She pushes a strand of lazy ebony hair out of her eye as she looks up to the white stone balcony where her father, Ophanis Sans Lotus, and mother, Delrana Boes Lotus, reclined on delicately carved and embroidered chaise loungers. Squinting her eye against the sun she made out the form of the servant girl, Geras, handing her mother a bronze cup. 'Perhaps filled with fig wine' she thought to herself.
'Serasia!....Child where are you? You know well that it is not nice to lead an old woman on so!'
She blinked and chewed on her lower lip, the familiar voice of her nurse Resa disturbing her lost gaze.
'Mema, I am here beneath the oak tree!'she responded adoringly.
'Bah, come out from under that wood, eh? You'll catch your stola on a branch and then I will have to explain as well as repair the tear, which I have no energy to do' she called, and yet with a playful hint in her warm voice.
Finally Resa emerged from within the fig grove at the eastern section of the elegant domus, her hair slightly disheveled, her apron tied tightly, pinching a full waist.
'Get inside, Sera, and wash those hands.It is nearly time for your afternoon meal, aye?'
'Aye, Mema..I am on my way' A last glance stolen up towards her parents, and she turned entering through the high marble arch, passing by her favorite fount with a carefully chiseled swan in its center, a thin layer of colored rocks blanketing its curved bottom, up past the servant quarters where Vinae and Crepton sat at the spindle, and still on to the large staircase with golden banister and pure alabaster stone. When she ascended, she turned the corner and walked along the well-lit corridor, passing some large devotional paintings of Ereal and Iridine, to her room. The door was shut, and as she turned the bronze plated knob, the scent of fresh herbs wafted over her.
'mmm...' came the sigh from her slightly parted lips.
In the northern corner of the spacious abode was a rounded bowl of glossed blue tinted clay. In it, a generous spill of warmed water, a perfume soaked violet cloth, and a sliver of pink rose soap. Carefully she washed her hands, minding her pale fingernails and soft palms.
When done, she retraced her steps, this time turning left at the servant quarters to the wide expanse of the dining room. Seating herself on the oak chair with plush burgundy cushion, she leaned forward to look at the freshly revealed meal. The bright colors of supple peaches, plums, and oranges treated her eyes, as well as the blood of grapes, poured in bronze cups, similar to the one Geras had handed to her mother earlier. Casting her glance over the long cherry wood table she saw dainty portions of juicy ham, and potatoes, peeled and stuffed with garlic and onions. Feast was not even the right word for this delight.
'Mind your lap, Sera' Resa snapped her fingers and immediately an attendant brought a silk handkerchief and placed it across Serasia's legs, curtseying quickly before she retreated to her spot at the entrance.
This was her life. She walked a road paved with flowers. At any given point of any day she needed just to call out and nurses would rush out to her, ready to meet her requests. This was her perfection: never to question why her parents had little if anything to do with her, and to continue to feed off of the silver spoon she was born with between her suckling lips.
And so she went on until the day she completed her 17th year, and her father brought her to his grandly decorated office.
'You have grown to be a muse, my dear...and I know it will be the hearts of young warriors, willing to fall upon their swords at your beckon, that will try and woo you..' A smile creased his aged cheeks.
Blushing lightly she replied, 'Far be it from me to get such attention, but your compliments are well taken Father Lotus. Now, allow me to know why you have called me at this hour? Business of sorts?'
'Aye...business. The business of marriage' He looked up at her through his spectacles and smiled yet again. 'Seems Artren Franco, the eligible son of Tresar Franco Isra, has been asking for your hand. We closed out a deal concerning the dowery 2 nights ago, love. Would you care to pick out the maids yourself, or shall I as well?...perhaps it would be quite picturesque to..'
Seemingly dreamily he kept on with his plans, though she barely paid attention, her breath growing faint, her brow furrowing, her teeth nearly drawing blood as they bit into her lower lip. When he was finally done with his list of 'ideas', he looked at her, his eyes narrowing.
'Are you feeling well, my dear?'
'eh.....uh..well of course, sir...just a bit overtaken with all this talk of marriage...p-perhaps I should retire to my chambers, aye?'
He grumbled slightly and nodded. 'We shall finish our talk at sunrise then'
The morning came as if by a single moon's flight. She was perched at the edge of her cedar chair, gazing into her looking glass, as Resa swept her waist-length tendrils into a loose bun at the crown of her hair. Small periwinkle flowers were inserted into her hair, as her skin was anointed with a sweet scented oil. She slipped into her soft leather sandals, and looked down at Resa as she tied the leather thongs up her calf.
