Season 2, Episode 2
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
The sky was darkening outside my window, the sunset gone, the last bluish light settling into black, when Lily came to bring me my bathwater: one bucket of steaming hot water and one of cool water, straight from the well. I was sitting in my bedchamber, lost in thought, and normally Lily—or any of the other servants—would have taken that as a sign to leave me be, but instead she cleared her throat.
I looked up, a bit surprised, but also relieved to have the distraction from my own circling thoughts. It had been a week since Mother Nala’s visit, and I was still ruminating on what she’d said, and on Crone Agata’s cryptic letter.
“Pardon, Milady, but you seem vexed.”
“Maybe tonight you’d like a double?”
“Twice as much water, Milady. Some call for it every night, but you never do.”
“A double bath,” I echoed. A nice soak in plenty of hot, soapy water did sound nice.
“I don’t mind carrying the extra, not for you I don’t. An’ I can get some powder soap, but I figure you may have something better in all those jars of yours.”
I peered over at my herbs and medicines. “Maybe I do.”
Lily poured the water into the hammered copper tub. “Just you get ready then, and I’ll be back.”
I dissolved some manganese salt and cooking soda into the bath water, and plopped in a small ball of olive soap. I then added some starflower, neroli peel, and a few precious drops of lavandula oil. The smell rising from the tub was indeed relaxing.
There was a knock at my door and I called out, “No need to knock, Lily. Come on in.”
You can imagine my surprise when I turned to see, not Lily, but Lady Dycius, standing in my parlor in a ballgown of yellow taffeta with an expression like she had a rat stuck in her throat.
I closed the door to the bedchamber behind me as I moved to confront her. She spoke first.
“Quite chummy with the help, aren’t we, Maiden? I suppose those unable to command respect must trade favors for it.”
“Why are you here, Dycius?” Goddess forsake the backbiting gossip, she was the last person I wanted to see just now.
“I know what you did.”
That gave me pause, as it sounded more like a threat than an insult. Rather than reply, I waited for her to continue.
“That little trollop, Brinna. You helped her get rid of her ‘little problem’.”
I gave nothing to Dycius but an icy stare.
“Now, I have a ‘little problem’ of my own, and you’re going to help me.“
Finally, something I had a response to. “Get out.”
Lady Dycius’ expression turned even more sour, a thing I would have thought impossible. “You can’t refuse me,” she spat.
“I can, and I have. Now leave.”
“I know! I know everything! My husband, limp-dick bastard that he is, managed to get her pregnant. I know she came to you, and I know she miscarried after!”
“I’ll say it once more: get out.”
“I’ll tell! I’ll tell everyone that you assisted in an infanticide!” Her voice rose into a shriek. She was turning purple.
“Just like you told everyone that I was practicing witchcraft?” I shot back. “Just like you told everyone that I’d seduced the Prince, soured the milk, killed that poor man who fell off of the parapet, and every other ill thing you could think of? Lady, if your words had the power to harm me, I would be dead already.”
I ushered her to the hall door and swung it open. “Goodnight and begone.”
To my surprise, Dycius’ choked rage suddenly turned to sobbing, and she stumbled out the door and down the hallway with her face in her hands. I wasn’t sure whether to account her tears any more genuine than the rest.
I closed the door and sat down. When the door swung open again, I jumped. It was Lily, of course, manhandling those buckets again, with a long-handled brush tucked under her arm.
“Milady,” she said in a tone of rebuke, “you haven’t peeled.”
I stood, vaguely embarrassed at being dressed.
“I had an unexpected guest.”
“That’d be Lady Dycius. I saw her stumbling through the halls, all a-teary.” Lily set the buckets down to open the bedroom door, then picked them up and poured them into the bathtub. “Whatever you did to her, you deserve a medal for it.”
I stripped as Lily inspected the tub. She stirred the water with the brush’s handle, and grimaced, displeased.
“Not enough bubbles,” she said, and proceeded to pour the contents of a small sack into my bath. She stirred the mix vigorously until ridges of small bubbles rose out of the water.
“Thank you, Lily,” I said as I stepped into the bath. “This is just what I needed.”
I was expecting that she’d take her leave at that point, so when she turned over one of the buckets and sat down on it, I was surprised.
“Uh, Lily? What?”
“I’m going to scrub your back and shampoo your hair for you,” she said as she peeled off her long white maid’s gloves.
“I know you’re used to bathing yourself, but what’s the point of a double if you don’t let me scrub?”
“In that case, I suppose I shall.”
