A story of tragedy and romance within the intertwined lives of five people; cont.
Amaya tapped his fingers on the rim of the empty glass, standing before the grand floor-to-ceiling windows that allowed in the magnificent, golden light the rising sun brought each dawn. His hair swayed wispily as he paced before the array of windows, awaiting the first maid to creep into the library so he could send them for another drink. The dawn cast color onto his ashen face, lighting him and his ochre robes up like a firefly in the shadowy archives. In his right hand, he held a battered scroll, enclosed in a red ribbon. He widened his pace to stop at a small table, setting his empty glass next to a pristine arrangement of blossoms. Sauntering farther into the grey shadows of the still library, Amaya turned left to a cascading staircase; his slippered feet barely made a sound as he descended, advancing towards the bottom. Hovering over the marble rail, his hand barely skimmed the cold, white carvings. The room that surrounded him seemed as if it might swallow him as well, its ceilings high as three stories, carved into them shelves of cherry wood the color of the fruit it once bore. Glossy and framed with half-columns that resided in the walls, the shelves rivaled the height of the grand windows, and they both seemed to stretch out and compete for the most splendor. Amaya glanced indifferently at the menacing towers of shelves, apathetic to the sight of thousands upon thousands of leather bindings swirling above his head. All of the colorful books, jammed tight with their brethren, loomed and waited until he would pick them up next, for they belonged to no one else, and no one else paid heed to them. He proceeded to the floor of the room beneath the balcony-like level; there was a corresponding balcony on the other side of the giant library, its curved staircase leading to a similar half-level, but with another staircase on it. It lead to the third story of the grand archive, which was in turn like this one, and the next as well. Amaya strolled on; the floor was arranged with finely carved tables and lovely, red chairs, welcoming any who wished to sit and read. At the center of the floor was an open circle, bordered by marble railings that reached to the young lord’s stomach. Placing his hands on the chilly marble, he leaned slightly to peer down into the first floor of the library. The opening in the floor looked down upon a marble fountain and its surrounding pool; the flamboyant fish that swam comfortably around the mellow gushes of water and spiraled about the walls of their meticulous home surfaced repeatedly, gaping their mouths then diving back down to hide under dainty lotus. Maids who fed them in the mornings and dusted the place had not yet come to complete their morning rounds, so they parted hungry mouths at the lord, who tapped gravely on the railing above. He gazed at the fountain’s sculpture, walking around the circle to have a better view; the statue that formed the stately fountain was of a scrupulously carved phoenix, emerging from marble clouds, spiraling its feathers and neck gracefully as it reached for the air above. From the curved beak flowed a gentle surge of tinted waters, which then trickled and streamed as it wished down the sculpture to its inhabitants.
Moments later, the scuttle of quick feet echoed up throughout the first floor, reaching Amaya’s alert ears. Soon, a white-robed maid scurried into view, taking a bag that was tucked into her sash and scattering handfuls of shredded food for the titian fish. Her robes were entirely white, with slight gold hemming for the cuffs and ends, and a corresponding sash. A white scarf was pinned around her head to cover her hair; the white scarf identified her as a simple maid. She pulled out lotus flowers that were being pelted by streams, rearranging them in pretty clusters at the edges of the pool walls. Amaya tapped his fingers against the railing in a sharp staccato. The maid looked up curiously, falling to the floor in shock, bowing her forehead to the tiles. She got up and ran out of his view, leaving the sack of feed. In seconds, the sound of hasty footsteps came from behind, and Amaya turned to see the maid scrambling up a smaller staircase that came through in the corner of the room, smoothing her robes. Slowing her pace upon reaching the second floor, the maid kept her eyes on the ground, scuttling forward. At a sizeable distance from the young lord, she stopped and fell to bow her head again. She was a very young maid, perhaps twelve; many times the maids taken in were young at first, given by their families to live at the palace grounds for an ensured life of safety and good care, in return that they served as maids for the rest of their years.
“Good morning, your eminence, my lord.” The young girl squeaked, reluctant to raise her head from her folded hands on the tiled floor. Amaya nodded his head, and she at once stood, face still turned down.
