CHAPTER 20

 

 

The rain had stopped and the sun had emerged, peeping out from behind the clouds. It was midday, and Ayo, Yarua and Zibeon had decided to take a well-earned rest. They were tired and wet, and their feet ached like they had never ached before. Sitting on a low mound of reeds, the trio studied the Gungan map as Ayo removed one of his boots. His left heel had rubbed incessantly and his foot felt like a joint of meat. He painfully peeled off his sock to reveal a weeping sore where a blister had formed and subsequently burst. It hurt.

Ayo reached into his rucksack and found the first-aid box wedged between his drinking-flask and the portable computer terminal that allowed for communication with Peetoo. The box contained various dressings and ointments, and after a brief rummage, Ayo found a BactaPlasta, unwrapped it and applied it to the wound on his heel. The coolness of the bacta immediately soothed the pain as its special concoction of enzymes and bacteria set to work.

Yarua and Zibeon sat beside Ayo, drying himself with a towel and causing his fur to stand on end. The fluffy Yarua pointed at Ayoís foot and growled.

"Itís only a blister, Yarua," said Ayo as he stashed the box back into his rucksack. "Should be all right now Iíve put a plaster on it."

Zibeon waddled up to Ayo and smiled, curling his lips away from his fangs. The little Zephoid Zezís yellow eyes glowed with anticipation. Ayo smiled and rubbed the top of Zibeonís head.

"You all right, littleíun?" asked Ayo jovially. Zibeon nodded and began to pant, his tongue lolling from his wide mouth in an attempt to keep cool. The returning sunlight had caused their rain-soaked bodies to steam, and Ayo unzipped his jacket, fanning his chest with the map. Yarua pointed to the map and barked.

Ayo broke off from fanning himself and unfurled the map. "Weíre here," he said as he pointed to their position. The hills loomed ahead, and they now seemed much closer than when they were fighting their way through the morningís rain.

Ayo repositioned the map, folding it in order to clarify their destination. Yarua and Zibeon gathered around. "The nearest point of civilisation is that farm I mentioned. Itís called Kathra Farm, and its just beyond those hills." Yarua groaned at the thought of the hard climb ahead.

"Yeah, man, I know," conceded Ayo. "It's going to be bloody hard work getting to the top, but itíll be worth it." Ayo smiled. "If we can make it to the farm, we might find a speeder or something we can nick so we donít have to walk the rest of the way. Besides, we might have to get away pretty sharpish."

Yarua nodded in agreement. His feet were crying out for a bowl of warm water to ease away the aching tiredness, and the comfort of a speeder appealed to him. After seeing the state of Ayoís feet, Yarua felt thankful that he did not need shoes in order to walk comfortably.

Ayo folded the map and put it away. He threw the rucksack over his shoulders and stretched his body with a groan. He turned to Yarua, who was busy helping Zibeon into his own bag, and gave a purposeful sigh. "Right. Letís hit those hills."

 

* * *

 

The attic dormitory was spartan to say the least. Rows of hard looking beds lined the walls, each accompanied by a wooden side locker. There was no carpet, not even a rug to soften the tread underfoot when climbing out of bed first thing in the morning. As the guardtrooper manhandled her through the door, the room seemed to Sarolyn to be exactly like the Housekeeper; cold, harsh and not particularly inviting. She wondered whether one had influenced the other.

Most of the other servants were busy around the House, leaving just one other girl in the room. Jacqué, the petite, mousey-haired girl whom Sarolyn had met upon arrival, was busy packing her few belongings into the locker beside her bed. She waved to Sarolyn, who was standing in the doorway beside the guard. The guard carried Sarolynís holdall over his shoulder.

"You sleep here," snarled the guardtrooper as he threw Sarolynís holdall to the ground. He turned and left, his heavy footsteps fading down the stairs.

"Hi," smiled Jacqué as Sarolyn picked up her bag and dumped on the adjacent bed. "So you got through your grilling with the Bubo, then?"

"'Bubo'?" said Sarolyn, confused.

"That old bag of a Housekeeper. Sheís got the looks of a Tatooine frog-dog and the wit of an acklay."

