Sliding out of the hot, bubbling water pond, I rubbed my long tresses gently, trying to soak out the moisture that had seeped through them. A couple of slaves rushed towards me, holding out soft muslin wash clothes and fluffy, downy towels. "Princess, allow us to serve you. Please do not strain yourself."
Looking at them with narrowed eyes, I slowly nodded and turned around facing the pond. Soon I felt a pair of soft hands running the muslin cloth down my bare back, while the other pair was softly wringing my tangled curls with the towels. As they served me, I gazed at my surroundings. The pond where I had just taken my bath was still steaming with the heat from the boiling water, and there were innumerable scents and oils at its ledge. There were terracotta pots and pans a short distance from the pond, where my mother had always left them to bake in the heat. This was my private chamber. None other than my parents and my slaves were allowed to enter my personal domain.
The pond was situated in a sprawling backyard adjoining my bedchamber and overlooking the cliffs that hung over the aging crater. Steam always emanated from the crater, as if reminding all those who saw it of its might and wrath. Once, when the crater had been in all its youthful glory, it had wrecked havoc in the glorious land of Aden. But now it lay fretful and forgotten, spewing cough-like flames and smoke. The walls of the backyard were terracotta orange, lined with flame torches a few feet apart from one another. There was no sign of any greenery around, since no plant life could withstand the soaring temperatures near the pond.
As I felt the slaves' hands rub my body and then my wings, I turned around to aid them in sopping off the moisture from the rest of my being. I concentrated my gaze on the little blue hands that were serving me with agility and tenderness and noticed how they hesitated when I moved even slightly. I took my flowing locks in my hands and wrung them out slowly and with thoroughness, still looking at the slaves and their ministrations.
Once they had wiped off every drop of moisture from my body, one of them went inside my bedchamber to retrieve my gown while the other reached inside the hamper on the side and picked out a wood-toothed comb for brushing my hair. As he started to take care of my tresses, the other one came towards me with his arms full.
"Princess, which of these would you prefer to adorn tonight?"
I signaled for him to come closer and then lay my hand on the deep red silk gown that my mother had specially ordered for me. It was a simple floor-sweeping gown with no flare or lace. Its allure lay in its deep neckline and its plunging back. The neckline showed off my assets perfectly and the back plunged to my waist. It was, nevertheless, appropriate for my status as my tresses reached way below the point where the back ended.
It was a special day for me, or rather a special night. Father had beckoned me to the Royal Temple of Agni, the Goddess of Fire. It was the night I had been waiting for. Being an only child, it was obvious that my Father would appoint me the Head Mage of the Temple tonight. And I had a feeling that it was going to be tonight. Although nobody had uttered a word of it to me, I still felt that tonight was the night.
The slave carefully brushed my hair until its natural shimmer was restored, and the curls straightened out. He then helped the other boy in sliding the gown over my head and down my lithe and curvy body. Once the gown was in place, one of them ran inside my bedchamber to retrieve a mirror. The image that I saw reflected back at me was of a fair beauty with deep brown eyes, and naturally flushed, full red lips. There was a tiny mole on my bottom lip, but I thought that it enhanced my beauty.
My wings fluttered slightly as I looked at myself, feeling pride course through my veins at the thought of attaining what I had always dreamed of. Being the Head Mage had been my life's desire for as long as I could remember. I had trained hard and long, and suffered penances and punishments to reach the point where I stood tonight. It was finally the night when my dreams would come true.
The slaves complimented me in soft tones and then bowed their way out of my chamber. I strode into my bedchamber, having eyes only for the gorgeous red silk pumps lined up for me near my opulent bed. I slid my feet into the plush shoes and then, flicking my hair away from my forehead, I swept out of my chamber.
I reached my father's chamber and knocked on the door. But it was not my father but my mother who opened the door. She looked a little worried and her brow was furrowed.
"Sera, I have some bad news for you. You may have to wait a while longer for your grand anointment. Your father had to leave for some urgent work but he left this letter for you. All he told me was that it contained one last challenge for you before you could deservingly be called the Head Mage of Agni."