TW: Sexual violence

Past

The last vestiges of purple hued sunlight danced on the horizon, illuminating the ash riddled peak to the east. Ira had no time to admire the beautiful sunset for the laundry basket at her feet demanded her attention.

She was humming a melancholy tune from her balcony when a dark rock landed on a newly washed bedsheet. Ira's fury bubbled over and she leaned over the dark railing ready to give her piece of mind.

"You promised to give me a tour of the palace," The new servant boy, Liev, gave her a cheerful wave. His green eyes were hiding beneath his overgrown, mop of ash blond hair.

"I made no such promises! I'm a very important personal maid to the Royal family and my time is not my own," Ira exclaimed. She concealed the giddiness igniting within her with a glare.

All the palace maids were giggling over the handsome servant boy. Why he had chosen to accost her instead of them was beyond her. Despite her rising ire at his persistence she could not help but steal a look at his smiling face.

"Only one of the twenty. You've served the royal family personally how many times?" The tall boy challenged.

From the connecting terrace the boy clambered up the stone staircase. He propped himself up the thick railing and crossed his long legs. With an unflinching stare the servant gazed at Ira through the white, hanging sheets.

"I'm getting there. I was only just promoted to laundry. I shall be serving their meals soon enough. And mind yourself. If you fall down your body will disintegrate before it reaches the ground," The dark haired girl admonished.

"I can't even count all the floors when at the bottom of the tower. Is it five hundred or six hundred stories? The ground is not visible right now," Liev asked with a curious slant of his head.

His ash hair brushed his narrow face as he leaned over the edge to get a better look of the daunting ground level. If it were not for the clouds swirling around the tower he would have seen the rocky, arid terrain underneath. All the water from the mountains diverted to the tower leaving very little for vegetation or the population living underneath.

The earth suddenly rumbled indicating the ash sodden mountain was furious. A wave of dust spewed all over the horizon. Ira sprinted towards Leiv instead of gathering the laundry as she should have.

"Watch yourself," The braided girl cried out as the gust of wind fluttered her long skirts about. Leiv's already wild hair flew about exposing his sharp, green eyes. For Ira the sounds of the howling of the wind disappeared.

The girl held onto the boy with all her might until the turbulence died down. She was afraid he would tumble down the high tower and disappear forever. The gigantic palace never felt stable when the mountain peak revealed its true nature.

Leiv continued to grin at her in his mischievous way making Ira frown. She huffed as she realised she had a deathly tight grip onto his thighs. She abruptly let go as if he was hotter then the spewed ash.

"You go down often? I haven't seen the ground in six months. It isn't worth the effort to go down all the way," Ira asked, hoping the taller boy would not make any rude comments. She fumbled over the ruined laundry. A furtive peek behind her indicated Leiv's face was dripping with mirth.

"Some of us need to earn our keep. It's not like the palace pays a whole lot," The boy finally lost the grin on his face as his green eyes followed her every move carefully.

Ira could not disagree despite having been born in the palace. The King was not a generous man but she had no right to complain. The common folk living under the palace's shadow received very little from the Royal coffers despite them dripping with gold. The worse off however were those sold to the coal mines operating in the shaking mountain. Entire families lived and died without ever seeing the blazing hot sun.

"What will you give me if I show you around? I demand no less then a ribbon for my braids?" Ira jested. She had no wish to steal off coin from a pauper. Even after five years of palace work Ira had barely saved up a meagre amount.

"I shall make you a Princess instead," The boy declared making Ira still. The sodden cloth in her hand dripped on the hem of her ankle length skirts.

"And what of the Princess we already have," The shorter girl challenged with a scoff. Her dark eyes gave the loathsome new comer a pressing stare.

"I shall banish her to the coal mines," The boy huffed as if it were obvious.

"She's much too pretty for such nonsense," Ira dismissed the idea with a wave of the hand.

Ira deemed the boy's theatrics ridiculous but she had to fight to keep the smile off her face as her matron scolded her for her incompetence.


Present

Ira scraped the black rock in the flame light. Her hands trembled with concentration and she finally set down her tools in despair. It seems she would be having nothing for breakfast for her incompetence. Her basket of stones was empty.

Before her enslavement Ira had never been able to fathom why the labour intensive coal mine needed women and children. Now she knew that there was more than coal in the mines. All the jewels adorned by the previous Royal family came from the mountain and needed smaller hands to dig out the gems.

"Good morning, Ira!" Old man Kinnaird called out as he rolled his wheelbarrow with a *clack* *clack* sound over the rough tunnel path. Suddenly the hourly bells started clanging indicating the change of shifts.

"How do you always know what time it is?" Ira shouted back, hoping she was heard over the deafening sound, "I still lose track of shifts."

The old man ignored her oft asked question. He leaned in and whispered, "Take care, girl, I hear Luther's in a mood."

Ira straightened her shoulders. Luther was a vicious beast of a man, governing over her part of the mines. If she were to go back to her hole she needed to go past his office. The man would pull out any of the girls out of the line for his own amusement.

Ira followed the other women and children out of the tunnel. Luther was no where in sight and the braided girl exhaled in relief. His nauseating touch would haunt her forever.

Suddenly she spied something from the corner of her eyes and felt every hair on her arms standing on end. She saw young Jeraldine standing at the end of a tunnel all alone. Ira wasted no time breaking the line and running towards the girl.

"Your father is looking for you, Jerry," Ira panted from the exertion. To her horror she found Luther cornering her in the crossway.

"She's busy. She hasn't brought forth any stones this month," Luther bristled at the interruption.

"She's not old enough for whatever you're planning to do with her. Isn't it enough what you do to us?" Ira growled. She shielded the frightened young girl behind her.

"Everyone has to earn their keep. I cannot waste any more bread on her. The new King's hand is getting tighter," The middle aged man snarled. He tried to pull Jerry towards him but Ira blocked his path.

"Not possible. I won't allow it," Ira declared, knowing she was destined to be whipped for her defiance.

Luther abruptly discarded the younger girl and ensnared Ira's long braids. He pulled them so fiercely her eyes watered.

"Why don't you trade places? Why don't you show her how it's done?" The man's wet breath stroked Ira's ear. She shuddered from disgust. The mine supervisor pushed the former servant girl on her knees.

"Don't subject her to this travesty!" The dark eyed girl begged.

Suddenly the man lurched forward and toppled over. Ira was nearly crushed under his weight. She looked up and found Jerry holding a sharp rock in her hand. It was bloody at the bottom.

Ira heaved up to her feet and stared at Luther in horror. He was groaning on a floor with a wound on his head. Ira took Jerry's hand and they fled from the scene of the crime.