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MARROW: CHAPTER SEVEN, SCENE THREE

Updated: Feb 11

SECTION TWO: THE HALL OF ONE HUNDRED PETALS

In the Fifth Era of the Paltran Emperors

Late Winter of Year Forty-Three

through

Winter of Year Forty-Four


VII

WHAT OCCURRED DURING THE FIRST PHASE OF EXAMINATIONS?

The Twelfth Day of Spring, Year Forty-Four of the Fifth Era of Paltran Emperors


THAT night, I laid in bed for what seemed like days. My eyelids begged me to let them shut, but I worried I would wake to find Artis hanging over me in the darkness. And, as soon as I teetered on the edge of unconsciousness, a jolt of fear coursed through me and set my heart pounding.

Unable to stare any longer at the rafters, I withdrew from my cot and stood at the window. Two men wearing chainmail and wielding spears stood beneath every window. Archers perched on the roof just the same, all facing away from the inner courtyard.

I cast my eyes welkin and watched the enormous Moon of Eusri. Its bright and yellowy-white visage mottled with spots of black and grey took up a quarter of the sky and dwarfed its twins, but it was still beautiful. If there really was a dead goddess trapped inside and it wasn’t some poetic metaphor, I pitied her. To be watched, contemplated, written about, invoked, all over the course of a millenia must be tiring. Did it ever cross her mind that so many mortals below revelled in her light? That she was more than an ornament hung on a fold of the dark fabric of the endless Void?

A thought stirred within me. Together, we were like the flame in a lantern. Our existence shed light on the paths of others. If we dimmed, they fed us oil and air, but if we caused too much trouble we were nothing more than a wisp of smoke once extinguished; nothing more than another flickering star to illuminate someone else’s darkness.

Until then, I hadn’t felt like crawling out of my skin and burning it to ashes. Phantom hands ran over my back and thighs. If I had known that accepting the Cobortsriya’s contract would turn Artis into a cold and cruel beast or myself into a nervous, fidgeting wreck, I never would have accepted it. My fate would have been worse than what it was now, but at least I might have been happy.

“Happy,” I whispered to myself.

At that moment, I struggled to remember what that was. Was it metalweaving? Performing? Spending time with Viscaria and Hawthorne?

Sorrow cut through my chest at the utterance of her name. I’d never see Viscaria again. I’d never meet with Gilgorys for an evening of sculpting lessons. I’d never learn from my teachers or greet Ladies Pearl and Amethyst each morning. I’d never see my family again. I supposed I still had my metalweaving but no cause to use it except to be studied and critiqued. My whole life had been ripped away from me the day the nezhdoya hunters took me from the river.

I knew I should have still been grateful to have a life worth mourning. Many others like me weren’t given the pleasure. Zhanna’s life was undoubtedly worse than I could imagine. Belesha’s life, too, even with the help of Viscaria and Hawthorne’s patrons.

But I chose this. I was standing here, in this room, in the Hall of One Hundred Petals, inside the Inner Court of Old Brisia in Maj Impozars, all because I chose to be. The moment I met the Chobortsriya at Artis’s seaside villa, my own blind determination sealed my fate.

I should have listened to Rutgita. I understood now that she stopped me that day out of fear I meant to give something else to a male patron, but if only she had known.

I laid on my cot and closed my eyes. The next few months would be more gruelling than any others I had endured in my entire life.

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