Aria, age 11
The sun beamed down on us as we picked lemons. I picked up the ones that were already on the ground. Mother’s slender arm could reach high up in the trees to get the most elusive ones. Sunny days spent in the garden’s with mother were my favorite. I never tire of the secret smiles passed between us. The way she puts her treasures in the big basket, like they are precious jewels. My long braids are piled atop my head, wound around like a resting cobra, just like mother’s. Gold adornments are clipped into my hair to show that I am a princess. Mother wears gold on her wrists, neck, hair, and ears to show she is a Queen.
Servants always hang back and observe as mother and I pick the most anointed fruits for ourselves, our personal stash to keep in our chambers. When we tire, we set up a picnic under our favorite tree. The fresh bread is warm and soft like an edible blanket. The wind blows softly, and I close my eyes to let it tickle my cheek.
I hear rustling like someone is battling bushes. When I open my eyes, I see mother’s face. Her frightened eyes looked crazed. Her beautiful coco skin has turned the color of oatmeal. Men in military uniforms have gathered around mother and me. The servants, Qutina and Meri have been apprehended. I do not understand what is happening. Mother is grabbed by one of the tall militants. One of them grab me. I hear mother say something about “authority” and “disgrace”.
The men march us back to the castle and into the throne room where I see that my father, the king’s head has been cut from his body. Blood is everywhere I look. Bodies litter the room. A strange man is sitting where my father used to sit. My chest burns. I can’t breathe correctly. Mother’s screams ring in my ears. She weeps over father’s headless body. My knees do not work any longer.
Aria, age 14
My brother Uni was away when the castle was overtaken by The Darkness. They search for him still. He is the true heir to the throne of Sunland. The Darkness does not feel secure until Uni is captured. I am told every day, as I help Daughter of Darkness dress in fine gowns, sewn for her by the same hands that used to sew for me. Now I wear cast offs, given to me by Daughter of Darkness and her army of servants. Many of the gowns are ill fitting. Some of them squeeze me while others hang from my limbs like a heavy sack.
Daughter of Darkness orders me to bring her water and cheese from the kitchens. She orders me to watch as Qutina does her hair exactly the way my hair used to be. They forced me to take out my long braids and wear a plain white scarf on my head just like the other servants. I once wanted to feel pretty so I tied my scarf elaborately, twisting it until it was like a bun in the front. Qutina warned me to take it down but, that day I knew I was princess and I should be able to adorn myself. When Daughter of Darkness heard that I had tied my scarf differently she had me beaten by one of her guards. My nose bled and I had a cut on my forehead. I had to stay in the infirmary for three days. Although I was in pain and the physician was told not to give me pain relief, I still felt a small sense of victory. Daughter of Darkness was threatened.
“Keep your head down, princess.” Qutina whispers to me. “Be obedient…” She stressed when she visited me. “If you want to survive, you must be obedient.” So, I did. I stopped looking for ways to get under Daughter of Darkness’s skin. I humbled myself before her. I helped put on her bejeweled shoes. I helped her dress and complimented her. I watched Qutina and modeled my behavior after her. I became the most obedient servant. I thought maybe if I complied, maybe if I was good, they would let me see mother. They had not told me where she was. I knew father was dead, but they gave me no information about my mother. Weekly I was summoned to presence of The Darkness.
“I will ask you again…do you know the whereabouts of your brother?”
“No, your majesty.” I bowed before him.
“I will not harm you, child.” The Darkness sits on my father’s throne and I can feel his hungry eyes on me.
I keep my head bowed.
After long silences, he tires of me. “Very well…off you go.”
I dream of mother and Uni. They are safe with me in the garden’s picking lemons and apples. Qutina wakes me before dawn to start our work for the day. I dress and hurry to Daughter of Darkness’s bedroom to wake her and help her ready for the day. Upon entering her chamber, I see that she is already awake with three other servants attending her.
I stand off to the side awaiting my instructions. Finally, after an hour of dressing and primping, Daughter of Darkness turns to me.
“Today is a special day for you.” She says and motions for me to come closer. She then turns to one of her ladies, “go get it.” She orders.
I stand there confused until I see her lady return with a colorful gown of deep reds, yellows, and blues hanging on her arm.
“This is to be your wedding gown.” She says to me.
I cannot speak. My mind calibrates as Daughter of Darkness continues, “The king thought you should marry a mangled old nobleman. He wanted my hand, but I would rather drink poison then marry such a failure. Father had to give him something, so you’ll do.” She leered; her almond eyes are filled with hate. “Good luck.” She chuckles, “I hear he set his first wife on fire because she failed to please him.”
