“Not his son, at least, I don’t think he is. . . He came along a few years ago to do for Master Ahjvar, you know, look after his horses, cook his meals . . . Maybe he’s something more.”
The widow from whom Deyandara gets directions to Ahjvar’s house also describes “young Ghu” as a boy and “a bit short in his wits”; Deya decides that “simple” is a fair-enough description and persists in that belief all the way to Marakand. In the first chapter of The Leopard, she sees nothing to contradict that. He’s a quiet young man whom she recognizes as being at least a few years older than herself but still labels a boy and later on, “not all there”. What she doesn’t see is that as soon as she’s been driven away to the village again, Ghu takes his supposed master to task for his antagonist treatment of her, and argues with Ahjvar over whether or not Ghu will accompany him to Marakand. This falls into what seems an old and oft-repeated debate.
“. . . you’re not going.”
“You need me.”
“I don’t need you.”
“I don’t need you. You followed me home, remember?”
More than once, Ahjvar likens Ghu to a stray cat. Feed it once and you’ll never be rid of it.
Who is he? A runaway slave from the Nabbani Empire who came west to the Five Cities by sea, a starving, battered boy begging on the streets of Gold Harbour, a casual charity on Ahjvar’s part. He followed Ahjvar back to the ruin on the cliff where he lived several years before the story begins and refuses to be driven away, even by the violence of Ahjvar’s nightmares. Sometimes fey, he speaks what might be prophecy; Ahjvar reflects that “Ghu’s soul wandered, and sometimes he seemed nothing but a shell . . . waiting. To be filled with what?” When Deyandara calls him a horseboy, Ahjvar tells her to think of Ghu as his shield-bearer — a Praitannec warrior’s esquire — if she needs him to have some greater status before she’ll admit his authority over her in Ahjvar’s absence. It’s not entirely Deyandara’s fault she dismisses Ghu; for much of his life, safety has lain in being beneath notice, in being overlooked as smaller and younger and more helpless than he really may be, and his instinct still is to hide, to obscure himself from the eyes of the world. Faced with a threat that he can’t turn aside by withdrawing, though, he acts without hesitation or doubt.
Quiet, gentle, possessed of an apparently unshakeable calm — and yet a rather dangerous woman says to Deyandara,
“You’ve been travelling in dangerous company.”
“Ahjvar’s not — He’s — he’s –”
“I meant the other one.”
Ghu is the one person Ahjvar will ever voluntarily let have any power over him, the one person who knows the truth of Ahjvar’s life, his name and history, the sole person whom he has, for all his resolution never to let anyone near him again, failed to make himself keep away. So far, Ghu, living and sleeping within arm’s reach of a man possessed by a murderous ghost, has survived. But Ahjvar has been very, very careful that Ghu is never the nearest sacrifice to his madness. The journey to Marakand will take them into the wilderness, far from the populous streets of Gold Harbour.