Doing this series has given me a lot of respect for television writers, who have to build the series bit by bit and hope it all makes sense in the end.
BTW, next week there won’t be another scene from part one. Instead, I’ll post either the short from my website, or something new. Not sure yet.
Finally, I’m sorry this is late. Yesterday was just one, big crash, and today isn’t much better. I’ll do my best not to let that happen again.
The day Krysilla first practiced in the meadow had been Old 4 in the Rain Moon. She didn’t mean to make a note of it. The next day, while washing the dishes, she came across the mug Parlay had used. And for the first time she realized the import of what had happened.
Already she had begun to slacken in the bakery. She took care of what needed to be done, but she no longer hurried to go above and beyond the call of duty. She no longer raced to the front to take care of a customer. And she felt like singing as she did her chores through the house. Windows that hadn’t been opened in ages were shoved wide to let out the dust.
Lejer didn’t comment. He had come home after she went to bed and, the next morning, stayed just long enough to eat a late breakfast. It wasn’t unpleasant. But there was a chill between them now that hadn’t existed before.
And Krysilla was surprised to learn that she didn’t care as much as she had expected. That’s because I’m a terrible wife, she told herself as she stared at the cup Parlay had used. Taking it downstairs, she put it among the other dishes soaking in the tub. What does it say about me, she thought, staring at the cup, that I’m happier when I’m disobedient?
She straightened the kitchen and washed the dishes, leaving the cup for last. Lingering over it, she remembered how it had felt to work forbidden magic, magic, she reminded herself, that had once been perfectly legal for her to use. Only her marriage changed that.
Turning it over to expose the bottom, her finger traced out yesterday’s date, in a spell similar to the one she used to mark the bread. She had no idea if it would work or not.
Parlay was a shadow, gone when the darkness came. But this, she decided, this magic is part of me and it’s mine. I must always remember this.
The spell lingered, then disappeared. Krysilla’s lips thinned and she tried again, this time thinking in terms of etching, not darkening. Slowly, the glaze of the ceramic dulled, forming the words “Old 4, Rain.” Proud of the spell she had invented, she dried it and wrapped it in a cloth before putting it back down among the herbs.
The house seemed filled with sunshine. For the first time in years, she felt sorry to leave it. But deliveries wouldn’t wait, and there was Parlay with her book at the end. Everything seemed filled with life and hope, which made little sense considering her awful circumstances.
If Parlay noticed her improved mood, he didn’t show it. He smiled at her just as often as before, and was just as engrossed in his writing while she practiced. Few words passed between them beyond greetings. Now and then, she would feel him watching her and let the thought blow away. If she was going to do this under pressure, she had to get far beyond the point of caring if he was watching her or not. And it was better for the both of them anyway.
And then it was Old 6, the day before New Moon and the start of the Flower Moon.
Krysilla was sure she would scream by the time it had finished. Though a chill still lingered between them, Lejer apparently felt it would be bad for business if he didn’t begin to appear more often in the bakery. For the first time since he’d taught her how to use the ovens, Lejer handled the baking. And she was glad of it. Most got their bread the day before New Moon, as a courtesy to the bakers so they could enjoy the day as well, including Lord and Lady Felldesh. Lejer took that order to himself as well, leaving Krysilla to handle the regular customers. Glad he was willing to take over some of the work again, she offered more than once to help with the Felldesh order. Some of the chill returned each time, when he told her no. But he was helping. So, she went back to the next order or the next customer with a pleased smile.
Life was good.
It was after dinner, when the sun was high and bright, that Lily came through the front door. “Oh, good,” she said, breathless. “I thought I might have missed you.” In her hands, she had a package wrapped in cloth and tied with a string. Krysilla could tell from the way she carefully held it what it might be.
Hoping she could sneak away, she said, “Lejer, I’ll be upstairs with Lily.”
He glared at her from over the top of a cake for the Felldesh extravaganza. “Why?”
