Chapter 26 ∞ Morning
I woke to my Mistress Veronika urging me to rise from sleep. I tossed around under the covers to face her, rubbing my eyes and looking out the windows that, once again, I had forgotten to close. The sun hadn’t even peeked out of the horizon and the crickets were still singing.
“Mistress, what is it?” I asked, mouth stretching to let out a yawn.
“Get up and get changed.”
“Why?” I queried, lazily rising from my bed and throwing off the covers. I was met with a chilly night breeze, causing the hair on my skin to rise and a slight shiver to run down my arms. “It’s way too early. Can’t I go back to sleep? I was having a good dream…” I pouted.
“Get up or I’ll drag you,” she said.
Frowning, I changed into the clothes—the good, comfortable clothes. I reckoned she was about to give a lecture on some stuff which I wasn’t really looking forward to. If it was about the bow, then I was definitely excited. However, I could tell by the time of the day that the lessons we would be having were definitely not the usual.
I followed her to the garden and she led me to the willow tree. I noticed the energy was much more purer and thicker at this hour, so this must have something to do with it.
“The first stance of the Movement of the Seven Dragons involve opening yourself to the energies around you,” she said, making my eyes pop wide. “Breathing helps with the circulation. Your physical body is a reflection of the state of your mind and soul and it is also your most accessible weapon. First, you enter a state of calmness that help you tune in to the energies around you—which is what the breathing is for. I will demonstrate the first three stances to you, so you must watch carefully.”
I did. With wide eyes and an open mouth. Mistress Veronika carried the fierceness and grace of a tiger as she moved into the first three stances. Her movements were fluid and well-practiced, arms and legs seeming to whistle as they cut sharply through the air. The energy she gathered was only a little inferior to the old monk Myrrh, but I realized it carried more of an edge—sharpness where the old monk carried power.
When she was finished, I was still drowning with awe. “You’re teaching it to me?”
“Let’s start with the breathing,” she said. “Put your feet shoulder’s width apart and find the balance of your body.”
That was easy. She’d nailed this into me when she was still teaching me the sword. I quickly moved into position and cast a glance at her, watching her rise to her toes as she breathed in and settled back on her heels upon the exhale. That was easy enough. We did this in Zumba classes during gym for the cooldown part.
“Now, I will begin with the footing. Take a notice of how I angle my ankles when I turn. They are very important.” She sank to a bend on her knees, turning to her left side. “Just the movement of the feet for now, and not the arms.”
“Okay.” I imitated her, crunching to a bending position just like she had.
“Good. Move from the breathing position to that,” she told me.
I stood back to the breathing position and took a few moments before twisting and bending to my knees like she had.
“Good. Take note of the gap between the feet. You are not sticking your ankles together. Just twist from the breathing position to that and maintain that distance between your feet.”
“Yes, mistress.” I shifted myself, accommodating her advice.
“Next, you extend your right leg to your right smoothly. Make sure to shift some of your weight upon changing stances.”
She showed it to me and I followed.
“Good. Now, from the beginning. I will show you the movement of the arms. This is the most basic of the practice because it is flexible and dangerous in close combat. Once you master this, you will have no trouble fending off attacks that concern the fists.”
After several rounds of practice, I finally managed to nail down the first three stances. There were still a lot of flaws in my movements, but it was at least acceptable, according to Mistress Veronika, and would get better the more I practiced. However, when I was able to execute it about just well enough, the sun had already risen and my other mistresses were up and about. I suspected it took me three hours or so.
“You are quick, Evy,” Mistress Veronika said, taking the stance of a teacher. “Both literally and in another sense. I did not expect you would be able to take to this easily especially since…” she trailed off and scratched her head. A hint of embarrassment flushed her cheeks and she looked away from me. “Ah, he was right,” she whispered.
“Who was?” I asked.
She looked at me, startled I had heard what she said. “None you should be minding.”
Those first three stances were already quite hard—simple yes, but the profundity in them exceeded my initial impressions. I was soaked with sweat. At this state, I needed to take a bath before getting some breakfast.
At the thought of food, my stomach grumbled.
“We’re done for this morning,” she said. “Get ready for breakfast.”
