As Eteri the slavegirl gets ready for another day, her owner keeps teasing her with a chance of freedom.This short is set in the Cage of Glass universe. You might want to read this one-shot first.
Eteri’s hands did not tremble as much anymore as she took out the precious linen vest and began to set it upon the shining shoulders of her immortal ruler.
Thank the Twelve for every little blessing.
Unlike the usual time in the morning when her new duties requested her to wake up before dawn and set up the Zalethi’s bath, the two of them weren’t alone. An old tanned man dressed in a thick red tunic and bearing golden circles etched onto the flesh of his forehead had followed them. He passed his fingers through his beard as he read from his ledger. Eteri found him a little weird. It was strange to see men keeping their beard, unless they were a priest of some kind – but he did not show any ritual mutilation that she had learned to associate to the most holy vocation.
“Go on, child,” the Zalethi addressed him, setting back her shoulders to allow Eteri better access. “I trust my morning has been thoroughly managed?”
“That was indeed the case,” he replied, skimming with a bony finger through the notes. Whatever mean of writing he was using, Eteri was not familiar with it. Unlike the wax tablets she used to keep count at home and at her ceramic shop, the ledger showed a series of layers of what looked like yellowish parchment, but they were far too thin to be. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before. The wonders of the castle, between the lamps that burned without fire nor smoke, the ever-ripe garden in the Birdcage, and now this – they always made her feel like this was her first day here.
Always the stranger.
But in a way, it meant she was not completely subservient yet.
“What happened then?” The Zalethi asked with a tired sigh, picking up on the hidden meaning in the messenger’s tone. She tilted her head back and Eteri had to lean to the right to avoid touching her. She was just as imposing even seated, covered only in a veil of frosted glass that hinted at her statuesque proportions. The immortal ruler of the Dominion was even more dazzling up close, with her skin like smooth Cristal, in which a starry night seemed to explode in a bloom of red and blue and golden hues, then collapsing into nothingness once again.
The night given form, and bottled in the finest glass – she’d probably never get used to it.
“The Branched Majesties of the Spiralwoods have asked to postpone their meeting.”
Eteri clasped the vest around her shoulders and watched them slump at the news.
“Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t just show them the other side to diplomacy,” she muttered. Opening her dark, smooth palm, Eteri watched as shards of glass from the windows gathered in her hand, creating an irregularly-shaped star that shrieked like ice under pressure. “I suppose there might be merit to reminding them of the proper hierarchy in the Dominion.” She flicked her wrist and the shards all fell seamlessly into the windows. “And what about you, child?” She tilted her head back.
Eteri hesitated. The Zalethi’s habit to refer to even the oldest person as ‘child’ sometimes made it difficult to understand who she was talking to, but not that time. Even if she couldn’t see anything past her nose given the frosted glass masked helm that covered her head, she felt as if her eyes had pierced her with their gaze.
“I…” she gulped, trying to get over herself. The glass trinkets that covered her body tinkled. “What about me, Endless Radiance?”
“I planned to enjoy your services for the morning only, and then let you scamper off in the Birdcage with the other slavegirls. But the day requires our attention elsewhere. May I be delighted of your presence at my side?”
She grinned as she lifted Eteri’s left hand from the dress and put it against her glass lips – they felt smooth, dry and strangely warm at the touch. Her heart skipped a beat as a shiver of panic ran down her spine.
She was toying with her. Asking her for something when she had the first and last word on anything in the Dominion.
“Yes. Of course you can. I mean. Yes.”
“How talkative you are. Perhaps you will have a chance to learn a thing or two in the spiralwood today.” She let go of her hand with a soft chuckle. “Now finish your job.”
Eteri went back at it as the Zalethi shared a few more word with the messenger. Or secretary. Or whatever he was.
It had been months, but-
She would finally get out of the castle.
If Eteri believed she would get out of the castle – and maybe have the slimmest chance to meet her family for the first time since she had become a slavegirl – she had another thing coming.
They did not walk to the Spiralwood. They did not take a horse ride, and they did not go by carriage.
No, Eteri sat inside a glass bubble, on a stool carved out of the same crystal-clear material, as she looked at the Zalethi who sat comfortably in front of her, the sharp grin on her black lips the only confirmation she would ever need she had just been toying with her once again.
Giving her just enough hope to dash it hard.
“I thought I had been clear enough,” she admonished her. “Your hopes are the hopes of wheat ere the sickle falls. This is yet another chance to learn your lesson.”
Eteri rubbed her hands together. She lowered her gaze, but she did not immediately reply. This was also part of the game. She wanted to break her, that was her goal.
And with one a former-ceramist, now slavegirl, and the other the eternal ruler of the Dominion, they couldn’t have been more different. She could sneeze and Eteri would cease to exist.
But no, she wanted her to play her game.
And if there was one thing Eteri had learned so far, was that she had to toe the line between open rebellion and making her lose interest.
She knew, in a deep dark pit of her stomach she knew that the moment she bowed completely to her, she’d get bored.
May the Twelve help her then.
“But the wheat grows back every year,” she muttered. “With the utmost respect, your shining grace.”
The Zalethi’s lip curled in a soft chuckle.
And as the glass bubble proceeded towards the forest and the rest of Eteri’s day, she knew that, at least for what concerned that particular moment, she had kept their ruler’s interest.
She had no idea how long she’d be able to toe the line.
But if she ever wanted to get out of that castle, to keep her sanity and her individuality as a person and not be reduced as an unthinking slave…
She had little choice.
Pic by hiveworkshop.com
Author’s Note: Thanks for reading! I am still trying to decide on which universe to focus after Patina, and wanted to explore these two a little more. I hope you liked Eater’s second short.