Divita made her way down the hallway to Emira’h’s suites. Once before the guards, she gave them a fierce stare that had them nearly squirming.
“I would like to see her Highness, Princess Emira’h,” she announced as imperiously as she could.
The guard on the left bowed to her and turned to knock on the door.
One of the ladies-in-waiting opened the door and gasped when she saw Divita, curtsying and stepping back to allow her entrance.
The ladies-in-waiting were standing in a semicircle behind the loveseat on which Emira’h sat with the Ambassador Torim. They had all turned to see who had come calling.
The Ambassador rose and bowed. “Your Majesty. To what do we owe this visit?”
Divita stopped and clasped her hands before her. “I wish to speak to Princess Emira’h for a few minutes.”
“Then you and I are of a purpose,” Torim stated softly. “Perhaps you can bring reason to this closed mind.” He glanced at Emira’h. “I shall return–“
“Stay please, your Eminence,” Divita murmured. “What I need to say will be said before Yllysia itself.”
He bowed and watched as she sat down in an armchair facing the loveseat. He then sat down.
Divita arranged her skirts around her as she gathered her thoughts. After a few seconds, she squared her shoulders and raised her gaze to meet Emira’h’s.
“You won’t change my mind,” the girl stated firmly.
“I’m not here to change anyone’s mind,” Divita assured her.
The girl’s eyebrows shot up. “Then why come at all?”
“I would understand why you would choose to return to anonymity, when it is clear your Goddess wishes you to shine.”
Emira’h lifted her chin. “What do you know of Chaitah?”
Divita smiled. “I know She is the Goddess of high dibasj; She is the Goddess of birth and love and sex.”
Emira’h waved a hand. “Anyone can learn that.”
“True,” Divita countered. “I also know that it is against Her edicts for a woman not to have a child.”
Emira’h looked at her with a measure of suspicion. “This is true.”
“What of those women who can’t have children,” Divita posed.
Emira’h shook her head. “They are not to be blamed. The Goddess has other roles for them.”
“What of those who refuse to bare children?” Divita asked.
Emira’h squared her shoulders. “They break the Goddess’ commandment. They sin against Her.”
“Yet, you were going to live your life in a nunnery, your womb empty of seed and child,” Divita stated.
Emira’h flushed and rose. “How dare you–“
Divita rose as well. “I merely wish to understand.”
The girl narrowed her eyes. “You are trying to make a fool of me, your Majesty!”
“And how does a question do that?” Divita shot back mildly.
Emira’h’s face flushed until her skin looked mottled. She took a deep breath and released it.
“To be a nun in the service of the Queen of Dibasj is the greatest honor,” she said quietly.
“Yet you condemn another for wishing to have three children and–“
Emira’h sucked in a breath. “She wishes to lie with a woman in sexual communion! What is the purpose of such a union, other than to sin?”
“Please sit, your Highness,” Divita murmured.
Emira’h sighed and took a seat.
“Do you believe the gods make mistakes?” Divita asked the girl.
Emira’h vehemently shook her head. “The gods are pure and perfect; they do not err.”
“Then why would a girl–a virgin–like Alona be born with feelings for women, rather than men?”
Emira’h crossed her arms over her bosom. “She sins.”
“Does she sin, by being born different?”
“Yes,” Emira’h hissed.
“Then the gods do make mistakes, for nothing in this world is beyond their power to effect. Yes, Alona desires women rather than men. That is how she was born, after all, and the gods control life and death; so, by your estimation, the gods make mistakes and are imperfect.”
Emira’h rubbed her forehead. “It is not a sin to want to lie with another woman; merely to act upon that desire.”
“I see,” Divita replied. “Then she must live a twilight life, devoid of pleasure.”
“Yes,” the princess pronounced haughtily.
“I see. Then the gods are cruel.”
Emira’h slammed her hand on the low table before her. “Don’t confound my words!”
“What else could a god that condemns such a young woman to a pleasureless life be, other than cruel?”
“They are just!”
“Tell me, Emira’h. Why would atoliy feelings exist, if not by decree of the very gods themselves?” Divita challenged. “Everything on this world and in this universe exists as a direct celestial act, is that not so?”
“Then we are born perfect, with perfect feelings,” Divita concluded. “The only limited thing in this world is the mind. You do not understand being atoliy, so you condemn it. But it is not the Goddess who condemns it; it is you.”
