Chapter 9-Playing the Part

~Playing the Part~

“My dreams have become lighter, more hopeful in content, yet whenever I try to hold on to these tender feelings, they slip from my grasp”–Anayissa, from her personal diary

“We wear our sins as causally as we wear our skin”–Torien, from his personal jounral

By midday, they were prepared to take off.

            To Poshmarina they will go, the Crooked Knee Inn where sea salt lingers on tongues and old faiths are still followed. Away from the structured elegance of Tareriae, Ana cannot wait to travel to the countryside. Maybe the air will test less tainted, less contaminated by the stink of heavy perfumes attempting to hide the rot beneath.

            After speaking with Julia, the servant bravely volunteering to join Ana for the journey so Laura would not be separated form her fiancé, Ana had rushed to the stables, anticipation making her giddy. After the reveal of her gifts, there is a buzz strumming through Ana’s body, the blood rushing through her veins making her dizzy. Smiling as she makes way to the stables, Ana waves in greeting to the Rhageon man who is already saddling Lili. “Tilla, Ris.”

            The older Rhageon man pauses before strapping Lili’s saddle to bow with his fist over his heart. “Tolla, s’Ysurria. Ready?” The man smiles, his face weathered and friendly.

            With an enthusiastic yes, Ana jumps up in excitement as the man leads her towards her horse; leaning down to help Ana mount. Stepping on his hands, Ana pushes off from his shoulder. Ana immediately gasps as her bottom touches the slight bump. Looking down with her eyes wide, the older man shakes his head and motions for her to scoot forward. “Na s’Ysurria. Now ih ride,” then he smiles, his gold tooth winking at her as he encourages Ana with a nod.

            Smiling down at the groom, who Ana must have missed in her excitement, stands stock still, most likely in fear of the Rhageon man. Ana sends a hopefully reassuring smile to the boy before she settling herself atop the desert mare until she feels comfortable. After a few trial and errors, Ana settles and says, “Thank you,” to the Rhageon man.

            “s’Ysurria,” the Rhageon man bows to Ana with his fist over his heart before departing.  

            Running her fingers through Lili’s stunning magnificent mane, Ana begins to grab for the reigns until she hears the Queen calling for her. Ringa, the treacherous terrier, loyally on her heels.

            “Ana?”

            “Namieé!” Ana waves from atop Lili. Afraid that if she were to dismount now, she will never make it back up the desert mar’s intimidating height, Ana stays atop of Lili. The young groom watches from a foot away, his eyes wide with anxiety.

            The Queen is a regal sight in her midday gown. Her burgundy muslin dress compliments her pale skin, the square-cut of the gown revealing the delicate line of her neck and collarbones, and though the fabric is loose, her bump pushes against the fabric. Suddenly sad, Ana realizes that she will not be present when her namieé gives birth.

            “Ana,” the Queen pauses as she takes in the stunning beauty of her desert mare, “my, that is an impressive horse.”

            Happy, Ana beams towards her mother, “Yes, the Warlord gave her to me. Along, with many other incredible gifts.”

            Huffing, the Queen crosses her arms across her breasts. Unimpressed by the Warlord’s impressive show of wealth and tender thoughtfulness, Suzette grimaces, “Yes, pretty trinkets, yet he still forces you to have wed.”

            “Namieé!” Concerned for her, Ana looks to see if anyone had heard the Queen’s outbursts, the poor groom looking as if he is to have an epilepsy. Ana waves him away to spear him the stress. Bending down from her steady perch, Ana and leans down and reaches out to hold the Queens hands. Taking her pale, cool hands between hers, Ana marvels at the differences in their skin tones. It never bothered Ana growing up that she and her mother did not share similar qualities, Ana being more dark while the Queen is fair. Sometimes, Ana will catch herself staring at the Queen, trying to find her features in the Aesthan’s woman’s face.

            “Namieé,” Ana repeats, squeezing the Queen’s hands, “What’s done is done. We cannot turn back the clocks. The Warlord and I are wed and I must make the best of the situation.”

            Finally squeezing Ana’s hand back, Suzette angrily turns her head, “You seem jovial, Ana. It is as if you wanted to marry that mangy wolf.”

            “Namieé!”

