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 Post subject: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER SEVEN*
PostPosted: Wed July 22nd, 9:12 pm 
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Fora Novice
Fora Novice

Joined: Sat July 18th, 6:01 pm
Posts: 15
Gender: Melini (Brunette)
Nationality: Unsure as yet
Note: this topic has been moved to The Crucible of Creativity - White Roses

Honored Miss Leland - please accept our apologies for losing your note about copypasta. We are a shade new to the removals business. Ahem!

______


Rayati, Ladies! I'm very new in these parts, but this story idea wouldn't let me be. Sharpen your red pens at my expense, I encourage you.

This is a story of romance, aliens, and deracination, set mostly in Quirinelle. Maids of sensitive disposition are warned that this tale contains frank descriptions of masculi, several discussions of indelicate subjects, and occasional raised voices. You are also warned I wrote most of this in the middle of the night.



A Maid's Duty: Chapter One

“A schizomorph!” cried Commodore Lady Horatia Pratchett, and nearly dropped her cup. “Goodness, Your Majesty, why?”

Her Majesty smiled at this reaction to her news and sipped her tea. Not many people had the audacity to cry out before the Queen, but Horatia had been an old school chum, and this was a private meeting, so she was not distressed by it.

“My dear, you must pay more attention to the news.”

Horatia waved a hand in an acknowledging way. She was a brunette just past her first blush of youth, with a strong face that seemed stern even when she was happy. And a very dashing youth it had been- even now, doing business with her, the Queen smiled to look on her. Right now her hair, so dark as to seem black, was tousled from running her hands through it, and her large eyes were a mite panicked.

The Queen set her cup of tea down. “The alien species is like us, you know, in some ways,” she said. Horatia arched a dark, expressive brow at that. “Yes, some are, don't look at me like that. I have contrived a friendship with one of their femin politicians- the femini are the ones who are nearly maids- and she has asked me a favor.”

“To find a foster for this femin child, I know,” Horatia said. “I am, of course, flattered by your offer, but why?”

“She is her niece, and apparently she has been brought up in a barbarous home all of masculi.”

“What are-”

“The ones who are not like maids. She wishes Taylor to acquire some- how did she put it?- 'polish'.” She paused for a second to consider the metaphor, then continued. “And I admit, I am curious about them.”

Horatia looked bewildered. “I am certainly not the maid to rear this 'Taylor'. You will recall I did not exactly cover myself with glory in our Alien Studies classes. I am no diplomat.”

The Queen sipped her tea. “No, you are not.”

“Then-”

The Queen held up one hand to stop her from asking why again. “Because, as I recall, you have some experience knocking the rough edges off of misbehaving brunettes,” she said.

Horatia's expression cleared, and she sat back. “Ah. That kind of fostering.”

“Quite. Biscuit?”

“Thank you.”

They sat in silence for a moment, mulling over pastry and aliens. Finally Horatia swallowed her biscuit. “I gladly accept, of course. Will you send me the information on the girl?”

The Queen nodded, though she already had. When you are Queen, not many people deny your requests, not even Commodore Lady Horatia Pratchett. “Incidentally, I also recall that your friend Miss Wen was always first in Alien Studies,” she said. “Have you spoken to her recently?”

Horatia suddenly developed an interest in the contents of her porcelain cup. “Last week.”

“Oh?”

She avoided the Queen's eyes. “I purchased a hat,” she said.

“Oh, dear,” the Queen sighed. “Not another one. How many do you own now?”

Horatia finished her tea before hazarding a guess. “Twenty, maybe?”

The Queen sighed, and the serving girl refilled their cups. “You are enough to try a maid's patience, Horry.”

“I have no idea what you mean. When does the alien arrive?”

“Three weeks from today.”
* * *

Commodore Lady Pratchett flew her own aircraft. She was a Navy brunette through and through, and the only thing worse than acting the airmaid would have been having to pay a real one, she had been heard to remark; so she didn't. (She would have driven her own car, too, if her head magdalin had allowed it without bursting into tears. It was her terror of teary blonde faces that had turned the trick, rather than the threat to write Young Missy's Kadorrie grandmothers about the breakdown of the Golden Order, but few knew that.)

The small craft started to make noise over Trent, clanking as she neared the Quirinelle border, and had developed an alarming rattle by the time she touched down on the roof of her house in Chelverton. Technically, she lived far enough to the West for the lightning quick personal-flyer to work, but the Olivia didn't have to like it.

Her housekeeper, a mature blonde named Eugenie Larkin, clutched her chest as Horatia dropped into the hallway where she was hanging a picture.

“Bless, Missy, you gave me a start,” she scolded. “Comin' in through the ceiling like a bat!”

“It's a ceiling door,” Horatia pointed out. “And I left in Olivia, how did you expect I'd return?”

“Well!”

Horatia held up a hand. “You got my message, I assume? Where is Lieutenant Elder?”

“Ah.” Madam Larkin coughed. “Well. She arrived ten minutes ago, I'm sure she's...” Something in Horatia's face made her look away down the hall. “...waiting patiently in the drawing room?”

“I see.” Horatia reached out a long sun-brown hand and pulled the picture straight. “Madam Larkin, I will be having a long term guest in three weeks time. I wish you to outfit the blue room for a young maid. Expense is no concern.”

The housekeeper gasped. “Missy! Oh, that does my heart good to hear. What's her name? What colors does she like? Is she from Novaria, is that where you went all spiffed up this morning? Blonde or brunette?” Horatia put a hand over her eyes. “Not that I judge, Missy, not that I judge, of course.”

“A young maid,” Horatia repeated, dropping her hand. “A young maid that I am fostering, Madam Larkin, and I must say Quirinelle has had an interesting impact on your vocabulary.”

Madam Larkin had deflated slightly at this correction, but she still huffed at that. “Everyone 'spiffs', Missy, even your grandmothers.”

Horatia made a noncommittal mmm. “I leave the outfitting of a place for her in your capable hands.” She set off down the hall and stopped at the head of the stairs. “Oh, and madam?”

“Yes?” Madam Larkin said.

“Would you care to wager a farthing on kitchen or garden?”

“Garden,” Madam Larkin said. “Absolutely, in this weather.”

* * *

“Miss, you're going to wrinkle your jacket.”

Louise Elder continued to lean against the island in the center of the kitchen. “A small sacrifice.” She smiled at the cook. The cook was young, blonde, and handling food, and thus drew soldiers like a magnet drawing metal filings, and it was a testament to Louise that she made her blush.

“The lady will not like that,” the cook said.

“I'm her personal aide, not a seamstress dummy,” Louise said. “What's a wrinkle or two? I doubt she'll notice.”

Cook winced. “If you say so.”

“Oh, stuff, miss,” said Louise. “Why all this talk of my coat with a beautiful blonde and beautiful tarts in front of me?”

The cook blushed even pinker and turned back to the counter where several tiny cherry pies sat cooling. The golden tops were slit in star-shapes, and the sweet fragrant red insides peeked out like the lace of a petticoat, and Louise eyed both maid and dessert with appreciation.

“I'm just telling you, she doesn't like slackness.”

“What do I care what she thinks?” Louise proclaimed extravagantly and wholly untruthfully, making the cook giggle. She glanced from Louise to the kitchen behind her back, then leaned in a touch.

“I suppose you'd better have a tart, then,” the cook said, mock-grudging. “Can't send our sailorpettes out to battle without nourishment, can we?”

Louise's smile grew even more, and she swoggled the largest one. “You're tops.” She sunk her teeth into the steaming crust while the cook watched.

“Anyway,” she said after swallowing. “What battle?”

A strong hand grabbed the back of her uniform collar and yanked her upright.

“Rayati, Lady,” the cook said.

Louise choked and burned her tongue. The hard won tart fell from her fingers.

“Rayati, Miss Cindy,” Lady Pratchett's voice came from above Louise's head. “Fetch Lieutenant Elder a mop, please.”

As she hurried off, Lady Pratchett drew Louise onto her toes so she could look her in the eye. Louise swallowed.

“Rayati, Commodore,” she offered.

Lady Pratchett arched a brow. She was a champion at silences, and this one said Louise, you are as predictable as sunrise and possibly swoggling tarts is sailor behaviour, is it? and maybe even you were not told to wander my house like a chenkireet.

