In spite of Marya’s best efforts, she hadn’t been able to time a day off to coincide with one of Leila’s until spring was in full riot across the island.
Leila woke to a brisk knock on her door, with Marya calling through the boards. “Come on sleepyhead, we have things to do today.”
She sighed. A sleep-in would have been nice, and rolled out of bed.
When she entered the kitchen, Marya, was putting her plate of breakfast on the table, then spinning to sit on the bench against the wall.
Rather than tuck into her food, once seated, she propped her chin on one hand and watched Leila cross to greet Juanita and collect her own breakfast, before joining her at the table.
“What’s wrong? Do I have a smudge on my nose?” Leila asked.
Marya shook her head. “No. I was wondering how you always manage to look like you’re floating, rather than walking.”
Leila flushed, and focused on setting her plate just so on the table. Gasin had commented on the way she moved a number of times, usually when he’d managed to trap her against a wall.
Marya was expecting an answer, so she said. “We’re all taught dances at school, to be more graceful and less jarring under the eye of the sun. Even the boys have to learn some of them.”
Her friend pouted. “That’s boring. I wanted you to tell me one of those fire or sand spirits gifted you with elegance in your cradle in return for a service from your parents.”
Leila laughed. “I’m afraid ifrits do favours for no one, and djinns have to be forced into their wishes – so they usually come with a backhanded turn. I’ll choose mundane sources of skills I think.”
Marya huffed, unable to hide her smile, and turned her attention to breakfast.
Leila bit her lip on a smile of her own. For all that Marya was sitting down, she was near-fizzing with energy. Every movement was quick, with a little flourish somewhere within it, and her hands flitted over the food and crockery on the table, serving the final elements of Leila’s breakfast as well as her own.
Leila asked. “Are you serving me so we can eat and leave faster?”
Marya started to look guilty, then grinned. “Maybe?”
Juanita called from her position by the stove. “And what are you two girls up to today?”
Marya bounced in her seat. “Master Kebur has said we can visit the Shipwreck Village and he’ll show us some of the buildings and afterwards he’ll guide us home through the Governor’s gardens.”
Her mother replied. “Very nice. And kind of Master Kebur. Don’t dawdle and insist on seeing everything though, he needs to attend to his responsibilities.”
Leila frowned. “Why is is called the Shipwreck Village?”
Both women shook their heads in response, and Juanita answered. “It’s easier to see than explain. I think you’ll like it though.”
Leila swallowed her doubts. A shipwreck village sounded sad and a little ominous. A walk through the Governor’s gardens would be nice though. She’d caught a glimpse of them in her visit to Lady Oren and they looked lovely, though very different to the public parks of Carra.
They set off immediately after breakfast, taking a path through a part of town Leila hadn’t been into before.
The scars of the Pirate Battle were fresher here. Walls still smoke-blackened and windows empty. They turned a corner and Leila stumbled. The space before them, an entire block of the town, was nothing more than a blackened ruin. Tumbled walls, few more than shoulder high, with roof beams scattered about like a giant’s game of pick-up-sticks.
It was so unexpected. So wrong in this city of life and colour. She stopped and gaped. “What happened?”
Marya’s shrug tried and failed to be nonchalant. “The pirates. They thought some of the businesses and homes in this section belonged to the leaders of the resistance against them.”
She tucked her arm through Leila’s, still staring at the ruin, pain in her face. “They were wrong of course.”
Leila nearly stumbled again. She’d never heard Marya serious, or grieving before. For all she’d made it sound like an adventure over the dinner dishes, it had clearly hurt her.
Marya shook herself. “But that’s in the past and I’m sure they’re going to fix it soon. Come on, the way to the Governor’s lower gate is at the end of this block.”
And with that, she was back to her usual, effervescent self. Leila vowed to watch her friend’s words and expressions more closely, it seemed she was far too good at covering up things that upset her.
They skirted the edge of the ruin and turned down a crooked alleyway, emerging into countryside mere moments later.
Leila turned to look behind them, then in front, then back again. Between one step and the next, they’d moved from stone beneath and beside them to earth below and grass all around.
Marya giggled. “You look like someone’s pulled the chair out from under you. What has you so surprised?”
“The change. It’s so sudden. In Carra, as you move away from the centre, the houses just slowly get further and further apart. It’s never really quite clear when you’ve left the city. Here, it’s like someone’s chopped it off with an axe.”
“That would have to be a very big axe. But really, why would you want to live in far apart houses when you can have them neat and tidy together in one place and leave plenty of room for growing things in others?”
Leila gave her a sideways look. “Tell that to the families on the Hill.”
Marya tossed her head. “I don’t associate with that riffraff.”
