Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Forgotten Sisters

The maids quaked silently at the burst of tempestuous gale that buffeted against the burnished walls of the inner palace. It hurled itself from one hapless chaise lounge before flinging its angry arms around a previously immaculate pillow, now bedraggled in the incensed grip of its captor.

Night Wind's normally perfectly-coifed tresses were disheveled and mussed from the constant running of agitated fingers through the ill-fated strands. She was unnaturally flushed. Her pale skin was a bright peach and her breathing was agitated and staccato in rhythm.

Pika bravely stuttered, "Pri ... Princess Night Wind, you do not look well. Please calm yourself with some tea. And perhaps a bath?"

Some of the other maids looked at her in wide-eyed admiration and pitying inevitability.

The wrinkled pillow flew overhead and Pika instinctively shied back as the well-padded missile hit her in the neck and rebounded with a sullen thud on the floor.

"Shut up! Just shut up and leave me alone! Why cannot you leave me alone! I do not want bloody tea and I do not need a bath! Stupid tea and baths! Is that all you have in your brains? Water?"

The ranting girl flung herself out of the chaise lounge and every single person in the room cringed. She had been on the rampage for the last hour and they wondered that she did not tire. Some of them were wilting just from holding their breaths in fear of exhaling too loudly and calling attention to themselves.

Night Wind's tantrums were infamous in the palace. She once threw a pair of scissors at a maid who had the audacity to answer back to her. Fortunately, her aim was not true or there would have been a dead servant girl carted out of the palace that night.

She paced the room like a restless, raging tiger, ready to leap and tear shreds and slivers of reluctant flesh from those unfortunate enough to cross her path. Everyone made sure to stick to the far edges and corners of the room, allowing and hoping that her fury will spend itself.

She hung her head down as staggered eruptions of searing ire puffed up the jagged fringe of her forlorn dark locks .

"How dare he? I am a princess and he turns down the chance to be with me? How dare he?" 

She tossed onto her side and stared at the intertwining leaves embroidered in gold and black on the chaise lounge. Picking at a few threads peevishly with one fingernail, she felt unaccustomed tears sting her eyes.

"Why? Why did he not want to be with me? Is home so important? What is there at home that he cannot find with me here?"

Her mind started racing as she wondered how she could make him change his mind. Did he not realise what he was turning down? 

Perhaps it would be hard at first to work in the shadows to turn her father's eye and the court's sentiments in his favour. But she was smarter than all of them combined and what she put her mind to, she always achieved. Did he doubt her ability? Did he not trust her? Why did he reject her offer? What could it mean? Why?

The sudden pivot of her head towards the door startled the maids, causing one particularly timid girl to whimper sharply, drawing a pair of glittering eyes in her direction.

"You! Get a bath ready for me. And lay out the red gown with the golden roses," NIght Wind sat up abruptly and wiped her tears slowly as a stony look of determination hardened her face.

No one thwarted her. If Bernard thought he could get away with disregarding her feelings and good intentions, he had better think again.

Dashing a quick note out on the perfumed vellum paper she had acquired from the West, she bade Pika deliver it to its intended destination.


Night Cloud returned to hear the maids whispering quietly in a corner. Perturbed, she asked, "What is going on? Why are you girls crowded in a corner gossiping?"

Pika kept her eyes downcast as she stepped forward.

"Princess, it's the Princess Night Wind. She has been in a state since she returned home. Crying and tearing things apart. It was quite frightening. Then suddenly it just ... stopped. She was shouting one moment and then when she stepped into the baths, she seemed to calm down and had some tea. And suddenly she just fainted. We were so afraid and were just going to summon the Royal Doctor but were afraid to inform the King as he is so angry at the moment."

The panicked maid stopped for breath, gasping and trying to collect her thoughts before the older princess.

"No! No ... she is just ... tired. From all that emotional break down. Do not call the Royal Doctor or inform Father. Just let her rest. We shall just watch over her. Una, go prepare some broth with the special herbs we obtained today."

Una caught the hidden instructions in the careful words and set off for the kitchens, dragging an unsure Pika with her. 

Night Cloud walked towards her sister's section of the bedchambers and sat next to her reposed sibling. Slowly, she drew her hand gently across the furrowed brow of the sleeping princess.

"Even in sleep you are troubled, my sister. Do not worry. I shall watch over you and together we will defeat the evil spirit. We have more medicine for you from Troubled Waters. All will be well. Trust me, my sister."

In her sleep, Night Wind was dreaming of a gentle zephyr that caressed her brow even as it brought the faint smell of decay with it. Her brow furrowed further, inviting a soothing smoothing from a pair of alabaster hands.


Golden Lily was quite pleased with herself. She had sent the message to her husband that the first part of their plans were in place without even the machinations of their original plan. The fates had played into their hands quite nicely, which only proved that the gods were on their side.

As she walked past the quiet peacock gardens, an assessing pair of eyes watched her scheming shadow from a quiet pavilion in the corner. A shuffling of feet drew them away from the gloating princess as a folded note came to rest before them. 


"Father, I think you are too precipitous. We must not listen to just one source of information. Perhaps we should wait to hear from Night Cloud before making a decision," the elegant pair of hands lifted the golden chalice serenely to vermilion lips.

"One source? I have heard from at least three different sources since this afternoon. Everyone has seen her cavorting all over the city with this foreigner! It is a disgrace! How can we marry her off now without bringing shame upon us?" The furious KIng glared at her through mutinous brows.

Unperturbed, the calm princess smiled gently before lifting orbs of quiet strength and aged-knowledge encased in a tranquil symmetry of quiet beauty.

