The Dark and Forbidding Land – Chapter 6 Excerpt

Cissy was getting quite used to her new role.  The work she did, while not physically demanding, was at least varied enough to keep her attention.  She enjoyed watching the humans and learning about their strange activities.  She enjoyed earning many copper bits and spending some of them to buy things.  She liked the human houses, especially now with four feet of snow on the ground outside and more coming down all the time.  Unused rooms in the big house could become as drafty as the huts in lizzie villages, but there were so many fireplaces constantly burning that it was easy to find a place to warm up.  And her own place, in the room she now shared with four other females, in the back of the motorshed, was kept toasty warm in the evening.

“Pay attention Cissy,” said Mrs. Dechantagne.

Cissy was lacing up the back of the strange undergarment that squeezed the human woman’s waist.  Cissy now knew Mrs. Dechantagne’s name, and indeed the names of the other members of the household, though the intricacies of their familial connections still baffled her.  Nor could she pronounce most of the names, but fortunately speech on her part was seldom needed.  She liked Mrs. Dechantagne almost as much as she liked Mrs. Colbshallow.  Neither woman hit the lizzies and Mrs. Dechantagne didn’t yell at them overmuch.  While Mrs. Colbshallow did on occasion raise her voice, she alone among the humans had learned the lizzie language, and offered affection toward the lizzies.

Cissy found herself starting to think in Brech, rather than her native language.  She had learned so many words for things that there were no words for among the lizzies. She had stopped thinking of her race as “the people” and now just thought of them as lizzies, and more often than not, when she thought of herself, the name Cissy came to mind rather than Ssissiatok.

She pulled the corset strings tightly through they eyelets and pulled down on them, locking them into position, so that she could then tie them into a knot.  Once that was done, Mrs. Dechantagne turned around to examine her work in the cheval glass.

“Yes, that’s fine.  Now help me into the dress.”

Cissy was fascinated by the ornate dresses that the human females wore, and this dress was no exception.  It was the color of an angry sunset and was made of enough material to have clothed a dozen men and women.  Covered with coral roses and pink bows, it had to be carefully held so that Mrs. Dechantagne could step into it.  Then it was fastened up the back with more than forty tiny buttons, which Cissy could barely manipulate even with a buttonhook in her clawed fingers.  There was no way that the woman could have put it on by herself and there was no way that she would be able to get out of it either. Of course Cissy had her own skirt, but it was just a wide piece of material wrapped around her above the tail, a mere homage to the dresses worn by the human women of the house.

Once Mrs. Dechantagne was in her dress, Cissy had to kneel down to put the woman’s shoes on her feet, using the same buttonhook to slip the twenty-four buttons on each shoe into their correct spot.  Before she could stand up she heard a shrieking sound from the doorway to the right.  She turned to see elderly Mrs. Godwin leaning against the doorframe with her hand on her breast.

“Are you alright Mrs. Godwin?” asked Mrs. Dechantagne.

“I thought for a moment you were being attacked… by an alligator.”

“Did you forget your glasses again, Mrs. G?”

“Of course I didn’t.   I have them… oh…”  Mrs. Godwin felt her face, and not finding any glasses there, turned and wandered off down the hallway.

“You do rather look like an alligator,” said the young woman, looking down at Cissy.

“Alligator?”

“Yes.  Well, I’ve never seen one in real life.  Just in books.  Um, they say you have crocodiles that are very similar.  Do you know crocodiles?”

Cissy shook her head.

“Oh well.  Get up off the floor.  I’m done with you for now.  Go down and see what Mrs. Colbshallow has for you.”

Leaving the bedroom and walking down the staircase, Cissy looked into the kitchen to find Mrs. Colbshallow supervising the lunch preparations. Shoss and Clegg were washing and cutting vegetables while Sill was arranging a few snow flowers in a vase. Kheesie stepped into the room just behind Cissy.

“Did you finish helping Mrs. Dechantagne get dressed?” asked Mrs. Colbshallow.

“Yes sss…” Cissy hissed mirthfully.  Though she had understood everything the woman had said, not many would have, since about every other word was in the lizzie language.  She had in fact not said “Mrs. Dechantagne”, but had used the term the lizzies in the house had for her, which roughly translated to “the thin white and brown one”.

“And you Kheesie?  Is Iolana down for her nap?”

“Yes,” said Kheesie, then turning to Cissy, hissed under her breath. “Finally.  It simply refuses to sleep.”

“She,” corrected Cissy.

“Very good,” said Mrs. Colbshallow.  “You two are free for now.  Staff lunch is in two hours time.  Come see me afterwards.”

The lizzies were used to eating just once each day, but Mrs. Colbshallow insisted that they sit down to dine three times, each immediately after the three biggest meals of the humans.  Cissy made her way out the back door and across the snow-covered yard to her room in the back of the motor shed.  Kheesie followed.  Once they were inside, they both stretched out on their sleeping mats, lying flat on their stomachs, their noses pointed toward one another.

“I saw Tattasserott walking by on the road in front of the big house,” said Kheesie.

“What was he doing?” wondered Cissy.  “Has he got a job here now?”

“You know he doesn’t have a job.  He’s Ssterrost’s kinsman.”

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