There was her threading frame. She thanked Matt in her mind. He had known what the frame meant to her.
Dried herbs in a small basket. Kira was glad to have those and hoped she could remember which was to be used for what. Not that the herbs had been of any value to her mother when the terrible sickness came; but for the small things, an ache in the shoulder, a bite that festered and swelled, the herbs were helpful then. And she was happy to have the basket. She remembered her mother weaving it from river grass.
Some chunky tubers. Kira smiled, picturing Matt grabbing food, probably nibbling while he was at it. She would not need those now. The meal brought to her on a tray in the evening had been hearty: thick bread and a soup made of meat and barley with greens throughout, and flavored strongly with herbs she savored but didn't recognize. She had eaten it from a glazed earthen bowl, using a spoon carved from bone, and then wiped her mouth and hands with a folded fine-woven cloth.
No meal had ever been so elegant for Kira. Or so lonely.
In the little arrangement of things were folded pieces of her mother's clothing: a thick shawl with a fringe at the edge, and a skirt, stained from the dyes her mother used, so that the simple, unadorned fabric seemed decorated with streaks of color. Sleepily thinking of her mother's stained skirt, Kira imagined how she could use her threads to outline the bright streaks of color so that with skill — and time; it would take time — she could re-create it into a costume suitable for some celebration.
Not that there had ever been anything for her to celebrate. But maybe this — her new quarters, he:r new job, the fact that her life had been spared.
Kira tossed restlessly on the bed. She felt an object at her neck. It too had been in the bundle that Matt brought, and she treasured it most of the things he had saved. It was the pendant that her mother had always worn dangling from a leather thong, not visible under her clothing. Kira knew of it, had touched and stroked it often as a small tyke still breastfed. It was a shiny section of rock, split cleanly down one side but studded with shiny purple on the other and with a hole to allow for the thong. A simple but unusual thing, it had been a gift from Kira's father, and Katrina had cherished it as a kind of talisman. Kira had lifted it from her mother's neck when she was ill in order to wash the fevered body, and had placed it on the shelf near the basket of herbs. Matt must have found it there.
Wearing it now around her own neck, Kira lifted it against her cheek, hoping to recapture a feeling of her mother, perhaps the smell of her: herbs and dyes and dried blossoms. But the little rock was inert and odorless, without a hint or memory of life.
In contrast, the scrap of cloth from Kira's pocket, the one which had created itself so magically in her fingers, fluttered where it lay near her head. Perhaps the night breeze through the open window had made it move. For a moment Kira, watching the moonlight and thinking of her mother, didn't notice. Then she saw the cloth tremble slightly, as if it had life, in the pale light. She smiled and the thought crossed her mind that it was like Matt's little dog, looking up, twitching its ears, wagging its woeful tail, hoping to be noticed.
She reached out and touched the cloth. Feeling its warmth in her hand, Kira closed her eyes.
A cloud shadowed the moon, and the room darkened. Finally, she slept, without dreams; and in the morning when Kira woke the little cloth was limp, no more than a wrinkled scrap of pretty fabric in her bed.
An egg! That was a treat. In addition to the boiled egg, her breakfast tray contained more of the thick bread and a bowl of warm cereal swimming in cream. Kira yawned and ate.
Usually at waking she and her mother had walked to the stream. Here, she supposed, the green-tiled room took its place. But Kira was nervous about the room. She had entered it the night before and turned the various gleaming handles. Some of the water was hot and startled her. It must be for cooking. Somewhere below, a fire had apparently been built. Somehow the cooking water had been hoisted here, but what was she to do with it? There was no need for her to cook, Kira thought this morning as she had last night. Warm prepared food had been brought.
Mystified still, Kira turned her attention this morning to the long, low tub. Jamison had suggested that she could wash Matt there. There was something that looked and smelled like soap. Leaning forward over the tub's rim, she tried to wash but the procedure was awkward and unnatural; it was easier in the stream. And she could wash her clothes in the stream and hang them on the bushes. Here in this small, windowless room there was no place to dry anything. No breeze. No sun.
It was interesting, Kira decided, that they had found a way for water to enter the building, but impractical and unsanitary, and there was no place to bury waste. She wiped the cold water from her face and hands with the cloth she found in the tiled room and decided that she would return to the stream each day to attend to her needs properly.
She dressed quickly, laced her sandals, pulled the wooden comb through her long hair, grabbed her stick, and hurried through the empty corridor to leave her new home and go for a morning walk. But before she had gone very far, a door in the corridor opened. A boy she recognized emerged and spoke to her.
"Kira the Threader," he said. "They told me you had come."
"You're the Carver," she said. "Jamison told me you were here."
