“Tanúshri! Tanúshri, wake up! I’m going to do it.”
Tanúshri sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes. “Chanda? What are you talking about? Is it time to get up already? I’m so tired!” She yawned and fell back on her pillow with a groan.
“No, it’s only the 18th Chime. But listen! I’m going to do it this time, I really am!”
Tanúshri stared at her roommate in disbelief. Chanda, dressed in her nightclothes, was sitting on the edge of her bed with a look of determination on her face. “The 18th Chime? Chanda, we just went to bed an hour ago!” Propping herself up on her elbows, she grabbed her pillow and threw it across the room. Chanda ducked, and it hit the wall on the far side of Chanda’s bed. “You know we have to be in the kitchens by the 24th Chime.” She collapsed back onto her bed and stared up at the low ceiling. “Are there any parties tomorrow? I hope not. That idiot Manyu spilled soup all over my best uniform at the last one and I still haven’t gotten the stain out. Suma will have my guts for garters if I can’t get it clean.” She yawned once again. “Maybe I’ll tell Suma I need a new one, but she’ll go on and on about how I’m letting down the House, and I should be more careful. I work in the kitchens, for Muhjíbh’s sake! Of course my clothes are going to get dirty!” Her eyes started to close.
The little squirrel yelped and sat up again. “Alright, alright, I’m awake!” She replayed Chanda’s words in her head. “What are you going to do?”
Her roommate, a brown hare with long lovely ears, leaned forward excitedly with her elbows on her knees. “I’m going to talk to that honor guard from House Ayrram! You know, Ganjan the hyena? He’s soooo handsome!” She sighed with a dreamy air, and grabbed her ears with both hands and pulled them down next to her face. It made her look as though she was wearing a furry scarf on her head.
Tanúshri had always envied those ears. Her own were so small and pointy. If she had ears like that she was sure she’d look much more elegant. But when Chanda pulled them down it always reminded Tanúshri of one of the old grandmothers she saw on Market Days, their shawls tied around their heads to protect them from drafts. She giggled. “Chanda, you can’t be serious! He’s an honor guard, you don’t have a chance!”
Chanda stuck her tongue out at her friend and let go of her ears, which bobbed back up to their usual position. “He might, you never know! Isvar Jyótindra married a scullery maid.” She folded her arms crossly.
Tanúshri rolled her eyes. “That’s just a story, Chanda. And besides, don’t you remember? The scullery maid turned out to be Lady Devakáli who was being punished by her wicked stepmother. So she was Sunborn all along.”
Chanda sniffed. “It doesn’t matter. The point is, he fell in love with her when he thought she was a scullery maid.”
“But it’s still just a story!” Tanúshi stopped abruptly, seeing the angry look on her friend’s face. “Never mind. Are you really going to talk to him?”
Chanda softened at once, too excited to stay mad. “Yes! He goes down every morning to practice in the House’s Arena. I figure I’ll take a tray out to the guards, just casually, you know, and offer him something between bouts.” She mimed holding out a tray. “Would you like something to drink, sir?” She smiled sweetly and batted her eyes. Then she looked at Tanúshri with sudden alarm. “What should I wear?”
“What should you wear? Well, the House uniform would be a start!” Tanúshri’s tail twitched with irritation. “Really, Chanda, you know Suma will have your hide if you wear anything of your own.”
Chanda threw herself back on her bed, her arms spread wide. “I know, I know!” With a huge sigh, she turned over on her stomach and propped her chin in her hands. “But there’s got to be something…” She looked at Tanúshri with a speculative gleam in her eyes. “Tanúshri…”
“Oh no.” Tanúshri shook her head, laughing. “I know that look. What do you want to borrow now?”
“You know those earrings your aunt sent you for your birthday? The ones made with little crystals?”
“The blue ones?” Tanúshri began opening drawers in the little table next to her bed.
Chanda nodded vigorously. “Yes! They’re kind of like really tiny wind chimes, right? So if I twitch my ears like this—” here she twitched her ears to demonstrate. “—they’ll make a noise and he’ll be sure to notice me!”
Tanúshri drew out a small wooden box and opened it. She found the earrings, held them up, and gently shook them. They made a little tinkling sound. “I’m sure he will,” Tanúshri said, “Especially since you’ll be shoving a tray in his face at the same time.” She held them out to her friend.
“I won’t be ‘shoving’ anything!” Chanda replied indignantly, carefully plucking the earrings from her hand. “I’ll be offering him something to drink, that’s all. I’m sure he gets thirsty after all that fighting. He sweats a lot anyway.” The dreamy look came back.
“Chanda!” Tanúshri said, not sure whether to be shocked or amused. “Have you been spying on him?”
“No!” Chanda protested. And then, seeing Tanúshri’s skeptical expression, “Well, maybe a little,” she confessed. “I only went down there twice.” Her voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. “Did you know that Iditri is sweet on one of the gardeners? I think his name’s Dakshata. They were kissing down by the fountains. I saw them when I went down to the Arena yesterday morning.”
“Iditri? Really? But I thought her parents had arranged a marriage for her already?”
“Maybe she doesn’t like him. Maybe he’s a really old beaver with bad teeth.” Chanda put her hands up to her mouth and screwed her up her face. “Hewwo, Iditwi, give uth a kith!” The two girls dissolved in shrieks of laughter.
From the wall next to Chanda there came a loud knocking. “Keep it down, will you? Some of us are trying to sleep!” a muffled voice shouted.
Tanúshri covered her mouth with her hands and tried to stifle her giggles. Chanda hiccuped and managed to get out a “Sorry, Farida!” before having to press her face into her pillow to smother her own laughter.
“We should go to bed,” Tanúshri whispered, after they had both recovered. “You need your beauty sleep for tomorrow.”
Chanda stuck her tongue out once more, but nodded in agreement. “You’ll help me get ready, won’t you? It always takes me so long.” She gazed at Tanúshri wistfully. “I wish I had ears like yours.”
Tanúshri blinked in surprise. “What? Your ears are beautiful!”
“Yes, but they’re so much trouble to clean. I hate it when Suma does the baking. You wouldn’t believe how much flour they collect.” Chanda threw Tanúshri’s pillow back to her, and then snuggled down under her blue and silver quilt. “Just think, Tanúshri, by this time next year I could be married and living in House Ayrram! You’ll visit me, won’t you?”
“Of course I will,” Tanúshri agreed. “But don’t count your güle before they’re hatched. There’s no telling what the morning might bring.” She fluffed her pillow and yawned. “Goodnight Chanda.”
“‘Night,” said the hare. All was quiet in the little room once more.