Chapter 5: The Blue and Gold in Her Eyes

Chapter Five – The Blue and Gold in her Eyes

Anayissa

“I miss the songbirds that used to wake me at dawn. Perching on my windowsill, they would sing a frivolous tune that would bring a smile to my lips. As the days have shortened and the sky heavy with the foreshadowing of snow, I am once again struck with the awareness of my mortality. When I am gone, the songbirds will continue and sing their melodies without me. Will they compose a song in ode to me, or am I just another faceless being that their untouched minds cannot hope to remember?” –Anayissa, from her journal.

{Castle Bastille, Ana’s Boudoir}

The dressing room was humid. It felt as if every pore was being suffocated.
I had no air left in my lungs.
I had no heart to pump the blood through my entire body.
I had no soul inside of me.
I was an empty husk.
I was the only one in mourning while the rest of the dressing room was buzzing with exhilaration.
Ladies of the court squeezed their way into my once private fitting. Their heavy clouds of perfume accompanied their excitement at my despair. I was surrounded by a team of harried-looking seamstresses as they poked and prodded at me. A pair kneeled at my feet currently, pins in their teeth and tape measures wrapped around their necks like a loose noose. The tailors transported from Terrace stood a little farther back, observing and instructing the seamstresses who did the grunt of the work.
I felt separate from my body as if I was hovering from above as I lifted my arms and turned when told to. I’m like a doll, I thought, as I felt a needle pierce my side.
My Namieé and my relatives on my father’s side were sitting on the chaises closer to the door. A servant brought them lemonade, tea, and pastries. I was so parched my throat felt like sandpaper, my lips were irritated and cracked.
I’m sure if I asked for a glass of lemonade, it would be met by a volley of no’s. Lest I even gain a pound and displease the king!
“Blue,” a mutter from my right. “She must be in blue.”
“Not white?” Another voice said by feet.
“No, no, she must be in blue!” a voice commanded further back.
How much time has passed? An hour? A day? A century? Time idly ticked by as I watched from the window. The midmorning sun was hellishly bright. I felt a bead of sweat swelling on my back. I prayed to Olliah to stop its trail as it dethatched itself and joined the rest of the pool of sweat at the small of my back.
My prayers went unanswered because I heard a hiss to the right of me. “Get the princess some water. We can’t have her sweating all over the dress!”
A servant brought a straw to my lips. I obediently opened it. The first sip was heaven. I swallowed hungrily. My throat rejoiced. The splash of the liquid hitting my stomach was bliss. But before I could gulp the rest, a seamstress yanked the straw from my mouth.
And now I know hell.
Hours must have passed by indication of the throbbing in my neck and back. I must have been standing on the platform for the better half of the day. I wanted to stretch. I needed a moment of reprieve. I’ve had little since the surrender, and my nuptials were announced. But I knew if I even thought of stepping down, the blur of faces before I would do anything to put me back. I was to be their martyr–my sacrifice would depend on their future.
I ventured to look down at the gown developing at my feet. It was blue, the deep blue of the betroxia leaves that signified my favorite season of the year. Now, the color will forever remind me of the abysmal future.
I smelled the vinegar and the dried leaves needed to make the dye. A small group of dyers were gathered together, mixing the goopy liquid with the fabrics and hanging it to dry by the fireplace.
I looked over to my Namieé next and begged her to come over with my eyes.
Queen Lizette did not see me at first. She was chatting with my Niva Juliette. Both of the women were gesturing with their hands and nodding. Namieé grabbed for an almond cookie then, rubbing her stomach as she did so.
By Olliah’s beard!
After a few more cookies, mother finally looked up at me. Her eyes widening, she turned to Niva Juliette and said something to her, and got up. Walking over to me, the queen smiled and greeted the women she encountered on the way.
“How is everything going?” The queen asked one of the head Tailors.
The seamstresses still fluttered around me.
The tailor, a raven-haired woman with dark eyes, smiled reassuringly at the queen. “Greetings, my Queen. We are makin good time. Your daughter, the princess, makes it almost too easy with her beauty. She will surely outshine the dress once it’s done.”