"Yes, I'm Thomas." He grinned at her. He seemed about her age, not long into two syllables, and was a good-looking boy with clear skin and bright eyes. His hair was thick and reddish-brown. A chip in one front tooth showed when he smiled.
"This is where I live," he explained. He opened the door wider so that she could see inside. His room was just like hers, though on this, the opposite side of the corridor, his window view was to the wide central square. She noticed too that his room seemed more of a lived-in place. His things were strewn around.
"This is my workroom too." He gestured, and she could see a large table with his carving tools and scraps of wood. "And there's a storage room, for supplies." He pointed.
"Yes, mine's the same," Kira told him. "My supply room has lots of drawers. I haven't started work yet, but there's a table under the windows, and the light is good there. I think that's where I'll do the threading.
"And there — that door? That's your cooking water and your tub?" Kira asked him. "Do you use it? It seems such a bother, when the stream's so nearby."
"The tenders will show you how it works," he explained.
"The one who brought your food? That's a tender. They'll help you however you want. And a guardian will be checking on you every day."
Good. Thomas seemed to know how things worked. It would be a help, Kira thought, because it all seemed so new, so foreign. "Have you lived here a long time?" she asked politely.
"Yes," he replied. "Since I was quite young."
"How did it happen that you came here?"
The boy frowned, thinking back. "I had just begun carving. I was a very little tyke, but somehow I had discovered that if I took a sharp tool and a piece of wood, I could make pictures.
"Everyone thought it was quite amazing." He laughed. "I guess it was."
Kira laughed a little too, but she was remembering herself, very small, finding that her fingers had a kind of magic to them when she held the colored threads, seeing her mother's astonishment and the look on the face of the Guardian. It must have been the same, she thought, for this boy.
"Somehow the Guardians heard about my work. They came to our cott and admired it."
So similar, Kira thought.
"Then," Thomas continued, "not long after, my parents were both killed during a storm. Struck by lightning, both at once."
Kira was shocked. She had heard of trees felled by lightning. But not people. The people didn't go out during thunderstorms. "Were you there? How did you stay safe?"
"No, I was alone at the cott. My parents were doing an errand of some sort. I remember that a messenger had been sent for them. But then some guardians came and got me and told me of their deaths. It was fortunate that they knew of me and felt that my work was of value, even though I was still small. Otherwise, I would have simply been given away. But instead, they brought me here.
"I've been here ever since." He gestured around the room. "For a long time I practiced, and learned. And I've made ornaments for many of the guardians. Now, though, I do real work. Important work." He pointed, and she could see that a long piece of wood was resting against the table, leaning in the same way that she leaned her walking stick. But this stick was intricately decorated, and from the shavings on the table she could tell that the boy had been working on it.
"They've given me wonderful tools," Thomas told her.
Outside, the bell rang. Kira was disconcerted. Back in the cott, the sound of the bell meant that it was time to go to work. "Should I go back to my quarters?" she asked. "I was going to walk to the stream."
Thomas shrugged. "It doesn't matter. You can do whatever you want. There are no real rules. Only that you are required to do the work you were brought here for. They'll check on your work every day.
"I'm going out now to visit my mother's sister. She has a new tyke. A girl. Look! I'm taking a toy." He reached into his pocket and showed Kira an intricately carved bird. It was hollow; he held it to his mouth and made it whistle. "I made it yesterday," he explained. "It took time from my regular work, but not much. It was easy to do.
"I'll be back for lunch," he added, "because I have work to do this afternoon. Shall I bring my lunch tray to your quarters so that we can eat together?"
Kira agreed happily.
"And look," he said, "here comes the tender who'll pick up the morning trays. She's very nice. You ask her — No, wait. I'll ask her."
While Kira watched curiously, Thomas approached the tender and spoke briefly to her. She nodded.
"You follow her back to your quarters, Kira," Thomas said. "You don't need to go to the stream. She'll explain the bathroom to you. See you at lunch!" He put the little carved bird into his pocket, closed the door to his room, and headed down the corridor. Kira followed the tender back the way she had come.
Jamison came to her room shortly after lunch. Thomas had eaten and hurried away to his quarters to resume work. Kira had just gone into the small room lined with drawers and slid open the one containing the Singer's robe. She had not yet unfolded it. She had never been permitted to touch it before and was in awe now and a little nervous. She was staring down at the lavishly decorated fabric, remembering her mother's deft hands holding the bone needle, when she heard the knock on her door and then heard Jamison come in.
"Ah," he said. "The robe."
"I was thinking that I must soon begin my duties," Kira told him, "but I'm almost afraid to start. This is so new to me."
He lifted the robe from the drawer and carried it to the table by the window. There in the light the colors were even more magnificent and Kira felt even more inadequate.
"Are you comfortable here? You slept well? They brought your food? It was good?"