My Name is Minette, Chapter Eight: The Future

The ladies carried themselves without a second thought, but with a hearty heaping of grace. They moved differently from Minette. Their dresses weren’t royal or anything, weren’t attire for a ball, but their simplicity was beautiful. Minette wanted to feel the black buttons in her hands, slip her arms through a shapely sleeve. Maw could make a dress like that. But not for Minette.

Paw clapped a giant, calloused mitt on her shoulder, startling her. He nodded his chin out toward them with a grunt and a grin. “Nice to look at, ain’t they?”

The ladies scurried off at the sight of Paw’s scruffy mug. Minette watched them go, face going hot. She didn’t know what to say.

Paw chuckled, finding something funny about her silence. “I remember those days with your mother,” he said. “Courting is fun, but marriage is work. You don’t want the prettiest girl, you want the one that can keep house. Remember that, boy.”

Minette wanted this conversation to be over. “Yes, Paw.”

“And go out for once,” Paw said, brow wrinkling. “One drink wouldn’t kill you. You need the experience, the hair on your chest.”

“Yes, Paw.”

“We’ll find you a good woman. Summer’s end. Guaranteed. It’s past time, Mort. We’ll get your hair cut and your shoes polished. Your mother and I will sort it out. Don’t you worry.” Paw clapped her on the back hard enough to make her cough and turned around, wheeling back into the forge and leaving Minette alone.

Minette tightened her jaw, watching the skirts bounce lightly above the ground as the girls turned a corner and disappeared out of sight.

Summer’s end, Paw had said. Brushing her hair out of her face, she looked at the sun-burned hills, the broad Oaks with some leaves already littering the dappled sunlight at their roots

Summer’s end was already here, along with the end of Minette’s freedom.

The real fantasy was how delusional she’d been. She’d assumed she could put it off forever, keep training, keep to herself, and maybe fall into something worthwhile, something that didn’t make her want to scream.

But reality was knocking, and she had to answer the door sooner or later.

She was so screwed.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Seven: Another World

The forge wasn’t far from home. She could see their huddled little roof and stone chimney from here. There was a nice view of town, too. The smithy sat alone on a hill on the outskirts of town, but still inside the great stone walls, observing the cramped, messy streets from above. From this perch, Minette had done quite a lot of people-watching, guessing at the lives of the little ant-sized citizens that rushed to and fro down below. Droz wasn’t massive, but it wasn’t empty, either; it teemed with life. There were districts and people Minette had never ventured to or met. She’d been relegated to her little corner, her little life.

She’d never made it past the walls. The gates were always guarded, and if she went too close, her parents screamed at her about the dangers of the Outside World. Drozians rarely left, and when they did, it was for essential reasons, not because of some secret, hard-to-describe yearning.

Her parents had set her up on playdates with other children in town, but the boys she’d played with were all so rough, so violent. She didn’t understand them or their equally brutish fathers. Some of the people in Droz motivated Minette to just stay home, cooped up inside of walls upon walls.

Maybe her parents were right. If she could barely handle Droz, would she even be remotely prepared for what lay beyond its walls?

Minette admired the tenacity of the weary blue sky and the stubbornness of the dying, tawny grass stalks, the exhausted bumble bees searching bravely for the last of the late summer flowers to pollinate. They all persisted despite the heat and dryness. She understood them, the effort it took just to grow.

A titter grabbed her attention.

A real, actual, dictionary-definition titter.

She looked up and found two ladies walking past, staring right at her. What they were doing all the way out here where the streets were mud was a mystery. They stood out in this tired landscape like gemstones among pebbles.

She didn’t know how old they were, or who they were, or where they were from, only that they wore maroon dresses and high stockings and boots. They carried a parasol between them, keeping fair, unlined skin from the sun, and they smiled over at Minette when she caught their eyes.

Minette was enthralled. Just like with Sir Edric, the sight of them drew her into vivid, rose-tinted fantasies. Their very existence spoke of a different world, a different reality that called to Minette in dulcet tones.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Six: Irons

She couldn’t see any alternatives, though, as she was the eldest Coppersmith, their proud “son,” their strong heir. She’d worked in the smithy for years already and knew it well. Paw never smiled, except for when he talked about when Morty would take over the family business one day. 

One day soon.

