Start reading with Chapter 1
Amira awoke the next morning from the sweetest of dreams, before the first light of dawn rose in pink rays over the hill beside her home. It was time to pick flowers for the party later that evening.
Stretching her arms out, she grabbed her basket from the bedside table and hurried to put on her cloak, checking the inside pocket for her book. It was a dewy spring morning in early April, and she was to witness the awakening of the tulips. For it was in a meadow by a stream beneath an ancient mossy oak that the flowers bloomed as brightly colored candy at a county fair.
Running up the hill and pausing at the peak, she looked down upon the valley, where the buds were about to greet the morning, and waited anxiously for their colorful display. Any moment now the sun would tip over the hill as a bucket full of liquid light, spilling over the fields below, the colors gleaming like a bouquet of encrusted jewels set in green metal.
The air was cool around her, winter frost still clinging to its past dominion. Amira tugged the hood of her emerald green cloak tighter around her chin, staving off the chill. She folded her hands and blew hot breath into them.
One moment the scene below was foggy and grey. Then, the sun crept up behind the hill as a timid child before bursting into light which filled the skies and initiated the chorus of birdsong.
When the first strands of glittering sunlight touched the grass, the fields broke open to reveal their treasure and hoarded troves. Rubies, sapphires, opals, emeralds, amethysts, lapis lazuli, and crystals of every hue filled Amira’s eyes with water that fell to the ground like spring rain.
No one mined for flowers. No one dug deep into the earth to find their stray petals to be traded for goods or silver coin. Flowers could be cut and placed in a vase to be admired for a vapor of a moment, but then they would wilt, the pigment all turned to brown decay. Their beauty was not the kind to be owned, but the kind to be shared. However briefly.
Amira thought in that moment, wiping the thunderclouds from her eyes, that she had never met a rich florist in her village, yet she had never met an unhappy one either.
Maybe they were richer in other ways than she.
“Just look at your cloak!” Dana, the head cook, was attempting to wipe the hem of Amira’s robe with her apron. “Mud. Nothing but mud up to your knees!”
Amira shook off the cloak and laid it on the barstool, revealing her dirty boots and skirts. “No one saw me.”
Dana behaved as if Amira had slapped her across the face. “No one saw you? Your Ladyship thinks that’s the only reason to behave? Better change right now, young mistress. If your mother saw you …”
“She’d have to be around, wouldn’t she? To see me, I mean. And anyway, just look at these tulips! Aren’t they lovely? The colors seem brighter this season somehow.”
Dana smiled at the tulips in Amira’s basket on the table. “Yes, they are beautiful.” Dana stopped scrubbing at the cloak and walked to the table. “Silla?”
A large crash sounded in the washroom, followed quickly by a voice traveling through the open doorway saying, “Nothin’ broke!”
Dana rolled her eyes and offered up a silent prayer for patience.
“Good morning, Silla!” Amira said.
“Silla!” Dana growled. “You are to address her as Ma’am or My Lady.”
It was Silla’s turn to roll her eyes before sketching a mock bow towards Amira and drawling, “My Lady.”
Amira bursted out laughing.
But Dana turned, grabbed a broom from the corner and beat Silla on the behind with the bristles. “I. SWEAR. YOU. WILL. LEARN. YOUR. PLACE. GIRL.” Every word was enunciated with a swift smack of the broom.
But Silla was quick. She dodged and parried until she was facing Dana on the opposite side of the table, grinning broadly. “So what’d you call me in fo’?”
Red-faced and worn out, Dana dropped the broom to the floor and mopped her brow with her handkerchief. “Trim the ends of those flowers and arrange them in a vase for her ladyship. Then put them in her room.”
“Oh! But …” Amira started.
“Yes?” Dana bent forward to pick up the broom while Silla made to grab the basket.
“I only thought … maybe these could be used as decoration for the party for tonight.”
The cook frowned and seemed to steel herself for a spat. “Now, My Lady, you know the tradition …”
But Amira didn’t want another lecture, she just wanted today to be over and done with. “Yes, I do know.” She turned to Silla, her face hardening. “If you could please put them on the dresser right in front of my bed. I’d like them to be the first thing I see when I wake up.”
“Yes, My Lady.” Silla picked up the basket and added, seriously. “Perhaps her Ladyship would like the flowers nailed by their stems to her Ladyship’s ceiling, for surely that’s the first place her Ladyship will look with her Ladyship’s eyes.”
Amira wanted to laugh. Silla could always make her laugh, especially at the most inopportune moments.
But Amira could not find it in herself to give more than a half smile before donning her cloak and moving towards the outside kitchen door. Turning the handle, the door swung open to reveal the garden beyond.
“Satine will be in to dress you before your party tonight!” Dana called after her. “And please remember to bathe your—“ but the door closed before Amira heard the rest.
The herb garden had recently been plowed for spring planting. The neatly arranged lines of dirt would soon be overrun with basil, rosemary, and thyme.
Amira loved all things green. Green for growth, green for the color of the shoemaker’s eyes, green for all things alive, green for her favorite cloak.
Amira scowled as she opened the garden gate, leading to the path that would take her where she wanted to go.
“Green for envy.” Amira thought. “Green for gangrene. Green for moldy bread.”
The path widened to a fork. To the left was the jungle she was never supposed to go into, the jungle where she met her new friend. To the right was the path to the bathhouse.
“No,” Amira sighed. “Definitely not green.”
And she chose the path to the left.
Continue reading with Chapter 3