Chapter 7: The Memory of Spice

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Chapter 7 — The Memory of Spice

My hair smelled of citrus from the warm bath and my skin was rubbed with sweet-flag scented oil. The filth of the past day washed away from me, along with the incriminating signs of my deeds. After the bath, I took care in cleaning my mask, making sure that it was the thing that gleamed most about me.

With the gentle swishing of the wide brushed silk skirts, a beautiful violet that tapered up into grey at the bodice that was decorated by brass buttons, I emerged from the room with two of my maidservants trailing after me like inquisitive shadows.

My attempts to engage the maids in conversation didn't get me far. I had to be cautious with how I phrased my questions, and I received only curt replies.

I was allowed to walk unguarded. One of the servants, Miss Biluria, quietly spoke instructions to my ear.

Turn left at the end of the corridor.

Climb the next staircase.

Oil paintings in intricate gold-leaf frames, sculptures of stone and glass, rich carpeting that existed in sweet harmony with window curtains and tapestries—I tried not to get distracted by the beauty of everything as I examined every door and passage on my way to the small dining room where I was to meet Lord Alik Aspertin. I wondered if his wife, Lady Golia, would be there too. I wondered if she was the reason behind Dylana's imprisonment here in the state of Velamia.

On the last staircase that led down to the central hub, Afali caught up with me. She smelled like me, of oranges and flowers, and had changed into a rigid-looking dress of deep green with velvet trim along the neckline and the hem of her skirt. The straight lines stitched in gold embroidery  only served to emphasise her curves. It was the type of feminine plumpness that girls from Thalmina could only dream of. Her mask was the same one she had worn in the morning.

She grasped my elbow, leaning close to me. "Why did you have them burn your dress?" she asked in a low voice.

I continued walking, without halting my pace or looking at her. Obviously, Afali didn't like how I dismissed the servant. She was ready to admit how closely I was being watched and that everything I did was going to be reported to her and questioned.

"It was filthy," I replied, shuddering. "I don't know how you could step into that marketplace without feeling the same..."

A momentary silence confirmed, Afali accepted my answer. Of course she would. The open revulsion the Lords felt for the People was no secret. It was yet another tool to be used.

"When speaking with my father," she continued, "do not bring up your unfortunate detour—"

I stopped walking without warning. Afali had to lean into me to retain her balance. "And if he asks?"

She fidgeted. Was it nerves? "Why would he ask? Do you think there's a way for him to know, Dylana?"

I pressed my lips together, thinking fast. This would be where I was going to fail in my identity if I didn't find the right story to tell.

"Dyalna?" Afali squeezed my arm. My silence was incriminating. "Where exactly did you go this morning and who did you speak with?"

"It wasn't wasn't part of it?" In my mind, the lie unravelled. I licked my lips.

"What are you talking about?"

"The... the girl, with the knife. The one who told me to... to go and—I thought she was part of it."

"You're not speaking clearly, Dylana."

Again, that desperation. Afali wanted what she asked of me too desperately. I filed it at the back of my mind. If there was something more to her plans, or some secret she didn't wish me to know, I could use that for myself—later.

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