Yuah Korlann woke so suddenly that for a moment she didn’t recognize where she was. She was of course, in her own bed, in her own small room, in the servant’s quarters of Number One, Avenue Dragon—in Brech… in Greater Brechalon. She threw her legs over the side of the bed and stuck them into her house shoes. What a queer dream that had been.
She had been walking down a road. It had been winter. Patches of snow lay here and there on the ground and some of the trees were bare, although there were many evergreens. She had been bundled up in a thick fur coat, far more luxurious and expensive than anything she would ever really be able to afford. She even had a fur muff. The most extraordinary thing though, wasn’t where she was, but who or more precisely what, she was with. It was an alligator, walking upright and wearing a yellow evening gown. As they walked along, they talked about the strangest things: the state of the Kingdom, literature, and religion.
Reaching for the glass of water on her nightstand, Yuah saw the open book lying there. She had been reading Night of the Snake by Ebrahim Detsky. That was the problem. She ought not to read books like that right before bed.
Getting up and throwing the housecoat over her nightdress, she shuffled out the door, down the hallway and into the servant’s hall. It was just light enough to see and she realized it was a quarter past four when the wall clock sounded four sharp chimes.
Padding her way on into the kitchen, she thought about having a cup of tea, but that would have meant starting a fire in the oven. Instead, she opened the door of the icebox and withdrew a bottle of milk—one of six, and got a glass from the cupboard. She poured her milk, put the bottle back, and carried the glass into the servant’s hall, where she sat down at the great table. As she drank her milk, she could hear the clock tick-tocking in the other room. It seemed to get louder and louder.
“You’re up early.” At the sound of the voice Yuah jumped, dribbling milk down her chin.
“Heavenly days! What’s wrong with you?” Both the exclamation and the question were out of her mouth before she turned around to find Terrence staring wryly at her.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Don’t look at me! I’m practically naked!”
“You’re kidding, right? You’ve got more clothes on than an Argrathian virgin.” He stepped past her and made his way into the kitchen.
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” said Yuah.
“About Argrathians or about virgins? Shouldn’t there be some cheese in the icebox? Oh, here we go. Now where’s the breadbox?”
“Why didn’t you just press your buzzer?”
“What?” He poked his head back in through the doorway.
“You have a buzzer in your room next to the bed. When you press it, whoever’s on duty, I think it’s Eunice, will bring you whatever you want.”
“When did I get one of those?”
“Your sister had it put in a few months ago.”
“How much do you suppose that cost? Oh, here’s the bread.”
“You would think that you would know. After all, it is your money she’s spending.”
There was a clattering of knives and plates, but Terrence said nothing else until he emerged back from the kitchen with a cheese sandwich on a plate in one hand and what was left of Yuah’s bottle of milk in the other.
“If I’m not worried about it, you shouldn’t be,” he said, sitting down.
He took a bite of sandwich and they were both quiet for a moment.
“That’s your problem, you know,” Yuah said quietly. “You never worry about anything.”
“You’re overstepping yourself, little maid. It’s not your job to worry about what my problem is.” He drained the milk bottle and set it down, hard, on the table.
“Somebody has to. You’re hiding out somewhere poisoning yourself, aren’t you?”
“Shut the hell up,” he said, getting to his feet.
“You’re not taking care of yourself and nobody else is either. I nursed you when you were little, but who’s looking after you now?”
“And just who did you think you were, when you were nursing me? My sister or my mother?”
“I see,” Terrence stepped close and leaned down to look her in the face. “You thought you were my woman. Well, you’re not.”
Yuah felt tears flooding unbidden down her cheeks. She wanted to scream that she wouldn’t marry an idiot like him in a million years, but all that came out was “I hate you!”
“Yeah, welcome to the club.” He stood up and tossed the sandwich onto the table, where it fell apart and scattered.
Yuah jumped to her feet and rushed toward the doorway, pausing just long enough to yell once more at Terrence. She wanted to tell him that he hated himself so much that he would never be able to love anyone else, but all that came out was “You can’t have me.”
“Why would I want a skinny little bint like you?” shouted Terrence after her.