I gave her a bow before dashing madly for my bathing pools. My clothes were so sticky and heavy that I was tempted to throw them off of me right then and there. Running down the halls, I brushed past Maun. His silvery lavender hair had been tied back into a small ponytail and he had borrowed yet another set of Mistress Kora’s male clothes. They fitted him quite well, save for the slight bagginess considering how thin and emaciated he was.
He watched me run past him, a small and awkward wave of his hand greeting me as I passed.
“GOOD MORNING!” I exclaimed. I truly did not know why I was rushing like this. I was itching to get into some warm water though and wash all this sweat and dirt off of me. And breakfast! Damn, that smelled so good.
From what I remember, he was still staying in the lobby. There was one room he could be occupying, but it still wasn’t prepared with how busy everyone in the House were. I would see to it later, though. I promised the mistresses I would take care of whatever he needed in exchange for letting him stay. It didn’t settle well with me throwing him back out there—not when he looked the way he did.
After freshening up and changing into cleaner clothes, I marched into the dining room where one extra chair had been shoved into the round table, cramping up the place even more than before. Maun was sitting awkwardly as my mother piled food onto his plate. The other mistresses, were, as usual, in an argument.
Their chatters filled the room with noise reminiscent of one, huge family.
“Good morning, mistresses.”
As I had already gotten used to, I kissed all of them on the cheek one-by-one. I stopped briefly before my adoptive mother and leaned to whisper another good morning. She offered her cheek to me, a strained smile on her face, before returning the kiss to my forehead and brushing back my hair.
“Good morning, daughter,” she told me.
I moved on to the last, Mistress Lamia, before taking my usual seat.
“Where’s Marga?” Kora asked, pointing at the vacant seat.
“Still out. She isn’t back yet,” Mistress Liane said.
“She isn’t planning on missing service night tonight, is she?” Mistress Neilly asked, picking up her utensils and biting into a strip of meat.
“I don’t think so. She should be back today,” Liane told them.
Breakfast was uneventful, save for the odd quietness of my mother and the way Maun was stuffing himself full. The mistresses were actually amused by him, though they did not comment on it. He really had to eat well if he was going to recover and put some meat on his bones.
I, however, noticed in this particular mealtime that it wasn’t only my adoptive mother acting weird. Rather, there was also Mistress Lamia. She hardly spoke and emitted a cold presence that brushed off any attempts of starting a conversation—she was always like that. However, she was usually sharper and surer. Her hands were slow today and her pickup of the things happening around her seemed delayed, as though she was much too preoccupied with her own thoughts.
Just before dessert was served, Mistress Lamia rose from her seat. Her skirts fanned as she stood, towering above everyone else. We all looked at her as she moved to leave, curious about the unusual behavior.
“Evy,” she began.
I stiffened. “Yes, mistress?”
“Come talk to me in my study after you’re done, please,” she said.
My heart thudded and I nodded. Maun had stopped eating. His mouth was bulging as he looked over to me, eyes wide with question and curiosity. I looked back down to my food and resumed eating.
Well, this was nerve-wracking.
Once everyone was done with their food, I stood up to leave and see Mistress Lamia in her study. I was very nervous. The only time she’d ever called me here was—well, never. For less serious matters, she only ever threw her verdict when we gathered around the dining table. If she was seeing me privately, what exactly did that entail?
I knocked on the doors and entered upon hearing her voice. “Come in.”
I stood before the mistress, closing the door behind me as I moved. “Mistress,” I greeted, lowering my head a little before sinking to my knees. Her table was low—as is the rest of the tables in the house, but she was gracefully and so comfortably seated behind it. Her presence was, as ever, commanding of awe and respect.
“Evy,” she began. “Come a little closer and let me see you properly.”
I did as she asked, lifting myself to my feet once more and sitting before her table.
“You’ve grown into a graceful, young lady,” she told me. The cold eyes warmed for a moment. “The House has gone so long under my care, but things are bound to end after a while. Is Veronika teaching you well?”
I nodded. I wanted to ask her what she meant by that…but found the words were stuck to my throat.
