I posted this in its entirety on Wattpad, but I thought it might be nice to post scenes from this story about twice a month. That means I’ll have the whole story available here on my blog in about three months or so.
Part of it (a small part) is under a More tag due to length.
(I’m thinking twice a month because I’m toying with the idea of a paranormal short story series—romantic of course—published here on my blog first, then compiled into a collection when it’s done. That series would alternate with scenes from part one of The Baker’s Wife. If I decide not to do this, I’ll just post scenes from part one every Friday.)
Part One: Parlay
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. At the very least, perhaps she could escort him to an inn.
I may be a married woman, she decided, but the road is a public place. It’s perfectly acceptable for me to speak with an unmarried man here. And if anyone is wondering what I’m doing in the tall grass with him, I’ll ask for help. “Sir. You have to wake up, sir.” She tapped his cheeks, then pressed her hands against his skin.
He’s not drunk, she realized. He’s burning with fever.
“Sir, you’re going to have to get up.”
His eyes opened briefly and stared at her, unseeing. She touched his cheek and tried to ignore how he leaned into her palm.
Too dry, she thought, and wondered how he’d managed to come down ill so quickly. Unless he was fighting this off while he played this afternoon. “Sir, you’re ill. I can carry you in my cart, but you’ll have to help me get you there.”
His eyes focused briefly on her face and he nodded. She wrapped his arm around her shoulder, bearing his weight as he got to his feet. They reeled back and forth as they walked to the cart. We must both look drunk, she thought, and looked down the road both ways. Far off behind them she could see someone, but they were very far off.
Pulling out the burlap she kept to cover goods as they traveled, she knelt down and used her hands to give him something to step on. He practically fell into her cart, moaning as he laid down. Running back to the river, she grabbed his fiddle case and laid it down beside him. Covering him as best she could with the burlap, she went back to pushing the cart toward the village, already forming a list of things she would need to heal him.
Few passed her on the way. Of those who did, most were too caught up in their own thoughts or merriment to care about the married woman with a man in a cart. Only one looked in, a rotund, red-faced blob on top of a horse who said, “Had a bit too much fun tonight, eh?”
Worried about the consequences, she said, “Yes, sir.”
“You’re a good wife, then,” he grinned in honest admiration and moved ahead.
“Yes, I am,” she whispered, hating the lie, and pushed faster. Still, it was after dark when she got home. Perhaps, she thought as she looked at the homes around them, this is a good thing. Darkness meant she could push the cart to the back. If she made any noise, the neighbors wouldn’t be able to make her or the man out clearly. They might even assume it was her husband, though Lejer was a little taller and thicker around the middle. The clothes look the same in the dark, she told herself as she pulled the burlap away from the feverish minstrel. And the vest…no one would be able to tell the color of the vest in this light.
Climbing inside, she shook the man. Leaning close to his ear, she whispered, “Sir? Sir, we’re here. You have to get up again.”
His head lolled toward her, eyes half closed. But he saw her. She was sure of that when he shifted and tried to sit.
She jumped down from the cart and grabbed a three-legged stool. “Here.” It took a moment for her to help him find it and another for him to actually step down from the cart. He leaned heavily against her as they walked to the house until she wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it up the stairs.
Opening the back door with one hand, her fears turned out to be correct. He put his hand on the wall, then his back, then he slid down to the floor of the kitchen.
Closing the door, she finally felt safe enough to talk to him in something more than a whisper. “Sir? I’m sorry. I understand you don’t feel well, but you’ll have to keep going.”
He shook his head. “Can’t stay here. I have to meet someone.”
“Not with a fever like that.” She touched his cheek, still burning hot, and began to feel some panic. “Sir,” she said, her voice firm, “I can’t carry you to the spare room. I can help you, but there are stairs and—”
He shook his head.
“—you’re dehydrated. If we don’t get the fever down, you could die. And wouldn’t that be bad for whoever you need to meet? Now, please, get up.” She waved her hand. Lights turned on down the hall, lights provided by the lord of the region for every resident. King’s Lights, they were called. She grabbed the stranger’s arm and prayed he would at least try to stand. At first she didn’t think he would. His arm felt limp and his eyes stayed closed. Panicked now, she gave one strong tug. As if rousing from a dream, he started. Leaning on her once more, she managed to guide him down the hall to the stairs.
The back door opened.
She stopped, the minstrel leaning on her, her eyes wide as she saw Lejer stumble to the chair in the kitchen. “Krysilla,” he called out. “Ale, Krysilla!”
The minstrel chuckled. “Krysilla,” he mimicked.