“It’s a dress I made for the baby and me,” Lily lied far too smoothly. “A matching set. Would you like to see it?”
Lejer shook his head and went back to concentrating on icing the cake. With a grin, Lily raced up the stairs, Krysilla close behind. Once they were both inside the Sun Room, she began to quickly unwrap the package. “I thought you might want to hide it in a room you rarely use,” she whispered.
“I would have never guessed this of you.” Krysilla felt like laughing.
“Oh, this side of me is encouraged by my husband, trust me. He enjoys the idea that he never knows what I’m going to do next.”
“So long as the house doesn’t fall apart and the children are safe,” Krysilla added and got a knowing wink from Lily.
“Now, let’s see how this looks.” And she took out from the cloth wrapping an exquisite, burgundy-colored dress, with white trim. It wasn’t as fine as the dress Parlay would have given her, but she liked it just as well. She ran her fingers over the soft weave and realized it had a white underdress.
“It’s a little out of fashion,” Lily said with a frown. “But I think the color will work well for you.” Holding it up to Krysilla’s front, Lily smiled. “Yes. That will do. Do you want to try it on?”
“Will you have to adjust it?”
“No, it laces up the side. I just thought you—”
“Krysilla!” Lejer called from the foot of the stairs. “Customer!”
“I swear, I don’t know how he managed so well without you,” Lily said, in her first sign of anything less than respect for Krysilla’s husband.
Taking the dress and wrapping it back up, Krysilla shoved it under the bed. “Coming!” To Lily, she said, “I hate putting it there but—”
“It’ll dust off just fine.”
She opened the door. “I’ll be right there!”
“You women and your ooing and ahing over babies,” he grumbled.
She remembered wanting and all those nights she would have given anything for a child and hated him again. A hand touched her shoulder and she turned to see Lily looking at her with more compassion than she’d received in years. Looking in the direction of the stairs, Lily said, steel in her voice, “We’ll come by to pick you up after Lejer’s gone. Just leave a white piece of paper in the door and one of my husband’s men will get us.”
Now Krysilla did laugh. Clamping her hand over her mouth, she barely managed to recover her self-control before she began to sob. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“Not at all.”
By the time they went downstairs, Lejer, with a fierce glare, told them he had taken care of the customer himself. “I’m sure he felt properly honored,” Lily said, “having spoken with the owner himself.”
Lejer only snorted, though Krysilla couldn’t help noticing a faint smile as he bent over the cake once more.
You do that so easily, she thought. I wish I could handle him as well as that.
Once Lily was gone, Krysilla announced she was going out to do the deliveries. I have a dress now, she thought, as she did her rounds. That thought made her nervous. What if Lejer found it while she was out?
No, he never went into the Sun Room except for that one time after Parlay played. It was rare for him to stay in the house at all. Felldesh orders were one of the few exceptions, and who could blame him there? If she loved the bakery at all, she would be at home with him.
Once she’d finished, a new thought increased her nervousness: what if he was still home when she brought the cart back? He’d want to know why she was out so late if it wasn’t for deliveries.
She thought over her options and decided to bring the empty cart with her. It meant going down the main road, but she could always say she had decided to take a walk in the fine weather. It would eventually get back to Lejer, but by then Parlay would be long gone and things would have calmed down between them. Her husband and herself.
She left the cart in a small clearing off the road and walked deeper into the forest. Tomorrow, she thought. Tomorrow, everything will go back to the way it was. It’ll be better, because I’ll know more locking spells and maybe I can use them around the house without Lejer noticing. He was gone often enough it might work.
Unless he really did begin spending more time in the bakery and this wasn’t a rare event.
With all these thoughts swirling in her head, she approached the clearing. The feel of magic touched the tip of her nose and she stopped, wary. And helpless. She’d never been taught to recognize spells outside the ones she used. How could she hope to discover who cast this one?
It could be a Dog, she thought. She doubted Parlay would have sent them, but perhaps Parlay ran from them himself?
