Saturday, June 27, 2009

Our First Full Day in Jules (long post)

The next morning, we awoke at the 5am morning bell. I'm usually not at all a morning person, but my eyes popped right open that day. I was too excited to stay in bed. I was surprisingly the first one to shoot out of bed and run to the giant window.

Most of the windows in the Palace of Furier are floor-to-ceiling and they have glass in them. The windows in the Julese Palace (that I had seen anyway) were all shaped like arches, and they were open, no glass. They were large, but they didn't go all the way from the ceiling to the floor. They started just below my shoulders (I'm fairly tall), and then arched up a good ten feet.

"Wow," I said, gazing out the window. "Look, the sun is rising." The red-golden rays soaked the Palace in a sunny glow. The window looked out to a piece of the courtyard garden, so we got to see the sun on all the flowers and sparkle in the fountains, too.

At home, all our windows face south, so wer never really get to see either the sunrise from there.

After a few minutes of taking in the beautfy, Firefly decided to be practical and said,

"Alright, we should be getting dressed now. You know we have to look perfect for the Emperor."

"And the Empress," Sparkle protested. "It's not all about the men, you know."

"You mean it shouldn't be," Firefly corrected indignantly. "Because it is whether it's right or not."

"What should we wear?" Flicker asked, frowning. "Our kachina costumes or our clothes?" Firefly frowned.

"I don't know," she admitted. "Why don't we put on some good clothes, and then see if we need to change. As long as we look like true kachinas, I don't think it matters what we wear."

"I think you're wrong about that," I put in. "But I still agree about what to wear."

We all got dressed in outfits that looked something like this: with our tights, of course.

Then, we waited. Especially when one is a guest, it is proper not to do anything until called.

Shortly, someone came and led us to the dining room for the servants and slaves. The food was much like it is in Furier, only not quite as spicy and there was more fruit.

As we were finishing our breakfast, a well-dressed servant woman scurried up to us and whispered,

"If you would come with me, the Princess Sadira would like to see you." Of course, our first thought was, "What have we done wrong already?", but then the servant went on:

"And dress in your dancing clothes. She wants to see you dance."

That was odd, but not bad. We all wondered why she didn't just get her own kachinas to entertain her. Perhaps she was tired of their routines.

We hurried back to our room and changed into our costumes, and then the servant led us out into the coutyard.

"She's over there," she said, pointing. The princess was sitting on the edge of a fountain on the far side of the garden. I smiled. She couldn't have been more than eight years old. She was dressed strangly, though. Not like a princess. More like...a kachina.

The servant left us and we went over to the princess. She was dressed like a kachina, but not a Furierite one, a Julese one. The difference in style was obvious. (The skirts of Julese kachinas are much longer and more flowing.)

"Good morning, your majesty," Firefly spoke for us all as we curtsied, Furierite style.

"Good morning," the princess responded politely. She seemed kind, but almost nervous. She did not smile.

"We were told you wanted to see us dance," I said. Princess Sadira shook her head.

"That's not quite true," she said, looking over her shoulder. She leaned in toward us. "I want to learn how to dance."

We kachinas exchanged nervous glances. Apparently, teaching the princess to dance like a kachina was an unapproved activity, hence her anxiety. We would surely get into trouble if we did. But would the princess be angry if we refused?

"Why don't you ask one of your own kachinas to teach you, your majesty?" I asked, curious. The princess sighed and trailed her finger through the fountain water.

"They won't," she said sadly. "The tivas* here have been specifically told not to teach me. But you have not. You have not been forbidden to teach me."

"Why do you want to learn so badly, majesty?" Sparkle asked. The princess smiled, her eyes lit up.

"Because the way tivas dance is beautiful!" she cried. "Traditional Julese dancing is just dancing, but dancing like tivas is something else. It's like singing with your body."

Right then and there, I was willing to teach the little princess. She felt about dancing the same way I did. It wasn't just dancing; it was art.

"I will teach you, Princess," I said quickly. The other kachinas glared at me.

"Ember," Firefly snapped. "What are you thinking? If the Emperor were to find out, it could compromise this entire diplomatic visit."

"Firefly is right," Flare said. I was surprised; she usually sides with me in these things.

"It's like the princess said," I began. "We haven't been told not to teach her. If the Emperor finds out, we can just say we didn't know we weren't supposed to."

"But then the princess would get in trouble," Firefly pointed out. "That's hardly fair."

"No, what's hardly fair is depriving someone of what they're passionate about," I retorted. "I know I love dancing more than the rest of you, so it's possible that you just don't understand. If the princess loves dancing like I do, keeping it from her now won't make a difference. She'll just find some other way later on, and perhaps not the best way."

"Well, at least we won't be involved," Firefly said hotly. "I know you won't think about the rest of our skins, but think about the princess's. If her father were to find out she learned kachina dancing behind his back, he would surely be very angry with her! And who knows what would become of us! The Emperor would probably have us punished, but even if he didn't, the Fire Lord most certainly would. No, you teach the princess if you want to, but I, for one, will NOT." She curtsied to the princess and hurried out of the courtyard. Flicker and Comet followed.

I turned to watch them, frowning.

"Wait!" I called desperately. As much as I they irritate me, it always feels wrong to do things without all of us. Firefly didn't wait, though. She kept going. Flicker and Comet waited. I went on. "What if we just dance for the princess? Do the same routine over and over. Sooner or later, she'll pick it up. Maybe we can just tell her a few tips. She'll never actually have to dance. If anyone comes by or sees us, they'll just see us entertaining the princess like good guest kachinas should." I looked back at the princess. "Does that sound alright?" She nodded eagerly.

"Yes, thank you," she said. "It's more than my own tivas would ever do for me. Thank you!" I smiled. I really liked the princess. She was kind to us. The Fire Lord would never dream of thanking a slave.