Thinking quickly, she said, “Coming, Lejer. I just have to—”
Ignoring him, she was about to help the stranger up the stairs when he pulled away. Instead of collapsing, the stranger looked at her, somewhat more coherent than before. “Go. I’ll stay here.”
Still feverish, he smiled and closed his eyes. “Promise.”
Krysilla reluctantly turned just as Lejer called out for her, and this time it sounded like he was getting up. “Woman!”
She hurried down the hall to the kitchen, leaving the stranger at the foot of the stairs. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. What would he think of her now with Lejer yelling like that? Breathless, she grabbed the doorjamb to stop herself. “What do you need?”
“Where were you?”
“I was busy at the front.”
“A customer? Now?”
Thinking quickly through her options, she decided telling the truth was the best among them. “A sick minstrel.”
Lejer’s eyes went wide. He leaned forward, swaying a little. “He can’t stay here.”
“You and I have gotten ill before.”
“And we haven’t gotten anywhere near the ovens when that’s happened.”
Is the spare room anywhere near the ovens? she wanted to snap. Knowing that logic wouldn’t work very well at this point in his drunkenness, she ignored him. “You said you wanted ale?” She walked quickly to the pantry and got a small bottle he kept for nights like this when he wanted a little something before bed.
“He has to leave.” Lejer got unsteadily to his feet.
“Would you like a blanket as well?” She handed him the ale.
“He has to leave.” Ignoring the ale, he rolled to the side as he tried to get from the kitchen to the hall, knocking over a stack of dishes in the process. She cringed as they shattered. With a wave she picked them up and put them in the trash bin. “I’ll get him out of the house. But you need to go to bed.”
He shook his head again, his eyes dull. “He can’t stay here, Krysilla.”
“Of course not. Do you want me to go upstairs and warm the foot of the bed for you?”
He nodded. A thought flit through her head, a memory of a time when he would have joked that all he wanted warming his bed was her. That had been very early in their marriage and had been gone before one season had changed to another. Even then, she remembered, it had been halfhearted.
But wives were supposed to adapt to such things, so she patted him on the shoulder and went back to the foot of the stairs where the stranger waited.
Except he wasn’t there.
Heart pounding, she looked at the front door. No time to search for him. If she didn’t make sure Lejer was comfortably sleeping off the ale, the stranger most certainly wouldn’t be staying here tonight. Running up the stairs, she heard Lejer began to sing his favorite drinking song: Lovely Lisbet, a sad tune about a young woman married off against her will to a fearsome lord-magician, while the young man who truly loved her made plans to steal her away.
At the top of the stairs now, she threw open the door to the master bedroom. A soft, low, melodic voice singing the same tune Lejer sang drifted from one of the spare bedrooms. Racing into her own, she threw a warmed brick under the covers and ran back to the hall. The stranger’s singing had stopped. Walking quietly down the hall, she checked the three guest rooms they had, one by one. In a room filled with blues and greens that made her think of the river or the sea, the stranger lay on top of the bed’s covers, one foot firmly on the floor and the other leg bent so that his boot didn’t touch the quilted cover.
Glad to see he was still here, she ran back down to Lejer, still singing at the top of his lungs the sad tune. He’s about to get to the part where he cries, she thought. As expected, by the time she reached him, tears had begun to roll down his face.
“Isn’t that a sad song, Krysilla?” he said as she pulled his arm over her shoulders.
“Yes, it is.” She’d asked him once why he sang it, but he acted as if he had no idea, so she’d let it go. He was heavier than the minstrel but more coherent and a little more coordinated. It didn’t take long to get him up to the top of the stairs, or into bed to sleep it off.
She had removed the warming stone and was just in the process of pulling the covers over him as he lay down when he grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her to him. Surprised, she stiffened in his grasp, eyes wide and breath coming in small snatches. It had been years since he’d wanted her like this.
No, she realized. He’d never wanted her like this.
His smile was warm and soft. It made her feel bad for admiring the strange minstrel lying in the other room.
Then, his eyes focused and he frowned. Letting her go, he rolled over. “G’night, Krysilla.”
“G’night.” Confused, she tried to keep her steps quiet on the cold wood floor. Closing the door until only a sliver of light remained, she tried not to run back to the stranger. Running would make noise.
He was still there on the bed. Feeling his forehead, she bit her lip. His fever had gotten worse.
The law required she get a healer, someone who had been licensed in using magic to heal. There was only one exception. The farmers were allowed to use healing magic since it was tied to herbs, and herbs grew in the ground. Anything that grew in the ground was available to a farmer.
Or a farmer’s daughter, like Krysilla.
