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Liavan:Spring - Part 3

This follows on from Part 2 and runs to 3,251 words.


The light of dawn revealed no lurking, massive animals, but something had been rooting in the earth on either side of the track in the gully. That sign was accompanied by perfectly normal, if massive, porcine hoof marks and more of the castings that Liavan had seen the previous afternoon. Liavan went soberly back to the cottage to water her beginnings of a garden and begin work on the enchantment that should allow her to travel easily to market days. If it didn't work, then every market day trip would take three days and involve two nights in an inn as well as a lot of walking.

Liavan reread her great aunt's instructions, then laid out everything she would need for the enchantment. She followed the notes on preparing her boots to receive the magic and was stealthily glad that she hadn't polished them since moving into the cottage because one of Great Aunt Anglou's pithier notes had been about the effect of boot polish on the final result. She made sure the footwear was dust-free and that the laces were removed. While the boots were drying, she prepared the concoction that required common periwinkle root, a process that required a certain amount of boiling, stewing, and straining before Liavan pushed the magic into it with a single chalk circle of symbols. Because she'd tripled the quantities, Liavan was able to put a third of the liquid into a bowl to use on her boots right away, and the rest into two separate bottles so she could try again, twice, if she got any of the rest of the process wrong. Great Aunt Anglou had recommended using a quill, a reed dip pen, or a piece of chalk steeped in the magical liquid for transcribing the symbols that needed to go on the boots. Liavan used chalk, and then made sure that she used a completely different piece of chalk to make the final circles for enchantment and permanency around the carefully place boots on the bench before her.

She completed the final symbol in the last circle, and the magic condensed into the boots like a physical thing. Whatever she'd done, Liavan had certainly done something.

She tidied the work room, and lunch, and then sat down with the notebook to check how she was supposed to make the boots work. She practiced the hand gesture that would make it all work for an hour. She packed her basket with a shawl, some food, and some coins. She rethreaded the bootlaces into place, replaced her apron with her tunic, and put on her boots. She took a deep breath, tied on her straw hat, picked up the basket, then went out onto the track and faced in the direction of Market Cranebourne. She took a step with her dominant foot and made the gesture with her hand while her foot was still in motion.

The world moved around her, and she was on grass under a plum tree gazing out on a familiar view. She turned around, and she was just outside Market Cranebourne, on the opposite side of town to where she'd started. She did her best to face back the way she'd come and repeated the process.

The world moved around her again, and she was twice the width of the cottage down the hill from her front gate. Liavan was prepared to count that as a success.

It was also, she realised, market day and she'd missed all the morning trade. On the other hand, if she put her things together and went back now, she could get a space for half the full day's fee and hope to sell to the miners and foundrymen who worked the early shift and still had their own shopping to do when they got off work. Liavan packed the newly made cough mixtures into her holdall, she'd no need to pack her stall up because it had never been unpacked, locked the house and went out the front gate to repeat her travel with her newly enchanted boots. She wound up almost exactly in the same place.

She looked around and no-one seemed to have taken any notice of her second unusual arrival. Satisfied that she had neither caused nor invited trouble, she spent a quarter of an hour walking to the square where the market was held. The town reeve was in his usual place, accompanied by his clerk, and he gave Liavan his usual wintery smile as he took her payment for a half day stall. "Because you're starting late today, Withemistress Haucmel, your usual place was given to someone else." He looked at her as if expecting a reply.

"I'm out of my old routine and not quite into a new one yet," admitted Liavan. "I do plan to be here earlier in the future, but you had no reason to keep my usual place open for me. None at all. Where can I set up for this afternoon?"

He looked at her, smiled again, and nodded. "There's a place you can have on the northern side of the square, opposite the Bishop's Residence," the Reeve told her. "It's between Foundry Street and The Dancing Bear, so you should get a fair few coming past at shift change over who can use your concoctions." He handed her the token that meant that the constable patrolling the market wouldn't try to move her on from her assigned spot. "And congratulations on having your licenses confirmed, Withemistress. I look forward to many years of felicitous dealings between us."

Liavan blushed. "Thank you, Master Goude. I do too." Being a withemistress wasn't just about magic and knowledge, it was about responsibilities as well, and being greeted by the town reeve as a younger...equal made that part of it suddenly more real.

No-one paid much attention to the young woman with pale skin in a muddled tone and brown hair surmounted by a plain straw hat as she crossed the square. When she put down her carpet bag and opened it, her neighbours and their customers assumed that she would pull out a cloth to spread on the ground before setting out her goods. The people around her started to pay attention when she pulled two trestles out of her bag. Then the planks that made up the table top came out and were laid across the trestles. The sunshade with its four supporting poles came next and was efficiently erected. Then Liavan put the holdall on the table and started putting her mixtures out for sale. Finally, she pulled out a folding chair, set it up behind the table and sat down in it, the now closed holdall beside her.

Someone who'd finished her business with the second-hand clothes dealer on Liavan's left came over and asked, "What are you selling, mistress?"