If it’s a Dog, then he already knows I’m here. She stepped through, fully expecting to be arrested the moment she crossed the barrier.
Instead, she heard the echoes of a note sung by a man. Then, silence.
Unsure whether to move forward or back, she felt the spell she’d walked through, disappear. “Goodwife?” Parlay called out.
It must be him, she thought. “I’m here.”
“You’re late. I thought you weren’t going to come at all.”
She stepped into the meadow. Stretched across one of the stone slabs, Parlay had his hands above his head and eyes closed, as if he were still trying to nap.
She thought of Parlay singing Lovely Lisbet when he was sick. But he played fiddle. “Were you practicing?”
“Of course,” he grinned, eyes still closed. He stretched and sat up. “It’s an excellent way of calming myself down.”
There wasn’t a fiddle anywhere in sight. “I didn’t think you’d be nervous.”
He gestured to the space beside the stones where the box of locks and the book sat. “Last day for practice. Tomorrow I have to send these back.” From his bag, he pulled out the book he’d been writing in for the past few days.
It’s not as bad when he ducks me, she thought, picking up the box. He’s not my husband. There’s no point in caring whether he sings or plays fiddle. She settled down with the locks, sorting them according to type and difficulty. If I had to live with him, she continued thinking, then I might feel hurt. Her lips thinned. She did feel hurt. Tomorrow night she would put into practice things she’d tried to keep hidden for years. Under threat of blackmail, yes, but she could have refused. She could have run away. Instead, here she was surrounded by locks and about to open a book of locksmithing spells.
“What will happen if I fail?” she asked. If this was the last time she’d practice, it would also be the last time she would have a chance to talk to him. She didn’t care what they talked about, as long as they talked.
Without looking at her, he got up and backed away from the stones. “Lord Felldesh will execute you in the village square.”
“He won’t send me to the Dogs?”
“No. He tends toward mercy.” Sitting down, he pulled out a piece of charcoal and began to sketch something in his book.
It might be a better fate, she thought, remembering Lejer’s attitude toward her lately. I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong.
Sighing, she reached out a hand and began to cast an unlocking spell. Liar, she thought. You know exactly what you’ve done wrong.
“You’re letting other thoughts intrude,” Parlay said, in his first bit of advice since she’d begun practicing. “Whatever they are, you’d better not cast until they’re taken care of.”
Surprised, Krysilla retraced her casting in her head.
“It’s not something you can mentally figure out,” Parlay continued, still sketching. Probably the stones, she decided. “It’s in the feel of the cast. Once it’s in, it’s next to impossible to get out. Better to stop and let your head clear first.”
Krysilla knelt on the ground and folded her arms tight against her chest. “What do you think he’s hiding?”
“Oh, the usual things noblemen would want to hide.”
“You said I’m involved.”
“And you’ll learn what that means tomorrow. There’s no need to worry about it until then.”
Krysilla stared at the locks, then turned back to Parlay. “What are you sketching?”
A smile crept back onto his face. “Something that’s even more dangerous for you to know than the secrets of Lord Felldesh.” He paused and looked at her then, as if he were sizing her up once more, but differently now. Before, he seemed to be judging her character as a faithful wife. Now, he seemed to be judging her faithfulness in all things. His smile grew, and he looked back at his book. “Do you think you’ll succeed?”
“No.” She knew that very well. “Do you still want me to try?”
“Why? I can see in your face you don’t expect me to understand even the basics of a lock Lord Felldesh would commission, and yet here I sit practicing for something we both know I can’t do yet and under enormous risk.”
“That’s the keyword,” he said, a fire entering his eyes that seemed at once strange and compelling. “Yet. Given time, what do you think you might accomplish?”
She looked back at the locks and the book. “I don’t know.”
“And that’s the beauty of it. Untapped riches, there in your grasp, uncounted and waiting. All you have to do is try.”
