The dark haired young woman with the dark olive skin was the Emperor’s, Yannic’s, first cousin Mirren. She was also Rensa’s Chief Lady-in-Waiting replacing, Rensa assumed, the prison matron as Rensa’s female watch dog. Between them they occupied two of the bedrooms in the Tower Apartment, a suite of rooms at the top of the palace’s Lintel Tower that was traditionally used by Dowager Empresses and had been empty for several years since the death of Rensa’s great-great-grandmother. Outside the suite’s doors a guard rotation ensured...what? Rensa wasn’t quite sure. She had nowhere to run, no-one left who would try to rescue or come to her and she had submitted to the Emperor’s authority. What was the point?
Mirren was, in her way, as practical as the prison matron. “You need clothes,” she’d stated baldly after circling Rensa with a keen eye on their introduction, “We’d better find out from my cousin what our budget is.”
“I need underwear,” Rensa had corrected quietly, “And a change of clothes, maybe something to sleep in too. Shoes?”
“You’re going to be Empress,” corrected Mirren, “You’ll need lots more than that,” she took in Rensa’s appalled face, “Think of it as advertising budget for the Emperor.” A thought struck her, “Underwear...you mean to say you went through the betrothal just now in front of all those people and cameras with no underwear?” She laughed. “You are going fit in well with our family!”
“There were cameras?” Now Rensa really was appalled.
“The press was invited,” Mirren affirmed, “The whole thing was televised live. The same thing will happen with the wedding, of course. It’s not too early to get planning your outfit for the day.”
Which is why, the next day they were in the sitting room of the Tower Apartment and Rensa’s hair was being looked at by a hairdresser for the first time in her life and her face was being examined by a makeup artist. Mirren was flicking through clothes catalogues, approving and disapproving of things and sometimes ripping out a page.
“What were you thinking of doing with your hair for the wedding?” asked the hairdresser, holding multicoloured hanks of Rensa’s hair in her hands and twisting it this way and that while looking at her client in the mirror.
“I assumed I’d cut it off so my veil sits flat,” Rensa said looking back at her in the mirror.
“No!” The other three women spoke almost as one.
“And no veil,” added Mirren.
“It’s lovely hair, just as hair,” said the hairdresser, “And I was thinking we could do something formal and up with braiding or a suggestion of it. Each strand could be a separate colour. The day after the wedding every fashionable woman in the Empire would be trying to get their hair done like it.”
“Were you planning to use this powder on your face?” asked the makeup woman suspiciously.
“Yes,” Rensa could tell something was wrong from the other woman’s tone but she wasn’t sure what, “The bride always wears it at betrothals and weddings. It makes our skin the colour it’s supposed to be. It’s a great extravagance so we were only allowed to use it twice.”
“It’s the wrong texture for face powder,” the older woman commented, “And I’m sure it covers...everything, but I think you should go for something natural that makes everyone think of an exotic flower. Again, if we get it right every woman in the Empire will try to look like you,” she added reassuringly.
“Look,” chimed in Mirren, “Kiriel and he were very happy together, but Yannic didn’t pick her. She got him in her sights when she was seventeen and didn’t give up till she got him.” She grinned wickedly as she came up behind Rensa in the mirror, “For what ever reason, my cousin chose you. Our job at the wedding is to make parts of him other than his brain think that marrying you is a good idea.” Rensa gasped as Mirren suddenly dropped a hand down in front of her and cupped then squeezed her shrunken breast. It was over as soon as it was done. “We’re an earthy family, love,” Mirren went on, “And Yannic can be as bad as the rest of us, but Kiriel wasn’t expressive, she certainly saved her public passion for her politics and the revolution. We want him to want to do that and more at the wedding. He can do much better than yesterday’s kiss.”
“You’re as bad as your mother,” scolded the hairdresser, “Leave the poor girl alone.”
“No,” Mirren disagreed, “I’m going to do my best for both of them.”