The sound of Pan-Flute music danced in the air as Willow raced through the crowded streets toward Blackfoot's Central Square. The water on the ground, pooled in dips and dents along the stone streets and splashed, making slapping noises under her leather boots as she ran.
She'd left Ra(inbow) behind to wait for her in the tumble-down shack they shared. The shack was dilapidated but it sat on the banks of the Brunsharg river--which made its unattractiveness slightly more appealing
He was too old to move much now, and his journeys were limited to the shack and small surrounding areas along the river's edge. Most days he wouldn't move around too much at all and would keep to himself in the rickety old bed Willow had fashioned for him out of a few weathered logs she'd found at the river's edge--cast-off remains from the old logging channel that used to flow there. Willow suspected that the logs had somehow managed to find their way to the dipped bank where some passerby had pulled them to safety but had left before having found a use for them, which was just as well.
She could hear the sounds of people talking grow steadily strident the closer she came to her destination, and the smell of meats roasting in the vender's carts parked along the outer edges of the Square was heady in her nose, reminding her she hadn't eaten anything since the previous night. However, there was no time for food, and even if there had been time there was still the little problem of not having any money.
When she had been younger Ra had taken care of her, and they'd always managed to find something to eat along the way, but now that he was ill it was her duty to take care of him.
If it hadn't been for Ra Willow knew she wouldn't have survived for as long as she had. She owed him her life, and that was the reason for her hasty trek into the city that morning.
The hair she had tucked up under her cap before she'd set off that morning stuck to the back of her neck in sweaty tendrils of red silk--the only acknowledgement she offered herself of her femininity. She'd found out long ago that she was not a boy. But that didn't stop her from wanting to be. Willow pushed the escaping hair back up under her cap with steady fingers, and elbowed her way through the gathering crowd. They had all come there for one purpose.
The list would be posted any moment and every man in the crowd longed to be on it. Jobs were scarce then and this list had the potential to be the soul salvation for every man there--most of whom, had small children to feed--which Ra had told her hadn't been the case back in the time of Willow's birth.
But this was not the reality Willow knew--Babies were commonplace now and they ran naked through the streets in packs, like stray dogs. Most were dingy and grubby from a life of play and delinquency but some were tended to on a regular basis. Those with fathers to take care of them faired better than the ones without even though times were hard, and jobs were almost non-existent--even for the most able bodied of them.
At the age of sixteen, which she roughly estimated to be correct based on the information Ra had been able to recall of her early childhood, Willow had a great handle on the realities of life and because of this, she knew her chances for being placed were stacked fairly in her favor.
She was still young, which gave her an advantage over the older men vying for the same positions. Most estates wanted strong, young men that could take long days of labor without complaint. Willow knew she could work hard. And she was smart--smarter than most, which gave her the upper hand most everywhere else. However, youth and brains were only half of the struggle, the other half was overcoming the fact that she was thinner than most of the other men and boys around her, and this tiny thing was the only aspect in which Willow paled in comparison next to her gender-true companions.
As a girl, she would have made an impressive sight with her muscled arms and her well defined legs, but as a boy she was not much to gander over, and had been passed up many times before for the larger more able-bodied men. But she had a good feeling about things this time around and Willow knew she would be selected because she'd prayed each night in secret and each morning she had prayed again.
The bodies of the other men knocked into her from all sides but Willow ignored them as she intently searched the list of names and placements. She wanted this more than she had wanted anything in her life.
And then she saw it. The list. And then the name--her name. Willow squeezed her eyes closed and then reopened them just to reassure herself that she was not imagining what she saw. There it was, in black script: Will. Rosenberg was the name she'd given them when they'd asked for a last name. The only bit of her former name she could remember was Rosen, and she'd been terrified that they would reject her if she could not come up with a suitable last name--berg seemed to fit nicely at the time.
"Move out of the way!" someone yelled, and Willow was being pushed away from the list…but not before she read her placement… The MacLean estate.
Willow puffed out her chest as she made her way back the way she'd come. Ra would be proud of her. She'd done it this time, and soon she'd have enough money to send her adopted guardian to the place he most wanted to be--home.
Over the years, Ra had told Willow many times of the place he'd lived before the climatic events of his life had forced him to search elsewhere for the things he needed. She knew he had a daughter at one time…but whenever he would get to that part of the story something would change inside him and he would grow pensive and silent. She'd always wanted to pry deeper into that aspect of his past but had been scared that it would drive him over the edge into a place neither of them wanted to go.
Willow smiled. She had a job. She had a purpose in life now and soon she was sure she would be able to take care of Ra the way he needed to be taken care of…perhaps she'd even make enough to hire a doctor to come out to the shack and see about him.
Life was full of possibilities as she walked along the river.
Tara tore down the east grounds toward the servant quarters, nearly tripping over the long skirts that tangled around her legs. She wore no shoes and her toes sunk deeply into the plush grass with every stride.
It was hot that day and she could feel perspiration gathering against her skin under her clothing, but she didn't stop running until she reached the line of trees that marked the beginning of the Servant's cabins.
The cabins where of medium size and very rustic looking. Tara loved them. She loved immersing herself in the lives of the individuals who lived and worked there. She would spend most days there, learning from the men that forged their way in the world with nothing bur their own two hands. She longed to be apart of their world.
"Good day, Hans! Good day Brud!" Tara called as she rushed past two men working iron in a stone circle of red hot coals. She didn't have time to stop and talk fore, she was on her way to the old shed at the end of the row of cabins. She knew Mr. Rory would be there already.
Rory was the oldest man living on the servant grounds. Tara had asked him his age once when she was much younger but he never would give her a concrete answer. And after time Tara had given up trying to coax the information out of him. He was her friend and that was all that mattered.
Rory had been around as long as Tara could remember and she knew he had, at one time, been an indentured servant on the property. But Tara suspected that was a long time before her father bought the estate and they'd begun living there. Rory was the only worker on the grounds no longer bonded to the land, and was free to leave if he chose to. She often wondered if one day she would wake up and he'd be gone.
Tara found Mr. Rory bent over his workbench sanding a chunk of wood she'd seen him bevel the day before. It looked as if he was just about ready to attach the decorative bit to the piece of furniture he‘d crafted.
"You really shouldn't be out here Miss Tara. Don't you remember what happened the last time he caught you mucking around with the likes of us?"
The he Rory was referring to was Tara's father. "I'm n-not afraid of h-him." Tara couldn't help the stutter that formed even though she was putting on a brave show she couldn't help but feel a little anxious at the thought of her father catching her in the servants quarters again. The last time had cost her a month, and her shoulder still bothered her when it rained.
"He pulled your arm clean out of the socket that time, didn't he?"
Tara nodded but dismissed Rory's fears. Her longing to be there outweighed any fear she might have been harboring about her father's temper.
"How do you expect to work in that?"
Rory pointed to her dress and she grinned. "Like this." She raised her skirt and watched Rory turn his head. "Relax, will you?" Tara smiled as she pulled the rest of her skirt up to show him the pants she had put on underneath. "Help me with this, will you?" Tara turned her back so that Rory could unfasten the hooks holding her bodice in place. "Now you can turn your back, and hand me a shirt," Tara instructed politely. Rory handed her a man's work-shirt over his back.
Tara slipped into the shirt he'd given her and carefully placed her dress onto a cloth that was draped across one of the work benches. "You can turn around now," Tara said, smiling at the man.
Rory offered Tara the other piece of wood that needed sanding and she got straight to work on it. Tara straddled the bench and sat down, hunching over her work as if it could save her soul.