To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby Rance » Thu Mar 28, 2013 5:37 am

One may go there to drink tea, sera, and enjoy some excellent conversation.

Enough laudanum at the Rememdium, enough poppy-milk to soothe her mind and sanctify her dreams; enough thought of the scrapes and little cuts that littered her body, or the burning ache in her stomach from where his fingers -- Catch-fingers -- had touched her. Enough of it all. When she checked out, the attendant had said, "Sera Wynsee, you do not look so very well," and the seamstress had said, "I have bags to sell, and I am not broken anymore, menna, not at all. Where is the tea house? I -- I have heard one may enjoy some excellent conversation there."

"That is not all that may be enjoyed there," the attendant had told her. "But are you sure?"

"I am quite sure."

"Sure like a little girl, or sure like a grown woman?"

"Sure," she said. "I am sure."

"You still look ill, Sera Wynsee."

"I am fine. I am just fine. And also sure," she said, "that I would like some tea."

And so the white-clad attendant gave her directions, and some time later, the seamstress in a borrowed dress kicked the mud from her boots just inside the doors of the tea house. She smelled women within, with their wax odors and their powders. Women and spices. Eastern perfumes clogged the air. Girl-chatter echoed in the rafters. The stink of lye and wood-ash circled about like invisible motes in stagnant gusts. She wondered if they had sugar cubes.

When she spoke to one of the girls there -- the most inviting one, whose eyes were not as sunken as the others, whose fingernails were the most freshly painted with lacquered berry-stain -- the seamstress said, "Nela. That is the name Menna Olwak said to me.

"Nela. I would speak to her, if you please."
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby channe » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:13 am

Nela knew nothing of tea when she waltzed in and took over the teahouse.

But she did know something of how a houseful works, especially a houseful of women; she knew about coy smiles and how her older brother ran his business, and she'd thought that enough. It wasn't, of course. Petronela has been schooled. She has dealt quickly with man after man who thought to run roughshod over what he thought to be easy prey. And so it is with a mostly-practiced gait, expecting another one of those kinds of problems, that she emerges from the office at the back of the teahouse, a look of surprise on her face.

"Miss," she says, looking the seamstress up and down. "What may I do for you?"
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby Rance » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:34 am

The remarkable thing was that there was nothing at all remarkable about the seamstress. Stains across her collar and frays on the wrists of her dress. A satchel she clung to as if it held the secrets of the world. Boots whose soles were open like tongues. Tangled stands of black hair that looked less like ebony and more like ash. A face plain enough, were it not for the gauze dressing slashed across one eye.

The eye finally rolled up to Petronela, a woman who strode with the kind of confidence one required to thrive in a whole community of women. Kneading her satchel-strap, the girl said, "What may you do for me," as if repeating it to give her time enough to answer the question. "Rhaena Olwak sent me. Suggested that should I need good tea and conversation, this was a place to find it."

Like in the coffeehouses, where men drank theirs burnt and black and argued the pamphlets of the day, disparaged the stahls and decried new laws. Like in the bathhouses, where women brought the children for sand-baths -- scrape their skin well so the Glass Sun may temper it accordingly -- but never bathed themselves. They spoke around each other, above one another's heads.

Perhaps a teahouse was like those Jernoan things. Maybe it was nothing at all like them.

"Wynsee," she added. "Gloria Wynsee." An out-thrust hand, pudgy fingers meant for a gentlemanly shake, clammy with old tarsweat and stained from coal. "But is this the place to find those things, or have I taken the wrong route?"
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby channe » Wed Apr 03, 2013 2:21 pm

She laughs; it's not mean at all. There's warmth to it, and welcome. "Well. Any friend of Rhaena's is a friend of mine. Come on, let's sit by the fire, Gloria." She indicates the hearth, and nods to one of the serving-girls.

