A New Life

As Marya compared heights, arm length and other measures, Juanita asked. “What skills have you brought with you? We need to find you a job once you’re ready.”

Marya rushed in. “It’s no hurry though, if you’re not well, you must rest as much as you need.”

Leila smiled at her. “It was only five days on the ship and I wasn’t completely without food or water. I’ll be ready to make a start on a new life in a day or so.”

She continued, this time addressing Juanita. “My parents are master weavers, and I’ve been doing the same ever since I can remember. But it may not be the best trade for me to follow here.”

The older woman nodded thoughtfully. “Yes. Putting aside the need for a loom and fibre, I’m sure you’ve got a signature style that would draw the attention of those you’d rather avoid for the moment. Maybe once you’re more comfortably settled here. But knowledge of fabrics and colour will be useful. Marya, ask around tomorrow and see if any of the dressmakers or fabric sellers are in need of a new assistant.”

“Yes Mama. Merchant Miklos might want someone. His senior shop assistant left last week. She fell in love with one of the men the King sent to help rebuild the city after the Pirate Battles and went back to wherever his home is with him.”

Juanita tutted. “I hope you’ll absorb baking skills as fast as you do gossip. Ask who you need, see what you can find, but stay discreet.”

Leila laid a hand on Marya’s arm. “Please? The priest who wants to own my Temple bond, is here in Port Watch, right now.”

Both woman gaped at her. “What?”

She twisted her hands together. “He’s a passenger on Captain Saros’s ship. She says no one would think to look for me right under his nose. It’s why they couldn’t get me out after the storm hit on the way over here.”

Juanita huffed. “One day, that woman is going to sail a point too close to the wind and who knows what she’ll bring down with her.”

Marya frowned. “What do you mean, out?”

“I was hidden in a sort of alcove where the hull curved in. They nailed the wall up once I was inside and I had to remember which of the three buckets with me had water, which was food and which was for … waste.”

“Buckets?” Marya’s eyes were huge.

“They had latched lids on them so they didn’t spill but it was better if I didn’t open the last one unless I had to.”

Marya looked horrified, Juanita intervened. “Marya, show Leila to her room and help her get settled but don’t talk her hears off. I’ll be up shortly with some dinner.”

Leila found herself being steered down a wide corridor, arm tucked in Marya’s. “So, what are your favourite colours to wear? And do you want a Sun Empire-style outfit, or something local? I can get either you know, Port Watch has dressmakers from all over the place.”

Leila replied. “Oh, definitely local and whatever colour helps me blend in. I’d prefer something simple; brown maybe?”

Marya opened a door and ushered her through. “This is your room and I’m in the next one along. I’ll find you something brown only if you promise to get something colourful and fun with your first pay.”

“Oh, I…”

“It doesn’t have to be a whole dress, silly, just a scarf or something, to set off your hair, or bring out your eyes.”

Marya studied Leila’s face in the bright sun pouring through the bedroom window. “Your eyes are so dark, you’d look amazing with something red, or turquoise. Honestly, your hair and your eyes are just to die for.”

Leila shrank a little. “Your eyes are pretty too.”

Marya laughed. “Oh I know I look well enough, and the boys tell me I’m the prettiest girl in Port Watch. I’ll tell you a secret though; I’m not. I’m just confident and somehow that makes me prettier.”

With that rather astounding statement, Marya moved to the little table in one corner of the room, pulling it away from the wall and moving a nearby chair into place at it. The space was quite large, much bigger than her bedroom at home. Leila caught herself, Carra wasn’t home any more. This place, Port Watch, was going to be home from now on.

She realised Marya was still chatting. “It’s nice to have someone my age to talk with at home. And we’re going to have so much fun once you’re able to be out and about. There’s so much to see and do in Port Watch, you’re simply going to adore it.”

Leila smiled, Marya clearly loved her home and it seemed she wanted Leila to love it too. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Juanita came in, bearing a tray. “Marya, what did I say about talking Leila’s ears off?”