The queen came closer to me but stopped a few feet away. She looked me up and down, her eyes tracing the silhouette of the dress. The look was clinical, detached. I wanted to scream. “But blue? Are you sure it is appropriate for a wedding?”
The raven-haired tailor jumped in immediately. “Yes, this is a special occasion. The king thought it would make sense for the princess to represent our country with the color. The quality of the dress is like no other. The king said no expense should be spared.”
“He would say that,” Namieé muttered under her breath.
“Pardon, Your Highness?”
“Nothing, you may continue. I only wanted to observe.”
The Queen was dressed elegantly in an azure gown and an angora wrap across her shoulders. Her diamond necklace with lapis lazuli stones completed the look and her crystalline eyes.
How could she, I thought. I put everything in my eyes. I could not tell my mother as she continued to look me up and down like a pig about being sent to the slaughter yard.
I could take it no longer. I tried to open my mouth my lips, but they were sealed shut. Using my tongue to liberate my lips, my voice was scratchy with disuse as I said, “Namieé.”
Queen Lizette continued to converse with another tailor, pointing at the pool of material at my feet as she gave her opinion.
“Gold here.” A voice at my side once more.
“There? Why gold?” A prod at my other side.
“Blue and gold are our country’s colors.” Another poke.
Bony fingers snatched my wrist and raised it up. A dark-haired woman bent to measure. After she was done, she threw my arm down and muttered.
I snapped.
“Olliah’s balls, Namieé! I need to speak with you now!”
You could have heard a pin drop. Seamstresses, tailors, the socialites pushing their way into the entryway, my relations, and finally Namieé, who until today, never heard me swear, let alone in front of an entire crowd of people.
I should have felt guilty using the Aesthan’s god’s name in vain, but I did get her attention.
I learned the curse from my cousin Lucielle from the last time she visited, and I knew it was the perfect one to toss out because Lizette said, “Anayisaa Mirabella Francesca Rhyse de Cliousa! Speaking the benevolent and holy Olliah’s name in vain? What has gotten into my sweet daughter?
Maybe it could be the forced nuptials with the king who just decimated our kingdom? No, that could not possibly be the answer! I wanted to scream the words at her, but I could not do so with the gaping audience.
So instead, I calmly replied, “Namieé, I need a moment. I’ve been standing on the dais all day, and if I stand her for another moment getting stabbed, I will completely lose it.”
The seamstresses hissed around me in displeasure. I could not even muster the energy to appear apologetic. If one of those ladies stabbed me again with a pin, I would unleash my wrath on them.
The queen sighed and turned to the tailors next to her. “Can my daughter and I have a moment?”
The tailor looked like she was having an apoplexy. I couldn’t care less.
Looking as if she was swallowing her teeth, the tailor grumbled. “Yes, but please, princess, make it quick. The deadline is approaching, and we still have more to do.”
I would have jolted off the platform if I could feel my legs. Nonetheless, I carefully stepped out of the material and used the seamstresses’ outstretched hands for balance. I did not mistake their aid for kindness.
I was helped into a silk dressing robe and then was free.
Turning to the queen, I said, “Namieé, can we talk over there please.” I pointed to the little settee by the window.
From this close, I could see the bruises underneath the queen’s eyes. “Yes, snow cub. Let’s hurry, though.”
We sat with our knees touching. “What did you need to talk about, Ana, that we have already not discussed?”
Yes, what they discussed previously. It had been a brief, terse conversation where she could not even meet my eyes as she explained my fate. And when she was finished, a tutor had been ushered in to teach me about Rhageon tradition, custom, and a quicker revision of the language–lest I appear ignorant before my betrothed.
From what I know–which is very little–was that Rhageon was a collective of warmongering nations led by the king who presided over the kingdom. From the war, I was already familiar with their cruelty and their skill with warfare. It was like they were centuries ahead of us with the precision and proficiency they used to conquer us. And if I was to be their queen, that too will become my life–one of the constant wars.
I was sick of it. Yes, the recent war will forever be a scar on my psyche that will never fade, but I too thought of Mycea’s history of violence and cruelty, and I just wanted it all to stop.
