top of page
  • Thomas Williamson

AN UNWANTED DINNER GUEST


CHAPTER ONE



It was raining when the young woman arrived at Sallwick Manor, and the help was all abuzz with the excitement. She was an unknown for them. just another mystery added to the household of the mysterious Brennan Sallwick. The help had all been told that she was a distant cousin of Mr Sallwick. sent to Townhill from Frystaff Isle to continue her education. But there was no one who truly believed that, it was far to obvious that the woman was not from the poor working class family that Brennan came from. In fact, it was unlikely that he even had family, he had made his money by learning the ways of whaling and fishing after growing up as a street rat. The young woman, whoever she was, was clearly not that. She was tall, with a proud face and the air of an aristocrat, even as she stood shivering in the door, soaked to the bone.


When she had arrived, by the back door for that matter, she had carried on her back a sword. In the kitchen a child asked to see it, and she showed it off with the pride of a mother, letting the finely gilded hilt glint in the light, letting the child run his hand down the sabers gleaming blade. One of the cooks had gone to get Mr Sallwick, when the young woman had informed them that she was invited by him. No one believed her, and many questioned who she was, but she wouldn't answer, simply telling them that she would speak to Sallwick and Sallwick alone. The cooks tried to tell her that he was not to be bothered, he was in mourning as his daughter had recently been killed when the Inquisitors attacked Allencroft Manor. Apparently, she had been suspected of Sexual Deviancy, along with the daughter of the Allencroffs, and recompense had been paid by the Church. It was truly a shame, the Allencroft's daughter was popular in the aristocratic field, just a little different from everyone else, but in an exciting way. There were few who truly liked her, but many who wanted to know who she was.


But the woman at the door did not seem to care, she told them that she would stand there all day if she had to, she had been invited by Mr Sallwick, and if the help was not going to help her she wound come in and find him herself. There was no getting rid of her, so a cook was dispatched.


"Haughty one she is," said one of the maids, an older woman named Edith. The cook she spoke to had glanced over his shoulder at this, taking in the woman now in their kitchen, sitting straight and proper on a little stool, her bag by her booted feet and her sheathed sword over her lap. She stared around the room through intelligent eyes, brushing her wet hair back behind her ear.


"There aint nothing right about that girl," said the cook, Timothy. Her clothes is to fine, and yet she arrives by the back door dripping wet from rain, like a common street rat searching for a job."


'Who do you think she is?" said Edith.


1 would reckon she's an aristocrat of some sort, disgraced.'


'Them's some bold words Tim.' said Edith. Her eyes had gone fearful at that, and she gave Timothy a stern look. "Things of that sorts are far above our stations. And we are far too close to Townhill for those to be the kinds of things you want people heanng about. You don't want to bring the Inquisitors down on us.'


Both turned again to take in the woman, eyeing her up and down. She was showing off her sword again. to a second and third child gathered by the first. Her lips quirked slightly at the children, a light smile, but one that never reached her eyes. She had removed her jacket, leaving it hanging by the stove, revealing a vest underneath and a bright white cotton shirt. As Timothy and Edith studied her, she turned her eyes up at them, and the slight smile fell from her face as she made eye contact with the two servants. Color wise, they were a deep warm brown, but they stared with far to much intensity for comfort. cold and calculating. Tim and Edith quickly looked away, back to their tasks at hand. Timothy loaded up Ediths silver platter prepared food, both of their eyes downcast.


'As I said." said Edith before she left, "a haughty one she is. I can tell."


It was some time before Mr Sallwick arrived. and during that time the woman sat as still as a rock. Her hair and shirt had begun to try. but her wool jacket remained wet. A little puddle had formed beneath it, and occasionally little droplet would steam on the stove when they fell off its sleeve. And through it all the woman sat like a stone. Even looking like a wet cat as she did, she was an imposing presence. The children loved her though. coming out of the woodwork to see her sword and to ask if she was a Warden, if she was an adventurer. a pirate and so on. She informed them that she was none of these things, just a fencer. One child.

smaller than the rest but older as well. said 'what have you got in that bag of yours miss?"


