by Farah Sadek
“ How am I supposed to form you into the perfect empress for the zatim if you can’t even learn the discipline to keep a pose for a few minutes?” Miss Raqisa hissed into Amana’s ear.
“ Look at yourself! Months I have been trying to muster any sense of grace and poise into you and you fall like a clumsy fool!” Miss Raqissa roared. Cold hard fingers wrapped around Amana’s jaw, raising her head to face the mirror. Staring back at her was a girl, her cheeks flushed from exhaustion, and brown hair that tumbling down to form a frame around her face.
“That’s right, A failure,” Miss Raqissa whispered as she let go of Amana’s hair, turned and left the dance room.
By the time Amana left the room herself it was nearly time for her family dinner, but after that abashment of a dance class it would be difficult to face her parents. The grandiose halls of the castle where familiar to Amana yet never ceased to awe her. The glistening walls and pillars lined with paintings, told stories, captured history, her only real connection outside of this hedonistic prison, really the only truth you could ever find in this castle. Not all the pillars were painted, there still remained hundreds, to fill with the history to come, the history she would hopefully create side by side with the great Zatim.
She was only several minutes late to her family dinner. Her parents sitting poised in their chairs, plates untouched. A tension filled the air of the dining room as Amana sat down, it was the eve of her 18nth birthday, the day that would mark her as a women and the day she would be officially engaged to the Zatim. Suddenly, her father pushed back his chair and stood up facing towards the painting of the Zatim, adorned head to toe in silks and jewels and covering his head and face with a mask and veil.. He motioned for Amana and her Mother to rise. In unison they placed their right hands on their hearts and left hands in a salute, all facing the painting beginning their usual chant.
He is the one who has written the beginning and end
The one who holds life and death within his hands
Chosen by the gods to be our leader
To lead us all to infinite prosperity
Our Great Zatim.
As they concluded their chant, they all slowly sat down, reforming the disquiet that filled the air, leaving their last night together in silence.
Her father and mother stood beside Amana, along with the castle officials, as they all awaited the arrival of the Zatim in the large throne room. Amana was adorned with a dress of silver and red silks, along with jewels that roped around her neck and wrists.The silence was broken with the sounding of drums. The Zatim revealed, being carried in on a crystal throne, another left empty at his side. The music raised in volume as he approached. He halted only feet in front of Amana, sitting entirely covered in gold and red silks just like hers, not an inch of skin showing, and his face hidden behind a black veil. Two guards came up behind her and took her by each arm, their hold soft but firm as they led her to the throne. She felt uncomfortable and awkward sitting next to the Zatim, the most powerful person in the world. From beside her, the Zatim stood facing his people, poised and confident.
“ My great people, today is a momentous occasion, that will live on in history, please I ask you, bow to my new fiance,” The Zatim commanded, his voice thick with pride. Slowly they all bowed.
“Now my darling, the outside kingdom awaits you,’’ the Zatim whispered as the doors were opened.
The outside kingdom was more than she could have imagined. The grass and bushes a lush, vibrant green, with brightly colored flowers, littered across. The sun was a lot more bright than she had perceived it to be from the paintings in the palace. The ride was overall smooth as they headed down to the villages. Amana was left in awe at the sight of the new landscape, everything more real than could have thought. After several hours, they had finally arrived in the first village.
“ Welcome to the Mazium village, I trust you enjoyed the great landscape on our way here?” The Zatim said to Amana as they halted. All she could do was nod, her brain scattered with curiosity.
“Now that you are to be my wife it is imperative that you understand how our villages are run. The Mazium village is the one who yields our produce. Each family is given a small profit to provide them for the next week,” the Zatim explained. He handed a sac full of change to one of his servant men, while he motioned to another who sounded a horn. The villagers ran out like swarms to the mother bee. Each family was given a small handful of change. It baffled Amana to see how little they were given considering it took hundreds of coins to pay for her family everyday. She thought it could be that they were planting their own food but from how bone thin they looked it was clear to see that, that wasn’t the case. Suddenly an elderly man approached stumbling forward.
“ Please your greatness, my wife is greatly ill, to provide her with the aid of the caregiver I gratefully ask you to increase our salary just this once,” the man pleaded his voice croak and weak. The Zatim turned, anger ignited. He grabbed the whip from the front of the cart and with a mighty heave slashed at the old man till he lay crumpled on the ground.Soon a young boy, most likely in his teens ran in front of where the man lay.
“Please your greatness, have mercy on my father, he is old and delusional.”
The Zatim did nothing, his face red with seething anger. He raised his arm to strike at the son when-
“Stop!” Amana cried, standing between them.
“ Who do you think you are women! To have rule over me because I have chosen you to be my permanent slut!” the Zatim screamed. He grabbed her arm, his grip unyielding, throwing her to the ground and knocking her unconscious.
She woke up lying in a bed in an unfamiliar room. The Zatim stood across from her staring out the window. She was about to get up and leave till she found herself naked underneath the covers.
“What did you do to me?” Amana questioned fear lodged into her throat.
“Why I believe we had a pleasant night,” the Zatim replied a with condescending smile as he turned to face her.
“You had no right to touch me,” Amana declared as she held back tears. Suddenly fists clenched at the Zatims sides, he approached her and pulled back the covers leaving Amana exposed.
“Who are you to give me orders, you are my bitch, you are to stand by my side and be obedient!” the Zatim screamed. He yanked Amana out of the bed, and pushed her down to the ground. His hands took hold of one of Amana’s silver pins that were heft on the nightstand, lifted her arm and forced the pin to slice across her forearm deep within her skin.
“The only way for bitches to learn is from wounds,”the Zatim whispered coldly as blood blossomed.
The weeks leading up to the wedding passed in a blur, life pulling her on a leash to move forward everyday. Her plans for the day to come continuously playing in her head. She had asked for her dress to be made sleeveless exposing the newly formed scar on her forearm, her own personal vendetta.
The day of the wedding came and passed quickly into night, they had said their vows, and she was now dancing side by side with the Zatim his hands pressing into her arms hiding the scar. At the end of their ceremonial dance Amana sat next to the Zatim on their crystal thrones. The evening was filled with the clinking of glasses, and dancers, but Amanas eyes scanned the room for only one thing.
“Your highness may I be excused for just a moment?”
“Very well my darling.”
Amana slid between the dancers, and snatched at the knife that lay beside the wedding cake and darted out to the castle halls. The halls were hollow with everyone at the wedding reception, just what she suspected.She took her time to look at all the paintings that filled the pillars, thankful that they would be her last memory. She finally halted at the first plain pillar, preparing herself of what was to come next.She took The knife and sliced it across her arm, her own red paint ready for the canvas. With her finger she painted along the pillar her life story leading up to now, the truth about their leader. She would be the first to defy the Zatim, but certainly not the last. At last her painting was completed.The only step left was the most important in her plan. She lifted the knife and pointed at her chest, her nerves tingled with anticipation and she could feel the blood pump beneath her skin.With a deep breath she drove the knife forward.