And, of course, Minette could only do that with a good wife who had child-bearing hips.

Those were the thoughts that made her particularly dizzy, and being dizzy in a tiny dark room full of liquid copper was not a winning combination.

Minette forced herself to ignore her brain once again, grabbing one of the broad mallets from the tool bench and putting her smithing helmet on. Paw poured copper into the cauldron above the flames, and off to work they went.

It was silent in the smithy, the way Paw preferred it. He considered words a woman’s tool, and was expertly talented at never giving voice to the worries and grumps that ran around inside his head like hungry voles. Trying to talk to him about anything important was like trying to stuff your hand into the dirt and catch one of those voles without looking.

So Minette worked in silence alongside her father.

The process was, of course, all strength and brutishness and griminess, but Minette didn’t really mind the end product. The delicate, beautiful art they wrought from tough, raw, hot metal was something to behold.

Their first order today was one they’d done together millions of times: a weathervane.

Farmer Foster wanted a cow-shaped weathervane to sit atop the barn on his dairy farm. Paw did all the grunt work, slamming and shaming copper into delicate sheets, and Minette helped work it into art, into something tangible: two interconnecting pieces that looked like delicate cows with the cardinal directions sitting atop their backs. She etched the fine details, drawing twin, smiling faces on the cows.

It was an everyday item, something so commonplace that most people never gave it a second glance, but Minette appreciated it. She found it beautiful, magical, even, knowing the work and care that went into it. They made a lot of household items and decorative pieces, things that others saw only the utility in, but she saw the art in them.

Plus, they were getting paid to make it. Nothing fostered a sense of appreciation more than a gold Drune.

All that was left was the crafting of it: heaving it onto a stake, adding decorative marbles, and all that. Paw did that work–he was still too particular about it to let Minette do it on her own–so Minette wandered to the forge’s mouth for a breath of fresh air.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Five: The Smithy

Minette opened her mouth to respond, but Maw wasn’t done.

“And why do you keep it like that anyway? I keep me own hair shorter’n yours. It’s practical.”

“Practical,” Minette snorted. Sometimes that felt like the only label people slapped on her. That she was useful, like a tool.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Maw demanded, hand creeping toward the dastardly wooden spoon. She jerked her head toward the open front door. “You’d better be off to your father. He’s redder than that apple of yours.”

Minette swore, curses drowned out by Paw’s laments about his lazy, tardy son. She popped the slice of bread in her mouth and ran out the door.

Paw was waiting by Lumpy, their beefiest workhorse, and one of their carts. His face was indeed ripening as Minette watched. He shook his head at her, climbing astride Lumpy with a grunt. “Fix that hair,” he barked.

There was no room for discussion. Minette nodded, swallowing the last of her bread. She hopped into the back of the cart just as it began to judder and rumble away from the house.

Paw’s hands were especially tight on the reins today. It was almost definitely about Irma. Minette knew better than to ask him about it when he was in a mood like this. Paw was an angry worrier. He meant well.

Minette watched the streets pass in silence instead, wondering at all the lives going on around her of people she’d never met, wondering if, hidden away in some shop, there was anyone else even remotely like her.

 

***

 

The worst thing about the forge was how hot it was.

Minette could admire the tools adorning the walls, the private space all to her and Paw. The run threading through the field outside, dry in this part of summer but still full of pretty stones and the occasional pot-bellied toad.

But the heat. The heat got to her.

The center of the room held the tall iron fireplace where they did the majority of their work. Inside it, a cross-hatched plating sat over where the flames roared. It was on this plating that they did what the Coppersmiths did best: smith the copper.

It involved a lot of gruntwork, heavy lifting, shouting, pounding, and blasting.

There was molten metal, soot, ashes, sparks, flames, and smoke. It was grimy work. Even working at the forge for just one hour turned her entire face black and made her feel like her lungs were clogged up. She worried over Paw, whose voice had turned from gravel to crushed up bones, to something throaty and crackly.

Minette did not want to be like him.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Four: Minette Sets Off

Every time Minette saw the dress, it gained form. It was simple, but it was royal and delicate, and it punched the breath out of Minette with each new dainty detail.

It was gorgeous, fit for one of Sir Edric’s many rescued princesses.

“Mort! Get your clouds out of your head!” Maw squawked, sending Minette careening out of her fantastical distant valleys and back into their cramped little kitchen.

