Imsdyn 11, 1015
Glenna had passed this house at least six times since the start of the new year. Sometimes she wondered if she was taunting herself with it. She could have sent Beatris, or even Niven, to the shops to pick up what they needed. Hell, it would have probably been better to send them and stay home with Seona herself than to come herself and leave Seona with her auntie and uncles. But she had to keep coming, to keep looking …
Because by the shop door, there was a sign. And Glenna wasn’t very good with her letters, but she could read a few words, and these were two words she knew how to read.
She took a deep breath, rolling her shoulders and rocking on the balls of her feet. Courage, that was what she needed. The last time she’d gone into a shop to ask after a job, she hadn’t been alone … and it had still been a disaster. It was hard enough to shake away the memory of that failure. It was harder still when she remembered all the reasons why it shouldn’t have been a failure. Rosette Chevaux won’t be able ter judge ye, Kata had said. She ain’t in yer position, not by a long shot, but she’s got kids an’ she ain’t never been married. Lots o’ folk’s’ll say she’s no different than ye. An’ she knows that.
And a fat lot of good all that had done Glenna. That, she knew, had been her best chance for a job in out of the rain, one that would still be here when winter came on. She could, she supposed, go to Sir Lancelot if this didn’t work out — but while he’d probably take her help, and gladly, for the harvest, who was to say whether he’d still need her in the winter? He’d already assured Seumas that he would be needing him, and Glenna knew that was a lot for one family.
But here was another store saying “Help Wanted” … and if Glenna remembered correctly, Mistress Chevaux hadn’t even said that …
Faint heart never won fair lady! Lachlan used to say that, usually before he’d kiss her — or jump into the stream with all his clothes on, dragging her alongside — or try to jump on the back of a moving wagon, all in a bid to impress her. Glenna had been impressed, whenever she wasn’t laughing at him, or kissing him, or doing her best to hold his head under as revenge for getting all her clothes wet (with her still inside them). She’d admired that mad streak in him. And now …
What the hell have I got ter lose? Glenna squared her shoulders, marched up those steps, and pushed the door open.
The shop was dim and blue after the yellow, bright sunlight of autumn. But some things stood out. The glitter of stone-carved frogs. A rug woven in red with shots of gold. The vases and pitchers covered with an iridescent glaze. The woman standing in the middle of the shop, skirts a panoply of contrasting and ever-shifting fabrics, her copper hair spilling over her shoulders to hide the fact that her hair was the only thing covering such shoulders. The woman turned to Glenna, and for a moment Glenna could only hang on to the doorknob and try to remember what breathing was.
But the woman smiled. “Can I help you?”
“I–um–uh–” Oh, Lord, I should’ve worn me Sunday best! The woman might look like she had walked right off a pirate ship, but at least her clothes were clean. Glenna’s … well … they were clean, at least in the sense of having been recently washed, but there was only so clean such clothes could get. She swallowed. “Er …”
The woman still smiled at her. At least she wasn’t so surly that she was demanding unwashed urchin like Glenna quit her shop before she dirtied the pretty things. That was a good thing ,wasn’t it?
Glenna unhooked her fingers one by one from the doorknob. She forced herself to take one step into the shop. Then another. Then another. She resisted the urge to walk around the rug. It couldn’t be for sale — could it? Not when it had people walking across it all day?
“Er … ma’am … I noticed … ye got a sign out front …”
The woman’s eyes narrowed, then widened. “Oh! You’re here about the job?”
This, Glenna realized, was when she was going to be disappointed. The woman would say that they’d already found somebody, or she’d look Glenna over, sneer, and tell her she clearly wasn’t suited. Glenna held her breath and braced herself for it.
The woman did no such thing. “Excellent! You have no idea how long we’ve been waiting for someone to come asking about it! I’ve had that sign up for over a week now!”
Wait … “No–no one’s asked, ma’am?”
“No! Can you believe it?” asked the woman. “Although … I think there was one young man who might have been about to ask …”
A young man? And they didn’t take him?
“But he took one look at my husband and went running out the door for some reason.”
“Yer–yer husband?” Glenna repeated stupidly.
“Aye,” the woman agreed. She gestured across the store to a blond man with an eyepatch. “I can’t imagine why he would do that.”
Glenna thought it best not to comment.
“Bart?” asked the woman. The eyepatch-wearing man turned around.
And in that second Glenna saw what his wife meant. Maybe he had an eyepatch and dressed like a Bledavik pirate. But his smile was open and easy, and he nodded politely to Glenna before turning to his wife. “Yes, dear?”
“We’ve finally got someone come about the job! This is –” The woman put her hand on Glenna’s shoulder, stopped, and looked at her. “I’m sorry–how rude of me. I didn’t even ask your name!”
“I’m–it’s Glenna, ma’am.”
“Glenna Ruskin,” Glenna filled in.
“Well, you heard the lady!” the woman went on to her husband. “And while we’re completing the introductions, I’m Sorcha, and this is Bart.”
“Hi!” said Bart, waving. Glenna waved back.
“Both Andavri, if the name on the door wasn’t enough of an indication. Anyway! Do you have time for an interview now?”
