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Episode 8 Part 13

By:  Lenady

The first thing that struck Tilly the next morning was how oddly hard her bed had suddenly become. She didn’t remember it being quite so firm before. She groggily dismissed her concerns about the mattress when she registered how warm the room was. Did the air conditioning stop working last night? The room was quiet. Maybe the electricity was out. No, that wasn’t right either. She wasn’t in her bed at all, or her apartment either for that matter. Still, she didn’t open her eyes to confirm her location; the light streaming in through the cracks in the shutters was reason enough to keep them closed.

Suddenly, she remembered; she was lying on the floor in the home of Mar and Kalta, whom she had met yesterday. Yawning, she stretched her legs out and heard them pop. While the floor wasn’t the most comfortable locations, she still really didn’t want to move. Didn’t want to wake up. She thought groggily, “Maybe if I lie really still I’ll fall back aslee-.” Something she had noted just a minute before came back to her quickly. The room was quiet. Her eyes snapped open and she jumped up, throwing the blanket behind her. She was across the small space in an instant. She paused, kneeling above Sanrook, then let her breath out in a rush as she realized that, yes, she was still breathing. Tilly sat back suddenly. “Don’t scare me like that,” she said.

She closed her eyes, focusing on breathing in and out, and felt her heart slow to a semi-normal pace. Tilly groaned. She wished she could lie back down and pull the blanket up over her head. Anything to make reality go away for just a little while longer.

She opened her eyes once again and looked at Sanrook. Not only was she still breathing, but it seemed to be fairly normal breathing as well. Her color had changed though. While Sanrook had looked a little off the past night, it was nothing compared to that morning. Her skin looked downright gray. Typically, the improvement in breathing would probably have reassured her, but she didn’t know what to make of the new symptom. “If it isn’t one thing it’s another,” she said aloud. Part of her hoped that if she made some sort of noise that Sanrook might wake up, or at least move. Her statement was instead met with stillness.

            Tilly sighed and stood up, walking over to the spot where she had slept the previous night. She had slept reasonably well, once she had drifted off. For the first time in quite a while she couldn’t remember having any dreams… it would have been wonderful if she hadn’t been roused quite so suddenly. She bent down and picked up the blanket she had used. It really was a beautiful piece. It was as colorful as everything else in Mar and Kalta’s house. She folded it into a square, noting the texture of the fabric was much softer than her clothes were now. They had dried rough and stiff while she slept. Her hair was probably about as bad. 

            “Hello?” she heard from behind the curtain separating the room from the larger area outside. “May I come in?”

            Tilly was somewhat surprised. After all, it was Kalta’s house; she could really do whatever she wanted. “Yeah, come in if you like” she replied.

            Kalta’s head peaked around the curtain. She smiled, saying, “I wondered how long to let you rest. It’s already a little ways into the afternoon.” She walked into the room and then continued, “But then I heard talking.”

            Tilly felt her cheeks warm a little. She turned around and set the blanket down next to the mat on the floor. She felt as if she had been caught talking to herself. When she turned back around however Kalta was no longer looking at her. Instead she was sitting beside Sanrook.

            “She’s breathing better this morning I see. Her skin tone looks unusual, though. Is it normally closer to what it was yesterday, or to this?” Kalta turned back and looked up at Tilly, who was still standing a few steps away.

            Tilly took a moment before she answered, walking over to Kalta and sitting down. “She isn’t normally like this. Typically her skin tone is somewhat similar to mine, maybe a bit darker,” Tilly said, holding her arm out against Sanrook’s. Tilly frowned. “When I look at it like that she seems really off right now.”

            They sat in silence for a moment. Then Kalta stood up and began to walk towards the doorway. She turned back to face Tilly as she pulled back the curtain. “It’s the middle of the day. A good time for rest. Why don’t you come sit in here for a while. I can show you some of my dyes.”

            Tilly looked back down at Sanrook. She still felt as if she should be doing something. “I’m being quiet enough I think. It shouldn’t bother her too much.”

            She caught Kalta shaking her head out of the corner of her eye and looked back up. The woman smiled softly and said, “Rest is not just for the ill.”

            Tilly looked back for a second, checking one last time to see that Sanrook’s chest was still moving up and down, then stood up and followed Kalta into the main room.

             The table that had been relatively clean the previous night was now covered in pots of various sizes. Some were quite large while others were small enough to just hold a few cups of dye, but they were all covered by what looked to by a material akin to leather. Kalta began untying cords that held the covers to the pots. “I’m combining like colors today. These two pots contain the same colors, but there’s a small enough amount in each container now to combine them. Go ahead and uncover those two pots there.” She said, pointing at the two that were closest to Tilly.