Even the Fey–the ethereal, magical race–were artists, architects, and performers slaughtered and kicked out of their homes. The natives who occupied Aestha also fell under the swords and might. To achieve a “perfect” world, why did it always mean that someone needed to suffer?
Even in Aestha, the nostalgic utopia that brings such joy to my Naimee’s eyes was known to send lower-class children into the famed diamond mines when there were not enough workers. Tiny, such small fingers helped create the tiara atop the queen’s brow, the necklace clasped around her throat, and the ring on her fingers. If Naimee knew the sacrifices made to make her such an impressive, regal sight, would she rage for those forgotten souls? Or would she claim Aestha needed to do anything to succeed?
Or was it only this continent that was horrifically deceased and gangrene? If I were to escape to another country, maybe to Rijoku, an archipelago of tiny islands swollen with trees pregnant with golden fruits, beaches with pink sand, and water a dazzling turquoise, it would be a different outcome. I heard that the people there were kind and welcoming of strangers. They had deep bronze skin and coiled hair to their waists. There was no violence, no war, only family bounds and focus on bettering the community. It sounded like paradise.
“Ana, what did you need?” the Queen said, a thread of impatience in her voice.
My earlier anger deflated. I sighed. “I don’t think I can do this, Namieé. Everything is happening all too fast. I will be someone’s wife soon. A wife. Does the word not hold much weight?”
I refused to meet my mother’s eyes. Wife. I mouthed the word. It sounded wrong on my lips. I will be turning sixteen mid-winter, but it was still ludicrous that I was to be someone’s wife. I knew some girls were sent off to be married even younger, but it seemed almost criminal for me to be subjugated to this life sentence.
My mother did not speak for a few minutes. And when she did, her voice was strong. “Ana, may I speak to you as a wife and not your Namieé?”
I snapped my head up and met her eyes. “What do you mean? Why must you separate the two?”
“Because Ana,” Namieé replied, “when a woman marries a man, she must give herself to him–becoming his property in all matters. I will not sugarcoat it for you, snow cub. It is entirely that. We are sold off to the highest bidder. And in your case, because of circumstance. We are of royal blood, Ana. We do not get the reality of a choice. Because of the finery we wear and the blueness of our blood, we are the people’s martyrs.
So when it is time for a girl to no longer be dependent on her Papiee, she must place all of her energy, desires, whims, and husband and fulfill her role as a wife. You will be a wife first and a woman second, Ana. That is our reality.” As she spoke, she rubbed her hand up and down her growing middle.
A weaker part of me wished my mother had chosen to sugarcoat my fate. Of course, I knew what society expected of me, but when it was put so candidly, the reality of my situation has finally hit me. It struck me like lightning–the realization that I will be married to a stranger, a man who had a reputation for his cruelty and ruthlessness. Tears collected behind my eyes. I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. But I could not do this here, not in front of the people milling about.
My throat was thick as I whispered. “I know Namieé. I know. Papiee has already made it clear what I need to do.
“Please him, Anayissa,” Papiee repeated a few days ago. “You must do everything you can to please him. You can’t think only of yourself. His mood could determine our lives, Ana.”
Panic. I was beginning to panic. There were too many voices. Too much light. I did not feel safe. Not enough air. Too many faces. None were friendly. They did not care.
I almost jumped out of my skin when I felt Naimee’s cold hands on mine.
“You need to remain calm, Ana. Stressing yourself out will not fix anything.”
“Namieé, how can I remain calm?” I exclaimed. “I am going to marry a brute. Do you think this is easy?”
Naimee’s grip on me tightened. Her voice was like a whip. “You insult me. Do not think this easy for me–to have my baby being sold like chattel. You are my precious snow cub. I feel so fucking helpless, but if we panic, it will only make things worst–trust me, I know.”
Despite my efforts, a tear fell from my eyes. Leaning forward, I pressed my cheek to my Naimee’s chest. “I am sorry, Naimee. I didn’t mean to imply you don’t care. I know this is equally frustrating for you. I’m just so…I cannot even think of a word to perfectly describe how I am currently feeling.”
I felt Lizette’s sigh. “I know, snow cub. I know.” She sounded as defeated as I felt.
