Photo via Visual hunt
She scattered flowers into the warm pool. Behind her she heard the soft music as musicians relaxed the princess before her ordeal. Hui breathed in the scent of fresh flowers mingling with the spice the princess preferred in her bathwater.
This wasn’t an ordinary bath. It was the night before the princess’ wedding, and she must be purified before presenting herself both to her husband-to-be and the gods in the morning.
Hui glanced over her shoulder. No one was watching her. She reached into her sleeve and pulled out a vial of amber colored liquid. She uncorked the vial and poured the contents into the steaming water. The water bubbled for a moment before returning to normal.
She wiped the vial with a tiny piece of black silk embroidered with strange runes before pressing it into the soft, dark soil of the flowering bush that surrounded the purification pool. It vanished beneath the dirt.
“Hui, is the bath ready?” Elna, the head servant, called.
“Yes Elna.” Hui disliked the older woman intensely, though she was careful not to show it.
“Then go help Asura prepare Her Highness’ dress for tomorrow,” Elna said.
“Yes Elna.” Hui hurried to join the other woman.
Hui heard the princess enter the water. She listened as Elna droned on about the responsibilities of the wife of a future king. The young maidservant tried not to show her disdain. Kings and queens bored her, not to mention the kind of damage they wreaked on the land.
She glanced over her shoulder. Whereas the next day she’d be clad in white, the princess was dressed in a black silk gown. Her long black hair flowed freely around her. Her arms floated beside her and she stared up into the night sky. The roof over the purification pool was open to the sky, closed by the sages only when the weather was foul.
The princess floated until just past midnight, when she was finally helped out and dressed in a satin nightgown. She was led to the bed in a tiny antechamber, alone for the last time, and tucked in. Asura and Hui finished the dress while Elna and two others drained the purification pool.
“I hope Her Highness sleeps well,” one of those helping Elna said.
“Her Highness has been drugged so her nerves don’t keep her awake,” Elna said. “This way she doesn’t embarrass herself and her parents by doing anything so crude as yawning or falling asleep at her own wedding.”
“That would be a bad omen, especially given that this is an alliance marriage,” the second woman said.
Hui found herself yawning. She’d been up since before dawn, and would have to be up at the same time to help the princess into her gown, if what she’d poured into the bathwater didn’t do its job.
“Hui, Asura, Soma, Khea, go to bed. You will be helping me with Her Highness’ preparations in the morning,” Elna said. The four chosen women headed to bed. Hui drifted off to sleep immediately.
Elna’s voice roused her. She was screaming. Hui, along with the rest of the maidservants, ran to the older woman. The princess lay on her bed, her eyes wide open. Her pupils were mere pinpricks and her lips were blue. Amber foam gathered at the corners of the princess’s mouth and an amber stain ran up her fingers and toes.
“Gods, what is this curse?” Soma asked, her voice hushed.
“Poison,” someone whispered. The word spread like wildfire. As the maidservants scattered to inform the king and queen, rouse the guards, and let the other servants in the palace know, Hui shifted form and slipped out. The job was well done. Her master would be well pleased.