"Prince Riaclese called you pretty? A maid?" My friend Lutha sounded shocked. "By the Gods, it's unbelievable."

"Imagine how I felt staring into those sea blue eyes, Lutha. Just think!" I sighed as we reached the kitchen. "Oh, I know it's silly." I said as I saw the wary look she was giving me. "But you have to let me daydream, Lutha. I'm a mere slave, you must leave me that. And he remembered me!"

"I know, I know, but still, Thea, you mustn't get your hopes up or something."

"Never, but, Zeus, was he ever...oh, Lutha."

She playfully whipped me with a rag and rolled her eyes. Lutha was four years older than me, and had always reminded me of an older sister. She was plump and quick witted, her dark eyes always sparkling with a dirty joke she overheard the stable boys whispering, or her fingers red from snatched pomegranate seeds and raspberries. She got constantly yelled at for her mischief, but she was a lot smarter than she acted. She attended to visiting royalty and was filled to the brim with embarrassing stories about great kings and queens, princes and princesses from other lands. I adored her and she tolerated me with amusement.

"Okay, Aphrodite, off of your shell now, we must get off Olympus, back to the humans attending the royals." she was snapping her fingers in front of my face. "Come, then, Thea, to the great hall for you, I must go make up the visitors chamber. I'll see you in the morning with more stories of the king of Byzantine."

I carried the Princess's goblet, now filled with sweet wine, back into the Dining room, where she was getting prepared to receive the court. She had changed into a deep purple dress tied with a white sash, and her hair was piled on top of her head. Around her golden locks was a silver circlet made of leaves.

I had also changed into my dress clothes. My nicest dress made of light gray cotton, with embroidered green olive leaves going down one side. I had braided my hair into a top knot, and I could already feel strands of it falling down onto my face and neck. I handed the princess her goblet and she thanked me, then turned back to talking with her mother, who looked just as regal and beautiful as her daughter. I went to the side of the dining room as the family took their seats at the long table. For now it was just the family, and they were to discuss what would be happening at the feast.

King Minaclese sat at the head of the table, his wife next to him. Riaclese sat on the other head, and the Princess was on the left of her mother. The King smiled and took a sip of his wine, and the Queen was nibbling on some goat cheese spread on the fluffy white bread prepared fresh for the family.

"First, I would like to welcome back my beloved son, glad to see he has made it home safely." he raised his goblet at the Prince, who grinned. The two women also beamed up at the prince.

"Thank you, father." he said.

"And now, we must discuss the consulate from Byzantine." The King's face turned stern, his lips pressed into a thin line. "We know of the problems between them. Our delegations for the time they are here will determine our future with them. I want nothing but kindness to out guests."

"Of course." Kerele said, and her brother nodded in agreement.

"Excellent. Now I've assigned twice the number of guards to the hall than usual."

"What ever for?" The Queen asked, sitting up straighter. "Are we in danger?"

Kerele's eyes widened and she set down her goblet. Riaclese swallowed and his eye's lost their usual laughter, but his face remained the same, unworried and calm.

"Not immediately, but with the tensions so high, I don't want to risk anything." The king said slowly. Kerele played with the hem of her dress. "I do not wish for this to effect your behavior tonight. I just felt I should tell you to not let your guard down."

"We won't." Riaclese said, his jaw setting.

At the feast, the atmosphere was joyous and exciting. I trailed after Kerele as she spoke with her guests. The air was filled with the rich scents of suckling pig, roasted pheasants, baked plums and luxurious wine, and gentle flute and harp music spilled from the performers placed around. Dancers twirled around, dripping in silk and fine jewels.

I watched the nobles from Byzantine quietly. They resembled Turks, with heavy brows and dark hair. The Byzantine women looked brutish next to the delicate beauty of the women of our Grecian court. The king of Byzantium was short and fat, and seemed to be suspicious of everyone.

They all feasted late into the night, when my eyes were getting heavy and the Princess couldn't stop yawning. The Queen quietly dismissed us and we walked down the torchlit hallways, the music still drifting from the Great Hall.

"Well, that was quite fun." The Princess said, her voice thin from sleepiness.

"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself."

"Yes, I did." she replied dreamily and I opened up her chambers. After she changed into her dressing gown, I pulled back the covers, and she fell into bed, her makeup still on, her hair still styled.

"I'd like you to draw a bath for me in the morning, Thea, and inform my brother I'd like to dine with him tomorrow afternoon, and tell...tell..." her eyes fell closed and she was sleeping soundly a moment later.

I went to my room and combed out my hair, and braided it quickly, then pulled on my own nightgown. I took the bread from that morning out of my apron and scarfed it down, then fell into my own, small bed.

I had difficulty getting up the next morning, but duty called. I finished my morning chores still half asleep. The Princess was equally groggy and told me she'd like to spend the morning at the marble water fountains on the grounds, which were deep enough to swim in.

"Perhaps you could have your lunch there, with the prince."

The princess looked up at me, surprised, then broke into a smile.

"That's a lovely idea. Riaclese would like that. Send him a messenger with the plan, and have him reply so I know. I'm going to go put on my bathing dress."

I went to find a messenger and had them scrawl the message down. Not ten minutes later, the messenger returned with the prince's affirmed invitation.

The Princess reappeared, dressed, with a linen wrap pulled around her shoulders, her her hair hanging loose. I delivered the message from the prince.

"Why don't you borrow one of my swimming dresses and join us?" she asked.