The mention of Tatooine brought Bil-Kit Jinn to Sarolynís mind. She was deeply missing him and he was never far from her thoughts. Sarolyn remembered her mission here on Naboo and she recalled the warning from Yoda: Clever is Mandalore and friend of Jedi he is not. She snapped out of her longing for Bil-Kit and concentrated on unpacking her things. She must be mindful.

"Are you okay, Sara?" asked Jacqué with concern. "Youíve gone very quiet."

"Sorry, Jacqué," said Sarolyn sadly. "I was just thinking of all the people Iíve left behind."

"Hey," said Jacqué with a nudge and a smile. "Weíll stick together here. Did the Bubo give you all that crap about rules and stuff?"

"Yes," said Sarolyn as the two girls changed into their uniforms. "All the threats and promises of what would happen if I didnít tow the line. Quite predictable, really."

A bell rang, followed by a mechanical voice that drifted out from a disguised loudspeaker.

"Would maids Jacquélene Hauwood and Sara Antilles report to the Housekeeperís office immediately."

The two girls hurriedly finished dressing. Sarolyn adjusted Jacquťís bonnet as they headed for the door.

"Looks like weíre on duty," observed Sarolyn as they rushed down the narrow staircase towards the lower levels. En route, the two girls passed Stefné, who was being hauled in the opposite direction by a guard.

"Catch you later, Stefné," yelled Jacqué as Stefné was dragged away.

The door to the office was open, and the Housekeeper stood waiting in the corridor. As the girls arrived, the old woman grabbed them by the arms and pulled them into the room. The door snapped shut.

"I summoned you five minutes ago," said the Housekeeper with a disapproving glare. "Tardiness will not be tolerated."

Jacqué felt that she and Sara were being treated unfairly. She knew that that had rushed to see the Bubo as soon as they had received their summons, and that the old woman was causing trouble simply for the fun of it. Jacqué had strong principles regarding fairness. She decided to argue her case. "Yes, but-"

"We shall no buts, young lady," said the Housekeeper, cutting her off. "This will be your only warning."

Jacqué stood quietly beside Sarolyn. A tear ran down her cheek and she sniffed, causing the Housekeeper to round on her.

"Stop that snivelling, child! Only babies cry."

"Sorry, maíam," croaked Jacqué, who had begun to hate that nasty old crone with all of the heart.

"You are both needed in the scullery," said the Housekeeper, examining the two girls for anything with which she could find fault. "The Master and Mistress are arriving this evening and we must be ready. Now run along." The two girls curtsied and left.

"Are you all right, Jacqué?" asked Sarolyn as they raced along a busy corridor. Other servants turned to gawp at Jacqué as she wiped her eyes.

"I canít believe what that old bag just said to me. What about Employment and Contract Law? Doesnít that stand for anything?"

"Iím very much afraid that it doesnít," said Sarolyn sadly. "Mandaloreís so powerful that he can override the legal system. Even the largest fine is nothing to him, and he controls much of the Republic police. In this mansion, he is the law." Sarolyn smiled. "Youíre right, Jacqué. Weíll have to stick together."

After what seemed a lengthy rush through the corridors of the Servantsí Wing, the two girls arrived at the Kitchen Suite, a cluster of rooms and offices dedicated to the preparation of Mandaloreís meals. The hub of the suite was the kitchen itself, a vast cavern of a room that was a scene of what appeared to be hectic chaos.

Sarolyn and Jacqué stood in the kitchen doorway watching the four chefs scurrying around the central preparation table, surrounded by a plethora of ancillary staff. One of the white-clad chefs rushed over to the girls, a bird-like Ishi Tib with a bony head and pointed beak. "Welcome to the kitchen, girls," said the Ishi Tib as he beckoned Sarolyn and Jacqué to follow him through the Kitchen Suite to a storeroom. "Iím Li, and Iím the Sous Chef. Did you notice the tall, blond bloke with the Naboo Security Guardís hat?"

The girls nodded.

"Thatís Adoum, the Head Chef. Youíve got to keep in with him."

Inside the storeroom was a dresser filled with chefsí whites and other items of clothing. A laundry droid sat in the corner, a squat, white enamelled object consisting of a washing tub, manipulator arms and a stumpy pair of legs that had not worked for years.

Li reached over to the dresser and retrieved two baggy, white boiler suits. "Put these on, girls," he said pleasantly. "You just slip them over your uniforms so they donít get mucky."

Li waited patiently as the two girls removed their bonnets and donned the suits, before leading them out.

