For the Iande Empire Contest/RP
Okay, this got much longer than I had anticipated. Prepare for a lot of boring-ness, those of you normal people that don’t like to read my pointless bits, and just skip to the part where she explains the bouquet. :)
A cool breeze greeted me in the morning, and I blinked groggily to see an unnecessarily noisy palace maid opening my window. Seeing that I was awake, she informed me that breakfast was to be served soon, and that I had best make myself presentable, since I was awake, to which I challenged her with a glare. One’s morning is typically ruined when your maid accidentally awakes you and then proceeds to imply that you don’t look angelic in the morning, but if I were to be honest with myself, my own sharp nosed maid’s words had always been worse and her rude awakenings were actually intentional, so my annoyance was not completely justified.
I slipped on one of the simpler dresses mother had sent me, a deep emerald-green light-weight gown with buttons down the front and little other embellishment, ‘presentable’ enough for breakfast and quickly washed up and braided my hair. Trying to shake my foul mood, I followed the maid to the dining hall, passing an unfortunate girl from yesterday that was being berated for her state of dress.
It was still early, and I would usually have been asleep, if not for the maid that had accidentally awoken me, which would explain why it was so cold in the hall. Few fireplaces had been lit in the stone palace and it felt as frosty as the Emperor himself had seemed yesterday by the end of the presentation. The revelation boosted my confidence. All the exotic girls that I competed with may have a healthy confidence bred into them from their sunny lands, but their blossoming self assuredness could easily wilt under the political frost that they would be faced with. Although I was nothing new to the royal family, just another courtier, I at least had this advantage on the other girls. And I would be sure to use it.
I was presented with my breakfast, a simple configuration of fruits, though beautifully arranged, and ate slowly, watching the other girls that actually were in the hall already, mostly keeping to themselves. It appeared that the night’s rest had rejuvenated them.
Time passed as the rest of us finally made their way to breakfast, some with a sad lack of table manners, scarfing down their food as though they were common animals, not ladies. But, I supposed, finishing my meal, few of them truly deserved the title ‘lady’ in the first place.
As the meal winded down, an extremely sharply dressed woman strode in, the same sort of woman as Mother, beautiful, strong, but deadly under the surface. I wonder what she was like behind closed doors. Was she cruel? Sometimes the life of the ambitious royal court took all goodness out of a person.
At any rate, she introduced herself as the head of the royal household, a truly powerful position indeed. I had an inkling that she may know the princes better than their own father did, and I again wondered about her nature as she led us to the gardens.
One would have thought that I, having spent years with little company, would be well in tune with my own imagination. Sadly, this was not the case, and dread filled me as Madame Issera told us of the day’s activity.
I was not so worried about the fact that I had to portray meaning in flowers, such a thing any lady of class in Bascilin knows how to do, otherwise they would easily miss an advance or rejection in the wordless art of flowers. However, it was what meaning I had to portray that frustrated the imagination.
I sighed to myself as I scanned the vast garden before me, many girls already running-politely rushing more like-towards the greenhouse, presumably in search of the flowers of their homeland. Others were wandering leisurely, enjoying the freedom of the gardens. Madame Issera had left us to our own devices, and so I was the only one still rooted to the spot we had initially arrived at.
Obviously I couldn’t do much from where I stood, so I began to wander aimlessly, lost in thought, a slight wind breezing in my hair as I went. The air was so fresh outside, and I smiled despite myself, my miserable attitude from my rude awakening earlier dispelled in the soft quiet of the garden.
My Ayah would have loved it. Although, I smirked inwardly, she probably would have made me release Sigi into it. A momentary sadness washed over me. I truly missed my bird. My Ayah would not have been wrong. Sigi would have done well in a place like this, rather than sit sadly in his cage with nothing to look forward to other than my sorry company and the crow rattling his cage and complaining about him.
I held out my hand, absentmindedly stroking soft petals as I walked by. They were so delicate and beautiful. To attract bees, I remembered, so that they could spread their seed. Perhaps that’s where the idea behind the challenge took root. We are not unlike the flowers. The beauty behind them distracts, I continued in this strain of thought, from their true purpose and there is a danger in-
I gave a small cry and pull back my hand, seeing blood bead upon my finger. I had pricked it on a thorn, I realized, and my blood dripped onto one of the roses before me, staining it.
I smiled broadly, as realization dawned upon me. I had finally determined what my bouquet would symbolize.
Love. It would be the nature of love! I could have danced in the ecstasy of my epiphany, but, even with seemingly no one around me, I had far too much self-respect. Instead, I plucked a few roses. White, like the one my blood had touched. The color of purity. And of death.
“For there is danger in love,” I murmured, “There is the distraction of beauty, and the consequence of illusions. True love is pure, but it is deadly.” I thought of marriage vows, ‘donec mortalitas nos scindit;’ till we are parted by death.
I wandered on, looking for more flowers to explain the paradox of love, enjoying the solitude and freshness of my spot in the garden. I began to hum, without realizing it, a song that my ayah had taught me when I was younger. The words sprang unbidden to my lips:
“Love is the anthem of the dying,
Love is the hope of the lost.
It is the cry of the weary;
A sigh, a soft breath
In the eye of the tempest.
Love is an open book,
But only the first page is bared
And few have enough ambition
To read the cracks and spots
Of age on our small hands,
And the weather
Of wedding vows
On shelves that have yet
To be made
And yet to be forgot”*
While I sang only half consciously, I thought of my own experience of love. I had loved Mother and Father, hadn’t I? But they had not loved me, or, if they had, they had not loved me well enough. Their love to me was single minded. I was there for them to use. They put their time into me, I would admit. It had been difficult for them as well as me, all in the hope that I would fruitfully produce some use to them. It was not pretty, but it was the truth, and perhaps, in its own way, some twisted form of love.