            Ripping her hands from Ana’s grasp, Suzette points at Lili and the feathers she wove into her hair, “You delightedly bare his gifts! Am I not to believe that he has placed some curse on you? The other night, you could not even rise from your bed from grief and now you smile and laugh as if this is some jest.”

            Jumping off Lili’s back, the momentum of her indignation helping her land unsteadily on her feet. Righting herself and ignoring the pang of pain in her knees, Ana replies heatedly “Namieé, why are you saying such things? The Warlord did not put a curse on me.” To say thus, it is to imply that Ana is nothing more than a puppet to be manipulated.

            Ringa begins to bark as their voices rises. Lili, sensing Ana’s aggression, presses her side to Ana’s back for support.

            “You were cationic for weeks after the announcement of the wedding, how else am I suppose to think?”

            “The Warlord has been kind to me and we have spoken,” somewhat, “so there is no point in fretting.”

            “Kind?” The word is a curse on the Queen’s lips. Truly heated, the Queen’s lips lift, revealing a glint of her sharp incisor. Suzette growls, “Was he kind to you last night when he raped you?”

            “Naimee!” Horrified, Ana realizes the true source of the Queen’s ire. Rushing over to the other woman, Ana wraps her arms are her taller frame, “Namieé, the Warlord did not touch me last night. There was no blood, there was no lovemaking.”

            Her words are true. The missing pieces from last night had resolved themselves.

            When she had rested her eyes on her husband’s slumbering face, she had been tempted to touch him. Her fingers were itching to smooth the feather-soft wisps of hair from his strong face and bring a strand to her lips, to discover if it were as soft as it appeared. His brows were white too; she thought with wonder, thick and arched, which only augmented the severity of his silver eyes. A blush rising to her cheeks, Ana wishes she could have had the courage to touch him, to run her hands across the slice of skin the sheets exposed. His chest was warm tones of brown with undertones of gold, scars bisecting the beauty of his form, and Ana had almost gasped as she beheld the exotic tattoos inked into his flesh. They had looked like symbols of some sort, thick swirls and intricate designs, and a band across each bicep. More curious than afraid, Ana had leaned over her to inspect the bands closer. They were the different phases of the moon, she discovered. Compelled to explore the expanse of the striking designs, Ana had reached out to run her fingers across the tattoos until her eyes clashed with the alert blades of her husband’s eyes.

            They had stared at each other for awhile, the sounds of the birds chirping and the castle workers flooded through the room, yet she did not move nor speak until the Warlord slowly reached out for her, his eyebrows furrowing as he caught her barely detectable involuntarily flinch. Taking his hand back, the gap between their forms had seemed more like oceans apart than mere feet, he got up from the bed, revealing his back and Ana could not help but gasp at the expansive tattoo on his back. It was a woman, a lovely woman sitting on a crescent moon, her eyes trained down as she stared down at her beloved followers. Wanting to reach out again, Ana’s fingers almost met warm skin until he jerked from her, taking his leathers from the floor and padded into her bathing chamber.

            “You jest?” The Queen’s question reels her back to the present. Ana does look up to see the Queen’s face but she can hear the tears in her throat.

            “No, Namieé. We awoke in the same bed but he did not touch me.”

            Returning her embrace, Suzette squeezes Ana tighter, “Thank Olliah. You are strong my Ana, no longer a snow cub but a true snow cat.”

            In true Aesthan charm, she steps back from the embrace and kisses both of Ana’s eyelids and cheeks before taking her hands and sharing a prayer with her. Ringa, once again barking with impatience as they held each other, blows a sigh of disgust as she ambles away.

            Eventually, Arnold, the Head of the Queen’s Guard, finds the princess and queen in a heartbreaking embrace. Reluctant to halt the obvious tender display that has his throat thickening, Arnold gently places his hand on the Queen and Ana unearths the strength to turn away from her Namieé.

            They barely left the city border of Tareria when Ana’s head began to ache. With the whirlwind of events in the last few hours, food had been the last thing on her mind.

           Julia quietly rides beside her. Ana is once again surprised that Julia has volunteered to travel with her, the other girls’ eyes far away as she follows along with her brown desert mare. Julia has always been the quietest of the group, her presence muted by the radiant, fiery beauty of Laura. Fate would have pushed Laura to set foot on the journey with Ana, yet with engagement to the blacksmith’s son, Laura would have been a fool to have not stayed. To leave the man who puts such tender love in her eyes, Ana would have been angered and rejected Laura’s offer otherwise.