"Youíll be K.P.íing in the scullery," said Li as they re-entered the kitchen.

"K.P.?" asked Jacqué, unfamiliar with catering jargon.

"Kitchen portering," said Li. "You know, er, washing up, cleaning... Bit like the old scullery maidís job but with extra duties like checking deliveries and fridge temperatures and all that."

"Right," said Jacqué, her knowledge augmented.

A black-haired, freckled girl with buck teeth and vibrant blue eyes joined Sarolyn and Jacqué. She, too sported white overalls, but hers were soaked and stained.

"Jen, this is Jacqué," said Li to the newcomer. "Could you take her with you to chop up some goatgrass?"

"Yeah, okay," sighed Jen as she shuffled towards a work surface in the far corner.

"See you later, Sara," said Jacqué as she followed Jen, leaving Sarolyn alone with Li.

"Thereís a load of deliveries out the back waiting to be put away," said Li, pointing a claw at the corridor leading to the Butchery exit. "Mostly butter from Kathra Farm, but thereís some cream and a bit of cheese as well. Could you bring them in and put them in the Dairy Fridge, please?"

Sarolyn smiled. Like the Ishi Tib members of the Jedi, Li was pleasant and mild-mannered, much nicer than that awful Housekeeper. "Yes, of course," she answered.

Just as Sarolyn began to head for the door, Li suddenly remembered something. "Oh, Sara," he stuttered. "Donít forget to rotate the stuff in the fridge, er, you know, um, new stuff at the back and old stuff at the front."

"Yes, okay," said Sarolyn as she rushed through to the corridor.

It was a quick job for Sarolyn to bring in the box that sat outside on the doorstep, negotiating the hanging carcases that blocked her way through the Butchery, and neatly stacking the tall, deep refrigerator with its new stock.

As soon as she had finished, Adoum, the Head Chef, ambled over to her. He was a tall, gangly man with staring, blue eyes. His blond hair was tied back in a pigtail and he wore the headgear of the Royal Naboo Security Services back-to-front on his head. Eccentricity was apparently the prerogative of only the most senior servants.

"Sara, isnít it?" Adoum spoke in an indifferent, nasal monotone, sounding more like a droid than a human being.

"Yes, sir," said Sarolyn, who was still on her knees from loading the fridge.

"You rotated it?" asked Adoum in reference to food hygiene procedures.

"Yes, sir," replied Sarolyn as Adoum opened the fridge in order to check on her handiwork.

"Good," he praised, shutting the door. "Nice and neat." Adoum indicated towards the corridor windows at the back of the Kitchen. "Thereís another box outside, just come in. Could you bring it in and put it on the main prep table?"

"Yes, sir," said Sarolyn as she stood up. She turned and strode away.

Sarolyn stood outside on the butchery doorstep for a few seconds in order to catch her breath. As she listened to the commotion behind her, she wondered how Jacqué was getting on. It was cool and pleasant out here, away from the heat of the ovens. The kitchen, with all of its hustle seemed like Coruscant in miniature. A large cardboard box lay before her, and she pushed up her sleeves and picked it up. The box smelled faintly of the sea.

Upon her return, the Kitchen felt hotter then ever. She stood watching, sweat pouring down her face, as Adoum opened out the box to reveal a grey, sluglike creature lying wetly in its paper wrappings, its glassy eyes staring up at the ceiling.

"Itís the main course for His Lordshipís banquet tonight," explained Adoum as he poked and prodded the creature.

Sarolyn had never before seen such a bizarre-looking animal. "What is it?" she asked, peering closely at it.

"Itís a wol cabasshite," said Adoum as he reached for a knife. "They live in the caves down by the beach."

Without warning, the wol awoke. As Sarolyn peered into its eyes, the creature shot out its long tongue and slapped it squarely upon her mouth. Sarolyn gasped as she recoiled with a start, almost impaling herself on Adoumís knife. She did not expect the wol still to be alive.

"Itís fresh," observed Adoum without enthusiasm as Sarolyn wiped the creatureís mucus from her face. He returned to the wol. "You wonít give us any more trouble, will you?" he muttered as he scooped up the wol, carried it over to a cauldron filled with boiling water, and dropped it in with a splash. He stirred the water for a few seconds with a long-handled sieve before fishing out the dead wol and slapping it onto a chopping board.