They both laughed at that, and took off, running, down the little dirt lane.
Leila was just at the edge of regretting her lack of exercise when the walls and ornate metal gates of the lower entrance to the Governor’s estate emerged from around a bend.
Master Kebur appeared from the doorway of the sturdy cottage tucked just inside the gates, and turned a heavy key in the padlock holding the two halves together.
Marya bounced as she waited for him to pull the nearest one open far enough for each of them to slip through. He waited until they were in, then closed and locked the entrance before turning to greet them.
The social niceties were quickly dismissed and the three of them set off along the continuation of the path from the city. Marya peppered Master Kebur with questions about his daughter’s life in the capital.
He shook his head at her with a fond smile. “She’s not doing more than study, sleep, and eat, according to her letters to us. If you want to know more, you’ll have to write yourself.”
Leila asked. “What is she studying?”
“Medicine, pharmacy, and healing. Wants to get her full degree as a physician.”
Marya twirled. “And then she can join a noble household, or sign on with a trading fleet and travel the world as an attendant healer.”
Master Kebur said. “She’s not you, Marya. Her wish is to return here and take up Doctor Mikel’s work, so he can step gently into retirement and enjoy his garden.”
Marya huffed, then brightened, grabbing Leila’s wrist. “It’s just around the corner. Then you’ll see why we couldn’t explain it.”
Leila followed the tug on her arm, rounding a sharp bend in the hill and stopped, mouth agape.
The shipwreck village was tiny, not more than ten buildings in all, but what buildings they were. There were three neat stone cottages tucked against the hill, but every other home was in some way built from a repurposed boat and the closer they got to the shore, the more fanciful they became. The jewel in the crown was a full galleon, sunk to its lowest portholes in the ground and braced with what was probably its own masts. It looked like it was sailing through the grass and would slip from land to sea at any moment.
Master Kebur came up beside her. “It’s the most tucked-away bay on the island. Perfect spot for fixing damaged boats and deep enough to take the big sea-going ones as well if needed. Some just turn out too damaged.”
Marya started pointing out the residences. “That was a fishing boat that got washed onto rocks during a storm, that one was a noble’s pleasure boat. Nothing wrong with it, he just lost all his money and ran off north. Master Grigor lives there now.”
She waved to the galleon. “And that was the result of a bet getting completely out of hand. It’s flats now and I’m hoping to get the next one available.”
Master Kebur clasped his hands behind his back. “Funny you should mention that…”
Marya gasped. “Really? Is there room for Leila too? I can’t abandon her to my parents, you know.”
His serious eyes showed a mischievous twinkle. “I’m afraid there’s only room for one on the ship. But we’ve nearly finished work on the far cottage, which is also just big enough for one. If you put a good case to the village committee, I believe you would have a chance at both.”
Leila said. “But don’t you prefer being in town, where everyone and everything is?”
Marya waved a hand dismissively. “It’s only about being in the middle of nowhere and not with people. The galleon has ten flats in it and all the people are so nice and often share cooking duties.”
Leila’s face cleared. “Ahhh, you don’t want to have to make dinner every night. In fact, I think you’ve got a plan around bread supply that means you’d never have to cook.”
Marya giggled. “You know me too well. Why are cooking and baking so different? One is wonderful and the other bores me rigid.”
Master Kebur interjected. “Shall we take a look at the apartment, then if Miss Leila is interested, the cottage?”
Both girls nodded eagerly, and they set off.
The apartment was at the rear of the ship, looking back towards the hill, rather than across to the headland over the water.
Master Kebur pointed out of the window of the low-beamed but sunny sitting room. “The little white-washed place on the end of the row of three? That’s the cottage.”
Marya poked her head out through the square space in the floor, leading to the bedroom. The bathroom and privy were another level down again. Leila wasn’t sure about scrambling up and down stairs that were little more than ladders, to move from room to room, but Marya was clearly delighted and already making plans for decoration.
They pried her away and set off for the cottage. Halfway up the path to the little row of three, tucked into a fold of the hill, Leila heard her name being called.
She turned to see Grigor striding towards them. “Is Master Kebur showing you the cottage then? Tis a lovely quiet spot and has a good-sized front room, should a proper-sized loom ever come your way.”
He grinned. “My wife had the middle cottage before we married and had me promise, near enough as part of our wedding vows, to help see the end one brought back.”
Leila asked. “What happened to it?”
Master Kebur scratched the back of his neck. “Used to be the one place reserved for staff of the Governor, but none of those under Lord and Lady Oren were interested. By the time His Lordship got around to gifting it back to the village, twenty years had gone by, with no love and attention. There’s nothing wrong with the construction, but the roof had as many holes as Marya’s flour sieve and there was more garden inside than out.”