I stumbled on this web serial and got hooked. The writing and storytelling are spot-on. For me, it’s an instant favorite.
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Tea Princess Chronicles
I walk alone through a hallway of strangers.
Ceremonially approaching the Grand Shrine is surreal in a way I didn’t expect. No one is permitted to guide me, but hundreds of people line the halls to watch my progress.
I must not walk too quickly. That would indicate that I don’t value their presence and dismiss them. But if I walk too slowly, then I show disrespect for their time and take advantage of the honor they do me in attending.
As the fourth of five daughters, I’m not used to being the main focus of so much attention, but my steps don’t falter. I know what outward appearance is expected of me.
But somehow it never occurred to me to practice this walk across the hard, cold stone barefoot. I wonder if anyone’s feet have ever frozen in the dedication process.
On one hand, this makes me want to rush my approach. Once I’ve completed the rituals I’ll have to meditate alone, and I can tuck my feet under me to warm them up.
On the other, the walk is unpleasant but not impossible. Not so the decision I’ll need to make at the end of the ritual meditation.
My older sisters’ paths were clear. There were obvious services the people needed from them, and each is shockingly well-matched to her chosen task. I’m expected to follow in their tradition—a low enough expectation, to only need to continue behind them, to make no waves and fade quietly into the background. And yet the weight of the prospect makes me feel smaller, heavier every time I contemplate it. I seem to be the only one who realizes how thoroughly I don’t fit, the only one who worries trapping myself in ill-suited service will twist my spirit, who thinks that will matter not just for me, but for the people I’m ostensibly to serve.
I wonder if I’m the only royal of Istalam who’s ever gone into the Grand Shrine to dedicate their life to service with so many doubts. It ought to be unlikely, but no royal since our house’s founder has walked out of the dedication ceremony without a clear path of service ahead of them.
After what feels like a lifetime, I reach the end of the hall. Here, at last, are people I know.
I do not feel any less alone.