Context: I woke up from a dream on Monday morning and wrote this. Warning: Rough draft. Warning: minimally edited.
There is morre to the story that follows, I can feel it. I just need to get my fingers on the keyboard for an hour or two in a quiet time.
Her name was Lya, she came from the desert, as they all had, to find a trade to support herself.
Tall and lean, Lya had seen none of the years of plenty that herr elders had described; she knew only of the desert, the endless shifting sands, the small game that made its home there, and the relentless cacti willing to share their water with those clever enough to seek it.
She came into town that morning wearing sand goggles, a dusty shirt and pants, both almost worn to shreds by the wind and sand, and a thick blue leather duster that had almost certainly belonged to one of the more unfortunate travelers in a previous caravan. It hung on her small frame, and almost brushed the ground as she made her way through the town. The ensemble was completed by a pair of thick brown leather boots two sizes too large that had been stuffed with rags to fit her feet. She carried a small bag with her belongings: a canteen, a compass, and a small leather-bound book.
Many a traveler arrived in the same manner, from the desert, with little to eat, little money, and blinking in the sunlight from the almost cloudless sky. Travelers got used to the semi-dark that the blowing sands produced from here to the surrounding towns. Without a compass or a knowledgeable guide, it was easy to spend days walking in circles, as the wind covered your tracks almost as soon as you left them. The townsfolk were never surprised when another blinking figure appeared from the sandstorm and stared at CIVILIZATION.
Lya pushed her goggles on top of her head and peered around, gaining her bearings. She headed slowly toward the army offices as if being led there by a parent or older sibling. Again, she was like many of her fellow travelers. The territory's army was known for feeding, clothing, and housing anyone willing to serve. She ran a hand through her short brown hair, windblown and sand caked, and decided that she needed to be more presentable. Her course changed like that of a sailboat in the wind, tacking towards the bath house.
Argosy ran a clean joint; the bath house was for bathin', and nothin' else. No hanky-panky went on in his establishment, and he let people know that up front. "If you're lookin' for a WHOORE, you've got a short walk down the street. This here's my bath house, and I'll have nothin' of that kind of trade," he told potential customers, both male and female, several times a week. He wasn't a religious man, just a clean one, who didn't like to put his mind anywhere near what kind of mess he'd have to clean up if he allowed such impropriety to appear under his roof. It was hard enough cleaning the dust and grit from the drains, and disinfecting to kill the lice many travelers carried. When the small figure appeared in his doorway, he was about to give the normal speech about the propriety of his establishment, but he hesitated, and greeted her with a smile instead.
"Miss Lya! What a pleasure to see you today. You here for a quick shower? How's your mum?"
"Afternoon, Argosy. Mum died as she lived, the best caravan leader in these territories. Raiders took us from three sides on this last trip. I was asleep in the last wagon, and they took me for already dead."
"I'm so sorry, Miss Lya. Come in, come in. I'll have Jeanette start the hot water. You'll want a shower before your soak, I'm sure." Argosy was shocked to hear of Cassandra's death -- she was truly as Lya said, the best caravan leader in the territories. Her loss would mean fewer shipments, or no shipments for quite a while. He bellowed for his wife, "JEANETTE! Get 'er ready for the Women's Bath!"
"Argosy Evan Johnson, I know full well what my job is!" came the shout from an upstairs room. "You just give me a minute to stoke this stove!"
"She's a bit temper'mental today, hon. I'm sorry if this is upsetting," the chubby man said sheepishly. "You know how she gets."
"I know, Argosy," Lya replied. "She's MY sister, after all." There was a long silence between them, then Lya spoke in a soft voice. "She'll want to know what happened to Mum. I should be the one to tell her. I... I don't know how she'll react. She and Mum never got along much, but she was still our Mum."
Just then, a brunette woman stuck her head out the door of the upstairs boiler room. Her face was covered in sweat and ashes, but the likeness to the smaller woman was certain. She wiped her face in vain with a small towel, and shouted "Your shower's ready, miss!" Her whole expression changed when she saw the bather. "LYA!"
Jeanette bounded down the stairs, two at a time, to greet her younger sister. She was easily head and shoulders taller, and defnitely better fed, but she didn't seem to care about her sister's sharp features, or her bony arms as she wrapped them around the larger girl. "Lya, where's Mum? The two of you usually come in together from a trip." Lya's dust-covered face looked up, and tears began to flow, washing her face like a river in the springtime. Jeanette knew immediately what this meant, and ushered her little sister through the door marked "Ladies Only".
Lya continued to weep as she undressed to take a shower, and then through the shower, and finally wept tearlessly in the bath. "Jeannie," she kept saying, "I shoulda been at her side to help her."
"No, Lya, if Mum couldn't handle it on her own, there's nothing you could've done. You were sick, anyway, and I doubt you could've sat up to aim, much less fired a single shot," Jeanette reassured her. The rebels had killed before, but never like this. Her mother was a seasoned traveller of the sands, and had dispatched many men to meet their maker. There was no doubt the grizzled old woman could have defended herself in a fair fight. From Lya's descriptions, though, it wasn't a fair fight in any sense of the word. Fifty armed men versus a three-wagon caravan of goods coming from Charles Town. Ma had her men, six of 'em, but outnumbered at almost 10 to 1, they had little chance.
Unless Lya had been well. Lya was a marksman, and better than that, she was a novice magician. Her skills were to hide things from sight, and had she been awake, the storm would've hidden them in its cloak as well as a traveller hides his purse. But she had been ill, contracted a sickness from the children in Charles Town. It was only Providence that had saved Lya's life, and only Providence that she had not brought the sickness with her. Jeanette prayed silently for thanks that her entire family had not died in the attack as Lya told her tale.
Jeanette put the girl to bed in the guest room, and locked the door. She calmly came back to the bath house, and continued her work in silence. Argosy and her work was the comfort she needed in a time like this.
At 20, Jeanette was the oldest child of her family. She had married at 16, like most girls, and settled down. Henrietta, her mother, didn't understand the allure of settling down, and with one man, to boot, and told her so every time the caravan rolled through. Heather, 18, and the middle child, was in charge of her own caravan, and spent her time divided among the outlying towns of the territory. Like her mom, Heather was flame-haired, hot-tempered, and full of wanderlust. She and Lyr, Lya's twin brother (both 14), travelled terrain that most goods-haulers wouldn't touch, but Lyr and Lya both had the knack for finding the easiest route, for calming the winds at the right time, and for keeping the caravans safe.
Jeanette was sure that Lyr and Lya were the children of their father, a magician named Elder Gryffin, but her mother had never told her so. She had never spoken of anyone's paternity, at least not when sober.
Jeannette had plied her mother with wine one night to learn her own parentage. Henrietta admitted that Jeannette was the daughter of a tavern owner that Henrietta had been working for -- a tavern owner, Henrietta insisted was married at the time, but was entranced with her so that he committed adultery every time she came to town, and was therefore a scoundrel and deserved no part of Jeanette's ilfe.
When Jeanette was of age, she sent a letter to that tavern owner, Jacob Bandy, and let him know of her existance. They had a polite, if not warm, relationship, which is how she found out that her mother had promised to settle down for him, and never could commit to it, which is why he married another woman in her absence, although continuing to carry on with Henrietta when she came to town, as she was his first and brightest love. Jeanette had two half-brothers, Jonas and Jacob Junior, (who she visits monthly) and a half-sister named Arianne, with whom Jeannette has tea every Saturday morning.