Creatures of Grace: "Working Girls"
by P. Kristen Enos
© 2012 - P. Kristen Enos (I own these characters and their drama.)
Summary: The first real angsty story about the importance of money. And yes, Frankie & Lydia make an appearance. Posting this raw from my brain so I can move on to crank out two related stories that are almost novel-length combined.
Thirteen year old Tessa struggled to carry the large sack of dried meats and vegetables into the back door of the tavern and inn that was her family's home and business. With the harvest festival being just a week away, it was her job to make sure that there were more than an enough supplies to support the many travelers who come to the town for the celebration.
While most of the world looked forward to the Harvest Festival as a time for extreme revelry and irresponsibility, those that have businesses to support such travelers work three times as hard to make sure all goes well. But the reward is that the month of excess will bring in enough income to make up for the slows months until the Spring Celebration.
Tessa paused in the kitchen, looking around for someone to help her unload the rest of the cart and no one was in sight. She walked into the tavern and stopped at the sight of Mama standing against the bar while in conversation with two women the young girl had never seen before.
Papa was behind the bar, pretending to busy himself as he snuck leers at them.
The two women were both in their late twenties, dressed in simple dresses, cloaks and sandals with a bag each for apparently travel supplies. The one who seemed to be engaged in conversation with Mama had almond-brown locks and carried herself with a friendly ease while the other one with ice blond hair leaned against the bar with her arms folded patiently.
Mama seemed skeptical as she eyed them. "Do you whore?"
"If we work for you, we won't need to," the friendlier one answered. "As I said, we just want a place to stay and some food and ale in exchange for helping out."
"You can share a spare room, but once someone needs it, you would have to move to the stables."
"We're fine with that."
"And you won't be able to eat until we have leftovers, otherwise you pay for your meals."
"That's fine too."
"And the moment I see any of you loafing, you're out of here."
"That's fine too."
Mama then eyed the other one, who had been silent the entire time. "Do you speak?"
"And why are you two together? You don't look like you're related."
The friendlier one stated, "My father was a merchant who lost his fortune. And she used to be my servant."
The blond narrowed her eyes slightly but said nothing.
Mama still seemed skeptical.
They had been burned in the past with hiring strange women as Harvest help, who were usually very inept and spent far more time carousing with customers. However, because there were only two men who made up the staff besides the small family, any help would be better than nothing. They've also suffered bad business with disgruntled customers taking their business to the other inns or taverns in town, which was far worse in Mama's mind.
Tessa held her breath, knowing that Mama's mood had already been sour with all of the preparations.
"All right. You can start right away. Oh, Tessa, you're back. Tessa, this is..."
"Hello, I'm Frankie," the woman answered with a smile that was bright and genuine.
"And I'm Isabel."
"Hi," the girl answered shyly. "Mama, I need help unloading the cart."
She looked at the new girls and said, "You heard her. Time to get to work."
Four Weeks Later
Feeling a little light-headed, Tessa steadied herself by gripping the staircase handrail. There was still a week left of the Harvest Festival, but the month of constant work was starting to affect her, made her fearful that she was coming down with an illness, something Mama would not tolerate.
The sun had been up for an hour already and it was her duty to check on the guests who hadn't yet risen from the their rooms, which was her least favorite chore. Most of the time they just hadn't woken from the previous night's revelry. Sometimes, a few of them were expecting her, willing to pay a few coins for the physical release they couldn't get the night before. It was in those cases where she was grateful for the sheepskin condom she had ready in her apron pocket.
Experience taught her to check the rooms of the rowdiest customers first since they were likely to still be passed out. And then at least she could honestly tell Mama that she had checked on them.
Coming to that first door, she paused and swallowed to compose herself. Then she knocked and called out, "Sir Harold, this is Tessa. Is there anything you need this morning?"
She waited and tried two more times.
Still no answer.
Relieved, she sighed and started to move on. But then her guilt for not being thorough hit her. She checked the handle and noticed that it wasn't locked.
Was he too drunk to remember?
She carefully opened the door to peak in.
The bed was empty. It didn't even look slept in. In fact, his belongings seemed to be gone too. The only thing left was a small pile of coins on the bedside table.
