The Heart of Sorrow’s Keep
By Brenna Hanson
Date: August 22, 2018
Ch. 88

“Girl!” The bellow bounced off of the walls of the stone stairway and rattled me out of my dreams. I sat up, confused and uncertain of where I was and why.
“Get out of bed,” called the voice again and I remembered it was my grandfather. “You have apprenticing to get to and you can’t get to it if you’re lazing away all day.”
I looked out the window. There was a faint glow to the East that said dawn was considering making an appearance but hadn’t quite committed to it yet.
“Five minutes or this bucket of dishwater will come and chase you out of your dreams!”
“Coming,” I called and hoped my voice carried. He was crazy enough to drown me out of bed. I was sure of it.
I raised the wick on the lamp for more light, found the shirt and breaches from the day before, and dressed quickly. There was no water to wash, and no time to find a brush for the night-dark hair that grandfather had ordered kept out of the way. I did the best I could and ran down the steps when he started a countdown.
“An apprentice’s first chore each day,” he said when I reached the kitchen, “is to stoke the fire and make breakfast. As you do not yet have these skills, you will pay careful attention to what I show you so that you can acquire them. Quickly, mind. I do not intend to spend precious time on things you should already know, girl.”
“Natalia,” I said.
“What?” He turned to me with that damnable eyebrow raised again.
“Natalia,” I repeated. “My name is Natalia.”
“You have to earn a name,” he said. “It doesn’t strike me that you really need one if you can’t do a simple thing like feed yourself.”
Before I could find words to express my complete outrage over this observation, he went on, “You will spend the mornings learning the simple skills of fire, food, and cleanliness until I am satisfied that you won’t starve, or die from cold, or manage to grow the next plague in your dirty blanket when you find yourself back on the other side of my door.”
“But, I’m your granddaughter!” I said. “You can’t un-named me and then threaten to send me away like an unwanted puppy.”
“I didn’t un-name you, I simply said you needed to earn the right to be called by a name,” he said. “I also never threatened to toss you out with the scraps. But, you will earn your keep here just like you will earn the speaking of your name. Understand me, girl?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Good.” His tone was as clipped as mine had been. “Afternoons will be spent in the library. You are required to find a way to open that locket you keep pawing at. And no breaking it, mind!”
I let my hand drop away from the locket.
“You will study until supper. Evenings are for any help I might need with my work. Nothing fancy, just the grinding of herbs or the sifting of powders. Easy things, really. Brainless. But you will keep your eyes and ears open. There are things to learn even in the tedious moments.”
I nodded when he looked at me. To be honest, I hadn’t yet figured out whether I should be afraid of him. Agreeing seemed like the best course of action.
“Now, come over here and I’ll show you how to light the stove. Then you can draw water from the pump outside and collect the day’s eggs from the coop. By that time, the stove will be hot enough to make breakfast,” he said.
He made me set the tinder and kindling to light four times before he declared me capable enough to let it burn. Even then, he expressed his doubts that I would be able to repeat the act the following day.
He scoffed at my inability to lift the full bucket of water and tisked at the blister on my hand after I made the three trips necessary to fill the basin in the kitchen sink and the pot on the stove. He muttered about the uselessness of dainty girls in frilly frocks while he spread a stinking salve on my offending palm and wrapped it with a clean strip of cloth.
After calling directions to me from across the room, he grunted a grudging acceptance of the porridge those directions helped me produce. Then he made me write them all down before I could eat. By the time I retrieved the blank notebook and pencil he sent me for and verified all the steps as I wrote, my own breakfast was cold and less than enjoyable.
Then he set me to concocting a stew for supper in the same manner.
“If the peeling of a vegetable were any indication of the intelligence of a creature, I would place you somewhere above a fly but well below the level of any of the primates recorded by history,” he bellowed as I struggled with the knife.
By the time he left me to clean the mess in the room involved nearly every pot and bowl available. The blister felt like it was on fire when it finally burst as I scrubbed. He wandered in to get bread and cheese for his lunch just as I was finishing.
“Make sure you put more salve on that hand and wrap it in a dry cloth again,” was all he said after a look around the room.
I took his words as approval, cleaned up the pile of crumbs he left behind on the table and escaped to the library where I could steady myself with the silence of study.
The library of Sorrow’s Keep could have rivaled the one at Stonewood Castle. Not only were all the shelves full, but stacks of books were piled on the floor so that reaching the chair by the fireplace was like walking a maze. I noticed that a banked fire burned in the hearth and felt an odd tug of affection for the gruff old man who must have lit it earlier. I doubted I would ever figure out where his feelings about me truly leaned.
I wrapped my hand around the locket and began searching for a book that might help me open it. I ran the fingers of my free hand over the spines of books on everything from alchemy to the secrets of the zodiac. I wanted to open them all and devour their words. I wanted to know the things that the writers had discovered and learn the secrets slipped in between the lines on each page. It was a mental hunger almost equal to the physical one I had felt earlier. To limit myself to only the taste I would get from the books that might apply to my problem was more than difficult. It felt cruel. I managed it, but just barely. By the time I had to leave the room for supper, I had a stack of five leather-bound tomes that looked promising to start. I tucked them in beside the chair. At the last minute, I took the top one with me to drop off in my room for bedtime reading.
The stew was overcooked but edible. I made a note to add more water and salt in my notebook. Grandfather was quiet during the meal but made up for it later in his study by barking orders at me about everything from the proper angle to apply the pestle to the mortar to how to tell if a salve was the correct texture. By the end of the evening, I was too tired to read. I fell asleep in no time and spent the night dreaming that I walked naked through a forest of trees surrounded by shadows.

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