Warm, summer light never plumbed this deep recess of the domed palace Ayasofya, populated only by the fairer sex all in service of the one about to become the soul of the dunes. She nodded imperceptibly to one eunuch guard, whose russet skin paled at her acknowledgement, and - still adjusting to her new power - passed him without a look back as her fresh arm pushed aside the drapery shielding the sanctuary of the Kira.
The room was small, made that much more cramped by the seating pillows, in the saffron yellows and reds of the Empire, scattered across every open surface. Even some of the tapestries were torn and hanging impotently off their hooks. It looked as though she missed quite the commotion a few moments prior before the entire class, save one, scattered to the rising day.
A woman, thick as an ox and with the verbal horns to match, paced about the front of the room trying to gather and organize the discarded pillows and her notes. She’d devoted the past thirty years of her life in service to the Sultanas but this impending class of spies would be the death of her, far greater than every previous alumna she’d swear was also the death of her.
Unnoticed and shielded within the Mistress’ blind spot scribbled a young woman curled upon the ground, appearing that much younger by her large thick eyes and dark hair unclothed in the safety of the sanctuary.
The Sultana coughed lightly into her fist, catching the darkening eye of the ox woman. She grunted and tried to retain a firm grip on her clipboard decorated with primitive drawings of stick figures in neck breaking/spine snapping poses. The young girl looked up at the palpable change in the atmosphere and smiled warmly at the familiar form in the doorway, her homework forgotten as it slipped to the marbled floor.
“Annelia!” the Mistress ordered, “Cover yourself!”
“Yes, Mistress,” the girl mumbled, scrambling for her veil long tossed aside after the scuffle broke out during sparing lessons. She would have to learn to control her unwanted strength or face more accidentally fractured wrists and icy glares.
As she attempted to pin the errant scarf in place, she held her tongue about the butchering of her name once again on purpose by Master Ruzgar (a fitting nickname shared amongst the others in relation to not only their teacher’s shape, but also her disposition, which she overheard whispered behind bejeweled hands with her sharpened ears).
The Sultana paused, letting the young girl compose herself and held up a warning hand to Ruzgar to stop any unwarranted punishment, “I realize my visit was undocumented. I did not intend to find anyone else inside on such a beautiful day.”
“My lady,” Ruzgar bowed her head slightly, “the others have taken bread outside. I intended to rearrange the room and then join them.”
“And what of you, little one?”
Analia panicked, trying to slide an obstinate mask of calm over her growing discomfort as an all too familiar distress took hold of her. “I…it is very bright out, my Mistress.” She tried to wave off the hanging implications that her Elven blood, and those disturbing pink eyes that burned so easily in the brilliant light of the dunes, would keep her from ever completing her duties. “And I have much to study here,” she pointed to her scrolls dotted with quick scribbles from a hasty hand.
The Sultana looked upon the girl with an overwhelming warmth she never shown for the others sworn to give life and heart for her. “If you will excuse us Ruzgar, I have some things I would like to discuss with this young student in private.”
Old eyes glanced towards the young Kedia, blushing that bizarre purple their kind gets beneath her mahogany, in her charge. The old Sultana, may she rest with the Holy Lord and his Son, preferred them human, young and very male. A fact that became harder to hide as dementia took over steady mind and she tried to outlaw trousers in her presence. These regime changes were always the hardest on the middlemen and linen embroiderers.
“Of course, my Lady,” proceeded by an even deeper bow. She collected her shoes tucked under the podium and walked past the future Sultana. “Amelia, when you are finished join us in the courtyard,” she instructed, not wanting to miss an opportunity to order someone around.
“Yes, Master Ruzgar,” her hand flew up to her tiny mouth at the slip of the uncontrollable tongue. There she went again, letting her words trample her while her mind flitted about like a butterfly caught in the wind.
The Ox reared herself up, preparing for the disemboweling the little snot deserved but the Sultana placed a honey-softened hand upon her forearm, keeping the widening smile in her heart off her lips, “If you would be so kind…” she trailed off in the direction of the door.
Ruzgar glared upon the elf still trying to hide her face with her veil that was once again poorly secured and flapping half out of her hair, but dutifully turned and, rising up to her full six feet, walked out of the room.
The Sultana’s face cracked as Ruzgar’s voluminous skirts vanished through the still trembling drapes. Sighing, she turned back to Analia, her voice softening like the silk of her new royal dress, “Oh, my Yetim.”
It had been three years since she’d found the young girl scrounging through the dirt and grime of the congested streets hunting for a bit of food, shunned by the other human urchins for the ears she couldn’t hide even below her mass of knotted hair. It was rare for the young girl being groomed for eventual (surreptitious) leadership of Eternia to travel outside the palace, even rarer for her to approach one of the poor wretches that a hard winter would wipe clean from the streets.
She was uncertain why she ordered her carriage to stop and even more why she opened the door. Perhaps it was the sight of a girl not much younger than her scant 15 years picking through the discarded refuse of the day. Or it could have been the old tales her nurse would spin of the Elves sequestered upon their magical island and the wonders they could inflict upon others.
