“There is no one with greater lace knitting skills than my brother and I, we can decorate and monograph all the linen of his lordship, master.” I blurted, looking down with deference.
“So the wee lass talks!” The man servant smiled. “I’ll take the pair.”
But the mistress wrinkled her nose. My brother might not have been in favour recently but we were a rare commodity. The boss usually sold babies off straight away, despite what she said, the mistress had only managed to keep one other child slave. She shook her head.
“I’m afraid he is currently occupied and might come back slightly incapacitated after the heavy labour we sent him on.”
Carrying bottle cases had never incapacitated anyone. She was going to separate us to keep us under her clutch. I felt faint, my head spinning for an escape.
“Aye. And what if I gave a bonus for the pair? We could do with more lace and adornments on our great curtains. Everything is so very drab in this country. Puritans have no sense of aesthetics.”
“If that was the case I might consent… what am I saying, our little Baas might not come back before nightfall.”
The man servant’s face fell a little. I didn’t need to hear him say he needed us now. A number of heavy cart wheels squeaked into the courtyard. Our ride to the new abode was ready. We had to be on it. I sprung up as an idea exploded in my head.
“Mistress, I can fetch him, if it pleases you.”
I only glanced at the man servant quickly. The real permission I needed was the mistress’s. She narrowed her eyes at me. I knew I was pushing it, talking without permission, I would get hell for it later, but I had to risk it. I had to if we wanted to live. Finally she nodded and a cruel smile touched her lips.
“If you find him in time.” She repeated, digging for a pass in her desk.
Those little papers with scribbled notes on them were the only way we could walk into the city without fearing dogs ripping our flesh off of our bones. I’d seen two girls go that way, dragged back, roped up like sausages, covered in chew marks and holes where body pieces were missing. They had both died, one quick of fever, the other in a long oozy agony.
I had to use every bit of control not to run and snatch the pass out of the mistress’s hand. But as soon as I reverently closed the door, I sprinted flat out down the corridor. The innkeeper wasn’t far, but I’d have to race to the middle of town. I skidded down the stairs, jumping over them three at a time, crashing into Precilla. He grabbed me by the shoulder before I fell down head first into the landing and broke my skull. He cared about us, having brought us up in his little room, now across from ours on the special request’s floor. His collar was open on his bird-like neck, his adams apple constantly working at swallowing this unpalatable world, gravitating up and down under his coal skin.
“Where are you running like this, baby star.”
He swept his large dress to the side so I could slide past.
“The inn. Got to get Baas back! Lord Gomond is buying slaves!”
“I doubt he’s at the inn, girl. You better take a cart.”
I alted before the front door. Precilla always knew things. I jiggled on one foot for a terrible second and raced for the back door instead. If Precilla said to get the donkey, then to the donkey I went. But then I remembered what I was doing and ran back to Precilla to give him a hug. If this worked, I might not see him again. Not for a very long time, at least. My throat closed. I did not want to think about that.
“See you, Mama Precilla.”
His laugh followed me as I ran off, all the way out. I had forgotten my shoes, still up in the attic. There was definitely no time anymore. Damned be proper shoes. My wrapped feet hit the beaten earth outside and kept sprinting.
The placid donkey was ready to go, groomed and briddled. But the cart leaned against the barn wall, a wheel missing. I turned round the veggie patch, crushing fresh pumpkin leaves and barely missing the young squash flowers. There had to be something I could use fast. I bit my fists not to scream. This was our ONLY chance. I couldn't let it slip through our fingers.
A hairbrush slammed into the lime wall, cracking the surface. Pain blossomed into my shoulder. It had just grazed it, but the force it had been thrown at was lethal. I made a rude gesture at Missy, screaming through her window, and kicked her deadly brush in the donkey dung.
There was no time to waste.
I grabbed a handful of the short coarse mane growing along Donkey’s neck and rushed us to the only mount in the garden - the composting scrap pile. I tried to stick to the pulled weeds but my feet sunk in. I grimaced as the stinky humidity of the mound squished between my toes, but there was nothing else to climb on. This was not the time to think. I plopped down on Donkey’s back and almost fell to the other side. Hanging on with dear life, both arms wrapped around his neck, face pressed against his warm musky hide, I kicked his flanks.
We leaped through the open gate at a speed I’d never seen Donkey ran. The bumping gallop pulled a surprised cry out of me, and while the coachmen laughed, I gritted my teeth and kept the bouncing pain in.