“This isn’t about the locks, is it?” Unsure what she might see, she looked back at him. Up to now, she had expected a minstrel who stole the hearts of unwary women. What she saw now was something she couldn’t even begin to grasp, but that made her feel far more nervous than her upcoming attempt at lockpicking. And yet, she couldn’t help but feel even more fascinated by him. He seemed, in that moment, more like an Ornic than she’d dared imagine, full of secrets and whispered power, ready for display if anyone dared challenge him.
And then it was gone, and only Parlay the minstrel laughed. “Of course it’s about the locks. My employer will be most displeased if I don’t deliver as promised.”
“And who is your employer?”
“You ask far too many questions for a goodwife who only wishes to please her husband.” His tone held no judgment. Still, she felt miserable. Lejer hadn’t entered her thoughts once in this whole conversation. Agitated, she rubbed her hands on the tops of her thighs and stared at the locks once more. “Have you tried on your dress yet?” Parlay asked.
“No, but it looks like it will fit.”
“Well, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Considering your class.”
Annoyed, she added, “It laces up the side. I’m sure it will fit well.” No, she realized, I’m not annoyed at him. There’s something hidden between us here and it feels like he wants me to find and open it. As if this secret were one of these locks. What annoyed her was that she could almost see what he might truly want. It wasn’t her body. He would have already tried to seduce her if it was that. But she was afraid of what the truth might be. Her soul shivered at the thought of it, and she felt the need to run back to the ovens and bury herself once more in the tedium just to escape it.
“I won’t turn you in, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” he said, and this time his voice had a compassion to it, an understanding that touched her.
“You said you would.”
“I said whatever I thought needed to be said in the moment. But if it’s causing you undue concern, don’t trouble yourself any further. Your secret is safe with me.”
“And if I refuse—”
The spark of defiance that had grown in Lejer’s presence fanned to life. “What if I don’t show tomorrow night?”
“Of course you will. You don’t trust my promises.”
Before she could stop herself, she felt a smile on her own face. “What if I did?”
“Then you’d be a fool. No one trusts me, not even those closest to me.”
Enthralled, she turned away from the locks. “But you’re a liar, and could be lying to me now about your trustworthiness.”
“Are you saying I could be more trustworthy than I appear?” Parlay raised a single eyebrow in amusement. His good humor faded, though he was no less polite as he went back to sketching in his book. “I’m afraid I must finish this before the light is gone.”
Krysilla’s good humor vanished as well. Talking to him was too easy. “I have to go.”
He looked up again in surprise. “You just got here.”
She hesitated, then decided to be honest with him. “Lejer hasn’t been too happy with me lately. It’s my own fault, stepping back from the bakery and—” she shook her head. “I need to go back.” She began putting the locks back in the box.
Parlay got up and began helping her. “Is it hard work, running a bakery?”
She chuckled at his unintentional understatement. “Terrible work. You have to be up before dawn to light the ovens, and then you’re baking the bread of the village as well as your own and whatever you hope to sell to those who can’t make the loaves themselves. And with New Moon, we had double the amount today, along with the Felldesh order.”
“Do you enjoy it?”
“No.” The word was out before she realized she’d said it. Eyes wide, she knew she couldn’t take it back. “I have to get back to the cart.”
His eyes narrowed at that. “Why did you bring it?”
“I’ve been letting Lejer think I’m out doing deliveries. He’ll start to wonder what kind of deliveries those are if the cart’s still missing when it’s dark.”
“Not tonight.” Parlay closed up the box, eyebrows furrowed in thought.
“Lejer always knows if the cart isn’t there.”
“He’s busy with all the orders, isn’t he? And I imagine he’ll want to double-check on the Felldesh order, seeing as it’s so important to him.” He picked up the box and walked toward the stones.
“Still…I will see you tomorrow.”
He shook his head and set down the box, still holding the book. “I’ll walk with you,” he said, eyeing the locksmithing book for a moment before setting it down as well.
