As I continue to bounce in excitement as Monday gets closer and closer, I thought I'd share with you a scene from the first draft of The Emperor's Arrow that was deleted. This was pulled before the competition even ended, as I felt it didn't really fit. Let me know if you think otherwise, or agree!
Evony stood along the wall of a room that looked very much like the main hall, but with more elaborate columns, marble floors and a wide, arching ceiling that had carved and painted scenes of mythological battles. Though the room was wide and one whole side was open to the moonlit gardens, Evony still found the place overwhelming.
The scents that people wore were often overpowering as well as conflicting, making her want to sneeze. Add in the combined heat of all the bodies moving around and sweating as they danced and she couldn’t imagine how everyone else was managing it. And that was without the get-up she’d been forced into.
When the maid had arrived with the dress and the message that she was there to help her into the dress provided by the emperor, Evony had thought it a jest. While she’d been grateful for the girl’s help, and she knew she couldn’t have managed more than getting the overdress on top of the long chiton by herself, she still wasn’t too happy about it all.
The white chiton was overlaid with a golden yellow overdress embroidered in black and red and open at the sides. What was most constricting was the intricate leather and gold girdle she’d had to be helped into. And that was without the tight hairstyle the maid had convinced her she needed to have. Her head ached with the pressure and pulling of it, her curls never having been tamed like this before. And then there was the mask. Held in place by a gold ribbon, the black fabric covered her face from forehead to the upper part of her cheeks and nose. Everyone was in a mask, but that still didn’t make her feel any more comfortable with it on.
She’d heard someone say that this kind of party was popular in Gavino, that it was called a masquerade. Personally, Evony found the whole idea ridiculous. And a bit sinister. Who knew who was behind the masks? You could sneak a lot of warriors in with faces hidden like this and no one would know.
Evony sighed. She’d only managed to get two of her shorter daggers and two bands of throwing knives under the whole rig where she could get to them quickly. She wished she could have fit more, especially with the way some of the people kept looking at her. Several of the men had eyed her in a way that made her wonder if they wanted to challenge her. And while she was confident in her strength, she didn’t think she could move well enough in her current clothing to win.
As much as she’d have liked to spend the whole ball leaning against the wall, Evony knew what was expected of her. She was a representative of both her family and the Amazzi people. She pushed off from the wall, held herself straight, and plunged into the heart of the crowds.
She ignored the sweat that began to prickle along her back and the way her nose protested the too intense smells that assaulted her. Evony slid through the crowds until she came to one of the tables that ran along the far side of the room on the centre side of the columns. One table held glasses of wine, while the other three were covered with tiny foods, most of which were unrecognizable to Evony.
Grateful that she’d eaten before, she instead grabbed a glass of wine and took a careful sip, letting the flavours wash over her tongue. She looked down into the glass in surprise and smiled slightly. The drink almost made the party worth it. Almost.
Feeling bolstered by the wine, Evony shifted her way down to where the musicians were set up on a temporary wooden dais. The music was slower and fell into far more regular rhythms than the music she was used to. The dancing was the same, looking like it followed very strict rules, if the way that everyone was doing the same thing was any indication.
She sighed. So much for dancing tonight. She didn’t know any of the steps, and it was evident she’d need to learn. If she had to stay much longer than a day or two. Which she hoped wouldn’t be the case. She assumed the emperor would take one look at her and send her packing, especially if he liked young girls.
Evony may have been barely past the age of majority among her people, but she’d heard that on the mainland girls married much younger, so she expected she might be among the oldest of the bride candidates. She wondered how many there would be. She only really knew about the other three original families of the empire. She imagined that the Argentias, Regems, and Yarkonas had sent girls already.
Getting too hot, Evony drifted towards the open side of the room, relaxing slightly as the night breeze cooled some of the sweat that had beaded up on the back of her neck. She stayed for a few minutes, but knew that it was the equivalent of hiding. Squaring her shoulders, she dove back into the crowd to make another circuit of the room, this time in the opposite direction.
She had barely stopped to the side of the traffic in front of one of the food tables when she felt someone come up behind in a way that had her neck hairs rising. Her reflexes engaged and Evony stepped sideways. The man behind her stumbled forward several steps, just catching himself before he fell. He turned and stared at her with wide blue eyes, his mouth hanging open.
Evony grimaced inwardly. The man was obviously drunk. She strode forward and grabbed his arm, wrapping hers around it so he couldn’t escape. He was taller than her and while he didn’t have obvious musculature, she could feel the whipcord nature of his arm where she held it.
What surprised her most was the amount of heat he seemed to give off. She was very aware of the feeling of his body’s temperature against hers, making her own seem to spike in response. She did her best to ignore it even as blood flooded her face. She wondered if all men on the mainland ran this warm, or if it was just that the man was drunk. She couldn’t say she was all that familiar with men in general, only having been around her father and brother before now.
Focusing back on her job, Evony pulled the man along with her as she headed back the way she’d just come. She dodged around other people, glad that the drunk was being docile since she really didn’t want to cause a scene. Especially not when she was fresh come to the palace.
Finally, after what felt like three times the amount of time it’d taken her to get there before, Evony finally reached the open side of the room. She didn’t stop at the edge of the room as she had previously, but took one of the staircases that ran down from each side of the marble floor to the gardens.
Once she had them both safely down onto the grounds and away from the hard edge and crush of people that seemed to make up the hall, Evony released her captive’s arm and gave him a little shove in the small of his back so he took a few unsteady steps forward. He turned back to look at her, his lips moving though no sound came out.
Evony, hands on hips, shook her head. “You need to stay out here until you sober up. I’d better not catch you back inside until you can walk straight.”
She didn’t give him a chance to argue, in her experience drunks always thought they were far more sober than they actually were, instead spinning on her heel and heading back the way she’d come. Evony could practically feel the man’s gaze burning into her back as she climbed the stairs. She hoped he listened to her, for his sake. She could only imagine what kind of trouble he could get into being drunk at a court event. The stories she’d heard…
Evony glanced back only once, seeing the drunk right where she’d left him, still watching her. She shrugged before allowing herself to be swallowed back up by the crush of people.