            Tilly began to work at the tight knots, barely having one halfway undone before Kalta already had the covers off of the two pots in front of her and started pouring the liquid from one pot into the other. Tilly stopped and stared a moment at the rich purple that flowed out. Kalta looked up and smiled. “Beautiful, isn’t it? You’d be surprised where it comes from. I’ll give you a hint. You probably couldn’t have gotten past the mountain pass without running into them. Horrible creatures, really, but they’re worth putting up with to get this.”

            Tilly continued to stare in amazement and a little bit of horror at the pot after Kalta had moved onto another group, three of one size that time. “The… the spiders? How?” she finally managed to stutter.

            Kalta continued to work on the new group of pots. “Trick of the trade,” she said grinning. “That’s one I won’t tell anyone”.

            They continued to work with the containers sitting on the table, opening a group of pots, combining the like dyes, tying the covers back on, and then repeating the process. Tilly had just straightened up from setting a few empty pots on the floor when she heard Kalta speak again. “So that’s what it looks like.”

            “What?” she asked, grabbing another set of pots.

            “Your smile,” replied Kalta. “It’s the first genuine one I’ve actually seen.”

            Tilly bent down, straightening the collection that had grown at her feet. She hadn’t realized she had smiled. But Kalta’s comment made her realize that, for the first time in a while, Tilly felt herself relaxing. She didn’t know if it was the repetitive nature of the work or Kalta’s calm demeanor, maybe a combination of the two, but she genuinely felt at ease. The knot that she had felt in her gut for so long seemed to have disappeared, or at least diminished, while she was untying the knotted cords.

            “Okay, that’s the last one,” said Kalta, as she lifted one of the largest pots and handed it to Tilly “Grab this one and we’ll take it to the store room.”

            Tilly followed Kalta to a curtain. When it was pulled aside it revealed another small room, similar in size to the one she and Sanrook were staying in. This one however, had no window, and was much cooler than the rest of the house. The room was dark, lit only by what was allowed in through the main room. Kalta took a small candle sitting on a wall sconce and lit it. Although the room was still far from bright the candle at least allowed one to see details. She took the pot from Tilly’s arms and placed it on a shelf.

            “That’s one down. Just a few more to sort out,” Kalta said as she motioned Tilly out of the room. “It should go fairly quickly with both of us. To be honest I thought it was going to be a long working day. Thankfully I turned out to be wrong.”

            They grabbed a few more pots and started walking back towards the storage room. “Do you typically do this by yourself? Where’s Mar today?” Tilly paused a moment, then added, “If you don’t mind me asking”.

            “No, typically we’re both here working, but he had to go out to get the water today. Hopefully he’ll be back soon. We normally retrieve it on certain days of the week. We have a lot of freedom due to our craft, it happens to be one that pleases the queen. At least for the moment.” Kalta was turned away from Tilly, but she could hear the tenseness in her voice. “But we still have to be very careful.”

            After Kalta placed the pots she was holding on their respective shelves, Tilly handed her the others they had brought over. She asked, “Is water that hard to come by here? I mean I know this is desert, but…”

            “Yes and no.” Kalta said, searching for an open place on the shelves. “We’ve always had restrictions, of course. With this many people you have to have some amount of rationing, especially during certain times of the year. But things weren’t ever this bad. Years ago our rulers were more lenient. Things have changed.” She turned around to face Tilly before continuing, “And it isn’t the water supply”.

            The expression on Tilly’s face showed her confusion, she was sure of that, but Kalta hadn’t seemed to notice. Either that, or she was evading the subject. Instead, she sighed and placed the pot on the open space she had found. “Why don’t we take a break for a bit,” Kalta said and rolled her shoulders. “Your arms are probably starting to get a little achy. I know mine are.”

            Tilly nodded and said, “Yeah, if you don’t mind I might go back and try to take a nap. I know it’s in the middle of the day, but-“

            Kalta shook her head, “No need for explaining. I think a nap would probably do you some good.”

            As Tilly walked towards the green curtain she realized that if she could fall asleep it would probably do wonders, as she still felt more tired than she should normally have. She was fairly certain, however, that sleep wouldn’t come and that the time alone would probably just be wasted in self-consumed worrying.

            She pulled aside the heavy fabric and walked over to the space in the room she had claimed as her own, glancing at Sanrook as she stepped by her pallet. Her friend’s breathing was the same, but unfortunately so was the ashen color of her face. At least the situation hadn’t worsened since she had been working with Kalta, or at least she hoped it hadn’t.        

            Helping Kalta really had calmed her nerves quite a bit; it had done her good to get away from that room. She had felt somewhat saddened by the suggestion that they stop. Part of her realized that she could have stayed in the main room for a while longer, but something in Kalta’s demeanor had changed, and she felt it would be wise not to push it.

The subject of the queen seemed to be the only thing that could rattle the woman. The thought stuck her that what Kalta said about the queen was probably understatement. If that was the case, then what must the situation really be like?

            And what had she and Sanrook gotten themselves into?

 

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