It was another three days before Captain Saros’s ship, and its passengers, left port. Leila spent the days helping in the kitchen and getting to know the curious locals brought in by Timon and Marya’s excursions.
Her lap loom was past repair she’d heard, but a master carpenter was willing to try creating a new one if she could assist him in refining his work to then make more and sell on to the rich merchant wives and daughters who wished to show off a useful but decorous skill. He’d been by once already to get her direction on how it fitted together and how she used it.
Marya came dancing into the kitchen late one morning, singing. “The ship has sailed, the piggy priest has gone.”
Leila had to sit, quickly before the black spots before her eyes took her away. “I’m free?”
“Free as a bird! Let’s go for a walk, I’ve been dying to show you all the best places.”
Leila looked at Juanita, who raised a brow at Marya. “I assume you’ve got the afternoon off from the bakery then?”
Marya’s face fell. “Oh no, I forgot. Well, maybe we can go after work.”
Leila’s spirits plunged. She hadn’t realised how desperately she wanted to be outside again. To feel the sun and the breeze, and start to get to know this strange new place, so she could turn it into somewhere familiar and loved.
Juanita smiled at her and called through the back door into the stableyard. “Timon. Would you like company on your afternoon rounds?”
Timon walked into the kitchen. “What’s that? Are you running away for the afternoon, my love?”
Juanita laughed. “Not me, Leila. I’ll join you another time.”
A short time later, Leila was walking down the wide, cobbled street beside Timon, who was pushing a neat little handcart.
He explained. “Not all our customers can get away for lunch, or they prefer not to eat in a loud, crowded room. I deliver food in the mornings and pick up the containers in the afternoons.
He grinned at her. “Keeps me out from under Juanita’s feet, gets me out in the open air and I’m one of the best-informed people in the city when it comes to local happenings.”
Leia laughed. Everyone and everything was witty and joyous this afternoon.
They started portside, collecting dishes and pots from the Harbourmaster’s office, then moving up through the Old Town, visiting workrooms, shops and warehouses. Timon and Juanita fed tailors, porters, couriers, carpenters, smiths, clerks, shop assistants and more; and Timon had a smile and a greeting for every one of them.
One of the last calls of the day was the workshop of the carpenter looking to reconstruct Leila’s lap loom. He waved them over to his bench when they entered, presenting his latest work for her inspection.
He had tied and glued Leila’s poor mess of wood together to understand its construction and had started cutting a new frame and spools from a darker, rich-smelling wood.
He asked. “Is there a reason the loom is made from pine? Does it have particular qualities the loom needs?”
Leila shook her head. “Not that I’ve ever been told. That wood’s the most common one shipped in to Carra, so I think it’s just made from what was available.”
The man grinned. “Good to know I’m not wasting my wood. Thought I’d try it with sandalwood. It’s a good, solid grain and the scent keeps moths away.”
Leila’s eyes widened. “I hadn’t thought about that, is it important here?”
“Less for a proper artisan like I think you are, missy. More for the elegant ladies on the hill who will have this more for show than production. Mind the price is going to be high, sandalwood is not common.”
Leila sighed. The idea of weaving that glorious scent into her work was a lovely dream but not one she’d ever afford.
The carpenter continued. “But I need to know the wood itself creates a good base for the work, so this here’s the trial piece that I’ll need you to use and tell me what to improve.”
Her day brightened again, even to create one piece with an embedded fragrance would be exciting. “I look forward to testing it. Where will be the best place to find thread for it?”
Timon answered. “My money would be on Merchant Miklos. Who Marya is insisting you see as soon as may be anyhow. He’s looking for a new shop assistant since one of them’s married and left the island.”
Leila looked down at herself. She was not in any fit state to present herself for a job right now. “Tomorrow perhaps?”
Timon smiled at her. “Tomorrow, probably mid morning. He’s busy first and last thing and won’t want the distraction.”
Leila nodded and set her shoulders. She could work in a shop, absolutely. She’d met with her parents’ customers all the time back in Carra. Most of them even liked her.
Marya was home by the time they returned, and pouting because she hadn’t been the first to show Leila around their part of the city. They were sitting down to eat when she brightened.
“I know, I can show you the old village on the Governor’s estate.”
Leila looked up. “What’s that?”
Marya’s smiles were back. “It’s an old fishing village, and it’s part of the estate belonging to the Governor of Port Watch, you can only get to it if the gatekeeper lets you through and it’s so pretty. If it’s nice weather on my next day off, we can go.”
