“The Days of Eliora” has been completed for a little while and is published. You can get your copy here.
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.
Eliora perched on the rough brick steps in the shadows.
Today had been her first day of proper work. Her family were set apart in many ways. Eliora had now followed in her mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps and worked for the royal household. There was no brick making for them.
She could see her own people wearily walking the streets, back to their homes, caked in mud and covered in dusty sand, but she didn’t feel sorry for them. Her life was so much worse than theirs, and now she would be in trouble with her mother all over again.
What else could go wrong today?
She wiped her nose and tucked the cloth back into her belt. Glancing up she saw a familiar person trudging along towards her. She lowered her head, not wanting to be noticed.
He slowed his walk as he approached her. She didn’t look up at him so he sat down next to her.
‘What’s up Eliora?’ laughed Caleb. ‘Someone take your doll?’
‘I don’t play with dolls.’ she sobbed.
Caleb smelt of stale sweat and was covered in the crusted mud and grime of his days work. At least it was finished and he could go home to clean up.
‘Are you crying?’ he asked, suddenly concerned as he bent down and pushed away her thick dark hair from her face.
‘Yes you are.’
She was certain he could see the smudged trails of kohl and tears down her cheeks so she quickly rubbed her face with her hands.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked gently. ‘Did they work you hard in the palace?’
‘How did you know about that?’
‘Everyone knows that is where your family are destined to work.’
Eliora stared at the dusty ground again. At least news of her first day had remained a secret.
‘I just went to get Mother some fish.’ She finally said quietly.
‘Well, that’s nothing to cry about.’
‘I know.’ She replied angrily. ‘Let me finish.’ She paused, expecting him to interrupt. He didn’t so she continued. ‘I went down to the market and that idiot Kenaz, pulled my hair so that I dropped my money. I can’t find it. Now Mama is going to get mad at me too.’
‘Where did you drop it?’
‘I’ve looked and I can’t find it.’
‘Well show me where, maybe I can find it.’
‘You won’t find it.’
‘Okay, I’ll show you.’
She took him down towards the market, a place they had been together so many times before. The houses were closer here, and sounds of family life were drifting out to them. Mingled aromas of meals being prepared flowed out into the street. Eliora was slowing her pace as they reached the larger open square of the market.
‘It was round here.’
‘What was it you dropped?’
‘Just a small bronze, but it was all Mother had left.’
They searched the dusty floor as many walked past them. Eliora, after a few moments decided it was a fruitless task. The coin was lost to them, and more than likely found by another.
You have a bronze, Caleb.
Caleb was bent close to the ground when Eliora had her back turned to him.
‘I found it!’ he announced holding out the coin.
‘Oh Caleb! Thank you!’ Eliora turned towards him, her face alight. ‘Thank you!’ And she flung her arms about him.
‘That’s alright!’ he said ruffling her hair. ‘Squirt!’ Even though he had used that name, she could see he was delighted to have found the coin.
‘It isn’t the first and I doubt it will be the last time I help you out.’
Caleb was ten when Eliora was born. He had told her she was a loud, scrawny thing, which held very little interest for him. He had been coxed into holding her for a few moments before she began to squirm and scream when she was a few weeks old. He never did that again.
But as they grew up, living in houses that neighboured each other, they saw each other daily. Caleb played with younger brothers and other friends and Eliora had a habit of tagging along. She was annoying, she knew that. She always turned up when they were up to mischief and had the habit of telling everyone that they were to blame. She would beg to join in with their games, and if they shooed her away she would run to his mother crying, which inevitably meant that they were forced to include her.
By the time Caleb was fifteen, and Eliora was five, everyone seemed to see them as brother and sister. They would fight as siblings would but were close nonetheless. Eliora had celebrated her fourteenth birthday only last week. She was now required to work at the palace.
‘Do you need any more help?’
‘No! I’m done with you now.’ Eliora was already rushing off to the fish stall.
‘Come up to my place when you’re done. I have some herbs that will go nicely with your fish.’
‘Thanks Caleb. See you later!’
Eliora didn’t think how strange it was that the coin was warm as if it had been inside someone’s pocket.
Caleb was still trudging back up the road but nearly at home when Eliora caught up and grabbed his arm.
‘Nice fish!’ Caleb complimented as he nodded towards the basket. ‘Come in and I’ll get you those herbs.’