That doesn’t apply to you anymore, the more practical side of her warned, even as she hurried as silently as she could down to the kitchen. You promised to leave your father’s magic behind when you married Lejer, as all married women do.
And I have a person who could die before the morning comes, she replied as she stoked the fire and warmed a small pot of water over it. Taking out a couple of pieces of wood in the kitchen’s floorboard, she pulled out a small bottle of tincture. Holding it between her palms, she felt the fire of the herbs flowing through them. Just a little to start, she remembered, adding only that to the water before putting the small bottle in the pocket of her skirt.
Pouring only a small stream into the small pot, she closed her eyes. In her mind, she saw sparks of light swirling inside the warm water. Focusing on that fire, she reached out and, with a wave of her hand, made it swirl faster. Then, like the fire in the oven, she focused on the spell that would strengthen the medicine’s ability to regulate the temperature.
Done with preparing the infusion, she smiled. The fire in the herb would warm the body and help kill the infection. She’d done this many times when she was ill and Lejer was out.
She’d never done it with Lejer home before. Or used this magic on a stranger.
Putting those thoughts out of her head, she closed up the floorboards, leaving the small bottle in her pocket. She may need it again soon if this first time wasn’t enough to break the fever.
With soft steps to the cupboard and back, she poured the infusion into a ceramic cup, one she kept specifically for this purpose and the only thing she’d ever begged from Lejer. She’d found it worked best with infusions, better than earthenware or wood. Setting the cup on a small table near the stairs, she gently detached one of the King’s Lights from the wall and held it by its wooden handle. Up the stairs she went, cup in one hand, light in the other, each creaking step making her cringe and wince. The last thing she needed was Lejer awake and shouting at her.
Down the hall she crept until she got back to the blue room where the stranger lay. Quietly setting the glowing light in a sconce, she put the cup on the nightstand. “Sir?” Her eyes widened. His cheeks were bright scarlet now and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. Shaking him roughly now, she said, “Sir? I’ve brought something from the healer.”
His head rolled back and forth, his eyes twitching as if they were about to open, but didn’t. She reached forward and lifted his head. The scent of spices, warm, rich and exotic, filled her nostrils, the scent of markets and traveling and she closed her eyes. It was a wonderful scent.
Trying to ignore it, she waved her hand over the cup and did something she hadn’t done since she was a young girl taking care of an ailing sister. She visualized the water as dough and pinched with her fingers. A small glob of water separated and lifted.
It had been a long time and it was difficult to both move the water toward the stranger and lift him up so he wouldn’t choke. It took five tries before she managed to drop the small bit of infusion into his mouth.
He jumped up the moment it did, sucking down breath, eyes wide. “It’s okay,” she told him, putting her hands on his shoulders. The stranger’s incredulous glare almost made her laugh. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not trying to kill you.”
His shoulders stiffened, and she couldn’t help wondering if someone had tried to do just that in his past. I know nothing about you, she thought as he relaxed back on the bed, eyes closing. He rolled over on his side, boots still not touching the quilt. Hands on her hips, she frowned. He had to get under the covers, which meant his boots had to come off.
The problem was that, as she looked at them, they didn’t seem to be ordinary boots. On the soles, she could make out inscriptions, circles and squares and lines and curves that she didn’t recognize but that felt as if they were magical. And familiar, though she didn’t know how. Some of the lines were worn thin, probably from walking down roads many times, as she’d seen him do before he collapsed. The question was, why were they there? Every spell she’d seen or used never needed a mark. You drew them with your hands or your fingers. Was it a reference, like the images used in spellbooks? It might. But she’d heard stories of the lords and ladies, how they drew symbols on items and it worked the same as if the symbols had been drawn in the air. Curious, she looked carefully at the King’s Light for symbols. Nothing.
Then, it might just be a reference. On the bottom of his feet. Where they’re sure to get worn off.
It might also by a way to keep would-be boot thieves away, in which case it might just be nothing more than drawings. Or it could be a spell that would immobilize her.
Carrying his fiddle with the shoulder strap wrapped twice around his wrist, and now strange symbols on his boots. She had never met a minstrel before, but already they seemed strange creatures indeed.
Deciding to take the risk, she hesitantly took hold of his boot. Then, holding his leg with one hand, gave it a gentle tug.
The stranger sat up, surprising her more than if there really had been a spell for thieves on his boots.
He said nothing, only looked at her with sleepy eyes.
“You need to take off your boots,” she said. He nodded, but made no move to take them off.
She tried again, glad he was sitting up. It allowed her to tug harder and get them off quicker. That done, she was at a loss of what to say now that he was somewhat awake.
