The worst chore for Crystal was undoubtedly spinning yarn. It always made her fingers hurt and more than once, she’d found a spontaneous knot in already carded wool which proved to be a seed or stone or some other item which shouldn’t have been there.
She wasn’t sure which was worse, the way her hands itched and burned, or the fact that there was always something that shouldn’t have been in the wool. Her brothers could card it, comb it and sort it three and four times and Crystal would still have small items to pull out of it.
They’d tried cotton one year. It had been worse. She still had a scar on her palm from the broken knife blade that had somehow been hidden in it.
For the what felt like the hundredth time since starting, Crystal had to pause and reach for the comb to help pluck out whatever she’d discovered. A leaf, she realized. At the least, it looked like a leaf.
Yes, it was a leaf. A little crushed, but a leaf. Hoping no one was around to see, she sniffed it. Mint.
She dropped the leaf in the small basket next to her where it joined the other odds and ends she’d found. By the time she finished her spinning and had enough wool to take down to the old woman, she’d have half-filled the basket.
Timid and soft, the voice drew Crystal’s attention from her yarn. The timidity in the voice matched its owner well. Juniper. The old woman’s apprentice.
She stood there, eyes wide and fearful as she studied Crystal, a basket over her arm. “Yes?” Crystal asked. As always, it seemed her ribbon was falling out.
“I…I brought you some tarts. As a thank you for the blackberries.” A faint smile curled on Juniper’s lips as she spoke and Crystal paused.
Few people thanked her for the things she gave them. All too often she found them whether she wanted to or not. People were used to her handing them odd little things, only for them to be missing items or things they needed for supper, for work, for other endeavors.
“A thank you?” It almost felt foreign to Crystal. People didn’t thank her for the items she gave them.
“It only seemed right,” Juniper said and bent her head. Crystal hated how small she sounded. “You didn’t have to give me the blackberries, so I thought I’d bring you something.”
Slowly, Crystal stood, leaving her spinning as it was and came down the porch steps. She was a little taller than Juniper, she realized and smiled a little as Juniper hesitantly uncovered the basket to reveal the tarts.
“Thank you,” Crystal said, and Juniper smiled as she lifted the plate out to hand them over.
“I…well, you’re welcome.”
“Do you want to come in?” The words came out of Crystal’s mouth before she could fully think them through. She knew what the house looked like—there were dozens of things on shelves wherever she’d left them, probably dust in the corner because there always seemed to be something. Laundry on the line. There would be at least one rabbit escaped from the hutch.
“Oh, I…I don’t want to impose.”
It was too late to rescind the invitation and Crystal had been taught sharing gifts was polite.
Even if she didn’t usually get a thank-you for the gifts she gave others.
“It’s not. I’m inviting you in. At least have a tart with me.”
Juniper hesitated and then nodded. “All—Alright.”
It was such a tiny smile, but on Juniper’s face, it made almost everything brighter. Crystal held the door for her, but as they walked in, she almost wanted to exclaim some emergency and run away. Shelves full of the odds and ends Crystal had found covered the one wall, trinkets, broken pieces of pottery and other random items.
It wasn’t the pieces themselves that mattered, most of the time they were only little things. Rather, Crystal knew they were still holding into something else. A little magic, which she herself couldn’t do anything with.
She could hold magic, but not use it.
Juniper’s gaze however, traveled up and down the shelf and Crystal found her tongue once again moving.
“They’re just interesting finds. Things from the field.” Or from the yarn she spun, from the bushes she helped trim, from the basket she brought home from market, from who knew where.
“They’re very interesting,” Juniper agreed and reached up to fix her hair, sighing when the ribbon slipped out again. “Sorry.”
“Nothing to apologize for.”
“I did interrupt your spinning,” Juniper said and Crystal smiled.
“That’s always interrupted,” she said. “It takes a while to get anything spun for me.”
“Oh. I—mhmm.” She dropped her head a little and Crystal set the plate down.
“You were going to say something.”
“Oh, it’s just, I’ve always enjoyed spinning. I’d be happy to help or show you some things if you’d like.”
“It’s not that, it’s just the wool and…” she trailed off, not wanting to have to explain she was fairy-blessed, gifted to always find something she could use.
“It’s your blessing, isn’t it?”
The outright question startled Crystal and Juniper dropped her head again. “I’m sorry, that was rude.”
“It just surprised me. Not that many people know about it.”
Juniper smiled. “The old woman, she told me.”
Crystal knew exactly who Juniper meant. And if she’d told Juniper, there had to be a reason behind it.
“Then, would you mind helping with the spinning? I can bring more blackberries, or something else if you need it.”
Juniper’s gaze moved to the shelf. “Actually,” she said and reached out gently to pick up a tiny brass ring. “I need a ring for something I’m working on. I’ll trade you for this.”
Impossibly, Crystal’s heart skipped a beat. “Absolutely,” she said.
“Then let’s have that tart, and then I’ll get the spinning done,” Juniper said and slid the ring into her basket.
The tarts were sweet, and Crystal made tea. The conversation grew easier and she learned more about Juniper. She’d been an apprentice for three years. She had a younger sister, now off to university.
Their tart finished and Juniper began the spinning. Several times as Crystal moved near the door while she worked around the rest of the house, she thought she heard Juniper humming as she worked.
It was evening fall by the time her brothers came in from the fields and both she and Juniper belatedly realized the time.
“Thank you, again,” Juniper said as she tried and failed to tie the ribbon back into her hair. “If you want help with the spinning again just let me know. I’ll—oh, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go!”
“Of course. And thank you for the tarts.”
Juniper waved as she scurried away and Crystal leaned against the doorframe, lips pulled into a smile.
A hand landed on her shoulder and she looked up to see Jasper, grinning at her like a fool. “Help with the spinning?”
Her cheeks tingled a little and she scrunched her nose as she tried to shrug his hand off. “She asked if I wanted any, and it made it easier to get some other things done.”
Jasper barked out a laugh. “Somehow I have a feeling you’re going to need a lot of help with all that spinning.”
Cheeks burning, Crystal turned into the house. Supper needed to be seen to. Although, she had to wonder if this was what Godmother Dawn had been intending when she’d told Juniper about Crystal’s blessing. It almost felt rude to steal a Godmother’s apprentice for a little help with spinning yarn.
By A.J. Helms
If you enjoyed this short piece, consider checking out my short stories or my books! This piece also connects directly with my short Season of Preparing and is in the same universe as Crimson and Gold.