“Oh! Oh–o’ course!”
“Great! Bart, I’ll take her on back. Can you handle things for half an hour or so?”
Bart nodded, and without another word, Sorcha gestured for Glenna to follow her. They went “on back.”
“On back” turned out to be the living quarters — which were obviously much better than the shop. And even finer. There were two fine rugs on the floors, walls hung in green linen, curious little chairs and sofas that looked like they’d come from a long way off. And everything was perfectly neat, all in order, everything in its proper place.
“Pardon the mess,” said Sorcha, sidestepping a child’s play table. “I can never get the kids to clear off their table.”
“We’ll talk in the dining room, if you don’t mind.” Sorcha gestured to the room with yet another fine rug tossed on the floor. “Can I get you something to drink? To eat?”
“Oh–oh, no, ma’am! I wouldn’t want ter put ye ter no trouble!”
“Trouble? Ha! Trouble’s what we’ve been having since my father-in-law went and got married!” Sorcha took the seat at the head of the table and gestured to the seat to her right for Glenna. “I still can’t believe how swamped we’ve been since he left. Apparently that man could do more hungover than Bart and I can manage stone sober.”
“Well, that’s–that’s good for him, ain’t it?” asked Glenna as she sat. At least this was a respectable stool — Glenna didn’t know what she would have done if Sorcha had asked her to sit on one of the sofas in the other room. “I mean — gettin’ married?”
Sorcha tossed her a raised eyebrow; then she laughed. “Aye! That’s true. And I never thought I’d see the day when some wench got Jessiah Andavri to stand still under a wedding arch long enough to do the deed — but you didn’t hear that from me.” Sorcha winked, straightened her skirts (Glenna couldn’t imagine how she managed to do it with just one quick, fluid motion, but it must have been practice), and turned her head to one side. “So! Glenna Ruskin. Tell me about yourself. What makes you want to join the wonderful world of retail?”
“Well, it’s a … respectable job, ain’t it?” asked Glenna. She started to wring her hands together, then checked to make sure they were hidden under the table. “I–I mean–”
Sorcha rested her cheek on her hand. Her hair fell around her face and down her chest. But the only reply she made was a raised eyebrow.
“It’s jest–well–it’s a good job, a respectable job, workin’ in a shop,” Glenna stumbled forward. “An’–an’ it’s warm in the winters, an’ it’s there in the winters, an’–an’, Mistress Andavri, I’ll be honest with ye, right now, I–I take me cat down to the faire, an’ she does tricks, an’ we set a hat out, an’ whatever money I can make from that is what we bring home.” Glenna took a deep breath and held it, sure she’d just talked herself out of the best opportunity she’d seen a year.
But instead of gasping and ordering the dirty faire girl who was probably no better than she should be out of her dining room, Sorcha blinked. “Your cat does tricks?”
Glenna swallowed and nodded.
“Well,” Sorcha murmured. “I know I’d pay good money to see that. The only trick Sparrow knows is ‘stay,’ and I’m pretty sure the only reason he stays when told is because he wasn’t planning on moving anyway.”
“Our cat,” replied Sorcha. “Theoretically he’s supposed to keep the mice away, too. I’ve never seen a mouse about, so I suppose he must hunt them when we’re not looking.”
“But enough about the cat, though you’ll be seeing more of him if you come to work with us,” Sorcha continued. “From what it sounds like, Glenna, you’ve got no particular desire to work in a shop, other than that it’s clean, indoor work that you’ve been told is respectable, and of course that you’re making a rather precarious living right now that you doubt you’ll be able to continue once the winter starts. You’ve got no particular desire for shop-work other than that; selling things doesn’t light a fire under you like nothing else can; and if there was another job that was indoors and relatively clean and you saw a ‘help wanted’ sign for, you’d be applying for that. Am I right?”
Glenna winced, but she nodded. She should have said something else! She should have said what Sorcha just said, only–backwards! Good Lord, why hadn’t she thought of that? Now she’d be out of the job for sure–
“Excellent, you’ve passed the first test,” Sorcha replied. Glenna looked up, jaw fallen. “What? You honestly think that most other people who would be applying for this job have better reasons than that? Most people who really want to run a shop try to get themselves into an apprenticeship when they’re young — they certainly won’t try to get there by taking a job doing the sweeping, and restocking the shelves, and being a general dogsbody while the owners do most of the brainy work behind the operation and get the lion’s share of the profits.”
“I can do that!” Glenna gasped. “The sweeping! An’ the straightenin’ up! An’ — an’ all the rest! An’ I won’t axe fer much, neither!”
So long as it’s steady, Glenna thought, an’ I can keep doin’ it through the winter, I’m sure it’ll be more than I’m makin’ now …
“Hmm,” Sorcha remarked. Glenna’s stomach plummeted. “And what would you say if I told you that was just for the start?”
“The–the start? Ma’am?”
“And don’t call me ma’am, that makes me feel old. And trust me, by the time you get to my age, old is the last thing you want to feel.” Sorcha took a deep breath, shook out her hair, and smiled at Glenna. “But as I was saying — look, if I needed to, I could get Banana and Benji to sweep and straighten things up after the shop closed in the evening. I can’t have you — or whoever I hire — doing just that forever. I’d need you to learn how to restock the shelves, cash customers out, even work your way up to getting the customers to buy things. Do you think you can do that?”