She needn’t have worried. Without giving a sign she existed, the minstrel got up and pulled back the covers himself, burrowing under the quilts. He didn’t bother to take off his cloak, and neither did Krysilla.
Still trying to keep him warm, she brought out an extra quilt kept in a chest at the foot of the bed. Spreading that over him, she closed her eyes.
So tired, she thought. But it was with a smile that she opened the vent that diverted the residual heat from the oven below into the guest room. One of the good things about being the wife of a baker.
Taking the King’s Light from the sconce, she paused at the doorway. The stranger lay curled up under the blankets, like some strange cross between a boy and a man.
Propriety dictated she should close the door now, with her on the side he wasn’t. It was bad enough that she had allowed the minstrel to stay when her husband had specifically said he wanted the man gone. She’d pay for that with a lecture the next day, or a Lejer so angry he’d spend all day and most of the night at the pub. No different from now, a snide voice whispered.
And yet, she could tell from the stranger’s posture that he was now fighting chills. She’d never encountered a situation where a healing spell didn’t take the first time, but she had only given him a little and it had been a long time since she’d tried to heal someone else. It might take a few more doses before his body started to regulate itself again. It wasn’t right to leave him before she knew he was out of the worst of it.
Putting the light back in the sconce, she cracked the door open, even though it would let some of the warmth out. Better that than the things a closed door would imply. Quietly, she took out the small watch her mother had given her as a wedding present. Taking note of the time, she sat down in a small chair in a corner, one built for rocking a baby that refused to go to sleep. Laying the open watch in her lap, she took a nearby shawl, also kept for the same purpose as the chair, and wrapped herself in it.
Quarter of an hour and she’d check on him again, give him more medicine if need be. In spite of her exhaustion, her resolve kept her awake until that time.
Just think of him as the child you never had, she told herself. But when she held his heavy head, felt the breadth of his shoulders as she helped him sit up, it was impossible to believe that, or to be unaware of the scandalous circumstances she was creating. But each time she gave him another dose of the infusion she felt no guilt or shame. He was ill, and she could no more ignore him than any other creature in this green world.
It took four doses before the chills and fever left him. His face was peaceful and he stretched out under the covers around the time Krysilla decided to finally leave the room.
Keeping the tincture hidden, she set the mug in the washing basin’s cupboard. Making a note to add hot water to two basins in the morning instead of just one, she once again took the Light from the wall and walked softly back to her own room.
She didn’t bother to do more than strip down to her underthings. Climbing under the covers, she snuggled next to her husband, trying to get some of his warmth without waking him up. He was always a bear when he’d been drinking.
In spite of her exhaustion, sleep didn’t come easily. Each faint creak from the house woke her. Each murmur of the wind wove itself through her dreams and in those dreams she was standing at the edge of a chasm. In its depths, the river swirled, white foam crashing against sharp rocks. She wanted to step back, and yet she knew if she did, it would be worse for her. The wind blew her closer to the edge, her bare feet gripping the rock because there was nothing nearby for her to hold onto.
Someone stepped behind her, a man, though she had no reason to know this. She simply knew.
He stepped closer and she felt a nudge.
“No,” she whispered as the nudge pushed her closer to the edge. She threw out her arms, though she knew there was nothing to stop her from falling.
“Krysilla?!” The man behind her grabbed her shoulder.
She blinked. Darkness filled her bedroom, lit only by the King’s Light. She felt someone bending over her and turned quickly.
Lejer peered at her from above, bleary-eyed. “Time to get up,” he said, then winced and rubbed his forehead.
Slipping out of bed, she got dressed with shaking fingers. It still felt as if the edge of the chasm was at her feet and she was about to fall in. Grabbing a brush, she worked the tangles out of her hair before braiding it.
Standing in front of the door, she knew something felt wrong. She’d forgotten something important.
Tears sprang to her eyes. She couldn’t think.
Blue. Rushing back to her stool, she grabbed the blue sash and tied it tight around her waist.
“Krysilla,” Lejer mumbled, startling her.
“Yes?” Would he ask about the stranger? Krysilla moved closer to the door, ready to bar it if Lejer tried to throw an ill man out in the cold, stranger or not.
“Make sure the report is taken of the ovens today.”
She relaxed. “All right.” Slowly closing the door behind her, she heard him call her again. Trying not to sound annoyed, she answered, “Yes?”
“Those reports are very important.”
“I’ll make sure the inspector gets the report on all the ovens.” She tried to close the door again. He started talking and she bit both lips to keep her frustration in check.
“This isn’t like the cinnamon, Krysilla. Those reports are what allow us to have a bakery at all.”