Marya giggled. “They’re still attached Mama, I promise. I checked.”

Leila found herself close to laughter again. She wasn’t sure what her future held in this strange new place, but she hoped Marya would become a friend.

Juanita suppressed a smile, although her eyes still twinkled. “Just as well. Now how about you pop off and see what you can do about clothes for our guest.”

Leila’s heart shot into her throat. “My bag!”

Juanita nodded to another little table, set by the bed. “I brought it up for you while you were bathing.”

Her heart settled back into place and she hurried over to it. “Oh, thank you. I need to give you something to pay for the clothes.”

Juanita held up a staying hand. “We’ll keep a tally for you, so you can pay it off once you’re settled. You might find you’d rather pay us back in other things – time helping cook and serve food in the common room, woven goods we can sell on. There’s time to work it out, and time for you to be assured we’re charging fair price for everything.”

Marya scowled. “Why should she have to pay at all? She’s had a horrible time and we should help.”

Leila tried to explain. “You are helping, but I need to know I can do this, that I can make my own way and not be a burden.”

Juanita added. “Your father was just the same, and I was just like you. It caused some almighty clashes until we came to understand each other. If you’re not happy about it, ask him to explain it to you.”

Marya still pouted a little but seemed to have listened to both of them. “Alright, I’ll talk to Papa after I come back from the shops.”

With that, she was off, whirling through the door in a flurry of green and farewells.

Juanita shook her head, smiling fondly. “She’s a good girl.”

She put the tray on the table Marya had pulled out and said. “Some more bread, a bit of cheese, vegetable soup and more juice, I haven’t watered it down as much this time. Let me know how you feel after it. I’m not sure how long it’s going to take your stomach to return to normal.”

Leila nodded and seated herself. “This smells wonderful, thank you.”

Juanita smiled. “Good, now I’ll leave you to it, there’s little more unsettling than having someone watching you eat. I’ll be back up in a while.”

She left the room in a more stately fashion than her daughter, but Leila thought she saw who Marya had inherited her energy from.

It was Marya who returned first, knocking and waiting for Leila’s uncertain answer before entering.

She danced through the door, hugging a parcel. “I found the perfect thing, it’s going to look lovely on you.”

Leila dredged up a wobbly smile and Marya’s delight changed to concern. She joined Leila, sitting on the side of the bed, putting the parcel to one side and a tentative arm around Leila’s shoulders.

“What’s wrong? Are you missing your home?”

Leila shook her head. “It’s silly. Baba said I shouldn’t bring it, but I couldn’t bear to leave it behind.”

She looked down at the broken tangle in her lap. “I learnt to weave on this loom.”

Marya’s arm tightened and she leaned in to Leila’s side. “Let’s show my Papa, he knows all the crafters, and all the people from the Sun Empire. He’ll find someone to mend it.”

Leila drew a shuddering breath. “I think it’s past mending.”

“We won’t know for sure until we ask. And if we can’t mend it, we’ll find a replacement.”

Leila slumped, but nodded. “You’re right.”

Marya gave her another squeeze, then stood.

“Now look at you. You’re exhausted. It’s no wonder this overset you so badly. You need to tuck into bed and get a good night’s sleep. Things will look better in the morning, and you can wear your new dress.”

She did feel dull and heavy, her mind refusing to move. It was nice to have Marya fuss over her; gently taking the pieces of the loom and putting them aside, bustling her into the bed, moving the dress parcel to the chair she’d used earlier and closing the shutters.

She came back to the bed, tweaking the covers as she asked. “Do you want me to leave the loom with you, or take it down to Papa now?”

Leila looked over at the little pile of wood at thread. “Could you take it? I feel so bad when I look at it.”

“Of course.” Marya gathered it up, then rearranged the dinner tray to fit it, as well as Leila’s dirty dishes.

“There we are, all tidy and I’m sure we’ll have good news when you wake.”

Leila’s whispered thanks followed Marya out of the door. As it closed, she let the exhaustion claim her.

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