Lysia's room faced south. The view outside the balcony in the midmorning was warm, a balmy breeze drifting in across the beige slate floor that was cool under their bare feet. With it came the scent of lilac and wisteria, the variegated purples fringing fern-like greenery hanging over the carved stone veranda. Also on the gentle wind was the ever-present fragrance of cinnamon from the groves mingled over the five-hundred acre plantation.
She smiled, sighing at the delicate floral bouquet that reached far into the room, filling the high stone walls and floor length tasseled tapestries with perfume. So accustomed was she to the cinnamon bark that she rarely discerned it above other scents now, except during harvest season. A tug at her dark hair made Lysia frown, her green eyes narrow.
"Mrina, you're pulling too hard." Lysia sat straighter on the stool, looking in the hazy mirror over the dressing table to the maid standing behind her.
"Sorry, ma'am," the maid said, loosening her hold on her mistress's hair.
"You don't have to call me ma'am yet, Mri," Lysia said for the tenth time in four days. She put both hands to the back of her head, pulling the long tresses from the maid's grasp. "I can't bear these formalities."
Mrina saw her mistress's face fall, not the usual expression Lysia wore, but more so since Rains Muneska's passing a month ago. In her ten years of service, since she and Lysia had been five and six years-old, Mrina had never seen her mistress so sad for so long.
"I know it's necessary," Lysia continued, sorting through the combs of cloisonné and precious stones on the dressing table, her fingers avoiding the small carved wooden box inset with onyx, "but it's so odd. Once we're there for a while, we'll be able to speak freely."
Mrina nodded, taking the comb set with green aventurine and coral that Lysia handed to her. "This will be lovely with the peach gauze dress for luncheon."
Lysia's lips formed a pout in the mirror, but her gaze was beyond the cloudy looking-glass. "What if he doesn't like me, Mri? What if he's changed his mind since the arrangement was made official? Mother is in no health to argue with anyone, especially a nobleman like Calum Petrona."
Mrina sighed, pulling the dark, nearly black hair to the back of Lysia's head and securing it with the comb. "Why would he change his mind? The Muneska name is still the pride of western Shiman Krauh. You're the heiress to the second largest cinnamon plantation, Lysia. It's a perfect match."
Lysia nodded slightly, trying not to interrupt the thin braid Mrina was working at her left temple.
"He was handsome," Mrina said hopefully.
Lysia laughed, a genuine amusement reaching her eyes as she looked to Mrina in the mirror. "You mean in the woodcut?" She thought of the bas relief woodcut that was sent to her a year ago as a gift. "That piece of oak could have been anyone. It was so indistinct."
"I thought it was well-done," Mrina said, twisting the last of the first braid. She secured it with a beaded fringe of coral and pearl.
Lysia nodded before the maid began a second braid. "Well-done for a woodcut, but is it a fair likeness to Calum Petrona?"
"You'll find out in a few weeks, ma'am." The maid didn't particularly like the sound of the words when they were alone. She'd been more companion to Lysia since they were young, more so than maid.
"We're leaving in two weeks," Lysia reminded. "We won't get there for nearly a month."
Mrina braided another strand of dark hair and wove in the second pearl and coral cord. Lysia fell silent, her fingers toying with the beaded turquoise and coral cord on the dressing table. "You should wear this." She stood and turned to the maid, holding the jeweled cord to the girl's dark-auburn hair.
Mrina's hazel eyes livened, but she shook her head. "I'm to stay in my place, Lysia," she said in a hushed tone. "Mama's been telling me that for a month now."
Lysia smiled, rising to her full height, only a few inches over the maid's stature. "I am Lysia Muneska, dear friend," she said in a falsely self-important manner, "and I say you should wear it."
They both broke into giggles, and Lysia attached the blue and peach beads to Mrina's reddish cast hair. "You've been using the henna," she said accusingly.
Mrina's face dropped, then smiled secretively at Lysia's sly grin. "You said I should."
Lysia nodded. "I wouldn't have given it to you if you shouldn't use it." Before the maid could say another word, she added: "Very fetching, Mrina."
She pulled the maid's hair to each side of her face, adjusting the lace scarf that was banded around her head across the top. "When we move to the Center," she said, referring to central Shiman Krauh, "and the new house, don't wear the headband. Hold still," she said as Mrina tried to turn her head. "This is a new start. We can change things."
"A new start for you, Lysia." Mrina's eyes watched her mistress work the beads into her hair.
"For both of us. If I'm to be married, then you will be my lady-in-waiting, not merely a maid." Lysia smiled, her olive complexion slightly tanned from too much time in the sun, as her mother would say. Nearly as dark as Mrina's naturally tan skin. The smile dropped from her face, her thoughts turning to the illness that had taken her father's life and kept her mother at death's door lately. Fresh air, and keeping to her rooms had been what the physician had ordered.
Distance, was how it had sounded to Lysia. She pushed her smile back into place when she saw Mrina's reflection focus on her in the mirror. She brushed the dark auburn hair from the maid's face, placing the strand of beads so it fell over the girl's shoulder, dangling at the cowry shell necklace, also a gift from Lysia on her fifteenth birthday.
"There." Lysia prompted the maid to stand and held her at arm's length. She smiled, sighing. "You have three days to say your farewells, Mri. After that you're mine, and we'll have to pack everything." She pulled her close, hugging her quickly. She took the small wooden box from the table and put it in Mrina's hands. "For your mother."