With a look that said he didn’t trust her to remember anything he’d just said, he rolled over and went back to sleep.
She went downstairs and started the fires for the ovens, moving as if she had slept well for months. In the kitchen, she made a thick porridge, then poured it into three bowls. Two, she put on the table. One, she put to the side and covered with a clean cloth.
Racing upstairs with the covered porridge and a spoon, she prayed no one would come with business until after she checked on the stranger. If he was still here.
She had gotten to the top of the stairs when she thought that, and stopped entirely, porridge still in her hand, burning it. The pain forced her to move. He wouldn’t leave, she told herself. He had a fever.
And what did it matter to her if he did? She had a husband, she shared his magic. That was more than some women had.
She opened the door to the Blue Room, her stomach in knots. The stranger hadn’t moved since she last saw him. She let go of a breath she had thought she wouldn’t hold, her relief making her hand tremble as she set the porridge down on the nightstand.
For one insane moment, she wondered what life would be like, married to the minstrel. Probably full of mismatched schedules and worry, she told herself. And yet, it would be so easy to think it might work. His hair caught the early rays of sunlight that filtered through a gap in the curtains, shimmering gold and brown. He stirred and her heart stopped at the sight of it. Hold it together, girl, she told herself. He rolled on to his back and she could almost hear their morning conversations. As if you would be any less tired around him, her more practical side said, drowned out in the sight of his eyes slowly opening.
He blinked, and frowned. Muttering a curse, he tried to stand.
“No!” She put her hand on his shoulder and he stared at her in confusion.
“My fiddle,” he said. When she only stood there, eyes wide, he said, “Where is my fiddle?”
“It’s safe.” Had to be. It had spent all night covered in the back of a cart owned by the most conscientious man in the village. Lejer never left anything out.
She wasn’t worried about the safety of his fiddle. What worried her was the panic she felt at his leaving.
“I need it. I must go into town.” He tried to stand and immediately sat back down.
“You had a bad fever.”
“And I thank you for healing me.” Whatever flirtation she’d received from him before, at the market, no longer existed in his aquamarine eyes. Or were they gray? “But I really must be gone.”
Less from panic, and more from honest concern, she said, “You can hardly stand.”
From below, she heard the ring of the bell that announced a customer. Her head turned and one foot stepped toward the door from habit. The rest of her stayed put.
“I’m already keeping you,” the minstrel smiled, signs of exhaustion from his fever still in the corners of his eyes.
The bell rang again. “Krysilla!” Lejer called out.
“I’ll be back.” Giving him a stern look, she said, “Don’t move. You still need to heal.”
She closed the door behind her and had only gone two steps when Lejer, with bloodshot eyes and a hand to his head, opened the door. “Circle be damned,” he whispered, “can you keep it down?”
Can you stop drinking so much? She had to bite her lips to keep the words from tumbling out. Running down the stairs, she got to the bottom by the third ring.
Waiting patiently by the scales was a man dressed in the finer clothes that all servants of the Felldesh manor wore. She pasted a smile on her face and apologized profusely for the wait, knowing how furious Lejer would be when he found out.
The servant barely accepted her apologies, if the haughty look on his face was any indication. “I have come to tell you that the day on our order has changed.”
“Ah.” She got out a piece of paper and a pencil. “And what is the new date?”
Four days away. And on a New Moon, a day most people took off. The day before would be extremely busy with requests for extra bread. She’d have her hands full just trying to keep pace with the regular demand.
Bitterness rose in her heart once more. Of course they wouldn’t know how busy we are, living in their fine palace. Her smile tight, she thanked the servant for the information and assured him they would be ready.
He bowed and thanked her. Above them, feet moved quickly and two men (Lejer and the stranger from the sound of it) spoke with raised voices.
She took note of the servant’s stare at the ceiling. “We will have your delivery on New Moon.”
Without taking his eyes from the ceiling, he nodded and left. Didn’t even seem to notice me, she thought and charged back up the stairs just as Lejer was backing out of the Blue Room. He must have heard her approach because he turned and, with eyes wide, pointed inside the room. “I told you to get rid of him.”
“He had a fever.”
“A wife is supposed to obey her husband.”
“He had a fever.”
“Yes, you said that. And that is exactly why I didn’t want him here.”
“He hasn’t been anywhere near the ovens.”
“Little girl, you send him to the healer, to the inn, to the pub, even, but not here.”
Little girl. For many years, Krysilla had borne degrading words like this with silence. It had been easy enough. They were rarely around others at the same time, and when they were Lejer rarely spoke to her. Now, though, now that she had been embarrassed in front of a servant of Lord Felldesh and, more importantly, in front of the minstrel, something in her snapped. Hands on her hips she said, “Do you want your wife wandering the streets with a strange man?”