I relaxed into the water as Lily scooped up lather and began working it into my hair. She was massaging my scalp when she asked, “So, was she here about her belly, then?”
I jumped up in surprise, splashing water out of the tub. Lily scooted out of the way expertly, and threw a towel onto the flagstone.
“Sorry, Milady. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No, Lily,” I said as I relaxed back into the tub, “I was just surprised that you knew—”
“That Lady Dycius is in a family way? A’course.”
“How did you know?”
“It’s hard not to know, Milady, when she gives you the task of washin’ out her bloody rags every month, then two moons go by and…nothing.”
I laughed at that. “Of course. It’s no more than she deserves for not doing her own washing.” Saying that made me suddenly aware that, while I take care of my own rags (menstrual blood is sacred to the Goddess) I had been leaving the rest of my washing to others since I came to Thrycae.
“Don’t you do nothing for her, Milady. She’s mean and she don’t deserve it.”
“I don’t respond well to threats, and I am not afraid of Lady Dycius, but you should warn Brinna.”
“Brinna?” Lily gasped and stopped scrubbing my back.
“Dycius said she knew I helped her.”
“Damn!” I heard the brush bounce off of the flagstones. “I’ll put lye in her tea, I will!”
I turned to face Lily. “Calm down. Does she know which village Brinna’s from?”
“I…I don’t think so.”
“Me, a few of the other servants.”
“Is there anywhere she can go to be safe if rumor or worse harm comes after her?”
“Yes. My Ma and Pa’s place. They’re different, and there’s no-one in twenty miles would cross my Ma.”
“Can you get a letter to her safely?”
“If you do that, and keep an ear out for anyone asking after her—”
“I’ll be able to get her word before anyone could get to her! Thank you, Milady. I was getting a bit heated over nothing.”
“Is that what Lady Dycius is? Nothing?”
“She’s worse than nothing, Milady,” Lily said with real venom, then her tone shifted abruptly as she continued, “Let me massage your shoulders.”
I let myself relax, really relax, as Lily kneaded the knots in my shoulders. This was nice. I wondered for a moment how I’d let myself become so accustomed to luxury and the service of others. My self-discipline was breaking down everywhere.
I shifted in the tub, bending forward so Lily could massage my back. My thoughts drifted to the source of my decline: Kaye, that delightful, infuriating, persistent boy. My broad-chested and spindle-legged young man.
We’d look an odd pair, he top-heavy and I the opposite, with my broad hips, rounded belly, and thick thighs. I was fit enough—I ran a hand over the curve of my belly to the top of my thigh, feeling the firm muscle as well as the gentle padding that covered it. I was strong enough for the both of us; he could lay back and let me do the work.
I shifted again as my right arm was taken and massaged. Kaye’d been in love with me for years. How long had I been just as obsessed with him? It was hard to say, as I’d spent so much effort trying to deny it. Thinking about it, all that time Kaye’d spent waiting for me to respond to him, to see him the way he saw me, to admit that I did see him that way made me ache.
“Ahhhh,” I exhaled, remembering the way he’d touched my hands and reveled in that simple contact. I wanted to indulge his fetish, let him caress my hands again, feel his breath on them. He’d kiss my fingertips…
“Go ahead, kiss them,” I half-moaned. No sooner had I said this than I realized who was actually holding my hand.
I jerked up in the bath in time to see Lily staring at me wide-eyed with my hand mere inches from her pale, unpainted lips, just before she dropped it.
“Ah, apologies,” I sputtered. “I think I’d like to be alone now.”
Lily sat stock still and silent for a moment, than replied, “Yes, Milady.” She stood and straightened her dress, unrolled her gloves and pulled them on with a series of sharp yanks, then picked up the buckets and headed for the door without looking at me again.
“Lily,” I called after her, “thank you for the bath. I’m really sorry…”
“Nothing to apologize for, Milady,” she said, but her voice had a brittle edge. “You should go get him, you really should. Someone around here ought to be happy.”
Then she slipped through the door and closed it quickly behind her. To her credit, she didn’t slam it.
I sat in the tub, bubbles curling up around my knees, and sighed. Poor Lily—I wasn’t even sure if I had almost taken advantage of her or if she’d been hoping to seduce me. In either case, she was right. It was time I stopped pushing Kaye away. I couldn’t pretend any more, and I knew it.
It would take discretion to avoid risky spectacles like our frenzied kissing in the hallway the other day, and self-restraint not to do anything that could get me pregnant, but skirting those dangers couldn’t be too hard…could it?
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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