(If you have not read my prologue or previous chapters, please read them now.)
Tales of Tanjia, Chapter 5- Dreams and Lessons
My vision is hazy and there is a burning in my limbs. Fire rises from the trees and the homes of the villiage. The flames burn brght and red, licking the edge of the midnight sky. All of the villagers are running from the blaze and towers of black smoke. Some already lie dead on the ground, their violet blood pooling and mixing with the charred dirt to make a dreadful mud. This horrible sight, it makes my heart ache and burn like nothing I've felt before. It seems so unreal... I run over to what I think is Nu'zuri's home, but it's so hard to tell with all of the smoke. I see her lying beneath a fallen support beam, bleeding and legs crushed from the collapsing ceiling. I pull her out from the smoldering rubble and turn her to see her face... it isn't there. It's all black and smooth, as if her face was never there, and all of a sudden I wake up with a start.
Back in Kii'jah's home, I lie in the bed he had lent me for the night, with my heart pounding in my ears and and my breath short. The darkness of the room tells me that dawn is still hours away, and I have absolutely no desire to sleep again. Both Kii'jah and Yu'uka are looking at me with concern as I try to sit up, but my limbs shake so hard that it's difficult for me to keep my self steady.
"You were dreaming... A nightmare by the looks of it." Kii'jah said gently as he wrapped a new blanket around my shoulders. The one I had over me while I was slept was soaked in my cold sweat. "What was the nightmare? Do you need anything?" All I can manage is to shake my head no. My throat is so dry I can't speak... That horrible nightmare... I hope that's all it will ever amount to be.
It takes me a little while, but eventually I'm finally able to calm down. For the most part, I've stopped shaking and I'm able to take a drink of water. "Such an awful dream..." I say as I hold the small wooden cup to my lips. The water is refreshing, and with your heart in the right place, you really can taste just how full of life it is. So unlike my dream, which was so full of death and pain.
"Can you bear reliving it to tell me what it was?" I feel tears prickle the back of my eyes as try to bring back the ghastly images of the dream.
"I-- I can't..." My voice trails off as my throat tightens at the thought of all the pain and destruction I saw in my dream. Kii'jah puts his strong, yet comforting hand on my shoulder, his kind eyes look into mine.
"I understand. I've had quite a few nightmares myself. Do you feel up to eating?" He gets up and goes over to his kitchen and chooses two Chilu'uma fruits and places one in my hand. I peel back the delicate outer skin of the fruit and separate the four sections af the inner fruit. It tastes sweet and fresh, such a completely natural and pure taste. All of the food that I'm fed at the palace is rich and expensive, but it's so heavy I can barely eat half of what is put on my plate.
"What are you thinking about?" He asks as he tears into his own fruit, and I raise my head to look at him. "You look like you're thinking about something," he puts the fruit to his mouth and takes a bite of it as I put another small section of the fruit in my mouth.
"Oh, I wasn't thinking about anything in particular, just about something at home." Something about eating with him feels so comfortable, but I can't place what it is that makes me feel that way.
"Well, If you're feeling better, you should start to get ready. I know how anxious you were to get home last night." He gets up and washes the sticky juice from his hands, "There is a covered spring out back behind the big tree. You can wash up there, and all of your things are by the door." He looks a bit sad at the thought of my leaving, but I know that I have to get back to the palace. He hands me a comb and I start to groom my hair back into looking decent.
I laugh a little, "It looks like a Ku'vui·gua crane nested in my hair last night." My long hair is so twisted and tangled because I didn't braid it like I should have last night. Whenever the comb snags a knot in my hair, my scalp screams with pain. The wound on the back of my head is throbbing.
Kii'jah turns to look at me, "You should be careful combing through your hair. Don't pull at any of the knots or you could worsen the gash on the back of your head." I nod and carefully continue combing through another section of my hair. Kii'jah grows quiet and his expression shifts. To what emotion specifically, I'm not sure, but it's clear that he is thinking about something. I stand up and take the soap and bathing brush that he had laid out.
"I'll go wash up now." I say quickly as I go out the back of his house and out to the covered spring to get myself cleaned.
Dawn is barely beginning to peek over the hill as I step into the clear pool of water. Images from my nightmare are still flashing in my mind, tormenting me, each image reviving my terror. My limbs still tremble slightly, and my heart feels as if it would jump free from my chest. A nightmare, that's all it was, and all it will be. I wash myself clean in the cool water, trying compose myelf. I pull the water off of my body with my power and return it to the spring. I brush the dried mud off of the mint green dress I had worn yesterday and put it back on. I hope no one at the palace notices that it's the same dress, but I have nothing else to wear right now. Taking a deep breath, I go back inside.