All she said, though, was, “Clean this up and join me in the study. Bring something to take dictation with.”

“Chalwë, Commodore.”

“And if you see Madam Larkin, you are to tell her she owes me a farthing.”

* * *

Horatia began her preparations that night, with all the briskness of a military operation. Madam Larkin swept out of the as house every morning as full of excitement as a peach is of juice, and Lieutenant Elder usually dashed out soon after, clutching papers.

Horatia herself refused to gossip, and Madam Larkin- with tempted eyes- related no more than the bare bones. Even the irrepressible Lieutenant seemed strangely unwilling to be drawn out by pouts or smiles, though the punishing schedule she kept could have been to blame. In spite of them all, it didn't take long for word to go around.

It was only days before it was being whispered in pubs and salons and any place two maids might meet eyes and make reverence.

An alien was coming to Novaria.

Or possibly Quirinelle. Commodore Pratchett did live there, for all it was the Novarian Queen who made the request of her former schoolmate.

Though, come to that, didn't the Pratchetts have an ancestral seat in Kadoria?

In the end it was agreed that no one actually knew anything beyond the fact that there was an alien and that Commodore Lady Horatia Pratchett was wretchedly close-mouthed; and there was nothing to do but wait.

* * *

“I will never forgive you for this, you know,” said the alien in question. Taylor Sapar was a young teenager, as her planet and species reckoned such things, with a slightly upturned nose, blonde hair (but not temperament), and an expression soured by mutinousness. She stood in the center of the small private spacecraft, clenching her fists and glaring as balefully as a child can.

The person being addressed was a tiny woman who had the ability to look down on a girl even when she was looking up at her, and she said, “Oh, how distressing.”

Taylor had been the last person to be notified of the plan, and it had not gone well.

“Hauled out of my own bed!” she shouted. “My own bed, by your thugs!”

“That's hardly true,” the older woman said. “You were at your dormitory, weren't you? And if you'd gotten up when they called you, all that could have been avoided.”

“I hate you, Aunt Saxon,” Taylor said.

“Feel free,” her aunt invited, and looked back to the magazine in her lap.

Taylor stamped her foot.“I am serious!”

“Do you think, after your conduct, that I care what you are serious about?” Saxon said.

“My father-”

“Your father has given me leave to discipline you as I like.” Taylor wavered and looked away at this reference to the Incident During Winter Term. Saxon pressed her advantage. “You would do well to apply yourself to the books I've gotten you; you'll find the Empire does not forgive as easily as I do.”

But that had been the wrong tack. In fact, it was tack suited for a horse that had found itself on an ear of corn, and Taylor again veered off into shouting.

“And this! Living with strangers in some backwards convent-”

Having made up her mind months ago, Helen Saxon was able to ignore this tirade with perfect indifference, and so, dear pettes, shall we.

* * *

And so, after much curiosity in the westernmost corners of the Empire, and much screaming from the child concerned, the day dawned.


Last edited by Aster Leland on Wed September 9th, 5:56 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FOUR*
PostPosted: Wed July 22nd, 9:13 pm 
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Fora Novice
Fora Novice

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Gender: Melini (Brunette)
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Chapter Two

Lois Elder arrived at Lady Pratchett's quarters just after dawn. She had ironed her dress uniform so sharp it looked like she'd used a whetstone on the creases, slicked her hair into a bun with nearly a pint of product, and her pretty face was fevered with excitement she tried to hide. The large jewelry box she held slipped a bit in her sweaty palms as she rang the bell.

“Rayati-” Madam Larkin said as she opened it, then she looked closely at Louise. She laughed. “Mercy, you look like you're about to propose to the Duchess of Jenilow.”

Louise stuck her nose in the air. “It is rather an important day, Madam.”

“I didn't say you looked bad, dear,” Madam Larkin said. “Come in, the Lady's nearly done.”

“Rayati, Lieutenant,” Lady Pratchett greeted her as Madam Larkin returned to her side. She extended a hand to her, and Madam Larkin slipped the final button on her leather flying glove through. Lady Pratchett nodded her thanks. She wore her dress uniform easily, her dark hair swept into an elegant bun. Louise sometimes enviously thought she looked like a recruiting poster. “You've brought the translator?”

Louise nodded. “She said to tell you-” She paused for a second. “'I've programmed it as best I can, but these young wretches make up slang faster than I can type, very inconsiderate, and the Cairenne dictionary is only very basic, so don't get involved in any legal trouble, don't think I don't know how brunettes can be, and next time more warning would be nice'.”

“Cheek,” muttered Madam Larkin, coming up behind Louise with a lint brush. Lady Pratchett pursed her lips, which were red for the occasion.

“Arrange for a bouquet of flowers to be sent to Dr. Shandy,” she said, as Louise fought off the brush.

Madam Larkin stunned her with a rap on the knuckles. “May I suggest-”

“No,” Commodore Pratchett said. “The last time I let you decide I apparently sent seven bouquets of red roses and a basket of passionfruit to a prospective member of the Stravë. You may send one bouquet of Estrenne Camellias. Let go of my lieutenant, for Dea's sake, we're leaving.”

Louise grabbed her things and hurried after her. The Commodore had a fast step for someone in such closely tailored skirts.

Madam Larkin was left crying after them, “How was I supposed to know!”

* * *

“I know you Kadorians are all mad for ceremony-” the Queen had said, weeks before.

“Hark at the Novarian,” Horatia murmured, raising her eyes to the ceiling. “The Novarian of Novarians, in the great province of Novaria where hiring a mechanic means five wardrobe changes.” She was ignored.

“I know you Kadorians are all mad for ceremony,” she repeated. “But I don't want to scare the child, so I think a short tea and off to your home would be best.”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

* * *

“I will wear what I want!” shouted Taylor through the door.

“I'm not oppressing you, you wretched child!” her aunt's voice roared back. There was a muffled banging. “Open this door! How on earth- if you've broken my door I'm extending your stay by a Prangian year!”

Taylor didn't reply. She'd reprogrammed the computer to accept her commands after her first day on board, in case of emergencies. In her opinion, what her aunt thought of as clothing was an emergency, and she should have a harder password. It was almost an insult to a budding young engineer like Taylor.

She turned her eye on the poufy, lace-ridden dress sulking in wait on her bed. It was yellow. It was scratchy and stiff enough to keep standing up even if Taylor herself keeled over dead.

It was not going to happen. “What planet is Prang?” Taylor shouted, as she began to sort through her own clothing.

“Aristasians feel very strongly about clothing, Taylor!” came the muffled reply, and assorted other madly boring things about social strata and reflections of inner beauty and what the locked door meant about her, Taylor's, future of pain and suffering.

“I feel very strongly about that dress,” she murmured, and to be extra careful, she stuffed it down the disposal tube.

Eventually her aunt stumped off to supervise the docking of the main ship on the space station. Taylor dressed in no great hurry. She gave a brief uninterested scan of the documents her aunt had been waving at her over the last few weeks, and sauntered out at a time perfectly chosen to ensure she made the trip to the surface but had no extra minutes to change clothes.

Taylor was good at math.

Her aunt squeezed her eyes shut at first sight of her climbing into the small ground shuttle. She was forced to reopen them rather quickly to start launching protocols, so the effect was rather lost. “I brought a coat,” she said in her most dire of dire voices, the one Taylor had lost her fear of at the age of four. “You'll wear it if I have to staple it to you.”

“That's not- where are your thugs?” The only people in the tiny craft were Taylor and her aunt, the omnipresent guards that attended the life of a diplomat's family nowhere in sight. She gripped her armrests as the shuttle started to move. “Auntie Saxon!”

“Masc- ah, gentlemen are not allowed on planet,” Helen Saxon said. “Don't worry, you'll be quite safe. Herthe is the least violent occupied world the Federation has ever encountered.”

“Oh, Space Lords,” Taylor said, and covered her eyes. “No guards? No bodyguards at all? You've sent me here to die.”

“Stop that,” Helen said. “No one knows anything about your family on this planet, and your foster-guardian is a highly ranked military officer. Put on your coat.”

Taylor glanced at the thing draped over an empty seat and made no other move.

