Ready to Work

The very first section was drawn from an exercise to write without punctuation. It’ll need some added in the edit, but I like the breathlessness it gives the paragraph.


People were running everywhere scattering and screaming and crying and bleeding as he watched in helpless terror while his arm continued to move the leaden weight of his sword against the onslaught of attackers that were not always attackers as he came gut-wrenchingly close to dismembering a panicked child running here and there calling for their mother in a desperate high wail that went on and on and on until it was suddenly silent and he didn’t want to know why as he pushed forward with feet sliding on slick cobblestones again best not to think about what was making them slippery and rather to focus on finding Tarek or Julia or anyone in a friendly uniform against the leaping flames and black of the city’s chaos but still only screams and distorted faces until he saw a figure in the light of a fire in a house on a corner thank the gods Tarek was safe except he wasn’t and Andreas added his scream to the chorus as he watched a heavy blade cut his friend down from behind while he was unable to move even as he moved and was there an instant too late and the wielder of the sword was impaled on Andreas’s blade an instant too late how dare that pirate make his trip to the underworld in company with one of the best men in the world and how could he ever tell his sister that the love of her life was gone?

He jerked up, screaming, as a hand shook his shoulder. He was in bed, covered in sweat, heart racing, throat hoarse. He met his valet’s worried stare. “Yes, I was there again.”

He flopped back against his damp pillows. “It’s been a year, Jerome, why won’t it stop?”

His attendant shook his head. “Could be that’s why, Your Highness. It’s the anniversary of Port Watch’s liberation next week. You’ve been through a full turn of seasons and now the world’s in the same place as it was then.”

Andreas huffed out a breath. “Remind me why you’re playing nursemaid to a spare prince rather than gracing the halls of our university?”

“You pay me better, sir.”

Jerome retrieved a fresh nightshirt from the chest of drawers in the corner of the room, then tweaked the bed covers. Not quite pulling them back, but Andreas yielded to the hint, throwing them off and sliding out of the bed to exchange his damp, twisted shirt for the other.

When he went to strip the bed, Andreas shook his head. “Don’t bother re-making it. I won’t sleep again tonight.”

He pulled a robe on, patted Jerome’s shoulder in thanks, and left the room.

Ready to Work

Over breakfast the next morning, Leila asked for advice on places to apply for work.

Marya frowned. “I’ve already told you about Miklos’s shop.”

Leila inclined her head, and replied. “And what if I’m not suitable? Or if he’s already found someone?”

The other girl shook her head. “Oh but he wouldn’t have yet.”

Juanita hushed her daughter. “It’s always better to have more than one option Marya. Not everyone wants to work in the front of a shop.”

Marya pouted, but helped her parents put together a list of people who might have use for someone who’d grown up in a weaver’s workroom, along with a list of the locations. Timon even sketched out a rough map of the buildings for her.

Once the breakfast dishes were put away, Leila brushed down her skirt and took a deep breath. “Best to start before my nerves have time to talk. Is there anything you’d like me to do or get while I’m out?”

Juanita smiled and shook her head. “Both you girls go off and be productive.”

Leila looked to where Marya was adjusting the shoulders of her bodice, ensuring they sat just so. Once done, she danced across the kitchen, looping her arm through Leila’s on the way, and pulling her through the door.

“I’m on the middle shift at the bakery today.” Marya explained. “Just helping with serving and things as I get to know the work. Once I’m experienced, I’ll start doing the first and last ones – actually helping with the baking – as well.”

She nudged her shoulder against Leila’s. “I’m looking forward to that, but not the early mornings in winter.”

Leila asked. “How early will you need to be there?”

Marya blew out a breath. “An hour before sun-up, although in the middle of the season I’ll probably sleep over there, as sun-up gets later and we can’t get later with it.”

“And yet the bakery was your choice? I’m sure you could have taken a job in any of the businesses around here.”

Marya shrugged, but grinned. “Well, yes, but I do enjoy baking and I also enjoy being where people are always coming and going and talking and hearing all the news. Most people are in the bakery every single day.”

Leila laughed. Marya was such a perfect mix of her parents, the culinary talent of her mother and the sociability of her father. She wondered how her parents’ natures manifested in her.

Marya was looking at her curiously, Leila bumped her shoulder back. “I think you’re in just the right job for you. I hope I can find something as well suited.”

They were nearly at the bakery and Marya started to bounce, clearly itching to fly through the door and start exercising her charm. She paused and gave Leila a quick hug. “You’ll be wonderful at whatever you do, so don’t go accepting any old thing. Make sure you talk to everyone before you make a decision.”

Leila returned the hug. “I will. Have fun and bring home all the best news.”

Marya flicked her plait over her shoulder. “Just so long as it’s news Papa hasn’t heard yet, I’ll call it good. I’ll try for a fruit tart as well, he won’t be able to beat that.”

Leila laughed as she waved her friend off. Her friend. How strange. Yet she was, and they’d fallen into what Leila felt would be the pattern of a strong friendship very quickly. It was a good omen for her life in this city and she pulled out Timon’s map with a little thrill of excitement and nerves, time to see what kind of life that was going to be.

She made her way to the first place on the map, Mistress Gallo’s workshop, to see if she needed help with making dresses and assorted other items for the ladies on the hill.

