TAB Chapter 5
Quest For a Dying Ember
“Mildred!” I yelled down the hall. The two buckets of grain that I was carrying had somehow managed to make a trail. “Crap,” I swore under my breath as I realized that one of the buckets had a hole at the bottom. I checked the golden watch that Anabell had given me. It was a beautiful watch, the hands moving powerfully around their little numbers. Of course, she had given it to me with the presumption that I could read Ewatili. You couldn’t find such a beautiful watch anywhere else but Ewatle so I had said nothing like a fool.
Now, I had to think back to, which book was it? Oh yes, the old red scratched up one on the southwest shelf. I put the pails down as my arms moaned at me. I didn’t like to use my amulet since many could not and that was simply unfair but, I had no choice. The carriages would leave for the homeless shelters at exactly 10 am and would not stop for me. I closed my eyes and tried to recall. It was 9:52. . . I think. I cursed again under my breath. It is unethical to leave just one homeless shelter without grain. I could not break a moral code as simple as this. Or else, no one would get the grain. I would have to think of more ways to share my wealth and would have to write and apology and… No I had to make it to the carriages on time.
Where was Mildred? I decided to call out one more time. “Mildred!” I called into the echoey chambers. There was no answer. She must be outside playing with the dogs. Of course, as my head maid she had more responsibilities than following me around to see if I needed help. I felt my breath expel from me like a bull. I immediately stood up straighter. I should not be angry at this. Being angry was dangerous. Plus, there was a solution. I just didn’t want to do it. I called on my amulet. The ground began to tremble slightly as the pieces of grain lined themselves up and retracted themselves back into the hole in the bottom of the pail. The hole sealed itself promptly and the bucket returned to my hand. I was going to make it to the carriages on time. However, I could not ignore the weight of my conscience for the use of my amulet as I walked briskly towards the carriages. Although my amulet could do anything I wanted it to do, if I used it too much, flames crept into my thoughts. If I let that happen the whole world would burn. I sighed and hurried along the corridors of the mansion. Only perfection would do when it came to enacting my principles.
Ten minutes later, I flopped down on the front steps of my house and sipped my cocktail tenderly. The lemons were from the Guanyin Mountains and I could practically taste the rose petal snow that made the lemons exquisite. “And also expensive” I reminded myself. It was immoral to use too much of one’s own wealth for luxury. I would have to make that up somehow. Nonetheless, the cocktail, my dog and the view was a great reward for the early morning work. The sun was moving towards its highest position bestowing it’s golden sunlight on the garden below. The bundles and mounds of tulips,calla lilies, sunflowers, dahlias, marigolds mixed together luxuriously. The orchids popping out between the buttercups were protected by magic but the rest was hand grown. It was really a striking site, one that I was proud of. When guests walked through the garden, they understood a sliver of life’s beauty. They felt at ease, forgetting their troubles for just a second as they looked on at the massive garden and romanesque pillars. Summer was the most pleasant of seasons. The multitude of fountains provided a nice breeze for both myself and the dogs.
Finally, at ease I took out my book. “ An hour a day keeps the doctor away” my brother used to say. A wave of sadness passed with the tide of my thoughts as I focused more on my book. I had the privilege to read lots with my wealth and with my position. I loved what I did, reading was only a small part of it. As the head ethical advisor in the kingdom, I had many responsibilities such as being on the royal ethics committee daily, participating in negotiations between states within the kingdom, weighing in on the financial decisions of other wealthy nobles and families, and teaching multiple times a week at universities, hospitals, and conventions. But, my favorite part was the reading. Of course, I had written best selling books on ethics but, it was never quite the same as other books. I had to read books on pretty much every subject to be able to weigh in on subjects. And of course, I loved donating the books I had read to the local library. It was just one of the advantages of wealth. Of course, all of these jobs gave me joy but unfortunately they also gave me too much money to handle. I really despised being with the nobles in their large houses, yet several advisors had told me it was a matter of safety to live near them. So, I had packed up my minimalist lifestyle and had moved it to a large mansion, full of things I didn’t need or want. I found it unethical to just live in a giant manor, so most days I have tours for people to see art, look out through the cornucopia, and take books from my library. At the end of the tour ,I answer questions on ethics and other subjects. Of course, this led me to learn other languages, which only expanded my library. The whole thing was a self fulfilling prophecy. I took a deep breath, reminding myself of my fortune and privilege that lead me to this. I smiled and turned the page in my book. Nautical Archeology filled my head and before I knew it, the mail was here.
“Hello, Oliver” I merily greeted “ How’s the route today?”
Oliver looked exhausted but happy as always. “Good Alexandria, as a matter of fact very good!” he winked at me and pointed to a specific piece of mail in my broad stack. I patted the seat next to me. Oliver reluctantly sat down. He works too hard. He was one of the people who really influenced my decisions on the royal ethics committee. Of course, he never knew this and most likely would never know. But, that’s the way of the world.
