It was good to be back, of that Madame Elianza had no doubts, the woman settling against the soft cushions of her private cruiser with a pleased smile on her face. Allura entered the vehicle much more cautiously, looking around at the opulent space before sitting down opposite of Elianza. Allura was visibly nervous, the girl fidgeting in place, letting her fingers pluck and pull at non existent fibers on the fabric of her dress.
Her other hand clutched at the arm of her stuffed toy, the ragged looking robeast seeming out of place next to the expensive clothing Allura wore. Elianza had tried subtly suggesting Allura pack away the toy with her other belongings, but the girl has been insistent, taking the robeast with her wherever she went. No amount of coaxing could dissuade her from bringing the toy along, Allura clinging to the familiar in unfamiliar surroundings.
In the end it mattered not, though Elianza knew she had to start working with the girl to rid her of this security blanket. She was how old now, ten, and still desperate for the comfort it offered her. Nothing Madame Elianza had tried, had yet to convince the girl of her complete safety, Allura seeming to exist in this fearful state that something bad would happen.
Most disturbing of all, it was Elianza who Allura feared for, the girl sure the woman would somehow vanish from her life. It had taken days to gain the girl’s confidence, but they had had the time, the ship making it’s way back to Ranxhi in a leisurely fashion. Allura had been quiet and withdrawn at first, not wanting to form an attachment to Elianza. The Madame would not allow that, spending as much time with the girl as possible, talking and even playing with her, all in a move calculated to foster their
It had worked, Allura slowly opening up to Elianza, making shy confessions that left the Madame disturbed. It seemed the girl had gone from one living situation to the next, place upon place until she had ended up at the orphanage on Zabatos. Even more troubling was she had lost a string of people in the process, from the death of the mysterious Adaline, the only mother Allura had ever known, to the most recent of separations, Brandon being dragged off to work as a slave for the Drule.
Madame Elianza had smiled gently at her, trying to reassure Allura that she wouldn’t be dying, and she wouldn’t become a slave for anyone, let alone the Drule. It was a reassurance she’d have to make again and again, the girl troubled both night and day, sometimes waking up with a scream. The screaming fits left Elianza unsettled, the woman hurrying to Allura’s room, pulling the child into her embrace and rocking her back and forth.
Against all odds, such actions bound them tighter together, Allura settling comfortablely into her arms with only the minimal amount of fuss. She learned then that the girl had spent weeks without a real comforting touch, the needs of the orphanage outweighing the distress of one girl. If Elianza hadn’t been certain she was doing the right thing for Allura, she was now, knowing that at her home Allura would never be alone, never left to deal with tearful fears on her own.
She began to learn things about Allura, the girl showing her who she was through words and actions. The child, though quiet at times, had a quick mind, able to figure out the solutions to the problems Elianza presented before her. She was adept at the Drule language, speaking it near flawlessly, leaving Elianza to marvel and wonder where the child had picked up such skill.
With Allura so bright minded, Elianza knew it would be a pleasure to educate her, the teachers she employed at her home were jumping for the chance to have a child that showed as much promise as Allura did. She would let them see to nurturing Allura’s mind, teaching her the tools needed to excel in life beyond the bedroom. Allura would need these skills, to manage her own money and estate when she got older, but also to be able to hold the sharp-witted nobles attention when it came to conversation.
The nobles were picky, wanting beauty as well as brains, not wanting to have a companion that would embarrass them in public. Elianza would see to the more intimate aspects of Allura’s education, she trusted no one else when it came time to instructing the boys and girls under her care. They needed someone who was an old hand at the business of pleasure, one who knew the ins and outs of dealing with the nobles firsthand, and their many desires.
Allura was still too young for most of Madame Elianza’s lessons, but she began doing subtle work with the girl anyway. She began teaching the girl the proper way to talk, knowing that to the nobles a bed mate whose tones were less than dulcet, would not fare well. She helped Allura to work on the tone and pitch of her voice, encouraging her to speak in a soft, demure manner that would not grate on the ears.
Also, she began to correct Allura on her Drule, teaching her the more polite ways to say something. Whoever had taught Allura before Elianza had treated her like a princess, allowing her the freedom to address those around her as if they were her equals. That kind of behavior wouldn’t be allowed, it could get one killed among the court of the demon king.
There was much more to teach her, but they had only a limited amount of time, Elianza planting the seeds for Allura’s future development. During the trip to planet Ranxhi, Elianza had stopped at another world, one free of the Drule, and they’re devastating ways. She had take Allura shopping, the girl’s eyes full of awe as outfit after outfit was tossed her way. Elianza spared no expense, outfitting the child with a full wardrobe that would last her the rest of the season.
