Part one will be free on May 10th and May 11th.
Since The Baker’s Wife is currently part of KDP Select, I can’t give you the whole of part one to see if you’d be interested. However, according to the agreement I signed, I can make 10% available as part of the promotion.
So, here’s the first 10% of part one of The Baker’s Wife, put under a More tag because of length. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
Krysilla didn’t want to open her eyes. Beside her, her husband, Lejer, slept peacefully, and would until long after the sun had risen. She hated him. Too tired to let it be anything more than a simmering resentment, she rolled out of bed and walked softly to her clothes, piled on top of a stool Lejer had once told her would be hers for sitting on and making herself pretty.
No time for that. Time to work. She yanked on her clothes and tied the blue sash that marked her as a married woman around her waist with a practiced hand. Her bare feet made no noise as she descended to the first floor of the two-story house. The cold crept through her feet and wrapped around her ankles under her plain, heavy, wool skirt.
Grabbing some wood, she stuffed it into the oven and drew in the air the spell that would light the fire. Closing her eyes, she tried to concentrate on the spell that would regulate the flames once the temperature was right for baking bread. Her arms felt heavy, and it took several tries of drawing the spell before she could feel it wrapping around the wood and flame together.
It’s the little things, Lejer had told her once, that divide the good from the great. A wave of exhaustion swept over her.
Putting on her clogs and an apron, she took care of the chickens and lit the ovens in the back as she had with the first. She was almost back at the house when she saw their first customer of the day with a bowl of fresh dough.
Great, she thought, and tried to smile. “How are you today, Lily?”
“Oh, I just thought I’d come by early and get this out of the way.”
Of course you can, Krysilla’s resentment whispered. Your husband does all the work so that the only magic you need to worry about is the kind you use on your house. Maybe you’d be late on your family’s bread too if you had something else to worry about.
It was a cold thought. She stuffed it away in her heart and forced her smile to grow. “That’s fine. Let’s go to the scales and see how much you owe me.”
“Your husband,” Lily corrected a little too quickly. As if realizing her gaffe, she said, “I’m sorry. You do the work, so of course I would pay you.”
“No need to apologize. The business belongs to him.” Smile fixed in place now, she switched aprons and washed her hands. She weighed the dough on the shining scales, a square of paper underneath it.
“You’re such a wonderful wife.”
Lily’s words caught Krysilla off-guard. Her smile didn’t waver. “Why do you say that?”
“You do so much. I’m sure I could never manage work and a home as well as you do.”
Krysilla paused. Was this an insult? The hall had dust at least a half inch thick, dishes often waited until just before the next meal and laundry was…no. If she thought about laundry, what little energy she had would leave her. “I try my best.”
“You fulfill your promise very well.”
Krysilla said nothing in response. Focusing on the scales, she closed her eyes and focused on the numbers the king had declared every baker must follow in order to be deemed trustworthy. With her finger, she drew them over the loaf. The spell curled into the dough, waiting to appear in full after the baking was done. Krysilla took note of the result in the spell and took out a piece of paper to write Lily’s receipt.
Lejer should be doing this, she thought, remembering how it had been when they were first married. She trained in the oven room while he dealt with the customers. When she’d learned that, they’d switched and she’d learned how to take care of that aspect until the day he woke her up and said, “I’m too tired today, Krysilla. Be a comfort to me and work the oven today as well, please.”
And because she’d promised to be a comfort to him, and because he provided for her and let her use his magic, she did. Every day since, she did both.
“It’s just,” Lily continued, “you’re so strong. It must give you a lot of power with your magic.”
She hated her strength and clenched her jaw. “Here’s the amount you owe us and the number of the loaf. Do you want to put it in the oven yourself?”
“Oh, no, thank you. As hot as that gets, I think I might faint.”
Die, Krysilla almost said. “And how is your family?” She picked up the dough, still wrapped in the paper and carried it into the oven room.