            Beneath her, Lili rides like an illicit dream, her steps sure and her movement’s barley jolting her. Ana handles the reins with a loose grip, wishing she could have something to do as Lili follows the group with ease. Farther ahead, Ana can almost detect the top of her husband’s white head. Taking a deep breath, Ana clicks her tongue, tapping her heel on Lili’s side and signaling the desert horse to pick up the pace. Julia jolts from her revere and picks up her pace as well. They easily catch up to the warriors, bypassing the caravan laden with supplies and goods. Ana spots genrys Nortega, him and a few other fierce-looking men and women ridding closet to the front with her husband, their steads not as slender as the other desert horses.

            Pleased that she is not longer riding in the back, Ana settles into her saddle, letting her mind wander for the rest of the trip, occasionally resting her eyes on the top of her husband’s impressive hair. In a plait once more, the end of the braid falls past his shoulders and rests on the horses’ back. She has never seen hair as long as her husband’s, hers respectively resting at the end of her spine. And the color–or the lack of– is a sight to behold. White as untouched snow, the contrast to his swarthy skin is remarkable. Warmth settles within her, heavy and persuasive, a voice of smooth satin whispering in her ear calming the panic that had started to beat inside her chest like a pair of hummingbird wings. Customarily, it is normal for a girl like Ana to be attracted to a man. But attractions like those should be fleeting and trivial. Because of her station, love was for the stories and fairytales, heady-lidded daydreams, and passionate fantasies. So for Ana to be gazing her husband with tenderness, a warm, unsteady buzz settling through her, Ana worries that she is over her head. Could she ever learn to fall in love with her husband? Already, she has caught herself staring at him; tracing the magnificent planes of his face, the sculpted art of his body, his compelling eyes that both challenge and caress her…and her idle thoughts featuring him, will she be able to reset the pull in the times to come?

            Her skepticism of love was never innate but cultivated by her papiee. Marrying for love and mutual affection is for the peasants, Ana’s papiee mocked one night as he came to her room, his lip curling over his lip as he caught her reading a romance novel. “I pay the most renowned tutors in the Four Kingdoms to teach you our histories, decorum, writing, and arithmetic like a man, not to read such nonsense,” snatching the book from Ana’s hands, the king ignored the look of shame and hurt on his daughter’s face and continued, “All that whining you and your mother did, and for what? To read such peasantry?”

            Her eyes on her knees as she replied, Ana said softly, “Pap-Father, I do read more academic texts with the tutors but I thought it would be…fun to read it.”

            Shaking his head in utter disbelief and disgust, Harold spun the book around in his manicured hands absently, as if already bored with the subject. “Fun to read such falsities, Anayissa? I believed I raised you better than that. I know you think me a villain but you will thank me one day.” Scoping out her room, Harold paced the length within her rooms, inspecting every crevice, and running his fingers to test for dust. Completely crowding Ana’s personal space, the small haven that she deemed her privacy from all the burdens of the real world behind her doors, Ana never felt so trapped than in that moment.

            Is love between her and the Warlord feasible?

As the day wears on and the sun sat at the apex of the sky, Ana spots the hawk-eyed Genrys Nortega falling back. Waving to her, Ana genuinely smiles at the warrior, memories of his humor and kindnessm comforting her. Falling back to ride on her left side, he nods to another warrior in front of her who falls back to her right. They were protecting her, but not caging her in, she realizes with relief.

            “Tolla, s’Ysurria” they greet her.

            Genrys Nortega gives her a rakish grin, causing her to laugh and the other warrior politely greets himself as Cris Rionio’. Glad for the distraction, Ana begins to pepper them with questions about her new home.

            Ana is glad that she chose this topic, both of them men were eager to tell her, arguing with each other in their language to decide who would go first.

            Laughing again, Ana settles her eyes on Nortega as he takes a deep breath.

            “Hi Mycean is decent, na?”

            Nodding with encouragement, Ana motions for him to continue.

