Sweeping out a back door nearest the gardens, Feira dodged one of the older women who prowled about in hopes of snagging someone to aid her with laundry.
“Do you have it?” called a newer maid who smoothed back her hair as she scurried over.
Feira lifted the gilded tray decorated with a fine set of china. “Here. The guests are in the inner — Wait!” she called, stopping the new girl before she could take off with the tray. “With guests near, always gently take. Never snatch.”
The girl nodded, her darting eyes betraying the relative emptiness behind them.
“Listen closely,” Feira instructed with a kind tone. “The grandmother gets grumpy, so serve her first. This cup. She is very picky. And don’t forget, like I told you before. Hand the daughter her tea with the handle facing left.”
The new girl nodded, smiling gratefully. “I’ll remember. Thank you, Feira!” she called as she hurried away.
Sighing, Feira frowned down at the vases in her other arm. She’s going to break every one of those cup — Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a voice sounded behind her. Stopping in her tracks, color blossomed on her cheeks as her heart lept into a sprint. For months she had wondered how this moment would happen; if she’d be angry or hurt, but the small hope she’d carried burst like an emerging sun she could not hold back.
~ ~ ~
The soft thud of the closing door echoed in her ears. She did not move. She wasn’t sure if she could. The small house filled with crates and half constructed furniture suddenly felt like a void.
A drop of perspiration slid down the side of the glass to rest on her hand. His glass. Looking down she stared at her hand and his glass. Electricity shot up and down her arm from where their fingers had barely touched, and she took a gasping breath as if suddenly remembering to breathe.
Quickly putting the water glasses into the washbasin, she threw herself into emptying her belongings into their new home. Anything to tell herself it was nothing. That that look was nothing. Because every fiber of her wanted it to be something, and if she allowed herself to sit still she feared she would happily let herself drown in that simple, innocuous moment.
~ ~ ~
Dawn had just begun to creep over the horizon as Jade strolled up the lane to her cottage. Stacks of new lumber for her floor sat to one side of the yard. Having left her last customer, the young woman didn’t mind the little sleep she’d get before a long day of ripping up floorboards. Smiling as she yawned, she unlocked the front door and slipped inside.
It was perfect: her plain little home decorated with miss-matched furniture. Not a single hint of sweat, or leather, or ale could be smelled within the small, sacred walls. Only waterlilies from the little pond, and aromatic teas from Dorsett filled the cool air.
Stripping off her clothes, she dropped onto the mediocre mattress and curled up in the massive quilt sent by Wynthryth for her birthday. There were no snores, nor unwashed bodies. Just blissful darkness and silence. The difference from any other day was that this time she slept to one side of the bed, hoping that memories of the tall Rohir, and the gravedigger would drown out the faint tug she felt to go back to the dark little manor in the next village.
~ ~ ~
“You are dismissed, Gruin.”
“But, Sir, it wasn’t his –“
Pellion’s dark gaze darted over to the young man, silencing any further protest.
Saluting, Gruin gave the lad next to him an apologetic look before turning and exiting the office.
“Do you have anything to add, Cole?”
The farm boy, probably no older than seventeen, took in a small, nervous breath. “We just wanted to listen to a lecture, Sir. No harm was meant by it.”
Pellion did not move, nor did he blink. “Did you sign up to be a healer?”
“No, Sir, but we –“
“And did you go in your own free time?”
“No, Sir. But there are no classes when –“
“That,” said Pellion, his voice lowering dangerously, “is not my concern. You are here because there is a war, and because you volunteered to fight for your country.”
Cole swallowed, and looked down to his feet.
Had it been any of the other lads, Pellion might have ran them through the ringer, but not this one. That wouldn’t make him strong and useful. The boy had been through enough.
“Now . . . .”
Cole snapped to attention, grey eyes fixed ahead. “Sir.”
“What you do on your own time is not my business unless it interferes with you being a soldier under my command.”
“Now, go outside, pick up a sword, or whatever you think you may be best at, and practice without killing one of the others.”
Coles’s mouth tightened, but he just nodded curtly. “Yes, Sir.”
Pivoting, the boy exited the room, frustration and confusion left in his wake.
Allowing himself to relax for a moment, Pellion leaned back in his chair and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Damned boys will make me go soft.”