Little girl lost, p.1
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       Little Girl Lost, p.1
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           Tristan J. Tarwater
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Little Girl Lost
LITTLE GIRL LOST

  A Valley of Ten Crescents Tale

  by Tristan J. Tarwater

  Copyright 2012 Tristan J. Tarwater

  https://www.backthatelfup.com

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  Table of Contents

  Little Girl Lost

  About the Author

  LITTLE GIRL LOST

  Tavera gulped as the ancient crone limped towards her, her eyes two points of shining black in her wizened face. The old woman's hunched back loomed over her head, the shape of her body suggesting some powerful creature had bent her in unnatural ways. The little girl felt her heart beating in her chest as the wrinkled creature approached, the odor of spices and old sweat wafting from her. Tavera's dark eyes traveled over the old woman's small frame as the crone licked over her dried, cracked lips with a pink tongue as if the girl was a morsel and not another child up on the Blocks.

  I'm not scared, Tavera told herself, balling her fists behind her back. She mustered all the courage she could. If nobody picked her for winter work, she would be thrown out on the streets to fend for herself till planting time. Tradesmen came to pick up cheap labor for winter work. If she did a good job and didn't cry, maybe the person would keep her on in the spring so she wouldn't have to go back to the fields.

  The ancient woman finally stood before her, still licking her lips. Her dark, sharp eyes darted over the girl's tattered clothing and body. Amazingly, she waved her hand to signal an attendant with great vigor, her shawl billowing with the movement hinting at great strength inside the sinewy, twisted frame.

  “Yes…Madame Greswin?” The tall, sinewy attendant stood out with his albino coloring. His heavy-lidded eyes gave absolutely nothing away; Tavera couldn't read his expression. He held a formidable-looking spear in his right hand, more for effect than use; the children up on the stage were usually too frightened or accustomed to the Blocks to try and get away. The old woman's mouth curled into a grin, her teeth yellow and cracked with age. She cackled somewhat cheerily before turning her head sharply, setting them on the girl again.

  “So, you know who I am?” she asked, narrowing her eyes so they were almost lost in the wrinkles of her face. “Well, I imagine you know what I'm here for. How old is this one?”

  “We're guessing she's around seven or eight,” said the albino, looking over the wooden card Tavera wore around her neck. All of the information they had about her would be on the card but the woman was apparently illiterate or near-sighted. She reached out a bony finger and poked Tavera in the ribs. Tavera almost cried out; it felt like she was being stabbed with a knitting needle. But she held her tongue, and pressed her lips together, hoping it would over soon.

  “Is she a good worker? What has she done in the past?” The pale man with the spear leaned over, his face somber as always as he read over the card, not bothering to look as the sound of a child crying out pierced the air.

  “Gleaning on farms, mostly…coal sorting, fruit picking. Did a stint at a launder.”

  “Ah, and her fingers…let me see them.” To Tavera's horror, the old woman's hand darted out and grabbed hold of her wrist, pulling her forward and almost off the block as she brought the girl's hand close to her eyes, looking over the digits. “Very skinny, I see,” she commented, squeezing one of the knuckles. The old woman licked her lips yet again, a bit of spittle landing onto Tavera's hand. The girl half expected it to burn through her skin but found it to be inert. She wiped her hand on her dirty apron as soon as the woman let go of her.

  “Well, their kind do come on the lean side,” said the albino, sounding unimpressed as he turned his reddish eyes to Tavera, his face void of expression. “She's part Forester, it seems. Not sure how much.”

  “Forester, eh? I haven't seen an elf of any amount since I was a girl, by her bosom! Ah, well, I'll soon mend her leanness, I will,” the woman said with a cackle, reaching into the folds of her many shawls and pulling out a small pouch. The coins inside jingled merrily. “How much for her?”

