Lyssa Starwright was woken by birds chirping at the window of her attic bedroom. She sighed and stood up on the cold bare floorboards. Shivering in her thin nightdress, she sat down on the edge of her old four-poster bed. It was nowhere near as nice or expensive as the one she had at home. No, this was her home now.

Her father was a rich merchant. Was. His ships had gone down in a terrible storm and overnight the Starwrights had found themselves almost poor. They had had to rent their family mansion on top of the hill at the edge of the village, and Lyssa had been sent to work for her married cousin Elise as a live-in maid while their parents stayed with Lyssa’s uncle in a neighbouring village.

Most of Lyssa’s fancy toys, books and china doll collection had been sold to pay off the debts her father owed to numerous businessmen. The only things Lyssa had left to decorate her small attic room were a few books, her ornaments, and her clothes. Her mother had almost fainted when her father suggested they sell off Lyssa’s wardrobe of fancy and expensive gowns.

What use are fancy gowns when I’m a maid? Lyssa had been thinking. I can’t wear them to clean the house in.

Lyssa had been staying with Elise and her husband Gerald Pavern and his parents for three weeks. In return for her living there, she had to clean and dust and wash up, but thankfully the middle-class family had a cook as Lyssa had never learnt to cook a meal in her life.

She wriggled her bare toes in the fluffy white sheepskin rug, one of the things she had been able to salvage from her old life. She sighed again as she turned to make her bed and draw the musty off-white curtains. At the mansion she had had red velvet curtains for cold winter and white cotton for the hot summer nights.

She was still adjusting to her poorer life. Before, Lyssa had never wanted for anything. Now she had to do everything for herself. However she didn’t pity herself. She thought that it was about time that she learnt to live like the ordinary people in the village, without the rich-lady restrictions her parents had laid upon her. In the short time since, Lyssa had already made a few friends, and thankfully no enemies.

Lyssa drew back the dully-patterned curtains that adorned the diamond-paned window at the top of the house. It looked down over the street from the third floor. As early as it was, it was market day, and already people were setting up their stalls and unpacking their wares for display.

She opened the claw-footed carved wooden wardrobe that had been sitting in the attic for years. Her fancier dresses that her mother couldn’t bear to get rid of were packed in trunks at the back. Her simple dresses were hung up with her undergarments on a shelf at the top, and the pairs of shoes she had been allowed to keep set on top of the trunks.

It didn’t take her long to dress in a long mid-blue dress with thin sleeves up to her elbows and add a pair of navy blue slippers with tough leather soles for walking outdoors.

Downstairs in the house the family’s heirloom grandfather clock chimed six in the morning as Lyssa sat on a wooden stool in front of the old table, upon which she had set her antique hand-carved mirror and her jewellery box. All that it contained was some crushed powders for colouring her lips and cheeks and several necklaces and rings. Most of her silver and gold had been sold by her father, much to her mother’s dismay. Lyssa had only kept her favourites. Today she clasped a silver chain bearing a heart locket around her throat. Inside was a small diamond stone. She always tucked it inside her dress so thieving pick pockets didn’t spot it. The necklace had been left on the doorstep of their mansion inside an envelope with her name written on it and nothing else, a few days after she had been born .

She quickly combed her long chocolate-brown hair back, tying it with a blue-velvet ribbon so her curls brushed the back of her neck. She was late for her morning duties, although the singing sparrows on her windowsill had given her a wake up call.

This meant she had to pick up her skirt and run down the narrow back stairs from the attic to the kitchen where the cook, Mrs Thistle, was already preparing the family’s fried breakfast of eggs and bacon and sausages. The smell made Lyssa’s mouth water, for she hadn’t eaten since her meagre supper of bread and cheese the night before.

Mrs Thistle was a kind, plump woman with a red face that she had to regularly mop with a handkerchief from leaning over her stove. She had a twinkle in her eye as she slipped an egg from the pan and gave it to Lyssa inside a bread roll. Se winked and turned back to her oven as Lyssa thanked her and chewed the roll vigorously. The Paverns were nice enough but as a maid Lyssa wasn’t allowed to eat the family meals so ate smaller ones with Mrs Thistle in the kitchen.

“Old Lady Pavern wants some fruits from the market,” Mrs Thistle said. She gave Lyssa a handful of coins and said, “Have a look round dear, there’s enough for you to get yourself something nice.”

Away from home, Mrs Thistle seemed like a kind aunt, and Lyssa hugged her quickly before skipping through the hallway and out of the front door.

Already milling customers crowded the cobbled street, and Lyssa had to push and squeeze through.

In the village the houses were joined together like a terrace, not always in a straight line, and narrow with three small storeys. The higher storeys jutted out a little over the street, forming stooped shelters over the front doors. Every so often a window in the higher storeys would be flung open above her head, and she had to dodge under them to avoid being hit as the contents of a chamber pot splattered on the cobbles, turning the smell of hot pies, vegetables and foreign fruits rotten. The street wound left and right, going slightly downhill, with narrow alleys between two houses linking to other streets. The occupants hung their drying washing on rope strung from one side window to the other above the alley, so water dripped onto her head as she hurried down several of the alleys.

There were plenty of stalls selling fruits that she had passed, but she was heading for Mrs Frollie’s stall which was always set up in front of her house on Cowler Street. It was busy there because the Horse & Rider Inn was right next door.

Mrs Frollie always had the best fruits because she grew them herself in a small orchard outside the village. The thin old woman had a cloud of white hair around her head and a pair of spectacles around her neck on an embroidered thread. She was very friendly but very forgetful, and after three times of asking Lyssa finally purchased a box of strawberries and several apples.

Lyssa looked back at the Inn as she walked away up the street. A girl around her age with auburn hair and a black dress was throwing a vagrant off the front step before she opened the Inn. She must be a maid, Lyssa thought, and suddenly the girl looked up. There were plenty of people around her, but the girl looked right at Lyssa and smiled. Lyssa returned it tentatively then turned and quickly hurried away.

The End

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