Lejer’s eyes went wide.
“That would certainly be good for business, wouldn’t it?” She spat the word “business” as if it were a curse. “‘Look at Lejer’s wife. What’s that man doing leaning on her shoulder? Why, she didn’t even bother to take off her blue sash.’” She stayed in place, afraid that if she moved, she would see the minstrel’s face.
These were the kinds of words no good wife would say. These were the things that only came out of the mouth of a harridan, a woman who nagged her husband day and night until he ran away to the pub. And proof that she had never used words like this was in Lejer’s stare, as if she had been replaced by someone else while he slept.
Lejer already lives in the pub, she thought. I’m not driving him anywhere he hasn’t already gone.
He didn’t move. Terrified of what more the minstrel might see or hear, she gestured for him to follow her into their room. Once he was inside, eyes still wide and staring at her as if she’d been replaced with a horrifying Ornic, she continued, and tried to stay calm while doing it. “We’ve both stayed here when we were sick. We go to the healer, take the herbs, and at most, take a day off and sleep upstairs. If we had children, would you expect me to send them off—”
“Is that what this is about?”
She stopped, unsure how to read his tone. Was he trying to understand her? “No.” Ignoring the pain that question caused, she pushed on. “I’m just trying to point out that we aren’t risking anything by having him here until he’s well enough to travel.”
He nodded, still staring. “No.”
“You’d turn out someone who’s ill?”
He sneered. “I’m not heartless, Krysilla. There are healers who can take care of him.”
“No! And you’re lucky to still have a place here instead of getting sent back home for the way you spoke to me just now.” Grabbing his coat and cloak, he opened the door. “He’ll be gone before I come back or I’ll throw him out myself.”
The bell rang, and Lejer waited, glaring at her. “Well?”
She sighed and descended the stairs with him. At the foot stood Lily, a baby on her hip and one hand holding a basket. The baby sneezed. Lejer didn’t chase them out.
She had expected Lejer to be angry. Men were expected to guard the secrets of their trade and Lejer had made a point of guarding them so well that no one was able to make bread like him. Not even his wife, though she came close if the number of customers they still had was any indication.
She hadn’t expected him to threaten to send her back. That was a fate usually reserved for unfaithful wives. Unless, she thought, he doubts me.
Most of the conversation with Lily was a hazy strain; work she put out of her mind as soon as it was done. Only one thing caught her attention.
“—and Lord and Lady Felldesh have hired a highly-respected minstrel!”
“I was just as surprised when my husband told me. He’s one of the greatest in the entire land of the Tothsins. Zhiv Mikhailsin.”
“What does he look like?”
Lily laughed. “What an odd question. Do you know most of the women ask that? Even I asked that. But my husband tells me no one knows because it’s a custom now for musicians to cover themselves with invisibility as they play.”
They aren’t the same, she decided. The minstrel upstairs plays a fiddle. “I’m assuming the great Zhiv will be accompanied?”
“Oh, yes. With many minstrels from the area. Some, I’ve heard, have even traveled great distances for the honor, with the largest number of fiddlers any court, except perhaps the king’s, has ever had before.”
She remembered the look of horror on the minstrel’s face and how imperative it was for him to get to town. It made sense now.
Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs. Lily’s eyes grew wide and Krysilla turned toward the sound as well, though she knew who it was.
The minstrel, fully dressed, stepped into view. He still looked exhausted, and his wavy hair hadn’t been properly combed, but he was still as handsome as when she’d first seen him. In fact, his unruly hair gave him a rakish appearance that was far too attractive for any woman’s heart.
Lily apparently felt the same. She blushed, then looked at Krysilla, waiting for an introduction.
“Ah, Lily.” She thought quickly. “This man…he’s—”
“A distant relative,” he finished for her. “She didn’t even know my name until last night when I so unceremoniously asked her for help.”
“Oh?” One of Lily’s children tugged on her hand but she barely glanced at her before turning all attention back to the minstrel.
“Parlay,” he said, and bowed. “At your service. I play at fairs and for small groups.”
“Oh.” She frowned. Lowly minstrels were different from the kind that played at courts, Krysilla guessed. “And how are you related?”
“Distantly. It would take a bit to explain. How much time do you have?” And Parlay smiled.
Krysilla wasn’t sure whether to laugh or pout when Lily gazed at him with a look that said she had all the time in the world. That magnetic smile could melt the coldest of hearts, she decided and tried to avoid looking at it herself. “Your order, Lily?”
