The Baker's Wife Excerpt

The Baker’s Wife (part one)(final scene)

Here it is. A little late (sorry!) but I’m finally putting the last scene from part one up on my blog. I’ve created a category and linked it to Excerpts (Stories –> Excerpts) in the menu above, for those who are coming in late. Unfortunately, the way WordPress does this is by putting the most recent post first. You’ll have to scroll through (click through at the bottom?) to get to the first scene. I promise I’ll fix it so that it looks as nice as Shining Armor’s excerpt, but right now I’m afraid I don’t have the time. Please forgive me.

Anyway, here’s the final scene in part one. I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for reading.

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Things almost went back to normal over the next two moons. Lord Felldesh continued to rule the land as he always had. Lady Felldesh continued to throw parties, though Krysilla heard rumors that her brightness had dimmed somehow. No one knew why.

Lejer came home the day after Krysilla learned about his infidelity, walking as if he carried a sack of flour on his back. He said nothing as he entered through the kitchen door. Krysilla went back to stirring her soup and busying herself around the house.

He spent the rest of the day in the Sun Room. Once, when she went out to feed the chickens, she caught him staring at the place where Zhiv had played, and she wondered if he blamed Zhiv at all.

Krysilla, in spite of her newfound repugnance of his touch, discovered she could tolerate his presence. When he went back to working in the bakery, she was polite. In fact, she was grateful. It gave her more time to catch up on the house.

He still went out in the evenings and stayed late. Sometimes, he didn’t come home at all. But now Krysilla didn’t wait for him. He slept in the Sun Room, and she stayed in the Master Bedroom.

She never went back to the Blue Room. Better to move on, she decided.

Not that she wasn’t grateful. The house looked bright from her cleaning, she wore pretty dresses and slept more. With her growing energy, she made a point of stopping to talk to the women in the village, and even began inviting some of them over for tea.

For the first time in many years, she was happy. Lonely, but happy. And if that made little sense to her when she thought about it, she didn’t care.

One day, while she was speaking with a customer and Lejer was busy with the ovens, a young man walked in. He seemed barely above sixteen years of age, with light gold hair and clear, brown eyes that looked around the shop, as if taking note of everything they saw. “May I help you?” she asked.

He smiled and bowed. “I’m here to ask if you need any help.”

You’ll need to speak with my husband. Just a moment.” She finished with the customer, an old woman who looked appreciatively at the young man before leaving, then poked her head into the bakery. “Lejer. Someone’s asking for a job.”

We don’t need the help,” he said, not looking away from the loaves he shaped.

I was sent,” the young man said. “My name’s Byor Hilloksin.”

Both Krysilla and Lejer stared at Byor, then at each other. “Who sent you?” Lejer asked.

A fiddler. Said you’d know who it was.”

Lejer dusted off his hands, stared at Byor for a moment, then nodded. “Wait in the front. I’ll speak with you after I finish these.”

With a nod, Byor leaned against the wall and went back to looking. Though he seemed like a good enough young man, the fact that he had ties to Zhiv made her nervous. And once, when she was tidying up the front desk, she caught him looking at her with a curiosity that went beyond that of a person asking to assist in a shop.

As she thought about the possible reasons why Zhiv might have sent him, one came through clear: he wanted eyes in Lejer’s bakery. Infuriated, she began to clean the house, bottom to top, her magic straightening and dusting and polishing, even though she’d already done most of those small chores the day before. It let her focus on something other than a growing helplessness.

She was caught in his web, whether she liked it or not.

Finished with the upstairs, she saw Lejer and Byor standing just outside the back door. Byor smiled and they shook hands.

With a grin, Byor raced off. She hurried downstairs to find out what Lejer had discovered. He came back inside, frowning so deeply, his face seemed to have become nothing but lines and folds of skin. “That musician friend of yours is quite a talker.”

What did he say?”

Oh, nothing. Just told Hilloksin that we needed help and that we’d be glad to receive it. Said the bakery was killing you and he’d be doing us a favor. That confused him when he saw you. He said you didn’t look miserable at all.”

I’m sure that pleased you,” she said, remembering how tired she had once been. Still, even with both of them working, the bakery was hard work. If Zhiv had done this out of kindness, she might feel more grateful. Instead, she felt wary.

He shrugged, then shook his head. “Happy now?” he said, deep resentment simmering in his eyes when he looked at her. “‘Oh, I’ll just have him here for the night, Lejer. I can’t turn out a sick man.’”

Krysilla folded her arms over her chest. “Do you expect me to apologize?”