            “Our Rhageon is beautiful; a different beautiful than Mycea. The desert is alive; the pink sky at dawn, the breathtaking stars at night, and the red sands that can steal your breath with its beauty as swiftly as it can overtake you,” pausing in concentration, he looks around the expanse of green and farmlands. Pointing to the surrounding foliage, Nortega continues, “People are commonly ignorant to our geography; they believe all we have is our desert and rocky mountains. But they are wrong! The seguaros–cacti–that are like prickly trees are like us Rhageons: tough. Like our flora, we must be tough to survive the desert, s’Ysurria. Like the plants, we Rhageons must be tough to survive.”

            Satisfied with his explanation and seeing the same grin spread across his friend’s face, Nortega looks into s’Ysurria eyes and finds a flash of uncertainty.

           Hurrying to not make her fear of the desert, he tries to explain the beauty to an outsider’s perspective.

            “Ah, but those tough greens are beautiful too! Very colorful, like greens here!”

Rionio coughs and Nortega glares at the younger man muffling his laugh beneath his palm.

            “A conious ih liw-re missad liy so sothaa, Nortega?” Nortega, I thought you were better with the ladies?

            Growling back at his friend, Nortega responds, vexed, “A li.” I am. He says this with aggression, but he could not help but wince as he observes s’Ysurria brown eyes begin to darken. No, she must be happy with her new home. If she is not happy, then Torien will not be happy.

            “Yo vat.” You go.

            Cris Rionio smirks once more before turning in his saddle to face her.

            He is younger than Nortega, closer to her age, probably in his early twenties. Smiling at her, Ana catches the flash of his dimples before he speaks.

            “ Hi roggae–father–is a master glassblower in Gyria. Gyria is our capital, a big city filled with opportunities. Hi father was born poor but he was very smart. Learned how to blow glass as an apprentice, now has nice house and could send his handsome son to train to be a warrior.”

            He smiles and Ana hears Nortega snort. Ana surprises herself by laughing at the other man’s effortless charm.

            Oblivious to the mounting doubt piling up in her head, Rionio speaks of his father’s creations with such detail, his eyes glow and transform him from a warrior to boyish youth. He is quite attractive, Ana notices. Ana could imagine a young Mycean girl falling in love with his strong jawline and gentle mahogany eyes.

            “A tenna fond memories of hi childhood,” Rionio continues, “Na, a tenna–I have– three sisters, two older and one younger, so they cause me much stress. Bellisma, the eldest, would dress me in her srilla–dresses– when I was young they would practice their makeup on me. When I grew tall and wide they stopped but they still tease me.”

Laughing, Ana notices the men in front of her chuckling as they pause to glance back at her group. Nortega is speaking to the man behind him and grinning wide.

            “My youngest sister, Harina, is the family favorite. Spoiled, na? Would cry until I did anything she wanted. She once made me put a pillow on my back so she could ride on me like a camel. Ha! The things I do for her smile!” Throwing his head back up in laughter, they all join in–all forgetting the weariness of the journey and the dust and grime coating their clothes.

            Ana no longer felt so different from the warriors. She had been taught that the Rhageons were as eerie if a different species. But as she looks over the men’s merriment and easy camaraderie, Ana could no longer see the differences between the two cultures.

 

Torien had long decided he would not share a tent with his bride.

            Though it is customary for a man and wife to share a tent when traveling, there were two imperative factors that prevented him from doing so.

            War, was one. To force a female to share a bed and a tent with the man who conquered her country and whose sword had recently been drenched in her people’s blood, would be too cruel indeed.

            The second factor is his heightened power.

            Even now, riding atop Khalid, the desert stallion that was gifted to him by the spirited animal goddess Kagura, Torien can feel everything. The vibrations from the horses, the earthworms burrowing through the soil, the grinding as the earth’s plates shift, the magma bubbling within the very core of the planet; Torien is witness to it all. It is a causal feeling yet it should not. No mortal being should be able to have such power yet it is his burden to bear alone.

            He hears whisper now. Torien has woken in the middle of the night from the wailing of the dying, the dead, and the unborn. Heart-rending tales tunnel through his ears, hooking into his psyche until he is the sole audience to the tragedies unfold.

            Shamala had come to him one evening and able to now understand him, Torien did not greet the God of Sleep with open arms.

