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I did not count the days between when we had left the mountains and when we had arrived in the small white-washed palace where I would be working. Time seems to blur when you’re somewhere where even the sun looks foreign, and when you have nothing to give time a place to look forward to.
A servant led me into the palace wordlessly when we arrived. The air inside was clear of the desert dust and I felt the cold alabaster tile touch unfamiliarly against the soles of my bare feet. We were silent as we passed through empty chambers adorned with tapestries and frescoes, and fine reliefs and glazed tiles. Passing through doorways where armed men stood guard at each end, one after another, until we reached a plain-looking room lined with wooden pallets along the floor.
We stood there idle without a word from the servant accompanying me, the silence almost unbearable from leaving me to my thoughts in absence of any words. Around me or for me.
I looked up at the servant, possibly for the first time since I was led into here. She was an older woman, greying but not quite silver-haired yet. She stood tall even if she was shorter than me, though her shoulders fell slightly to betray her posture. Her skin was copper like mine, and under her left eyelid was a small faded diamond marking.
“Where are we?” I spoke to her in our native tongue.
She looked at me, silent for a moment as she shook her head. Then she took a glance at the doorway where we came from and whispered in a low voice. “You will have to learn their language from now on if you want to stay. I will teach you.”.
Her eyes were cold and hard, boring deep inside of me as if I had offended her with the question. Yet there was a soft quality to them that I could not help but notice until she turned towards the corner of the room where a small decrepit wooden chest was backed against the wall. She opened it and brought out a set of clothes. “For now, wear this. I will return ” She said, placing them on top of one of the pallets. My pallet.
With that, she turned to leave me in that room alone to get dressed. I eyed the clothes left for me weirdly, running my fingers along its thick white fabric. I picked up one of the fabric, letting it hang from my hands as it unfolded itself. It looked like the scale armour that the moch-warriors wear to protect themselves. Instead of bronze scale however, they uselessly employed wool here.
I lowered the shirt in my hands, bunching them up beneath my palms once more. Did they bring me here to fight with them? I thought. This place is deserted. Who will they make us fight; the sun?
Hearing a noise approaching from the doorway to the room, I quickly threw on the odd armour and trousers made from the same material. The woman servant appeared before me, giving me a cursory glance.
“They brought a simple one didn’t they.” She sighed, shaking her head. “Turn the shirt around, you’re wearing it wrong.”
I bit my lip as she waited on me. “Of course” I nodded, popping my arms inside of the shirt and turning it the right way around.
“Good. Now come, I will teach you what to do” She waved me over for me to follow, though she did not wait and was already through the doorway by the time I had begun to move with her.
She would teach me what I would have done for the next year and a half there in that tiny gemstone palace. She would teach me how to mix the lye with oil to separate the ammonia from clothes, and she would teach me where to fill the pails of water and how to bring more than two at a time in one trip. She taught me the language of our masters and the proper address and etiquette in their presence. She taught me her name - Kithia, and I taught her mine: Tsaveyyo.
“Do you ever wish to go home, Kithia?” I had asked one day as we washed clothes in one of the palace’s many courtyards. She had told me stories of her life when she still lived in Skeskitchamoch; about the vegetable peddler with the massive overbite, the way the spring air was dusted in pollen, the river she and her friends used to bathe and play in. The longing in her voice was always clear every time she would tell her stories, yet she was silent now with her eyes fixed on her tasks.
“No” she finally answered with a shake of her head. “I have seen enough there to bore me.”
With that she looked up to smile, yet her eyes did not follow her, and regarded me softly before turning away once again to carry on with her duties. She was nineteen when she was taken away to work here in this very same palace. She would be turning fifty three that summer.