"Do you feel any better?" He asks as he feeds Yu'uka her breakfast. She scarfs it down like the wild animal she is at heart.
I smooth the front of my dress and finger a lock of hair resting on my shoulder. "I feel clean, I'll see about better when I'm home."
"That's understandable." Kii'jah rinses his hands and dries them with a small white cloth. "I'd like to check your wound one more time before you go."
"Of course. Thank you." I sit down on the couch with my back to Kii'jah. He gently lifts my hair away from the gash and pins it up. Kii'jah dips a clean cloth in cool water to clean the wound, and the burning throbbing is replaced with an icy sting. I grit my teeth to bear it.
"I'm sorry, I know it hurts. If it isn't cleaned, though, it'll get infected and that will be much more painful." He reaches for the salve and coats the wound with it once more.
"If it's at all possible, could the bandage be discreet this time? I really don't need anyone making comments when I get back..."
"Sure." Kii'jah snips off a small piece of gauze, and secures it over the gash. He then removes the pin keeping my hair out of the way and my long, midnight blue locks fall over my shoulders. "Just be sure your maidservant tends to it when you get back."
My heart pounds in my chest. What did he say? I didn't mention anything, did I? "Maidservant? I'm--"
"A high-ranking noblewoman. It's really obvious. Especially given your good manners, hair length, fine clothes, and well bred horse." My cheeks flush hot with embarrassment. He chuckles and his lips tug into a good natured smirk. "Did you think I wouldn't notice?"
"I... was hoping. But I guess it is obvious." I stand up and offer Kii'jah a slight bow. "Thank you so much for your help. I'm not sure what would've happened to me if you hadn't come along."
Kii'jah hands me the jar of salve. "Neither do I. Do you want me to escort you home?"
Without thinking, I nearly accept his offer. I then pause and heave a small sigh before answering. "No, I should be fine on my own if you point out the general direction of the Imperial Grounds." I really would rather Kii'jah accompany me home, but that would be anything but wise on my part.
"The Imperial Grounds? They're about four hours northwest. You rank high enough to live there?" He rubs the back of his neck. "I knew that you were a noblewoman, but that's impressive. Forgive me if I was rude at all."
"You were anything but rude. Thank you, again, for your help and hospitality. I hope that our paths cross again so I can thank you properly." I take another Ku'ubrri fruit from my satchel and hand it to him. "Liir'a is still tied out back, right?"
Kii'jah nods. "I fed and watered her while you washed up, so she'll be ready for the ride." He leaves to bring her out front. I give Yu'uka a scratch behind the ears before heading out front myself. Kii'jah places Liir'a's reins in my palm. "Travel safely."
"I will." I mount Liir'a and wave goodbye to Kii'jah before riding off. He really was very kind, and I hope to repay him for that kindness someday.
The sky is still pink from the sunrise, so it shouldn't be too late in the day by the time I get back. Our ride back to the palace went smoothly, but it was still a long four hours. I slow Liir'a from a gallop to a trot as I near the back gate of the Imperial Grounds. A burly guard was stationed at the gate, and though he didn't seem to be paying much attention, he noticed me very quickly. He stood tall and stiff as I approached. "Your Imperial Highness! Where were you?"
I take a cleansing breath, albeit a small one, and answer him with as calm a voice as I can manage. "I was out on a morning ride. I'll be heading in now." I take Liir'a a few hoofsteps forward before the guard holds up a hand as a signal for me to halt.
"Forgive me, your Imperial Highness, but you were gone for a full day. Where were you?" I pinch the bridge of my nose and sigh.
"I sent out a notice that I would be gone for the day, didn't I? And I was, and now I'm returning from my morning ride. My horse is tired and I want to get her back in the stable."
"I am going in." My tone was stern, and somewhat haughty. I raise my chin, but keep my gaze on the guard. My shoulders are rolled back and I sit tall on Liir'a's back. The guard's jaw tenses as he opens the gate.
"Yes, your Imperial Highness." He tried to keep his voice composed, but there was the clear tone of resentment in his voice. I truely hate acting the way I just did, but I couldn't afford to explain myself, and I wasn't about to lie. Even so, I have a pit in my stomach. I may not have lied directly, but a lie of omission is technically still a lie. I walk Liir'a back to her stable and give her a nice bag of feed. She deserves it for all her hard work. Walking from the stable to the Inner Ring of the Imperial Grounds is alway interesting. The mix of nobles and servants all walking about, the way the scenery shifts gradually from the grassy field to the white stone walls. Even with everyone around, though, I still tend to feel isolated. I stand out, for better or worse, and even though I'm nearly 20,000 years old, I haven't been able to get used to it.