Her aunt sighed. “And please don't say 'Space Lords'. They don't worship them here. They-”

“Blah blah all women blah. I got it.”

They rode in grim silence to the dock. Taylor looked up, startled, as the landing gear grasped their ship and pulled it into a bay. A smooth, pretty, and wholly unintelligible woman's voice had come over their speakers. “They welcome us to Herthe and bid us a serene stay,” Helen translated.

“They don't even speak Standard?” Taylor squeaked. “How am I supposed to get along?”

“You'll manage,” Helen said ruthlessly. She finished shutting down the craft while Taylor sat paralyzed in her chair. Her aunt stood and took the coat in both hands. “Listen to me. Aristasians do not wear trousers outside of certain sports and occupations. The way you look now-”

Taylor slapped the button that loosed her seatbelt and the one that opened the door in one smooth movement. She stood and stomped towards the door before it had even finished telescoping open. Her aunt made a lunge for her arm.

Taylor slipped.

* * *

Louise staggered out of Olivia into the spaceport. She stood shaking and blinking like a fawn and then, quite unashamed, stumbled over to a pillar and threw her arms around it like it was the prettiest blonde in Novaria. Her hair was no longer tamed.

Lady Pratchett descended after her, holding the jewelry box. She smiled at the blonde waiting for them. The blonde blushed.

“Rayati,” Lady Pratchett said, and made reverence. “Pray ignore my Lieutenant, she has a love for amateur theatrics.”

“The engine failed,” Louise said accusingly into the pillar. “I could have died.”

Lady Pratchett waved a hand. “Nonsense, we had parachutes. I took a shortcut,” she explained to the blonde. “Apparently we passed over one of those more traditional villages where the technics don't work quite so well.” The blonde looked alarmed. “Our momentum carried us over into safe airspace again. Have someone check Olivia's logs and note that bit of airspace in the public maps, if you could?”

“Rayati, Lady Pratchett.” The blonde, still looking alarmed, touched her communicator bracelet and murmured into it. “Someone will be along to look at it shortly.”

“Thank you. Lieutenant, any time it's convenient for you.”

Louise detached herself with visible reluctance and wobbled over to the pair. The now wide-eyed blonde introduced herself as one Miss Chandra Damini, their translator.

“Delighted to make your acquaintance,” Lady Pratchett said. “And how did you become interested in alien linguistics, Miss Damini?” She handed off the jewelry box to Louise and made a discreet gesture at her hair.

The blonde began a rambling story about her cousin's best friend's fiance who'd been in foreign service to Amazonia, with Lady Pratchett interjecting a “hmm” or “oh, really,” every few seconds. Louise stood to the side, one handedly stick-pinning her thick hair back into a sedate bun and trying to calm her breathing.

The dock they had arrived in was discreet: ships could land in it and the passengers be escorted outside without having to pass through the bustling main area of the shuttleport. Only two ships would be docking in it today.

They were nearing the apex of Miss Damini's story- something involving a coat stand- when a whine split the air, announcing an incoming craft. The blonde cut off, and their heads rose like sunflowers to watch the descent.

“Goodness, what an ugly little thing,” Louise said, speaking for all of them.

Manners, Lieutenant,” snapped Lady Pratchett.

In truth, the craft seemed oddly utilitarian, devoid of any ornament or graces; only a squat metal oblong with no hint of decoration. Louise didn't think well of this first glimpse of alien culture, but she still caught her breath as the door began to open.

This was it! The alien, finally here!

The door opened fully. There was a blur of motion.

Something tumbled down the ramp.

Louise stared in horror. Lady Pratchett's hand went to her dress saber. A young blonde maid, with black paint all around her eyes, was lying in a heap at their feet. Her shoulders and legs were bare, bits of stomach showing between what had to be the pieces of alien unmentionables. A tiny adult brunette stood in the door, holding her overdress in both hands.

Louise clamped her hand over her eyes, utterly scandalized.

Dea!” gasped Miss Damini.

“Tell her to put some clothes on before my Lieutenant has a heart attack, Miss Damini,” came Lady Pratchett's cool voice.

The alien moaned.

* * *

“Yes, your Majesty,” Horatia told the Queen, weeks before. “Surely you have no other reason to keep the alien out of public eye?”

The Queen looked at her with a flinty eye. “Did you know, I have a dungeon?” she said. “Jocelyn the Second built it.”

“More of a wine cellar,” Horatia said. “Your Majesty.”

“Yes, well,” the Queen said. “It's a dark wine cellar.”


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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FOUR*
PostPosted: Wed July 22nd, 9:13 pm 
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Fora Novice
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Chapter Three

Thank you all for your lovely comments! You can't know how cheering they were to read.

Helen Saxon hurried down the ramp and hauled Taylor to her feet.

“Now look what you've done!” her Aunt hissed. “Space Lords, Taylor, they think you're wearing underwear! Put this on before they start thinking I'm abusing you.”

“Don't say 'Space Lords', Auntie Saxon,” said Taylor. “They don't worship them here.”

She surveyed the trio of aliens. The little pink dressed one, wearing an expression of horror that appeared to be universal. The two bigger ones, both dark haired and wearing some kind of uniform. Entertainingly, one was covering her eyes. The tallest one was drumming her fingers on the hilt of- Space Lords, was that a sword? She gawked while the aliens conferred.

Finally, the little pink one bowed and spoke. “Rayati, Miss Saxon, Miss Sapar. The Lady Pratchett has asked me to request you clothe yourself as better befits such a lovely maid of your station.” Her grasp of Standard was facile, though her accent was the strangest Taylor had ever heard. Taylor scowled at this repeated harping on her clothes. She might speak Standard Galactic, but her grasp of outworld fashions was obviously abysmal.

Taylor said, “The Lady Pratchett can-”

* * *

The blonde translator gasped and pressed her hand to her chest, which made Louise drop her hand to look about for the cause of her distress. The tableau had not changed. Louise fixed her eyes on the floor, abruptly conscious that covering her eyes when presented with blonde unmentionables was not exactly suave.

“Miss Damini?” Lady Pratchett said.

The translator turned to her. “Whatever she looks like, that creature is not a blonde,” she said hotly. “I refuse to translate what that little monster has said to you. If I were at liberty I would give her a slap!”

Lady Pratchett quirked an eyebrow at that. “Such ferocity.” She surveyed the alien child and its guardian, who were now squabbling, with Helen Saxon shaking the garment in a mulish face. She looked utterly mortified. “I think I understand the gist. Pray restrain your violent impulses long enough to ask her guardian exactly how willing this fostering really was.”

The question was relayed. The answer involved Miss Saxon throwing both arms in the air, pointing aggressively, and Taylor stomping a foot and waving her hands, while both chattered in their language at the same time.

“Not very,” Miss Damini said. “Miss Sapar insists that she is a prisoner, Miss Saxon insists that she in an unmanageable monster and it was this or exile to an asteroid mining station. I am not clear whether she is serious.” She listened for a moment more. “And Miss Sapar uses language that is-” she shuddered. “Ick.”

“Miss Damini, “ murmured Lady Pratchett. “While your sentiments are commendable, I remind you a translator may be seen as the face of the Motherland. I do not think the Motherland says 'ick'.”

The young blonde flushed. “Yes, Raya.”

“'Unmanageable monster',” Lady Pratchett echoed. She pursed her lips and stared at the two aliens, who had reached a hostile détente and were glaring at one another. “That is a problem. I do not think it is wise to bring an unmanageable monster into the Queen's presence, do you, Lieutenant?”

“Probably not, Commodore.” Louise was suspiciously pink cheeked.

“Well!” Lady Pratchett clapped her hands together. “I'm afraid the tea will have to be cancelled.”

“What?” squawked Louise, and Miss Damini gasped; but Lady Pratchett was already making an elegant bow to the aliens. They transferred their wary gazes to her.

“Miss Damini, tell Miss Sapar to come with me. Thank Miss Saxon for her cooperation, and assure her we will do our utmost.”

Miss Damini cleared her throat and spoke, eyes flicking nervously back and forth. Miss Saxon seemed to crumple, slightly, in relief. Miss Sapar-

“She says she won't go willingly to prison and, and- I am not translating that.”

