Days passed into weeks as Toko felt the time slipping away.
Each night she continued making marks behind the bed, but now they had more urgency. Instead of counting her days of captivity, they counted the days until her doom. Six months, M’Lady had said. Six months and if she did not give M’Lady the tiles, they would be fed to the crocodiles.
Try as she did, Toko could not get away from Matron long enough to explore the passage that would lead to her escape. But on her way to the laundry she did pass the different priestesses as they went to the market each day. She smiled and made small talk with them as they packed up the days’s wares. A couple were friendlier than the others and she made a point of bumping into them whenever she could. One in particular called her “Lil sister.” Marta, Toko learned, was the woman’s name and she sought Marta out more than the others.
Marta had an inviting smile. “One day I will take your weaving to the market. It will sell, I am sure of it. Then you won’t have to work the laundry any more. Won’t that be nice?” Nice, Toko thought, was an understatement. She hated the laundry. It was hot and sticky. Her clothes stuck to her sweaty body and perspiration soaked her hair.
It would be worth it, though, if only she could get a look down the passage that would take her out of the temple. But Matron was too careful. Try as she might, Toko could find no way to get away from her watchful eye.
If I can’t get out, I’ll get a message out. To Nanna. She will come and find me.
But the message had to be disguised. Something Nanna would recognize. Something in her weaving. Yes, that’s it. I’ll weave something so beautiful, M’Lady will have to send it to market. She only hoped Marta would be the one to take it.
For three days and three nights, Toko focused on what her weaving should be. Household linens sold best, that she knew. But there was little room to make her piece special, different, something Nanna would recognize. Rugs? They were harder and took much longer. No, it had to be something smaller, something she could do easily. But most of all, something Nanna would recognize.
An amulet, that was it. In colors like the one Nanna had given her all those months ago? No, too obvious. Similar, but not the same, she decided. She’d use Nanna’s not-this-not-that colors. She could see them in her mind. Yes, yes, like the ones on the big hanging in her father’s great hall. Nanna would certainly recognize that!
First she had to dye the yarn. That was easy. Ana liked her not-this-not-that colors and often let her work with Juno in the dye shop.
But would Ana let her make an amulet? Of that she was not so sure. Ana had her doing more mundane pieces. She had gone from placemats to longer table scarves, but so far none had been sent to market. No, Toko decided, she’d have to make the amulet in private, in her room at night after she’d been locked in. When nobody would see her.
Little by little, she sequestered her materials. The yarn was easy. From the large quantity she dyed, she tucked a few small hanks into her underclothes. She found a soft board on which to pin the design and was able to slip up the stairs and push it under her door when nobody was watching. Pins were always easy to obtain. It was the beads that worried her. She needed beads to set it off and Ana had not yet allowed her to go to the ceramic studio. So, in her head she started to chant,
Bring me some beads,
Just the right hues,
In corals and blues.
She chanted it as she worked in the weaving studio wondering if they would, indeed, appear. Her chanting seemed to work in the past, but would it now?
But the next day she saw them, just as she imagined. Whole vials of them stacked next to Ana’s loom along with the yarns Toko had dyed. Just as Toko was about to risk taking some, Ana swept into the room. “Beautiful aren’t they. They will make a fine cloak for M’Lady, don’t you think?”
“Beautiful,” Toko said, brazenly opening one of the vials and holding a bead up to the sunlight. Rainbows shot all around the room. She opened a second and then a third vial, holding more beads to the light.
“Put them away, you stupid girl,” Ana shrieked. Toko feigned nervousness and knocked all three vials to the floor. Beads scurried everywhere.
“I’ll get them, I’ll get them,” Toko called out, falling down to her hands and knees. For every handful of beads she gathered, she put one into her pocket. Reaching under one last table to scoop out a few more stray beads, she saw something even larger. Pulling it toward herself, she noted its colors, corals and blues. How it got there, she could not even guess. But it would be perfect as a centerpiece in her amulet.
She knew she would pay a price for her “clumsiness,” but whatever it was, it would be worth it. She now had her beads.
That night, alone in her room, Toko gently touched the welts on her back. The beating had been harsher than she’d thought, and all for a “clumsy” act. She wondered what would happen if she outwardly defied them? Crocodiles, or maybe worse, she imagined.
The marks behind her bed were mounting each day. 265 days had passed. How many left, she wondered. By her reckoning, only 100. Or maybe less, or maybe more. It all depended on M’Lady’s whim. She needed to get that amulet done. And out to the market.