A Hint of Things to Come

Anaria looked around, puzzled, “It’s not terribly messy, surely it can wait until the caretaker arrives.”

“We are the caretakers and it’s simple manners to make sure the next cold, tired little town girl through that door has enough wood for the fire and dry blankets to sleep on.”

She flushed and mumbled, “I don’t know how.”

Liam’s astonished face set up her defences.

“I’ve never had to, I’ve always had people to take care of things like that so I can focus on my studies.”

Liam snorted, “Always a mistake to have oversight of people with no idea of what they do or the effort it takes. I’m afraid you have a deal of learning of a different sort ahead of you.”

“What? No! I don’t want to cook and clean and get dirty and sweaty. My hands will get hard.”

“Nothing wrong with hands that know how to work Ana. And if you don’t do it, no one will. You’ll be cold, dirty and hungry.”

Anaria stared. He wasn’t angry, he was simply stating facts. She wondered how she was going to survive and clenched her jaw to keep it from wobbling, she refused to spend a second day crying.

“Do I have to start now?”, it came out as a whine and she cringed at her own behaviour.

“Yes. Best to begin as we mean to go on. If you’ve finished your breakfast, you can empty the scraps into the composting tub, then fold and stack the blankets.

“She blinked several times, hard. Liam had clearly given her what he saw as easy tasks but he may as well have been speaking Elvish.

“The composting tub?”

“Take the plates outside, on the end of the hut nearest the woods is a bit of a garden. In there is an old wooden barrel half planted in the ground. Scrape the plates into the tub then bring them back in here for me to clean. Be sure to put the lid back on the tub or the animals will get in.”

That all sounded reasonable. She looked at the plates, then tipped the fruit peel and bread crusts from her plate onto his, slipped her shoes on and headed outside with the one dish.

The lid of the composting tub proved stiff and heavy but she eventual managed to shove it enough to shake the plate’s contents inside, holding her breath against the strange smell and steam rising from within. Wrestling the lid back into place took some time but she smiled in victory when it settled with a solid thunk, even though she had broken two nails in the process.

She scampered back indoors, glad to be out of the breeze, which was developing a distinct edge. Liam looked over from where he was stacking freshly chopped wood.

“Good. Now the blankets. They need to be folded and put on the shelf above the pallet so they don’t absorb any damp from the floor.”

Anaria felt a little more confident about this job. She’d seen the maid fold her blankets before, she had some idea of the fold and shake technique.

She quickly discovered that her maid was quite strong and clearly had a certain knack. Anaria ended up laying each blanket out on the pallet, crawling over them to pull corner to corner and smooth the fold, eventually bundling the quartered blankets into smaller, fairly even piles on the shelf, although they had taken on some strange shapes in the process.

Liam chuckled warmly behind her, “Town girl, you’re a proper problem solver. I thought you’d call me in to help but you’ve managed very nicely.”

She winced at his kindness, feeling like a small child learning something late, again, her hackles went up but before she could snap out something biting, he enveloped her in a warm hug.

Her chin started to wobble again, “Don’t be nice to me, I don’t want to cry again.”

He tipped her face up to study it, “You’d rather I smirk and stab like that character last night?”

“No, because then I’d hit you over the head with that pan thing over there and then we’d both be stuck.”

He laughed again and said, “It’s a frying pan and would definitely do damage.”

Releasing her, he scooped up a bucket and dropped the plates into it, heading out of the door with a, “Meet me at the cart when you’re ready,” thrown over his shoulder.

There wasn’t much to be done given the lack of facilities. She freshened up as best she could in the washing room adjoining the outhouse, then retrieved her cloak, and the additional waterproof one. She appeared, bag and book in hand just as Liam was backing the horse into the traces.

He buckled the horse’s harness into place and came around to help her up. Once she and her possessions were safely stowed, he did a quick, final check of the hut and other buildings, closed and latched the door, and joined her on the seat of the cart.

He shook the reins and they were once more underway.

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