“Ah, yes.” She giggled, as if remembering who she was. “My husband will be worried about me.”
Parlay’s smile never wavered. “He ought to be.” His wink made Lily blush.
Krysilla’s jaw set. “Here’s the receipt. I’ll put it in the oven.”
Lily took it, only half aware of her surroundings. Only when her children began begging her to stop at the carpenter’s on the way home to see the models did she appear to come back to her senses. Krysilla watched her dissemble, rattling off a list of errands, until the door shut. “You noticed her blue sash.”
“As clearly as I noticed yours,” Parlay said, this time with a calculation in his eyes that made her nervous. “Jealous?”
Pointedly ignoring his question, she said, “If you’re well enough to get up, then you’re well enough to leave.” She carried Lily’s marked loaf down the hall.
“Are you sure?” She could hear his smile in the words.
“I thought you were in a hurry to get somewhere yourself?”
“That I was and am. As soon as you give me back my fiddle.”
Maybe he would play at the Felldesh manor on New Moon. She wanted to ask. She wanted to learn more about him. But she thought of the way he flirted with Lily and frowned. Anyone who ignored promises, especially those tied to the blue sash, was not someone she should trust.
That she was tempted to ignore those very promises herself was something she tried not to think about. “The bread has to go in the oven first. I’ll get your fiddle after it’s in.”
He followed her out to the ovens and watched patiently as she put the bread in. Tension knotted her stomach as she waved her hands in the spell that would write on the outside of the oven when the loaf was done. She shouldn’t be doing this while he watched.
He’s announced himself as a relative, she tried to calm herself. No one will think twice if he watches.
Still, it seemed odd that he would be so eager to leave one minute, then tarry the next.
Finished with the loaf, she went to the cart and pulled back the burlap. As expected, his fiddle case sat just where it had been the night before.
He took it up with a frown. “It was out here all night?”
“I had my hands full at the time.”
If he caught her meaning, he didn’t show it. He opened the case and took out the gleaming fiddle. Close-up, Krysilla loved watching the sunlight dance through the polished wood as Parlay turned it this way and that. Taking up the bow, he tucked the fiddle under his chin and plucked the strings, turning the pegs to change the pitch until he appeared satisfied. Putting it away, his smile returned. With a sly, sidelong glance, he said, “You can ask me if you like.”
“Ask you what?”
“If I’m playing at the Felldesh manor.”
“Obviously you are if you mentioned it. Why would I need to ask now?”
“So that I can repay you for your kindness.” And the look he gave her then made her knees weak.
Krysilla shook her head and walked back to the house. “We all know each other in this town. It would be wise not to get tangled up in blue sashes while you’re here.”
“Thank you for the information. I owe you again.”
She paused at the door, remembering the affection in Lily’s voice when she spoke of her husband. “If you feel you must pay me something, don’t hurt my friends.” In spite of her fear that she would melt at the sight of him, she forced herself to glare at his handsome form.
His flirtatious glances had been replaced entirely now by calculation. He was summing her up; she knew it. When he did smile, he said nothing. He bowed, then turned and, shoulder strap once more wrapped twice around his hand, walked away.
All the rest of the morning became a blur of customers and orders, with thoughts of the events early this morning weaving through them. When the sun was high and it was time for dinner, Krysilla had almost put Parlay out of her mind. Almost.
She had made an extra loaf of bread, just in case she needed it for him. With a sigh at her foolishness, she put it on the table with the others and ladled the pottage into bowls.
Lejer came through the door, his vest and coat dusty. At least he looks sober, she thought, and pulled out a chair for him.
He grunted his thanks and sat down. “He gone?”
“Yes. He left not long after you did.”
“Didn’t take anything, did he?”
“Good.” Lejer leaned forward and breathed in the aroma of the pottage. “I’ve been thinking it might be good to have a vegetable stew for New Moon.” He began to eat.
Krysilla had been about to sit down, but she stopped and remained standing. “No meat?”
Everyone had meat for New Moon. Even the beggars were given a small amount, in remembrance of the bounty of peace.
“Krysilla,” Lejer said between bites, “we need the money for a new oven. Business has been very good and we need to grow it even more.”
Her anger from before made her clench her jaw. She breathed in deep, trying to relax. “If we have a new oven, will I have an assistant in the bakery?”
His eyes narrowed. A shiver of fear ran through her stomach, but she held firm. Another oven meant more work and she didn’t think she could do much more without breaking.
“An assistant might turn out to be untrustworthy.”
She thought of Lily and her well-kept home. “I need more time to focus on the house.”
“You help me in the bakery. That’s good enough for a wife.”
