The words still rang in her head.
A class-less society.
What did that mean? After that outburst from the Newman, Amelia wished only for the liberty to stop by an inn and call it a night, but a long travel home awaited her, perhaps catching a ride on a willing wagon if she was lucky. The red book the Newman had given her was clasped in one hand, the other holding the cloak wrapped around as if her life depended on it. A quick glimpse through the red book made it abundantly clear that more emotion had been put into it than actual comprehensible writings, disturbing to say the least.
Winds began to pick up, blowing fierce, off the dockyards the waters rumbled. A storm was coming, she knew it. That was the decider for her, and Amelia seeked refuge at the first inn she saw. Much rather seek creature comforts than to brave the Silverian night, a fight that she knew would turn out with her frozen corpse on the byway, amongst so many others without a place to call home.
A brass lantern illuminated the doorway, and just standing in its warmth was enheartening. Inside, a merry tune was struck up, and the sound of clacking shoes, tap dancers for sure. She opened the door, and sure enough, the merry prancers sprang back and forth on heels, delightfully springy and whipping the hardwood floor with every step.
“Shut the door!” yelled a voice, and she complied quickly, none too fond of the cold either. As soon as it was shut, her whole body seemed to glow, the innkeep had stoked up a good fire, and the press of bodies and smell of food was welcoming. Compared to the underground tavern before, the mood was lively and much different. Amelia squeezed by to find a seat in a more secluded corner, waving down a passing girl serving drinks. Dropping a few coppers into her hands, she asked for a mild brew. Alcohol wasn’t really her thing, especially not in front of the girls, but she was alone today, and it had been a long time since a decent wine trader had stopped by the village.
It did not take long for the drink to arrive, the serving girl was adept at navigating the tight spaces, and it was hard not to admire her poise and skill, certainly built up from experience. Upon closer inspection, however, Amelia saw her free hand darting to and fro, one time empty, the next a fist full of coin or paper notes. Pickpocketing was an art, and she knew her trade well. Within seconds from the bar to where Amelia sat, the girl had amassed a small affluence, setting down the mild as if nothing had happened.
“Thanks.” Amelia sipped at her drink. She wasn’t expecting much, and she was right to assume so, it was awful. Still, it was something to fill herself with, and the mood to eat had passed. Several minutes into the drink, Amelia felt a little swoozy. Seriously, it had only been a month or so since the last, how was she so weak at holding it down? Either that, or the drink’s strength had been underestimated, severely. Out of the corner of her eye, she could sense the lecherous gaze of two men sitting across the room, deep in a discussion. Amelia ignored them, she decided that the moment the drink was finished, she would find a room, and bolt it shut. A sudden cry was heard.
The pickpocket had been caught, it seemed. A rather brutish, shaved man held her by the wiry wrist, lifting her bodily like she weighed nothing. Clearly a man accustomed to hard living, by the number of scars across his face, and arms that boasted tattoos of the crudest kind. The girl herself was thin, her features clear through the frilly apron and attire, tangled auburn hair spewing everywhere.
The pickpocket tried to wrench herself free, and appealed to the innkeep in desperate looks. The inn owner, a sour matron, had nothing but acid in her voice.
“You’ll get what you deserve, you penny pinching whore, you’re not under my employ no more.”
The girl sagged, and it was such a pitiful moment that Amelia could not restrain herself.
“Let her go!” she marched up to the brute. Amelia was no small girl herself, standing at just barely 6 feet, but he seemed to tower over her, brains addled by this suicidal woman, “I said let her go, she knows what she did was wrong. Don’t you?”
The pickpocket nodded swiftly, at both her rescuer and her captor.
“I think you should go back to your drink, missus.” the man said, still holding the girl, who opted to kick and punch, to no effect. “You don’t know how things work out around here.”
“I know enough to understand it is not courteous to harm a woman.”
From behind, another voice spoke.
“Now, missus, you heard big Tom, you don’t want any trouble do ya?”
One of the lecherous men, with his colleague, stalked from behind.
“Yeah, we’ll just take you someplace safe, miss, no need to worry.”
Amelia was appalled at how the room reacted. The tap dancers took a break, stretching legs, whilst most of the tavern patrons only watched in silence. Those who seeked no trouble took to their drinks. An idea materialised, though it was not one she liked.
“You’d take the Duchess of Pookham somewhere safe, you say?” she said, in a more dignified voice, her apparent country bumpkin spirit gone, “How noble of you, Sir.”
“The Duchess o’ wot?” said the lecher, looking at his friend with a puzzled expression.
“Pookham, my good sir. It’s an estate to the south, I had rather hoped for some gentle souls to guide me, you know?” she gave a shrill laugh, “My father would reward you rather handsomely, you know?”
This was painful.
“How do I know you’re not lying, you don’t look like a Duchess, an’ all that.”
That was true, Amelia still wore a basic garb with straw sandals, and only the cloak seemed to be any sign of wealth, patterned and thick.
“So a girl can’t visit the city, anonymous?” she said, “My handmaiden here has worked tirelessly at this establishment so that I may have a reason to come.”
It was no secret that the nobility tended to visit the less fortunate areas, often to sate curiosity, and indulge in pleasures that would not otherwise be readily available to them. To back this claim, she gave another shrill, unpleasant laugh. It seemed to do the trick.
“Uh, it’s quite alright, missus, I’ll leave you be, yeah?” the lecher and his pal retired to their original seats, heads bowed.
“How about you, you’re certainly strong enough.” she smiled at the brute, who stuttered and tripped over words that would not be said, “Course, you’d need to let go of my handmaiden, first, if you’d be so kind.”
“Yer hand- oh sorry, missus.”
The pickpocket fell to the floor on her knees, and rubbed her hands. A pained look was on her face, changing into anger. Standing up, she brushed herself off, and proceeded to plant a foot in between the brute’s legs with force behind it. That seemed to have had more of an effect, the man doubling over and keeling. The inn was silent.
“I had a wonderful time here, could someone direct me to the nearest exit, perchance?”
A miner seated next to the exit waved, and opened the door, letting in a draft. Amelia stepped outside, and almost forgot her “handmaiden”.
“Rose,” she decided on a name, “Come, fast. Father would be furious.”
The pickpocket raised an eyebrow, and rolled her eyes after a while. Then, she spat to the side, tossed her hair, and left. The door was shut the moment she crossed the boundaries, gales tumbling around and spoiling the brew’s momentary respite from the cold. Amelia was now stuck with a handmaiden, who looked at her, abashed.
“So, what’s your actual name then, mine’s Amelia.”
The girl shrugged, and then opened her mouth, pointing inside.
The girl shook her head, and repeated the action of gesturing inside her mouth again.
The pickpocket shook her head once more, and came closer, opening her mouth. Then, Amelia understood. There was no tongue where it should have been, instead emptiness, a hollow mouth.
“You can’t speak?”
The girl rolled her eyes. What she lacked in speech, she made up for in personality.
“Alright, alright. So you don’t have a name then. What should I call you?”
Looking around, the girl procured a stick, and found a mound of mud. She engraved the word,
“You know I had to make all of that up on the spot?” Amelia laughed, ““Really, of all the names, you choose that?”
Crossing her arms, the girl looked haughty, and Amelia held up her arms.
“Well alright, if that’s what you want. Rose, huh? I guess I’ll take you back to the barn, I’m sure you’ll love my sisters.”
At the mention of sisters, she looked frightened.
“Oh don’t worry, I’’m sure you’ll love them.”