This chapter contains some suggestive language.
As it turned out, Nives did not have much to work with. She leaned forward, giving her an inquisitive look. Eteri felt naked already, and a strange feeling set in her stomach. It was the first time someone regarded her like that, judging her just by her looks.
She was to be appraised only by what she could do for others, for the Zalethi’s enjoyment to be more precise, and that made her heart throb so hard in her chest.
Nives’ perfect fingernails pulled a few strands of her hair from her head. She sniffed them and grimaced.
“Twelve above, how long has it been since you showered?”
She did so the night before actually.
“You reek of soot and mud and sweat. And oil. Where have you been all day?”
“At the Harvest Festival. I just said so.”
“Ah.” Nives blinked. She frowned, as if a memory had struck her out of the blue. “Yes. Makes sense. Nevermind, you really need a bath, get those rags off and get into the pond, I will wash you.”
“At least tell me if that will be enough,” Eteri replied, starting to feel like she ought to say something at least.
“Enough as a start.”
Huin encouraged her with a smile. She felt drawn to her much more than to her supposed ally. At least she seemed to treat her with respect, even though she had seen how weird she seemed to behave.
Eteri’s hands trembled against her stomach. She would have to get naked. In front of other people.
But that was nothing next to what would happen that night, was it? She needed to be strong. Strong for her family and her sister. Tatia would want her to walk with her head straight.
She pulled her robe up, remaining in her undergarments. She quietly folded it as the other three girls regarded her, Huin with a sort of curious fascination and Nives with a look of annoyance for how much time she was taking. But hey, these were her clothes and she would take her own time.
Eteri did not hesitate anymore when time came to pull off the strip of cloth that covered her breasts and her crotch.
Nives’ golden eyebrow crooked as she gave her a look.
“What a mess.” She shook her head and walked towards a leather bag that was waiting for her by the pond, surrounded by a few mirrors and sticks of incense that were currently not even lit.
“Come on,” Huin said, stretching her arms out. “The water is so warm, you will like it here!”
She doubted it, but she still gave her a smile, if only for trying.
Eteri stepped into the water – it was a little colder than the air, but not enough to make her shiver. In fact, as she poured herself into the pond, she felt some kind of warm rippling coming from below, as if there was a hidden current in the pond somewhere.
One more of the mysteries of this place.
“She looks good, don’t you think?”
“She has potential,” Thana conceded, going back to cupping Huin’s breasts, which made the other girl let out a pleasured sigh.
“If I were as lost as you two are in each other,” Nives muttered, joining Eteri in the pond, “Nothing would get done here.”
Thana chuckled at her remark. Nives seemed to ignore her, dragging the bag with herself as she put it on a wide wooden surface that floated nicely in the pond.
She reached Eteri and the two shared a look.
“We don’t have all the time in the world, new girl.” She picked up a glass vial filled with a novel honey-coloured liquid.
“Doesn’t seem that way to me.”
But she lowered her head and Nives began to pour a sweet-smelling ointment from the vial, like she was pushing her face straight in a field of flowers.
“Of course it is,” Thana explained. “We do make it here. With our flower and our honey and our soap.”
“You grow all this?”
“Keep still,” Nives reminded her. Eteri straightened as the other girl’s hands began to spread the ointment all over her head, her neck and shoulders, passing over her chest. She shuddered as she cupped her slight breasts, rubbing over them. “Ahh-” she gasped.
“Heh, the new girl is sensitive,” Nives grinned. “You could make her happy then.”
Eteri had a vision of fingers made out of starry night roaming all over her chest and she felt the weird feeling in her stomach again. It was like a growing candle, a thin fire that rose through her spine and made her cheeks aflush.
With… she did not know what.
“Still, make sure to keep a level head,” she hissed, her breath clear against her ear. “Do not speak out of turn. Make sure you understood every instruction clearly. And by all that’s holy, do not touch her. Understood?”
“You are scaring her,” Huin muttered. “You’ll turn her sweat sour if you keep this up.”
“She’s new,” Nives countered, rubbing her hands beneath her armpits. “And raw. She needs to-”
“Nives. Focus on what you are supposed to do,” Thana instructed her with the same smile. Her voice did not raise a hitch, but Eteri picked up the clear order.
The blonde nodded, and she kept scrubbing her back.
Eteri felt her fingers passing energetically over her skin, cleaning it from the remnants of smells from the Harvest Festival. It felt good. It was completely different from the last time she shared a bath with her mother or sister. And she had been far too young back then to compare, her memories already growing fuzzy just going back about ten years.
Just like Huin’s… and the blonde slavegirl as well, if she had picked up the right cues.
Also, for all her prickly mood, Nives had apparently been trying to actually help her. Besides trying to tell her she’d do fine, Huin had done nothing but play the Zalethi’s game.
Gulping, Eteri reminded herself that in a world of glass, not every surface reflected the truth.
“So,” Thana asked. “How were you chosen, anyway?”
As always, thanks for reading.