Photo via Visual hunt
Lilavati tore the silk abomination from the hands of the slave. It was a hideous gown of yellow and purple. It was obviously too big for Lilavati, with black and green embroidery all across the hood and half cloak.
“You may take this to my father, and tell him if he considers this attractive then he has no idea what beauty truly is,” she said, casting it at the slave woman’s feet. “I refuse to wear that. Either he provides me with an appropriately beautiful gown or he may explain to Manas why his wife will be riding out of town with nothing covering her but her hair.”
“Yes Illustrious One,” the slave woman said, grabbing the pile of silk and scuttling out the door.
“Illustrious One, your bath is ready,” one of the other slaves said, as if the whole scene hadn’t happened.
Lilavati shed her nightgown and walked to the side of the tub. It was too tall to kneel next to, so she simply leaned over it, letting the ends of her hair fall into the water. The steam rose to caress her hot skin and the light scent of the night blooming jasmine did much to ease her tension.
One of the slaves took a pitcher and poured water over her hair. A soap made with the same oil was carefully rubbed in. Once every strand was covered in the scented suds, water was again poured over her head. She closed her eyes to protect them. Hands worked through her hair again, making sure there was no soap left.
Once they were done, Lilavati climbed into the tub, with a little assistance from a small set of stairs produced for her benefit. She leaned back and soaked for several minutes before beginning her usual ritual for cleansing her body.
She was only halfway through when her father stormed through the door, the hideous outfit in his hands. “What do you mean sending this abomination to me, claiming your mother sent it? She says she sent the red and black dress we agreed upon last night.”
“Ask Inderpal what the slave came with,” Lilavati said without stopping. “He’ll confirm that I came in with nothing and the slave entered with that. Then track the slave’s movements. You’ll see I had nothing to do with it.” Her father spluttered and then stormed out again.
He returned just as she was climbing out of the tub, a beautiful red and black gown in his hands. “My apologies, Lilavati. Your mother did indeed send that abomination to you. When I returned to her after doing as you suggested, she at first denied any such deception. Then finally, after some persuasion, she admitted she wished to humiliate you since you were such an embarrassment to her.”
“I could have told you that,” Lilavati said. “She’s been saying this for how long?”
Her father shrugged. “What you women do is no business of mine. Now, dress yourself swiftly so you have time to eat. Your clothing is almost ready to be repacked.” He swirled out.
Lilavati shook her head but allowed the slaves to help her dress in the gown her father brought her. It was a silk gown of scarlet with black embroidery at the hem and cuffs. The hood to cover her hair while traveling was black with scarlet embroidery that was identical to the black on the dress.
She moved swiftly out of the room, feeling a sense of relief having left somewhere she never truly belonged. She went to the dining area. To her surprise Kavi was up. “What are you doing here?” she asked as she settled at the table.
“Saying goodbye to my favorite sister,” Kavi said with a yawn. “Father said I could, and sent a slave in to wake me. I don’t care what mother says. You aren’t an embarrassment to this family and I love you and I’ll miss you.”
Lilavati smiled. “I’ll miss you too, Kavi. But you must be strong now. You are father’s heir. You cannot be seen as weak, even if it means showing no emotion when I leave.”
“I know. That’s what father said. He said I may have my say, and if I truly felt it necessary I could cry while we ate, but once we left this room I wasn’t to show any of my feelings,” Kavi said. “I’m only ten, Lilavati. I don’t know how to hide what I’m thinking.”
“I know, Kavi,” Lilavati said. “Would you like what used to help me when I’d get upset at people who were rude to me in the market?” Kavi nodded. “I’d imagine myself on an island where there was no other person but me. It was empty, save for one tree that I could shelter under. I couldn’t stay there long. Mother wouldn’t allow it. But it helped me keep a blank face while I listened to the cruelty. If you let yourself disappear into such a barren spot when you feel your emotions started to get out of control, it should help.”
“I’ll try it,” Kavi said.
“Let’s eat fast so father doesn’t get angry,” Lilavati said. Kavi nodded and the two of them quickly devoured the light meal that had been set out.
Lilavati and her brother joined their father in the main courtyard. Lilavati’s full saddlebags were sitting on the ground beside a beautiful pale silver mare. Her moon colored mane and tail were braided and bound with red and black ribbons. “You should be pleased with this mare,” her father said. “She is the finest from my herds.”
Lilavati privately doubted that, but smiled anyway. “Thank you Father. I am honored to accept such a fine mount as my bride-gift.” Her father grunted. Kavi winked at her, though his face remained blank. He guessed what she was thinking, and probably shared her feelings.
At seven tolls Manas and his men appeared. He looked approvingly at the mare and Lilavati. “I have come to claim my bride.”
to be continued….