Emira’h barked a laugh. “In the Holy Book it says: The purpose of a woman is to bear the next generation. She cannot divert from that purpose, or she be condemned.”
“That’s fine,” Divita told her. “Alona is going to have three children for Belihn. The rest is between her and her deity. Don’t you agree? Only the gods may pass judgment?”
Emira’h glanced at the Ambassador then back at Divita. “What do you want from me?”
“You were chosen, Emira’h, for my son,” Divita said. “You are strong-willed and stubborn, which are qualities my son shares. My grandchildren will need these qualities. I don’t want some milksop Daughter of the Ten; I want you for my son.”
“What of Alona Oh’nahry?” Emira’h asked quietly.
“You needn’t worry about her.” Divita sighed. “I wanted you to be friends, but I can’t force you, can I? As long as you do not actively do her injury, then I’ll be content with coexistence.”
“I would not hurt anyone,” Emira’h pronounced. “That, too, is a sin.”
“Then will you deign to remain and marry his Grace?” Divita asked.
The girl looked at her friends then at the Ambassador before she locked gazes with Divita.
“Yes,” she said.
Divita smiled and nodded. She rose. “Thank you, Emira’h. You have done me a great favor this day. I shan’t forget it.”
The girl rose. “No. I see now that I was rash, although I have not changed my mind about Alona Oh’nahry.” She flicked the nearest girl a look. “Perhaps I will take time to speak to her.”
Divita’s smile widened. “That would be lovely. Thank you, Emira’h.”
“Let me walk you out, your Majesty,” Ambassador Torim murmured and took her arm.
Outside in the hallway, they waited until the door to Emira’h’s suites were closed before they began walking towards the northeast tower.
“You are quite the remarkable woman,” the Ambassador murmured. “I had not foreseen Emira’h having a change of heart so soon. Of course, I had softened her up by the time you showed up, but she was not willing to relent as yet. I foresaw a few days ahead of me of cajoling and questioning.”
Divita laughed and patted his hand. “She is a smart girl, that one. Just appeal to her intelligence and sense of justice.”
The Ambassador smiled and looked away. “What do you say to dinner with me later tonight, your Majesty?”
“Are you asking to woo me, your Eminence?”
He shrugged. “Far be it from me to ignore capable and beautiful women. I am a weak man for a woman of strength and intelligence.”
She gazed up into violet eyes speckled with gray and black. “I suspect there is nothing weak about you, Ambassador. But I am older than you, I think.”
“By what?” he asked. “Five years?”
“I am thirty-seven haltaths old,” she told him.
“And I am thirty-two,” he shot back. “You are still a young woman and I a young man. I have never met a woman like you, your Majesty. I have never wished to woo a woman beyond bedding her for an evening. I find that my thoughts return to you over and over again during my waking hours. For the first time in my life, I think of things like relationships and marriage.”
“Oh dear,” she said with gentle mocking. “Goddess forbids!” She gazed up at him with twinkling eyes. “I am honored, your Eminence. Yes, I will have dinner with you.”
“Then you must call me Tah’duk’h,” he said.
“I am Divita, Tah’duk’h.”
He stopped, turned to her and bowed deeply. “Then I will come to fetch you at sundown, Divita. There is a confection of a play I wish to share with you, followed by dinner and drinks?”
“Sounds lovely,” she murmured.
When Divita returned to her suites, she found Mister Othar pacing outside the hallway door.
“Mister Othar,” she greeted him. “What brings you?”
“I need to speak with you, your Majesty.”
She studied his flushed cheeks and bright eyes and nodded. “Come in.”
She led him past the guards and into the cozy sitting room. None of her children were about, but she knew for a fact Tifa was home.
She turned to the head servant. “I won’t be in for dinner tonight. But make sure the children eat something.”
The servant bowed. “Of course, your Majesty.”
Turning back to Tasjun, she motioned to an armchair. “Have a sit, please, Mister Othar.”
“Thank you, your Majesty.”
She turned and sat down on a loveseat facing the armchair. “Now, how may I help you?”
He clasped his hands on his lap and sighed. “I’ve come to a decision, your Majesty.”
“Oh?” she said. “About my son?”
He cleared his throat, blushing lightly, and nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
She nodded. “Proceed then.”