The woman gave the child a look, before saying, 'Lady. I am a Lady. not a miss."


At that, the kitchen sat up and took notice once more. Edith and Timothy gave each other a look as the air grew tense around them. before Edith left bnnging the food to the dining room.


Your of the Aristocracy?' said the girl who had spoken.


You could say so." said the woman.


The children babbled amongst themselves, their minds suddenly on fire with ideas of what this meant. talking as fast as the stock traders in Carinthia. Finally. they all quieted down, and the girl, smallest but oldest said. "What's your name?"


'My name is Lady Anastasia Collinworth. of Naval Bay.'


“You from Naval Bay?”


The woman paused a moment, before saying, “Yes,” simply and finally.


“Is your family in the navy?”


“No,” said Anastasia, “We’re whalers. My father owns many trawlers, and quite a few fishing vessels too. My family is related to the Sallwicks, though distantly.”


The children huddled back into themselves at this. Mr Sallwick had family? Even distant? What will we do with this new information? Anastasia smiled again at them, but still not reaching her eyes.


“So what is it that brings your here to Townhill Lady Collinworth?” said a particularly brave cook.


“Education,” said Anastasia, without making eye contact. She hardly even acknowledged the young man. He was irrelevant to her. He looked indignant at this, but did not respond. Anastasia in turn looked back a the children, saying, “so, are you still interested in what I have in my bag? I think you might find it quite interesting.”


The children happily accepted the invitation to view the contents of the bag, and Anastasia complied. She leaned down, bringing the bag around so that it was resting in front of her feet, before opening the top and sitting back. “Go on ahead,” she said, “see what you find.”


The children were clearly skeptical, but they looked in anyways. There was nothing to see, other than more damp clothing, a wallet, and some shoe shine. One of them looked up at Anastasia and said, “there ain’t nothing in here.”


“Dig then,” said Anastaisa, “it’s all wet and mussed anyways, it wont make any difference.”


The children paused. Aristocrats were not supposed to be this friendly. Often times they would look down their noses at the children of the help, viewing them as a nuisance who only existed in their households as an unhappy accident. But this strange woman seemed like she was something else. Haughty for sure, but not overbearing. But with a little nod, and that half smile, they began to paw through Anastasia’s belongings, until one of them, middle in age to his companions, withdrew a long pistol. The children gasped in excitement, all clustering around it, pointing and talking as it shined in the light.


“Is it loaded?” said the girl, smallest and oldest.


“No,” said Anastasia. “I dont keep it loaded, I wouldn't want it going off and shooting me in the back.”


The children quieted again, examining the gun. It was a beautiful piece, a handle of ivory, the cylinder carved with intricate designs and beautiful runes. Its barrel was long and sleek, clearly built for marksmanship. . . or dueling. The entire thing was nickel plated, something that did not escape the children's careful examinations, especially not the eldest girl, who was clearly the leader. “This must have cost as much as a house,” she had said.


“Its a family heirloom,” said Anastasia. “It was my grandfathers, then my mothers, and now mine.”


“What do these all mean?” said one boy, pointing at the inscriptions on the cylinder. They were not in Mounrlyish, but instead the letters of Selendyic languages.


“Thats Arelenian,” said Anastasia. “It says, ‘Justice and honor to protect the Meek, Dishonor and vengeance to destroy the Wicked.’ It’s a passage from the Scriptures.”


“What does that mean,” said another of the children.


“It’s really up to your own interpretation,” said Anastasia, “but Ive always thought it meant that those who are vulnerable will be safe in the eyes of the All Father, while those who are cruel and wicked will be punished. Essentially it means do right, and you will be safe.”