“Oh? Tell me about it?” I said and called to my amulet. A drink was made out of thin air. Oliver ignored the use of my amulet and sipped his drink. He had plenty of experience with luxury items. I remember the time where Anabell had tried to give him a library so that he didn't have to keep delivering mail. All Oliver did was turn on his heel with a small laugh. I could not believe that my neighbor would have the audacity to do that but I was more surprised with Oliver’s reaction. Even I couldn’t say no to Anabell and her endless wealth. From that moment I knew that I would advocate for Oliver’s everywhere on ethics committees and at home alike.
I snapped back to reality. “Well Miss Fabian, I think you’ll find out why my day is superb after you read that” he pointed to the perfectly folded envelope in my stack.
I gave Oliver a confused look and took the envelope out of her stack. I opened it. I wanted to set it on fire. I used my amulet too much today. As I broke the seal, I realized it was from the royal palace. It was odd that the royal palace would send me an invitation by letter for a meeting. This was definitely something more serious, something maybe even secret? Oliver looked like a child on christmas morning. I’d only seen Oliver this excited once and it was when Anabell had gotten denied for her movement to make all children vegan by Marigold and the ethics committee. Marigold, a beautiful soul who mediated the ethics seminar rarely said how the votes split on subjects. She however, like most of us, despised Anabell and her posh outfits and had told Oliver that it was a unanimous no. But, I hadn’t heard anything exciting this week. What could Oliver be so delighted about? I unfolded the delicate parchment. It read:
A royal proclamation:
The King is in search of an heir. Any person of sound mind and body may compete to win the throne upon his majesty’s death. We must warn you it is a treacherous journey not for the faint of heart. All wishing to compete must appear at the palace by sunset on the first day of summer to receive their instructions.
Duty, honor, justice
His majesty King Cassius
My senses flooded me. What was this letter? Who else was called on? Was this a chance to be queen? A chance to stop the injustice in this country? A chance to rid the cursed objects, to obtain the peace and prosperity people like Oliver so desperately wanted? No. I could not. It was too much of a risk. I could not protect the country with my cursed object. It would be too dangerous. But, then again…
“What do ya think Alex?” Oliver looked at me with his ocean eyes. ‘Are you going to save us?” I didn’t know what to say.
That night I paced my room. I had tried to distract myself by reading, by practicing my Ewatili, even by eating more than what was morally correct (with so many starving of course). I couldn’t decide if I were to join. On one side, I had experience in the art of political science. Not only had I read a multitude of books and attended hundreds of lectures about navigating the political scene, I had participated in countless ethics committees on ruling. I had contacts and favors galore in the royal court. Not to mention I knew I would be a fair leader. But on the other hand… I ran my finger across my brother’s old amulet. I would inevitably make less than favorable decisions and will undoubtedly lose many lives in the process. The longer I kept the amulet, the more I used it, the stronger my curse would become. And eventually, no amount of fountains or flora could keep the world around me from burning at my own hand.
I passed by the only mirror in the house. I’ve learned that mirrors set one up for jealousy and insecurity. Which in turn. . . prompted anger and therefore. . . flames. The mirror was stunning all in itself, with strokes of artistic brilliance gathered by only a few. When I saw it in the underground market, I knew that it had to be mine. On a regular day, I would pass to make sure nothing was in my teeth or to check my form while practicing ballet. But tonight was a very unusual night. For the first time in years I dared look at my appearance. My midnight colored skin glowed with hydration and contrasted harshly with my white nightgown. My legs, although toned were not skinny but then again, they never were. I did enjoy the look of my face; my bald head accentuated my bright blue eyes and dark lashes and my lips were naturally plump in my smile. I had successfully distracted myself for thirty seconds. I sighed. I wasn’t going to forget about the king’s letter. I sat down at my desk and wrote letters to my appointments apologizing for the cancelation of our plans. This type of decision required a full blown analysis if I were to make a decision, one that would take all day. I had to decide if this was morally correct or even possible with my curse involved. An ethics committee had to be called, books had to be reviewed, interviews conducted, polls taken… This was a mess. As I sealed my last letter with wax, my mind wandered to those dreamy places and I fell into an uneasy sleep.
All I knew was that I was running. Running as fast as I can to the house. I had to get there in time, I had to. The grass beneath my bare feat was cool, my afro covered with leaves that had rained down from the trees. I heard screaming in the distance. I had to run faster. My breath turned into pants and coughs as I got closer to it. Black smoke filled the air and stung my eyes. I forced my eyes open just to see the bellows of red and orange coming out of the building. The whole. . . the whole building was on fire. Children were screaming and running. Mothers were calling out to their babies, as if they could somehow hear them behind all that smoke and flame. People were walking, no crawling out of the building. Water from the firefighters hoses fell short. The world was on fire.
