down on the bed, her smile widening when she saw Zhennan.
Zhennan closed the door, this time not latching it. He laid on the bed next to Reina, pulling the thin blanket over her. He closed his eyes, dazing off, hearing ChenChen and Reina speak about what they were expecting for dinner, though they would generally have the same things on routine.
He was awakened by ChenChen and Reina pulling his arms on opposite sides of him, with ChenChen repeating that it was time for dinner, right into his ear. “Yeah, yeah, I’m awake..” Zhennan groaned, pulling his legs to a sitting position on the side of the bed.
Zhennan got up, stretching his arms out behind his back, feeling a twinge of pain crawl up his tailbone in his lower back. He looked over to Reina and ChenChen to see they were completely ready to leave and standing near the door, pushing each other back and forth. He snuck a peek to the small clock on the wall to see they were almost 5 minutes late.
Zhennan's heart just about stopped. He didn't know if his old back injury would be able to take a beating? But would they beat him with a guest, the Prince, at that? Maybe they would wait till the Prince would leave, but was he really leaving? Zhennan quickly got up and looked in into the small mirror beside the bed, pushing his hair down onto his face before turning around and rushing out the door with the kids in tow.
However long it normally took to reach the dining hall seemed like it was tripled. Zhennan almost tripped over his feet multiple times, steadying himself with the hands being held by ChenChen and the other by Reina. He took a deep breath as they opened the door to the dining hall, seeing the other workers look up to stare at them. Zhennan was confused for a second, there was barely any workers inside the large dining hall. Surely, they hadn't all fallen asleep like Zhennan. Regardless, he guided ChenChen and Reina with a hand to each of their seats next to him, taking his own seat quickly.
Maybe a few moments later, somebody new entered the hall. They dug through their bag for a moment, seemingly looking for something into their bag. They then pulled out a small, crumpled piece of paper. The person squinted their eyes, presumably trying to read something off the piece of paper. “I’m sorry, is there a..—uhm...Zhennan.. here?” The person squinted their eyes, presumably trying to read something off the piece of paper. Zhennan’s eyes almost bulged out of his head.
Reina looked up at him, pulling at his shirt gently. ”Are you coming back?” She sounded relaxed but her eyes told a different story. Zhennan replied with an answer, ”Of course.” He stood up and gave a glance to Minghao, speaking to each other through their eyes, something they’d both managed to master through their time here. Silently asking him to take care of Reina and ChenChen, if he didn’t come back.