“Deliver me a drink; my previous glass is at the windows.” He motioned to the balcony-like structure, dismissing the young maid by turning away. While he watched the fish below snatch their food, he could hear her soft shoes running up and down the stairwells, and then fading back downstairs. There was now another maid at the fountain, who picked up both the bag to feed the fish and the job of rearranging the lotus flowers. Clicking his nails against the marble, he questioned how long it would take the small maid to run down the stairwell, past the library and through the long corridors to the kitchen, where two flights of stairs would lead to the wine cellars. After finding the same bottle amidst the thousands, the dumb girl would then have to find her way back, though just outside this level of the library there was a stairwell that led directly into a corridor beside the kitchen. There was no doubt in his mind that she had not yet been at the palace for at least five years.
The shuffle of many slippered feet began to sound from the story below; Amaya held up the scroll he carried, unraveling the braided ribbon and holding in between his fingers. Breaking the wax seal that was pressed many times over, he unrolled the tattered and water-stained document to reveal bleeding, blackish ink scrawled across the parchment. Amaya began to read the scroll, his wan lips tightly pressed together in a frown. The shuffles from below then sounded from behind, pausing once having traveled across the floor and nearer to him. Amaya turned his head to seven maids, who stood in perfect formation, three in front, four in back. They dropped to their knees, bowing their scarf-covered heads just above the floor. Amaya bowed his head slightly deeper then he had done with the young maid. The seven maids, all older women, then arose and folded their hands intently at their stomachs. Standing in formation, the wizened maids anticipated their lord’s words, ready to begin their day of servitude. These maids were noticeably different than the others. They lived in the main part of the palace with Amaya and Warlord Dai, instead of in the separate building that lay to the side of the main palace’s structure. Their quarters were made of three rooms; one room of seven beds and a commode for each, a second with two baths and two toilets, and a small dining room where the seven maids could eat amongst themselves. They were Amaya’s personal handmaids, women who had cared for the young lord and served him since his birth. Because of their affiliation with Amaya, they were valued as part of the family. They wore golden robes instead of white, hemmed with ivory stitching, and their headscarves were a gauzy, white material that shimmered in the advancing dawn beams. These women had also served Amaya’s mother since her birth, and upon his were assigned to him.
Resting an elbow upon the marble railing, Amaya again held the scroll up to the light, narrowing his icy eyes to discern the aging ink. The document was old, its edges weathering away slowly, and the white parchment already the damaged color of dark yellow. It was dated at the very top, in thick black ink that ran down the material from being rubbed while still wet.
Scrawled in the narrow lettering, was: Fourteenth of Fall, year of the Uton.
Running his digits over the grimy scroll, Amaya read the painstakingly small words, his expression sour. Still standing, his handmaids waited for him to speak, but he did not. They looked at one another, motioning subtly at the scroll.
“My coach shall return before the tenth of spring, and with me shall be her Eminence…” he read aloud, “including a complete arrangement of her Eminence’s portraits. I have received your current portrait in good condition, including the requests for her Eminence’s current portrait, which can easily be done once I locate the Ahra family in the Ona country.” Amaya continued reading, down to the very last scrawls. He stopped at the signature, staring reticently at the name. One of the maids stepped forward, leaning toward Amaya’s ear to comment, unnerved by the silence.
“My lord, this scroll was written eight years ago.” Her voice croaked.
“Amaya Orunn Aalya.” Amaya read the name, his thumb feeling the fading ink. “My father has much to explain…” he muttered, his biting eyes fixated upon the black signature, “for he has been gone for eleven.”
Lonely hums of fireflies sounded past the window panes, lulling and familiar to Ahra’s ears. Sprawled beneath her downy blankets, she tossed and turned in the dark room, uncomfortable in their new home. Her long hair already began to tangle, wrapping around her neck loosely like a blanket of its own. Shifting to the side of the large bed, Ahra slipped her feet out from the covers, onto the cold, wood floors. She pushed the blankets away, lifting herself from the mattresses and holding her hands out in front to feel for her bureau. Her palms brushed the brass knobs; she walked along the wall to her right, towards her door. Each step she took was slow and wary; the night sky was as black as ebony wood, and so was her bedroom. Only the dim flickers of fireflies stood out, but they did not give light to see. The chilly doorknob hit her hand; she twisted it open to an even darker hallway, where Ahra could not see her own palms. She stepped into the hallway, walking blindly with the wall as her guide.
