This comes from a short novel I completed a few years ago. From time to time I like to go back to these characters and their story. It’s the tale of a girl who accepts to become a slave in her older sister’s place, and that leaves her as a servant to the land’s immortal ruler, a woman seemingly made of distilled night known as the Zalethi…
In time, Eteri would often go back to this moment, like a tongue pushing against an aching tooth.
The feeling of her naked feet on the cold marble always stood out, as was the hushed tinkling of the glass trinkets hanging from her body. She shuddered in a futile attempt to cover herself a little more, but the tiny strings and glistening baubles did little to hide her skin, and if anything they highlighted it in their contrast with her tanned complexion.
Who knew where they kept her old clothes. Admitted they still existed.
Eteri sighed, watching her breath leave a halo against the glass window. From up here in the Zalethi’s castle, the pale firelights of the town below looks like golden dew on a spiderweb, stretching for miles in every direction as the Rite of Gather turned to its completion.
Somewhere down there her family might be looking up at her, wondering if they could see her amidst the smooth and imposing fortress of the Zalethi.
Most likely not. And they would probably never see her again.
She looked down at her smooth, cleaned skin – her nails clipped and trimmed. She hadn’t seen them so clean since the last time she had to take a break from her job as a ceramist to tend to her mother. They felt fake on her. This was not her place.
The castle, with its empty corridors and servants and nobles and weird moving glass constructs shouted it right against her heart: she was not supposed to be here.
But if it wouldn’t have been for her, then her sister would-
She balled her fists. No going back. She had taken her decision and she would have no second thoughts.
She turned to look at the heavy wooden door that gave on to the Zalethi’s private quarters. Was she always inside, waiting for her? She had been given no precise instructions and now she was probably looking like a fool while she ought to already get into her new role as one of her personal slave-girls.
But if they had wanted her to come in, the doors would probably open by themselves, like they did before in a couple occasions. And so far, the heavy shutters were as still as stone.
So she turned her gaze back to the valley, to the piles of burning branches as people would cheer and dance around them, celebrating the end of another year and its renewal into a new period of boons, as long as the Twelve kept smiling down at them from the vast heavens.
She was supposed to be down there, holding the hands of her older sister as they danced together. Tatia’s smile would lit up the night in joy – she would get married in just a few days after all. How could anyone take that away from her…
“Are you lost in contemplation?” Asked a woman’s voice.
Eteri started, but didn’t turn.
She had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, filling up the space with her figure. The Zalethi’s smooth and surprisingly-warm hands set on her shoulders.
“It is a good night of Harvest. You should be proud of the joy they share, yet detached.”
Eteri gulped, but nodded.
So close. The Herald of the Twelve stood right behind her, taller than her by a good head and a half. Her skin was black as jet, save for the bursting stars that went off in her see-through skin, like a condensed night given the form of a tall and imposing woman. She still wore the glass vest she wore at dinner, falling in an opaque veil from her shoulders to her calves, hiding most of her physique. And she still wore her mask, carved from glass as well but even more opaque, hiding her face completely from the root of her nose upwards, ending in a tall helmet-like fan.
She had expected her skin to feel cold and heavy like the glass she ruled, but it felt more like skin, if smoother than she had thought it possible.
“I am proud,” Eteri replied at last, trying to get over her stupor. “I am proud to be your servant. Thank you for giving me this chance.”
A moment of silence – were her black lips curling into a grin?
“I believe I already told you not to lie. You are not proud. Your heart flutters like a frightened bird. And yet you lie. Why?”
Eteri bit her lip.
Because I did not want you to take my sister, but she had already told her so, she had begged in the middle of the road for her to let her older sibling go, and take her instead. The useless sister. The ugly one. The one who had her arms elbow-deep in mud half of the day, the one who would probably end up marrying one of her pots.
The woman made of glass and stars leaned forward, whispering to her ear in a breathless whisper.
“You can still change your mind.”
She could go back. She could still go back.
Her family would understand. If they did not, she could make up an excuse.
In fact, she would not even need one: the Zalethi just did as she pleased, and her act of mercy had only lasted as long as her good mood.
Nobody could accuse her of anything.
Not even the empty looks her mother would give to the place where Tatia used to be.
She just had to spell the words out.
Her lips trembled.
And the smile on the Zalethi’s lips seemed to grow sharper.
“I will not,” Eteri whispered. “I begged to be your servant, and I will do so at the best of my abilities, to the day I die, or you grow tired of my services.”
“I see,” she replied with a tinge of frost in her voice. “Take a good look, then. You shall never get out of these walls, lest I were to move you between my abodes, to show off the latest addiction to my collection. Not that there is much to show off.”
Eteri shuddered at the stinging insult, but she just nodded and gritted her teeth.
“I will do my best.”
“Let us hope it sufficient,” the Zalethi stated with a sneer.
Pic by kola
Author’s Notes: it has been a very long day. I took the chance to go on a ride and a very long hike – I feel refreshed, but this also had the unforeseen effect to bring back certain characters and situations. Hence this one-shot. Hope you liked Eteri and the Zalethi. If I find a satisfying conclusion to their story might publish something in this universe yet. Thanks for reading!