I stared at my reflection in the gilded mirror. The beauticians had left, and the maid my mother had sent patted my curls, arranging them into an elaborate structure. Adding the final touches, she stood back and gazed at her work.
A foreign face stared back at me from the mirror. It was as if my face this morning and my reflection now belonged to two different people.
My high forehead was framed by a mass of jet black curls, held in place by a thin band of gold. My eyes were thickly outlined with black kohl, flicked up at the edges, making my amber irises glow like embers. My brown skin was almost flawless, the heart shaped lips stained with berries to seem as red as possible. I was wearing a scarlet Grecian dress, taken in at the shoulders and waist, with the fabric falling to my feet in swathes of silk. The golden snakes that twisted up my arms completed the regalia that were necessary for a court appearance.
I nodded at the girl: “Thank you, Elise. You may leave.” She curtsied and hurried out.
I had butterflies in my stomach, feeling sick and nervous to the core. Looking at my hands, slick with sweat I wiped them on my sides, then winced internally, visualising my mother’s wrath had she witnessed the movement. However, this was no time for faffing around in circles. I was terrified. My father was a formidable man. Not in build, no, I was almost the same height as him. He was constantly surrounded by a commanding air, the battle scars on his face doing the talking. His merit was “The Warrior”, and every milliletre of my father Emperor Javed’s blood ran with fire. Being the man who conquered and united three quarters of the known realms in a decade, his word was law.
I steeled myself. Glancing one last time at my reflection, I then strode across the room, and pushed open the heavy oak doors, and emerged into the long corridor that ran the length of the entire east wing.
The courtiers parted for me like a sword cutting through flesh. They sunk to their knees, and rose back up once I nodded to them in acknowledgement. I felt the eyes of some ladies bore into my back with considerable envy, and I laughed internally. If I was going to survive this ordeal I might as well have some fun. So I made sure to flick my hair as I went, and sway my hips with extra vigour. Ha! The men were practically drooling! I stifled a laugh, but let my face break out into a smile once I spotted the rest of my younger siblings running towards me.
I let myself be lead hand in hand with my four year old brother Prince Milo, and ten year old Princess Roxanna. The rest of them, twelve year old Princess Katya, thirteen year old Princess Zenith and fifteen year old Prince Abel sat at the feet of my parents’ thrones, on the raised platform in the magnificent room.
Seeing my father, I stilled. My mother, who was cradling six month old Prince Isarus in her arms, nodded at me reassuringly. I stopped directly in front of my father.Falling to my knees, head bowed, I announced my presence.
Finally, he looked up, and I swallowed. Please Divine One, let him be in a humorous mood, I prayed internally. Then I remembered: I hadn’t prayed in a long while, would he even listen?
Resigned, I looked up. My father regarded me with an interested glint in his eyes. He nodded.
I rose to my feet.
“Zarai, I hope you are well?” He inquired
“Father, I thank you for your concern,” I stuttered.
My father stood, and walked to me. He took hold of my hand, and faced the court.
“Princess Zarai , my third daughter,” His voice rang through the room, resonating in the domed hall.
“Your Grace,” came the collective reply.
“Today, she leaves on her journey to her ascension!”
Cheers erupted from the courtiers, clapping echoed through the room.
I blinked blankly. My seventeenth wasn’t till three days time! I hadn’t even met my mentor for the journey yet!
I turned to my father with a bewildered look. "Father?"
He ignored me and continued talking to his courtiers.
“ I have someone to introduce to you. Princess Zarai’s mentor. Her guardian for the coming year. General Kai of the Imperial Armed Forces."
The doors flew open, and in walked the most handsome man I had ever seen