The teahouse is fairly sparsely populated this afternoon; there are two servers working just a few tables, pouring out of delicate china teapots into mismatched chipped teacups. Petronela is wearing regular gingham today, not anything close to the confections the other girls are sporting. Everything about them is ladylike, even seen through the lens of the knowledge Gloria does not yet have. "What kind of tea do you like? I have a nice, quiet white varietal from Razasan this week. I'm about to run out, and hopefully Rhaena is bringing some back for me. Or would you prefer something herbal? Chamomile, maybe?"
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby Rance » Thu Apr 04, 2013 12:49 am

"Oh. Oh," she muttered, the choice of teas and their names overwhelming her. She was a relatively new student of tea; in Jernoah, they'd had nothing but boiled jah'zoon urine and squeezed rubberstalk sprouts. But because varietal was from Razorsand and Menna Olwak was as well -- trees so large that we build our homes in them, rather than on the unstable ground -- the choice required little further consideration.

"A very tall tea, if you please." The pronunciation slightly misguided, as was everything about her. When she smiled to the serving girl, the seamstress' lips were tight-knit, unwilling to split too far apart for fear of them seeing her darkened teeth.

When the serving girl had her order, she smoothed the lap of her skirts and said to Petronela, a whisper, like a secret shared, "I think that -- that I am intimidated; there is an innate prettiness to these women that must be Myrken-born, for they make me aware of every stain on my clothes, every perfection I do not have."

Her fingers pried at the thin tablecloth, wrinkling it, squeezing it.

"I am trying to be a better Myrkener. The hope is that perhaps I am not too far gone already. Elliot Brown," she said, almost with pride, "do you know him? He thinks he is teaching me. But I believe our definitions may be--" a raised hand, a pinching motion of thumb and forefinger, "--a little different."
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby channe » Thu Apr 04, 2013 11:21 pm

A very tall tea. She can't help but smirk a little at that; it crosses her face quickly as she waves for the serving-girl. "You'll like it. You'll want just a little bit of honey. It's not too strong; just the right thing to introduce it to you. You know, on the farm we never had tea. It's really more of a southern thing, or was until a few years ago."

And then Nela can hardly comprehend what she's hearing. She laughs, tilting her head to one side. "... what do you mean, be a better Myrkener? It's not like there's a definition." A pause. "You're here, you want to live here, therefore -- Myrkener! And what has that silly Elliot been telling you?" Elliot with his affected airs; Elliot, who really can't fool anyone, the least of all Petronela Kaczmarek.
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby Rance » Fri Apr 05, 2013 2:07 am

"Honey," she said, as if with monumental disbelief. "Honey? As in from -- from a pek'oret?" Then, because she did not know the Standard word for it, she lifted a finger in the air as if tracing an invisible mote, and tittered out a buzzing noise from her tongue, her unbandaged eye twinkling, her smile wide and honest. "I have -- have only seen one since I have been here, and I plucked out its stinging part like so." As if it were the simplest thing, the most basic of skills, that same thumb and forefinger raised in demonstration.

"What did you grow on your farm," she asked, head tilting. "I am a girl from sand, so we do not farm except -- except in very controlled circumstances. I might like to see it. I have read a lot about farms."

And perhaps it was becoming clear, all too clear, that this girl did not have any predefined reason to have come to the teahouse, that the excellent conversation Rhaena Olwak had promised her was enough.

"I do want to live here," she admitted. "I may not be Myrkener in my blood, and maybe my sweat is black and my skin is dark, but Elliot has said that is just fine, that what was past is past, and as a Myrkener, I can be whatever I like. You see? But that is altogether curious to me, because he seems to dislike what is not naturally born here.

"He is a puzzle," the seamstress finalized. "A silly puzzle. I will put all his pieces right. I will kick him in the sack if I must." A foot lifted, ankle turned against petticoats, spurning the air, a giggle, before: "Tell me about your farm." The interest was genuine. "Tell me about you, Menna Nela. Tell me about southern things. Tell me about this teahouse."
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby channe » Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:23 am

Huh.

Interesting.

"... well, it's true," she says, after a slight moment to think. "He *is* right. My ma and pa came here from New Dauntless, to escape a war." That is, at least, what they say. "It didn't work out for us for a while, you know." The indenture. The poverty. The fact that until five or six years ago, Miss Nela of the teahouse was just another hungry dirt-farmer like the rest of them. None of them talk about it. Not even over the tea they can all most certainly afford these days. "But we got through. So, yeah, Elliott's right about that. But just because he's right doesn't mean that he's right, if you get my drift. A lot of native-born Myrkeners don't like outsiders... but that's just because outsiders tend to cause trouble."

