Kitchen Hand

Leila woke slowly. She was in a bed, it wasn’t moving. Had the whole thing been a dream?

She opened her eyes. No. This bed was much larger than her one in Carra, the whole room was larger, and had a wooden door rather than a curtain. This was Port Watch.

There were voices outside the door, two of them. It sounded like it might be an argument, but a quiet one.

She called out. “Hello?”

The voices stopped and the door opened a little way. Juanita peeped in, then smiled and came in the whole way, stopping just inside the room, when she saw Leila awake and sitting up.

“You’ve have a good sleep I hope. How are you feeling?”

Leila took stock of herself, then smiled. “A very good sleep, thank you. I feel quite back to normal.”

Marya poked her head around her mother. “Oh good. You slept so long I thought you’d never get up.”

Leila scrambled out of the bed. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

Juanita tutted at her daughter, then said. “It’s alright. You needed to sleep and it’s not like you’re going to want to be out and about until that nasty priest has left. Don’t let Marya work you into a fret.”

Marya flapped her hands as she edged around and into the room as well. “I didn’t mean to make you worried. I’ve just been looking forward to talking to you again and seeing how you like your dress.”

Leila hurried across the room to the chair with the parcel, Marya joined her, bouncing in excitement.

Juanita laughed. “I’ll leave you to dress. Come down for breakfast when you’re ready.”

With that, she left, closing the door behind her.

Marya watched as Leila unknotted the string holding the parcel together. “Oh, and Papa’s taking your loom to some people this morning to get opinions.”

Leila paused and looked up. “That’s kind of him. It’s not something important or urgent though.”

Marya gave her a mock glare. “It’s important to you isn’t it?”

She grinned. “Besides, it gives him an excuse to visit and chat with all sorts of people. Honestly, they say women are the gossips? Not around here they’re not.”

Leila pulled the package open. The fabric inside was brown. But not the dull, faded, background brown she’d expected. This was a rich red-brown, the colour of the little carved box from the North that her mother kept precious things in.

Marya reached over, all enthusiasm and help. “Here let’s spread it out on the bed so you can have a proper look.”

For all the the colour was not what she was expecting, the outfit was pretty, well-made and practical. It had a full, long skirt, with large pockets tucked into the seams. Over this sat a low-cut sleeveless bodice that had Leila quailing until Marya pulled the last items from the package.

“And these are for under the bodice. We’re going into cooler weather, so I got you two with long sleeves, but as the seasons come about, you can get, or make, other ones with shorter sleeves and also in lighter fabrics. Plus you can have them in different colours.”

She shook the two blouses out onto the bed; one in a soft cream with full sleeves, gathered at the wrist, and the other in a hunter green, with fitted sleeves. “See, you get the fun of different styles for your arms as well as the neckline. I’m going to save up for one of these overdresses myself with my bakery pay.”

Leila had to admit, the under-blouse was a clever thought, and the necklines stood considerably higher than that of the main bodice, so the overall effect would be neat and modest.

She turned to Marya. “Thank you, this is perfect. The style is so practical and the colours you’ve chosen are lovely.”

Marya’s eyes twinkled at her. “I wanted to get you a red undershirt, or one in a gorgeous sea blue that Mistress Gallo had in her shop, but I think you prefer the quieter colours.”

“You’re right, I do, just as you love the bright ones. So you’ll just have to wear them for both of us.”

Marya laughed at that. “I will, for now. But I refuse to give up on ever getting you into something dramatic.”

Leila chose the cream shirt to wear that day and a short time later, followed Marya downstairs to the kitchen.

Juanita looked up from her baking. “Oh that is nice, well done Marya.”

Marya’s cheeks pinked and she smiled. “Thank you Mama. I checked its seams and all too and it’s soundly made. Mistress Gallo laughed at me for looking but I said I had to be extra careful as I was buying it for someone else.”

Juanita huffed. “Which means she’ll be over here as soon as she may, to find out about who you’re buying for. Not that it won’t be all over everywhere by dinner tonight with your father out with the lap loom.”

Leila looked worried, Juanita sent her a reassuring smile. “Only gossip among the locals you understand. Port Watch people don’t much hold with the sun priests, we get too many of their runaways to trust them.”

Leila breathed again. “To be fair, most of the people offered a Temple Bond jump at it. It’s a wonderful life for someone who only wants to create their art and not have to worry about making a living. It’s just when certain people try to force, rather than invite, and it’s not a life I want.”

Marya brought bread and jam to the table and cut slices for them both. “So what’s it like then, having a Temple Bond?”

“It’s just the same as a patron in the North. The temple, usually through a sponsoring priest, takes on the cost of your living expenses – feeds, houses, and clothes you – and in return you produce whatever it is you’re good at for the glory of the Sun God. Some priests like to direct what their bonders produce, others leave them to ‘divine inspiration’. In either case though, what you create belongs to the Temple, not to you. Plus it’s expected that you live completely within the Temple grounds. It’s very rare to see bonders on the streets of Carra, and while some of my friends would leap at the opportunity, I would miss the life of the city.”

She sighed. “And, Gasin is not a sponsor most women want to attract the attention of.”

Marya chewed and swallowed, then said. “You seemed scared of him yesterday, he sounds awful.”

“Privileged, selfish and ambitious is how my father described him. Most priests will sponsor one, or maybe two bonders in their lives. Gasin has five already, all women around my age. When the Head Priest isn’t around, he refers to them as his ‘little stable of mares’.”

The two women looked at her in horror, she shrugged. “And that’s why I was nailed into a hidey hole in a ship and brought here.”

She applied herself to the bread and jam to avoid further stares and questions. After a moment, Marya jumped up. “You still need to drink. I’ll get us something.”

After she’d eaten, and downed a full mug of watered juice under Marya’s watchful eye, Leila asked. “Now what can I do to be useful?”

Marya went to protest but Juanita silenced her with a look. “I can always do with a vegetable chopper. It’ll free up Marya for other errands.”

Leila smiled. “I think I can manage that.”

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