MARROW: CHAPTER SEVEN, SCENE TWO
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
Winter of Year Forty-Four
WHAT OCCURRED DURING THE FIRST PHASE OF EXAMINATIONS?
The Twelfth Day of Spring, Year Forty-Four of the Fifth Era of Paltran Emperors
WE TRAVELLED straight across the Inner Court, which seemed to be comprised of leisure areas and private residences, and landed on the front stoop of a large building near the Imperial residences: the House of Good Humours. Laude brought the three of us inside and immediately ushered me alone through a door on the left. Inside sat four chairs, three of them occupied by other uzņika. I sat on the fourth, gilding my nerves. This was the first test — and another sham. One by one the others were called beyond the second door, none of them returning through it. When I heard my name from inside, I quickly stood, smoothed my skirts, and strode through the door. A low platform surrounded by iron candelabras greeted me. Another door split the opposite wall. Across from the platform, a thin, grey-haired woman sat at a wide table stacked with scrolls and codices. At her side waited two young women in light blue robes.
“Who are you?” the woman, whom I assumed was the astrologist, asked.
“Lady Dahlia of the Limhoriò House of Butterflies,” I replied.
“Excellent. Your father delivered your genesi this morning. Go stand on the platform so Gvana and Jouke can complete your physical inspection. If they find anything which requires further attention, we shall summon a physician for his opinion. While they do so, I shall take a few further moments to consider your genesi, after which I may require your cooperation in answering additional questions. Is this understood?”
“Yes, Serkana,” I said as I moved to the platform.
While she pored over false signs and forged dates, Gvana and Jouke pored over me. I understood then why Laude suggested something simple and loose; the two maids stripped me completely until my whole body was bare.
“Ah, the twelfth of Autumn,” the astrologist commented. “A child of Air. You’ll be quite the little inventress, though your adherence to traditional methods shall be lacking.”
Gvana neatly folded my garb while Jouke positioned my to stand with my legs shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched at my sides.
“Oh, and born three days from the waxing crescent. The Divine Artist’s power shall be strong within you. Excellent. I needed some good news today. Can you believe the last ten examinees I read for were mentored by either the Judge or the Lover? Inconceivable. I don’t know why their launnal bothered sending them. Anyway…”
As Gvana and Jouke poked, prodded, and ran their rough hands over me, inspecting every last fingerbreadth of my skin down to the soles of my feet and the flesh beneath my fingernails, I kept my head held straight and shoulders low. Confidence, not arrogance. I had nothing to hide. Gvana opened my mouth and peered inside, wiggling my teeth, while Jouke felt around my ears.
“Your temperament is sanguine, which pairs well with your primary behaviours: doing and manifestation. Now, the order in which your Divine Mentor elicits these behaviours in you is by doing, feeling, observing, seeking, and thinking. In women, thinking shall ideally come before doing and observing before feeling to balance out the body’s natural state, and in your case it would be especially ideal in consideration of the fact that the hour of your birth inhabits the House of the Divine Son. Independent, but also disobedient — and that counter-virtue is very likely naught but emboldened by your temperament.” The astrologist looked at me over the top of the scroll. “You likewise possess an overabundance of blood, being that it is represented in your humour and association with the Divine Son. However, being that you are an uzņika, this inclines me to believe that, if the proper care is taken when considering those with whom you interact, these traits may have more positive associations than negative.”
Jouke and Gvana stepped away from me and bowed their heads. “She is clean,” they said in tandem.
The astrologist motioned for them to help me dress. “Now, Lady Dahlia, I do have a few remaining questions for you.”
“Of course, Serkana.” I lifted each of my feet for the maids to draw on my hose, garters, and slippers.
“Forgive my ignorance, but you’re quite different from most of the other uzņika I’ve assessed today. Black of blood, dark of hair, grey of skin, and light of eye, yet you sound thoroughly Brisian. Where were you born?”
Gvana lifted my arms so Jouke could pull my camisia over my head. “Rahvesk, Kandrisev,” I replied.
