Augustus 6, Lord’s Year 373
Setting down her charcoal pencil, Saira smooth’s a hand across her face, rubbing at her eyes, their lids heavy and weighed with weariness. Her mind is racing with thoughts of the conversation she had earlier that day with miss dul Decapua. She finds that, while agreeable, the lass’s sudden interest in befriending her strikes her as odd and rather abrupt. Why would she want to be friends with Saira, who is about as socially outgoing as a mute beggar?
After some consideration, she allows that perhaps the gossip surrounding the woman is just that. Gossip. But why would someone care so much about a relatively uninfluential gentry woman who has only been in the city for a few months? Is it merely envy, commoners wishing they could hold the same status miss Decapua does? She has heard rumors about several gentry, even the nobility are not spared. But what point does it serve?
“Perhaps it is much like Fae and the girls,” she murmurs aloud, staring down at the design she is working on, dark outlines glaring up at her from a creamy sheet of paper. “Some people simply gain their thrills by condemning others.”
Saira has never been the type to care overmuch about others she does not know. She is blessed with a husband who loves her unconditionally and a family alliance that only benefits. She can admit her focus is somewhat narrow and self-serving, fixed upon the inflation of her family’s coffers above socializing with her piers. Perhaps she is attempting, in her way, to salvage what Fae has wrought. Perhaps it is her way of ensuring she is never again forced into a situation where she can be oppressed and ruled over the way her stepmother ruled over her after father’s death. In any case, she simply cannot understand why the freemen care what the gentry is doing. How does it apply to them?
“Maybe I should get out more,” she muses to the cubby holes at the back of her desk.
“I should say so.”
Glancing up, Saira smiles when she sees Bonnie bustling in, her arms full of Saira’s night garments. Matilda follows suit, bearing her toilette basket.
“You focus too much time on your work, lady,” the tall, dusky-skinned handmaid declares as the door opens to admit several of the chamber maids, each bearing steaming ewers of water.
“I have never been the outgoing sort, Bonnie,” Saira remarks, rising from her desk and stepping into the center of the room, turning her back to Bonnie that the woman may unlace the stays of her gown.
“Maybe it’s time you started, lady.”
Bonnie always calls her “lady” now, the highest title of respect she can bestow. Saira used to protest in the beginning. Bonnie had been her nursemaid. There was never a time when the plump Farin woman was not there. When she came of age and married, however, when Bonnie’s role shifted from nursemaid to lady’s maid, for lack of a better title, so did her address.
Even so, Bonnie is afforded more freedoms in her speech than Saira would allow any other servant. Bonnie is loved. She is family, unlike the others save Hyndric.
“I am what I am,” she states, holding out her arms and allowing Bonnie to slip her gown from her shoulders. “It is not so simple as just ceasing to be what my personality demands of me. I have never been able to feign interest in people who are simply not interesting to me. Why would I wish to start now? Is that not a form of deception, which is itself a sin?”
“It’s part of being gentry,” Bonnie responds as Saira steps from the puddle of skirts. “You know that.”
“I know,” she sighs as her corset is loosened and drawn away, affording her room to inhale a full breath for the first time all day. “I still do not enjoy the deception of it, however.”
“It’s not much different than just making new friends,” Bonnie chastises. “You’ll never know if there are people you like until you focus on something other than work and mingle with them.”
Saira ponders these words as her remaining garments are removed and she is helped into the steaming cedar tub that has been dragged into the room. Has Fae turned her against casual socializing, or has she always been so reserved? The city is frightening in its own ways, she can admit, and she does have much to occupy her mind. Idleness is sinful, and where there is work that needs overseeing, there can be no room for it.
As Bonnie combs shampoo through the long waves of her hair, she closes her eyes, allowing the soothing scrape of the dull teeth against her scalp and her handmaid’s gentle fingers to lull her into a sleepy stupor. She does not recall much of being washed and assisted into her nightclothes, though she does remember the blissful feel of cool sheets and a soft mattress beneath her when Bonnie assists her into bed, tucking the blankets about her the way she used to when Saira was just a child.
“Goodnight, lady,” she murmurs before departing the room in the company of the other servants.
Saira is asleep before she can even think to respond.