“I assure you there is no need,” Lady Pratchett said. “I see she does not wish to comply. I could not in good faith allow the Queen to be exposed to this.”

“Well...” Miss Damini said, very uneasily. She bit her lip. “I don't think- I don't think the Queen likes having her plans changed.”

“No brunette does,” Lady Pratchett said. “We hate uncertainty. As a blonde, you have a duty to introduce it whenever possible; it's good for our spiritual development.”

“Dea,” Miss Damini moaned, and covered her eyes.

“You may tell her I said so, if you like,” Lady Pratchett offered. “Now send Miss Saxon away.” She began to unbuckle the belt that held her dress saber.

I-” Miss Damini gasped. “You mean, you want me-”

The aliens started talking again, and she was forced to cut off and rattle off what sounded like an unbroken string of consonants.

Miss Saxon plainly made some objection. Miss Damini spoke again, more insistently. Lady Pratchett passed her belt to Louise, who was biting back an odd grin. A quiet instruction while Miss Damini talked the alien around, and Louise dashed up the ramp to the Olivia. She descended empty handed.

Lady Pratchett bowed again as Miss Saxon, with a wavering expression, finally dipped a bow to the Aristasians and walked up the ramp to her own ship. She still held the overdress.

In silence they watched the door slide shut. Lady Pratchett made no move as the engines rumbled to life.

“Raya...” said Miss Damini.

There was a clank, and the ship began to separate from dock; and Lady Pratchett moved. She took three strides, and another as the alien maid backed away. Miss Damini watched in utter shock as her hands encircled the alien's waist, and with a jerk and a shriek, Miss Sapar's feet left the floor. The shriek cut off with a wheeze as she landed, winded, on the Lady Pratchett's shoulder.

Louise just grinned.

“I bid you good day,” Lady Pratchett said. “Lieutenant, accompany Miss Damini to the palace. Charge your return passage to me.”

“Chalwe, Commodore,” Louise said, eyeing the Olivia with relief.

She turned and began to walk towards her ship with her burden. The alien howled and beat her back with her fists.

“I can't talk to the Queen!” Miss Damini wailed. “I can't tell her that- I'm just a translator, Raya! I can't! Oh, this is awful, my first assignment is going to cause a galactic incident-”

Lady Pratchett stopped, back straight in her pressed uniform. She turned back to Miss Damini. With an easy shrug, she shifted grip on the alien so that one hand was free and gripped the young blonde's shoulder.

Her hand was warm and strong. “I have every faith in you, Miss Damini,” Lady Pratchett said softly. “I am certain you will not fail me.”

And then she was gone up the plank, and Miss Damini was left to lean against a pillar, staring after her.

* * *

Some hours later, the ceiling door swung open.

Madam Larkin heard it from the alien's bedroom, where she'd been giving everything a last inspection. With a huff of rage, she snatched up her broomstick. Those wretched squirrels! And that brunette who never remembered to lock the door- but brunettes could be so thoughtless about these things. It would hardly do to have Missy bring her charge home to find all the servants chasing wildlife through the dining room. She shuddered. No, that wouldn't do at all.

She seized the broom handle and flung the door open.

“You horrible little beast, you'd better not HORATIA CORNFLOWER PRATCHETT!”

Said maid was standing in the hallway, and gave her one of those mild looks that meant anything from “yes, I love harp music” to “my leg has just fallen off, please fetch a doctor”.

“Really, Madam,” she said. “How are my soldiers supposed to be afraid of me if they learn my middle name is 'Cornflower'?”

“What have you done?” Madam Larkin demanded, staring in awestruck horror at the blonde she gripped by the collar. “Where is her clothing? Oh my God, Missy!”

Horatia looked at the young blonde, then back at Madam Larkin. “Awful, isn't it? This is my alien. Her name is Tayor Sapar.”

Madam Larkin pressed her hand to her forehead, feeling one of those terrible headaches coming on. The alien- the half naked alien- glared at her without speaking. “I don't understand. You weren't supposed to be back until dinner. Where is Louise? Why isn't she dressed?”

“Tea is cancelled,” she said. “Prisoners do not get tea.”

Prisoners?” Madam Larkin noticed that at some point, Horatia had lost her gloves and several hairpins. The heavy near-black coils threatened to burst the levies at any moment.

“Mmm,” Horatia said. “Miss Sapar is convinced she is a prisoner. She insisted several times.”

Madam Larkin discarded her broomstick against a wall and clutched her head. “This is insane, Missy. I'm going to fetch a- a robe and some tea and we can discuss this like ladies.” She turned away to do so when Horatia spoke.

“No.”

“But-”

“No, Madam Larkin, you will not,” she said. “This is not a blonde, and I am not going to treat her like one.” The alien was watching them both with a sullen lack of curiosity. She crossed her arms and spat out something. Lady Pratchett visibly tightened her grip on her collar and began walking, forcing the alien to walk too.

“Missy-” Madam Larkin said in dismay. “You can't take her down there like that!”

She made no reply, and Madam Larkin reached out to grab her sleeve as she passed. Something her Lady's flat hazel eyes made her stop, arm extended.

Horatia was halfway down the stairs when Madam Larkin plucked up nerve again and chased after.

“Wait! Wait! What are you going to do?”

Horatia did not wait. “Our prisoner is going in our finest dungeon,” she said. Her hair fell into her eyes, and she batted it away. “-The wine cellar is still empty, isn't it?”

“Yes, you've never stocked it,” Madam Larkin said automatically. “I just keep some mops and things down there.”

They rounded the first landing.

“Anything flammable?” Horatia inquired, and the alien tried to hit her. She evaded the fist without much effort. “Abysmal. We're going to have to get you a Vikhelic tutor, too.”

“No, nothing, but-”

The reached the end of the staircase, and Horatia forceably marched her charge down another hall.

“Anything a bright young maid might use to build- say- a deathtrap over the door? Don't put your thumb inside your fist, for goodness's sake.”

“It's unlikely,” Madam Larkin said faintly. “Can she even understand you?”

“No,” Horatia said, and came to an abrupt stop in front of a door. “Refused the translator. Refused to dress. Refused reasonable behavior entirely, and now we must resort to unreasonable.” She opened the door into blackness.

* * *

The alien was ungodly strong. It had been a brutal shock, being propelled through the corridors of the house with nothing but that implacable grip on her collar. She wished, miserable and angry, that she'd accepted the translator.

It was cold down here. And dark. She'd known she wasn't going to summer camp, but an actual cell had never occurred to her. There were things in here. Felt like mops, but you never knew with aliens.

There was no light switch, or dangling pull cord. She was hungry. The door was locked.

Taylor began to be afraid.

* * *

Madam Larkin followed Horatia to her study, scolding and entreating. When even sitting down and pointedly opening a newspaper failed to close the subject, Horatia slammed her hand down on desktop.

“Will you stop?” Horatia demanded, finally exasperated. “For the love of Dea, it's a wine cellar! She'll spend the night chilly and uncomfortable, that's all.”

“It's cruel, Horatia Pratchett,” Madam Larkin said tautly. “Locking a young blonde in the dark, all alone.”

“She's not a blonde,” Horatia said. “I had no idea her hair would be so distracting. I'll purchase a hat.”

“Oh?” Her tone was acid. “Take your prisoner to meet your hatshop girl?”

The temperature in the room seemed to drop several degrees before Horatia's low voice broke the silence, and made it even colder. “Miss Wen is the owner,” Horatia said. “Do not refer to her that way again.”

“My Lady,” Madam Larkin said.

“'My Lady' is not an answer,” Horatia said. “No matter your opinion of me, Madam Larkin, I am the mistress here. Speak disrespectfully of Miss Wen again and you will be dismissed from service. Anyone who opens that door before I do will also be dismissed from service. You may go.”

“You never used to be so cruel, Missy,” Madam Larkin. “What happened to you?”

“You may go, Madam Larkin.”

Madam Larkin stormed out in full sail. Horatia put her face in her hands and sighed, wondering how much burnt meat and stewed tea she'd have to consume before the end of this fostering.


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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FOUR*
PostPosted: Wed July 22nd, 9:16 pm 
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A new chapter, in a new forum! This chapter is a short one, but the next shall be long. Comments are wonderful!