The children all continued to look over the gun, until Anastasia bent down again, digging in her bag and producing a hard-paper box, rattling slightly with its contents. It was plain and unassuming, with a simple ‘Wellington Rifles’ and ‘.45 Caliber’ written on it in clear writing. Anastasia took one of the bullets out, a fat little thing, like a brass and lead cockroach, and thumbed it between her fingers. “It fires this,” she said, reaching out to take the gun back. One of the children handed it to her, and Anastasia thumbed a switch to open it, the barrel and cylinder bending off the handle and hammer in a 90 degree angle.


“You slide the bullet into this, the chamber,” said Anastasia, demonstrating for the children. She placed the bullet in. “Then you close the barrel once all six chambers are full,” she closed the gun, letting it click shut. “Now that its loaded, you pull back the hammer, and your ready to fire.”


The children watched in rapt fascination, and Anastasia gave them a wink. “If any of your want, I would show you how to shoot it sometime. But it’s too late at night for that now.”


“And what makes you think that would be acceptable for children, miss-?” said Edith, coming back down the stairs after depositing her tray in the dining room.


“Lady,” replied Anastasia for the second time that night. “I am a Lady, and I would prefer it if you referred to me as such, or not at all.” Her words were polite, but it was clear that her intentions were not. “And if you are going to refer to me,” she continued, “then its Anastasia.”


“Well,” said Edith, “Lady Anastasia, I don't quite feel comfortable with you waltzing into this place like you own it, and waving around a gun for children like some common street tough. I don't know who you are, but as far as I’m concerned, you are not welcome here until Mr Sallwick says otherwise, no matter what fancy clothes or aristocratic titles you may have.”


Anastasia didn't respond, but stared calmly at Edith, who in turn stared angrily back. “Well, at least I know where you stand,” said Anastasia, before taking the bullet out of her pistol, closing it again, and sliding it back down the side of her bag. She sat back again, straight and proper, as the children dispersed in disappointment. The one girl, who had done much of the talking, gave a second look back and Anastasia smiled at her, but did nothing more.


“I dont like her,” said Edith, coming up besides Timothy again. “I wish Mr Sallwick would hurry up and collect her, so she would have to remain here.”


Timothy nodded, cutting up vegetables and throwing them into a pot. Dinner was coming, and he found himself feeling the heat of it.


“I don’t understand why she couldn't have come to the front door like someone respectable.”


“Maybe she doesnt want to be seen,” said Timothy.


“And why would she not want to be seen?” said Edith, “clothes like that, and that fancy sword and gun. She seems to me like the type who enjoys the attention of others. She certainly managed to get the attention of everyone in here.”


A cook offered a cup of coffee to Anastasia, who politely declined, while Edith looked on disapprovingly. Above them the sounds of two pairs of feet could be heard, coming to the entrance to the basement and the kitchens. A few heads turned upwards at the hollower sound of one pair. It was the sound of boots, not the shoes of servants. Mr Sallwick was here. The door to the kitchen opened, and the footsteps could be heard coming down. Anastasia, along with the cooks and servants, all looked over in time to see a pair of feet emerge, followed by legs, a body clothed in a fine wine colored coat, and then the head of Mr Sallwick. His hair was long and wild, and his beard seemed untrimmed, like a sailors. Behind him came the cook who had been sent to fetch him, seeming to have shrunk some in the presence of his master.


“Lady Anastasia,” said Sallwick as he walked. He spoke with a loud, booming voice. It was far from the chitter of Edith and Timothy’s voices, or the quiet confidence of Anastasia’s. He had the voice of a man in the truest sense. “Why you would come in through the back, interrupt my help, and then demand my presence like I should make time for you, in my house, is beyond me.”


Anastasia stood, for the first time seeming smaller. She was tall for a woman, standing at equal height to most of the men in the room, but Mr Sallwick was far taller, and it showed as he looked down at the woman in front of him. “I never meant to cause any problems, Mr Sallwick, I simply came as you told me I should.”


“When I told you to come,” said Sallwick, “I would have hoped that a person of your stature would have known not to come as dinner was about to start, but rather before or after.”