All of a sudden, Ahra’s feet slid out from underneath her, and she plummeted to the floor, face knocking against the boards. She struggled to rise, having fallen in a pool of something warm and thick. Her mouth tasted like iron; she got to her feet, feeling wildly for the walls, which she could not find. A light from behind lit up; casting an orange glow over the bedroom and onto Ahra’s red arms. She looked around herself, seeing a bedroom, not a hall; dropping her eyes to the floor, Ahra shrieked in horror, falling back and scrambling away from the two dead corpses. Her mother’s torso and head lay open-mouthed, ripped upon the blackened floor; her father lay over it, sopping with dark, green water that trickled from his nostrils and empty eyes. Blackened and serous, his mouth lay torn, unhinged and teeming with parasites that festered in floods down to her mother. Their faces gazed upon Ahra, eyeless and frozen in unheard screams. Ahra’s back hit something sturdy as she crawled back to her bedroom, gasping to get away from the swarming worms; she lifted her head to look at the towering man. He lifted the lamp to his crooked face, grinning bloodily at Ahra’s screams. She was suddenly three feet tall, her small hands barely hiding her from the looming blade Shahrokh held. His black robes engulfed her, the gleaming trail of his dagger disappearing into her ribs, then into her heart.
The startling crash from tumbling over the side of the bed sent a shockwave of pain up Ahra’s body, ending with a sharp throb in her temples. She lay on the chilly floor, gasping for breath and coughing the imaginary blood out from her mouth. Fearfully scanning the area around her; it was just the floor and her bed, nothing else. Rolling over onto her back, Ahra heaved deep breaths, gazing at the golden ceiling. Sweat streamed down her face in pearl drops, and drenched her chest and hands. She wiped her wet eyes, unsure if the night was over. Within moments, the heavy thuds of Aya’s feet sounded up the stairwell. He burst through the door, rushing to the side of the bed where Ahra lay.
“Ahra?” Aya called to her, kneeling and patting her clammy face to see if she were awake. Ahra nodded in consciousness, cringing as Aya felt her forehead. There was a large bruise that began to form and swell. Aya slid his arms beneath her knees and around her back, lifting her to the bed. He pushed back her hair, swiping away the locks that clung to her face in sweat. “You’re soaked to the marrow in sweat.” He noted, reaching to her bureau for a towel. Ahra took it from him, covering her hair with it and wiping her face. Aya sat on the edge of the bed next to her, rubbing his forehead. “What was it this time?” He murmured. Ahra pulled the towel over her face, reeling onto her shoulder to shy from Aya. In a matter of seconds, she curled up on the towel, stifling herself as hard as she could, biting it to smother the wails.
Villagers flocked like moths to a light, stealing glances at Ahra’s bruised forehead as Aya escorted her through the streets, on their way to the military academy like every other young adult. Ahra kept her head low, clutching a green shawl over her hair and somewhat her forehead, yet it was no use. The other locals needed simply one person to see the bruises, and from then on the ‘news’ was passed around like hot tea. It took longer the previous day to reach the military academy’s grounds, as result of the idle villagers’ habits of gathering to gossip at the sides of the roads. The wide streets, now drained of the murky floods, lay in slight puddles and had begun to dry up and return to normal. Remnants of rotting fruit or woven baskets came by every so often, perhaps dropped into the canal-like streets during the flood and left once the streets drained.
As they walked along, out of the corner of her eye, Ahra spotted a tossed and muddy heap of what looked like cloth, and with it a trampled, conical straw hat. They were cast out to the sides of the dirty roads, and no one bothered to avoid walking upon them. Ahra stared at it, trying to remember why it seemed familiar to her, but before she could, Aya took her by the arm and they turned a corner.
This can be continued in another document in my portfolio- titled "The End; chapter two, cont." Thank you for reading!