Acts of Kindness
It was raining when Myrdia reached the cottage. Big, thick clumps of water, like the heavens had decided to spit on her. The Goddess was spitting on her, Myrdia decided. She had decided to spit on her since the pilgrimage began. From falling in the gully to getting lost in the forest, it had been a disaster from beginning to end.
She rapped the door three times, hard and fast. Anyone who lived within a hundred miles of the Temple would recognise that knock.
“Lady,” said the man, opening the door. “Do come in.”
“Is your wife at home, sir?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Don’t got one.”
“Sister? Mother?” she asked, hopefully. “Any female relative?”
“Nope,” he said.
He was smirking. Normally adhering to the Mother’s Canon meant allowing her Daughters entry to any abode, but only if there was another female present to act as chaperone. His smirk was well-deserved. It wasn’t often one got to turn away a Daughter on the grounds of Canon. Or triumph over them in any matter of Canon, for that matter.
Myrdia had to hold back a vicious scowl. “Then the Blessings of the Lullaby on you, sir,” she pronounced, turning back into the night.
Another fat gobbet of water landed on her forehead. She had to stop wearing her hood. The purple gossamer from which it was made did little to keep the rain out. It just clung to her head, making her hot and uncomfortable. She huffed out an angry sigh.
“Wait,” he said. “Lady, you are welcome to stay.”
Was he taunting her?
“I cannot stay,” she said. “Unless you produce a female from thin air.”
“I won’t tell,” he replied. “Not if you don’t.”
“I won’t,” she said, hurriedly, rushing inside the cottage. She almost shoved him aside in her rush to get inside. He was not offended by this, merely amused. It didn’t matter to him, she thought. She would be the one who would receive a harsher punishment, deliberately flouting the Mother’s Canon.
“Your name, sir?” she asked.
“No, not your caste name. Just your name.”
“Weaver is all I have, Lady.”
“And do you weave to the Mother’s pleasure?” she asked.
She hated these traditional conversations she had been taught at the Temple. It made her sound like a matron of eighty.
“Never done a tap of it in my life,” he replied. “It’s just a name.”
She stared at him, and he coughed up his story immediately. The Mother’s Glare had its uses beyond revealing criminals.
“I was a foundling,” he said. “Adopted by someone in the weaver caste. That’s how I got the name. I much preferred pig-keeping, but I don’t think I would like the name Pig-Keeper.”
“You look like a pig-keeper,” she said, taking in his strongly built frame, and his stout hands.
“You don’t look like a Daughter.”
She didn’t answer. She knew she didn’t. She was too tall and thin. Most of the other girls had more matronly figures. Child-bearing hips and the like. Which was pointless, she thought, for a life of celibacy.
“I’m hungry,” she said, plopping down in the only chair in the room.
He fetched her a bowl of stew from the pot warming over the fire.
“I don’t think you are suited to life as a Daughter,” said Weaver, handing her the stew.
“And I suppose you are an expert,” she replied, snatching it from him. “What would you know of a Daughter’s life?”
“Lots of comforting the bereaved and birthing babes. Whether it’s a graveside or a bedside, you’re a little too…direct.”
“I’m only a Daughter-in-Training,” was her reply, though she wasn’t supposed to tell anyone outside the Temple that. The Eldest liked them to project an air of competence.
“And you’re hardly a City ingenue yourself,” she continued, in between mouthfuls of stew.
He smirked and propped himself up on the table. Myrdia supposed he wasn’t actually that much older than her.
The silence was starting to get to her. She wondered if she should just ask where she was sleeping and settle down, before it got too awkward for her, and made her go all red-faced as she was wont to do. Luckily for her, he spoke first.
“What brings you abroad, Lady?” he asked.
“I am on the pilgrimage required to complete my training,” she replied. “I must do Seven Acts of Kindness before I return to the Temple.”
“And how do you fare?”
“Not well,” she answered, honestly. “Only two out of seven.”
Having spent most of her pilgrimage tired and hungry in the forest, there had not been many babes to birth, corpses to prepare or sick to tend to.
“I can help with that,” he offered.
“Well, I’m a foundling with none left in the world bar my pigs.” he said, smiling, not a hint of pity or shame in his words. “Anything you do for me would be an Act of Kindness.”
She hoped he wasn’t being suggestive. All the Daughters were trained with brooms since they were old enough to hold then. She knew how to sweep a hallway and beat a man to death with one.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Well, I have some clothes that need patching, then there’s some of the harvest you could preserve for me. Um, wash my bedding? And…”
He looked around the cottage, looking for a task. “Fetch me some more firewood from out back.”
“And the final Act of Kindness?” she asked.
“You can sit where you are sitting,” he said. “And have a conversation with me.”