“I apologise,” said Anastasia, though it was clear there was no meaning behind it. After the initial entrance, she had regained her composure, and now seemed to grow next to Sallwick, bringing them back to equal footing.


Mr Sallwick studied Anastasia, and glanced over at her belongings. “You look like a drowned rat that put on clothes,” he said.


Anastasia didn't respond.


“Are you hungry?” said Sallwick.


“Yes.”


“Then get yourself some food, and meet me upstairs in the dining room. My wife and I were just about to begin eating. I’ll have a servant bring your things to a room.”


With that, as quickly as he had arrived, Mr Sallwick left equally fast. He turned on his heel, and made his way back up the stairs, bringing his larger than life presence with him, leaving only Anastasia and the uncomfortable servants. She looked around, and the cooks went back to their work quickly and studiously, like they were boarding school boys goofing off and their professor had just returned. Anastasia took a tentative step forward, paused, and then walked comfortably to the table at the edge of the room where plates and silverware were stacked. She took a plate, bowl, spoon, knife and fork, and began to make her way to the food, but was intercepted by Timothy.


“Ill get that for you Lady Anastasia,” he said, taking the bowl and plate from her. Anastasia didn't object. “What would you like?”


“Something hearty,” said Anastasia. “Like a stew, or a pot roast.”


“Of course,” said Timothy, bowing his head slightly, and turning back to the kitchen. He weaved through the other cooks, arriving at a large pot boiling away on the stove, a ladle resting besides it. He picked up the ladle, dipped it in the pot, and filled the bowl with a steaming hot soup, before sliding over to a pan of greens, placing them on the plate with a pair of tongs and adding a bread roll next to it. He placed the plate and bowl on the counter, and turned back to Anastasia saying, “what would you like to drink, my Lady?”


“The finest red you can spare,” said Anastasia.


Timothy paused, as did the rest of the kitchen. He turned and made brief eye contact with his colleagues, lingering on the chef. Anastasia watched as they seemed to have an entire conversation in their heads. Finally the chef nodded, and gave a wave of his hand that seemed to be his blessing. “If Mr Sallwick asks, I will take the fall Timothy. Get the young lady what she asks for.”


Timothy coughed, but did as he was told, taking a wine glass from where they hung and making his way into the wine cellar. Anastasia stood a moment, watching him go, before returning to her bag and opening it again, drawing out the pistol. She looked at it for a moment, then slid it into her belt, gathered up her sword, and returned to her food. It was steaming on the table, and Anastasia took a preparatory bite of the soup as she waited. It was delicious, and the cooks all watched intently as Anastasia took her first bite, but she gave no indication of her enjoyment of it.


Finally, Timothy returned, a glass of wine in his hand. Anastasia thanked him and took it, picking up the plate and bowl in her other hand. Timothy tried to take it up the stairs and into the dining room for her, but Anastasia refused. “I am perfectly capable of taking these myself, thank you,” she said, tucking the sword under her arm and making her way up the stairs.


“All Fathers Mercy, Im glad she’s gone,” said Edith as Timothy came back to his station to continue working. “A more arrogant woman I have never met in my life.”


“I sort of liked her,” said Timothy. “She knew what she wanted. It made things clear.”


“Hmmph,” said Edith, her opinion on the matter clear on her face, “I think you would like anyone female Timothy, not that your doing yourself any favors.”


As Anastasia made her way up the stairs, she could hear the sound of music growing. It was an orchestral piece, one she recognised as Osterleif’s 5th Concerto in B Major. Personally, she was not a fan of Osterleif, she found him far to over the top and with little self control in his music. But he was popular, that she could not deny. And weather she liked the music or not, it fit right in with the home she entered into. Mr Sallwicks house was an old one, he had managed to zigzag around the common pitfall of new money, buying a new, garish and fanciful home in a blatant attempt to show off their wealth. It was clear that Mr Sallwick was aware of this, and had purposefully avoided it, keeping close to the grain, and setting himself up in such a way so as to fit in with the Lords, Ladys and Captain of Industry who were his new companions. To not to would have been a social ruin for him, and he would have found himself alone in the new world he had built himself too, without anyone to help him in his business ventures, and likely he would have ended up back on the streets.


