3.7 Stars and Hearts

76 16 1

Margo hated to feel like a helpless princess.

She sat motionless while an albino man slowly brushed her thick auburn hair, humming with each stroke, as if playing a musical instrument. He seemed entranced by her otherworldly tresses.

Had Margo not spent time as a personal slave, she might have felt amused to have subservient chambermaids who laid out her clothing and fetched whatever she asked for. They were all men who referred to her as "angel." It was a good thing they only wanted to brush hair and pick out clothes, because they could be overbearing. Cherise had confessed that she was afraid dismiss her male chambermaids, and indeed, the men got huffy whenever Margo wanted to be alone. 

All the servitude made her feel like a Torth. Margo never, ever wanted to be mistaken for that sort of creature, and if not for her leg situation, she would have categorically rejected them.

But a few days among the Alashani had taught her that chambermaids received pay for their services. Many claimed a faded-but-illustrious ancestry, and the very suggestion of slavery offended them. Apparently, they came from low-class families in slum neighborhoods, but each had a hope of attaining privilege. All they needed was to find themselves related—through blood or marriage—to a councilor or warrior. Maybe a future great-grandnephew would be blessed with Yeresunsa powers. Maybe a third cousin twice removed would marry a clever merchant. One successful person could raise their entire extended family out of the slums.

Margo had traveled with the messiah all the way from paradise. That made her exalted, so she was showered with gifts and servants. But lacework dresses and jewels did not make her feel classy. Or graceful.

She began to strap on her peg leg.

A skillful carver must have spent many hours on the ivory prosthetic. He or she had hollowed it out, and twirled it with ribbons of molten gold for extra shine. It was a beautiful piece of work.

But it was not a leg. It had no foot. No knee. It was just a stick that could not bend.

"Do you feel like coming to the heirloom bazaar with me?" Cherise asked.

Margo glanced towards the doorway, where her foster sister leaned, resplendent in an embroidered top and swishy pants. Alashani garb flattered Cherise. Diamonds shone in her black hair, as striking as stars in a clear night.

"No. Thanks." Margo tightened the thigh strap. Even if the smelly ointment in her cabinet could protect against chafing—which it couldn't—walking was clumsy and difficult for her. 

The furthest she'd managed to walk was the palace pendulum. There she could sit by a burbling fountain, while an ornate pendulum swung overhead, inexorable and reliable, kissing toothy little stalactites to mark every half hour and hour. It made a full orbit by some mysterious means, like a massive clock.

Every neighborhood and palace had a pendulum. People used them as meeting places, and Margo met interesting people there. Talk helped her keep her mind off everything that was missing in her life. Like daylight. Earth. Family. Thomas. And the leg she needed in order to run, swim, and walk the way she used to.

"We could take one of those fancy rickshaws." Cherise hung on the doorway.

Why couldn't she see how miserable Margo was? Carefree shopping was impossible, so why did Cherise keep bothering her about perusing trinket shops, or going for puppet shows and street food?

"I'd rather stay here," Margo said.

Cherise shrank back at her frosty tone.

"I'm sorry." Margo wished she could be the big sister she used to be, on Earth. She used to help abused children. Cherise was seventeen now, and as teenager, she was supposed to be having fun. She ought to experience something like normalcy.

Nowhere Nation [#SFF] Updates every 5 days [#Galactic]Read this story for FREE!