Marie raised the hem of her heavy dress so that her bare knees could touch the cold floor of the
Sun House as she kneeled in front of a blazing fire. She had to fight the satisfied smile that wanted to surface at feeling
the sensation race up her spine. The flames flicked back and forth, creating unnerving shadows along the red walls that were
decorated with elaborate, sparkling golden scenes. The temple was crowded, but few dared to kneel so close to the flame as
Marie did. Those who recognized her thought her much more deserving to approach their master's fire, anyway. She was a kind
and pious woman, they were all sure, who was always looking out for the good of others.
Sera Irvine stepped between two kneeling figures at Marie's back and kneeled, herself, at Marie's
left. She too was dressed in red- her clothing fitted and harshly spun of wool. She had on a red hat that covered her thin,
graying hair, and almost made her appear a younger woman. Marie smiled sidelong at her as she took her place to meditate the
flames. She wondered with a very faint notion whether or not Madame Irvine had ever looked at her farmhand the way Marie had
that day, and shook it off in amusement. Sera Irvine probably didn't have a spoonful of admiration for anyone else in all
her blood combined.
No one spoke. Marie spared a tiny sliver of a moment to glance quickly to her right, wondering
if she would spot anyone of importance meditating near her. Frally Winter was nearest the door, concentrating fully with her
diamond-gray eyes open to the flames dancing on the ceiling. Marie had heard that when Frally came here, she almost always
prayed to Ecli to take care of her late husband, James, who had been a criminal. Who did she think she was, asking the Sun
God to take good care of such a renegade? Marie turned back almost as quickly as she had looked, and tried her best to concentrate
for twenty minutes more.
As she was leaving, she was stopped by one of the chubby, white-clad garden keepers who thanked
her for her consistent routine in visits. The garden keeper was overjoyed when Marie asked if they would allow her to come
and work as a servant of Ecli, and hugged her tightly, promising to send word to her home as soon as things were taken care
of. She had to smooth her hair after the woman had gone, pinning a fallen curl back into place after the trauma of the rough
hug. She caught Sera Irvine's wrinkled stare from across the room, and exited the temple slowly, hoping she would catch up.
"Madame Lissel," she spoke without inflection.
"Madame Irvine," Marie responded with false concern. "How are you feeling this night?"
"Lovely," Sera Irvine answered, hardly meaning it. "I surely hope you weren't rained on today
while you were out and about in the square."
"Oh, no. I was home with Howard hours before the rain began. I did see your worker, though...
Adam, was it?"
Madame Irvine's expression tightened visibly. "Yes. I sent him to pick up some grass seed for
a stubborn plot of land Lile and I want to beautify. I thought you said you were home before the rains."
"My servant and I talked with him a bit at my home, actually," she offered, doctoring the wording
of the story ever so slightly. "He and my man Andrew are friends, it seems. He stopped by for a bit of a chat. I hope that's
"It's fine," Sera snapped softly, presenting a smile that was only warm on the surface. "I had
just hoped he wouldn't run rampant doing whatever he pleased when he had planting to do. I suppose I will have to inform Lile
Much to her dismay, Marie realized that telling Sera about Adam's "visit" was likely going to
get him in trouble. With the scolding would also likely come the source of the information, and it was sure that she would
never again be able to convince the young farmhand to stop at her doorstep again.
"Ma'am, please don't misunderstand," she offered, hoping to correct the situation in her favor.
"He was merely walking by, on his way back to your farm with his bag of seed, and moving quite quickly, at that. He turned
down my offer to sit a spell because he had such a great amount of work to do." She followed her explanation with a sweet
smile, hoping it would do what she intended. Sera's face softened, but her shoulders remained tight.
The two of them walked together as far as the street, and most of that stroll was spent by both
of them looking around at the archways wound tight with twine and flowering vines rather than each other. Sera had never been
terribly fond of Marie after hearing of her marriage to Howard Lissel many moons ago. Before that, she had thought of her
as almost an exception to the cliche of young women acting out of control and doing things only in the interest of themselves.
Marie had been an orphan after all. It should have taught her something about kindness and respect. Unfortunately, once she
was married to a wealthy, older man, it was rumored that her self-control had slipped undoubtedly. Sera had even seen her
planting an unexpected kiss on one of the travelling merchants when he happened to come through town carrying her favorite
soaps. Of course, Marie had taken a glance around first, to make sure no one of importance would see her doing it.
All in all, Marie was not a huge concern of hers. In truth, she wasn't worried about Adam straying
from his work. What she was worried about was Marie straying from Howard and ending up in her Adam's lap. Though it wouldn't
taint Marie any further (she would be careful to keep it secret, no doubt, until it benefitted her to tell), it would certainly
put a damper on Adam's good name when word got around. Adam had the luxury of respect and dignity at this point in his life
that Marie didn't, and he should hold onto it for dear life.
"I suppose I will be seeing you here more often, Madame Lissel," Sera suggested, pushing as much
warmth as she could muster. She gestured as if to turn and walk the other direction as they reached the street.
"Yes, you surely will," she told Sera, making no gesture at all. "Seeing as I am going to be a
Sun House maid, I'm sure you will see me every time you visit."
Sera stopped in her tracks, knowing now what the enthused hug had been about. She couldn't let
her outrage show now, but as soon as she was able to discuss this in private with Lile, there would be a real release of disapproval.
For Marie, she nodded.
"How nice. Bye then."
The two of them split the path, as did many behind them, exiting the Sun House grounds. Some other
people were talking about Madame Lissel's kind offer to work at the temple, while others were talking about Madame Lissel's
selfish demand to work at the temple. She wouldn't have minded either way. She was heading home to tell Howard the good news-
assuming, of course, that he was awake. If he wasn't, she could always tell Andrew or Virginia. They would be proud of her.
After Marie had crossed the street and was out of sight, Sera turned back around and headed in
the direction of home. Though it had taken extra time, it had saved her the trauma of having to walk side-by-side with Madame
Lissel until they passed her home. She had hoped Marie would assume she was heading somewhere else for the evening, and not
ask about it. Sera had not prepared an explanation.
Sera wasn't even on Marie's mind. Her short walk home was spent pondering her new position at
the Sun House and what she might make of it. She hoped it would help her keep an eye on the townspeople, but if nothing else,
it would surely prove to everyone what a generous and spiritual person she was.
Andrew saw her mounting the stairs through the front window and held the door open for her as
she entered her foyer.
"Has Virginia woken up?" she asked him as he took her coat for hanging.
"She said she wasn't feeling well at all," he told her with a grim look. "She says you can keep
her pay for the evening, and she is going to rest. She wanted me to tell you she planned to lock her chamber door, too. I
hope that is alright."
"Well, if you speak to her before I do, you can tell her she will still get her pay. I wont go
punishing the poor girl just because she is feeling under the weather. Why do you suppose she wanted to lock her door?"
Andrew shrugged and shook his head, disappearing around the corner with her coat. In the empty
foyer, the lights from the street outside were slanting in through the window, laying lines across the wood-panelled floor.
As those lines reached the back wall, they created a series of realistic-looking verticle bars on the painting of a young
woman and her jewels that Howard had bought Marie for their first wedding anniversary. She appeared to be imprisoned. Marie
wondered if Virginia felt the same way.
"And how does a girl escape her prison?" she found herself speaking aloud to the empty hallway.
She approached the steps to the second floor, noticing that the violet carpet was in need of a cleaning (Virginia's chore,
no doubt), and began the ascent to her servant's room. She was quite sure that when she reached it, she would be locked on
one side of a heavy wooden door while the window stood open to the night on the other.