This story is currently being edited. A few names are different than they are in later chapters and plot will be adjusted slightly to make more sense. If you read this story, or just parts of it, please let me know of anything that needs to be fixed, be it grammar and spelling or characters and events. Chapters with " by ther titles have been edited/re-written. However, they are probably still far from perfect. Also, the year 1010 does not mean 1010 A.D. While the story might feel Medieval, the date is an entirely seperate thing, with their years ascending from Pha'dora's own marked events (the banishing of the Pha'dughnain from Athaca is year 0, as opposed to the death of Christ). The name Sian was changed from Ioanna- she will be called Ioanna in chapters I haven't edited yet. Just so you know!
Pha'dora: Green Eye, Blind Eye
Chapter I: The Isle of Sorrows"
THE WATERS AND WAVES OF Athaca imitated the lonesome colour of the morning sky. Sad colours, tear blues and stone grays, found new homes in more solemn pools: eyes watching, transfixed, from a window. Nichara Eydís, the island king's daughter, observed the familiar fishing boats weaving in and out of mists that clung to the faraway harbour. She curled her small fingers on the stone sill, like she could trap that picture of boats and mist under her fingernails—like dirt. She narrowed her eyes at the largest of the boats at sea: a grand ship with red sails. Nichara finally drew away from the window, hardly excited. Her mother told her he would come.
The Isle of Sorrows was scarcely a busy place, even in the early mornings when the fishermen and the villagers would begin stirring, thinking that they would not have enough time to get everything finished by the day's end, then finishing their transactions by noon. How the island had come to attain its bleak name was a mystery even to its inhabitants. The island was too monotonous to be full of sorrow, or perhaps the monotony was its sorrow. Under Marajan protection, its only fear was the sea. The ship with red sails bore its important Marajan marks.
And the harbour was too small, too shallow for so large a ship to make berth. Nichara dared to approach the window again, out of curiosity, and watched as a fisherman pulled a net from his boat and flung it onto the deck. Two tiny, white creatures, tangled in the net and looking like two unnatural children, writhed upon the sodden wood and then were still. Nichara had never seen these creatures from the sea close enough to feel any remorse for them.
"I told you he would come," the croak of a voice sounded from behind her.
Nichara tried steadily to look at her mother, turning her head and lifting her chin a little to observe a face too grave and too wintry to be motherly. The woman wrapped her fingers around Nichara's wrist and pulled her to a small table beside the window. She pointed to the shears that were there, and Nichara looked to her mother with a bemused expression.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked, voice quavering, fearing the shears sharpened to glinting even in a room lit by dim morning. Her mother licked her dry lips, grabbed the shears, and thrust them into her daughter's hands.
"Cut it all off," the queen ordered callously. Dara Eydís never jested. She frowned at Nichara's hesitating. "With haste, girl; his ship comes closer."
Nichara's eyes burned tears of reluctance, and she tried hard to suppress them, afraid of her mother's words about tears. Hair was merely an extension of vanity, after all. She saw her sister sleeping in her bed, her yellow curls tucked strewn across the pillow. "No," she whimpered, shaking her head, "I cannot. I will look ugly with short hair."
The younger girl, Talitha, opened her eyes to discover her sister standing near her with the shears in her hands. Her first look was that of alarm, and then her lips twisted themselves into something forcibly disappointed. Talitha was seven years old.
"What are you doing to your hair, Nichara?" she murmured, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Talitha sat up and moved her legs to the side of her bed with difficulty. "Will you cut mine, too?" she said anxiously, though no one would speak to her. "Mama, will you cut off all my hair? Like Nichara? Mama—"
"Let me go to a mirror," Nichara said abruptly, going to the window again. "Or find me one? I can't do it if I cannot see myself. The cut will be crooked… I might cut too much, my fingers." She waited for her mother to reprimand her stalling, but the silent queen swiftly went from the room and returned with a small mirror: a bronze one that displayed a distorted reflection.
"You are to be bought at noon," the woman informed her daughter after handing her the mirror. If Dara Eydís was trying to hide her sorrow, Nichara did not see it—even in the eyes where one could see past the best of masks.
She was vaguely aware of why she needed to leave her island. The Isle of Sorrows was a Marajan colony, with a separate, lesser king to govern it because it was too far away from the mainland. Despite the distance, the island kings were obliged to pay for its mother country's protection. But King Matthias was a careless ruler and squandered his riches. Taxing the fishermen and the occasional trader was hardly enough to keep the Eydís treasury full of profit, much less garner protection. Unwilling to lose Maraja's support and name, Matthias was eager for another deal. And what a strange ordeal it was when the Marajan king requested Nichara.
Matthias had a multitude of bastards he deemed as legitimate as his queen's two children, who were daughters, not sons. Indeed, he lavished their mothers with gifts until he could hardly afford to. A daughter was no significant loss, and so he agreed hastily upon hearing the request. Nichara's nurse explained everything to her soon after, because no one else cared to. Matthias's daughter vowed a display of protest at first, but she knew better than to try her father's temper.
