The first chapter of the second Remnant book follows. “The Days of Eliora” has been completed for a little while and is published. You can get your copy here. I hope you enjoy … the next two chapters can be read on this blog.
Eliora was alone. She thought that this was surely the most beautiful place there ever was. How could she possibly consider working here to be as awful as the pits? True, she did feel a little uncomfortable. It felt dark and oppressive inside the thick walls of the palace despite the early morning sunlight but she put it down to her feeling apprehension of how she would be received.
‘Keep up!’ her mother had warned. ‘We can’t be late.’
Eliora scurried after.
She had risen early and had got dressed in her new cotton tunic. Her mother had applied the irritating eye makeup to herself before turning to Eliora. It felt stiff against her young skin but she was happy about the distinction it gave her.
Everything about this morning was new. The time, her appearance and her mother’s demeanour. She had seemed agitated and nervous somehow. What there was for her to be nervous about, Eliora had no idea. She was the one who was going to meet the most powerful woman in the known world for the first time.
Eliora’s new simple sandals cut into her feet as she sped from the hot little house towards the cool palace.
The heat of the morning was creeping over the sands and into the shallow river valley, but all of that was left behind as they entered through the statued gateway. The smooth stone floor left a chill in the early morning. The silence was punctuated by the lonely, echoing tapping of their sandaled feet. Eliora gazed at the scale of the corridors and the clean crispness of the architecture they passed by. Huge columns in the shape of elegant palms held the roof high above. Guards stood alert at either end of the hall.
They hurried through a series of doors, each one with a guard stationed outside.
The last room was beautiful yet terrible. The walls were decorated with colourful paintings depicting people walking and sitting. The images were mesmerising but made Eliora feel uncomfortable. She felt a shiver go down her spine as she saw half human half beast depictions.
There was very little furniture to be seen. A couple of shining gilded stools sat to the side of a large opening that welcomed the rustling rushes of the river inside. The scented breeze wafted the light cotton curtains.
‘Wait here.’ Eliora’s mother cautioned. ‘Don’t touch anything,’ she added before quietly rushing through the ornate door opposite the window.
And so Eliora was alone.
The polished floor gleamed as beams of shimmering morning light bounced from the surface and highlighted a section of the wall painting. It depicted a man knelt with his arms outstretched and flowing from those arms were green and red feathers, as if he had wings. It was unnerving and exotic. Eliora focused instead on the regular patterns of triangles and circles that bordered the image.
Suddenly three other women rushed into the room through the door Eliora had come from. They wore pristine white tunics, tied at the waist with a gold and green braid. Their faces, although quite different, all bore the same almond emphasised eyes and rouge lips and cheeks. They each raised their chins and glanced down at Eliora as they passed her, entering the same door that her mother had.
Eliora felt, maybe for the first time, small and insignificant.
Gentle and hushed voices could be heard from the neighbouring room. Eliora could now hear her mother’s voice singing a slow but elegant tune and the slightly shriller voices of the other women giving instructions.
Eliora waited. She rubbed her sleepy eyes and yawned.
Another voice, more commanding and authoritative spoke, although the wooden door muffled what was said.
Eliora fidgeted a little. She leaned over and peered out of the window. It was already a hot morning and the breeze that drifted in was full of promise that it would get hotter still. She welcomed the clean light in this unfamiliar place. She wandered over to the curtain and drew it back. The rushes nearly came up to the window ledge. A ramp, that appeared to be suspended in the air, gradually led down to the water’s edge. This was not part of the river, but a hand dug pool that branched off from the main water in the distance. This pool was secluded and private. This is where it all began.
I stand on the ramp. She remembers as a story told, I recall it perfectly, as I was here.
Eliora jumped as the door behind her opened. She spun around and saw the most elegant looking woman framed in the doorway. The woman was tall, slender and pale skinned. Eliora could not help but look into the beautiful face, even though her mother had warned her not to. She looked as perfect as the images painted around her. There appeared to be no imperfection. There was something about her dark eyes that was frightening. Eliora quickly diverted her gaze to the floor and gave an involuntary shudder of fear.
‘Who is this child?’ Eliora glanced up. The woman’s voice was richly toned and strong. She had a long neck where she wore multiple gold necklaces, and a chiselled face. Her dark eyes were enriched by her carefully painted makeup. Her long, thick, dark hair hung completely straight, and woven into her crown was a bright circlet of jewel incrusted gold.
‘She is my daughter your majesty.’ Eliora’s mother said, standing behind the queen, her head bowed. ‘You commanded me to bring her before you when she reached her age.’
‘Will you work hard in my household?’
‘Yes,’ Eliora stuttered, how could she refuse to do so? ‘Your majesty.’ She remembered.
‘You shall be called Ebonee.’
Eliora heard the stifled giggles of the three other women and looked up. Her mother looked on Eliora with concern.
Her own mother had been named by the queen when she was Eliora’s age but she never used it outside the palace.
‘If you are like your mother, you will be good at singing. Is that correct?’
‘Yes, your majesty.’ Eliora struggled not to look into the queen’s face. It felt rude not to make eye contact, although she had no desire to feel that fear again.
‘Then you will be assigned to the care of my cats. Sing to them.’
‘Thank you your majesty.’ Eliora said aware of her mother’s relieved sigh.
‘Simra, show her the way.’
Eliora’s mother bowed low and escorted her daughter from the room.