This room was spotless. Not a speck of dirt or disorder could be seen. Every cleaning spell she knew went into this room and left her exhausted at the end of every day. Lily stepped into the room as if stepping into one of the old Tothsin shrines. “Doing well. My husband is going to take me to the market later today. The ships have come in.”
Krysilla almost lost her grip on the oven door. “Oh?”
“One of them, according to my husband, carries emissaries from the king.”
Emissaries, with beautiful clothes and laughing smiles. People who had never known a day of work in their life. This time she couldn’t stuff the hatred down. It curled into her lips and made her chest tight with unshed tears.
They work, she reminded herself. The magic they learn is what protects us. It’s just a different kind from ours.
Forcing herself away from the thought of the emissaries, she thought of the other things the market brought: spices, flowers, herbs she could add to the garden. It had been a long time since the last ships had come, due to the heavy rain that made the river difficult to navigate. Lejer would let her go if she mentioned the spices. They were getting low.
She thought of the colors of the ships, each one guided by a merchant with a specialty. She thought of the books and the locks and the inventions and most of all, the enormous amount of magic that swirled through the market when the ships came, the spells written on strips of paper and in books.
If she paid enough, she might be able to get one today that had nothing to do with the ovens, but that was still legal for her to know.
And then she realized Lily was still talking. “I’m sorry,” she began to apologize.
“No, it’s my fault. You must concentrate on your work. I’ll just sit here quietly.”
Krysilla nodded, thoughts of the market pulling her back. No, she thought. I have to get my work done first. The thought made her tired. There was always work to do. There was never any time to rest.
But no one else could do it. Her husband couldn’t afford another servant even if he’d wanted to bring one in. Years had gone by before he found a wife he trusted. Everyone in the village had thought he would never marry and adopt his heir instead. As one of the more conservative Tothsins, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
You’re lucky, she told herself and closed up the oven.
Lily paid her and left. Others soon came, and Krysilla’s world became a blur of mixing, kneading, baking, weighing, and taking orders. There had been a time, she remembered, when it had been fun to knead the dough and shape it. Now, not even the order from Lady Felldesh for sweet buns, cake, and bread for an upcoming feast made her smile. She put the paper the order was written on in her pocket without even glancing at what was needed.
In spite of her focus, the market teased her with memories.
The sun was high above the house before she thought of dinner. Hurriedly grabbing some leftover dough from their bread, she shaped it and baked it. While it baked, she went to the kitchen in the back and rinsed the beans she had soaked the night before. Thank the Circle they were the kind that cooked quickly. Soon, a stew was heating up. Giving it a stir and using some wifely magic to keep it at a regular temperature until it was done, she went back to the oven room to finish the orders, then went upstairs to fill her husband’s washbasin with hot water.
And then, as sometimes happened, there was nothing for her to do. Her husband stirred upstairs and she heard him walk around the room as he got dressed. Was the ale where she’d left it for him? Must have been. He didn’t mutter as he came down the stairs.
“Everything all right, Krysilla?”
“Yes.” She leaned against the table with her arms folded. “The ships came in.”
He nodded. “I heard about that yesterday.”
“Ah.” She stared at the oven. “We got an order from Lord Felldesh.” She took the paper out of her pocket and handed it to him. Still a little unsteady from sleep, he walked over and took it, running one hand through his hair as he read. He said nothing, only made little grunts and sounds of thought as he read it.
“We got enough cinnamon?”
He looked up at that. “You haven’t checked it yet?”
“I’m checking it now.”
“You should have checked it as soon as you got the order.”
“It’s been a little busy.”
“It’s always busy, Krysilla. A good baker manages their time. I thought you knew that from handling your father’s business.”
Krysilla’s exhaustion increased. There were times she thought the only reason he married her was because she had taken care of her family after her father had died. Her mother should have, but she’d been so overcome by grief it wasn’t worth even asking. She felt the pouch that contained the cinnamon. “We might have enough for a batch or two.”
