This was originally posted at http://unorthodoxcreativity.com/15minfic.php in response to a visual prompt.
It was the least she could do, they said, to make this pilgrimage to pray for the new regime. So she had. Every step barefoot and unveiled. From the capital where the new Emperor sat, surrounded by his advisers and none of them yet come to grips with the drudgery of empire, to Uselet up in the mountains where the holy men dwelt among the great temples.
They had not let her speak since Sedgewich where they had slyly asked her opinion of the feasting being carried out on the stores seized from the government storehouse her kinsmen had stocked. It was clear from the way the question had been asked that they thought this had been a private hoarding. Her reply had not pleased them: “I see five years worth of pre-positioned supplies being scoffed in a few days. What are you going to do when the rains fail or there is an earthquake in Silverwater?
No, her guards had not been happy with that answer. The beatings, the forced walking and the short commons had not been as bad as the public exposure, face and hands bare to the world. Having people who did not know her and whom she did not know being able to recognise her, comment on her appearance, be able to touch her skin. There were no longer bounds of palace and family and duty to protect her from the mirrors she thought would reflect what she thought of herself. It was agony, but not the agony her captors had expected.
Finally Uselet and the temple of Emperors. The great stone steps into the arching hall, the candles palmed by the statues of every Emperor since the first, even her late uncle who ruled for but a few days was there already. She made her prayers. They had to do nothing but watch her prostrated before the statue of the first Emperor. They could say what they liked, but she prayed for guidance. The little strip of advice she pulled from the jar after handing over her coin could have been anything, anyone could have had it. When she opened it, it said “The Empire is your family and your home, you need feel no shame before it.”