But as Anastasia made her way through, asking a pair of maids for directions to the dining room, she saw that all around there were little hints of who Mr Sallwick really was. There was the music for one, not refined and elegant, but chaotic like a gang, and his hair was that of a working man, not a Lord. But as well, on a table by a chair, there were a stack of penny dreadfuls. Above his mantle was not a pair of crossed swords as most of his station would have, but a boat paddle crossed over a spiked chair leg. Resting under it, on the marble, was a straight razor. Occasionally the floor was scuffed, and the wood was chipped in a few places. A man of Mr Sallwicks wealth could have easily patched and fixed these imperfections, but he hadn't. Almost as if he was purposefully showing off his difference, and his danger. He was forming about him the image of a man of adventure.


As Anastasia came to the dining room, a butler closed the door as he came out. She stopped, and he looked at here questioningly, but did not move. Anastasia didn't either, and instead waited, giving the butler the look she had given to the cooks and maids in the kitchen, cold, calculating and intense. It didn't take long for him the relent, opening the door again, and holding it for her as she entered the room. As she passed, Anastasia did not look at him, but gave a simple “thank you.”


Inside, there was a large table, but far from one built for a feast. The room it was in was far larger than it, and Mr Sallwick sat in the middle of the table with his wife to his right, rather than on either of the long ends as was custom. Behind him was a large painting of himself, his wife and his daughter. His daughter and his wife smiled serenely, but Mr Sallwick looked on with the same dour expression as he always seemed to wear, his hair for once tied back like a Shyenese warrior. Anastasia took note, and sat across from them without a word, leaning her sword on the table and placing the pistol in front of her, the barrel pointing down the table longwise.


“The servants would have taken those to a room for you,” said Mr Sallwick.


“Im sure they would have, but they are family heirlooms, and I would prefer to keep them with me,” replied Anastasia.


The room grew quiet again as they ate, but Sallwicks wife examined Anastasia. She did not fit, and in the presence of both Mr Sallwick and Anastasia, Mrs Sallwick’s discomfort was obvious.


“So,” said Mrs Sallwick, “Brennan tells me that you knew our daughter.”


Anastasia looked up from her food, watching Sallwick. He tensed, and looked down, and for the first time since her arrival he seemed not so intimidating. She blinked, swallowed, and said, “I did. We were. . . friends, I suppose.”


“Im glad to hear that,” said Mrs Sallwick. Her voice was soft, in stark comparison to her husbands. “She was always a very quiet girl, I worried about her. When we sent her to university, I was concerned that she would be lonely.”


“No,” said Anastasia, “I don't believe she was lonely,” before dipping her spoon back in her soup. She swirled it around, and kept her eyes down.


Mr Sallwick spoke up then, saying “I would rather not discuss this over dinner,” with finality. And so it was done.


There was another silence, and the spoons and forks clinked slightly on the silverware. Mr Sallwick glanced at Anastasia’s drink, and she looked back. Mrs Sallwick flicked her eyes between the two, watching uncomfortably at the power play between the two. It was Sallwick Manor, and yet Anastasia had arrived and quickly made it her own in her own right.


“What wine are you drinking?” said Mr Sallwick, taking a bite of his food. “I wasn't aware of offering it.”


“You didn't,” said Anastasia, “but I asked a cook for it and he gave it to me. It’s really quite a fine wine, I must say.”


“Im sure.”


“I’m sorry,” said Mrs Sallwick, “Im afraid I forgot to introduce myself. I am Lady Lydia Sallwick, formerly of House Caren. Usually I would be much more careful of my manners, but your arrival was so unexpected, Im afraid it must have slipped my mind.”


“Oh, it’s nothing, please dont worry yourself over it,” said Anastasia, “I am Lady Anastasia Collinworth. Is your family from Townhill, might I ask?”


