Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Golden Night, Part One

Chapter One

My family has always been a family of weavers. As far back as anyone can remember, we’ve dealt in cloth. But now the cloth is gone from beneath my fingertips. So I will weave a story.
Alethia stepped quickly through the wet streets, avoiding both the large puddles every few feet and the curious glances from the passersby. She drew her coat more tightly around her slim frame to avoid the looks pointed at her waist, where a sash of golden fabric rested, shining in the pale morning light. Although her coat, shabby in comparison, kept out the cold, it could not hide the sparkling fabric, which drew looks from the townspeople who had never seen her in more than her roughly-spun country clothes. But she had to look her best today; she was going to see the king.
     Remembering her mission, she held her head high and advanced up the slick palace steps. She heard the muted hum of people just inside the doors, many awed by the grandeur of the entrance hall. Once a month, the king heard petitions from the people of the kingdom, often traveling to different regions to hear the people who could not come to the capital city. He was a good king, admired by the people. Rumors had spread that he had recently fallen ill, but he held court nevertheless.
     “What is your petition?” A tall man wearing the robes of a palace servant looked down his nose at her, pen poised over an official-looking stack of papers.
     Alethia was a loss for words. She had planned to explain her situation to the king, and ask for help. She didn’t know what to say to this goat-faced man. She had never needed to petition the king for help before. But now everything had changed; her family was ruined, and she had come into the city not knowing what to expect.
     “I… I suppose I’ve come for a job,” she stammered, saying the first thing that came to mind.
     “Well you needn’t have come to the king for that,” the man said, “but very well. Your name?”
     “Alethia, sir.” The man nodded, and she stepped into line with the other petitioners. She supposed the list would be delivered to the king, so that he would have some idea of what each person wanted. She admitted to herself that it was a very efficient system, although the king might have hired someone a bit nicer to write the list.
     Bouncing on the balls of her feet, she fidgeted nervously. However, as the minutes turned into hours, and the line moved forward as slowly as ever, her restless energy settled into a lump in the pit of her stomach. She had been one of the last people accepted into the line, and with few people behind her, she saw only the line in front of her stretching down the long hallway and disappearing around the corner. And who knew how long it went on after that? Several times she considered turning back, but each time she talked herself into staying, remembering her decision that this was her best chance.
     Finally she stepped through the grand doors leading to the receiving room. She saw that the rumors had apparently some basis in fact; although younger than Alethia had expected, the king looked very ill. There were guards on either side of the throne as well as a royal advisor standing next to the him. It seemed to take an eternity for Alethia to reach the throne. She curtseyed deeply.
     “You are Alethia, correct?” The advisor spoke first. Alethia saw that he was holding the list of petitions.
     “Yes, sir.”
     “I see you would like a job. What can you do?”
     “I work with cloth sir.” He throat felt dry. She wanted to tell her entire story, of the fire and the destruction of her family’s home and all the cloth they could not salvage. But she was afraid to say another word.
     “I see. That’s a very fine sash you have there. Did you weave it?”
     “No sir. It’s been in my family for generations.”
     “Golden cloth.” The king spoke for the first time. His voice was soft, and he closed his eyes as he spoke. “Just like in the old stories.” Alethia began to feel vaguely unnerved, although she didn’t know quite why. Perhaps it was the king’s slow, soft words. Perhaps it was because he didn’t seem to be completely lucid. Perhaps it was the way the king’s advisor kept staring at her, eyes flicking from her face to her sash and back again.
     “Let us create a story, Nukta,” the king said. “She shall make her golden cloth for us. If she creates cloth as fine as the sash around her waist, she shall be rewarded greatly. If not, she… What would make a good story, Nukta? Shall we exile her?”
     “Your majesty shall of course make the decision, but I propose some stronger incentive. I believe the old tales preferred threats of death if the task is not completed.”
     Alethia stared at him in horror. Was this man proposing to kill her if she did not create the golden cloth? And the king – was he so far gone that he accepted this? She tried to protest, but the king cut her off.
     “Yes, Nukta. We shall create a tale. We shall create a tale no one will ever forget.”

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