“There’s no need—”
“There’s every need.” He opened up his bag and put the book, along with the book he’d been sketching in, the charcoal stuffed inside it, closing his eyes as if feeling out a particular spot inside where he should place it, though she couldn’t tell where that might be from the outside of the bag. “Carts attract attention, and we can’t have that this time. Not when we’re so close to picking the lock.”
“I already told you I can’t.”
“And I think I made it clear that I believe you.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “Do you expect Lord Felldesh to catch us and open it himself?”
Parlay laughed and hefted the box of locks. Opening the bag as wide as possible, he placed it with one hand supporting it in the same manner as the book. “I expect you to be as blunt as possible, no matter what happens. I expect you to be honest.”
“And how is that going to help us if we’re caught?”
“As I keep saying, you’ll see.”
He closed up the bag and Krysilla’s eyes widened. The bag looked as if nothing at all had been put in it.
If Parlay noticed her reaction, he didn’t show it. Picking up the bag, he slung it over his shoulder, then put on his cloak, fastening it at the throat. From behind the stones he picked up his fiddle case and slung that over his shoulder on top.
“Do you only carry it in hand when you have a fever?” she asked, more interested than she should be by the secrets he kept.
His smile revealed nothing. Striding into the forest, he said in a soft murmur, “You ask too many questions, goodwife.”
“It doesn’t seem to matter. You answer none.”
All she got in return was a playful glance that entranced her all the more. He led the way back to the cart, though she had been the one to hide it. When they got to it, he frowned deeply. “You didn’t cover it?”
“I thought that might make people suspicious, if I didn’t do a good job of it. Better to leave it and have a ready answer.”
He nodded. “Can you take me back to your house?”
Her heart stopped beating for a moment. “Why?”
“So that you can go home unobserved, of course.” He hopped into the cart and wrapped himself in the burlap. “Ah, this brings back memories,” he said and laid down.
“I can’t take you home. Lejer’s there.”
Parlay’s voice came from inside the cart, partially obscured by burlap, “That’s precisely why you need me to come with you. You can tell him you were in town and stopped at Lily’s to chat. If he’s there. Which he won’t be. Now, start pushing before you lose the cart.”
Krysilla huffed for a few moments, then, muttering dark warnings against minstrels and their sanity, grabbed the bar and began to push.
The hum of magic surrounded her and she stopped.
“I thought you needed to hurry home.”
He’s Ornic. Has to be. “What are you doing?”
“You can feel that.” It wasn’t a question. “It’s a variation on the invisibility spells we use at performances.”
A variation. “I didn’t know minstrels were allowed to vary the spells.”
He looked up at her from under the burlap, aquamarine eyes wide with mock terror. “Are you going to turn me in?”
It was difficult not to smile. She began pushing again. “And what if one of the Dogs catches us? What will you do then?”
He disappeared once more under the burlap. “I shall do as the Ornic lords of old and burn them where they stood until all that was left was ashes.”
Though his tone was light, she’d seen too much of his views on magic to think his words funny. “You shouldn’t joke about such things.”
“Because there are reasons for the laws against using magic, especially fire.”
“Laws you’ve disobeyed on more than one occasion.”
“That doesn’t mean I think the principle is wrong.” In the stories, the Ornic lord was the most difficult to kill. He could call down fire from heaven, and rain from the clouds. At a gesture he could ask the wind to lift whole armies, and bury them in the earth before they could find their feet. Only the Ornics who became Tothsins could defeat them. “There are some magics that no one should ever try.”
“Because the whole world will burn up,” Parlay finished for her. “Personally, I don’t see where this world is much better.”
She stopped the cart at that one. Breathless at his audacity, it took a moment for her to say, “Tothsin beliefs are what keep us safe.” She began pushing again, eager to get home now.
“Do you really think that, or are you just repeating the words the Disciples preach?”
“Yes, I believe it.”