“Yes, we have been in the city since the Fall of the Willuns. My family supported them during the war, and many were officers in the defense. Though we have since switched our support, the Cartwines are truly much more just leaders if we look at the past in a subjective manor. And yourself, where is it that your family comes from? Brennan tells me Naval Bay, but I was never aware of any particularly well known houses on Frystaff Isle.”


“Well,” said Anastasia, “we’re really a rather small house. In fact, it is only within the last generation that we were given our rights as Aristocrats, before then we were just a family of whalers and fishers. My father actually owns many trawlers, and is a subsidiary of Allencroft Whaling. My mother on the other hand is Arelenian, she comes from a small town far in the tundra.”


Mrs Sallwick brightened at this, leaning in happily to discuss. “Well, that certainly explains some things,” she said.


“Im not sure I follow,” said Anastasia, smiling pleasantly. Still though, it never reached her eyes, which remained distant.


“Well, it’s just that you appear much more like an Arelenian than an Islesish. It’s your cheekbones my dear, very strong. And your name as well, all very Arelenian.”


“Well, thank you,” said Anastasia. “Often my name seems to be an ice breaker when I meet new people. Everyone wants to know how I got it.”


“Well its very pretty,” said Mrs Sallwick. “I wish I could have a name like that, much more interesting than Lydia.”


“Thank you,” said Anastasia, “though I would say that your name is equally as pretty. I think its very simple, but in a good way.”


Mr Sallwick sat up, putting his fork down pointedly with a little clatter, “lets not beat around the bush here Anastasia, why is it that you're here?”


Anastasia sat upright from the conversational lean she had taken to talk with Mrs Sallwick. “I think, Brennan, that you know exactly why it is that I am here.”


Sallwick bristled at the use of his first name, rather than the Mr Sallwick that was proper. He glowered at this, but Anastasia gave no indication of being sorry. He suspected that that was exactly her intent however, to anger him. Though the implications were clear as well, if he was going to forgo the proper addressing of Anastasia as Lady, she would forgo his of Mr.


“Your right, I do know exactly why I am here. But if we are going to be frank, you waltzing in here the way you have is far from the right way to earn my help in your little crusade. I have half a mind to throw you back out into the rain like the disgraced aristocrat that you are.”


Anastasia sat calmly, but inside she was fuming. He was right of course, she had no power here. Technically her titles still held, it was the Church that was her enemy, not the government, and so no action had been taken there. But that did not change the fact that an enemy of the Church was in essence an enemy of the people. She had nothing.


“Mr Sallwick,” she said, keeping her voice even and neutral, “I did not come here to fight-”


“Well, that may be so, but you’ve certainly created one.”


Anastasia breathed out through her nose, trying to keep calm but feeling like it was only so long of this sparing that would allow it. Thankfully, Mrs Sallwick came to her aid. Though more than likely it was both of their aids, before one said something that was too much for the other, and instead of help she found herself wielding her pistol at dawn.


“Please, must we fight this late?” she said, giving both and admonishing look, before turning to her husband and continuing, “and further more, no matter what time our guest has arrived, that is no way to treat her. Any qualms should be settled in the morning.”


Anastasia and Mr Sallwick did not immediately respond, continuing their stand off, while Mrs Sallwick glanced back and forth at the two with the nervous eyes of someone trying to keep the peace.


“Very well,” said Sallwick, looking down at his food to take another bite. He almost seemed to uncoil, like his whole body had been a spring ready to snap at any moment.


Anastasia did not give up however, placing her spoon down onto the plate with a little clatter reminiscent of the one that had started the whole argument, before pushing herself from the table and standing. She gave a slight bow of her head to Mrs Sallwick, saying “thank you for your hospitality Lady Lydia, please accept my sincerest apologies for any inconvenience I may have caused.” She reached down, picked up the pistol and stuck it into her belt, before taking her sword into her left hand and turning to Mr Sallwick and saying, “I think I would appreciate being shown to my room now.”


