“Lady of the Lavender, welcome to my brother’s house.” Ruili Windwolf swept his hat from his head in a low bow as he beckoned Y’lanna into the spacious entrance hall. The selkie lord and admiral led the way, with the gnomish housekeeper following.
The Merchantman House of Cherryrose Lane was one of Plesz’s luxurious townhouses, on one of the most fashionable streets in a neighborhood favored by famous and wealthy captains, officers, and ship owners. Built against the limestone cliffs, its stone outer walls curved organically, making an interior of rounded forms and flowing lines, and all its windows faced the sea more or less easterly, sou’ or nor’, on all open sides. In the white-walled entrance, Y’lanna was greeted by a mosaic floor depicting a map of the seas and realms of Aeldreth, a curving stone staircase rising to the upper floors, archways opening on either side. Through one, the hint of a study, and through the other, the smell of fire and steam — a kitchen.
“‘Tis good to have you home, Lord Windwolf,” said Mrs. Bodling as she closed the front door behind them. “His Highness has been gone so long and you on your patrol, the place was quite empty.”
“And it’s good to be back in the way of your fine cooking.” Lord Ruili impishly bent and threw his arms around the tiny lady in a childish hug, which the housekeeper fended off with a quick, “Oh, get away with you.”
“Where is my baggage?”
“I had the lads carry your chest and bag up to your chamber. I won’t have you straining that hurt of yours again by lugging things up and down the stairs. Now, if you and the lady will take your comfort, I’ll have the tea on shortly.”
“Would I be able to beg a favour, Mrs. Bodling?” Y’lanna queried as she was directed to take a seat. “Would I be able to see how you would make tea? I would like to learn as much as I can about this new world I find myself in.”
Ruili and Mrs. Bodling paused a moment, looked at Y’lanna and then at each other. Ruili shrugged, and the housekeeper cleared her throat.
“If you wish, milady. Please follow me.”
As Mrs. Bodling turned to the kitchen, Ruili said to Y’lanna, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather wait in the study? I shall return in just a moment.”
“Thank you, but I’d rather see how things are done rather than remain a mystery. I shouldn’t be long myself unless, of course, the tea takes some time to make.” She smiled in return to Ruili before turning to the kitchen and following the housekeeper inside.
“It should be but a moment or two, milady,” said Mrs. Bodling. “I’ve got the kettle boiling already.”
The diminutive woman crossed the enormous kitchen with the authority of a captain on a ship. The great room turned from plaster-walled chamber at the front to stone cavern at the back where the house dug into the cliff and the back entrance to the dustmen’s tunnels, where trash was taken out and various services carried in, was blocked off by a heavy, iron-bolted door. In the middle space, brightened by sunlight and breezes through the windows, was a vast array of pots, pans, various implements hung on the walls, baskets and crates stacked here and there, jars and canisters and cabinets. A huge table dominated the center of the room, and a huge brick stove dominated the inner wall. Everywhere were ladders and step-stools, as the elf-sized kitchen far outreached its gnome-sized ruler.
Mrs. Bodling marched up to the stove, up onto a stool, and hoisted down a fat copper kettle from which steam shot from its spout.
“How did you get to work here, if I may ask? The kitchen doesn’t seem to be designed with you in mind,” Y’lanna asked, being able to come up with a question that answered her nagging question while hiding its intent to do so.
“Hm?” Mrs. Bodling climbed up a similar stool by the table, where a blue and white porcelain teapot waited next to a tray on which cups, saucers and other tools of tea-taking were arranged. She put the boiling kettle on a trivet. “Oh, I was fortunate enough to be recommended to His Highness when he bought the place. I’ve managed my share of households, indeed. As to the other, well, few things in the Navigators are designed for gnomes, after all. We came here from Danul in the east, my good man and I, as did many of our folk over many generations. There’s good business to be found in a port like Plesz, and a good living to be made. But all the old houses, like this one, are made for elves, great tall things that they are — begging your pardon, lady,” she added, remembering that this strange purple creature was easily as tall as any elf. “‘Tis little bother. One gets used to it. If you please, will you hand me the tea jar? That green can up on the shelf there.”
“Oh, uh, yes, of course.” Y’lanna reached over to get the green can. It was in fairly easy reach for her but not the gnome. At least her answer seemed to say that she was an employed worker and not a slave or an indebted servant.
Y’lanna placed the can on the table, ready for the process to continue. Her little flash of panic earlier was just that — panic with nothing behind it. It would have seemed odd, she wouldn’t have seemed to grasp the dissonance if her fears had been founded, but they weren’t.
“So, what does your husband do?”
“Thank you kindly, miss. Mr. Bodling is a bookkeeper at one of the counting houses down the waterfront, by the warehouse piers. And our boy, who just got married last year, he works for a ship-outfitter, making the compasses and other instruments. Very proud of him, we are.”
As the elder lady talked, relaxing into the subject and the company, she measured spoonfuls of the fragrant black tea leaves into the pot and hefted the kettle again to pour the hot water in. The steam filled the air over the table with the perfume of tea. Mrs. Bodling fitted the lid over the teapot to keep the essence in and then bustled about, to and fro, up and down, assembling buns and tiny cakes on a platter and arranging it, the pot, a cream jug and sugar bowl, and the rest of a matching blue and white tea service all on a vast tray that she somehow balanced in her arms, across her bosom, to carry out of the kitchen.
“Follow me, if you please, milady,” she said, almost in the tone of a nanny or parent, as she led the way back to the entrance hall.
Ruili met them coming down the stairs. He had changed out of the naval uniform he’d worn all day. Now he was dressed in bright green and white striped britches and a pale blue long vest over a soft shirt. His hair was loose and brushed out, and he padded down the stairs in slippers.
“Ah, excellent, Missus B and Milady Sparti,” he said, taking the tray from the housekeeper.
“Enjoy your meal, milord,” said Mrs. Bodling. “Milady,” she curtsied briefly to Y’lanna, and abruptly turned back to the kitchen, the headquarters of the house she managed.
“Right, shall we?” said Ruili to Y’lanna. The tea-tray in his hands, he led her into the study of Prince Peino Starhand.
A joint Bazalonia/Muravyets production.