I stroked Maiya’s hair and began the story of our people and our planet.
“A long time ago, before the sky was blue and the water grey, before the moons in the sky, lit the night and the sea lamps lit the sea, there was a star that shone brighter than all the rest. Over the eons, it grew and grew, until its might was too strong. It burst- can you imagine that? This great star burst into billions of shards, shimmering particles that floated throughout the heavens. They gathered together, slowly, and the celestial debris formed the planet, the skies and the seas, the moons and the people. Those first inhabitants were those who still had stars in their eyes, and could create and manipulate and become, and become they did. Some chose the warm seas as their home, some chose the trees, and still others the sky. They shifted, becoming many of the animals we see today. The fire lions, whose manes seared the night with a flickering flame. The illusion birds, who could pry memories from your mind and imitate the voices of anyone you know. The sirens, whose singing could make a person laugh and weep and swear themselves to the mermaids without a second thought. But few became human; and those who did lose their magic. The descendants of those people still populate the earth today but survive without the talents of their ancestors. The animals have forgotten that they once were like us, and they only retain their basic magic. The powers were long forgotten until our king and queen took the throne, for they had somehow obtained magic, and they govern us without. And this is the story of our people, the Ionant.”
Maiya was asleep when I finished; her hair was fanned out on the pillow behind her and the dancing light of the lamp illuminated the sweet half-smile on her face. I turned off the lamp. I got up slowly and stood up, dodging the shapes in the dark and heading to my bed.
I shared Maiya’s room. Tami and Ona shared the one next door, and Caulin had her own. When I left tomorrow, Tami was going to move in with Maiya and Ona would get the room to herself.
There were clothes strewn across my bed and the floor, and baskets and bags sat next to the window. I had gotten a week to pack, so I had time to deliberate. It was warmer down there, so that meant that most of my heavy garments stayed and Maiya could use them once she got big- or cold- enough.
I shoved the ones on my bed to the floor and settled beneath my warm comforter with a sigh. My eyes fluttered shut, and I was out.
/// \\\ /// \\\ /// \\\
It was dawn when Caulin woke me up, and despite my protesting, I managed to get out of my cozy bed into the frigid morning air. After getting ready, I hoisted my luggage under my arms and stepped into the carriage that my new employers had sent. There was a large window with two curtains, out of which I waved bye to Caulin and Ona; Tami and Maiya were still sleeping. Caulin had gotten up to wake me and see me off, and Ona was always up early to work at the forge.
I closed the curtains and sat back, my feet stuffed under my bags. I supposed I could put my feet on top of them, but that would mean putting my boots on the other seat and getting it damp with the melting clumps of snow that stubbornly clung to my shoes, no matter how many times I tried to scrape it off outside the carriage. Showing up with the carriage in that state was a certain way to get off on the wrong- well, foot.
The gentle rocking of the carriage lulled me to sleep even despite the painful tingles that shocked my feet every time I moved them. I awoke sometime later, seeing that the pale sky that presided over my house in the morning had cleared and brightened to a brilliant blue that was only occasionally interrupted by a downy white cloud. Outside the carriage, there were mint and lavender fields that ran in neat rows to the edge of the horizon. I pulled my feet out from underneath the luggage and stretched my legs. The wheels slowed and the speckled pink horses turned into a long driveway that made the carriage rattle and I got a glimpse of the manor.
It was large, and I did not doubt that my entire village could fit easily in the building itself, not to mention the rolling fields that surrounded it. The paint on the mansion was a faded grey, and the trim was white. It was several stories tall, an imposing figure on the otherwise flat landscape. I could see figures crossing by the large windows that dominated the front of the house; no doubt other maids and servants.
The carriage rolled to a stop.
I calmed the flutter in my chest and grabbed two bags. The footman would carry in the others.
The door opened, and the driver helped me out. I smiled fleetingly at him, but my attention was on the graceful lady that glided towards me. She was wearing a long white-and-red dress and a young girl strode behind her with an umbrella to protect the lady from the sun.
This must be Lady Alnor. She and her husband owned the manor. They had three children; I would be serving their oldest, Ena.
I bowed at the waist when Lady Alnor approached me, and then straightened up and grasped her hand when she held it out to me.
“Welcome to Alnor Manor, Huntir.” She said. “You may have one night to settle in, but you must be in my daughter’s room at first light to help her dress.”
“Thank you, my lady.” I bowed again.
“You’re polite for a northern village girl.” Lady Alnor observed haughtily. “I thought you would come here with the manners of a fisherman.”
I took a deep, calming breath. It would do me no good to lose my temper.
“My mother and aunt both lived in the south for three years, my lady. I learned my manners from them.”
“Ah, that makes sense.” Lady Alnor nodded, satisfied. “I’ll have Lura show you to your bed. You, of course, were hired for Ena’s daytime services, so you will not sleep in her room but next door.”
I bent my head in understanding.
“Follow me.” She turned on her heel and I followed her and her maid into the great house.
“Lura!” She raised her voice. A girl of about seven rushed into the entryway. “Show Huntir to her room.”
The child nodded and beckoned to me. I clutched my bags tighter and went after her as she led the way up a staircase, through a hall, past several rooms, and finally to a halt.
“This is your room. Lady Ena is next door.” The girl pointed to a small, narrow door that was almost invisible, especially compared to the magnificent double doors that stood next to it. I reached for the doorknob to my room and pulled it open.
“Uh, is this a closet?” I asked.
“Used to be,” Lura answered. “It’s bigger than most of the rooms in the servent’s quarter, so you’re lucky.”
I smiled uncertainty at her as I wedged myself into the small space. There was enough room for a small cot and a bar for my clothes.
“Your luggage goes under the bed,” Lura told me helpfully, although there wasn’t much space anywhere else for my bags. I nodded.
“I’d go to sleep around five. That’s when Alais- the maid before you- went to bed. Dinner’s in the kitchen at four-thirty.”
“Thanks, Lura.” I said. “Could I follow you to the kitchen so I can see where it is?”
“Yep! It’s four right now, so we can just stay in there until dinner’s served.” Lura skipped down the hall. With a moment’s hesitation, I followed.
After a meal of salad and chicken, which were two things we rarely got up north, although Lura assured me I’d get tired of it soon enough, I found my way back up to my “room”. My luggage had been brought up and crudely shoved under my bed, so after I re-arranged it, I lay down on the bed and slowly drifted off to sleep.