Allura wore one of new dresses now, a sapphire colored dress that brought out the blue of Allura’s eyes to a shining gleam. It had lighter blue accents painted over it’s darker material, with a powder blue sash and matching slippers on the girl’s feet. A ribbon tied back most of Allura’s hair, allowing only a few curls to escape and caress her cheeks.
“Your face is your gift.” Elianza spoke out loud, drawing the girl’s attention from the cruiser’s window. “You must never hide it behind your hair, and always allow your best side to be seen.”
“Yes, Madame.” Allura replied, though Elianza could see the girl did not understand. Still she smile approvingly at her, studying the girl who shifted and turned her attention back out the window. Buildings were passing by, the cruiser’s speed not much better than if they had chosen to walk. But Elianza had insisted on taking a slow
tour of the city, wanting to show Allura the wonders of her new home.
The city itself was a bustling splendor, full of shops and businesses, and separated into zones. They drove now through the entertainment zone, where many plays and operas were being advertised on the wide building’s sides. There was more, a carnival, and an amusement park just some of the things the zone had to offer. Allura looked at them all, eyes huge with wonder, sometimes gasping with excitement.
It left Elianza amused, to think such simple things pleased the girl so completely. “After you’re settled in, perhaps we’ll come to one of the shows.” Elianza spoke out loud. “Would you like that Allura?”
“Oh yes!” The girl breathed out her agreement, attention still plastered against the window. “Can we go to the carnival?”
“We may indeed.” Elianza told her, already making plans in her head on who of her charges to include on such a trip. The younger ones most definitely, they were still at an impressionable age that would find enjoyment in the offerings the carnival put on display.
“Thank you, oh thank you!” An excited Allura squealed, causing Elianza to hold in a laugh, amused at how easy it was to please the girl.
“Come….sit by me…” Elianza said, patting the cushion next to her. Allura obediently moved to sit next to her, Elianza running a fussing hand through the golden curls that made up Allura’s waist length hair. She had already decided that no matter what, she’d never allow the girl to cut off her hair. It was too much a part of her, a shining glory that would attract men to her.
Allura tolerated the fingers in her hair, as did she allow Elianza to fuss over her dress, smoothing out wrinkles and fluffing out her skirts. Elianza wanted the girl to make a good impression on the rest of the people who lived in her house, the woman knowing that there was a lot of curiosity surrounding Allura’s adoption. She wanted them all
to see what she did, to notice the exquisite face set in a circle of blond curls, and not the nervous, shy child.
“We’ll be at the house soon.” Elianza confided, adjusting the bow in Allura’s hair. “They’re all waiting to meet you.”
“To meet me?” Allura squeaked out in alarm, Elianza nodding.
“Yes. They’ve heard so much about you.” She had had to tell them something in order to soothe bruised egos about the way she had left without saying any good-byes, Elianza sneaking out of her own house like a thief in the night.
“Will they like me?” Allura asked, tone betraying her anxious state.
“I’m sure they’ll love you.” Elianza assured her, letting her manicured nails pet through Allura’s hair once more. “They’ll be your family now, you’ll have lots of brothers and sisters.”
“That goes without saying.” Elianza told her. She thought of the easy going Liandra, a girl not much older than Allura, with her soft hazelnut color hair and matching eyes. She intended to room Allura with the older girl, knowing Liandra would show her the ropes of life in the Madame’s house. With Liandra’s type of personality, she had no doubts the two girls would become fast friends, and the others would hopefully follow the girls’ example.
“Will I like it there?” Allura suddenly asked her, Elianza glancing at her.
“Oh yes child, I believe you will. It will be nothing like the hospital, no one will play cruel tricks on you, or set out to be mean.” It was a bold claim on Elianza’s part, but she was anything but slack when it came to making sure her charges felt at ease at all times. The penalty for teasing and cruelty was high, Elianza would not tolerate bad manners to either her, or to the children in her care.
Allura stared at her, seeming not to be able to believe in the idea of a world where no one was mean. Elianza knew the girl would just have to experience it for herself, and then maybe the haunted shadows would leave her eyes.
The cruiser had entered the residential zone of the city, buildings speeding by until they came to a stop before a gated mansion. Elianza heard Allura gasp, the girl’s attention back to the window and the view it shower her. Elianza tried to imagine the house and it’s surroundings through Allura’s eyes, wondering if the sprawling mansion was frightening in it’s largeness.
The building, a small city in it’s own right, was made of white marble, the stones recently brought in to replace it’s weather worn brethren. Gold glinted everywhere, accents on the doors and window frames, and even the roof’s shingles were painted that gleaming gold color. Pretty patterned curtains billowed in the breeze, each one chosen in soft colors that would not clash with the mansions’ outside colors.