I expect you—”

To what?” she hissed, and raised one eyebrow in a silent challenge.

Whatever he was going to say, he appeared to think better of it. “First that fiddler and now you,” he muttered. “People can’t seem to mind their own business.”

Krysilla blinked as she realized he thought having an affair with Lady Felldesh was none of his wife’s concern. And now, he was putting her on the same level as Zhiv, thinking she was using that knowledge to get what she wanted. This isn’t going to work, she thought. It would be better for them to have more than separate bedrooms. But where would she go? And how would she support herself?

There’s nothing to do, she decided, but continue in this cold hell and make the best of it. The thought made the bile rise in her throat. “Will he be here for supper?” she asked.

Doesn’t matter.” He didn’t explain or excuse as he got up and left.

It wasn’t more than a few minutes later, when dinner was ready and filling the kitchen with smells that made Krysilla’s mouth water, that Byor returned, a sack slung over his shoulder.

So,” she said, setting a place for him. “I assume you’re living here now.”

Yes, goodwife.” He washed his hands and sat down to eat.

I’ll get the Blue—one of the guest rooms made up for you.”

You won’t need it for lodgers?”

They must do things differently where he’s from, she thought. “I don’t rent out. Hon Gillasin would never approve, and I like the quiet. Besides, the bakery pays well.”

It’s a nice one. Very cheery.” He leaned forward and said, “You want to know why I’m here, don’t you?”

Surprised, she said, “I don’t care.”

If you know the fiddler, Parlay, then I’m sure you do. So, what’s your guess? He said you’re smart, you know.”

Did he?” Smart was not how she would describe herself. She sighed, remembering what it was like to talk to him. “I’m guessing you’re here to keep an eye on my husband.” She thought a moment, remembering the way Zhiv had wrapped the fiddle-case strap around his hand, until he’d been inside the village and she wondered if it was a signal. “Were you the one he was supposed to meet in town?”

The night he got sick? No. That was someone else. Your friend, Lily’s, husband.”

Krysilla guffawed. Unsure if she should feel betrayed or amazed, she sat down, laughing until her sides hurt. “No wonder,” she said, when she finally managed to catch her breath. “It all makes sense now.”

Don’t be angry at her,” Byor pleaded. “She knew something was going on and wanted to help.”

Krysilla rubbed her forehead with one hand, leaning her elbow on the table. “And now, whatever Hon Gillasin and I do will go right back to Parlay.”

I’m only to keep an eye on your husband. Parlay said I was to leave you alone.”

She stopped rubbing her head and looked at him from over the top of her hand. “Why?”

He didn’t say.”

So that she could continue practicing magic with no one knowing? Or perhaps it was because he wanted to watch over her, personally. She hated how the thought excited her. I’ll leave if he tries, she told herself.

Though,” Byor continued, “he did tell me to relay a message to you. Two things, actually.”

She lowered her arm, settling both hands on her lap, and waited.

Byor straightened up and began. “‘There are lies which are not spoken. There are things that are not said. There are truths that are but tokens. There are girls you should not bed.’ That’s the first message.”

And the second?”

That if you need anything, to consider his help.”

What does he expect me to do?”

I don’t know. If he has something in mind, he didn’t share it with me.”

Byor seemed honest enough, she thought, studying him. “Thank you. Just so I’ll know, how long have you known him?”

Long enough that I wasn’t sure what I would find when I got here,” he grinned. “He said this was a nice home, and that there was a chance I’d end up taking over the business if I impressed your husband enough. I’m surprised the first part turned out true.”

He told you all that?” It was more a statement that a question.

I used to work for a cook at the palace. I didn’t like the way he treated me, so I ran off, which is a stupid thing to do when the cook is able to complain directly to the King and the Dogs can be sent to make sure you’re not using his spells. I didn’t care.” And she could tell how much he wanted freedom in the way his jaw set, and his eyes blazed. “Parlay heard about me and hired me to keep an eye on things here and there. I wasn’t a natural at it, not like him. He didn’t care as long as the job was done. When he mentioned this place…” he shook his head. “Each of the jobs were in Hurush. I never thought I’d end up here.”

Do you think you’ll inherit this place?”

Byor leaned back, eyes distant in thought for only a moment. “Chances are good. I know how to regulate a fire, and I’ve even cooked some bread for the King when he ordered it. And I know the work a kitchen entails, so I’m not afraid of that. Hon Gillasin has a look in the eye that says, if I do well, this place might as well be mine, even if his name is on it. That only leaves you, and I think you’ll be gone by morning.”

She chuckled. “Why do you say that?”

