Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for mature content.
The bath was not far from the rest of the bedrooms, and it was outdoors. It seemed that the line between outdoors and indoors was blurred here. Perhaps the weather was kind year round unlike Merdon where it was raining one half of the year and snowing the other half.
Stone worn smooth by years of bare feet dropped into a pool of clear, inviting water. Three towels lay folded at the side of the water along with earthenware pots. “This is the bath?” Asha asked.
“It is not like in Malland.”
“No,” Asha breathed. “Not at all.” As she was speaking, there was a quiet rustle of cloth beside her. She turned her head to see Yuni’s clothing slip off her small figure. Asha’s mouth went dry.
Walking as confidently as she did clothed, Yuni took the stairs. Water covered her body inch by inch, and Asha couldn’t take her eyes off her. Yuni turned, Asha’s eyes darting away. The water was up to her waist. “Come in,” Yuni called. “It is not cold.”
Averting her eyes from Yuni’s breasts, Asha disrobed and fled to the safety of the pool. She sunk down into the water. To safety. Compared to Yuni, Asha was nothing. Her body wasn’t slender or graceful. It was the body of a scholar who spent too much time hunched over a desk and spent far too little time out and about.
Though she tried to keep a respectful distance from her, Yuni closed the gap anyway. “I wonder where my sister is,” she murmured all too close to Asha’s ear. Asha shivered.
Taking a breath, she submerged herself completely, wiping weeks of grime from her face. When she came up for air, a woman wrapped in a brightly colored silken robe knelt at the edge of the bath.
“Yuni!” the woman replied. She glanced at Asha, and Asha could almost see the gears turning in her head. She didn’t speak for a moment. “When Mother spoke to me of how long you had traveled, I thought it prudent to provide,” she paused. “How do you say? For your hair?”
“Brushes and combs?” Asha offered.
“Yes.” She nodded firmly. “I see now that I was correct. Should I get-” she paused again. “A hair cutting tool.” She said something in her own language.
Both looked at Asha expectantly. “Scissors,” she said lamely.
Yuni tugged at her tangled mess of hair, working it out of its braid. She tossed the scrap of ribbon holding it together to the side of the bath. “I think I might need to cut it.”
Asha surprised herself by speaking. “No. I can take care of it. There’s no need to cut such long, beautiful hair.”
“Yes, yes,” Aiya said. “You have always had hair so pretty.”
“Do you have any oil? Like olive oil?” Asha asked.
Aiya looked blankly at her.
Yuni said something in Yamukan.
“Ahh,” she hummed. “I believe we do have something that will suffice.”
She ran to the door and slipped out. As soon as she was out of sight, Yuni began to giggle.
“What’s so funny, Yuni?” Yuni only laughed harder. “Tell me!” Asha demanded.
“Aiya,” she said between giggles. “Is the crown princess. She is next to be empress, and you are treating her like an errand girl!”
Asha’s stomach dropped. It hadn’t occurred to her that she should have behaved like Aiya was a princess. She seemed so normal. “Oh dear,” she whispered.
“Do not worry,” Yuni said, placing a hand on Asha’s bare shoulder. She shivered and Yuni took her hand away. Already, she missed its weight and warmth. “Aiya is very kind. She does not believe that being empress means that others are below her station.” A very fond smile came over her face. “She will be a good leader. I am proud to be her sister.”
Aiya returned with a small pitcher that she carefully placed on the side of the bath. She threw off her robe and hopped in the bath, eschewing the stairs. She picked up one of the pots that set on the side. “This is soap,” she said, and she handed it to Asha.
Asha peered inside and scraped up some of the goop. It smelled sweet, like almonds and flowers. After offering it to Yuni, she scrubbed it into a lather and rubbed her body down. It felt almost like she was shedding a layer of skin because the dirt had been on her skin for so long. The water surrounding Yuni and her was tinged with brown, but Asha couldn’t bring herself to be embarrassed. Being clean had never felt so good.
She scrubbed her scalp with the soap, her fingers getting caught in the twists and tangles of her hair. Without even having to ask, Aiya pressed a comb into her hand, and she got to work combing out the tangles. She waded to the side of the bath, and poured oil directly onto her head before working it into her scalp.
It seemed like it was hours before she finished with her hair, listening to the excited murmurs of two sisters reunited. “Yuni,” she called. Yuni looked up with a smile and waded over.
“Is it time for you to rescue my hair?” She wore a playful grin Asha had not seen before.
“Yes. Now turn around.” She held her breath for a moment, all too aware of how close Yuni’s body-- Yuni’s naked body-- was to her own. Her slick hands worked oil through soft, thick hair. What a shame it would’ve been to let Yuni cut it. It became a soothing pattern of smoothing oil through her hair and working the comb through the knots as gently as possible. This pattern was repeated to the music of Aiya and Yuni’s quiet conversation slipping from Mallander to Yamukan and back again. Asha found herself relaxing around Yuni. Relishing this intimate time. She had never felt so close to someone before.
Finally, but somehow all too soon, she was done. “You’ll want to wash the oil out of your hair, but the knots are gone.” With her duty done, she made her way to the stairs to climb out.
“You will not stay with us?” Yuni asked.
“You two should catch up. I want to rest anyway.” It was a lie. Asha did not want to rest, but she didn’t want to hog Yuni from her sister either. It was clear that they wanted to talk.
“If you insist,” Yuni said, turning back to Aiya. Asha sighed and dried off with a towel as the two continued their chatter. At some point, a servant must have left new clothes out.
“Aiya told me to tell you that the blue one is for you, Asha!” Yuni called from the bath.
Asha carefully picked up the blue bundle and unfolded it. It was a light fabric, but still clearly expensive. She gazed at the garment puzzledly, trying to figure out how to put it on. Wordlessly, a servant rushed from her invisible post and took it from her hands. Carefully, the servant guided Asha through the process of putting on the unfamiliar garment. She tried to memorize the process, but she wasn’t sure she she was able to get it all. Regardless, when the garment was secured by some sort of fabric belt, the servant rushed back to some darkened corner of the room.