I didn't think the apprentice, Xenia, was too happy to have me with her. I think she was probably wishing I hadn't shown up at all. I couldn't see her face, her hood left most of it in shadow, but I can imagine she wasn't looking too friendly. I pictured her jaw set hard and her lips pursed ever so slightly, annoyed at me for barging in and ruining what she had.
'Concentrate,' she barked, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me round so I could see the herbs that were laid out on the stall. 'Right then, listen very carefully.' She began listing herbs, some I recognised from simple healing remedies my mother had taught me back home, and others I had never heard of. 'Those are the basics of Master Whisper's herb cabinet. If he ever trusts you enough to go to the market for him, you'll have to be able to recognise each of these herbs. Have you got that?' She spoke briskly and to the point but I didn't sense the annoyance that I could see vaguely on her face.
'Yes miss,' I replied politely, remembering everything my mother had taught me about speaking to my elders.
'What did you just call me?' Xenia's face contorted into a strange kind of frown, her eyes fixed on me.
'I'm sorry, I wasn't sure how to address you, and my mother always taught me to be polite so...' My voice trailed off as I realised how stupid I sounded. I crossed my fingers behind my back, praying to the Goddess that she wouldn't take offence. In fact she did quite the opposite. Her face relaxed as did her posture.
'Oh right, well.' She didn't finish before turning back to the stall to collect the herbs she had asked for. 'Come on then, we still have some things to do.'
I followed Xenia around the market in silence, not speaking unless she spoke to me. I didn't have to worry about being addressed by the stall owners, they either ignored me, or asked Xenia who I was, to which she replied, 'a visiting cousin. She's staying with me and Master Whisper for a while.' The normal response to this was slight nod and a change of subject.
I focused on what was going on around me, making mental notes of what Xenia was doing, what she was buying and who from. I didn't want to mess things up if I was asked to do the same job. By the end of the errand, my brain was fit to burst with all the things I was telling myself to remember and my arms were full of brown paper packages.
'You know what,' Xenia said, very matter-of-factly as we walked towards the front door, 'you're not too bad.' I couldn't help myself from breaking out into a wide grin. 'But that doesn't mean I like you,' she snappily, putting me back on my place. 'Or that I'm any happier that you're here, trying to take my position.' I forced the corners of my lips back into a straight line, although my heart was feeling warm and happy. 'But I think I can tolerate you. For now at least.'
I let my lips part in a small smile as soon as Xenia's back was turned. I knew that from her, that was a big compliment.