Kristine Kathryn Rusch

When the strange woman appeared, Maude was in the buttery, speaking with the clerk of the kitchen about his latest round of purchases. He went to market too often, she thought, and was too extravagant for the types of meals he produced. She would, if he did not modify his expenditures, have to fire him.

He would be the first servant she fired since her husband died.

The very idea filled her with dread. She had run the household since her marriage ten years before, but her husband had handled the money, the hiring and firing of servants, and the overall management of the large estate.

Now she managed it, in trust for their only child, a son who was still in swaddling. Still, some duties made her hands shake.

The clerk of the kitchen was a large florid man whom her husband had hired shortly before the baby was born. She had had misgivings about him then, but had been too tired to speak of them. Then her husband became ill, the baby had been born, and her husband had died, all within half a year’s time. She felt as if she woke up only recently to find herself in a life that only resembled the one she had once had.

The buttery was a small room off the kitchen. Beer and candles sat on the shelves. The stairs from the beer cellar descended down one side, and the main door of the buttery opened into the hall. She had sent the yeoman of the buttery—he was such a gossip—into the garden for a brief rest. Not that he needed one. His services were rarely used this early in the day.

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