Apprentice Audition

Sarah was the only one there, and she looked over in sympathy, “If it helps at all, I think you’ve made the right decision. Best to keep going and make improvements now you’ve started, get a bit of momentum as it were. Maybe let him take you out for a day in a week or so though.”

Anaria closed her eyes. Of course Sarah had overheard. It was a small place and she hadn’t been quiet. Half the village had probably heard.

She set back her shoulders and gave a firm smile, “Thank you Sarah, if he’s talking to me tonight, I’ll suggest it.”

“Good, now eat. You barely touched dinner and I don’t want you fainting from hunger on me. I need your help in the garden this morning and you’ll be spending the afternoon with Maggie.”

Anaria seated herself and frowned at the loaf sitting to one side of the table. Round, rather than one of Sarah’s rectangular loaves, it looked like everything a loaf of bread was supposed to be, but was untouched.

“Where did the bread come from?”

Sarah gave her an evil grin, “We had a few people come by after Liam came home last night, wanting to tell him of your magic trick with the children. Martha appeared in the middle of it with this loaf, as she’d seen you disposing of your bread and wanted to make sure Liam didn’t go hungry.”

Anaria’s jaw dropped.

“Oh it was priceless. Liam told her we had plenty as she could see, but he appreciated her kind and welcoming gesture to you and he’d make sure to save it so you could enjoy it for breakfast.”

“He said that?”

“Sweet and sincere as you please. The entire room was in fits and trying not to show it. You can imagine Miss Martha was none too pleased and flounced off in quite a huff.”

“And then I yelled at him. Oh dear. I really do need to be nice to him tonight. Is she any good at baking?”

“She’s one of the best in the village.”

“And since it was for Liam, she won’t have tampered with it. I do believe I’ll have some if you’ll join me. Although, shouldn’t we be going to the bath house, or am I too late?”

“No bathing if we’re spending the morning in the garden, no point. We’ll have a quick wash as the laundry starts set-up before lunch.”

Anaria nodded and reached for the bread knife, “I’ll pay attention to what I’m about to cut this time.”

The bread was very good and, fortified with tea, Anaria almost felt capable of facing the garden.

Sarah handed her scissors, a couple of bowls and a small garden fork, “We’re about to head into the quiet time for the garden, it’ll be too cold for much soon. I want to get the last of the peas and beans harvested, and then the vines trimmed down to the ground. You can put the greenery into the compost bin, or just leave it, as you’ll be wanting to turn all the soil over like this, to give it a bit of air and let some nutrients back into the soil.”

Sarah demonstrated the process, putting the bean pods in one bowl, peas in the other, then cutting the vines down to nothing, and digging and turning with the fork.

This worked well until Anaria’s hands started showing blisters, Sarah took it in her stride and showed her how to re-pot the herbs she’d been digging out of the bed to bring indoors for the winter.

By the time Sarah called a halt for the trip to the bath, Anaria’s hands were pink and sore, fingernails cracked and broken and her arms and back ached. The hot water of the bath stung her hands but soothed the protesting muscles.

Sarah tutted over her hands and gave her a salve for them, “They’ll toughen up over time, but this will help for now.”

Anaria winced, her mother would be furious. But then, her mother wasn’t here. The sudden pang of loss stabbed through her heart and pulled a whimper from her chest before it could be stifled.

Sarah looked up in concern, “Is there something else hurting?”

Anaria shook her head, “Just a sharp realisation that I’ll probably never see my mother again.”

She bit her lip hard and focused on rubbing in the salve, starting slightly when she was enveloped in a hug.

Sarah squeezed hard, then pulled back, and busied herself with lunch.

After lunch, she gave Anaria directions to Maggie’s cottage and waved her off with a promise to keep an eye on the marginally-less-awful batch of bread Anaria had created that morning.

Maggie met her at the door and waved her into a small but comfortable room, dominated by a loom.

Anaria went to touch the vibrantly-patterned fabric emerging from its base, but pulled back at the last minute.

“You are allowed to touch.”

“I mustn’t, I have a salve on my hands and it would make the wool greasy. It’s beautiful fabric though, my father would pay a fortune for something of this quality.”

Maggie smiled at the compliment and took hold of Anaria’s hands to inspect them.

“Inevitable I supposed, but don’t go doing anything that bursts those blisters, it’ll just make things worse.”

She shot Anaria a bright glare,”Now don’t go fretting. There’s still plenty you can do and I’ve a mind for at least one job, although we may want to wrap the worst of those blisters, just to be safe.”

With that, she fetched light muslin bandages and within minutes, Anaria’s hands were neatly wrapped.

“Sarah, of course, has the right of it in leaving them uncovered in the main, but this might help with your working this afternoon.”

“What will I be doing? Sarah didn’t say.”

“That’s because I didn’t tell her. You’ll be carding wool. It’s simple, calming and under normal circumstances would be quite good for your hands. That salve you have on is mostly lanolin, which comes from wool and there’s still a trace in my supply, even after washing.”

With that, she urged Anaria into a chair next to a basket heaped with large clumps of wool. Pulling up a second chair, Maggie produced a set of carding combs and showed Anaria how to take part of a clump to tease and stroke out the tangles and stubborn bits of twig and grass, before tossing the now cloud-like wool into a second basket.

“That’s now good enough for me to spin, then it gets dyed and finally onto the loom. Some prefer to dye at this stage and I can see some advantage to that, but I have more control over colour gradings if I wait until it’s spun.”

Anaria nodded and gingerly took hold of the combs. After a few false starts, she found a focus and even a rhythm of sorts, combing and checking, pinching out burrs and going over the wool until it was as soft and fluffy as Maggie’s example.

Maggie watched until Anaria looked properly absorbed, then moved across the room and began to spin another basket of clouds into fine wool yarn.

The click and whir of the wheel, combined with the gentle scraping of the combs was a soothing backdrop to the work and Anaria was surprised when Sarah knocked at the door to remind Anaria about dinner, several hours later.

Maggie looked up as Sarah came in at her call, “I’d like Anaria here any afternoon you don’t have laundry. She has better focus and patience than anyone else in the village. She’s just carded for a full afternoon and her work is both well done and consistent.”

Sarah nodded and checked Anaria’s hands. A couple of the blisters that lined up with the handles of the combs were angrier than they had been earlier but the muslin had done its job and protected both hands and wool.

“I might keep you out of the garden then. Fine work like spinning will develop its own marks, but there’s no point spoiling the wool with other injuries.”

“But I’m just carding.”

Sarah started unwrapping the bandages, promising to put them in the next wash. Maggie suggested their current, lanolin-infused state might be useful to Anaria for a couple of days. The two of them agreed and then they were walking down the street towards home.

Sarah gave her a proud smile, “Well done, Maggie’s not an easy person to please when it comes to the process and elements of weaving. She’s thinking of taking you on as her apprentice.”

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