Jordan was standing in the courtyard gazing steadily up at the tower, sword in hand.
“Your brother is out there again,” Sandrine said.
“He’s angry.” Julia said as she joined her at the window. He couldn’t see them here, could he? Shouldn’t the reflection on the windows cover them? She stayed to the side, just in case.
“What’s he got to be angry about?” Sandrine asked.
“Some kid told him the full extent of my duties.”
Sandrine turned to look at her. “And?”
“And he’s ashamed.”
Julia didn’t reply. A line appeared between Sandrine’s eyebrows as she pondered this.
“How irritating. It’s an honor for a commoner to reside in the palace. Besides, What does he expect you to do? It’s not like you had a lot of options.”
Neither looked at the other as she said this. It was the first they’d spoken of it since Julia had come into service three months earlier.
They had begun by acting as if their friendship had not changed, as if this were a grown up version of the playdates they’d had in the palace as children.
But serving was different for Julia than being a guest. She’d had to learn Sandrine’s preferences as a mistress, which was different than paying attention to her friend’s needs.
Eventually it became easier for both of them to remain quiet than to navigate awkwardly between sharing intimate secrets and giving and receiving orders.
And then there was the hair.
Julia’s most sacred duty was to care for Sandrine’s long black hair. She applied botanical oil, detangled it, and made it ready for the daily royal brushing ceremony. It was not an unpleasant task physically. But now that she had undergone the palace induction process, emotionally it was excruciating.
Two months after she’d begun her service, Sandrine brought her to an unfamiliar room and invited Julia to sit in a brocaded chair. Several royal ladies stood chatting and drinking wine. The walls were lined with glass cylinders, each of which contained a thick braid of hair.
Sandrine had solemnly smoothed Julia’s long auburn hair with a bejeweled platinum brush, wrapped it in a leather cord at the base of her skull, and hacked it off with an enormous pair of shears. The fallen braid wriggled on the floor, blindly seeking its roots.
“It looks like a mole.” Sandrine had said, barely concealing her disgust. Julia had not replied, since the moment she and her hair separated she’d been sapped of all energy. Now she understood why she was seated. A servant stepped forward to collect the newest specimen for the wall and the royal ladies raised their glasses in a toast. They resumed their conversation, some making note of the quality of the hair. All ignored Julia, who slipped from notice as completely as if she had fallen behind a curtain.
But as dehumanizing as that had been, it was the secondary duty involving Sandrine’s father that most disturbed Julia’s brother Jordan.
The king was always full of energy after tapping into his power during the daily brushing ceremony, and Julia’s responsibility was to release it. It was expected of all the newly shorn, whose neutral energy state was suited for the task. The queen having gathered her positive ions would be dangerously charged, and no physical contact was allowed until the charge wore off. So pleasuring the king was left to the shorn royal servants, specifically those whose locks had been severed within the year.
Julia ventured a little closer to the window. Sandrine’s ponytail lifted towards her like a tentacle. It was, like everyone in the palace, at ease within her field of lassitude.
From this distance Jordan’s face was blessedly unreadable. Maybe he would try to save her. She wished she cared.