“And you didn’t look to see how many batches we would need to make.”
He sighed. You could always start working in the bakery again, she nearly said. But she’d only said that once and had regretted it ever since. The silence was too much to bear.
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing the ships have come in today. Otherwise, we’d be in serious trouble. We might have had to back out of the order.”
She nodded, trying not to look too excited at the thought of going to the market. Her exhaustion made it easy.
Everything else was as it had been for the past few years. He put on his dark blue vest that marked him as a married man, and ate dinner with her. They talked of business and accounts and bread until the meal was done and then he left her to clean up while he went to speak with the cook at Felldesh Keep about the order. He often left in the afternoon, either drinking, or talking with the men by the fountain, or going out to the woods to remember his place in the world, as a good Tothsin should.
At first, Krysilla had been confused by the amount of time he had begun to stay away from home. She’d hint that it would be nice for them to sit in front of the fire and talk, as she’d seen her parents do before her father died. He’d humored her once, but it had been awkward. At the end, he’d laughed and asked if she expected him to give her comfort now instead.
She never asked him to sit with her again. And he never brought up the subject again.
Because it was just the two of them (the boys who chopped the wood for the ovens never stayed beyond dropping off the wood and getting paid), the meal didn’t take long to clean up.
She stared at the stool and wondered if she should make herself look pretty before she left.
It was just the market, she thought, and pulled her long black hair out of its bun. She carefully twisted it into a braided rope that hung down her back. A few strands fell down on her forehead, unruly as always. She thought of putting on shoes, but decided against it. The ground would be muddy from the spring rains and only ruin the things. It would be better to save them for a special occasion.
Whenever that was.
Instead, she put on her clogs and filled the handcart with deliveries. Each one brought her closer to the main road, the one that led to the river and the market. It took two hours before she could see the canopies that sheltered the goods the merchants sold. It took another half hour before she reached the edge of the encampment.
The scent of roasting meat and cooked potatoes filled the air, with spices she could only guess at: sharp spices that burned, and warm spices that tingled her nose just from the smelling of them. The sound of the customers haggling with the merchants seemed to have a rhythm, punctuated by the music of the auctioneers at the distant center of the gathering.
The roads were too narrow among the canopies, too packed. She found an empty space for her cart and took a small basket with her. If she needed anything put in the cart, she would have the merchant’s servant, or perhaps the merchant himself, bring it.
She slowly walked through the innumerable colors of the market, her initial glee turning into a slow form of torture. Everywhere she turned there was something to make her smile. Everywhere she turned, there was something to remind her of all the things she didn’t have. Everywhere she turned, there were people who easily bought things she had to refrain from touching.
Eventually, when she’d had enough and she could feel the exhaustion returning, she went to the spice merchant and bought a large pouch each of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom, all the spices needed for the Felldesh order.
The spell merchants she saved for last.
Ever since the beginning of the Tothsin Age, when magic could be broken up into specialties assigned (and limited) to a trade, the spell merchants had become increasingly powerful. Some used their position to spy on those who wanted to learn more than what they should, and some used their position to gain money from those who wanted to know more than what their trade decreed. Krysilla had always been on the lookout for the latter.
She gazed longingly at the spines of the books, taking note of the trades printed on each one. Growing Food. Healing. Spells for the Locksmith.
Her gaze lingered on that title. When she had been young, before her father died, she had found a few pages from a locksmithing book. Curious, and unaware of the consequences if she should be caught, she’d learned what she could. Once she’d gotten somewhat good at it, she tried to show off for a boy she liked.
His horrified reaction—and warning to never, ever, try her hand at it again—had been her first introduction into the idea that some magics could never be learned.
Still, she thought of those spells and couldn’t help a smile at how wonderful it had felt to unlock something.
“May I help you?”
She looked up at the merchant. “I—I’m looking for baking. Something to do with baking.”