'I-I can't do this...'
'I know it, Sera. I see it all in your eye, and cannot help but..' frowning the nurse looked up at her.
'I-I won't do this..'
The crouching woman glanced up at her and then quietly replied, 'I know'
Rising to her feet Serasia walked to the door, the swish of her empire-waist white silk stola, with pale blue hip sash sounding with her every step. Stopping at the threshold she looked back to Resa and then closed her eyes briefly, exhaling slowly.
She carried her own luggage for the first time through the tall gate of the brilliant palace. Resa waited for her at the other side, a dark woolen shawl tightly gripped about her shoulders.
'Come now...we will go...home'
The young woman wiped at her tear-stained cheeks and nodded, crumpling into her nurse's arms.
Mounting the carriage, she was whisked away to the small cottage out in the nearby woods where Resa had lived for so many years. The cottage itself was cozy, a warm fire glowing in the crudely made fireplace. Her room was small by comparison, but dimly lit, with plenty of homespun quilts and pillows on the feather mattress. A small trunk sat by the edge of the bed, an oak dresser in the far corner, a cedar chest by the western wall. On the windows were birch shutters, drawn back slightly, the glass panel lifted to allow a gentle breeze.
'Home...' she breathed, as she unpacked her bags, and folded her clothes away.
In her slumber, she pushed back the long plait her hair had been braided into before she extinguished her lantern for bed. Murmuring, she rolled over and snuggled down into her plump pillow, her slender arms wrapping about it.
She didn't even hear when he crept in through her window, and hastily eased himself down onto the tightly woven rug. She only stirred once when he tugged at the blanket, uncovering her silent body. With the slyness of a cat he eased his body onto her and clamped his hand over her mouth. Her eyes opened wide as she gasped and stifled a scream. His pearly teeth glinted like fangs in the moonlight, his hair fell over his forehead and stuck to his sweaty forehead like black cob-webs, and a terrible smirk made a slow dance across his lips.
Horrified she stared up bewildered at him.
'I promised myself I'd have you...and I will...whether you marry me or not' came the raspy whisper.
Involuntarily she brough her hands to her full belly, her fingertips gliding over the smooth fabric of the yellow apron.
'What should I name her?'
Resa considered this for a long moment.
'Best name I know in Iridine is...well...Resa' She winked and continued to stir the pot, occassionally dipping her spoon to catch the broth and taste it on her tongue.
'You tease me well, Mema' She pondered for a long while and then said, 'If it is a girl, perhaps her name should be Isaria, and if a boy, Dagen..'
The older woman smiled and nodded. 'Wonderful choice'
Serasia smiled as well, though her brow furrowed with a troubling flashback...her eyes, haunted.
The leaf-shaped blade of the bronze dagger sliced through the air and plunged into the practice dummy.
'Watch your stance!'
She pushed her shoulders back, her back straight, her elbows loose, her feet firmly planted.
With a grunt she put all of her energy into the swing and landed it perfectly in the dummy's chest.
'Relax and sheath'
She sighed and dropped the blade into her leather sheath and gazed up at Resa.
'Good work...' She smiled. 'By time I teach you what I know, you will be able to defend yourself in any..situation'
Flinching slightly, knowingly, she nodded slowly and asked, 'Mema...'
The old woman raised an eyebrow. 'Aye?'
'Was it my fault?'
'Nay, love.....never....the heavens made their choice for a reason... motherhood will come later for you'
Swallowing hard she nodded again and chewed on her lower lip, tasting the salt of her sweat.
'Visit me often, aye?'
'I promise that to you, Mema'
'I'll miss you....' She smiled despite the tears streaming down her weathered cheeks. 'You know I have loved you as my own'
'And you know it is returned with all that is in me' Serasia replied, kissing Resa's cheek.
'I will not be far from you...merely a few miles. I will see you often, I swear.'
Her own eyes brimmed as she picked up her hemp bags and slung them over her shoulder.
'I am glad you are starting a life, dear. This one will be different. It will be a new morning for you..bright, filled with love, blessings. Be safe and go with God'
She embraced the woman and left the cottage, gathering the fabric of her robe about her body, warming her hands with her breath.
'A new morning....yes..'
With that, she squinted out into the distance, picking her route. One last inhale and she adjusted her green satchel, her darkened leather boots making a soft thud against the ground as she trudged forward.