Story for the Day: The Scullery Maid Pt 3
A few minutes was all Meraliegh required to regain her composure. Her eyes were tolerably dry and her sobs quieted by the time she placed her hand on the door to reenter the kitchen, but as she turned back momentarily before opening the door, she gasped as she caught the sight of two sharp eyes peering at her from the nearby shadows. She fell back against the wall in horror, gripping her breast in fright, when a figure from the shade emerged and came to assist her.
“I apologize,” said a calm yet confident voice, “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
She looked up at her assailant and saw a tall robed figure looming over her. She was about to cry out for help from one of the guards standing at the corner when the stranger removed his hood. He was a handsome man with striking features: shrewd dark eyes, pointed ears, sloping nose, long black hair tied high upon his head and draping down the length of his back. Her breath became short as she gaped at him. Her thoughts were all distressing ones: he was cradling her in the bend of his arm, he was supporting her and helping her to stand, he was holding her hand, he was close enough that his warm exhalations fogged the lens of her glasses. He smiled when he realized he had ruined her vision. He carefully took the bend glasses from her face and wiped them clear with the end of his black cloak. Her legs trembled when he released her, and though he became a blur of colour, she still stared at him though she could not decipher his features. Her glasses were returned, her vision cleared, and she before she could assure him of her wellness, he was gone. His black cloak whipped around the corner of the house and he was seen no more.
She compelled herself to follow him, to stop him, to thank him for his attention, to ask his name, but when she reached the street corner whence he had turned, he was nowhere to be found. She looked down and thought to follow his tracks, but there were too many in the street and the prints he might have left in the thin layer of snow on the ground were trampled by others bustling by her. She sighed, looked about with a despondent countenance, and hoped that the Lucentian stranger would one day return, whether to frighten her or to clean her glasses she would not mind which.
The very next day, however, Meraliegh’s secretive missive was answered, for when she arrived for her shift and was asked to take the waste to the collection carts coming around, she saw the cloaked Lucentian coming from the high street and looking about as though he were searching for an address. She thought to approach him, but the collection cart had just then been wheeled in front of her, and when it moved, the Lucentian was gone. She wondered at his talents at vanishment when she was accused of dawdling again. In her wistful musings, she had forgotten to place the waste on the cart, and the proprietor, just having stepped outside for his morning pipe, observed her standing by the alley leading to the kitchen with the collection at her feet with a bemused expression. She was scolded, but she was too much in wonderment to mind the cruel words being shouted at her. Who was he, and how did he meld in and out of shadows without a trace? was her continual rumination. His agreeable person and Lucentian heritage added to her admiration of him. The cart would come round again for the evening collection, said the proprietor, and she would place the waste on the cart then since she was incapable of doing so in the late afternoon.
When she returned to the corner to wait for the cart after sundown, however, the Lucentian was there again. She observed him slip into the alleyway across the street and begin climbing the side of the opposing house. He scurried up the lattice until he reached the second floor and remained there as though he were descrying something through the window. She smiled in senseless glee to watch him slink about, but the cart was coming and she must place the waste with the collection this time or she was sure of being dismissed. She said her hellos to the collector, tossed the waste in with the rest, and when the cart had gone, the Lucentian had gone with it. He was nowhere again, his tall and lean figure vanished from the lattice. She sighed and turned to reenter the house when her glasses fell from her face into the snow. She bent to reclaim them only to be nearly pushed over by a something suddenly behind her, but before she could plummet to the ground, she was caught and righted by the Lucentian himself.
“I keep frightening you,” he said, smiling in apology. He took up her glasses, placed them into her hands, and left directly.
He had touched her, he had said his soft hellos and goodbyes: she was too rapt in fascination of the cloaked figure disappearing down the adjoining lane to call him back. She was in an ecstasy to have met him for the second time in two days, and once her feet could move, she ran around the house to the adjoining alleyway in an endeavour to track him, but when she reached the edge of the street and looked down, there were no prints in the light snow to be found. She had begun to think she had imagined him, that her mind in all its dejection from the evening previous had conjured a secret guardian for her to adore, when, at the end of the lane, he was there again. For an instant did he spring forth from the shadows, pulling someone from the street, and leaping into the shade again. Her heart raced, and she longed to discover his movements when a hand came to firmly drag her back to her post with a warning that should she be caught tarrying again, dismissal would be her punishment.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said with downcast eyes, but she was not sorry, nor could she feel any remorse for having left the scullery to hasten after so handsome and inexplicable a man.
A most satisfied grin was on her face the remainder of the evening. She washed and scrubbed with notions of his coming to rescue her one day and of his taking her on his perilous adventures. There should be danger, but she would endure it all for his sake. They could be thieves or pirates, whichever should suit him better, and she could be his Lady of the Night, the one to whom he could visit every evening, recant his day’s exploits, and then ravish her until morning. Her cheeks tinged with colour; she was ashamed and overjoyed all at once: she had an object, a someone to venerate and boast of, whose attention to her should be celebrated throughout the kitchen. She sighed over her basin and kept his striking aspect in her mind, fancying that he was making violent love to her after a night of exciting thievery and rampant debauchery.
“Sure, I know that look,” the cook chuckled. “C’mon, girl. Tell us his name. Is it the big fella who come to ask you to supper the other night?”
“No,” Meraliegh replied with amorous inflection, her gaze distant and her cheeks in a glow.
“Oh, a new fella, then? C’mon, girl. I never seen you this bad before. You’re gonna make me beg. That’s right cruel of you, girl.”
Meraliegh shrugged. “I don’t know his name.”
The cook seemed bemused. “What’s all this guff then?” She placed her hands on her wide hips and humphed. “Don’t know his name,” she scoffed, shaking her head. “Aye, girl, you could fall in love with any man what showed you a bit of niceness. What’d he do for you? Pick up those glasses of yours what keep fallin’?”
The cook sputtered and rolled her eyes. “Aye, never saw such a one in my life.” She grumbled something about how young girl’s hearts were easily swayed by the smallest attention and continued to peel the carrots.