Fingers thread through my hair. I strained my neck so she could reach the soft curls at my nape.
The queen’s cool breath fanned across my face. “I worry for you, snow cub. So much. I see myself within you so much it terrifies me. I used to be so full of life as you, Ana. With friends like your fiery Laura and demure Julia. I do not want to see you break, Ana. I do not want to see you become the married woman who puts everyone before herself. I do not want to see you withering off to the sidelines. It will kill me.”
The queen squeezed me tighter. I gave up the fight against my tears and sobbed quietly into her chest. Namieé used her body to shield me in case anyone tried to look.
“Naimee,” I cried, “I don’t want this. I never wanted this. Please… I cannot. I can’t marry that man. I will not. I refuse to!”
The queen’s voice wavered in pain. “Snow cub…if I wish I could save you from this fate. But I will pray to Olliah–”
At the name of the Aesthan god, I gritted my teeth. “What will praying do? What can your god do, Naimee? He could not prevent the war. Your god has done nothing! How can you remain so stalwart in your faith with what you went through since you have been here? Papiee hurts you, Naimee,” I sobbed those words, “And your god just watches idly by.”
I expected the queen to fling me off of her and roar with rage. I tensed my body, waiting for the rebuttal. I knew I crossed a line, but in my despair, I could not consult with reason.
And when the queen spoke, her words were calm and measured.
She rubbed my back as she said, “When I was first presented to your Papiee, I was excited.
I heard rumors of the recently crowned Mycean King about how handsome and fierce he was. But it was his kingdom that held my attention. Beautiful Mycea was named the jewel of the four kingdoms. It drew me like a moth to a flame.
In Aestha, I was treated with absolute adoration. It was tradition to treat your child so, but my parents went above and beyond. I never a day without their love, and with their deaths, I can still feel their love for me from the afterworld.
They said I was the perfect Aesthan–with my cool features, silvery-blonde hair, and eyes like the top of glaciers. My courage and lust for adventures were just topping on the cake.
My younger brother Bror was my everything. My closest confidante, Bror, was my partner-in-crime. We used to climb trees together in the woods, race each other across frozen pounds, practice sword fighting as we grew older, and it used to frustrate him to no end that I was always the better fighter. I told him and no other of the magic I received and swore him to secrecy. He was the first and only person I showed my other-self. I fully shifted in front of him, and at that time, I thought it was the excitement that brightened his eyes. I should have known it was envy.
You are well-versed in the tale of how I was forced to marry your Papiee, but that is a lie–a lie that I have convinced myself to be true. I wanted to get away from home. I dreaded staring at the same castle walls, running in the same woods, and only seeing a small pocket of the world when I knew there was more to life than this. The tension after the war sealed my decision. I believed it a great opportunity to escape.
Like all young people, I thought myself invincible. I believed I could handle any challenge thrown my way, but nothing prepared me for your father. I was used to dealing with men–I scrambled with Bror numerous times in mock battles and wrestling, but that was siblings holding back, not intending to do true harm on another.
It did not take me long to realize that your papiee was a monster I could not defeat.
I later learned that it was Bror that betrayed my secret. That at my wedding, he told my husband my weakness and about the shifting. I’ve learned to forgive my brother–not that I wanted to, but I could understand why. Jealousy can be an ugly thing. I still talk with him because he is my last link to my home, and if I severed that last cord, I fear that I would feel truly alone.
Your father was unkind to me on our wedding night, Ana. I cannot spare you the details. You need to know what to expect. He drugged my wine so I could not shift. I felt him throw me onto the bed and rip off my dress. I tried to fight him off, but my limbs were too slow from the drugs. He beat me as I struggled. And when I stopped struggling, he forced himself on me. The pain was so intense I had been sore for a week following that night. Blood came when I relieved myself–it was if I could not escape it; that night followed me everywhere.
When he eventually finished, he slapped me across the face and laughed down at me. He mocked the tears that fell. I never wanted to die so much until that moment. I wanted to disappear. I wanted the pain to stop. But it never did.