The sweet smell of bread and bitter herbs filled the cool room. Caleb’s younger brother lay stretched out on the window seat lightly snoring but his mother was nowhere to be seen.
Caleb turned to Eliora. ‘Shhh!’ he said with a finger to his lips.
He crept up to his brother and firmly grasped the woollen blanket he was laying on and pulled as hard as he could. The young man span off the seat and landed with a loud thud on the earthen floor.
Eliora began to giggle.
‘Kenaz.’ Caleb greeted his brother quietly.
‘What did you do that for?’ Kenaz raged, red in the face.
Kenaz raised his fist just as their mother came through the open doorway with a bowl of dried dates.
Eliora contained her laughter behind her hand.
‘Stop that at once.’ their mother ordered.
‘He attacked me!’ Kenaz protested.
She raised her eyebrows and looked at Caleb. ‘Really,’ she tutted. ‘I would have thought you two had grown out of this by now.’
Caleb restored the blanket to its original place and went outside to wash.
‘You have got to do something about him mother. Find him a wife!’ And he smiled at Eliora, who stopped laughing immediately
‘Kenaz that is not funny.’
‘Never said it was.’ he mumbled.
Eliora heard Caleb sigh.
‘I’ve got enough on my plate with your wedding.’ his mother said. ‘When that is over, maybe I will seek another bride for him.’
‘No you won’t. You like having him around too much.’ Kenaz complained.
‘Enough. Are you clean for dinner?’
Caleb walked in with a handful of fresh green leaves in his wet hands.
‘So Kenaz, how is Martha?’
‘How would I know? I thought she had been moved to your team today.’
Caleb shook his head. ‘You know, a girl likes to know that you care about them. She was at home, unwell. We had to work her quota today too.’
‘Ill?’ Kenaz asked. ‘What was wrong?’
Kenaz got up, grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.
‘You are not going anywhere until you have eaten.’ His mother pointed out.
‘No buts. She can wait until you are fed. I don’t want her parents thinking you are unfed and unable to put food on the table.’ She nodded towards Eliora as if she would appreciate such an important thing.
Kenaz sat down grumpily obviously concerned about his bride. Their mother had been very careful in her choice for each of her boys. Only Caleb was unmatched now but that had not always been the case.
‘I’ve got to go.’ Eliora said breaking the awkward silence. ‘Mother will want this.’
‘And these.’ Caleb said handing over the herbs.
‘Thank you. See you tomorrow?’
Caleb nodded and Eliora left them to their meal.
‘You know what Ma, I have an idea for a bride for Caleb …’ Eliora heard Kenaz say loudly from inside the house.
‘You two are acting like children!’ Their mother shouted. ‘Stop that now!’
Eliora couldn’t help but laugh as she walked home.
The fish dinner tasted good. Eliora was hungry after her tiring day.
She sat at the table with her mother and grandmother. It had been a few years since her grandmother had worked at the palace, but she too had endured the hardship of being different.
‘So tell me, Elli, how did you like the cats?’ her grandmother asked.
‘Not very much.’ She said sulkily, turning to her mother. ‘I don’t like the work mother. Please don’t make me go back.’
‘I am sorry, but I have no choice.’ Simra replied.
‘It was what was destined for you.’ Her grandmother said sadly.
Eliora picked a small roll from the plate and began to pick at it.
‘How is it fair? Reuben got to work in the pits, why can’t I?’
‘Eliora!’ her mother frowned. ‘How can you want to work there? Have you not seen? Have you not experienced the torture our people go through?’
‘You didn’t see the cats!’ she huffed.
‘Cats are nothing compared to the whips.’ She tutted. ‘Be grateful you have been chosen. Surely even you have heard their complaints.’
‘I don’t want to be chosen mama.’ Eliora crumbled the crust into her plate. ‘I want to be like everyone else.’
‘Your uncle Aaron will be here soon.’ Her mother said, seemingly ignoring her plea. ‘Wash up so that he will be welcome.’
‘Uncle Aaron has a place in his team. Martha is not well. I heard it in the market. He needs someone else to help meet his quota. Please mama, can I join his team?’
‘I wouldn’t want that kind of work for anyone Elli.’ Her grandmother said. ‘Please, be grateful that you have a few scratches and not a back covered in lashes.’
Eliora knew that her grandmother’s words were final and that the queen’s words were the law. She would be going back to her own kind of torture in the palace.
