The queen wanted to wear all of her hair today.
Jada took the precious sandalwood boxes one by one from the large chest and laid them out on the queen’s bed. When the chest was empty she unlatched the first box and carried it, head bowed, into the queen’s dressing chamber. There in the box lay a silky coil of deep reddish hair, a strange color, unlike any that Jada had seen, except in the queen’s collection.
In the queen’s dressing chamber, the queen waited in her chair, her face unreadable, her own long, black hair looking strange and thin falling down her back. It was only in the early morning, as the queen readied for the day, that Jada saw her like this. The queen’s two chief maidservants stood by, readying their tools. One of them took the box from Jada with a bow. The maidservant set it open on the table and reverently lifted the length of hair from the box. The two of them began weaving it in with the queen’s own hair.
Jada took the empty box back, studying it carefully. No, not this time. It was perfectly empty. She brought another box, this one golden brown, and then another one white-blond. Box after box was empty as she carried them back. The maidservants were careful today. Jada wondered if they knew.
She had to be quick, because with each length of hair the queen’s power would be growing. With each length of hair, Jada’s chances of being caught increased. At last she could wait no longer, and when she opened a box of slick black hair, she very carefully removed a single strand.
The hair did not want to come without disturbing all the others around it. Jada clenched her teeth and tried to brush the others back in place with her fingers. At last the long, nearly invisible strand was free, and Jada quickly tucked it into the sash at her belt. Trying to keep her face still, trying to silence the pounding of her heart, she took the box into the next room.
Jada desperately tried to think about something else, something other than the fact that she had just stolen one of the queen’s hairs. She tried not to think of being hung over the edge of the eastern wall of the castle until the sun burned her dry. When she handed the box to the maidservant, the woman took it without a pause. The queen did not open her eyes, or even move when Jada passed.
Jada rubbed her own bald head self-consciously as she went to get another box. The maidservants didn’t have enough hair to read minds, only single locks were left on their heads, locks divided and woven with beads to make it look as if they wore mesh caps of hair, just enough that they could use a little magic to do their work.
Hours later, the queen was transformed. Her hair stood out from her head, the way light shone from the sun. All the warm colors of earth surrounded her face. Jada made the mistake of meeting the queen’s eyes.
The queen stared back, and for a moment Jada was sure the queen knew. But then the queen rose from her chair and passed by as Jada bowed her head, more in relief than in reverence.
Jada found the quarters where she slept to be empty. She ran to the curtain where a few loose stitches in the hem had made a safe pocket for her to hide her growing stash of hair.
Her fingers slipped inside, but felt nothing except the rough, plain cloth of the curtain. She dug and searched, her panic rising. All the hair she had been collecting was gone!