Drea's earliest memories were of cold. The orphanage nurseries were cold. The grey walls were cold. The hard, stone floors were cold. Most of the staff were cold. The orphanage itself stood on a hill where the winds swept relentlessly from all four directions. In time, no one noticed the cold, or the bleak surroundings. They were alive, at least.
"Drea!" Madame Jilly cane trotting out into the yard where Drea and three other children were feeding the goats. Drea's face broke out into a wide smile. She looked forward to the days when Madame Jilly was there. Madame Jilly sang and smiled and played and made the children laugh. She also sat in lessons with them while Master Fox droned on about rules and propriety. Master Fox taught both sets of lessons, one for girls and one for boys. The laws and expectations of society were drilled into every little head, even in the orphanage.
"Oh look at the state of you Drea Silver!" Madame Jilly wailed, looking at Drea's grubby face and hands.
"I'm feeding goats, Madame." Drea laughed. "It's not easy to stay clean!"
"You grub!" Madame Jilly took the feed bags from Drea and gave them to another girl. "Come with me."
"But I haven't finished ..."
"Stop arguing! You really are a woeful child." Madame Jilly rolled her eyes them smiled at Drea. Drea took Madame Jillys hand and was lead to the orphanage's grey, stone wash-room.
"Bath?" Drea said in surprise. "Madame Jilly it can't be my turn already. I think you've made a mistake." She nodded as Madame Jilly began filling the tub with the usual cloudy cold water.
"No I haven't." Madame Jilly hefted another bucketful. The orphanage, as well as many other buildings, had no hot water.
"Are you sure? One ... two ... three weeks ... Eeep!" Drea wriggled as Madame Jilly began pulling Drea's tatty smock from her.
"Drea this is a very special occasion." Madame Jilly stopped and smiled at Drea. "Eleven years old already. I remember when you were brought here by a crooked old nurse."
"You've looked after me well." Drea said seriously, peeling off the suppressor that had absolutely nothing to suppress. Drea had been forced into the infernal thing a year ago, then her hair had been pulled and tugged into a knot and covered with a cloth cap. This was the decent way that girls presented themselves. If a strand of hair was loose, or a suppressor not tight enough, then a sound beating was in order with a birch. Drea and the birch were quite well acquainted. "May I ask what the special occasion is? It isn't my birthday." Drea frowned. Her birthday being the day she was handed over to the orphanage.
"We're getting very special visitors, Drea." Madame Jilly said, helping Drea into the tub. Drea's breath caught in her chest as her body hit the cold water. "Lord Cassidy Hellion and his party have travelled all the way from Brightplain!"
"Brightplain!" Drea said in awe. Master Fox had told them all about the other Zones. There was Brightplain, Demihold and this one which was Crull. Brightplain sounded like a fairytale to Drea. Warm water, hot sunny days and short balmy nights. It had beaches with golden sand and bright blue seas and castles made from white polished stone.
"He's travelling with two of his wives en route to Demihold on business. Lord Hellion has the finest vineyards in the land and many, many shops and stalls."
"Why is Crull the poorest Zone, Madame Jilly?" Drea asked as Madame Jilly unknotted her long, fair hair to wash it. Madame Jilly sighed sadly.
"It always has been. That's the curse of being stuck in the middle, literally. Any troubles between Brightplain and Demihold and Crull is in the direct crossfire. Master Fox will have told you this in lessons."
"Well not really, Madame Jilly. Those lessons are for the boys, not us." Drea frowned. Jilly scowled and scrubbed Drea's hair with a soggy cake of soap that was used for everything.
Madame Jilly was quite well learned, courtesy of her teacher father. The man had been hanged as a radical extremist when one particular Cell was running Crull. In Jilly's forty year life, there'd been a total of eighty-two Cells running Crull. One Cell merely attacked, terrorised and overthrew the next and it was ordinary people who suffered. Due to the strict laws on women and education, Madame Jilly kept her intelligence guarded. For her to give a political opinion could see her jailed and beaten in public as an example.
"You're right, child. Those are men's problems." Jilly forced a smile and almost choked on the words. It was to disuade Drea, and the other children, from asking questions in less tolerant company. "Oh and they're welcome to it! Yes? Yes I should say so! Anyway I was talking about Lord Cassidy! Drea he often picks good girls from places like this. Good girls who can work hard and who know their manners." She helped Drea from the tub and the child stood and shivered on the cold stone floor.
"Go to Brightplain?" Drea said through chattering teeth. "For ever?" She turned her huge blue eyes towards Madame Jilly. Those eyes that looked twice as huge due to the thin-ness of Drea's little face. Jilly knelt in front of Drea and draped a towel round her.
"Drea it's a chance in a million, Precious." She smiled, rather sadly.
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