"Don't fret about the serving, my lady. It can be quite pleasant. Those from the Moon Clan are said to be very skilled in the sensual arts, and gentle too."
Alexandreina de cu Soare sniffed her scorn toward her maid. She knew Nicoletta was trying to soften the consequence of the night's events. However, nothing could lessen Alexandreina's revulsion at what she was being forced to endure.
"Who's told you this?"
"Mirela. She went with Lord Mihai to the Moon Clan lands a few moon turns ago. She told me that it is very different there."
"I highly doubt that. Mirela is much too trusting of the Draconians. It will get her into trouble one day. None of them can be trusted."
When the Draconians invaded and conquered their country, they forced blood-serving, a cruel and barbaric practice, onto the Roma people. Because the Draconians were stronger, faster, lived longer and were gluttons for food, sex and blood, they fed on the Roma people like cattle. It became a necessity for them to thrive. Without digesting blood once a sennight, the Draconians became weak and frail. Not something they allowed to happen. And because the Draconians alone held the decision if that bloodletting was painful or pleasurable, the Romas continued to serve out of fear.
It was that fear that had her family imprisoned in the keep, as the conquered royal family. To keep the peace and simulate some sort of normalcy in the country Lord Rica let them live comfortably, at least for a while. He liked to remark that they had been his guests out of the kindness of his heart. But Alexandreina knew better. He had no heart.
It was that supposed respect, something her father, mother and brother died for, that allowed Alexandreina to escape most of their depraved acts. Until now.
As Nicoletta pulled the jeweled brush through Alexandreina's long, thick sable hair, she found a knot and yanked it through.
"Ouch," Alexandreina yelped as she pressed her hand to her head. "Be careful. I would like to have some hair left when you are through."
"Beautiful hair." Setting the brush down, she smoothed a hand over Alexandreina's head. "You'll be the belle of the evening."
Alexandreina's face darkened. She hated dressing for the banquet. The last place in Draconia she wanted to be was in the dining hall this eve. Nevertheless, it was her duty as the last royal heir of the Sun Clan, and she would do what protocol demanded. It also did not help that she was kept as a servant in the keep and the thought of her punishment, for disobeying a direct request from Overlord Rica, disturbed her thoughts.
As Nicoletta plaited her hair with ribbons, Alexandreina stared hard at herself in the vanity. Restless sleep lined her generous green eyes, as she had not had a peaceful night since the news of her impending service.
Pinching at her cheeks, she noticed too well how they were filling out. Much farther than she wished. The honey cakes she bought from the village market were just too tempting.
That was one of the reasons why the Draconians lusted after Roma women, she supposed, because they were fuller, thicker and more robust. A glaring opposite to their women who were tall, thin and pale, like antagonistic ghosts. At least that is how Alexandreina perceived them as they floated around the keep demanding service in one form or another.
Nicoletta finished her hair, and then set the sheer golden scarf over her head, wrapping it around and securing it under Alexandreina's plaited hair. When she was done, she looked at Alexandreina in the mirror and smiled.
"There, Overlord Rica will find you more than pleasing for his guest."
The disdain of the night's events made her stand and pace the dressing room, her heavy brocade amber skirt dragging on the pale stone floor.
"I don't care how pleasing I am. It shouldn't be my duty to give myself to someone not of my choosing. It is cruel and debasing."
Nicoletta curtsied to her mistress. "We all have our duty, my lady."
Alexandreina stopped in her pacing and glanced toward her young maid. She sighed and reached for her. With tears already welling in her doe-brown eyes, Nicoletta rushed into her arms. Alexandreina stroked a hand over her hair. The girl had suffered more than was humane. If only Alexandreina had been stronger, to stop the guards from taking Nicoletta the first time she was summoned to Lord Rica's chamber. The broken wrist she suffered seemed so insignificant compared to the agony she heard resonating from Rica's room all that night.
Every time Nicoletta was summoned, Alexandreina's wrist throbbed in memory of that time she failed her...again.
"I'm sorry for your plight, Nicoletta. Here I am complaining about my first service to the Draconians, and you have been blood-serving Lord Rica himself. If it were in my power, I would abolish all blood-serving. It is heartless and cruel."
"I know you would, my lady," she sniffled. "That's why we still have faith in your family bloodline."
Flinching, Alexandreina pulled back and searched the girl's face. "Faith to do what?"
"To free us."
Alexandreina stared in stunned silence. Freedom? Surely, Nicoletta did not think it was possible. That notion died in Alexandreina the same year she watched her mother's brutal death in the Messenger Ceremony. And it had been even more evident when her brother had been tortured and killed by the priestess. Her fate could easily follow her ancestors' path, as could any Roma citizen. The Draconians were stronger, faster, and as far as she could tell, infallible. How could simple Romas defeat the undefeatable?
Before Alexandreina could answer her maid, there was a sharp knock at her chamber door. The door opened and a Draconian guard stepped into the room. Outfitted in full traditional garb in respect for the visiting clan members, the guard wore black armor and carried a spear. It always shocked Alexandreina to see them dressed as such, as if war was on the doorstep. However, from the rumors she heard, a war was not that far removed.
"It is time to go," the guard snarled. "Lord Rica is not to be kept waiting."
Expecting her to follow with the arrogance of assumed control, he stepped out of the room, but left the door open.
Alexandreina glanced down at Nicoletta and wiped the last of the girl's tears away. "We will talk of this later."
Nicoletta nodded and stepped back to curtsy. "Bun Seara, my lady."
"Bun Seara, Nicoletta."
Alexandreina ran a hand down the gold brocade bodice of the gown that was her mother's, and the only dress she had managed to hold on to after her death. Lord Rica had stripped her of everything connecting her to her family. Isolating her from her ancestry, to make her forget what it had been like before the Draconians had come to destroy their way of life. But it had backfired. Alexandreina held onto her faith, her family history, even harder now.
Drawing strength from the one thing she had left, she took in a deep breath, held her head high and went out her chamber door.