Note: This is merely a first draft, so excuse its potential sloppiness. With that, hopefully I can get this project off to a good start.
She worked in the Old Baths. The olive green pools were always filled with patrons from all across Semerium during the day; men and women of high blood and birth. The smell of rancid sweat and fragrant oils coalesced to form a sweet, sickly smell. Great flues blew palls of steam from the houses into the cool spring air. It was such a strange scene, an eerie juxtaposition of chaos and peace, rowdy shouts and mirthful laughter and the clatter of glass breaking interspersed with moments of quiet contemplation. The floors were polished marble, fickle and slippery. Flickering candles cast dancing shadows of leering dragons from the walls. Mocking. Judging. You will never be a dragon. Pity you, hatchling. Their brass heads snorted billowing steam from lead conduits, hidden from view, that ran along their length. But cold. Why was it always so cold. The steam that rolled over her body felt like tenebrous wisps of smoke, devoid of the warmth of life. Conniving eyes seemed to pierce her thoughts everywhere she went.
It was always the same. Their names changed, but their purpose was the same. Only men and women of status, noble as they were, could waste their lives on such debauched pleasantries. The rest, all the other good for nothings, starved and died like the dogs on the wharves.
When she was free of her duties in the depths of the night, she would make her way to the top floor and just gaze balefully at the city beyond, spread out like a sprawling canvas. The shingles from a thousand roofs reflected the starlight from above, twinkling with a playful gaze. To the south, the Styrox River fed into the Bay of Many, along with it dozens of ships bound east. In the distance, the silhouette of Mawgar Palace loomed above the surrounding buildings, casting its eternal shadow into the gloom. She remembered how when she first came here, years ago, she gazed in wonder at the bright and gaudy decorations, a riot of colour and senses, exotic dancers from foreign lands.
But it was all a façade now. She had grown up. Places, like people, had a habit of lying to you. She had learnt this, step by painful step.
She missed home. She missed it so much.
Obeying wasn't that hard. So easy to remember. You just have to do what Lady Rishe says. Obey our patrons like a good girl. Serve them tea. Scrub them. Rub their bodies with fragrant oils. Let them touch you. Undress you if they please.
She would slowly get used to it, she told herself. People who were dead inside forget slights against them so easily. The first time she voiced her opinion, grand lady Rishe had struck her till she bled all over. Back to being a good girl then. Forget their gazes. Turn your heart to lightening our guests.
She approached the East wing, a small pot of scented oil under one arm and creamy silk towels under the other. The smallest bath-house, reserved for the wealthy among the wealthy. Her guests were in the Warm Bath, and she had to prepare for their massage.
Three highborn men sat in the pool of green water at the centre of the room, sharing a jest amongst themselves. She recognized the lead man, a plump man of forty with a handlebar moustache as Cretar Cromm, cousin of the viceroy. She averted her gaze away from them and glanced upward. A mosaic of armoured figures at war with each other covered the entire ceiling. She set her towels down, next to the pool.
"Come here, girl."
She looked at him. His clean shaven face bore an enigmatic nature, with slanted brows and a curved jaw. His slit like mouth was twisted in a nearly imperceptible leer. His cheeks were dull grey, as if carved of dying flesh. His deep-set blue eyes watched her as a lion watches its prey.
"More warm water for you, my lord?"
"Fine lady, what could warm me more than the comfort of your touch? Join me."
"My lord, I would love nothing more than to comfort you for your stay, and what better way than an anointment of the sacred oils to ease you?" she forced a smile, noticing that the other two men had fallen silent. "Please come to the antechamber once you are finished, my lord."
"Oh, no, we wont be needing that." He began smiling in return. "Put the pot down and sit here. I command it, fine woman."
There was no way she could disobey the command of an honored guest. She couldn't. Lady Rishe would strike her again.
She stepped into the pool and sat beside him, still smiling.
He drew closer to her and began stroking her hair, ever so gently. "What's your name, girl?"
"Ranili, sir," she lied. "My lord, this is not appropriate-"
"A fitting name," he whispered into her ear, while running his hand under her robe. "Let me show you the grace a lord is capable of bestowing upon good, obedient subjects, especially girls your age.
She stiffened. Don't fight back. Show dis-interest.
His lips began caressing her neck and shoulder. He rubbed his nose on her ear and smelt her "So sweet. Like ambrosia.........that's what I name you. Ambrosia, nectar of the gods."
She pushed away from him, gently "My lord, please, there are things I must do-"
"Shhhh, child, " he hushed. "You are such a beauty, girl," he moved his other arm against the side of her neck, pushing her back against the pool.
"Exarch Jormen, this is neither the time nor the place," said the third man.
Jormen. That was his name. She made a mental note. You will be the first
Jormen shot his companion a stiffening look "This is a place of pleasure. Tis a shame if the girls are not part of it, are they?"
"As you will, my lord."
His hand reached below.
Tears were now brimming in her eyes. "Stop it." She was no longer reacting mindfully but began struggling against his advances. But he was strong. Too strong.
"Stop squirming, girl." He breathed. "Be good, and your lord will reward you," he ripped her dress. She screamed.
He grabbed her hair and smashed her head on the side, stunning her. Then he spun her around and wrapped his arm around her neck.
By the gods, no. She fought back as hard as she could, ramming her elbows to his side to no avail. He pushed her face down on the side of the pool and brought his face next to hers. His hot breath felt like that of a demon.
She felt his cold tongue slide up her cheek and bit back a scream.
"Exarch. Primador Yakov requests your presence immediately." A man stood at the entrance.
Slowly, ever so slowly, his grip released. She coughed and dragged herself out of the pool.
"Would you be so kind as to pass my deferential apologies to the Primador? This house is most uncatering to my tastes, to much misfortune. We will meet in my solar."
She grabbed her flowery robe on her way out and stifled her tears.
This was a place for a proper girl, Lady Rishe always chided. Fight the cold, do as you are told, and you wont be sold.
Good girl, she told herself, good girl and she fell to her knees in great sobs. The pain in her heart twisted, like a knife edge.
Escape. I must escape.
Note: The prologue is meant to be a little perturbing and meant to show what kind of world our protagonist lives in. I welcome any criticism you may have as I am new at this. NEEDS MORE EDITING