The monarch felt his temper easing a little as the insistent aura of peace his eldest daughter always emanated surrounded him. Somehow, the very fact it calmed him made him slightly more peevish. How that happened every time she was around was a mystery to him. He was not quite sure he liked it.

Rain Orchid studied her father fondly as she chose her words carefully.

"Sometimes we see what others intend for us to see. It colours our perception unevenly if we do not allow the other shades to assert themselves."

The king resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her. He was fond of his eldest daughter but her constant pontification of ambiguous analogies drove him quite mad sometimes. Why could women not just say what they meant without cloaking it in so many words?

"What do you mean, daughter?"

"I simply mean that there could be more to the stories than what you are being told. How did the stories start and how much of it is true can only be confirmed by the parties involved. We should perhaps ask Night Wind directly and summon this foreigner into court to question him. But we would have to be careful as he works for a powerful company and we should not invite the foreigners' censure by reacting rashly."

"Hmmm ... but if we summon him in, everyone would think that I approve of him. Let's just arrest him and then we can question him in the prisons."

"That might work if he did not work for the local representative of one of the biggest companies linked to the Eron court. If we arrest him arbitrarily, we might invite their retaliation. We must conduct this more discreetly too or it will sully our name even more," Rain Orchid looked limpidly at her father as she smoothed her skirt across her knee.

The King tried not to show his disgruntled agreement and kept silent as he weighed his options and calculated the chess pieces.

"What if it is true, Rain Orchid? I will have to punish her as we cannot let such a violation of court rules go unanswered. You know the rules."

Rain Cloud's eyes soften with compassion as she saw the old man's fears of a life without his favourite child. Her voice was a soothing balm of soft sympathy as she offered to speak with her youngest sister.


The maids were getting worried. The princess had slept the whole day and missed dinner. She had hardly stirred except to mutter incoherently a few times, prompting Una to spoon tiny sips of tea through her parched lips.

Night Cloud sat in silent vigil by her sister. She was calm for the first time in weeks knowing that the over-long sleep was only the sign of NIght Wind's battle against the evil spirit that had invaded her consciousness. Only in sleep could she fight this most fearsome enemy.

She watched her sister's face and continued her painstaking sewing of a snuff bottle pouch for her father. A shadow darkened the stitch she was just picking through the stretched silk, causing her to start and almost prick herself.

She spun her head up to stare into a smiling pair of eyes.

"Sister! You startled me!" she breathed out in relief. Standing, she beamed and gratefully fell into the wide arms of her eldest sister. 

So warm and gentle. The familiar scent of wild orchids and cloves. She loved this smell. It always made her feel so safe and at peace. She unconsciously rubbed her cheek against her sister's shoulder and suddenly felt an unbidden sob rise up and almost tumbled onto the silk-clad limb.

She bit her lip and lifted her head to stare at Rain Orchid.

"How is it you come, sister? Not that I am not glad to see you but I am just surprised," Night Cloud started feeling a small thread of unease wheedle itself into her brain.

"Ah, I just thought I should visit my two favourite sisters. It's been far too long. And I heard Night Wind has been unwell. Is it true?"

The younger half-sibling kept her eyes on her sewing as she feared the intelligent and all-seeing eyes of the acknowledged genius among the princesses. Even NIght Wind could not compare to Rain Cloud's renowned superior mental abilities.

"She has just been over-tired recently and caught a slight cold. She just needs a lot of rest."

"Has the Royal Doctors been to see her? What medication has she been given?"

"Ah! No! I mean, no, there is no need to call for the Royal Doctors for such a slight illness. She has just been taking tea and broths as well as some steamed chicken to keep her strength up. Do not worry, sister, I am taking good care of her."

Rain Cloud narrowed her eyes slightly at her sister's down-bent head. Something was wrong with the picture. She meandered seemingly aimlessly around the room, picking up an ornament here, examining a tapestry there, all the while making a sure path towards Night Wind's bed.

"I am sure you are. You two have always been the closest of all the sisters. The years of being outcast by the others have made you two cling to each other. I have always regretted being married and away from home so early and thus, being unable to ease your years here," Rain Orchid looked regretfully at Night Cloud as she remembered the young sisters clinging to each other and sobbing from the window of their bedchamber as they watched their eldest sister carried off in the wedding palanquin.

The vision of the two frightened and desperate children's tear-stained faces haunted her for years, driving a cleaving wedge of regret and worried sorrow through her heart.

Night Cloud looked up with eyes gone soft and moist with the remembered panic of two abandoned young girls. "It is not your fault, sister. You were always kind to us and when you left, we felt as if our only friend in the whole world had been taken from us. But fortunately, Night Wind was so clever. She managed to find her way into Father's attention and charmed him into remembering us.

If not for Night Wind, we might have been forgotten all those years ago. She always said she learnt all the tricks from watching you," Night Cloud smiled sweetly and in gentle acceptance.

Rain Orchid stopped in her tracks and looked over at Night Cloud, whose embroidery hoop fell listlessly from her hands as she remembered the days between Rain Orchid's departure and Night Wind's first gueriila attack on getting themselves under the protection of their father.

As their eyes met again, Night Cloud's eyes were clouded with the remnant tears of a bewildered chid left to fend for itself without the protection of an adult. Rain Orchid's blurred with sympathetic pain and maternal regret. Her own daughters were her most precious treasures on whom she lavished all her love and attention because of the guilty memory of her two forgotten sisters.

Rousing herself, she carefully and efficiently sealed the mental painting of her daughters back into their precious compartment in her heart.

"Let us go see to Night Wind and you can tell me all about this young man that has caused such a storm in a teacup."

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