The Zalethi regarded the crowd as the carriage pushed forward. She noticed a few of her Daimon walking among them, or standing still, often carrying precious goods for the few nobles who had been granted the honour to use one.
They turned their perfect faces to regard her, their serene smile mirrored in each of them, the kind of smile that brought her back to a time before recalling.
And yet, even if every other memory faded and grew distorted by the endless mill of centuries, that smile still stood stark in her mind, as if etched in stone, and not glass.
She sighed at the sorry state of the current iteration: so many Rasena holding onto their specific interest, eaten away by greed, misdeeds, envy and violence. And if it was not a malaise of the heart, it was one of the body, with the chalk advancing through them, spreading like wildfires.
They would soon all be consumed – and her time grew short.
What an absurd thought to have. But that was her reality.
She smiled at the crowd, holding her arm up, alone in her islet of awareness as she blew into the sails of blessed ignorance, and the throng below replied by raising their olive branches.
Like a flowing sea of faces.
Eteri’s arm was starting to grow tired, but she did not really care. She stood at the edge of the crowd, right where the white cobblestones of the road began. Taking a step further would be blasphemous, so she made sure her sandals remained firmly behind, and Tatia was doing a good job, holding onto her.
The parade began with dancers, music and a group of priests holding up a burning brazier that spread a sweet incense-like smell through the air, then it followed with army representatives. She did not get too much excited at their sight, but her father did strain his neck to salute them, while
ati’s face grew a little darker.
And then… twelve sheets of stained glass, each of them imprinted with a stylized figure of a man or a woman, floated on the Whitepath, reflecting and scattering the golden light of the late afternoon.
The Twelve did not have a name. Each of them was represented with their face covered by a veil, as they were all part of the same lot, and naming one would be to pull them away from the others. That was the reason the Zalethi was so meaningful, as she was the only one who could understand the Twelve and relay them to their chosen people.
The glass manufacts were exquisite and even from here Eteri’s heart leaped a little at the craft behind them – she could recognize the eye for detail and the tasteful balance of shapes that had given them that sublime quality. Only someone who knew the material they worked with like herself could reach that level of art – and that was just one of the reasons why she really wanted to meet the Zalethi.
“You are getting too excited,” Tatia laughed. “You’ll fall right into the road and they’ll have to throw you in prison.”
“Then you better hold me tight,” Eteri replied with a grin, “because I am not going to miss this chance! Glory to the Twelve! Glory to her Eternal Grace!” She waved her branch like crazy as the twelve figures floated past them and then it was finally the moment she had been waiting for so long.
Behind them came a tall carriage, three layers showing the dignitaries and diplomats on the lowest (not that Eteri really cared abou tthem), the Loukomon of the other eleven cities of the Dominion as representative (and Eteri did not really care about those either), and then on the highest layer…
Eteri’s arm stopped. She stood transfixed, stunned as if by lightning.
On the highest layer, next to the ancient Loukomon of their city, Theasanthei, stood the woman made of shining glass and glistening night.
Sometimes, the Zalethi did wonder if the world could have been made a simple place if she just shared the truth with them. Her little flowers, so frail and ephemeral. Would they grow stronger under the light of the sun?
She had vague memories of a cycle when she had done just that, and those memories were far from pleasant.
No, she would keep her distance, and only grow them under the comfortable light of eventide – that way they would not wither and burn.
Besides, she had yet to pick up a slavegirl for herself, and the parade would be over quite soon.
But the girls she had seen so far in the crowd did not strike her fancy. She wanted something different, something new, something…
She froze, as she caught the sight of just what she needed.
A smile appeared on her lips and the carriage slowed to a looming stillness.
“Look, look! She’s looking this way! Zalethi!” Eteri shouted, waving her branch as if in a storm. Her smile threatened to split her face in two. She was so close. The eternal ruler of the Dominion, covered in a ceremonial white robe, a tall helm of frosted glass that hid every detail of her face from the tip of her nose upwards, waved her hand once again, turned her blind sight towards them, right where her family was, where she and Tatia were!
“Maybe she is looking out for you,” Tatia chuckled.
Eteri’s heart leaped further into her throat. That would be madness, would be blasphemous, but… maybe the Noblewoman who bought her plate had already shared news with her? Maybe she would ask for her wares, and she would gladly give as much as she could!
Eteri’s smile dried as the carriage fell to a standstill. The music continued, but the feeling in the air had changed. Tatia froze, holding onto her with all her might, almost to the point her longer and stronger arms began to hurt her.
The reason became at once apparent.
From the highest layer, the glass of the carriage folded and creaked into a disk. The Zalethi stepped onto it and she took a step towards the ground. The disk swiftly moved beneath her foot, and with each step a sound like a tinkling bell began to count down the steps that separated the immortal ruler of the Dominion from Eteri and her sister.
Five, four, three.
Ever closer now.
Author’s Notes: Quite appropriate that the novel took twelve chapters to make these two meet. I hope you will like the rest, as things are going to take quite an interesting turn .
Thanks for reading.