by LK Rigel
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[When Mal meets Edmund for the first time, she doesn’t know that bleeders are forbidden emotional involvement with any prince. In this scene, Edmund has just presented her with an assortment of gifts from his city, Allel.]
Edmund opened a small rosewood box and held up a bright cut gold bracelet for everyone to see. It glittered in the light. “This bracelet is made of gold from the foothills of Allel.”
Sister Jordana nodded approval. Mal shifted the blue amber to her right hand and held out her left wrist. She trembled as Edmund closed the clasp of the bracelet, but he didn’t seem to notice. Their eyes met, and he smiled again.
“Thank you.” She sounded like Ma squeaking in awe before the Emissary. For one terrifying moment, she was sure Edmund was going to pat her bald head, but he merely kissed the back of her hand. Like a prince.
Someone called out from the back of the hall. “To Mallory!”
And the crowd answered all together. “Rah!”
It was exhilarating – but strange to be applauded merely for existing. She usually had to bring in a bag of rabbits to generate such enthusiasm.
“You’re very generous,” Sister Jordana said, more gloriously elegant than Mal could hope to be if she lived two hundred years. Mal wasn’t completely comfortable with her, but she couldn’t help admiring her. Sister Jordana signaled two Red City guards. They loaded the gifts onto the plank.
Mal tucked the blue amber stone into her mantle pocket with her shades and the Asherah. Now she understood why the pockets were so deep.
Just as the guards left the hall with Mal’s gifts, Harriet stormed in through the same doorway. More Red City guards followed her, escorting a girl around Mal’s age who was definitely flummoxed. Her straight black hair came down to her waist, held back from her face by a green band.
She had the Red City appearance: rounded hips and breasts, thick hair and glowing healthy skin – though her face was splotchy red as she looked at Lady Drahan with bewildered embarrassment.
Lady Drahan said, “What is this?” Behind her, a flicker of satisfaction passed over the regent’s face.
“Hormones!” cried an enraged Harriet.
“Sting me,” Counselor said, and the guests uttered a collective gasp.
“Lady Drahan, I am shocked,” the regent said. Mal didn’t think she was shocked.
“She’s been dosed.” Harriet’s eyebrows were scrunched together in a mix of sorrow and fury.
The regent went on. “To commit such a violation on a potential breeder! To risk the pollution of humanity itself!”
“I swear to you, Regent, Emissary, I know nothing about this.”
“That will be for a tribunal to decide,” the regent said.
Lady Drahan’s face lost its color.
“Drahan household is hereby in receivership.” The regent turned to Sister Jordana. “I assume Sanguibahd will take custody of the pretender?” Sanguibahd. Red City’s official name. This was truly serious.
“Absolutely.” Fire orange flashed in Sister Jordana’s eyes and didn’t go away until she blinked twice.
But it seemed neither the regent nor Sister Jordana was surprised by these events. In fact, Mal was sure the regent was suppressing a bit of malicious glee.
With Harriet it was different. Her anger felt honest and brutal. Great Asherah, let me never make Harriet mad.
Whatever was going on, Claire wasn’t in on it. Her face was a mess of shame and confusion. Her ma, though, was a little too loud about her outrage. A little too practiced. Lady Drahan was guilty – of something.
That’s how she was like Ma – she had meant to profit on her daughter’s good luck, and she cared more about the lost loot than she did about her child.
Edmund’s attention was on Claire. He gave her a supportive nod, and Mal’s stomach felt like it turned over. He must care for her. Claire was much prettier than Mal could ever hope to be, and she was from Allel. Maybe he loved her. It was stupid, but the very idea made Mal miserable.
LK Rigel lives in California with her cat, Coleridge. She was once a singing waitress, scored the independent science fantasy karate movie Lucid Dreams, and was a reporter for the Sacramento Rock 'N Roll News. Her BA is in humanities and religious studies. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama and Tattoo Highway. Her short story "Slurp" will appear in Anne Frasier's 2011 Halloween anthology Deadly Treats published by Nodin Press.
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