Nireth woke to a bright beam of sunlight shining into her eyes. She sat up quickly, blinking furiously. At first, she did not recognize the room around her, but then she remembered how that monk man–What had his name been, again?–had let her stay in his home.
The first thing she noticed was that the curtains were drawin shut; only a soft light filtered through the drapings.
‘So what woke me up?’ Nireth wondered. She looked at her pillow and saw a bright splotch of sunlight. She looked above it and saw the trapdoor that lead into the lookout tower. There was a small crack in the wooden door that was letting the light in.
With a start, Nireth realized that–judging by the angle of the sun–it was about mid-day. What a lazy, useless creature she would seem like to Iref–Iref, yes that was his name!
Nireth jumped out of her bed and threw aside the drapes–stunned, she realized the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Curious, she ran back to her bed and stared up at the door in the roof. The light was definitely shining directly down–but it couldn’t possibly be from the sun, could it? Curious, Nireth was inclined to open the door. She reached for it, but found it was just a bit further than her arms’ length.
She realized she could reach it by standing on her bed. She hopped up and was about to open the trap door when the door to her room swung open. Quickly, Nireth collapsed onto the bed, hoping she looked like she had just been nonchalantly sitting the whole time.
Not a moment too soon, either; a moment later, Iref poked his head in.
“Oh, you’re awake!” He exclaimed. “I didn’t realize you’d wake up so early! You could’ve slept late, if you wanted.”
Nireth shook her head, “Oh, I really couldn’t! That would be rude of me,” she tried to hop off the bed nimbly, but her still-tired legs caught in her skirt and she ended up having to cling to the bedpost for support. She smiled at Iref, who; noticing her distress, held up a finger and quickly left the room.
As Nireth regained her balance, she couldn’t help but wonder how she was going to do the chores she had promised in her nice dress. She didn’t want to ruin it–but upon looking down, she realized it was already very dirty, and that it was tearing in many places (especially around her feet).
She looked longingly up at the trapdoor on the cieling. Now that her curiosity had been awakened, she felt she couldn’t go another minute without figuring out what was behind that door.
However, when she looked down at her bed again, she saw that the blotch of light on her pillow was gone! She stared back at the crack in the door and found that it was dark. Had she imagined the whole thing? Nireth could remember that sometimes, back at home, she would wake with blurry vision. Maybe light had just caught a fuzzy spot in her eye and made it look like there was a bright light shining into her eyes.
Nireth looked back at the curtains over the window. There was enough light to see by, but it was nowhere near as bright as the light she had seen. It had to be something else.
Iref re-entered the room, the creaking of the door startling Nireth out of her thoughts.
“I got something a little more comfortable for you to work in,” Iref said, holding up a light-blue tunic with an intricately woven belt of brown cord, some brown leggings, and a long-sleeved slip. “And you can throw that in with my dirty clothes,” Ireth nodded to her dress.
Nireth took the clothes from his arms gratefully, “Thank you so much, Iref! I’ll do your laundry, if you want.”
Iref smiled, “That would be wonderful! I have so much else to do–”
“I’ll help as much as I can,” Nireth assured him.
“Thank you for your help,” Iref said. “I’ll leave you to change.”
Once she was sure the door had closed, Nireth slid out of her dress and fancy underclothes and felt the clothes that Iref had given her. She was glad he had given her a slip to wear under the tunic; it was made out of rough, itchy fabric. The leggings were made of coarse material, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. The slip was less of a slip, and more of just a short under-dress for the tunic. It was made of closely-woven material, so it wasn’t itchy, but, like everything else, it was tough and stiff to the touch. Upon picking it up, Nireth realized it had a built-in corset, and that it laced up the back..
As Nireth put on her leggings, she thought of the stone in her dress pocket. She didn’t want to leave it there; what if it fell out? What if Iref found it, and then she had to explain that she had lied by omission?
She pulled it from the pocket, not sure of what to do with it. She pulled on the brown under-tunic, fastened it up the back, and gave a sudden breath of surprise. She had never worn a corset before, and she wasn’t sure if she liked it or not. It was a little large for her, so it didn’t squeez her waist, but it did dig into her rib cage when she bent over. Nireth winced and guessed it was for someone with a fuller figure.
After Nireth had pulled on the blue over-tunic and tied the cord belt, she realized the corset was going to be more of a problem than she had realized. It rubbed her when she walked, and poked her if she tried to twist or bend in any direction. She was embarrassed to have to ask Iref for anything more, but she supposed that a knife, a bone needle, and some thread couldn’t be too much to ask.
She ventured outside of her room, “Iref?” she called. “Iref, are you there?”
Nireth didn’t want to go wandering, fearing she might find something she wasn’t supposed to (although she guessed that Iref would be fine with it, it would just be embarrassing for her). The stone was beginning to grow sweaty in her palm, and she figured it would just be smarter to leave it in her dress. After all, she couldn’t work with a pebble in her hand all day.
Before she could return to her room, Iref came running down the long hall that lead to her room at the base of the watchtower.
“Yes?” he asked. He sounded very out-of-breath.
“Um,” Nireth found herself beginning to blush. She hadn’t meant for him to stress himself to help her! “Well, this corset doesn’t quite fit right, and I was wondering if you had some sewing material–”
“Of course!” Iref said, looking appalled. “Oh, I am so sorry! I should have remembered how tiny you were–I’ll be back!”
Nireth stared after him, a little bit indignant. Some of the younger girls at her home village had made fun of her for her small size–in fact, her own younger sister had been the same size as her–but she wasn’t tiny! When he returned with some sturdy, brown thread, a small bone needle, and a knife, however, Nireth forgot her anger and had to restrain herself to keep from giving him a hug.
