Days past. For each one, Sonsee made a scratch on the wall behind her bed. Eventually M’Lady stopped coming to see her, telling her only that she was now Toko and in training to be a Priestess. Sonsee held her ground. “No,” she said, “I am not going to be a Priestess.”
Others were sent in M’Lady’s place but Ana had warned her. These were M’Lady’s spies, sent to befriend her and to spy on her. So the nameless priestesses came and went, bringing fresh clothes and water to wash up.
At first the food they brought was plentiful and the nameless priestesses sat and ate with her, trying to talk about her father, her life, encouraging her to accept her fate, to become one of them. Sonsee remained silent and as the days passed her food dwindled, finally becoming little more than rations, just meager amounts of bread, cheese, and water. The bones of her ribs showed more and more. Her stomach shrank into her pelvis and she had little energy—barely enough to live, she thought. Nobody stayed to talk with her anymore and she thought she saw pity in their eyes. Even Ana had said it was too dangerous, she must not be caught in the attic.
One day, angry at her circumstances, Sonsee grabbed the priestess sent to see to her. Shaking her, Sonsee lashed out, “Do you not know who I am? My father is Lord of this Land. He will come for me and when he does I shall tell him about you and all the others unless you help me get out of here.”
“Sonsee-array is dead,” the young woman said, sadness in her eyes. “You are Toko now, the Master Weaver’s apprentice.”
Ana’s apprentice? Nobody had told her that and actually it did not sound so bad. If she could get out of here and work with Ana, well maybe she would find a way to escape.
Sonsee started talking more, asking questions, showing interest in the life of a priestess. As she did, her food rations increased until she was receiving three meals with enough left over to save for later if she wanted.
Finally only one Priestess, Juno, came to her and when Sonsee asked for paper and pens, they were brought. Not knowing what else to do, Sonsee drew, mostly abstract shapes. She asked for paints and they, too, were brought. She enjoyed the work, matching one not-this-not-that color with another. Juno brought pins to hang the paintings and, together, they decorated Sonsee’s room. “I wish I could weave these,” Sonsee said to see if Juno would respond. “Don’t you just love the colors?”
Juno said nothing before excusing herself to get Sonsee’s dinner.
When she returned, she said, “M’Lady has granted you permission to work in the Weaver’s Studio. Be up early. You have been granted an audience with M’Lady before you begin your apprenticeship.”
Sonsee spent most the night awake, anxious, wondering what she should say and how she should behave. Contrite? No. Grateful? No, again. Complaint, that was okay, but not overly so. M’Lady would spot an act, of that Sonsee was sure.
When finally the first light of the morning made it to Sonsee’s window, she heard a knock at her door and the key turn in the lock.
Juno entered with her breakfast, but hurried Sonsee along. She barely had time for the toast and tea before she was handed a robe and escorted to a marble bath. There she was helped to undress. She stepped into the water. It was warm and inviting. It brought back memories of her home, of Nanna, of how she reveled in the warm spring water that fed her own bath. How long has it been? Ninety days. Ninety marks now. Too many. I must get along. I cannot go back to my prison.
Fragrant oils were added and Sonsee relaxed even more as the Priestesses filed her rough nails and combed out her matted hair. Sonsee had tried as best she could, but dipping her head in a cold basin of water and then finger combing had taken a toll. Even when restrictions were relaxed and the Priestesses had brought shampoo and larger pitchers to rinse her head, some tangles remained. Now they applied oils and gently worked them out.
When finally Sonsee stood and dried herself off, she felt human again. The Priestesses dressed her in a lilac shift and placed the amulet over her neck before bringing her to M”Lady.
“My apologies that I could not see to your needs myself over these last few months, Toko, but I trust my Priestesses kept you well fed and attended to all your needs. You are looking quite well, I must say, and I hope your time of contemplation has been fruitful.”
Sonsee bit her tongue. She looked into the woman’s eyes and replied, “Yes, M’Lady, I am well.” Now.
“Good. Good. Let me see that amulet of yours. “
Sonsee could not go backwards, she had to move forward and if that meant letting M’Lady see the amulet, so be it. She removed it from her neck and held it out, not wanting to let it go. But M’Lady snatched it from her hands and handed it to the Priestess standing to her left.
The Priestess took it. “I do not believe Iona wove this. Look at how clumsy it is. And these are not Iona’s colors at all. She used pastels, not hard colors such as these.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure. This is the piece of an untutored girl, not of master weaver.”
Sonsee perked up. The voice was familiar. Did she know this other woman? It had been months since she had spoken with Ana, but could it be?
“And what of the shell?” M’Lady asked.
“Oh, Nanna did this, I can tell that much. The colors are hers, and so is the design.” The woman flipped it over. “And see, here is her chop.”
“Maybe it was Iona’s first piece, before she learned her craft. Is that possible.”
“I suppose,” the second woman replied. “Look, you can see it has been unwoven and re-woven again. The twist of the threads are different in this middle section.” She held the piece for M’Lady to see, but did not relinquish it. “And what is more, the joins are different. First, at the bottom, they are interwoven, both colors wrapping around the warp. Then in the re-woven section she wraps the weft around neighboring warps. Nowhere does she wrap the threads around one another as a master might do.”
“No, except that color selection is limited. It is the type of piece I would have a beginning student do, not a master.” She handed the amulet back to Sonsee. “May I take Toko to the studio now, M’Lady.”
“Not yet. Toko, where did you get this amulet.”
“Nanna gave it to me. I already told you that,” Sonsee explained.
“Watch how you speak to me, child. You are no longer Sonsee-array. You are Toko, a weaver’s apprentice, but only if you watch your manners.”
Not wanting to make eye contact, Sonsee looked to the floor.
One of the priestesses nudged her shoulder. Finally someone whispered, “You must apologize.”
“Apologies, M’Lady,” was all Sonsee could choke out. She certainly was not sorry for what she had said.
“Good. You are learning. Now, was there anything else with this piece?”
“Are you sure, a dark box perhaps.”
“No, M’Lady. Nanna only gave me this.”
“Did she say where it came from?”
“Only that it had been my mother’s and that it was mine now.” “Sonsee shuffled her feet. Moments passed. Was M’Lady expecting more? “As you said it was clumsily made, but it was the only thing I had of hers, so I kept it.”
“Probably her first piece,” the woman beside M’Lady offered. “Many girls keep their first piece. It would not be unusual.”
“Probably was. Too clumsy to have spells or anything else woven in.” M’Lady turned to Toko. “This is Ana, our Master weaver. She was your mother’s apprentice. Your mother promised as a condition of leaving us, that you would take her place one day. So you are Ana’s apprentice now. A trade, a bargain made long ago. Let’s hope we made a good one. Now, go, all of you.”
“So my mother did not make my amulet?” Toko asked as she followed Ana to the weaving studio.
“Hush, there are spies everywhere,” Ana whispered, looking back over her shoulder. They rounded a corner and Toko watched Ana smile at a student just standing there, doing nothing.