I thought once I became pregnant, he would change. I was convinced he did because in front of the court, he treated me glass. He showed me off. I never saw such joy on his face when he announced that his wife was pregnant with his child.
But I was wrong.
I cannot count how many silent funerals I held for the sons and daughters I lost. And each time that it happened, I forced myself to look. To cradle the precious being in my palms. To apologize. To be strangely content to know that it was saved from the cruelty of this world.
Every time I became pregnant, a small part of me always believed that he would finally change. And each time, he became more convincing. It was the same thing every time: the gentle words, the fierce protectiveness in his eyes as he held me in his arms and promised to change. But then those promises would sour, and the cruelty began again. The mocking words, the pinching of the skin on my forearms, the slapping, the kicking–
There were rumors around the castle that I was infertile. That was the greatest cruelty I ever knew. They said there was something wrong with my womb. That it was my fault that my children were dying. I wanted to shift. I wanted to kill them all. I wanted to sneak into their rooms and sink my teeth into their necks and drag them outside and tear them apart in front of the whole world. I wanted to taste their terror. I wanted them to feel an ounce of what I felt…”
I felt tears on my skin. My body was frozen in horror. And then she continued. “I am ashamed to admit this, my snow cub, but I tried to kill myself once. It was after the king beat me. He beat me so badly that I kept coughing up blood. My head throbbed so much, and my eyes were so bruised I could barely open them. Because I fought back and bit him, he refused me to see a physician. So I sat on our bedroom floor and curled up into myself. Normally, I would have cried myself to sleep. But this time, there was a numbness that settled within me. I felt calm. Resolute. I did not feel my wounds anymore, only the revelation.
I crawled to Harold’s discarded trousers, where I remembered he left a sheathed knife. He had threatened to cut me moments before. Holding the blade in my hand, there had been a newfound energy thrumming with me. I gripped the hilt with all intentions of slitting my throat and ending the agony.
But then the strangest thing happened. It had been a full moon that night. The silvery light glowed brighter as the blade touched my skin. I felt the blade press tighter when I first heard the voice in my head.
My first thought was the wound to my head was causing me to hallucinate. But then the voice spoke again, and this time, it was strong and clear in my head.
The voice told me to stay strong, not to give up. The voice said it was watching over me, and in return for my faith, it would send me my greatest gift. The voice said that it loved me and it would protect my gift until it was time.
And nine months later, you, my snow cub was born. My greatest gift, my greatest joy. When I first held you in my arms, I wept. I cried so hard my tears drenched your little face, but you did not mind. You gave me this silly, toothless grin that opened up my heart. It had been closed off for so long that when I looked upon your darling face, I knew you were my reason for living. You made life worth it. How happy you’ve made me, Anayissa…it still shocks me how much I can love another so wholly.
So how can I ever doubt my god when he gave me the best thing in my life?”
I could not control my sobs then. They rocked my body so strongly it felt like I was suspended in actual waves.
Naimee held me tighter. I felt her stomach against my cheek, and I cried harder.
“Ana,” Lizette whispered into my hair. Go back to your room and compose yourself. I will hold off the tailors. Go now, my snow cub.”
The queen released me then. I wiped the tears from my face with the back of my hand. Ignoring the exclamations from the crowd, I waded and pushed my way through the hall. As I departed, I heard my mother assure everyone that I would be back soon and that I needed to go to the powder room.
Reaching my room, I slammed the door shut and slid to the floor. There were so many thoughts running through my mind, yet my head felt empty.
I crawled towards my bed. My hand sneaked underneath the mattress until my fingers met cold steel.
My fingers were shaky when I extracted the knife.
My head was empty.
I felt nothing.
Just a cold purpose.
The skin on my left arm was so soft, so vulnerable. There were also the white lines from the older scars. And the pinker ones that were newer.
The blade was not sharp; it was my preference. I wanted to work the blade. I wanted to struggle. I wanted to give myself a choice to say no. Fling the blade away. Seek help. But I never did.
A dot of red.
Then another.
A slash of crimson.
It was bubbling up now. It was dripping down like tears. No, I was crying now. The hot tears mingled with blood.
I cut deeper.
It stung–of course, but I kept ongoing.
And going…
I was gone.

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