The gold gate opened, admitting the cruiser into a lush garden of green, a sea of colorful flowers extending on either side of the driveway. There was a gray marble fountain in the center before the house, small patch of grass circling around it’s botom, as the top let’s it lavender tinted waters cascaded down it’s sides. The fountain hid the main doors from view, but descending down from either side of the house was ivory steps.
The stairs led to the second floor, the private quarters of Elianza and her charges, held separate from the main floor where the servants worked, and Elianza greeted potential customers. She kept the second floor sacred, not allowing any, not even the most insistent of nobles to see the rooms where the children lived. She considered that the children’s domain, and held their privacy with the proper amount of respect.
The cruiser door opened, her driver extending a hand, helping Allura out of her seat. Elianza followed the girl, breathing in deeply of the fresh, crisp air that blew in on the breeze of this spring day. “It looks like a castle..” Whispered Allura, the girl shifting closer to Elianza, her eyes showing her intimidated fright.
“Well…” Elianza began, allowing her hand to grasp hold of Allura’s. “They do say one’s home is their castle.”
“Who says that?” Allura wanted to know, Elianza feeling the reluctance in her body as she began leading the girl towards one of the mansion’s staircases.
“Oh, I forget who.” She said loftily, giving an elegant shrug of her shoulders. “I think the saying originated on Earth, and has been passed around from planet to planet.”
“Earth?” Her echo held a question to it, the pair starting up the stairs.
“One of the original planets.” Elianza explained. “It’s where humans were first born, before making the journey to other worlds, and populating them with their people.” She kept a firm grip on Allura’s hand, noting the fine tremor that shook the girl’s fingers. Allura was growing more nervous, and Elianza didn’t know what else she could do to reassure the girl that her fears were nothing more than a trick her mind played on her.
Below them, the doors opened, servants hurrying out to fetch their belongings from the cruiser. Allura turned to look down at them, but a tug from the Madame’s hand had her moving once more. “Fear not Allura…” Elianza told her, casting a smile at the girl. “There’s only a dozen people in my care, yourself included. Not that big a crowd to meet, eh?”
“Twelve?!” Allura still looked nervous, actually coming to a halt to stare wide eyed at her. “That’s a big family to have..”
“It just means there’s more to love.” Elianza said cheerfully, then urged Allura onwards. “Step lively now.”
Even with Allura’s hesitation, they reached the door in less than a minute, Elianza pulling it open. Light flooded the corridor, the girl blinking rapidly to shield her eyes from it. Together they walked inside, Allura twisting about this way and that, looking at the lavish surroundings. Even here among the living quarters, Elianza’s expensive tastes ran, leaving opulent settings that seemed more at home in the pages of some magazine than a place where children had free reign to roam.
There was a quiet murmur of noise at the opposite end of the hall, Allura tightening her grip on the Madame’s hand as she realized that was where Elianza was guiding her to. A whimper of sound escaped the girl, Allura looking up at Elianza.
“Do we have to meet them now?”
“No time is better than the present.” Elianza told her. “It won’t be so bad Allura. You’ll see.” An uncertain look was her answer, Elianza pausing to rap her knuckles against the dark cherry wood of the door. The sounds of talking quieted down, an expectant hush falling over the people who waited on the other side of the door. “Smile now Allura.” Elianza urged, before throwing open the door.
They stood framed in the doorway, Allura shifting into Elianza’s side, the girl staring at the people before her. They all wore warm smiles, flashing the child friendly looks as they bid a quiet hello. Elianza let Allura stay rooted in the doorway, watching her charge’s reaction to the people in the room. She wasn’t smiling, but neither was Allura crying, the girl staring with huge eyes.
Elianza could only imagine what the girl thought, seeing the many beautiful and handsome youths that were standing beneath a banner that bid welcome to Allura in Drule. They were of all ages, with Allura being the youngest, and the raven haired Elonzo being the oldest at seventeen years of age. There was only one other child besides Liandra that would be close enough in age to study with Allura, and that was a boy with red rust colored hair and citrine colored eyes.
Both Liandra and the boy, Corrum, were staring at Allura, a kind of eagerness in their eyes. Elianza could tell they were barely holding back their urge to run towards the girl, the pair wanting to introduce themselves. In fact they, along with the other nine teenagers picked up on the girl’s anxiety, holding back from scaring her with their applause.
A servant appeared in the side of the room, carrying a large covered tray. Elianza directed Allura’s attention to it, the woman whispering down to the girl. “It’s a golden vanilla sponge cake.” It wasn’t as fancy a cake as Elianza would have preferred, but she had taken pains to order the cooks prepare Allura’s favorite type in order to make the girl feel more welcome in her new home.
