Chapter 4.2 – Greyfield Manor
I went around to the side of the building, hoping to use a side entrance for entry instead of the front door. It was only right for one in a maid’s position to avoid the front entrance, after all. There was a beautiful garden filled with unfamiliar flowers that were primarily white and yellow, matching the red roses that had already bloomed and littered the ground, along with a shed for gardening tools, probably. Further down was a sandy path that led back into the forest surrounding the manor.
My guess was that it probably led to a creek of sorts where they might camp and find some game to hunt. How fancy, to have their own forest to grow warrens of rabbits, boars, deer and all sorts of wildlife. I continued my encirclement of the manor to find a locked door, to which I tried knocking and hoping for someone to usher me in… but to no avail. They didn’t think to leave it unlocked for me… Or did they want me to enter through the front, despite the audacity? Technically I did belong to a noble’s household, but that would simply be rude. At least I could tell them I tried the side door.
Standing by at the front door was a bob-cut maid eager to invite me in. I entered the grand hall with a sigh and the first thing I noticed was that the room was bright. There were large windows that allowed plenty of light in, unlike my cramped house. Their walls were adorned with silver oil-based sconces which added to the ambience. Silver! The ones I had were plain rustic steel and simply served as candle holders, but these were designed with tainted glass to protect from the wind.
It reminded me that I should consider shielded sconces as well, there was a time I stepped on a pincushion filled with needles because of an unfortunate incident. A tiny gap on the window frame was enough to blast my windows wide open, sending a large gust of wind into my house. It blew out my sconces and blackened everything, which resulted in a series of painful, unfortunate events.
I couldn’t remember the event clearly, since it was dark at that time, and Mr. Millesford carried me to the store for treatment after hearing my cries of agony. Since then, I’ve been eyeing for cheap and lasting shielding, though at this point it might have been better to dismantle the set and order anew. I could have dealt with the sconces earlier, but life caught up, and there were a lot of deadlines to rush that overwhelmed me. I really ought to get it changed once I returned home.
The red carpet, banners, fancy paintings and shelves holding various trinkets and trophies probably served to showcase their prestige. There was a prominently-displayed red book on a language I couldn’t quite make out, a sceptre, some other books and flasks of ointments lined for display which were definitely not from Prot. The manor was large, elucidated further by the wide glass windows that had beads of water hanging from them. Further down the hall was a darkened, gloomy-looking hallway which was full of portraits hanging on the walls, likely where the servants’ quarters were.
It certainly held a nice aesthetic; the hall was pretty neat and it balanced the presentation of their family’s prestige well. It seemed the Greyfields liked using silver in order to give the room a brighter, cleaner profile. Maybe they made new maids like me enter from the front specifically to marvel at the sight, to foster a sense of the household I was going to live in from henceforth.
They’ve great taste, too. Silver was just as glittery as gold, and it didn’t give everything else a yellow tint, which I personally preferred over the golden glaze craze. Like how the orange flowers back at home looked weird during the sunset, gold gave off a mismatching feel under candlelight. However, part of it might also be my own bias, since I thought of silver as my favourite colour.
It was not without downsides, though. Hanging from the wall at the Y-shaped staircase, a singular portrait of the first Lord Greyfield standing by a velvet chair gave a pronounced sense of greatness, but it also looked kind of creepy. It made me wonder if the other maids would get chills or nightmares from that fierce expression. There was one other noble from North Pura in Quire who did the same, if memory served… Ah, yes, the Berkovsky nobility, Theris’s family.
I was hailed by another maid standing next to a door. She signalled me in after knocking on the door, and I was greeted by about four other maids. The posh lady, who was dressed formally and had this air of authority about her, spoke. “Good afternoon, Dame Laila. I trust that your journey here was not too exhausting for you? The suspenders on one of the carriage wheels was due for maintenance, so I ask for your understanding regarding any discomfort you might have experienced, difficult as the journey might have been.”