Uncle Aaron arrived shortly after. He was old, Eliora’s great uncle, but his face was so lined by the years in the baking sun he bore the signs of a greater age. He stooped as he walked as if burdened with the days quota of bricks. He lit the lamp and sat by the fire barely saying a word.
‘Ithamar and Beth are expecting again.’ He finally said as he sipped from the cup her mother, his niece, had given him.
‘Oh Aaron, what wonderful news!’
‘No, not really.’
‘But all children are a gift from God. And more grandchildren for you!’
‘How can they be a gift if they are born into this slavery? Another will be bought to this burdensome life. I didn’t want this for my children and definitely not for my children’s children. What a life!’ He sighed.
There was little to say. Eliora was certain that now was not the time to ask her Uncle about working with him. She kissed him gently on the cheek.
‘Congratulations Uncle. Please tell Auntie Beth I will pop in to see her soon.’ And she left the darkened atmosphere.
The evening air was cool and crisp. Eliora thought about visiting Martha but then remembered her encounter with Kenaz and decided it wasn’t worth the risk of bumping into him again. Instead, she considered meeting up with her friends at the well.
The streets were not busy. The occasional open doorway bathed the dusty pavement with light and homely chatter. The well was situated in the middle of the Levite settlement and would often be the place where groups gathered. Tonight was no different.
Eliora recognised the girlish giggle of Dinah, her best friend. Even in the dim evening, lit by the flickering torches, Eliora could see the brightly dressed, and soft curved form of her friend. She had gathered a group of three around her.
‘Elli! How was the fish?’
Eliora turned. Caleb sat with a group of his old cronies also enjoying the still evening.
‘Oh! Good thanks.’ She laughed as she strolled past him.
As Dinah turned her head to the sound of Eliora’s voice, her head scarf fell away and Eliora thought she saw a flicker of annoyance flit across her face.
‘Hello. How are you?’ Eliora asked.
The girls had stopped talking.
‘What were you talking about?’
‘Nothing much,’ said Dinah. Eliora felt unsure of her friend. There was something different about her.
‘Oh, nothing of importance.’
‘My auntie Beth is having another baby,’ Eliora offered.
‘That’s nice.’ One of the other girls said smirking then raising her eyebrows at Dinah.
‘Is something the matter Dinah?’
‘Eliora, we are a bit busy tonight,’ Dinah said and turned her back.
‘Busy doing what?’ she asked, but none of them even acknowledged that she had spoken.
Eliora just stood for a moment, not really understanding what was happening. Then confusion gave way, they were busy doing anything as long as it was without her.
It seemed a harsh reality. She no longer fitted in anywhere. The people in the palace hated her or thought she was crazy, except maybe that old man, and her now her own friends no longer wanted to be with her. Ebonee was a curse in this settlement.
Eliora could feel the prickling of tears pooling in her eyes. She turned from her lost friends and hurried away, head bowed.
The scene has not gone unnoticed. Caleb has seen the anguish in Eliora’s eyes as she turned away. He scowls at the girls as they whisper and giggle to one another.
I do not understand. Humankind have a narrow view of life. Eliora longs to be included but she will never quite fit in. The plan for her is quite different. Each lesson she learns builds character, and it is her character that will be tested in the end.
She needs a friend.
I see Caleb. He sits with friends yet is not really part of who they are either. He has known such sorrow already yet he burns with gold at times. I have seen it. I have witnessed his faith even when others deny it.
That is why I have named myself Faithful for this mission.
Caleb will follow her. He will know what to say. He hears things whispered in his heart.
‘I’m going to head home now.’ he says casually to his friends as he gets up and stretches. ‘Busy day and everything. I’m tired.’
They wave him on and continue to chat.
Caleb walks in the direction of his house but as soon as he is out of sight from his friends he doubles back to the path Eliora had escaped on. He thinks he knows where she would go. He quickens his stride, and sure enough, there she is ahead of him. Her pace is slow and almost aimless. Perhaps her feet were taking her to her quiet place without her even thinking about it.
The tightly packed houses are thinning a little now, and the way is only intermittently lit by household lamps. A large area of darkness patches the horizon. Caleb continues to follow, trying to think of something to say to her. But every formula sounds wrong to him.
Eliora bent low to pick a few flowers from a plant, and crushed it between her palms. The sweet smell of lavender saturated the air. She moved slowly through the carefully planted rows of vegetation and stepped over the irrigation channels, squinting in the star light, until she reached the boulder that marked another family plot. Dropping the used stalks to the ground, she turned and sat on the rock with a sigh. Hearing someone approach, she wiped her eyes and looked up.