Aria, age 16
My husband’s name is Yewel Cellar. He owns vineyards, wineries, and several other pieces of land. The vicious lesion pathed from his right eye through his lip did not bother me. He said it was from a robbery attempt. Bandits cut his face open. The physicians and healers did what they could. What bothered me most was the age gap. I was sixteen whilst he was thirty-five. It was common for older men to take incredibly young wives in our land but not those of royal decent. Royal marriages were made on the brides eighteenth birthday. Only peasant girls married young. I knew I would never be a princess again, and this marriage was the final confirmation.
Yewel was kind to me but his four daughters were hateful. They called me names and bumped me on purpose, making me drop valuable glasses.
“We won’t call you mother.” The eldest, Yewlisa said to me one evening after dinner. Her father had gone out to do business.
“I wouldn’t want you to.” I said easily. Yewlisa was only four years younger than me.
I had to learn to sew and help prepare foods. I knew nothing of these things but tried to recall everything I had learned from Qutina. The girls snickered at my blunders. “She can’t even sew on a button.” They would whisper. “She can’t even prepare stew.” I ignored them and tried to learn.
Aria, age 22
My first pregnancy ended quickly. The baby didn’t take. I bled for weeks. The midwife said the babe was not long for this world. The second baby stayed in my belly and grew big like watermelon. Yewel named him Yonder. I liked the name and gave my blessing.
Yewlisa was getting married to boy who worked in the vineyard. I could tell she was nervous. I had grown on the girls and they finally began to take to me. They stopped calling me names and ignored me for a while. Then, when their breasts budded and their monthly started, they craved an older mother figure. It stunned me at first because I, too craved a mother. “What of the consummation?” Yewlisa asked me, eyes full of panic as she stood in her lavender gown looking the picture of youth and beauty. I explained what to expect as best I could.
I still thought about my family every day. What had become of my brother, did mother escape? I entertained unreasonable fantasies about mother breaking out of the chains, escaping the castle meeting up with Uni. In my mind mother and Uni live together and free in the wilderness, surviving on berries and fish like our ancestors.
Aria, age 27
Yewel is ill. His daughters Yewlisa and Yelanda have been married off. Only Yesa, Yonder and I are left in the household. We have become quite the close family. I comfort Yesa when she cries that no man will ever want to marry her. I tell her the only reason she has not married is because her father has been too ill to arrange a match. She calls herself old and useless. I reassure her that she is beautiful and invaluable. I speak to Yewel about arranging a marriage for her. He is weak and grabs my hand. “You see to it, my sweet.” I set my mind to find someone to make Yesa happy.
In the meantime, I pick berries with Yonder under the sun, just as I did with my mother. I ensure the employees are paid. I sew dresses for myself and Yesa. I cook Yonder’s favorite stew. I redecorate my bedchamber with fine silk curtains and soft colorful linens. I braid Yesa’s hair and make her look like a princess. I put my own hair up in a bun and adorn my arms with gold bans. Yewel gifted me fine jewels, not as magnificent as royal jewels but they suited me all the same. And I wore them proudly about my neck as I worked around the house and cared for my ailing husband.
Aria, age 29
I am a widow. Yewel’s estate is in my hands now. Yesa walked down the aisle in a beautiful dress sewn with my own hands. She seems happy with her new husband. I assure her that she could return home at any time, should she find her mate unsatisfactory. Yonder is growing more independent. He disappears in the fields for hours. At first, I would send a worker after him, scared that he would never find his way out. But we realized that he had memorized his way home all on his own. Now I let him run free. He always returns when he is ready.
Aria, age 30
A man dressed in a military uniform raps on the front door of my estate. When I see him, my knees weaken. My heart squeezes. But the official is gentle. He walks me to a nearby chair and waits until I catch my breath. Then he tells me. My brother Uni has been crowned king of the land. While in exile he gathered an army to retake the throne from The Darkness. I was invited back to court to live.
I look around at my lovely home. I think of the vineyards, the employees, my stepdaughters, my son Yonder.
“My mother…” I breathe. “Did she survive?”
“She was held captive at an estate not far from here.” He said reaching out to touch my hand. “She lives, your grace.”
I look up at him. I have not heard this title of honor in so long that it sounds wrong, hollow.
I desired to be reunited with my mother and my brother, the new king. But my feet were so firmly planted in this life. I cannot switch back to palatial life so easy. This would either be my undoing or my biggest triumph.
Lorisha Adams: "I am a writer and peace advocate. My non-fiction has appeared in Literary Mama. I have a BA in Addictions Counseling. I can be reached at email@example.com. I live in Ohio with my family. Instagram: @lorishaadams"