Gisborne . . .
With apologies to Guy of Gisborne, Cinderella and Richard Armitage.
(Prior to washing the kitchen floors today, I have had to get my tax-papers together and as with all mundane tasks, I tell myself a story whilst working. This is what eventuated.)
My knees hurt. The floor was overly large, stretching too far in four directions before my eyes. Why did it need washing? I had swept it, concentrating on the corners where the dust would lie and I had wiped away the footprints left by a pair of boots worn in the wet.
But it was an imperative: the floor must be clean and so I collected the cloths, filled the bucket with warm water and began at the furthest corner. As I worked, I allowed my head to drift to better things. Walking in a leafy wood with two dogs at my heels, listening to the birds, smiling as a blue wren alighted on my shoulder and chirruped.
My knees pained and I pushed myself up for a moment to ease them and in so doing knocked the bucket of water which spread across the floor in a dirty stain and I could almost hear the order: ‘Stupid. Clean it up. Now!’
I began again and resolved to eat my dinner off the floor because surely it would be clean enough. I reversed on my knees to the kitchen door, dragging the cloths and the bucket, swearing under my breath, raising a hand to push falling hair away from a sweaty forehead.
A deep voice spoke. ‘You do not answer your street door, Lady?’
I crawled around like an invalid to face my interlocutor. He looked down at me, a tip to the side of a straight mouth, his wild hair lying on his collar, his black tunic and breeches a mark of a greater house than the one in which I currently sat on my haunches.
I stood. My heart beat enough to make the fabric in my shirt tremble, I was sure. ‘Lord?’
‘I have come for the taxes.’
‘But I . . .’
‘Your silver, it will serve.’
‘But . . .’
He sighed, ‘Are you an imbecile that you don’t understand? I am the collector.’
Finally as his expression darkened, I got my breath. He had an extraordinary presence and I was a female after all. ‘And I sir, am the housemaid. Any silver in this house is but a tiresome waste of my energies requiring copious spit and polish.’ I swung the door wide and dropped into a curtsy that even I thought had the style of a lady. I hated my work and felt no guilt at what I said next as I shook out my messy hair. ‘Enter and take what you want. It’s nothing to me.’
He eased past, his impressive height dwarfing me, his leathers creaking. He smiled but it was wolfish. ‘Well now, how easy you make my job. What did you say your name was?’
‘I didn’t,’ I returned as I bent to pick up the bucket because it wouldn’t do to show overt interest. ‘But since you ask, it’s Prudence.’
I heard a laugh as he walked on through the house, and I could have followed like a lovestruck maid if I had no pride. ‘Obviously you are not.’ He called. ‘Prudent, that is. Else you’d never have let me in the door.’