Glenna didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”
“And why do you think that?”
“Call me Sorcha.”
“Er–Sorcha–I …” Well, she’d gotten this far; there was only one way out, and that was the honest way. “I’ve got six mouths ter feed, includin’ me own an’ not includin’ the cat. I’ll do what I have ter.”
Sorcha’s jaw fell. “Six mouths?”
“Aye. Me–an’ the kiddies.”
Sorcha gasped and leaned back in her chair. “You can’t be more than twenty! There’s no way you have five children!”
“Oh! Oh, no, ma–Sorcha–they–well–me parents di–” No, she wouldn’t say they died. Dying could happen to anybody. She wouldn’t cheapen what happened to her parents by saying that. “They were–killed. In Glasonland. We–our village were attacked … we had ter run.”
Sorcha’s jaw fell. “Oh my–and you–you’re taking care of all of them? By yourself? No–no grandparents, nobody to help you?”
“Well, there’s me brother Seumas. He’s fifteen, so he’s — well, we’re more a team, really. But I’m the eldest, so …”
“Oh my plumbbob,” Sorcha whispered.
“Sorry, Sorcha, I didn’t mean ter upset ye. But–but ye wanted ter know how I could be a help ter ye. Well, I –”
“Never mind that. You’re hired.”
“You’re hired,” Sorcha replied. “You can start–when can you start?”
“Tomorrow!” Glenna gasped. “But–”
“Great. We’ll start you off at two coppers and a farthing a day, how does that sound?”
“Won–wonderful! But–but Sorcha–I ain’t even talked ter yer husband yet!”
“That doesn’t matter. He’ll agree with me.”
“Because you can’t be more than twenty, and your brother is fifteen, and you’re raising twice as many …” Sorcha shuddered. “I know you don’t understand now, Glenna. But you will. Trust me.”
Glenna forced herself to nod even though she couldn’t be sure she would understand. “If–if ye say so.”
“And I do say so. So. Tomorrow I’d like you to come in at–”
“Wait–wait, Sorcha,” Glenna interrupted. She didn’t know why. But … but she wouldn’t feel right in herself if she didn’t say this.
And she had to deal with being told she was wrong by others far, far too much to want to add her own conscience to the chorus. “There–there’s somethin’ else ye don’t know. The kiddies — they ain’t all me sibs. One’s me daughter.”
Sorcha’s mouth fell open. Then she nodded slowly, closing it. “I … see. You didn’t mention a man in the picture.”
Glenna couldn’t answer. She could only shudder from her very soul.
And the suspicious, wary look vanished to be replaced by concern. “Glenna?”
“I don’t want ter talk about it … please don’t axe me ter talk about it …” She covered her face with her hands and tried not to shudder again.
“I won’t. Just answer me one … two questions. Did he–hurt you?”
There was no pretending she was talking about mere heartbreak here, and they both knew it. Not looking up, Glenna nodded.
“I see. Is he likely to come after you?”
Glenna’s hands dropped. “Eh?”
“That man. Is he likely to come after you? After your daughter? Don’t look so scared, Glenna. I’ve fought off my share of brutes in my time. I just want to know whether I need to keep the cutlasses behind the counter or if they can stay in their chest.”
Cutlasses? She had to be joking. Glenna swallowed and shook her head. “No–no, Sorcha. He–he didn’t even know who I was … why would he come after …”
Oh, Lord, he wouldn’t come after me, would he? He didn’t even know me! How would he find me? I were just a plaything ter him, weren’t I?
“Glenna! Stop!” Sorcha reached across the table and grabbed her shoulders. “You’re safe here. You’re safe now. If he didn’t know your name, he won’t be coming after you. Trust me. And if he tried it? Bart and I would make mincemeat of him and feed him to the cat.”
Glenna gasped–and laughed. “The cat?”
“Aye. The cat.”
She giggled. “That’d be one fat cat by the time ye were done …”
“He’s already a fat cat, so don’t worry about that. So. You’ve got the job, you’ll start tomorrow — any more questions?”
Glenna shook her head, not knowing what else to say.
“Then let’s shake on it.” Sorcha stood and Glenna clambered to her feet. Sorcha held out her hand and Glenna gleefully took it.
She didn’t even think to be surprised when Sorcha turned the handshake into a hug.
“Thank’ee,” Glenna murmured. “I–I don’t know what ter be sayin’ ter ye … other than–I won’t be lettin’ ye down!”
“I know.” Sorcha pulled away, perhaps the better to see Glenna’s fallen jaw. “You’ve got too many other people depending on you. You won’t let yourself let us down.”
“I thought so.” Sorcha patted her back. “Welcome to the family–metaphorically speaking, of course. Now. Shall we go tell Bart he can take the sign down?”
“Yes, indeed, Sorcha!”
“Excellent. Come on, Glenna.”
Glenna came. But once Sorcha’s back was turned ….
… all thoughts of professionalism and good first impressions went entirely out the window.