            “Young one,” The ancient god murmured. Mysterious with a cloak of vivid, spiraling dreams, the god silently come to Torien and offered him salvation from his nightmares. Vehemently saying no, Torien had watched in muted fascination as images of a shipwreck rippled through the fluid material of the cloak.

            With his keen sight, Torien can spot the camp miles ahead.

            Torien had left a generous portion of his soldiers and people back in the outskirts of Tareriae, bordering the next town, Constantine.

            Thinking of his new bride, who is not accustomed to hard travel, especially who is not prepared to travel the expanse of the infamously harsh Beser Desert, Torien had made sure his people were situated enough that the princess could settle herself immediately when they reached camp.

            Dismounting from the great height of Khalid, who stood calm and stoic as one of his soldiers, Torien’s feet did not yet touch the ground when commands spilled from his lips like tea.

            His people greet him with reverence, as is expected. His ruthlessness on the battlefield and the stories of his berserk attacks, has already reached home by now. The Rhageon people have always honored strength but with his deeds, he has already surpassed legend and has become a true god before his people’s eyes.

            The new fame has made Torien’s skin itch and Apollo within him, chuff in laughter.

            Nodding his head as he strides pasts his soldiers and the servants and people that came along, they bow with their fists over their heart as they watch in awe as their sovereign silently commands the camp.

            Torien is aware of presence he brings; he is not oblivious to his appeal.

            Torien knows that no other man or male looks like him–his tanned skin against the bewitching sight of his silver eyes and the fall of his bone white of his hair, is clause to stop anyone’s breathe. He does not look normal. Torien has made his piece with this and does not blame fate for his otherness. Not a tortured hero who bemoans hiss gifts and the hurdles that come along with it, Torien has instead embraced the qualities that make him unique.

            Stepping into his tent, Torien acknowledges the guard stationed at his door before turning his back as his manservant takes his vest from him.

            Servants enter through the flaps, carrying a large copper basin. Another set follow suit, burdened with buckets sloshing with steaming, hot water.

            A manservant comes from behind him to help undress him and another begins the task of unraveling his hair from its braids.

            When the tub is filled, the servants file out and leave their king to his solitude.        Customarily, when in Ghyria, there would be a servant who would aid Torien during his bath–depending on his mood–but in times of war and or traveling, Torien believes it is considered soft to have such luxuries preformed on him in trying times.

            Also, in times like this, Torien appreciates the rare silence.

            As the Warlord, Torien rarely has time to himself. To be in such a grand position, it must also mean you must make sacrifices in regards to your own personal life. Not that he is complaining.

            Sighing as the warmed water laps at his skin, Torien closes his eyes as the water envelopes him fully. Missing his pool-size bathing room at home, Torien glares as the water rushes off the lip of the tub from his great weight and height.

            The water has already saturated his hair. Torien reaches for the sandalwood soap and shampoo to lather his skin and hair.

            Torien remembers a prank that he and Nortega accomplished in their youth. Sneaking in his father’s bathing room, Torien and Nortega, cheeky teens then, had switched his father’s “manly” scented soap for a delicate jasmine.

            His roggae had smelled like a bundle of flowers at dinner that night and Torien and Nortega had laughed themselves silly. The old memory brings a slight smile to his face now. With the trails ahead and the lingering memories haunting his thoughts from the war, Torien is thankful for such simple things: the gentle lap of the water, the memory of his best friend and him with their childish antics, and the anticipation of seeing his wife once again.

Ana watches in chagrin as her husband storms through the “camp” without even saying a word without her.

            The “camp” is not what Ana expected.

            When she and her mother would travel through to Aestha to visit her cousins, her and the Queen braved the dense, bitter wilderness of Aestha from the comfort of their own carriage. Being in the carriage for those long, strenuous weeks were hard, hard because of the motion sickness that would overcome her or the sheer boredom that would strike her until she was tempted to fling herself off a mountain but as Ana looks around and notices only large tents, Ana is unsure if she should applaud or weep.

