I. A hunger like fire
Romance doesn’t exist for people like me. If there are others that is.
She had been dusting shelves, pretending to look busier than she actually was when she knocked over a couple novels. She picked up one of them and flipped it open, it was a romance novel. Not that Canelle could read any of it, but this one in particular was illustrated, and it was rather gritty.
“Canelle, you dumb girl, did you hear me?”
The servant slammed the book shut and shoved it back into the bookshelf, wedging it in where she could. Stretching, she reached for the shelf right above her line of sight in search of the dust rag she swore she left there.
From the doorway of the library, the head housekeeper stood glaring at her in critical observation. “Make yourself useful for once and go help Vadd with the laundering,” she ordered then stomped away.
Canelle spotted the rag on the floor, she grabbed it off the floor along with the two other novels that she knocked over. With no desire to help Vadd, she weighed the novels in her hands and mused, romance was for the members of society that actually had an identity. Servants, the help, they didn’t count. She let the thought subside, accepting that the idea of romance was more attractive than the reality of it.
She came to this conclusion after taking the Vouverns as an example. The Vouverns were the masters of the house Canelle served. They were average and on the more reserved side, at least compared to other members of the high society that flowed in and out the Palace of Bevij. Their marriage was arranged, like many others, and heavily romanticized by everyone around them. When in reality the only thing keeping them from living in perpetual misery was the idea of love.
The Palace of Bevij was a large residence for all the nobles that belong to the Court of Gaidos. The extraneous habitation took its name after the ambitious king who began it’s construction years ago, King Bevij. He unfortunately did not live long enough to see its completion, and neither did his son. Three generations later however, the monument stood as a gaudy and atrocious reminder of the crown’s wealth.
Anyone and everyone that came through called it eye watering, breathtaking, emotionally stirring. Canelle wouldn’t know, she’s never been outside of the walls. She would like to. Truth be told, she had long accepted that she’d likely die on the same piece of earth that birthed her.
Doing the same tasks over and over again had become monotonous. The days molded into each other, often confusing Canelle. Did she help Vadd with the laundering already? She recalled having done it... the day prior? She carried a laundry basket in her arms, but was she on her way there or were these the dried linens from another day?
Reading would help, she thought so. Or maybe it wouldn’t. She took delight in hearing stories, books had stories, it was fair to assume that she would enjoy reading. This brought her back to her reflections from earlier. Did trashy romance novels exist for someone like her?
A figure in the distance drew her away from her day dreaming. Canelle stepped aside to allow who she recognized as Lady Liorit the clearance to walk through the narrow corridor. The laundry basket in her arms slipped and dropped to the floor with a soft muted thud. Fortunately, nothing fell out of the basket. She bent forward to collect the basket but a hand shoved her back.
“You.” Liorit gripped her shoulder with the same hand, her green eyes piercing as they searched Canelle’s face. “I saw you out in the foyer earlier.”
Canelle was accustomed to responding to ‘you’, ‘girl’, or ‘servant’. She had no identity, she never had one. She watched others- others more or less like her, be hit, mistreated by their masters, she was fortunate that the Vouverns are not that sort of people. Unable to understand what brought on Lady Liorit’s aggressive approach- someone who Canelle had only ever encountered three times in her entire life, Canelle gawked dumbly at the floor. Eye contact was considered uncouth.
She had a reputation, if there was any truth to the rumors Canelle wouldn’t be aware of it, Liorit rarely showed her face around the Palace. With the woman looming over her, Canelle nearly wished that she would show her face around the Palace more frequently. Liorit was a handsome woman and not staring was difficult from the angle she found herself in. The help shouldn’t stare.
Her qualms kept her frozen in place. Aside from not having the power to speak up, Canelle grew leery of Liorit’s said reputation. Were the stories true, the woman could pick up on something that Canelle would rather not have out in the world-
“You like girls don’t you?” Liorit’s thin mouth curved into a sly grin, guessing- no knowing her concern.
Canelle tensed, unable to formulate a proper way to address the woman. Liorit, unlike the other women of the court, drank and gambled among the men. She wore trousers, went on hunts, and held a high position in the guard. One of those positions people respected, but never had to go and fight wars. She was unmarried, disinterested in the idea altogether, yet she got away with it all. All because of her father’s position in the Court. The Lieutenant Governor was always away attending to this and that. His wife died young, leaving no one around to question how Liorit lived her life.
“Don’t worry, it takes someone like you to make out people like you. I’m not going to out you,” Liorit clarified with frankness in her tone. “Although the way you were ogling the nurse maid earlier made it fairly obvious.”
Her demeanor kept Cannelle wary of her, “What do you want?” she winced at the woman’s proximity. In her mind that phrasing had sounded less harsh.
Liorit did not take offense at the wording, instead she arched her brow, answering the question flatly, “Nothing.” The taller woman shoved her back using the same hand she had been gripping her with. If there hadn’t been a wall behind Canelle, she certainly would have toppled over. “If any young women come around asking for Sir Samuel, make sure they make their way to my quarters. You know where those are?”
That’s what she wanted? Canelle knew better than to speak her thoughts aloud, except she could have done without the theatrics. “Yes Lady Liorit.”
Liorit shook her head, her crooked smile said that she was either pleased with herself or judging Canelle, the latter found it hard to differentiate. Without disclosing further details, she turned and strode away, stopping a couple of steps down the corridor. Canelle lifted the laundry basket from the floor and shifted its weight onto her hip.
“In return, if you ever get into trouble, I can make sure nothing happens to you,” Liorit called over her shoulder. “Within reason of course.” This confused Canelle, vague as it was- it almost sounded like a promise. A promise she didn’t fully understand then. A promise that altered the course of Canelle’s life quite significantly.