“Thank you so much!” she exclaimed.
Iref waved his hand dismissively, “It’s no problem at all. I can’t have you being scuffed by a corset all day long!”
Nireth retreated back into her room, removed the outer tunic and gathered the extra fabric in her under tunic at her sides. She sewed the fabric together, the cut off the surplus. Too late, she realized she had made the seams along the outside, but she didn’t mind much. After all, it was only going to be covered by another tunic; and seams on the inside would have scratched her, anyway.
Nireth stretched this way and that, making sure that the seams would hold. They did; the thread and her sewing were both sturdy. Upon inspection, however, Nireth found that there was a place just beneath her right armpit that she had cut off, but neglected to sew together. As she reached for the needle to fix it up, she realized that she might have a way to carry her stone around, after all! Taking the extra scraps of fabric, she sewed them together into a little pouch. She then carefully sewed it into the open part of her top, making sure that the opening was small and at the top of the new pocket, so that the rock wouldn’t fall out while she was working.
To check her work, she slipped the rock inside. Although she knew she should feel the rock pressing into her side, Nireth found that its presence gave her no discomfort. She slid the over-tunic back on and was pleased to see that it covered both her sloppy, inside-out hems and her new secret hiding place. Finally, she added the finishing touch to her outfit and placed her golden kransen atop her head.
Nireth gathered up the extra shreds of fabric, the needle, the knife, and what was left of the thread (and her dress, as well) and carried them out with her as she left her room. Feeling a bit bolder this time, she walked down the hallway and found that, at the end, there was a small kitchen, a sitting room with a hearth (although it looked as if it hadn’t been used in a while), and a door at the far side of the kitchen. Nireth knocked on the door, but no one answered.
She opened it and found a large, metal tub in the center of the room. Cloth hung around it in large, draping clumps. Nireth couldn’t help but let her jaw drop; they were the richest colors she had ever seen.
Deep crimson and midnight blue cloth wound around each other in a graceful, flowing dance, and burgundies and deep purples joined in along the way. Large swathes of forest green and royal blue occasionally appeared, and fabric as black as night accented the colors.
“Nireth?” Iref’s voice made Nireth jump. She nearly dropped all she was carrying.
“Oh, Iref, I’m sorry!” Nireth exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to intrude, I just wanted to look–this room is so beautiful! And I was wondering; is this where I do the laundry?”
Iref laughed breathily, “It’s all right, Nireth, you don’t have to worry! Yes, this is the laundry room. Here, let me take this–” he took Nireth’s dress and said, “I can wash this; I’ve already done the rest of the laundry. You can just put that–” Iref nodded to the sewing material Nireth held in her arms, “in the chair by the hearth. I’ll put it with the rest of my sewing things later.”
Nireth felt useless, “Is there anythign else I can do?” she asked earnestly.
Iref stopped to think for a bit, then said, “Yes, actually! I have a couple of traps set around the edges of the clearing–nine, to be exact. I’d be very grateful if you checked them for me.”
“All right,” Nireth said, feeling a bit better. “Are you sure you don’t want me to wash the dress, as well?”
Iref smiled, “Yes, ,” he winked and grabbed a bucket. “I’m going to fill up the tub; don’t mind me. It doesn’t take much.”
Nireth nodded and put the sewing things in the chair in the sitting room, then followed Iref out of the door.
It was still early morning, but much brighter than it had been when she first woke. She watched as Iref filled the bucket from a well right beside the front door, then retreated into the house. He did this a few times, but Nireth lost count of how many; besides, she had, by that point, begun to look for traps.
She found the first trap with no problem; he had caught a rabbit. She removed the rabbit (a bit sadly, too; she had never enjoyed hunting much, even if it was with traps), reset the trap, and went on to check another. To her curiosity, she found the next one sprung, but with nothing inside of it. She figured it might have just malfunctioned, or maybe whatever had triggered it had been small enough to get away. She reset it, and moved on.
The next two both contained squirrels, which she took, but the fifth one was just like the second; it had been sprung, but it contained no game.
As if on cue, a soft breeze wafted out of the forest. It smelled musky and old, like a rotting fallen tree.
For some reason, Nireth felt drawn into the forest. She stepped into the forest, and was struck by how dark and cool it was compared to Iref’s clearing.
The wind suddenly grew stronger, as if her presence had provoked it. Nireth listened closely and found that beneath the whispers of the trees, the murmuring of the far-off ocean, and the hearty song of the ground, there was another voice–the voice she had first when she first landed in Mir!
It was whispering something, Nireth couldn’t quite tell what. It sounded distorted, as if it was talking to her from under the water. Nireth took a step further into the woods, and the voice grew clearer. Nervous, she glanced back at Iref’s house. She could still see it, which reassured her a bit. She ventured deeper into the woods, and the voice became more and more distinct as she did.
She could almost tell what it was saying–almost! The whispers were beginning to resemble speech, she could recognize the hissing of the ‘s’, the tick of the hard consonants.
Almost out of nowhere, a warm wind blew through the forest. It smelled almost sickeningly sweet, and completely overpowered the damp, musky smell that had pulled Nireth in earlier.
The whisper vanished with the scent. All that Nireth could hear now was the whispering of the trees as they spoke about the forest animals in hushed voices; some laughing at the tickling sensation they recieved as a squirrel crawled up their trunks, others–the older, rotting ones–singing sad, slow songs of the long lives they’d lived; retelling all they had seen.
Nireth retreated from the forest, vaguely aware that something frightening had just happened. When she arrived back in Iref’s clearing, she thought she saw the shine of a bright light in the top of the watch tower, but when she glanced up to look, it was gone.
(Sorry that was such a long chapter, and I’m sorry I spent so much time on her clothes! ^^”)