Morning light drifted lazily through the transluscent dome, to illuminate in golden light the many hung silks that decorated the bedroom of the Princess-Regent. She furrowed her manicured brows as the light fell through her layers of protection and onto her. She opened one eye to the brightness, then closed it again and sat. “Ehli, attend.” The words were groggy. She felt as horrible as she sounded to her own ears– hair wild, eyes crusted, back sore from a night of tossing about on the unfamiliar bed of an heir. Absently, she rubbed at her eyes, then paused as she felt wetness. Such feelings were not what she needed.
Slowly, she took a deep breath and let it out, then stood as the thin form of her grey-clad chambermaid approached. Thankfully, at least Ehli was the same. She leaned against the hip-high bed. “What’s on the shedule for the day?” She murmured, words slurred as she blinked to try to clear her bleariness.
“Good morning, Princess. Today, you have more scheduled mourning in the chapel starting before breakfast and ending for lunch. You are expected to either skip both meals, or eat little. I could sneak you something if sitting for hours makes you hungry.” Her tone was soft. “After that, you’re given an hour to yourself to clean up, and then the rest of the day is learning as you go about how to rule an empire for your grandfather.” Her green eyes looked on her mistress, her lower lip forward and her brows furrowed as she traced her eyes rapidly along the shorter woman, to see if there were any needs unmet that needed seen to immediately. “I’ll help you wash up. You’re supposed to look something like this after the ritual mourning, not before it.” The woman gently picked apart an obvious tangle with agile fingers.
“Thank you.” The princess hugged herself. “Please, some breakfast while I clean up? I can manage dressing to mourn without help. It’s the outfit hung out in the usual place, right?”
“The usual place is across the castle. Your mourning clothes are instead on a stand in this room.” Ehli waved a hand briefly toward a stand that was in the same relative position as it had been in the old room.
“Yes, of course.” A corner of her mouth lifted, and she pushed from the bed and wandered on bare feet toward the curtained shower area. The ceiling had holes in it, as did that concave section of floor, and a stool was in place, heavy and sturdy for her to rest on inside the sun-lit shower. She slowly stripped away her clothes and tossed them onto the floor, then sat on the stool and pulled the string. Warm water fell onto her briefly, and then stopped. She washed her hair and body thoroughly before she finally rinsed with a single long tug on the pull as she used one hand to help rinse the shampoo from her hair. It was long, and only getting longer. The tips were beyond her reach unless she pulled her hair around to her front and washed it there. Several long, brown strands clung to her fingers after she was finished, and she let them fall from the digits under the stream of water with half-aware amusement before she finally walked to the nearby pool inside the room. It was against one of the sloping walls, and as she began to climb in, she gasped. The chill water on just her toes was breathtaking. She looked back toward the bed, where she expected Ehla, but the servant was gone.
The princess took a deep breath and closed her eyes, then slipped into and under the water, hands over her breasts to protect them from the chill as she hurried through her soaking period. By the count of twenty, she was shaking, and hurriedly scrambled out and toward a pile of large towels, which she dove into like a second bed. There, she shivered until she no longer felt numb, but instead wide awake, heart still rapid as she felt her teeth chatter until she clenched them.
Her clothes looked so far away. Sitting among towels seemed a much better idea, even better than something silly like brushing her hair out. The young woman closed her eyes.
Her eyes popped open at the sound of a light cough from nearby. She looked up to see Ehla with a tray.
“Get up, princess. You don’t have time to doze about anymore.” The servant girl smiled.
“And why can’t my brother be regent?” The princess, more awake, began to rise.
“Because you’re older, of course. Being older means that you are surely graced with wisdom…” Ehla trailed off. “It’s been hiding a long time though.”
The princess laughed.
“Stop that, you’re supposed to go cry in an hour.” Despite the scolding, Ehla smiled warmly as she placed the tray on the bed and led the princess to a vanity, where the long process of grooming began. “I’m going to braid tightly, so that it doesn’t tangle when you go about the mourning business. Brace yourself.”
In preparation, the princess-regent closed her eyes tightly as her scalp was assaulted with tugs and pulls as her hair was first brushed, and then braided. She felt sore, and was certain her skin under the hair was reddened by the efforts to make her look presentable. As she opened her eyes, her vision was blurred, and she hurriedly wiped them.
The rest of the preparations went quickly under Ehla’s experienced hands, and soon, a princess in mourning servile wear walked slowly down the winding stair.
Ehla watched her go, then glanced back toward the bed, where a tray full of untouched food rested.