She’d heard the term a couple of times since her arrival. It seemed, if you wanted to be taken seriously in Port Watch, you needed to do well enough to afford a home on the upper slopes of the hill now looming over her. She looked up at it. Loom wasn’t the right word. Loom implied shadow and sinister intentions. This hill sat plumply in the sun and seemed happy to be home to a scattered mass of large homes in large gardens. The gardens was what made the difference. Private gardens were few and far between in Carra, and those that did exist where tucked behind tall walls, with guards at every gate.

Marya said the only gates with guards here were those to the residence of the city governor and even they were more for show than any real intent. Of course, with all the private gardens, it seemed the wealthy of the city didn’t see the need for public ones. So the people in the lower part of the city, between the first slopes of the hill and the docks, had to make do with the trees lining the market squares for their bit of green.

She amused herself, between her visits and introductions to workrooms and shops, asking for work and getting little in the way of reply, by imagining where she’d put a public garden in Port Watch, and how it would look. She’d have water features of course, and wide paths with sheltered seating for people to chat and watch the world go by.

Maybe some orange trees that, in season, would supply people with a refreshing snack as well as shade. What flowers grew well here? She didn’t know. She’d spent many hours in the Caliph’s Garden, studying and sketching the plants and blooms as they were popular motifs for the cloth her family wove. She wondered how her parents were. Whether Gasin would try to punish them when he returned and found her gone. It would be a mere day or so now. She swallowed, then straightened her spine and forced her focus back onto the quest for employment.

Her final stop, late in the morning, was the shop of Merchant Miklos.

Leila smoothed her hands down her simple brown skirt and looked around the shop as Merchant Miklos attended to a customer. The large windows at the front and side let the sun through to gild and soften the old dark wood panelling and sturdy columns lining the space. Each column sported a large, bright, brass lamp, not lit now, but doubtless invaluable on rainy days and evenings.

Between the columns stood tall cabinets, the same shade as the panelling, with wide drawers to near waist height, then glass-fronted doors above, all set to display Miklos’s wares to the best possible advantage.

Of all the shops and workspaces she’d visited, asking for work, this was the one she most wanted to spend her days in. The glorious piles of fabric carefully strewn about the place, inviting customers to touch and admire, the artfully piled baskets of yarns and threads for those rich ladies who enjoyed a little craft work and most of all, the lovely, bright light.

She wondered if, should she be taken on, whether she would be allowed to take some of her pay in yarn, for her own weaving projects. She missed the soothing rhythm of the shuttle moving through the loom, even if it was just her little hand loom, and these smooth, silky threads would be a delight to build with. But here she was, building castles on clouds again, there wasn’t even a notion of a job yet, although the merchant hadn’t turned her away out of hand.

Even if she couldn’t buy and weave with these glorious colours and textures, working here would mean spending days in a bright and colourful space. That was all she needed. She’d found herself unnerved by the lack of space, fresh air and light in some of her other destinations. It seemed she was not fond of small, dark spaces these days.

The customer left and Miklos turned his attention to Leila. “May I help you?”

Leila twisted her fingers together. “I was hoping it may be the other way around. Marya said you might be looking for a new shop assistant and I was wondering if you’d consider me.”

He studied her, head a little on one side. He was younger than she’d expected. Maybe ten years older than her with a serious, yet open expression.

He asked. “What experience do you have?”

“I was a weaver in Carra, I know yarns and fabrics, how to chose colours to suit different people’s skin tones, hair and preferences and how to talk a customer out of a bad decision.”

Miklos smiled at that last one. “That’s a skill indeed. Let me fetch my wife, we take turns in the shop, so she needs to be comfortable working with you as well. Can you keep an eye on things and call through the door if a customer arrives?”

Leila nodded hard. “Of course.”

She moved to stand nearer the door he’d indicated and tried to not pinch and twist at her skirt.

Miklos was back in a matter of moments with a woman close behind him. She stepped to the side and looked Leila up and down. “You’re new. I suppose you’re the Sun Empire girl Juanita and Timon have taken in.”

Leila nodded. “That’s right. I want to make sure I’m earning my own way and I would love to work in your shop.”

The woman nodded. “I’m Bianca, Miklos’s wife. He says you were a weaver back where you’re from?”

“Yes. I was raised to it, both my parents are master weavers. Oh, and my name’s Leila.”

Miklos looked a little curious. “So why not ask for work in one of the weaving or dressmaking houses? Why do you prefer the idea of shop work.”

Leila looked down, then up again. “I was smuggled over here, nailed into a sort of cupboard on the ship and spent more time in there than expected. I’ve found this morning that places without windows make me nervous and I would love to be in a place where I can see people and movement.”

She bit her lip. “It’s very selfish I’m afraid but I do think I would enjoy helping customers and making sure they leave the shop happy with their purchases and their time here.”

Miklos and Bianca looked at each other, then at her. Bianca said. “Very well. We’ll take you on for a week’s trial. If we’re all comfortable with your performance at the end of that, we’ll keep you on.”

Leila’s smile stretched so hard, it hurt her cheeks. “Really? Oh that’s wonderful. I’m sure you’ll be happy with my work. When do you want me to start?”

They agreed on a time the following day and Leila left the shop floating on air.

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