Shop Girl

She dropped by the bakery on her way back, making her way to the counter, where Marya smiled and chatted and took orders and payments. Leila thought she looked like she’d been working there for years, rather than a day or so.

When she reached the counter, another girl gave her a vague smile. “What can I get you?”

Leila fumbled and Marya looked over. “Oh, it’s alright Tani, this is my friend Leila, you know, the one from Carra?”

Tani’s eyes widened. “Ohhh. Is it really so hot there that you cook your dinner on your roof tiles?”

Leila blinked, she’d never heard of anyone doing that. “No, but most houses have terraces on the rooftops where we eat. It’s cooler once the sun gets low and the breeze comes in.”

Tani looked more interested, and went to ask something else but was cut off by a large woman appearing behind her.

“Tani, less story-gathering and more bread-fetching. A new tray’s just come out of the oven, go and help Damil with it.”

Tani flushed, and hurried off. Leila squirmed a little under the woman’s stern, but not unfriendly, eye. “I suppose you’re here to gossip with Marya.”

Leila shook her head. “Oh no, I just wanted to tell her I’ve got the job at Merchant Miklos’s shop, on trial for a week, and to see if I needed to run any errands for her.”

Marya squealed and reached across the flour-strewn wooden counter to hug Leila. “I knew they’d love you there.”

Leila left the bakery a few minutes later, trying to brush flour off the front of her dress with one hand. The other was clutching a little basket of pastries to celebrate her new position in life.

She used the back door to Juanita’s kitchen, the front was disconcertingly full of men waiting to hear the angel sing again.

Juanita looked around from her place at the stove and raised her brows. Leila grinned and gave her the news.

Juanita left the pot she was poking at and hurried across the kitchen, wrapping Leila in a warm, motherly hug. “Well done.”

Leila hugged her back with one arm, then stepped back, holding the basket in her other hand aloft. “Celebratory pastries from Marya.”

Juanita turned back to the stove. “Well in that case, I’ll put the kettle on.”

Leila put the basket on the table she usually sat at to chop vegetables, there was a pile there as always, and picked up the knife.

Juanita looked at her curiously. “You’re allowed a little time off to celebrate.”

Leila smiled, but shrugged and pulled a carrot towards her. “If I just sit and eat pastries, I’ll start wondering what to expect, and what I need to do, and what’s going to be different, and whether I’m going to cope. I need a little bit of activity or I’m going to think myself in circles.”

The older woman chuckled. “You’re more like Marya than I thought. She wouldn’t find something else to do though. I’m thankful you were there to distract her when she got the job at the bakery or she would have been fretting herself to a standstill before the sun was half down.”

Leila added. “If you don’t mind though…, could you tell me a little about Merchant Miklos’s customers? I know the shop and its wares from Marya, but who do I need to sell to?”

Juanita picked up the now-boiling kettle and moved to the stone counter-top where the family’s tea mugs sat. As she measured leaves and poured, she said. “Good question. You have two customers going to Miklos. And you’ll probably be able to divide your day by them.”

She brought two mugs over, set one on front of Leila, then sat across from her and picked a pastry out of the basket. “Your morning will be spent dealing with tailors and dressmakers. Who make their money catering to the well-to-do families on the hill. They know what they’re after and don’t like to dawdle.”

Leila nodded. “I met some of them when I went out with Timon. They’re very good.”

Juanita continued. “The afternoon’s a different kettle of fish. It’s those families. Or more specifically, the wives and daughters of the families.”

Leila frowned. “They make their own outfits?”

Juanita tipped her head from side to side. “Some may do, but they’ll live further down the hill. It’s the ones at the top of the hill that will make up your afternoon clientele.”

Leila’s eyed widened. “Ohhh, they’re not there for fabric.”

“That’s right. Ostensibly, they’ll be shopping for yarns or oddments for their various craft hobbies. Practical skills are highly regarded, even at the noble level – not that Port Watch has proper nobility – so the daughters need supplies for their display projects to impress the suitors and the mothers. Well, the mothers are there for the gossip.”

Leila quailed. “I’m not good at gossip.”

Juanita laughed. “Just as well. Miklos’s wife, Bianca is the queen of whispered news in the Old Town and she’d not take kindly to someone usurping her.”

“She wasn’t in the shop when I went in, Miklos went and fetched her to meet me.”

“She takes the shop in the afternoons, Miklos runs it in the mornings.” Juanita popped the last bite of her pastry into her mouth. “They have a good partnership. They each serve the customers they’re best suited to, while the other looks after the children and the office.”

Leila thought through her conversation with the pair. “That makes sense. Although I’m sure I’m going to stumble over not knowing who’s who, or the way things are done here.”

Juanita stood. “Remind them you’re a master weaver from Carra and tell them how the court there does things. They’ll lap it up like cats at a dish of milk.”

Leila nodded. “I’ll remember that, thank you.”

Dinner that evening was a merry affair, with Marya predicting all sorts of improbable futures for Leila at the shop; everything from being left as the managing owner while Miklos and Bianca opened a new venture in Rothen, the capital of the Scattered Isles, to her being swept off her feet by some visiting merchant or noble.

Leila paused in her laughter long enough to ask. “And what of you in the bakery? What’s your bright and glorious destiny?”

Marya paused and thought for a moment, then replied with a mischievous little smile. “I am going to discover a phenomenal talent for fancy baking and accompany Miklos and Biana to Rothen and become famous across the Isles for my cakes.”

She giggled. “Or I’ll charm the nicest, richest and handsomest customer I meet into marrying me and spoiling me silly for evermore.”

Juanita chuckled. “I see you lasting about a week, being pampered and spoiled. Then you’d get bored and start making mischief.”

Marya tried to pout through her smile. “I’m willing to try.”

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