Chapter XXVI: The Power Within (1/18)Mature

WITH SAPPHIRE GONE, THE CHILDREN ALL GAVE A SIGH OF RELIEF, AND CARMEN'S OBSTINACY MELTED AWAY.

Though their mistress was gone, the attendants wasted no time in approaching Carmen and beckoning her into the water. Her show of resolution acknowledged, she obeyed, letting them shield her whilst she stripped off her clothes and waded into the warmth.

'You have to dig a hole for yourself, don't you?' said Karn'el chidingly. A young girl with hair messily chopped off knelt behind him with a sponge, dipping it into the water and smoothing it across his back. He looked uncomfortable, everybody did, but under the orders of Sapphire, and knowing trouble would await them if any disobeyed, they remained silent.

'She doesn't control me,' said Carmen, seething. An attendant sat behind her, dipping a pitcher into the water and letting it run over her hair. She flinched as the water ran down her neck, her arms crossed modestly over her chest. 'I may not be the crown princess, but that doesn't mean I can be bossed around.'

The four of them bathed in silence, whilst Carmen and Laguna seemed to enjoy having lotions rubbed into their stiff shoulders, smelling their hair, freshly scented with lavender, Will felt a horrid pain in his stomach. All of the primping they were going through was to meet the Master, somebody who even Sapphire feared. How high up was he in the Mastery? Was it possible that he was involved in the events that took place six years ago?

One of the girls' attendants, a girl with her hair done up messily in a bun, slipped into the pool and walked towards them, the fabric of her long dress bubbling up around her on the surface. She clutched a hard brush and without hesitation reached down into the water and grabbed hold of Laguna's ankle. She jerked in surprise, splashing the girl in the face.

'Oh, I'm so sorry!' she squeaked. The girl stared for a moment, then tried again, this time Laguna lifted up her leg and allowed the girl to scrub her clean. 

Carmen bent her head to Laguna and whispered, 'don't they talk?' She looked to see if the attendants had heard, if they did, they paid no attention to them.

'Don't you recognise them?' Laguna answered. 'Some of them are prisoners. I think Sapphire took them as attendants to pamper her. I think they're afraid.' 

Carmen continued to smile at the attendants, trying to coax casual conversation from them, now three were standing in the water with them, armed with sponges, lotions and brushes to eradicate the dirt from their skin, which now merged with the oils in a murky and shiny film on the water.

Will and Karn'el were not nearly as tactile, taking brushes and sponges themselves, which the attendants were worried about but allowed. It was relaxing and wonderful for Will, taking off the shell of filth he'd assembled over the days, but he couldn't imagine how relieving it was for his three companions. He scrubbed his arms until they felt raw, too apprehensive about what was to come to pay much attention.

The End

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