"Oh, thank you, Lysia. I'll see you soon?"
When Mrina had left, Lysia dressed herself hastily in the peach gauze dress, and paused in the middle of the bedchamber. Her eyes rose to the gold fringed burgundy tapestries embroidered with the Muneska family heraldry that hung on each wall. She would miss it all, the ivory bedstead and sheer privacy curtains of finest silk, the balcony that overlooked the acres of lush grass kept short by the lambs and trimmed of weeds by the young spotted goats. She opened the jeweled box on the dressing table and her fingers closed over the woodcut that she kept there.
She went to the open balcony and looked out over the expansive yards broken by stands of ornamental bushes, narrow canals of shimmering blue water, and pools rimmed with alabaster. In the distance a few of the goat kids and lambs dotted the grass, some skipping merrily in the cool grass.
She smoothed her double gauze skirts, the lightweight peach material moving freely in the soft scented breeze. She looked down at the woodcut. The oak round was the size of her palm, the cuts deep, the outline forming the profile of a man. As vague as the profile was, it was a good profile, she admitted, but was it really anything like the real Calum Petrona?
She sighed, leaning her elbows on the stone balcony side, the woodcut in her hands. She knew he was older than her sixteen years. He was twenty-four, in fact. His was the highest placed family in central Shiman Krauh, a family of horse breeders that went back for seven generations, and had stocked the king's own stables and guard. Her father had arranged the marriage years ago, and Lysia had obediently agreed to it. Now that Rains Muneska was dead and her mother Nyla was close, the marriage had been moved up.
Well, not the marriage itself. That was still a year away, she consoled herself, tracing the woodcut with a fingertip. But she was moving out of the Muneska family estate six months early. Being the only child, Lysia would inherit the estate upon her mother's death, and it would probably continue to run, under her husband's rule, by the current overseer, Vrand.
At least she still had two weeks of luncheons with her mother. That was all that the physician would allow for Nyla to tax herself by sitting in the sunny patio with Lysia. It was only a matter of time, the physician said, and not much time, at that.
Her grip tightened over the woodcut. Perhaps Calum Petrona wouldn't like her. A shadowed portrait had been traced of her, the sharp outline of her silhouette against an opaque parchment, her hair in a gold and ruby jeweled diadem, a delicate gold chain and ribbon fillet draped over her dark tresses. Of course, none of this really translated well on the silhouette.
She'd asked for a painting of him. He'd asked for a painting of her. Neither painting had been done.
"Paintings do not travel well," Rains had said, patting her head that day before he'd taken ill when Lysia asked for a painting of Calum Petrona. "An image would be better."
Lysia had nodded, and went about her day, knowing her father was right about the idea.
Lunch was to be on the south patio where Nyla liked to see the twin suns' reflections on the pool waters. The alabaster pool was a crescent shape, much like the little birthmark on the back of Lysia's right shoulder. The blue waters rippled aquamarine, sending swells to the sides in the soft afternoon breeze. Beside it three peacocks, a male and two hens, gracefully stepped among the clover and grass.
Lysia sat beside the marble table, looking to her mother's divan and tent of mauve silk drapery. The silk was fine and smooth, but allowed little of the breeze into the canopied couch, and she wished that, for even a brief moment, her mother could enjoy the warm breeze on her skin. She approached the divan and touched her mother's hand that had slipped through the silk to rest on the table. Her skin was pale, unlike summers of past, when her skin was as dark as Lysia's.
"You have a lovely day," she said, touching the hand, finding it cool despite the day's heat.
Nyla's fingers curled, then turned to caress Lysia's hand as it passed. "It smells of cinnamon so strongly. They'll be peeling the bark soon."
Lysia sat at the chair opposite the table. She nodded, looking out across the yards to where the tops of the small bushy cinnamon trees could be seen past the swell of meadow. Beyond the swell, where she couldn't see, she knew the workers would be cleaning and rubbing fine the brass rods and keening round rasp knives. "It should rain in a few days. Vrand will start then."
Nyla nodded, her features hidden behind the drapes of silk. Her voice was thin, breathy, unlike the beautiful tones that had sung Lysia to sleep when she was young. "In the morning. A good crop this year, Vrand says."
A servant brought out a decanter of lemongrass tea and sliced cucumbers and yogurt sauce flavored with cinnamon leaves. She nodded, murmuring something to Nyla before taking exiting the patio. "You'll be happy in the Petrona house, my child. He comes from a great family, and he will allow you to keep the orchards here after I'm gone."
The alarm rose in Lysia's throat, but she didn't voice it. Instead, she said, "He seems a very good choice. I'll make him a good wife, mother. But I'll miss you."
"Not for long." Nyla's tone sagged, and she coughed a little.
Lysia moved her chair closer to her mother's canopied one, waiting for the spell to pass. She poured tea into her mother's ceramic cup and set it nearer. The coughing spells lasted longer now, worse in the early morning dew when they sometimes took tea by the fountain in the morning room. Her mother's hand had clenched at the cough, and now it withdrew into the silk enclosure.
Nyla took a shallow breath. "You'll be a beautiful bride, my dear. Remember your father when your day comes."
"I will." Lysia looked at the untouched cucumbers and yogurt, her stomach starting to twist as it did when her mother had her spells. "You'll be there, mother."
"It's not for another year, Lysia." There was a finality to Nyla's words. "But I shall endeavor to."