The Toy in the Summer Palace - Chapter 7.2
“I didn’t mean to mention it.”
“No, it’s just that I’m pleased. But I do apologize for not having brought any spare clothes for the child. Is there a clothing store available here?”
Whites and blues, yellows and ribbons, frills and lace, feathers and gemstones. Iskandar heard his mother’s voice mentally listing off the colors and forms of girls’ dresses.
Through the discourse about the young maid, one thing became clear. Svetlana was experiencing her own level of boredom. At least enough to continue weaving this narrative. The days spent in this place were as tranquil as they were tedious, so she was certainly entitled to some amusement.
They had a few more weeks left before they would return to Las Rosard. To make the most of the remaining summer, Iskandar recognized the need for some diversion to alleviate the monotony for both his mother and himself. The entertainment should be something moderate in fun and novelty.
He believed he had just the right idea.
Leaning forward slightly, Iskandar asked his mother while maintaining a faint smile.
“Do you like her?”
“I mean the child.”
“Well, she was charming.”
Though her response was somewhat vague, the sentiment sufficed.
The maid easily served as a surrogate doll for her departed daughter.
Iskandar thought his mother needed a plaything, something to provide a measure of delight during this overly placid summer sojourn.
And it applied to Iskandar himself as well.
Making a decision was simple. The object was a maid, and this was all just a small game anyway.
So, on the following afternoon, beneath the dense rays of the summer sun, he summoned a servant.
“The maid from yesterday.”
Seated languidly on a couch draped in blue silk, Iskandar beckoned.
* * *
Senita, who had been transported on the servant’s back, drew the attention of the summer palace’s staff. They flocked to her room once the transport was complete, creating a bit of a fuss.
“Oh my, what happened?”
“How did it go?”
Enthralled by this extraordinary and captivating event, the maids’ eyes lit up as they bombarded Senita with a barrage of questions. Embarrassed, Senita could only stammer and offer repetitive descriptions of how nice and kind the prince had been. It was a genuinely innocent response.
Failing to glean the story they sought, the maids eventually began to chatter among themselves, spinning various speculations about the empress and the prince.
“Alright, everyone, back to your rooms!”
The palace steward’s stern command put an end to the seemingly endless clamor. At the sight of Gaspar brandishing his cane, the maids, familiar with his irritable demeanor, scattered in alarm.
Nora, who had been seated by the bedside tending to Senita, sprang up at the steward’s sudden entrance. Senita, too, rose to her feet alongside Nora, but Gaspar raised his hand preemptively to halt her.
“You’re injured, you know. Did His Highness treat you well?”
“Yes, he did.”
Senita replied, contemplative. As she turned to face Gaspar, her thoughts wandered back to the basket she had left in the forest. The guilt over failing to complete her task and the fear of potential punishment pricked at her young heart like sharp needles.
The prince had said it was fine, even encouraged her to attribute her oversight to his sudden appearance. Yet she lacked the courage to do so. That much was certain.
“His Highness requested that you not be punished, as he startled you and caused the mishap in the first place.”
Senita’s eyes widened momentarily. Gaspar, reading the surprise in her round blue eyes, clicked his tongue.
“He advised me to wait until you’ve recovered before taking any action, so you ought to be grateful. Get a grip on yourself. If you cause any more disturbances, you’ll be in trouble!”
“Yes! I apologize. I won’t do it again.”
Senita pressed a hand to her chest. Her eyes shimmered with emotion, brimming with water.
With that, Gaspar concluded his speech and promptly exited the room, satisfied with the child’s obedient behavior.
Now only Senita and Nora remained in the small maid’s chamber. The hour had grown late, so Nora cast a glance at Senita’s legs as she sat on the bed and drew the blanket up.
“Aren’t you hungry? Would you like more bread?”
“Are you sure you’re not unwell?”
“I’m fine. I’ll get better soon.”
Nora smiled softly at the spirited response. Yet, a palpable sense of depth seemed to loom over her countenance like a dark cloud. Senita, recognizing it, quickly averted her gaze and observed Nora’s expression.
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