"Cough mixtures, ten copper shields a bottle," replied Liavan smartly. "A teaspoon a dose, four doses per person per day. It won't cure what you've got but it will get you through the symptoms. There are two different sorts." She stood and pointed to one side of the table. "These will stop a dry cough, while these," she pointed to the other side of the table, "will make it easier to cough the gunk out of your throat and chest."

The woman looked at her shrewdly. "I think I've heard of you, some of my neighbours swear by your stuff. So, you don't claim to be able to cure miners' cough?"

"Of course I don't," replied Liavan. "I've not heard of anyone who can do that, particularly if the sufferer has to keep going back down the mine. My mixture will make it easier to cough up the phlegm and dust, but it won't cure miner's cough."

"Ten copper shields is getting close to being pricey," pointed out the woman.

"They're big bottles," retorted Liavan, "and glass bottles aren't dirt cheap."

"I'll take one of the ones that helps you get the gunk out," declared the woman, and she slapped down four copper three-shield coins. Liavan gave her two copper shields in change and carefully handed her a bottle of the mixture that she'd asked for.

Although she'd missed her usual morning customers, Liavan's stock slowly but steadily went from her stall. She picked up a small rush of sales when the afternoon shift workers went past to begin work in the mine and foundry at four. Some of them were part of her normal morning clientele and she exchanged friendly greetings with them, assuring them that she intended to be back in the mornings from the next market day. The day shift coming off work almost cleared off her table completely and Liavan was just beginning to think starting to pack her things away when an exclamation of, "Hrmph! Here you are!", got her attention.

Her mother had managed to approach from directly behind the customer Liavan had been serving and was standing about six feet away in front of the stall. She had dressed to leave the house, because she was wearing the dress and tunic that she wore to go shopping or visiting, and not one of her house dresses. Her hat was dark green, to match her tunic, and decorated with dyed goose feathers in the same colour. She looked indignant and clearly felt that she was the injured party going into this conversation. Liavan looked around and couldn't see her father or her any of her sisters.

She took a breath to make sure she had the air to talk and replied, "Good afternoon, Mother. How have you all been keeping?"

"Wearing ourselves to a frazzle with worry over the trouble you must be in for you not to come home for a week, that's how we've been," declared her mother in a carrying voice. "And now I find you calmly selling your syrups in the market as if you don't have a care in the world!"

"I left you all a letter telling you that I was moving out," replied Liavan calmly. "My share of this last week's housekeeping was in it too. If you didn't get the letter or the money, then you really should talk to everyone who still lives in your house about it."

"You can't move out," stated her mother, far louder than Liavan thought was necessary. "It is your duty to stay with your father and me to take care of us!"

"Mother, you don't need taking care of right now," pointed out Liavan. "Neither you nor Father are likely to need taking care of for years yet. If the time comes when you do need someone to nurse you in infirmity, the necessary decisions can be made then. In the meantime, I, like my sisters, will mind my own household."

Her mother reacted as if she'd been slapped. "You ungrateful girl! After we've fed and housed you all these years! And given you money to set up this stall selling...coloured water!" Her mother hadn't moved any closer, even though Liavan had been using a normal speaking tone rather than shouting, so she assumed her parent was deliberately making a scene, possibly to give herself more to complain about later.

Liavan fixed her gaze on a window in the Bishop's Residence that appeared to be just above her mother's head and pointed out, "Technically, as you and father are obliged to support me and all my sisters until we marry or take up a trade or profession, I have lessened your burdens. Also, father lent me the money to set up this stall and I paid him back some time ago - perhaps you should have a conversation with him before trying to take matters up with me in public?"

Her mother's face went puce with rage and she opened her mouth to speak, but the town reeve appeared from Liavan's left, all official in his brown, knee length tunic with the bronze buttons, and asked calmly, "Is there a problem, Withemistress Haucmel?" He looked at Liavan and then turned towards her mother, "Because at the moment I am inclined to fine this woman for disturbing the peace of the market and the town."

Liavan's mother spluttered, then got out the words, "She's never a withemistress. Withemistresses aren't like that." She waved a hand to indicate all of Liavan.

"I assure you that I have seen all of Withemistress Haucmel's licences," replied the town reeve gravely. "I would not be alone in being disappointed if she came to feel, for any reason, that she cannot be a close and dear friend to Market Cranebourne. Perhaps, madam, you should take a calming walk homeward in order to compose yourself. Outbursts of this nature cannot be good for you."

Liavan suspected that no-one had ever spoken to her mother like that before. Certainly, her father usually used what he called 'soft words.'

"I'm sure you're right." Liavan could see the effort that her mother was making to be appropriate. "I have dinner to see to for those who still abide with me."

"Of course, madam. Travel safely." The town reeve and Liavan watched her go until she turned down the street that would take her to Liavan's family's house. The town reeve turned to Liavan and asked, "Do you wish to take issue with the lady--"

"My mother," admitted Liavan, her back still rigid.

