The craft is nearing Plaithses now. Gone are the ornate spires, the grand halls and fine architecture of Orsthai, replaced by cornfields and simple bungalows. Harvest season approaches – when they next travel to the station for the journey back to Orsthai, the morning after tomorrow, some of the local farming crews will already have started preparing their tools.
Guenneth glances at Josliehn. The girl has fallen asleep. She leans forward and gently shakes her arm. “Josliehn. Pick up your things, come on…”
Still half asleep, Josliehn gets to her feet with the gait of a woman seventy years her senior. Even as the craft softly lands and other passengers begin to make their way out to the station, she moves at a glacial pace, taking an age to shuffle out of her seat towards the door. Guenneth must fight the urge to grab the girl’s arm and hurry her along. She sincerely hopes this lovesick behaviour does not carry on much longer.
They walk in silence to Guenneth’s hut: her pride and joy. The whitewashed walls gleam in the late evening light. Her flowerbed is a riot of colour; she will water the blooms as soon as she has settled Josliehn down for the night.
Josliehn is listless: all the fight and the tears drained from her by the strain of preparing the house for the wedding of the man she still seems to love, despite everything. Guenneth finds it easy enough to steer her through the narrow doorway and towards the makeshift bed she has prepared. She encourages her to lie down, then hurries to the kitchen and back, fetching some bread and water to leave by her side.
As she turns to go, Josliehn catches her hand.
“You didn’t have to let me stay here tonight. So … thank you.”
“Josliehn … your mother saved me. And I swore to her that I would look after you as if you were my own. No thanks will ever be needed. Remember that.”
Josliehn nods – the ghost of a smile appears across her face, just for a moment – then she closes her eyes again. Guenneth makes sure to close the door as softly as possible behind her.
The poor child is only sixteen years old. Guenneth can well remember what it was to be that age: how a romance can light up your every waking moment and make you believe, somehow, that even as a downtrodden peroi girl, your life might be blessed with some measure of joy.
She will remove Josliehn from her cleaning duties and assign her to attend to Alilah from now on. Alilah is the daughter of Eitrem and Albalia: a good-natured soul in her own way – more agreeable than the rest of the household, certainly – yet sorely lacking in common sense, truth be told. The young heiress’ temperament is not unlike that of Josliehn, Guenneth supposes, though the social standings of the two girls are worlds apart.
Nevertheless, attending to Alilah is a relatively undemanding task, and it would be the perfect time for Josliehn to take up this role. Alilah’s previous maids, Innaia and Organa, are moving on. Most importantly, if she is assigned to work only in Alilah’s wing of the house, she will seldom have a reason to run into Orvec.
This piece forms part of a project I’m working on at the moment, set in a fictional civilisation called Aarai, which has a working title of “The Ballroom Project” (a better one will fall into place, I hope). The parts of the story that immediately precede the content of this post can be read here (part one), here (part two) and here (part three). The word count is listed in the title so that people can make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to click through. This is the fourth and last part of Chapter One – I’ll start sharing longer excerpts from now on.
For those who might want to read the full chapter in one place, that is available here.
Do let me know if you have any feedback or suggestions, as I’ve only recently begun to share my writing with other human beings again!