We go to the bath houses after the healers leave us. She always likes to go to the bath houses first, to get the smell of their herbs off her skin. She’s never liked healers. Their prodding fingers, their clucking tongues. Their remedies that have never really taken away any of her pain. I’ve spent my life listening to their chatter, listening to them coax her to take just one more sip of whatever concoction they’ve prepared. I don’t like them much either. Not anymore.
The servants help me get her down to the baths. I can carry her now, if I want to. She’s so light, like a bird. But I don’t like to carry her. I’m afraid, with my deformed foot and my awkward gait, that I’ll drop her. And one more injury, one more pain in her body, and I may not have her anymore.
I can’t lose her. She’s my last defense, the only one left who loves me enough to keep me in the palace with her. I need her.
Candles float in the water of the baths, their lights flickering on the surface. Lilies as big as my hand grow in the corners, and the tiles are newly cleaned and smell of lavender oil. I help Mother off with her robe and get her into the water. The servant brings me rose oil, and I massage her shoulders for her, feeling every bone beneath her papery skin.
She’s been sick for so long. My father can hardly bear to look at her anymore, although I think he loves her more than the light of the moon and sun together. He avoids her now, and his deformed daughter. When she dies, I think he’ll give me to one of his nobles as a gift. A twisted little girl, whose only worth to him was in her mother’s faded beauty.