Really? The ride was more comfortable than the wagons I rode with Alnus. There’s little to complain about it, but they did hint that the other maids were children of nobility. I didn’t think the Bertens were that big of a deal. But, maybe they were worried that I would find the Greyfields’ hospitality unpleasant and, in some mysterious and inexplicable fit of displeasure, tattle rumours of spite to sour their influence. I wanted to reply that they’re worrying too much, but in this line of work perhaps it was necessary to cover all bases.
“It is all right. I am grateful for your concern regarding my well-being. My only worry during the trip was the poor weather affecting the journey, but that has proven to be unfounded. Might I dismiss your doubts and continue the procession?” I didn’t know how long they were waiting in the room, but it’s best to assume that they followed strict standards to meet the expectations of the Greyfields. Even the maids ushering me into the servants’ hall had already entered the room soundlessly on stand-by. Best not to dawdle.
“Certainly. Let us begin with our introductions in full. You may address me as Lady Coral Linville, I am the housekeeper in charge of this manor. I handle the arrangement of personnel and attending to Lord Greyfield in addition to my daily duties.” The housekeeper came to my house to receive me?! I guess it showed exactly how urgent the appointment was. But, why? What rush was there in hiring a potty maid? I vividly felt the expectations she had of me already tensing my body up.
“I am Desiree, the personal attendant of Lady Greyfield. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The freckled lady with dark skin next to Lady Linville was incredibly refined. Something about her unmoving shoulders and curtsy with no wasted movements was really memorable and pleasing to the eye. Shulvi have mercy, was I expected to behave like that? That level of almost-eerie perfection was probably the effort of practicing that simple action for many years. Gabrielle could do it with ease, but that’s different, she was expected to. I’m not!
“I am Etoile. I’m the cook of the house. Pleased to meet you.” Ah, her movements aren’t half as good. Thank goodness. Her name, Etoile, meant ‘star’ in Old Puran. She was the cook as well, which really fit her beautiful name. A shining beacon among other women, taking on a task often reserved for men- Huh, that’s odd. Aside from the foresters, the only male I could see was the coachman earlier, and he was well on his years. Lady Linville also mentioned that she was attending to Lord Greyfield, did that mean assuming the role of the manor’s steward? Two big duties shouldered by one person, that’s unbelievable.
“My name is Francesca. I’m the housemaid and still room maid. I look forward to working with you in the days to come.” Strangely, I recalled a good number of butlers, valets and other men years ago. Were they dismissed for being commoners, from that incident where Lady Greyfield was attacked? I guess the foresters and coachman were the only males left. Wait, that’s not true, I didn’t even know if the foresters were men, they could be women underneath the baggy suit and veil too, for argument’s sake.
But none of it made sense. During that one ball I recalled seeing a lot of younger boys, surely the Greyfield family would have thought to hire some of them as their staff? Ah, on the other hand males were often groomed to succeed their respective families. Also, domestic service was not the only job one could be successful in, as evidenced from the many merchants Alnus worked with; as well as the military forces in the king’s castle and the various artisans on the streets making pots and shoes and the like.
“I’m Janette, the parlour maid and laundry maid. Blessings upon you.” On the upside, there’s less people to remember. I couldn’t begin to imagine memorising the names of over thirty people immediately. Messing up would also reflect poorly upon Gabrielle and Mother, so I made a mental note to record their names somewhere. At the very least, I should make an effort to remember Lady Linville and whoever would be supervising me.
“I am Kelly. I’m the personal attendant of the young Lord Richard. Delighted to make your acquaintance.” Huh, Lord Greyfield had a son… The last time I came was for his coming-of-age, wasn’t it? That was two years before mine, so the young lord should be two years older than me in that case. Ugh, it felt weird to imagine someone older than me being called a ‘young lord’.
Moreover, the attendant wasn’t a proper male valet, but Kelly? There was definitely something up with the household, were they perhaps surrounding the young lord with women they wanted him to marry? Wasn’t this basically a large blind-date-thing, uh, whatever it was called? Oh, Goddess Shulvi, this was an absolutely terrible idea for me.