Chapter Four

Taylor shouted for as long as she had the energy. When she stopped, she became rather abruptly conscious that she'd skipped lunch; so she started shouting again. Nothing happened. She was left to mourn her empty stomach in the chill darkness.

Upstairs, Horatia ate a portion of what had been a feast for several, and the cook gloomily packed the rest away. She read a book in her study, and went to bed.

Madam Larkin stomped through the house, cleaning with angry precision. The cook barely escaped a vicious dusting. She escaped to her own room early, crying, “it's a toque, not a doily, you madwoman!”

The Queen of Novaria scowled so ferociously, and clutched her robe of office so tightly, that Chandra Damini felt faint, and was only able to mutter something about “blonde's duty” and “eyes with, with gold flecks”. She left leaning on Louise's arm.

Louise got to meet a Queen and take an adorably flustered blonde out for a restorative dinner. She considered her day well spent.

* * *

It seemed like Taylor had just fallen asleep on the chilly tile when a blinding light clicked on, and the door opened. She tried to scramble up, but her sleep fogged limps didn't want to cooperate.

The figure in the door was a blur, but Taylor recognized her immediately. Yesterday's response would have been a snarl, but today she rubbed her watering eyes in the light, and said nothing. Night seemed hours longer on this planet.

The woman- no, Taylor thought. She'd had time to review what she knew of this planet in the long hours. This was a brunette. The brunette was dressed in something blue and flowing; she wasn't sure, but it seemed less formal. She closed the door behind her, and sat on the stairs.

They eyed one another in silence for a moment.

Finally the brunette extended the translator in one hand, and Taylor took it. It looked like an earring, a bit, with two soft clamps on a chain of flattened, engraved gold disks as wide as her pinky and thin as paper. After several false starts Taylor figured out that the clamps attached painlessly at the top at the cartilage and on the bottom lobe, and the chain went behind her ear, following the curve, pressed snugly to her skin. The brunette made no effort to help her figure it out, but eventually Taylor got the clamps settled evenly in and the tiny metal disks flat against her skin.

As it finally settled into place, there was a loud beep and a burst of static that made her jump. The translator transmitted through tiny vibrations in the gold disks, she surmised, and was startled by the sophistication of this planet's miniaturization technology.

The brunette began to speak, and her voice came through clearly audibly, but punctuated with hisses and staticky bursts.

“I am the Commodore Lady Horatia Pratchett,” the brunette said. “Does your translator function?”

Taylor nodded, crouched awkwardly on the floor. It was rather disappointing to learn that her companions of the night had been brooms, after all. Indeed, the room looked... oddly like a cellar. That put a different flavor to captivity.

“Very good. You will not get past me; I do not advise that you try. Did you sleep well? Nod or shake your head.”

Taylor scowled, fists clenching. She shook her head fiercely, but didn't speak, knowing it was no good; the woman didn't speak Standard, and the translator only worked one way.

“No, of course not,” Lady Pratchett said. “Captivity is not meant to be comfortable.”

“You-!” Taylor burst, only to fall silent when Lady Pratchett raised a warning eyebrow.

“Well, Miss Taylor.” Through the static her voice was pleasant and smooth, like a woman being reasonable, not an insane kidnapper. “If you wish to be a prisoner here, you can see that I will do my best to oblige you. I imagine it will be a very long year.” She paused, looking around the dark room. “However, there is another option. Would you like to hear it?”

After a very long moment in harsh light, Taylor nodded.

“Good girl. You may be my ward. I will help you to get along in this world, if you wish it,” she said. “There are many demands and privileges associated with that , but to start, I think I will mention blankets.” Lady Pratchett turned her upper body and pulled a package off the steps above her. She laid it on the ground in front of her feet.

“If you choose to be my ward,” she said. “Then dress and come to breakfast.”

With that, the Lady stood and walked up the stairs without looking back. The door shut, but did not lock, and the light stayed on.

* * *

The brunette was waiting in the hall when the door slammed open.

“Sure thing, was I?” grumped Taylor.

Gently with the doors,” was the only reply. She sighed and tugged at her collar.

“Feel like I'm wearing armor,” Taylor said. She fiddled with the tie of the simple wrap dress. “Don't know why I'm talking to you anyway, you don't speak Standard. You don't understand me at all.”

“I confess, you baffle me,” Lady Pratchett said. She straightened from her lean against the wall. “Come with me.”

Taylor stared at her retreating back. “You understand me!”

“I thought we just established that I don't?” Lady Pratchett said. Taylor hurried after her, barely noting her surroundings. Lady Pratchett led her to a stairwell.

“But you just...”

Lady Pratchett made a half turn on the stair. “Lest this descend into farce, I have a translator.” She pushed her fingers into her hair and revealed the hidden glint of gold. She let it drop and continued up the stairs.

“That was a mean trick, Horatia,” Taylor huffed after a second, when Lady Pratchett stopped at a door.

She was not familiar with the body language of aliens, but the way Lady Pratchett turned around so very slowly and looked down at her seemed... uninviting. There was something about Lady Pratchett's expression that made her think the bones under her alien skin might have been made of solid granite.

“Listen carefully,” the brunette said. “Using my first name implies a great familiarity or an intense desire to offend me. Do you desire to offend me, Miss Taylor? No? I thought not.”

Taylor wanted to snap at the hierarchical nonsense but- but perhaps after breakfast. Breakfast and a nap. “You're all a bunch of snobs,” Taylor said. “What am I supposed to call you?”

“Lady Pratchett or milady is most common with civilians,” she said. “Raya is traditional. Commodore is acceptable.”

Taylor sighed. “Lead on, Commodore.”

Lady Pratchett nodded. “Better.” She pushed open the door. “This is your room. There's a lavatory through there-” She pointed. “Get cleaned up and I'll bring a breakfast tray.”

Taylor looked around her newest cell after Lady Pratchett left. It was a pleasant room, bright and airy. A large window let in enough light that lamps weren't necessary yet, though two perched on the white bureau and matching bedside table. The walls were painted in thick stripes of pale blue and cream, and the bedspread was a matching blue with a design of madly grinning anthropomorphized mushrooms. There was a painting on the wall of a serenely beautiful older woman wearing a delicate tiara. No, not a woman, she remembered. A blonde.

She scrubbed up in the attached bathroom, similarly decorated in blue and cream, and came out still combing her hair. Lady Pratchett was pouring herself a cup of coffee at a folding table that hadn't been there before.

“Rayati, Miss Taylor,” Lady Pratchett greeted her. “Just in time. Have a seat.” Taylor laid her comb on the bureau and sat.

“My household is all in a fever to gawk at you, but I thought it would be better to wait,” Lady Pratchett continued. She gestured at the dishes on the table, redolent steam perfuming the air. Taylor was suddenly ravenous. “There's toast, sausage, some scrambled eggs, jam, and-” Lady Pratchett touched the fruit bowl with one finger and tilted it slightly towards herself. “And it looks like she included some NicAvoy apples, good.”

Taylor gave herself a generous serving of everything but fruit. The eggs were delicious, hot and filling, with some kind of mild cheese. Lady Pratchett waited until she'd begun to eat before beginning herself.

“I understand you were not briefed, or did not choose be briefed, about our planet and culture,” she said. “No, don't talk with your mouth full, this isn't a barn. I've left some books on your nightstand that should help you. In the event you have any questions, I prefer you ask me, rather than risk terrifying the passers-by.”

Taylor smirked into the marmalade jar. “I have one,” Taylor said, and she asked the first question that had come to her mind when she'd heard of a planet all of women.

“With love and patience and a great deal of gruesome advice from our aunts, like any civilized race,” Lady Pratchett said.

Taylor stared at her. “I meant-”

Lady Pratchett held up a hand. “I know what you meant. But as you are too young to be thinking of daughters, much less the mechanism that produces them, it is all the answer you will get.”

Taylor huffed. “Fine. Who's that?” She pointed at the painting.

“The Queen of Quirinelle. Quirinelle is the province you are in.”

“Who's the President?”

“There is no such thing within the empire.” The marmalade was sweet and fruity, going well with the thick, slightly rough bread.

“Then who's in charge?”

“The Empress.”

“What was that thing you said when I came in? It didn't translate.”

