Okay, so here's some info that might help to understand the story a bit better.
This story is set in Mathura, India around 1500 AD. And, before you comment, it's not supposed to be historically accurate. On with the info...
Diya Arora is 16 years old and her father, Abhay, was one of the advisers to the king of Mathura, King Ranjit. Diya was active in the court of King Ranjit from a very early age as a dancer and singer for the king, the queen, and occasionally, their son, Kartik. Diya's mother, Nidhi, was killed in an attack on the city by another kingdom when Diya was 12. When Diya was 13, her father remarried a lascivious leech named Ekantika, who was a courtesan in the court and had two daughters from a previous marriage. Her late husband had been a soldier in the army and had died, some said, by Ekantika's hand for he was found dead during his sleep. The king disapproved of Abhay and Ekantika's marriage, as he believed Ekantika had killed her late husband for his money and did not wish the same fate on Abhay, so he attempted to banish Ekantika from the court. Abhay, not wanting to leave her, left the court, taking the whole family to his former home in the middle of the town. They all lived a relatively good life until Abhay mysteriously died two years after his marriage to Ekantika. Ekantika then forced Diya into becoming a servant to her step-family, threatening to kick her out of the house if she did not comply. Diya pleaded with her stepmother to let her continue dancing and singing at the court and Ekantika agreed grudgingly, on the condition that Diya gave all her wages to her every night and continued her household duties.
And that's where my story begins now...read on. Let me know if you think anything is unclear or see any inconsistencies with the info I posted above and in the story; I would really appreciate it. Oh, and also, I'm holding a contest to see who can come up with a better title for this story because the current title doesn't really feel right to me now. Thanks for reading everyone!
Everything in Diya's body ached. Her feet hurt from dancing for almost the whole day and then walking home afterwards only to hear Ekantika screeching at her to clean the floors. Her hands were callused from the constant abuse she put them through and ached from scrubbing the marble floors all evening without pause for food or drink. She rubbed the back of her neck, trying to alleviate the pain of keeping it stiff as she worked. Sighing, she got up, grabbing her rags and the pail of water as she drudged off to her stepmother's room to clean up yet another mess her stepsisters had made.
Diya opened the door to her stepmother, Ekantika's room. She set down the pail and looked around, saddened. This had been her mother's room before she had died four years ago. Before, it had been light and airy with the doors thrown wide open and the sunlight streaming through them, reflecting off the polished marble floors. Her mother, who had refused her father's urging to hire a painter from the town to do it, had painted the walls herself with ornate designs and bright colors. The wooden furniture in the room had been handcarved by her father as a wedding present to his wife.
Ekantika had changed everything when she came. She had pleaded to Diya's father that the walls be painted a hideous dark blue, insisting the bright yellows and reds hurt her delicate eyes. Diya had scoffed when Ekantika had first mentioned the idea, sure that her father would disagree as it would dishonor her mother's memory. She had been so shocked when he agreed and hired two painters from the town to paint the room. When she had confronted him about the incident, he had simply replied that her mother was gone and it was time to move on. Hurt, she had shouted at him for trying to forget he had ever loved her mother and that Ekantika was just a leech who wanted his money. Then, for the first time, her father had slapped her. She still remembered the stinging pain on her cheek, the tears she had shed as he locked her in her room til night. Yes, he had changed. Ekantika had changed him.
Memories flooded her as she wrung out a rag and tied back her hair. She still remembered that day vividly. The day he had told her he would never leave her. The last day they had had together before he married her three years ago.
Diya sat curled up in her father's lap, listening eagerly to his every word. Her father was telling her devious tales of the trickster god, Krishna, who was born in Mathura, the village she lived in. This particular tale was about the time when Krishna sneakily gobbled up all the butter in his mother's house after she had warned him against it. Diya giggled as her father mimicked Yashoda's voice scolding little Krishna. As the tale came to an end, she suddenly looked up and said, "Papa?"
"Yes, my little jewel," replied Abhay, using Diya's favorite name for her.
She opened her eyes wide and asked, "I will always be your little jewel, right?"
Her father laughed and said, "Of course! Who else could ever make me as happy as you do?"
"And you'll never, never leave me?"
"No one could take your place in my heart," he replied, smiling as she leapt at him and hugged him hard.
A sharp pain shot across Diya's back as she was snapped back to reality; her stepmother standing over her with a rope. She shrieked at her stepdaughter, "Diya! Stop lazing about and get me some water for my bath!"
Diya winced as she got up gingerly, careful not to bruise herself further. Ekantika, her stepmother, took perverse pleasure in beating her for things of little importance. Diya walked to the cellar and grabbed a pail for water. She closed the door behind her, and walked towards the village.
Pail in hand, she trudged along, mindfully aware of the disdainful stares and whispers that followed her as she walked through the town towards the river. The townfolk had once adored her, praising her dancing and singing to no end. But with the death of her parents, their views had changed. They now praised Ekantika for graciously taking in such a token of bad luck. At first, Diya had been shocked at their sudden change in attitude, but was now used to the constant whispers that followed her. Diya's long, black hair rippled in the breeze, as she walked steadily towards the river. It was her favorite place to be. She could sit there alone for hours, watching the river flow through the forest like a winding cobra.