Now that I think about it, none of the maids revealed their surnames in order to hide their true lineage, and with the way they professed themselves it was almost certain that we were simply trophies on display… Aside from Lady Linville, anyway. Was this her idea of saying ‘Get a man quick’ to me? I never did tell her about Alnus… Might be for the best not to, though. Mother seemed to dislike his sort.
“My name is Laila, and I look forward to working with you all. Might I inquire about what Lord Greyfield expects of me?” As I pondered over it more, another strange piece of the puzzle became apparent. The Greyfield nobility were renowned, and technically of equal rank to the Moress nobility if not higher. But somehow, the young lord, uh, what’s his face… Richard, was it? Weren’t the big shots supposed to betroth their heirs early on?
There were a lot of questions already in the first hour I arrived. And, as Mother taught me, ‘If people have something to hide, they must have an incentive to keep it hidden. Be extra careful when dealing with them.’ The nobles played a dangerous game I wanted no part in. I gently brushed against Alnus’ bracelet hidden under my long sleeve, praying for some guidance.
“Of course. You are henceforth the chambermaid, and your responsibility extends to the cleanliness and maintenance of the various privies in the manor and heating water for the baths. Francesca shall show you the ropes for a week, and thereafter you are to achieve independence in your role.” I glanced over at Francesca who flashed a slight grimace before keeping a stiff smile on her face. That was quite the stark contrast to her peppy attitude earlier. Did she hate newcomers, or was there some conflict in her schedule?
I gave her a brief nod, and the head maid continued. “Regarding the visit by Lord Pallus next week, I expect everyone to be on their best behaviour. I want Kelly and Francesca to ensure that Laila is prepared to receive our guests for the visit. From now on, her behaviour will reflect your own, so do not disappoint our masters.” Wow. Way to staple on the pressure, boss.
“Lady Linville, I must attend to the young lord personally, so I fear that I am not the ideal candidate for this task.” I could tell that she wanted no part in the matter. Kelly, was it? I hoped that she was the only maid I had to be wary around, though somehow, I got the feeling that her deflection wasn’t so simple. Was that disdain, or something? She looked like she swallowed bitter bugs. I’m not that bad of a person… Am I?
“Quite the contrary, Dame Kelly. Given your position, you are the most experienced and suitable mentor for Dame Laila. Lord Greyfield took the young master to the Giving Hand church earlier today.” The distaste in her eyes swelled, and told me everything I needed to know about Kelly – She didn’t like another candidate joining the marriage race. The others might be concealing their thoughts, but among them she was the poorest at hiding those dark thoughts.
She mentioned being Richard’s valet… I thought a valet was supposed to accompany their masters wherever they go. Ah, going by Lady Linville’s words earlier, it would be inappropriate for Kelly to even approach him in church. She would be breaking a taboo if she insisted… Not to mention stealing a march on the others if they did find the time for intimacy. Geez, this whole event was getting shadier by the second. I tried my best not to frown, though I could feel my brows twitching and my face hardening into a wry smile.
Everyone’s expressions somehow lightened when Lady Linville announced that. Kelly, on the other hand, seemed to wince, as though she were clearing her throat. “I understand. I would be honoured to, in that case.” She looked so reluctant! But nobody was going to comment on it, perhaps in worry of offending each other by accident. This, this exhausting exchange was their day-to-day conversation?
I’ll be burned out if I had to talk like that for extended periods of time. Alnus would probably think of it as a great way to exercise noble speech… though if anything, he might be incredibly jealous at the young lord for visiting the largest church in Pura. He would probably start calculating expenses in frustration or doing chores in spite, or something silly and cute like tallying the number of oat grains in a sack using his abacus.
As everyone was dismissed for their formal duties, Francesca showed me where each privy was located in the manor, and briefly explained what was to be done while saying “No need to be too formal, we’re all living together now.” The poorly-done potpourri in a bowl and petals scattered on the floor were to be changed every two weeks, along with wiping down the floor, windows and walls every day. Apart from that, a fresh stack of hay for wiping down their posteriors and topping up the buckets of water for handwashing was required after every meal, and finally a restock of the oil in the sconces and the rush candles routinely.