“Yes, Maw,” Minette said, slipping past her mother. Maw was by the sink, scrubbing at some dirty dishes with a vigor that felt somehow murderous, like the dishes had wronged her.

Maw’s behind was large enough that Minette bumped into it as she wormed past, scooting her way over to the kitchen table on the other side of the room. The bread and butter was already set out for her, and a tasty-looking apple.

Minette collected her food, munching and crunching on the tart apple. Maw always had something out for the family to eat, and the kitchen was a natural congregation space where most of Minette’s fondest memories took place.

Speaking of. “Where’s Rhys and Irma?” Minette asked past a mouthful of fruit.

Maw dropped her brush in the sudsy sink slush and turned to face Minette, propping her broad hip against the counter. “Off in town, most like,” she said. “Paw sent them out on errands.”

“Irma too?” Paw was usually so careful with Irma, a fact Minette knew drove Irma absolutely bonkers. Sending her out on the town was a true test of faith for the man.

“Oh, yes,” Maw said. “She’s there to keep Rhys in shape. He’s going on about school again.

School. Rhys’s only dream, and the only thing he’d asked for for his last three birthdays.

It was also the only thing he’d never get.

Well, that, and a gilded carriage or an estate in the woods. The Coppersmiths were in no way rich or well-connected. And in Droz, there was only one school. Paw thought it a waste of a good working boy and Maw thought the few Drunes it required were too large of an expense.

Minette felt for Rhys. He was smarter than a crow. She could imagine him in some far off land, too; as a scholar or an inventor.

“That hair of yours,” Maw added, continuing from some long ramble that Minette had completely missed, “is gonna get you in some trouble with your Paw.”

“Don’t tell him,” Minette pleaded past a mouth full of apple.

“Tell him? Irma’s blind, not your father, dearie.”

My Name is Minette, Chapter Three: Minette and the Dress

When Minette had purchased the book, her father had shook his head and called it a waste and a farce. That all that fluffy nonsense would cloud her head.

Maybe he was right. The stories in the little novel did fill up her head. They set her to daydreaming, sighing as rainbow-colored visions filled her head. She could see Edric on his tall horse, galloping into the countryside without a care in the world, his only obligation serving his people.

“For justice!” he would scream, brandishing a shimmering sword given to him by a naked lady in a pond. He’d fight and swashbuckle and charm. Sir Edric had seen far-off lands, bewildering beasts, and fair maidens.

He’d been on breathtaking adventures, encountered heinous villains. He wasn’t tied down to any place or anything except helping other people. Everyone loved him, wherever he went. His valor and honor were unquestionable.

Minette could hardly imagine a life like that. All that freedom. Making decisions for yourself. Having people see you as you were. Seeing new sights every day. All Minette had ever seen was the walled-in town she lived in.

It wasn’t even that Droz-Upon-Wooton was all that bad, really–

“Mort! Morty! You’re late! Daylight’s dying, boy!”

And there was Paw, right on schedule.

Minette poked her head out the window. “Coming!” she screamed.

She got dressed, pulling on her scratchy shirt and hopping into her saggy pants. She grabbed her tool belt and saddlebag and slid down the rickety balustrade into the kitchen. She hadn’t even crossed the threshold when Maw’s voice barked at her, saying, “Oi, Mort, what I have I told you about sliding down the bannister? You’re a right sack of potatoes! If you fix it, you break it!”

“If you fix it, you break it” was one of Maw’s many backwards mantras. It was better to just nod than correct her. Minette had tried that only once. Maw was like a fat and loveable marionette, who reliably waved a spoon at you and fed you chunky soup and told the grossest stories you’d ever heard.

She was more than just a good Maw. She was a talented seamstress, though she did more as a hobby than a vocation. Right now, she was working on a dress for Irma’s tenth birthday. The tenth was a special occasion in their country of Treesia, a rare celebration with cake and candles and mirth and no talk of the plague or of taxes. And Irma was growing like a weed, blossoming into a headstrong young woman. Maw was making Irma’s birthday special in a way Minette had never experienced. 

That dress. 

That glittering, blue dress, made with a care and art that Minette thought turned Maw from a seamstress into some kind of magical fairy who’d waved her wand at a pile of fabric and turned it into a dream.