To her surprise, instead of interest or even an excited smile, the girl let out a whimper. She gave a jerk of her hand, Allura pulling free as she bolted from the doorway. Elianza caught tears in her eyes, the woman turning startled to follow her. She could hear her charges talking, wondering what they had done wrong to upset the girl. She had no time to make excuses, Elianza walking as fast as her heels would allow her, giving chase to Allura.
She found her in one of the corner rooms by the door, the girl huddled on the floor, trying not to cry. She was failing miserably, tears making their silent way down her cheeks. “Oh Allura…” Elianza sighed, approaching the girl. “Whatever is the matter?” Allura didn’t look up at her voice, merely hugging her arms harder around her knees. “Is the cake not to your liking?”
That got a reaction from Allura, the girl shaking her head no rapidly. “Then what?” Elianza asked, kneeling down besides Allura. The girl just shrugged, unable or unwilling to give an explanation for her upset. “Was it too much for you?” Elianza wondered out loud. “Seeing all those people at one time?”
Allura hesitated, then gave the slightest of nods, Elianza reaching to pet her hair. “Oh child….they mean you no harm. They’re just excited to meet you…”
“We are!” A new voice said, Elianza recognizing it as Liandra’s. A glance towards the room’s doorway showed the girl standing there, an earnest expression on her face. Behind came Corrum, the boy looking uncertain, surely having been dragged along by the older girl. “Right Corrum?” The girl nudged the boy, and he stuttered out a one word reply.
“Oh don’t say it like that Corrum. Or else Allura won’t think you are sincere in your desire to meet with her!” admonished Liandra.
“Forgive me!” Corrum said, his hand being snatched at by Liandra. The girl dragged the boy over to Elianza and Allura, thrusting her hand forward in a way of introduction.
“My name is Liandra!” She announced. “I’m almost twelve years old!” Allura peeked up at her, Liandra smiling down at her. That smile turned to a look of annoyance at Corrum’s words.
“Liandra, you know you’re not a day over eleven!!”
“Hush now Corrum, you’re just jealous that I am older than you!” Liandra retorted.
“Only by a few months…” The boy pouted.
“Enough time to make all the difference in the world.” Pointed out Liandra with a smirk.
“How old are you Allura?” Corrum asked, choosing to ignore the other girl. Elianza knew he was holding out hope that Allura would be old enough to put Liandra in her place.
“Ten……….nearly eleven…” Allura whispered, and Corrum pouted.
“About the same age as me then.” He said, and sat down besides her. “I just had my eleventh birthday last week.”
“When’s your birthday Allura?” Liandra asked, kneeling down before Allura.
The girl hesitated, then answered. “It’s not till the summer season.”
“Then we’ll have plenty of time to make arrangements for a birthday party!” Liandra exclaimed, and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially. “The Madame is good at spoiling us with presents on our special day. You’ll get lots of sweets and toys.”
“Toys?” Allura asked with some interest, and Liandra nodded.
“You like to play Allura, don’t you?” This time Allura nodded, Liandra’s smile widening. “Good. Because I have lots of dolls, and Corrum here doesn’t like to do anything but take off their clothes.”
“I do not! That’s you!!” gasped the boy in outrage. He turned earnest eyes to Allura, speaking urgently. “Don’t believe a word out of this brat’s mouth when it comes to what I do and do not do with her dolls!”
“Oh she’ll find out soon enough the truth, so you might as well not try to hide it.” The older girl replied. Another staged whisper, the girl grinning. “He likes to make them kiss when they’re naked!”
“Liandra!” Corrum looked mortified at what the girl had just said, and even more so when Allura let a quiet giggle escape her.
“There now.” Liandra said with satisfaction. “That’s better than crying, isn’t it?” Allura slowly nodded. “You’ll like it here Allura. I’m sure you will! You need never worry about that. We’ll be your family, and your friends, so please….come back to the party….”
“The…the others won’t be mad at me for leaving the way I did?” Allura asked, tone uncertain. She didn’t look to Elianza for confirmation, but to the other girl, Allura studying her face for any sign of hesitation.
“Of course they won’t.” The assurance came easily to Liandra, the girl holding out her hand to Allura. She accepted it, being pulled to her feet, Corrum picking up the stuffed robeast off the floor.
“Here now, don’t forget him.” The boy said, handing the toy to Allura. She accepted it with a grateful smile, Liandra already dragging her towards the room’s exit. The older girl kept up a steady stream of chatter, barely allowing Allura or Corrum the chance to interject with a few words of their own. Elianza smiled after them, slower to get up off the floor. She wondered if Liandra realized what a favor she had just done for her, the girl already fast at work at making Allura’s transition into their home far easier than Elianza had imagined possible.