“That thing? Oh. Rayati. It is how we greet each other. It literally means 'hail to the light of the Sun in you'.”

“Weird.”

“To recognize the light of God in your sisters? I don't see how that's odd.”

“What's going to happen to me?”

“In two weeks, school will begin. I have made arrangements for you to be tutored in subjects like history and deportment, but you will take math, science, ethics, and physical education there. It's good for maids to have the company of their peers. Other than that, you can take up sport or dance or anything you like. Anything decent.”

Now that she was fed, Taylor felt drowsiness fold around her like a coat. She blinked and found it hard to open her eyes. “What am I supposed to do with no boys? How boring.”

Lady Pratchett refilled her water glass. No coffee for her. “You'll manage, I'm sure,” she said.

“Who are you? What do you do?” Taylor leaned back in her chair, stifling a yawn.

“I am a Commodore in the Royal Navy. Most recently I command a very small fleet of ocean and riverine forces who's main charge is finding and mapping water routes into the Easternmost empire.”

“How am I supposed to go to school? I don't speak Backwater, I speak”- she yawned. “-Proper Standard.”

“Cover your mouth. And as for that-” Lady Pratchett stood and removed a small gold watch from the pocket of her dress. “-I have made arrangements. There's nightgowns in the bureau.”

“I'm not tired,” Taylor said.

“Little liar,” Lady Pratchett said. “-I put enough tranquilizer in your water to drop half of Chelverton.”


Last edited by Aster Leland on Sun August 23rd, 7:04 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FOUR*
PostPosted: Thu July 23rd, 3:51 am 
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I am loving this more and more! What a delightful story.

One small note - there probably is a small, nominal, Imperial Navy, but it would not tend to do very much. Military functions are almost all national, with some imperial liaison where necessary.

To explain a little more about the Empire - the territory under direct Imperial control is limited to the Duchy of Ladyton (there are actually a few other small Imperial territories but we don't need to worry about them here). The Duchy of Ladyton, or the Imperial Duchy is a small, sovereign territory that belongs to no Nation. It could be likened in a certain sense to the Vatican City and in another sense to the District of Columbia.

Most Imperial institutions are based in Ladyton and most institutions outside Ladyton (and the few other, less important, Imperial territories) are National, and that includes almost all military forces.

The political structure of the Empire can be a little hard to explain as it is rather unlike Tellurian political structures. It is based quite a lot more on ceremony, symbolism and consent.

In the earliest days - the time of Sai Rayanna - military forces were Imperial, and indeed the current nation-states were unknown. If there were ever a huge military threat to the Empire the Imperial High Command would almost certainly have overall control of national forces. However at present almost everything is done by the Nations, with Ladyton being a sort of international forum in which arrangements between nations are organized.

The Nations should be seen less as States in a Union than as fully independent and sovereign countries which voluntarily accept the symbolic leadership of the Empress.

Now I have to admit that this is leaning a little too far the other way and understating the role of the Empire, and it begs a whole lot of subtle questions that have been the underlying issues of Nevcairen politics for centuries! But I think it does correct the more common error.

Oh dear - I have rambled on rather haven't I. All I really mean here is that Commodore Lady Pratchett is much more likely to be in the Royal Novarian Navy.

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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FOUR*
PostPosted: Thu July 23rd, 5:40 pm 
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I am just in love with this story!

It is so clever and funny but it also really puts me right inside Aristasia.

'Fess up, Miss Leland - you have inside knowledge don't you?

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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FOUR*
PostPosted: Thu July 23rd, 6:09 pm 
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Miss Leland, I am enjoying your story so much. Lady Pratchett is quite the commanding figure!


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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FOUR*
PostPosted: Thu July 30th, 11:27 pm 
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Rayati, all! Sushuri-chei, thank you for the correction. I was embarrassed to note I hadn't corrected it sooner- I was sure I had- but all is fixed now, and you lot are angels to be so nice and helpful. Now I must go sleep; I stayed up much too late on this one.


Chapter Five

“Do you know, when you give me that appalled look, you look almost blonde?” Lady Pratchett said.

“You what?” shouted Taylor, starting up from her chair.

The room blurred like it was full of fog. The Queen's soft features lost focus, and Taylor staggered. The food sat like it had turned to coal, choking and heavy, when it had been so satisfying and good before. She tried to grip the table-but she couldn't, had it moved?- and Lady Pratchett was there all of a sudden. Strong cool hands supported her, and led her docile-from-weakness body to sit on the bed.

She was treated to the odd sight of the alien unlacing her shoes and pulling them off for her.

“-a very mean trick indeed,” Taylor heard, and realized Lady Pratchett had started talking. “But I didn't think you'd take it if you knew. It'll make you sleep for a while, and make you receptive to these learning tapes, and you'll wake up being able to speak our language. You'll still need the translator to listen, because-” Lady Pratchett guided her to lay down, still talking, but not understandably. Through the gray sleep that overwhelmed her, Taylor felt someone draw a blanket up to her collarbone, and then she knew no more.

* * * *

She woke from a dream about boats and sat up. She woke suddenly and completely, without fuzziness or lack of memory, a cut as clean as surgery. The anger was still there, and there was an alien there, sitting next to the bed, a dark-haired alien-

The pillow she threw smacked the dozing brunette in the face, who was so startled she yelped and fell out of her chair. Taylor kicked off the flowered sheets- who had put a nightgown on her?- and scrambled from the bed.

“Ever-lovin' God, you've got an arm like my Nettie,” the alien marvelled up at her.

It was not Lady Pratchett on the floor. Taylor blinked. “Who are you? Why are you in my room?” she demanded.

The brunette, still lying down, touched her chest and flicked her fingers away. “Lieutenant Louise Elder, at your service. Hate to impose, but would you get off my skirt?”

Taylor looked down and noticed her foot pinned the brunette's skirt to the floor. She stepped back.

“Much obliged.” The brunette stood. She dusted off her skirt and straightened the matching jacket, smoothing everything back into place.

Taylor's eyes narrowed. “I think I recognize you,” she said. “At least, I recognize that uniform.”

“You saw me at the shuttleport.” Lieutenant Elder covered her eyes for a second. “Remember? ”

“Hah!” She felt some of her annoyance leave. “Yes, you were the embarrassed one.”

Lieutenant Elder made a throat clearing noise and went a little pink. “Glad to see you awake- and glad to see you dressed- but now I'm supposed to fetch the Commodore. Do us a favor and don't pitch anything at her, right? None of my mates believe my stories anyhow, and if you start throwing lamps at the heroine of the Fair Dorothea, they'd dunk me until I promised never to lie again.”

Taylor touched her ear, and found the device still fastened to it. “I don't think my translator's working,” she said. “I didn't get any of that. Does yours still work?”

Lieutenant Elder flicked a glance back at her as she exited. “What translator?” she said, and left before she could respond.

Taylor dropped down onto the bed as the door closed. Now that she had nothing to distract her, she felt rather grubby, and wondered how long she'd been asleep. And what did she mean? Did the Lieutenant speak Standard?

Lady Pratchett said she'd be able to speak their language, but she didn't feel different. She looked around the room.

“Curtains,” she said. “Curtains.” Her lips felt wrong. She clawed off the translator, getting it caught in her hair for a second. “Curtains,” she tried to say. She didn't recognize the sound she made. “Curtains. Curtains! Space Lords. Curtains!”

Taylor dropped her head into her hands and made herself stop panicking. Okay. The idea of subconscious learning was discussed in the Federation, but no one had made any great strides. Then again, she'd never seen a translator like this before, either. Someone here, apparently, had made it work. But why couldn't she speak Standard?

“Curtains, “ she tried again, and heard the door open.

It was Lady Pratchett. She said something. Taylor stared in incomprehension. Lady Pratchett stepped inside and tapped her ear until Taylor fumbled the translator back on.

“Subconscious learning is a new field,” Lady Pratchett said, once she had. “You can speak our language, but it will be a few weeks until your mind integrates everything. At that point you'll be able to understand it, as well, and switch back and forth between languages easily. Until then, trying too hard will just give you a headache.”

“I don't like this planet, and I don't like you,” Taylor said. “I want to go home.”