Timon asked. “Are you sure Master Gatekeeper will let you in?”
Marya tossed her head. “I went to school with his daughter, even if she did decide to go to the university in the capital, we’re still friends.”
She turned to Leila. “It’s not like it needs guarding. After the Royal Navy chased off the pirates a year ago, there’s always at least one of their ships in the harbour, and one or two more in the area, plus they’ve nearly finished upgrading the Citadel – that’s the big building at the top of the hill in the middle of the city – and word is it’s going to get a permanent garrison of one of the Scattered Isles top groups of soldiers. They’re already here mind, they just don’t have an official base.”
Timon leaned in. “And they’re saying the new Governor is going to be someone high up, maybe even royal family.”
Juanita scoffed. “Who’s spreading that fairy tale? We’re not that important.”
Timon replied. “I think we are, and I think the powers that be in the Scattered Isles government agree. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have reacted so swiftly and strongly when the pirates took the city last year.”
Marya leaned in towards Leila. “I heard the soldiers they sent in to rescue us included the Princess and the Prince. I even saw them.”
Juanita sighed. “You can’t be sure of that Marya, no one has ever confirmed they were part of the liberation force.”
“Well I think they were and I think it was them and he was very handsome.” Marya was pouting again.
Timon chuckled. “Covered in muck and soot? I’m sure they both were.”
Leila smiled. “They were both handsome? Or both covered in muck and soot?”
“Both both.” Marya’s retort made them all laugh, including her.
After dinner, as they were washing up, Leila asked Marya. “What happened with the pirates? There was some news of a battle in the Scattered Isles making the rounds in Carra about a year ago, but nothing of substance.”
Marya’s eyes went wide. “Oh, it was bad. We were lucky the powers that be of the Scattered Isles acted so fast. It was all over almost before it had begun but those pirates were nasty. I stayed in the back here with my hair covered up and sprinkled all over with flour and stooped over so I looked old. Some of the other girls went into hiding in the cellars.”
She twisted her drying cloth around her hands, eyes seeing another time. “Brina and Leona both just disappeared one night, right after the pirates came. Leona now lives with Mother Eulogia, doesn’t come into town for anything, and never speaks. Brina’s still missing.”
Leila searched for words. Marya took a deep breath before she found any and continued on.
“So we all hid and the elders were trying to communicate and work out how to send word to the capital and took them a week to arrange for a messenger to take a fishing skiff from the other side of the island, but the night before he was to set out, the whole Scattered Isles navy appeared around the harbour and they’d secretly dropped soldiers on the other side of the island who trekked overland in two days and they attacked from both sides and saved us. They even managed to keep most of the city safe, the only part that was set on fire was the buildings on the seaward side of Portside Square because the soldiers came through so fast.”
She added in a conspiratorial undertone. “People say the prince was fighting in the square and killed one of the leaders of the pirates as he tried to poison the well.”
“Poison?! That’s awful.”
“They were pretty awful people. Thought they’d set themselves up here in style and not face any consequences. I’d say they were starting to regret it even before the Royal forces arrived. All their food mysteriously spoiled, their blankets and beds were infested with fleas, even the chairs they went to sit in would collapse without warning.”
Leila’s jaw couldn’t seem to close. Marya giggled. “Just because we’re not trained with weapons doesn’t mean we can’t fight. It did mean that half the pirates were out of action with food poisoning or inexplicable accidents when help arrived though.”
“Didn’t they retaliate though?”
Marya sobered. “Yes. But they didn’t know the city well enough. We could hide and any time they tried to set fire to something and flush people out, or tried to grab someone and make an example of them, well, things happened. They still hurt a lot of people, killed a few, our City Governor was the first one, and Brina’s not the only one still missing. But the elders said they weren’t going to let a bunch of filthy thieves take over their city, or make us run scared for the rest of our lives, so we fought in ways the pirates didn’t know was fighting.”
Leila breathed out. “That’s incredible. You’re all so brave. And to be resilient enough that I didn’t see anything just a year later.”
Marya tilted her head from side to side. “There are signs. They’re just small and quiet. People injured in the fighting, houses rebuilt after being burnt past fixing. It may have been a boon for the dockside quarter in some ways, it was the worst-hit area and has been getting new building and things all the past year.”
Leila nodded her comprehension and they returned to washing and drying.