‘Oh, what are you doing here?’
Caleb shrugged. ‘Not really sure.’
‘You didn’t need to check on me.’ Eliora began, ‘I am alright you know.’
Eliora looked down to her feet and started to draw patterns in the dirt. She felt Caleb sit beside her.
‘So,’ Caleb said after a few moments silence, ‘The fish was good then.’
‘It was alright.’
‘You are chatty tonight!’
Eliora looked up at him and smiled sarcastically before returning to her patterns.
Caleb laughed quietly.
‘So,’ he tried again. ‘Ithamar and Beth are having another baby.’
‘Yes.’ Eliora said confused. ‘How did you know?’
‘Overheard your conversation by the well.’
‘Conversation!’ Eliora shook her head. ‘It wasn’t a conversation. To have a conversation you need two people talking.’
‘You’ve not had a good day have you?’
‘Do you want to tell me about it?’
‘Fine.’ Caleb sighed staring up at the myriad of stars above him.
Eliora took a quick sideways glance at him. Caleb had a contented smile.
‘Why are you smiling? Are you laughing at me too?’
‘No, I was just thinking that it is really peaceful here that’s all.’
‘I haven’t been here for a while. I forgot what it was like.’
Eliora sighed again. ‘She called me Ebonee.’
‘Who did?’ Caleb asked casually.
‘What did you do to earn that?’
‘You knew that they gave out names?’
‘Sure. Why would they make do with our names when they have the power to do what they like and call you whatever they like?’ Caleb said with a hint of bitterness.
‘Do you have a name that they have given you?’
‘No. I am just a number.’
‘So what did you do?’
‘I smudged my make up over my eyes, so she called me Ebonee, it means black.’
‘Oh dear.’ Caleb puffed. ‘She didn’t get that right then did she?’ he murmured.
‘What do you mean?’
‘You are far from black, Elli.’
‘Oh, right,’ she said confused.
Caleb laughed at his own embarrassment. ‘You are more like a star in the night sky. A bright light against the black.’
‘Thanks!’ Eliora said resting her head on his shoulder. ‘That’s a really nice thing to say.’
Caleb laughed a little. ‘That’s alright squirt!’
‘And then you have to spoil it!’ Eliora laughed with him. The laughing felt good. It chased away the mess of the day.
‘What are you going to do about Dinah?’ Caleb finally asked.
‘You heard that too then.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you know what I think?’
Caleb smiled, ‘I think she will come round eventually.’
‘I don’t even know what I have done.’ Eliora said peering up at him.
‘It isn’t something you have done.’ He looked down at her and sighed. ‘I think she would like to work at the palace too.’
‘I would happily trade with her!’
‘It can’t be that bad.’
‘I have been given the honour to look after the cats,’ she said sarcastically. ‘I hate cats.’
‘Well, maybe the job isn’t to your liking, but I think that she thinks, your job is better than hers.’
‘It probably is.’
‘I’m glad you see it that way Elli, because I think it is too.’
Eliora returned to drawing patterns in the dirt.
‘Doesn’t mean I have to like it though,’ she said sulkily.
‘No.’ Caleb puffed.
‘But, you should be grateful for it.’
Eliora looked up at the stars and smiled. She was like a star. That was a warm thought. Tomorrow, when her name was called she would think of that.
‘What are you thinking about?’ Caleb asked as he saw her genuine smile.
‘Oh nothing.’ She looked at him. ‘So, how is Kenaz?’
‘He has a nasty bruise.’ Caleb said nodding.
‘Really!’ Eliora said shaking her head. ‘Why’s that?’
‘He fell off a chair!’ Caleb winked.
‘Excellent. I would have liked to have seen that happen!’
And they were laughing again.
‘Thanks for coming to find me Caleb, that is the second time you have rescued me today.’
‘You are welcome,’ Caleb said getting to his feet. ‘Squirt!’ and he ruffled her hair.
‘Oi! It took me ages to get it looking like this.’
They stepped over the plants and headed in the direction of the glowing lamps.
‘What’s that supposed to mean? “Hmm”’
‘Just be yourself. You don’t need to impress anyone.’
‘Yeah. I made a great impression on the queen already!’
‘What’s done is done. Tomorrow is a fresh day.’
‘With a whole new set of hazards!’