Lady Pratchett drew out the chair her Lieutenant had fallen from, and sat. “I understand,” she said. “I have been no nicer to you than you've been to me. Dislike me as much as you care to. But my planet is larger than one maid.”

“I want to go home.”

“That is not possible,” Lady Pratchett said, in a voice almost gentle. “You must obey your aunt, and I must obey the Queen. Every maid must do her duty, but it doesn't have to be an ugly one.”

Taylor crossed her arms and glowered. “Until I'm drugged or imprisoned again.”

“I am through drugging you, unless you catch fever,” Lady Pratchett said. “As for the other, that was your choice, not mine. Dress and make your way downstairs, if you will, and I will show you a nicer side of the empire.”

“Aye aye,” Taylor sighed, and her lips shaped chalwe.

* * *

“This is Madam Larkin- say rayati- and this is Miss Cindy Darling, our cook, and her cousin Miss Elsie who helps Madam Larkin-say rayati- and this is Miss Yasmin Khalil, who comes in twice a week to do odd jobs. We have a gardener who comes once a week, but she's shy and doesn't come inside much, so likely you won't meet her. Just don't scream if you see someone in a red vest fiddling with the bushes. You've met my Lieutenant.

“Here's the dining room. My study, ask me if you wish to borrow any books. That room, well, you know that one, I daresay. There's the kitchen. You'll need to ask Miss Darling if you want to cook anything, but don't do it, she'll be offended and burn the toast. Just ask her to make it. The garden- I have no idea what any of those things are, but Madam insists. Living room. Lavatory through there, garage off that way. Second floor's bedrooms. Third floor is an attic and the landing pad for Olivia. Pardon? No, Olivia's my flyer.”

“Sorry, what was that?

“My family lives... elsewhere. The drugs should be flushed out by now. You should be getting hungry. Let's rustle up Cookie.”

* * *

Cookie was the nicer side of the empire Lady Pratchett had referred to, Taylor decided.

She had laid out their breakfast, smiled like the flash of a mirror, and slipped out. The table was packed, and Lady Pratchett raised her semaphore eyebrows, but Taylor was delighted, and even forgot to be worried about poison. She munched her way through pastries filled with steaming cheese and some kind of vegetable, a tiny muffin studded with gemlike fruit, a heap of salty bacon, a little star-shaped pancake that came with powdered sugar and sweet preserves, a buttered crescent of airy warm bread, a quivering mountain of eggs, and cups and cups of iced tea flavored with some unfamiliar spice.

When she finally looked down at her empty plate, she was struck with a suspicion.

“How long was I out?”

Lady Pratchett refilled her glass. “Two days.”

“That makes sense.” Taylor licked an errant bit of marmalade from her thumb and sat back.

“Use a napkin.”

With that, the old resentment rumbled awake. “Look away if you don't like it.”

Lady Pratchett set her glass down on the table and met Taylor's eyes. “It will embarrass us both if I have hose you down in the garden like a-” The translator buzzed and settled on “-goat.”

Taylor crossed her arms and glared.

“Then again,” Lady Pratchett said. “My cousin Sharlena once told me I was the most shameless maid she ever saw. Shall we find out together if I've developed some dignity, in my old age?” She began to push back her chair.

Taylor grabbed a napkin and scrubbed her face with it. The Lady settled back.

“Sweet child,” she said. “I have always believed in the capacity of reasonable discourse to change minds. Now, I have a task for you, and if you are good, we can go out today.”

“And if I'm not?”

“Then you won't see daylight until school. Ah, I see reasoned discourse wins again.”

* * * *

It was an hour later, almost exactly, when Taylor and Madam Larkin came back downstairs. Taylor was walking very stiffly.

Lady Pratchett was in her study, a handsome, tidy room full of dark wood and bookcases, a desk and an odd green-felted table. She put down her pen and looked up when they entered. She did not say a word.

Taylor was wearing a new dress, a simple blue cotton with a swing skirt to her calves and a wide collar. Her feet were pressed into demure black shoes, and she kept fiddling with her new white gloves. She looked like a very unhappy schoolmaid.

After Madam Larkin touched her shoulder, she awkwardly advanced to stand before the desk and made reverence.

“Rayati, Commodore,” she said, looking at the ground. Her shoulders were tense. Madam Larkin sighed and pressed her hands to her bosom. Lady Pratchett rose and made reverence in return.

“Rayati, Miss Taylor,” the Lady said. “Madam Larkin?”

“Made it across the room three times without the book fallin', Missy. Only shouted once. Clothes fit perfect, too.” Taylor made fists and kept her head bowed.

“Thank you.” Something unseen went between the two, and Madam Larkin left.

“Miss Taylor, nothing you are wearing hurts,” and despite the words, her voice was gentle. “Why do you look like I'm going to hit you?”

Taylor stared at the floor. Her mouth felt wrong. She couldn't handle things properly with the gloves. “I kept- I kept getting the bow wrong.”

There was a confusion-filled pause. “Miss Taylor, I don't know what your world is like, but I would never harm someone for the crime of being new.”

“Not hit,” Taylor said, and crossed her arms. Her voice broke. “Laugh. You're all laughing at me!”

The chair scraped on the floor. “No! No, Dea, no.” Her alien hands settled on Taylor's shoulder's. She flinched. “Oh, child, never that. I am not so cruel. I wish you to behave in certain ways, but only because -” There was a sigh above her head. Taylor refused to look, refused to acknowledge stinging eyes. “Child- Miss Taylor, these things are not chains to bind you for our fun. These things are our life, our culture, and they may seem odd to you, but truly it can only bring us happiness to see you try. No one will laugh.”

Taylor rubbed her face. “You don't know that. What if they do?”

“Then they will explain it to me,” the Commodore Lady Pratchett said. “In detail, and in writing. And you, and I, and the Queen of Novarya if needs must, will decide how much of a diplomatic incident to make of it.”

Taylor looked up, and the alien's stern impassive face reassured her that her words had been the plain truth.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn't mean to... well. Where are we going?”

“Mmm.” Lady Pratchett dropped her hands. “We're going shopping.”

* * *

Taylor was surprised to discover Lady Pratchett intended to walk.

“Exercise is good for both body and spirit,” she said, standing in the hallway. Madam Larkin was holding out two hats; one in black, with a feather and a discreet bit of netting that shaded the eyes, and the other a simple red pillbox the same shade as her dress. “Besides, you'll see more this way.” She selected the pillbox and affixed it carefully. “Come along.”

It was early afternoon, Taylor judged, looking up towards the sun. She looked back at the house they'd left. It was pale green, and clearly well tended, though the top floor had been reshaped to allow for a plane to land. Lady Pratchett set off briskly and she hurried to follow.

The Lady's neighborhood was nice, though- she thought with an unrecognized touch of pride- none of the houses were quite as nice as the one she now lived in. As they walked through the warm sunshine, Lady Pratchett kept up a murmured commentary on who lived in each house, who had daughters, what they did, and a brief digression to point out that one or two houses displayed the flag of Quirinelle. The explanation of Quirinelle and the various provinces occupied them until they stepped out into a street filled with glass-fronted shops.

“Where is everyone?”

“Most ladies lunch at this hour,” Lady Pratchett said. “I didn't want to overwhelm you too quickly. To your left- that pink shop with the trellis- that's where we're headed.”

Taylor looked around, spotted it, and set off, but before the door, Lady Pratchett caught her sleeve.

“Wait,” she said, and let go. “Now, the woman indoors is Miss Fay Wen. You may call her Miss Wen- do not use her first name. This is very important.” The last was said in such a severe tone that Taylor blinked. Then her mouth tightened.

“Is she a dragon, then?”

The Lady almost smiled. “Oh, no,” she said. “She's quite the sweetest blonde I've ever known, I doubt she'd mention it if you were to call her someone else's name entirely. No, I am the dragon, and if you intentionally say something to offend Miss Wen, that is quite different than being merely new. I will give you quite a thrashing if you do.”

Taylor gaped. She had had cause, in the hour with Madam Larkin, to review all the half-heard things her Aunt had said. “Auntie Saxon said that your species didn't fight at all! Or hit!”

“Did she?” Lady Pratchett said. “You may tell her in your next letter that she erred. Brunettes commonly practice the Vikhelic arts.” She paused and pulled her shoulders back a bit. “I myself was once considered fairly adept at them.”