  “For the winter, five white pieces,” said the albino, looking over at her placard to make sure this was the case. “Though I must say, you seem to go through servants rather quickly.” He left the statement at that, not bothering to elaborate or question, much to Tavera's hidden terror.

  “Well, I run a successful business and I can't tolerate insolence or incompetence. They run away, the lazy beasts! She seems sure enough.” The old woman counted out five coins. Tavera's dark eyes grew wide at the sight of the money and the idea she was worth that much. She had gone for four fullies last time and that had been for two whole seasons. The albino pulled the placard off from around Tavera's neck. His fingers were cold on her neck and he tossed the piece of wood into a pile with a few others, not bothering to help the girl down from the box.

  “She's all yours,” he said, not bothering to say goodbye to either the girl or the woman, instead turning his attention to another potential customer. This one was a large, armored fellow with a booming voice. Tavera stepped off the box as daintily as she could, curtsying before the old woman named Madame Greswin.

  “Ah well, this is well and good, at least you've picked up manners somewhere.” The woman hooked her bony arm through Tavera's, pulling her through the loosely packed crowd of people and onto the chilly city street. “I'm Madame,” the old woman squawked. Madame Greswin walked as if her legs were not the same length and Tavera was having a difficult time keeping her feet. “But you may call me Auntie Greswin if you like. I don't have many rules. Do as you're told and work hard and you'll do well under my roof. I cannot tolerate lying, laziness, insolence or stealing. I am a well-respected member of this city and I won't have you sullying my good name or business.”

  Tavera wasn't sure if asking a question fell under the category of “insolence,” but her curiosity got the best of her and she managed to force her mouth to form a few words. “But ma'am, I mean, Auntie Greswin, if you don't mind me asking…what exactly is your business?”

  “You don't know me?” the woman asked, astonishment bringing her voice to a high shriek that made a few people turn. She cackled again, pulling Tavera closer to her. The reek of old sweat and spices tingled in the little girl’s nose as she cringed.

  “You're in luck, little girl. I am Madame Greswin, the maker of the finest sausages in the city of Fenwick.”

  All winter, Tavera worked for Madame Greswin. She was expected to wake up before first light and open the back door to let the butcher's apprentice in with the delivery of meat for the day. The packages were to be opened and sorted through: fat, meat, organs, bones. The meat and organs had to be separated by freshness, the best parts put in one wooden tub while the greener, nastier bits were stored in another. The bones were boiled down and the tripe rinsed in flat ale delivered by the brewer. Then Tavera cleaned the store front, work area and the small room where the old woman slept, a room whose only furniture was a bed, a table, and a brazier. Tavera slept in the work area by the fireplace. She had to stoke the fire in the morning and tend to it in the evening.

  Madame Greswin treated the half-elf girl fairly well. She gave her clear instructions and Tavera learned to ask for clarification if she didn't understand what was being asked of her or risk being called lazy or insolent. The punishment was a lash with a long, thin cane the old woman always seemed to have within arm's
reach. The spices and combination of salts, vegetable juices, and meats were a closely guarded secret, which was fine with the little girl. She was more interested in the end result than the making. The fire had to be hot enough but the water not too hot and there was a room where the woman cured long links of fat, greasy sausages.

  The days alternated between making sausages and selling them. On the first day of rest, a man who Madame Greswin paid in sausages would set up a little booth, grilling the tasty links and selling them for a half-piece or a blueie. Even in the bitter cold the man showed up, warming his hands over the grill as he shivered on his little stool, waiting for the customers who were willing to brave the weather for a hot sausage.

  On the second day of rest, Auntie went to temple. She fried a few sausages, leaving half a sausage and a piece of bread for Tavera before she went out for the day. Tavera was supposed to watch the home and hearth and most importantly, clean the machines the old woman used to grind the meat. Tavera was allowed to touch them only to clean them. The crone expected a perfect job. The little girl was required to leave all the parts out on the table so the old woman could inspect them. Auntie Greswin would run the pieces of metal under her
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