Leila turned back into the shop to find it all but empty of customers, and Bianca watching her with a raised brow. Her breath caught. Had she overstepped herself? She should have left Mistress Gilder to Bianca’s practiced attentions.
“For such a quiet, shy little thing, you have quite the silver tongue.”
Leila swallowed and began to twist her fingers into the fabric of her skirt. “I, um…”
They were distracted by Master Grigor, Timon’s carpenter friend walking through the front door of the shop. He looked a little like a man entering a lion’s den, but his face lit when he saw Leila.
“Ah, so this is where ye’ve fetched up girl, seems a good fit.”
He turned to Bianca, who now had both brows raised. “I’ve been fixing the girl’s broken lap loom. Well, building one anew on the pattern, and was looking to see if ye had some spare yarn to test the stringing up of it.”
Bianca snorted. “You could have perfectly good trial yarn from any of the shops or stalls down near the tailors’ quarter, why come all the way here?”
Grigor produced the loom from the satchel he wore. “This here’s the sample. If I can get it nicely strung up and some pretty weaving started on it, then displayed in the right place; I think it’ll sell well to the ladies on The Hill. No point going anywhere else when they only buy their yarn from you, Mistress.
Bianca tossed her head. “Don’t ‘Mistress’ me, Grigor, I’m not one of your Hill ladies. Now bring that over to the counter and let me have a look.”
She called through the back door, leading to their living quarters. “Miklos, come through, Grigor’s having business ideas.”
As Miklos joined Bianca and Grigor at the counter, Leila stayed, standing awkwardly near the door, fingers so entangled in her dress they were near bloodless.
The one remaining customer beckoned from where she stood, looking at the yarns and threads. It was the older lady who’d made the quip about fodder and the marriage market.
Leila bit her lip and hurried over.
The woman said. “So you truly are a weaver then?”
“Good, then you can advise me on the best yarns for a scarf. The winter wind has a nasty trick of going straight down my neck.”
Leila glanced nervously at Bianca and the woman tutted. “Focus child, this is your job and she expects you to do it.”
Leila nodded and turned her attention to the soft wools spilling artfully out of wooden boxes onto the polished table top.
A short time later, she followed the lady to the counter, where the other three still spoke, and spilled an armful of wool onto its gleaming surface as the woman claimed Bianca’s attention. “I’ll take these. And one of those looms when they’re ready.”
She turned to Leila. “And you will show me how to thread it correctly so I can steal a march on all those other women.”
Miklos laughed. “You to set the fashion, Mistress, then perhaps Leila could hold weekly classes until the ladies are sufficiently adept.”
Leila’s eyes widened, she had a horrible feeling she looked like a frightened rabbit. “Could I teach someone who could then hold the classes?”
Bianca gave her an approving smile. “That’s a good idea. You can teach me, I can run the tutorials and then you can advise on the yarns as you have here.”
Leila paused for a moment, then asked. “Um, does, well, does that mean you want me to, um, stay?” Her voice squeaked on the last word.
Miklos huffed and frowned at his wife. “You were supposed to tell her.”
Bianca shrugged. “We were busy. But, yes. We’d like to keep you on.”
Leila’s smile felt like it was going to stretch right past the sides of her cheeks. To work in this lovely shop, with its bright sun and lamps for dim days, its gleaming wood and artful displays? This was a life she could be happy in.
The lady from The Hill said. “Good. Grigor here has promised me his first copy of your loom, I’ll look forward to my lesson.”
She swept regally out of the door, Grigor in tow, carrying her bundle of wool as well as his own.
Miklos winked at her. “Always useful to make a good impression on the City Governor’s widow.”
Leila blinked and looked out of the window as the older woman disappeared from sight. That was Lady Oren? She was so approachable. And funny. Important people weren’t like that in Carra.
Bianca bustled over to the door and locked it, prompting the other two into fetching and putting up the window blinds. “Pay is end of each week, and we’ll sell anything you make on your loom on consignment as well.”
Miklos handed her a little bag of coins. “We’re closed tomorrow and our other assistant, Dani will be back from her sister’s wedding in three days. One of your needs to be here for opening, the other needs to stay for closing, I’m sure the two of you will be able to work out an agreement.”
Leila clutched the bag to her and stammered out a breathless thanks.
Bianca called from where she was re-stacking wool. “Have Timon or Juanita check the amount and confirm it’s fair pay. I don’t want rumours starting up about us taking advantage of a newcomer.”
Leila nodded, and smiled so widely it hurt, then got on with helping tidy up. She wanted to make sure they knew their was decision a good one.
She spent most of her day off sleeping, then working through a payment plan with Juanita – food and lodging, plus a little extra for the dress and the days before she was earning. It still left her with coins in her pocket and a giddy sense of freedom.
Miklos let her into the shop the next morning, then handed her the key. “I had an extra one made for you, just in case I get caught with one of the children or something. Can’t have you waiting outside.”
Leila replied. “Thank you. I’ll take very good care of it.”
Having it floating about in one of her pockets didn’t feel safe enough. She found several lengths of scrap yarn and braided them into a neat cord, strung the key onto it and hung it around her neck.
That day and the next passed in a way that felt like she was settling in, getting to know her place. On the third day, about an hour after opening, the door swung open and a woman breezed in, calling. “Miklos, I have found just the perfect replacement for my sister. Wait till you meet her.”
Miklos shook his head. “I’m afraid your friend is too late, Dani. Leila here has been covering both your job and hers for the past week and a half.”
Dani spun to glare at Leila, who re-rolled and re-folded fabric and tried to be invisible. The newcomer snorted and turned back to Miklos.
“Trust me, she’ll be far better than that little mouse.”
Bianca stuck her head through the back door. “That little mouse is a master weaver from the Sun Empire so I suggest you remember who owns this shop and makes the hiring decisions.”
Dani wasn’t cowed. “So she’d be better off with Mistress Gallo or someone. Tareya is going to be here any minute and you’ll just love her, she’s so stylish.”
Miklos asked before his wife could snap back. “How did you meet this Tareya and why is she looking for a job in Port Watch?”
“At the wedding of course, she’s a cousin of the groom and her father’s one of the new officers up at the Citadel.”
Miklos frowned at that. “Officer’s daughters don’t work in shops, Dani.”
Dani tossed her head. “Well maybe he’s one of the lower ones or something, but she’s got all the fashion news from the capital, the Hill ladies will simply eat her up.”
Bianca had come to stand by Miklos. “And when her news gets old? Does she have a magical way of renewing it that’s not available to any other person on the island?”
“She’ll be getting letters from all her friends back at the Royal Barracks of course, we’ll be completely up with the latest vogue.”
Any reply was cut off by the door-rattling entry of an eye-catching young woman, Lelia decided it was probably Tareya. She swept in then stopped, looked around and turned to Dani. “But darling, I can’t work here, it doesn’t have clothes.”