In time, memory of that day would never be completely clear to Eteri, no matter how many times she tried to recall it. She would go back to it like reaching for an aching tooth, to see if the pain was still there and how keen.
She had walked up to the highest layer of the glass chariot and there she stood like a tree before a battering storm, even though each thunder was going off in her heart.
She could recall looking down at the crowd – she had never tried to look back towards her family and towards her sister, to see if they were trying to reach out to her, if they were running through the crowd to follow the carriage or if they remained there, silent and sombre as statues.
Would it even count? Her family might as well be on the dark side of the crumbled Moon right now. The day was turning to an end, and she had been sent to this place known as the Birdcage.
She understood the cage part, but she did not see any birds yet.
Perhaps, as her clouded mind began to unwind and it suggested her, because she was indeed one of them.
“A-Anybody home?” She quivered in the immense space. The Zalethi’s castle rose like a spire from Velathri, dominating it with its immense size, but she had did not remember seeing this structure before.
The dark glass, that from the outside looked more like metal than see-through crystal, was just as transparent as ice, from this side. Eteri raised her fingers and played with the rays of dying sunshine, coming to rest their warm kisses upon her hands.
She had expected air to smell dustier from the inside of the castle, but in this room it felt clean and strong, like just after a bout of rain. The space inside seemed to go forward for a good half a mile, in a half-circle that reached all the way up to the far-off ceiling, so high that she could imagine birds finding it no different from the sky above.
Instead of the marble and mosaic floor she had seen as she had been guided here, the Birdcage’s interior seemed to be one uninterrupted garden, covered by soft grass and gentle moss, with boughs and small orchards rising from slight slopes of earth.
She had been lucky enough to be born in a family of artisans and not farmers, and she had mostly seen the masonry and cobblestone of Velathri, far more than the open fields of the forest resting just past its hills. But she knew this to be a good place. Her heart rested more at ease, and her instincts told her this was where she was supposed to be, in the end.
In more ways than one.
She had been told to get ready, but she could see nobody here who could give her further instructions and tell her how to get ready exactly.
Eteri pulls off her sandals and began to walk on the damp grass – she felt like entering a temple, and besides, she knew she had already pulled the Zalethi’s patience to its breaking point. No need to further test her.
Not if she wanted to reach the end of this day alive…
Though, she remembered as heat spread over her cheeks, what the Zalethi had ordered her to get ready for… life as a slavegirl would have to experience from now on. She reached for her slight chest, where her heart was beating like crazy.
But in order to keep Tatia and her family safe, she would have to pass through this as well.
Her ordeal has just begun.
When the Zalethi’s chariot entered her castle, passing beneath the tall glass arch, the guards over there expected to find the twelve Loukomon, a certain number of slavegirls and dignitaries, and their immortal overlord in her usual seraphic, if a little aloof, mood.
What they saw was a storm walking on two legs.
The Zalethi walked down pulling behind her this new girl, who has dared – dared – to speak to her out of tune, and to make that – inane – request!
“You will get ready in the Birdcage. Twelve willing, I will have a slavegirl for my pleasure tonight. Ask Nives for help, she will know what to do.”
“A-At once, Eternal Grace,” was her reply. Her voice shook like thin black ice.
She turned to regard her. Why did she agree to this kind of madness? The sheer nerve of this girl! And what was worse, she knew why. Sue knew the reason perfectly well, which made it only that much worse!
Even after all this time she could not deny… her… anything, could she? Not when it came to this kind of requests, honouring her memory.
“I shall be at the layer one chapel,” she said the attendants that helped the others get down her chariot. The new girl tossed her a lost look and another jolt of annoyance rose from her gut. “Follow her,” she pointed at the closest of her Daimons who was walking around the gate without a thought in her empty head. “She will know where to bring you.”
She stormed off, carrying the echoes of her anger with her in every step, past the entrance, the servants walking back and forth in the hall, and towards the closest chapel, a small circular room decorated with stained glass windows of the Twelve.
As irony would have it, there was already a Daimon inside to wait for her.
She walked inside and waved her hand. A thick wall of black glass creaked shut like a curtain, hiding her from the rest of the world.
She paced back and forth on the marble floor, cutting through the remaining rays of sunlight as they peered through the glass, caressing her body in waves of brightness.
“Why could I not say no?” She hissed, pointing an accusatory finger at the still figure of the Daimon.
Ah – in her rage, she had addressed the Daimon as a her in front of the new girl as well.
She cursed the heavens and the earth for their continued existence. How could she lose her mind in such a way?
But, just like the reason she allowed that wench to come to serve her instead of the beautiful maiden she had picked up, she knew the reason far too well. It was deep-seated right at the root of her soul.
“What a sad turn of events,” she sighed, reaching for the Daimon. Her dark glass hand brushed her crystal cheek. “And this is all your fault. I can’t deny you anything, can I?”
Author’s Notes: Looks like the Zalethi has more than one secret. Or more than a thousand…
As always, thanks for reading.