Finally, after about thirty minutes of walking, I reach my bed chambers. As soon as I walk in my door, I go straight over to my bed and flop onto it. And immediately regret it as I am painfully reminded of the wound at the base of my skull. I groan and gingerly place a hand over the throbbing nuisance. Not long after I get settled back into my room, there's a knock at my door. I open my towering wooden door to reveal a familliar, but not particularly welcome face. My tutor.
The lanky, weathered old man stands in front of me, his expression unpleasant and just short of a scowl. "Your Imperial Highness, you completely disregarded yesterday's lecture." His voice is rather high pitched for a man and raspy.
"I'm sorry, Ze'lesh, I had other matters to attend to. I will be coming to today's lectures, though." He huffs and folds his hands behind his back.
"Very good. I wii see you in the library an hour after midday." He offers a curt bow before going on his way. He is always in such a foul mood and the deep wrinkles that have formed on his forehead keep him permanently glaring. Such an unpleasent tutor is often why I avoid my lessons. But, I know that I have to go, so I change into a light mauve dress and go down to library where my lessons are held.
Both of my lessons were on the subject of war. The first lecture was on the invention and use of the U'salng·iekka, a unique Tanjiian glaive with elaboratly carved blades. My second was on the civil war between the Western Y'alm'ii and the Southern K'ælen·gi, who fought over the possesion and direction of the Ky'wiarr sapphire mines. A terrible and bloody time in their history. War is monstrous in all of its forms, and nearly always could be avoided, but it often isn't.
Utterly disinterested in my lessons, I gaze out the floor-to-ceiling window and watch the migrating Wi'ani birds cross the sky. Such beauty and grace in such simple creatures, and so many people pay them no mind. It's a shame, really.
I can also see Ki'konia and I'Ono in the sky, resting to the left of the sun. The moons are drawing closer together and in a few short months, they will align, and the people will celebrate in the largest festival of our culture. I hear my tutor draw a large breath, preparing to start off on another subject, andI raise my hand to halt his speech. "I think that's enough lectures for today, Ze'lesh, thank you. I'm going to do some studying on my own for a while, you're dismissed. He grumbles under his breath before bowing and exiting the library. I stand and stretch, gazing at the hundreds of shelves of tomes in this library. I scan the section I'm in for any pieces of literature on the Alignment festival, but I only see a few small books. "Mi'isuka, would you mind finding me more information on the Alignment festival? I'd greatly appreciate it." Mi'isuka is a gentle girl around my age, perhaps a little older, and I rarely see her outside the library. She is the library keeper's daughter after all. She brings me a few old scrolls and a leather bound summary on the subject. I thank her and we talk for a little bit as I read the material.
After a little while I dismiss myself and return to my quarters. I look out from my balcony and see my brothers sparring again. Ma'olu is strong and direct with his blows, while Koa is swift and preferes to strike at his opponet's feet before conquering him. Both are good fighters, but they don't do much else other than fighting. They're both so intelligent, but they onlly use it in strategy for fighting. I sigh and lie back on my bed, this time being careful not to bump my head. My mind still dwells on my nightmare, and the images in my head make me shiver. Why would La'arii show me such a horrible nightmare? The Celestial of Dreams shouldn't be so cruel. Rii'ei knocks quietly before coming into my room with an ornate bowl filled with fruits. She sits it on the table next to my bed and turns around to leave. "Wait, Rii'ei." She turns on her heel, quickly facing me. I pat next to me on my bed and she sits with me.
"Is there anything that you need, miss?" she said as she nervously plays with a fold on her dress.
"I just missed you, that's all. You're one of the few friendly faces I know in this palace, and I missed your company." I always thought of Rii'ei as a sister, but she is a servant and I am the Empress-to-be. Nevertheless, I treat her well. "Will you let me braid your hair, Rii'ei?" She nods quietly and turns so that I can reach her short, wavy hair. I braid a small section near her temple, small enough for others not to notice, but enough for Rii'ei to have something special done with her hair. "I guess that's it for now. I'll see you later tonight, Rii'ei." She bows and gently fingers her new braid before leaving. I look out on my balcony again. The world looks so different to me here than it did this morning in Kii'jah's home. It feels like I've been awake for ages.
Just as I really start to feel serene again, Ma'olu and Koa burst into my room in their usual brash manner. I can tell by the bruise on Koa's face that Ma'olu won today's sparring session. They both seem distressed, however.
First Ma'olu speaks.
"Father has called us to the throne chambers."
"We're not sure what he wants..."
And finally in unison. "But he wants us, now."