Then, I stepped on something. I felt it, warm and sharp in between my toes. My brothers amulet. And suddenly I knew that he was inside. He just had to be. With the amulet in hand, the houses and people and firefighters became a blur. There were eleven people stuck inside. I only cared about one. Those ten people were stuck on the second floor, I could have gotten them out. But I ignored the pleas for help, the crying, the wounded and went straight to the seventh floor. My brother was injured but movable. I took him in my arms and shimmied through shafts, ducked under fallen beams, avoided the fired walls until we got outside. The air seemed cool in comparison to the building air. I walked him over to that cool cool grass and set him down. It was fall. How could this have happened? How could this have happened? How could this have happened?
But I knew why, my dream would not let me make up a different ending. My vision became blurry as I found flint and fuel used to light the building on fire in my brother’s coat pocket. I rushed to save those other ten people, the ones I had ignored to save my brother, the arsonist. But as I ran back towards the building, it exploded and the layers on top of layers collapsed into the ground. I didn’t know if I or the ground was shaking harder. I turned to my brother full of rage. “I’m going to kill…” the world spun out and I sat upright in my bed clutching my amulet. My hand was bleeding from clutching the cursed object. This wasn’t a dream, this was a warning. And if I wasn’t careful it would not only be my past, it would become my future.
The sunlight seeped through the fragile white curtains that accented the floor to ceiling windows in my room. Somehow, in the middle of the night, I had fallen asleep at my desk. The notes were stacked neatly next to me, the ink bottle closed tightly next to it. Was that what that cooked smell was? As I lifted my head to rub at my eyes, a blanket fell off of me. Mildred must have come in to tidy the room, which means… NO! I scrambled to my feet to check the clock when I was stopped dead in my tracks. The room. . . the white gorgeous room, was now black. I had charred it. Parts of the drapery around my bed hung limply, burned to scraps. My dresser had scorch marks on the handles and one of the legs had crumpled under the heat. The floor… I couldn’t even tell it was a white tile due to the heaps of ash covering the room. I… had done this. The last time I had done this was when… No, it was best not to think of that right now. The nightmare had been enough to crisp my room, I didn’t need any added stress. I blinked away tears and went to get the cleaning kit. Mildred didn’t even look up at me when I passed her in the hall. She knew I needed to be alone. It wasn’t the first time I had let my amulet control me, subdue me. It could not happen again if I were to be queen.
“Madam, would you like some tea?” I prompted Marigold. “No, thank you lovely” she winked at me slyly, her secret reassurance eluding the others on the ethics panel I had called. While the others munched on their crumpets, biscuits, and fruits I rubbed my hands anxiously. They were to cast their vote in less than five minutes. The seminar had gone well, all of them were surprisingly equal and fair despite their obvious excitement for the possibility of my reign. I tried not to scrunch up my draping, at last I gave in to my nerves. Mildred took the teapot from my hands. I didn’t even notice her leaning in to whisper “You’ve got my vote”. I nodded to her with a manufactured smile as she left the room. “All right. Doctors, Madams, and Gents. It’s time to make a decision. ” My breath caught in my throat but, I nodded with a smile nonetheless. “ Group Alpha, what is your decision” Marigold turned towards a group of academics in the far left corner. One of the doctors stepped out of the bunch. “ Group Alpha votes Aye for Alexandria Fabian to participate in a competition for the throne. ” A little part of my heart smiled. This was a factually sound move. I couldn’t relax yet though, there needed to be a unanimous decision for me to participate. Marigold proceeded. “Group Beta, what is your position?” The middle group, full of warm smiles but sharp eyes stood up a little straighter as their representative emerged. “Group Beta votes Aye for Alexandria Fabian to participate in a competition for the throne. ” Marigold and I probably looked like a bunch of excited puppies. Group Beta was the emotional and empathetic pillar of the ethics committee. However, the last pillar, the pillar of general safety and ethics was last. “ Group Gamma, how do you stand?” Marigold almost stammered. I would definitely need to press my dress after this. A tall woman with delicate eyes and , a knowing smile stepped forward. I held my breath. “ Group Gama votes Aye for Alexandria Fabian to participate in a competition for the throne. ” I almost cheered. Everyone smiled at each other. “However,” said the woman. “We have decided that there must be a contagion. If Miss Fabian exhibits any substantial negative effect of her amulet, that is unintentional or harmful in any way, she must forfeit and return to her home. ” My heart sank. I would have to be very careful. The room buzzed with academic chatter. “Is everyone in agreement with that?” Marigold asked the room. Group Beta’s representative responded Aye. As Group Alpha deliberated a little bit longer I crossed my fingers. “Group Alpha responds with an Aye” said the representative. The room seemed to go back to its old euphoria as Marigold slapped the mallet on her pedestal. “Then it's settled. ” Marigold nodded. “Alexandria Fabian will compete for the throne as long as she maintains a safe and controlled use of her cursed amulet. ” The whole room started to buzz and socialize as the groups mixed and some more sweets were brought out. But, my heart wouldn’t let me smile. I had a lot of training to do in order to control the gift that had possessed me for so long. But alas, I was going to compete for the throne. That was something to celebrate. I mingled with the crowd of academics and started to chat about what a new world could mean for the country. After all, I don’t lose. No matter what.