He appeared once more from under the burlap. “You never answered my question.”
“And you never answered mine.”
“Are you happy? Do you really think a life as a baker’s wife is what you were created for?”
“It wasn’t to play with locks.”
“And yet, that’s what you do. I’ve seen the way you work magic. You want me to believe you’ve rarely touched a lock, but the truth is that you can’t keep your hands from it. You’re no expert, but you’re no novice, either. You just haven’t been formally taught.”
“What if the Dogs hear you?” she muttered, looking around.
“There are none on this road today. My employer made sure of it.”
She stopped and let go of the cart, eyes wide and heart beating faster than she thought possible. “No one but the King commands the Dogs.”
“Grab hold before you lose it.” This time, for once, Parlay was dead serious.
Taking hold of the wood again, hands shaking, she said, “You’re not the King.”
“Of course not.”
“The King is your employer.” The words came out breathy and weak.
“Are you shocked?”
“What are you then? What house do you rule?”
He tilted his head back in surprise. “Is my playing that awful?”
“What house? Tell me or I—”
“Or you’ll what?” His eyes had narrowed and she could feel her intended threat melt away before the returning threat she saw in his face. “Turn me in to the Dogs? If you’re correct and I work for the King, that won’t do you any good. In fact, it might turn back on you.” He settled back under the burlap. “My secrets are my own, goodwife. You’ll have none of them until I’m ready to give them.”
He said nothing more for the rest of the journey.
If he was a lord, she decided, she shouldn’t be surprised that he used magic so easily. But that terrified her all the more, given what he said. There were rumors of a few who still believed in the Ornic way of things, of magic used by those who could wield it, not by those who had right to it by trade or marriage. The Dogs caught them, and stories abounded of how they died, screaming in agony for the crowd.
She focused as best she could on pushing the cart. A cart with a possible lord inside it who wanted the power the Ornic lords wielded. Who else could it be but a noble, one who wished to stay in the King’s good graces? They were the only ones who used other magics so casually. Given time, perhaps he would leverage this to increase his own power, just as the Ornic lords once did. What other object could he have in mind?
And she was involved.
That’s not possible, she told herself. I have no interest in getting caught up in the business of lords and kings. I’ve done nothing to warrant the attention of one.
And yet, that’s exactly what had happened.
The implications of a lord asking her to break into another lord’s secret room, under the protection of the King himself, made her beside herself with concern by the time they got back to her house.
And yet, Parlay peeked out from under the burlap as if this were the most usual thing in the world. “Don’t mind me. I’ll leave before he looks through the window for the cart. If he’s here.”
“Of course he’s here.” Pausing, Krysilla considered her words from before. “I won’t turn you in.”
He laughed. “You can’t.”
“Even if I could, I wouldn’t. I’m sorry I implied that.”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll hear far worse from you soon.”
At the sound of that ominous prediction, she looked down to see Parlay looking up at her with a mischievous grin. He said, “Better go in before Lejer, who isn’t there, starts to wonder why you’re talking to empty space.”
Even though the last thing she wanted to do right then was obey, what he said made sense. She went inside and looked back to see that, yes, the cart didn’t appear to be there.
Lejer wasn’t home. She straightened the house, ate, and stayed up to wait for her husband, more out of curiosity than because she missed him. The idea that Parlay could have guessed he’d be gone combined with his statement that she was involved.
What he meant, she decided, is that Lejer is involved. But how? He’s the most conservative of any of us.
She went to bed with these thoughts, and couldn’t sleep. The watch sounded outside as the night progressed. First, then second. Then she heard the front door open and the sound of Lejer moving around the kitchen, as he had for these past seven years when he came home late and usually drunk.
He came to bed reeking of ale. It smelled like he’d drunk the whole tavern this time. Krysilla breathed through the covers. But she forgave him for it, as a good wife should. Fire knew she had sins of her own. More than that, Lord Parlay knew.
There was no sleep for her that night.