I came upon a buckthorn bush near an ivy covered wall, and deemed it appropriate to take both. For just as my parents love to me as thorny yet fruitful, to me it was suffocating and confusing.
I was grateful for the baskets we had been provided, for I noted that my plants were harsh to the touch thus far. It saddened me. If they represented the nature of love, then love must be a terrible thing. But love couldn’t be if people sought it.
Now, as I concluded my song, I thought of Ayah and all the love she had given me. I wondered why she had loved me. She never gained anything from it. Her kindnesses to me were not necessary. Her love was selfless. Simple and selfless. As love is meant to be. In memory of her, I collected sage. A simple plant, one that has a common use in cooking and medicine, but still a beautiful one. One that represented wisdom and understanding. A mother’s love.
Yes, Ayah’s love for me was selfless. But the love I had not covered was the love of youth. Equally simple, equally pure, but one that began in hope and ignorant expectation. Alfalfa, I decided upon. It looked similar to sage, but instead represented youth. Love that has yet to mature.
I was pleased with my bouquet. Perhaps I had read too much into the assignment, and perhaps it was made up of common and unlikely plants, but I had put all my energy into it, and it looked exactly as I wanted it to. It was sharp yet beautiful, strange, yet familiar.
I found Madame Issera and presented my bouquet, not surprised as she raised one thin appraising brow.
“Your bouquet certainly…intruigues me, Lady Cyrilla. I had expected something quite different from a lady of Bascalin.”
I inclined my head slightly, “I assure you that each piece of my bouquet was chosen for a specific reason, madame.”
“I would expect no less. Enlighten me then, upon your reasoning.”
I met her gaze, “In my wandering through the gardens, the flowers reminded me of the driving force behind human happiness: love. This is my way of displaying the nature behind such an enigmatic force. Love is beautiful and desirable, it is present in the most common actions, it changes as each person changes from youth to maturity, and yet, love can be dangerous and misleading. Even the best intentions may bring harm. After all, there is a narrow line between love and hate.”
She gave me a measured look, and I wondered if I truly did over think the assignment.
Finally, she spoke again, “I would suppose then, that you chose roses as a centerpiece because they are the common interpretation of love?”
I felt as if her response were a test. Or perhaps she was simply reprimanding my choices. “The rose is naturally a perfect symbolization of the nature of love. Its beauty may distract from the danger of its thorns, even if it is not its intention. However, I do not choose to show the passion behind love with red. White shows the law behind love and the vulnerability of blind trust in it. It is both purity and death. It is a warning to those that do not understand it.” To punctuate my point, I displayed my pricked finger.
The Madame nodded. “You are dismissed.” She smiled slightly, “I’m sure you will enjoy the party later. Many of the courtiers are interested in you now. After all, you represent this city.”
I smiled back, but a chill of fear raced through me as I left to change. So many others were worthy of my place. The question of the emperor from yesterday sang in the front of my mind. Why are you worthy?
*rough translation of the original song, from the language of Cyrilla’s Ayah’s homeland
I arrived once again to the gardens, though this time I wore a filmy light blue dress that floated with every slight breeze. It was beautiful and free. I had loved it immediately. My hair was braided across the front, but was allowed to hang free beyond that and I wore little paint on my face. I felt much more comfortable than I had yesterday.
The garden was extremely different than it had been earlier. Now it was festively decorated, poles with ribbons streaming from them raced across the garden, and twenty-four tables filled with unique bouquets dotted the area. As I was led to mine, I was filled with a small thrill of pride knowing that I had made the centerpiece.
After I was seated, the gentlemen at my table also sat, and a refined chatter of Bascilian conversation began with polite comments about the food, the garden, and, of course, my centerpiece, though it was entirely possible that the courtiers were lying. The gentry of Bascalin were not to be trusted.
“Oh Cyrilla, dear,” one of the ladies-Lady Tamyara, if I remembered from my last social gathering- began, “It has been so long since I’ve seen you. Congratulations on your choosing,” she gushed, and I could only wonder at her motives.
“Of course,” a thin lipped lady quirked her mouth, “My daughter is an equally fine specimen, but I’m sure you’ll do your mother proud.”
The abject poison in her tone shocked me. I had not considered that others would be so jealous for my position. Lady Tamyara gave me an apologetic smile before speaking to the other lady in a quiet, urgent tone.
“So,” another lady, light dancing in her eyes, “I heard of the girl from Nyph. The one that came in shackles. What one earth-!”
The gossip commenced, which I mostly ignored. I made sure to cluck my tongue at all the right places and to shake my head on occasion. I might’ve listened for the opportunity to possibly learn something about the other girls, but gossip gets so convoluted that it’s surprising if half of it is fact. I quite doubt that Fenil of Nyph escaped into the night after reuiniting with her lost love who she had traveled all this way to find. It was far too poetic a story of star-crossed lovers to ring true at all.
One of the lords brought me back to the present.
“So, if I may ask, how is your stay in the palace treating you?” The elderly man asked, kindly.
I smiled back in kind, joking, “The maids are almost as competent as my own. It is as if I am home.”
A round of laughter met my response.
“In truth,” I continued, acting serious now, “It is exquisite, and I plan to make my stay here permanent.”
The courtiers smiled at sureness in my tone before conversation drifted back to poor Lady Gwendolyn who has begun to lose her figure and was dressed rather embarrassingly only last week.
The party was what I had expected. Long and dull and filled with too much wine and gossip, like every social event I had ever been dragged to. I resigned myself to the evening.