"With your mother maligning your mixtures?" Master Goude looked at her with some concern. "You have the legal right to complain to the king's magistrate."

"My mother is not used to being directly defied instead of being sweet talked around or obeyed quickly so that people can get on to other things," Liavan said slowly. "I believe that I shall...ignore her. If she steals from me or damages my property, well that would become a whole different matter. My mixtures do what they do, whatever she tells the world."

Master Goude nodded. "Sometimes the word not spoken is the wisest course."

Liavan wondered for a moment what his frank comments on her mother's outburst would be. She looked at the position of the sun and said, "If I'm to buy more bottles this afternoon and pay my respects to Withemistress Penden before I go home, then I think it's time to start taking down my stall anyway, Master Goude. I thank you for your concerns, and your restraint."

"I look forward to seeing you next week, Withemistress Haucmel. Travel well until then." The town reeve gave her a nod as between adult equals.

Liavan barely had time to reply, "You too, Master Goude," before he went back towards his official desk.

While she was taking down and putting away the sunshade, passers-by and fellow store holders bought all but two jars of her remaining stock. It hadn't been a bad day, despite her late start and her mother's display. When everything was back in her holdall, a process that attracted an audience that oohed and aahed as the table top planks and the trestles went in, Liavan briskly bid her two stall neighbours for the afternoon a good evening and set off for her bottle supplier.

The shop was a laneway back from the market square and, although the owner and his apprentice made some bottles themselves, much of their stock was second hand. Liavan knew that the apprentice spent a lot of his time scrubbing bottles and they all three of them knew that Liavan had probably already used each of the bottles they sold her multiple times. She also got the stoppers from them. The glassmaker had connections through his craft and could reliably get good, sound cork - every time Liavan had tried anywhere else in town, it had crumbled easily. Liavan couldn't decide whether the other shopkeepers had thought they could pass her an inferior product or that the glassmakers had a stranglehold on the supply.

Bottles and stoppers both purchased and stowed away in her holdall, Liavan made sure that she was still neatly put together then made her way to Withemistress Penden's house. It was a three-story building on a main street, equidistant from the Bishop's Residence and the Baron's Manor. The neighbouring buildings abutted onto the garden wall instead of the house itself, almost as if they didn't want to crowd the home of a withemistress or withemaster. The front wall of the house was flush to the pavement, as were the other houses in the street, and there was a bronze door knocker in the middle of the black door. The polished metal had been formed into a tenki, a local housecat-sized tree dwelling animal, hanging from a branch. Liavan took a deep breath and used the door knocker with more confidence than she felt.

After a few minutes the door was opened by a black-haired girl a few years younger than Liavan who had a marked resemblance to Withemistress Penden. She was wearing a brown overall apron over a darker brown dress and said in a pleasant voice, "Good afternoon. Can I help you?"

"Good afternoon," answered Liavan. "I'm Withemistress Haucmel. Withemistress Penden suggested that I might call on her after I finished at the market today."

The girl smiled. "Please do come in. My mother mentioned that you might come by. By the way, I'm Mirran Blackshift, one of Withemistress Penden's daughters," she added as she closed the door behind Liavan. "My mother said she'd like to use the front parlor."

Mirran showed her mother's guest into a room that opened straight into the entrance hall, merely necessitating a left turn after Liavan came in through the front door. The room had wooden panelling from the floor to Liavan's hip height and was white plaster above that. The furniture was polished wood with red upholstery and much of the polished wooden floor was covered by a red-toned carpet that was dominated by a compass rose design. The ceiling was boards painted white, and Liavan suspected that they were the floor of the room above. The windows opened onto the street and were framed with red curtains. A fireplace occupied the centre of the wall opposite the door and an enormous mirror hung above it, too high to be useful for checking one's appearance but the right height for reflecting the light from the room's candlesticks back at the occupants, if the candles in them were lit. There were a few low tables of polished wood scattered around the room, just the right height for putting a teacup down on if you were seated in a chair, and a pair of shoulder high red vases or urns stood against the wall opposite the windows, dividing the length of that wall into thirds. The vases didn't contain anything, but their red surfaces were marked with a darker red pattern that Liavan thought could have been an unfamiliar form of writing.

"I'll just let my mother know that you're here," said Mirran brightly. "Please, take a seat and make yourself comfortable."

Liavan considered the chairs, decided which one Withemistress Penden was likely to sit in as the hostess, and picked one that would put her on that lady's right, but not beside her. She put her carpet bag down on the floor immediately to the right of her chair. She had just enough time to realise that at least three things in the room that weren't hers were probably enchanted before her hostess swept into the room.


Part 1.
Part 2.
This is Part 3.
Part 4.
Part 5.

 

This entry was originally posted at https://rix-scaedu.dreamwidth.org/116667.html. There have been comment count unavailable comments there.
Tags: liavan haucmel, prompt request 180904, withemistress
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