“I daresay you were!” said a voice from behind, and both ward and guardian turned. A woman- a blonde, she corrected herself- stood in the door.

She was smaller than Lady Pratchett, with a round softness that somehow made you think of hugging her and satisfying some heretofore unknown desire. She had eyes a slightly different shape than Lady Pratchett, and was quite prettily dressed in a blouse and skirt of marigold orange that made her brown sugar skin glow. It startled Taylor to see her yellow hair lying against that skin, but if such a thing was at all odd, Lady Pratchett didn't seem to know it. Indeed, a smile cracked her face, timid in unexplored lands.

“Ah, Miss Fay,” she said. “May I introduce my ward, Taylor Sapar?” She put a hand on Taylor's shoulder and gently her urged forward a step so the other woman could get a look at her.

“Rayati- ah, Miss,” Miss Wen said, electing not to tackle the foreign name. She smiled brightly at her.

“Rayati,” Taylor mumbled. Lady Pratchett's smile disappeared, but she said nothing.

“Well, mistresses, will you guard my door all day?” Miss Wen said, and stepped aside. “Come inside, come inside.”

“Thank you,” Lady Pratchett said. She guided her charge into a small, empty shop. It was brightly lit, and hooks and stands packed the walls, covered with such a profusion of hats that many first time visitors were wont to exclaim they had not thought there were so many kinds of hats in the wide universe, much less their own city. Taylor was in their number almost immediately.

Miss Wen laughed, which seemed to clear Lady Pratchett's stern face a little. She released her ward's shoulder.

“Browse around,” she invited. “This is quite the best millinery in the city, there should be a lot to amuse you. Remember, we are looking for a hat that should be able to cover all of that hair of yours. Beyond that, choose what you like.”

Taylor gladly wandered off to peruse, arrowing towards a selection of large floppy red hats that had caught her eye on the way in. There was not far to go in the little shop, though, so she was able to hear most of what the pair said to each other.

“Whyever should you wish to cover up that hair? It's quite pretty, if oddly cut.”

Taylor only just stopped herself from self consciously touching her smooth cap of hair as Lady Pratchett explained, punctuated by the other's low murmurings of astonishment.

“An alien? My, but she looks just like any of my niece's little friends!” She was peaking over at her, Taylor was sure of it.

“Which is the trouble,” Lady Pratchett said. “When aliens have the courtesy to look like aliens, we don't expect them to be like us; but any maid would look upon her now and see a young blonde. It would be quite confusing until they realized that they could not judge her by the standards of our species! Thus, the hat.”

“You were always clever,” Miss Wen said. “Are they so different?”

“I don't know yet,” Lady Pratchett admitted. “Certainly their culture is quite odd.” Taylor sniffed and glared at a pink bow. Odd! Coming from this place! “Would you believe, on the way here she offered to buy her own hat? As if I were so lacking in proper feeling that I'd make a child provide her own wardrobe!” She sounded indignant, which was strange; Taylor had never met anyone who relished spending money on others.

There was a tiny giggle. “On most worlds they reach majority younger, dear. You ought to have paid more attention in Alien Studies!”

“Perhaps,” came a sigh. “Nevertheless, she is an alien, as well as a child; likely she'd come home with seven petticoats and no dress. Or three left stockings.”

“Pratchett-chenya! You are wicked!” Miss Wen exclaimed. “My dear, that hat will be beautiful on. So jinky!”

Taylor was touching a pale blue cloche with a small cloth rose attached, and recoiled when she realized she was being spoken to. “What? Oh! Do you think so?” It was one of the more conservative pieces in the shop, and Taylor had been considering it absently.

“Oh, certainly. But very simple, if I can say so. Young pettes always go for rather more lace and ribbon,” Miss Wen said. She added: “That red one you were eyeing would be quite the thing. I'm sure with you wearing it, you'd start a new fashion for red!”

Taylor found herself blushing. In a home full of her brothers, wearing something so silly and- and frivolous as a, a- she didn't even know what to call it, but it was deep red with a sparkling ribbon and a flower, and on her homeworld it was simply begging for a lifetime's mockery. Could Miss Wen be making fun? But she looked so serious! And Lady Pratchett- a self proclaimed dragon- had hats with nets and feathers.

Taylor felt a tug of embarrassed longing. It was a very sparkly ribbon, and her life had not been full of pretty things.

“Goodness, child, get them both,” Lady Pratchett said. “And maybe a few scarves, as well, or another hat. One can't wear the same color every day.”

Taylor made up her mind.

As Miss Wen was carefully bagging the hats- except the green cloche, with Taylor would wear out, not being yet brave enough to risk the bonnet- Taylor remembered something.

“What are the- the arts that you mentioned?”

“The Vikhelic arts?” Lady Pratchett said. “Oh, swordplay, bow and arrow, wrestling, all sorts of fighting. All in good spirits, of course.”

“All the maids used to want to spar with Pratchett-chenya,” Miss Wen murmured, slanting a warm brown eyed look at Taylor. “She was a marvel! Beating her was reckoned quite a badge of honor, and all the young brunettes tried to claim her at practices.”

“A very pretty interpretation of the text, Miss Fay,” Lady Pratchett said. “Though it is certainly true that in my youth many a maid wanted to thrash me.”

Taylor looked up at her. “Were you very- um-” Miss Wen was smiling. “-wicked?” she said, after having discarded several words that seemed somehow too rough for a girl in a fancy hat in a quiet shop. This internal editing left her feeling rather odd, but fortunately Lady Pratchett chalked her voice and facial expression up to faulty translating.

“The very worst,” Lady Pratchett said, and the two adults met eyes across the counter, and looked away. “Miss Taylor, I will get your bags. Wait outside, please; I have something to discuss with Miss Wen.”

* * *

When the door smacked closed, Lady Pratchett winced. “I'm going to set her to embroidering samplers that say 'Doors Need Kindness, Too',” she murmured.

Miss Wen had stayed behind the counter, her cheerful smile gone. She was winding and unwinding her tape measure, fingers deft.

“Miss Wen, I wish to ask a favor of you,” Lady Pratchett said.

“My Lady,” Miss Wen said, and nothing more.

The brunette cleared her throat. “You have a niece in town, I have heard,” she said. “Of an age with my ward.” Miss Wen stopped moving. “I am old and not so fashionable, and I thought it might be good to have someone more like herself to help Miss Taylor on her way.”

“I'm sorry,” Miss Wen said, staring at the counter. “That will not be possible, Pratchett-chenya.”

“Don't chenya me,” Lady Pratchett said. She cast the bag on the counter. “I can't stand it! Oh, Fay-” Her hand closed over Miss Wen's much smaller one. “-Fay, will you never forgive me?”

Miss Wen's eyes closed, and she gripped back helplessly. “Oh, Horry- it isn't that-”

“Then what?” Lady Pratchett demanded. “What, my darling? I bought that house to be near you, I have never pressured you, I have never in all these years- I am changed, I swear to you. I made one mistake-”

The blonde went still. “One mistake?” she yanked her hand away. “One mistake, is that how you think of what you did? How dare you!”

Fay-”

Miss Wen stood straight, pretty face gone cold as the demon haunted North. “Get out of my shop. Get out!”

Lady Pratchett clenched her jaw. With stiff movements she grabbed her purchases and made a deep, ironic bow.

“My apologies,” she said. “I won't trouble you again.”

The Lady left the shop. She didn't even slam the door. After a long moment, Miss Wen stood up and changed her sign to Closed; and then she sank down behind her counter and sobbed.


Last edited by Aster Leland on Sun August 23rd, 7:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FIVE*
PostPosted: Fri July 31st, 12:58 pm 
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Trois Etoiles
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Oh Miss Leland! How cruel you are. Those poor, poor girls. I am practically ready to sink down behind my own counter and sob.

Do hurry and fix things, will you? (Sniff) :cry:


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 Post subject: Re: A Maid's Duty *UPDATED: CHAPTER FIVE*
PostPosted: Fri July 31st, 2:26 pm 
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Miss Leland, I'm on the verge of tears. I'm going to have to insist on that second chapter you mentioned, as soon as possible, and please let it be a more cheerful one!


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