After my usual meander to get a cup of tea--this time an Amande and Pistache that I was loathe to admit I enjoyed--another servant stops me on the way back to the room. I titter softly after he leaves, staring at the thick parchment sealed with wax. This entire ordeal is becoming extraordinarily predictable, something I utterly detest. Sighing and jerking my head slightly, I unroll it, and scan the words. One of the girls, Makani, I believe her name is, brushes past me on the way back to her room. I give her a respectful nod and a semblance of a smile, which she returns.
I turn the handle of the door and walk briskly into my room, shutting it noiselessly behind me. The task for today seems like it will be pleasant and enjoyable, and most importantly, not fussy or stifling. Keeping that in mind, I slip into a chiton-like pale dress that gathers loosely around my body, while the hem brushes my ankles. I sweep my hair into a simple, twisted updo, and after a quick glance at myself, I take one of the white, blooming flowers in the vase on my nightstand and tuck it into my hair. Then, I quickly make my way to the Menagerie, occasionally being directed by servants.
My breath is whisked away as soon as the doors are opened. The air is light but humid, and birds dart over my head, twittering and singing in robust tones as they chase each other. I feel a small tugging on my dress and see an intensely deep blue reptile, staring at me with beady eyes. I lift it up and help it on to a rock, where it flicks its tail and lets out a hissing jet of fire before scurrying away. I breathe out, eyes wide, absolutely stunned by this place. It’s the best thing that I’ve seen since I came here.
I make my way through the Menagerie, slowly surveying all the animals I saw. Many come up to me, unabashed, but others shy away from my presence, disappearing so quickly that I cannot be sure of whether the were real or just a deluded figment of my mind. Eventually, I find myself in one of the open, grassy fields that are scattered throughout, and i sit, stretching out my legs. The sun streams onto my skin, warmth enveloping my body and brushing down the bare skin of my arms and neck. I sigh contentedly, closing my eyes.
My eyes snap open as I see a figure making their way towards me. It’s Prince Tamd, and he gives me a sheepish smile. His eyes glint with a calm mirth as he takes a seat besides me.
“There is a butterfly in your hair,” he murmurs, and reaches over, letting the creature shift onto his index finger and bringing it around for me to see. Gently, he transfers it into my cupped hands. Its wings tickle over my bare palms, and I marvel at the utter beauty of the creature. The butterfly has a sleek, black body, coupled with dark wings that have a psychedelic bluish pattern over them, reminiscent of stars in the night sky. The small, crystalline edges of the butterfly run over my fingers as its antennae search along the surface. It looks like a miniature universe, and a strange shiver trails quickly down my spine.
“I think it was attracted to the flower in you hair,” Prince Tamd says, and I send him a smile. “Do you like this butterfly? It is certainly very beautiful.”
I nod, stroking its wings tentatively. It is a small wonder it has not flown away.
“Enlighten me, Lady Ávra...what about it piques your interest?” he asks, taking the butterfly from me so that I may respond.
Having forgone my tablet, I resign myself to signing. It is a sort of philosophy. It is said that butterflies are the souls of the deceased in this world’s medium, a sort of rebirth. The more beautiful the wings, the more beautiful the mind, the soul, the life that remains. Many humans do not realize how stunning they truly are, and their lives are, just like a butterfly cannot see the beauty of its own wings.
Prince Tamd scrutinizes me with an almost unreadable look before contemplating the butterfly for a few moments, silence draping over the pair of us. A gust of wind meanders over our bodies, rippling the grass, and the butterfly takes off from Tamd’s hand, its wings flapping furiously as it ascends.
Quietly, he speaks. “I wish...well, I wish I could let it go free. I hope it finds its way out of here one day. After all, it seems cruel to keep such a beautiful soul captive.” I nod in agreement, and he continues, fidgeting. “But I suppose that I shouldn’t. It might not be able to survive in the wild without help; it’s been captive in the palace for so long.”
I can’t help but wonder if he is talking about himself, or the butterfly.
After a moment, he laughs quietly, shaking his head, and says, “I think I would miss it too much if it were gone. What do you miss the most about your home?”
I miss the forests of Zyle, I reply, fingers dancing in the air, I think a lot while in them, and I am only truly at peace when meditating there. Also, I miss the tea at home. The ones here are almost sickeningly sweet.
Prince Tamd’s rather serious expressions melts away as he laughs at my last comment. He shakes his head slowly, seemingly in disbelief. “You are truly something else.” I fight to keep down a blush.
Prince Tamd stands, brushing grass off of his trousers. He smiles again, and says, “It has most certainly been a pleasure talking with you, Lady Ávra, but unfortunately I must leave you now. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in the Menagerie.”
I nod, my eyes flitting over his face before he turns and walks away. But he stops abruptly, and looks over his shoulder, calling my name.
“I shall see what I can do about the tea situation,” he says, with an air of jocularity, before continuing on his way.
A smile spreads across my face as I close my eyes again.