Leoshine reclined on the bench of the wood-slatted tub, reveling in the warm embrace of the water. Dreamily, she submerged her chin and drew it up until the surface tension broke and set her free.
She drew a deep breath. The water molded to her lithe form and allowed her ribs to expand to their fullest. Steam swirled in little eddies and moisture collected on the fine hairs of her upper lip and eyebrows.
Father had built the bath house just outside the women’s compound. He had disappeared late in her childhood, no one knew where. Mother was just finishing her widowhood rites when Father reappeared one day, reclaiming his position as Mayor of the only town under Aeok’n, the Myxolidian world.
He implemented all manner of new ideas like bath houses and … Leoshine glanced at the bench by the door where a brace lay on top of her clothes. She had worn a hard plate strapped to her chest since the day after he returned. She inhaled again, dreading leaving her warm womb.
While he was away, all her aunts’ daughters had been initiated into their men’s houses. Even Gorphiline, the servant who waited outside to bind her up again, had recently birthed a live child and moved into womanhood. Mother wailed almost every day at Father about the brace stopping their youngest daughter from growing normally. Leoshine glanced down at her chest. She didn’t think she’d have trouble feeding babies if she ever had to.
The walls of the bathhouse exhaled steam, enough to muffle the voice of Giffshine, her oldest sister.
Leoshine rolled her eyes to the dripping struts of the roof and sank up to her earlobes.
“Where is that vagrant?”
“She’s in that water tub again.” Wol, their brother answered.
“Bent on destruction.” Hillashine, the middle sister sneered.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Wol raised his voice. “I’ll go to the cellar for a bucket of worms …
Giffshine laughed, and Leoshine imagined her sister’s open mouth thrust up to the Dome and her hands on her hips.
Gophiline slipped into the moist bath chamber and placed her baby on the floor. Without a word she held a towel with her arms stretched out straight and jerked her head at the door.
The water cascaded down as Leoshine left the bath. As the water music lapped at the tub walls, and the ripples interlaced and grew quiet, Leoshine toweled herself and dressed her long golden-brown hair.
Gorphiline held the brace. “Turn around.”
“Why do I have to?” Leoshine asked for the first time in a long time. “You lost your teeth at the same time as me.” She turned her back to her servant and lifted her arms. Losing teeth was a mark of age, like hair length. Gorphiline used to be the same as her. Now she wore the woman’s more ornate robe, an infant on her hip, and one in her belly.
“Your father said so.” The servant wrapped the brace and pulled.
Leoshine groaned. The ties at the back drew the structure in until her breath caught. Since he returned, Father kept telling her she was special. He took her places no other girl or woman went.
“Not so tight!”
The servant grunted, threw a simple tunic at her, scooped up the baby, and left.
Leoshine wriggled into the dress that was plain, undecorated, and perfect for an uninitiated girl.