And then she's asking about the farm. "Well, uh..." A pause. "Back before Calomel's day, we did a lot o' base crops, like wheat and oats and corn," she says. "Since Mister Calomel came, we've expanded quite a bit into livestock -- cattle, horses. My brother Otto's one of the horse-grooms. My family're tenants, which mean they don't own the farm -- they just live on it and work it for Calomel, and in return get paid in dividends from the harvests." Another pause, where she takes some sugar and sprinkles it in the tea that has arrived, showing the seamstress how to do it. "If you didn't farm where you're from, how did you eat?"
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby Rance » Mon Apr 08, 2013 2:41 am

"'Just because he's right doesn't mean he's right.' As in, the idea is far more complex than he makes it. Because you cannot boil the feelings of a whole people and country into just one phrase, yes?

"And you are a Dauntlessian?" There is vested interest in the girl, greater than even before, when even the ideas of a farm seemed exotic to her. Forward she leaned, her wooden shoes clicking against the floorboards, her tea lofted. "Do you know the Marshall," she asked. "She is from the same place. You see? And if I were to live my life in the shadow of someone," she cut a hand through the air as if slicing a straight line through it, a path to follow, "it would be her, that I might learn the methods of her strength and -- and her composure. New Dauntless must churn out its fine people left and right. Like the Marshall. Like you."

She too sprinkled her sugar, for while she may have been used to cubes of the sweet stuff in her broth, the tiny grains were so much like sand. Coal-dirty fingers pinched a great amount, as 'Nela did. A proper lady. "It is kind of him to let you work the land. I imagine you are very proud; it sounds like good and hearty work." A weighted pause. "Horses. Do you eat them -- does Otto groom them for slaughter? -- or are they bred for riding, for servitude?"

And as for the question levied to her? "We eat what the Nameless provide us. There are very few edible plants in the Glass Sands, so we make do with what we must. Cattle, mostly -- sand-faring creatures, good and lean and half-cooked from the Sun by the time the hunter even gets to the corpse." A yellow-toothed smile, a sip of the tea. "Enough jah'zoon meat to make you go mad; enough voorbear hoof to make you stop wondering if what you are eating should be eaten at all.

"But I am a Myrkener now. I eat what you eat. I drink what you drink, Menna, and I do not cause trouble."
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby channe » Mon Apr 08, 2013 3:26 am

Nela gets a funny look on her face, as if she's starting to be a little annoyed by the other woman's queries, but -- hey, she's a foreigner, and far more foreign than anyone else she's ever met. Despite their small differences, most of the people of the Trae Kelsan realms share a similar culture. She takes a dainty, ladylike sip from the teacup.

"... no, I wouldn't call myself that," she says. "I was born here, in Myrken Wood, and I've never been to New Dauntless. Ma and Pa still keep some traditions, and they both speak the language, but we all consider ourselves Myrkeners. There's blood... and then there's culture. If I went back to New Dauntless, it would seem like a foreign country, 'cause it is. But Miss Emory was born up there, and my sister says she lived there until she was twelve, so naturally she'd be still a little Dauntless, you see where I'm coming from?"

And look -- ah! There are pastries. Nela doesn't eat them herself -- not quite yet -- but instead continues to sip tea. "... oh, no, we don't eat the horses." She giggles uncomfortably. "They're far more useful pulling plows, to sell for racing and to other farms. You can't pull the plows without the horses." A pause. "... and that sounds, um." Another pause. "Well, I can't say it sounds delicious. I do much prefer beef..."
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby Rance » Mon Apr 08, 2013 5:51 am

There's blood... and then there's culture.

As she mimicked Petronela's very way of holding her teacup -- elbow high, arm tense, her fingers curled around the teacup as if it were a delicate fruit -- she said, "So you are Myrkener by culture. Yes? Yet your blood is New Dauntless, at least from your parents. So you are the best of both worlds, as the saying goes."

