Chapter 11.1 – The Road to Salel
At night, I helped myself to a bucket with some water, and a slightly-discoloured piece of cloth. I could finally loosen my strict get-up and wipe my body down from the humidity and sweat. And, while I was at it, I spent some strength scrubbing down my arms and legs so I could get rid of any dead skin. The build-up was the thickest between my ankles and heels in particular.
I pondered some matters in bed while wiping down my front, to give myself a better sense of direction for tomorrow. The baths were refilled with water, buckets in the privies already emptied; I told one of the foresters in the evening that I would not be available until the early afternoon so they could collect the slush buckets in the shed directly, and I topped off the sconces with oil mere minutes ago so they should last.
Ideally, they wouldn’t need to set them alight in the morning where it’s bright, so they would last for quite a while. Our stock of wax candles was pretty high, so there was no urgency to get them. The pouches for potpourri, grease and rush pith for the rush candles, I think that was everything I needed for the shopping trip with no further amendments. The amount of money would have to be properly recorded in the ledger, so I had to be mindful of the expenditure. I hoped the market was the concentrically-built condensed sort like in Prot, so travel by foot wouldn’t be too harsh.
It would really suck if I had to go from one end of the town to the next, only to find that the first shop I visited had the lowest price. That would be awful. Goddess Shulvi, please, don’t tease me with arrangements like that. Please let the shop owners be somewhat sane and have their stores close to each other, I beg of you. At least leave me some time to walk leisurely and enjoy the town a little.
Come morning, I made a quick inspection around the privies and found them all untouched. What a nice vote of confidence. All right, the town trip didn’t have to be bogged down… until I remembered that there were three chamber pots I did not account for. The visage of a dark-skinned maid elegantly entering the room warned me about the blunder in a roundabout way.
“Laila, would you kindly handle the pot in Lady Greyfield’s room before you depart for town?” Oh no, the masters’ personal pots! I deftly replaced and collected the three pots by Desiree’s prompt under the cover of darkness, and hauled them all into the shed. There, I nestled the nice-looking pots above a bed of hay so as to make it more apparent and stop others from toppling it by accident. It’s kind of ironic that a nice-looking pot like that held mud cakes within. Did it have to be that fancy? Moreover, did they really need such a fancy pot for holding ordure?
After tidying up as much as I could, I proceeded to the front of the mansion where Etoile was waiting outside the familiar, dreary carriage. She had a small pouch with her which held the coins, as well as the ledger I found yesterday at the pantry. Sir Franco came out of the front door and sported his usual maid attire.
“Everyone’s here? Let’s head for town, then.” Etoile opened the carriage door and entered it, and we followed suit. I got on after Sir Franco did, and as I reached for the door to close it, a hand wearing a white glove was held up at my face. The carriage driver, whom I somehow failed to notice, closed the carriage door for us before getting onto the front of the gloomy carriage.
What a pity, that a trip to town would be mired by the maid uniform. I was hoping for an occasion where we were allowed to wear our own clothes into town, and liven up a little. But, there’s merits to wearing the maid uniform too. For a start, there was less consequence should it be dirtied by mud or oil; and more importantly, Sir Franco could maintain his disguise well with a plain dress.
The wagon’s weighted curtain was parted and some light shone onto the floor and Etoile’s lap. She carefully took the chance to read the updated ledger and assessed the amount of gold required for the trip. I thought it would be a good time to start some small talk, so I thought for a little bit about the topics I would cover with her.
“I’ve never been to Salel, so I cannot help but feel a little nervous. Might I trouble you two for something?” I figured it would be an appropriate ice breaker, and sure enough, Etoile answered me while intently studying the book. “What ails you so, Dame Laila?” For a moment there, her black hair seemed to glisten in the dark when her head rattled with the carriage’s shake. Wow, that’s almost seductive. Given the reserved attitude and composure, she probably was a better listener than she was a speaker. I tried switching to a more talkative form of speech somewhat similar to Patricia.
“Were either of you to smell anything from me, please do notify me at the shortest notice. Why, just the morning, I was tasked with cleaning out the chamber pots within the masters’ rooms and it was quite the troublesome matter. I nearly stumbled while fumbling in the dark, and almost dropped the pot on the fancy dresser! It didn’t happen, thankfully, but my elbow touched the cess by mistake. I’m just glad my arm was the only victim. I dread to imagine what would happen if I accidentally caused a mess or something.” I thought it was a passable impression, though I could be wrong. I felt that Patricia had a stronger penchant for rambling and ruminating on trivial topics.
Etoile gave a simple reply with a gentle smile. “Worry not, Dame Laila. You smell of plumeria, not piss.” She definitely had a composed elegance similar to Desiree, yet there was something slightly different about it as well. I could feel a slight tinge of impatience in the voice, so maybe it was better if I downplayed the Patricia impersonation. I turned to Sir Franco, who gave me a meaningful half-smile and a nod so small I almost mistook it for the turbulence of the carriage. I guess describing the dresser as ‘fancy’ was a pretty good hint to him.
“You do not need to worry, Dame Laila. I do not smell anything pungent on you.” Oh, he’s skirting the descriptions with formality as well. He’s avoiding words that might accidentally describe me in a favourable light, now that I know he’s a man in disguise. Or had he been using words like such for a very long time, and I only noticed just now?
“That is a relief to know, I thank the both of you from the bottom of my heart. I cannot help but wonder what awaited at the town of Salel, and how it was shaped and built. It might be presumptuous of me, but I may end up comparing the market prices to my hometown. Is it fine if I asked about what the town is like?” Ah, no, I phrased that poorly. It’s probably going to be deflected by a ‘see for yourself’ argument.
“I think it’s best that you see the town with your own eyes, Dame Laila. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.” Crap. Predicted right down to the letter, too, and I even got schooled by a proverb. I should have gone with a ‘bad-at-directions’ approach instead, which would play out better. If I tried to speak any more than this, it would make me look like I’m acting with a heavy political motive, to better my relations with their household. I’m not about to start that sort of conversation, so I had no choice but to pull down the curtains and gaze at the scenery outside.
Through the trees and gates, I was greeted by farms and meadows stretching pretty far along the dusty road. I could see a communal field with rows of pumpkins, stretches of grain and vineyards for grapes, peas and spices. The farmers looked like they were slightly itchy, though. I thought they were wiping their sweat at first, but it was an unnatural periodic scratching across both their upper and lower torsos. I wonder what happened to them?