Author’s Note: So yesterday I took a day off from posting new bits to the possible serials. I was feeling rather down and fighting writer’s block on all my projects. It was snowing, and it felt like a day to do… nothing. That’s not what I ended up doing, of course.
Anyway, today there’s little trace of the blizzard except the lingering snow, and I turned Three Word Wednesday‘s prompts into something convoluted, but here goes nothing, right?
Detailed information on the whole pick a serial idea here. Three words for today: bask, grief, and raise.
Malzhi sickened her. She could not blame the way she felt on the unbearable heat. Even with the two suns high, the midday hours were not the source of her illness. That belonged to the man beside her. He could not stop smiling, and she knew he had coaxed her here to be with him while he gloated over what he had done. She knew of some creatures that enjoyed lying in the sun, that could bask in it for days at a time it would seem, but he was not like them.
He was basking in the grief. He was perverse enough to take great pleasure in seeing all of them suffer—oh, he pretended at kindness by allowing the cloaked ones time to grieve for their fallen, but there was no sympathy in him. He had forced them to observe their annual day of mourning during the time when both suns were out, leaving them no choice but to wear the heavy cloaks that shielded them from the suns’ rays. He would even laugh when one of them stumbled or fell, about to succumb to the heat, but what made her smile was when they stopped to help each other. They kept the procession moving, their voices never losing their place in the song they sang. Their chorus was haunting, beautiful, and she did not think she would ever forget it.
“Do you have a similar ritual in your land?”
Her people lacked this sense of community, but then they were not the last of their kind in a land full of people that oppressed them. “No.”
“Yet I see their tune has reached you,” Malzhi said, his hand brushing her cheek where an unwelcome tear must have formed. “Do you miss your home?”
She missed her freedom, but that was not an opinion she would give him. “Some things, yes, I miss them. I know very little of this land or its people.”
“If you are lonely, you need only ask. We would see to it that you never have to feel alone,” he told her, his lips diving close to the skin exposed near the neckline of her dress. She stepped back, knowing she was sure to offend him, but even a man of his power had to know who he was talking to and why his behavior was unacceptable.
“I doubt that the king would want that.”
Malzhi’s smile dropped, and he turned back to watch the cloaked ones—she wished her maid would tell her what the name of her people was so that she could give them the respect they should have—continue the procession. “Sometimes I think the king does not see what he has.”
She considered herself fortunate that her husband had no interest in her. She could only imagine the sickness he would exhibit if he were, since in all other aspects he was merciless and cruel. No, she did not want him to notice her. She wished that Malzhi had not. She was not the fairest of her people, not the prettiest daughter, and she had believed that had something to do with the king’s willingness to ignore her. Malzhi must want her because she was supposed to be untouchable. He seemed that sort, though it was strange that his need for what he could not have surpassed his intolerance for foreigners.
“Were you my queen, I would see to it that you lack nothing.”
She laughed. “Malzhi, I do believe I am your queen, unless you would say you are not a servant of the king.”
Malzhi’s lips twisted. “I do not think you are ignorant of what I mean.”
She wasn’t. She hoped to keep it as something that could aid her, but she knew it was dangerous. Not only would the king kill her if he thought she’d given in to Malzhi’s clumsy seduction, but Malzhi would reach a point where he would not allow himself to be rejected again, no matter how polite or reasonable she’d been about it.
“I wish I could fly as they say our ancestors did,” she said, her eyes returning to the mourners below the balcony. “We shed our wings and gave up our freedom, and what have we gained from it?”
“You had wings?”
She looked at him, knowing her words had hit their mark, raising his prejudice to a level of pure disgust. For now, at least, she’d be free of his attentions. He did not want someone he considered polluted by inferior species. The cloaked ones were worms, and she had called herself a bird. He must despise that. “I have always wanted to fly.”
“There is something of the avian to you,” he said, his finger tracing along her brow and down her nose. She watched him, wanting him to give in to his disgust and leave her. “What a pretty little bird you’d make, trapped in a cage.”
She shuddered, but the truth was that she already was one. This castle was the cage, and she might never be free again.
“Do you want to sing their song, my little birdie?”
Her eyes darkened, and she grew tempted to stab him with the blade concealed in her dress. Bagquin. He might not know it, but her heart already sang that song, filled with the same sort of misery as her servants. “Why should I? I do not know the words.”
Malzhi smiled at her. “Some things do not need words.”
She did not want to think about what he meant by that. “Why do you like it so much that I come from the birds when you hate those who come from the ground?”
He laughed. “Do you not know that your kind—birds—eat the worms? So if that is what you are, what a pair we’d make indeed.”
That was a disgusting way of looking at it, but then this was Malzhi, and she should not be surprised by it. “I said I wanted to fly. I never said I had any interest in the worms.”
He did not stop her when she walked away from him. She kept her pace as calm as she could manage, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing that she’d run. She had not thought she’d want the king to come back, but if he did not do so soon, she would suffer at Malzhi’s hands instead.
She shut the door behind her, relieved to be alone. A creak forced her to raise her head, and she blinked in confusion to see a black cloak in the room. “Shouldn’t you be down mourning with the others?”
The servant did not respond, and she did not think this was her maid, for that woman tended to answer her no matter what the question was or how dangerous a thing she asked. The cloak stopped to lower the shade that kept the sun out, and she sighed.
“I didn’t know any of you had been kept behind to see to my needs. If I had, I would have sent you to join the others.”
He—she now thought that the cloak concealed a man and not a woman—poured her water from the pitcher and brought it to her. After her time with Malzhi, this kindness was unexpected and disorienting. She sipped from the cup, letting the cool liquid soothe more than her throat as she did. She was glad to be far from the heat, far from Malzhi and his sickness.
“I lied,” she said, not sure what compelled her to speak. The servant hadn’t been there to hear her. “I do care about the ones he calls worms.”
“I thought you would.”
The voice was familiar, and she wanted to give it a face and a name, but her mind was too confused, and she thought there must have been something in the water because her eyes refused to stay open. “What…”
“Rest, Esibani. You are safe here.”
She wanted to argue, to tell him all about the cage and Malzhi, but she didn’t have the strength. She thought she was being lifted, but she wasn’t sure, and she should be terrified, but she had the strangest feeling that she was flying, and that made her willing to surrender to sleep or whatever else was coming.
To see the other side of this scene, read “The Burden of Survival.” One warning though: that scene has spoilers for the later part of the story.