Whatever guided her hand, she exited the well darkened royal coach against much dispute from her chaperones and held her hand out to the girl. At first the poor, flightless bird shuddered like a wounded animal caught in a trap, gazing forlornly at the guards her life taught her were not to be trusted; but this young woman dressed all in white appearing with an inviting outstretched hand looked to her heart like an angel come to finally bring her to His side and rid her of the years of pain. A strange smile, one she hadn’t known since losing her mother to sickness and hard hearts, gripped her face and she rose, her tiny knot of a hand clasping the angel's and joining the heartfelt savior in her carriage.
She sat crumpled and crouching in the corner, any negligible weight upon her hidden beneath discarded robes haphazardly tied across her starving form. The others in the rocking cabin turned their noses and tried to fan away the smell but the angel smiled down upon her, their hands still firmly bound.
They did not let go until the street urchin had been bathed, clothed in something that no one had died in or smelled as if they had, and was set upon the most extravagant meal she’d seen. As tiny fingers, moving faster than the eye could track, shoveled meats and bread into a still slightly raw mouth, the Sultana smiled beatifically and tried to ask the girl a few questions.
What was her name?
“Analia,” mumbled through a dozen dates crammed into her ravenous mouth.
Why was she on the streets?
“Nowhere else to go.” The girl didn’t want to elaborate, not even to her angel. She could not give form to the years that preceded her, it felt more a nightmare than reality and she tried to bottle and forget each memory.
Are you really a Kedia?
At this the shoveling paused, guilty hands vanishing into the folds of fresh skirts afraid of contaminating anything around her. A slow tear rolled down her cheek, staining the hand carved table below, “Yes.”
The obvious pain of the confession admitted as one would to committing the darkest of sins stung deep to the future Sultana’s open heart and, despite the crowd still watching the two with wary eyes, hooked her arm around the papery shoulders. Lowering herself to Analia’s level she wiped the tears from those sparkling pink eyes and kissed her forehead.
Life changed quickly for the quarter elf, she was moved to small quarters dotted with many beds and spent her days speaking to few and trying to stay out of the way. Analia kept waiting for someone to wise up, for the other women slowly filling out the beds over the months to run her away as so many other Duneclawer’s had; but as time passed, rumors filtered to her and soon far more than her wildest dreams conjured laying frozen upon a bed of little more than rock and garbage came true. She was to become a Kira, the group held closest to the Sultana’s breast; free to travel the streets she no longer could and provide information as well as disseminate it.
Despite the otherness from her fellows, the obvious hatred by her Mistress, and the constant reminders that she would forever be marked by her difference she still savored every moment of her new life, only regretting that she had not looked upon her angel again.
The Sultana settled upon one of the only pillows not scattered in the scuffle and patted one next to her, inviting the elf to join her side. Any other member of the court would have been beside themselves with the honor this message bestowed upon them and the accolades they could later use; Analia was simply ecstatic to speak to her angel again.
“How has the training been fairing for you? I understand the third year can become quite treacherous when the knife play is involved and even more so when challenges of the heart come up?” The Sultana spoke breezily but pointedly. Raised her whole life for this position, she took great interest in all around her from the lowly Censor out in the distant provinces to the Grand Vizer tugging upon the Sultan’s robe trying to get him to put it back on.
“It has been exciting, my Mistress,” Analia said, not entirely lying. The section where they practiced dagger throwing had been very exciting when she’d somehow managed to embed one into a marble column. It was still there; none of the guards strong enough to remove it. The Sultana occasionally touched it whenever she passed.
“Please, do not call me Mistress. It makes me sound much older than I wish to feel,” even at a nubile eighteen, she felt the endless creep of age with the weight of her upcoming position bound through marriage.
Analia sputtered, a fear to offend taking over her tongue. “What would you prefer to be addressed as my…” she was long and overtly instructed that despite what everyone called her behind closed doors, Sultana was to be avoided until the ceremony, “angel?” she finished with.
The Sultana smiled at that, and her hands wandered towards the girl’s errant hairs tucking them back beneath the veil. “You may call me Damla, for it is my name,” she said while repining the veil she’d learned from a tender age to bend to her will, “but only in private.”
Analia’s heart leapt at the tender touch gently raking her always unruly hair, and tried to contain her growing blush as she was instructed to do lest this be some sort of test, “Will there be more private meetings my M…Damla?”
Her hand cupped the elf’s cheek, her fingers drifting around her round jaw, “Yes, I believe so,” and she pulled the girl close, her rose scented lips touching upon Elven ones for a brief moment, slightly terrified that if she let herself give fully in she may never come back.
Even as she pulled away, Analia kept her luminous eyes closed tight, afraid any movement on her part would break the moment and she'd never catch it again. Some small part warned her how dangerous this was, how the court would not look kindly upon the affections of their future leader leaning towards a Kedia; but the rest of her told that part where it could get off and how.
As she opened them, she watched the Sultana rise from her position; her golden robes (a mark of the celebrations a week prior to wedding) flutter around her form. “I have much to accomplish yet this fortnight,” she walked towards the door quickly now, trying to break herself away from the spell Analia had no idea she’d cast, “but,” she looked back at the girl still rooted upon her pillow blinking madly in the low lamplight, “perhaps I can visit you once more before then…at night.” She smiled secretly, “perhaps after the others have gone to bed.”
Analia smiled wide, “Yes, my Damla.”