The teacup clapped down against its saucer as the pastries were welcomed, and the young seamstress smiled to the purveyor of sweets before she unabashedly took one between thumb and forefinger and chewed. A tumble of powdered confection spilled down the front of her dress and flakes of airy crust clung to her lip like bits of dried skin.

"There are days I am proud of my blood. There are days -- when boys tell me I smell of cow's shit, when I turn a whole dress black with sweat -- that I wish to pour it all out of my veins and start again. Elliot Brown confuses me, but he has never insulted me for what I cannot control.

"Horses," she said, with some disdain. "I cannot abide horses. I have my Caliir -- he is a sweet beast, though neither Ser Woger, Proctor Duquesne, or Marshall Emory know what he is. Toothless old fellow, mean as a sin, airing himself out with almost every step." She made a flatulent noise with her tongue before dissolving into a little laugh. "I am learning to ride him.

"And this place," she said, raising a sugar-covered hand up to motion to the whole of the teahouse. "Such well-dressed ladies. It is lovely," she said, to borrow the expression from Menna Olwak, ever the consummate student. "In Jernoah, you throw enough cats into a house and they will claw each other apart. You see?

"Maybe you will teach me," she said, with welcome ignorance. "Up with the elbow. Holding the tea just like this. Proper womanly trappings."
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby channe » Thu Apr 18, 2013 12:19 am

"Hah. The best, I don't know." She laughs, light and pretty and ladylike, but there's something slightly artificial about it. She watches Gloria make her way through the sweets-tray quietly before she speaks again.

"Well, you can't hardly help who you are." A pause. "It's unfortunate that they say that. You seem really nice; and hell, if they don't like you, they're just not worthy of you. Myrken is full of stupid boys." There's a quietude in that, a soft anger. "So Jernoah is where you are from?"

And then she realizes what Gloria is talking about, and she laughs. "We're all friends here," she says. "A lot of the girls are holdovers from when Cambree was running the place, and Cambree was always really nice ain' fair, and that's something I want to continue. Fairness.." she chews her bottom lip, thinking about how her childhood wasn't fair -- not one bit. "Fairness is good, wouldn't you think?"
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Re: To Be Sure; Or, A Teacup for Your Thoughts

Postby Rance » Thu Apr 18, 2013 12:43 am

There was a reason the girl took so quickly to Petronela's company: her directness, her honesty. It was not that Petronela answered every question -- and the seamstress always had so many, as if she were little more than a funnel for words -- but that she answered the ones levied toward her by inspiring more.

"Myrken Wood is full of stupid boys. And stupid girls," she offered. "And stupid people. As is Jernoah, yes. And likely Razorsand and every other town and country you can think. It is likely because -- because people are fools, and we are all stupid at one time or another."

That answer was fair; that answer rang of fairness, which might have revealed her favor of the concept in general. When she drank her tea it was less for the pleasure of it and more for the need of it. Hearty gulps, the kind one took when they were always, always thirsty. "Jernoah is where I am from, but I am a Myrkener now. Come a time I will lose this accent," which always made her sound unsure, lilted some declarations into tones of question,"and you will never know I was of any different womb or land than you might have been.

"Fairness," she considered. "Fairness is good, but it is a funny thing. It changes. What is fair to Elliot is not fair to Cherny; what is fair to Gloria is not always fair to Menna 'Nela. We may be very different ladies, but tea? Tea makes us think otherwise for a small bit of time."

The seamstress had no fantastic talents, no otherworldly charms or preternatural affinities. Perhaps sometimes the Nameless snarled in her mind -- and Janessa had discovered such a thing; Other Gods, Other Gods -- but faith could do wild things with one's imagination. But what she did have a talent for was for watching. Duquesne had inspired that more than anything. Speech is in the body. Words written on the face. Watch the dart of their eyes and look for inconsistencies or discomforts.

Petronela's chewing of the lip. Disconnected thought.

"What was unfair to you, 'Nela?" The chair creaked. She leaned forward. "What was unfair, that you must look for so much fairness in a house where tea is served?"
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