            Naturally, Ana is used to the finer things in life. Wanting for naught, Ana has slept on the finest beds, filled her belly with the richest of foods–then needed to excuse herself to take care of the effects of the rich foods on the finest bathing room equipment– so to think of a more colloquial term, Ana will be “roughing it up a bit” before they reach the Rhageon capitol, Gyria. Having heard rumors of the prized capitol of the Rhageon people, Ana gulps and is determined to “stick through” these next few arduous weeks.           Watching as a squirrel casually scurries past her with a stolen piece of meat in its mouth, Ana hopes her endeavors will be rewarded in the times to come.

            With the help of a servant, Ana attempts to dismount from Lili’s back as graciously as possible. Thankfully, the desert mare is patient as Ana struggles. Remaining calm, the desert horse looks to Ana as if to convince she will master dismounting her properly.

            Thanking the stout man that helped her, Ana rubs Lili’s nose before she is lead away to where Ana presumes, where they keep the horses.

            Watching as the magnificent horse saunters away, Ana looks around the camp aimlessly, unsure where to go and what to do next.

            They are at the edge of a forest. Looking up, Ana notices that the trees above are still stubbornly clinging to their leaves. A lone raven rests on a branch. Like a black blip in the background, Ana uneasily remembers that an appearance from the bird is seen as an omen.

            “s’Ysurria!”

            Turning, Ana spots two Rhageon-looking girls eagerly waving at her.

            Taken aback by their enthusiasm, Ana merely smiles in greeting when the girls stop a few feet away from Ana and bow with their fists over their hearts.

            Both are dressed in what Ana has presumed what all Rhageon women wear–a light-weight tunic, fitted trouser that tuck into their riding boots, and their long hair worn in plaits.

            The taller of the two speaks first. “I am Thylima. And this is my younger sister, Murissa.” She finishes by waving a slim hand towards the girl standing next to her. Unlike the other Rhageons she has met of recent, her accent is not as thick.

            Taking a closer look at the pair, Ana does spot the familial similarities. Thylima is willowy and appears to be the more mature sister with a level of gravity in her eyes, which are hard as onyx. Thylima has to be at least three years Ana’s senior. In contrast, the younger sister is unable to contain her energy. A levity in her eyes that touches Ana heart, Murissa has an energy around her that can calm even the most ornery. Tracing the youthful face with her gaze, Ana judges the other girl to be closer to her age.

            “Pleased to make your acquaintances. If I may ask, is there anyone who can direct me to my…tent?”

            Jumping up to answer her, Murissa does a little dance, her plaits spilling across her forehead. “We shall, s’Ysurria. My sister and I will be your new personal servants in our duration to the capitol,” she replies.

            “Oh, that is great. But what of my handmaiden, Julia?”

            Thylima answers this time. “We shall work with her. She will bring you comfort of your home and her efforts will be cherished.”

            Warmed by the Rhageon girl’s response, Ana smiles in relief. Until Thylima had spoken of home, Ana had not understood how having Julia’s mere presence will have the ability to relieve her. Having a person so familiar to her and so dear to heart, will allow Ana the needed support as she is forced to adjust to not only a new environment but a new life.

            “That is great to hear.” Taking a deep breath, Ana follows along. Looking around guilty for Julia, she hopes that someone will inform her friend which tent is hers.

            Weaving through the camp, Ana spots a tent larger than the others. Assuming it is her husbands, Ana stops Thylima.

            “Is this not the Warlords’?”

            Nodding, the servant levels her serious eyes on Ana. “Yes, but you are to have your own tent, s’Ysurria.”

            “Oh?”

            “Not a bad thing, s’Ysurria. s’Nysurria wants to give you time to…how did he say it? Oh, adjust. He wants you to adjust to your new surroundings.” Thylima nods at the tent a few meters to the right. “Yours is close to his though. Even if the Warlord wants to give you time to adjust, he will want you close to him. Of course.”

            “Of course.” Murissa sweetly chimes in.

            “Well, that is thoughtful of him.” Thoughtful, very thoughtful of the Warlord. Admirable even. As Ana passes the large tent, without her notice, her hands begin to clench into a fist.

            A plush carpet greets her feet. Eyeing the lavish spread of rugs before her when she entered, Ana cannot chuck her riding boots fast enough.

            Sighing at the softness, Ana takes a moment to look around her “tent.”

            Servants, uniformed, professional, and agile in their movements, pay respect to Ana before continuing to roll out more lush carpets, lift, carry, and position a table, matching chairs, a couch with matching cushions, and a three-paneled mirror.

