Friday, March 21, 2008

Feast of Sisters

"You're back early today." 

She turned around to look at her sister and balked.

Night Wind's face was unnaturally flushed. Her eyes glittered feverishly and there was an almost blurred hurriedness to her usual smooth, immaculate lines.

She clenched her teeth. It must be the evil spirit working its poison within her. She steeled herself and spoke softly.

"Is something wrong? You look ... strange."

Night Wind flashed an impish grin at her grim sister. Her eyes glowed as she leaned forward and whispered, "I'm in love!"

Confused, Night Cloud's mind scrambled for leverage. 

"Wha ... what? Love? With what? With whom I mean? How? When? What?"

Night Wind spun around in giddy abandon and cast her slight weight upon one of the carved, gilded chairs.

"Oh, he is the most glorious man! Like one of the beautiful men we see in the moving pictures Papa arranged for us to watch! Oh, Night Cloud! Night Cloud ... I've never felt this racing of my heart, this overwhelming heightening of my senses!"

She squealed shrilly as she covered her face with her hands and peered coyly through her fingers at her somber twin.

Love? How could this have happened? Night Cloud tried to think.

It must be the evil spirit causing her brain to be overly fevered with strange thoughts. One of the men in the moving pictures. But ... but, they were foreigners! White devils with damaged eyes where all the black had run out and left unholy colours revealing their evilness!

It was worse than she thought. The evil spirit was even more malevolent than expected. Not content to work its worst within it was now conjuring foul foreign specters to bedevil her sister.

In desperation she whipped her head towards her wide-eyed maid and gave a curt nod.

"Night Wind, you are over-excited and the day is hot. Have some freshly made lemon and jasmine tea. Una, serve the Princess some tea."

Her hands shaking, the fearful maid placed the cup gingerly next to the Princess. Fortunately, Night Wind was too immersed in her breathless reporting of all of Bernard's virtues to notice.

Watchfully, Night Cloud monitored the slow consumption of the doctored tea. She was not sure what the effects would be. She had just trusted in Troubled Waters' powers. But still, she wondered.

"I have been seeing him almost every day now, Sister! He is so interesting! The stories he tells, Night Clouds! Of wide spaces with horses and tall frozen mountains and ice from the sky! I have read of such things but he makes them real and alive! Oh, Night Wind I am so happy to have met him ... it is so hot, Una, tell the girls to fan harder."

She kept up a non-stop chatter as Night Cloud felt her soul sink into silent dread. She could not listen anymore. It was just too horrible and the words ran into a turmoil of coiled vipers in her head.

"You should take a bath. You looked fevered. Pika, prepare the bath for the Princess and also some light refreshments. Not too much as we eat dinner with the Prince tonight."

"Oh yes, that ... I feel so tired. I wish we did not have to. Does that mean Second Sister will also be there? How long is she here for anyway? I wish her husband would come and collect her quickly ..." Night Wind yawned as she stretched lazily. She wondered why she suddenly felt such a bone-melting lethargy.

"Her husband is away for a while to visit another princehood so she decided to come home to visit. You should be grateful to her as she has brought many gifts back for us. Eldest Sister is back too. It should be good to see them again."

Night Cloud watched as her sister teetered hesitantly while removing those infernal stilts from the West from her feet. They really were ugly. As ugly as their rank influence on her sister's sensibilities.

She gestured to Una to aid Night Wind who seemed unsteady on her feet.

By the time the maids lowered her into her bath, Night Wind was lost in a haze of drugged dreams, fragrant seas and quiet plots. Head lolling, body cleansed, she was unaware of the hushed whispers between her sister and the maids to surreptitiously severe a burnished lock from her unsuspecting head.

Night Cloud made her way swiftly from the palace to seek the restless waters hiding her sister's fate.


"Where is your sister, Night Cloud?" asked their father as he scanned the hall for his youngest daughter.

"She is not well, Father. She has a fever and we had to put her to bed to rest," answered Night Cloud as she kept her eyes downcast for fear of discovery. An icy chill grasped her heart as she hoped her father did not realised her part in Night Wind's stupour.

"Sick? Is it serious? Have you called the Royal Doctor? What is wrong with my little flower?" The alarm on the old man's face was instant and deep, causing flutters of panic within Night Cloud and eddies of dissatisfaction in others.

One in particular, screwed her face into a mask of gentle, maternal indulgence as she lisped her carefully chosen words, "Father, it is probably from all her running around. The heat and all that dirty smells and air from the outside is just not good for a delicate princess' health."

She drank from her bejewelled cup delicately, hiding her pleased smile behind the golden rim.

"Running around? What running around? Night Cloud, has Night Wind been running around outside? Why have I not been told?" the rage was beginning to build in the quick-to-anger monarch.

Several hearts quaked in fear and none more so than Night Cloud. Insistent tears rose to her eyes and she quietly pleaded, "I'm so sorry, Father. It was all my fault. I should have watched her more carefully but she is so devious. She distracts me with all manners of things and then runs out while I am not looking. I am so sorry, Father! I should have watched her more and not let her out."

The old prince rolled his eyes at her. She was the very image of her sister but their temperaments were as different as the sun and the moon. Night Cloud's sniffling was always annoying. Why did the chit always have to start crying the moment he spoke to her? All that weeping and breast beating ... where had that come from? Their mother was not like that and neither was Night Wind. He felt tempted to dismiss them all and visit his poor, ailing daughter.

The second sister hid a smile as she picked at her food. She could always depend on Night Cloud to finish her work for her. The girl did not have half the brains a cow would be given. So useful and so pliable. 

Golden Lily dragged her critical eye over her younger sister and sneered. If she had her way, both sisters would not even be allowed to eat at the same dias as them. Half-breeds should eat at the same trough as servants and dogs.

Look at that white skin. Unnatural and washed out. Like their mother. Good thing the woman had the good sense to die before polluting the palace with more of her rank presence. Their father must have been addled to take such a foul creature as concubine.

Bad stock would always begat bad stock even when mixed with royal blood. And a half-breed too. Actually, worse, for didn't that woman come from Western stock? Some noisy, guttural sounding race with bluish white skin, washed out hair and eyes and a foul smell? She shuddered.

Must have been the work of some evil medicine woman. She made a sign to ward herself from Night Cloud's evil influence. She wondered lazily what was wrong with Night Wind and hoped it would worsen.

She had a plan while she was there and she intended to accomplish it. Her husband's future was depending on her and she intended to make use of every minute of her visit to her father's court. Night Wind being ill was a boon as the girl was ever interfering. She smiled smugly and watched her father from beneath her lashes.

Another pair of long-lashed eyes studied her facial expressions. They moved to the prince and the still-weeping younger sister and made their own conclusion.

The dinner continued as the chess pieces were moved with the biggest pawn still lost in a herbal trance, unaware of the fates tangling her threads in a knot of inevitability.

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