“Fire, earth, water or air?”
Translated into her trade: oven, grain, liquid, or leaven. “Oven, please.”
He plucked out a couple of spell books from a pile. “Having trouble with it, Ma’am?”
“No. It’s…I’m very tired in the morning. I’d like a spell that doesn’t take much effort.”
He frowned. “Books won’t help you with that. It’d be better to get some sleep.”
“Yes, thank you. How much for the book?”
She considered buying the locksmith books as well. But she didn’t know where this merchant stood or what he might do. And she didn’t have time to stand around and wait. The sun was starting to get low in the sky. Instead, she bought the oven book, with its different perspective on the proper way to attach spells to the fire that baked the bread.
Feeling miserable, she slowly trudged down the street. Lejer would be disappointed. What he’d taught her was the culmination of years of baking. There was no need for a book when she had a teacher of his expertise.
But she’d wanted the feel of a spellbook in her hand, any book. The locksmith book.
The sound of a fiddle drifted over the crowd, a light, happy tune, and she wandered to it. Minstrels rarely came this far out, preferring the more populous cities, and citizens didn’t make their own music. The magic surrounding it was considered too wild and unpredictable for commoners to make on their own.
The music stopped and she did as well. Then, she noticed a small crowd that had gathered, clapping their hands politely for the musician. Walking over to it, she tried to see who had decided to come all this way just to play for the crowd at a backwater market.
“Thank you,” she heard a man say. His smooth voice was music itself, calm and melodic. Is this the beginning of the charm? she wondered. Minstrels, her father had once said, could bind people with their songs if they chose. That was why so many of them only played for nobles, the few who could protect themselves.
She waited for the spell to catch. Nothing. It must only be a tale, she thought, and moved closer until she could see the man who belonged to the voice.
Wild, wavy hair somewhere between gold and brown framed a face more handsome than she’d expected. Her eyes widened, drinking in the sight of his slow, full smile, his brilliant, aquamarine eyes that sparkled as he lifted the fiddle to his shoulder. Those eyes scanned the crowd and paused at her.
Quickly looking down at the ground, cheeks hot, she wanted to run. Only the press of the crowd behind her kept her in place.
Unlike the tune before, this one began with a long, mournful note that seemed to resonate with the very core of her. It’s a spell, she tried to tell herself, though no magic clung to her.
No, it was the music itself. That explained why the crowd had grown. There were no illusions, and a musician who played as well as this without using magic was a very rare thing.
Lifting up her eyes again, she listened as the music changed. What had begun as mournful slowly added an undercurrent of anger, growing as the song progressed. She closed her eyes, the music saying everything about her life that she wanted to say and couldn’t. Pain and anger mixed with despair, as the notes became increasingly discordant and the melody more complex. She couldn’t move as he played through the emotions that made up her daily life. She felt the final cry of his fiddle in her heart and nearly doubled over from the pain.
No one had ever reached as fully into her soul as this minstrel did. No one threatened to heal her as this minstrel did.
He lowered the fiddle from under his chin and glanced at her, a sly grin barely forming, before scanning the crowd. Slowly, as if waking from a dream, the crowd began to applaud, then faster, and faster until the applause became deafening.
“Excuse me,” she whispered to the people behind her, tears filling her eyes.
“Thank you,” she heard him say. “Thank you very much. I’m honored. And now, let’s pick up the pace.” She had managed to get past the crowd just as the first notes of a rousing dance tune filled the air.
He must use magic, she thought, though she hadn’t felt any. But she didn’t know of any magic that could let a person view inside another. As far as she knew, it didn’t exist.
Yet there was no other way to explain how clearly his song had matched her thoughts.
Clutching her purchases, she forced herself to walk, not run, back to the handcart. She didn’t look back at the gaily colored canopies as she threw her items in. It would have been a blur of colors anyway through the tears. With a hard yank, she pulled the cart away and pushed with all she had.