"Youíre needed in the scullery," he droned, beheading the wol with one sharp chop of a meat cleaver. Sarolyn, glad to be relieved of Adoum dissecting the weird creature, headed for the door.

 

A large, stainless steel dishwasher sat in the corner of the room dominated the scullery. It was surrounded by work surfaces and draining boards made from the same material, and the shelves were piled high with dirty crockery. A safety sign was screwed to the tiled wall.

Jacqué stood at one of the sculleryís three deep sinks, scrubbing a carbonised metal pot. Soapsuds formed upon the surface of the steaming water, occasionally detaching small pieces that drifted away.

Jen stood at one end of the dishwasher, unloading hot, clean plates from a hatch at one end. She turned to Sarolyn and initiated her in the use of the machine.

"Simple, really," said Jen with her usual air of boredom, her mind obviously not on the task in hand. "You put the dirty stuff in this end, pull the lever down and set the timer. When it stops, itís clean."

"What happens if I break a plate?" asked Sarolyn as she arranged a pile of greasy dishes upon a draining rack before shoving it into the machine.

"Itís taken out of your wages," said Jen, looking down at Sarolynís hands. "They wonít stay soft for very long in this job, Sara." She showed Sarolyn her own hands, which were chapped and raw from the relentless grind of scullery work.

"How old are you?" asked Sarolyn, concerned for Jenís welfare.

"Sixteen."

Sarolyn could not believe her ears. A young girl, barely out of childhood, scrubbing pots and pans for a pittance. No reasonable household would force servants to perform this kind of menial labour. "Donít they have droids for this?" she asked with a hint of concern.

"His Lordship doesnít approve of them," said Jen as she hauled the rack of clean plates out from the machine. "Itís a sort of status symbol to have real servants, and the more you have, the more important you are."

Jen studied Sarolyn. The tall girl who called herself Sara seemed to possess a certain elegance that could only belong to one of class. Could she have fallen on hard times? Jen was curious. "You seem pretty posh yourself, Sara. How did you end up here?"

Sarolyn smiled. "After I finished University, my parents thought it would do me good to see some of the real Republic." She decided to change the subject, fearing that her true motives could be exposed. It was still too early in the day to trust anybodyís confidence.

"Whatís Lord Mandalore like when heís here?" Sarolyn asked. She wished to find out as much as possible about him and his ways, so she could plan her course of action.

"He keeps himself to himself," said Jen. "He doesnít really speak to anyone, and most of the time heís shut away in the Library."

"What does he do in there?"

"We donít know. No-oneís allowed anywhere near it, and itís well guarded at all times." Jen shivered. "Thereís something about him, Sara. Something dark...creepy. You can see it in his eyes."

"What about Japhta Fett?" asked Sarolyn, eager to find out more about her former rival from the Jedi Temple.

"Sheís creepy, too. I used to work upstairs in Wardrobes when I first came here, looking after Fettís clothes and dressing her. There was another girl up there called Booja, who was very young and very pretty. Fett doesnít like girls who are better looking than her. She thinks that sheís the most beautiful girl in the Republic, and sheís made the galaxy believe it.

"Beneath her sexy image, Fettís a total nutter. She hated Booja from the start. One day, Her Ladyship found a tiny stain on one of her designer dresses when Booja was arranging the boudoir. Fett did a 'mental' and hit Booja so hard across the face that the flesh was torn from her skull. Thereís something well wrong with Fett. If she doesnít like the look of you, you might as well be dead."

Jen looked hard into Sarolynís eyes, worried for the new girlís future. She could see that Sarolyn, with her tall, graceful figure and wide, doe eyes was more than a match in the beauty stakes for Japhta Fett.

"I beg you, Sara. Stay away from Fett if you can help it."

Sarolyn knew that Jen was telling the truth. Japhta Fett was not above killing innocent people, kind, gentle people like Master Bil-Kit, in cold blood. She bowed her head and sighed as a blond head poked around the scullery door.

"Youíre not paid to stand around chatting," sneered Adoum in his nasal monotone. As he returned to his duties, Jen pulled a mocking face behind his back before turning to Sarolyn.

"Not paid to stand around chatting?" she whispered with cynicism. "Weíre hardly paid at all."

Forward to Chapter 21

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