"His horse is gone too," Papa reported as he came back into the tavern. "And I have to admit I'm glad. I swear I thought he was going to cause a full on brawl last night. We certainly didn't need that kind of damage."
Tessa sat on the barstool, grateful for the opportunity to sit down for a spell. The room was a contrast to the festive atmosphere of the night before, quiet and peaceful with only a handful of customers enjoying a morning breakfast.
Mama frowned at the mystery but she counted the coins. "Well, this more than his full payment if he had stayed here as long as he promised. And we can rent out the room again. A blessing I guess. Though this is the third one this month."
"The others wreaked of trouble too," Papa added. "I say again 'Don't question small blessings, Luv.'"
Mama didn't look completely convinced but then she looked at her daughter, "You can tell the girls they can move into his room until we rent it out again, after you check on the other late risers. Get going."
The girl nodded and she took an inward breath and forced herself to her feet.
With mesmerizing ease, Frankie lead the packed tavern into yet another round of drinking songs, which naturally meant more drinking.
Tessa and Isabel expertly navigated the crowd to refill mugs for coins. Mama and Papa beamed happily as they produced more plates of food from the kitchen.
Even though she had been initially leery of them, Tessa had come to appreciate the women.
Frankie's popularity was well-deserved, even pulling customers from other places even if they couldn't stay at the inn itself. Unfortunately, there were a few who tried to get more "personal" attention from her, but she always managed to keep them at a distance, expertly manipulating other customers to come to her defense in the spirit of "equal attention for all".
Isabel, on the other hand, rarely spoke more than basic pleasantries as she did whatever work was necessary with speed and efficiency. And if a customer tried to get her attention for more than what was being offered, she would flash a surprisingly disarming smile and slip away to do something else before the man could recover.
And when they weren't doing tavern work, they kept to themselves in their place in the stable loft or the kitchen. Tessa noticed that they never talked to each other when anyone else was around except her. It was as if they enjoyed the quiet attention of the young girl, usually giving Frankie and opportunity to share travel stories.
The girl was fascinated that these women seemed to be so at ease despite not having a real home over their heads or a man to take care of them. Even though she was incredibly curious, she never had the guts to ask them questions about themselves, content to enjoy whatever Frankie shared, while Isabel did a chore and interjected a dry comment or two. They clearly shared a deep friendship she had never seen in of the other adult women she knew.
She couldn't help but feel… envious.
The rough hands grabbing her ass immediately brought her out of her thoughts and back to the tasks at hand. She forced a smile and went back to doing refills for coins.
Several hours later, with most of the customers passed out, or well on their way, the tavern was back to being somewhat peaceful. The staff were busy cleaning up as much as possible before turning in themselves after an exhausting night.
Tessa snuck a quiet moment of sitting on an ale barrel in the storeroom, hoping her fever would pass. Of all of the chores that she had, the only one that couldn't wait until morning was checking on the horses. Taking a strengthening breath, she forced herself to her feet, grabbed a lantern and went outside.
The crisp night air was refreshing but she knew the sooner she checked on the water and hay, the sooner she could crawl into bed.
"Hey there, girlie!" a gruff voice called out from the darkness of a stall.
Tessa jumped, almost dropping the lantern.
A man stepped forward into the glow, revealing himself to be one of the guests, Mick a swordsman between jobs. His leer made his intentions quite clear.
"You got a moment? At least five coppers worth?" he said as he held up a coin.
Tessa tried to keep the dread from her expression. She had serviced him before and five coppers worth of attention would be far more than she could physically handle right now. Unless he was so drunk that he wasn't thinking value for money very clearly.
But a sudden swoon made her almost stumble even though she hadn't taken a step. "Mick, I'm sorry but how about first thing in the morning?"
He stepped forward and pulled her against him, his breath clearly wreaking of ale. "I can't wait that long! You can just lie there. I'll give you ten coins!"
Before she could be amazed as being offered so much money, Tessa felt herself fighting an emerging gag in her throat from his smell and her own growing nausea. "I can't –"
"Twenty!" He was sounding more forceful as he started to pull at her apron.
"Please, don't -"
He suddenly froze, and Tessa realized it was because Frankie stood next to them, her hand gripping on his arm.