            Quick to work on disrobing her, Thylima and Murissa introduce themselves properly as their nimble fingers undress her. The girls take the time to tell Ana that they are from Rhoh, a city-state that has recently suffered a severe drought. In response, the sisters were desperate to survive the difficult circumstances. They set off to work for the capitol, determined to send money back for home.

            “Where is Rhoh in distance from the capitol? Is it far?”

            Thylima answers as she begins the task of unraveling Ana’s tresses. “It is a five day ride on desert horse back. It is a land-locked. So we heavily depend on the small lakes and rare oasis’s for water.”

            “Land-locked? I have never heard of that. It must be hard then due to your proximity to the desert”

            “Yes, Rhoh has recently suffered a drought and it has been hard on our people. The Warlord does his best–he sends soldiers with water for us. We originally traveled to the capitol to receive the blessings from the High Priestess.”

            “We pray to Rainer, yet he does not answer. Even though he should since he is the paramour to our goddess.”

            “Once at the capitol, we were desperate to send money back to our families, so when we heard there would be a Ysurria, we jumped at the chance for work.”

            Murissa chimes in, “We are extremely skilled for our position! We used to work for an aging Sthoa before she died. S’Ysurria is more fun to work for!”

            Finsihed with the task of undressing her, Ana allows the girls to lead her to the steaming tub. Sighing as the steam from the water kisses her cheek, Ana steps into the large tub and for that moment, feels human once more.

            As the girls begin to massage a peppermint shampoo into her hair that tingles wonderfully, Ana opens her eyes from the blissfully feeling and notices a marking on the servants’ forehead.

            “Why do you have tattoos on your temples?” As the girls lean over to care for Ana, the tattoos appear beneath the fan of their hair.

            “All castle workers have tattoos. It is a great honor.”

            “Tattoos distinguish a person’s occupation.”

            “Like our silk!”

            “Your silk?”

            “Yes, servants wear at least on article of silk. It is tradition.”

            “Yes, the old kings believed that a nations wealth was eminent if even the servants were dressed in finery. Warlord Torien is not as flamboyant as his predecessors but does continue to keep the tradition in his own way.”

            The Rhoh girls also inform Ana that the location of the silk, the length, the color is also an indicator of a servants rank.

            Thylima and Murissa, personal servants of the Ysurria wear their silk wraps around their arms from the top of their shoulder to their wrists–imitating a feminine vambrace. The silk is dyed a silvery-white, similar to a moonstone or the fall of the Warlord’s hair.

            Ana can tell how proud the girls are by how they wear their silk. To reach a position where they can serve their queen–Ana realizes it will be easy to trust the girls whose eyes, hopefully but determined, remind Ana of her own.

            More servants tunnel through and Ana is in Heaven when the collected dirt from traveling and her sore thighs can truly relax in the tub.

            If Ana were already not convinced that her new servants Thylima and Murissa were dependable, how they set to work massaging shampoo in her hair, would have sealed the deal.

            Dressing her in a fawn colored dress, Ana admires the cut of the gown in front of her mirror. The sleeves reach her elbows and flare at the end. Smiling at the girl reflected in the glass, Ana reaches out to touch the surface as Julia storms through the tent.

            Ana has seen her friend in many throes of emotion but when she jerks her head and looks at her friend’s eyes, normally a calm, summer blue, darken in anger, Ana takes a step back in shock.

            “Ana!” Julia ignores Thylima and Murissa and makes a beeline for her. “Where have you been? One minute you were in the front and then the next, you were gone! I tried to find you but no one speaks Mycean here! Finally some cheeky guy saw me fuming and pointed to this tent.”

            “Oh, I am sorry Julia! I was going to find you once we reached camp but I ran into Thylima and Murissa, the servants the Warlord appointed to me. You will be working with them, which is great, right? They know all about Rhageon and can aid us as I awkwardly stumble through this new role.”

            Both standing awkwardly to the side after Julia’s outburst, Murissa jumps at the chance to make the introduction.“Miss Julia! I am Murissa and this is my sister, Thylima. Pleasure to meet your acquaintance.”

