Weavers Box: Part 7

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Toko lay awake that night, her mind in a whirl. Storyline after storyline filled her head until she thought she would burst. Her heart raced, her stomach clenched. 

Ana and Juno were in on it with M’Lady. They were not her friends. She had to escape somehow—on her own. She had no help, no one she could trust. She pictured herself finding the tunnel out, racing down it, and out to freedom. She pictured all the steps it would take. The tunnel was close to M’Lady’s office. She knew that because she had been taken there when she first arrived all those months ago. It had not been a long walk, that Toko knew. But hard as she tried, her mind was too jumbled to remember the way to M’Lady’s office and from there to the tunnel. 

Her mind then raced to Ana’s and Juno’s fate if she did escape. They would be thrown to the crocodiles, of that Toko was sure. How can I be the cause of their pain, their death? The very thought filled her with dread.

But they would all go to the crocodiles if Toko did not tell them about the tiles—but she could not. She did not know the secret of the tiles and she did not know the secret of weaving spells on her loom. And that, certainly was what they wanted of her. Could she make up something, tell them what they wanted to hear? But then, when the spells did not work, she would surely go to the crocodiles. 

Maybe I can say the tiles were burned. I saw it as a child. Her mind raced to how she could do that, what she’d say, how she’d behave. She rehearsed it over and over. She’d slip it into conversation with Juno. Maybe when Juno prodded her about her memories of her mother? “You know this one night I saw Nanna and my mother take this box out to the fire and dump something into the fire. I asked Nanna about it after my mother died, but she would not tell me. I still wonder what was in that box. They seemed so secretive. I don’t now why, but Nanna would never talk about my mother or her life here.”

Just as Toko was about to accept this as her best option, another thought intruded. No, she argued with herself. She was only of value if they thought they could get her mother’s secrets from her.  I’d be dead within the hour for sure if I said that. The thought made her shudder. 

Besides, Juno and Ana were victims just as she was.  They would all escape. Yes, that was it, they would all escape. 

But then, what if one of them tattled on her, told M’Lady just to save herself. No, surly they would not do that, Toko argued. But then she was not so sure. Surely she would not tattle, but then again….. Toko did not know what she would do. 

No, my best option is to escape this place.

She fell asleep, pictures of sneaking past M’Lady’s office and down dark passages finally filling her with a sense of calm. 

But when she awoke the next morning the terror was back.

Hours later, sitting at her loom, she only wanted the fear to go away, so she brought back the pictures that had filled her with calm the night before. She rehearsed the scene over and over, with each pic of the shuttle, she saw her escape past M’Lady’s office again and again. It gave her a rhythm to her weaving and she noticed her tension had improved, her rows were more even, her selvages straighter. Along with throwing the shuttle from one side to the other she chanted to herself.  

Past M’Lady,

Past M’Lady,

To my freedom.

Past M’Lady, 

Past M’Lady,

To my freedom.

“Toko.” M’lady’s voice was harsh and demanding. “Put your shuttle down and come with me.”

Toko stood, her sense of calm now shattered. She followed M’Lady out of the weaving studio and down the familiar hallway. They turned left past the stairs to Toko’s attic room. Is she taking me to her office? If so, it was too good to be true. She made up a jingle as they walked:

Past the attic,

To the statue,

‘Round the bend, 

And over the carpet.

Just outside her office M’lady said, “Sit,” pointing to the same settee Toko had seen on her first day. Pleased with herself, she sat and repeated the rhyme over and over, each time walking past the attic, to the statue, around the narrow bend, and over the carpet until she reached the office. Again and again, she saw every detail, exactly what this statue looked like, exactly where the carpet was placed, its colors, its texture. She was at the office and now she knew the way. Half her journey to freedom had been revealed.

Now she needed to discover the way to the tunnel that would take her to freedom. Pretending to stretch, she looked around. M’lady’s office was to her right but there were three other passages. 

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Over and over she repeated that, falling into a rhythm once again. Nothing came to her but she just kept repeating it. Until M’Lady broke her revelry.

“All our priestesses have a daily task and you will be no exception. You will work in the laundry for two hours everyday. Come.”

M’Lady took her down the narrowest of the three passages, past the kitchen and to a room so steam filled Toko had trouble seeing to the other side. 

A dour faced woman stepped from behind one of the vats. 

“This is Matron. She will collect you every day before your lesson and bring you back when you are finished here. Do as she says.”

M’Lady turned to Matron. “Make sure she works. No dawdling. She has been useless for too long.”

For the next two hours, Toko sorted linens, folding them neatly and stacking them in piles according to type. Bed linens, tablecloths, towels, placemats. They all had to be folded in just the right way. To pass the time, Toko repeated her little jingle, memorizing the way from her attic room to M’Lady’s office and then, when she saw herself at the three doors, she repeated again and again:

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Finally, just as Toko heard the dinner bell ring, Matron came over. “Come,” was all she said and Toko followed her back down the narrow passage. As she walked, she continued her chant,

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Just as they reached M’lady’s office, she heard two women approaching their voices echoing down one of the passages.

“It was a good day. M’Lady will be pleased.”

“That she will. The market was kind to us today.” 

Had these two voices been outside the temple enclosure? I need to know which passage.  But Matron was moving too fast. Toko feigned a trip, pretending to catch herself as she fell onto the settee. 

Matron turned to look at her, annoyance obvious from the look in her eyes. “What now?”

Toko massaged her ankle. She could hear footsteps on the stone floor. But which passage? 

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

This time there was urgency in her plea. She could not let the opportunity go. But Matron was impatient. 

Toko continued to rub her ankle as if in pain. The voices were closer now. 

“Get up,” Matron demanded. 

Toko stood, pretending to test her ankle as she did.

Which one? 

Which one?

Show me the way!

Just when Toko thought she could hold off no longer, two priestess appeared wrapped in heavy woolen cloaks. Snow still clung to their fur lined hoods. 

Stepping gently onto her ankle, Toko nodded to Matron. “I’m okay, just a cramp I think. From standing so long.”

“Stop complaining,” was all matron said before turning and hurrying Toko to her dinner. 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Attribution: Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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