He ran a finger along his collar and cleared his throat again. “I…uh…um…I’ve decided that it won’t be terrible to become his Grace’s lover.”
She pursed her lips. “That well thought of, is it?”
“What? No! I mean–it’s just…I’m…I never…uh…I’ve never had a lover, your Majesty. I don’t know how to go about this.”
“You’re doing fine,” she assured him. “I will talk to Belihn and he will approach you at his own pace. I don’t suspect he will approach you aggressively or any time soon, seeing he must secure his reign by begetting heirs on his wives, but I don’t doubt he will pursue you.”
“Uh–” the young man said and looked faintly disappointed. “Yes, your Majesty.”
She smiled at him. “How go your studies, Mister Othar?”
“Call me Tasjun, your Majesty. Mister Othar was my father.”
She grinned. “Indeed, Tasjun.” She rose. “Then please continue to do your good work and await my son’s pleasure.”
He bowed. “Yes, your Majesty. Thank you.”
She thrust her arm through his. “Never forget my son is naive and needs friends more than anything. If your…liaison…does not work or comes to naught, you must be a friend to my son.”
“I promise, your Majesty.”
She patted his forearm. “Thank you, Tesjun. Good evening to you.”
She watched him close the door behind him then turned and hurried into the suites, intending to bathe and prepare for her evening out with the handsome Ambassador Torim.
Tifa was coming down the hallway. “Mother! I thought I heard you. Sjelo told me you are not dining here tonight. Are you dining with Belihn?”
“No. I, my dear, have an assignation.”
Tifa stopped and gaped. “An assig–Mother!” She wrinkled her nose. “But that’s just–“
Divita held up a hand. “I am a young woman, Tifa. I won’t be put out to pasture just yet.”
She swept past her shocked daughter.
Tifa followed her into her private suite. “Of course you are not old, Mother. I didn’t mean that! Well, who is it?”
Divita sighed and proceeded to her bedroom and the wardrobe. She gazed at her dresses, her tunics and skirts with a jaundiced eye. What to wear? she wondered. Everything was hopelessly out of date!
“Mother, I’m talking to you!” Tifa yelled, stamping her foot.
“Tifa, I’ve no time for this. Help me choose something appropriate for the theater and dinner.”
The young woman sighed and gently pushed her to one side. She looked through the wardrobe and eventually brought out a light green dress with long sleeves. The dress was silk and dotted with sparkling stones like diamonds. Divita knew some of the stones were diamonds, but not all. The dress had a high collar with an emerald embedded at the throat. The train fell to the ground but did not trail behind. The skirt fell straight down. The shoulders were bare, and the dress fit snugly, showing off her slim figure to its best light. She had not worn this dress in many long years, but she knew even Kah’len had looked at her admiringly when she last wore it.
“This dress is wonderful on your skin tone, Aya,” Tifa murmured. “It also brings out your hazel eyes.” She held it against Divita and nodded. “Yes, this will do just fine. You can wear your fur lined white cloak.”
“And for shoes?”
“You’ll wear the heeled dark green satin shoes with embedded emeralds, that’s what,” Tifa told her.
Divita wrinkled her nose. “A pair of ankle boots?”
“It’s snowing outside, Aya! You can’t wear sandals or slippers!”
Divita sighed. “I suppose so. And my hair.”
“Bathe! I’ll dress your hair.”
Divita did a hand washing at the basin, sprinkling aromatic oils into the water. She scrubbed under her arms, along her neck and washed her sex. Afterward, she poured the water over her and gasped at the icy temperature. She then allowed her personal servant to dry her and dress her. Once dressed, she sat before the fireplace in the suite sitting area while Tifa brushed her hair and began to braid it. She made ten braids and piled them on Divita’s head, using pins with emeralds and pearls to hold her bun in place. She then wrapped a dark green satin ribbon around the bun, allowing the ends of the ribbon to fall to her mother’s nape.
Tifa stood back and gasped. “Aya! You look positively beautiful!”
Divita turned to her personal servant.
The woman curtsied. “You look beautiful, your Majesty.”
Divita swept into her bedroom and back to the wardrobe. She opened the left-hand door and revealed the full lengthed mirror. She gazed at her reflection. After a few minutes, she smiled, and her eyes glittered.
“This will do nicely,” she pronounced and huffed a laugh when Tifa rolled her eyes.