Sallwicks face tightened into a grimace, but a pointed look from his wife swayed his hand. “Very well,” he said, his voice quiet and barely masking his obvious anger at the nights events. He pushed himself from the table as well, his chair grinding on the wooden floor.


Mrs sat up again at this, and said, “please Brennan, these floors are scuffed enough as it is without you helping them.”


Mr Sallwick did not respond, but paused as if to recenter himself. He breathed in deeply, straightened, and said, “follow me,” before setting off. He made his way across the dining room, opening the wide oak doors and standing to let Anastasia through as she followed. Outside, he waved down a servant, and in hushed but stern tones he told the servant to show Anastasia to her room. Before he left, he grabbed Anastasia’s shoulder and turned her towards him, saying “tomorrow, meet me in the courtyard. We’ll talk then.”


The servant was a younger boy, likely not much older than 15 or so, gave Anastasia a short bow, before saying “please follow my Lady Anastasia,” and making his way down the hall. Anastasia followed, turning back to look at Sallwick as she left. He looked at her angrily, sniffed, and turned to finish his dinner with his wife. At this, Anastasia smiled her first real smile of the night, feeling smug. She had won.


The servant led Anastasia through the halls, back the way she had come and past the door to the kitchen. As they walked, Anastasia studied the paintings and art that was hung on the walls. There was a variety, but often it was paintings of whaling trawlers, fishing ships, and various docks and ocean scenes. It was clear that the Sallwicks were an ocean people. Though that was not uncommon in the Empire. The servant spoke as they walked. He seemed uncomfortable, fidgeting and constantly brushing his hair back. He seemed new, and Anastasia got the distinct vibe that he had not been at his job for much longer than a week or so.


“Are you a student of business, Lady Anastasia?” asked the servant as they began to descend the stairs. It was a back set, going down and not up. Anastasia flet suspicious.


“Yes,” replied Anastasia after a pause. “Yes, Ive come to learn from Mr Sallwick.”


“Well, he really is the man to teach you,” continued the servant. “He’s had a few students and apprentices over the years, most of them from Townhill. Though I believe you may be the first of the Aristocracy, he has a soft spot for those who are less fortunate. I believe that probably is due to his childhood, he was a street urchin you know. An orphan.”


“I was aware of that,” replied Anastasia. “His reputation really is quite something. Its not common for one from his station to be as successful as he is.”


“Indeed,” said the servant. They hit the bottom of the stairs in a tight little hallway, a few doors on either side. A radiator hissed on the wall, the perspiration fogging a little window. The servant led Anastasia down the hall to where it split in either direction ina T, and turned left. He walked halfway down this hall to a door, and knocked. There was a rustling inside, but no response, and the servant gave Anastasia a look that conveyed an awkward apology, before turning back to the door and knocking a second time.


“Miss Carmen,” he said, leaning in to the door so that his voice would carry better, “are you in there?”


“Im trying to sleep Timon,” said the voice inside. “Get someone else.” The voice spoke with a slight accent, making her sound like she was either from Barcelo or southern Alatoi, simultaneously lilting and clipped.


“Im afraid its not that Miss Carmen. Would you please open the door?”


Anastasia gripped her sword, and ran her thumb over the notches it had acquired over the years. She could hear more rustling inside the room, and the servant, Timon, shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. “Miss Carmen?” he said again after a long pause.


There was a sudden and much sharper rustling sound, and Anastasia could hear what sounded like a dresser being opened forcefully. She could hear something drop, and the woman inside curse, before the sound of a lock being thrown inside and the door being flung open. A woman stood in the doorway, who looked at Timon the servant with an intense frustration. “What?” she said, more barking out the word than speaking it.


Timon the servant flinched a little at this, but stood his ground.


“Mr Sallwick has a new apprentice, Miss Carmen,” he said. “Her items were left here earlier by one of the servants, she is to be your roommate.”