"Mick," the woman said in a pleasant but firm voice, "How about I give you a very incredible bargain instead? Let's go to your room and… talk terms."
Seeing the now mesmerized man be happily led back into the building, Tessa leaned wearily against the stall and tried to regain her bearings.
"Go get some sleep," Isabel said as she stepped forward from the shadows. "I'll take care of the stable tonight."
Though surprised again, Tessa paused to think, reluctant to shirk her duties. But she couldn't deny that the offer was enticing.
Isabel gave her a nudge before taking the lantern to lead her back to the building.
The young girl finally relented to the call of her bed.
Tessa drifted from sleep at the bright light in her room. She bolted upright in her bed, realizing it was not only morning, but late morning.
Panicked and still groggy, she pulled on her clothes and rushed to the door. She paused to listen for any unusual noises, hearing none, she crept out of her room.
Sure enough, everyone else was already in the routine of serving breakfast to the customers who weren't still sleeping off the night before. She grabbed a tray of food and merged with the flow. No one made a comment or gave her a look, as if they hadn't noticed her absence. Even Frankie and Isabel acted as if nothing was different.
It wasn't until the dishes were cleaned and the next meals were cooking that Tessa took a break in the storeroom. She had only sat down for a moment when she nodded off while sitting on the ale barrel.
The sound of the slamming door jolted her awake, causing her to fall off the barrel. Trying to recover, she sat on the stone floor and tried to focused in the dim light of the single lantern.
A furious Mama towered over her, gripping the fire poker with agitated fingers.
Tessa's eyes widened at the familiar signs of her mother's wrath. Actually, she had never seen her mother be so angry.
"Mama! Please! I won't oversleep anymore!"
"You stupid, stupid cunt!" she screamed. "You think that's what this is about?! You think it's nothing to turn down money that keeps a roof over your head and food in your ungrateful belly?! His room was over ours! We heard everything they did! He's only interested in giving his business to that slut from now on!"
Tessa closed her eyes and held up her arms against what she knew what was coming. But it didn't make it hurt any less.
She shrieked at the pain of a broken leg bone.
Screaming and crying, she writhed on the floor in pain in her left limbs. She was so overwhelmed by agony that she couldn't comprehend that the beating had stopped until a gentle hand touched her shoulder.
A concerned Frankie kneeled down beside her. "Stay still. We'll take care of you."
"Get away from her!" Mama screamed from her spot of being face-down on the floor with a calm Isabel fully kneeling on her back and pinning her arms back. "She's mine!"
Isabel merely jerked her grip enough to cause Mama let out a painful cry of her own.
Frankie ignored the exchange behind her as she continued to address the wounded girl. "We'll be leaving today, and we can take you to another place where you can have a different life. But there's a good chance you may never return here again. Would you like to go?"
"You can't take her! She's my flesh and - Owwww!"
"Tessa, would you like to go?"
Frankie then turned to address Mama, her expression far less kind. She reached into her pocket in her dress and placed a gold piece on the floor right in front of the pinned woman's nose.
Mama's eyes widened at the sight of a currency she had never dreamed of seeing before.
"This should cover all of your losses. Including the ones you didn't willingly throw away. The deal is that you relinquish her to us willingly and not report this as a crime of kidnapping or coercion. Do we have a deal?"
Mama stared at the coin.
Twenty-three year old Tessa paused in picking apples when she heard the sound of the large clanking bell that hung by the main gate of the convent. It was the sign of visitors, which were rare in this part of the valley.
She ordered the girls with her to finish for the day so they could head back to the main buildings. As they scurried to do what they were told with chatter and giggles, she slung the full basket over her left shoulder and grabbed her staff that she had propped against the nearest tree.
The group broke out into a favorite child's song as they started the walk.
Even though she wasn't a good singer and she walked with a permanent limp, Tessa gamely belted out the tune with the children, who's revelry was genuine and infectious.
But then she paused when she saw the two figures talking to the nuns.
They were dressed differently, even with dyed hair, but it was no denying it was them. And with them was yet another young woman who was coming to stay, perhaps for good.
No matter why they were here or for how long, Tessa couldn't help but smile at the prospect of speaking to women whom she now considered to be old friends.
- The End -