One couldn’t help but notice the academy students when they ventured from their studies. They were lovely girls, every one of them. Sensuously dark or radiantly fair, gracefully slender or tantalizingly plump, soft smiles or haughty stares, each were someone’s epitome of beauty.
While the common women of the city bound their hair back under practical scarves or simply cut it short to keep it from the milk, laundry, or cooking pot the girls of the academy wore their hair long and woven with cornflower academy blue. With shining braids or glossy curls they knew what set themselves apart.
Jasnie had been eight with oily brown fringe falling over her eyes when she entered into the academy. She remembered hiding behind the dirty hair as the instructors promised the world to her parents. And before her mother had left, she’d brushed Jasnie’s bangs aside and kissed her forehead. It was the last time she’d seen her mother.
Ten years had passed since she’d arrived at the academy. Jasnie’s waterfall of brunette waves reached well past her waist now. She and her fellow students spent their afternoons basking in the city’s attention and declining its nighttime delights, all of which were extended to them with earnest invitations. Their evenings were always taken by their studies. Night after night they learned how to turn a smile to a kiss and a kiss into so much more.
No one was surprised when Jasnie was picked first in her year. She attracted the most suitors in the city and had similarly charmed the instructors. Everyone knew Jasnie would graduate and travel to the high courts. There everyone would fall in love with her.
There was just one thing first. The younger students whispered about a trial, the older ones called it a scarring. Beauty came easily to the academy students. The depended upon their silks, ribbons and paints. A true graduate needed none of these things. No girl left the academy without its goodbye kiss.
Jasnie didn’t cry when they brought out the shears. Her jaw was firm when the first pieces of her hair fell to the floor, suddenly lifeless and ugly. She shed only a few tears as they dusted off her shoulders and ran their fingers through the short curls around her ears.
Unmantled she was ready for court. The noblewomen would hold themselves above her with their own cultivated locks. The men would be crueler. They, being the men, were sure she was there to please them. How could she shorn of her femininity? Jasnie would have nothing to hide behind or wear cornflower blue ribbons in.
Jasnie left the city that night in simple clothes. Beauty didn’t require ribbons, paints or long waterfalls of hair. She would show them that. She forced her head high as the night wind chilled her uncovered shoulders.