Carmen looked at Anastasia for the first time then, her eyes hard. Her lips were pressed tightly together in a look of mild disdain and she crossed her arms and stood straighter, her eyes steady and intimidating. Anastasia held her ground, giving the same haughty expression she gave everyone. Finally she looked back to Timon, the servant, and said, “well, is that all?”


“I believe so,” he said.


“Fine.”


Timon the servant looked around, waiting for some sort of continuation of the conversation, but when he got none he gave a little nod of his head and left, leaving Anastasia with Carmen. The two waited a moment, taking each other in, before Carmen spoke again.


“So, what is it that your doing here?” she said.


“Im Mr Sallwicks new apprentice.”


Carmen snorted, her amusement at the statement clear on her face. “Hardly, if he put you down here,” she said, smiling in a way that suggested little sympathy for Anastasia’s confusion. “If he had servants take your things here, he may as well have just made you an employee.”


“I dont understand what you mean,” said Anastasia. “I was told by Mr Sallwich himself that he would take me on as an apprentice, and that is what I expect from him.”


“Listen,” said Carmen, leaning in close so that she could better look Anastasia in the eye, “your not the first person who Mr Sallwick has taken on as an apprentice. And with every apprentice he has taken on, he puts them down here with the servants and the help, and his apprentices become a part of the household. Do you understand what I am saying?”


Anastasia didn't answer, she simply held her tongue, though she understood perfectly well what was being communicated to her. If she intended to learn from Mr Sallwick, she was also expected to work in the household. It was obvious that Carmen was insulting her, but her gripe was not with the woman in the doorway, it was with Sallwick. She looked back, trying to keep her face impassive, and letting Carmen talk.


Carmen paused, before stepping back again and saying, “Come on in then.” She stood aside for Anastasia, extending her arm inside the room to indicate welcome. Or at least, disgruntled acceptance of her new roommate. Anastasia remained silent, but accepted the invitation and entered the room. It was a small room, but cozy, despite being mostly brick rather than wood or plaster. There were two beds, both iron frame and which gave the distinct impression that they would creak with even the slightest movement. In between the two beds was a large armoire, that had been painted white but which was starting to chip. Anastasia stood in the middle of the room, taking everything in as Carmen shut the door behind them.


“Your things are there,” she said, pointing to Anastasia’s bag and coat. They were placed on the wall opposite of the beds and armoire, next to a radiator that hissed and steamed, fogging up the little basement window above it. On either end of the window were gun racks, one holding a double barreled shotgun and the other a rifle. “You can put the sword and pistol wherever you want, and there’s room in the closet for your clothes.”


“Its and armoire,” said Anastasia.


“Well, whatever you want to call it, you can put your clothes inside of it. Though I would suggest you leave the wet ones by the radiator for the night so they can dry.”


Anastasia nodded as she looked around, though there wasn't much else to really look at. She leaned her sword in the little corner made by where her bed met the wall, and slid the pistol under her pillow, before turning to her belongings. She dug through the bag, pulling out the clothing on top of the pile and laying them over the radiator, hanging her coat next to Carmens from a little hook above the window. As she worked, Carmen pulled a string hanging from the elactricas light, leaving only an oil lamp to illuminate the room, before rolling back over in her own bed and going to sleep.


Anastasia sat back on her own bed, running her hand over the quilt over top. She sighed, and watched the back of Carmen’s head with an expression of mild contempt and frustration. She reached down and pulled off her boots, putting them neatly by the foot of her bed. One of them stayed straight up, while the other leaned over slightly, so that they looked like a drunk and their friend trying to get them home. While the light from the lamp slowly dimmed, Anastasia changed from her clothing and into a nightgown, before leaning over the little table in the center of the room that the lamp sat on and blowing the flame out with a forceful ‘poof.’ With the light gone, Anastasia climbed back into her new rickety bed, pulling the quilt and thing sheets up over her head, and with the rain pattering on the little basement window, Anastasia fell asleep with plans in her head.



コメント


bottom of page