The sconces were placed unusually low and within arm’s reach, for ease of lighting the privy in the night. But it was right above a box where the hay was stored at, which sent my warning bells ringing. When I asked Francesca, she sulked and simply said that it was how it had always been done, so it was probably decided by the previous maids. Next, we began the march to the baths.
I remembered something about using the flames of the sconce to burn the gases in the privy, but it was just an old housewife saying with little to no proper research. I thought of that as a little dangerous though, but I’m in no position to rebuke. Maybe it’s a prestige thing, where they were so rich that even repairs for the fire damage were of little consequence; or their house was sturdy enough to endure even the accidental fire. Heck if I know what they were thinking.
The bath attached to the house from the outside was pretty new and well-maintained, compared to the ones I’ve seen used in Prot. There was a row of privies next to it, which naturally fell under my jurisdiction too. But the key feature was a magical device mounted with a gem that could be powered up to heat the water instantly, which removed the need to purchase firewood.
As expected of fancy nobles, they didn’t need manpower to sit by the fire kiln, chopping wood and tossing fuel into it. Part of me suspected that the design was intentional, so the maids could appear attractive to the young master and not reek of sweat. Ugh, it still irked me to call an older man a “young master”. If only I were half as mature and refined as Desiree looked… I probably looked like a squirt compared to her.
I wondered why the senior maids seemed distraught at having to look after me. It wasn’t like I did anything to offend them, or something… Ah, but what if I was looking at it from the wrong angle? I’m the chambermaid, so wouldn’t I stink horribly while working? Maybe the idea of cleaning the privies was a colossal pain, or something unbecoming for a noble. I imagined it would be, what with the foul smell and the possibility of dirtying their dresses.
It made sense from that angle. Since Lady Greyfield fired all of the commoners, the privies were now managed by nobles… Well, it should’ve been. Handling waste was not a particularly noble thing to do, or so they believed. Which meant that this position was vacant for a long time with external workers routinely cleaning up after the waste on some days. The job might unexpectedly be easier than I thought, if the only reason nobody wanted it was due to disgust.
A part of me wondered if the other ‘suitable candidate’ that Lady Linville mentioned was going to arrive by the end of the week, or the next. Or, she might have rejected the offer when she heard it was for a chambermaid position. It was a matter of pride, probably. I couldn’t tell how the other minor noble families raised their kids, but I would imagine that I was an oddity. Mother was not afraid of entrusting her children with the weight of responsibility.
Tasking one’s daughters with the family’s monthly expenses, a role normally reserved for the housekeeper, was unthinkable for many nobles after all. Moreover, while it might be controversial for noble children like Laulus and I to help with chores, that’s just an opinion by the nobles who lived too gilded a life to appreciate the little things. ‘He who shops from a carriage knows naught the sufferers of stone’, and a noble could not act in the best interest for the people if their pains were not understood.
… Alnus told me that quote. It had been a mere week since we last saw each other, and I missed him already. It’s funny that I never realised how relieved I felt, complaining and telling him about my day every night. For all the bouts of denial and ignorance I feigned, Alnus really was a bigger part of my life than I was happier to admit. How great it would be, to just walk next door and procure needles and a pincushion for sewing; adding on bread with an extra helping of cheese, carrots and ale for dinner at the same time.
On that note, I was to sleep in terribly cramped quarters that was basically a repurposed side passage leading outside, where the light rarely shined, the smell of mould was mild but apparent, and exiting the other entrance was a corridor right next to the great hall. Such a set-up would be worrying, but thankfully the manor was isolated in its own fief. More than anything else, I can’t help but suspect that something heavily political was stirring in the shadows.
No straight way forward, though. I should first get my bearings aligned, and understand exactly what was going down in the manor before making any hasty decisions. Before I realised, my belongings were unpacked and I had settled into the stagnant, mildly odorous room.
Well, whatever. I sank right into the strange bed and closed my eyes.