Four years ago, Talitha was discovered by two servants at the bottom of the stairway that descended from her tower room, a pool of blood under her head and both her legs broken from the fall. Matthias, thinking it was the servants' carelessness that caused it, pushed the woman out of Talitha's window and sent the young man to the ships to be transported to Phethi'islai, where he sent all his prisoners. He did not know that it was Nichara who pushed her. Talitha never walked properly again, spoiling any prospect for a proper marriage alliance—no one wanted her. Matthias had never been so angry.
"They will keep you, my bhathé," the nurse, Eireann Suileamhain, had assured her, her soft accent more comforting than her words.
The king's most recent mistress, a young woman captured from some savage land—as labeled by the king—knew about the Marajan king's request. Matthias, in spite of his position, did not know how to read, so he secretly employed his mistresses, or those of them who knew how, to do his reading and writing for him. And so Eireann was burdened with the task, the Marajan language still a little foreign to her. She learned quickly, though; her beauty and her savage education kept her in the king's favor.
"Cut it all off," Dara repeated, tugging at Nichara's hair with her narrow fingers.
"No," Nichara protested finally. She was crying now, and she threw the shears on the floor, unashamed of her tantrum. But her mother pulled her ears, pushed her onto the ground, and then demanded she retrieve the shears without argument.
"Give them to me!" she said. She snatched the shears from Nichara's trembling hands and proceeded to cut the girl's hair herself, the long, dark tresses falling on Nichara's toes.
"It will grow back," Talitha tried to assure her, a smile tempting the corners of her lips. She crushed her palm to her mouth to suppress her giggling as Nichara began to sob.
Eireann Suileamhain appeared at the door, her face drawn into a sympathetic grimace. She watched Nichara's plight without words. Nichara wanted to run into her arms and bury her face in her long hair—something she always did when there were tears in her eyes.
"His wife will not let you into her home with hair such as yours," Dara told her, throwing the shears back onto the table when she was finished. "The king knows that, and he will not be so willing to take you—what would he do with you? Your face is pretty enough. Your hair made it all the more distracting."
Another servant, Eireann's silent sister, Sian, flew into the room to light the fire in the hearth, but Dara immediately sent her away, a hiss in her tone. "There are too many people in here," she snapped, and Eireann left as well.
Dara went to her window when her daughter's whimpering subsided to pitiful momentary gasps for air. The sky was brighter now; the Marajan symbols rippled a little in the wind and were more discernable.
"I will come back, won't I?" Nichara asked, wondering if she could ever be hopeful.
Dara allowed her daughter a quick glance, but did not otherwise acknowledge the question. Instead she went out of the room again, returning after a brief while with her box of cosmetics. The queen carefully removed the lid and reached her fingers inside to retrieve the small, wooden concave of red powder.
"Come here, Nichara," she said, betraying her disaffection with a name. She rubbed the red into Nichara's cheeks. "Now you don't look so pale. Bite your lips—bite them hard to make them more red. We will make your face suitable for selling and the rest of you homely enough for keeping."
"Selling me?" The words were echoing. They fluttered inside her.
"A slave trade, this is, and so I will make it appear that way. This is what they do to slaves!" Nichara had never before realized her mother's displeasure at the deal. "Eireann is fortunate I do not make her cut her hair. She is lucky I don't care for Matthias's perverse affections. I am not so jealous."
"Lady Eydís," a voice whispered from the door. Sian always stared at her feet when she addressed Lady Eydís. She pointed shakily to the window and opened her mouth to speak, not speaking even though her lips moved. "Lady…" she tried again. "My Queen, the king wishes for his… daughter to be presented for inspection. His party will return soon. Before noon. He says to… get her ready."
"Very well. Matthias is always cautious when it comes to a trade," Dara said in her hard voice hinting of irony. She beckoned the servant to her. "Sirrah, dress her in white. There is a plain-looking dress in the chest—there by the wall.
"Ona—yes," the youngest Suileamhain stammered, hurrying to find the dress.
Dara went to Talitha's bed and lifted the tiny girl from the blankets. She kissed the girl's cheek. "He should not see you," she said. "I will ask the servants to make a game for you in the courtyard while everyone else is occupied. Would you like that?"
Talitha looked at Nichara, that smile still hidden beneath her face and her legs dangling uselessly from her mother's side. Talitha had no nurse; Dara always looked after her.
"Goodbye, Nichara," she said, her pretty blue eyes disappearing behind the door, though her muffled voice still made its way back to the room. "Nichara, Nichara… maybe they have games there, too. Just wait and see. Nichara, why don't you say goodbye back?"
Nichara closed her eyes at her sister's waning voice and was too cold inside for words.