“The place is falling apart. I need time to rest from the magic I use in the bakery so I—”
“Can what? Dust and clean? It’s clean enough here. You don’t need to do anything more.”
“I’m tired, Lejer.” It was the first time she had complained in the seven years they had been married. Tears of exhaustion sprang to her eyes.
“Don’t nag, Krysilla.” Tossing his spoon into his bowl, he got up and grabbed his coat. He opened the door.
“Since when have I—” and then she saw Parlay on the other side.
Embarrassed, she turned away, hand over her mouth. “What do you want?” she heard Lejer say.
“I owe you a debt,” came Parlay’s bright, cheerful response. “In fact, I owe you two. As a way of repaying you, I have gotten permission for you and your wife to listen to the musical extravaganza at the manor of Lord Felldesh on New Moon. I would also like to give you and your friends a private concert tonight at a place of your choosing.”
Trying to appear as if she didn’t care and that Parlay hadn’t interrupted anything, Krysilla sat down at the table and began organizing it. A cobweb caught her eye and she quietly waved it away with magic that really should be saved for the bakery. The effort almost made her miss Lejer’s expected response to Parlay’s offer.
“Extravaganzas aren’t for the likes of us. We don’t have time for them.”
If Parlay was surprised, he didn’t show it. “I thought you might say that. So, I took the liberty of asking if you might, with her ladyship’s approval, listen from the salon next to the room. It’s her ladyship’s personal room, where she sometimes retires when a dinner has proved too much for her delicate constitution.”
Aren’t we good enough for the main room? Krysilla waited for her husband to say those words, but nothing came. She looked up and saw him staring at Parlay as if he was trying to figure out the minstrel’s game.
“All right,” he finally said. Shocked, Krysilla watched her husband fold his arms over his blue vest and lean against the door frame. “I’m not about to subject my friends and family to your playing, though.”
“Would you care for a small sample?”
The bell rang. Confused, Krysilla got up to answer it. As she did, she noticed he now wore the strap of his fiddle case over his shoulder, as he should have done before. For a moment, as he took the strap from his shoulder, their eyes met, and his smile grew. A blush dusted her cheeks and she hurried to the front.
Not long after, the sound of Parlay’s fiddle filled the air behind her with a happy jig.
Trying to focus on the customer instead of his playing, she quickly took care of the old man who had brought in a loaf to bake for his dinner. Seeing him to the door (something she never did with a customer), she checked the sign that told passersby that the bakery was closed for lunch.
It hadn’t been turned to show it.
Had she forgotten to turn it? Walking up to it, she reached out to do so when she felt the faint tingle of magic along its edges. Someone had turned it back to the side that said they were open using magic. As if enchanted, she let her fingers linger on the edge of the sign, wishing she had the training of a manor-born lady. It was said they could tell not only the kind of magic used, but who had used it. And Krysilla wanted to be sure before she confronted the one she thought might be behind it.
The sound of Lejer’s clapping, along with two or three other pairs of hands reminded her of her surroundings. Quickly turning the sign to its proper side, she walked back to the kitchen. A small group had formed in the distance and were waiting for more.
“Not bad,” Lejer said, a smile on his face. “Not bad at all, minstrel.”
“Tonight, then?” he asked, putting his fiddle away as he spoke.
“Here, in the backyard. I’ll spread the word.”
“Thank you.” Parlay closed the case and bowed low. “Until tonight.” Turning in Krysilla’s direction, he bowed again, not quite as low this time.
She nodded her head in acknowledgment. I shouldn’t be this happy from such a gesture, she thought and tried not to frown.
Neither spoke until Parlay had left. Lejer took a deep breath. “Well!” Grinning from ear to ear, he put on his coat. “I’d better spread the word. Thomas across the street will be green with envy that I managed to get a private concert from a minstrel of that quality. Is he playing for the Felldesh manor?”
“He didn’t say.”
Lejer looked around the kitchen. “Krysilla, if we’re going to have company, we’ll need to have the place fixed up. Do what you can, and bake some treats. I’ll see if I can’t get some more business out of this.”
Silent curses toward Parlay running through her mind, she nodded. “Of course.”
His grin spread even further and he left to go spread the word.
He’ll be here tonight, the more insane part of her thought as she cleaned that afternoon before she went on deliveries. She would hear him play and hear his voice and see his smile. Just thinking of that brought a smile of her own to her lips.
If you can’t wait to read the rest, here’s the link to the whole story on Wattpad:
Also, if you’ve read any of my books, please leave a review at Kindle, Nook, Wattpad, or wherever you feel inclined. Every review helps.