The look in your eye when I told you Parlay’s offer.” Eyes narrowed, he said, “You know you’re not the first to interest him, right?”

She didn’t think so. “I don’t want his interest. But I thank you for the information.”

The rest of the dinner was surprisingly pleasant. Byor was a bit of a talker and interesting, even though he didn’t have Zhiv’s charisma. They spoke of the capital, and of life in the palace, of the best kinds of wheat and the best kinds of bread and what sold and what didn’t. She filled him in on the things she’d learned about the village and he listened carefully, as one who is taking over a business should. He didn’t mentioned “Parlay” again.

All that night, she thought over Zhiv’s message. The saying was the same one Lord Felldesh had recited, so she was certain it was a reference to their last adventure. But the offer…the offer was a greater temptation than she expected.

What would it be like, she thought, to leave this place? She didn’t have to go to Zhiv for help. Her sister lived in the capital, Hurush, wife to a spell merchant. Though she hadn’t heard from her in years (and wasn’t sure she would be welcomed), the idea of leaving a place that was not her home, no matter what she did or how she lived, appealed.

In the morning, she woke before the sun rose and dressed in one of her more worn dresses. Wrapping her blue sash around her waist, she silently made her way down to the first floor and put on her clogs.

Light had begun to fill the east when she arrived at the meadow. Tall grass brushed against her legs, leaving dewy drops like sticky tears behind. She didn’t care. She kept walking until she got to the stones, with their strange characters that no one could read. Except Zhiv. Reaching into the dark space, she pulled out the mug she’d engraved, wrapped in a cloth. The weight of the lock inside the cloth felt heavy in her hands. She hadn’t touched one since the Felldesh lock and, even now, had no intention of trying. It had been her one act of rebellion since that day, a trinket she’d bought at a market for the house, along with the keyspell which she’d burned not long after. It was more fun the other way.

Except, she never tried to pick this lock. Never. On a day when the thought of what Lejer might do in retaliation if he knew her secrets overwhelmed her, she burned her herbs and hid the cup and lock here.

For a moment, she thought of Zhiv. It had felt wonderful to cast spells near him. What would it be like to speak with him about the different kinds? Is that why he said she interested him, because he had no one he could speak with as he could with her? Was he lonely?

Dangerous thoughts, she decided and put the mug back with the lock, untouched, inside.

The morning sun’s light filtered through the trees, bringing color back into the world. She breathed in the air, remembering those days of freedom. I can’t think while I’m here, she decided. I’m too worried about what Lejer or the neighbors will think.

Her sister hadn’t contacted anyone in the village since she married four years ago. And Krysilla doubted she would if she, her own sister, showed up. I’ll ask for some money from Lejer, she decided. I won’t lie. I’ll tell him what I’m doing. And when I’ve thought this through, I’ll come back and tell him if I’m going to stay or not.

Part of her said this wasn’t her decision. Women who left their husbands, even when those husbands had broken their promise, were weak. No one else would have her if she left. Or, if they did, they would be like Zhiv, the kind who never cared about that promise in the first place. A separation was all she could have anyway. Divorce was only for the wealthy. She would always, in some way, be Lejer’s wife.

But the wind was pleasant, and the air was fresh, and she hadn’t touched any magic outside baking in so long that she thought she would go mad if she waited any longer. She had to leave, if only to think.

By the time she had arrived back at the house, Lejer and Byor were both hard at work. She ate some bread and cheese for breakfast, then worked behind the counter until dinner. He didn’t have to marry me, she thought, watching him at one point. Even if I leave, at least he gave me a home for seven years. And the bakery if I wanted it.

At dinner, she told Lejer her plans to visit her sister. Though she could tell he hated giving her any money at all, he didn’t complain when he handed her over enough to make the journey, and extra for good boots to walk in if the road was broken or rocky. She hadn’t asked for that, and that softened her opinion of him a little. By supper, she had all she needed. By the next morning, she had packed her few belongings into a small sack, and left.

On the way, she stopped by the houses of friends and let them know she was gone and where they could reach her. For those who asked, she said she had gone to find out what had happened to her sister. Her last stop was the meadow, where she picked up the mug with the lock inside. It was a dangerous thing to carry with her, and yet, she knew if she left that behind, she would also leave the very changes that had occurred in her life. This is part of me, she thought as she put the two items in her sack. And so she continued down the road. Alone. And, for the first time in years, truly happy.

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Thank you for reading. This part along with parts two and three are available for sale as a single ebook for Kindle, Nook, Apple devices, and at Smashwords. They are also available as separate parts. See My Books for more details.

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