The servant quietly closed the door behind her, leaving behind a motionless tableau: the Emperor’s first wife, Lady Cahlila, and three teenaged girls standing before her in a line. Raicha tried not to let her eyes drop to the mosaic under her feet. It was a fine example, three centuries old, but she’d seen it before, and as Camilia was always saying, showing guilt was as bad as getting caught.
Cahlila leaned back in her chair and gave them a considering look from those famously brilliant eyes. Camilia, next to Raicha, met the look evenly, nearly identical eyes showing nothing but polite inquiry. The corner of her mother’s mouth lifted slightly. Camilia’s half-sister Sai, standing on Camilia’s other side, stood straight and tall. Raicha envied her ease.
“Lady Dahla had a very bad reaction to one of her paints this morning.” They had known that. Rumors in the hallways varied, but the overall trend suggested that she had a face full of hives and was refusing to come out of her rooms.
“Cosmetic creams go bad so quickly in the summer,” Camilia murmured sympathetically. Her mother clearly did not believe that for a second, but faint amusement said it had been an acceptable parry. “And she needs so many of them.” That had been almost inaudible but Cahlila’s lips twitched.
“I have seldom seen such a bad reaction from spoiled paints.” Whatever might show on her face, her voice was pleasant, low, and perfectly even. Raicha took a measured breath. “One would almost think someone had put something in it.”
Camilia gave her a faintly skeptical look. Cahlila turned to Sai. “What do you think, Sai?”
Sai seemed undisturbed by this thrust. “I’m afraid I don’t know very much about cosmetics, Lady Cahlila. We Daivali don’t know what to do with ourselves without a head scarf, so it hardly matters what’s underneath.” Not the slightest hint of rancor was audible, and Raicha wanted to clap. Dahla had been in a temper the day before, and disliked the Emperor’s fourth wife nearly as much as his first. They shouldn’t have been in a position to hear her, but Dahla didn’t know the palace as well as she thought she did.
“And you, Raicha?” The brilliant gaze was on her now.
She tilted her head. “I wouldn’t know, Aunt Cahlila. An Ameru brat like me probably shouldn’t be running wild around the palace anyway.” Dahla had been on a roll. Cahlila’s eyes narrowed and returned to her daughter. Cahlila was an Ameru herself, and Raicha was not the only Ameru brat running around the palace halls.
“Dahla should really learn to keep those creams iced at this time of year,” Cahlila finally said. “I’m sure it won’t happen again.”
“I’m sure it won’t,” Camilia agreed promptly.
Cahlila clapped her hands for the servants. “Do sit down, girls. Cakes?”
Raicha heaved a sigh. “Do they have the lemon cakes today?”
Cahlila smiled. “Let’s find out.”
This week’s Write at the Merge prompt at Write On Edge gave us a photo of a stone mosaic and the following quote from Groucho Marx for inspiration: “When you’re in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you, saying ‘Damn, that was fun.’” For more of Raicha and Camilia, start with The Newlywed or click on the Tacar category on the sidebar.