‘Simra. What does that mean?’ Eliora asked, barely out of the door. ‘What does Ebonee mean?’
‘Oh Elli.’ Her mother sighed. ‘Simra means song. That is my name here. And you are to be called Ebonee. That means black.’
‘Black?’ Eliora looked at her mother confused.
‘Yes black.’ She pulled a small square of muslin from her braided belt. ‘You will need this.’ Eliora took the square. ‘Look at your reflection in the disk here.’ She led her daughter to the gilded disk held by the horns of the painted symbol.
‘Oh no!’ Eliora said mortified.
As she looked into the disk, her reflection stared back, only it was not the pristine and beautifully made up face of this morning, but a kohl smudged, black eyed child who looked back at her. She had rubbed her tired eyes and smeared the makeup right up into her eyebrows and also halfway down her cheeks.
Eliora began to scrub away at her face. ‘What is wrong with my own name? It seems unfair that I have to have her choice.’
‘Here, let me.’ Her mother took the muslin and carefully rubbed away the traces of sabotage. ‘You could have waited until she had named you before you did this!’ she laughed. ‘Now you are stuck with that name!’
‘How come you ended up with a nice name like song?’ Eliora pouted.
‘It was grandmother’s voice that she heard first. She was singing to your uncle. I inherited her name.’
‘Do you think she will change my name?’
‘I’ll take that as a no then.’
‘It isn’t all that bad. At least you are not a number like the others.’
‘You have been given a great honour, to take care of her cats. To you that is nothing, but to these people, that is a big deal.’ Simra stood back from Eliora and nodded. ‘You’ll do.’ And led the way down the corridor.
Eliora checked her reflection. The result was not as neat as this morning, but she was looking Egyptian again.
‘Ebonee!’ her mother called. ‘Eliora, come on!’
‘You never told me she was so frightening.’
‘You think so?’ Simra hesitated a moment. ‘Yes, I suppose I had thought that to begin with.’
‘You aren’t scared of her now.’
‘No. She says she needs me.’
‘But her eyes.’ Eliora shuddered again.
‘I told you not to look into her face.’
‘How can you do that? I mean, haven’t you looked into her eyes?’
‘Not for a long time.’ Simra said quietly.
‘I don’t know how you go to her every day and not die each time.’
‘Elli, don’t be so dramatic.’
‘Why does she need you? Those other women didn’t want you there.’
‘No one wants us here.’ She sighed. ‘The queen says that my singing calms her soul.’
‘And her soul definitely needs calming. You should have seen her eyes.’
The two of them strolled through a series of empty rooms before they came to a painted blue door surrounded by carvings of cats. The guard at this door was muscular and severe looking. He took no notice of the new comers and allowed them entry without question.
Inside was a bright sun lit room with many cushioned seats and the sound of a gentle purr. Many cats lounged on the soft chairs and at the windows. The floor was littered with excrement. The stench made Eliora retch.
‘Keep this place clean, and for your own sake, keep these cats happy.’ Simra marched over to the ornate cupboard in the corner, opened it and pulled out a broom and a pan. ‘Waste must be taken to the pile, outside the kitchen, and food can be found with the cooks. You should have no trouble.’ She held out the broom to her daughter. ‘Ask the guards for directions. They are allowed to speak to you as you wear the royal servant colours in your belt.’ Simra pointed to the embroidered stitches that adorned Eliora’s belt and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Work here until your replacement comes.’ She looked anxiously at her daughter.
‘I’ll be fine. How difficult can this be?’
‘Alright. I’ll see you at home.’ Simra said and she closed the door behind her.
It was difficult work. Eliora was fooled by the cats’ graceful movement and soft purring. The cats had wills of their own. They were quick to pounce on the broom and quite happy to attack with claws out. She had finally collected all their mess and left the room having sustained two angry looking scratches to her forearm.
The bald headed guard was far too frightening to ask directions, so, Eliora, left to her own devices, searched for the kitchen herself. Every corridor looked the same, every doorway led to similar rooms, every wall decorated in the typical Egyptian manner. In the end it was the smell of cooking that led the way. But of course, Eliora had not paid attention, and was uncertain of the way back.
I walk with her. I stand guard over her. She is lost and is panicking.
I quickly transform.
Eliora was lost. She took the next turning on the right and nearly bumped into an elderly man, sweeping the floor.
‘I’m sorry. Excuse me sir?’ she apologized. The guard standing a short distance away flicked his gaze towards her. He looked confused as to whom she is talking.
‘Easily done, my dear.’ The old man was kind to her. She was relived, at last, to find a kind soul.
‘I am looking for the queen’s cat room. I don’t suppose you know …’
The old man gave her directions, telling her to take note of visual aids to guide her. She would not get lost again.
As Eliora walked past the guard, she glanced up into his face. He pulled away as if he considered her crazy.
Eventually, and reluctantly, she returned to the cat room.
It was lonely work. The cats were very poor company and vicious with her. She felt very sorry for herself as she cautiously sat on the cold stone floor. As the day had progressed, her own soul could do with calming. The images painted everywhere disturbed her, the long echoing corridors and unfriendly faces disheartened her and her unappreciated job depressed her. This was the place she was destined to be. Why did her family have to be picked for this? What had her friends been doing today down in the pits? It would have been hot, but at least they would have had someone to talk to.
She feels lonely. Turquoise shimmers and pulses from her. But she will not be alone. I cut through the musky scent of cats with calming aloe.