She nodded too. She then reached into her drawer and pulled out a small box and set it on the table before pushing it towards me. It skid smoothly on the polished, wooden surface.
“It’s your thirteenth birthday,” she said. “Open it.”
“It’s not my thirteenth birthday yet,” I told her. “It’s still in three days.”
“It’s alright. Veronika already gave you her present. This is mine.” She nodded at the box and urged me once more.
I gave a small sigh and complied, fingering the beautiful engraving on the box. It had a weird symbol on it—I don’t reckon I was familiar with this, but I knew I’ve seen it before somewhere. It was a horse on a race track, it seemed. The lines were soft and bled into each other well.
I unclasped the lid and lifted it back. Nestled on the velvety bed was a purple bracelet with a small, red stone on the center. The band had a series of complicated stroll designs engraved on the surface, stretching as long as the width of my wrists before rolling into a golden, rose-gold chain that dangled with small charms. I had to let out a gasp. The craftsmanship on this one was commendable!
“What is this?” I asked, gingerly taking the bracelet from the box and wearing it around my wrist.
“It’s a bracelet of course,” she replied, reaching forward to help me put it on.
“I know, but…this seems expensive,” I said.
There was a clink as it snapped into place. “Don’t worry about it,” my mistress told me. A small smile lifted her cheeks, brightening her face for a change. The last time I’d seen such an intense emotion on her face was when I was still a baby. I smiled back and reached over the table to give her a hug. It was a little hard because my waist was pinning me back, but I got the deed done anyway. The bracelet was beautiful on my wrist, emphasizing the daintiness of it and complimenting the creamy, frothy coffee shade of my skin. I continued admiring the trinket as I slung my arms around her shoulders.
“Is this why you called me here, mistress?” I asked as I gently pulled away.
She looked at my face, eyes glistening with thoughts and hesitance. I knew she wanted to tell me something, but was having doubts. I caught on to her reluctance and realized it might be important—but I wouldn’t really know until I heard it.
“No,” she finally said. “That’s all, Evy. Make sure to wear the bracelet on you at all times. Don’t ever take it off from now on, alright?”
I looked at her questioningly before nodding. If she wasn’t going to tell me, then I wouldn’t force her. I learned to set a limit to my curiosity. I didn’t want the same, awkward atmosphere rising between us as it did with my adoptive mother. There were just some questions I couldn’t ask.
Was this bracelet some sort of protection or something? Either way, it was pretty, so it really wasn’t much of a big deal.
I bowed before my mistress and rose to my feet, leaving the way I came. However, just as I opened the door, the heavy pitter-patter of feet resonated and I caught figures madly dashing off. I shook my head, realizing my other mistresses were eavesdropping on us. It was a little comical, though…I suppose it was fine.
They did, however, leave a perpetrator behind.
Maun was grinning at me cluelessly as he looked around for my mistresses who had abandoned him in a sorry plight. He threw his head left and right, panic overcoming him as I raised a brow questioningly. The door to Mistress Lamia’s study clicked shut behind me and I stepped out into the hallway, arms crossing as I prodded him for answers with a look of inquiry.
He held up both hands and shook them vigorously. Perhaps he was trying to defend himself—or denying his involvement. Either way, considering he couldn’t talk at the moment, I didn’t think he would be able to explain himself well.
“Don’t bother trying to explain yourself, I—”
My communicator suddenly rang, cutting me off mid-sentence. Sighing, I reached up to my ear to answer the call. “Evyionne,” I said.
“EVY!” I heard a scream on the other side.
I pinched my ear, taken aback. “WHAT?!” I yelled back.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like someone was killing me,” she said. “Can you come meet me in Scents and Papers?”
She sounded sheepish which was to be expected, though I could hear something else in her voice—I wasn’t quite sure about it, though. Was it panic? It was understandable if she was giving the guards the slip. But this girl had done that more than a couple of hundreds of times to be actually panicking. If there was ignorant and bold in one sentence, it was this girl.
“You got out?” My brows flew to my hairline and I glanced at Maun who, I caught, was trying to inch away. I grabbed him by the collar and had him stay where he was.
I cut the call and looked at Maun, my hand still on his collar. “Wanna come?”