Chapter 6

Though judging by the size of the place there was plenty to learn about her new temporary establishment, Emma chose to rest until the meeting at five with Mehra.

Time seemed to pass quickly as she laid in her new bed, musing over her new circumstances. The old woman is extremely bothersome, she thought, but I feel that she knows something important about my staying here. As for Julien… I don't know what to think.

She started analyzing Julien in appearance, but truthfully had been too tired upon her first meeting with him to notice any significant detail. Emma could only recall the stinging feeling of his eyes meeting hers and the awkward emotional response that caught her off guard. Admittedly she had not been in her best physical or emotional state back at Diamond Bar, but usually Emma was able to keep herself together.

He seemed incredibly angry in every action he made. Emma recalled feeling on edge even in the coach as Julien directed the driver to move faster, shouting directions that seemed unnecessary if the man had taken the route before. His words were clipped with bitterness and it seemed that unless Emma spoke—in which these short moments Julien seemed to soften in his eyes—Julien assumed total authority in his voice and stature. Certainly a King.

There was a knock on the stone of the corridor wall—for Emma only had a light sheet covering her doorframe—before Mehra came in. As a hand pulled back the curtain a small, soft-looking woman stepped into the room. "Hello, miss. I'm Mehra. What may your name be?" Her high voice oozed thickness into every syllable.

"Emma," she said, scrambling out of her bed to stand and properly greet the woman. "I got your note," was all she could think to add.

"Yes, I am so sorry how early things start around here if you are not used to it. You will adjust quickly with everything you have to do around here, it will tire you out by bed-time!" She moved swiftly with soft steps to the small section of the room that was curtained off. Despite her round shape and heavy velvet garments, the woman had a certain air of grace about her. Emma couldn't put her finger on what seemed so familiar. "Well, I do not mean to rush you dear, but we will have to get started immediately. In the back here I have a list of things for you to do throughout the week, with times and assignments for every day. I am sure King Julien has made you aware of the two-and-a-half hour rule." She waddled back and handed Emma a thick steel bucket and an old-looking mop. "He may have also told you that I will be teaching you about this place for today and the two days that follow, then you are basically on your own. Don't worry though, you will easily be able to handle it after tomorrow evening.

"The first rule," Mehra went on as she led Emma out of the cramped room, both carrying armfuls of cleaning and household supplies, "is that you listen to King Julien. Always listen to what he tells you, because the man means serious business." The woman extended the length of the word "serious," rolling the r to emphasize her point. "If he says not to go into his office for the day, do not do so. If he tells you the dining hall needs a cleaning—the dining hall should be scrubbed spotless. Again dear I apologize in advance with how demanding your assignment is going to be, but if you look on the bright side," they turned a corner to the left, "most of you girls get turned back to Helling much earlier than promised. Though a little birdie did tell me that you are supposed to be staying rather long this time…"

The two trailed down several corridors as Mehra explained the various sections they passed through. "You're staying in the West Wing, but most of your work will actually be in the East. West is more for staff quarters and magical business. I'll never understand the logic behind the setup of this castle, really." Emma paused at the mention of magic, but quickly understanding how foreign her identity may be perceived in bringing it up, she laid the subject to rest and continued to follow Mehra.

After what seemed a decade in length, Mehra finally stopped them in front of an empty doorframe that was wider than the rest. The room's lighting was poor due to the lack of sunlight, but it was clear that the space was used as a sort of living room. There was a huge animal fur rug stretched out only a few feet from the doorway in front of a large, soft-looking leather couch that stretched into an L-shape. The dancing shadows around the room and the crackling sounds suggested a fire was burning in the wall to their left. Behind the couch the room extended farther back, with a medium-sized rectangular mahogany table surrounded by a few chairs. The three back walls were essentially long glass windows with a border of wood at the corners. To their right, an almost separate room— though part of the same room due to the continuity of the shared space— housed a library of sorts, with three walls brimmed to their fullest with the bindings of books. Another animal fur carpet laid on the wood-paneled floor. Mehra turned around to face the young girl as she scanned the room. Their eyes met.

"First, we will mop down this entire room, and then dust the bookshelves; clean the windows, restore the hearth, and prepare the table for breakfast. King Julien is having a breakfast conference this morning and needs the place spotless; he is having rulers from various countries come over this morning to discuss… goodness knows what this time. But they are all equally as inimical as the king himself, so let's get to work." Mehra started to walk further into the room, but after a step spun back on her heel to look Emma fiercely in the eye.

"Now I don't want you to get too worried about this job, either. It is just a job, and though King Julien can be cruel at times, I feel it is just awful, this Trade of Women system you're in. I empathize with these girls they bring here…" her voice drifted off, but she held Emma's gaze firm. "You will always have me if you need me." Then, as if she hadn't said a sentimental word, she threw Emma a large old sponge and immediately set herself to work.

Motherly. That's what Emma had recognized in this woman. She had an air of concern about her that made her come off extremely motherly.