"Oh, no, Princess, I coul-"

"Don't be silly, come with me, it'll be fun." She gave me a wide smile. I thought this over. When she was younger, she asked me to go with her to events as equals instead of as her maid all the time, but she hadn't for a while.

"Well, alright then." I said.

"Come on then." she took my hand and led me to her dressing chamber. She pulled from the depths of the wardrobe room an old swimming gown, something more lovely than I had ever worn before. It was thin yellow silk, embroidered with golden thread in small waves at the waistline. I pulled it over my other dress and twirled around.

"No, take the bottom one off, we'll ruin your linen dress." I slipped it off and let the smooth silk envelope my bare skin. "By the Gods, you look like a princess." she gave a little gasp. "Why don't we put you in my jewelry? Like we used to when I was little?"

She was right, when she was just a child she loved playing dress up, putting me in dazzling crowns, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and earrings.

"Princess, I don't think-"

"Just a little gold circlet, maybe a necklace or bracelet...or anklets! You have such lovely legs, come then."

She picked out a simple golden necklace with a depiction of Athena engraved on the front, and a pair of silver anklets that jangled with seashells. She combed out my hair and braided thin clumps of the hair, then twirled the braids intricately around to the back of my head, where she let them rest. On top of my hair she set a bronze circlet that resembled olive branches.

"There." she said breezily, and stepped back.

"Oh." I said, looking at the dazzling reflection in front of me. I wasn't a maid anymore, I was a nymph...a daughter of a goddess. I had never seen myself so beautiful. "You look so lovely, Thea. Oh, how my brother's men will stare at the pair of us as we walk to the pools."

My mind went instantly to Riaclese, but I shoved the thought away as quickly as it had come.

"Well, we should head down there, in that case." I said with a sly smile. The Princess looked surprised at my joke, and I was worried for a moment, but then she burst into giggles as she reached for her wrap.

"Thea, you are such a charm, come on then."

The walk was short, and the princess and I walked side by side, gossiping about the nobles from Byzantine. It had been a few years since I had felt equal with the Princess, but I had missed it. She was a good friend, and I loved her company.

We reached the fountains, which were a series of four, marble pools, filled with crystal clear waters, with series of ceramics lining the bottoms, and waterfalls lining the sides. A large group of servants were setting up a table and a meal underneath the pomegranate trees next to the pools. The princess went over to the table and cooed over the lovely day and the delicious looking meal.

I went to assist with fixating the barley and lamb stew.

Soon, once Riaclese had arrived, the princess was lost in listening to his tales of Egypt and the Mediterranean Islands. I sat nearby, under another pomegranate tree, and listened to his rough voice describe palaces of unmatched beauty, beasts we had never heard of, never mind see, mysterious food, suspicious people, boisterous feasts, ravish parties, and fantastic adventure.

After an hour and a half, the prince revealed the gift he had brought for his sister, a breathtaking chest of treasure, filled to the brim with precious stones and jewelry, perfumes, priceless figurines, and astonishing pelts of furs. She ooh-ed and ahh-ed and squealed at every thing within the chest, then adorned herself in a new golden and emerald necklace that must have weighed as much as my arm. She wrapped herself in a satin fleece and twirled around the pool, while Riaclese clapped and laughed.

"Thea? How about you join us for a swim?" The Princess offered when she had removed the necklace and sent her gifts back to her chambers. Riaclese spun and smiled at me.

"Thea, it will be just like when we were children." he said, his eyes sparkling.

"Children? Why, Thea and I were just playing dress up like we did when we were young."

"Then it shall be an afternoon for nostalgia then, come, my lovely queens." Riaclese smiled at us both and dove into shining pool, bobbing back up and running his hand through his dripping hair.

The princess and I chose rather to wade down the steps and keep our hair dry. I wanted nothing more to dip my head under the cool water and let my long hair swirl around me, but I couldn't very well take off the light circlet and leave it next to the pool, so I kept my head balanced above water and swam in graceful, broad strokes.

The prince was laughing the entire time he swam, and kept clambering out to dive back in. Finally he calmed down and came over to where the princess and I were resting on one of the marble steps placed around the pools.

"Come on, you lovely girls don't want to have a bit of fun?"

"This is plenty fun, Riaclese."

The Prince spotted my necklace and grinned.

"Athena. Amazing goddess." he commented.

"Oh, this...this is the Princess's. She let me use it for this afternoon."

"I think I might let you keep it, Thea, it looks so nice with your dark skin."

I smiled and looked down.

"Princess, you are much too kind."

She waved me off and called over one of the other servants, asking for some goblets of wine. She even offered me a cup, but I declined.

"So I heard from father some foreigners are visiting our castle." Riaclese announced

"Tell me. From where?"

"That's just the thing, I've never heard of the place."

The princess raised her eyebrows.

"Never heard of somewhere?"

"A land called Mongolia, far east from here. They're very rich and powerful where they're from."

"How large is the party? When will they be arriving?"

"About a dozen, and soon, I hear."

"Further than Egypt? This Monliga?"

"Mongolia. And much, much further."

"Across the great ocean?"

"No, not that far, but across the cold lands."

"Oh, my." The princess's eyes sparkled with wonder. "I wonder what the men will look like."

"Short, angry looking men, quite fat too."

The princess scowled.

"Don't be sore, Kerele, I'm sure father will get you the most handsome husband in the land."

"One can hope."