1610, Varanis and Dormal. About 15 years ago, six-year-old Varanis is visiting House Saiciae with her grandparents and older siblings. One of her brothers has some important religious thing to do that she’s excluded from because of her age, but she couldn’t be left in the countryside with just the servants to care for her. So she was dragged along to the big city.
Late at night, when most of the household is asleep, she’s wandering the hallways not too far from the kitchen.
A thin, scruffy looking boy, possibly about her age, possibly younger, slinks into the kitchen and emerges moments later with small stuffed pastry and a satisfied look.
She steps in front of him to block his path. “Who are you? An what’s that?” She eyes the pastry hungrily.
“Who’s asking? And it’s a …” He takes a bite. “… pork pie.”
“I’m Vranis. An I want one too. Go get it for me.” She has red hair in two messy plaits that look slept in. Her plain linen tunic is wrinkled but the quality of the fabric is very good.
He considers this. “You want a pie, you can get a pie… or… ” He points at a plain bronze armring she’s wearing. “… trade you that for anything you want from the kitchen.”
Her mouth opens in shock. “But that’s mine. You’re a servant an I’m a Lady. You’re s’posed to do stuff for me.” The way she says lady sounds strangely grown-up, like she’s repeating something she’s heard over and over again. In spite of her command, she looks unsure of herself.
“Ha. I’m not a servant. And you want something that’s not yours, you gotta give something that is.”
“But I’m hungry!!!” The bluster vanishes and her lip wobbles. She sniffs and tries to look brave again. “Could you just show me? … Please?”
“S’easy. Go through that door, just a step.” He makes a casual gesture. “Wait till the fire in the big pan flares up, so evryone looks. Duck behind the big counter. Wait for the pan to go again, grab a pie, and step back out. Or sometimes one of the maids drops something and the cook starts shouting. That works too. Or if you’re really hungry you can get a whole tray, but you need to know who’s serving up at the big feast tonight. That’s trouble though, pie’s better because even if you get caught it’s no big deal.”
Varanis stares at him. “But… I’ll… I’ll do it.” She glances at the door and back at him. “How did you figure that out? An if you aren’t a servant who are you? Why are you taking stuff from the kitchen?
“They have more food than they can eat, and I’m hungry, is how I figured it out. And why I’m doing it. I’ll tell you my name if you don’t get caught.”
She takes a deep breath and darts away in the direction of the kitchen.1 Several minutes later, she comes dashing back, cheeks flushed with triumph and a pastry in hand. “I did it!” She glances back nervously. “But maybe we shouldn’t stay here. Just in case.”
“It’s just a pie. Nothing anyone here is even going to notice. But walk this way.” He heads, via a circuitous route, to a balcony with a trellis on it, and climbs up it to an inner roof facing a courtyard.
Varanis follows, climbing with only the briefest hesitation as she tries to work out how to manage holding her pie and climbing. In the end, she resorts to holding it in her teeth and climbing as fast as she can so she doesn’t lose it. She flashes him a triumphant smile as she makes it to the top. “Who are you?” she asks again. “You promised you’d tell me. An you already know my name. How come you know this place so well? Do you live here? Why do you look like that if you aren’t a servant? Are you a thief?” The barrage of questions stops abruptly as something dawns on her. “Am I a thief now too?”
“My name is Dormal. I’m Saiciae. But I don’t live in the big house. I dress like this because these are my clothes. As for the rest…” He shrugs. “I’m Saiciae. I’m allowed to be here and nobody up at the big feast is going to miss a pie. They’ve got plenty.”
“I’m Saici… Saicia…” She struggles to get the word right. “I’m one too,” she says at last. “But why are your clothes like that? My clothes are nicer. But sometimes I get them dirty an’ then my grandma gets mad. But my dad doesn’t mind. He says I should be allowed to do whatever I want to.” There’s defiance in the last bit, but her shoulders sag when she finishes. “Or he would say it if he were around more. He’s busy because he’s important even though he’s just a man.”
“I dunno. These are my clothes. My mother gave them to me. Who gave you yours?”
She stops talking long enough to eat several large bites of pastry, getting crumbs all over herself. “My mother, I think.” She shrugs. “I just have clothes. I don’t know where they come from. They are just clothes.” She stares out across the courtyard. “I like it up here. You can see lots even in the dark. Then she sighs. “But I should go back. My grandmother will take her switch to me if she finds out I’m gone. Or that I gots pie.”
“You won’t have pie if it’s all been eaten. And how’s she going to find out you were gone?”
“I’m in trouble,” she confides in him suddenly. “Grandmother made me go to bed wiffout dinner. Because I wandered off in the market today. But she’s mean. She wandered off. I was looking at a pretty necklace. Lots of them act’lly. It’s not my fault she forgot. So she might check.”
“She’ll be at the big feast. They won’t be done for hours yet. You look rich. They probably gave you one of the big rooms over there. Those are good, they have balconies so you can just come and go. Leave a pillow under your sheets, it’ll look like you’re there. Unless she tries to wake you up. Just don’t go past those roofs there and there, there are guards on the outer sides.”
She looks at him with big eyes. “You’re smart. I think I like you. Want to get more pie? I saw fruit ones coming outta the oven.”