Michael Sullivan: Nyphron rising

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Michael Sullivan Nyphron rising
  • Название:
    Nyphron rising
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  • Жанр:
    Фэнтези / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Nyphron rising: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Michael J. Sullivan


Nyphron rising

Chapter 1

The Empress

Amilia made the mistake of looking back into Edith Mon's eyes. She never meant to look up, never meant to raise her gaze from its place on the floor, but Edith startled her. The head maid would see it as defiance, a sign of rebellion in the ranks of the scullery. Amilia never looked in Edith's eyes before and for that brief instant, she wondered if a soul lurked behind them. If so, it must be cowering or dead and Amilia imagined it rotting like a late autumn apple-that would explain the smell. Edith had a sour scent, vaguely rancid as if something had gone bad.

"This 'ill be another tenent withheld from yer pay," the rotund woman said. "Yer diggin' quite a hole, ain't you?"

Edith was big, broad, and missing any sign of a neck. Her huge anvil of a head sat squarely on her shoulders. By contrast, Amilia barely existed. Small and pear-shaped with a plain face and long, lifeless hair-she was part of the crowd; one of the faces no one paused to consider-neither pretty nor grotesque enough to warrant a second glance. Unfortunately, her invisibility failed when it came to the palace's head maid, Edith Mon.

"I didn't break it." Mistake number two, Amilia thought to herself.

A meaty hand slapped her across the face, ringing her ears and watering her eyes. "Go on," Edith enticed with a sweet tone, and then whispered in her ear, "lie ta me again."

Gripping the washbasin to steady herself, Amilia felt the heat blossom on her cheek. Her gaze now followed Edith's hand and when it rose again, Amilia flinched. With a snicker, Edith ran her plump fingers through Amilia's hair.

"No tangles," Edith observed. "I can see how ya spend yer time, instead of doin' yer work. Ya hopin' ta catch the eye of the butcher? Maybe that saucy little man who delivers the wood? I saw ya talkin' ta him. Know what they sees when they looks at ya? They sees an ugly scullery maid is what. A wretched filthy guttersnipe who smells of lye and grease. They would rather pay fer a whore than get ya for nothin'. You'd be better off spendin' more time on yer tasks. If ya did, I wouldn't have ta beat ya so often."

Amilia felt Edith winding her hair, twisting and tightening it around her fist. "It's not like I enjoy hurtin' ya." She pulled until Amilia winced. "But ya have ta learn." Edith continued pulling Amilia's hair, forcing her head back until only the ceiling was visible. "Yer slow, stupid, and ugly. That's why yer still in the scullery. I can't make ya a laundry maid, much less a parlor or chambermaid. You'd embarrass me, understand?"

Amilia remained quiet.

"I said, do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Say yer sorry for chippin' the plate."

"I'm sorry for chipping the plate."

"And yer sorry for lyin' 'bout it?"

"Yes."

Edith roughly patted Amilia's burning cheek. "That's a good girl. I'll add the cost ta yer tally. Now as for punishment…" she let go of Amilia's hair and tore the scrub brush from her hand, measuring its weight. She usually used a belt-the brush would hurt more. Edith would drag her to the laundry, where the big cook could not see. The head cook took a liking to Amilia, and while Edith had every right to discipline her girls, Ibis would not stand for it in his kitchen. Amilia waited for a fat hand to grab her wrist, but instead Edith stroked her head. "Such long hair," she said at length. "It's your hair that's gettin' in yer way isn't it? It's makin' ya think too much of yerself. Well, I know just how to fix both problems. You're gonna look real pretty when I-"

The kitchen fell silent. Cora, who was incessantly plunging her butter churn, paused in mid-stroke. The cooks stopped chopping and even Nipper, who was stacking wood near the stoves, froze. Amilia followed their gaze to the stairs.

A noblewoman adorned in white velvet and satin glided down the steps and entered the steamy stench of the scullery. Piercing eyes and razor-thin lips stood out against a powdered face. The woman was tall and, unlike Amilia's hunched posture, stood as straight as a shaft of light. She moved immediately to the small table along the wall where the baker was preparing bread.

"Clear this," she ordered with the wave of her hand, speaking to no one in particular. The baker immediately scooped up his utensils and dough into his apron and hurried away. "Scrub it clean," the lady insisted.

Amilia felt the brush thrust back into her hand, and a push sent her stumbling forward. She did not look up, and went right to work making large swirls of flour-soaked film. Nipper was beside her in an instant with a bucket, and Vella arrived with a towel. Together they cleared the mess while the woman watched with disdain.

"Two chairs," the lady barked, and Nipper ran off to fetch them.

Uncertain what to do next, Amilia stood in place watching the lady holding the dripping brush at her side. When the noblewoman caught her staring, Amilia quickly looked down, and movement caught her eye. A small gray mouse froze beneath the baker's table, trying to conceal itself in the shadows. Taking a chance, it snatched a morsel of bread and disappeared through a small crack.

"What a miserable creature," she heard the lady say. Amilia thought she also saw the mouse, until she added. "You're making a filthy puddle on the floor. Go away."

Before retreating to her washbasin, Amilia attempted a pathetic curtsey. A flurry of orders erupted from the woman, each pronounced with perfect diction. Vella, Cora, and even Edith went about setting a table as if for a royal banquet. Vella draped a white tablecloth, and Edith started setting out silverware only to be shooed away as the woman carefully placed each piece herself. Soon the table was elegantly set for two, complete with multiple goblets and linen napkins.

Amilia could not imagine who could be dining there. No one would set a table for the servants and why would a noble come to the kitchen to eat?

"Here now, what's all this about?" Amilia heard the deep familiar voice of Ibis Thinly. The old sea cook was a large barrel-chested man with bright blue eyes and a thin beard that wreathed the line of his chin. He spent the morning meeting with farmers, yet he still wore his ever-present apron. The grease-stained wrap was his uniform, his mark of office. He barged into the kitchen like a bear returning to his cave to find mischief afoot. When he spotted the lady he stopped.

"I am Lady Constance," the noblewoman informed him. "In a moment I will be bringing the Empress Modina here. If you are the cook then prepare food." The lady paused a moment to study the table critically; she adjusted the position of a few items then turned and left.

"Leif, get a knife on that roasted lamb," Ibis shouted. "Cora, fetch cheese. Vella, get bread. Nipper, straighten that woodpile!"

"The empress!" Cora exclaimed as she raced for the pantry.

"What's she doin' comin' here?" Leif asked. There was anger in his voice as if an unwelcome, no-account relative was dropping by and he was the inconvenienced lord of the manor.

Like everyone, Amilia had heard of the empress but never saw her-not even from a distance. Few had. She was coroneted in a private ceremony over half a year ago on Wintertide, and her arrival changed everything.

King Ethelred no longer wore his crown and was addressed as regent instead of Your Majesty. He still ruled over the castle, only now it was referred to as the palace. It was the other one, Regent Saldur, who made all the changes. Originally from Melengar, the old cleric took up residence, and set builders working day and night on the great hall and throne room. It was also Saldur who declared new rules that all of the servants had to follow.

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