“Control is important,” she whispered to herself. “Control is everything, in magic and life. If you do not have control of yourself, how can you hope to master magic?” They were words every child raised in Tothsin beliefs knew, and everyone was a Tothsin now.
The words brought no comfort, but they managed to get her to a stand of trees by the river where she could hide from potential passersby as she cried great, heaving sobs.
It’s like having a secret told to a room full of strangers, she thought. And she wasn’t naive enough to think he cared. The fiddler had probably seen her, made a few educated guesses, and played something that he thought might get him an extra coin. It was her own reaction that told him he was right, if he’d even bothered to look for it afterward.
He had. She remembered his glance and slumped against the tree in shame.
The sun was getting low in the sky. She sighed. It would be impossible for her to make it home before dark. The night air chilled her, but she only hugged herself in response. Lejer stayed out late sometimes as well. Maybe it would be good for her to be late for once. Show him how it feels.
She closed her eyes. The music had gotten to her more than she wanted to admit, she decided. A wife is a comfort to her husband. No matter how often he stays out or how long, she must always be waiting for him.
And yet, it wasn’t until the sun had begun to sink into the horizon that she went back to the cart and began pushing it home.
The exhaustion she had briefly managed to push away came back, making her efforts slow as she traveled the long road. Her thoughts inward, she didn’t notice the figure ahead until she had gotten close enough to see it was a man with hair the same as the fiddler.
Looks drunk, she thought, watching him stumble a little as he walked. Probably celebrated a successful day’s work. That made sense. Playing like he did, he probably looked for women to join in the celebration afterward, preferably unhappily married ones. Everyone knew minstrels, men and women, had friends who were something more in every town. Only the ones who stayed with the nobles showed enough self-control to have families. Vagrants like this…Krysilla bent down her head and pushed a little faster. The sooner she got away from him, the better.
He looked over his shoulder, but didn’t smile as she approached. What she now realized was the case that held his fiddle dangled from his hand, the long strap wrapped twice around his wrist.
That doesn’t look right, she thought as she passed. It looks long enough to wrap over his shoulder.
He still walked unsteadily, giving her a brief nod as she passed. Behind her, she could hear his steps slow, then stop altogether.
She only took a few paces herself before she also stopped. Turning around, she saw him staring at the ground in front of him. He didn’t look up as he stumbled to the river’s edge.
He’s going to fall in, she thought, and ran after him. “Wait!”
He didn’t stop.
He reached the edge and swayed forward, then back, still staring at the ground. It was only when she caught up with him, breathless from running, that he looked at her. “Village?” he said, his eyes struggling to focus on her.
“That way,” she said, pointing down the road.
He shook his head. “How far? I have…an appointment to keep. Must. Keep.” He closed his eyes and swayed again, this time to the side, and this time he fell onto the tall, shore grass.
For a moment, Krysilla stared at him. She’d been so embarrassed by his music’s touch that she hadn’t fully appreciated how handsome he was in his dark violet minstrel’s vest, so dark it was almost black, with the white handkerchief in the pocket that announced to the world he was unattached. She knelt down next to him, then looked up. The King’s Dogs, men trained in terrible arts forgotten even by nobles, kept watch over the roads, but some stretches were better kept than others. In daylight, the danger was minimal, but at night, when lights made for easy targets, a woman lured off the road might be easy prey.
Looking back down at the stranger, she frowned. She doubted he’d have anything to do with robbers. Unless, she considered, it was part of his act.
As if you know, she chided herself and decided to try waking him up.
(END OF SNIPPET)
The Baker’s Wife (part one) is currently $1.99 in the Kindle Store. It will be free on May 10th and May 11th.
One last thing. If you’ve read this story, please give it an honest review on Amazon. I know reviews have kind of gotten a bad rap lately, but they still help more than some realize. Just please be honest. That’s all I ask. Thank you.