Morning came far too quickly for Amira and as the blanket was pulled off her and cold water was splashed on her face, she began to regret staying up late by the fire with her aunt the night before.
'Time to get up,' Amira's aunt said firmly as she tried to get her out of bed. 'Work starts in half an hour and it's a ten minute walk up to the castle, so you need to get out of bed.'
'What time is it?' Amira rolled over onto her back, rubbing her eyes in the hope that it might wake her up.
'Half three, now get up. Your mother sent you to work with me in the castle and I'm not going to let her down.' Mistress Hatrian walked back out of the room to get herself ready, satisfied that her neice would be ready on time. Now that Amira had found out that her aunt wasn't much of a morning person, she rolled out of bed and stumbled around in the semi light to find some clothes.
'Why do people do this to themselves?' Amira was asking herself this question as she thought longingly of the leisurely attitude the small country towns and villages had to work. She was used to getting up when the sun was half way towards its peak, not before it had even appeared on the horizon. She could name every person in her village but wouldn't recognize anyone in the busy streets of Port Cayaen.
'Amira?' Mistress Hatrian's voice came from downstairs. 'Are you ready?'
To Amira the city was a scary place as well as a fascinating one. Even though the sun wasn't up yet, the streets leading up to the royal palace were filled with people getting ready to start their day. Many were still drowsy, almost half asleep as they robotically went about their daily tasks.
Women in aprons hung washing out from their windows, while the men left to work up in the palace or somewhere else in the city. No-one looked at each other as they went about their business in silence. The empty atmosphere of the early morning was so different to the exciting, lively and loud place Amira had arrived in the day before.
'Keep your head down,' Amira's aunt whispered in her ear. 'People here don't like it when you stare at them.' Amira remembered all too well her encounter with a less than friendly woman the day before and quickly lowered her gaze. People in the city took offence far quicker than Amira was used to and she didn't want to get into any more trouble because she was looking at the wrong person.
Secretly, Amira was grateful when she finally arrived at the palace. People still hurried past her as she followed her aunt down long stone corridors, but a few knew Mistress Hatrian and smiled at her and bade her good morning. This felt more like the community she knew at home. It was no where near as friendly as she was used to, but at least it was a step in the right direction.
'OK I'm going to take you to where you're going to be working. I've managed to find a job for you with Mistress Armstrong in the kitchens.' Mistress Armstrong, as Amira would soon discover was a formidable looking lady who was firm, but fair.
Mistress Hatrian led Amira down some steps and along another corridor before opening a large wooden door from which sound poured out.
'Come on people, breakfast needs to be ready at half six on the dot and I don't see anyone making the bread. Whose job is it?' The only reply was the clash of pots and pans as the rest of the cooks did the jobs they were assigned. 'Well it's someone's job and you are going to own up to it in the next five minutes or someone is going to be in trouble.' Mistress Hatrian went up to the tall thin woman with greying hair who had been barking orders and tapped her shoulder.
'Mistress Hatrian. To what do I owe the honour?' The cooks face was flushed red, whether from shouting or the heat of the room it was unclear.
'I have brought the girl I was telling you about, my neice, Amira. She has come to work with me in the city for a while.' Mistress Armstrong looked less than pleased at being lumbered with a new girl when she had so much work to do.
'Can you cook Amira?' She looked the girl up and down, making Amira feel very uncomfortable.
'Yes Ma'am, a little, only simple home cooking.'
'Can you make bread?'
'Then put an apron on, you'll be working at that table over there. As quickly as possible thank you Amira.'
Amira would have moved quicker if she hadn't been absolutally stunned by her surroundings. She felt totally out of her depth as she looked at the roaring fires and the groups of people working around wooden tables preparing food. She stood in front of her table staring for a few moments before she began. Everything was already set out and Amira worked quickly.
'You'll get used to her.' The woman next to her smiled kindly.
'Yes,' another voice, this time male, joined in from opposite her, 'you're far better off down here than with Miller upstairs.' The woman shuddered, sending her black hair bouncing. 'I'm Jonathon by the way,' the man held out his tanned hand.
'I would but,' Amira indicated her hands, which were covered in flour.
'Good point,' Jonathon laughed and went back to his work. He had a pleasant sort of face but had a square jaw and quite large ears which made him seem slightly clownish. His brown hair was a mess and obviously annoyed him because he kept brushing it out of his face with the back of his hand.
The woman was about a head shorter than Amira and had a slightly plump but cheerful face. Her blue eyes sparkled as she laughed at whatever joke was going around the kitchen at that moment and Amira was envious of her long dark eyelashes that swept up and down whenever the woman blinked.
'OK no more talking ladies and gentlemen. Get to work, we have a deadline to meet.'