“I see, I see. And how was your genesi recorded? I fear for its accuracy if a licensed astrologist was not present for the moment of your birth.”
My mind launched back to the scrolls Artis dumped into my arms. “My parents were very wealthy and kept excellent records. I was sent to live with Serkun Artis so that I would not be affected by the war. He eventually adopted me. My month and day of birth were adjusted to suit the Brisian calendar, but were recorded by a Candrish midwife of appropriate renown.”
The astrologist nodded along sympathetically. “What a kind and generous man your father is. Many women long to do what you are here to become. Bless Maj Melidi.”
“Bless Maj Melidi,” I said. By now, the maids had clothed me in my stola. Gvana worked to wrap my lorum around me while Jouke fitted my coif and hat.
“I am given to offer you some advice, Lady Dahlia, if only because your genesi has been the most hopeful of those I have viewed today.” The astrologist laid the scroll on the table and clasped her hands over it. “Today you shall leave this examination with a blue seal. Tomorrow, it may be yellow — or green, or black, or red, or, Divine Judge forbid, none at all. If you receive a red seal, you shall have three days to acquire green or better.” She poured a small spoonful of blue wax onto the bottom right corner of the scroll and pressed her signet ring into it. “I believe, based on today’s reading, that your addition to the court would be most welcome. But, I’m afraid, presenting yourself with an appropriate genesi is the simplest task you shall have in the weeks to come.” She leaned forward. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Lady Dahlia. Your eunuch shall return you to your accommodations. In the morning, you shall begin etiquette lessons and in the following week attend your first examinations.”
“Thank you, Serkana. I appreciate your wisdom.”
Artis, Pashzak, and Laude awaited me beyond the door. Once Laude returned us to the Hall of One Hundred Petals, Artis sat down on the sole chair and said to Laude, “You will excuse us.”
Laude looked at me.
“It’s alright,” I said.
Bowing his head, he stepped outside.
“You let that cursed woman dominate the entire conversation. A slave. A slave. You levelled yourself with a slave and you called her Serkana!” He seethed. “You seem incapable of truly appreciating the stakes at play here. It’s all fun and games to go prancing around in expensive clothes like a new-money buffoon, but you have a real purpose with real consequences for everyone involved if you cannot accomplish what it is you were sent here to do.”
“What was I supposed to say?” I hissed back. “I know nothing about astrology and I had no idea she was a slave. I could barely make sense of what was plainly written on the scroll, let alone draw all the conclusions she did. What was wrong with her assessment?”
“You should have told her the proper interpretations. Now your record will say that you’re a disobedient, thoughtless little foreign girl playacting as an uzņika. Worse, you’ve attached my name to this mess.”
“She gave me a blue seal,” I cried.
Pashzak put a finger to his lips.
“You’re naïve beyond imagination if you don’t think every word you uttered inside that room wasn’t recorded right down to the letter,” Artis snarled, abruptly standing. The chair scudded against the floor.
A look of absolute indignance consumed him. “You will cease this melodrama at once. Come here,” he commanded.
“Come here,” he barked.
Trembling, I stepped closer to him.
“Embrace your father and wish him goodnight.”
I tensed. “Goodnight, Serkun Artis.”
“No. You will embrace me and address me as your father. I am your father.
I stared at him, unable to move. Rage poured into his eyes. Pashzak caught my eye and very quickly mouthed, “I’m here.”
I swallowed hard. I was weak. Slowly, shaking, I wrapped my arms around Artis and forced the words out just to make him go away. “Goodnight, father.”
He did not return my embrace, but cast off my arms and swept from the room. The air left my lungs as he left. I braced myself on the desk corner.
Pashzak lingered behind, silent.
“I’d like to go to bed now,” I said, voice cracking and eyes cast to the floor. A single teardrop splattered against the stone.
“Send for me if there’s trouble,” Pashzak said. “Goodnight, Lady Dahlia.”
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