Ashes of Horizon — Chapter 1: Lady of Lonica
Written by Scarlet
The towering sandstone walls of the palace were hued golden in the rising sun’s rays, the coldness of the night gradually being cooked away by the desert’s heat. Alongside the slanted ramps that lined either side of the steps to the front gate were symmetrically planted palm trees, their leaves swaying softly in the early morning breeze. Beyond the trees were tiered levels of plant life, the three tiers possessing a different species of tree respectively; palm, catalpa, and cypress trees, and between them, fully bloomed shrubbery for the addition of red and pink flowers. The high, domed entrance to the palace was bordered by pale blue stone, an intricate swirling pattern engraved into each. Two large turrets were situated on either side, providing a commanding view of the passageway below. It opened to a large sandstone courtyard surrounded by an arcade of arches supported by slender columns, each arch designed with patterns of gold, and a single lamp hanging from each.
Further inside the palace, seated on the balcony overlooking a private garden below, Kheyri, Lady of Lonica, read over some papers as a servant strained tea leaves into a glass. The palace was mostly quiet during this time, save for the twittering of songbirds. She was reclined on a velvet-lined couch as she read, sighing quietly as her eyes scanned the contents of the page in her hand, the other reaching for a grape from the bowl in front of her. The letter spoke of small changes made to housing in a town on the outskirts of the city and the taxes used for it. Popping the grape in her mouth, she glanced at the small table in front of her that held a pile of other papers, along with already opened letters addressed to her directly regarding invitations to informal occasions of friends and some correspondence from other Lords’ daughters. She knew the other papers were of a similar nature to the one in her hand, and she suppressed a groan at the thought of going through the rest. The servant carefully placed the glass next to the pile and bowed her head as she retreated.
“Ah, suryrai.” After thanking the servant, Kheyri sat up, and picked up the glass, blowing gently on the surface of the liquid before taking a dainty sip, nodding in approval at the sweet taste. It was a brief reprieve from the early morning duty of reading over the daily news of the going ons in Lonica, and she could swear for the past few years she had volunteered to oversee such duties from her father that it never got more interesting. By the time the sunlight shone over half her garden, her glass was drained and her papers were finally sorted through.
Entering the adjoining bed-chamber, she gave a cursory glance about the room. It was nothing particularly special, containing a large circular bed, an artisan-made wardrobe, a vanity table, a floor-length mirror in the corner, plush rugs on the marble floor, a few lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and a space on the wall where a painting of her mother once hung. Her eyes lingered on the blank area for a moment, then without sparing it another thought, she approached the mirror as the servant attending her left the room briefly. She looked over her olive skin, smooth as the finest silks of Wallania. Her eyes followed the soft curve of her body, every bit the match for the finest courtesans, and far more alluring. She turned to look through her trove of dresses, something that would emphasize her already ample bosom but not too daring, she thought. As she sifted through the fabrics, the servant returned with a bowl of steaming water, a cloth draped over her arm.
“I’ll wear this one today,” she declared with a velvety voice. She approached the bowl that was now placed on the vanity table and dipped part of the cloth into the water as the servant withdrew to retrieve the gown and lay it neatly on the bed. Kheyri refreshed herself with the wet cloth, wiping her face and neck with it and drying off with the other side of the cloth. The servant helped her dress, slipping the fabric over her skin and fixing some jewelry to her arms and neck. The embroidered gown hugged the top half of her torso, showing some cleavage, before silkily flowing down from above her generous hips to stop just above the floor. When her outfit was assembled, she returned to the mirror, her hips naturally sashaying as she stepped. She smiled approvingly at her figure as she turned, the fabric flowing with her movement. It complimented her posterior well without being at all unsavory. She made a mental note to purchase more gowns of this style as the servant neatly brushed her hair, parting it in the middle. Satisfied, and dismissing the servant, she returned to the balcony, finishing the last couple of grapes and retrieving one of the letters before she departed from the bedchamber, readying herself for her first significant dealing of the day.
The hallway was lined with narrow pillars on one side with a low wall of sandstone in between, giving a mostly unobstructed view of the courtyard below. She saw below that some well-dressed individuals followed by carts were entering. Kheyri walked along the pale blue carpet that ran along the center of the hallway floor as she passed paintings on the wall of predecessors and the occasional servant scurrying by, bobbing their heads to her. A few moments later, she had descended into the kitchens, the smell of baked bread wafting about the place as coals were shoveled into the furnaces and freshly rolled out Lavash dough was placed on top. The rooms were bustling with activity, female servants hurriedly moving about with piles of linens to wash or preparing bowls of fruits, and the male servants were carrying in barrels of vegetables or heading out elsewhere for other labors about the palace. A short woman of a lithe build with her brown hair pinned back bowed her head as she approached.
“My Lady,” the woman greeted her, addressing her title formally.
“Safira,” Kheyri turned to face the smaller woman with a warm smile. She liked the woman’s name, and she thought that if she ever had a daughter, she wanted to name her that. “I have a foreign dignitary coming today.”
“I will have some guest rooms prepared before noon, My Lady,” replied Safira. Kheyri nodded slowly, then spoke again.
“Make sure to have a feast prepared.” She recalled something after a moment. “Ah, and beef kofte.” From what she remembered, the last time she met this dignitary some five years prior, he scarfed down the beef kofte first. Then again, he scarfed down anything. Safira bowed again before addressing some passing servants quietly who in turn nodded and rushed about to finish their tasks. Seeing that she likely did not need to delegate tasks further, she spoke once more. “I won’t keep you from your work any longer.”
Safira bowed once more to her, and as Kheyri left the room, she could hear the woman assigning orders.
Heading towards the courtyard followed by a small entourage of servants, she descended the steps as a large man stepped down from a carriage, patting his pale, sweating forehead with a handkerchief. His dyed pelt swung from his back as he gave commands to his retinue, and when he caught sight of Kheyri, he bustled over to her, holding out a sweaty hand to her. She reserved her disdain for his faint body odor and lightly placed her hand in his. He pressed his lips to her rings briefly before straightening. His eyes seemed to widen at the sight of her up close, apparently astonished.
“Lady Kheyri,” he sputtered out. Clearing his throat, he spoke again. “I expected to see your father, but this was a pleasant surprise. Though, has it gotten warmer here?” He wiped more beads of sweat from his face that were starting to run down the sides. “I could have sworn it was cooler last time I visited.”
She gave a polite smile, gesturing to the stairs.
“Please, come inside where the heat is not so punishing, Lord Roshan.” He followed closely behind, hurrying to get indoors, while her servants helped unload his carriage. “The last time you came, it was during the cooler months,” she lied, knowing full well that he had last visited midsummer.
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