It was just one of those days. Mama was grouchy, ready to snap at anyone who crossed her path. I knew that it was all just because of the wedding, and Ula’s departure. But even though I loved my elder sister dearly, I was glad to know that she was going. Fanchon Clothweaver was to come this evening, to stay until the wedding later in the week. So, naturally, our humble home was in an uproar.
“Maleah!” boomed the loud voice of Agnes, the kitchen stewardess. “Maleah, come help me with this roast.”
Sighing, I left the table where I had set up a basket of flowers and ribbon. I was in charge of the wreath making, for the candles on the table in the dining hall.
“Now, go get me that pot. No not that one, that one, Maleah! And be quick about it.”
I fetched the bowl filled with spiced wine and brought it over without spilling a drop.
“Good, good. Now, mind you, turn this spit while I take care of the bread dough.”
As I gripped the wooden handle and began to move the lever in its circular path, my thoughts went back to Ula. I wondered if she was as glad to get rid of me as I was of her. She probably was. My sister was the most quarrelsome, meddlesome, goat-flaming woman I’d ever had the misfortune of living with. It’s a wonder such a man like Fanchon Clothweaver wanted to marry her. All through my childhood, she had hovered over me, telling me what to do, what to wear, where to go… Inwardly, I felt relieved to be free of her contrary presence. It was a surprise to me that Mama did not feel the same way. Or at least, that’s how it appeared. Mama was always busy, making Ula new gowns befitting her new status of a merchant’s wife, or overseeing the cooking of the wedding cake. I rarely saw her these days without a deep frown of irritation on her face.“Maleah, don’t let up! You’re daydreaming again. Can’t you pay attention to what you’re doing?” Agnes waved her wooden spoon in front of my face.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, returning to my work with little more fervor.What if Ula was unhappy living in Fanchon’s house? She might come back. Oh, I hoped she would not come back. With her gone, I might even be able to resume my studies. Ula had always looked upon my letter learning with disdain— possibly because she never had the knack of memorizing them. In any case, she frequently found reasons to disrupt my work. And though she constantly claimed that these sudden tedious chores could only be done by me, I knew for a fact that they were envy-born, and any person with sense could carry them out quite easily without the help of a rather small fifteen-year-old girl.
I sighed and looked wistfully at my little flower-laden table. If Agnes kept me for too long, I would not be able to finish the wreathes…The door to the kitchen opened and in strode my mother, in all her aged, noble beauty. Thick brown hair, streaked evenly with grey, was pulled loosely into a braided bun at the back of her head. Her eyes were aquamarine… nothing at all like my dark blues. Those eyes settled upon me, and my mother frowned.
“Hello, Mama,” I greeted her with a diffident smile, still obediently turning the spit until my arms started to ache.“Maleah, what are you doing? I thought I asked you to…”
Agnes turned and interrupted my mother apologetically. “Sorry, milady. I recruited her to help with the roast…”I had been watching my mother, rather than listening. The frown was still on her face. “Is something wrong, Mama?”
She blinked and shook her head, taking up in her hands a ring of deftly placed flowers from the table. “This looks good, Maleah. When you’re done with the meat, I’d like more. Can you do this for me?” Her eyes regarded me speculatively.“Yes, Mama.” I had not faltered in my turning.
“Good. Lord Fanchon will be arriving this evening, remember. I’d like to see you in a clean gown before he comes, daughter. And get a maid to do something with your hair.” Offering just a tiny smile, my mother turned and swept out of the kitchen.