            Julia does not seem impressed by the other girls’ exuberance. Here lip set in a frown, Julia looks Murissa up and down then turns her head to look at Ana, thoroughly dismissing the Rhageon servant. “Humph. I wish you could have told me.”

            “Julia!” Never in her fifteen years could Ana ever conceive a moment where Julia could ever be so blatantly rude.

            “What? Oh, yes. Pleasure to make your acquaintances as well.”

            Sighing, Ana asks Thylima and Murissa to show Julia where she will be staying.

            When her servants return, Ana has already scooped out her tent and must guilty admit that likes what she sees.

            Thylima greets Ana, “We told Cook to send someone to bring you food.”

            “Will I be dining alone or will you be joining me?”

            “Yes. Normally, servants eat together.”

            “How about the Warlord, will he be dining alone?”

            “No, he eats with his genrys and generals to discuss important matters.”

            “Oh.” Ana can feel her face fall at the cold slap of rejection from her husband. Has Ana done something to displease the Warlord that he will not even share a meal with his bride?

            Ana is eternally thankful when she hears Julia chime in, “I will dine with you, Ana.”

            When the servants come barring steaming trays of food that is unrecognizable but the scent of it causing her mouth to water, Ana cannot help think of the male in the next tent and wonder what he thinks of his new wife and then begrudges herself for caring.   

 

The following day, they reach the coastline of Mycea, Poshmarina.

            From their height, Ana looks down and watches the hungry waves lap at the beach, the water frothing and wonderful. Tasting the fresh breeze of brine and sand, Ana cannot help but marvel at the hilltop settlement for the first time. Is seems almost a crime to have never been to such a remarkable town with such steep cliffs, bountiful, lush moors, and the breath-catching view of the Passeria Ocean. The moors are a sight Ana has only heard of never, something she has never thought she could ever be audience too. Wild, that is the only word Ana can think of as her eyes scan over the stretch of green grass, hills tumbling with springy flowers, and furry heads poking out in curiosity. Eager to turn her horse and race through the unmarked terrain, Ana catches herself before signaling Lili. Shaking herself, Ana reminds herself that she is not a random country girl who does not have such crucial responsibilities who can break apart from her busy day and turn to run among the tempting grasslands.

Mark-Preston-14302-Summer-Meadow-Bonsall-Moor.jpg

            A mist that never seems to wholly fade, lingers as the group makes their way through the town. A town used to the demanding sea, the houses are built sturdy with stone and flat roofs. Windows are firmly shut, yet Ana can almost feel eyes on her. As they make their way through the town, the strong stench of fish permanently saturates the air. Ana catches the sight of a man from the dock’s raising his arm as he swings down with his knife to chop the head of blue-finned fish. An elderly woman with tanned brown skin and white hair neatly braided back beneath a faded red kerchief, rocks idly in her porch chair, her fingers not idle as they expertly knot, braid, and tie what looks like a fishing lure. The citizens of Poshmarina predictably pause to gawk and exchange whispers as they catch sight of the fall of the length of Ana’s royal hair and the Warlord’s bone-white mane.

            Though Poshmarina does lie within the Mycean borders, the citizens have adopted the Rhageon polytheistic faith. Ana may have not been to every part of her kingdom but she has made sure to not be ignorant of her people and their customs. Straining to think back to one of her history lessons, Ana timely recollects her tutor’s words as the group comes into view of the three statuses of: Rainer, Ramses, and Alorra. Rainer is the god of the sea, the currents and every body of water, master of all beings of the fin, and nostalgia and the fertility god, Ramses, stands adjacent. Rainier, his virile, masculine form tarnished by the weather and brine, Ramses deters, lying in a seductive pose, his eyes entrancing. Standing apart from the men, the demure statue of the virgin goddess, Alorra, is as beautiful as its goddess. The goddess of the domestic, family, and marriage, Alorra is shown as a lovely, full-figured woman with hair concealed in a hijab.

            The mayor of the village, a weathered man with tanned skin, greets them and leads them to where they will be staying the night, Crooked Knee Inn.

Looking back at the beach that calls her like a siren, Ana looks at the Inn warily as she jumps off of Lili’s back. Running her hand up and down the mare’s neck, Ana kisses the Lili’s nose before following along with the group.

 

Chapter 8: 

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