I looked back at Comet and Flicker. Flicker was shaking her head. She turned and ran after Firefly. Comet came back, though. Flare and Sparkle agreed as well.

For amateur kachinas, dancing in perfect unison while keeping the same tempo without music would be next to impossible, but we, of course, are no amateurs. We entertained the princess for a couple of shadowmarks before someone came to fetch us. We were wanted in the throne room. It was time to entertain the Emperor.

The only problem was, Firefly and Flicker were still not with us, so we had to go back to our room to get them.

They weren't there.

We began to panic. It wouldn't do to keep the Emperor waiting while we searched, but several of best our routines required all six of us. Not to mention the fact that if Firefly and Flicker didn't dance, the Fire Lord would be extremely displeased.

We were beginning to get truly worried when Firefly and Flicker waltzed into the room.

"Where have you been?!" I cried angrily, marching over. "It's time for us to entertain the Emperor, and if he's angry at being kept waiting, it'll be all your fault!" I grabbed Firefly's hand and Flare grabbed Flicker and we raced through the halls to the throne room.

But we couldn't find it.

The Palace was so huge, and with all the complicated designs on the walls, it was impossible to tell one hallway from another. Where were all the servants and slaves, anyway? We kept hoping we would run into someone who could point us in the right direction, but no one was to be seen.

Then it occured to us: they were all in the throne room, waiting for us.

This was horrible. Punctuality is so important for guests, and even more imporant for slaves! The Fire Lord has a low tolerance for tardiness, so I doubted the harsh Emperor of Jules would be any different.

By the time we finally found the throne room doors, Flicker was crying, Firefly and I were nearly screaming at each other, Flare had gone completely silent, Sparkle was muttering to herself, and Comet kept repeating, "Just stay calm, we have to stay calm."

The sight of the huge double doors of a throne room was beautiful to us.

"For mercy's sake, Flicker!" I snapped, shaking the little blonde sparktress. "Stop crying and pull yourself together! If you go into the throne room looking like a sobbing beggar, they'll be hell to pay."

"As if there won't already be hell to pay," Firefly snapped. "We must be half a shadowmark late at the earliest!"

The guards standing at the throne room doors were ignoring us while we tried to gain composure.

"Alright, listen to me," I hissed angrily. "We're already in trouble. Now, it's possible that we can salvage this catastrophe if we put our best foot forward and behave like the brilliant kachinas we are. We are going to walk into this throne room with apologetic yet confident expressions. We are going to position ourselves in the center of the room. We are going to hear the music and surrender all control to our love dancing. We are going to shock and awe the people of Jules like no kachina has ever done before. By the time we're finished with our performance, our tardiness will be long forgotten and the Emperor will tell the Fire Lord that he has the best kachinas Jeolotoe has ever seen. Alright? Good. Let's go. Guards, if you would open the doors, please..."

It didn't go quite like that.

It went even better.

The Emperor did not even notice our being late because his daughter was even later. Yes, the Princess Sadira was not yet present, and that's who everyone was thinking about. Well, everyone except the Fire Lord. He most certainly did notice our tardiness and by the look he threw at us, he intended to teach us a lesson after our performance.

I know this isn't a very important detail, but I have a picture of the Empress Nala I'd like to show you: Isn't she lovely?

Princess Sadira arrived a quarter shadowmark after we did, and then the Julese kachinas (tivas) were called into the center of the room.

The way this sort of thing works, I'm told is this: when a royal family or person is a guest and has brought his kachinas with him, there is an air of competition about the room. In this case, the Emperor wanted to show the Fire Lord how great his city was by showing him that his tivas were beyond compare. The Fire Lord wanted to do the same. It's quite odd to me that the grandeur of a city is measured by its dancers.

The tivas took their places in the center of the room and waited for the music. They all looked nervous. Flute music suddenly floated into the air, and the tivas prepared to begin. On the next one count, they timidly flew into action. The flute music trilled around them. The tivas' movements were fluid and graceful but in a weak way. It wasn’t like they were controlling their movements, it was like they didn’t have the energy to move any different. Something about the way they danced was almost desperate.

They performed maybe five routines before the Emperor dismissed them with a wave of his hand. They bowed, Julese style, and went to their place agasint the wall. Apparently that was the same in every city.

The Emperor looked proud of what his tivas had just done, but it was all we kachinas could do to keep from grinning. We could out dance them in our sleep.

The Emperor motioned for us to come to the center of the room, and we did. Firefly whispered that we would perform routine nineteen, and we took out beginning poses.

There's nothing quite like the tingling sensation I get when I'm about to perform for someone new. Standing in the center of the fresh, blue and golden throne room, I felt like I could do anything.

The eerie music began. Firefly breathed,

“Five, six, seven, eight.” We suddenly snapped into action, all at precisely the same moment. Our movements were sharp and exact. We twisted and twirled effortlessly, making the art of dance look almost easy, smiling all the while. The dance was alluring instead of disappointing.

The crowd actually gasped as we danced our hearts out. They were shocked at our skill. I caught the Fire Lord's eye once. He actually looked proud of us. I've never felt so good in my entire life. In my whole life as a kachina, I don't think I've ever once felt like I had pleased my Lord.

When we finished, we stopped abruptly, whirled to face the Emperor, and executed a dramatic Furierite curtsy--in perfect unison, of course. We had done well. The Emperor seemed shocked, slightly dismayed, and yet thrilled at our performance. He told us we were excellent, and we were all dismissed.

The Fire Lord was so pleased that he never punished us for being late. The rest of the day passed uneventfully, but well. I was really enjoying my stay in Jules.

Sorry for the long post! If you got this far, I'm impressed, and thank you. *smiles*

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